Saturday, January 18, 2014

Annual Meetings

I first came across the video posted above a few years ago in a continuing education event for clergy about courage. The video is terrific and I hope you will watch it; it requires very little explanation. It's so real - and not just about ski jumping. It's real because sometimes our anxiety about doing new things is much worse than actually doing them. It's "the suspense at the top that freaks you out." To get through it we need encouragement. Anyone who was ever picked up and thrown into a pool before they had confidence in their swimming abilities knows that it does not help to be "pushed" prematurely. What we need is to feel in control. What we need is encouragement in the literal meaning of that word: to find courage from within.

I posted the video on our diocesan Facebook page earlier this week in anticipation of many Annual Meetings across the diocese, only partly in jest. Among clergy especially, and wardens not far behind, often the anxiety in anticipation of Annual Meetings is worse than the meeting itself. I am sure it's the same everywhere but in my context, New England, we have something called Town Meetings that go back to the earliest days of the colonies. "Pure democracy" some call it; total chaos as I have sometimes experienced it. But it's in the water we drink. As Anglican/Episcopalians it is important to note that our polity does not intend to be "pure democracy" - we are not congregationalists but more of a republic or representative democracy. We elect leaders (called vestries) and entrust them, with the rector, to lead. They are not unaccountable, but neither are they elected to simply represent "the will of the people." They are elected to serve, guided by the Holy Spirit, under the oversight of the bishop.

This is not a post on Episcopal governance. It is simply to say that it can get pretty confusing and sometimes Annual Meetings begin to resemble Town Meetings. Sometimes it is a place where authority and power questions are worked out (or not) - where grievances are publicly aired, where conflict comes to a head - especially if there are financial issues. And so I have observed (even more from the vantage place of my new diocesan ministry) that clergy get more stressed out in this week (and next if their meeting is next weekend) than at almost any other time of year including Christmas and Easter. At least in those weeks we can live with the illusion that we are "in control." At Annual Meetings there is no such illusion.

Let me add one more bit of context from my own experience, before I offer some unsolicited advise. My very first day as a rector, after four years in campus ministry and four years as an associate rector, was on February 1, 1998. Generally associate rectors don't usually worry so much about Annual Meetings and that was true for me. So my very first day as a rector was one day AFTER the last day of a rocky interim time. I wasn't there, but literally "all hell broke loose" in that meeting - after about eighteen months of grieving the departure of the former rector, fearfully anticipating the arrival of a young inexperienced new one, and lots more not necessarily pertinent to this post but including the prospect of a pretty big budget deficit.

As I said, I was not at that meeting. But it followed me for fifteen years, because the anxiety level would rise every year in fear that that might happen again; "pure democracy." In response there was a sense that I probably bought into that we needed to try to "keep a lid on it."

Here, then is my advice to stressed-out clergy: breathe. Control is an illusion; take it from a control freak! Mind the process. If there is conflict it is always better in the open than in the parking lot, even if it does feel very ugly and unhelpful at first. Getting clear about shared mission is the work of the clergy and vestry in the year ahead. Making decisions about how to live into that mission is the work of the clergy and vestry. But the Annual Meeting is a chance to put it all out there and we should not fear that. Sometimes people will act out. I believe it is most definitely not the job of a rector or senior warden to so tightly script an Annual Meeting that people cannot speak. On the other hand, there is an agenda and no one person or group ought to be allowed to hijack that agenda. This is why process matters, and clarity, and group norms about how we speak to each other. Annual meetings are not town meetings. (Thanks be to God!)

To laity, especially those who have a long list of grievances, real and perceived. Annual meeting is not about you. And the church is not your's, any more than it is the priest's. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ and we are all servants together, including the flawed human being whom God has called to serve as your rector. Fear and intimidation and bullying that hurt people and the Body of Christ are not of the Holy One. Take a breath. 

And to laity who tend to be more passive bystanders, who hate conflict and wish we could all just get along, who can see difficult dynamics playing out that put the clergy in the firing line: speak up. Do not be intimidated into silence. Do not make the priest be the "mommy" or "daddy" in a system that keeps everyone else infantalized. Speak up!

The truth can be spoken in love. But it means that we need to mean it in both cases: truth, above all, spoken in love. If your face is bright red and you are screaming, clergy or lay, it is probably not "truth in love."

I was not at that Annual Meeting on January 30, 1998. We did have some tough Annual Meetings after that but never ones that were mean or unfair. In fact, in all my years as a rector, it was the anticipation of Annual Meeting that was way harder any meeting ever was. And I suspect that this is probably true for most congregations. But even one blow up every fifteen or twenty years or so can zap our energy and our courage.We carry it in our bodies and the clue that we do is when it ends and even if we are not quite like that little girl in the video yelling "woo-hoo, that was fun" we may be breathing a deep sigh of relief.

I am praying fervently for clergy and laity this week in anticipation of Annual Meetings across the diocese and for people in every place to remember we belong to one another. There is a reason that most of our meetings follow worship, where we come to the same Table to be fed and nurtured by the one who gives us courage, and commands us to love one another. If there are conflicts and disagreements, this is just part of the deal of all human communities including Christian community. See Acts 15:7. But in the midst of all conflict we can make room for the Holy Spirit to do Her thing, which is always about making room for healing and reconciliation even if those are not immediately possible and ultimately beyond those to the work God has given us to do in the world. As I heard one person say this week at a meeting I was attending, when we "major in the minor" it zaps missional energy. Indeed.

We are not in control. May all who lead and attend Annual Meetings this week and next find courage, trust the Spirit, and pray for God's will to be done.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Disruptive Grace - The Prophets

Today is the second week of a four-week Epiphany book group discussion at Diocesan House on Walter Brueggemann's Disruptive Grace. We have a nice group doing this and I know a number of folks who are reading the book but can't make the discussions. Here are the questions I want to put out to the group today as we discuss section two on the prophets. I should add that all I really need to do is start this group going - and maybe I don't really even need to do that. They will go where they go. But these are the questions that I want to set before the group to begin. 

Quoting WB in her introductory remarks, Carolyn Sharp notes:

[The prophets] are primarily poets who bring the world to voice outside of settled convention. While the future is implied in their discernment of the reality of God and while justice is intrinsic to their characteristic utterance, the most important aspect of their speech is their reperception of the world as the arena of God’s faithful governance. (pg 95)

Later in this section, in the lecture to the Festival of Homiletics (chapter 7) we find these words:
Prophetic ministry is among those who refuse the walk. The wonder of faith is that the talk sometimes authorizes, empowers, and emboldens the walk. Prophetic ministry talks the talk that the community may walk the walk of faith into the abyss and walk the walk of faith out of the abyss into restoration. Thus it is my thesis that prophetic ministry is neither prediction as some conservatives would have it or social action, as some liberals would have it. Prophetic ministry is to talk in ways that move past denial and that move past despair into the walk of vulnerability and surprise, there to find the gift of God and the possibility of genuine humanness. (page 138)

Can the words of the poets really change the world? Is WB right about this? How and where and when have you seen it happen? How does this challenge the dominant (simplistic?) reading of the prophets even in mainline churches like ours that read a straight line from Isaiah’s suffering servant to Jesus?

Another angle for us to take into this material: in the opening paragraph of the seventh chapter, he addresses us in particular – none of us “celebrity prophets” but people who in the day-to-day parish tasks where prophetic ministry is “much more difficult” and where “face-to-faceness…makes everything complex…” – how do we both engage in this prophetic work and support one another in so doing? 

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Baptism of Our Lord

I thought I had preaching duties this Sunday, but the rector and I crossed signals about the date. So I wrote a sermon this week and now have no place to preach it other than here, among my "virtual congregation." And since it's done, a couple of days early to boot!

Today is the first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany. That word, epiphany, comes from two Greek words epi-phanos: literally “to shine forth.” These weeks, from now until Ash Wednesday, serve as an invitation to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation and the ways that God-with-us isn’t something that happened a long time ago in Palestine, but is still true today. The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. God is still being made manifest among and through us even now. So here’s my question for you: where is God being made manifest in your life, in the life of your congregation, in this part of the world - right now? Hold that thought...

This first Sunday after Epiphany is called the Baptism of our Lord. The name is pretty self-explanatory, and today’s gospel reading is pretty straightforward: Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan River where he’s baptized by John. Soon after that, his public ministry begins. I don’t really have anything more to add to that, at least today. Instead I want to call your attention to a story that for many, I suspect, needs a bit more explanation. It may be a familiar reading since these words from the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles are read every Easter morning. But usually our attention on that day is focused on the empty tomb and the gospel reading, so it tends to get ignored. So let's stay with that text today. 
Then Peter began to speak to them. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality…”
These words represent a really big epiphany for good old St. Peter—a shining forth of the light, a new insight, a new perspective on the mystery of God at work in the world. Something has happened to Peter to lead him to this new place. As we consider it, we need to back and up remember another congregation in another time and place. It was a congregation that was daily being pushed out of its comfort zone—being pushed into the world in mission, being pushed to live the meaning of the Baptismal Covenant even at the risk of their own lives. Let’s call it St. Swithun’s, Jerusalem.

After the resurrection, after they unlocked the doors  for fear of the authorities and Jesus came to them to say “peace be with you” – after all that happened, you all remember what came next, right? Eventually, Peter and the others found their voices again. They found courage and trust, and then they began to share the good news of God’s mission to the world. They became part of a movement that was shattering old boundaries and inspiring hope even in the midst of a declining Roman empire. The good news began to spread from that community to the north and south and east and west. And as it did, lives were changed. Not just the lives of those who came to join this movement; the community itself was changed in the process. As all that happened, the community was renewed and transformed.

So that is what this sermon that Peter is preaching in Acts 10 is all about. Think back to Peter on the last few days of Jesus’ life, still getting it all wrong. While he had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi, he was confused about what that meant: he wanted victory without the cross. And then on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus wants to wash the feet of his disciples, insisting again that the power of love is stronger than the love of power. But again Peter resists. Even more poignantly, this Peter who said he would follow Jesus wherever he led ends denying that he knows the man, even when his Galilean accent betrays him. So the cock crows, and Peter weeps: a failure, a broken fisherman who risked it all and then when the chips are down blew it. End of story.

Except that it is not. Because here is the thing: Easter day isn’t just about new life for Jesus. It’s about new life for Peter and for all who follow the Way of the Cross. Brokenness becomes the path toward healing. Death becomes the way to new and abundant life. The early church, in its wisdom, was not afraid to portray Peter as a kind of loveable buffoon, as someone whose heart is in the right place but who is constantly getting it wrong. But that is because they also knew Peter to be the rock in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus saw in him all along. They knew that having encountered the risen Lord and radiating with the Holy Spirit, Peter was a man on fire, a man on a mission! And that the same could be true for us, with God’s help.

So in the tenth chapter of Acts, we find ourselves back in Caesarea again—back to the place where Peter first claimed Jesus as “the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The narrator calls our attention to a Roman army officer named Cornelius: a God-fearing and generous man of prayer. Well that all sounds nice, doesn’t it. But still, he’s a Roman soldier (those imperialist pigs!) He’s still a Gentile. He is still part of a foreign occupying power and worse still, he’s therefore seen as ritually unclean. You don’t associate with people like that and everybody knows it! He’s the kind of guy that you know you are supposed to love, because you are supposed to love your neighbor. But some neighbors are best loved from a distance!

Anyway, Cornelius has this vision around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the narrator tells us. He sees an angel and the angel says, “Cornelius: send men to Joppa and find a man named Peter.” Joppa is about thirty miles away and there are no automobiles so it’s way more than a half hour away. Even at a good clip with no stops this is at least a seven-hour journey. But Cornelius trusts his dream, knowing that dreams are one of the ways God chooses to speak to people, one of the ways God breaks through when our defenses are down and even though some dreams may seem crazy (and this one seems a lot crazy,) And so he sends some men to Joppa.

Around noon the next day, Peter has his own dream. He is up on his roof praying when he has this strange vision: he sees the heavens opening and something like a large bedsheet being lowered and on it are all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds. And a voice says: “Peter, kill…eat.” Now that sounds like the voice of the devil to Peter; it sounds like a voice of temptation to be resisted. So he responds:

. . . no way…I’ve kept kosher my whole life and I’ve never eaten anything unclean…well, maybe I did once gaze lovingly at net full of shrimp on a fishing trip me and the boys once took but I swear I didn’t eat one!

But the vision happens three times, and three times Peter hears a voice that says: “what God has made clean you must not call profane.” And so he starts to wonder: maybe this isn’t a temptation at all. Maybe it’s an epiphany. Maybe God is trying to invite him to see things in new ways and to act in new ways. Still, though, this makes no sense to Peter. It goes against everything he has been taught his whole life and it would totally freak out his kosher grandmother! Peter isn’t a Christian, remember. That term comes later and doesn’t even exist yet in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is a faithful Jew who believes Messiah has come and that his name is Jesus. As Peter would have understood that, it doesn’t mean he has “converted” to a different religion. He remains a devout Jew and he is expected to continue to keep Torah; all of it and not just the convenient parts. And the heart of Torah is about being set apart. That’s about keeping the Sabbath holy (Saturday, not Sunday!) and about circumcising your sons and about avoiding certain foods. None of that was supposed to change when messiah came!

Well, can you see where this thing is going? Cornelius’ men now arrive from Caesarea and they knock on Peter’s door and they find this rather perplexed apostle and they ask him to go with them, which is to say they ask him to travel thirty miles back to Cornelius’ home for some lunch. (Apparently Cornelius has this new chef from Louisiana who makes a mean crawfish and sausage gumbo!) Something inside of Peter convinces him to accept. These two guys—this Jew and this Gentile—get together to exchange visions, and they figure out that God is doing something new here. They eat together and then Cornelius is baptized and as Paul Harvey might say, that is the rest of the story. So that’s when Peter says it: I truly understand that God shows no partiality…

I could stop there and that is probably a long-enough sermon for most and maybe even kind of interesting to some. But let’s be honest: Jewish dietary laws don’t tend to get Christians all worked up in 2014. So now I want to move from preaching to meddling. Because if the story is to stick for us, then we have to realize what a radical thing has happened here. So imagine that Peter is Irish Catholic and Cornelius is Protestant and they both live in Belfast, and they find a nice pub and sit down and share some shepherd’s pie and a couple of pints of Guinness. Or imagine yourself in South Africa during apartheid, and Peter is a guy who has done some prison time with Nelson Mandela and Cornelius is a white Africaaner. Or that Peter is a Palestinian Muslim and Cornelius is a Russian Jew living on West Bank and they sit down over a falafel. Or that Peter is a traditionalist Anglican and Cornelius is an openly gay priest and they find themselves at the same Super Bowl party eating chicken wings and drinking Pepsi. You get the point? I truly understand that God shows no partiality…

What we need to realize when we hear the opening words in Acts 10 is that worlds have collided. We are used to seeing what happens when worlds collide, both on the international stage and much closer to home. Usually when worlds collide, violence ensues because of decades or even centuries of fear and mistrust and old grudges. But in Acts 10, instead of violence, there is healing. There is reconciliation. There is a pretty intense epiphany: I truly understand now, Peter says, I get it! God shows no partiality

Ultimately Peter and Cornelius follow their dreams, and they break bread together. They come with joy to meet their Lord, forgiven, loved, and free…and strangers now are friends. They become companions along the way. Literally. They “bread with” each another: com-panis. They get a sense in their bones (that they both trust to be of God) that it’s time to find common ground and reconciliation and healing and new life. What then is to prevent the community from baptizing Cornelius? Which is really to say, what is to prevent the community from welcoming Cornelius and his family and including them in their life together? It’s a totally rhetorical question, and the deed is done.

This bizarre dream about clams and shrimp and pork chops coming down on a sheet from heaven is ultimately an invitation to every generation of Christians to become first aware of all those places of division in our world, and then for us to accept God’s call to be peacemakers and ambassadors of reconciliation: and when we do that, when we build bridges rather than walls, God is made manifest. The light of Christ shines forth and it is Epiphany again and again and again.  

And so I end where I begin, asking once more: where is God being made manifest in your life and in the world around you? How is the light of Christ shining forth, even now, and how is the living God inviting you to live more faithfully into the dream of God, until it becomes a reality?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Feast of Epiphany, St. Thomas Church in Auburn

Today my travels have taken me to St. Thomas Church,in Auburn. As we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany (a day early) I am mindful of their stated mission " share the glory of God, reaching out to the community and the world." 

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We live in a time and place when Christmas celebrations begin around Halloween and then are in full throttle by Thanksgiving. Everywhere you go, it seems, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas even in the midst of trick-or-treaters. Some of us try to resist that cultural tsunami, while others think, “hey if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Regardless, it is what it is. By now, though, many of us may feel like we’re done with the story and perhaps even a little bit weary of it all. So our dry trees may already be chipped up and returned to the earth: ashes to ashes and all that. And our ornaments and crèches are once more carefully packed up until next October or November or December—whenever it is that we decide we are ready to begin again.

In calendar time, we are less than one week into a new year, still perhaps hoping that this is the year we will keep our resolutions and get to the gym more, eat and drink less, get out of debt and so forth. After that ball drops in Times Square and the calendar turns to 1-1-14 we get to hit the re-set button and begin again. Or at least we hope to...

That is all around us: it’s the air we breathe. And yet, as the baptized community, we march to the beat of a different drummer. We try, in our varied ways, to keep the season of Advent as a time of preparation: four weeks of letting a little light at a time shine in the darkness, praying as we light each candle for a little more hope and joy and love and peace—if not yet on earth, then at least around our kitchen table and maybe even in the neighborhood. And then we celebrate Christmas for twelve days and nights—one day at a time—waiting on those magi to arrive to pay homage to the newborn king. In liturgical time, then, today is the eleventh day of Christmas and tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany. But since today is Sunday and most of you won’t be back here tomorrow, our focus today is on those magi, the last to arrive and the true culmination of our Christmas celebrations.

I can’t resist the opportunity to begin with the old joke that asks the question: “what if the wise men had been wise women?” Answer?

They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.

Male or female, these wise ones—these star gazers—deserve a bit of a break: after all they have traveled a long way by camel in a world without interstate highways, and they have made it before the babe is even two weeks old. They come bearing their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Notice that Matthew doesn’t tell us how many magi there were, only that they brought three gifts. It’s a little detail, perhaps, but it is the only reason we presume there were three of them. In fact, there could have been eight of them and they chipped in on three symbolic gifts. Or maybe there were two of them, but they felt that they just couldn’t arrive without myrrh—whatever that is. We don’t know their names, even though later on the tradition would give them names. We do know they came from the east—and tradition has assumed that means Persia and maybe they were Zoroastrians. In any case, our attention turns today to these Iranians wondering as they wandered, and looking for the Light of the world.

A cold coming we had of it…just the worst time of the year for a journey,” T.S. Eliot once wrote. And then this question on the lips of an aging star-gazer: “were we led all that way for birth or death?” Eliot makes it clear that the answer, of course, is yes and yes. They were, and we are, led all this way to see this light shine forth: the true Light that has come into the world. That is what this word, epiphany, means in Greek: epi-phanos, literally “to shine forth.” They, and we, were led all this way so that we can begin to trust that this Light that shines in the darkness has not and will not be overcome. They, and we, have been led all this way so that we might come and behold him and adore him and fall in love with him the same way we fall in love with our children and grandchildren and our nieces and nephews.

But even now, just eleven days after his birth, we also are mindful that this child will grow up fast, as all children do. Next week we’ll be at the Jordan River and remember his baptism as an adult ready to begin his public ministry. In the weeks ahead we’ll see that light shining forth and then before you know it, it will be Lent again and we’ll be led once more to a hill called Golgatha outside of the city gates of Jerusalem. Were we led all this way for birth or death? Yes, indeed; and beyond death, also, to the new life of Easter morning.

The magi went out into the world looking for the Light. They journeyed all the way from Iran to Bethlehem, guided by a star. I know that this congregation is going to be looking at the Bishop’s Address to this year’s Diocesan Convention. One of the challenges you will find there that Bishop Fisher put before us came from a friend of his in the House of Bishops. It’s a simple invitation: to go out from your place of worship and walk twenty minutes in all four directions, and to pay attention to what you see. Just pay attention. Some congregations have already taken him up on this and the cathedral and diocesan staff are working on doing this together in Springfield in May. One old part of our Anglican tradition is something called “beating the bounds”—that is going out and tracing the boundaries of the parish, which of course is different from the congregation. Your congregation is gathered here, now; but the parish of St. Thomas encompasses all of Auburn, not just those pledging members who show up on a particular Sunday morning.

So what would it be like to go out like the magi did, not sure of what you might find but trusting the star to guide you and the light to shine forth—to go out in four directions, beating the bounds and looking for the Christ? How would you be changed for good if you went out there with open eyes, wondering as you wandered about what it means to be led more deeply into life, and death, in the world that God so loved? For many congregations this represents a radical change of mindset from trying to balance the budget and keep the doors open. But it’s an idea as old as the very first Christmas, and the magi show us the way…

The magi also remind us that the Christian life is a journey, not a destination. We try to be patient and kind with one another, because we remember that the journey of faith is not like making Christmas cookies that can be cut into precisely the same shape. As a member of the bishop’s staff I am learning that it is the same with congregations. There is not some cookie-cutter formula for success, but rather faith that God is at work in our various contexts and that even when we lose our way, or feel we have lost God, the journey continues, and God is faithful.

Along the way, each of us will almost certainly have some things we need to “un-learn.” Because let’s be honest, some of us have been “mal-churched.” I always find it interesting when someone begins a conversation with, “well, what I was taught in Sunday School is…” That should always be a conversation starter, not ender. And the follow-up is important: do you still think that is right? What you learned as a child, I mean—in a bygone era in an Episcopal or evangelical or Roman Catholic Church, from a Sunday School teacher or rector or even parent, no matter how well-intentioned: the question is, does that still ring true for you? Or is it something you would be better off letting go of as your journey in Christ continues, something you might leave behind in 2013 so that in fact this new year might reveal new possibilities to you? What ideas about God, about religion, about yourself, about the world are you still carrying around like sugar plums dancing in your head that it might be time to let go of? Not because God has changed, but because the world has, and because you have, and because always the Spirit of the Living God invites us all to be made new again by growing and changing, not staying and stagnating. A parish that takes it's name from one of my very favorite of Jesus' disciples - Thomas - I'm sure appreciates this at a very deep level. As the only "St. Thomas" in our diocese it is part of your mission, I think, to remind us all not to be afraid of the questions, because those questions lead us to more intimate encounters with the risen Christ.

The birth of a child—the birth of this child—points us toward the future, not the past. Every child, but especially this one, gives us a new perspective on things by allowing us to look at things again with new eyes. So I ask you again: how will the birth of this child we have come to adore today change your life in 2014? And maybe even change the life of this congregation? Are you ready for that adventure? It seems to me that the wisest women and men I have ever known are not rigidly bound to the past, but neither are they untethered to a tradition. Rather, they are people who trust that the God who has been their help in ages past will indeed be their help in years to come. Like these magi, they get it that the journey of faith takes us far from the comforts of home but that it is in so doing that we are led to Christ.

God is being made manifest to the world, in our world, in the streets of Auburn. The Light of Christ has come into our world and by God’s grace we allow it to shine through us, even if just a little bit. For today it is enough to consider these rather strange travelers from the east—three or so of them, give or take; male or female, young or old: all people who are willing to follow a star on a hunch in search of the holy child. If we mean to be anything like them, then we cannot be a people who sit comfortably in the same pew or stand comfortably in the same pulpit year after year, and expect that Christ will come and find us. Maybe that will happen, and maybe there are other sermons for other times when the preacher—even this preacher—might counsel that we watch and pray, that we hold still long enough for the Spirit to break in. In fact I can even think about that time after the resurrection when the disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit and that is what they needed to do: wait. So for everything there is a time and a season…

But as this Christmas season comes to a close, the good news on this day (as I hear it) is that we are called to be people on the move, a people on a journey. Not just a journey anywhere, but a journey into uncharted territory to look with open eyes to the east and to the west and to the north and to the south. To go out, in order to see where Christ is being born.

Are we led all that way for birth or death? Yes. For sure.