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Hallo again to all.

Crèche gone wrongThe Hebrew Scriptures are replete with prohibitions against mixtures of various kinds. These prohibitions flit across the sacred page, requiring the faithful hearer or reader to refrain from mixing linen and wool, meat and dairy products, seeds of different kinds with one another, and pagan worship with Israelite worship. Many of these prohibitions against 'unlawful mixtures' sit oddly in the Christian mind, while others make sense.

One can understand, for example, the sort of ethical tenderness intended in the meat and dairy prohibition that guards against the possible contact of a mother animal's milk with the meat of one of her slaughtered offspring. Likewise, there is sense in the prohibitions that clarified during periods of threatened ethnic survival just who was a Jew. But there are others in a category called chukim—suprarational, supralogical commandments from the human perspective, obedience to which comes not from reason but rather only from love of the God by whom these laws are believed to have been given. Hence the illicit quality of wearing or even resting on mixed woollens and linens, and special sections of stores in New York and Tel Aviv for shatnez-free clothing. However we look at the prohibitions of various mixtures, the message of the Old Testament is that mixture is an important thing, weighty enough to be observed and regulated carefully.

Last year this week, in a town made famous by John O'Hara as Gibbsville, we found an unlawful mixture of sorts in the town square. Civil War monuments are very common indeed throughout the parts of the United States where what some call the War between the States took place, so much so that one often walks by the pillars and obelisks built for Blue or Grey without taking notice. Crèches are also a fairly usual feature of village greens and town commons for the two and three months that have come to pass as the Christmas season.* Yet we think you'll see why the Gibbsville crèche-and-war-monument caught us off guard. It was not only the hand-in-glove proximity of symbols religious and civil, a de facto reality for much of the country where AO is published. Rather, it was the jarring mixture of artillery with the birth of the Prince of Peace, and the fluttering stars and stripes in the midst of an event generally understood to be of supranational significance.

Crèche gone wrongOn their own and in their own places, these things are all just fine. We like the Baby Jesus quite a bit, and we consider ourselves patriots of a serious sort, too. When flags and battle monuments are mixed with the Nativity, however, we end up with things that just cannot be for the infant of whom Robert Southwell sang

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield,
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns, cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's steed.

Here instead we have wise men, camels and angels jostling for space with artillery around the Holy Crib, and a group of choristers providing backup music for the commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg and the cratch-bound Incarnation all at once. It's all a bit like mixing gossip with Gospel; worry with worship; humility with hatred; avarice with Anglicanism; ambition with ordination to ministries of servanthood. They don't mix well, and when they do the results are deeply unattractive and counterproductive. We suspect you don't have to look far in church life for unlawful mixtures or even just unhelpful ones. We try to keep on guard against the same ourselves. Have a look and a laugh at the Gibbsville nationalist crèche, but see if it isn't a useful illustration of how much in our church culture must look to those on the outside. And then see if there isn't a way to keep the wrong things from mixing, so that they can each serve their right purposes without dilution or distortion.

See you next week, linen or woollen or both. Just keep the cannons away from the crib.

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Last updated: 18 November 2007

* In North American English, crèche is used to refer to a nativity display; in British English the same word means daycare centre. We're using it here in the former sense.

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