"To the eyes of Christians the incarnation is the irruption of God into human history: an incarnation into littleness and service in the midst of overbearing power exercised by the mighty of this world; an irruption that smells of the stable."
~ Gustavo Gutierrez
This time of year always presents a unique struggle for me. With the NFL playoffs around the corner and college basketball in full swing, I find myself at least on occasion, committed to a television screen. And my ego feels it...
Social scientist, Rene Girard, would say that our culture, not just in sports and entertainment, along with every culture throughout history has been largely based on competition and winning.
Can you feel it? ... The reality that a deep sense of rivalry doesn't just stop at the end of the game? It's actually pervasive throughout our culture and at times even among our closest of friends.
And we wonder why we can't shake overwhelming feelings of loneliness.
And the church really is no exception. Actually, in the conversations I've had with Christians, many say they feel this exhausting feeling of competition and rivalry even stronger in the church than elsewhere.
As I observed nativity scenes over the holidays more than ever it occurred to me that the particulars of the birth of Jesus were no accident. A powerless baby born into a poor family among a poor Galilean people, the incarnation must be recognized as one who deliberately chose to dwell among the losers. Those who were quietly cast off into the shadows of the prevailing powers were actually the ones whom it seems God favored.
We find ourselves nestled comfortably in tradition and a feeling of normalcy when we have a person or group of people to be against and in rivalry with. On the flip side, we feel a terrible sense of disorientation without a clear and present enemy. But if God continues to be incarnate with the losers who are left in the shadows then perhaps we need only to be among the poor to feel the Presence.
Actually, we don't even need to leave the room to encounter the shadows... as long as it's well lit. In most Christian traditions we've been so encouraged to be over and against and cautiously avoid sinners that many of us avoid recognizing our own shadow self. The old saying is true, we truly are our own worst enemy and God wants nothing more than to bring healing and reconciliation to this old foe. This denied and disguised self takes so much energy to face and transform throughout one's life that we'd find little energy left over to project fear and anger onto terrorists, liberals, conservatives, or whoever else our ego prefers to scapegoat.
This isn't a practice in self-hatred but exactly to the contrary when we realize that God loves the loser, those stuck in the shadows, then we'll have the courage to expose and sit in the reality of our own.