The Common Good

Faith and Spirituality

That Pesky Word 'Evangelical'

Date: April 22, 2014
Tomorrow I will attend my first board meeting for Sojourners. This new role reflects my own ongoing commitment to evangelical Christianity, 24 years after I joined the staff of Evangelicals for Social Action and first encountered the evangelical world outside of the Baptist South. Both ESA and Sojourners actually predated, and opposed, the Christian Right. Both have always offered a “peace-and-justice” type evangelicalism, and both were among the first evangelical organizations to embrace moral agendas such as peacemaking, urban poverty, gender equality, racial justice and creation care, rooted in a passionate love of Christ and love for those Christ loved. Both embody what I find a compelling Christian vision.

John Paul II and John XXIII: A Rush to Sainthood?

Hundreds of pilgrims wind their way around St. Peter’s Square as tour guides shout in multiple languages. Beggars have their hands outstretched amid warnings of an invasion of pickpockets from abroad.

Across Rome, hotels are full, streets are clean, and the cash registers in the souvenir stalls are singing as the faithful pour in to the Eternal City for the dual canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII on Sunday.

Italian authorities are expecting at least a million pilgrims, including heads of state, prime ministers, and diplomats from 54 countries. One group of Polish pilgrims is making the 2,000-mile trek on horseback, dressed in medieval costumes, to celebrate Poland’s most famous native son.

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If the Internet Isn't Killing Religion, What Is?

A smart professor in Massachusetts noticed recently that religion’s decline in America coincided with the rise of the Internet.

He theorized that the two may be connected. Headline: “Is the Internet bad for religion?”

It’s utter nonsense, of course. The decline of mainline churches began in 1965, not in the 1990s when the Internet became commercially available. It would be more accurate, from a timing standpoint, to say that the American League’s designated hitter rule (1973) caused religion’s decline. Or maybe the “British invasion” in rock ‘n’ roll (1964).

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If Millennials Leave Religion, Then What?

As the Pew Research Center recently found, today’s young people are “less likely than older generations to be affiliated with any religion.” The question is whether this trend is a good thing or a bad thing.

If you are a person of faith, you may worry about the souls of these “millennials,” the generation born after 1980. If you are a critic of organized religion, you may rejoice.

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The Risen Christ: A Call To Conversion

Date: April 18, 2014
But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him." Matthew 28:5-7

An Occupied Cross Before an Empty Tomb

I used to hate Good Friday. Jesus dying a gruesome and unjust death didn’t seem particularly “good” to me. Even now, when I watch a Jesus movie like The Greatest Story Ever Told (or let’s be real: Jesus Christ Superstar), I find myself secretly hoping that someone in the crowd will say “wait a second! Just four days ago we really liked this guy. Crucifixion is a terrible idea, let’s go have Passover.” Mic drop.

The idealist and optimist in me would prefer to be reminded that the cross was empty, that Jesus was alive, to focus less on Good Friday and more on Easter Sunday. But I have come to appreciate the image of Christ on the cross much more now that I’m an adult and there are things that I have said and done in my life that deserve a reckoning. Jesus is there, gladly bearing my sin on the cross.

I’ve come to appreciate that there are so many broken and twisted places in this world that need a Redeemer. And Jesus is there, undoing the power of sin and evil on the cross.

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Bleeding Joyfully

Don’t you hate it when you accidentally slice the tip of your finger on one of your knives and the cut is deep enough to draw blood? Or when one of the cats gets a little too playful with the claws and you’re soon looking for a bandage?

Nobody likes to bleed, even though bleeding is part of life. To live is to bleed. If we’re not bleeding, we’re not living.

We all bleed lots of times, in lots of ways. We skin our knees and scrape our emotions. We often have to head for the medicine cabinet for a bandage. Sometimes, we feel like we need a tourniquet.

There are the little, daily cuts that we all get. Someone says something that hurts our feelings. Something doesn’t turn out the way that we’d hoped, and we get discouraged. A project that we’ve invested so much of ourselves into gets rejected, and we feel rejected, too.

It happens all the time.

Sometimes, we wind up with a deep spiritual cut that needs to be stitched closed with the help of others. A relationship ends. A job disappears. A tumor appears. A storm blows through our neighborhood and destroys what we’ve built over the years.

I admire those who learn not only to accept the blood-stained moments, but to embrace them. They develop a capacity to see beyond the momentary hurt. They recognize that bleeding is part of the grand process of life.

And they bleed joyfully.

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The Risen Christ: A Call to Conversion

But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him." Matthew 28:5-7

“Christ is risen!” That is the Easter greeting that Christians around the world have used for generations. It is one of my favorite parts of Easter — I love to hear the words “He is risen.”

But for so many of us, Easter is not just a religious holiday — it is a personal celebration and re-commitment. How do we personally experience the resurrection? Every year, as I hear and say “He is risen,” I remember that it’s not just a theological affirmation, but something I need personally.

Because I need — I think we all need — to remember and celebrate the hope that those words proclaim. “He is risen” is much more than an optimistic expression. It is not an empty platitude or wishful thinking, but the assertion of that in the midst of all the personal and collective pain, brokenness, injustice, and oppression that we see or experience, Christ is victorious. And we start over every Easter with a new affirmation and conviction of the hope that will always change both our lives and the world.

As I’ve been personally reflecting on the resurrection, I wanted to share an adaptation from the last chapter of my book, The Call to Conversion that explores what “Christ is risen!” meant to the earliest disciples. I hope that it will help you this Easter, as you celebrate the fact that “He is risen, indeed!” and reflect upon what this day of hope means for you.

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A God Torn to Pieces: Good Friday, Nietzsche, and Sacrifice

Friedrich Nietzsche is a favorite whipping boy among Christians. It’s difficult to blame my fellow Christians for this. After all, Nietzsche is known for many provocative anti-Christian statements, but his most provocative statement might be that “God is dead.”

And yet, in his latest book A God Torn to Pieces: The Nietzsche Case , philosopher Guiseppe Fornari makes a claim that is just as provocative: “In the end [Nietzsche] was much closer to Christ than many who would claim to be Christians.”

Wait …Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many Christians? How could that be?

Nietzsche understood the implications of what Christ did on Good Friday better than many who claim to be Christians. Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many Christians because he knew the Christ that he rejected, whereas many Christians don’t know the Christ whom they call Lord and Savior.

Who was the Christ that Nietzsche rejected and that many Christians do not know? It’s the Christ who says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

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Can You Question the Resurrection and Still Be a Christian?

“On the third day, he rose again.”

That line, from the Nicene Creed, is the foundational statement of Christian belief. It declares that three days after Jesus died on the cross, he was resurrected, a glimmer of the eternal life promised to believers. It’s the heart of the Easter story in seven little words.

But how that statement is interpreted is the source of some of the deepest rifts in Christianity — and a stumbling block for some Christians and more than a few skeptics.

Did Jesus literally rise from the dead in a bodily resurrection, as many traditionalist and conservative Christians believe? Or was his rising a symbolic one, a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world, as members of some more liberal brands of Christianity hold?

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