Grace

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Suffer Not the Little Children

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

When I imagine Jesus telling his disciples, “Let the little children come to me,” I have a vision of the adults moving aside and Tiny Tim with his crutch crawling into the lap of Christ. 

In the scene where Tiny Tim is introduced, his father tells this story of him:

“Somehow, he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas-day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

It is this child like faith that moves Scrooge to ask the Ghost of Christmas Present if the boy would live to see another Christmas. The spirit answers that he sees an empty chair at the next Cratchit Christmas. Scrooge begs for the future to be changed and the boy spared.

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: A Chain of Our Own Making

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

The specter of Jacob Marley entered Scrooge’s room. It had been seven years to the day since Marley died.

Before he sees them, Scrooge hears the clanking of the heavy chains his old business partner now carries with him.

Scrooge asks how it is that Marley became thus fettered.

“I wear the chain I forge in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free-will, and of my own free-will I wore it.”

Marley did not realize in life that he was a slave. He assumed that his wealth and the absence of external restraints meant he was free, when in fact his miserly and selfish ways were forging the means of his own bondage.

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Christmas as Ebenezer

An illustration from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King.

An illustration from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King.

An ebenezer is a reminder. It tells the story of God’s faithfulness and our repentance. It is a marker for transformation and conversion.

Dickens, I would assume, did not give Scrooge the first name “Ebenezer” without reason. While the word has fallen out of common use (the hymn “Come Thou Fount” is often sung now with the word “altar” in replace of “ebenezer”) it is still powerful with meaning.

“Ebenezer” is the marker that commemorates the moment that everything changed. In difficult times it is the reminder that what was true at the time of the original change, namely God’s faithfulness, is still true today.

Rob Bell's Parting Epistle to Mars Hill: "Grace + Peace"

Rob Bell via MarsHill.org

Rob Bell via MarsHill.org

Editor's Note: Rob Bell, 41, the founding pastor of Mars Hill church in western Michigan, bid adieu to his congregation in a 5,000-word epistle about grace and peace, which he preached on Dec. 18 to thousands in the converted strip mall that has housed the "Jesus community" for a decade. He said, in part:

"this church, this place, this community, was once simply a

hunch. a dream. a vision. a picture in the mind of a new kind of church for the new world we find ourselves in. a church that was fearless in confronting the injustices and systems of oppression that lurk around every corner and at the very same time deeply committed to the personal, intimate experience of following Jesus, of experiencing the joy and peace that transcends space and time. a church that found the stale, old categories of liberal and conservative boring and irrelevant because we'd experienced resurrection, which includes and affirms anything and everything that brings liberating, new life wherever it's found irrespective of whatever labels and categories it's been given because of an abiding conviction that the

tomb is,

after all,

empty.

a church where the main thing was actually the main thing."

An Advent Reflection: Being a Hospitality House

Image via Wylio: http://bit.ly/rRaH5G

"Away in a manger" at the Holy Cross Monastery, NY. Via Wylio: http://bit.ly/rRaH5G

I think of Mary, the young woman whose eyes were opened to God’s messenger, whose womb was opened to God in human flesh. The Greeks call her theotokos — the God-bearer.

She is the one who welcomed Jesus to make his home in her. Blessed among women, she is a model for us.

She’s not just an inspiration for a house of hospitality. She is one.

Two years ago, Leah was very pregnant during Advent. Because of high blood pressure, she was on bed rest for most of it. So we waited.

We waited for our daughter to come, and we waited for Christmas. We waited with Mary to greet face-to-face the One whom we invite into our lives every time we whisper a prayer.

Waiting, we learned, changes your relationship to time. You stop partitioning it into blocks, and you learn to receive it.

Praying for (and Engaging with) the One Percent

There has been a lot of anger levied at the very wealthy since the Occupy movement began back in September. There is no doubt that much of this anger is justified – righteous indignation, if you will.

The ways that people have become extremely wealthy have often been corrupt or immoral, whether or not they are technically "legal." Part of the reason that the Occupy movement sprang up was because people felt that there were different rules for "us and them." People who lost millions of dollars in what was effectively high-stakes gambling were pardoned with little more than a slap on the wrist, while regular families lost everything in a crisis they had no hand in.

As I say, there has been, and still is, much anger. But out of that anger must come something new, something tangible and real.

Pepper Spray and Peppermints: How to Occupy Christmas without becoming a Grinch

Office Grinch peppersprays the Whos of Whoville. Image via officer-grinch-21501-

Office Grinch peppersprays the Whos of Whoville. Image via officer-grinch-21501-1321977693-24.jpg

Pepper spray.

Those two words bring to mind two very contrasting images from recent headline news: One is the shocking image of University of California at Davis students seated on a pathway, arms linked in peaceful protest, as they are repeatedly doused with pepper spray by a zealous campus police officer. The other is of the equally zealous shopper on Black Friday who sprayed her fellow Walmart customers so she could buy a discounted X-Box.

On the one hand we have an image of the power of nonviolent protest to expose injustice, and on the other an appalling image of consumer greed.

These are the signs of our times.

David Wilcox on Guidance, Religion and Miracles

David Wilcox via http://www.davidwilcox.com

David Wilcox via http://www.davidwilcox.com

It's that time of the year again, the joyful season when Jeff, my iTunes DJ, starts spinning holiday music when I choose "random" from the play options on my keyboard.

I almost always have headphones on with music playing as I work each day, and the surprise of what Jeff, as I call him, comes up with — especially when he reaches into the way-back machine for sonic fodder — is a daily delight.

First thing this morning, Jeff decided to play the tune "Miracle" by Ashville, N.C., singer-songwriter David Wilcox.

Oh joy! It's long been one of my favorite unconventional Christmas songs but I'd forgotten about its many charms until I was taking my first sip of coffee today.

The song, which appears on David's 2006 album Vista, is a take on the Natvity story seen through David's remarkably creative, often childlike sensibilities. Here's a taste of the lyrics:

Few will chose to follow
Out of all the star invites
Most will hide safe inside
With the lantern turned up bright

Waiting for a miracle

Thanks(giving) Be To God!

"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism.

"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism in Laguna Beach, Calif.

To me, "unexpected" is at the heart of how I understand grace. It is the unearnable gift, the divine reversal and sacred surprise, the still small voice that drowns out the din of the maddening crowd, the little bit extra that my Cajun friends call lagniappe, the very thing we "deserve" the least but get anyway. From God. From the One who created the world and the audacious, indescribably power of love.

Taking a cue from Nell, here are just a few of the unexpected blessings I am grateful for today:

For God's fingerprints that cover every inch of our world, seen and unseen. And for the moments where I can almost make out the holy whirls imprinted in the sky, the ocean, the sunlight, and on the faces and stories of each of us.

For the generosity and selflessness I see so vividly — all around me, all the time — even in these lean, nervous days. I saw it in Zuccotti Park, where strangers prepared and served food to other strangers. I saw it in the sober faces and strong arms of the men who helped 84-year-old Dorli Rainey to safety after she was pepper-sprayed at an Occupy rally in Seattle. I heard it in the prayers lifted at the White House, at North Park University in Chicago, and in the basement of a church in Spanish Harlem where kind, mighty souls formed Human Circles of Protection last week and stood in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable, and the least of those among us. I watched it on display at border crossings, immigration rallies, refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, and at a glass blower's studio in my hometown of Laguna Beach where strangers arrived with shovels and wheelbarrows to help dig out an artist and his artwork from the muddy ravages of a flash flood. I saw it in the fresh coat of paint on the front steps of my elderly parents' home in Connecticut that my cousins had applied for them with great care and kindness when my brother and I couldn't be there to do it.

Faith On Foot at UC Davis: Blessed Are The Peacemakers

http://youtu.be/8775ZmNGFY8

Late Friday afternoon, UC Davis campus minister, the Rev. Kristin Stoneking, was in the car driving with her family from Davis to the American Academy of Religion gathering in San Francisco when she received a phone call from a campus administrator. Katehi was "trapped" inside her office at the university administration building, where a large crowd of protesters had gathered outside, flanking both sides of the sidewalk in front of the building's entrance. The chancellor was afraid to leave on her own and asked Stoneking to come mediate her exit with students.

Stoneking was running late, having missed a few of the AAR's sessions already, and was reluctant to heed the call. She called one of the students involved in organizing the Occupy protests on campus and learned that, "students were surrounding the building but had committed to a peaceful, silent exit for those inside and had created a clear walkway to the street." So she turned the car around and drove back to the university.

"Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car?  Because I believe in the humanity of all persons," Stoneking writes. "Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid.  Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek.  I am well aware that my actions were looked on with suspicion by some tonight, but I trust that those seeking a nonviolent solution will know that 'just means lead to just ends' and my actions offered dignity not harm."

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