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Archive for December, 2013

El Greco's "The Nativity"

El Greco’s “The Nativity”

What a holy it was that night in 1994 in that Harlem church when the gifted Mariah Carey–who along with that five-octave range surely has the voice of God Himself/Herself–sang the most gorgeous version of the most holy of Christmas songs, with her accompanied by that holy Spirited Harlem church choir.

If her version of this holiest of Christ-mas songs doesn’t give you goose bumps, get to a hospital and have them check your pulse for some sign of the life that God breathed into you at your own holy birth.

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Jesus–the great “I AM”–outside the Catholic Church at San Pedro on the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”

— John 14: 6

    “But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.”

    — Exodus 3: 13-15

When we think of the story of the birth of Jesus, we who are Christians don’t think of the seven-branch golden lamp stand called the menorah (“tree of life”), or the ark of the covenant, or Eden and the creation story, all from the Old Testament.

And yet the Christian New Testament is all tied up with everything in the Old–including the birth story, such as it is, in the gospel of John.

"You shall make a lampstand of pure gold." From Exodus 25.

“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold.” From Exodus 25.

The following is adapted from Jesus: A Theography, a wonderful and instructive book of Christology by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. They refer here to the birth narrative in the gospel of John as “the birth narrative that no one reads at Christmas:

    “John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ birth in as storyless a way as possible . . .

    “John’s birth narrative is structured in the signage of seven I AM metaphors, which function as a menorah that highlights the birth of Jesus just as the seven-branch golden lamp stand called the menorah (“tree of life”) illuminated the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, and the original Tree of Life lit up the garden of Eden.

    “The seven I AM metaphorical statements of Jesus in the gospel of John are followed by their corresponding circumstances in the story of Jesus’ birth:

    “I am the bread of life.”
    — Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means ‘house of bread.’

    “I am the light of the world.”
    — Jesus was born under the light of the star of Bethlehem.

    “I am the door of the sheep.”
    — The doors of the guest house were closed to Mary and Joseph, but the gate to the stable was open.

    “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.”

    — Baby Jesus was sought by shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths (used for birth or burial) and lying in a manger..

    “I am the resurrection and the life.”
    — Jesus survived King Herod’s attempt to kill him.

    “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
    — Wise men found their way to Him, recognized the truth about him, and defied King Herod’s evil plot.

    “I am the true vine.”
    — Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which means “fruitful.”

    “There is no higher understanding of Jesus’ divinity as ‘The Son of God’ than John’s gospel. There is no fuller understanding of Jesus’ humanity as the ‘Son of Adam’ (or ‘the human being’) than John’s gospel.

    “John is the I AM gospel because Jesus appears in His mysterious ‘I AM-ness’ as part of the triune life of the Godhead while Jesus is also present in His concreteness as ‘I am the door.’ ‘I am the true vine.’ ‘I am the Good Shepherd,’ and so on.

    “In the gospel of John, Jesus stands with his Head in eternity and His feet in Eden. . .”

"Rejoice in the Lord always. The Lord is always near." Philippians 4:  4-5

“Rejoice in the Lord always. The Lord is always near.” Philippians 4: 4-5

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We now have it on good authority (Megyn Kelly!!! What better authority could there be???) that Jesus, the Son of God, was (and therefore the living Christ presumably is) white.

Fox News celebrity glam girl and Jesus scholar Megyn Kelly has settled a longstanding question about whether Jesus was "white" with her informed and knowledgeable assertion that he was as white as Santa Claus. (For goodness sake let's hope that Meg doesn't get the news that Santa is not a real person.) Megyn's scholarly pronouncement about the color of Jesus got me wondering--was Mary the Mother of Jesus blond and white like Megyn Kelly? All we know, really mostly, is that young Mary was humble and modest.

Fox News celebrity glam girl and Jesus scholar Megyn Kelly has settled a longstanding question about whether Jesus was “white” with her informed and knowledgeable assertion that he was as white as Santa Claus. (For goodness sake let’s hope that Meg doesn’t get the news that Santa is not a real person.) Megyn’s scholarly pronouncement about the color of Jesus got me wondering–was Mary the Mother of Jesus blond and white like Megyn Kelly? All we know, really mostly, is that young Mary was humble and modest.

Jesus, as described in one of the "the suffering servant" scriptures in Isa., this one being from Isaiah 53: Who has believed what we have heard?    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,    and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  3 He was despised and rejected by others;    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces    he was despised, and we held him of no account.  4 Surely he has borne our infirmities    and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken,    struck down by God, and afflicted.  5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,    crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole,    and by his bruises we are healed.  6 All we like sheep have gone astray;    we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.  7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,    yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,    so he did not open his mouth.  8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.    Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living,    stricken for the transgression of my people.  9 They made his grave with the wicked    and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence,    and there was no deceit in his mouth. .

Jesus, as described in one of the “the suffering servant” scriptures in Isa., this one being from Isaiah 53: Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. .

Jesus at a Catholic Church in Melchor, Guatemala

Jesus at a Catholic Church in Melchor, Guatemala

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Sen. You-Know-Who bowing down before the  brutaL Libyan dictator after the dictator killed everyone including mostly Americans  on Pan Am Flight 103. The list of brutal dictators that American Presidents have shaken hands with is long--McCain and many more conservative leaders cozied up to Saddam for years after he was known to have gassed his own people.

Sen. You-Know-Who bowing down before the brutaL Libyan dictator after the dictator killed everyone including mostly Americans on Pan Am Flight 103. The list of brutal dictators that American Presidents have shaken hands with is long–McCain and many more conservative leaders cozied up to Saddam for years after he was known to have gassed his own people.

Sen. John McCain compares President Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler in what is widely viewed as Chamberlain’s disastrous appeasement to Hitler.

“It gives Raul some propaganda to continue to prop up his dictatorial, brutal regime,” McCain said. “Why should you shake hands with somebody who’s keeping Americans in prison?”

Here’s why: Because shaking hands with world leaders, even enemies, at a funeral, means nothing but a handshake in passing at a world event where everybody is shaking hands. And Sen. McCain knows it.

Having a meeting for government business with the then-Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, and shaking hands with him, complete with bowing–after Qaddafi shot down a Pan Am flight with Americans aboard–might be construed as more than just a handshake in passing. And Sen. McCain, who also has shaken hands in friendly meetings with the likes of Saddam Hussein (when Saddam was our great “friend” and oil daddy) did just that–angered the families of Pan Am victims’ survivors. (See here for a summation of Lybia’s role.)

I remember how angered some of those families of Pan Am victims were at McCain and other American conservatives who were pals of Qaddafi back in the day, because I interviewed some of them in my journalism days for an article.
I tried to interview McCain for the story, but he passed me off to a flak who gave me the usual spin that only made the Pan Am victims’ families angrier.

They wanted Qaddafi brought to justice for Pan Am and brought a lot of pressure to bear on McCain and others; but McCain and other politicians wanted to do business with Libya’s bad boy because he was useful to them and “American interests” at the time.

There’s so much to admire about John McCain and his life and incredible service and love of America. But he can also disgust with his hyperbole and hypocrisy in pandering to the far-right lunatics who stay awake at night trying to make the President out to be evil incarnate.

There’s been so much press this year about Obama and McCain becoming good friends and frequent political allies that he seems McCain says stuff like this on occasion to get Obama haters off his back.

Or maybe the bitter taste of losing to Obama stirs him to such hypocritical rhetoric.

Whatever drives the great Senator’s occasional madness is a mystery.

But come on, Senator “Maverick”; keep it real.

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If “The Little Drummer Boy” were a roach, I’d smother it in Raid Ant & Roach Killer (fresh lavender scent).

ant_roach_both

I guess I was–I dunno, four-, five-years-old–the first time I heard “The Little Drummer Boy.” I probably cried or maybe ran away from home or from wherever I was at that moment.

I want to run away even now, lo these many decades later, if “The Annoying Drummer Boy” comes within even remote range of my ear buds.

That said, this is a cool version of it that I can live with, maybe even get to like.

It’s completely different.

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russianorthodox0906a12

He who does not love abides in death.”

— From the Apostle John’s first epistle

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I’ve been reading some of my main man the mystic Mr. Merton during Advent, and came across this sentence about the birth of Jesus in the great monk’s Love and Living:

If we accept this infant as our God, then we accept our own obligations to grow with Him in our world of arrogant power, and travel with Him as he ascends to Jerusalem and the Cross, which is the denial of power (my italics for emphasis).” — Thomas Merton

And this got me thinking, which is always dangerous:

1. If we ever stop growing spiritually–and shaking off the attachments to our own ego-driven needs and desires in the process that is spiritual growth–we’re not fully “alive in Christ.”

2. If we stop growing we get stuck on the road to Jerusalem, either too lazy or too fearful of a demanding God to ascend all the way to the cross, as Jesus did.

3. We can either be fully alive in Christ–in joy and sorrow and all that comes our way en route to Jerusalem–or we can be dead where we sit.

4. Being dead demands and requires nothing of us.

5. Being dead spiritually is easy and painless, and gets the Christian nowhere.

6. Being fully alive in Christ requires a certain foolhardiness in a world that says it’s all about you, that you can have it all, be it all, with no pain, no inconvenience, no discomfort.

Or as C.S. Lewis put it . . .

7. To be fully alive is to be constructive, never destructive–always on the side of whatever is life-giving, on the side of that which uplifts us and empowers us to lift up others.

8. To be truly alive is to abide in the love of Christ and have the love of Christ abiding in us.

John wrote in 1 John 3: 11-24 that he who does not love abides in death.

    “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister* in need and yet refuses help?

    Little children*, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

    “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”

9. *It’s interesting, isn’t it, that John addresses his readers in that passage as “Little children.”

10. Which brings us back full circle to what Merton says, that “if we accept this infant as our God, we accept our own obligations to grow with him.”

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Today is Pearl Harbor Day, a serious day that should give us serious pause amidst all the silliness like a phony “War on Christmas” defense that infects America today.

rationing-ration-for-everyone

It’s hard to imagine how bleak the future looked on Dec. 7, 1941, although things were looking and feeling terribly bleak on a Sept. 11 in our own times. The difference is that in the 1940s, the whole nation rallied, and every American heeded the President’s calls to make sacrifices–not only in the war zones but in homes, villages, towns and cities.

People were asked to buy savings bonds to finance the war, and rationing was widespread. People had “Victory Gardens” for the cause.

After 9-11, who outside of the military sacrificed anything, or was even asked to sacrifice, and who is sacrificing anything for America’s future now, outside of the military and military families?

In the forties, we still had capitalism, but there was also such a thing as “enough-ism.”

With 9-11 we had a chance to measure up to “The Greatest Generation.” And yet we weren’t called on to sacrifice anything to support two wars. Instead we all plastered “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” stickers on our vehicles.

And we were called on to burn gas driving to the mall to shop.

Unable ever to obtain or have enough of anything–even in a time of two wars–we went to the malls. (And casinos and lotteries mushroomed! You could win millions, pay off the $25K you owe in credit card debt and have enough left over to go to casinos any time you want to lose your fortune while not earning any honest money for honest work or productivity! It’s win-win, even though odds are overwhelming that you lose-lose.)

Not that shopping is bad or ever was; I do a little necessary shopping in the States myself sometimes, even though I’d prefer a poke in the eye.

But we live in some really silly times, thanks in no small measure to a silly media that keep people juiced up and edgy about silly stuff like a non-existent “War on Christmas.”

Bill “Merry Christmas, damn it!” O’Reilly and Sarah Palin and all the other malcontents defending us against a “War on Christmas” can’t see that they are waging a war on Christian spirituality–and spiritual contentment above all.

But then, their “wars” are very lucrative.

St. Paul was in a jail cell when he wrote to the Philippians of a secret that seems to be lost on the O’Reillys and Palins of the world–that contentment is the best defense in a time when people have so many wants that they don’t know what they want.

    “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.

    “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

    — Philippians 4: 10-13

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