Spirituality

An Unconventional Messiah

Jesuit theologian Carlos Bravo labels the next four weeks “crisis and confirmation”—Jesus’ insistence on extending God’s love and mercy to the poor has put him on a collision course with the religious establishment and the oppressive Roman state. Far from a divine being, aware of his fate and mission from day one, Bravo understands Jesus to be profoundly human and struggling to faithfully live God’s reign in the face of increasing hostility. Jesus’ choices simultaneously confirm his violent fate and his identity as God incarnate, who will, through death and resurrection, offer each of us everlasting life.

Jesus faces resistance not only from social and religious leaders, but from his own disciples. Though able to confess that Jesus is the “messiah,” the disciples’ understanding of the title is the opposite of what Jesus teaches and lives. Jesus must insist again and again that his destination is not traditional kingship, but suffering, rejection, and, ultimately, death. Only through this path can he show that God’s love for us is real and triumphant over death. Over and over Jesus must explain kingdom values, as opposed to human values that prioritize power, status, and exclusivity. He must insist that the mission is not to be served, but to serve; not to be first, but to be last. And not to limit the scope of God’s work or love: Those who bring light and love in Jesus’ name are to be supported, not condemned, for “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

September 6
Faith Into Action

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 124; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

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Beautiful Words

Thank you for Rose Marie Berger’s excellent column, “Stammering Through Dreams” (The Hungry Spirit, July 2009). I appreciate what she said about “Stammering is an outward sign of humility before the mystery of God.” I continue to be surprised by the number of Christian writers (including the late John Updike) who are stammerers. Would you consider writing an article on stammering in the voice of God?

Al Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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New and Noteworthy

Serve God, Save the Planet
Coffee, cars, chocolate, clothes—small choices we make can add up to lifestyles that are more ethical and sustainable. In Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, Julie Clawson offers biblically based wisdom on living justly in our consumer society, starting with: “Don’t Panic.” InterVarsity Press

Melodic Pop
The 10 tracks on The Fray’s latest CD, The Fray, offer the melodic lines and moodiness fans have come to expect from the Denver-based pop band. “I found God on the corner of First and Amistad,” they sing in “You Found Me.” “Just a little late, you found me.” Epic

Love Beyond Bars
When their daughter, Carolyn, went to prison, her parents, Wesley and Marilyn, also “did time” in a sense. Learning to Sing in a Strange Land: When a Loved One Goes to Prison is Wesley’s beautiful account of how they remained connected—and hopeful—during the years of Carolyn’s sentence. Resource Publications

A Familiar Companion
Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim, by Philip Yancey, pulls together thoughtful daily reflections from Yancey’s writings over the last 30 years on God, faith, prayer, and the Christian life. Zondervan

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Keeping Cool (Gulp!)

“No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than central air.” — The demon Azrael in Kevin Smith’s film Dogma

It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. I do, I swear. I’m not one of those people who thinks creation is ours to dominate and its resources ours to spend like found money because Jesus is coming back and the world is going to end soon anyway. I sincerely doubt Christ would be happy about his followers treating Earth as if it were a rental car.

While I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, I am very fond of trees. And, also, the atmosphere.

The thing is ... I love air conditioning. And I hate, haaaaaaaaaaaate being hot.

“Oh, thank you Jesus,” were my first words upon entering our 68-degree oasis with a carload of groceries on a 90-plus degree, muggy summer day where the outside feels like a shvitz or the third ring of Dante’s inferno. Central air conditioning is grace for me.

But what if my blessing is a curse for someone else? Like, say, the rest of the planet? Air conditioning hurts the environment, quaffs energy, and hastens global warming. But is my air conditioner evil? What would Jesus do?

For one thing, Jesus recognized the Jewish kosher laws. A fairly new movement in Judaism today called eco-kashrut (aka “eco-kosher”) expands on the ancient dietary laws to look at what’s kosher in terms of ethical living, fair trade, the ecological concerns involved in food production, consumerism, and lifestyle, including whether to air condition or not.

Is it better to be hot and bothered than cool and complicit in our environmental demise? I turned to a couple of friends who ponder moral dilemmas for a living for help with my AC conundrum.

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Long Live Gravity

The health insurance giant Humana may be part of the problem when it comes to health-care reform. In fact, in Michael Moore’s film Sicko, Humana is indicted for murder by denial of payment. But still we can be grateful for this: Every year Humana lays out big bucks for a festival of original plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky.

And, as if to prove Lenin’s proverb about capitalists selling you the rope with which to hang them, the highlight of this year’s Humana Festival was Wild Blessings: A Celebration of Wendell Berry. In that production dozens of our local hero’s poems are recited and sung, including the one, written years ago, that goes: “When I hear the stock market has fallen, I say, ‘Long live gravity! Long live stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces of fantasy capitalism!’”

Gravity is a natural force that can’t be outsmarted by even the wiliest humans. To think otherwise is pure fantasy. We think we have gravity licked when we soar across continents in jet airplanes. But stay up there long enough, and gravity will win. The same goes for all those brilliant financiers who were so sure that house prices would keep going up forever. They believed their own fantasy, and gravity did the rest.

“Fantasy” is the only appropriate term for a belief that natural forces can be overcome by human intelligence. That faith in “intelligence” may be at the root of our current economic problems (and some others, too). Several years ago, there was a movie called Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Kenneth Lay and company really believed that the smartest people from the best schools could create a trading market in the “commodity” of electric current. That intellectual adventure ended with the lights going out in deregulated California.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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On the Seventh Day, God Played

It’s summer here in the northern climes—and summer means the swimming pool.

Last weekend, I stretched out on a deck chair at the local public pool and spent a few hours in the splash zone. Kids were squealing in delight. Ungainly games of Marco Polo were played with a group of 25 or more. Spontaneous rounds of “keep the beach ball up in the air” formed and faded. Toddlers, in their bright yellow and blue baby floats, grinned, splashed, and waggled their fat little legs.

Play. We all say we love it. But the truth is many of us don’t do it.

Work is getting in the way of our play time. As work hours increase and more people “check in” with work during their days off—or work multiple part-time jobs with no days off—exhaustion levels are up. Americans spend half our “leisure time” collapsed in front of the TV. And, unless we are savvy TV consumers, end up wearier than we started.

The new neuroscience indicates that play is a basic biological process in animals and humans. Along with sex, hunger, and “fight or flight,” play is hardwired in us to keep our neurons adaptable and growing. It’s also the foundation of “civilization”—art, creativity, innovation, literature, music, theater, and complex social relationships.

According to Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, there are seven properties that identify play: It is done for its own sake, voluntary, has an inherent attraction, and involves freedom from time, diminished self-consciousness, improvisational potential, and the desire to keep doing it.

Brown has studied animal play behavior, developed “play histories” for humans, researched how lack of play may contribute to anti-social behavior, and most important, examined how play fuels brain growth and flexibilit across a lifetime.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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