What Do Our Beliefs Say About Us?

Victor Tongdee/Shutterstock.com

Victor Tongdee/Shutterstock.com

Like many people, I was troubled when I heard about the recent shooting outside of a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas. According to several news accounts, the perpetrator — Frazier Glenn Cross — yelled, “Heil Hitler” at onlookers as he was being carried away in a police car. Cross also has a long history of anti-Semitic behavior and has publically declared a hatred of all Jews.

In addition to being troubled by this act of hatred and violence, I was also troubled by the quick response of CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, Daniel Burke, who made it a point to emphasize that Frazier was not a Christian but rather allegedly an adherent of Odinism, a “neo-pagan” religion which, according to Burke, “has emerged as one the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.”

While the annals of Christian history — ancient and modern — are full of accounts of violence perpetrated in the name of Christianity, my objective here is neither to defend Odinism nor to criticize Christianity. Instead, I want to highlight the socially constructed nature of beliefs and beliefs systems and emphasize how these socially constructed beliefs say far more about us than they do about the “gods” we claim to accept or reject.

Resurrection: Calculating the Probabilities

Easter Sunday image by Adam Howie / CreationSwap.com

Easter Sunday image by Adam Howie / CreationSwap.com

The end of the Gospel of Mark is, shall we say, indecisive. Mark’s account of the resurrection begins with the women going to anoint Jesus’ body and discovering the stone rolled away, Jesus’ body gone missing, and “a young man, dressed in a white robe” sitting in the tomb. This man tells them not to be alarmed, as if that’s possible under the circumstances, and announces that Jesus “has been raised.” The young man instructs them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Really? Our dead friend is arranging a meet-up via an angel-gram? I think I’d react the same way the women do in verse 8: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Here is the note that appears in my NRSV Bible at the end of verse 8, which is followed by one more verse, the so-called “shorter ending of Mark:”

Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9-20. In most authorities verses 9-20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.

I’m doubtful, too, but not because no one seems to know how the Gospel writer wanted to end his Gospel. But because doubt seems to be the reaction du jour. In the longer ending, we find out that the women break their silence, but those who are “mourning and weeping” for Jesus “would not believe it.” Mark tells us Jesus appeared to “two of them, as they were walking in the country.” But when they “told the rest,” again “they did not believe them.” This is completely understandable because resurrection cannot be considered part of normal experience, no matter what century you are living in. And yet the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection want us to believe in the reality of it, that Jesus appeared to them and they could experience his dead-yet-aliveness, normal human beings though they were.

Tragedy Begets Resilience

via TED Conference / Flickr.com

Dancers Christian Lightner and Adrianne Haslet-Davis at TED2014 - The Next Chapter, via TED Conference / Flickr.com

Among the many images of the marathon victims that emerged shortly after the attack, I remember being most struck by the photographs of the injured victims, missing their once sturdy limbs, lying in hospital beds. For me, those images perfectly conveyed how our city was feeling at that moment. We had just had something ripped away from us. We were assaulted, grieving for our loss, and outraged that any human being could dare do this to us.

How would our injured victims respond? Within days, the answer was clear. They would remain resilient. Adrianne Haslet-Davis would dance again, now with a prosthetic limb. Never a runner before, Celeste Corcoran pledged to run a marathon, now on her two prosthetic limbs. And, shaken by the tragedy, Amanda North would quit her job and launch the dream of her own artisan business.

Telling a Resurrection Story

THERE IS NO controlling a story once it’s out. Even in the times before cell phones, the internet, and Twitter, news traveled a similar route through participants, eyewitnesses, and those with the privilege to eavesdrop upon rumors and reports. Details get scattered, but the facts stand out. Many stories can be told about who, when, and how the story leaked. But all those specifics remain secondary to the spectacular announcement. For example, in 1903, how did The Virginian-Pilotscoop other newspapers to be the first to cover the beginning of the aviation age? No one really knows. Orville and Wilbur Wright believed their hometown Dayton newspapers should make the announcement. Indeed, on Dec. 18, the day after the first flight, the Dayton Evening Heraldreported the news—directly based on a telegraph sent by Orville Wright. But three other papers had already reported this world-changing occasion based on TheVirginian-Pilot’s story. Though filled with inaccuracies, the original accounts correctly announced the single important fact: There had been a flight!

Two thousand years earlier, the witness of a few women called forth centuries of testimonies that describe a progression from lack of recognition to full recognition of Jesus the person, as well as the significance of his death and resurrection. The cross and the empty tomb are not self-explanatory; they require interpretation. On the other side of the Lenten journey, Easter provides opportunities for the church to reflect on the biblical witness concerning the rumors of the resurrection. These texts highlight not only the necessity of interpretation, but also the sources and shape of valid interpretation.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

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Protest and Praise

IT IS FITTING that The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov (New Directions) begins with “Listening to Distant Guns,” written in 1940, when the poet was just 17: “The low pulsation in the east is war.”

The subject of war and its horrors, a constant in Levertov’s poetry and in her life, surfaces for the final time at the very end of this big book with these lines, written in 1997, from the poem “Thinking About Paul Celan”: You / at last could endure / no more. But we / live and live, / blithe in a world / where children kill children.

Denise Levertov (1923-1997), an American poet born in Ilford, England, to a Christian-Jewish father who was a descendant of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Hasidism, and a Welsh-Christian mother, herself the descendant of the Christian mystic Angell Jones of Mold, began to see her spiritual sensibility take a more formal religious shape only in her late 50s, when she opened to the liturgical, mystical, and social justice dimensions of Christianity, especially Catholicism, to which she later converted.

Two recent biographies, Dana Greene’s Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Lifeand Donna Krolik Hollenberg’s A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov, explore deeply, albeit with inevitable overlap, the serial passions and enduring poetics of this singular artist.

At age 11, both biographers tell us, Levertov was going door to door peddling The Daily Worker in Ilford. At 12, she sent a batch of her poems to T.S. Eliot, and received back from him an encouraging response.

Poetry was her life’s purest passion. She had many lovers, many headlong, hurtful affairs to compensate for her romantically derailed and failed marriage to writer-activist Mitch Goodman. She also had a troubled relationship with their son, Nikolai, to whom Collected Poems is dedicated.

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7 Reasons God Just Might Be Psyched About the Millennial Generation

Twentysomething man taking a selfie, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Twentysomething man taking a selfie, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Millennials are the worst generation ever, a recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed. The other generations already knew that, of course, but the study has given them new insights into what characterizes me and my fellow Millennials beyond “They freaking love Starbucks” and “They refuse to move out of my basement.”

The study’s revelations include that we’re not making all that much money, we have tons of debt, we’re racially diverse, and we use the Internet a lot (curiously absent was the fact that 97 percent of us do not like being broadly defined or labeled or otherwise demographed). We also tend to shun institutions, including religious ones, at rates far surpassing our parents and grandparents.

This last little detail has not escaped the notice of conservative media outlets, whose reactions have ranged from cautious reserved judgment to something bordering on full-blown alarm.

Like a true Millennial, I don’t think things are all that bad (heck, I wouldn’t know where the panic button is even if I wanted to press it). Actually, as a Christian, I think there is a lot to be excited about in the generation that’s poised to inherit the world … after we move out of our parents’ houses, that is.

Evangelical Giant Changes Policy On Same-Sex Employees, Exposes Hypocrisy

Evangelical leaders like Jim Wallis have long attempted to construct a “body of Christ” in service to others that would ignore controversial theological issues, which in practice means that progressives set their concerns about gender equality, marriage equality, and reproductive justice aside in the name of serving the poor, healing the sick, and so on. World Vision is now, in effect, asking conservatives to return the self-censoring favor. Mohler makes clear what most progressives have known all along: religious conservatives just can’t.

Social Media and the Shepherd

M. Pellinni & VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com

M. Pellinni & VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com

This year, some have given up Facebook for Lent. Others joined the “National Day of Unplugging” on March 7-8, putting away their phones, tablets, and laptops for a 24-hour digital Sabbath designed to slow people down in an increasingly hectic world.

According to the National Day of Unplugging website, people unplugged in order to dance, sleep, write, play, reflect, relax, reset, tune in, chill out, stay sane, and be more connected.

But wait a second — be more connected? That seems odd, since the promise of social media is that it will strengthen connections. Facebook links us instantly to hundreds of friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors. Twitter enables us to follow people and collect followers of our own. LinkedIn links us to colleagues through an enormous professional network.

Social media seems to be all about connections. But its links have serious limitations.