“We do not remember days,” the Italian poet Cesare Pavese said, “we remember moments.”
Pavese’s words have come to mind often as I’ve thought about Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States, particularly when people have asked me what the “best part” of covering the papal visit was for me.
My answer is always the same: hands down the best part was watching people see (and sometimes meet) Pope Francis in person for the first time.
“REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS.” “Do not worry about anything.” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Verse fragments such as these, in the midst of a warm, fuzzy letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the house churches in Philippi, sustained me through high school and beyond. Indeed, the entire letter is saturated with joy. Philippians has been a source of great comfort to many Christians over the centuries.
It is clear that Paul had a close friendship with the believers in Philippi. A major purpose of the letter was to thank them for sending one of their own, Epaphroditus, with a gift for Paul. Sadly, the messenger became very ill while with Paul, but now that he has recovered, Paul is returning him to Philippi, along with the letter (2:25-30; 4:15-18).
Less clear are the political assumptions and harsh realities that frame this encouraging missive. Paul lived and traveled within the mightiest empire the world had known up to that point. He carried his gospel message thousands of miles on Roman roads built for military conquest. At the same time he challenged the very foundations that supported this empire, and his activism was perceived by political authorities as a threat. Paul paid for this by suffering in a Roman prison (1:13) and did not know if he would survive his ordeal or not (1:21-24).
Stuff that happened earlier
Around 50 C.E., Paul and his companions were on a missionary journey through Asia Minor, what is now western Turkey. At Troas, Paul received a night vision of a person from Macedonia, a region now part of Greece, begging him to “come and help us” (Acts 16:9). The little group immediately set sail across the Aegean Sea to the port of Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12).
The fate of the Temple of Artemis, the fate of any temple, is one that need not be feared. Death, and collapse, have lost their sting. This process of decay is not an inherently ugly one. There was beauty in those remaining stones and still value in the ones that had already returned to the ground from whence they had been pulled.
Whether human or stone, from dust we have come and to dust we shall return.
Some years ago, Carl Jung told the story of a man who asked a rabbi why God was revealed to many people in days of old, but now nobody sees God.
“Why is this?” he asked.
The rabbi answered, “Because nowadays no one bows low enough.”
Perhaps we are looking for God in all the wrong places. In this video, Sister Margaret goes to prison. She is not Jesus. She is not God. But she believes God is there in Riker’s Island, “home” to 1300 prisoners, half of them teenagers. She listens to their stories.
“My father walked out on us ... I messed up ... I had no one to back me up.”
Their stories changed her.
"I don’t know what it’s like not to be loved. I don’t know what it’s like to be abused, to be abandoned,” she says.
She is really saying, “I didn’t know before what it’s like to be so far down.”
These prisoners are teaching her even as she is counseling and encouraging them. Those men in Riker’s Island would probably be surprised to hear that Paul was a prisoner when he wrote this week’s lectionary selection, a letter to the Philippians.
Paul teaches a bedrock unity in marriage. Both the Christian wife and husband are members of the Church which is Christ’s body (v30) and have further cemented this with particular devotion to union with each other (v31). Since we have this fundamental unity, a divisive gender identity in marriage or elsewhere is impossible to accept—it sets up barriers where Christ recognizes none.
As such, men inside or outside of marriage must follow Christ’s example in giving of themselves for others, particularly to those who rely and trust on them. This is why domestic violence is such a satanic perversion of masculinity: it replaces a protective, self-sacrificial love with a violent, domineering authority. A relationship which should point to Christ and the Church instead becomes controlled by power and violence.
Paul forces me to think differently about what it means to be a man. I need to reorient my actions in a way that recognizes that Christians, male and female, are all part of one body of Christ. That should push men, especially those in positions of authority, to a love that seeks to build up and to serve rather than domineer. That love, rather than a macho authority, is the true mark of a man.
Do you want to know a secret about working out? Here it is: we don’t grow our muscles in the gym. When we lift weights we perform controlled damage to our bodies; we literally tear our muscle fibers, forcing our bodies to adapt. We improve outside of the gym by consuming healthy foods. To “battle the bulge” requires a commitment to strenuous exercise and healthy eating. All who have enjoyed (or endured) a strenuous workout or have disciplined their dietary practices understand that results are impossible without bodily sacrifice — no pain, no gain.
Furthermore, if it is true that we are what we eat, then Christ-followers ought to take a long, hard look at the kinds of things we are putting into our bodies. Paul’s words to the Christ-followers in Rome offer us some food for thought (pardon the pun; couldn’t help myself).
Paul beseeches us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, that is, to submit our lived reality to the standards that God deems acceptable. Such a way of being in the world is deemed reasonable — spiritual even, as the NRSV translators put it. This is our tangible act of service to God.
My Dear Friend,
It breaks my heart to be the one to tell you this, but I figured you might be more receptive hearing this from me. I think you already know what I'm about to tell you — it's nearly impossible you couldn't know with how loud everyone's whispers have become.
Something is terribly wrong! You are sick.
I know this isn't the news you were hoping for, but it's the truth. With this in mind, I feel now, it is more important than ever that I lay things out for you — no matter how much it pains me.
What more perfect a passage to enliven our Earth Day celebrations than Romans 8:20-25?
Paul's letter to the Romans was certainly not an exhortation to deepen creation care by weighting it with environmental justice. It wasn't an exhortation for the middle-class church to listen to the groaning of people under the bondage of environmental racism. It wasn't intended to paint a picture of the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism.
But we — two evangelical activists — are just foolish enough to give all that a try in this short space!
Our dear Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans paints a picture of the new age inaugurated by Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus has taken sin – that which infiltrated the world (5:12), enslaved the world (6:6, 17-18), and brought death and destruction (7:8-14) — and had victory over it. By our death in baptism and resurrection with Christ, we participate in his victory over sin (6:4). This is a new age, we put on our new selves, we live with the (re)new(ed) creation ahead of us.
Most of the women I know mourn the loneliness, the lack of physical touch, the empty half of the bed, and the “table for one, please” that come with being single. I know from experience how easy it is to live as a lady in waiting — waiting for a man to come along and rescue you from the boredom and loneliness of life, waiting for a man to validate you as an adult, waiting for a relationship to unlock the door to opportunities like church leadership, full-time ministry, entrepreneurship, foster care, financial stability, or international travel.
I know many women whose prayers mainly consist of praying for God to bring them a spouse, and whose waking thoughts often wander into the injustice and unfairness of singleness. They wonder if God really knows how much they long for a husband and a family. They keep telling God that if He’ll only grant them a mate, then they’ll be content and more able to obey.
But the Bible — and most of church history — affirms the benefits of being single. Paul says it’s preferable because you can travel lightly and give yourself more fully to ministry. Valentine’s Day itself was named after a saint who was single, and was martyred for his faith on Feb. 14, 270 A.D.
There is no question that our nation is currently deeply divided about a great many issues. In our effort to enshrine him, some may have lost sight that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. too addressed a nation that was divided. With all the media focus on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination this past fall, the 50th anniversary of another great national tragedy received little notice. On September 15, 1963, white racists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four young African-American girls who were attending Sunday school.
I know. We’re all a little fatigued about the Duck Dynasty and freedom of speech controversy. As many have pointed out, everyone has been free during this controversy. Phil Robertson was free to make his statement to GQ. GQ was free to publish it. A&E was free to suspend Robertson for making comments that it thought hurt its image. And, despite that justification, A&E is free to air Duck Dynasty marathons on Dec. 24 and 25. (Yes, on Christmas Day you can watch 12 1/2 hours of Duck Dynasty. A&E is taking this controversy straight to the bank!) We are free to watch, or to not watch, future episodes of Duck Dynasty. We are all free to take sides. And bloggers are freely adding to our Duck Dynasty fatigue by writing endless blog posts.
This blogger asks for your forgiveness in writing yet another post that adds to our fatigue. So I’ll keep this brief.
There is something about freedom that we are missing in this debate, especially from a Christian point of view. When it comes to freedom, we want to fight for the freedom to do or say whatever we want. This is the highest point of freedom in the United States. It’s a freedom that is based on freedom for individual rights. It’s a freedom that says that I should have the right to say whatever I want without any negative consequences.
The Beatles first performed “All You Need Is Love” in 1967 as part of an “Our World” global television link, the first of its kind. The song was perfect for the occasion and became a hit. It’s got a catchy lyric and the chorus makes for an interesting debate even today.
Is it true that all we really need is love?
Many of us don’t feel that way. Many of us have a lot of other things filling our lists of what we need and value the most: self-sufficiency, independence, money, privilege, career advancement, our country, our family, our religion.
Many religions don’t see it that way, either. They dote on theological constructs and codes of conduct for their followers. They devise lists of who’s in God’s favor and who is not. Their do-and-don’t lists rarely say much about love and its ramifications.
They love rules instead.
As people of faith, we sometimes don’t take time to prepare ourselves for what is ahead. With so many things vying for our time and attention, it is difficult to educate ourselves about all facets of critical matters. Even in our relationship with God, we gloss over important details that will guide us into a closer walk and become content with a distant half-hearted relationship. However, a casual walk with God is not one we should settle for. By delving into God’s Word, we are able to draw upon God’s wisdom for guidance and find a deeper relationship with God as we travel through this journey of life.
In a similar fashion, we cannot settle for casual knowledge of the Affordable Care Act, which is now upon us and “gives Americans unprecedented information about the health plan choices in their own communities.” The Kaiser Family Foundation reports in a recent poll that 51 percent of all Americans are still unsure about how the ACA will affect them. 42 percent of Americans thought that Congress had overturned the act or that the Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional. And, many Americans worry that they will have to shell out more money due to the new health reform law. This uneasiness and misinformation certainly warrants a closer look as we journey through the multiple avenues of the Affordable Care Act.
The apostle Paul calls the church in Corinth a body — and that’s political language: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be … As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Cor. 12:18-20).
As Dale Martin argues in his book The Corinthian Body, Paul gets his language about the social body, the political body, from other Greco-Roman speeches and letters. He uses a style of writing and speaking called a “concord” — homonoia in Greek. Politicians would give speeches or write letters trying to convince the diverse people of the city to unite in a common project, to share the same goals for society, to share a common politics. In these “concord” addresses, politicians would call the society a body, just like Paul does in his letter to the divided church in Corinth. We are one body, politicians would say, so we need to act accordingly. We are one — united, bound together. Of course, politicians only made these speeches when they needed to: that is, when dissatisfied segments of society wanted to revolt (see Martin, Corinthian Body, 38-47).
I love food. I love food even more when it's shared with people. Some of my fondest memories with friends and family happened while sharing food. My husband and I shared our first date over a meal, and we got engaged over a meal. There's something about sitting around a table partaking in sustenance for our bodies that also fills our soul and our hearts. That's probably why I love communion so much.
So I was struck by Paul’s anger over food in 1 Corinthians 11. Granted, Paul comes off angry in other letters as well, but this one I decided to linger on for awhile because of verse 27: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord."
Paul's letter is directed to a community in Corinth that was made up of the poor, the working class, and the rich. They lived together, shared communion with each other, and sought to be a community that reflected Christ. Now, this doesn’t seem too different from what we do at church today. But unlike how we celebrate communion — as it’s own “event” during service — for the 1st century Christians, communion was part of a real meal.
So what could be so "unworthy" about this shared meal?
What was most telling about the disagreement between the two men was their discussion of Luke 4. Mohler argued the passage should be understood in light of how he interpreted the preaching and teaching of Paul and the other apostles. This means that when Jesus said that he came to bring good news to the poor that good news was personal salvation.
Wallis argued that yes, personal salvation is one part of that good news, but that the other part is the Kingdom of God breaking into the world and transforming societal relationships as well. When the Gospel is proclaimed, it is good news for a poor person's entire being, community and world -- not just his or her soul.
First, it was encouraging to hear Mohler spend a lot of time emphasizing that working for justice is essential to fulfillment of the Great Commission. Throughout the night he repeated his concern that a lot of Churches are REALLY bad at making disciples who actually do the things Jesus told us to do. As the president of one of the largest seminaries in the world, it will be interesting to see if he is able to train a generation of pastors who will do things differently. My concern is that he is missing the connection between his theology and the failure of Christians to actually do justice.