Hold On Until Love Wins

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We have nurtured an enemy mentality that pits us against the world — even as we justify it by claiming to be a force for protection of the world. And the violence we export abroad is taking its toll on us. It’s been taking its toll on us for a long, long time — eroding our souls with every weapon made, let alone used, to destroy another child of God half a world away or right next door. How could a nation that spends more money than any other in the world on the military not be infected by a culture of violence? How can we spend billions on bombs and guns and drones and missiles while neglecting the necessary funds for education and housing and healthcare, and yet claim to respect life? How can our leaders instruct us to kill abroad and be surprised when we find no other way to handle our problems here at home? How can we demand respect for human dignity while we continually glorify violence that tears human beings apart? How can we respect life while waging death?

We live in a deadly world, and we keep making it deadlier. So we are afraid, and we cling to our guns, and when someone poisoned by the idolatry of violence fires one of those guns, fearful people cling ever more tightly to their guns. When our own government clings to its nuclear arsenal in the name of "deterrence," how can we expect anything less of citizens?

As long as we live in fear and glorify violence, we can’t be surprised that efforts for gun control go nowhere. Of course we need gun control, but we also need to control our addiction to the myth that peace can be waged through violence. I can’t think of any myth that has so thoroughly duped humanity as the satanic lie that peace can be bought from sacrifice — from murder and war. The notion of a war to end all wars, a permanent peace arising from the rubble of destruction and death, is so demonstrably false. The house divided against itself is our own world, and we cannot stand like this. Will we keep hurtling ourselves headfirst toward our own destruction, putting our faith in instruments of death?

Theologies of Fear

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Two years ago I sat in a room crowded with 300 angry people and 700 more outside shouting, as I nervously whispered, “I’ve never been in a room where I’ve felt so much white Christian rage.” My colleague, a pastor from Pulaski, Tenn., nodded as I straightened up in my chair.

The crowd had come from surrounding states to this small community forum in Manchester, Tenn. They came to protest the forum’s concern for hate crimes against Muslims. National Islamophobic groups had bussed protestors in from hundreds of miles away, carrying messages and signs based on an ideology — some might say, theology — of bigotry. And they were truly angry, flashing their handguns and shouting down panelists. This was in the summer of 2013, but the memory still reminds me, why I moved to Tennessee to work on an interfaith public education effort to end anti-Muslim sentiment.

To be clear, these weren’t people who wanted to discuss the complexities of interfaith engagement while holding true to our particular faith claims. There are many people in this country who want to talk, for instance, about what interfaith relations mean for evangelism, or why a small number of Muslims today are turning to terrorism, without generalizing the Muslim community or wanting to see harm done to them. These were not the people at the forum, however. One thing alone had brought them to Manchester: fear.

In Praise of the Dog Days

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Pets are so much easier to get along with than people. They’re not as complicated and unpredictable, not as demanding and challenging, not as mysterious and messy.

People are very messy. And that messiness makes relationships a portal to the divine.

As much as we like to be with our pets, we have to keep going out the door and dealing with people. Amazing people. Frustrating people. Inspiring people. Loving people. Broken people. Confused people. Self-doubting people. Challenging people. Lost people. People who have all the same anxieties and fears that we do. Relationships make us grow into who we are meant to be. And the process is always, always, always messy. If there’s no messiness, there’s not much relationship.

Relationships tap into our insecurities and make them bubble up and out despite our best efforts to ignore them or keep them hidden. They highlight our fears and insecurities in bright, bold colors. They grow and develop in their own time and have their own confusing and confounding rhythms. They challenge us and fulfill us and yes, they make us want to beat our heads against the wall, depending upon the time of the day.

Short Takes: Jimmie Briggs

Jimmie Briggs Profile.jpg

Photo via Lynn Savarese

Bio: Jimmie Briggs is an award-winning journalist and author of Innocents Lost, a book giving voice to child soldiers. In 2009, he co-founded the Man Up Campaign, a global effort to engage youth to stop violence against women and girls, and currently serves as executive director of the U.S. branch of Leave Out Violence (LOVE).

1. Let’s talk about LOVE. What issues does your organization address? LOVE’s focus is to engage young people who have been affected by violence of all kinds. This includes not only gender-based violence, but also issues such as gun violence, witnesses of domestic violence, and trauma- processing in schools where violence is the reality. LOVE uses media arts coupled with a trauma-informed response. We have a social worker for one-on-one counseling, and our teaching artists use media arts to provide pathways for young people who have been affected by violence—survivors and witnesses, even perpetrators—to express their voice and ultimately to process their pain, their trauma, and sometimes their guilt from the violence.
At the same time, LOVE creates a stage for them to speak about their experiences and advocate among their peers about conflict resolution and violence prevention. The arts offer a way to heal and process the violence you’ve experienced, but also for you to reach your peers and mitigate violence from happening in your schools, your home, and in your communities.

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Celebrating Interdependence

Image via STILLFX/Shutterstock

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I did not celebrate Independence Day this past weekend.

The truth is the United States has never been an independent nation. Built on stolen land by stolen labor, sacrificing Natives and Africans and their descendants to the mythology of “manifest destiny,” greed, oppression, and white supremacy, this has never been a nation of liberty and justice for all.

The ignoble myth of white supremacy that permeates the foundation of this country and underlies the policies and institutions that form the context of our lives has been rearing its ugly head so much lately that it cannot be as easily ignored or denied as it has been in the past. The recent massacre in Charleston and the burning of African-American churches add even more reasons to the hundreds of thousands to awaken to the reality of racism that undermines best ideals of this nation. Our country has failed to atone for, or even critically examine, its history of racial oppression.

Jonah At Sea

Illustration by Rick Stromoski

THE MORE I READ the story of Jonah nestled among the serious Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, the more fantastic and hilarious it gets. Everything is turned upside-down.

Jonah’s story follows Amos, who rips into rich people who “lie on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches.” It precedes Micah, whose Lord calls us “to do justice and to love kindness.” But Jonah spends his energy running away from Yahweh. In fact, Jonah is never even called a prophet in the book that bears his name. His interests and concerns are completely different from the Deity who has called him. Only entombment inside a “great fish” will drive his bedraggled, stinking self to the city that needs to repent. Even so, Jonah will perceive his surprising success as an utter failure.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. Most Hebrew prophetic books are collections of oracles unmoored to narrative, but Jonah’s tale has a setting, characters, and a plot! If you didn’t learn this in children’s Sunday school, here are the bare bones of the action:

Yahweh tells a man named Jonah to go east to the city of Nineveh to cry out against its evil. But Jonah flees in the opposite direction on a ship traveling west. A huge storm blows in, so when Jonah says it’s his fault, the sailors reluctantly throw him overboard. The storm immediately stops. A “great fish” swallows Jonah for three days and nights. Then God makes the fish vomit Jonah out on dry land.

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July 2015
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Pope Francis Urges Couples to ‘Work on Love’ and Take Their Engagement Seriously

Photo via Cathleen Falsani / RNS

Pope Francis officiated the weddings of 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica in September 2014. Photo via Cathleen Falsani / RNS

The wedding season is in full swing, and Pope Francis used the occasion on May 27 to warn couples not to marry too quickly, while also reaffirming the Vatican’s opposition to gay nuptials.

Addressing crowds of followers at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff urged couples to take their engagement seriously.

“Betrothal is, in other words, the time in which two people are called to work on love, a shared and profound task,” he said.

Love Is the Root of All Evil

The wounding heart. Image via SAnya85/

The wounding heart. Image via SAnya85/

Editor's Note: Christian Piatt was invited to preach at Portland First Christian Church on March 8. The biblical text was from Mark 11:15-19, in which Jesus cleanses the temple by driving out the moneychangers during passover from Herod’s temple. This is an adapted version of his remarks.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star. I don’t have a way to project a picture of how I looked back in those days, but I’m sure if you ask, Amy would be more than happy to show one to you. She gets a good laugh about me with my blond hair, all the way down to the small of my back, my silk shirts and my little round John Lennon sunglasses.

Yeah, it may sound ridiculous now, but back then, I was kind of awesome. At least in my own mind, I was.

From the fifth grade on, I played the drums, at least until I figured out that girls didn’t pay a lot of attention to the drummer. So my sophomore year in high school I switched to singing and playing guitar. I was in different bands through college, worked for a few record companies, and had fun.

A LOT of fun.

But I was also kind of a mess. Rock star living is hard living, it turns out, even if you’re not actually famous. And being in bands is great, until you’re out of college and still working as a waiter at TGI Fridays so you can play gigs at night. In other words, I was going nowhere.

But more important, I wasn’t as happy as I thought I’d be. I mean I had fun, enjoyed myself most of the time, but I wasn’t actually happy.

I kind of put my musician days on a shelf until I met Amy, and she convinced me — not exactly kicking and screaming, but close — to go visit her church in Denver. I said I’d go once if she promised never to ask me again. She agreed, so I went. And it wasn’t as awful as I had expected. People were nice. They were good to each other. They were real, not just what they were told “Christians” were supposed to be. Plus they went out for beer afterward and I thought Amy was pretty hot, so I went back.

Easter and a Love Supreme

DURING THE EASTER SEASON, the first reading in our lectionary becomes, strangely, a New Testament reading. Most of the year, we immerse ourselves in the scripture we share with the Jews, but after the resurrection we traipse through the book of Acts. The claim being made is that the history of God’s chosen people continues in the history of the church. God is still working signs and wonders. And these include the sharing of goods in common, the fact that there are no needy people among us, bringing awe and distress among our neighbors, and a dawning kingdom brought slightly closer. Just like in our churches and communities today, right?

These Easter texts are also deeply sensual and material. God’s reign is imagined as a banquet with rich wines and marrow-filled meats. Love between sisters and brothers is like oil running down the head, over the face. The resurrection texts themselves insist on this point more emphatically than any other: Jesus is raised in his body. This is the beginning of God’s resurrecting power breaking out all over the creation God loves. What could ever be impossible after a resurrection? Our limited imaginations of the possible (Can we make budget? Can we get a few more votes on this bill? Can we improve lives in this neighborhood?) are shown for the bankruptcy in which they are mired. A new order is here. We pray, God, make our imaginations match the sensuousness, the materiality, the grandeur of what you have already accomplished and, more daringly still, what you promise yet to do.

Jason Byassee is pastor of Boone United Methodist Church in Boone, N.C., and a fellow in theology and leadership at Duke Divinity School.

[April 5]

Food Porn or Heavenly Banquet?
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18

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Fighting Human Trafficking...and Learning to Love Myself Along the Way

Vintage Typewriter. Photo via Micha /

Today, I am the Managing Director of Freedom a la Cart, a social enterprise that offers employment, workforce development, and supportive services to local, adult survivors of human trafficking. The women that I work with are victims of unimaginable trauma and abuse. They are also the strongest, most resilient women I know. Through their words and actions they continue to teach me the power of loving oneself.

Because here is my deepest, darkest secret—the one that I never speak about. The one that I shove deep down and hope that no one ever learns about.

I struggle to love myself. 

I am the boss, the director, a caretaker, an advocate for social justice. But I don’t love myself, and I struggle with self-worth daily. I am a perfectionist and constantly feel that I am “not enough.”

It wasn’t until my 30th year of life that I realized how broken and human I was. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I was doing a terrible job of loving myself and realized I could not truly love these survivors until I loved myself.

All too often, advocates and activists present themselves as superheroes, rescuing the poor and defenseless. We hide our fear, our guilt, our shame, our self-loathing, because we are supposed to be the strong ones. We are supposed to have all the answers.  And yet what is demanded of us isn’t perfection, but rather our faithfulness and willingness to be vulnerable.