Friday, December 21, 2012


I woke up thinking about arrivals this morning which is entirely appropriate, given the season. Many people travel this season- by plane, by car, by bus- so, there are a lot of arrivals in peoples' life right now. Many of us are planning arrivals or waiting for arrivals or have already arrived at our Christmas destinations. It is the right time of year for these reunions and for time spent with family and friends.

In the Christian calendar, it is, also, Advent which recalls the long wait for possibly the most significant arrival in history- the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. We spend this season listening to the prophets and John the Baptist telling us of the imminent arrival of our Saviour. We wait with Mary, as she expects her child, promised with such awe and mystery. Indeed, we arrive with her and Joseph in Bethlehem. We go with her into the manger as she begins to feel the labour pains of the coming salvation of the world. That is a lot of waiting. That is one very important arrival.

Arrivals come in all sorts and moods. Many arrivals are joyful; the reunion of friends and family who haven't seen each other for too long. Some arrivals add the joy of arriving after the fatigue of an arduous and difficult journey. Some arrivals retain their joy in seeing friends and family, but may be tinged with sadness or grief because of illness or absence of some of those we love. Some arrivals are difficult as one is reminded by strained relationships or loss which makes joy difficult this time of year. . Yet, they all share the journey and the anticipation inherent in travel. When we arrive, we pause for a moment in our travels and realize that we are where we intended to be.

For Mary and Joseph, however, the arrival of Jesus was a difficult one. They, too, did their stint of holiday travel; travelling to Bethlehem at the behest of the Roman authorities. Several days on a donkey while heavily pregnant is hardly a recipe for a peaceful and relaxing trip. Then, there was the hassle over accommodations which ending in the couple bedding down in the manger with the animals instead of in a private room in the inn. Then, as soon as they arrived, it became obvious is was Mary's time and Joseph had to stumble out into the night again to find a midwife to help his wife hundreds of miles from home. I'm sure as he stumbled through the darkness, Joseph was wondering whether things could get worse and whether the arrival of his son would be a safe one.

Still, despite the problems, this arrival was joyful, the most joyful known to humanity. All Creation, tradition tells us, held its breath and time paused for a moment the instant Jesus was born; a valuable tip-off for Joseph that he'd better give up his search for a midwife and get back to his wife and new son. Mary welcomed the child whose extraordinary birth she had agreed to months earlier and had awaited for so long with eager anticipation. . Angel choirs descended upon astonished shepherds in the hills near Bethlehem, sing 'Glory to God' for the arrival of Mary's child. The shepherds joyfully sought out this wonderful child as did kings from the East, bringing gifts to celebrate this arrival. Even the animals back at the manger, valued members of God's Creation, were welcoming the child and hoped that this arrival meant the beginning of the end of the rift between humanity and the world God made. . Did they, as mediaeval legend encourages to believe,  greet Jesus, enjoying the temporary power of human speech or did they assure Him of their love in their own tongues. Jesus' arrival began with difficulty and worries, but ends in a joyous celebration, not only of the happy parents, but of all people and creatures within reach of the news- angels and humans, poor and rich, animals and, I'm sure, the very earth itself.

Advent, the time we remember the arrival of Jesus to this earth, is almost at an end and we ready ourselves for Christmas Day. Another arrival is waiting in the future, but, for now, we celebrate how God arrived on earth as a helpless newborn and began to the process which will see the world and all in it redeemed and restored. May God grant you a blessed Christmas and peaceful holiday.


Sunday, December 16, 2012


Over the last year or so, I've been diversifying my reading a bit. I'm still reading mostly church history, except for the professional or dual-purpose Classical reading, but I'm reading a bit more in periods other than Patristics. A little Mediaeval, a bit more Reformation and a bit of the Enlightenment (sorry, 19th  and 20th century, I'm just not up for you just yet- not quite over the aversion from my university days). That has been good for me because, while I continue to love the Church Fathers, it is possible to get a little too familiar and insular about my interests. Yet, much of my interest in these periods tends to be how did we go from the Fathers to now. That is, how did we wind up in this mess, Christianly speaking?

I don't, I should warn you right away, have any brilliant answers to that question. The current post-Christian moment in history has been the result of millions of little decisions and circumstances, but my historian's heart still hopes for answers. So, it has been good to wander through various stages in the Church's life, looking at this or that thread, reflecting on the decisions made and where they led. That search sometimes me to feel that we have wandered so far and so long that we've lost sight of our starting point. That is, of course, the experience of most of us in our own lives, so it shouldn't be entirely surprising that this is true for us communally. Of course, there are those pivotal moments which we see as influential in our own lives or our communal lives. Sometimes, these events serve as pivots, clearly demarcating different phases of life. In our Christian history, that could be the Reformation or some such event, whose impact was so great it completely changed how millions of people lived their faith. In our own lives, it might be getting married, a conversion, a death or facing up to something we have long denied. Still, most of our lives, and the life of the Church, is lived in the mundane world of work, family and everyday life where faith is the unspectacular foundation we live with and we can wander from that faith so easily that it is hard to know where we are.

In my reading, what I've seen is millions of faithful people working, praying and living out their Christian lives over hundreds of years; sometimes well, sometimes badly. In the history of the Church, we see saints and sinners worshiping and working together, each mixing their good and bad motives together. We see the Church bonded to cultural limits which distort its faithful witness to the world and, every once in a while, we see it transcend those limitations spectacularly and in a life-changing way. And we see that promise sink back into the mire of human culture and sin, only to flash out again in a blaze of grace. Somehow God's work still gets done and the rich incarnational parade (to borrow a phrase from novelist Maggie Helwig) continues.

The funny thing is that that parade, in all its messiness and disorder, gives me hope for the future. It reassures me that God is still working in the life of the Church and the world. He hasn't given up on us because somehow he still works through us. The fact that we still see both sinners and saints in the pews with us each week should reassure us that God's healing of the world is continuing because we sinners learn this is a place for healing and redemption so we can reclaim the memory that we are all potentially among the saints. The messiness of Church history is the messiness of a world which, whatever it says about faith, tries to heal itself without God. Despite these obstreperous patients, God keeps working his healing and redemption of this world, step by step, person by person. The history of Christianity tries to track this process. While admitting where we have failed and knowing that we can't truly know its end, we seek to see God's fingerprints on how we humans have interacted.

Perhaps this is all too lyrical for some; too pious for others. Our failings as a church are grim enough, we all can set out those failings in detail. And those who reject Christianity and the Church are always happy to remind us, if we've forgotten. We live in an age where Christians don't want to remember our Christian past because it is too fraught and it has fallen to non-Christians to remind us of our failings. Yet, I wonder why we Christians let others tell our story for us. Why is the history for the Church left so often for those who have little interest in the Church as it is now? There has been some magnificent work done on church history in the last hundred or two hundred years, but do we need to go back and find again our Christian narrative, not papering over our sins and faults, but confessing them and looking for God's purpose in it all? What would a history look like which would celebrate faith and service to God, recognize sin and error, but still be essentially hopeful and faithful? How can we bear witness to the love of God in this world over our long history and offer hope for the future of our Christian lives?

These are more questions I don't have answers for. Yet,  I suspect that part of the answer is my own difficulty in seeing my own story in the way that I set out for Christian history. I would prefer to justify, to plead innocence and paper over my own failings. I know what the harder, and better, path is, but I rarely want to go down it. Yet, God is working in my life and others, as I know well. How to bridge the all too common reluctance to admit one is a sinner with the recognition of God in my life and those around me? And, if I can't do it, how can I speak to the broader question of our communal life as a Church?

We are all, in a sense, historians- most often of our own lives, but sometimes with a call for a broader vision. How would you tell your story, I wonder? How would you tell our story?

Saturday, December 01, 2012


Generally, one warning that a blog is not receiving enough attention from its author is when it is deluged by spam. Another warning is when a blog is when it is mentioned as past tense as a defunct blog (I appreciate the praise, incidently, and concede the defunct). Yet, ultimately, I'm not entirely sure what I think about continuing this blog. Clearly, my energy and willingness to blog has been at a premium over the last few years, but I'm still hesitant about letting this blog go. Perhaps, I'm just being stubborn. Perhaps there is something else I should be doing with this. I don't know.

Anyway, what I hope is that the readers I have left would add me to whatever prayers they make as I discern what to do with this blog. Suggestions, of course, are also welcome, but anything I take up has to a. excite me and b. be managable given my life.

Still pondering and praying....