Brian Fallon's Christianity is less apparent than his Bruce devotion.
"We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This Talmudic quote from Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani notes that seeing is not always vision. What we see in life is more than what the eye beholds. A person or circumstances right in front of us can be merely the surface of someone or something more profound.
The United States must forever recall the struggles, moves, and marching of the women and men across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fifty years ago, ordinary people walked for the right to stand up and be counted. To the naked eye, those sojourners lacked political clout as much as they did fiscal wherewithal. Those citizens were not persons of means, but their intentions were good. They meant well. They meant to do whatever — to get the right to vote.
No whips, dogs, horses, or hoses would stifle their efforts. The Americans who marched from Selma to Montgomery may not have looked like much, but their actions changed this country’s political horizon and racial landscape. Yes, a yearning in their loins propelled them to create social change. They were going to vote at any cost, at any price.
In this week’s lectionary passage, a man crippled from birth wanted “change.” Actually, he wanted coins or any alms that Peter and John could offer (Acts 3:1-11). To this man, the two disciples were in better shape than he was. From his view, he could surely benefit from whatever they had to offer. Yet, Peter exposes their impecunious state: “Look on us. We don’t have a nickel to our names.”
There was nothing spectacular or dazzling about Peter or John.
An early fellow Sojourner, Perk Perkins, reminded me this week that not long after we started Sojourners as a new Christian magazine for justice and peace, I came running into our little office one day and exclaimed, “Dean Smith is a Sojourners subscriber!”
Here were young Christians in Washington, D.C., saying our faith called us to racial and economic justice, opposing the nuclear arms race, ending the death penalty, and supporting the equality of women. And the greatest college basketball coach in the country was reading Sojourners?!
Dean Smith died on Saturday. He was 83 years old.
Monday’s front page New York Times story — not just in the Sports section — was titled, “A Giant of College Basketball And a Champion of Equality.”
ESPN and everybody else ran the numbers. But all the tributes and comments on the death of Dean Smith have quickly moved on from the numbers. Current UNC coach, Roy Williams, said his predecessor "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people."
Player after player who were coached by Dean Smith, as famous as Michael Jordan to those who barely walked on to the team and hardly ever played, testified in the last few days to how much more than a coach he was to them — their “mentor,” “teacher,” “second father,” “role model,” life-long inspiration and guide.
I went to college thinking political activism was sexy. Living in a large city gave me unparalleled access to protests for countless good causes. Chanting at anti-war marches and getting arrested on behalf of climate change legislation would make interesting party stories, I thought. I quickly hopped on the Occupy Chicago bandwagon, a movement which calls for a more equitable wealth distribution, but whose leaders and participants were largely white college graduates. None of my organizing work focused on racial inequalities, but stayed in the realm of money in politics, equitable banking practices, and climate change.
My journey took a profound turn at an organizing training where I proudly stated I was there because my faith called me to advocate for the least of these. In response, a powerful, albeit brash, leader in Chicago’s movements angrily characterized me as an “activist do-gooder” who was fueled by the need to be a good white person. This label devastated me. I’m outspoken, passionate and willing to lead, I thought, so why can’t people see me as a resource? I took a break from the organizing world feeling disillusioned and miffed.
This attitude forced me to ask myself, why was I drawn to political activism in the first place? What was it that drew me to the movements in which I involved myself? And why was I so offended that someone had questioned my motives?
Does “meek” mean a Uriah Heep-like unctuous humbleness? Does it mean softness or gentleness or weakness? Are “the meek” the powerless, or perhaps the poor? Is their meekness to be displayed toward God, but not toward people? How meek is meek, and do you always have to let bullies kick sand in your face at the beach?
Editor's Note: In this new series, we explore the ongoing conversation within the church over LGBT identities, affirmation, and inclusion. As the push for equality expands, how are communities of faith participating and responding — and is it enough? We will be examining this at a deeper level in the January issue of Sojourners magazine, with a cover story from evangelical ethicist David Gushee. Subscribe Now to receive that issue.
During the opening worship service at the Reformation Project’s Washington, D.C., conference, a weekend of events promoting the biblical affirmation of the LGBT community, something seemed amiss. I looked around the church pews to find what fueled my unease. Maybe it was the guitar-charged praise music alongside traditional liturgy. Or maybe it was the older white man listening intently to the younger gay black woman. Evangelical vibrato next to mainline rigidity, old next to young, white next to black, gay next to straight next to bi next to transgendered.
It was a Galatians 3 kind of room — a reminder that in Jesus there is no longer “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” Gay or straight.
“For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
It was that sacred “oneness” that surprised me. Nothing was actually amiss — all things were new. There was a colorful rareness and a refreshing affirmation.
Rev. Allyson Robinson gave the opening address of the conference, offering prayer, Scripture, encouragement, and a few warnings for the LGBT-affirming church. The warnings came in the form of analogy in which she likened the temptations of Jesus in the desert to the temptations of the affirming church on the verge of a culture war victory.
It probably can’t. It may help you ponder the kind of person you hope to become, and it might even help you orient yourself towards the next few baby steps you take in this life, but decide what you want to do with your life? Not likely. None of us ever really decides ‘what to do with our lives,’ as if that were some golden tablet plucked out of the heavens. But that won’t stop us from frantically stressing.
As a recent college graduate who does indeed stress about such a question, I recently rediscovered the modern classic that is Good Will Hunting as I spent Thanksgiving anxiously deliberating my future — and realized it has a lot to offer.
Although the film is perhaps most famous for pulling heart strings, it is also a deep exploration of courage and humility. It forces viewers to question their vocational priorities and even invites reflection upon why we choose to seek, or avoid, outward success. If you haven’t seen this 1997 drama, and you’re stressed about what to do with your life, you should stop reading now and go watch it before I start dropping spoilers.
I believe that Nelson Mandela was the greatest political leader of the 20th century — because of his 27 years of spiritual formation in prison. Visiting Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island was the most emotional moment of my visit to South Africa this past summer. How could such a small place so change the world?
I found this quote by Mandela when I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on my last day in South Africa. It’s about how “the cell” drove him much deeper into his interior life. I think his words are a good reflection for us as we choose our elected leaders next week:
“The cell is an ideal place to know yourself. People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones, such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.”
Let’s reflect on that quote, both personally as leaders in the faith, and politically as we confront a very depressing election.
Know yourself. That is such different advice from what our candidates and other leaders get from their advisors and pollsters and boards of directors who want them to know their audience, their constituency, their potential voters or consumers — but not so much themselves. Leaders are often being told to “be who they need you to be,” and seldom are they invited to go deeper into themselves.
This week has been a rough one for Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Following one scandal after another, the Acts 29 Network – which he helped found – removed his standing and his church’s standing within the network. They also encouraged him to step down as the leader of Mars Hill.
To add to that, Lifeway Bookstores, which is one of the biggest faith-based book chains around, decided to stop carrying all of Driscoll’s books. Basically this just means he can join me and all of us progressive Christian authors who have been edged out by Lifeway. You’ll get used to it, Mark.
All of this is good for Christianity as a whole. For starters, it demonstrates the autonomy of the Acts 29 Network from their founder. And despite their many misguided policies regarding women and their proclivity for hyper-calvinism overall, it shows that they, too, have their limits.
As for Lifeway, I can’t really tell if their decision to drop Driscoll is an ethical one, or a matter of mitigating further PR risk by having his titles in their stores. Either way, props for getting his face off the shelves, regardless.
I’d not be surprised, too, if Driscoll chooses to step down from Mars Hill in the near future. At some point, even he will recognize his leadership as untenable.
In the midst of all of this, I’m conflicted.
Two weeks ago in Soma, Turkey, a coal mine explosion left 301 people dead. It was the country’s worst mining disaster, but it wasn’t the first — and it wasn’t the last, as multiple fatal accidents have happened in the two weeks since. The last time a mining disaster caught the world’s attention, we watched and waited and prayed during the rescue operation for the miners in Chile.
In Turkey, people protested in the streets of Soma — protested against Soma Mining for letting this happen, against their government for loopholes in safety rules. In response, the police issued a ban on protests and locked the city down. The ruling political party proudly announces that it has inspected that mine 11 times in the past 5 years; Soma Mining denies negligence. And the families of 301 persons mourn their losses.
This isn’t a faraway problem. In the United States, we don’t do as much traditional mining as we used to — instead, we do mountaintop removal. This has a human cost, too, in more insidious ways. The people living in Appalachia have higher rates of respiratory illness, cancer, kidney diseases, skin ailments, and more. And the landscape, which has the fingerprints of God in it, is being blown apart.
Psalm 95:4-5 says:
“In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are [God’s] also. The sea is [God’s], for [God] made it, and the dry land, which [God’s] hands have formed.”
To a Dying Church,
Guess what? It’s not that bad.
You just have to get it together a bit.
Seriously, like yesterday. I mean, we have time. But, seriously, we’re all waiting for you to get it together.
You have the means. You have the ability. You have the know-how.
Actually, you don’t have to do that much. You just have to realize that Jesus has done it all and there is a current of immense possibility right under your feet.
Tap into it. Remember it. Root down.
This happens every so often. We are cyclical people. Every once in a while we forget.
But this time you’ve really done a doozy on your own health by chasing after insane supplements and growth hormones. And you’ve also picked some really lame fights. In the race to grow you’ve forgotten your way a bit and now you’re bloated and punch-drunk in the streets swinging at anyone that’ll ask a sensible question.
Stop it. You’re better than this.
Sometimes it's hard to blame people for rejecting God, because many Christians present a God that is ugly, cruel, unfair, and utterly horrific. Thus, when people avoid Christianity, they're actually shunning their ugly perception of it.
When you hear people talk about God, what type of God are you imagining? When you speak of God, what type of God are you communicating?
Unfortunately, society's obsession with success, politics, business, security, wealth, and comfort has hijacked the way we see and interpret God — even Christians are guilty of this.
It's easy to manipulate God to fit our own agendas, to use religion to rationalize our actions, to wield spirituality as a weapon, and manipulate theology to rationalize our sins.
Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.
Politics refers to “the affairs of the city” and “influencing other people on a civic or individual level.”
Throughout his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is political. He influences people to live into the Kingdom of Heaven. For Jesus, Heaven is not essentially some place off in the distance where you go after you die. No, Heaven is a way of life to be lived right here, right now. We see this clearly in the prayer he taught his disciples:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey on Palm Sunday, he was performing a political act. But it was a political act unlike any other.
Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Sunday's message at The District Church in Washington, D.C.
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that one of the stages of growing up is “giving up the distorted images of one’s parents” — in other words, realizing that they’re not perfect. This also holds true for other leaders in our lives. We learn that our political leaders, our youth group leaders, our mentors, our teachers aren’t perfect. This isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we feel like our leaders let us down, but it’s actually because we had unrealistic expectations of them — such as being perfect, such as never making mistakes, such as not doing everything you want them to do.
(Pretty much nobody I know does everything I want them to do. That doesn’t make them failures; that makes me have to examine what kind of expectations I’m putting on them!)
So I’m not talking about that kind of let-down. I’m talking about those situations we’ve all experienced where we’ve been let down by some kind of failure on the leader’s part. Just this week, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of one of the largest churches in the world — 750,000 people, and he’d been pastor there for almost five decades — was found guilty of embezzling almost $12 million . I’m talking about that kind of let down. I’m talking about:
- a father who wasn’t present—physically or emotionally,
- a pastor who had an affair,
- a youth leader who ended up turning away from God.
Those are the ones that are most devastating, right? But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It could be a small group leader who wasn’t present when you were going through something, a supervisor or boss at work who doesn’t listen or seem to care.
This past year taught me so much about the gospel and caused me to go deeper into my faith. As this new year begins, here are five spiritual resolutions I learned from last year:
1. Return to the gospel. Gordon Cosby, the founder and pastor of The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. passed away in early 2013. He was a mentor, elder, and spiritual director to me. I miss Gordon greatly and often have things I would like to talk with him about. But I usually know what he would say to me and it would always be about returning to the gospel. In his last sermon, spoken from his death bed, he spoke of Jesus’ “clear and frightening statement that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
I sympathize with the Cheney family this Thanksgiving. Siblings arguing with each other and claiming that Dad is on their side — geez, sounds too familiar for comfort. I have four siblings and when we were kids we were a rough and tumble pack, openly vying for our parents’ approval. We relished ratting each other out. The fickle finger of accusation waving wildly, we’d shout things like “She started it!” “It was his idea!” or “I told her you’d be mad!” Oh, we had a million ways to stay in our parents’ good graces.
You’d think it all might have been about avoiding punishment, and I guess that was part of it. But even though our parents can’t ground us anymore, we tend to search their faces as if we were contestants awaiting our score on Dancing With the Stars. Now we tease each other about who is in the No. 1 spot at any given moment, and how it shifts with a good deed done or misstep in our duty as loving offspring. (FYI, I am taking my parents to see A Christmas Carol at the Drury Lane Theater near Chicago and making them a prime rib dinner afterwards. That should vault me to No. 1 for a week or two!)
The holidays are a perfect arena for this sort of combat and we can take some small comfort that even the Cheneys are not immune. But their problems are not quite like ours, because they are a public family and their disputes have political ramifications. Who wins the Cheney dinner table argument about marriage quality is not just about their family. It resonates through Republican politics and if Liz Cheney becomes their next senator, it may be about Wyoming families as well. But in another way, this family rivalry is like any other because it’s not just about politics. Mary Cheney and her wife, Heather Poe, who have two children together, feel betrayed by Liz. As Heather posted on Facebook: “Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.”
Alec Baldwin was caught on video venting his rage against a photographer and using a homophobic slur. I actually don’t follow Alec on Twitter or keep up with celebrity news on TMZ, but apparently he’s put similar slurs in writing. In this case, however, he denies using a homophobic slur, saying he is being misquoted. And as proof that he is not homophobic, in fact just the opposite, he points to his work on behalf of marriage equality with GLAAD. In defense of his actions in the video, he insists he was only defending his family’s privacy — in the video we can clearly hear him shouting at the photographer to stay away from his wife and his baby. Here’s a brief excerpt from his blog post in which Baldwin expresses his desire to protect his family and neighbors from media harassment:
I am concerned for my family. In Bloomberg's New York, forty or fifty paparazzi are allowed to block streets, inconvenience homeowners, workers and shoppers, and make life miserable for my neighbors. Photographers have tripped and fallen on babies in strollers on my block. They have nearly struck my wife in the face with microphones. They provoke me, daily, by getting dangerously close to me with their cameras as weapons, hoping I will react. When I do, the weapon doubles as a device to record my reaction. And then, apparently, I lose every time.
And here’s what the prominent blogger Andrew Sullivan had to say. He is among many who called for accountability from Baldwin, GLAAD and his current employer MSNBC. (At this writing MSNBC has suspended Baldwin’s show for two weeks.) Here’s what Sullivan said:
Look: Baldwin’s anger… was thoroughly merited. But he continually resorts to this kind of homophobic poison when he’s angry. Just as Mel Gibson revealed his true feelings about Jews in his drunken rant, so Baldwin keeps revealing his own anti-gay bigotry. These outbursts reveal who he actually is. (Emphasis in original)
So which is it? Is Baldwin a raging (literally) homophobe or is he a decent guy protecting his family and neighbors? Whenever I encounter an either/ or choice like this, I know I am in the presence of a possible scapegoating incident for three reasons.
There is no mistaking it: Shad Kabango's music is authentic and tenacious. With incredible humility, he speaks from his heart, with no fear of calling out the inconsistencies he sees in the world.
In the recent release of his 4th studio album, Flying Colours, the critically acclaimed Canadian emcee, better known as simply "Shad," hopes his music speaks for itself.
"It’s not easy to summarize or convey, I don’t think," Shad said of the theme of the album, in a recent interview with Sojourners. "Some sort of … feeling of hope, I guess, but hope within the complexity of real life and the challenges of real life."
Pope Francis has once again given a startlingly candid interview that reinforces his vision of a Catholic Church that engages the world and helps the poor rather than pursuing culture wars, and one “that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”
The pope’s conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist and well-known editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, took place at the pope’s residence in the Vatican guesthouse on Sept. 24 and was published on Tuesday.
His newest bombshell come just two weeks after the publication of the pope’s lengthy, groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit journalist in which Francis said the church was “obsessed” with a few moral issues, like abortion and homosexuality, and needed an “attitude” adjustment if it hopes to strike a “new balance” in its approach to the wider world.