Dry Desert
St. Paul's Manna Blog

He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna... in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
(Deuteronomy 8:3)

A colorful mural stretched across a large exterior wall, full of pictures of Black children doing activities: reading, soccer, karate, lacrosse
Southington's "MLK39: Racial Equity" Mural

In the church, we love to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a civil rights activist, of course, but he was a minister, too. Active in the movement for civil rights from 1955 until his assassination in 1968, Dr. King is known for many things. Many of us can probably bring one of his famous quotes to mind.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Especially for that last one, I can hear his voice ringing out that refrain: “I have a dream, I have a dream...”

But Dr. King wasn’t just a person who said a lot of beautiful words about unity. He spent his life afflicting the comfortable, demanding justice, and organizing people to take direct action.

In 1963, eight white clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama wrote an open letter called “A Call for Unity.” The signatories included two Episcopal bishops. The men critiqued the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, urging the people to negotiate and use the courts, not protest.

In response, from his cell in a Birmingham city jail, Dr. King wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (download and read it by clicking here).

It’s a little long, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Pray with this letter this week. While you do, I encourage you to consider these questions:

  • What parts of the letter make sense to you, and where does it make you feel uncomfortable?

  • How (if at all) are these words applicable to today’s world?

  • Where are you in this letter?

And, for fun, here is a video documenting the process of making our own mural in town that's inspired by Dr. King's legacy: Southington's "MLK39: Racial Equity" mural.

Did you know that the Episcopal Church has an online dictionary?

It’s a great guide to the many terms and concepts that mark our tradition. And a good way to find something out when you’re too embarrassed to ask (not that I’ve ever used it for this purpose)!

A screenshot of a website that says An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, with a Mac laptop and iPad in the corners.

Here’s the entry for the Epiphany Season, which is the church season we just entered:

A season of four to nine weeks, from the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The length of the season varies according to the date of Easter. The gospel stories of this season describe various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. The coming of the Magi is celebrated on the Epiphany. The Baptism of our Lord is observed on the Sunday after Epiphany. The gospels for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season describe the wedding at Cana, the calling of the disciples, and various miracles and teachings of Jesus. The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is always devoted to the Transfiguration. Jesus' identity as the Son of God is dramatically revealed in the Transfiguration gospel, as well as the gospel of the baptism of Christ. We are called to respond to Christ in faith through the showings of his divinity recorded in the gospels of the Epiphany season.

I highly recommend clicking through the dictionary, or use the search feature on the Episcopal Church website to search the dictionary.

You can learn little facts about cool saints, like Macrina the Younger (c. 327 – c. 379), or find out what we think is happening during the Eucharist—and everything in between.

Did you know that it’s still Christmas? Many people think “the 12 days of Christmas” refers to 12 days leading up to Christmas. But in reality, Christmas starts Christmas Day and lasts 12 days until Epiphany.

So, it’s January, but Merry Christmas!

We know that the wise men from the East arrive in Jerusalem, looking for the child whose star they’ve been following. They visit Jesus and bring him little gifts (Matthew 2:1-12). What a lovely story!

But have you ever read the rest of this story?

The wise men first meet Herod and describe the child they're seeking as "king of the Jews." That threatens Herod’s power. The verses that come next describe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s fear and rage. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

[Herod] sent and killed all the [male] children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)

This tells me two somewhat surprising things:

First: the wise men visited Jesus a year or two after his birth.

I used to picture the wise men showing up at that famous manger where God incarnate was first lain.

But based on their report to Herod about the appearance of the star, Herod kills all of Bethlehem’s boy children under two years old. That means Jesus could be two in this story.

Did the wise men visit a crawling Jesus? A toddling Jesus? Did Jesus babble each of their names in his earliest imitation of language? Meditating on each of these images is delightful to me.

But second: there is unspeakable violence as part of the Christmas story.

Yes, Jesus escapes Herod’s violent attack on the children of Bethlehem. But how many children are slaughtered in this part of the Christmas story? What did it do to the people of Bethlehem—the birthplace of God into human flesh—to have two years’ worth of boy children just… gone?

The part of the Christmas story that we tell on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is lovely. It’s a cozy story of angels and shepherds and one family growing a little bit bigger. Maybe it makes us feel nostalgic for the many other times we’ve heard it. Hopefully it helps us understand God in a unique way.

But Jesus’ birth isn’t the end of this story. Jesus is born into a fallen world—a world we still inhabit and have to figure out how to navigate faithfully.

The hope of Christmas isn’t that everything is perfect now. The hope of Christmas is that even in the depths of our fallenness, we receive Emmanuel: “God with us.”