Five Things You Should Know About Religious Violence in Nigeria

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria.

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria after a suicide bomb attack on June 17. By AFP/Getty.

Ongoing violence in Nigeria has exacerbated tensions between the country's Muslims and Christians. Nigeria has equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, and 92 percent of the country's population says they pray every day, according to a 2010 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Hundreds of Christians and Muslims have died this year alone, including scores killed last weekend (July 7-8) when Muslim militants attacked Christian villages in the nation’s central plateau, where the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south meet.

Read five things you should know about the violence in Nigeria inside the blog...

Theophony: A Theremin, a Yurt and a Band of Holy Fools

Theremin, Yurt, Holy Fool, Burning Man. Collage by Cathleen Falsani.

Theremin, Yurt, Holy Fool, Burning Man. Collage by Cathleen Falsani.

Last year, Phil Wyman, pastor of The Gathering church in Salem, Mass., trekked across the country with five adventurous friends to Burning Man — a week-long event described by its attendees as "an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance" in the Black Rock desert of Nevada.

At the 2011 Burning Man, Wyman and his merry band of "crazy friends" built an art installation called "The Pillars of the Saints" — three meditation towers constructed of wood in the desert, asked people to sit on top of them, listen for a voice (presumably of the Holy), and write what they heard on the walls of the pillars.

This year, Wyman (who you might recognize from photos at the Wild Goose Festival last month where he played the "Holy Fool" in a Sunday morning worship service),  has invited more than 15 friends to join him in the Nevada desert at the end of August for Burning Man 2012 where the group plans to build another art installation — this one even more ambitious and whimsical than the last.

Wyman & Co., have christened it "Theophony: The Mighty Interactive Faux Theremin." It involves an enormous, specially-built  theremin placed at the center of a 32-foot canvas-and-wood yurt, with walls comprised of a series of 22 four-by-eight-foot murals with themes reflecting the "success and failures of spiritual pursuit."

"The particpant will feel a sense of dissonance while trying to 'play' the theremin," in tune with the chants and ambient music piped through the yurt, Wyman explains. The idea of Theophony is "to illustrate that spiritual pursuit is a discipline, but that even the imperfect attempt is both holy and fun."

Christian Patriotism: Love for the 'Other'

Photo by Steven Errico/Photographer's Choice via Getty Images.

Photo by Steven Errico/Photographer's Choice via Getty Images.

Recently, someone asked me to respond (on video) to how I reconciled both love of God and love for country. I struggled with the question, mostly because of the typical baggage that comes along with Christian patriotism, much of which teeters on the verge of jingoism. So I didn’t respond at all.

I’m really sensitive to what I call “Christian exceptionalism.” There are those within Christianity that honestly believe America is God’s second Zion, the new Israel, and that we Americans are God’s new chosen people. This, in turn, helps justify everything from flags in worship spaces to the Ten Commandments in the public square, and even pre-emptive acts of aggression against perceived threats around the world.

Basically, when you hold yourself up as somehow favored in the eyes of God, it’s easy to hold those you deem as less favored to be somehow “less than,” and to dehumanize all who do not conform to your custom-built ideal of what it means to be “American.”

For me, though, such sentiments not only are un-American in the sense that they don’t ascribe to the “liberty and justice for all” ethos; it’s also patently un-Christian.

Sister Joan Chittister's Stanford Baccalaureate Address

Sister Joan and Bono, 2008. Photo by Gold Wong/FilmMagic)/Getty.

Sister Joan blessing Sojo friend, Bono, at the '08 Women's Conference in California. Photo by Gold Wong/FilmMagic)/Getty.

Editor's Note: Sister Joan Chittister, the Benedictine Catholic sister, author and social justice stalwart, delivered the Baccalaureate address at Stanford University a few weeks ago. Below is the text of her address. 

Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist and poet wrote: "There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two."

And Walter Lippmann said: "The final test of a leader is someone who leaves behind themselves – in others – the conviction and the will to carry on."

But how do we know what it means to really be a leader and how do we know who should do it?

There are some clues to those answers in folk literature, I think. The first story is about two boats that meet head on in a shipping channel at night.

As boats are wont to do in the dark, boat number 1 flashed boat number 2: "We are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 signaled back: "Yes, we are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees south."

Boat 1 signaled again: "I am an admiral in her majesty's navy; I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 flashed back immediately: "And I am a seaman 2nd class. And I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees south."

By this time, the admiral was furious. He flashed back: "I repeat! I am an admiral in her majesty's navy and I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees north. I am in a battleship!"

And the second boat returned a signal that said: "And I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees south. I am in a lighthouse."

Point: Rank, titles and positions are no substitute for leadership.

Wild Goose 2012 Reflection

The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook

The author and her daughter at Wild Goose 2012. Photo by Jana Riess via Facebook.

The 2012 Wild Goose Festival East wrapped up just under a week ago and I am still trying to process my experience there. As I tweeted as I drove away from the fest, I left feeling exhausted, hopeful, and blessed – that strange combination that reflected the emotional impact of my time there. And it was a truly blessed time.

I was honored with the opportunity to speak on The Hunger Games and the Gospel as well as do a Q&A on everyday justice issues at the Likewise tent. I also was able to join Brett Webb-Mitchell on a panel discussion about living with disabilities in religious communities.

But beyond those conversations I was able to help initiate, I also found a generous and safe space to connect with friends, wrestle with difficult questions, and dream of a better world. Such spaces are so rare in my life these days, that finding such at Wild Goose was a precious gift.

There are, of course, the expected complaints about the festival. It was brutally hot (and that is coming from a Texan). I never ceased to be sticky, sweaty, and stinky and there were bugs everywhere. Camping in a field where every action (and parenting attempt) is on constant display is stressful and uncomfortable. And, as with many religious gatherings, there could have been greater diversity.

For the first hour I was there as I nearly passed out trying to set up a tent in the sweltering heat, I was in a panic mode wondering why I was stupid enough to subject myself to the discomfort and imperfection of it all again this year. Yet as I entered into the experience of being a part of this crazy wonderful gathering, those issues (although ever-present) faded in significance as I found myself fitting into a place where I felt I belonged.

Wild Goose: A Sacred and Safe Place

Love Wins Ministries at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Love Wins Ministries' exhibit at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

By now, you have probably read about the Wild Goose Festival. You have heard about the big name speakers, you were told about beer and hymns, you know about the dunk tank and the killer music and the ticks and the scorching Carolina heat.

But, awesome as all that was, it all pales in comparison to my memory of a late night conversation at the Goose with my friend Mike.

You see, Mike is one of about 1,200 people in Wake County, N.C., who are currently without housing. Some nights he lives at the shelter, other nights he couch surfs with various friends, and some nights he sleeps in the dumpster of that downtown church with the $2 million pipe organ.

Mike is one of our volunteers at Love Wins Ministries, our little ministry of pastoral care and presence to the homeless community in Raleigh, N.C. And yes, he is currently homeless. But Mike still volunteers with us, because where you live does not decide your value or define your ability to contribute.

So, when I mentioned to Mike that we were running a booth at the Wild Goose Festival and I wanted him to come as our guest and help us run it, he was skeptical.

"These are church folks, right?" Mike said. "I don't do church folks well. You know that."

Social Location at the Goose

The author speaking at Wild Goose. Photo by Dale Lature.

The author speaking during an Occupy Theology session at Wild Goose. Photo by Dale Lature..

At Wild Goose, I was humbled to be among justice-seeking Christians seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

I see a deep connection between the personal practice of simple living and activism for social change. While I struggle to live justly, particularly in my everyday purchasing decisions (as Julie Clawson advises!), I often don’t live as simply as I could. Sometimes I take shortcuts, going out for lunch, driving my car to work, or buying something to solve a problem that actually requires time I lack because of overcommitment.

As Mark Scandrette points out, for many of us, our slavery to time and money is a choice. We could cut much from our lives and live more simply. We are the global 1 percent.

It’s this voluntary reconsideration of wealth and rediscovery of our Christian justice tradition that made Wild Goose such an amazing experience.

When All the Church Can Say Is 'I'm Sorry'

Meme image courtesy of Christian Piatt.

Meme image courtesy of Christian Piatt.

Two weeks after we arrived in Portland, Amy (my wife and new senior pastor at First Christian Church in downtown Portland) decided she needed to do something meaningful to express her voice as a person of faith in the community. There already were the folks handing out tracts down on the campus of Portland State University, which is definitely not us. There were plenty of community leaders to meet, hands to shake and even media outlets to connect with so we’d have a better handle on key circles of influence.

But none of what was really what we had in mind.

The annual Pride fest was taking place that weekend along the banks of the Willamette River, and we knew we should probably go. Folks in our new congregation are in various stages in their journey of discerning where they are with regard to sexual orientation, but overall, it’s an incredibly open and loving place for all people. There are gay singles and couples who attend regularly, and who participate in leadership and other ministries like everyone else. But the fact of the matter is that most people outside the walls of the church don’t know that. And honestly, how will they ever know if we’re not willing to tell them?

Better yet, why not show them?

Toward an Evangelical Peace Movement

Billy Sunday was the most famous evangelist in America during the first two decades of the 20th century. Without the aid of loudspeakers, TV or radio, Sunday preached to over 100 million people the classic evangelical gospel that remains familiar to many people today. Repent and believe in Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins, and be saved from eternal damnation. The simplicity of Sunday’s message prompted millions of early 20th century Americans to examine the state of their souls and consider their eternal fates. Yet when it came to conscientious objectors during World War I, Sunday spared no mercy:

The man who breaks all the rules but at last dies fighting in the trenches is better than you God-forsaken mutts who won’t enlist.

Throughout our nation’s history, it’s been an axiom that Presidents lead us into wars, while Christians provide the flags and the crosses. Barring a few notable exceptions — Anabaptists, Quakers, and early Pentecostals — evangelical fervor has often promoted an uncritical nationalism that baptizes American military adventures with religious legitimacy. It’s no coincidence that the setting of Mark Twain’s famous War Prayer —in which Twain delivers a devastating critique of the use of religion to justify imperialism — is a Protestant Christian church. Given the historical record, it may seem the deck is stacked against American evangelicals organizing into a comprehensive peace movement — yet that’s exactly what’s happening.