A Christmas Homily from Foothill Presbyterian Church

Just before worship last Sunday I discovered a beautiful poem about Mary becoming pregnant by God’s spirit. The scriptures for Sunday’s service were all about Mary and so I read the poem at the beginning of worship:

Know that the wheeling heavens are turned by waves of Love:
were it not for Love, the world would be frozen, stiff.
How would an inorganic thing transform into a plant?
How would living creatures sacrifice themselves
to become endowed with spirit?
How would the spirit sacrifice itself for the sake of that Breath
by which Mary was made pregnant?

For me this is a surprising poem because, while I believe it captures the beauty of the mystery of Mary’s divine conception of Jesus—and by extension, communicates much of the wonder of Christmas—the poem was not written by a Christian. It was composed something like 750 years ago by a Sufi Muslim poet named Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad, who wrote under the penname, Rumi. Continue reading

A Jingle Bells Grace

This column was the featured column on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on December 17, 2007.
About six weeks ago, I became the foster parent of a sixteen year old refugee from Burma. She’s a delightful kid. She smiles a lot and she’s helpful around the house. She likes my children and they like her.

But she doesn’t speak English, in fact, she doesn’t even speak Burmese. She speaks an obscure dialect of a language that almost no one outside of northwest Burma understands. Her hometown has no automobiles, no running water, no electricity, and very little contact with the outside world. I suspect that she can communicate fluently only with people from her town, and as far as I can tell, the only other person from her town in the United States lives in Michigan. Continue reading

The Cost of War, One Breath at a Time.

This piece was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on December 18, 2006.  It headlined the UPI website’s religion section that day as well.  A slightly shorter version of this commentary will air this holiday season on the Perspectives program on KQED FM, a public radio station in San Francisco.

Toward the end of the first week of Advent, when I should have been writing a sermon on the life and ministry of Saint John the Baptist, I found myself surfing the web to a site that gives a real time, running total of the cost of the ongoing war in Iraq.

The total cost of the war—some 350 billion dollars—is a number so large that it is emotionally meaningless to me, but I spent a good deal of time contemplating the speed at which the war’s tally increased by tens, hundreds, and thousands of dollars—amounts of money to which I can relate.

The counter moved too fast for me to get a good measure of the rate of war spending using the sweep hand on my wristwatch, so I used a more elementary and less scientific method, and here’s what I discovered: the United States’ taxpayers spend twenty thousand dollars on the war every time I take a breath. Continue reading