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When Wolves Wear Wool: The Holy Innocents

“Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” Beware when those in power use religious language to cloak an evil agenda. King Herod, fearful of even a newborn rival, tried to exploit the Magis’ genuine piety by turning them into spies. If they would only identify this infant King, Herod—full of pious talk—could have him destroyed. Herod is not exactly a scripture scholar: And when [Herod] had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to…

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Poverty: Advent Has Its Own Gifts

An argument with the spouse: his small, innocent observation unleashes the ghost of a thousand arguments past, complete with its burden of chains. Marriage is like that sometimes: after two or three decades together, every fight recapitulates all fights. I hate feeling this way: poverty. The end of the semester. The beginning, and for that matter, the middle. Doing everything this job requires feels impossible. I passed “tired” long ago and have moved on to “flesh and bone and soul weary.” I’m sick of having to know things, of having to talk about them. But knowing and talking are my job. I hate feeling this way: poverty. A visit with…

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Paris vs. Beirut: If “Why” Is Not Rhetorical

Sometimes, I know, “Why?” is a rhetorical question. Like “How long?” the question “Why?” is a favorite in the psalms: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1). Sometimes we don’t expect or even want an answer to the question. Sometimes “Why?” is just a summary of all the turmoil and confusion within. But today a “Why?” has been asked that’s been gnawing at me, and I want an answer. Yesterday we learned that a coordinated set of terrorist attacks in Paris killed over 125 people. The day before, two suicide bombings in Beirut killed over forty. Having been…

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I Mean to Be One Too

It’s the Feast of All Saints, the day we honor what the letter to the Hebrews calls that “great cloud of witnesses” to the beauty and splendor and faithfulness of God. Starting with righteous Abel and continuing on through Abraham, Moses, and my grandmother (and maybe yours), we celebrate today all those whose lives have been lived as if all the things we say about God were true. I woke up this morning imagining an All Saints Dinner Party—you know, the kind where you get your favorite people around a table and see what happens? Of course I’d invite Clare and Francis of Assisi. And Teresa of Avila and John…

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Shameless in Cambridge

This blog went on a nice relaxing sabbatical for a few months while its author worked her tail-end off, preparing and leading a study abroad program in Rome. The program concluded, I went up to Cambridge for a few days to cool off and relax. The day of my arrival, I noticed a sign announcing that Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and probably the person most frequently cited in my books (after God), would be speaking the following Sunday. Although in the midst of a bad back episode, I determined I would be there Sunday unless actually dead in a ditch. It happened to be Williams’ birthday, and after…

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Wash Your Feet

“Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:17) I had always figured this statement referred to the human tendency to judge people by their appearance: their physical appearance, to be sure, but also their worldly achievements: money, status, power. The kind of appearance shaped by workouts, credentials, position, possessions—or the lack thereof. God looks deeper than that, for which we non-rich and non-famous can be grateful. But I think there’s a deeper way to understand this. Humans judge each other by their sins, foibles and peccadilloes. The everyday failures that frustrate our intentions to follow Christ are the grounds for casting a disapproving…

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Spend Lent with Jesus: The Novels of D.L. Maynard

I have always loved a good Jesus novel. Trouble is, there are so few of them. The gospels give us the basic narrative of the life of Christ, but we want more, don’t we? I’m hoping that in the life to come we’ll be allowed to travel back in Earth-time, because I want to know what kinds of games the boy Jesus played with his friends, what childhood illnesses he had, what were his favorite treats? Was Jesus the only non-obnoxious teenager who ever lived, or is obnoxious not necessarily sinful? As a man, what were his distinctive quirks? I want to know how the different emotions looked on his…

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The Domestication of Saints

We like our heroes, don’t we? But mostly we prefer to admire them from afar—so far that we don’t have to see what they actually look like. Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved saints of the church’s history. Who wouldn’t love a man who called birds and wolves alike “Brother,” who stands there looking charming on your birdbath to remind you that Nature is Cool? It’s easy to forget that Francis also said that if you have two coats, the second is stolen from the one who has none. Even Jesus is often reduced to a harmless guy who preached peace and love and whose soft blond…

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Feast of the Face

  [I]n the mystery of the Word made flesh, you have caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of your glory in the face of your son Jesus Christ our Lord. These words, some of the most beautiful in the Book of Common Prayer (AKA the Book of Beautiful Words), are said in the context of Eucharist during the season of Epiphany, which begins today. They celebrate the uniquely Christian view of Jesus of Nazareth, summed up by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians: “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (2:9). This is that Christian thing, the thing…

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Advent, Christmas, and the Messiness of Wombs

I never had children; never wanted to. So I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about my womb. I never really had to keep track of its schedule, so I just let it do its thing, tended it as necessary without giving a lot of thought to what it was there for. I don’t even like the word “womb,” which the Online Etymology Dictionary tells me is from the Old English wamb, meaning “belly, bowels, heart, uterus.” Now, uterus is a word I’m more comfortable with. The Latin of it is so reassuringly remote, so comfortingly clinical. It speaks to me of control. But womb . . . womb…

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