This Christmas. Be Peace.

Christmas is here.

And it’s once again time to gather together with family, friends, and faith communities and sing hymns and carols of the Christ-child. It’s time to feast together and share the passages of Emmanuel’s humble arrival in a lowly manger in Bethlehem. It’s time to join together again to light the Advent candles and share the Eucharist at Christmas Eve service.

But what if, in the midst of celebrating the peace of Christ through ritual and routine, we have actually neglected peace in our lives?

I find the bookends of Jesus’ life to be an interesting irony.

On one end, his birth is announced with the hopeful refrain, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Yet, when we fast forward 30 years to the other bookend to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the Holy Week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus weeps over his people and cries, “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.”

In Jesus, there is the great anticipation of peace in his Advent, yet a great lament when peace has been missed by the very people who longed for it.

I wonder if, we too, are in that place of great celebration, seeking, anticipation, and longing this Christmas season as we join in the heavenly chorus, “Peace on earth,” but then leave the peace of Christ abandoned as an unrealized ideal, as something celebrated but then forgotten, as something hope for but then lost in our daily lives.

If the birth (and then life) of the Christ was anything at all, it was to be a light in the darkness for all people, and then between people. It was to be the way to straighten paths that had been made crooked, the way that brings the peace of God to all people and then their relationships in the present.

But again, there is great joy in celebrating that peace, while lamenting how we missed embodying that peace in our lives and relationships.

What God intends for us is, not simply the celebration and praise of the Prince of Peace this holiday season, but lives and relationships that exist in peace, that flow in harmony, that are immersed in the shalom of the Christ.

That is the goal- that each of us would find the wholeness and completeness and harmony of Christ’s shalom in each of our lives and then extend that shalom in each of our relationships in the present.

And I know I am not surprising you when I say this, but this is incredibly difficult, because we will inevitably experience, or even cause, fractures in our relationships, whether they be with friends, spouses, family members, or other people with whom we come into contact throughout our lives. 

We are not perfect. And I am certainly not perfect. 

But I also have to balance all of that by saying that there are very few people guiding us into this ideal. The general narrative in most faith communities is to be a good person, to be a kind person, to be an upstanding citizen, but rarely, if ever, are we told to be those who work toward extending shalom in every interaction and every relationship, even though the majority of Jesus’ teachings were relational.

It is enlightening, and kind of mind-blowing, that Jesus put a higher priority on us seeking peace in our relationships than on our religious rituals and celebrations. In one of his teachings, he tells his audience that they should actually leave their gift at the altar if they remember that a brother or sister has something against them. According to Jesus, forgiveness and restoration in the relationship, embodying and extending peace through reconciliation, is actually more important to God than our worship and celebration of God! 

This is an absolutely radical teaching, if you think about it.

Can you imagine telling church members that the doors of the building will be closed until each member is reconciled with everyone who has something against them?

No Sunday Services.
No Christmas Eve vigils.
No Eucharist celebrations.
No worship songs.
No Sunday School classes.
No baptisms.

Nothing.

Leave your rituals, your routines, your celebrations, your worship… and go make peace, reconcile with your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your wife, your husband, your neighbor, your friend, and the guy at the grocery store whom you have wronged and then, and only then, can you proceed with worship.

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This is seriously radical stuff! But it gives you an idea of how essential it is for the people of shalom to, not just read the stories of the Christ-child and sing the Christmas songs of peace, but to actually be the people of peace above all else. The means are never greater than the ends. Our celebrating and remembering is never more important than our embodiment.         

So what relationships have you have strained? Is there anyone with whom you need to reach out to right now and say that you are sorry? Is there anyone with whom you need to be reconciled?

Meditate on this for a bit.

What would it look like before that Christmas Eve service, before your annual reading of the Incarnation account, or before the next rousing verses of Oh Holy Night to make that call or send that text of apology? This is how shalom begins to move outward for the healing of others and our relationships. Sure, it’s possible that they may not want to reciprocate in the healing and mending of the relationship, but so long as it depends upon you… be peace.

Shalom,

Brandon

My new book Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage is now available at the following online stores.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

Apple Books

If you would like to hear the introduction of the book, please head over to my podcast. You can find that link here.

Lastly, this book is so important to me. Please tell others about it and spread the word on social media.

Losing My Worst Self

I had recently been walking around in the rain on a 41 degree February work day. It was the kind of day when the rain would just. not. stop. And to be honest, I had not really thought that much about the cold and rain throughout the day. With my job, I am in and out of offices all day and I have gotten used to the wildly variable Indiana weather. But as I was nearing the end of the workday, I walked out of the last office and directly into the pouring rain toward my car.

In that split second, I almost grumbled in frustration about the cold and wet.

But I caught myself.

I’m always amazed at how many thoughts and questions can go through a person’s head in just a fraction of second.

Why am I getting frustrated?
Why am I getting frustrated with the rain and cold?
Why am I getting frustrated when I will be in my car in 15 seconds?

The quick succession of questions immediately took me back to one of the most emotionally difficult days on our 2014 Alaskan backpacking trek from Stony Creek to the Toklat River in Denali National Park. It was our third day and we were covering eight miles of rough terrain, all without trails, fighting miles of alder and tussock. The rain was unrelenting, as it pounded us in the cool 40 degree wind. There was not a single dry place along the entire route for a short reprieve, not even for a short, dry lunch break. We were in the unforgiving heart of Alaska, out in the wide open, completely exposed to the elements. And we had to deal with it, because there wasn’t anywhere else to go.

I snapped back into the present, still walking through the parking lot. That quick memory of Alaska made me smile. And within seconds I was laughing audibly, like a crazy man who had just lost his mind, thinking of my relatively insignificant present inconvenience. The joy of unlocking my door, getting into my dry car, and turning on the heat eviscerated the frustration before it could even be birthed. I was immediately thankful.

So why in the world do I share this short account of my frustration, my anger, and my resentment with you?

You may think it is fairly innocuous compared to the deeper issues and problems each of us face every day. I mean, come on, is it really a life accomplishment to not be frustrated by a little rain and cold at the end of the day?

I completely get it.

But I have to tell you, it goes so much deeper than that for me. I have always lived a very reactionary life, in which my automatic internal frustration gauge was always set to maximum. And while many people may have never seen my frustrations visibly, they were always there raging within me. I leaned heavily toward frustration and anger when my circumstances were not ideal. Words like self-reflection or contemplation were not a part of my vocabulary, let alone a regular rhythm of my life.

The hard truth to admit is that I resided in a relatively joyless existence for the majority of my adult life. I was always frustrated with my own personal situations and with the people around me, whom I believed were making my life difficult. And it didn’t help that during much of this time, I was addicted to news and politics, which was a lethal cocktail for that much more frustration. It was an exhausting existence to always be frustrated or angry or outraged about something or someone. And it was starving me from living this life in fullness and abundance and joy.

Even more, when anyone would confront me on the absence of joy in my life, I would summarily dismiss the assertion, or perceived accusation, by claiming that I was using my cynicism in a positive way. The truth is that I was a joyless person hiding behind pretense and justification. And that is the ideal place for an egocentric man to hide and remain unchanged. My resistance and excuse-making were the perfect ingredients for an unhappy, unhealthy, and stagnant life. And the ideal facade to keep my false self intact.

So while it could be easy to dismiss my story of rediscovering joy while laughing like a wild man as the rain poured down on me in a parking lot, to me it represents a man who has been slowly changing and patiently transforming into someone more content and joyful, and hopefully, someone growing more beautifully each day.

Maybe you are like me, a person living each day, veering further and further from your true self, spiraling in disunion, longing for a life that isn’t so angry or disappointing or hopeless. Maybe you have spent the majority of your life in constant, and maybe increasing, frustration with the small irritants of your daily life. Maybe this constant frustration has accumulated over the years and has been robbing you of joy and the experience of the beauty and magnificence and wonder that surrounds you and envelops you in every moment. Maybe your frustrations and irritations have hardened you through the years, disabling you from recognizing the small miracles and beauty of every seemingly ordinary moment.

Maybe you have been experiencing pain or carrying a heavy burden with you each day as you walk out the door. Maybe you are in a place where you are depressed, where you feel worthless, or in a place where you are living in constant shame. Maybe you wake up each morning grieving your life, thinking about the life you used to have, and living in remorse for what you have lost or how you have pushed others away. Maybe you hate yourself, hate what you have become, and you know that you are about to hit rock bottom.

Only you know exactly what you are dealing with or going through.

When we find space for self-reflection and contemplation, we begin to see ourselves more clearly, maybe even for the first time. And in all the ways we have propped up and defended and preserved our false self, we now begin to be transformed into something new and even more beautiful.

That is what the holy inner work of shalom begins to do in each of us. It frees you to become your very best self, the self you were always meant to be from the very foundations of creation, the self that is wholly and completely loved, as you are, by God. And that is the most beautiful and liberating thing in the world.

Peace…

Brandon

Parable of the New Car and Salvage Yard

A certain man was walking through a salvage yard and discovered an expensive, one-of-a-kind car sitting in a field of broken, busted, and forgotten cars.

The salvage yard manager approached the man, who was now inspecting the new car with intrigue and delight. “What are you looking for?” quizzed the manager.

Still mesmerized by such a conspicuous diamond-in-the-rough, the man hardly even heard the question but responded, “I have been searching for this exact car for years! Imagine my shock and surprise when I stumbled upon it in the least likely of locations!”

“It’s a real beauty and it runs like no other,” the manager retorted with his hands in his pockets and his chest puffed out, “but we’re using her for parts.”

Incredulous, the man immediately broke his gaze and sneered at the manager in disbelief.

“You’re doing what?!”

The manager continued, “Look it son, we’re a salvage yard. Everything around here is wrecked and discarded. It’s junk. Just look around. Honestly, I was thinking that when people walk through this broken mess looking for parts, it might be a nice thing to help the people out and give them a shiny, new part that they could put on their damaged cars. Make them feel good about themselves, if you know what I mean. So if you need a part yourself…”

Reeling in disbelief, the man interjected in a fit of rage, “But you don’t use a one-of-a-kind car, that’s hard to find, mind you, for only the parts! You just don’t do that! The parts, by themselves, are worthless on other cars! They won’t even fit any other car and they certainly won’t fix anyone’s problems!”

The manager stood there, hands still in his pockets, but now not so puffed up. In fact, he was quite deflated. He had invested so much time and money into this plan, for what he believed would be a nice gesture and benefit to others.

Almost under his breath, the manager whispered, “I could tell you all about the parts of this car, if you like.”

But the man, unrelenting, continued, now even more animated and exasperated, “This is one of the most ridiculous, cockamamie plans I have ever seen in my entire life. Who in the world will benefit from windshield wipers that are customized only for this car? Who will benefit from brakes that are uniquely made for only this car? Please tell me, who will benefit from this engine, this engine that was made specifically to fit only this car?”

The manager was utterly speechless.

For all of his good intentions, he realized the folly, the foolishness, of his plan.

The value of the car is not in it’s individual parts, but rather, in how the individuals parts come together to comprise something incredibly unique that is extraordinarily beautiful and invaluable.

And it is for this diamond-in-the-rough that one would be willing to sell everything in order to attain, not the individual parts, but the extraordinarily beautiful and invaluable whole.

For the Good News of the Kingdom of God is like an expensive, one-of-a-kind car in the broken and busted salvage yard of the world. And while there are so many in the world who are seeking and searching, there are those, like the manager, who have reduced the beautiful and invaluable whole of the Kingdom of God into individual parts that have no value when apart from the larger Good News message of the Kingdom of God.

Some “managers” give a sermon about the muffler this week or the windshield wiper another week. And, just about every week one can hear the engine of salvation message. But, week after week, maybe even year after year, those seeking and searching fail to hear how the individual parts fit together to comprise the beautiful and invaluable Good News message of the Kingdom of God.

Rather, the focus is on the muffler message of relationships, which is very important and needs to be taught, but it is an individual component of something so much larger, something so much deeper.

The focus is on the windshield wipers of worship, a fantastic individual component in which one can learn and participate, but there is a larger narrative that it fits within.

And most importantly, the focus is on the engine of salvation that so many obsess over in our churches, which is, “You are a sinner and need a Savior. Give your life to Jesus so your sins can be forgiven.”

And while the engine of salvation is an essential part, no one is talking about the beautiful, invaluable car in which this engine runs.

The Good News of the Kingdom of God has been dismantled and used for parts.

Again, the engine is extraordinarily important and makes the entire car run quite well, but it is still only one part of the larger whole. And, if we only talk about, and fixate on, any one component, like the engine, we will never discover the beauty and value of the larger car.

For the beauty and value of the Kingdom of God is not in individual parts, but rather, in how the individuals parts are embodied and expressed that make it extraordinarily beautiful and valuable.

The Good News of the Kingdom of God is not one of the many things.  It is the thing.

The Kingdom of God is the thing through which all things come together- all things in heaven and earth- and through which all things flow and manifest, first in Christ and then through each of us.

And it is for the Good News of the Kingdom of God that one would be willing to sell everything in order to attain, not the individual parts, but the beautiful and invaluable whole.

“I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” – Jesus

Seeking first the Kingdom…

Brandon