sacrifice

Memorial Day: From Suffering to Hope

Suffering, with light at the end of the tunnel, hikrcn/ Shutterstock.com

Suffering, with light at the end of the tunnel, hikrcn/ Shutterstock.com

Memorial Day is a day to remember. A solemn holiday, it reminds us of the men and women who have died serving our country. Wreath-laying ceremonies and concerts fill the weekend, along with the placing of 250,000 American flags on the graves of Arlington National Cemetery. 

Decorating graves is the oldest of Memorial Day traditions. In fact, the holiday was originally called Decoration Day and honored the soldiers who died during the Civil War. Flowers were placed on graves every year on May 30, and after World War I the holiday expanded to include soldiers who died in any war. In 1971, it was moved to the last Monday in May to create a three-day Memorial Day Weekend.

And that, writes Everett Salyer of HEAVEmedia, “is when all hell broke loose.” For many Americans, the holiday became a celebratory weekend filled with grilling meat, drinking beer, splashing in pools, and watching stock car races. 

We Are Christ: Broken and Shared For the Life of the World

Hands breaking bread. Photo courtesy Shaiith/shutterstock.com

A respectful, bright young high school student asked me yesterday if Baptism and the Eucharist were not merely symbols. 

The first thing out of my mouth, I suspect more or less unconsciously (I've never answered in this way before) was:

"When Paul talks about Christ being 'in us' or about 'putting on' Christ does he mean to invoke a metaphor or a reality? Does Jesus really make his home in us by the Spirit or do Christians, when speaking in this way, generally mean that Jesus lives in us only symbolically?"

This hit home — for him, for thirty young adults, and for me.

Monasticism, Beloved Community, and The Common Good

 Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C., Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

Benedict of Nursia is on my mind this morning as I ponder what it is that Jim Wallis is trying to accomplish with his new book, On God's SideAdam Ericksen pondered the virtues of baseball, winning, and losing in his post from earlier this week. Adam questioned the metaphor. What do we do with our losers? How can we all win?

What would it mean if people of faith began transferring their human identities from class, racial, and national loyalties to a global identity in a new beloved community created by God?
~ Jim Wallis, On God's Side

Today I'm wondering about where Jim was when he started pulling all of this together. Jim shared that he went on retreat (a good practice, in my humble opinion) to gather his thoughts for this new book. He went to a monastery (also a good practice, in my humble opinion). He prayed the hours. He wandered the grounds. He spent some time in silence. He read the Narnia books and gave some serious thought of C.S. Lewis' Aslan. All of this led to a question, well, many questions, but this question I've pulled out is what caught my attention. What if, indeed, Jim. What if we were to do this thing ... the beloved community?

It is no surprise to me that this question would emerge while Jim was at a monastery. Of course it would. And that he riffs on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a way is also wonderfully telling. "Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives," said Dr. King. Our souls must change. So too must our lives. Dr. King said much about the beloved community. So too did Benedict of Nursia.

There's so much to say here. I'm a little stumped. The beloved community is the Church, but it is exemplified by the monastery where people relinquish their individual control of their worldly goods. Monastics take vows to pray and work together. There's a shared rhythm of life. There is a shared mission. It's a challenging and difficult life, and not all Christians are called to it. Obedience, stability, conversion of life. If we want to be the beloved community, then the we must avow ourselves to such a Rule. Indeed, we must give up our personal or private identities to the service of all. 

But how do we do this as a culture, a global church?

After Giving Up Religion, Atheists Try Giving Up Something Else for Lent

What would an “atheist Lent” look like? A group of young nonbelievers are finding out, observing the Christian practice minus its religious context.

They have given up alcohol, animal products, and various Internet and cellphone interactions. One has vowed to make a daily Lenten practice of telling those he encounters how important they are to him.

But their observance of the 40-day period in which many Christians abstain from worldly desires in a bid to come closer to God has upset some atheists who say borrowing religious traditions is antithetical to nontheism.

The exercise has also illustrated a divide in the nontheist community –  between older atheists who see religion as inherently evil and younger atheists who are more open to interactions with religious belief.

The Cross: An Exposé of Human Sacrifice

Cross on a hill, Spectral-Design / Shutterstock.com

Cross on a hill, Spectral-Design / Shutterstock.com

At the center of Christianity is a weird claim: that we have been saved by sacrifice. And it was a gruesome sacrifice at that, a snapshot of humanity at our worst, for the Christian claim is that what saved us was the torture and putting to death on a cross of an innocent man falsely charged as a criminal. Weird doesn’t begin to describe the strangeness of this idea. The talented and thoughtful writer, Colm Toibin, has taken the church to task regarding this claim. As quoted by Maureen Dowd about his one-woman show opening soon on Broadway, The Testament of Mary, Toibin says this: “The idea that we were somehow saved and redeemed by a crucifixion seems strange to me. The idea of human sacrifice is something we really have to think about, even people who are practicing Catholics, the idea of taking a single individual for the sake of any cause.”

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of human sacrifice lately. In fact, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in it because I’ve been editing a new introduction to Christianity by the Catholic theologian James Alison. At the center of his course is an insight about how a death on a cross could have redeeming qualities. Here’s how Alison understands what happened at the cross: Jesus did not invent human sacrifice and going to his death on a cross was not an endorsement of the torture and murder of innocent victims. It was an exposé. What we have in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion is a fairly complete picture of how human beings, without any assistance from God, have saved our own necks by crucifying someone else. We commit sacrifice when we scapegoat, demonize, marginalize, expel, persecute or kill others in the name of our own safety and security or to bolster our belief in our own goodness. As the Gospels tell us rather directly, enemies become reconciled when they can find a common enemy to unite against: “That same day [the day of the crucifixion] Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12)

The Only Way Out is Through (A Lenten Reflection)

Dark forest path, andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com

Dark forest path, andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com

A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!

-Joel 2:2

Who in their right mind looks forward to Lent? Seven weeks of preparation to lead up to Good Friday hardly seems like an enjoyable way to spend our time.

Why not work on those New Year’s resolutions that have already been slipping instead? How about some more quality time with the family? What good, after all, can come from dwelling on darkness and death for more than forty days?

How about we all just agree to skip Lent this year and just get back together on Easter, okay?

Blindfolded Judges

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

n undated picture shows US peace activist Rachel Corrie, 23, in the Rafah refugee camp. MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.  

Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance.  My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.

The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).

President Obama on Passover, Easter: 'Common Thread of Humanity'

http://youtu.be/Qig0DYKJo3U

In his weeky address, President Obama said in part:

"For millions of Americans, this weekend is a time to celebrate redemption at God’s hand. Tonight, Jews will gather for a second Seder, where they will retell the story of the Exodus. And tomorrow, my family will join Christians around the world as we thank God for the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of His son, and experience the wonder of Easter morning.

"These holidays have their roots in miracles that took place thousands of years ago. They connect us to our past and give us strength as we face the future. And they remind us of the common thread of humanity that connects us all.

"For me, and for countless other Christians, Easter weekend is a time to reflect and rejoice...."

Good Friday: This is Insane.

Straw man/Son of man. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Straw man/Son of man. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Good Friday. Is this something we can understand? What makes it so "good?"

Sure, we have theologies about this moment in history. We have systematic notions about why who and what. We tell the story every year. Some traditions reenact the tale more than once a year. If you attend a church from one of the "liturgical" traditions, you here the story told during the Eucharist every Sunday. "Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again." It's the Paschal Mystery told again and again.  I also know some baptist preachers who tell the story of the Passion of Christ every Sunday. It is the Gospel, after all. This story, the Passion, is The Gospel for many of us Christian preachers. And to not share the Passion is to not share The Gospel. If their sermons don't end with the proclamation of the sarcifice of Jesus, well, then it just isn't Church.

I'm still sharing that e-unspoken part of my faith again. This is not new. Nor is it unintegrated with the rest of my Christian spirituality. It's actually essential to it. So, in the spirit of clarity, I'm sharing this stuff with you.

I have no idea what Jesus meant by giving himself over like this. We read the scripture last night at the Maundy Thursday service at First Baptist. "Not my will but your's." Lord, have mercy. Someone asked the question as someone does every year, "Why would God want Jesus to die? If it's God's will...Why would God will this to happen?" I have some practiced answers. This year I offered them as I usually do. 

"First, let me tell you what the tradition says..." I give a theological gloss and watch their eyes glaze over. Right. Of course. This isn't an answer any more than a stump speech is an indication of what will actually happen if one of these people in the news are elected to public office. So, I move on.

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