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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

January 2018

A clergy colleague of mine living in Seattle, posted on Facebook that someone stopped her in a coffee shop and said, “Wow you’re a practicing Christian; living in Seattle? That’s so revolutionary!” You may encounter this sort of sentiment as well, because we have become a minority.

Recently I had a conversation with an acquaintance at a hiking meetup, who wanted to check some Christmas facts. Or maybe he was curious how an educated person like myself with two masters degrees could believe in things like the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, the appearance of the magi after twelve days. Heaven, hell and so on. As a priest I seem to find myself in a lot of conversations like this. Maybe you do too - trying to describe or defend your Christian faith to someone whose main aim is to poke holes in it. Or maybe it is someone who feels sorry for you, that you still believe this stuff. Silly, lost, simple minded, we must be.

Though I know these kinds of conversations go with the territory of wearing a clergy collar, they often make me weary and kind of sad. I certainly don’t want to dismiss such a person or their questions: That doesn’t seem very Christian! What is wearying and disheartening is the rather shallow premise. And perhaps the assumption that we just don’t know any better. The premise that spirituality, religious experience, faith, and hope is somehow a fact finding enterprise.

I was very fortunate when I was in Budapest to see a large Rembrandt exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. There were so many of his paintings! I was short on time, so I skipped around a bit. Asking for the facts on religious experience or faith is like looking at a beautiful painting, checking the tiny description next to, or below it, reading, “The Glasses Salesman, Rembrandt, 1623, oil on canvas,” and then walking on to the next painting. You got the facts alright, but you missed the best part! Stand back from the painting, take it in. Feel it. Let your eyes blur a little, then look more closely at the details, the lighting, the mood, maybe even try to guess about what the artist was thinking about when he created it.

This is how it is with faith and being a follower of Christ. Of course you can easily poke holes in our story. The fact checkers will not understand. However, my hope is that during this Christmas and Epiphany season, when we celebrate the remarkable story of God who came to dwell among us, that you will stand back and take it in. Appreciate the beauty, mystery, and holiness of this season.
Perhaps the best thing we can say is this: That those who were lost are being found! What was brought low is being raised up! And all things are being renewed in the manifestation of God in Christ Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:17