I absolutely loved the study of Iconography while in seminary. Religious iconography entails the images or symbols associated with a specific person or event in the biblical narrative found in paintings, stained glass, and the like. A person “reads” iconography by knowing the symbols or the stories being depicted. For example, the early church used the story of Jonah and the great fish as a precursor of Jesus’ resurrection since Jonah sat in the belly of that fish for three days—just like Jesus in the tomb. So on the sides of ancient coffins you’ll encounter depictions of a huge sea creature with two legs hanging out of its mouth. Those in the know would immediately think of the resurrection.
You and I are often defined as “consumers,” as those who consume. And, according to most measures both economic and otherwise, we’re darn good at it. We devour and use up and utilize and yes, we even squander, destroy and waste things and food and news and people.
Eternal One, far too often we are blinded in this world by the darkness rather than the light. We believe far too readily that things will always be the same, that they cannot be transformed. Let your light shine in us and through us, that we might reveal your glory to the world. Amen.
We Americans have a love-hate relationship with our bodies.
I’m not sure if it’s helpful to cast blame as much as it is to just be honest about our current situation. We spend billions of dollars on products, procedures, and the like to make our physical bodies match the image in our minds of what is beautiful. Our bodies age, and so our eyes don’t quite focus like they used to, or our hair isn’t quite as there as it once was. We tire out more quickly, or our memory starts slipping, or things we used to do easily when we were younger now give us trouble. Never mind the issues we have around food and weight that begin way too early in life. Our relationship with our bodies is complicated.
I’ve not posted much on Facebook or Twitter since early December. And frankly, I haven’t missed it much.
Yes—to answer the inevitable question—I haven’t seen some updates from family and friends. I don’t know the latest on the lives of those I’m not in regular contact with otherwise—but most of those were food posts or pictures from vacations or their thoughts on the political climate (I’ve definitely not missed these).
Imagine Peter’s surprise when Jesus, who had been teaching the people near the lake of Gennesaret, simply climbed into his boat, and then asked him to push out a bit into the water. After working all night with nothing to show for it, Peter had been washing his nets, pulling out the seaweed, branches, and other debris. The gathering of people kept pushing up against Jesus to hear his words more clearly, and amidst the jostling, he kept getting closer and closer to the water’s edge. The boat was the best available option. I hope this slightly amused Peter rather than annoyed him that this teacher, this rabbi, would have the chutzpah to climb into his boat without asking.
At some point after his baptism in the Jordan and after he had begun calling people to follow him, Jesus, his mom and his disciples attended a wedding. We aren’t told who the bride and groom were—John doesn’t include the bit about when the save the date card came out, or if there was a bridal shower—we just know there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus and Mary and his disciples got an invite and showed up.
Once again our society has gotten it almost entirely wrong. Christmas trees have been out on the floors of BJ’s since early October for those who can’t wait to put out their decorations. This includes some in my own extended family who expressed dismay back in early November when they learned that we don’t get our tree until the last weekend before Christmas. A local radio station has been playing holiday tunes 24-7 since November 1. I can not even begin to imagine the number of times “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or, God help us, “Santa Baby,” has played until now.
The most mysterious character in the annual Christmas pageant is the innkeeper, or rather “innkeepers” if the director has a flourish for the dramatic. You may remember that in the Charlie Brown Christmas, a girl was very excited to be cast as the innkeeper’s wife. Most often the kids starring in these roles get decked out in robes, and they most determinedly—even, dare I say it, heartlessly—shake their heads while mouthing the words “no.” Then they point to some other place where the uncomfortably pregnant Mary and her distraught husband Joseph must go since the last rooms had been taken by the smart travelers who booked ahead on TripAdvisor.
This character of course comes from pure speculation since Luke simply writes, “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” We don’t really know if an innkeeper or two stood there in front of their establishments pointing up the road to another hotel, or if they had pity and took them around back to the stable for other travelers’ animals so at least they could have a place to lie down after their journey. We just know that Bethlehem’s inns were jammed with people likely because of this worldwide registration by the Emperor, the guy who wanted to know how many people he ruled over so he could stroke his ego a bit more.
Moana just wanted to go out into the wider ocean, something she had felt drawn to since her youngest days when she toddled along the beach near her village in the Polynesian Islands. The ocean called to her. But her father, the leader of her tribe, forbid it due to his own backstory of fear and loss out on the sea. Moana, the title character in the Disney film, spends the first act of the movie trying to get it right, trying to make her parents happy and proud of her as she learns the customs and traditions she will uphold when she becomes the chief after her father. But while she longs for their blessing, she cannot become who they fully want her to be because of that pull toward the ocean and toward her true calling.