National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  December 19, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

A slice of real life

I must say, first off, that I love the warm fuzzies of the holidays. Maybe it’s my Italian roots, but I love crowds of people and lots of food and enthusiastic conversation and good music. We had more than a bit of that at Thanksgiving when three of our kids, a nephew, a friend, a sister-in-law and her husband and assorted boyfriends and girlfriends made their various ways from both coasts to our house in Kansas. There was food, conversation and music in abundance, and the music (three musicians, some wonderful songwriters and voices) was especially sweet over the long weekend.

I will carry that blink of a moment forever, the kind that I think provides us with a peek at the kingdom, a small experience of deep unity and human goodness.

At the same time, I carry it this year with a sense of tension, of being tugged in a different direction. This is an unsettling year. The morning I started writing this came the notice that a U.S. bombing had killed nine Afghan kids. A few days later, it was revealed that another “operation” had resulted in the death of six more.

In Iraq our soldiers and Iraqis keep dying. We’re uncertain of the number of dead Iraqis and, more distressing, it appears that U.S. officialdom has absolutely no concern about that number.

More questions than usual swirl around this Christmas about who we are in America, and how we want the rest of the world to perceive us, about how deeply we are allowing our civil liberties to be eroded. The questions tug at the warm fuzzies, threaten to pull the covers off a cozy dream in the deepest part of a cold winter night.

For me the comfort comes, returns actually, not in ignoring the tugs and pulls but in sinking into a deeper realization of what the season celebrates. If there is a piece of the Christmas story that can still jar me from reverie, it is the realization (the kind that makes you sit up involuntarily from a slouch) that God enters time. Our time, not some other dimension, not some greeting card galaxy, but the real hurly burly of our lives, of every culture, of all of our ambitions and failings. Jesus walked there, was buffeted by the eddies and currents of his time, dying in contradiction to some of them.

I don’t mean that God writes me notes. Quite the contrary. A line that has provided consolation for me in ample moments of uncertainty goes thus: “We live at the intersection of mysterious freedoms, God’s and our own.”

And so, this Christmas, we at NCR offer you a slice of real time. Our attempt is to bring it to you through the lens of our faith, of our communities so bound to pursuits of justice and peace. From those who protested at the School of the Americas, naive and vulnerable and incomprehensible to the world as that birth at Bethlehem, to the real time of a parish community finding its way through difficulty in Cincinnati, to the words from lives in today’s Bethlehem, to the poetic utterances of those who surface new truths in an old world -- the blessed hurly burly. A holy and happy Christmas to you all!

~ ~ ~

Special thanks for our Christmas cover this year go to the Marian Library at the University of Dayton, Ohio, for the image from its collection of Nativity scenes from around the world, and to our own Patrick Marrin, editor of the ecumenical worship resource, Celebration, and resident NCR retreat master and preacher, for the poem.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 2003

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