I struggle to know how much is enough. I hear about Joseph Kony and the many children he’s exploited as child soldiers. I get angry, discouraged. I write about it, talk to friends about it.
And then my life keeps moving and I don’t think about it again for days or weeks.
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, is gunned down on the street. The nation is divided, both outraged about the killing and fearful of the threat to gun rights and laws of self-defense.
And then we talk about something else.
Today’s issues include the nuns going head-to-head with the Vatican, as well as stories about still more preachers being busted for spousal abuse, or expelled from their jobs because of their sexual orientation.
Tomorrow it will be something else.
Both Republicans and Democrats have a religion problem and it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, abortion or religious liberty. Rather it is budgets, deficits, and debt ceiling deadlines that are their serious stumbling blocks.
That’s right, in a city deeply divided between the political right and left there is a growing consensus from religious leaders about getting our fiscal house in order and protecting low-income people at the same time. Together, many of us are saying that there is a fundamental religious principle missing in most of our political infighting: the protection of the ones about whom our scriptures say God is so concerned.
Indeed, the phrase “a budget is a moral document” originated in the faith community, and has entered the debate. But those always in most in jeopardy during Washington’s debates and decisions are precisely the persons the Bible instructs us clearly to protect and care for — the poorest and most vulnerable. They have virtually none of the lobbyists that all the other players do in these hugely important discussions about how public resources will be allocated.
For us, this is definitely not a partisan issue, but a spiritual and biblical one that resides at the very heart of our faith. It is the singular issue which has brought together the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Salvation Army, and the leaders of church denominations, congregations, and faith-based organizations across the nation.
The Vatican has published rules to evaluate the authenticity of the dozens of apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported each year.
The “Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations” have been in use since 1978, but until now had been available only in Latin, never officially published and only circulated among bishops and specialists.
The Vatican document has now been translated into English and other languages to aid bishops in the “difficult task of discerning presumed apparitions, revelations, messages or ... extraordinary phenomena of presumed supernatural origin,” Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Vatican doctrinal office, wrote in a companion letter last December that was published only recently on the Vatican website.
This week is one of those weeks where everyone seems to be talking, tweeting and blogging about the same video. I received it from several concerned friends with commentary like, “More bad news from North Carolina,” or “How can a loving God hate so much?” The video, which has quickly gone viral in the past 24 hours, is a clip from a recent sermon by Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina.
Following President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, pastor Worley took to the pulpit to rage against the issue of “queers and homosexuals”. However, it is his proposed “solution” to the “problem” (eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s “Final Solution”) that has the blogosphere abuzz (read: up in arms).
Worley proudly pronounces that he has found a way to get rid of all of the “lesbians and queers”: lock them all inside a fenced-off area and simply wait for them to die out on account of their inability to reproduce. In the video, his pronouncement garnered several hearty “Amens” from the congregation.
Unfortunately, this explosive video is just the most recent in a long stream of gay-marriage-related stories making headlines from my home state of North Carolina. After all, mine is the state that just passed the draconian amendment to its constitution, commonly known as “Amendment One”, banning same-sex marriage and all domestic and civil unions (never mind the fact that same-sex marriage is already illegal in our state). It seems that a day does not go by where I don’t hear a quote or read an article where another pastor has taken to the pulpit to remind his congregation that “homosexuality is wrong and against the Bible!”
This breaks my heart.
How do you step out and take a risk — as a pastor, as an artist, as a parent, as a person — when the job description of a pioneer or a vanguard comes with the assurance of persecution?
“Surrender the outcomes,” Rob Bell told the audience at his intimate gathering, Two Days with Rob Bell, in Southern California on Tuesday.
“Surrender the outcomes of your presence, your influence, your work, your leadership,” Bell said. “They may drink the coffee. They may not. That’s just how it is. When you come to terms with this, then you’re actually free.
In other words, it’s not about you.
If, as a pastor, parent, or person, if you do what you do because you’re called to do it — without expectations, without needing a particular response, without hitching your wagon of joy to someone else’s reaction (or lack thereof) — you free not only yourself, you liberate others as well.
“Oh, a dolphin.”
The speaker, dressed in khaki jeans, a blue t-shirt and flip-flops, interrupts his train of thought about spiral dynamics and the church when some movement in the ocean a few hundred yards away on the other side of the beach house’s open briefly catches his attention.
The audience of 50 — mostly 30- and 40-something-year-old pastors, the vast majority of them men, but with at least a few young clergywomen too (a refreshing change from most evangelical gatherings of this kind) — laughs heartily and more than a few attendees crane their necks to try to catch a glimpse of a dorsal fin in the distance.
The sounds of the Pacific crashing on the shore mix with a reggae tune playing on the outdoor stereo of the bar next door as the speaker, a 41-year-old former pastor and bestselling author, resumes his riff on categories of consciousness and the spiritual practice of meeting people exactly where they are.
Rob Bell isn’t in Kansas … I mean Michigan … any more.
If I hadn’t been so concerned about what I was going to say to the vet when the receptionist answered the phone, I would have heard the receptionist tell me loud and clear that I was through to a dental practice.
I hadn’t listened. In not listening I got everything I said wrong.
In the business I am in, of ministry and pastoral care, listening is such an important thing. I can prepare all the fancy theology and exegesis imaginable but if I don’t listen I might be getting it all wrong and embarrassing myself in the process.
To believe is easy. You can fill stadiums with people wanting to believe, either to solidify what they already think or to grasp hold of something because they feel cast adrift and lost at sea.
To doubt, to interrogate your fear, to really question what you believe, that’s difficult. It’s difficult because we want to protect ourselves from doubt and unknowing. Indeed when we encounter somebody who is different from us, our first experience is often to see them as monstrous, as having beliefs and practices which are alien and stranger and historical and contingent. When we encounter them we either want to consume them, make them part of our social body, or we want to vomit them and get rid of them. Or perhaps we want to have some sort of interfaith dialogue where we can talk about where we agree.
In a video address Tuesday, President Obama told hundreds of young evangelical Christian leaders gathered at the Q Conference in Washington, D.C., that they had a partner in the White House in their humanitarian and social justice efforts.
Poetry is language made material.
It presents us with objects and the world, yes, that is part of its materiality, but it also – and perhaps fundamentally – makes our very language into a thing, rather than simply a medium. Like remembering that you exist in time, and becoming aware of your temporality, poetry takes what we are always immersed in and says, Remember; become aware.
Thus it is like all art a meditative practice. You must slow down, quiet yourself, and actively receive – a strange gesture, perhaps paradoxical, but one that is, if nothing else, prayer. And so for Holy Week, I want to present four (mostly) contemporary poems that can direct meditation without limiting it, that can engage prayer in our physical existence and the existence of the Resurrection as event, that can slow one down, that can build sensual memory of the acts we do and life we live in constant remembrance of it, of Him.
In his weeky address, President Obama said in part:
"For millions of Americans, this weekend is a time to celebrate redemption at God’s hand. Tonight, Jews will gather for a second Seder, where they will retell the story of the Exodus. And tomorrow, my family will join Christians around the world as we thank God for the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of His son, and experience the wonder of Easter morning.
"These holidays have their roots in miracles that took place thousands of years ago. They connect us to our past and give us strength as we face the future. And they remind us of the common thread of humanity that connects us all.
"For me, and for countless other Christians, Easter weekend is a time to reflect and rejoice...."
“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart. For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I'm feeling most ghost-like, it is your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I'm feeling sad, it's my consolation. When I'm feeling happy, it's part of why I feel that way. If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget, part of who I am will be gone. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well."
~ Frederick Buechner
Albert Camus once said that your life is “the slow trek to recover the two or three simple images in whose presence [your] heart first moved.”
Sebastian Moore recovered one of those images after he had wandered into church at vespers on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
In his book, The Inner Loneliness, Moore describes that moment of awakening. It came one evening after lots of pasta, a lot of spaghetti, and a lot of wine. “As I entered the church, I heard the familiar words [in Latin] ‘One of the soldiers opened his side with a spear, and immediately there came forth blood and water.’ And I had what can only describe as a sense of fullness of truth. Somehow, everything that was to be said about life and its renewing was in those words. Somehow my life, my destiny, was in those words.”
The image that moved his heart became one to which he returns daily, as do I. For the piercing of the side of the helpless man hanging on the cross happened not just then and there at Golgotha; it happens here and there and everywhere when we torture our own souls or the souls of others because we, or they, have failed to measure up to what we expected. Strangely, it is in the piercing that brings blood that we are cleansed by the living water that pours from his side.
Do you see your life in the words and in the image of the spearing of his side, in the blood, but also the water that heals, restores and renews, flowing from his pierced side?
A second image came to me this week on a photography blog of religious architecture by Dennis Aubrey.
I’ve never liked the fact that we call the day on which we remember Jesus’ crucifixion “Good Friday.” What’s so good about it anyway? Personally I find the entirety of Holy Week – save for Easter – pretty depressing. Sure, the days are getting longer and things have started to grow all around us, but until Easter, the focus of the week is the suffering and death of an innocent man.
It turns out that, although plenty of folks have their own explanations, nobody actually knows why we call it Good Friday. I think the Germans are spot-on by calling it Karfreitag, which means “Suffering Friday.”
Figures the Germans would be more content to sit with suffering than the rest of us. They’re so serious! But I digress…
Someone beloved to me is suffering from a horrific disease right now. If I could fight this disease with a sword all my pacifist tendencies would run screaming for the hills and I would take up that sword and I would fight. Just the thought raises a rage up within me that is passionately intense and I long for such a sword.
I can’t help but think that Jesus must have felt some of this, human as he was. Because of who he was and what he did the poor and the outcast and the sick were drawn to him and so he saw suffering every day. He healed and he taught and he called for others to follow him, yet the suffering still was all around. Some part of his humanity must have wanted to take up a sword and fight it. Yet he knew that violence was not the answer.
There was another way.
So instead of a sword, he took up... a towel and filled a basin with water.
As we walk with Jesus ever closer to Good Friday, we recognize today as Maundy Thursday, commemorating the day that Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal — the Last Supper — with his disciples and washed their feet. Later that night, he would go with them to the Garden of Gethsemane, to wrestled with his humanity and the mission God the Father had called him to — to suffer and die on the cross at Golgatha the next day. Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him, to keep him company and join him in prayer. But they fall asleep, leaving Jesus alone in his dark night of the soul.
This is my body ... broken for you.
We've compiled a playlist of songs inspired by or that speak in some way to the Holy Week journey that brings us to Maundy Thursday and the great mandate from which the day takes its name: "If I, the Master and Teacher, have washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet."
The music of Manchester, England is, for me, the soundtrack of my college years. The Smiths. Joy Division. Oasis. James. The Happy Mondays.
It was the music I danced to in Chicago nightclubs, the songs of seeming disillusionment that I walked around campus listening to (on cassettes and "cassingles" -- remember those?) on my Sony Walkman.
I love that music that put a spring in my step and gave voice to my youthful ennui. But I had never thought of it as particularly spiritual music...that is until earlier this week when my charming British colleague, Jack Palmer, brought to my attention The Manchester Passion, an hourlong 2006 BBC special broadcast of a massive public reinactment of Christ's passion and crucifixion staged in a public square in Manchester set to the music of that enigmatic northern city in England.
The Manchester Passion took the music and lyrics of The Smiths and their Manchunian contemporaries and used them -- brilliantly and powerfully -- to retell in a thoroughly modern milieu the greatest story ever told.
President Obama hosted his third annual Easter prayer breakfast for about 150 members of the clergy from across the nation in the East Room of the White House Wednesday morning. In his six-minute address, Obama reflected on the spiritual messages of Easter -- Jesus' triumphant overcoming of his own human doubts and fears so that all of humanity might do the same.
"For like us, Jesus knew doubt," Obama said. "Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.' He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
"So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened -- that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, 'He is Risen!'"
It had been more than a week since the doctors had moved me into the ICU, and more than a week since I had tasted anything liquid.
My tongue was dry and felt like leather. At night, I would watch the machines around me blink. The IV bags hung next my bed and scattered the light across sterile white walls.
I tried not to cry when I could no longer control my bowels. I lay there in my own filth waiting for a nurse to rescue me.
I came into the world unable even to clean myself and now it seemed I would leave it in the same state.
Finally the nurse arrived to help me.
“I’m thirsty,” I told her. “May I have an ice cube?”
She said no.
“Please? My mouth is so dry. Just an ice cube,” I begged.
Oxygen tubes inserted into my nostrils had rubbed my nose raw. I pulled them out.
I felt relief. I watched the numbers drop on the LCD screen. An alarm sounded.
I tried to put the tubes back when the nurse ran in.
“Mr. King, you need the oxygen,” she chided, skillfully replacing al the tubes and checking all the machines and medicines that flanked my hospital bed — all the things that were keeping me alive.