Gold, Frankincense, and Patriotic Spam

I got one of those patriotic emails in my inbox today. This one had a Jeff Foxworthy-esque list of things that make you a “True American.” I guess I should be encouraged that one of my acquaintances sees me as a “True American” type.

I get a fair number of these emails since I am a religious type, which brands me for a certain type of communication, which I usually delete. But this morning it occurred to me that this kind of email — an electronic mainfestation of the collective ego of my peer group — is actually a gift.

These emails draw lines between “Us vs. Them.” Or, more accurately, they point out the lines that are already drawn in our group’s culture.

Kind of like pointing out a downed power line. Step carefully. Avoid the line.

So instead of deleting the email, which is usually the most prudent course, I replied. Mainly because the upcoming feast of Epiphany makes this an impromptu catechetical opportunity. So I said:

This reading was very helpful in drawing that important line between “Un-true Americans” and the rest of us. Now that we see the “Us vs. Them” line, we can be quite deliberate in stepping over it.

You see, I just got done with a Bible Study where we discussed the readings for this Sunday — the Epiphany of the Lord. What hit me most is that, of all the various manifestations in the Gospels — the baptism, the wedding at Cana, the transfiguration — this one is presented first.

Epiphany establishes Jesus first and foremost as a universal savior to all the nations, not just the “True Jews.” Good thing for us, huh? Everyone is an “Us,” nobody is a “Them.”

I identify with a lot of the items below and maybe qualify as a “True American.” But Jesus came for all people. And I guess He would probably hang out with the “Un-true Americans” more than the “True Americans.”

If we want to embrace Christ, then we have to embrace what he came for. So I figure we need to cross that line, find some “Un-true Americans,” and go love them.

Something to pray about. Thanks.

If I want to get better at loving across the lines that I live behind, I need to be more aware of where I have drawn those lines. Or see the ones that have been drawn for me that I never question.

I am reading a Pema Chodron book about embracing/conquering fear called “The Places That Scare You.” It’s all about crossing such lines over into the things you fear. She describes the “bodhisattva warrior,” someone who runs across those lines, armed with loving kindness and compassion, to embrace pain, discomfort, and suffering for the sake of others. Jesus, for sure, was such a “bodhisattva warrior.”

I want to be one when I grow up. Well, really it’s more like, I want to want to be one when I grow up. The idea is nice, but the reality scares me. But one of the first steps to getting there is to realize where those places are that scare me. Where the unfamiliar, uncomfortable, painful things lie. Beyond the lines I draw to keep me safe. The same lines I need to step over.

The magi of Matthew’s Gospel crossed lots of lines across foreign lands to seek Jesus. So this year, for me, the Feast of Epiphany is about crossing lines into unfamiliar, uncomfortable places. To follow Jesus.

All this from patriotic spam. Another Christmas gift.

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