Vox highlights four major religious trends, shifts, and changes in 2017, and ends with a little dose of optimism for 2018.
“At our frequent worst, gratitude isn’t something we feel so much as calculate, tallying our advantages to weigh against the miseries of others. In the privacy of our own minds, our gratitude can bear a family resemblance to schadenfreude—a secret reassurance that others will always have it worse.”
We feel the darkness all around and need to see some light. We feel hopelessness every day and need some hope. We feel despair for our nation’s life and future and need to see and hear some truth. We see authoritarian political leadership on the rise, a White House that literally puts democracy at risk, and feel the need to make clear where true authority lies.
But Christmas says ...
When the Magi told King Herod about the heaven-sent child they’d come to honor, Herod also issued an executive order — kill every Hebrew child under 2. Herod’s henchmen would have slaughtered the Christ child along with the others had his parents not acted quickly to cross a border and protect their baby. Mary and Joseph were dreamers before Jesus. To prepare for Christmas is to remember Mary and Joseph’s dream and the civil disobedience it inspired.
As the dark horrors of sexual abuse finally begin to surface across all spectrums of our society, we are once again reminded that our churches are not immune from this wickedness. The #metoo and #churchtoo movements are a sobering and painful reminder that a dark winter exists inside the church … a community that claims to follow the One who is the Light of the world.
We feel a deep darkness in our world and in our society right now. We can almost taste it, touch it, and smell it. This darkness invades our souls like a damp, long, December night, bringing a chill all the way inside.
I ask myself how we got here, why the American church has hardened its hearts to refugees when one of the major themes of the Bible is welcoming the stranger. How did we lose trust in a vetting system that has worked for decades? How did we begin to see refugees as dangerous when there is no statistical evidence to back it up? How did we forget that so many of us are descendants of people who were oppressed and looking for a better life? How did we stop seeing the beauty of American culture as coming from a collision of cultures? How did we lose our way — did it happen overnight or has it been slowly brewing for a long time?
While casting our troubles onto God is a critical aspect of our faith, I fear that we often interpret burden as one-directional, particularly with how we react to social injustice. These days, it is hard to miss the consistent threat to human rights on multiple levels, but it is still possible to avoid responding to them. Particularly during the past year, I have heard so many colleagues verbalize their decisions to avoid watching or reading the news because it’s too distressing. Furthermore, common responses from Christian colleagues to my (admitted) rants about the world’s concerning state include “It’s not of God to worry,” and “All of this is a part of God’s master plan.” The feedback that strikes and disturbs me most is when I hear that we should ultimately go to God to comfort our distress over the world’s injustice, often insinuating self-soothing over action.
“…That’s one of the things we look for in a Christmas movie. No, not a leg lamp: a world still innocent enough for such things to cause a scandal. It’s refreshing. Reassuring. And, these days, as elusive as reindeer on one’s roof.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists imprisoned for their work reached a record high, with Turkey topping the list for the second consecutive year.
Let’s accept Trump’s challenge to “bring back Christmas” — let’s live into God’s love that unites the poor, welcomes the stranger, and frees the oppressed. Let us repent, and kneel before the manger to embrace a poor and refugee Christ. Let us get up and work for a world that will not condemn and crucify him.
Tuesday night was a surprise — a joyful surprise to many of us who have grown accustomed to seeing our country’s immorality find new depths. White racial bigotry lost Tuesday in Alabama. Misogyny, the abuse and mistreatment of women, lost Tuesday in Alabama. And let’s be clear: It was black voter turnout — and black women, in particular, who voted against Judge Roy Moore by 98 percent — that made the difference.
We cannot leave the fate of our world and our future generations exclusively to the political leaders of our time. As Christian citizens of every nation, we have a responsibility to bear witness to the things that make for peace.
In this sense, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an Advent movie. Director Rian Johnson’s wildly fun and thoughtful entry into the Star Wars canon finds its heroes at a precarious turning point. The film makes its characters grapple with the flaws of their established order, consider whether any of it is worth saving, and move forward by embracing the hopeful qualities of the Force and the Resistance.
Despite arguments regarding the meaning of the so-called “separation of church and state,” the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the expression of religious belief. As many Christian conservatives correctly point out, the phrase “separation of church and state” does not even occur in the Constitution.
When we can name even the source of our hopes and fears as some kind of grace, we can actually experience God’s grace.
The idea that government has an important role to play in human flourishing was made by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. In it, the pope argued that governments should promote “the common good.” Catholicism defines the “common good” as the “conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”
As we face the 21st century realities of ISIS-backed terrorism and reactionary Christian nationalism, we are grappling with the nature of evil, as Merton and others did in the late 1930s. Given the similarity of our contexts, Merton’s insight is prescient. "There was something else in my own mind,” Merton wrote as he watched World War II coming, “the recognition, 'I myself am responsible for this. My sins have done this. Hitler is not the only one who has started this war: I have my share in it too.'"