Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Image of Freedom

I have watched, with horror and fascination, the events of the last several days.

In Louisiana, devastation, as Hurricane Ida blasted away so much of the infrastructure that maintains our familiar day to day life.  The lights are out.  The roads, impassable.  Communities lie in ruins, blasted by wind and rising sea.  The remains are the murky umbers of mud and clay, the drab sullen green muck of mold and wet and cloying, inescapable humidity. 

In Northern California, the color palette is different.  As fires cross the Sierra Nevada for the first time, and come sweeping down into cities and towns, the destruction is different.  It is a different color.  The lowering deep-orange-grey of towering clouds of choking smoke, the fiercer living yellow-orange of devouring flame, the charcoal of ashen ruin.

Yet in so many ways, the two events are the same.

There is the same look on the faces of the human beings.  The exhaustion.  The resignation. The sorrow and fear and uncertainty.

There are the same lines of cars.  Well, not cars.  Americans no longer buy cars.  We drive Sport Utility Vehicles, the great lumbering totems of cheap gas and American consumer freedom.  They are not, as the manufacturers pitch us, cruising effortlessly across empty highways, filled with smiling picture perfect families living abundantly.  They are not, as the marketers would have us believe, driving through the deep backwoods, on the way to a secluded campsite by a shimmering moonlit lake.

Those SUVs aren't moving at all.  They're sitting useless in long lines in Louisiana, waiting for gas, a gallon here, a gallon there, idling with the air conditioning on against the stifling, intolerable heat, consuming gas as they wait for gas, a hopeless ouroboros of consumption.

They are packed to the gills near Lake Tahoe, trapped in bottlenecked traffic for hours and hours, as the fires creep closer to the one road out, doors open, drivers standing on the doorframes, peering out at the backs of endless identical SUVs, emblems of our individuality, stalled motionless as far as the eye can see.

The same faces, and the same vehicles.  And there is also the same cause, our warming, more threatening world.  

It is a painful irony, seeing the flood and the flame, seeing human fear, and those helpless columns of huge, inefficient vehicles.  Because we know, we do, that these three things are all different parts of the same fearsome painting.  The fire and the storm...and our fear and helplessness in the face of a roused and angered world...are a result of the gases that spew from the exhausts of those very same Sport Utility Vehicles.  

Which we know, but somehow cannot change, as if our addiction to an illusory image of freedom has made us forget that we are free to choose another path.

Such strange, strange creatures, we humans are.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Littlest Sunflower

The smallest sunflower in my modest golden stand of towering Helianthus stands barely at my knee. It's a fraction of the height of its siblings, a stunted little thing, the runt of the litter. It's had a different existence than the other flowers, which I know because I've watched them all grow.
It was one of the tallest plants as they initially surged upward, as tall as the eight foot giants whose flowers are set like great platters against the sky.
But then Bambi and his mom came and nibbled away a quarter of the stand. Most of the topped, beheaded plants withered. But this one and a few others rallied and sprouted anew from their wounds, pressing upwards. I sprayed repellent, but rains came, and nature took its course.
Deer being the hungry devils that they are, I woke one morning to find that the smaller plants had been devoured again, all their new green growth reduced to torn stumps. They withered.
This one, though? This littlest one? Devoured twice, it kept at it. Instead of one new stalk, it grew several, all of which are either now in flower or about to flower.
Sunflowers are simple living things, and not human persons. But being a human person and a living thing myself, I can't help but admire its gumption.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Ovaltine

The little children huddle

Eager

Round the radio

Secret decoder rings and 

Captain Midnight code wheels

Sipping their Ovaltine

And making their car payments

As they have been instructed.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Cicadas, Climate Change, and Hope

They’ve gone quiet now, their voices stilled.  Here and there, a few husks remain, clinging to brick out of the reach of the wind-driven rain.   Though we’ve moved on, it was good to hear the cicadas singing again.


As a DC Metro townie, born and raised inside the Beltway, that recent event was my third time hearing the warblings of the Brood X choir.  I was a senior in high school during the 1987 emergence.  In 2004, I was the dad of two busy little preschool boys.  And as that long remembered Star Trek phaser/War of the Worlds keening filled the air a third time this year, I’ve become a middle aged empty nester.


As the cicadas bumbled about in the treetops, shouting out their songs of love, the sound was a welcome thing.  Like a visit from an old acquaintance, or a journey to a house where you once lived for a few years as a child.  I remembered my youth, and those little boys, now grown.  I watched Brood X clamber out of the earth and whir heavily through the air, and I felt nothing but supportive.  I was rooting for them.  You go, little guys!


They seemed to need all the help they could get.


When that first advance wave came tumbling out, though, they didn’t do well.  After we’d gotten a big burst of summer heat to wake them, things got oddly cold, and they were visibly weakened.  As cold blooded creatures, they didn’t have the energy to molt.  Or their wings failed to form properly in the cool of grey, sunless days, leaving hundreds with stunted, useless appendages.  Their carcasses littered the ground and splattered in the roads and sidewalks.  It warmed, for a while, but then it got cold again, bitter rain that silenced their song for days.


It stirred a worry, one that rises from a broader anxiety that many of us feel these days.  Our world is warming, the temperature inching upwards, and the ecosystem is struggling to adapt.  The signs of that change comes daily, as storms and floods, fires and droughts shout for our attention. For many species of flora and fauna, this abrupt shift will prove overwhelming.   


Looking at the bizarre, miraculous, alien seventeen-year cicada, so simple and easily broken, a fear rose.  Might find this new harsher world we’ve created destroy them?  Every species that falls is a loss, of course, but these bumbling bugs are so peculiar.  So endearing.  So ancient.


Cicadas come from a long bloodline.  They seem prehistoric because they are prehistoric, with a lineage that goes back deep into the history of life on earth.  The primal ancestors of cicadas go back to the heart of the Permian era, around 275 million years ago, well before the dinosaurs, when the mammals from which we sprang didn’t yet even exist. 


As good as cicadas seemed to be at dying in the mouths of our dogs and under the wheels of our cars, they also come from a stock that survived the greatest mass extinction in our little planet’s history.   251 million years ago, the Permian/Triassic extinction event was likely triggered by catastrophic volcanic eruptions, eruptions which ignited massive reserves of coal.  The atmosphere filled with gigatons of carbon, global temperatures soared, seas became acidic, and the majority of species died.  It was far worse than the event that killed the dinosaurs.  Among scientists, it’s known colloquially as The Great Dying.


While the vast majority of insect species died off, the ancestors of the cicada did not.  Cicadas may be fragile individually, but together?  Together they’re resilient.  If their ancestors could make it through The Great Dying, they can probably handle the extinction event we’ve inflicted on our world.


Seventeen years from now, I’ll be almost 70.  It might be the last time I’ll hear the cicada song that now fills the air.  The world will be warmer and likely still on a warming arc, but the cicadas give me some hope.  If those bumbling, booping, endearingly awkward critters can survive and adapt, it seems very possible that we homo sapiens can too.  Because even though we may feel small and fragile individually in the face of our changing world, we together can make it through. 


That’s how that song sounded in my ears.   It was a song of hope for the future. 


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Just a Little Help, Here and There

 I decided to try growing a few sunflowers this year, planting the seeds in a semicircle near the sidewalk at the front of my house. When I was a tiny pup, perhaps no more than five, I can remember encountering sunflowers and thinking they were miraculous. I was awed by them. Flowers were supposed to be small and dainty, but here was this bright towering glory, the bloom as large as my head, rising higher than the adults who loomed over me. For such striking plants, they're surprisingly practical. They grow in nearly all soil, they feed the pollinators, and us, too, with a little roasting. And yet they delight children and childlike adults. They symbolize hope, which is reason enough to plant them.


But they don't like storms and high winds, which come with greater frequency as the warmth of Virginia summer rolls in. Even before the flowers form, their top heavy wide leafed stems can become vulnerable to high wind. So as my small patch rose up past waist height, into the ground went the stakes, and the first of the gently tied supports were wrapped around stalks. Just a little help, here and there.

I finished that task yesterday, right at the local Storm Teams gleefully pitched out their alerts. Torrential downpours! Hurricane force gusts! Take shelter! Keep watching! As the thunder coughed and grumbled, and the darkened evening strobed with lightning, the wind rose and howled. I monitored the flowers from the covered front porch, until the spray storm driven rain forced me inside.

The largest flowers of the patch teetered and rocked, leaves fluttering wildly. They strained against the string. But they stayed upright. The storm passed. They were fine.

Just a little help, here and there, and they were fine.

Earth and Ashes

It's Earth Day 2021, and it feels, well, it feels a bit strange.

Earth Day has always been a little peculiar, as holidays go.  It's only fifty one years old, and not really a holiday, given that we generally keep bustling about our lives as we always do.  It lacks rituals and liturgies and traditions, beyond an amorphous set of warm sentimentalities and dreamy aspirations.  Growing things are nice, we think.  We really, really should start taking better care of our planet, we say, nodding sagely, as we have for every one of the last fifty one years.  Now is the time to act, we say, as we get into our SUVs and drive to pick up a case bottled water for little Tyler's travel league team.

There are pictures of green things, and talk of seeds and planting.  Perhaps we put a tree into the ground.   Perhaps we repost some meme with a smiley heart earth, or a pastel drawing of a multiethnic group of kids holding hands in a circle with butterflies and flowers.  That's just so nice.

It just doesn't feel right.  It feels dissonant.  Like we are, somehow, missing the reality of where we stand.

It reminds me a little of something that well-meaning earnest progressive Christians started doing a few years back on Ash Wednesday.  That's the day in the Christian ritual year when we Jesus folk remind ourselves that we are mortal, fleeting creatures of dust, and that our time here on this world is little more than a blink of an eye.

We typically mark ourselves with a sign of ashes, to remember that we are fleeting and mortal and small.  This is meant to be reflective.  It's meant to be somber, because hard truths are that way.  But we don't like to do somber, because somber makes us sad and stuff.  So some folk decided to mingle glitter with the ashes, because it was sparkly and fun.  Let's celebrate our earth-wrought mortality with shiny bits of plastic!  

Oy.  I mean, you do you and all, but oy.  It just felt like missing the point.

"Celebrating" Earth Day feels a bit the same way to me now.  All is not well on our little planet.  We are past the inflection point for dealing with climate change.  We're already seeing the effects, as vast planetary systems are starting to shift.  Wildfires and droughts, storms and rising seas.  Even if we somehow manage to come up with a concerted effort, we're in for a rough ride.   


Cornucopia

"Hey, that's cool," said Rache, as she sat across from me at our kitchen table, peering out the bay window.  I glanced back and around, and it was as she said.  From the side of one of our raised beds, the ants were rising into the sky.

It was the warmth of the day that had triggered them, as summer's heat descended to wake the earth on a late April morning.  A tumble of delicately winged drones were clambering out of holes, scuttering up the cedar wood of one of our raised bed gardens, and hurling themselves by the tens and hundreds into the air.  They rose like bright smoke from a fire, their wings caught in the beams of the morning sun.

"Wow.  And there...and there." I said, as all of the colonies in the yard vented their males into the heavens at once, a volcanic eruption of fluttering, clumsy fliers, pouring from fissures, each bearing a possible future of their tiny, industrious little tribes.

Our house sparrows noticed, too.  They leapt chattering and chirping from their nests, racing across the front yard to where a free breakfast buffet was winging its way into the world.  It was an impossible abundance, and the little birds dove into the rising cloud again and again, picking them from the air in a whirl of brown and tan wings.

A couple of the sparrows realized that the pickings were easier on the ground, where clumps of clumsy insect fliers struggled for position at the entrances to their nests, or flopped around uselessly on the ground in a tangle of untested wings.  Two birds hungrily pecked one ant after another from the ground, as an abundance poured out at their feet, a crawling, struggling cornucopia.

But they were sparrows, and sparrows love fighting more than anything in the world.  The two birds on the ground saw each other amidst the plenty.  Even though there was more food than both could possibly eat, they started fighting over it anyway.  They leapt into the air, batting at each other with their wings, pecking and yelling, the free breakfast ignored.  Their fight ranged away, one sparrow chasing another, across the road and into a neighboring yard, where they tumbled to the ground in a shrieking ball of beating wings and claws and feathers.

The ants continued their slow, bright rise into the sky.


Nets and Gleaning

About a decade ago, I planted four blueberry bushes near the front of our house.  One was inadvertently destroyed by an errant lawnmower driven by a teen.  One struggled to thrive, and remains barely more than two lightly leafed branches poking wanly from the ground.  But two grew and grew well, and every spring for the last five years, they've burst forth with clusters of pretty little white-prayer-bell flowers, striated with a hopeful pink purple.  

Those clusters of flowers draw the bees, then fall away, as the berry beneath plumps out and ripens.  Every year, they swell out by the hundreds, and their color turns from a pale green to deepening hues of deepwater blue.

And then, as if I were some sad suburban Tantalus, they are plucked away at the last moment.  Not by capricious Mediterranean deities, but but by the sparrows and starlings and grackles.  The sparrows in particular seem fond of depriving us of the literal fruit of our literal labor, as they flit from branch to branch, pecking one plump, nearly ripe orb after another.  In the last five years, I could hold our total blueberry harvest in a single cupped palm.

It has not endeared the sparrows to me.  I mean, they're already more than a little on the obnoxious side.  When they're not arguing, they tend to sit on the sides of my raised beds sharpening their beaks ostentatiously, like tiny winged hoodlums in an all-bird production of West Side Story.  They are not doves.  They are not wrens.  Or even crows.  I do not like them.  I have, on occasion, harbored dark fantasies of the Standard American Solution to yard varmints, which can be found by searching on YouTube, keywords "sparrow" and "high powered air rifle."  As vicariously, morbidly satisfying as those slo mo feathered explosions might be, that just isn't me.  Or legal.

And so this year, after two years of failed efforts to net my plants, I've upped the game.  Fifty strong mesh bags, too fine to get around, now are tied in place around fifty clusters of berries. I think, finally, that I have them.  Most of the berries are covered. 

Most. But not all.  

Because although house sparrows are not the most genial of birds, and the enemy of many of my efforts in the garden, I can't quite bring myself to starve them, in the same way that I don't feel like blasting them from existence with a small projectile travelling 1800 feet per second.  

I do not need all of the harvest.  I do not need to maximize my yield.  I will have plenty, and there will be plenty of berries left for the gleaning.  Why take every last thing?  


Old and New

 As the spring fills the air with sweet scents and pollen, and the green life rises in trees and grass, it's a lovely time for newness.  I feel that in my own garden at home.  Every year, the joy of gardening is twofold.  There's the delight in the return of old friends.  My seed-saved green beans date back half a decade, and setting those little irregular white kidneys into the loosened, freshly composted earth has a ritual familiarity to it.  I know these little friends, and I knew their ancestors back five generations.  I know what they yield, and how they grow.  There's something definitely akin to affection returning those seeds to soil.  

My kale goes back three years, and the plants that I started back in the fall have yielded gallons of lovely, nutty-sweet greens.  That won't last long, as the heat of the summer sun and the nibbling predations of caterpillars will soon take their toll.  But I'm letting 'em go to seed again this year, a familiar harvest of spiky pods that will give me greens for years to come.  I've done that for years now, and again, there's a sense of welcoming back old friends.

But there's newness, too, as there is every year when I experiment with things I've not yet tried.  I'm trying butternut squash this year, after having saved the seeds from a squash gifted from a neighbor's garden.  I'll need to tend those squash carefully, as I've lost prior years attempts at spaghetti and summer squash to borers.  Butternut is just so delicious, though, so into the soil those seeds went.  

There are sunflowers, too, which is a first, stirred mostly by the memory of sunflower patches from when I was a little boy in Kenya.  I remember goggling up at the towering flowers in awe, because flowers were supposed to be smaller than me, and wow.  That, and the seeds are tasty and roastable.  So we'll see.

There are the lovely little drawstring bags which I'm hoping will finally save at least some of my blueberry harvest from the sparrows, squirrels, and starlings.  Perhaps this year, more than just one or two blueberries will make it into my mouth.   Again, we'll see.

Each day in God's creation offers us much the same blend of new and familiar, if we look for it.  There's always the comfort of a pattern that reassures.  There's always something new, sometimes startling, sometimes so subtle we have to listen carefully for it.  That's just part of the wonder of life, which...as this last year has reminded us...is just so very precious.


Angry Tweeting

 There's a quarrel of sparrows that have settled into the ivy and boxwood in front of our house. Like all sparrows, they're a fractious tribe, and are pretty much always arguing about something, high pitched shouting matches that occasionally break into tumbling brawls in the grass. Fighting amongst themselves seems to be their main pastime. It's how they fill their days. Well, that and engaging in the process of making more sparrows, which is often indistinguishable from their fighting.

Yesterday, as I sat and studied in the kitchen, an uptick in their continual ruckus drew my distracted attention. I glanced out. On one of the half barrels in which I grow potatoes, a big bluejay perched, staring intently at where the sparrows nest. Jays are beautiful, sure. But they're also brutish birds, dull minded bullies and cold eyed killers, and more than happy to feast on eggs and young chicks of smaller birds if given half a chance. As the jay peered into the ivy, the sparrows yelled and flitted, their endless arguments seemingly made only a little louder in the presence of an existential threat.

"Who's gonna do something about that jay!" "That's not my problem!" "You kidding? You and your stupid nestbuilding, it's your fault that jay is here!" "You talking to me? You Talkin' to ME!" On and on, the chattering complaints and incriminations.

None of the sparrow's seemingly endless font of umbrage was directed at the threat. None of them dived at or challenged the jay. It remained still, leaning forward, focusing, silent.

The jay exploded upward and forward, a blue bolt fired towards a target. There was a moment or two of violent rustling in the ivy. Then it flew away, making a beeline for what was likely its own nest. I couldn't see clearly if it was carrying anything, but it seemed that it was.

The sparrows just kept on arguing. It's what they do.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Criticism

Ruminative

Regressive

Reactionary

Morbid

Destructive

Controlling

Cowardly

Manipulative

Decadent

Effete

Bitter

Pointless

Resentful

Disintegrative

Abstracted

Lifeless

Empty

Friday, March 26, 2021

Dreaming of Horses

I looked
Up a
Road
In a
Town
In a 
Dream
And saw

Horses upon
Horses
Snorting giddy many
Bright Strong Delight
Running Free
Through empty streets
Toward Me

And I thought
A grey pony
With deep sharp eyes
Pressing his flank
In play against me
What
My dreaming soul thought
What
My lethe-drunk mind struggled
To recall
What
Dreams about
Horses mean 
Again?

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Freezing Rain

Snow is magic silent softness. But do we appreciate the static brittle hiss of sleet, the pork fat crackle of ice on ice? 

We do not, because it inconveniences us.  It impedes our rushing about, our importance. It makes the world uncertain under our feet.  We flounder about upon it, moving with all the grace of a beached seal, like children who have only just learned to walk.  Our lights flicker, our great machines slide to a crunching terrible halt.  

We despise it.  It makes us feel weak, like fools, like we are powerless tiny creatures who are not the center of all of God's work.

We despise it, because it does not exist for us.  It is God's work without us, the way of creation, and we are not its purpose.  

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Of Rage in an Angry Time

I don't generally need to go by my small congregation during the week, as the pandemic means few in person meetings.  But I will, just to 1) check the mail; 2) walk to check on the facility, and 3) be somewhere else.  

Sweet Lord Jesus, is it nice to be in another place.

When I arrived on Wednesday, I did the walkabout, checked mail and messages, and then set down in my office to do some reading and sermon prep.  After about fifteen minutes, I made the mistake of checking Facebook.  Which is how I learned that a right-wing mob had, at Donald J. Trump's direct instigation, invaded the House and Senate to disrupt the certification of the election.

This created...um...something of a dissonance in my soul. 

I'm American.  I've always been proud of our republic.  Flawed though she may be, the essential idea of our constitutional republic appeals to me.  I've read enough history, studied, and traveled enough to realize that authoritarian regimes ain't no fun.  Watching a delusional mob in the thrall of a would-be despot rampage through the Capitol seeking to overthrow a free and fair election?  

All I felt was rage.

One of the pesky features of my Scots-Irish blood is that my anger doesn't tend to be particularly measured.  I do not express it often, because I find that it is most often not helpful.  And sure, yes, anger is an emotion that has uses.  It lets us know something is wrong.  It alerts us to the need for action.  "If we are not angry," or so my activist friends insist, "we are not paying attention."  Sure.  Fine.  I get that.  

But my anger?  It does not call my heart to to justice, and it is the farthest thing from constructive.  

What my anger wanted, as I seethed in impotent fury watching a rabble of buffoons and traitors desecrate our republic, was nothing less than their complete destruction.  Had shafts of fire gouted from the Capitol dome like God's wrath in that Nazi-slaughtering scene at the end of Raider of the Lost Ark, immolating tens of thousands?  It would have pleased my anger. 

My feelings towards Trump and those in his thrall...all of them, everywhere...were similar this week.   And have been similar over the last four years.  

As lies, deceit, and a bullying demonic falseness have poisoned the minds of so many Americans, maintaining a heart of peace has been a strain.  Seeing their demons masquerading as my faith only deepens my vehemence.   They imagine that this?  THIS?  Is Following Jesus?  Let all of them be raptured away, hisses my rage, a scripture in its hand.  Let them all rise to the heavens, it whispers, until they strangle and freeze in the void of space.  

I wish I was alone in this anger.  I have had other souls share similar feelings with me in confidence, of how hard it is not to wish ill upon those who follow this mad, manipulative, pathetic fool, and to yearn for his violent demise.  Of how much they are consumed by a hatred that tries their souls.  Of how hard that makes it for them to love family and friends who have fallen under the spell.

Against the burning hells and vengeful butcheries of my monkey-mind rage, there is Jesus.  Always, always Jesus.

There are some, particularly among my more political Jesus-friends, who suggest that Jesus does not call us to challenge the demands of our own anger.  This is not so.  No matter how many times one posts about "overturning the tables," the moral demands of nonviolence are too essential to the life of a Christian disciple.  If you claim Jesus has authority over your life, you understand that when rage rules your soul, when you yield to its heart of destruction and condemnation, you are serving another.  You are serving the Enemy, tapping into the dark spirit of the Adversary.  You are fighting evil with evil, tearing down rather than building up.


I do not always win that struggle.  In times of weakness I have let anger harm others more than I'd like to admit, but I do know it is a struggle worth having.

So I let myself breathe.  I let the anger burn down.  I put in the control rods of prayer, and cool down the reactor.  I step away from the endless din of social fury.  I make a lasagna.  I read a book.  I let my soul center.

Does that mean injustice should be tolerated?  No.  Neither does it mean that the lies, delusions, and manipulations of others should be accepted.  Those who seek to tear down the blessing of our republic and replace it with a fever-dream sham need to be resisted and held to account.

But not blindly, and not from the heart of the Adversary.  If Christ is my guide in all things, then that needs to be true now, as much as ever.  

Friday, January 1, 2021

In Defense of Little Baby Jesus

The quote caught my eye, as it arrived in one of my daily devotionals.

It was, as is often the case, a quote from Fr. Richard Rohr, a genial mystic whose writings and reflection I will occasionally enjoy, and who is generally viewed with awed reverence by the progressive Christian left. 

Most of the quotes I encounter are Delphic in tone and language, speaking of a grand Universal Christ who suffuses the Cosmos.  I find these meditations engaging, although my mystic inclinations are less universal and more multiversal.  

This one, though, was different.  It was a polemic of sorts, in which the mystic clucked a bit at Christians who are fool enough to focus on the baby Jesus.  In his meditation, Rohr challenges the idea that the infant Jesus is a helpful image for Christians.  Among the key quotes:

We have often settled instead for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality, or any assent to the actual teachings of Jesus.

and

We do the Gospel no favor when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, who asks little or no adult response from us.

For Rohr, baby Jesus is a a symptom of an overly sentimentalized Christianity.  It is not the Christ of a mature faith, but an emotive projection that requires nothing of us but cooing shallow bathos.  On the one hand, I get where he's coming from.  I mean, we all watched Talledega Nights, right?

On the other, as a mystic who has raised children from infancy, and who has been present at the blood and mess of birth, ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  

Oh my, oh, I....ahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Ok.  Hooo.  Let me catch my breath for a moment.  Ok.  Whew.

Right.  Let's look at the whole "baby" thing for a moment.  First, Richard?  Dear Sweet Brother Richard?  You and I know that the baby Jesus is as integral a part of the Eternal Christ as the man Jesus, and as much as the Infinite Multiversal Christ.  There is not a single part of Jesus' identity we can just set aside.  And that, my friend, includes infant Jesus.  Why?

Let me lay this out for you, with a simple question.  How much time have you spent around babies?  I mean, really spent around them.  Not contemplating the idea of babies, or meditating on the Divine Mystic Transcendent Concept of Babyness, but being with them in their reality?

Nothing, I mean, nothing, demands more from human beings in terms of surrender, encounter, and mutuality than a baby.  Babies require adult response, all day, every day, for as long as they are babies.

Babies require kenosis, my dude.  No one empties self of self like the parent of a newborn.  Babies demand that we set aside our self-interest, our aspirations for glory and power and competence, and our regular sleep schedules.  Babies may seem like soft pastel abstractions, but they ain't.  Babies are incarnate beings.  They are flesh and bone, puke and poop.  Especially poop.  So. Much.  Poop.

They are real, immediate, intense, and powerfully present.  
They require our attention.   They are not our "partners."  They are not our "friends." We do nothing with them as "co-creators."  They are tyrants and empresses, who cry out their wordless orders to us from their car seat thrones.  "Attend to me," they proclaim, "for I am stinky.  Also, I may have spit up a little, just as a special present for you."

Infants demand our obedience, paradoxically, from a position of profound vulnerability.  They command us to turn away from what we are doing, and to do what is required, because they cannot do it for us.  They do so relentlessly, waking us, shaking us from our prior patterns of being and our yearning for control.

If we fail to do all that they require, they cease to be.  All of the promise they represent, of a new person, of an unanticipated relationship, of a life beyond our life?  That cannot be, unless we do as they command.  They cannot become what they must become without our attention, our care, and the discipline of tending to them.  Like the Numinous in microcosm, like the Mysterium Tremens filling our ears, they stir us to trembling, shaken wakeness, reminding our foolish souls of the precious fragility of our being amidst the vastness of what God hath wrought.

Holding on to the image of little baby Jesus does not make us "baby" Christians, nor does it make us shallow sentimentalists.  Quite the opposite.  Understood through the lens of real enfleshed infancy, it reminds us, fiercely and intensely, of the reality of incarnation, and the intense demands of a Jesus who expects us to do what he has asked us to do.