Poor Little Baby Jesus

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I always feel a little sad for the baby Jesus this time of year.  I mean, here’s a poor newborn in a cold barn with his trembling teenage parents. Strangers with their camels and sheep are crowding in.  And, because of him, the King is slaughtering children all over Palestine.

Not a safe, comfortable or happy way to come into the world, for anyone.

But here’s what makes me feel bad for the sweet swaddled savior:

Billions of believers can’t wait for him to be born. . .

so he can be killed for His Father’s Plan of Salvation for Sinners.

Poor little guy.

Who will save the savior?

(by the way, we know, don’t we, that if Jesus was here now he would have no idea “Christmas” has anything to do with him.  He wouldn’t be saying, “Merry Christmas” but he might say, “Happy Hanukkah.”  And, anyone remember that Jesus said “Salvation is from the Jews” not from Christians?  Just wondering)

Adopting the Bethlehem Baby

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Chaplain Chris with a Group of Unhoused Artists

This was published today in our local paper.

“Adopting the Bethlehem Baby”

A Buddhist priest and a Christian minister went into a brewery. . .no, seriously, they once sat with a mixed group of church and sangha folks to teach a course on the book, “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hanh. The priest was my friend Lee, and I was the minister. We met in the church where I was parish associate and then we gathered at the Zen farm where Lee had practiced for many years. Lee and I were already friends and colleagues, since he served as the chair of the street chaplaincy where I was interfaith chaplain. I also had enjoyed several personal retreats at the farm with its deep green fields rolling down toward the blue Pacific. A beautiful place where anyone, of any faith or no faith, can feel welcome.

Every student in that course was moved by the respectful manner in which the book treats Jesus as a kind of brother to Buddha, and each person could see how easy it is for two leaders of two historic faiths to sit together, teach together and work alongside each other as friends.

Later that year, Lee and I invited faith leaders from churches, synagogues, mosques, meetings and more to celebrate Thanksgiving together. That was 19 years ago, and that interfaith service still happens every year on the night before Thanksgiving. What always made those celebrations so wonderful was the diversity of the assembly, grateful and giving. Yet what made it very special was including people who lived outside—those who often feel excluded from our communities. Not only were unhoused neighbors invited to attend—they were an important part of the service, no more and no less important than clergy, as they joined in by leading music, reading and telling their stories of living without homes.

Before sharing a common supper, a procession flowed forward carrying blankets, gloves, coats, sleeping bags and other essentials. This was a very emotional moment—we all could see how simple gifts were helping people survive. No one with a house walked out into the cold that night without a deep gratitude for a place to call home, and a deeper concern for their neighbors sleeping outside with nothing but stars for a roof.

One pastor spoke at this Thanksgiving Eve service and said that anyone who was treating home-challenged human beings with compassion was “doing the work of Jesus.” All the assembled folk, of all faiths and no faiths, were nodding their heads. Even non-Christians understand what that means. An ancient Palestinian rabbi taught people to show love and compassion and work for justice. It’s a message echoed in Buddha and Krishna, Confucius and Muhammad (“in the name of The One, the compassionate and merciful”). What could be more inclusive than that? What an energizing call to live and learn together!

I was born on Christmas Day. Born and adopted on Christmas. Maybe Jesus would have understood that feeling since, in the original story, he was “adopted” by Joseph. Then, he was “‘adopted” by a ragged group of outsiders and later was “adopted” by a powerful institution called by his name. Unfortunately, at times Jesus’ adopted family seems more distracted by “believing in the baby” than living his grownup message.

Do you ever wonder who owns Jesus? That’s a stunning question, but it might be good to ask from time to time. Is there one church that can claim he belongs to them, that they and they alone know who Jesus is and what he wants? I grew up in a church that believed that. They may never have said that, but it was the feeling you got.

Now, that seems a rather sad thing to do to the baby in the manger or the man on the mountainside. Could anyone own him? My Buddhist friend Lee would always have a peaceful smile on his face when Jesus was the topic of discussion. He was happy to be sitting in a meeting even when people were trying to “preach the gospel” or say prayers “in Jesus’ name.” That didn’t bother him. But it bothered me. I didn’t like the disrespect shown to Lee, or other people of different faiths, or the group of streetfolk sitting as captive audience for someone’s “mission.”

For many years, even as a minister, I was displeased and disappointed to hear people evangelize “the poor.” I wondered if these same people would try to convert Mary, Joseph and the Baby himself! Because, as we all know, they weren’t “insiders” either.

In this season of light, maybe it would be good for us to “adopt” some enlightened ways of thinking. If we can adopt more compassion and understanding, maybe more than one baby would smile.

Chris Highland
December, 2016

New Seasons and New Reasons

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My old cabin on the island

“Nature looks ahead, and makes ready for the new season in the midst of the old. . .  The present season is always the mother of the next.”

~John Burroughs, Ways of Nature

The wonderful refreshing rains have returned to our thirsty land.  The pasturelands are greening; the streams are flowing and lakes are filling.  Snow is falling in the mountains that await the February cabin trip by the icy rivers.

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Snowshoe paradise

I am always grateful for the change of seasons, when the months of contrasts arrive in their annual visit colorfully clothed in dark and light, cold and warm, silence and song, death and life.

When the first sky-waterfalls begin, the sound holds my attention, even when it’s mostly the water pouring down the spouts at night.  There’s a calming and a reassuring sense that the birds, the coyotes, the insects and the land are breathing relief at the taste of liquid life.

Watershedding

Watershedding

My Christmas birthday has changed over the years.  More accurately, it changes every year.  Last year Carol and I surprised our friends Todd and Judy in the City, arriving at their annual morning brunch to a houseful of hugs and good cheer.

Christmas kisses

Christmas kisses

Leaving the festivities we got stuck in terrible touristy traffic.  I was missing my treeclimb, so we got out of the holiday headache and walked Golden Gate Park for a bit where I found a short olive to “climb.”

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A few days later I was able to go just a few feet higher in an oak in a local state park.

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This year we’ll be in the coastal hills for “the day,” among the redwoods and fir.  Between now and then I’ll find a “climber” to be my Christmas Tree.

I’m climbing around some new reasons to enjoy the season this year.  The family seems to be smiling more; good people are connecting; my classes are really very fun to teach; I’m re-reading some good books (Steinbeck, Thomas Paine, Burroughs) and many more birds and species are gathering in the fields and ponds.

Home for the holidays

Home for the holidays

I hope this season of natural beauty gives you many presents.  One gift is good enough.  Life itself.


*This little reflection was just published on Patheos:  Climbing (not cutting) a Christmas Tree