The Missing Figurine in Your Nativity Scene

Nativity Scene Illustration,

Nativity Scene Illustration,

In the church where I grew up, the first Sunday in Advent was dubbed the “hanging of the greens.” On that special Sunday, we sang carols in the decorated sanctuary, all culminating in the children’s live nativity scene. The service never changed from year to year. The only variables were how many kids needed roles and which young child would get stage fright, thus leaving part of the the story without visual representation. 

It always seemed like the doves were cursed. The doves rarely remained on stage for the entire performance. Over the years, I was a variety of animals — a wise man, a shepherd, and finally Joseph. I never got stage fright. I was never a dove. I can only imagine what my mother would’ve done if I had been that kid. 

It took me years to realize that there was a character missing from my congregation’s telling of the story. We always left out King Herod. 

This was a huge oversight, because Herod plays a major role in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. 

David’s Sling: Israel, Hezbollah, and the Path to Peace

Photo: David and Goliath image, © Malgorzata Kistryn /

Photo: David and Goliath image, © Malgorzata Kistryn /

Israel reported last week that it successfully tested its latest missile defense system. Known as “David’s Sling,” it is designed to shoot down midrange missiles from Hezbollah rockets originating from Lebanon.

I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion about Israel’s right to defend itself. What I want to do is explore the biblical reference to “David’s Sling” and what it might mean for us. The name is an obvious allusion to the story of David’s victory over Goliath. It’s a favorite biblical story for many Sunday school teachers, but a conundrum for those teachers who take mimetic theory seriously. Mimetic theory claims that violence belongs to humans, not to God. It also states that the Bible progressively reveals this message about violence to us. And yet, the connection between God and violence permeates the Bible, with God apparently sanctioning violence against God’s enemies. 

So we rightly ask, “What about all the violence in the Bible?”

The Waiting

Photo: People waiting, © phototr  /

Photo: People waiting, © phototr /

As I write, I'm stuck in the Central Wisconsin Airport (near the bustling metropolis of Wausau, Wis., for those keeping score at home). And, you guessed it, I'm waiting. Fog in Minneapolis prevented our plane from landing there, and now I'm left sitting in a very small regional airport with no restaurant and no coffee and no concrete sense of what the rest of my day will look like as I make my way to California. All I can do is wait.

I do know, barring something entirely unexpected, that I'll eventually make it to San Francisco. Right now I'm living the axiom offered by Tom Petty decades ago: "The Waiting is the Hardest Part."

Advent, a season during which Christians honor and attempt to approximate the longing for a Messiah more than 2,000 years ago, is often described as a chance to exercise our patience muscles. Advent can serve as a season of anticipation and hope and longing, void of desperation. This is Advent for those who already have most of that for which they wait. But for countless people around the globe, every additional day of waiting comes with a heavy price.

Palestinian Christians Rally for U.N. Status Upgrade

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Protesters supporting Palestinian statehood confront Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja on Sept. 16.

On Nov. 29, Palestinians will bid to become a “non-member observer state” in the United Nations. If approved, this would be a major step toward full statehood for Palestinians. Israel, and perhaps more important, the United States, are against this move, not least for fear of possible war-crime investigations against Israel. Israel’s rationale has always been that a final resolution cannot be achieved unilaterally, but only through direct negotiations. Ironically, Israel achieved its own independence unilaterally and through the United Nations.

Palestinian Christians leaders have sent a strong message of support for this step. A statement signed by 100 community leader says:

We believe the Palestine Liberation Organization’s initiative to enhance Palestine’s status in the United Nations to an Observer State is a positive, collective, and moral step that will get us closer to freedom. This is a step in the right direction for the cause of a just peace in the region. We fully endorse this bid, just as we supported Palestine’s application for full membership of the United Nations a year ago.

On Thanksgiving, Jews and Muslims Volunteer Together Despite Middle East Violence

WASHINGTON — It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.

The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.

“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.

How To Really Support Our Troops

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin /

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin /

A 10-year-old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with his M-16 and the boy crumbles to the ground, dead.

Did he have a choice? It was do or die, kill or be killed. Still he killed a little boy, and those images still haunt him.

This is a classic example of psychological trauma: A person is put in horrific life-threatening situation where they do not feel they have control. That's the situation he found himself in. It was a no-win scenario — kill a little boy or have you and your friends all die.

Soldier suicides have reached epidemic numbers. As the AP reports, More soldiers are taking their own lives than are falling in battle. Add on top of that, the many who suffer from PTSD, and who as a result find themselves estranged from their home, their loved ones, and indeed from themselves.


Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of 'Awakenings.' Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

I remember the first time I saw the movie Awakenings. I was living at Jeff Street Baptist Center and working with a community of inner-city teenagers from the Clarksdale housing projects in Louisville, Ky. 

Monday nights were Dollar Movie Nights for us and we would load up in our orange van (affectionately called The Great Pumpkin) and head out to the theater. On that Monday night I chose Awakenings as our movie of the week, hoping that my kids would identify with the 'helping each other overcome' theme in the story. My dream was deferred. They hated it! 

Within 15 minutes of the start of the movie they were throwing popcorn at the screen. We got up and changed theaters to something faster paced with more action. I had to promise to check my movie choices with them before they agreed to go with me again.

10 Things I Learned in the Middle East

Photo by Jon Huckins

Photo by Jon Huckins

Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood. Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope. 

"No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview. When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it."

Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings: