A meditation for New Years

By Kenneth Tanner

The rhythms of the church year have guided my life since 1989.

Marking time by the Word made flesh reorients *everything* in life and so the annual celebration of a “New Year” has, over time, decreased in importance for me while the feast of the Incarnation—the celebration of Christmas, beginning on the evening of December 24 and continuing through Epiphany on January 6—has become an intense annual season of reflection, communion, and creativity.

For me, New Year’s Eve and Day just happen to occur *during* Christmas, twelve days of blessed worship and fellowship which now eclipses the evening and day that marks the change from one year to the next. New Years is just one more part of Christmas. (And, for the church, the New Year really begins just after Thanksgiving on the first Sunday of Advent.)

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Sixth day of Christmas

By Kenneth Tanner

The One who cannot be contained in Solomon’s temple (much less the expanding universe) is contained in the womb of a Palestinian-Jewish teenager.

The One who is timeless and omnipotent and changeless makes himself truly vulnerable and contingent to all the natural forces he has breathed into existence as he lays in a feed box, dependent on Mary and Joseph for nourishment and protection, as he somehow holds together the wood of that manger that cradles him in Bethlehem.

The One who is the origin of all things and who holds all things in existence—galactic to microscopic—is the carpenter from Nazareth. He who made the Pleiades and Orion now sets beams and crafts tables with his stepfather, sweeps sawdust from his forearms.

The One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire is baptized with water so that humanity has a baptized God.

The One who does not eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats is now in Jesus a hungering creature of necessity, set to fast in the Judean desert.

The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and Lord of angel armies is now homeless and a sojourner, cloaked against the cold night air and all alone, tempted by satan.

The One who never sleeps and who ever watches over Israel naps on a boat out on Galilee.

The One who embodies the Law dines with tax collectors and wine enthusiasts.

The One who is a consuming fire of holy o Continue reading

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Fifth Day of Christmas

By Kenneth Tanner

When the divine community we call God created the visible (and invisible) universe they spoke words like “let there be light” and things that were not in one moment began to exist in the next. Stars. Planets. Oceans. Mountains. Trees. Animals. Flowers.

All these things and more were breathed into existence by God. When the Father began to make all things, our Wisdom tells us that it was the Son by whom the Father spoke all things into being; Christ spoke the things that were not as though they were and they were so. Orchid. Zebra. Maple. Everest. Atlantic. Jupiter. Andromeda. And so on.

Instead of speaking humanity into existence, our Wisdom tells us that God hand-crafted men and women from the clay, breathed into our motionless humanity the breath of life, invested with his image, and gave us something the rest of creation does not have except metaphorically: the divine capacity of language.

Though all living things communicate, only humans have the gift of speech and this capacity is creative (like God) or destructive (like the dark powers), depending on our choice.

The mystery of the Incarnation is so great that every year—in this time of Advent and Christmas, six blessed weeks of waiting and celebration—I eventually see something I have never seen before, encounter a facet of the birth narrative I missed or neglected or did not see in all its beauty.

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In the form of a baby

By Kenneth Tanner

God takes the form of a baby because divine helplessness is greater than any other force in the universe.

When on the first Christmas divine humility and powerlessness and poverty are revealed as the foundation of all that exists, this revelation of God in the flesh threatens all human notions of power, all human leadership that rests on exertions of might.

Real Christmas was and remains political. The conception and birth of Jesus—the helpless, silent infant who spoke all things into existence and who holds all things together—set a challenge to all other rulers and kingdoms, visible and invisible.

All temporal rulers instinctively know they are bested by an eternal kingdom of others-directed, self-sacrificial love that does not seek its own, that does not keep a record of wrongs, that is not jealous, that seeks to serve rather than to be served.

Herod knew the jig was up, that the age of self-seeking rulers was now exposed and that the game was over. Herod turned to murder to try to reimpose the old order, as have so many visible and invisible powers down the centuries since the Incarnation, since God took up permanent residence as a member of the human race in Jesus Christ.

I appreciate the way this artist captures the horror real infants and real mothers faced in the aftermath of the real Christmas, the infamous slaughter of male Hebrew children in and around Bethlehem that me remember today.

Fleeting worldly powers desperate to hold on to a false power that is being defeated by divine humility lash out. They always do, for violence is their defeated way of maintaining strength.

What they did not know is that in (eventually) killing Jesus Christ they reversed the permanence not only of their rule but of all their violent actions.

These poor children and all who suffer violence have in Jesus Christ a glorious way now to endure beyond suffering and death, to shine forever in the kingdom of their Father, while the kingdoms of this world and their violence await permanent, shameful expiration.

A blessed Fourth Day of this great feast of the Incarnation to you and yours. Remember the Innocents. We have inherited a kingdom; we await a world without end.

The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan. This article originally appeared on Huffington Post HERE. Follow him on Twitter: 

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Chesterton’s thoughts on Santa

“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

“As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good—far from it.

“And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me…What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.

“Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

“Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”

—G.K. Chesterton, for the win

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Second Day of Christmas

By Kenneth Tanner

It must be self-evident to most people that humanity needs rescue from sin, violence, and death. A God who participates in sin, violence, and death is not other than fallen humanity but a projection of our worst fears and hatreds.

A God who liberates us from sin, violence, and death is good and welcome news from outside ordinary human experience and thought. Such a God would be light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made. And it is the Incarnation that makes this God known to us, and makes this God real for us.

For it is the nails driven into the flesh of Christ by humanity and spirits of darkness that decisively counter and make vain all human, demonic, and anti-Christian imagination that the Father who creates and upholds the world by love is in some other part of himself the one who destroys the world or his Son.

There is a destroyer but his false, homicidal way of violence, abuse, coercion, and death is defeated by the humility of God acting in Jesus Christ.

He is the father of detestable instruments of death like nuclear weapons, for only a “god” who hates humanity and creation would author such abominations, and in sin we partnered in their “creation” with this god’s hatred of the image of God in humanity and in human civilization, his hatred of creation, his contempt for the Incarnation.

The nails driven into the flesh of Christ are also the nails driven into the coffin of the idea that the Living God sends evil or participates in darkness or desires the death of anyone.

Gloria in excelsis Deo. Happy Second Day of Christmas.

The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan. This article originally appeared on Huffington Post HERE. Follow him on Twitter: 

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Too Great a Mystery for One Day

By Kenneth Tanner

Christmas isn’t just for Christmas anymore. The season eclipses Thanksgiving, swallows Advent whole, and comes to a sudden, grinding halt with Christmas Day.

Our family celebrates Christmas old school, starting with worship on Christmas Eve. Then we let the Incarnation linger in our hearts and permeate our gatherings through 12 days ending on Epiphany (January 6).

And I am beginning to understand something. Christmas is too great a mystery for one night or one day or even 12 days.

How can this great love — a God who fashions us from clay becomes clay so we might be like God — not claim every day of our lives for worship?

This God was not content to let Creation, to let his creatures, slowly waste away, to languish in suffering, without taking responsibility for our plight by joining us in our predicament. He came to exist at the margins as so many humans do, like we all do if we honestly grasp the human situation.

 

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Chesterton and Congdon on Christmas

The Christ Child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ Child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ Child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ Child stood at Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him
And all the stars looked down.

– G. K. Chesterton

Art by William Congdon HERE

 

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Imprisoned for Art campaign

Peter Gabriel, Johnny Depp, Tom Morello and Nadya from P—y Riot are among the artists taking part in the Voice Project’s “Imprisoned for Art” campaign, which aims to raise awareness and funds to support free expression. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ Alex Ebert and Ana Tijoux are also involved with the project, with each artist photographed as a mug shot signifying a real person who has been imprisoned for their art.

collage-artists-activists-8a6229e1-215d-4503-abf9-4618ef27f626Gabriel holds a slate that reads “Amsara Eritrea, Indefinite Detention,” a reference to writer Dawit Isaak, who was been held in prison in Eritrea since 2001 without trial after being labeled a traitor by the government. Depp’s photo is a tribute to Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, currently imprisoned in Russia on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts for his role in fighting the Crimea annexation.

“Freedom of Expression — it’s easy to take it for granted until it’s gone,” the Voice Project said in a statement. “We speak up for those who speak out, for those imprisoned around the globe for having raised their voice in dissent. We have to stand up for each other, no matter the distance, no matter the borders. You never know when you’ll need the same in return.”

Each photograph will be printed on a T-shirt that will be available for purchase, with proceeds benefitting the organization alongside efforts to free the imprisoned artists. Visit the Voice Project’s Represent page for more information.voice project, tom morello, peter gabriel, pussy riot nadya, johnny depp, voice project johnny depp, voice project peter gabriel

“When I first started traveling around the world [for the Human Rights Now tour in 1988], I was shocked to discover in how many countries there were artists who were in jail, or who had been tortured or killed for doing exactly the same thing that I do — writing and singing songs,” Gabriel said in a statement. “We have to defend and protect those with the courage to speak out.”

“You can’t buy free speech, but you can give it away,” added Morello. “You can also fight like hell for it.”

“Unfortunately, America is about to start looking more like Russia under Putin, it’s already happening, and dissent is going to become a more dangerous business,” Nadya from Pussy Riot, who represents Turkish singer Nûdem Durak for the project, said in a statement. “But that just means dissent is more important than ever. The good news is we can learn from each other, help each other—that we are stronger than we think, both individually and collectively, we have more fight in us that we believe. I know this from being a person in prison, but also from seeing all the people who banded together to get me out.”

Ebert’s shirt is dedicated to singer Trần Vũ anh Bình, currently imprisoned in Vietnam, while Morello’s shirt is for Thai singer Tom Dundee, behind bars for “offending” the Thailand government. Tijoux’s shirt honors the poet Ashraf Fayad being held in Saudi Arabia.

From Rolling Stone, click HERE for full story. 

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Bamf: The gospel according to Nightcrawler

nightcrawler-166754By Steve Beard

There was more than a ripple of thrill coursing through the veins of comic book fans when the cast was announced last year for X-Men: Apocalypse. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Olivia Munn, and James McAvoy were some of the stars named to the film. For many fans, however, a pivotal announcement from director Bryan Singer was the reemergence of Nightcrawler, the teleporting mutant also known as Kurt Wagner.

On the first official day of production in April 2015, Singer posted an image that briefly showed Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler to his more than 100,000 followers on Instagram. As quickly as it appeared, it was removed. Bamf!

When moviegoers were first introduced to Wagner in the 2003 blockbuster film X2: X-Men United, he was darting through a legion of hapless Secret Service officers at the White House. Mysteriously, the character has been absent from the last five films in the series.

For comic book fans, Nightcrawler’s appearance in X2 (played by Alan Cumming) was welcomed with delight. At first glance, he appeared as a fierce demon-looking character that was able to disappear into thin air and reappear across the room. As a “teleporter,” the German-accented mutant is able to morph into a puff of blue smoke and transport himself with the speed of sound. With acrobatic grace, he cuts quite an image with his dark blue skin, tail, pointy ears, three-fingered-hands, and funny teeth.

Nightcrawler has been one of Marvel Comics’ most unique and complex superheroes since 1975. For those outside the X-Men cult of fans, the series revolves around a cast of characters that have some form of genetic mutation that manifests itself through extraordinary abilities. They have names such as Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto, and Rogue. The mutants can control the weather (Storm), blow freezing cold wind (Iceman), or walk through walls (Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat). As you would expect, they are treated as freaks and ostracized from society. The storyline revolves around the struggle between the humans and mutants and the need to fight prejudice, suspicion, and bigotry when dealing with people who may have different looks or talents.

nightcrawler-x2Perhaps the most intriguing characteristic about Nightcrawler is that he is a mutant of faith — a devout Christian. Out of all the myriad of cartoon superheroes created in the last fifty years, very few have articulated or been identified with a specific religious faith.

There have, however, been exceptions to the rule. In 2002, it was revealed in the comics that Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) of The Fantastic Four was Jewish. In the movie Daredevil, crucifixes and other religious iconography flood the screen (as well as visits to the confessional) in order to convey Matt Murdock’s struggle between vigilantism and his boyhood Catholic faith.

To their credit, the screenwriters, director, and producers of X2 allowed Nightcrawler to retain his purity of faith and hope. They skipped the subtle, read-between-the-lines type of allusions to his Christianity and let him express full-metal devotion. Nightcrawler takes refuge in an abandoned cathedral in Boston, festooned with statues of Jesus. When he is nervous, he holds a crucifix and says the rosary in German. When he needs to summon inner strength, he recites the Lord’s Prayer. When the group is confronted with tragedy, he pastorally quotes Psalm 23.

Quite simply, Nightcrawler is one of the most devout and unconventional Christian characters that has ever been portrayed on the big screen. Furthermore, his distinct characteristics span his portrayal in comic books, graphic novels, and an animated film. He talks righteously about sin and the power of faith, without the slightest hint of holier-than-thouism. Although he has every right to be angry at humans for their bigotry, he chooses to help them. He has fears, but he acts with courage through the power of prayer. He quotes the Scripture to find strength that his genetically mutated special powers cannot give him.

In the movie version, Nightcrawler’s faith is further highlighted in that his body is covered in tattoos, one for each of his sins. He calls them his “angel marks.” In a form of penance, they are self-inflicted ancient Enochian symbols considered to be an angelic alphabet.

 

Good-natured swashbuckler

When Nightcrawler first began with the X-Men, he was not conceived as a religious superhero. He was a swashbuckling adventurer with a good sense of humor and a special charisma with the ladies. He even became the leader of the British superhero group Excalibur.

His unique look always made him appear to be something that he was not — namely a demon. The creators used his image to further press their point that prejudice and bigotry brutally cloud our judgment in being able to truly judge a person. This was only heightened when Nightcrawler began quoting Scripture, praying, and hanging out in abandoned cathedrals. He began to be mentored by a priest at Church of Michael the Archangel in Brooklyn and studying for the priesthood.

For a period of time in the X-Men comics, Nightcrawler was shown wearing a clerical collar and even presiding over the funeral of a friend. In the midst of his theological studies, he also struggles with his faith, the tremendous injustice that he sees all around him, and what it would mean to become a priest.

In the graphic novel Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1: Hope (2003, written by Chuck Austen), Nightcrawler is staring at a life-size crucifix in St. Patrick’s Cathedral when he says, “Your death was intended to show us a shining example of how we should live in loving union with you and those around us. Yet even those of us who hold you deepest in our hearts — fail — in keeping true to your divine word.”

In continuing his confession, he says: “Clergy, parishioners, priests — me. I have such thoughts — feelings I cannot escape — the desires for the touch of a woman.” While the temptations of the flesh weigh heavy on his conscience, Nightcrawler’s vastly more threatening challenge is against the racist and religious humans of the Church of Humanity, a Ku-Klux-Klan type of anti-mutant organization.

With the gritty and heart-torn anxiety of the Psalmist, his poignant monologue continues by unleashing his frustration on a seemingly standoffish God. “And now another Holy War is brewing — more fools take up weapons of murder in Your name. And You allow it. Perhaps even encourage it. If we take You into our hearts, does that mean fighting and killing in Your name — or not fighting and being killed in your name? Which is the right answer? And what purpose does it serve to torment your most faithful when the goal is maybe one day sitting beside you — alone — possibly forever apart from the ones we love and desire — who chose wrongly or failed your uncertain tests?”

The scene concludes with Nightcrawler looking at his crucified Jesus and saying, “When next we meet, I expect answers.”

 

Did God give up on the mutants?

With the heightened popularity of the X-Men movies, a DVD collection of animated TV episodes from the early 1990s was released entitled X-Men: The Legend of Wolverine (Buena Vista, written by Eric Lewald, Mark Edward Edens, and Sidney Iwanter). It includes an entire episode devoted to the origin and theological disposition of Nightcrawler.

The story takes place within a monastery in a small Bavarian village in Germany. Three of the X-Men (Wolverine, Gambit, and Rogue) find themselves being aided by monks in the aftermath of an avalanche. Having been mistaken for a demon by the townspeople because of his looks, Nightcrawler explains to Wolverine and his friends that his genetic mutations were evident from birth and that the villagers chased he and his mother of out of town.

His mom (Mystique) also abandoned him as a child (in the comics, she throws him over a waterfall) and a family of travelling performers took him in. When he was young he was able to work in the circus, but he was still treated as an outcast, “shunned and hated.” In talking with Wolverine, Nightcrawler says, “Though all people are flawed and struggle with the capacity for sin, none likes to be reminded of our shared human weakness. My appearance does not make it easy.”

“Don’t it make you crazy?” Wolverine asks with incredulity.

“It did once, but then I found peace by devoting my life to God,” said Nightcrawler. “He directed me to this place [the monastery] where they value the character of my heart, not my appearance.”

This only sends Wolverine further into a rage. “What are you talking about? God gave up on us long ago!” Nightcrawler counters, “No, my friend, God does not give up on his children — human or mutant. He is there for us in our times of joy and to help us when we are in pain — if we let Him.”

Later, Nightcrawler tells Wolverine, “We are alike, you and I — angry at the world. My pain drives me to seek God, yours drove you away.” Wolverine is further infuriated when he asks why God would have allowed him to be treated so badly. “Our ability to understand God’s purposes are limited,” says Nightcrawler, “but take comfort in the fact that his love is limitless.”

The episode concludes with Wolverine kneeling in a French cathedral reading the Bible and saying, “I will give thanks to you O Lord. Though you are angry with me, your anger is turned away and you have comforted me. I will trust you. I will not be afraid.”

Not a bad message — especially coming from an unconventional superhero.

 

Steve Beard is a roller derby photographer, editor, and the curator of Thunderstruck.org.

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