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The 12 days of Christmas

I know the Christmas season is over, but it is not as far in the rear-view mirror as one might think. This past Saturday, Dean and I stopped in at our favourite nut store and the lady at the counter mentioned that she was celebrating Christmas that very day, January 6. For those of us in the Western church tradition, this might sound a bit strange, but for the first few centuries, the early church celebrated the birth of Christ and the manifestation of Christ as Messiah on Epiphany, January 6. Only later (4th century) was the celebration of the nativity separated from the celebration of the manifestation of Christ. The separation of the two events eventually resulted in commemorating the twelve days of Christmas, with the Twelfth Night feast falling on January 5.

That's right. The Twelve Days of Christmas is not just a song from the 18th century. The church has been celebrating various feast days following the birth of Christ for many centuries. To be honest, our Western Christma…
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win or lose

Of late, debates on any subject tend to leave a bad taste in my mouth. I have observed my share of debates (in academic, political, and online settings) and engaged in a few myself. Debating societies have been around for a few centuries and the form goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. The idea is that debating helps people develop rhetorical skills and sound reasoning. However, I wonder if debate is really all that useful as a pedagogical tool. It seems to bring out hubris instead of humility. It encourages a defensive posture instead of active listening. Being proved right seems more important than seeking truth and people become reduced to their positions. Transformative engagement is rare.

In Luke 20, we find several interactions between Jesus and religious leaders. The religious leaders use what some might view as legitimate debate techniques in an attempt to undermine Jesus's authority. They pose trick questions and present convoluted hypothetical situations. They flat…

Vertigo: be still

Christmas Day 2017 started out with great hope and expectation. Dean and I woke up just after 4 am and headed to the airport, eager to celebrate the holy days with our families in Manitoba. That changed somewhere over Ontario when vertigo paid me a visit. I won't regale you with the not-so-pleasant details of how many airsick bags I used or the dread that came over me when it was time to get off the plane and take that long walk to the airport exit. Let's just say that with great discomfort, I finally made it to my destination in Winnipeg and, for seven days, did as little moving and looking as possible (who knew vertigo affected your ability to focus?).

When I could manage it, I read up on vertigo. The official name is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Benign means that it is not related to another illness. Paroxysmal has to do with the intensification of symptoms during episodes (my body seemed to have missed this part because my symptoms were continuous, not episodic).…

The Liberator

When preachers and teachers tell the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, they often draw attention to her brave act of submission. After the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that she is to give birth to the Son of God, Mary responds: "I am the Lord's humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me" (Luke 1:38). Mary, no doubt aware that she could be stoned as an adulteress for having a child out of wedlock, says Yes to the dangerous, messianic mission presented to her by the angel. Mary is the model of female compliance, or so we have been led to believe throughout much of church history.

The depiction of Mary as an innocent and docile peasant girl is carelessly, perhaps even willfully, selective and incomplete. Sadly, the iconic portrayals of Mary have only served to reinforce the stereotype of a meek and mild Mary. But if we keep reading the story in Luke 1, just a few lines later we find a song erupting from this feisty young girl's mouth, a son…

a long list of names

When I ask people what their favourite part of the Christmas story is, I get a variety of answers. Kids like the angels and the animals. Others mention the incarnation, the courage of Mary, the kindness of Joseph to a son who was not his own, the remarkable dreams which led the young family away from danger, or the excitement of the shepherds. Very seldom does anyone mention the genealogies. I am not quite sure why, but rattling off a list of people’s names (most of them long dead) is usually left out of nativity pageants. Perhaps we should change that.
The genealogies of Jesus are found in two places: Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Go ahead and read them now if you like. The family tree in Matthew is the shorter one, with only 42 names listed, while in Luke we find 77 names. Matthew, meant for a Jewish audience, focuses on the nation of Israel’s highlights. Luke, written primarily for non-Jewish ears, is much more inclusive. There are some other differences between the two genealogies. Since…

Revelation: a few notes

This fall, our small study group decided to take a closer look at the book of Revelation. All of us admitted that we found it a bit difficult to understand. The first time we met, we did a read-through of the entire book and it left us more baffled than ever, but also intrigued. As we have delved deeper into the graphic visions and vivid poetry, we have been surprised, over and over again. To quote one of the participants: "Mind blown...again!" It is more historical and at the same time more relevant than we imagined. It is more in tune with the rest of the biblical witness than we knew. It is more cohesive and intelligible and carefully crafted than we expected. And it is so much more hopeful than recent books and movies focused on the end-times led us to believe.

It is always best to view a book as a whole instead of plucking out provocative, twitter-size quotes, and an attempt at wholeness is my intent here. Though we are only half-way through our study, I want to give y…

the movement of humility

We live in a context of stratification where much of society is ordered into separate layers or castes. We are identified as upper class, middle class, or lower class. Our language reflects this up/down (superior/inferior) paradigm. We want to be at the top of the heap, climb the ladder of success, break through the glass ceiling, be king of the hill. This same kind of thinking seeps into our theology. When we talk about humility, we think mostly think in terms of lowering ourselves, willfully participating in downward mobility. This type of up/down language is certainly present in biblical texts (James 4:10 is one example), but I believe that the kind of humility we see in Jesus requires that we step outside of a strictly up/down paradigm. Instead of viewing humility as getting down low or stepping down a notch on the ladder of society, perhaps it is more helpful to think in terms of proximity and movement.

Jesuit theologian, James Keenan, notes that virtues and vices are not really…