Family leave and the church

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has a crèche collection gathered from all over the world. Various hands sculpted these figures from every conceivable material: stone, wool, glass, and even cow dung. The tropical regions portray Jesus under palm trees with very little cloth swaddling him, while cold climates show the holy family wrapped tightly, huddled and surrounded by snow. They remind us that we interpret this beautiful story in our own contexts; we pick up what the gospel writers leave out as we imagine the earthy smell of the hay, the rough texture of the feeding trough and the gentle sounds of the animals. These miniature mangers capture that crucial period after a baby is born, when the bonds of relationships strengthen as an infant is introduced to a family with care and attention. It is a time for welcoming, healing and wholeness.

In our culture, family leave policies enable this opportunity, yet within our church, that time off is often seen as an unnecessary benefit. Although sick leave after major surgery is expected, congregations can be unclear about the fair expectations of parents when a child enters their family. When I look at the adoring Mary and Joseph, a startling love bubbles up as I recall the birth of my own child. I also remember the confusion in our churches and Presbytery.

Draft dodgers no more

Scripture lesson: Mark 1: 1-8

Without sounding as melodramatic as Daniel did about his inner life, I recently had a dream. It went like this: We came home, opened the front door of the house, and discovered to our surprise that it was as empty as a gourd.

I do not mean just somewhat empty. When you are preparing to move and you are packing everything up you can say that it is empty when it is still half full of stuff. But this time I mean spic and span--astonishingly clean. If Hemingway had been there he would have said that it was the original clean well lighted place. It was apocalyptically bare.

Dreams are big these days. There is open season on them by both novelists and psychotherapists. Nevertheless, I am not so sure that the experts would do much with this one. It could be beyond the grasp of even that newly evolved profession, life coach/mentor. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung could have met at Seattle's Best over it, flipped for paying the bill, and left shaking their heads.

Stay alert, keep awake

Scripture lesson: Mark 13


With all due respect to Holy Scripture, this is some great Advent sermon fodder. There is Isaiah 64's cry to come down; Psalm 81's plea to come to save us, and the thrice reiterated restore us," and, I Corinthians 1's invitation to patiently wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But when it comes to interpreting Mark 13's imperatives to stay alert and keep awake from a Reformed theological perspective, we who live after the publication of some 62 million copies of The Left Behind series (not to mention some two-thousand Advents, more or less), have our work cut out for us. The mild-mannered Christianity Today once referred to LaHaye and Jenkins' series as a multi-"volume post-rapture, dispensational soap opera." But this stuff--page-turning intrigue and hair-raising climaxes notwithstanding--is not harmless entertainment. It's theology. 

The Bitter Frost and the Wild Snowflake

Despite late November spring-like temperatures, the fiery red, golden passion of October's glory has fallen fast. From the mighty oak, maple and ash, the crippled stem and crinkled leaf have tumbled down to the hard, hard ground, where they are crushed like fodder under the hoof of the deer and the boot of the hunter.

The Promise of Advent

The season is upon us when all our hopes are trained on the inexhaustibility of a particular event in time and space, the coming of Jesus Christ. It is a season in which we remember that the gospel is received in the mode of anticipating and awaiting a promise.

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