Dec. 4 was a beautiful reminder, in the long struggle for justice, that, no matter how long we wait, God hears our cry. And love and justice will win.
A few weeks ago, Chief Arvol Looking Horse issued an invitation to clergy and faith leaders to stand in solidarity with the people of Standing Rock. He said he was hoping maybe 100 would respond. But I joined thousands, in a procession of faith leaders, to gather around the sacred fire at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.
I knew something special was happening here.
Don’t expect a peaceful scene of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus when you open a Christmas card from Doctors of the World.
The British branch of the humanitarian group has opted to set the characters of the creche in the midst of Mideast crises. On one card, Mary and Joseph are leaning over the baby Jesus, as a missile traverses a starry night.
“Christmas is a time people contemplate the world,” the group said in its online introduction to the cards. “Doctors of the World’s cards seek to remind the public that this year war has forced millions from their homes, and they really need our help.”
Canadian researchers are revisiting a hotly debated sociological question: Why do some churches decline while others succeed?
Since the 1960s, overall membership in mainline Protestant Christian churches has been dropping in both the U.S. and Canada.
But some congregations have continued to grow, and a team of researchers believes it now knows why. It’s the conservative theological beliefs of their members and clergy, according to researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University and Redeemer University College in Ontario.
The day after the election, Lisa Sharon Harper nearly gave up the name “evangelical.”
That’s because 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump for president, a candidate she described as “representing all of the things Jesus stood against — lust for money, sex, and power.” And their vote propelled the Republican nominee to victory.
Americans voted largely along the lines of race, education, and party identification. Nonwhites strongly preferred Clinton, while whites decisively chose Trump. Compared with past Republicans, the businessman received a stunning surge of votes from non-college-educated white voters.
None of this is surprising.
And yet the result upends so much conventional wisdom.
“I think there’s a moment of great creativity for women leaders in the religious sphere,” said the Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary, and author of God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World.
“I think that we are seeing, in lots of areas of American life, that some of the traditional structures that served well for a long period of time are no longer doing so. … A time of change means there’s a possibility of new types of leadership and new people doing it.”
For decades, people have milked metaphors of baseball and religion beyond what they are worth. It’s not illegal, though there should probably be a special place in hell for those who claim to see the Trinity in baseball’s rule that three outs end an inning, or that the ballpark is a “cathedral.”
The truth is, we can go deeper.
So why did I mention Donald Trump in the title? Because I want to suggest that he has set up his story very differently than Jesus. Across this country Donald Trump has cast Samaritans as “criminals” and “rapists.” He wants to build a wall and separate us. Donald Trump, like Jesus (stay with me, here), is intentionally drawing on the implicit biases of the people listening to him — but in the complete opposite way. Rather than using his position to help people question their biases and reconceive their notion of “neighbor,” his rhetoric is pushing them to deepen their hatred of Samaritans.
Like most interpreters, I believe that apocalyptic thought shaped Jesus’ vision. When he announced the kingdom of God, he meant it (Luke 4:43; 8:1). Jesus understood his ministry as God’s dramatic intervention into human history, a decisive moment that forced people to accept or reject what God was about. Yes, his ministry was meant to bring peace. But in an apocalyptic perspective, peace ultimately follows a period of intense conflict.
How could I not? How could I benefit from the messed-up grace of God that allows me to be seen by God on high not as a horrible sinner full and capable of every last deadly sin but as a beloved child and not see others differently myself? It’s messed up, but it’s true.
It’s impossible to laugh, pray, and sing old gospel songs with men who’ve raped and murdered, who’ve sold drugs to children, carjacked strangers, shot girlfriends, buried bodies in woods and not see grace.
I could not look at lines of incarcerated men, ready for a day’s work under the gun (literally), and not shudder at past (and sometimes present) atrocities and injustices. And yet, I could only hope for redemption for this land that no longer grows cotton and for these men who no longer have freedom.
And there’s no way I could rub puppies’ tummies while talking to an inmate-cowboy about dogs, to hear him tell me lots of guys here are like pit bulls because they think they’re tough, but that those guys don’t know—“They’re just silly snuggle bugs,” he says—and me not feel the peace of Christ descend.
I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I just know it’s true: When we visit prisoners, we visit Christ. All during my time in Angola, I saw Jesus everywhere.
Jesus was a feminist, that is, a person who promotes the equality of women with men, who treats women primarily as human persons and willingly contravenes social customs in so acting. The gospels give no evidence of Jesus ever treating women as inferior to men. When the restricted state of women in the Palestinian Judaism of that time is recalled, even this mere absence of a male superiority attitude is extraordinary. ...
“Daunting” is one word Ewan McGregor used about stepping into the role of Jesus in the new film Last Days in the Desert.
“Freaked out” is another way he described his feelings about the task, McGregor said.
A recent study published by the Pew Research Center offers some interesting data about economic inequality in the United States. In 1982, the top one percent of families took in 10.8 percent of all the pretax income. The bottom 90 percent got 64.7 percent. By 2012, it was 22.5 percent for the top one percent and 49.6 percent for the bottom 90 percent. In a more disturbing trend the top one percent owned 35 of all the personal wealth in 2010. The bottom fifty percent owned just five percent.
And it's an Old Testament law.
Bob Lonsberry of WHAM 1180 AM radio asked the Republican front-runner, "Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life?"
Recently, a friend emailed me that their twenty-three-year-old son had attempted suicide. The young man had been found fairly quickly, but due to the nature of his attempt and his severe depression, he is now in a hospital's psychiatric ward. My friend asked, “How did it get so bad and I didn't know?” She is trying to process guilt and anxiety about what might have happened. Her son is getting the help he needs, but it’s a long journey back to health and wholeness for the entire family.
Poor people just don’t know what’s good for them. Freedom, after all, is only possible after order is established. If they can’t do for themselves what needs to be done, we’ll do what needs to be done anyway. Protect them from themselves.
As for the radical, his calls for “change” and a better way of life will fade after people are sufficiently fed, safe, and entertained. After all, who has the appetite for revolution when their bellies are already full?
They’ll thank us later.
The story of Jesus’ passion and death has stirred my imagination since I was a child. In an act of profound mystery, Jesus walks towards the conflict swirling around him. Jesus accepts his arrest and does not raise his voice. His willingness to embrace the consequences of truth-telling leaves him silent in the face of his accusers. His judges repeatedly say they can find no fault in this man, but the people want more. They want someone to blame.
WHO IS THIS JESUS who rattles my cage and rumbles through the history of my life? This contradictory figure who proves an embarrassment and stumbling block to my mind, but who won’t go away? This man who brings awe and tears to my eyes, who makes me want to resist authority when it’s wrong, who points me to a God who works from the underside of every system of power?
Who is this Jesus? Disturbing teacher of the gospels, comfortable with children and irritating to scholars, unsettling people by his enigmatic stories. Dancing member of the Holy Trinity, looking out from a stunning Russian icon. Object of saccharine devotion in the Sacred Heart of Catholic spirituality, the “Jesus and me” sentimentality of evangelical piety, the unbridled passion of 17th-century metaphysical poets.
He’s the first-century Jewish rabbi of the Jesus Seminar, calling for justice and inclusivity, making no ethereal claims about his own divinity. He’s the Jesus of Jelaluddin Rumi, who wants to be born in the mystical experience of every soul. The Cosmic Christ who weaves his spirit through the fabric of the natural world, causing all things to scintillate with the sacramental, Christic presence of the divine.
He wanders in and out of my reading of Bernard of Clairvaux, Marcus Borg, Dorothy Day, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and John Shelby Spong. Each with a finger on the mystery of this figure who pulses back and forth in my life: “Jesus, lover of my soul.” “He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.” “Jesus, the very thought of thee.”
Imagine a test on world religions that asks this question: “Who founded Christianity?”
Jesus, right? Wrong.