Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Born Again


And she brought forth her firstborn son. (Julie Vivas)

Some Christmas pageants have plastic baby dolls stand in for Jesus. But the liveliest of Christmas pageants have a real live baby (If their parents will allow them to be so tortured!)

And when that live Baby Jesus makes his dramatic debut – all eyes are on the little tiny fellow. You can hear a pin drop as the holy family goes up to Bethlehem and climbs the altar stairs. Heads turn and hearts melt as all eyes are on the miniature messiah — propped up in Mary’s lap — a little bitty baby, who cannot walk, who cannot talk, cries at night, and messes in his pants.

Tame and tender, the grandeur of God is reduced to a babe in arms. The Madonna and Child are everywhere this season, in paper, and plastic, and plaster: fronting Christmas cards and frozen in Christmas crèches. Sentimental and sweet, safe and sound. Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild.

Have you ever smelled a newborn baby? Have you ever stuck your nose in their neck? There is no other scent like it: a scent of the holy, a whiff of the divine, the aroma of life itself.

And if you have, you know then and there that you are hooked. Your ears tune in to decipher their every whimper, their every gurgle and cry.

Teach me, little one, how to love you.

This helpless little person wins over your heart and takes over your world – a subversive little savior.

It’s been said that Christmas is for such as these. And why not? On Christmas Day, God came into the world a screaming, scrawny infant, small and insignificant. Just as we all did once upon a time.

One Christmas, I read the story of a little fellow, a six year old named Pete who ripped open his presents and pulled out a dapper new bathrobe. His dad admiring it said, “Wow! That’s an awesome bathrobe. I wish I had one just like it.” Pete paused for a little quiet introspection. “You really like it, Dad?” “Yes, Pete. It’s the coolest bathrobe I have ever seen.” “Well, Dad” says Pete. “You can have it. You can wear it when you get little.” (The Christian Century, December 1998)

Jesus says it quite plainly “unless you turn and become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Now to be sure he’s not suggesting we literally regress to cooing and babbling, pablum and Pampers.

No, Jesus emphasizes a very special quality of life, which he himself chose.

Like a child, God himself is unafraid to be needy. God himself is not ashamed to be helpless, hungry, lonely, and small.

God gets little on our account, choosing to be born poor in a simple town to an ordinary girl. It is almost too great a mystery and yet it makes perfect sense.

This little Messiah is God on the move: moving from the powerful to the powerless, from success to failure, from the strong to the weak, from the high to the low.

And if we let this Little One in, maybe — just maybe — he can creep through our cracks, mend what is broken, sweep away some tears, lighten some burdens,  brighten the darkness.

If we find a little room in our inn, and invite him in, with this Little One we are never totally alone.

This is how the subversive little savior breaks open our souls.

Love is why God gets little at Christmas.

And for love, may we, this Christmas, get little too.




Mary’s Land

The Broken Heart of a Blessed Mother.

The Compassionate Heart of a Blessed Mother.

I grew up in Mary’s Land — both geographically and theologically. I grew up at Holy Family School, just across the Potomac, in Hillcrest Heights, Mary-land.

Now MARY (quite impossibly!) is what every little Catholic girl wants to be when she grows up. Well maybe not when she grows up but what every little Catholic girl wants to be in the Christmas pageant. Really — Mary is what every little Protestant girl wants to be in the Christmas pageant!

Alas, it did not come to pass for me until Advent 1983. Pregnant with my second child and obviously not a virgin, at long last I snagged the part of the BVM. Not quite as embarrassing as a liturgical dance, I starred in a three part liturgical drama: PREGNANT WITH GOD.

Three parts. Three trimesters.

Advent One. Surprised. Uncertain. Shaky. Nauseous. Scared.

Advent Two. Blooming. Stretching. Aching. Hoping.

Advent Three. Heavy. Swollen. Sleepless. Bursting.

I burst into the Magnificat!

It was the 80’s and I wore Blessed Mother blue.

Now for millennia, Mary has been draped in Blessed Mother blue — beatific Mary with the fat little haloed Baby Jesus in her lap. And in virtually every painting, in every icon, in every stained glass window, Mary, the Madonna, is also the Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows.

“Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child…”

Advent is blue — a season both dark and light — and for four blue Sundays, we’ll walk the way to Bethlehem.

We’ll walk beside a pregnant, unwed teenager, named Mary.

A lowly handmaid of the Lord,

a voiceless woman,

a would-be outcaste,

a poor peasant,

pregnant with God.

This messed up world is waiting – waiting for the 2015th time — waiting for a Messiah to be born. And we don’t like waiting. We REALLY don’t like waiting. We want Christmas carols not Advent hymns – but you can’t fast forward pregnancy.

It takes nine dark months in Mary’s womb.

Nine months of backaches and sleepless nights.

Nine months growing larger and larger, groaning with child.

Nine months until the birth pangs begin.

Nine months for the kingdom to come.

Nine long months  to Bethlehem.

And once there — there’s no room at the inn. No room for the holy, helpless, homeless family. No room for the refugees.

Now just across the river is my home state — Mary’s Land. Maryland is where our religious freedom was born. Persecuted by our own Mother Church, The Church of England – Catholics found refuge there in the 17th century. On these colonial shores they found a safe haven – a safe place to practice their faith and build their lives. In Mary’s Land they found a home.

And now Muslim refugees from terror, fleeing the terror of ISIS, crowd our TV screens and climb our FB feed. They clamor for attention, hoping against hope, there will be room in our inn. And their hopes are not founded in vain; their hopes are grounded in our history.

“Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand

A Mighty Woman with a torch,

Whose flame

is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles,

From her beacon-hand

Glows worldwide welcome;

Her mild eyes command…

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In Advent, we light this light, this lamp fire that makes the darkness bright, the Light of the World, who the prophet Jeremiah tells us is coming. This Branch of Jesse’s Tree shall execute justice in the land. He shall save his people and his people shall live in safety.

A prayer and a promise that all of God’s people, all of God’s children will find room in the inn.

So come walk this way. Walk this way to Bethlehem.