Becoming Real

The_Velveteen_Rabbit_pg_25Scripture Passage:  Romans 5: 12-19 (Lent 1A)

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

God is God and we are not.  We cannot do this by ourselves.  We cannot save ourselves.  Do you have it?  Is it clear?  (Or perhaps our brother Paul should have written yet another run-on sentence!)  And yet, we humans, we “adams”, by our very nature bear at least some of God’s characteristics, some of God’s image.  So we can’t be all bad, right?  Essentially, there is no such thing as being “only human”.  After all Christ was human, “fully human” if I’m remembering correctly.  So humanity is not bad.  I don’t think our humanness makes us bad, despite what others have maintained.  After all, God created us human. 

So, perhaps the problem is not that we’re “human” but that we are not yet completely “fully human”.  You see, we keep lapsing into doing things or allowing things that are, for want of a better word, inhumane–injustice, poverty, homelessness, prejudice, greed, inequality, ____ism, _____ism, _____ism….need I go on?  The notion of “adam” that we glean from the Scriptures is, basically, a human creature, created by God, loved by God, but a creature that is destined for more.  Think of it like some sort of mock up or prototype of what humanity is, a beautiful, naked, picturesque creature surrounded by a beautiful garden.  And, yet, on some level, this creature is not yet real.  It has to become, become real.  It has to become. 

Christ, God With Us, is, as we know “fully human” and “fully divine”.  Christ was the epitome of real, the perfect image of what humanity is–fully human.  Christ did not walk this earth to show us how to become divine.  (I don’t think that’s our mission!  The job of Savior of the World has been filled.)  Christ came to show us how to be fully human, truly human, real.  That is who we are called to be.  We are human, beautifully, wonderfully-made.  But God’s vision of us is so much more.  The journey is for us to traverse from Adam to Christ, from the human creature to fully human, to that very image of the Godself that we were created to be.    

Do you remember the Margery Williams tale of “The Velveteen Rabbit”?  “Real…doesn’t happen all at once…You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  You see, as we journey closer to being Real, closer to being fully human, more and more of “us” falls away and is filled by that very image of Christ.  We become fully human.  We become who God intended us to be.

 We are not human being having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.  (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

On this Lenten journey, think what it means to be fully human, what it means to be the very image of Christ in the world.

Grace and Peace,




"The Nativity", Lorenzo Lotto, 1527-1528
“The Nativity”, Lorenzo Lotto, 1527-1528

Scripture Passages for Reflection:

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Gospel writers all seemed to struggle a bit to fully convey the wonder, the unfathomable glory, of this night.  In fact, the writer that we know as Mark didn’t even really try.  He or she just jumped right in proclaiming the Good News, seemingly in a tremendous hurry to get the word out.  For the writer of Matthew’s Gospel, he seemed to only be able to state it with some proof of what it was not.  (In other words, this is no ordinary birth.)  And the writer that we call Luke seemed very focused on the physical place of Jesus’ birth and the realization that there really was no room.  But years later, the writer of John’s Gospel, conveyed a notion with which we still struggle:  that God in God’s wisdom after centuries upon centuries of trying to deal with humanity, after years of drawing us toward the Divine, of showing us a vision that God has for each of us, became flesh, one of us.  On this night, God is born human, fully human, into a world that was never really ready, never really prepared (and probably still isn’t).  And, yet, God must have loved the world, even THIS world, more than life itself, to come into it as one of us.  God became human and lived with us.  Incredible thought, isn’t it?

The Incarnation is God’s unveiling, God’s coming out of the darkness and the shadows and the clouds and showing us for the first time what we could not see before. Emmanuel, God With Us, this day walks into our ordinariness.  God has traversed time and space and all things Divine to enter our every day world.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said that “by virtue of the creation, and still more of the incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”  Perhaps God came into this ordinary world to show us the holiness that had been created, the sacredness that in our worldliness, we were somehow missing. God steps into our lives to show us the depths to which we have not allowed ourselves to dig.   No longer can flesh and humanity be deemed “bad”; God came as flesh, came as human, came as one of us.  It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as something that “seemed” like one of us because, after all, this is God.  And what would God be doing fooling around with the squalor and feebleness of this world?  You see, it is not that God lowered the Godself to our standard but that God’s coming raised us toward the Divine.  And notice in the Christmas stories how they emphasize the lowliness of the surroundings and the danger to the child as much as the miraculous glory of the event.  By entering human existence, even God faces down the power of evil, sin, and death.  In love, God elects to be no more immune than we are from the dangers to love and life.

Thomas Merton once said that “the Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ.”  It is all this waiting, all this preparing that we have done that has put us in this place.  It is the place that humbles and amazes at once.  Who would have ever thought?  Who would have ever written the story such that a baby’s birth on a cold desert night in the midst of social turmoil would be the in-breaking of the Godself into our world, Emmanuel, God With Us.  After all this time, all this waiting for God, this hoping against hope that God would show up and pull us out of the mire of humanity, God comes full on into it, not pretending to be like us but becoming one of us.  God came to show us how to be who we are, who we are called to be, and to show us that, once again, it is very, very good.  So, on this night of nights, as the Light begins to dawn and we realize that God has come bursting into our lives and into our world, let us open our eyes and rub the sleep out of them and finally see this thing that has happened.
Reflection:  On this night of nights, what does God in our midst mean for you?  How can this year be different?
Merry Christmas!

Advent 4A: A Little Bit of Water and a Ritz Cracker

Ritz CrackersLectionary Epistle for Reflection:  Romans 1: 1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First of all, this has to be the king of run-on sentences.  Perhaps Paul was not one for taking lots of breaths.  Or was he almost in a panic-state trying to get the words out?  It was as if his audience was somehow drifting away, heading down a road that he did not think was good, leaving Paul behind in a sense.  So, Paul, with more words than a sentence could hold, went chasing after them.  Whatever it is, Paul is reminding his hearers to whom they belong.  Maybe it was his way of trying to call them away from the lure of the world, from what Paul saw as an almost competing society, a competing way of living and being.  See, these people probably had no problem seeing themselves as belonging to Christ, as part of Christ’s kingdom.  I mean, they were new believers.  They were excited.  They were still pumped up from that first evangelical moment that they had experienced.  And yet, there was the Roman Empire looming large around them.  It was hard to refuse.  Who are we kidding?  It was dangerous to refuse.  One could quickly lose everything.

Now I don’t think Paul really wanted them to leave it all behind.  After all, his own identity as a Jew in the Roman Empire was important to him.  He just wanted them to see something different.  He wanted them to see something bigger.  He wanted them to realize that it was not that the Roman Empire was where they belonged now and the Kingdom of God was where they were going; rather, the two existed together.  He wanted people to understand that the Kingdom of God was not the “other way”, not the veritable opposite of the way they were living but rather the “Thing” that encompassed the “thing”.  And maybe they belonged to both things.  (I mean, in our own context, patriotism is not anti-God; it just has the possibility of developing into sort of a misplaced devotion that competes with our spiritual selves.)  All that we are and all that we have and all to which we belong belongs to God.  It is the way God lays claim on us, bursting into our lives as we know them, pouring the very Godself into each and every crevice of our lives until all (yes, ALL) is recreated in the Name of Christ.  We are called not to choose between Christ and the world but to bring Christ to the world.

The other day I baptized a young child that was eating a Ritz cracker through the whole thing. Now, we don’t usually pass out hor’dourves with the Sacraments, but, really, did that change God’s Presence in that moment?  For that matter, who’s to say that it didn’t make that Presence more real?  (OK, so maybe I’m not as much of a sacramental purist as you thought!)  God’s presence and God’s promise comes wherever one is.  Our calling is to respond to that presence in the midst of the lives we lead.  But that entails learning to see and listen in a way that many of us do not.  We need to appreciate how God calls others into being so that we might be able to better discern our own unique way that God is entering our lives.  And the Ritz?  Well, who hasn’t eaten a Ritz? (And, for me, a little peanut butter)  It is not part of the “other” way of living.  All that we have and all that we are belongs to God.  And, you know, that little bit of water that I sprinkled onto that child’s head does not exist in a vacuum.  The choice is not to choose the water or the Ritz.  The choice is not to choose God or empire.  The choice is to follow God through all that is and all that we encounter, to open oneself to becoming new not instead of the old but as even it is made new.

In this Advent season, we have walked in the wilderness.  We have encountered darkness.  We have waited and waited for God to make the Godself known to us.  Maybe that for which we’ve waited was here all along–in the wilderness, in the darkness, in the Empire.  Maybe God’s Presence is found in all of it when we learn to see, when we learn to open ourselves to possibilities.  Maybe God’s Presence is not some big, flashy extravaganza like we’ve been expecting.  Maybe it’s been there all along, sort of like a little bit of water and a Ritz cracker, or maybe more like a baby born into a world that was not ready, that was never ready, a world that couldn’t move over and make room.  Advent is not about welcoming a King; Advent is about making room for a God who comes into our ordinary lives as an ordinary person into an ordinary place and makes it all extraordinary.  Advent is a lot like eating a Ritz cracker through a Holy Sacrament.

Reflection:  What are you expecting God’s Presence to be?  What is the most ordinary thing that you see right now?  Where might God’s Presence in it?

Grace and Peace,



The Way of the Cross
Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1603)
Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten (Belgium)

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 11: 28-30
28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In this Season of Lent, we are called to deepen our own walk with Christ.  This means moving beyond what Christ does for us.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Christ does everything for us.  But our relationship with Christ does not stop at that.  God is more than some sort of divine vending machine.  We are called to do more than worship the God who gives us everything; we are called to enter the Way of Christ itself, the Way of the Cross.  It means experiencing all of Christ–the birth, the ministry, the life, the Passion, the crucifixion, the death, the Resurrection–on the deepest and most profound level.  It means moving from being an observer to being a participant with Christ.  It also means entering our own humanity at the deepest level. It means becoming real.  Sadhu Sundar Singh says  that “if we do not bear the cross of the Master, we will have to bear the cross of the world, with all of its earthly goods.  Which cross have you taken up?  Pause and consider.

Over the last few years, I have become more and more drawn into the Stations of the Cross, that 4th century devotional tool that helped pilgrims flocking to the Holy Land from all parts of the world to walk in the Way of Christ.  It has become more than a way of prayer.  It is real, full of the depth and breadth of human experience and emotion, full of the power to move one beyond oneself, full of Christ.  These Stations, also called the “Way of the Cross”, the “Way of Sorrows”, the “Sorrowful Way”, and the “Via Dolorosa”, are a pilgrimage not just to the historical places of Jesus (because, truth be known, the places marked as stations in the streets of Jerusalem are really just good guesses) but to the Way to which we are called.

In this walk of faith, we are clear that we are called to worship and revere God, our Creator, the very Spirit that runs beneath us and at the same time courses through our veins.  This is the God who is there just ahead of us, calling us forward, calling us home.  This is our very source of gravity, that straight and perfect plumb-line that connects us to the Holy and the Sacred.  And yet, in science, relative strength is measured not just with the vertical pull of gravitational force, but with the horizontal relationship to that force itself. And true horizontality, the strongest point, occurs at the intersection with the vertical.  This Way that we walk with Christ, this horizontal side-by-side with Jesus gives meaning to our worship and reverence and draws it strength at that point.

So in the midst of our Lenten journey, remember that it is more than becoming a better person, more than developing a deeper relationship with God.  It is about worshipping and walking, walking and worshipping.  It is about entering the way of Christ.  So in the midst of these writings, let us walk this Way of the Cross.

Grace and Peace,