Monday, December 31, 2012

Faith and Violence

     As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’  So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

— Luke 3
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  So writes St. Paul in Philippians.  I do know about you, but I can hardly read those words aloud much less feel them. 
How do you rejoice when our nation is in mourning over the senseless deaths of children in a place which should have been the safest, their classroom at school?  How do you rejoice when we live in a society where death by gunshot is not just greater than other nations in the world, but greater on an order of magnitude that is astonishing?  How do you rejoice when this is not the first time we've been here?
John the Baptist and Jesus himself lived in a violent society just like we do.  It wasn't gun violence, but it was violence they encountered on a regular basis.  Not only was there violence between people, but there was government-sponsored violence.  Jesus in Luke 13 spoke about Galileans who came to worship whose blood Pilate had been mingled with their sacrifices.  Folks who simply came to worship at the temple murdered their by their own government.  The same government that would execute John, and later, our Lord.  And John's answer to that in today's Gospel was that there was a Messiah coming who was going to gather up wheat and burn chaff.  There was a Messiah who was coming in power to conquer and defeat this kind of thing.  John was so caught up in his vision of Holy Spirit fire, later even he had a hard time recognizing the gentle Messiah Jesus.
We too are caught in a culture of violence, where every action movie we see proclaims the solution is more violence.  The hero is always able to find a better way, a bigger gun, to nail the bad guy. It's the myth of redemptive violence that so many people have bought into.  But Jesus’ answer to the violence of his own time wasn't to tell everyone to start packin' a sword. Jesus' answer was love. His answer was to seek peace. His answer was forgiveness. His answer was kindness.
Unlike the children we've lost, we're no longer young and innocent as a nation.  We've been here again and again.  And I'm having a different reaction to it this time.  In the past, there was just this overwhelming sadness… and I do feel sad.  But mostly, I feel angry.  I'm angry that it's happening again.  I'm angry that this has become a normal thing in our society. And I'm angry with people who tell us it is okay to mourn with the parents and the families and the friends who have lost children, but it's not okay to talk about how to prevent this from ever happening again.  We are better than this as a nation.  We are better than this as Christians.
The only thing I know for sure is the hand of God was not behind the trigger, but the hand of God was behind those who shielded the innocent, cared for the wounded, and who, even today, grieve alongside and hold one another.  It's natural for folks to try and find a way to feel safe again after events like this.  Unfortunately, complete security is a fantasy for human beings — an illusion we seek because we are mortal.  We know we get sick.  Life can be cut short by any number of dangers, including completely senseless violence.  We seek security when, as Isaiah tells us, the only true security is in trusting God: "Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid." 
There is the temptation to withdraw from the world in the face of such violence and loss. But Jesus's answer in Matthew 5 is to tell us that we "are the light of the world… The salt of the earth."  We are the very people Jesus is looking to help change this nation and this world.  I don't know that there are any simple solutions to this kind of violence.  I may not be completely sure of the how but I am very sure of the who. I do know who is going to help solve this problem:  The people who are going to help solve this problem are you.  I know you thought Christianity was all about little stuff like not cussing, and loving orphaned kitties, and not being cranky with your wife, but Jesus tells us your faith is custom-made to take on immense national and global life changing issues.
As we practice love, as we practice compassion, as we practice forgiveness, we hold in our hands immense power that doesn't just change our own individual lives.  God places in our hands a raw, molten power that can change a nation and change our world.  We are not, however, promised that God will keep us from ever having to experience sorrow or loss, because loss is part of the human journey, but we are promised a God who will walk alongside us; A God who grieves with us.  A weeping God. A God who is weeping over our children this very moment.  A God who will give us the strength to keep walking, to keep being the salt of the earth, to keep being the light.
Jesus came down at Christmas, God incarnate, so he could live a life that was fully human.  To be fully human is to experience loss.  To be fully human is to grieve.  Jesus invites us to embrace and live courageously and creatively in the face of our human anxiety, not to withdraw, but to embrace more of what it means to be fully human.  You see, faith is not believing a laundry list of all the right things, but rather faith is — in the face of danger, and anxiety, and fear, and loss, and the unknown — to keep living and walking alongside one another, to keep forgiving one another, to keep trusting.  Faith is recognizing in the face of such tragedy how precious each and every one of us is, and to love each other all the more.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Diocesan Convention Update - Saturday, October 13, 2012

     In the Bishop's annual address, he said Nevada is in a time of heavy clergy turnover.  The new Standing Committee is working really well and meeting more often.  We have overhauled our financial affairs.

     Last year, he emphasized relationships.  It appeared many congregations across the state were not fighting with each other, but that's because we're not speaking to one another.  This year, our priests and deacons have been talking a lot more.  The process of convention is beginning to feel more relational.  There are some congregations that are at Level 4 crisis: Flight or fight.  He's noticed these kind of churches are often also in conflict with the diocese and neighboring churches.  Being connected outside our walls is important.  He spoke of community organizing efforts in Las Vegas and Reno and the support our churches had given.  He gave a specific example from a new member at Trinity in Reno (yay!) inspired by our involvement in the community through the ACTIONN, our new interfaith community organizing project to improve education and alleviate unemployment in the Reno-Sparks area.

     The Bishop talked about how the Episcopal church in Nevada is growing.  each year of 2009 through 2012 at a rate of anywhere from 12% to 28% last year.  He said he knew how such statistics can be disconcerting; we're used to telling the story of our decline.  This got a good chuckle out of the delegates.

     The Commission on Ministry has revised lay servers licensing.  Ministry development has created gifts discernment workshops for most of the parishes.  They have clarified the procedure for ordination.  The bishop joked that we tend to put people trying to become deacons or priests through so much that they are angry at the church, and then we ordain them. 

     The Bishop hopes we will continue to make new connections to continue growth.  We have been historically anemic on evangelism and stewardship. Nevada was once supported by the national church as a territorial church, and that has created an attitude where stewardship wasn't that necessary.  Those times are long gone.  We have made investments this year to improving both stewardship and evangelism.

     "We need to be visible," said Bishop Dan.  He spoke of volunteer projects on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Dan volunteered last MLK Day, but he was the only Episcopalian there.  There were banks, frat houses, Starbuck's, but no churches, and they were shocked a church was there.  He challenged us to put 300 Episcopalians across the state in volunteer project on this next year's MLK Day.  He jokingly referred to this as the BBHAG (The Bishop's Big Hairy Audacious Goal!)  If we choose to grow again next year, we can grow next year.  It is not just because of our organizational  health, but because so many people need the Good News in their lives.

     Dan felt we also need to address stewardship.  Not teaching stewardship infantilizes our people.  Teaching it, grows strong, mature Christians. Doing this would allow the Diocese to reduce the asking (the percentage of a parish's income that goes to the Diocese).  His goal is to reduce it to 20% (from 25%) within the next five years.  But, it will take evangelism and stewardship.

     One challenge to our relationships is communications.  We are looking to create a communications strategy.

     The Bishop concluded his annual address by saying we need a vision and a plan for our life together.  The Bishop has appointed someone to create that vision through whatever strategic planning method.  But the diocesan vision can only be supportive of a parish, so it must start with the parishes.  Our mission cannot just be survival.  Parishes need to create their own visions.

     Stewart, the Director of Camp Galilee, the Episcopal Church Camp at Lake Tahoe gave us a status update.  The camp has experienced growth and there are a number of new construction projects underway.

     Virginia Warren spoke to us about planned giving, that is, including the Episcopal Church in our wills.  There is now a program in place that not only includes planned giving, but provides assistance with making a will, and funeral planning.  Most of us hate to think about this, but it is a pastoral responsibility of the Church to help our members with this.

     You might not realize that our own Stefani Schatz, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, is also the President of the state Diocese's Standing Committee.  She spoke about how well the Standing Committee is working together and meeting more often through the use of technology.  She said she both felt they took care of day-to-day business, but also sparked support and encouragement for local parishes.  She said that the Standing Committee is interested in our input and is listening as we engage in strategic planning for our future.  She closed by leading the entire congregation in a singing of "Allelu, allelu, allelu, allelujah, Praise Ye the Lord."

     During today's business sessions, we revised the canons to be adjusted to the new reality of a streamlined Standing Committee, established a companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Machakos in the Anglican Church of Kenya, and passed our annual budget. 

     We closed our convention with a splendid Eucharist supported by a pick-up choir made up of volunteers from among the delegates.  The delegates at the convention decided our collection from this liturgy would be donated to Camp Galilee to help provide sponsorships for children.  Our Episcopal Camp at the Lake has never turned away a child because of inability to pay.

     I'm not quite sure how many years I've been going to these - somewhere over twelve years - but it's always amazing how much we get through in just a couple short days! 

     We have a nice celebratory banquet tonight, and I'm looking forward to being back in Reno tomorrow afternoon!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Diocesan Convention Update - Friday, October 13, 2012

     You can sure tell which ones of us grew up in Nevada. The Diocesan Convention in Las Vegas opened with the singing of Home Means Nevada, except we substituted "Church" for "Home". When I was at Robert Mitchel Elementary School in Sparks, everyone sang our state song as part of our morning exercises. Newcomers to Nevada got the pleasure of learning it!

     We've all heard the discouraging statistics about the decline of the church, most recently from a Pew Research poll, but our keynote speaker, Bob Honeychurch from the National Church, was one of the first I have heard the emphasized the great opportunity embedded in this. We all woke up when he referred to some old church traditions as the "holy crap" that had accumulated. He said the ground in which we are planted is too valuable for us not to take this seriously. There are many people in our society who describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious," but sadly our churches could sometimes be described as "religious, but not spiritual." Too often, people come to us looking for God, and we give them church. They come looking for ways to make sense of the chaos in theirs lives, and we give them a list of committees they could serve on. We are tempted to equate the Good News with all the trappings, but if we could focus on what's really important -- giving people an authentic experience of the Christ -- all those other concerns about how we should minister, and whether our churches would grow, would be taken care of. We must find ourselves firmly planted in the world that is... where God is already actively involved.  He suggested we need to find ourselves in that Exodus story. We're in the wilderness right now, in a strange land, time, and culture not of our own choosing. But we are not alone. God is with us on this journey and is leading, just as God did the Israelites with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  We are called to where the world's deep hunger and our faith meet. That is the gift of being the church today.

     There is great news on our budget. In 2013, we have a balanced budget for the first time in a long time. Applause! Net income is better than forecasted, so we're also ending the year well in the black. We will also be able to help fulfill specific financial grant requests from local congregations. When all is said and done, we are a $10,000,000 organization!  Amazing!

     We watched a very moving video report on Latino Ministries. Bishop Dan said it started out as a way to help the Latino community, but they have enriched us. I hope to post the video soon!

     We spent much of the afternoon in various interest groups focused on an exercise called "mapping assets" where we look at talents we as individuals and as a diocese can bring to bear in the areas of evangelism, Camp Galilee, communications, ministry development, and education.

     Later, we worked on committee appointments and canon revision, all too titillating to be described fully in this humble blog.  In the evening, open hearing were held on miscellaneous reports (kind of an "open mic" for different folks who want to make announcements) and the budget (for the truly wonky folks who love the details!)

     We ended with a presentation from the deputies who went to our national General Assembly this summer.

     The Trinity group all went out to dinner at a place called the Ranch House.  The food was great, and breaking bread in one another's company after a long day was refreshing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

And Who is My Neighbor on September 11?

     "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…"        — Matthew 5:43, 44
     I was teaching my sixth-grade class on that day in 2001.  As our school went into lockdown, and broken bits of news and rumor filtered down to us about the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, my role was to reassure frightened children even though I was frightened myself.  I had to be the non-anxious presence for my students when all I really wanted to do was huddle in a corner and cry.

     Today, eleven years later, the question, "And who is my neighbor?" needs to be asked again.  Most of us have no problem identifying with those killed on September 11.  They were our sons and our daughters; they were our mothers and fathers; we see ourselves when we look at the faces of those lost.

     When asked, "And who is my neighbor?"  Jesus didn't reply, as his audience expected, with a list of who was in, and who was out.  Instead, he told a story — The Good Samaritan — a story in which the word neighbor evolves from a simple noun that could be quantified to an adjective describing a way of being in the world.  He chose to use a Samaritan since they were one of the most hated and vilified groups of people in his day.  Samaritans were, however, also the Jews' neighbors.  The old joke goes that the reason the Lord put love for our neighbor right next to love for our enemy is because they are often the same person.  We chuckle because we recognize the underlying sad truth in the joke.

     One of the things I felt President George W. Bush did right in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was to make a clear distinction between the terrorists and the majority of peace-loving followers of Islam.  Unfortunately, that spirit has not thrived.  Instead, since 2001, we have seen a huge increase in hate crimes directed at Muslims and in organized anti-Islamic hate groups.  This morning in the Washington Post, there were a couple articles (here and here) about this increasing hatred, and calling us to greater tolerance and acceptance of one another.  I posted a comment supportive of the author and quoted Jesus' call to love our neighbor.  You'd think that would be kind of noncontroversial, especially among those who espouse Christianity, but no.  The article was posted at 5:29 AM PST; it is now 10:40 AM. In these last five hours, 2,634 words have been written in the comments decrying the authors and Islam.  Here's just a small unedited sample:
"lying to non-muslims is a muslim's duty”
"Islam is a primtive political ideology masquerading as a religion.”
"no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere”
"expect daily intimidation and violent jihad”
"most radical Muslims intimidate and spew hatred, and satisfy their blood lust by killing”
     In that same period of time, only 325 words, other than my own, have been written supportive of the concept of increased tolerance and loving our neighbors — that's only about 11% of all the comments.

     We human beings are great at building walls.  I've been told there is only one individual human-made object visible from outer space: the Great Wall of China.  It seems sadly appropriate given how we build walls between ourselves on this small blue planet.  Unlike most of human history, Jesus came to tear down walls.  No one can pretend it's easy.  Perhaps if we just begin by tearing down a few walls in our own lives it will get easier to tackle the big walls: the walls between Muslims and Christians, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, young and old, gay and straight.  Maybe someday as we continue to practice our love lessons, we will move beyond mere tolerance of "the other," to a bright dawn where by its new light we recognize we are all, in fact, enriched by our differences.

I'm back

     For those of you who have noticed the silence in my blog over the past few months, I apologize.  I was actually rather surprised when people mentioned it to me.  For me, this is more of a writing discipline — I'm not sure I realized there were that many people who read the blog.  When I taught school, it was simpler.  I wrote every day when my students wrote.  Now that I am a full-time priest, it's just too easy to let all my writing be channeled into newsletter articles, sermons, and classes rather than my blog.  I'm back, and I hope to be a smidge more disciplined.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Church of England has Rejected the Anglican Covenant

     Not unexpected news, but still amazing.  The Church of England has rejected the Anglican Covenant, an issue our own General Convention will take up this summer.  While all of us, as Episcopalians, are proud to be part of ongoing collective worldwide relationships we describe as the Anglican Communion, the Covenant would have changed that. 

     While many of us can agree with articles one through three of the proposal that speak to the importance of our relationships in the Communion, article four took a nasty turn.  It would do two things: 1) Give more power to a centralized group of international bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury; 2) Demote to second-tier membership or even exclude national churches who make decisions other national churches do not like. 

     Crafted intentionally from the beginning to penalize the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada for acceptance of gay clergy and specifically the election of a gay bishop in 2003, it would have had far-reaching consequences that seem very "Un-Anglican".  We have historically respected the sovereignty of national churches and avoided centralizing power in a group of bishops creating a "curia" or "magisterium."  By requiring all national churches to deal with issues of human rights and justice at "the pace of the slowest hiker," it would have essentially slowed or halted what Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned: "...the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

     So we, as Episcopalians, and all worldwide who recognize their roots are in the Church of England and are in relationship with the See of Canterbury, will continue to muddle on in our sometimes messy Anglican family relationships.  We will continue to pray together, worship together, agree, disagree, support one another, aid other churches in need, reach out to help the poor, and try to be transparent enough that others can meet the risen Christ in us.  Come to think of it, that sounds good enough to me.

     Details of the process of voting down the proposal in England can be found here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jamaal the Camel

     Mary and Joseph were on their way to Bethlehem because Joseph was of the house of David, and their main city was Bethlehem.  This wasn't just a friendly visit to relatives.  They had to go because the Romans were doing a census.  (Suddenly a plush Camel appears next to me behind the pulpit.)

     The main reason Romans did a census was they wanted to know how many people they could tax.  And Mary was just about to give birth to Jesus.  About sixty-three years before, the Romans had conquered Israel.  It was part of their plan to control all the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

(Finally, I notice camel.)  What are you doing here?  I thought I told you to stay home.  Folks, I'm sorry for the interruption, this is Jamaal, a friend of mine… as you can see he's a camel.  Jamaal is a special camel – he was there when Jesus was born.  He was kind of helping me out with my sermon, giving me details about that night.  But he tells me he's decided he'd rather give the sermon himself.  (Camel nods.)  All right, we'll do it your way.  What do you want to say to these folks tonight?  (Camel whispers in my ear.)  What?  Oh, and Jamaal wants you to know that his name, which is also the Arabic word for camel, means "beauty"  (Camel preens for the congregation.)

      (Camel whispers in my ear again.)  Jamal says the most important thing to know about that holy night is… he was lost.  You see, he was just a young camel back then, and he had wandered away from his mom and dad in the caravan.  He had seen some particularly appetizing thorn bushes at the top of a ridge, and had munched his way from the top clear down the other side the whole afternoon.  By the time he paid attention again, it was getting dark, and he was getting scared.  He raced to the top of the ridge, but the caravan with his family was nowhere in sight.  He had never traveled alone at night, but he started down the hill hoping desperately to find them.

     He had gone a long way and was getting tired, when he came upon a whole flock of sheep and some shepherds.  The sheep pretty much ignored him – sheep tend to be cliquish.  But the shepherds could see he was just a young camel and was lost.  They spoke kindly to him, petted him, and shared a few of their sweet ripe dates with him.  They even let him lie down with the sheep to get some rest.  The sheep at first were horrified to have a camel sleeping with them – have I mentioned how cliquish sheep are?  But after a while, even cliquish sheep get sleepy, and they realized Jamaal was fluffy and warm – so eventually, they cuddled up all around him.

     Jamaal was just dozing off when there was a burst of light from overhead.  The shepherds fell to their knees and covered their eyes.  It was an angel!  His mom had told him about angels!  And Jamaal knew just what to do... when angels appear, everyone hits the dirt.  Jamaal was already on his knees, but you should've seen the shepherds drop!  He always thought kneeling when angels appear was just a kind of rule, like always looking both ways before crossing a caravan route.  But it wasn't a rule… it was just you couldn't help but drop to your knees when an angel appears because they're both the most beautiful thing you've ever seen… and also the most terrifying.

     The Angel seemed to radiate love captured in the light of a thousand blue-white stars, and when Jamaal dared to peek, he saw, on the angel's face, a look of indescribable joy!  And the whole night had gone silent… the shepherds shook and hid their faces.  And even the sheep, who even in their sleep tend to mutter about how much better their flock is than other flocks – have I mentioned sheep are cliquish? – even the sheep were completely silent for once.  Then the angel spoke, and his voice was like deep organs and trumpets and drums and silver flutes, and yet at the same time, it somehow sounded like your best friend laughing and whispering a joyful secret in your ear.  Jamaal didn't understand everything the angel was talking about: Something about a baby, and going down into the town, and how much God loved everyone.  When he finished, there suddenly appeared thousands and thousands and thousands of other angels singing in million-part harmony about God's glory and love for everyone.  It was like all of a sudden every star in the dark desert sky had come down and was exploding right overhead. 

     When they finished their song, and the last note was sounded, it seemed all that light and music and glory was drawn back up into heaven in a moment, and the night was dark and the silence echoed… and the stars glinted overhead as they had for millions of years.  Slowly, the shepherds got to their feet.  Finally, one of them said they should do what the angel said to do – go find the baby.  So the shepherds started walking toward the town, leaving the sheep… and then they began to run.  And Jamaal, who always loved adventures like all camels, got up and began running after them.  The sheep stayed put and tried to get back to sleep.  You see, in addition to being cliquish, sheep don't care much for adventures.  They prefer just to stay home, chat about how much better their flock was than other flocks, and get to bed on time after a good supper.

     But the shepherds raced toward the town, with Jamaal in hot pursuit.  The sound of the shepherds’ sandals and their labored breathing along with the clatter of Jamaal's hooves echoed off the empty narrow streets of the town.  But the strangest thing was, the shepherds were not looking in normal places for human babies like people's houses.  Instead, as they ran, they checked each barn and shed and stable.  Jamaal thought that was odd.  Why would a baby be in the place where people kept their cows and horses and camels?

     Exhausted, they finally turned the corner of the last street in the town a little after midnight.  At the end of that street, was a small inn, and above the inn but a little to the left there was a star lighting up the night, just hovering there like it had lost its way.  To the left of the inn, was the last stable in town, and it was glowing with the light of the star overhead.  And the stable was lit from within by the flickering of the small wood fire.  Jamaal could smell the usual smells of all the donkeys and cows that people who were staying in the inn owned, but he could also smell on the cold night air the wood smoke and the smell of freshly baking flatbread...   there were humans staying in the stable!  Listening, Jamaal heard the sound of a woman's voice quietly singing… ♪♫  "Hush, little baby, don't you cry.  Mama's gonna sing you a lullaby…" ♫♪  Or something that sounded like that.

     The shepherds came to a halt so suddenly, that a couple of them in the back ran into the ones in front of them.  Then, quietly as they could, they walked forward into the stable.  Around the small fire, there was a man standing, and sitting next to the fire, a young woman holding a baby in one arm, and carefully turning over the bread on the flat stone in the fire to bake on the other side.  The man looked tired and a little scared, but the young mother looked up from her beautiful baby and her cooking, and smiled a smile so full of love and welcome, that one by one the shepherds knelt before her and the tiny baby boy.  They began to tell the man and his wife about the angels who had appeared to them.  The man, who was named Joseph, seemed amazed by the story of the shepherds, but the mother who was named Mary just nodded and smiled in complete understanding, almost as if… she had dealt with angels before.  The baby slept on.

     Jamaal was hungry and after a while he couldn't stand it any longer, so he leaned his long neck over to where Mary had made a small stack of freshly baked flatbread, and helped himself to a piece – like all camels, Jamaal loves freshly baked flatbread.  The shepherds yelled at him, but Mary just laughed, handed him another warm piece of bread, and said there was plenty for everyone.  And Mary began to tear off big chunks of the savory bread and hand them out to the shepherds and Joseph, and then she mixed more bread and spread it on the flat stone to bake. 

     And so they talked through the long, cold night, sharing warm freshly baked bread, and spoke of Angels and God's love for everyone.  Mary had long since fallen asleep with the baby in her arms... even Joseph was nodding – and the shepherds knew it was time to leave.  One by one, they knelt again before the baby, and he opened his eyes, but he didn't cry.  He just smiled and looked at each shepherd as though he knew each one of them by name, and it was like all of God's love was shining through his eyes.  Last of all, Jamaal knelt down before him too...  and the baby smiled even more than before and reached out a pudgy little hand to pat Jamaal's soft nose… and the baby giggled.

     A light, gentle snow had begun to fall, as they returned to the sheep on the hillside, exhausted.  They slept through most of the next day.  The sheep spent most of that day munching grass and griping about how such an incredible flock as they, deserved to have more attentive shepherds.  Jamaal spent a lot of that day dozing, but when he woke he couldn't help but wonder why all this had happened.

     From all of the words of the Angels and the talk of the shepherds with Mary and Joseph, he finally figured it out.  You see, camels never forget how much God loves them, but humans do.  Camels remember God loves them every time they can cross the desert without having hardly any water.  Camels remember God loves them when their thick shaggy coat reflects the sunlight and insulates them from the heat of the desert sand.  Camels can see how much God loves them because of their long legs that keep them high off the hot ground and their wide feet that let them travel the desert without sinking into the sand.

     No, camels never forget that God loves them, but Jamaal finally realized that humans had forgotten how much God loves them.  God had to do something incredible and special to remind them… and so God sent all of his love wrapped up in one little tiny package.  God sent all of his love in one small baby, so they could see it right in front of them, and never ever forget again.

     Jamaal says he has never forgotten that night, and he learned four important lessons: 

     First, if you're feeling lost and alone, the kindness of strangers can surprise you.
     Second, always watch for angels… they tend to show up when you least expect them.
     Third, if you ever see shepherds running, you run… follow them!
     And last, but most importantly, he learned, that God loved us so much he sent all of his love shining in the eyes of one little baby.  Who learned to walk, and loved his mom and dad, and stubbed his toes and cried… and finally grew up to become a man who had one simple message for everyone:  Whoever you are, whatever deserts you have crossed in your life, no matter how lost you may feel… Never ever forget… God loves you so much… so much.

      (Camel whispers in my ear.)  Oh… Jamaal says it's getting late, and that's his story, but I need to say one more thing… (Camel whispers in my ear.)  Oh, yes, we say… Amen.  (Camel and I nod.)

© 2011 Rick's Green Grass – May be used with permission.