In a world that seems completely and irrevocably divorced from the teachings of Christ, where in contemporary society is there a place for the Christian voice? Politicians shamelessly use Jesus’s name to justify their authority and gain influence without bothering to unpack the full depth of theological and ethical implications of their words. Corporations are granted the rights of individuals, but some individuals are denied the resources they need in times of crisis to support their families and livelihoods. And the public debate is so full of vitriol and hyperbole that dehumanization and outright hatred of those with whom we disagree has become the norm. In light of the situation in which we find ourselves, how then should Christians behave?
While it might seem appealing to remove ourselves from secular society altogether and forsake the world in all its brokenness in favor of a uniquely Christian ethic that appeals and applies only to us, Christians have an obligation to serve as active participants in public discourse— elevating the conversation rather than abstaining from it so that we may try to live the truth and convictions of our faith.
My neighbors signed my report card.
Having had the same conversation countless times in my life, I have learned that one sentence sums up a cacophony of explanations.
It is tricky, I have found, trying to explain why friends are listed as my emergency contacts, why I wake up Christmas morning in the home of people to whom I am not related, and why my parents — both living — have been anything but.
The separation started so long ago that I struggle to remember exactly when it began. When I was starting middle school my mom’s depression hit hard and fast. My dad, who understands love as a finite commodity, could not muster any for me. Loving her meant giving all of it to try to save her. His attempts and inability to do so created a stress that amplified his MS from inconvenient to disabling.
In a moment, it seemed, they were gone.
We were wealthy and Southern and had everything that went along with both: a close-knit community, punctilious social obligations, and money to stay afloat. In the world in which I grew up, everyone surely knew everything about everyone, but damn if they weren’t polite enough to pretend it was all OK. It was a magnificent masquerade.
But the truth remained: I was an orphan.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."
I was sitting outside on the playground bench wiping the tears of a child when this proverb came to mind. It isn’t true, of course. Nancy was a second-grader going through an evaluation process to help us understand why she couldn't read. Kayla was one of her classmates. As they were climbing the ladder of the slide, Kayla yelled out, "Nancy is retarded!"
Words can break our hearts.
A couple of years ago, I remember speaking to a middle-schooler about his worries of the world. During our conversation, he told me one of his biggest fears centered around Muslims. When I asked why Muslims generated so much fear in him, he said they were scary and are out to hurt people.
"Look at 9/11," he said. "Terrorists may take over the U.S. and then the world."
Around the same time I heard similar concerns from a 10-year old in my Sunday School class who joked about the terrors of Islam and how Muslims were going to take over the world. Again, I asked him where he received these ideas, to which he responded, “from my church back in Southern California.”
Both times, I had to remind my students that sometimes churches get it wrong. All people are created in the image of God. Every person is a child of God. God’s love brings understanding, reconciliation, and peace among one another. God’s love casts out all fear.
Love, we read over and over in the Bible, casts out fear.
The angels to Mary: Do not be afraid. To the shepherds: Do not be afraid. Do a search on that phrase and you’ll find it numerous times from 2 Kings through Revelation. When he appears to humans, our God of love is always prefacing his messages with, “Do not be afraid.”
As a mother, I want to raise brave kids who hear that message and know it to their toes. Everything is going to be all right. Love wins, as they say.
I want them to be people who know that there is a bigger picture, a spiritual promise of hope and redemptive, even when life circumstances feel frightening.
I don’t want them to lose sight of it or fail to see God’s gifts of love around them because they are afraid of what, ultimately, cannot harm them.
It’s not always easy, however, for me to be brave.
This summer I’ve been a little lax on monitoriing my musical radar as closely as I usually do, but one album that’s been in constant rotation around my turntable is Here, the first of two albums that Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – a 10+ member collective from Los Angeles – plans to release this year.
As I listen to Here, flowery vibes flood my mind with peace and goodwill. It's the psychedelic dream of a bygone era I never knew. But as a Millennial pursuer of peace, justice, and equality, these tunes perfectly fuel my endeavors and also, I believe, the larger work we do at Sojourners. And they’re pretty damn catchy, too.
“The spirit that enables one person to overleap the boundary of the body in knowledge and love and to incorporate the other in the self is matched by the same spirit in the other.”
~ Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel
“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”
~ Mark 5:34
After several days of renewed public debate about health care, we hear this weekend the familiar healing stories from Mark chapter 5. By Sunday we will know the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding challenges to the Affordable Care Act. So politically charged is this discussion, so designed is it to distort, divide, undermine, and confuse, it’s easy to forget that the issue, at its core, is a simple one: how ought a humane society tend to its suffering ones and aim for the well-being of all?
We will also hear this passage on a day when many will be anticipating the Fourth of July, and perhaps expecting their Sunday worship to kickstart the holiday’s celebration. In hearing the text from Mark, such worshipers might well wonder: What does Jesus’ encounters with a desperate, suffering woman and a young girl believed to be dead have to do with America’s love of freedom and fireworks?
Author Anne Lamott, one of our favorite Jesus-loving subversives, recently delivered the undergraduate and interdisciplinary studies commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley.
Lamott's funny, irreverent, and yes, profound, words of wisdom for the Berkeley graduates included the following, about what she thinks the "truth of their spiritual identity" might be:
Actually, I don’t have a clue.
I do know you are not what you look like, or how much you weigh, or how you did in school, and whether you get to start a job next Monday or not. Spirit isn’t what you do, it’s … well, again, I don’t actually know. They probably taught this junior year at Goucher. But I know that you feel it best when you’re not doing much — when you’re in nature, when you’ve very quiet, or, paradoxically, listening to music....
No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, there are some boundaries of human decency that should never be crossed.
Even in the name of free speech, some boundaries should never be crossed. Pastor Terry Jones crossed that line in burning the Koran and making a global media spectacle. Pastor Wiley Drake crossed that line in suggesting that he was praying for the death of President Obama. And then, of course, there are the folks of Westboro Baptist Church.
Wow, this takes the prize for the most idiotic, insane, stupid, asinine, cruel, ungodly, foul, inexcusable, heinous, and disgusting comments by any person – let alone someone that calls himself a pastor and shepherd.
This week I got an email from my friend Pastor Jodi Houge of The Humble Walk church in St Paul. Amy Hanson had emailed her asking if, when she’s at Luther, Amy could do her field ed placement at Humble Walk. So afterward when Jodi emailed me she said Oh my gosh thanks for sending Amy our way, I love her already. Jodi loves Amy Hanson already but not because of Amy Hanson’s winning personality, position or portfolio. Jodi Houge does not love Amy Hanson because Jodi’s so nice and has a big heart. Pastor Jodi loves Amy Hanson already based solely on the fact that Amy Hanson is loved by us. Based on the fact that Amy Hanson is our friend she will have an honored place at Humble Walk church in St Paul Minnesota.
In our Gospel text from today Jesus says to abide in his love, to love one another and then he calls his disciples friends. But the Bible tells us that he had other friends too. Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany were Jesus’ friends. He like, totally hung out their house all the time – they stocked his favorite beer in the fridge. And when Lazarus died, Jesus stood at the tomb of his dead friend and wept. These were Jesus friends. And since at our Big Fat Church Meeting after liturgy today we are going to talk about things like sacred hospitality, I started to wonder what kind of hospitality 3 strangers who came to our church might receive if we found out that those 3 strangers were actually Mary Martha and Lazarus. If we knew that the people entering the doors of this, our little House for all Sinners and Saints, were actually Jesus’ friends, that they were those whom Jesus loved then despite what we thought of their personalities, despite how we felt about them or their status in society or their politics, despite any of this they would automatically have an honored place, right?
We would, as Jodi does Amy, already love them not based on how we felt about them, but we would love them with the love Jesus speaks of in our gospel text for today… which in Greek is called agape love.
This is a love story.
An unlikely love story, perhaps, but a true love story just the same.
Not 10 minutes after meeting her for the first time in the shadow of a 33-foot-tall metallic statue of the Virgin Mary at a convent in the Rust Belt suburbs of Chicago’s south side, Sister Annunziata told me she loved me.
Reaching out an elegant, wizened hand from her wheelchair to touch my cheek, she first asked me whether I was Irish and then said, “You have the face of an angel.”
I was a goner.
Annunziata, who was 83 at the time, had me completely from that moment forward — utterly devoted to her for the rest of her life. I was Annunziata’s and she was mine — and that was that. She became the Maude to my Harold, showing me how to love without limits.
++ Join us in showing our appreciation for Catholic women religious (aka nuns or "sisters") on Thank-a-Nun Day, May 9. Click HERE to send a thank-you note online. ++
I know, Christians, love everyone and everything, right? Mister Bluebird on my shoulder and all that jazz.
Well, that ain’t me. Not that I don’t try, but I also don’t try to fake it when I’m not feeling the love.
My wife, Amy, told me that one reason she married me was because she knew she could trust me. It seemed to her that I lacked the capacity to lie. And while this is reassuring on one level, the stark honesty can sometimes be a little jarring, I expect.
What I have found is that naming things out loud is the best way to help you get over them. Some of these might seem like relatively trivial things to you, but trust me – for a quasi-Aspie like me, they are often the bane of my existence.
So without further adieu, here’s a list of things that I can’t seem to shake, they annoy me so incredibly much. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...inside the blog.
We're delighted to share with you an excerpt from Christian Piatt's forthcoming (April 1) memoir, PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date:
These two words are what started the baby ball rolling in the Piatt household, back in January. After months of counseling, discernment, weepy nights and sleepless mornings, I submitted, succumbed, caved in like the roof of a Geo convertible.
I know “screw it” is an ironic choice of words, considering the circumstances. I also think it’s sadistically ironic that we men are biologically tuned to love sex so much, yet we’re usually the ones who freak out the most about the byproduct. I’m a typical male, visually aroused by anything vaguely resembling a boob or a booty. Also, working from home and sharing responsibility with my wife for the daily development of our four-year-old son, Mattias, makes me somewhat abnormal. And it’s this shared responsibility, I think, that makes having another kid such a big deal for me.
A friend of mine — one who’s wiser and kinder and more thoughtful than I — knows the difficult, painful unweaving I’m talking about. She, too, was carroted down the rabbit trail of a hope-filled future shared with someone, only to discover her bed was left just as cold as the promises she’d so earnestly trusted.
“Falling in love is totally magical and beautiful and gives you this insane ability to operate on 4 hours of sleep a night for a long time,” she said. “It chooses you and that gift is one of life’s best ones. You have to choose it back, though.” She paused, her voice cracking, and I knew she meant it. “At some point, you become more real to each other and the hard work sets in. So you try and try, and even then, sometimes it doesn’t work out. And when that happens, you’ll be ok.” I was looking at her across the table.
“Just let it be sad,” she concluded. “Ironically, sadness will be your guide out of sadness.”
Usually when I hear people talk about finding the good in the midst of a difficult situation, my cynical radar goes up. I picture the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian and the two thieves are being crucified while whistling and singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”
I reminds me a girl named Cathy that I knew in high school who already lived on her own before she had even graduated. At school she was the perpetual ray of sunshine, always offering warm smiles and hugs, but hardly concealing a deeper undercurrent of sadness that you could nearly taste.
But once in a while, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of grace in the middle of the worst humanity has to offer. And it’s in those moments that I tend to recognize God in our midst.
"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."
The Great Conversation that we invite our readers to join here at Sojo.net must, by definition, be both civil and respectful. Our comments sections should be a safe harbor, different from the comments sections of any other websites and blogs that deal with the busy intersection of religion, politics and culture.
To that end, during the last few weeks Sojourners staff and management have had a great many discussions about how we might best address the issue of incivility in our comments sections and correct it. We are committed to preserving the comments sections as a vital part of our community and that Great Conversation, but not at the cost of hearts and minds that have been wounded by their experiences here.
We can disagree, and we must when our conscience so demands, but we must do it with kindness, open minds and open hearts.