Last December, in Thailand, after a surge of violence in the country's Muslim south, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra decided to try something new and novel.
He ordered more than 50 warplanes and C-130 transports filled with soldiers to take to the air — at enormous cost — and drop 120 million folded-paper cranes upon the upturned faces of the hope-drained people who lived there.
One hundred and twenty million Origami cranes. Symbols of peace. Anti-bombs. Folded during the previous two weeks under the encouraging eye of the government by Cabinet ministers, office workers, school children and convicts. Dropped by government-funded troops from government-funded planes. It boggles the imagination.
"Are you the one we have been waiting for, or shall we wait for another?" asked John the Baptizer from prison about Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
John, who had leapt in his mother's womb when Jesus' birth was announced. John, who watched the dove descend on Jesus when he baptized him. John, who spent most of his ministry preparing the way for God's new ideas for peacemaking. John, who had irritated the sitting governor so much he had found himself dumped in the dungeon.
John wants to know if his first instincts were right. And if so, then when would the world be put right?
Jesus, instead, answers with paper cranes. "Go tell John what's going on: The blind see. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side."
When the paper cranes dropped down in southern Thailand, the wretched came to believe that someone, if not God herself, was on their side. That was the whole point of the mission, after all; the Prime Minister deemed it a success.
"It's hard to remember," said Stanley Hauerwas, "that Jesus did not come to make us safe, but rather to make us disciples, citizens of God's new age, a kingdom of surprise."
Go on. Go outside sometime today. Look up. Imagine the sound of airplane engines off in the distance. Imagine their crescendo as they come near you. Recall the images of the past year: the world's ravaged landscapes, sweet-faced children, anxious women, earnest men. Recall the rancor that suffuses governments. Imagine stagnant wages and rising oil prices and evaporating pensions. Think about whatever scares you the most. Keep your eyes open, and search the skies.
Now go back inside and fold a paper crane.
The Rev. Kathryn Timpany is senior minister at First Congregational UCC in Sioux Falls, S.D.