Welcoming Christ by Welcoming the Stranger

The night was cold and dark as the family approached the border. Ahead of them were miles of desert that would test their will and drain their stamina. What they were doing defied the law. But they were a family, and families will do anything for the sake of their children.

The law they defied was that of Herod. The family: Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child.

As Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, let us remember that the life that ended on the cross began on the road. This Easter, let us remember that Christ the Savior began his life as an immigrant, fleeing the land where he was born to escape Herod’s wrath.

Easter is a holiday of new beginnings. It welcomes a new season. It is a time to start fresh. At the heart of Easter is a magnificent reservoir of grace. Of this holiday, Katherine Lee Bates reflected, “It is the hour to rend thy chains, the blossom time of souls.” Easter is a time to set people free, fix things that are broken, watch souls blossom — all for glory of the risen Christ.

Good Friday: How Deep the Father's Love Is For Us

Image of the crucifixion, Daniela Sachsenheimer /

Image of the crucifixion, Daniela Sachsenheimer /

The first Christians confessed that Jesus is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God." Jesus is, they finally confessed after centuries of dispute, who the Gospels and the apostles plainly tell us: God without qualification. Bethlehem's baby boy grew to be the man from Nazareth, who is also from before time and forever the only begotten Son.

Jesus tells Philip that he and the Father are one; that if Philip has seen Jesus, then Philip has seen the Father. Paul tells the Colossians that Christ is the visible image of the unseen God. The Hebrews are taught by their apostle that Jesus bears the very stamp of God's nature.

If anything we think we knew about God before Jesus arrives in Mary's womb contradicts what we see and hear of Jesus in the Gospels, then we are the ones who are mistaken, the ones who weren't paying close enough attention before he came (yes, Jesus reveals the same relationship-initiating God of holy love we encounter in the pages of the Hebrew Bible); we are the ones who have, since his decades of extravagant humility among us as one of us, forgotten the Christ.

The God of Jesus: Beyond Religious Tribalism (Rob Bell Blogaglogue, Part 2)

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Board Member Tripp Hudgins and I will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)

Thank you, Tripp Hudgins, for your “Open Letter to Rob Bell.” As always, you are inspirational and thought provoking. The letter provides a great introduction to our blogalogue on Rob’s latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I want to emphasize one point you make and relate it to the first chapter of the book, called “Hum.”

You claim that, “This book is not about a ‘new’ thing. It’s simply about God and how we come to know God in this world.” This is such a great point because Rob isn’t making up new ways to talk about God. Throughout the book, Rob explores what God has done in the past and how God continues to pull all humans into a global future that has “greater and greater peace, love, justice, connection, honesty, compassion, and joy” (19).

Just Leave Me Alone!

Door hanger, PondPond/

Door hanger, PondPond/

We are offered a significant choice, namely between two ways of being human. The difference between logical necessities or physical necessities and vital necessities is made clear in that in the latter we have the possibility of refusing ‘to turn away from a disaster’ – we can in fact choose a lesser way of being human over a fuller way. What is at stake in the necessity of cry is one’s own humanity, the meaning of one’s own existence, and to turn away from crying is to turn away from decision and responsibility. This is to deny the very possibility of becoming genuinely human.

Walking in the Father's Embrace

Alone man,  luxorphoto/

Alone man, luxorphoto/

I try to be a diplomat, to err on the side of patience, when it comes to theological differences between Christians.

Reconciliation and peacemaking come natural. My wife says I stop sounding like myself when I'm hard-nosed or critical.

But recently, sitting across from a young man who heroin ("that boy") very nearly got the better of just days before, I lost at least a layer of my irenic self, lost a bit of my cool. When it comes to certain teachings, I'll not be as diplomatic in the future.

When are we going to stop teaching that the Father has to look on Jesus to love us? Why do we teach that the Father turns away from us, abandons us because of our sin? When are we going to stop teaching that the Father is angry with men and women or hates us (or stop projecting any other merely human emotion on to God?), conveying by our messages (verbal and nonverbal) that God despises that which he gloriously made in God's image?

The message we too often send is that Jesus must persuade the Father to love us, must plead with his Father not to forsake us.

The Cross: An Exposé of Human Sacrifice

Cross on a hill, Spectral-Design /

Cross on a hill, Spectral-Design /

At the center of Christianity is a weird claim: that we have been saved by sacrifice. And it was a gruesome sacrifice at that, a snapshot of humanity at our worst, for the Christian claim is that what saved us was the torture and putting to death on a cross of an innocent man falsely charged as a criminal. Weird doesn’t begin to describe the strangeness of this idea. The talented and thoughtful writer, Colm Toibin, has taken the church to task regarding this claim. As quoted by Maureen Dowd about his one-woman show opening soon on Broadway, The Testament of Mary, Toibin says this: “The idea that we were somehow saved and redeemed by a crucifixion seems strange to me. The idea of human sacrifice is something we really have to think about, even people who are practicing Catholics, the idea of taking a single individual for the sake of any cause.”

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of human sacrifice lately. In fact, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in it because I’ve been editing a new introduction to Christianity by the Catholic theologian James Alison. At the center of his course is an insight about how a death on a cross could have redeeming qualities. Here’s how Alison understands what happened at the cross: Jesus did not invent human sacrifice and going to his death on a cross was not an endorsement of the torture and murder of innocent victims. It was an exposé. What we have in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion is a fairly complete picture of how human beings, without any assistance from God, have saved our own necks by crucifying someone else. We commit sacrifice when we scapegoat, demonize, marginalize, expel, persecute or kill others in the name of our own safety and security or to bolster our belief in our own goodness. As the Gospels tell us rather directly, enemies become reconciled when they can find a common enemy to unite against: “That same day [the day of the crucifixion] Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12)

The Wizard We Need

Oz movie poster, Courtesy Disney

Oz movie poster, Courtesy Disney

Like the masses, we flocked this past weekend to the megaplex for the opening of another would-be blockbuster, pleased to discover that the much-heralded and sometimes-maligned Oz prequel is even more good and wonderful than it is great and powerful.

Acting, plot, intrigue, color, mystery, and special effects: all these measure-up under the fantastic mastery of director Sam Raimi. But beyond the eye-candy, sensitive audience members might be as mesmerized by the movie’s deeper myth and redemptive meaning as by its cinematic technique.

Of course, if we remember the original movie and its myth, the wizard has issues, for there’s a man behind the curtain who is much more about a confession of subdued humility than a profession of supernatural agility. The prequel takes us back before the main myth — to see the man inside the man behind the myth.

Somewhere in the magical middle of this movie, the not-yet-wizard Oscar Diggs (James Franco) makes his confession: “I'm not the wizard you were expecting, but I may be the wizard you need.” We can apply this maxim everywhere. This truth uncovers the human simplicity of the Oz legend and its relevance to all our longings in realms related to power and spirit.

Top 4 Reasons Jesus Is My Favorite Feminist

Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Zvonimir Atletic /

Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Zvonimir Atletic /

Last Friday was International Women’s Day. It was a day of celebrating how far we’ve come, but also a reminder of how far we need to go. 

I’m reminded of an experience I had with a member of my youth group a few years ago. We were volunteering for a social service project. A member of the group happened to be named Eve and we thought it was fun to play up the joke. I’d start greeting people, “Hi! I’m Adam,” and then Eve would chime in, “and I’m Eve!” 

We always received the strangest looks, which, of course, is why we did it. But this time it was different. A man at the service project actually said, 

“Oh. So you’re the one to blame.”

Eve was able to laugh it off and respond with grace, but I was pissed. I instinctively scowled at the man. It was a deep blow to me because, once again, religion was being used to put women down. But this time it was personal. Religion was being used to put down a member of my youth group.

Of course, religion hasn’t always been good to women. Or, maybe it would be better to say that religious men have used religion as a weapon to make women feel inferior. Whenever we blame someone else it’s a sign of our own weakness and insecurities. We don’t have the courage to deal with our own inner turmoil so we blame someone else. This is classic scapegoating and we men have been scapegoating women in this way since the beginning of human history. It’s pathetic. International Women’s Day is a reminder to me that women and men need to work together to end the religious bigotry against women.

My model for this is Jesus, my favorite feminist. [1]

So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, I offer you the top 4 ways Jesus included women as full members of his posse.

Article on ‘Jesus’ Wife’ Papyrus Delayed for More Testing

RNS photo courtesy Karen L. King

A papyrus fragment that may suggest that some early Christians believed Jesus was married. RNS photo courtesy Karen L. King

The Harvard Theological Review is postponing publication of a major article on the papyrus fragment in which Jesus seems to refer to his wife, raising further doubts about a discovery that was set to turn Christian history on its head when it was announced last September.

The article by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King was scheduled for the review’s January edition. It was expected to provide answers to questions that had been raised about the relic’s authenticity soon after King announced the discovery to select national media and at an international conference of biblical scholars in Rome.

King told CNN, which reported the latest development on Jan. 3, that the article has been delayed because testing on the fragment is not complete.