Jesus' teaching about hell flipped popular imagery of the afterlife upside down—and offered a radical, transformative vision of God.
One of my favorite quotes of 2013 comes from Pope Francis. Asked what he would say about a member of the Catholic clergy who is gay, he responded with a question of his own.
“Who am I to judge?” Francis replied.
A good question for all of us, no?
Our world is inundated with judgment. Social media can be a swamp of it. Recently, a television celebrity was judgmental about those who are different from him and got in trouble for it. Many defended his judgmental attitude and words.
Which raises some important questions for all of us: Is it good to be judgmental? Isn’t life about making judgment calls and living by our values? Aren’t we all judgmental in some ways?
We all make judgments every day, decisions about what we think is best to do in the various circumstances of our lives. We might see someone in need and decide to help. We might recognize one of our shortcomings and decide we’ll change. We might run into an unforeseen challenge and try to figure out the best way to respond.
That’s all well and good.
Being judgmental is a very different thing.
Sentiments of frustration are growing among many followers of Jesus who admire Christ but despise certain things associated with him.
They look at the New Testament and are attracted to Jesus’s selfless acts of generosity, service, and love, but don’t see the same spirit in today’s “Christian” institutions, churches, communities, and faith leaders.
Modern faith is often a complex minefield of theologies, doctrines, practices, and expectations, where individuals carefully walk on eggshells to avoid a litany of “sins” and “heresies” that will inevitably attract the wrath from religious friends, strangers, and authorities.
April 15, 2013 — it wasn’t tax day that got my attention. It was during my lunch break, in the teacher’s lounge that I first heard of the explosions in Boston. My heart sank. I knew our son, who attends college in nearby Cambridge, was planning to visit the finish line with some of his friends to enjoy watching and cheering on the runners. One of his dreams, to run among them, postponed for a future year when more hours and more miles of practice were available. They had explored much of the course the day prior and especially wanted to see the élite runners cross the finish.
Amid the unfolding awfulness of that day I felt a tinge of guilt as we breathed a sigh of relief at news of his safety. Safe by two blocks and two hours owing mostly to large crowds that had kept him out of close proximity and a study ethic that sent all four of them back to class prior to the 2:49 p.m. calamity. Over the next couple days in my mind, I toggled between distraction and dread as I tried to go about the normality of life while asking God both “why?” and “why not?” questions.
Christmas is the one time each year when much of the world turns its gaze to Bethlehem, the West Bank town at the heart of the Gospel account of Jesus’ humble birth in a stable.
But Bethlehem may be in for a second round of global publicity in the span of a few months with the expected visit of Pope Francis in May.
In an interview earlier this month, Francis confirmed rumors that he planned to travel to the Holy Land — probably stopping at sites in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank in the Palestinian territories — and said preparations were underway.
Then last week the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the top Catholic official in the region, revealed that the visit was set for May.
Given the political and religious combustibility that attends almost any event in the Holy Land, a papal trip was bound to be fraught and a debate over the visit quickly erupted as Israeli newspapers reported that the preliminary itinerary for Francis’ pilgrimage has him spending just one full day in Israel proper — probably arriving in Jordan on Saturday, May 24, traveling to Israel on Sunday morning, then celebrating Mass in Bethlehem on Monday before heading back to Rome.
A generation or two ago, when America’s Muslims were new immigrants who made up an even smaller minority of Americans than they do today, they viewed the lights, trees, carols, gifts, and festive spirit of Christmas as a threat to their children’s Islamic faith.
But these days, a growing number of Muslims celebrate Christmas, or at least partake in some ways, even if they don’t decorate their homes with trees and a light show. Indeed, many Muslim families have created their own Christmas traditions.
“I teach my three children, who attend public school and happen to be born into an interfaith Christian-Muslim family, that we absolutely do celebrate Christmas because we are Muslim,” Hannah Hawk of Houston wrote in an email. Rather than putting up a tree or lights, “we celebrate the reason for the season, Jesus, by studying all that is written about him in the Quran and by examining historical theories.”
Every year, a chorus of Christians join together to bemoan the “War on Christmas,” lambasting their enemies for taking Christ out of Christmas, and yearning for the days when everyone remembered the reason for the season.
But have we all forgotten? There has always been a war on Christmas. In fact, conflict lies at the very heart of Christmas. To those who say that Christmas is all about peace on earth, a quick look at the second chapter of Matthew and the largely overlooked story of King Herod reminds us that this peace comes at a price. For it is the kind of peace that can only come through conflict. Before caroling, there was weeping in Ramah.
It’s no surprise that most Christmas pageants leave out the Herod story. King Herod jealously guarded his power, killing anyone who got in his way. When he learns of Jesus’ birth, he declares the first war on Christmas. Herod doesn’t just want to kill Jesus. He wants to destroy him, taking Christ out of Christmas once and for all. When his efforts are thwarted, he resorts to genocide to ensure Jesus’ demise, murdering every male infant in Bethlehem. This, for Herod, is a bargain to rival any department store sale: The lives of Bethlehem’s youngest? A mere pittance for unrivaled power.
In other words, Herod gets it. Herod, more than anyone else in the story so far, sees this poor, refugee child for who he really is — a rival king.
Ah, Christmas! The most wonderful time of the year. A time to gather with family and friends, and, with a smile on our faces, pretend we aren’t quietly measuring who received the best present and which relative really, really needs to stop drinking. A time to hang tinsel and baubles from the tree, and a time to hang up our hopes of losing that last 10 pounds this year. Such a joyous season!
The real point here is that Christmas is what we make of it. For Christians, however, there are some very specific things you can’t do if you want to actually honor and follow the person we celebrate this season. So, I give you my “10 Things You Can’t Do AT CHRISTMAS While Following Jesus.” As with my other “10 Things” lists, this is not intended to be a complete list, but it is a pretty good start.
In a secularized society obsessed with consumerism, entertainment, and modernization, Christianity is often portrayed as being old-fashioned, irrelevant, and useless, but it still serves some very valuable and profound purposes. Here’s why Americans still need it:
In the wake of Megyn Kelly’s statement that “Jesus was a white man,” critics have quickly and unanimously responded that Jesus was not a white man. Here at Sojourners, Rev. Laura Barkley has debunked Kelly’s statements, noting that Jesus “was a Palestinian Jew in first-century Nazareth.”
In his article over at The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt argues that Jesus is not only not a white man, but that scripture is mostly quiet about Jesus’ racial makeup. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., who once said, “The color of Jesus’ skin is of little or no consequence,” Merritt agrees with historian Edward Blum, who draws from King’s statement that “Jesus transcends race.” Ultimately, Merritt points to the universality of Jesus, focusing on Christ’s availability to all, to individuals from “every tribe, nation, people and language.”
Yet in pointing to the universality of Jesus, it is easy to pass over his particularity to a certain time and place.