AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN passes the offering plate after listening to a sermon on Christian persecution in the early church—tales of torture and execution. A 19-year-old student—home for the summer from college, where her first experience at a fraternity party turned violent—listens to her childhood pastor recite the story of David and Bathsheba and David’s subsequent path to redemption. A mother placates her two children with Cheerios and raisins as she struggles through the exhortations to spousal submission, hiding bruised arms under long sleeves in the middle of July.
The Christian story is littered with trauma—from slavery (the Israelites in Egypt) to sexual assault and abuse (Dinah, Tamar, Bathsheba) to the trauma of war (see: much of the Old Testament) to, of course, the crucifixion of Jesus and martyrdom of his disciples.
There is possibly no better resource for understanding the implications of and need for healing from trauma than faith communities pointing to the cross and Jesus’ answer to violence. Both the need and the opportunity are great. But perhaps too often Christians proclaim the message of Easter—victory and restoration—while skipping past the violence and trauma of Good Friday. Some theologies explain away that violence as a necessary component of ultimate salvation—but let’s get to the salvation part, okay?—leaving survivors of trauma who fill our Sunday pews without a touchstone for healing within the very communities that purport to be safe spaces.
The universe is made up of 96 percent dark matter and energy, swirling with complexity — black holes, empty spaces, bad dreams, failed marriages, unknown territory, broken bowls and bruised shins and loneliness. And yet — look! — everything is still churning along. And in a way that can only be explained in the gut, these alarming dark things are perhaps the only things that have the tendency of bringing people together into community.
As Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche writes, “In community life we discover our own deepest wound and learn to accept it. So our rebirth can begin. It is from this very wound that we are born.”
I did not celebrate Independence Day this past weekend.
The truth is the United States has never been an independent nation. Built on stolen land by stolen labor, sacrificing Natives and Africans and their descendants to the mythology of “manifest destiny,” greed, oppression, and white supremacy, this has never been a nation of liberty and justice for all.
The ignoble myth of white supremacy that permeates the foundation of this country and underlies the policies and institutions that form the context of our lives has been rearing its ugly head so much lately that it cannot be as easily ignored or denied as it has been in the past. The recent massacre in Charleston and the burning of African-American churches add even more reasons to the hundreds of thousands to awaken to the reality of racism that undermines best ideals of this nation. Our country has failed to atone for, or even critically examine, its history of racial oppression.
Let’s talk about we.
You know: The first word in the constitution. The one that puts everything that follows it inside a framework of a collective effort and combined responsibility. "We the people." All of us. Together. Part of something bigger than any one of us individually. Yeah, that word.
Have you noticed that we don’t discuss that idea very much? I wonder why. A lot of Fourth of July posts this year went on lavishly about individual rights and personal freedom. And yes, those are important. But they’re only part of the equation, and they’re not even the starting point. It starts not with me, but with we — a pronoun that is radical and revolutionary.
I’ve celebrated Easter before. My whole life I’ve dressed up, colored eggs, gone to church.
But this year was different. This year, I realized resurrection.
I’m not sure how the realization came.
Maybe it came because this was the first time I gardened. My mother once said, “Gardening is prayer.” I never believed her until I physically saw the transformation of dead earth into mustard greens and zucchini plants. I never realized how good the pulse of the sun felt on my back after months of gray. I never saw seeds push through the darkness of soil and become new life — until this year, when I realized resurrection.
Maybe it came because this was the first time I’ve ever felt depression. This winter was the first time there were no windows in the tomb. The first time I held myself crying in the shower wondering if the emptiness would stop. This year was the first time I saw Lent as a season to sit in deep sadness. The first time I realized that Mary Magdalene sat at the tomb simply because she was just so sad.
Maybe it came because this was the first time I’ve fully embraced a Christian community. The first time I’ve intimately walked through the liturgical season with the same people. The first time I shared the miracle of Christmas and the deep sadness of Lent in the eyes of other vulnerable humans. The first time I’ve attended an entire week of Holy Week services. The first time I sat in the dark on Good Friday after service ended and cried.
This year, I realized resurrection and I’m not exactly sure why.
So it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Seemingly everywhere you look is a celebration of love and romance. There’s so much sweetness in the air (and on store shelves), it has almost the opposite effect.
Especially if you’re single. Valentine’s Day is often one of the most uncomfortable days of the year. It’s that one special day a year in which single people are painfully reminded that we may very well die alone and childless. Unfortunately, in our romance and sex-saturated culture, every day kind of reminds you of that.
The church hasn’t offered much by way of alternatives. In the evangelical church, there’s far too much “Jesus is my boyfriend” or “I’m dating Jesus”-type songs and teaching that it trivializes the kind of intimacy that can exist between God and humanity. And it silences the deeper pain of loneliness and disappointment that single adults — both gay and straight — can feel. Humans were made for relationship with God, but we were also made for relationships with each other.
There are a couple of issues at work here. On one hand, we’re fed so much junk about sex and romance and relationships from our culture that it becomes difficult to think any differently about love. When the highest, most celebrated form of love in our culture is erotic love and romance, the concept of spiritual intimacy with God seems unsatisfying and — let’s be real — also kind of icky. It feels like a consolation prize, something you say to make yourself feel better about being alone.
On the other hand, in the church, marriage almost becomes an idol. Christina Cleveland writes all kinds of amazing things about singleness in this essay, (so many I want to quote!) but this stands out:
“After interacting with the church, many singles start to wonder: Is there something wrong with me? Is God working in my life? Am I as valuable (to God, to the church) as married people? Does God love me as much as he loves married people? Does God have good things in store for me as a single person?”
It’s rare that a film can take all of these journeys and still tell a cohesive story. Sometimes, when we’re very lucky, a truly special film comes along that gets as close as possible to combining and distilling the infinite layers of the human experience. The Sojourners Internship Program is one of these truly special feats. It takes each facet of its characters’ journeys seriously, and allows each of them to explore those facets in their own unique ways.
Like most great stories, the setup of The Sojourners Internship Program is simple, but filled with the potential to go any number of directions: 10 individuals from different ethnic, economic, political and spiritual backgrounds are selected as interns for a social justice organization. They travel to Washington, D.C., to live in community and work together. But the community they live in is no ordinary community, and neither is the organization. The interns enter their house in Columbia Heights as strangers with hopes, ideals, doubts and a few preconceived notions. But they will leave forever changed.
The organization at the heart of The Sojourners Internship Program is just one of the great things about this beautiful, thoughtful, and challenging piece of art. It has its own rich history, a complicated and colorful tapestry of victories, defeats, joys and sorrows. The genuine caring each employee displays toward each other and towards the ten fresh-faced newcomers inevitably brings to mind John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It comes as no surprise then, that those same behaviors extend to the community of interns as they learn more about their work and the issues they will come to be passionate about. Fortunately, the film doesn’t sugar-coat anything — these folks are only human, after all, and what’s a good story without a little conflict now and then? But the way these ten young idealists work together eventually mirrors the way they live together, and that gradual transformation with its own celebrations, disappointments, pain and healing, is a beautiful thing to behold.
I’ve always cringed when I hear someone say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”
In the end, I don’t quite know how to do that. I get the sentiment, and I think it basically comes from a well-intentioned place. Essentially, when someone says this, I think they’re trying to be kind and caring for the person above and beyond any kind of vice or sinful deeds that person has committed. You know: Man, I really love Steve but I hate his alcohol addiction. Deborah is a wonderful friend but her tendency to gossip is really not so wonderful. James has a heart of gold but I just can’t condone his adultery.
We love and affirm people but we don’t affirm the things they do that hurt themselves, others, or are an affront to God’s dream for them and their God-given potential.
But sin is not just the things we do (or do not do — there are both sins of commission and omission). Sin is something we can’t quite shake. While we’re first created good, as Desmond Tutu has reminded us, we certainly fall short (always be sure to remember Genesis 1:31 as the first word and Genesis 3 as the second).
Sin is a reality of our brokenness this side of Jesus’s return and that fully realized realm of God where there will be shalom and no one will hunger or cry anymore. Sin isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. So many want to make it out to be a laundry list of "don’ts" along life’s way — our faith, in the end, teaches us that it’s so much more than that.
I reject the whole notion of love the sinner but hate the sin — it misses the Gospel point that we are more than our inadequacies or things that we’ve done or not done that have missed the mark. We are better than our sin — we are created in the beautiful image of God.
Just over fifty-three years ago, a huge wall was built, a mighty fortress – a wall around East Berlin, a wall to keep out and a wall to keep in. This wall isolated people and forcefully molded them into a single, straight, dreary one-dimensional way of living. The wall represented an oppressive system without cracks, without breaks, without life.
Almost 500 years ago, a monk by the name of Martin Luther felt the pressures of another oppressive system, one in which a person was never sure of God or God’s mercy, one in which a person could even pay to climb the stairway to heaven quicker and easier. In many aspects, the church itself had become a fortress, dictating who was in and who was out.
Every system, every culture, every community risks succumbing to the temptation of shutting borders and protecting an identity. We are quickly seduced into the illusion of absolute control and power. Brick by brick, wall by wall, suspicion by suspicion, power is built, oppression takes hold. We construct an identity, a security, a world. We construct our own way to heaven. (Or is it to a ghetto?)
Who or what can defeat and break the walls, the towers, the fortresses we construct? Who or what can overcome oppression in the land? Where do we turn when creation shakes and societies are in an uproar?
For one year, my wife and I are living 2,700 miles apart.
She lives in a one-bedroom apartment here, south of San Francisco. Each weekday she walks two blocks to the home of our middle son and his wife, where she cares for their 9-month-old son.
“Granny nanny” is what they call this phenomenon. Once maternity and paternity leaves expire, grandparents across the country are moving close to their adult children, maybe into their homes, to provide child care so both parents can pursue their careers.
A six-hour plane ride away, I am back in our Manhattan apartment, where our youngest son, age 23, is living at home until he lands a job in the worst job-finding environment since the Great Depression.
Our oldest son, meanwhile, is adapting his country house to become a multigenerational household next year, when my wife returns east. I have already had a taste of caring for their 8-month-old daughter, and it is wonderful.
It seems we have joined a growing trend toward sharing living space: three generations (grandparents, parents and children) or two generations (parents and adult children).
Yesterday morning at 5:30 I woke up to a disconcerting email:
Suspicious Sign-In Prevented. Please check your Google activity immediately.
In my half-asleep bleariness, I clicked the link and filled in my password.
Then I realized I'd been scammed.
"Recognize" was spelt "recognise" — and the account email was from Googlemail.com, not Google.com. Otherwise, the email was identical to those I'd gotten from Google in the past.
The next two hours were spent frantically re-securing my life. Changing passwords, adding two-step verification, application passwords.
I suddenly realized how much of my life was online. My Facebook page was a chronicle of my wedding, my jobs, my son's first 2 years of life.
Most people my age are the same way. Sometimes it's easier online.
The first people to find out about my pregnancy three years ago, besides my husband, were members of an online birth month group at WhattoExpect.com. Weeks before we told family or close friends, we shared intimate details about morning sickness, headaches, and faint lines on pregnancy tests.
Why do we do this? Somewhere, all of us, in Fantasy Football groups and pregnancy groups and dog lover groups and gluten-free groups: we're longing for Real Community.
Editor's Note: The following transcript is from a homily given in Christ Chapel at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. As part of the “From Segregation to Integration through Conversation” faith and learning series, the text for the day was 1 Corinthians 12:14-26.
The color of my skin is white. I am Caucasian. I am white, from head to toe, in case you had not noticed. It is quite possible that you had not noticed, because in case you have not noticed, most days in this place, most all of us have skin that is white. And as those of us that experience winters in Minnesota know better than most, in the midst of a “white out” it is difficult to notice anything that is not white.
While there are some special days with some special circumstances and some special exceptions, we in this place tend to be white people surrounded with other white people. Because the fact of the matter is that most white people in most places tend to have social circles that are mostly filled with other white people.
As was recently reported by the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2013 American Values survey, when respondents were asked to identity as many as seven people with whom they had discussed important matters in the six months prior to the survey, the results revealed just how segregated white social circles actually are. As reported by the study, the social circles of white people in the United States are 91 percent white. In addition, the analysis also showed that over 75 percent of white people reported exclusively white social circles, without any minority presence whatsoever.
All together, the Public Religion Research Institute showed the sociological fact that, even in an increasingly diverse multi-cultural nation, birds in the United States with white feathers — such as my own — continue to flock together. In other words, contrary to the common cliché often given in response to these difficult topics, when it comes to white American people, the facts reveal that "some of our best friends" simply are not black.