5 Questions for Erika Totten
Religious historians say that every 500 years, Christianity goes through a “massive transition,” as noted religion writer Phyllis Tickle puts it.
Around 500 A.D., “barbarians” sought to subjugate Rome by wiping out its underlying religion. Christianity went underground. In abbeys like Iona, monks painstakingly copied Scripture and civilization’s great writings, in effect saving Western civilization itself.
Around 1000 A.D. came the “Great Schism,” when the Western church based in Rome and the Eastern church based in Constantinople fought over creeds and doctrine, political power and cultural hegemony. That split endures to this day between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
Around 1500 A.D. came the Protestant Reformation, when nationalism born of exploration in the New World and new commercial wealth demanded an end to Rome’s domination of European life. That split, too, endures.
Now comes a new millennium, and Christianity wears so many different faces that it’s difficult to speak of a single “Christian movement.”
I learned from an article in The Sun magazine that the word eccentric comes from a Greek word that describes objects in space that don't revolve around the earth. The Greeks in ancient times saw Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and observed that they wandered through the sky moving in a seemingly aimless way. They called these planets asteres planetai (wandering stars). The planets were not, however, wandering. They were revolving around the sun. It was the finite view of human beings that made them seem like wanderers.
Human eccentrics move in a seemingly aimless way, too. Their movements make them seem like wanderers to other human beings with finite views. They don't wander aimlessly, though. They revolve around a different center.
One of the highlights of the fall for me was undertaking a kind of Occupy Tourism. I was spending most of my time on the move, working to build the broad coalition that eventually won at least a temporary victory against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta. In almost every city I visited, I tried to stop by the local encampment, in part because Occupiers were among our most reliable allies, and in part because it was so much fun.
I’ve gotten to speak through the human microphone in lower Manhattan and tour the D.C. campsite just a few blocks from the White House. But I’ve also gotten to sign the copies of my books in the library tent at Occupy Boston (a quiet tent, staffed by honest-to-God librarians from Boston Public Library, with everything arranged by subject). I even made it to foreign occupations—standing beneath a giant stone lion in the grand Vancouver encampment. Happiest occupation goes to San Luis Obispo, California, where I got a hug from a fellow with a huge “Free Hugs” sign. The most chic, not surprising, was Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they arranged not only a campfire for my talk, but a rising full moon in the desert sky.
I always notice something when speaking to a mostly secular audience. Many people have been so hurt or rejected by the bad religion in which they were raised or have encountered elsewhere over the course of their lives, and, quite understandably, they are skeptical and wary of the faith community. But when someone looks like a faith leader (this is where the ecclesial robe helps ) and says things that are different from what they expect or are used to, their response is one of gratitude and the moment becomes an opportunity for healing.
After I spoke Sunday and joined the circle around the White House, person after person came up to me to express their thanks or simply to talk.
My favorite comment of the day came from a woman who quietly whispered in my ear, "You make me almost want to be a Christian."
Occupy Wall Sreet, false idols and a moral economy. Breaking the cycle of poverty. Poorest poor in U.S. hits a new record: 1 in 15 people. As poverty deepens, giving to the poor declines. Arianna Huffington: Shakespeare, the Bible and America's shift into a punitive society. Peaceful Occupy Oakland march followed by late-night clashes.
Abuse at Afghan Prisons. How Catholic Conservatives could turn the GOP presidential race. OpEd: Jesus would not #OccupyWallStreet. OWS is "largely secular." Religious leaders see immigration as "God's Call." OpEd: Alabama new immigration law has unintended consequences. OpEd: Wall Street Worship. Could 2012 be the most ideological election in years? And much more.
Last week, Sojourners CEO, the Rev. Jim Wallis, visited with #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators in New York City. "As I listen to them, I recognize what I felt as a young student-activist in the late '60s and early '70s," Wallis said. "I just feel from them what I felt a long time ago, that we're part of something much bigger than us, much larger than us...The visceral feeling [here] is, 'This could really change things.'"
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Indie music darling, Jeff Mangum, who rarely plays in public, surprised #OccupyWallStreet protesters in New York City earlier this week with an impromptu concert. A New Jersey singer-songwriter pens two songs for revolutions. And an order of Catholic nuns offer free mp3 downloads of a protest song inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
We've compiled a list of links where you can learn more about the genesis of the #OccupyWallStreet movement, including links to news reports, organizations involved in formenting the movement and local groups in every state where you can get involved close to home (if you don't live in Lower Manhattan.)
Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.
The puzzle here is not that readers of the Bible would tilt toward the political left. That, for me, as well as for thousands of other American evangelicals, is self-evident. Jesus, after all, summoned his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to welcome the stranger and to care for “the least of these.” He also expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow, a sentiment that should find some resonance in our environmental policies.
No, the real conundrum lies in the subtitle the editors of Christianity Today assigned to Franzen’s article, which was titled, “A Left-Leaning Text.” Adjacent to a picture of a Bible tilted about 45 degrees to the left, the editors added the subtitle: “Survey Surprise: Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways).”
The fact that anyone should register surprise that the Bible points toward the left should be the biggest surprise of all.
In his column last week, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis talked about his frustration with the perennial misuse of the word "evangelical" by various media to describe folks and ideas that, in his view, and that of many of us who self-describe as evangelicals, don't bear any resemblance to what we understand that term to actually mean.
Below is a compilation of recent media reports where the word "evangelical" is invoked. When you read these, evangelical brothers and sisters, do you recognize yourself in how the word is used and defined? Or does it ring false to you and your understanding of what "evangelical" really and truly means?