The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Who Was St. Patrick, and Would He Drink Green Beer?

For Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans, March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick. For the rest of us, it’s St. Patrick’s Day — a midweek excuse to party until we’re green in the face. But who was Patrick? Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland or use the shamrock to explain the Trinity? Why should this fifth-century priest be remembered on this day?

Q: Was St. Patrick a real guy, and would he approve of green beer?

A: Yes, Patrick was a real person, but not much is known of his life. He was born in the late 300s when the Roman Empire extended to England, so he was not “really” Irish — like the vast majority of people who celebrate his day. In his “Confessio,” one of only two surviving documents attributed to him, Patrick wrote that while his father was a Christian deacon, he was not devout. At age 16, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders, carried across the Irish Sea and enslaved. Patrick spent six years alone in the wilderness tending his master’s sheep, praying constantly. “It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was,” he wrote. He began to have visions and hear voices that told him: “Look, your ship is ready.” So Patrick left his first flock and walked 200 miles to the coast. It’s a pretty safe bet he would have loved a beer, green or otherwise, as he stepped into a boat bound for England.

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Selma and Our Next Bridge to Cross

The Edmund Pettus Bridge was named after a Confederate general who became a Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan. His name, still emblazoned over the top of that now famous bridge, was a powerful and threatening symbol of white power and supremacy in Selma, Ala. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had at one time removed Selma from their list of places to organize because “the white folks were too mean, and black folks were too afraid."

But that didn’t deter a group of courageous African Americans from marching across that bridge a half-century ago, risking their lives for the right to vote in America. They were attacked and beaten by the fierce forces, led by notorious Sheriff Jim Clark, for their resistance to the frightening violence of white power.

Last Saturday, during the 50th anniversary event of “Bloody Sunday,” I spent many hours just looking at that bridge. The words that kept coming to me were “courage” and “resistance.” My question became: what bridge we will now have to cross?

Congressman John Lewis, whose skull was cracked that day as a young man, opened the main event.

"On that day, 600 people marched into history … We were beaten, tear gassed, some of us [were] left bloody right here on this bridge. … But we never became bitter or hostile. We kept believing that the truth we stood for would have the final say.”

Then Lewis introduced the president, "If someone had told me, when we were crossing this bridge, that one day I would be back here introducing the first African-American president, I would have said you're crazy.”

What happened on this bridge, President Barack Obama said, “was a contest to determine the meaning of America,” and where “the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America … ultimately triumphed.”

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VIDEO: I Once Was Blind, But Now I See: U.S. Doctors Bring Hope to Haiti

Judith Mesadieu has dreams of becoming a doctor, but her poor eyesight and partial blindness makes it hard to study.

A corneal transplant could fix the problem, but the procedure remains rare in Haiti, which has just six eye surgeons for every 1 million people, according to the International Council of Ophthalmology.

Fortunately, Mesadieu snagged a spot on the recent surgery docket of a U.S.-based eye surgery missions group called the iTeam.

The iTeam, based out of Kansas City, Mo., has been traveling to Saint Louis du Nord for about 16 years. They preform eye surgeries twice a year alongside local ophthalmologists, teaching them new skills and improvements.

Lydia Allen, 66, is a nonmedical staff member of iTeam and said the Bible calls on her to continue to go these trips and help in any way possible. 

“Go ye therefore into all the world,” Allen said, quoting Jesus’ Great Commission.

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How a Week With Monks Changed My Views on Lent

At the heart of the Lenten season is an interesting paradox.

Lent is not observed in the making of Lenten commitments, but you can’t actually observe Lent without making a commitment.

Elsewhere at Sojourners, Jarrod McKenna reminds us that Lent is not ultimately about “giving up stuff” but about “the preparation of our hearts for what God has done in Christ.” Adam Ericksen encourages us that, “The worst thing we can do during Lent is to be tempted to earn God’s favor through self-denial.”

To both these points and posts I say, amen.

But as a lifelong Protestant who recently returned from spending time with Benedictine monks and nuns in New Mexico, I’ve come back with some evolving perspectives on fasting and other ascetic practices from the Catholic tradition. This isn’t in contradiction to either of these authors’ perspectives but more of a summation of my recent convictions as someone who has tended to skip the Lenten fasts altogether.

Here is what has struck me. I do not believe most Western Christians today are so focused on giving up their creature comforts for Lent that they are in danger of making their faith dependent upon physical fasting. Maybe I’m generalizing too much. So I’ll make this statement more personal:

My greatest struggle has not been that I have been so committed to “giving up stuff” for Lent that I have forgotten that God’s grace is unconditional. Rather, I have tended to avoid the discomfort of giving up my daily habits and physical dependencies by using a vague sense of “inner attitudes” of preparation as an excuse. As a result, I believe I’ve been missing some real opportunities to be receptive to God’s grace.

There are few reasons I believe this to be so important.

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'I Wish I Could Also Have Died:' Boko Haram Haunts Kids

Memories of Boko Haram’s murderous spree in his Nigerian hometown haunt Tom Gowon, 9, as he sits on a patch of grass at a refugee camp, sipping steaming porridge from a plastic mug.

“I was lucky because I was not killed,” said Gowon, recalling the assault on Baga, Nigeria, in early January.

“But they shot and killed my father. My mother was kidnapped by the militants.”

Children such as Gowon bear the brunt of Boko Haram’s rampage since its fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last year and conquered enough territory to declare a caliphate that covers one-fifth of Nigeria.

Where the militants have met resistance, they’ve torched villages and left piles of corpses in their wake.

“There are several camps around here housing many children who have lost their parents in attacks,” said Guy Nanhousngue, a Chadian relief worker who said children make up about half of the Nigerians coming to the Baga Sola refugee camp on the shores of Lake Chad, which separates the two countries.

“We’re registering more than 50 children every day.”

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Two Police Officers Shot in Ferguson

Early Thursday morning, just hours after the resignation of Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson, two officers were shot as they stood guard amidst protests outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo.
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Between Two Cultures: How to Be Evangelical Without Evangelizing

I occupy a strange place between cultures. Not the international cultures of my childhood spent as a missionary kid living around the world, but between two sub-cultures here in modern America. I am a rare breed of evangelical that doesn’t live in a bubble of Christian culture. Quite the opposite. I live and work in higher education, and — mark it — secular higher ed.

An evangelical acquaintance once asked me delicately, “Is there a reason you and your husband don’t work at a Christian university?”

I could hear the gears in his head as he tried to reconcile what he saw before him: two highly educated, devout Christians working in the "liberal bastion" of a secular college. Why on earth would we do such a thing to ourselves?

The truth is, Dwayne and I live and thrive in the place we’ve carved out outside the bubble of American evangelicalism. It’s not that we don’t love the evangelical church, or don’t attend an evangelical congregation.

It’s just that we don’t identify with all aspects of the American version of evangelicalism.

He and I both came to know Jesus outside the States. We are both missionary kids. In addition, Dwayne is Canadian. As a result, we have an outsider’s perspective. For us, living in America and being evangelical poses an interesting paradox.

In so many ways, living and working with people who have vastly different life experiences than our own feels normal. After all, that’s how we grew up — in the company of friends whose worldviews are shaped by the submerged iceberg of cultures not our own. These differences don’t threaten our beliefs. Ironically, holding the space for the lived experiences of our friends creates an environment that also affirms our lived experiences, and more importantly, our faith.

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Four Reasons Jews Worry about Christian Zionists — and Why They Don’t Have To

Is Christian Zionism good for the Jews?

Not every Jew thinks so.

In fact, Christian Zionists make many Jews crazy.

Why?

Worry No. 1: Christian Zionists believe all Jews need to be back in the land of Israel before Jesus can return.

Except it’s not true.

I once asked Ralph Reed, the prominent conservative activist and founder of the Christian Coalition, about this.

“Rabbi, I’ve been in church every Sunday of my life and I have never heard such a thing,” he said.

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Pope Francis Has History, But Not Time, on His Side in Reform Push

Can the Roman Catholic Church change? And if so, how? And what’s on the table — traditions, rites, doctrine, none of the above?

Such fundamental questions go to the heart of Catholic identity, and they’re the same questions Pope Francis has raised almost since the moment he was elected two years ago this March 13, a dark horse candidate who became the first pontiff from Latin America.

When he shunned the apostolic palace for a modest apartment, or cold-called people who wrote to him with problems, Francis’ humble approach endeared him to the masses. Yet he also surprised — maybe stunned — Catholics by encouraging open debate, especially about church teachings and practices that had long been considered out of bounds.

“A basic general condition is this: to speak clearly. No one must say: ‘This can’t be said; he will think of me this way or that,’” Francis told bishops from around the world last summer at a high-level Vatican summit on issues facing the modern family.

“It is necessary to say everything that is felt” with candor.

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A New Hymn on Jesus’ Protest: When Christ Went to the Temple

When Christ Went to the Temple

LLANGLOFFAN 7.6.7.6 D (“Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)

When Christ went to the Temple to worship God one day,

He entered through the courtyard where anyone could pray.

That court was for the nations--and all could enter in.

But Jesus found a market, a shameful robbers’ den.

 

There, cattle, sheep, and pigeons were sold for sacrifice,

And moneychangers shouted of quality and price.

Outsiders could not enter the inner courts for prayer.

Their only place to worship was in the courtyard there.

...

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