Everything's Not Snowy and Wonderful
Willie Nelson, David Sedaris, Jerusalem Greer,
George Hermanson, and Patricia Adams Farmer
God's home is in the muck and smell of the stable.
"So the innkeeper is a double sign of hospitality. He cared for the needs of all - Mary and those who slept in the inn. He had compassion and provided a warm place - the stable. This metaphor suggest that God’s home is in the muck and smell of the stable - the world. There the dishonored and shameful are made whole. Earthiness is the place where we practice hospitality."
Some people try too hard to make it pretty.
'Have you ever noticed that the holiday season tends to highlight whatever is most broken in our lives; our families, our bank accounts, dreams, friendships, and most importantly, our hearts. During this season so many of us feel inadequate, lonely, overwhelmed or just plain blue.
Beyond Pretty Paper
By Jay McDaniel
Our lives are not pretty paper or pretty ribbons of blue. Nor are they pretty pencils to write I love you. Ask the man selling them on the sidewalk. There he sits all alone on the sidewalk hoping that you won't pass him by. His loneliness reminds us that compassion, not prettiness, is the aim of life. Compassion for him and compassion for ourselves. It's so much more beautiful than prettiness.
One thing that gets in the way of compassion is perfectionism. Sometimes we create images of perfection in our minds to hide from the sadness we feel in our hearts. There is something human and natural about this. It’s OK to dream of a White Christmas, just like the ones we used to know. But when our hiding from pain leads us to harm others -- to slap and shake a crying child, as witnessed by Crumpet the Elf – there’s something deeply wrong.
Part of what is wrong may be the social conditions in which we find ourselves. We may be poor, or envious, or both. The self-absorbed elites are riding around in limousines, while we are scrapping for enough money to pay the rent. Part of the good news offered by Jesus is that things don’t have to be this way. We can work for forms of community in which the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven, and when this happens no one is left behind. Not us and not our babies. It is called democratic socialism or, as Jesus spoke of it, the kingdom of God.
But part of what is wrong may be different. We may be trapped in what we might call the illusion of pretty paper. This is the illusion that everything must always be bright and cheery because God is only about hope but not about the nitty-gritty of life. Trapped in this illusion, we may be what Jerusalem Greer calls Fighters:
When asked how they are doing will always reply a little too brightly “I am fine!” Fighters are hard to identify because they look happy, and they sound happy, but underneath all the ribbon and bows and twinkle lights, it is a different story, there is an underlying cry to rest, to acknowledge what is hurting in their lives.
The problem is, we can't rest; and we get really irritated in the presence of disorder or sadness, including our own. We slap people: if not others then ourselves. if not with our hands then with our words.
If we are pretty paper people, there is truly good news in the birth of Jesus, and we don’t have to be Christians to appreciate it. It is that whoever and whatever God is, God is found in the wet dirt and mud, in the farm manure, in the muck of it all.
Is there light in the muck, too? Well, yes, but it's of a different kind. It's not the light of pretty paper but the light of love.
First, there doesn't need to be light in the muck in order for God to be a companion to the musk. Things can be very, very sad -- almost totally dark -- and God is with the darkness, like a man on a cross who feels abandoned, even by God.
Second, even in situations where there is total darkness there is a dim light, a fresh possibility for creative transformation, for positive change, for a way of stepping forward. Patricia Adams Farmer has it right in saying that this kind of light includes darkness:
"We can even be grateful—yes grateful!—for what the darkness offers, for it is an opportunity to widen our souls to include the full range of human feeling. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that feeling is the beginning of healing."