The Common Good

Jesus

New and Improved Christmas Hymns

One of the downsides of a theological education (and/or an overactive theological imagination) is an inability to sing some favorite old hymns with naive gusto. During this Christmas season in particular, we simply know too much about the biblical story (and the reality of childbirth and babies in general) to fully believe all of the touching words in some of the most popular Christmas carols.

So as a public service, I have written historically accurate versions of three of the most beloved holiday hymns. Without personally endorsing any of the theology below, I also offer some alternatives to those who don't theologically jive with the current version of "Joy to the World."

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Advocacy From the Manger and Environmental Justice

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch our children’s ministry present through play, song, and dance the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

No matter how many times I have seen this story, it’s always amazing that this miracle that happened in a manger could have such a huge impact on the lives of so many. Jesus was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, his parents did not have the best reputation, and he definitely wasn’t birthed in a fancy hospital. Instead, he was born where animals were kept — not the best conditions environmentally at all! Further, Jesus Christ became an advocate for the poor, for those that do not always have a voice, and for those that were suffering from terrible mistreatment, disease, and sickness.

I truly believe that Jesus’s focus on the “least of these” is a model for advocacy, especially for the environmental justice movement.

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Hope and Despair

Editor's Note: New Vision Renewable Energy connects Christians with opportunities to provide renewable solar lights to people in the developing world. Their Christmas Lights Advent Devotional features daily readings and questions from prominent Christian thinkers, including Sojourners president Jim Wallis. This Day 10 of Advent devotional from Jim Wallis is reprinted and adapted with permission of New Vision Renewable Energy. You can find the full Christmas Lights Advent Devotional guide and solar light kits here: http://nvre.org/devotional-order.html

Proclaiming Jesus as light of the world is an audacious statement. It directly challenges all those idols that persistently attempt to replace God as the center of our lives and our world. In our culture, a selfishness that denies any obligation to anyone or anything beyond our own self-interest may be the greatest idol of all. It denies that demanding more and more energy at great cost to our environment and the people who live close to the land has problematic consequences. We have lost sight of the common good and the consequences have been devastating.

In many places, hope has turned into despair. Darkness seems to be crowding out light. From where will our help come from?

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How Much of Christ Can We Stand in Christmas?

I’d say the moment is ripe for “Christ in Christmas” — the real Christ, of course, who shunned the privileged and aligned himself with sinners and outcasts, whose heart went out to sufferers like the homeless of Rome whom a new pope risks serving.

I’d say the moment is ripe for new life being born in stables and forced to flee the powerful and greedy. We have seen Mammon’s insatiable maw, power’s absolute corruption of the human soul, and thugs murdering the many in order to protect the few — and we know our need of something better.

So, yes, it’s time for Christ in Christmas. Time for new life, time for hope, time for the faithful to say yes to God. Time for peace, not war. Time for repentance, not comfort at any cost. Time for justice and mercy and the even-handed goodness that God promised.

This, of course, isn’t what zealots mean when they vow to “defend” the faith from a culture’s “war on Christmas.” They want a free-fire zone where moralizers can denounce all but the like-minded, and churches with huge budgets can frighten or seduce worshippers into donor mode. They mean using Jesus’ name to impose the very cultural and political oppression that Jesus escaped once as a child but couldn’t escape as an adult.

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Why Switchfoot Won’t Write Christian Songs

Way back in the day (circa 2004), Switchfoot's lead singer, Jon Foreman, was asked if the band is a “Christian” band. Even though it's been a while, his response is worth looking at again.

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What Do We Mean By 'Putting Christ Back in Christmas'?

Brace yourselves. The calendar has turned over to December, which means that the inevitable discussion on the War on Christmas will soon see its opening salvo for 2013.   

It is inevitable. There will be an outrage by a prominent figure about how we have lost our moral fabric because as someone was buying gifts with money they dont have to impress people that they dont always like, the cashier will commit the unthinkable sin of wishing us a Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

There will be gnashing of teeth as a town or city somewhere will have a Holiday Parade rather than a Christmas Parade, as Tulsa had done several years ago. (The parade was subsequently boycotted by one of its senators.)

The chorus of those who would profess to be Christians will shout that the Political Correctness Police have overstepped yet another boundary and that we should not take the Christ out of Christmas” as the batch of perceived slights against Christendom freshly reveal themselves for this holiday season. 

As a person who would say that Jesus is the most important thing in my life, who has devoted my life to the service of Gods Kingdom, and spends all of my waking moments trying be faithful to that devotion, I have to ask: What exactly do we mean by putting the Christ back in Christmas'?

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Finding God in the Trials of Job

The world of Christian theology has seen its fair share of writings that address horrible suffering and the confusion about God’s character that it causes. The question has been on my mind in light of the Philippines’ calamity. Although satisfying answers are difficult to come by with a topic like this, I offer a few insights that have helped me to continue to trust God’s love. The biblical character of Job shows us how, as believers in a loving God, we should regard and respond to suffering around us.

It no longer surprises me when I hear people express cynicism and doubt about a caring God — I sometimes wonder why more Christians have not done so. Whose faith can remain undisturbed when Typhoon Haiyan kills 5,000 Filipinos and inflicts misery on thousands more? I recall a photo of a woman weeping by her child’s body inside a damaged church. Who can imagine her despair? Can we conceive of the hell endured in the same region by enslaved women and girls who are raped and degraded every day, every hour?

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The Bible, Costco, and Fiction: On Foolish Christians and Multiplying Hot Dogs

The religion section of The Huffington Post published an article on Tuesday about how some Christians are responding to Costco. Unfortunately, it wasn’t about how Christians are celebrating the fact that this big-box store not only makes a profit and actually pays its employees a living wage.

That, after all, would be Good News.

No. These Christians have their panties in a bunch because Costco had Bibles labeled as fiction.

*Gasp*

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A Year of Living Beth Moore-ishly

I think what turned me off the most was the hair. It was just so ... big. And the scrappy “don’t mess with Texas” vibe. And the fact that evangelical moms all over the country were fans. As a third generation New Yorker, cynicism and snark have been bred into me, along with an affinity for black clothing and pretentious coffee. So it has surprised everyone — including me — that I have spent the past year going through (and recommending) Beth Moore studies.

How did it happen? Well, I moved from my hometown of New York City to Washington, D.C., and while I was exploring various employment opportunities, I had a lot of free time. The wife of the former associate pastor at the church I’d started attending invited me to join a “women’s Bible study” that met on Friday mornings. They were doing a Beth Moore study called Breaking Free. It seemed fishy to me — who are the only women who have free time on Friday mornings? Moms. And Beth Moore?  I had spent six years attending and four years on staff at a church in New York that got super famous because of its own rockstar, hyper-intellectual, and somewhat post-modern teaching. We prided ourselves on not being ... well, like Beth Moore.

Still, I was trying to be open to life in my new city so ...

I walked into the group a couple of minutes late wearing gold sequin pumps, skinny jeans, and a red leather jacket — what I would normally wear to bum around town in my old life. I could not  have been more out of place amidst the yoga pants and baby blankets. But I met some of the most awesome women I’ve known in D.C. and more importantly — I met Beth.

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On Scripture: The Death of Thanksgiving (Colossians 1:11-20)

Macy's decided to open its doors to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day at 8:00 p.m. Time magazine reports that people are denouncing the move as “greedy, misguided, and unfair to the employees being forced to work on a day traditionally reserved for family.”So how is Thanksgiving doing? Is it deceased, or has its death been greatly exaggerated?

The apostle Paul must have wondered about this when he wrote his letter to the Colossians, a group of Christians living along a main roadway in Asia Minor — what is now modern Turkey. They were pulled between the values of their faith and the values of their culture, much as we are today. Paul warned them, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

These words ring true today, don’t they? We know the philosophy of trying to spend ourselves out of economic troubles. The empty deceit of a sales pitch. The human tradition of making the holidays an orgy of consumption. The elemental spirits of the universe that lure us away from Jesus Christ.

Paul asked the Colossians, and he asks us, “Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” (2:20). It’s a good question, one that we should ask ourselves on Thanksgiving Day, and every day.

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