And in a world where the Roman intelligentsia believed that Augustus Caesar himself was born of a virgin mother, a virgin who had a vision in a temple from a messenger from the gods, what might the author be saying? Since he or she (and we really don't know whether the author we call "Luke" was a man or a woman by the way-cases have been made for both) deliberately brings up Augustus Caesar at the beginning of the story about another virgin birth, I grow suspicious. Isn't it more likely that here is another picture inviting us to look at the world in a totally upside-down manner? The story is asking us "Is Caesar the greatest power on earth, Caesar with his power and might, his obedience and his executions, his slavery and his caprice; or, is it this peasant baby from the outskirts of civilization whose head needs to be entirely supported in the crook of his tender mother's arm? Two virgin births. But which of them is the real center of the world? Choose.
By the way, I know that someone is bound to ask about the spelling G-d. Others can probably express it better than I can, but it is typically a Jewish convention. I have heard at least two explanations that I can recall--one is that if we try to give a name to the Ultimate, we risk making an idol of that name. Another is that, in the Hebrew scriptures, to name someone or something was to control them--have dominion over them. For obvious reasons, we could not expect to do that with God. Again, I'm sure someone else could explain this better, but I wanted to try to anticipate the question in an attempt to keep any confusion or curiosity about that from eclipsing the powerful truth of this story that I wanted to convey tonight.
Turning the world upside-down...that's what resonates with me. Knocking the powerful off their thrones, while at the same time recognizing the power in the "lowly" who can be all too easily dismissed by those who are content with "politics and usual". I *love* this story, and I believe in it. Well, in my heart, deep down I do. Sometimes, after the people fighting the good fight get knocked down again and again, it's hard to keep believing. At Christmas time, one thing I try to do is to remind myself that this very old story still rings True in our hearts, because there are always Caesars who need to be knocked off their thrones. It seems impossible. But the impossible can be achieved by something greater than ourselves. Maybe we call that something "God", or another name that means something similar. Or maybe that "something greater" is our sense of being interconnected, part of a larger community rather than focussed on our own narrow interests. The sense that "we're all in this together". Now, where have I heard *that* before? ;-)
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 11:23 AM
Friday, December 23, 2005
We have been scrambling all day, trying to get ready for our holiday travels. It's one of my many least favorite parts of this season. It is now way later than we had hoped to be leaving, and we're pretty much guaranteed to hit rush hour traffic. Can't be helped, so I'm not going to stress about it. Rather, I thought it would be a good idea to take a few moments to center myself with a few moments of quiet while my husband finishes packing his clothes.
In the ordinariness of a peasant girl’s body, the word was made flesh. In the business-as-usual of a society focused on material things, a holy stillness descends. Into the repetitive cycle of violence, peace and justice break through. All incredible. All a myth, whose truth we see and cling to. Mary said to the angel, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Mary, young, pregnant, visited by angels, poor, expectant, and scared: in her body heaven and earth meet. What Mary offers us is the hope of light in our darkness, the breaking through of holy love into our sad, sorry world. She carries the sacred burden of our redemption even as she suffers the grief, love, fear, and joy of a human mother. Whatever else she is, Mary is a sign for us of God’s ridiculous love for us, the love that takes our very ordinariness, the good and the ill of the human condition, and turns it into blessing and grace.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 3:48 PM
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
There is a page describing family-oriented Winter Solstice celebrations at Circle Sanctuary here. I will post the general overview, but if you visit the Circle Sanctuary web site you will find a lot more of the "nuts and bolts" details about creating your own Winter Solstice ritual:
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 10:38 AM
Monday, December 19, 2005
A diary by SallyCat at Booman Tribune...
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 9:02 PM
Saturday, December 17, 2005
By now, just about everyone must know that there is apparently War on Christmas this year. I was feeling fairly confident that I, myself, was not engaged in such a war. Because frankly, I'm just not that brave. I'm more the type to hold really still and avoid eye contact with Christmas, in the hopes of getting through the colorful, boisterous season of sensory overload in one piece. I'm certainly far too intimidated to actually "wage war" on it. Or so I thought. Imagine my shock when I discovered that just using the words "Happy Holidays" makes on part of the war on Christmas. As it turns out, Demetrius and I have been waging war on Christmas for a couple years now, and we've even enlisted the deviously cute assistance of a collection of multi-ethnic cartoon children, and an adorable, large-headed cartoon puppy. Oh, the humanity! Anyway, I suppose I should confess the extent of our guilt...
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 12:19 PM
I just found out about this today, in a diary at Street Prophets which asked "Why doesn't anybody care about this?" Anybody, meaning the mainstream media--and people quickly came to the conclusion that "budgets aren't sexy". Still, if there is a "war on Christmas", I think the ongoing assault on the poor is it.
Singing "Caring for our neighbors, we shall not be moved," the peaceful demonstrators were frisked, photographed and booked on trespassing charges by Capitol Police officers. The misdemeanor carries a $250 fine or 90 days in jail.
Read the rest here.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 11:18 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I posted about the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monday, focusing on how the Blessed Mother in general and Guadalupe in particular has become more significant and meaningful to me. But I have never attended a celebration of that feast day, so I was interested to read this diary at Booman Tribune by DucttapeFatwa...
For those who do not know the story, in 1532 a man named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin of the Chimecheca tribe saw a vision of a lady on the spot where the Spanish invaders had destroyed the temple of Tonantzin the corn goddess. She gave him miraculous roses, imprinted her image on his cloak (the Tilma), and instructed him to tell the local Bishop that a cathedral should be built on this spot.
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 1:29 PM
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I didn't have anything of my own to say about the impending execution of Tookie Williams, for pretty much the same reason Pastor Dan at Street Prophets says he refrained from comment, there were others who could say it better, and more succinctly. Well, that, and the fact that I didn't feel well enough versed in the particulars of the case to comment intelligently. Now that the execution has taken place, the discussion of the death penalty in general continues. Over at Blog for America, Demetrius commented:
Understand that at the time the typical response to someone putting out someone's eye would be to take *both* their eyes, the eyes of everyone in their family, and the eyes of anyone who looked at you funny on the way there. "An eye for an eye" means *just* *ONE* *eye*! This was a radical concept.
In my EFM classes, I have been learning about the book of Genesis, the different sources it is believed to have come from (at least four distinct sources), and what it tells us about how the Hebrew people understood their relationship with God. One thing I remember from my reading is that the concept of revenge really did get out of control exponentially so that, yes, saying ONLY one eye for an eye was clearly an effort to put the brakes on.
On the page about revenge at Answers.com, I found this:
Revenge is a hotly contested ethical issue in philosophy. Some feel it is necessary to maintain a just society. In some societies, it is believed that the damage inflicted should be greater than the original one, as a punitive measure. The Old Testament philosophy of "an eye for an eye" (cf. Exodus 21:24) tried to limit the allowed damage to avoid a series of violent acts that spiral out of control. Detractors argue revenge is more like the logical fallacy "two wrongs make a right." Some Christians interpret Paul's "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19, King James Version) to mean that only God has the moral right to exact revenge.
The interpretation of Paul's words makes sense given what I read about the history of revenge. According to the story that has unfolded up to that point (and continues today) humans have proven incapable of handling revenge in a responsible manner, without misusing it. When our kids are having a loud, headache-inducing squabble, and it turns out that some *thing* is at the center of the problem, it is not uncommon for Demetrius to say, "Okay, bring it here. Put it on my desk. You can have it back when I think you can handle it responsibly."
It's not that big a stretch, for me, anyway, to see vengeance as something that humans have proven incapable of administering responsibly, justly, and without excess.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 10:21 PM
A Prayer for the New Year (2006)
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 11:34 AM
For anyone who hasn't seen this explanation before. This version in particular is from a Unitarian Universalist minister's sermon, Jesus speaks to UUs:
He says, "to those who smite you on the one cheek offer also the other; And those that take away your cloak forbid not to take your coat also." But contained within these humble sentences is something far more radical than goodness or patience – a recognition that we love our enemies not only by making them our friends, but also by helping them understand when they do wrong.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 10:41 AM
Monday, December 12, 2005
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I apologize that this is not one of my more "polished" entries, but I'm feeling under the weather at the moment. Yet I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of the story of the Our Lady's appearance to Juan Diego in 1531, and I could not let the day pass without comment.
I used to feel the dissonance whenever I heard Mary described as both Virgin and Mother; she seemed to set an impossible standard for any woman. But this was narrow-minded on my part. What Mary does is to show me how I indeed can be both virgin and mother. Virgin to the extent that I remain "one-in-myself," able to come to things with newness of heart; mother to the extent that I forget myself in the nurture and service of others, embracing the ripeness of maturity that this requires. This Mary is a gender-bender; she could do the same for any man.
And it was this same chapter by Kathleen Norris that first introduced me to the Virgin of Guadalupe in a way I found compelling, meaningful, even powerful...
Mary's love and pity for her children seems to be what people treasure most about her, and what helps her to serve as a bridge between cultures. One great example of this took place in 1531, when the Virgin Mary appeared to an Indian peasant named Juan Diego on the mountain of Tepayac, in Mexico, leaving behind a cloak, a tilma, imprinted with her image. The image has been immortalized as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Mexican-American theologian Virgilio Elizondo argues, in The Future is Mestizo, that the significance of this image today is that Mary appeared as a "mestiza," or person of mixed race, a symbol of the union of the indigenous Aztec and Spanish invader. What was, and still is, the scandal of miscegenation was given a holy face and name.
To be honest, Our Lady of Guadalupe was never one of my favorite images of Mary. There are probably a couple of reasons for this--we are most comfortable with the images we were exposed to in childhood, and we are drawn to images of the divine that look like us or people we know. I'm sure there's something Jungian about that. But I like Guadalupe a lot more now that I think of her with new layers of meaning.
Richard Rodriguez concludes his essay in the anthology by describing his attempts to convey the prophetic power of Guadalupe to a skeptical feminist who can see in this image of a barefoot and pregnant Mary nothing but imperialist oppression and the subjugation of women. You don't understand, Rodriguez says, that the joke is on the living. What joke? the woman responds, and Rodriguez explains:
Last year when I was reading about the Virgin of Guadalupe I started collecting the some of the different artists' renditions that have been done, from the traditional to the scandalous. You can see them here. And there are more details about the story of Juan Diego and its meaning here.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 2:45 PM
Sunday, December 11, 2005
I had the page The 12 days of Kitschmas on the Ship of Fools web site bookmarked as a fun link to share. I mean just look at this stuff. But today for the first time, I clicked on the Christ vs. Kitsch link on that page, and discovered it's a pretty powerful read. For anyone who is offended by "strong language", I should forewarn you that it has some of that...
THE PROBLEM WITH KITSCH is not readily apparent because (by definition) the treatment of what is considered unwholesome takes place off stage. Think of those Nazi propaganda films of beautiful, healthy children skiing down the Bavarian Alps. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Of course there is. For this is a world that has been purified, where everything nasty or troubling has been eliminated. The logical conclusion of kitsch, argues Kundera, is the ghetto and the concentration camp – the means by which totalitarian regimes dispose of their shit, variously construed.
This is tied in with Christmas later in the article by describing how shocking and unsettling--how "profane" the story of the incarnation really is...
Even many who felt the attraction of the Christian story believed this was going too far. Convoluted ways were sought to mitigate the offence. Christ was not really human or Christ was not really divine. Others created a firewall between the sacred and the profane within the person of Jesus himself. For the second century Gnostic, Valentinius, Jesus "ate and drank but did not defecate".
I haven't read church history for some time, but I am aware that the debates about whether Jesus was fully human and/or fully divine went on for centuries, but it never occurred to me that people speculated about whether or not Jesus went to the bathroom. (Although I have mused to myself from time to time, wondering how easy or difficult the Christ child was to potty train.)In any event, I recommend the whole article, but will include the concluding paragraphs here as food for thought.
The problem isn't that Christmas has become too materialistic – but rather that it isn't materialistic enough. Kitsch Christmas is another way of uncoupling the divine from the material, thus spiritualizing God into incapacity. I am not being a killjoy attacking the kitsch version of Christmas. Three years ago, my wife gave birth to a baby boy. The labour ward was no place to be coy about the human body and all its functions. The talcum-powdered unreality of kitsch childbirth cannot compare with the exhaustion, pain and joy of the real thing.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 2:51 PM
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
We really do need a good sequel name for this one. How about Justice Sunday Reloaded? Or, since it's the third one, we can work with the "3D" theme--suggest that it will burst from the screen into your living room, grab you, lift you up, and fill you with the spirit. Alleluia! Not as catchy as any of those, but dead-on accurate, is what jc calls it in her recent post, Just-Us Sunday III
Liberty for everyone, as long as you are white (or on a select list of token brown guys) and male (but not one of them homo-sex-yoo-als), LIBERTY CAN BE YOURS! The bible says so. Right there in the Old Testament.
In her post, jc also points out that if you are going to go with Leviticus as your source for laws, some of our more popular Americana ends up being forbidden.
By the way, you know who else I heard speaking (approvingly) of the wall of separation between church and state? Former President Jimmy Carter, on last night's Daily Show . Hmm--does that mean the evangelical, Nobel Prize winning Sunday school teacher hates religion? I doubt it, but I also know we are dealing with people who will demonize anyone to get what they want. It's not hard to imagine the religious right accepting Jesus if he walked among them, that ACLU-loving, sandal-wearing hippie who said things like :
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
jc ends her post with this musing...
P.S. Doing graphics, I work with fonts and can usually identify a lot of them. I've noticed in their logos that politicians often use fonts with names that "sound" patriotic, and I guess, in some cases, they must pick a font because of its name, rather than what it looks like. In that context, I wonder if we should be worried that the Theocracy crowd chose a font that bears a striking resemblance to "Futura Extra Black?"
Funny, and also true. And it reminds me of how important it will be for religious progressives to shine our light where there is darkness.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 4:30 PM
Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. We knew a family that celebrated this day rather than Christmas. As I mentioned in a recent post at Street Prophets, there is a part of me that really likes that idea, as Christmas gets a little overwhelming sometimes.
I've taken this information from The Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler who is an historian who has had a life long interest in the history of the festival. (He has just published Santa Claus: A Biography.)
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 12:23 PM
A full transcript can be found here. The following is an excerpt:
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 11:58 AM
Monday, December 05, 2005
I just received the following news from our local interfaith peace group.
Posted by Renee in Ohio at 4:21 PM