Leaving childhood: Holy Innocents Day

Massacre of the Innocents by Fra Angelico

Today is Holy Innocents Day, when we are called to remember childhood how children have been slaughtered. The focus is on the baby boys Herod slaughtered in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus, but also embraces the children slaughtered throughout history.

Jesus teaches that “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18) This prompts the question about what childhood is. Is it something about vulnerability, dependence, naively and learning. Jesus added the word “humility”. “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

And then we grow out of childhood, spending a lot of our time bigging ourselves up, taking ourselves out of reach of that kingdom Jesus spoke about.

I am reading organisations don’t tweet, people do by Euan Semple? He seems to suggest that the qualities that make for childhood are the qualities that are needed for leaders and organisations to be successful as he talks about vulnerability and humility in these terms:

“Being open about your failings isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and wouldn’t be acceptable in every workplace, but just a little more openness about your failings in front of your staff might be just be the best way to improve your working relationships. Being seen not to know, and being willing to ask for help, can be the best way to make other people feel valued. It also signals to them that it is OK not to know everything all the time. This creates the sort of culture where people are willing to open up and share what they know to everyone’s mutual benefit.”

Twelfth Night

Today is Epiphany – January 6th. Twelfth Night – down with that tree and away with that tinsel. Highlight of the season has been reading The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan. This has given spiritual direction for this wonderful season. Borg and Crossan describe the birth stories of Matthew and Luke’s gospels as “parabolic overtures” for their whole gospel of joy and conflict – personal and political.

Today, Epiphany, focus is on the story of the visit of the Magi who travel one road and then return by another road. The road they travel is to the palace of Jerusalem. Of course, they would go that way. The way of the worldy wise is to the palace and the court. They discover how wrong they are. In Breugemann’s phrase, they finish “9 miles wide”, and discover their journey’s end (and their beginning – TS Eliot) to be not at the court of Herod but in the outbuildings of an inn in Bethlehem. Their return “by another road” signifies repentance – a change of mind – demanded by the Jesus of the Gospel. “They no longer walked the same path, but followed another way.”

Messrs Borg and Crossan wonder whether I am “like the Magi who follow the light and refuse to comply with the ruler’s plot to destroy it.” Or whether I am like Herod “filled with fear and willing to use whatever means necessary to maintain power, even violence and slaughter.” Am I among those “who yearn for the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace, who seek peace through justice”, or am I among those “advocates of imperial theology who seek peace through victory?”

Borg and Crossan refer to the three tenses of Christmas. Past, present and future – as retold by Charles Dickens in the Christmas Carol. Of the future tense they refer to three different understandings:
One is called “interventionist eschatology” – in which only God can bring about the new world.
The second is called “participatory eschatology” in which we are to participate with God in bringing about the world promised by Christmas.
The third involves letting go of eschatology altogether in which Christian hope is not about the transformation of this world.
Only the second is affirmed by Borg and Crossan – thankfully. “We who have seen the star and heard the angels sing are called to participate in the new birth and new world proclaimed by these stories.” They quote Augustine’s aphorism: “God without us will not; we without God cannot.”