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Peace, love, and irony

My friend Megan says Bethlehem needs their peace flame returned. My family became stewards of the flame, or the flame of the flame, almost by accident on Christmas night. We went to our usually Sunday-night church service. After Rev. Russell’s message (on the need for more irony in the world), and a rousing rendition of The First Noel, a voice cried out from several pews behind us: “Any Boy Scouts here?

My son is a Scout, so he went over to the man, who led us to a large green plastic bucket sitting on the edge of the oblation alter at the back of the church. The man said that every year, a group of Boy Scouts lights a candle from the flame that burns in Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. They call it the peace flame, and it’s shared and passed around the world. In this case, the peace flame came into the hands of a troop in a nearby town, who fashioned this bucket lantern in order to preserve the flame. The man came to our church service to see if he could pass it to anyone, and there was Sam.

The man lit a votive candle from the flame, which he said had been burning steadily for the last thousand years. Sam was about to say something, but his breath accidentally blew out the candle. “Wow,” he said. “Irony, just like Russell talked about in his sermon.” The man was good-natured about it. He relit the candle and suggested we take a second one as backup. That was a great idea, since one of the flames went out on the way home.

I have to admit, cool as the idea was, I didn’t feel like being responsible for Jesus and the Boy Scouts’ peace flame. I’m not really a keeper-of-the-flame type. And what candle to transfer it to? I didn’t want to use up the beautiful lilac-scented soy candle that I got for Christmas, and who knows how long a Jesus flame might burn. Before we dropped off Mom, she remembered she had a tall candle from my dad’s funeral.That would probably burn for a while, and was certainly worthy of a Jesus flame. Then when I got home, I found a candle from our wedding. I’d vaguely planned on burning it for our tenth anniversary in February, but why wait? This was the Jesus peace flame, and it was Christmas. I set that candle inside a stained-glass lantern I found in the garage. (One of the reasons I married Keith is because he’s the kind of person who keeps stained-glass lanterns at the ready in the garage.) Our wedding candle fit in there just perfectly. I lit both candles from the one remaining flame and set them on the back deck. Keith said they would burn slower outside in the cold, and besides, they would be less likely to set our house on fire out there.

My father’s funeral candle went out after about 24 hours. Sam said it was a symbol that the grieving was done. The wedding candle is still burning. It’s Thursday, about 90 hours since it was first lit. My friend Cindie calls it a Christmas miracle, and it really does feel like one. My friend Russ questions whether it might be a Jewish thing, since the flame is miraculously burning for longer than expected. Besides, Jesus was Jewish, so it all fits together. His sister, Megan, is more pragmatic. Noting today’s news that clerics, so-called men of God, were beating each other with brooms over who got to clean up the Church of the Nativity, Megan says they need their flame back.

Now that’s ironic. If only peace were as simple as passing a flame, or recognizing the one that's been there all along. We do what we can. And so I say, peace be with you.

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