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.
I must confess that I am an African-American woman, a Christian woman, a woman who believes there is more than one path to God. Working in the Black Lives Matter movement with people of many faiths, I get a little fidgety when I hear the words “confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead.” I think, “Hey, what about my Jewish friend Stef? She is not confessing the Lord-ship of Yeshua/Jesus. What about my friend Hussein? Is he not saved?” I just don’t like it.
The gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus comes at a time when we desperately need its powerful message of encouragement. Our nation is in the midst of an epidemic of what I call “a degenerative discouragement syndrome”. The news cycle enumerates a list of issues and concerns which seem to resist remediation or repair.
There is so much arguing over boundaries. Should we welcome refugees from Syria, a nation torn by civil war and terrorism? How should our society respond to others who have immigrated here without government approval? Although immigration from our southern border has declined over the past decade, some public leaders applaud the contributions of undocumented Americans while others spell out the risks they bring. Do we consider immigrants likely contributors or potential criminals? When activists proclaim “Black Lives Matter,” the counter-point “All Lives Matter” looks like an attempt to hush a legitimate complaint about policing and criminal justice. I catch myself needing some of those noise-canceling headphones.
After hours of deciphering the directions and gathering together the countless tiny parts, inevitably you discover that a piece is missing. Somewhere in the unpacking of the zillion elements, you have dropped a small part under the refrigerator or behind the radiator. And it’s never just a missing piece, it’s usually the missing piece: the key part that transforms the pile of random plastic into the one-of-a-kind, fabulous piece it was meant to be.
This is not the talk of charity and giving Christmas toys and turkeys to the less fortunate. The language of Mary is the narrative of revolution and redistribution, two words that the powers that be just hate. And while the revolution that Christ brings is not violent, it is nonetheless completely transformational. Mary got it.
Herod did too. The nearest political ruler to the birth of Christ immediately saw the possible implications for him.
It was a Sunday that started off like most — a mad rush to get breakfast on the table, get the kids dressed, and head to our mosque. Dec. 13 was supposed to be a special day to honor the San Bernardino massacre victims at Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Los Angeles center since 1987.
In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.
In a land where Christ himself walked, war is pushing millions of people from their homes. Twelve million Syrians have been forced out in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. They are trekking across oceans and deserts to not just seek a better life, but to try to save their lives from a war that has destroyed their homes and taken away their livelihoods. With little hope of returning home anytime in the near future, they are seeking the safety and protection of foreign lands.
This journey that millions of refugees endure today is not unfamiliar to our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In matters of racism and sexism, even the revolutionaries come with their own biases. The narrative of Jesus and the Canaanite woman shows us the importance of intersectionality, and careful attention that must be paid to highly marginalized people. Jesus wore the glasses of justice, but found that even he came to a situation where he needed a stronger prescription.
When I bought eyeglasses for the first time, I suddenly and dramatically discovered the clarity I had been missing. But I also had to be careful walking down stairs, as I had a hard time judging depth. I got headaches from the intensity of my newfound vision. I had to adjust to a new way of seeing.
Recently, I invited Albert Rizzi to co-preach a sermon with me. He had unexpectedly lost his sight in 2006 at the age of 41. In 2009, he launched a non-profit company advocating that all blind persons be entitled to acceptance and freedom from discrimination. He works to develop accessible computer accounting software to help reduce the national 60 percent unemployment rate among the blind.
Rizzi’s blindness became a national news story in 2013 when he and his guide dog, Doxy (short for doxology), were ejected from an airplane because he could not get Doxy to crawl under the seat for takeoff. They had been on the tarmac for nearly two hours, and the dog had become restless. In protest of Albert and Doxy’s eviction, the 45 other passengers joined Rizzi and Doxy in departing the plane and the flight was cancelled.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Pope Francis paraded through Washington D.C., on Sept. 23, and took Jesus’ words literally.
After Francis’ security detachment turned away a young girl who had gotten over the barricade fence to greet him, he quickly called her over for a blessing.
As evangelical preachers in the American South, we’re excited to welcome our brother, Pope Francis, to the U.S.
We want to be explicit in our evangelical welcome because so many who claim to be evangelical are criticizing the pope for being political and not preaching orthodox theology.
It is after the resurrection that Jesus’ mission to the Gentile community begins in earnest, but here in this passage Jesus is challenged on this assumption of being sent to the Jews first and foremost. And after he is challenged, he answers in a positive manner. He affirms the Syrophoenician woman and heals her daughter. Her faith got her what she wanted.
But it would not have happened had she not interrupted him in his attempt to find a quiet moment. It would not have occurred without her persistence. She probably knew “her place” since she was a first century woman in a culture where women had little to no voice or power. But she did not stay there. She acknowledged “her place,” but she asked for mercy and had the faith that her request could/would be granted.
And her faith paid off. Her daughter was healed.
So what about these women who took to the stage for #BlackLivesMatter?
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.
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.