Jesus

People of God v. Citizens United

WHEN YOU GIVE a luncheon, Jesus says, don’t invite your rich neighbors; instead invite the poor, the vulnerable, the outcast. I was reminded of Jesus’ words recently when President Obama came to Boston. Local foodies celebrated his stop at a hip restaurant. However, only the “rich neighbors” were invited: Thirty guests who had paid up to $33,400 each in political contributions were given the opportunity to lunch with the president.

Amazingly, a $33,000 lunch is pocket change for those now entitled, thanks to Citizens United, to the ears of our politicians. In the 2012 election, one multibillionaire spent $150 million to defeat Obama. Thirty-two super PAC donors, “giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200,” stated a 2013 report that examined Federal Elections Commission data.

In 2010, the Supreme Court concluded that corporations are “people” with First Amendment rights to free speech, opening the floodgates for unaccountable money to pour into state and federal elections. In essence, the Citizens United ruling put democracy up for sale. In the “marketplace” of political representation, almost all Americans are outbid and locked out.

Now millions of Americans are working for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United—and they’re gaining traction.

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July 2015
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Help End Hunger. It’s Simple.

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Even on a local scale, problems like poverty and hunger can overwhelm our imaginations. My own city of Lancaster, Pa., is like countless others. Pockets of true poverty cluster in the old city and dot the countryside. Affluent developments surround the city, while hip new housing is popping up in the center of the city. An impressive urban revitalization campaign has transformed the city’s image, making downtown an attractive place to eat, shop, and play.

Recently, however, a study by Franklin and Marshall College has shown that Lancaster’s resurgence has not helped its poorest residents. Just the opposite has occurred. Between 2000 and 2013, per capita income has grown by 20 percent in the city’s center while it has declined in every other section. What looks like progress from the outside contradicts the harsh reality that thousands experience.

It’s a typical scenario, in which outcomes such as life expectancy and high school completion rates vary dramatically, even in adjacent zip codes and school districts. Faced with such stubborn realities, many individuals feel at a loss concerning how to make a difference.

Social Justice Is a Christian Tradition — Not a Liberal Agenda

Christians do a disservice to the gospel message by removing the cultural context from Jesus’s ministry and watering down his message to one of religious platitudes. We like to generalize the words of Jesus and transform his life into a one-size-fits-all model that can apply to all of humanity.

Throughout the New Testament Jesus was more complex than we give him credit for.

He intentionally, purposefully, and passionately addressed very specific causes. He radically addressed the diverse and complicated conflicts of the time and shattered the status quo.

Jesus wasn’t just preaching a universal salvation message for the world, but he was also addressing specific political, social, and racial issues. He was helping those who were being abused, violated, and oppressed.

When Psychology Is Used For Torture

Image via Janaka Dharmasena/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

An independent report commissioned by the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that the association secretly colluded with the Department of Defense and the CIA to weaken the APA’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to take part in government torture programs under the Bush administration post-9/11.

As a theologian who is married to a psychotherapist, I have always been a vocal advocate of the value of psychology in the pursuit of human flourishing. Psychology is considered one of the “healing professions.” A central tenant among all health care providers is “do no harm.”

How Would Jesus Heal an Addict?

Image via Alex Malikov/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

"Would you give an addict a clean needle, so they could stay alive until they found freedom from their addiction? Would you give a prostituted woman condoms, so she could protect herself until she found freedom from prostitution?"

Clearly, the famous evangelical leader I was speaking with in Cambodia didn't think we should be helping people in this way. He was adamant that Jesus would never give out condoms or clean needles. He insisted that the little clinic we were running in a Phnom Penh brothel was a waste of time and inconsistent with the gospel.

'Sin No More'

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I'm afraid Christians too often have overemphasized Jesus’ commandment, "Go and sin no more!" at the expense of his earlier phrase, "...Neither do I condemn you." Could it be that Jesus' admonition to "sin no more" is a jab directed instead at the religious leaders? That Jesus is telling them if they don't quit their sinning, the sin police will have them killed? And Jesus might not be there next time to save them? 

Who Said It: Fox News or Jesus?

During a broad conversation on how to overcome poverty at Georgetown University last week, President Barack Obama made a few comments about how Fox News talks about poor people. Here’s what he said:

“ … over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction. … I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad … They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative … very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.

Praying for Prisoners with Jesus

Photo via Gwoeii / Shutterstock.com

Silhouette of a prisoner behind a barbed wire fence. Photo via Gwoeii / Shutterstock.com

Jesus not only knew how to pray; he knew what it was like to be arrested. When he had finished his table prayer, Jesus and his disciples went out across the Kidron valley to a garden. Judas knew about that garden because he and the other disciples often met there with Jesus. This time, Judas didn’t come to pray, but brought a detachment of soldiers and religious police. They arrested Jesus, bound him and took him away to be tried.

Jesus escaped prison only because he was executed by the state the next day. This crucified, risen, and wounded Jesus has returned to the heart of God. He continues to pray for us. Why wouldn’t Jesus be praying also for those who are in prison? Why wouldn’t we?

The Soulful Bells of Summer

THE SEASON AFTER PENTECOST is a challenge. Some churches call it “ordinary time.” This is where most of our life is lived, spiritually speaking. The fact that other churches call it “the season after Pentecost” reminds us that a miraculous tongue of fire is needed for any sermon to work—and the Holy Spirit has a tongue of fire for us. Pentecost propels us through ordinary time. The Holy Spirit can take as sorry a lot of losers as the ones Jesus chose as disciples and turn them into apostles, martyrs, world-changers. God has always done more with less-promising material.

A retreat at a monastery gave me a glimpse of what ordinary time means. By the time 8 a.m. Mass rolls around, we’ve already been in church three times that day. Mass is beautiful, we leave buoyantly, the Trappist monks are nearly chatty. Then the bell rings. It’s time for Terce, another hour of prayer. That bell sets me to sighing—weren’t we just in church? Terce is like the Sunday after Easter or Christmas—a letdown. Same building, half full of people, and with a quarter of the energy. And it is precisely then that it’s important to worship God. The church’s worship of God carries on when we’ve all gotten bored or tired. Such worship is good for souls. Preachers’ souls included.

Jason Byassee is pastor of Boone United Methodist Church in Boone, N.C., and a fellow in theology and leadership at Duke Divinity School.

[ June 7 ]

Out of the Depths
1 Samuel 8:4-20; 11:14-15; Psalms 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL famously said that the biblical prophets show God’s pain. Here in 1 Samuel, God grants the people’s wish for a king because “they have rejected me from being king over them” from “the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day” (8:7-8).

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A Journey Toward Radical Welcome

Photo via Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com

I had the sense, as a child, that God’s goodness and mercy would only follow me all of the days of my life if I was “good” and Christian. And I had the sense that good and Christian was a narrow way.

This meant two things. First, only “good” people, loving and kind people, people who had not erred or strayed or made mistakes or broken the law or never “back-slid” were the sheep worthy of grace and mercy. Second, only Christian people were in the fold. Not Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs — no, the steadfastly loving God had only space for those of us who accepted Jesus and our Lord and Savior AND who had lived sinless lives.

My child-like sense of “good” shifted when I was a teen serving as an elder in the Seventh Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Being up close and personal with my pastor, the late Rev. Oliver Brown, III and the adults around the table were first- hand lessons of the wide-open space of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

These good people — ordained people — were flawed and funny. They fussed and fought. They forgave each other, as God forgave them. My idea of good stretched and breathed and exhaled judgment and inhaled, experientially, that only God is good, that God in Jesus Christ shows this goodness in a particular way, and that all of God’s people are flawed and loved.

As a young adult before seminary, living life in the world, working, loving, breaking up, making up, having growing pains about identity and purpose and vocation, my spiritual muscles strengthened around the concept of the good shepherd who would love me enough to come and get me if I wandered.

Jesus is the ideal shepherd, the model shepherd, the best kind of shepherd; the one who makes the promises of God available to all of God’s people by laying down his life for the sheep.

I had not yet made the leap but most certainly have now to John 10:16.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

This loving Shepherd has a huge and diverse flock. 

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