Jesus

Charles Gutenson 3-01-2012
Illustration by Janusz Kapusta/Getty Images.

Illustration by Janusz Kapusta/Getty Images.

“Church folks are just too political!”

When people are asked why they have decided to leave the church, this has become an increasingly popular response. And, sadly, it is a particularly popular response for those in the 18-29 year old demographic. That we Christians have allowed ourselves to become too political and too partisan is a major contributor to the decline of the church.

Partisanship and its corrosive effects are not a new thing to the culture at large. However, more and more that cultural partisanship is infecting the church and gnawing away at the bonds which are supposed to hold them together. In the process, the church gets hijacked and redeployed for partisan ends, leaving those expecting better from the church disappointed. 

Christian Piatt 2-28-2012
Image by Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock

Image by Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock

The world has never been short on doomsday prophets, intent on predicting the end of days. And it has reached fetishist proportions this year with the end of the Mayan calendar.

See, that’s why I never buy paper calendars. They always end, and I don’t want to be the one responsible for Armageddon.

But the Mayans and their Johnny-come-lately adherents aren’t the only ones. Harold Camping has predicted the end a few times, most of which haven’t worked out so well. But each time he adds a little footnote as to why he was a little off, but that the next prediction REALLY is the big one, so be ready.

I’m not entirely sure why we’re so obsessed with trying to know when everything will come to a grinding halt. Christians in particular have been warned by Jesus himself not to occupy our hearts and minds with such things. So how come we can’t seem to stop trying to figure it out?

Christian Piatt 2-27-2012
(Bible image titled "Getting the Message" by JustASC/Shutterstock.)

(Bible image titled "Getting the Message" by JustASC/Shutterstock.)

It’s bad enough when Christians sit silently by while LGBTQ folks are marginalized, ridiculed, abused, raped or even killed for who they are.

It’s another when Christians actively engage in the exclusion of people based on their identity or orientation.

And then there’s John Piper.

It seems Piper has a Twitter problem. Maybe he doesn’t see it as such, because with fewer than 140 characters, he can stir up quite a storm of controversy. But considering the damage that can be done with so few words, I think it is a significant problem.

Cathleen Falsani 2-21-2012
Obama at an April 4, 2004 Palm Sunday mass in Chicago. Via Getty Images.

Obama pictured at Palm Sunday mass in Chicago where Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke, April 4, 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.

We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the
Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.

Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on
God’s Politics.

~ Cathleen Falsani


Christian Piatt 2-17-2012
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Fans show their support for Jeremy Lin during the game against the Timberwolves 2/11/12.By David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

No, he doesn't go down on one knee every time he nails a dunk or a perimeter shot. And as far as I know, he’s not building any hospitals in far-off countries. But the 23-year-old point guard for the New York Knicks suddenly finds himself in a spotlight familiar enough to Tebow that the pair should consider a face-to-face lunch to compare notes.

Like Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin “rode the pine” as a bench-warmer for years. Unlike the star quarterback, Lin was cut by two other NBA teams before landing a supporting role on the Knicks bench.

So why do we know about him all of a sudden? Although Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni would love to claim credit, he admits the only reason the American-born player of Taiwanese parents got his shot was because so many players ahead of him were injured.

Then, as if storing up his energy for months in anticipation of his big break, Lin lit up scoreboards, followed by sports talk shows and endorsement deals. Eleven days ago, he was a relative nobody. But it seems all it takes is leading your team to a six-game winning streak, posting 38 points against Kobe Bryant and snagging a buzzer-beater three-pointer against the Raptors to get the public’s attention.

So long Tebowmania; enter “Linsanity.”

Ash Wednesday ashes. Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/zWZxhw.

Ash Wednesday ashes. Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/zWZxhw.

This coming Wednesday, Febr. 22, is Ash Wednesday. The following new hymn is based on the Revised Common Lectionary’s assigned reading of Isaiah 58:1-12 with its social justice themes.

            O God of Love, the Fast You Choose

  KINGSFOLD CMD (“Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples”)

O God of love, the fast you choose is not some great display.

It’s everything we gladly do to serve you day by day.

It’s not a moment set apart when we will mourn our sin;

For you require a change of heart—  a change from what has been....

Duane Shank 2-16-2012
Staving Somali child, 2011. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A malnourished child awaits medical attention at the Banadir hospital on August 16, 2011, Somalia. By John Moore/Getty Imagese

Today: As Jesus is traveling around, crowds gather, important leaders want him to come speak in their beautiful churches; all are eager to hear the teacher’s wisdom. Suddenly, as far as the eye can see, there is a huge crowd of children slowly coming toward them. Some are trying to walk, some are crawling, some are being carried. Most are stunted — their bodies and brains haven't developed properly because of a lack of food, and the necessary protein, vitamins, and minerals it provides. All of them — 2.6 million every year — are slowly dying from malnutrition.

Shane Claiborne 2-16-2012
The Rev. John Helmiere, who was beaten by police during a nonviolent protest in

The Rev. John Helmiere, who was beaten by police during a nonviolent protest in December. Via http://bit.ly/vP6XVT.

Amidst the recent police violence in Oakland and the sure temptation of some protestors to resort to violence, I wrote this little reflection inviting all Occupiers to a renewed commitment to nonviolence.

There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of this dark world.” It is a reminder that there are people behind oppressive structures — people who laugh and cry and bleed just like everyone else — and those people are not the enemies, but the systems are.

I was reminded of this when I went into Bank of America on Move Your Money Day, and transferred my money to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia. As I went into the bank, I saw the smiling faces of Bank of America tellers who have become friends over the past decade. When I told them I was closing my account, one of the women asked jokingly, “You don’t like us anymore?” At first my heart sunk, but then I said, “No way, I love the heck out of all of you. I just don’t like the values of the bank you work for.” To my surprise, they all smiled. In fact they may not like the values of the bank they work for either. Even though I’ll be leaving Bank of America, I’m hoping to stay in touch with my friends there. I may even take them some coffees next week, which I’ll charge on my new credit union debit card.

It is always tempting to demonize people and humanize corporations. It’s easy to forget that we are up against something bigger than flesh and blood people. And it’s particularly easy to forget that people are not the enemy when people are shooting pepper spray in your face. 

Tourists pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Via Wylio http://bit.ly/wsudSt.

Pilgrims and tourists pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Via Wylio http://bit.ly/wsudSt.

JERUSALEM — Every year, thousands of Americans travel abroad for less-expensive fertility treatments, hip replacements and other medical procedures. Now, an Israel-based tourism company is offering a package that combines medical care with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

IsraMedica plans to unveil the initiative Thursday (Feb. 16) at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn.  

Eli Knoller, the company's vice president of operations, said IsraMedica already brings about 6,000 nonmedical tourists to Israel every year, the majority of them Christian pilgrims.

Cathleen Falsani 2-14-2012
"Get Together in the Village." Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/z9esUG.

"Get Together in the Village." Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/z9esUG.

"You and I have the power to change someone’s day. And so I am going to challenge you, on this Valentine’s Day, to not only tell family members you love them, but also others whom you care for. 

"In a world where people are beat up and put down, God gives us the ability to completely turn negativity, criticism and rude opinions around. “Encourage one another and build each other up,” says 1 Thessalonians 5;11. That is one of the most significant verses in all the Bible because when we do this it sets off a chain reaction of blessing.” You become the voice of God’s mercy and grace in the lives of others."

Barry Carter 2-14-2012

Whitney Houston sings at a 2011 pre-Grammy Awards event. Photo via Getty Images.

Everybody has a favorite Whitney Houston song, a memory that makes them stand still and think about how this soulful pop superstar made them feel when they heard her sing.
   
Remember the chill when she sang the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, or how "I'm Every Woman" empowered women, providing confidence and inspiration?
   
But anyone who knew Houston understands that her talent came from one place, the God she served at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. This is where it all started for its daughter, where she was the darling of the choir as a child who left people speechless, belting out gospel songs and hymns.
   
What she did through song on Sunday mornings, the members of her home church returned the favor on Sunday (Feb. 12) the only way they know how. They prayed.
   
They prayed for Emily Cissy Houston, Houston's mother, the minister of music for 54 years at the church.

Elizabeth Crisp 2-14-2012
RNS photo by Mandi Wright/USAToday

Pastor Steve Bentley of "The Bridge" church in Flint, Mich., has a Jesus tattoo on his back. RNS photo by Mandi Wright/USAToday

Ron Williams is the pastor of Church at the GYM in Sanford, Fla. As the Baptist church's name implies, Williams' congregation meets, well, in a gym.
   
Williams said the goal is to remove the "stained-glass barriers" for people who might not be comfortable in traditional church settings.
   
"I think all the trappings of traditional religion can make it difficult for people to start coming," he said. "You can invite someone, and they will say, 'I don't have any clothes to wear to church.'"
   
To make people feel more comfortable, Williams wears jeans. In the warm Florida climate, some members wear shorts. Other clothing types, from urban wear to biker gear, also are welcome.
   
Sanford native Sandy Adcox, 38, had not been to church in 18 years before she attended Church at the GYM last March. She hasn't missed a service since.
   
"I've never in my life felt more comfortable in a church," she said. "It's so warm and welcoming."

Aaron Taylor 2-10-2012
Sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Photo via Getty Images.

British soldier guards a church during a Protestant parade through a Catholic neighborhood in Northern Ireland. Via Getty Images

With all the different groups out there claiming to follow Jesus, how do we know which ones Jesus would claim as his own?

Is it possible that Jesus would claim both liturgical Christians and free-wheeling holy roller Christians?

What about liberal Christians and conservative Christians? Is the tent that Jesus pitches big enough to include people like Dorothy Day and Jerry Falwell?

I’m 33 years old, and I’ve been following Jesus — or should I say trying to follow Jesus — for as long as I can remember. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned after all these years, it’s that as soon as I think that my friends and I have a corner on Jesus, Jesus reminds me that He’s bigger than any organization, doctrine, or philosophical system that I can wrap my brain around.

Timothy King 2-09-2012
Detail of Christ's feet on the crucifix. Photo by Getty Images.

Detail of Christ's feet on the crucifix. Photo by Getty Images.

This past Sunday, Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the blog Red State wrote a post titled “The Perversion of the Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the Sinner Barack H. Obama."

First, I hope that Erickson remembers that in the Christian tradition calling someone a “sinner” is a theological statement of fact, not a pejorative. Labeling another Christian as a sinner in a bold and brash headline is, I am sure, very gratifying,  but it hardly sets one up for an argument based in the teachings of Jesus who came not for the healthy but the sick or Paul who labeled himself the “chief of sinners.”

So, let me get this out of the way. I, Timothy M. King, am a sinner too.

Cathleen Falsani 2-09-2012
Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.

Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.

“There is no distance in the Spirit.”

After 30 years as a believer, I experienced the truth of that statement — powerfully and indelibly — in an unlikely place: online.

Like so many of more than 500 million (and growing) members, I signed up for Facebook, the social networking site, a few years ago out of pure curiosity -- to check in with old friends, boyfriends and former colleagues from a safe distance. With its plethora of personal photos, videos and regular “status updates” from members, it was a voyeuristic paradise, not to mention an excellent place to kill time.

I am by vocation a journalist, author and blogger and had grown accustomed to sharing glimpses of my life in print and online. Facebook was just another venue to do that, but little more.

That is, until early one morning in April 2008 when I signed on to my account, wiping sleep from my eyes with coffee in hand, and noticed the status update of a friend from college: “David is really sad that Mark died today.”

Matthew Soerens 2-08-2012
Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post via Getty Images.

Immigrant families are fleeing Alabama in the wake of the new law. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post via Getty Images.

Whenever possible, I plan my Saturday errands such that I’ll be able catch part of “This American Life” on public radio as I drive and I’ve often found myself sitting in the grocery store parking lot to hear the end of a story. 

One recent Saturday, the show’s theme — which ties together each of its non-fiction stories — was the biblical truism that “you reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7), and most of the program was dedicated to examining the consequences — intended and otherwise — of Alabama’s controversial, toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, HB 56, which passed last June. 

Whether what is happening in Alabama as a result of this law — and, as the program reveals, a great deal is happening, even if most of us outside of the state aren’t paying attention — was the intention of the bill’s authors and supporters is not entirely clear. What is clear, from a Christian perspective, is that the effects are devastating. 

What most saddened me in the program was the statement of a young undocumented woman named Gabriella that, since the passage of HB 56, she finds herself unwelcome everywhere. “Even in the church,” she says, “you find people that… don't want to talk at you. And they don't want to give the peace to you.”

Jack Palmer 2-06-2012

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus is a true Internet phenomenon, garnering more than 18 million views and sparking a global debate.

As with most internet phenomena, the viral video has given birth to dozens of similar videos from folks around the world, each adding a different (sometimes serious, sometimes not) perspective to the debates.

Whilst none has had quite the same impact as the original in terms of millions of hits, clicks and media coverage, there are conversation starters aplenty in many of these intriguing (and entertaining) videos.

See a roundup of some of the most interesting responses inside the blog...

Debra Dean Murphy 2-03-2012

“The poor will always be with you,” Jesus once said, and for centuries his followers have struggled to understand what he meant.

Or maybe not.

“The poor will always be with you” — especially if you’re not poor — seems straightforward enough: Look around, people ! The poor (and their problems) are very much with us!

Viewed through this kind of realpolitik lens, this verse (and the Bible generally) pose no real interpretive challenges to our reading or our living. The world, regrettably, is simply thus. The poor, alas, will always be with us.

President Obama connected his faith with his policies toward the poor at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday (2/2/12), a subtle but sharp contrast to remarks made by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney the day before. 

"Living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need," Obama said before an audience of about 3,000 at the Washington Hilton. These values, he said, "they're the ones that have defined my own faith journey."
   
Specifically, Obama said, they translate to policies that support research to fight disease and support foreign aid. His faith, he continued, inspires him "to give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy."

Shane Claiborne 2-01-2012
Artwork by the artist Banksy. Photo by Shane Claiborne.

Artwork by the artist Banksy. Photo by Shane Claiborne.

Today I was catching up on emails and came across two messages that deeply affected me, maybe because I read them back-to-back. 

The first one is from a friend who helped release the “Collateral Murder” video via Wikileaks, showing US troops shooting some unarmed folks in Baghdad, including two children sitting in a van as their family stopped to pick up the wounded and dead.  It is one of the most disturbing and heartbreaking videos I’ve ever seen. Feel free not to watch it.

NOTE:  If you do watch the video inside the blog, please know that it is contains vivid images of war. It was released here: 

The other email message I read was just the opposite. It was about life.

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