[Disclosure: Parts of this column are borrowed from another column I wrote two Christmases ago.]
In those days a decree went out, from the emperors living in their glass houses with closed circuit surveillance cameras and 24-hour security patrols, that all the world should be embroiled in civil wars, so that their spheres of influence might be extended over unwilling populations.
And so the imperial forces used remote-control drones to bomb innocent victims in Yemen, and brought 20 million Yemenis to the brink of starvation.
And they burned to the ground 400 Rohingya villages in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and forced a seemingly endless line of 900,000 people to seek refuge in Bangladesh, where they lived in bamboo shelters on low-lying land prone to flooding.
And they bombed prosperous cities in Syria and Iraq into rubble, and turned religious factions against each other, and drove the Yazidi minority to retreat into rocky mountains.
And they maintained armies of occupation in Afghanistan and Crimea, and confined the residents of Gaza into their own private concentration camp, and built walls to restrict the movement of Mexicans and Hondurans and Palestinians.
And behold, the number of displaced people around the world, many of them refugees within their own countries, rose to 70 million.
And then to ease their collective conscience, the emperors and their allies declared Tuesday December 18, one week before Christmas, to be International Migrants Day.
And so it came to pass that a man named Yusef fled from the shattered ruins of his home and business to a refugee camp in the desert, a place where he knew no one. He took with him Miriam, to whom he was engaged to be married, and who was expecting a child.
While they were in the camp, on their way to anywhere else, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn shortly before dawn, while others slept, in a flimsy tent provided by an international aid agency.
Miriam wrapped him in her own cloak, the only warmth she had, to protect him from the bitter cold of a desert night in December. And she laid him on the sand, because they had nowhere else to put him.
In that camp there were militia patrolling among the tents, bearing weapons supplied by the arms merchants of the emperors. The men kept their faces covered and their guns ready, keeping watch for enemies who might infiltrate the camp and incite unrest among the refugees.
Then they heard in the night the cry of an infant. And they were afraid, lest the infant’s cry should attract attention to their location. They said to each other, “Let us silence this child before he can cause any trouble.”
But the stars shone as brightly as ever above them, and they seemed to hear a voice saying inside them, “Do not be afraid; for see -- I am bringing you good news of great joy, to all in this camp and beyond it: for unto you is born this night a sign of hope. This shall be your sign: in a simple fabric tent, you will find a child wrapped in his mother’s only cloak and lying on the sand.”
And the voice seemed to turn into a heavenly chorus, chanting, “Lāʾilāha ʾillā llāh;on earth, peace and goodwill to all!”
Tenderness breaks through
And the patrollers said to one another, “Allahu akbar!Let us see this miracle that has taken place, even in the midst of war and death and despair.”
So they went among the tents and found Miriam and Yusef, and the child lying on the sand. When they saw it, they were overcome by compassion. They marveled that a helpless infant, who would surely be a burden and a handicap to his parents in their flight into an unknown future, could be so loved that his mother would give the only thing that kept her warm in the desert night to her child.
And they took turns holding the child in their arms. They pulled down their masks to expose their stubbled and sun-burned faces, and muttered soothing sounds. And the baby gurgled and smiled at them.
And they gave his parents what they could -- their water bottles, some snacks, and their warm coats. Then they went back out into the darkness just as dawn crept over the eastern horizon.
And Miriam treasured their kindness and pondered the experience in her heart.
But the patrolling militia told no one what they had seen and done.
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last weekend’s column about recommended books prompted several of you to send your own recommendations. Not surprisingly, most of them have to do with religion, in one form or another.
Tom Watson offered “two important books I read this year. Both have to do with people trying to escape repressive religious communities.
“One is ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover -- her own true story of not being allowed to go to school until she finally broke away and went to university.
“The other is ‘Women Talking’ by Canadian author Miriam Toews. It's based on the story of women living in a patriarchal religious community where they are drugged at night and raped by the men...the women finally hold a series of meetings and plot their escape.”
Jean Hamilton asked, “May I add another book for liberals…well, for everyone, really. I have just read Elaine Pagels’ ‘Why Religion?’ (Harper Collins 2018) and it is excellent, especially for those who are wondering whether they can remain in the church. And for those who have suffered great personal loss.”
Similarly, Miriam Bowles asked, “Have you read the book ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande?”
I agree that it is well worth reading – especially as Canada struggles with end-of-life issues.
Frank Martens not only added his own recommendations (reflecting his professed atheism), he offered to give away copies to you! “You missed a couple that I would have suggested,” Frank wrote,
Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion
Michael Onfray: Atheist Manifesto
In the spirit of giving, I will give anyone a free copy of either of those books. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org”
Bob Rollwagen reflected more on the content of last week’s column: “Now I know why the right-wing evangelical churches are growing and my left-leaning liberal group is not growing.”
On the current political situation, Bob commented, “We are watching how hard it is for a democratic country governed by laws to trust a dictatorship that focuses totally on the health and wealth of the governing party members. The Italian government has promised more for the poor and lower taxes for the rich by increasing their debt, and Ontario conservatives increase the deficit by stopping all progress in climate control and hiring the Premier’s friends by changing the rules. Throw IQ, education, family upbringing , community experience, random peer influence, and exposure to all other aspects of the normal maturing process [together] and you see why everyone sees the world through a unique lens that encourages them to feel that their opinion matters and must be right, even if it is racist or has some other unacceptable orientation.
“Why does a socially responsible government have to progress slowly? The answer -- it has to get elected in a country that has many police forces like Thunder Bay Ontario. The truth is hard. That is why some leaders call the truth ‘Fake News’.
“Humans are as complicated as the solar system is a mystery.”
I have left out letters that simply argued the definitions of left and right, liberal and conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist, etc.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet