Sunday, December 31, 2017


“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Galatians 4:4-5

We do not know the name of Saint Paul’s father.  This may strike you as trivial, a trick question for the daily double on Bible Jeopardy, but I think there’s deep theological significance in this important omission.

We know a great deal about Saint Paul, because he intertwines bits of his biography into his teaching.  Scholars can date his missionary journeys down to the month, and he names dozens of his friends and associates scattered around the Mediterranean world.  He tells us that he came from the city of Tarsus, that before he met Jesus he was a member of the Pharisee sect within Judaism.  We know that Saint Paul’s father came from the ancient tribe of Benjamin, and that he was a Roman citizen, a fairly unusual fact for Jew of this time, and a fact on which the drama of his son’s later life turned.

But Saint Paul never names him.  In that respect he is unlike almost every major figure in the Old Testament. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Christmas Cow

“The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.”  Isaiah 1:3

My mother’s nativity set is porcelain.  It was a rather optimistic choice for a family of three curious boys, and the figures received their share of battering over the years.  None of them so much as the cow.  The cow in the Michael family nativity set is missing at least one horn.  The glaze is scuffed off in a few places, and the hindquarter has a long brown seam, carefully mended with adhesive after a precipitous fall.

That was my fault.  When I was four or five I went through a cow stage.  Some boys memorize the starting lineup for their favorite baseball team or the Air Force fighter plane fleet.  But growing up in the country, with two farmers for grandfathers, my obsession was cows.  I knew all the breeds, where they had originated, which local farmers raised which kinds.  I could tell you the strong points of Guernsey milk and Angus steaks, and I knew all about those “hairy coos” in the Scottish highlands.   

And Christmas is the perfect holiday for a little boy drawn to cattle.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Perishing Words

“And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ…He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”  St. John 1:20,23

We are living in an age of powerful words.  Over the last few months, women from every corner of public life have found the courage to come forward to say: “I was violated, demeaned, treated with cruelty.  Sexual abuse affected me too, and I will be silent no longer.”  And it seems that every morning there is another apology, another resignation of some powerful man. 

In the last few years, people all across the nation have spoken out about racial discrimination and brutal treatment of African Americans.  There have been bestselling books, protests and counter protests, verdicts rendered.  Old statues have fallen, flags have been hauled down, and a few football players sit on the sidelines.

Words are, of course, the oxygen of politics.