Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Apotropaic Function of the Cross Before Constantine

The Cross Before Constantine: The Early Life of a Christian Symbol, by Bruce W. Longenecker.

In a sense, one could say this is a work of art history. The book makes a rather moderate claim in exhaustive detail, that the cross was used as a Christian symbol well before Constantine elevated it to the premier symbol in Christian graphic representations.

The cross was not the primary sign in this early period, nor did it have the prominence it did after Constantine, nor was it overly prominent in architecture. Nevertheless, early use of the cross as a religious symbol paved the way for its rise to prominence by Constantine and after.

Longenecker makes these claims with substantial and fascinating evidence. It's worth paging through this book simply to review the illustrations.

The most interesting insight, however, is the evidence that shows the cross having an apotropaic function. It was used as a symbol that sent a message to superhuman entities "that to mess with people associated with the cross is to mess with a supreme power--a power that even the forces of death cannot conquer" (187). 

In other words, the cross did not have a liturgical or architectural significance... it was instead a sign of personal identity, and functioned as a ward.

Constantine's innovation was to harvest this apotropaic function for political purposes.


Keeping Faith With Our Ancestors

For continuing education, I study Bowen Family Systems Theory with area clergy. Typically we gather in the library at the local Episcopal church, together with our facilitator, Doug Hester of San Antonio, Texas.

Although we focus on many aspects of theory, eventually a major part of our own reflection concerns our personal family systems. Afternoons of our day-long gatherings, one or two of us roll out family maps, our genograms, and discuss patterns of family communication.

One insight, perhaps the major insight of the class: our family system, and our place in it, matters for how we function in our church systems. If we want to work on our pastoral ministry, its essential to work on our family system.

But then a confession: I've never really sympathized with those who dig deep into their family systems. I know genealogy is incredibly meaningful to millions of people. It's like the third most popular thing done on the Internet. But it has never been a particular passion of mine, perhaps because I tend to be a bit more analytical in my approach to, well, anything.

So when I learned that Heidi Neumark, pastoral colleague in the ELCA and author of a spectacular previous book, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, was writing a book about her family tree, I was nonplussed. Why, given her move to ministry in Manhattan at Trinity Lutheran, wasn't she writing a book about that? Why go backwards rather than forward?

Then she sent me a copy of the book. I knew I had to read it right away. Heidi is an amazing writer. She draws you along. Even if her topic left me bemused, I knew I could trust her.

You learn, along with Heidi, her family surprise. That her daughter Ana, doing some research on Wikipedia, had learned that Heidi was Jewish. Heidi never heard this information from her parents, but once she learns the initial details, she invests years and considerable travel and vacation time discovering as if again for the first time her own family history, and in the process insights into the tragedy that is the Shoah.

It can be a rather shocking thing to learn your ancestors were other than you had assumed or been taught to believe. It leaves so very many questions. It's not surprising that Heidi, always an astute student of her context, takes a research approach to her own family history, nor is it surprising, given her propensity to embed what she learns in compelling narrative structure, that she's able to turn it into a page-turner.

Not every person who sets out to write a family history writes one as compelling as this. In fact, this is the wonder of this book... so many people set out to write a book about their family, but so few write one as theologically rich and historically meaningful.

This is the kind of book that shifts the genre, changes the game a bit, sets the bar for all others. In the process of telling the story of her family, Heidi assists the reader in experiencing the tragedy of the German Jews in the face of Nazi Germany. Because it narrates this one family and their journey through these years, it makes it both incredibly personal, and still broad in historical implications.

I was especially caught off-guard by Heidi's mention that her own sense of the meaning of baptism is transformed. Baptism is always a good thing, right?  But her parents were baptized into Christianity only to then be rejected by it. In the theological worldview of National Socialism, the race of a person took precedence over their baptism, and so at the height of Nazism, baptism was not sufficient to make one a part of the church. Nazism redefined Christianity as German Aryanism, with disastrous results.

So baptism, which we typically approach as an unadulterated good, here becomes its own kind of tragedy. Heidi herself goes through at least a minor existential crisis, and so too do her neighbors and parishioners, as they wonder whether she might convert to Judaism, or at least think about Germans or Christianity differently.

She does in fact discover a deeper explanation for her own lifelong attraction to the Hebrew Scriptures, the messiness of those ancient texts over against the New Testament. It is at this point that many memoirs might tip over into saccharine nostalgia, romanticizing Jewishness or conjoining in too facile a fashion the suffering of millions to the modern plight of an American pastor.

But Heidi handles these transitions with grace, deftly weaving her family history into her reflections on pastoral ministry. The book, which mostly tells the story of her family, is also the story of her discovery of her family. Trips to Lübeck and Theresienstadt. Research in city records and libraries. Lots of searches on

And then, in pauses and asides, and never heavy-handed, comparisons between the refugee crisis in Germany in the wake of Nazi atrocities, and the modern plight of refugees. Sympathy for the experience of the LGBTQ youth in her church shelter as she comes to greater awareness of the treatment those youth received, and her own family received because of their Jewish heritage.

"From a history of horror, I have received staggering gifts of truth, identity, and love. This is something we all long for and need, and we can help to make it happen, one story at a time. Listening without prejudice or pity to those who are willing to recount their narratives of pain, loss, and righteous rage is part of changing the world. Another challenge is recognizing and naming our complicity in such narratives. Those of us who belong to religious communities can join to dismantle the architecture of judgment with all of its closets and shadowy corners and resurrect our history of sanctuary--not only for those fleeing violence and poverty in other lands but for refugees closer to home seeking community where they can be their authentic selves. We cannot undo the past, but there remains plenty that calls for our outcry and action today. What we do will vary, but I pray that we will not do nothing" (204). 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Bottled Pope: How can water do such great things?

All the news is about Bob Brady drinking the pope's half-empty water glass, and bottling the rest. People are calling him all kinds of names. I'm not sure why. Even if you're not zealous in the way Bob Brady is zealous, you'd think respect for the diverse faith of others would be at least somewhat normative in our great nation, especially in an instance where, as far as I can tell, the congressman impinged on no one's rights and broke no laws.
Brady's reason for drinking the water was simple; he believes anything the pope touches is blessed. Now, before you go calling him crazy, do a self-check and see whether you believe some things are more sacred than others. Do you ask your children to be careful at the front of a sanctuary? Have you ever gone on a pilgrimage. Do you get quiet in cathedrals? 
That being said, do browse over to take a look at the photos he sent to the press of him holding the glass. They're pretty awkward, like an enactment of a special Bob Brady and family liturgy. 
It is a natural inclination, this notion that God's spirit is everywhere, but in certain places or people it is more manifest and intense. And if you're Roman Catholic, then the pope is the sine qua non.
So here's my Protestant/Lutheran insight. As a Lutheran, I happen to believe the vocation of all the baptized is as holy as any other. Luther liked to say that a father changing a diaper is more holy than any monk's prayers in a monastery. Which is nothing against monks or popes, their vocations are holy also. But none are above another, and the lowliest vocations are in fact in some ways more blessed and holy.

This is why, while Bob Brady may drink the pope's water, I eat the scraps from my kids' plates. Because I receive a blessing. And I hate to waste food. 

More seriously, if we attend to some good catechetical resources, Lutherans can say one more pithy thing about water. Luther taught in the Small Catechism:
How can water do such great things?--Answer.
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water.
Now, this commentary on water is in reference to baptism, which is somewhat distant from the pope's glass of water. Nevertheless, we do treat all these things in similar ways. Often we want a special person to baptize our child. I myself brought water from the Jordan River and used it at the baptism of our first child. Did I think there was something magical? Not really. Did it seem, well, richly symbolic and meaningful? Yes.

Luther reminds us that it is the word together with the water, the promise in the water, that does these things. So Bob Brady's piety is hovering around close to the theological center in the way popular piety does. It's not quite wrong, it's not quite right, but it is zealous. And in such cases it is best to leave these things up to individual piety, neither condemning or condoning, but living and letting live. 

It is, in fact, adiaphora. Take it or leave it.

Then, hold on tight to the word and promises of God.

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful. carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.”

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, “O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers. or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labour, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. . . .

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools. (From Luther, On the Estate of Marriage, 1522).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Let's Turn Our Words Into Actions #GlobalGoals

Dear Friends,

The ONE Campaign writes: "World leaders have agreed to 17 Global Goals that would mean a better life for all of us. The Goals are a plan to build a world where children don't go to bed hungry, where girls get the same opportunity to thrive as boys, and where people don't die of preventable diseases. It's one of the most incredible to-do lists ever written - this is the biggest global agreement since World War II."

Nelson Mandela said, “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

ONE invites us to stand with 7 million others and in Mandela’s honor, and pledge to use your voice to uphold and forward these global goals.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Pope and a President

It was the best of times. It was the worst of time.

On the one hand, the country had its first Muslim president. On the other hand, there was a papist in the capitol.

Wait, that's not quite right. Let me try this again.

This socialist had taken over the country, and the head of the wealthiest religious organization in the world (current estimates are the Vatican holds $18 billion in wealth) was in town currying favor.

No, wait, how about this one.

President Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States of America, is hosting Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, in an historic meeting. Unfortunately, the delivery of new iPhone 6S and 6S+ in New York will be delayed by the visit.

Argh. I just can't get this right.

In any event, this pope and this president together at this moment in history signals much of what is best on our globe right now. It makes me proud to be an American, to know that we elected a president like Obama. It makes me intrigued by and hopeful for the Roman Catholic church, as the pope leads it in the new evangelization focused on the care of the poor and stewards of the earth.

It also reminds me of our continuing struggles. The pope is a radical in a system in which he is embedded. As a result, his politics and worldview match neither the right nor the left of American partisan politics (thank God!), and likely do not satisfy the ideologies of any particular person.

World leaders are always beholden to the systems they inherit. The mark of leadership is how they manage themselves in the midst of those systems, and periodically transcend them.

Systems, on the other hand, show their symptoms. We've always known our nation has a problem with black bodies and non-Christian faiths. Similarly, we have this strange anti-Catholic bias (the Supreme Court notwithstanding).

43% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim. Many Protestants believe the Pope is not a Christian either. That's a strange world to inhabit, but that's the world we live in, where our projections on people are truer to us than their testimonies of themselves.

All of that being said, I'm relishing this week. It's a joy to see this visit. I'm thrilled especially for my RC friends, because their pope is here. I'm proud of our government, for the hospitality they have shown thus far on his visit.

And I'm reminded what a long way we have to go, in order to get to where we hope to be. But we have leaders, in spite of their complex relationships to their contexts, who look to have the wherewithal to move us there.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis and Worker Justice

This morning, I was proud to stand with low-wage workers from the Capitol who are on strike today for fair wages as we rallied and marched to Capitol Hill to ask for a living wage and a meeting with Pope Francis. 
We know that Francis has a packed schedule during his first-ever visit to the United States this week and that workers of all faith traditions want to share in the Pope’s message of dignity and respect for all workers.

And we hope that when Francis addresses Congress later this week, that our Senators and House Representatives will heed his call for worker justice and make meaningful and bipartisan reforms that allow workers to sustain a family and put an end to a “throwaway economy” that values profit over people and planet. 

I wanted to make sure you saw the note below from IWJ’s executive director Rudy López, calling for prayers for each member of Congress to reflect on his or her own values and take action in accordance with the Pope’s message. 

Will you add your prayer for Congressional action?

We’ll deliver all the prayers to Congressional leadership and implore them to change the rules so we can raise wages and ensure that every worker gets paid for their full day of work.

Click here to add your prayer.

In solidarity,
Sung Yeon Choimorrow
Interfaith Worker Justice
Director of Strategic Partnerships
P.S. If you're not ready to send a prayer to Congress, you can also use this form to send a message.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The self-righteousness of being wrong -or- On not conforming to "the world"

In certain Christian sub-groups, it goes like this. They like to say, "See, unlike those other Christians over there (who are really no Christians at all), we are not conforming our morals to the values of this world."

They believe that when they take a moral stand on a particular issue, if it is a "counter-cultural" position, they are in this way illustrating that, unlike other Christians, they are not conforming themselves to the standards of this world.

So, for example, if you believe "the world" has generally been supportive of the love in same-gender relationships, then yes, to take a Christian stand against same-gender marriage is in fact contradictory to the world.

If you think the Western world is really great at being neighborly with Muslim neighbors, then to warn against Islamic immigration is in fact non-conformist.

But are these accurate assumptions about the moral sensibilities of "this world"?

You see the point. In order to not be "worldly," your first job is to ascertain what is in fact worldly.

One advantage many who engage in this kind of discourse have over the rest of us: they're considerably more sure who is or is not "Christian," so they're able to readily define who does or does not have worldly values. Everybody else who isn't "them"--they are the worldly.

Liberal Christianity has often been stereotyped as more conforming to "this world" than other types of Christianity. There is good reason for this stereotype. Liberal Christianity is predicated to a considerable degree on the notion that the lived experience of Christian communities is a significant part of how theology and ethics should be developed.

In other words, for liberal Christianity, experience of life in this world is as important as Scripture itself in developing moral categories.

Conservative Christians, of which in the United States there are legion, take umbrage with this, desiring to lift Scripture above anything "worldly." The only problem with their umbrage--Scripture is itself part of "this world." Unlike the religious texts of other traditions (like Islam, for example, whose religious texts came dictated to Mohammed directly from above, and so are elevated above creation more than Christian texts, or the Book of Mormon, which likewise has a transcendent place in that religion's life), the Christian Scriptures have always been received and translated as "worldly" texts.

We know who authored some of the texts. They can be translated over and over into different languages, are even encouraged to be translated. They are texts with history, influenced by culture, shaped by the time and place of those who wrote them. For all its weaknesses, the historical-critical approach to reading Scripture is part of how we approach the texts, and there's no going back to some safer pre-critical form of reading Scripture. Anyone who attempts to do so is, well, pre-critical, with all the attendant problems that come along.

This means that in practice, liberal Christians on average read and experience Scripture as one part of their wider lived experience, and are less likely to elevate their reading of Scripture (or Scripture itself) above other experiences.

I myself, as a Lutheran theologian, would place Scripture somewhat higher than this, understanding it as our "canon" and so a distillation of experience in more concentrated form, still to be interpreted as a text for Christian community to live under and with rather than over or against.

I do this because I believe in distinguishing two things, and this is a very important distinction, a crucial one in fact: There is a difference between Scripture itself, and our reading of Scripture. Too many people assume that their specific reading of Scripture IS Scripture. Once you have forgotten you are an interpreter of Scripture, you are in very dangerous territory indeed.

Returning to the point, no liberal Christians are likely to elevate Scripture to the level many conservatives do, on a plane above the human, as if Scripture were an angel or some other transcendent reality.

Liberals tend to read Scripture as more messy, and in the mix. Which also happens to be how they understand God in Christ.

Returning to the "conforming to the world" motif, this means not only that Christians of the liberal (and I believe this means Lutheran) persuasion are less likely to see themselves as counter-cultural; it also means that their definition of counter-cultural differs from many other Christians. Which culture are they countering? To what degree are they lumping other Christian perspectives not their own into the worldly category?

So how else do liberals think about this differently? Well, first, it means things are less black and white for us. Returning to some of the earlier moral categories, liberal Christians might notice that the world itself has been less than stellar at accepting the love of same-gender couples. So then liberal Christians might ask, "Have the Scriptures themselves conformed to the world on this point?" Or a Lutheran might ask, one like myself who is more likely to turn the hermeneutics of suspicion on the interpreters rather than the Bible: "Has our interpretation of Scripture and our bias against same-gender love clouded our interpretation of Scripture?"

On the issue of Islamophobia, a liberal or Lutheran reading of Scripture might ask: "What in our reading of Scripture has led us to fear the religious other rather than learn from them and love them? Have we been selective in our reading, elevating texts that encourage separation from the world (especially texts in the New Testament) while not noticing the ways Christian faith and life has been embedded in and among other communities, all the way back to and including Israel's life with neighboring nations?"

But the main point, the most crucial point, is simple: When anyone says arrogantly and confidently that they are right because clearly they are being Christian rather than conforming themselves to "this world," right there, at that precise moment, they have undermined themselves, because the anger and self-righteousness and hypocrisy present in the claim is itself the thing in Scripture most frequently named as "worldly."

When Scripture says we should not be conformed to this world, it says instead we should be conformed to Christ. And life in Christ, if it is anything at all, is a wild freedom from moral self-righteousness and assertion, a genuine openness to the other that bristles primarily at rigid religious legalism.

It is relaxing in Jesus Christ's own life, who understood his life as completely resting in his Father.

The one who created, well, you know, the world.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why Nadia?

We're not accustomed to dealing with famous Lutherans. Try to name one. Garrison Keillor doesn't count, he's Episcopalian.

Got any living ones, yet?

Systems experts will tell you the health of any system is relative to the flexibility with which it deals with change. Especially change of roles.

So, the church whose last quasi-famous person was Paul Simon (the senator, with the bowtie), now has a famous person. Famous enough to be on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Famous enough to have her new book, Accidental Saints, ascend to #8 on the New York Times Bestseller list. So of course everyone is in shock, the system is stressed, and not everyone deals with stress well.

When we're stressed, we're more likely to break. Because we're rigid, and rigid things don't bend.

Reactions to famous folks are mixed, it seems in particular if they are women. Just witness the recent conversations around Carly Fiorina.

So now Lutherans have a famous woman who is a pastor. Of course that becomes one part of the issue. Some Lutherans, especially white men of the conservative variety, seem to only be able to focus on this part of Nadia. Oh my God, a swearing woman with tattoos is teaching the Word of God. Heresy. Destruction. Abomination.

White men are particularly incapable of noticing when they're being misogynist. I'm aware of this from personal experience. And we tend to deflect by acting as if we're actually talking about the theology, rather than talking out of our misogyny. Articles like this one in First Things fall into this category, I fear.

Nadia's well aware of this. It's always been a part of her ministry. She's had to learn how to roll with it, it seems, so she names it frequently in her books and interviews.

Another reaction, as far as I can tell the most common reaction, is relief. People read her books (many of my own parishioners read her books), and they say, "Thank God, this is a voice that makes sense to me. This preaches to me. I'm inspired."

I'd venture to guess this is the reason any Christian author becomes famous. People read Christian authors for inspiration, and Nadia's story and preaching are inspirational.

Another reaction, as far as I can tell the most common reaction among clergy, is to look to her either as a guide for how to do ministry, or as a great example of doing in ministry in place they find difficult to replicate. This one is more complicated. What it means in practice is: a burgeoning and growing number of Nadia Bolz-Weber epigones. Clergy doing urban ministry in particular who try to be like Nadia.

This isn't all bad. Who doesn't do this, in a sense? We all have our influences. We all imitate others.

So more clergy have tattoos. More clergy go to seminary to do urban mission starts. People go to conferences to explore the Christian faith ala the emergent movement (like the one Nadia organized this weekend with Rachel Held Evans, Why Christian? and which they thankfully distanced a bit from an entanglement I still wish Nadia would have handled differently).

These are good things. The aspect of Nadia's ministry with which many struggle is in particular her public persona and fame. Not everyone can or even should have that. So to what degree is it problematic that a significant role model for Christian ministry in our denomination also has as one part of her ministry a dramatic pop culture component?

I was thinking of this recently when I was walking through an exhibit of art at Crystal Bridges. It paired two close friends, Jamie Wyeth and Andy Warhol. Warhol sought out fame, cultivated fame, made pop an aspect of his art. Jamie Wyeth, also famous, also a magnificent artist, didn't allow fame to permeate the content of his art. He just did his thing.

As far as I can tell, this is what Nadia is attempting, to the best of her ability. Of course she's also good at promotion. She has to be. But honestly, who of us doesn't do this on some scale or another. Many of us preachers are called to do the work of the evangelist, to get the message out to more and more people. Your personality, your "platform," by necessity must be a part of that messaging.

But Lutherans are famously uncomfortable with fame. In fact, we like to smack anyone down who becomes too famous. It's like a Whac-a-Mole game.

But what if we turn Nadia's subtitle around on her? "Finding God in all the wrong people." How do we find God in the rise of humble Lutheran clericalism to NPR stardom?

If we do that, perhaps we start by taking Nadia at her word, and attend to her actual content and theology. Notice, for example, that Nadia, as much as she loves the church, is in another sense relentlessly individual in her focus. She builds community in order to offer healing for individual sinners. She cares a lot about the message she proclaims, but allows considerable individual space for what folks believe in the context of what she preaches.

Even her focus on not monitoring moral behaviors is itself a kind of pietism. It's pietism in the way Quakers are Christian. Sometimes in order to get to the gospel in real life, some kinds of moralisms posing as gospel need to be inverted.

Personally, I've often been puzzled by how dampened the social gospel is in Nadia's thought. Perhaps I've overlooked something (she does, as we're all aware, speak out frequently on behalf of the marginalized), but I think this is accurate: Nadia is a traditional law/gospel preacher, so her focuses is on the proclamation of the gospel to individual hearers. I think she's less confident about system building, movement organizing, etc.

Except here she is, organizing a significant movement. Because that's the funny thing about fame. It comes alongside us, joins us in our journey. You read Nadia, and for better or worse, you feel a part of her life, and she yours. Because that's what memoirs do.

In other words, for better or worse, to organize as Christians according to the gospel of Nadia is to join the community of folks making sense of very messy faith in the real world, which includes messy stars like Nadia.

And of course, all our own individual messes are made up of our fragile and complicated reactions to what presents itself. In the modern media world, this includes the Bright Shiny Objects. All of them play their own part in the economy of our imaginations. They get different grades. Jimmy Fallon. Solid. Stephen Colbert. Truthiness. Donald Trump. Bleh. Joel Osteen. Meh.

Nadia Bolz-Weber. The wrong person in whom God keeps showing up. And that'll preach.

For a review of Nadia's previous book, Pastrix

Friday, September 18, 2015

Defining phenomenology and radicalizing (a)theism | Best quote ever | Jean-Luc Marion

How do we define a phenomenon? It seems reasonable her to privilege the answers, convergent in the essentials, advanced by Kant and Husserl, since they almost single-handedly established the only positive concept of the phenomenon ever formulated in modern philosophy. According to this understanding, a phenomenon is defined by the adequacy in it of an intuition (giving and fulfilling) to a concept or a signification (empty and to be validated). Consequently, a thing can appear to me in two ways. Either I determine the intuition received by fixing it (identifying it, subsuming it) with an imposed concept, so that I am no longer dealing with a simple lived experience of consciousness (or a manifold of intuition) but instead precisely with a lived experience assigned to the case of a particular object or being, which then becomes describable; or the concept that I could form on my initiative (through spontaneous understanding or conscious intentionality) ends up finding empirical validation in an intuition, which comes subsequently to fill it and to qualify it as a particular object or being. It matters little from which of these two end points the adequacy is accomplished, since in every case the phenomenon only appears by synthesizing in itself the intuition and the concept.

How does this work when I say 'God'? From the outset it seems clear that in this case I have neither an intuition or a concept at my disposal. -- I have not intuition at my disposal, at least if by intuition I mean that which can be experienced according the forms of space and time. For, by 'God' I mean by definition and first of all the eternal, that which endures unceasingly because it never even begins to endure. I also mean by definition what is non spatial: hat which is situated nowhere, occupies no extension, admits of no limit (that the center of which, no less than the circumference, is found nowhere), escapes all measure (the immense, the incommensurable), and thus is not divisible, or capable of increase. Let us note that this twofold impossibility of entering into intuition implies no avoidable requirements of the mere possibility of something like God. The most speculative theology, which itself maintains that "no one has ever seen God" (John 1:18), agrees here with the most unilateral atheism to postulate that, in the case in which one wishes to say 'God,' what is involved is the transgression of the formal conditions of intuition: if intuition implies space and time, then there cannot be intuition of God. Or, more radically, there must not be any such intuition, if God is ever to be considered. Thus, God is distinguished by the impossibility, for us, of ever receiving the least intuition of him.

But there is more (or less). Let us suppose that it so happens that I have a rather exception intuition, such that I consider assigning it to something called 'God'; in spite of this, I would not know 'God,' since, without any corresponding concept, I would not recognize this intuition as (that of) God. I could recognize it as such only by assigning it a concept that identifies it as the intuition of something as divine, a god or even 'God,' or, what amounts to the same thing, a concept that it fills and that in return confers on it a form and signification. Here, let us note, the fundamental inanity of the nation of 'natural mysticism' stands out: it can mean, in the best of cases, only a perfectly undifferentiated intuition (more blind than any other) of a divine, of god, or of "God" that is completely indistinct. -- Ad what about this concept? Here too, by definition, I can legitimately assign no concept to God, for every concept implies the delimitation of that the comprehension of which it assures; it thus contradicts the only acceptable definition of God--namely, that he passes beyond all delimitation, and thus every possible definition supplied by a finite mind. Incomprehensibility, which in every other case attests to a weakness of my knowledge or an insufficiency of the thing to be known, here and here alone ranks as an epistemological demand imposed precisely by what must be thought--the infinite, the unconditioned, and thus the inconceivable. 'Incomprehensibility is contained in the formal definition of infinity' (Descartes).

But it will be objected, if no concept that I use to designate God can, by definition, reach him, all of them nonetheless retain a certain pertinence: it is enough to overturn them, to transform their illegitimate affirmations into just so many legitimate negations. For lack of saying of God what he is, the concepts at least say what he is not. In this case, the principle is upheld that the negations always go further than the affirmations. Perhaps. But this gesture, as legitimate as it may be, does not restore any of these concepts' theoretical validity for aiming at 'God,' even in a solely negative mode.

"If my potential concepts designating 'God' in principle say nothing about God, they at best say something about me, insofar as I am confronting the incomprehensible. They say what it is that I am able to consider, at least at a given moment, as an admissible representation of God; they thus articulate the conception of the divine that I make for myself--a conception that occurs to me as the best because it defines precisely the maximal and the optimal conceivable for me. In short, the concepts that I assign to God, like so many invisible mirrors, send back to me the image that I make up for myself of the perfection of the divine, and therefore are images of myself. My concepts of God end up as idols--that is, as always, as idols of myself. Consequently, not only can I not aspire to attain the least concept of of God (for in the final analysis such a concept must claim to comprehend and seize the essence of God, which would contradict that essence), but above all I must not do so, for in this way I would only reflect (on) myself, me alone.

This unavoidable weakness of the concept in general concerning God leads to a double consequence. -- First of all: because the 'death of God,' in order to identify this 'death' as that of a particular 'god' or even of 'God,' must necessarily assume a particular concept of his essence (the 'moral God,' the 'final cause,' causa sui, summum ens, etc.), it thus disqualifies in each case only that which corresponds to this sole concept, leaving all the others (undefined, but just as inadequate as the first) still to be reviewed and critiqued. In other words, every conceptual atheism remains regional, and thus provisional: it progresses at the slow pace of justice, which investigates, examines, and challenges the ever-repeating concepts that claim, always just as illegitimately, the master of the essence of 'God,' precisely in order to challenge it. But each refutation refutes itself, since it only ever refutes one definition that is by definition inadequate of the essence of 'God,' opening at the same time the path for every new possible definition; which, in turn, will be able to claim to be adequate only for as long as the tribunal of reason leaves it unchallenged. And so on, for atheism refutes itself by having to repeat itself, following the rhythm  of the concepts that it assumes and then challenges.

A second consequence results: the difficulty of a concept of 'God' applies just as well to every form of theism or deism, for "They imagine that it [the Christian religion] simply consists in worshipping a God considered to be great and mighty and eternal, which is properly speaking deism, almost as remote from the Christian religion as atheism, its complete opposite.... in particular, in each case, we presupposed that 'being' or 'existing' still mean something when we apply them to 'God.' But nothing is less certain, or betrays more clearly a second idolatry. The impossibility of assigning a concept to God, then, lies in God's very definition--which is that he admits of none.

Confronted with this double impossibility, it becomes inevitable to conclude from the common determination of phenomenally the impossibility of any phenomenon of God. And here again, which is to say with the rational theology of metaphysics, theism accepts this result, just as much as atheism.

Excerpted from Negative Certainties (Religion and Postmodernism)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Update on Syrian Refugees

The Syrian refugee crisis has now captured the attention of the entire international community. Over four million refugees have fled war-torn Syria with no permanent safety in sight. Due to the overwhelming refugee numbers, insufficient international support and political reticence, many refugees will encounter closed doors rather than the protection they so desperately seek. As a world leader in humanitarian relief and a nation of immigrants, the United States should open our doors and stand for welcome.

On September 10th, the White House indicated plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. during fiscal year 2016, which begins October 1st. This is simply not enough. In coordination with Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), LIRS is urging the United States government to increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled next fiscal year to 100,000. The United States has the capacity and our communities and congregations have the will to welcome Syrian refugees on this scale. With your support, America can open its arms to our Syrian brothers and sisters who cannot wait any longer for a new home and a new life.

We call upon you to urge President Obama to rise to the pressing need and offer the necessary humanitarian relief. Here are two simple ways you can stand in support:
Speaking together, we can convince President Obama that Americans are ready to provide welcome and ease the suffering of our brothers and sisters from Syria. The United States has a proud tradition of leading the world in the number of refugees resettled each year, and during this time of crisis, we should not fall short. Raise your voice today in the spirit of welcome and compassion for refugees.

In peace,

Brittney Nystrom
Director for Advocacy

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

ELCA Reaches Its $15 Million Malaria Campaign Goal

I have incredible news! The ELCA Malaria Campaign just reached its fundraising goal of $15 million! Thank you for being a part of this monumental milestone and helping us protect countless lives from this preventable, treatable disease. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Five years ago ELCA members, congregations and synods came together, dreamed big with our Lutheran companion churches and partners, and set out to raise $15 million for malaria programming. Today we celebrate all that we have accomplished together.

Working with our Lutheran companions and partners in 13 African countries, we have brought about lasting change. But our work is not over. While the ELCA Malaria Campaign will officially come to an end on Jan. 31, 2016, our commitment to ending deaths from this disease will not. In the coming years, support to our companions and partners to address malaria will come through gifts to ELCA World Hunger, which has a long history of supporting health-related work.

Without you, none of this would have been possible. Thank you for your prayers, your partnership and your generosity.

Together in Christ’s service,
Christina Jackson-Skelton
Executive Director, Mission Advancement
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Monday, September 14, 2015

Is my dog Christian?

Sometimes I'm not quite sure what to do with animals. Let me explain.

A few years back we began hosting a blessing of the animals event at Good Shepherd. This year it will be at noon on October 4th.

Doing so is by no means innovative. Many faith communities have been doing this for decades, often in conjunction with theFeast of St. Francis, the saint famous for preaching to the animals.

We typically host the blessing outside, on the church grounds. Brief prayer. Read a psalm. Then go around and bless each of the pets, and pray with families.

This is when things get interesting. Not all pets handle corporate worship as well as others (this is actually also true of humans, something I'll get back to in a bit). Some love it. Some are territorial. Some can't even attend, and have to send photos of themselves as proxy for the blessing.

It's also hard to know how to mix different kinds of pets. Should there be a separate blessing for the cats and the dogs? What about snakes, or beasts of the field?

Or should we welcome pets into the actual worship service some Sundays? It could be complicated, but then again, why not? What's a convincing theological reason not to welcome animals into worship (as opposed to a practical one, like they might bark, or make a mess, which are both things that, again, humans might do also)?

This is where I start to think, "Animals are perplexing in light of Christian theology."

Here are some examples. First of all, although in the creation account of Genesis 1 animals are created good, it remains a truth that humans are singled out as the very good creatures. Humans are the creatures made in the imago dei, the image of God.

This theologema rides right at the center of almost all Christian theology. Animals share one thing with us--we are all creatures, created. Yet animals are different, inasmuch as the economy of salvation functions differently for them than us.

They are not, for example, baptized. Nor do they participate in any of the sacraments of the church.

And with the wild and beautiful exception of St. Francis, they are not much preached to or considered in the mission of the Christian church.

Animals are around in the Scriptures, but almost never as pets. Can you think of anyone in Scripture with a pet? It's likely they lived with animals. Husbandry in that era often included shacking up with the animals one kept as a livelihood. But it is significant that no animal plays a significant narrative role in Scripture (with the enigmatic exception (!!!) of Balaam's donkey, Numbers 22:30).

This puzzles me. By comparison, think of Odysseus' faithful dog Argos, or the cat's of ancient Egypt.

In other words, Scripture itself, and as a result a considerable portion of Christian theological reflection ever since, has given us less than a robust set of resources to consider the place of animals theologically.

Returning to the concrete, we have a dog. His name is Charlie. I must confess, it is taking me some time to learn to love having a dog. I'm getting there, but I'm learning my love for Charlie through the love lavished on him by my family. I don't have an instinctual love of dogs. I'm not even sure why. Perhaps no dog can ever replace my childhood pet, Streak. Or perhaps it is a theological thing, I don't know.

Yet I know so many people who think of their pets as additional people, part of the family. They love their pets, profoundly. It's no surprise that sometimes people show up at church and want their pet baptized.

Now, I'm going to go traditional here and say I cannot find a compelling reason to baptize pets. First, I think pets have their own economy of grace they live out as God's beloved creatures, and the sacraments aren't really a part of that. I think Charlie's sacrament, for example, is the sun shining through the sliding glass door mid-day, or the snuggles he gets from our kids.

Yet I also think that animals have not gotten as much attention for their proper place within a Christian worldview as they could or should. This may explain why Christianities track record in its relation to the created order is so abysmal. We have not invested energy and attention in a theological consideration of God's relationship with the animals. Concomitantly, we have not considered the gospel of things in themselves, all things.

It may very well be the case that in order for me to love my neighbor, and so love God, I'll need to revisit my love of Charlie. Perhaps rightly ordered care of neighbor in an economy of grace relies on rightly ordered care of all ecology in an economy of creatureliness.

Friday, September 11, 2015

On Pastoral Counseling

Recently assembled a set of thoughts on pastoral counseling based on a few years of experience practicing it. I wonder... when and for what do you seek out counseling from clergy? What kind of pastoral counseling do you practice? Would you share your insights in the comments?

1) Pastoral counseling defined as counseling like other counseling, a one hour scheduled session, is less frequent than other kinds of pastoral counseling. I think this surprises pastors early on, then they get used to it.
2) I think you get more pastoral counseling requests the longer you are in a parish. People are waiting to see if you will be around, build trust, etc. I feel like it ramps up significantly in the third or fourth year.
3) This is the best resource on the most common kind of pastoral counseling, which is brief. People come with a solution-focused problem they want to work through.
4) If people ask for a sit-down session that is scheduled, solution-focused counseling is typically less important. People simply want to be heard.
5) If you so desire, you can build a reputation for being available for certain kinds of counseling. Just like any other therapist, people will come to you because of the approach you take, or the areas you work on. I, for example, try to be especially available for marriage coaching and vocational counseling. 
6) If I were to force rank the topics people come with, it goes: family problems, vocational crisis, addiction issues, grief, stress.
7) Referrals are great, and sending people to experts is often wise, but for quite a lot of counseling, don't underestimate the extent to which people simply need a listening ear, and clergy tend to have ears.
8) Some people won't go to the pastor for counseling because they don't want them to know about their struggles. This is okay. It's kind of a natural feeling. Don't be surprised if you do a good amount of counseling for parishioners from other congregations. This is a way of helping folks not be embarrassed around their actual pastor.
9) A lot of pastoral counseling now happens via digital social media. Anticipate and plan for this.
Finally, I would add the hardest thing about counseling is the presence of the counselor in the counseling relationship. In other words, it is less often the case that somebody brings something especially hard to talk about. It's that we as counselors sometimes get in the way of being a helpful presence if we aren't actively working on our own stuff. For that reason, I find it essential that I keep working on issues of self-differentiation and family systems, in order to continually grow as a pastoral presence. I'm embarrassed to say that in my mid-40s, I'm still much less mature than I'd like to be. But then I don't think I'm alone in this.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why Secularity May be the New Christian | Or | Refugees are Us

Charles Taylor calls them social imaginaries. Peter Berger calls them plausibility structures. Michael Polanyi calls them tacit dimensions. In Latin I guess you'd call it the nomos. Whatever it is, I'm pondering it today in light of the European refugee situation.

I notice, for example, that the largest "Christian" nation on earth (the United States) has a significant portion of its "Christian" population opposed to the welcome of immigrants. In comparison, some of the most "secular" nations of Europe (like Finland) are eager to welcome those seeking refuge.

This is where the social imaginary or whatever comes into play. How is it that secular communities can act out of Christian plausibility structures while Christians are acting out of secular ones? Or is it fair to say that it is part of the secular plausibility structure to resist immigrants? Or fair to label aspects of secularity "Christian" just because their policies and communal action resembles the kind of Christian faith commitments I also espouse.

That is, are the "new seculars" actually "anonymous Christians"?

Of course many other factors are at play. A nation's openness to immigrants/refugees is often a co-efficient of their economic and workforce situation. Germany needs new workers. the UK, less so. But the current "crisis" isn't fully explainable in these terms, so I'm pondering the religious and tacit dimensions.

Finally, I do think the current crisis is going to transform refugee resettlement globally, and is going to force us to revisit how we define refugees and migrants, how we treat them. And most importantly, it is going to be essential that we show compassion for ALL refugees, not just the current wave. More bluntly, why are we more responsive to this wave of Syrian refugees than we were to the continuing waves of refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa?

And oh my, if you read nothing else today, read this from Slavoj Žižek.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Categorical Imperative

I've always thought Kant formulated just one categorical imperative, but actually he articulated one imperative in three different formulations. I find all three, and in particular their progression, incredibly appealing, especially in light of our present shift to a secular and plural society.


"Act only on that maxim which I can at the same time will as a universal law."


So act as to treat humanity, whether in my own self or in that of another, always as an end, and never as a means only."


"Every rational being must so act as if s/he were by their maxims in every case a legislating member of the universal kingdom of ends."

Try it out. Test these against any number of Bright Shiny Objects of the present moment, and see how they stand up.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Body of Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus

It might be hyperbole to say that Reggie Williams' book on Bonhoeffer's black Jesus changes everything... and yet it does.

Most books on Bonhoeffer approach everything through the hermeneutics of Bonhoeffer himself. The world is reframed in the light of Bonhoeffer's theology and personality.

Reggie Williams also loves Bonhoeffer, but he takes a different approach. Instead of framing everything through a constant Bonhoeffer lens, with the reader experiencing Harlem, or theology, or what have you, through Bonhoeffer's eyes, Williams imitates the deep empathy of Bonhoeffer himself by going all the way, sometimes abandoning Bonhoeffer for pages at a time in order to mediate the community or place with which Bonhoeffer was empathic.

The result is a revelation. Bonhoeffer's freedom to confess faith in Christ over against National Socialism is explainable by reference to his theology alone, but his freedom to confess faith in Christ even over against the compromised confessing church, which frequently went only half way in its resistance to the Nazis, was inspired by his time in Harlem. It is his experience of the black church, his becoming part of and embodying the black church of Harlem, that makes him who he is upon return to Berlin and the years of his confessing.

What is frequently overlooked in contemporary theology is the extent to which race has become an ontological category co-opting all or most of Western thought. "As a result of this distortion, God's gift of salvation was now commingled with a social principle and a racial optic; social value and moral proximity to God were radicalized and measured by the likeness to an idealized humanity, the white European male body. Israel was replaced by Europe as the community of God's chosen people, and Christ became a European white man" (47).

The theologian who makes this argument with the greatest breadth and rigor is J. Kameron Carter, in his Race: A Theological Account. I recommend that book for all those who would like to work through the geneaology of race in western theology.

But for those with greater interest in Bonhoeffer, or simply anyone more interested in a specific account of how this plays out in the theology of one person, perhaps the most influential theologian of the 2oth century, well, then Reggie Williams' is the place to begin.

What we discover is the extent to which Bonhoeffer was influenced by Harlem and the black church experience. Even though there are many theologians who keep attempting to re-appropriate Bonhoeffer for their white theology (the worst transgressor being Eric Metaxas in his excruciatingly painful biography), the truth is Bonhoeffer has "disdain for the white representation of Christ and Christianity" and was drawn to the "more attractive conversation about Christ that he encountered among the 'Negroes' [and their] transitional discursive space and moment that was occurring on the underside of the color line" (51).
"The man-made white Jesus disallowed them from recognizing the real Christ, who they wanted to avoid. Racism turns white Christians into idol worshippers, and disallows authentic Christian discipleship" (57).
It isn't simply that racism is a slight moral failure that can be corrected on the surface while maintaining a form of faithful Christianity at the core. The point is, our very faith, right down to our discipleship, has been co-opted by white power structures. To become faithful followers of Jesus Christ, all those co-opted by racist ideologies need our theologies reformed.

Two points are worth attending to. First, Bonhoeffer meets a Jesus who empathizes with the minorities. "Jesus is found among the victims of systemic and structural oppression, repeatedly rejected, and finally killed by its guardians, because of his empathic identification (Stellvertretung) with all victims of injustice" (62).

But Bonhoeffer also meets himself in his encounter with this Jesus, and out of deep empathy is able to change. "Bonhoeffer was a white aristocrat, a theologian, and a junior faculty member at the University of Berlin. But identity did not prevent his entering into Abyssinian [in Harlem] as an engaged learner. By practicing empathy in Harlem, he opened himself to exploring and revising the way he saw the world from with a community that was foreign to him" (79).

Interestingly, when Bonhoeffer later returns to Berlin, his empathic experience in Harlem draws him to inner city ministry in a "tough" neighborhood of the city. He tells stories to rowdy confirmands in a working class part of Berlin about his time in Harlem, and they pay attention.

Bonhoeffer is drawn to ministry of this type because, as I have mentioned, he sees in Jesus an empathic resister to oppressive systems. Here is Bonhoeffer in his own words:

The proletariat actually disassociates Jesus from his church and its religion. When the proletariat says that Jesus is a good human being, it means more than the bourgeoisie means when it says that Jesus is God. Jesus is present in factory halls as a worker among workers, in politics as the perfect idealist, in the life of the proletariat as a good human being. He stands besides members of the proletariat as a fighter in their ranks against the capitalist enemy" (DBWE 12:90).

Reggie Williams directs our attention to an aspect of Bonhoeffer of which we have always been aware, his willingness to resist an oppressive regime--but he directs our attention also to the deep racial aspect of this willingness. Bonhoeffer's exposure to the African-American church in Harlem is the direct energizing force of his resistance.

And so: "The nature of the obedient church is faithfulness to Christ on behalf of others in the moment of crisis... the least that the faithful church should do is care for the vulnerable: 'Speak out for those who cannot speak out.' Who in the church still remembers that this is the very least the Bible asks of us in such times as these?" (124)

I keep quoting this book, but it is because it is so good. So we have again,
"Bonhoeffer's theology after New York included developments in his understanding of the theologia crucis in regard to the social role the church must take in response to oppression. Theologia crucis came to be defined as theology done from the recognition of God's hiddenness in suffering with the outcast and the marginalized--as Bonhoeffer had experienced God in the hidden African American communities and now among the suffering Jews" (129).
Notice that God standing with the suffering is quite different than, for example, the stand your ground culture of much of Christianity in North America today. In the United States, white theologians have co-opted God's solidarity with the suffering and think that God "stands with" the establishment, those ensconced in power, those carrying guns. This illustrates the extent to which racist categories continue to co-opt real Christian faith for heretical ends.

For so much more on this point, consider reading Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas.

So Reggie Williams concludes:
"Access to the perspective from below clarifies the quality of Christian discipleship by revealing that a supposed moral life is not the key to a good Christian life; Christlikeness is. People may be labeled as essentially immoral by racialized definitions of humanity, and a moral life may be determined by adherence to doctrines in isolation from others or doctrines that favor an idealized community. But Christlikeness is determined in concrete daily interaction with and for others. One cannot claim to ignore Christ and ignore injustice. As Bonhoeffer indicates, Christ is hidden in suffering and marginalization. To see the world from the perspective of those communities where outcasts are labeled and shunted grants vision of the nature of God in Christ. To volunteer as one who shares the load of suffering and marginalization creates participation in what God is doing in the world, and, thus, the burden-bearer becomes a disciple of Christ" (134). 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Greetings! I am a Christian and I Need You to Criminalize Me

It's one thing for an individual to go rogue, become delusional, with visions of grandeur and persecution for a righteous cause. That happens all the time.

But when the former governor of Arkansas and a senator from Texas, both presidential candidates, join the delusion, and announce unequivocally that they stand with her... well, Houston, we have a problem.

It's remarkably difficult to parse this problem. Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee seem to think that Kim Davis was arrested for living her Christian faith. That all by itself is an astounding, and ludicrous claim. It's hard enough to argue with a delusional person. How does one go about rationally discussing group delusion?

Following the persecution claim comes the apocalyptic warning, that after Kim Davis, pastors and florists and all kinds of Christians will be arrested for their faith.

So let's back up a bit. First, let's notice how racist this whole scenario is. If you don't believe me, let me show you two Christians who were arrested, one could claim, for their faith, neither of whom received any loving attention from these Christian politicians.

Bree Newsome, arrested for removing South Carolina Confederate Flag

Bree Newsome took the flag down because she is a Christian.

Immigrant child, incarcerated for seeking refuge in the wealthiest "Christian" nation on the planet
This immigrant child crossed a border and came to the United States because he is a Christian. He lived out his hope, like Abraham and Sarah and a long line of faithful folks prior to him, trusting the place he moved to was a place of hospitality and new life.

Who is visiting these kinds of incarcerated Christians? Why do we think Kim Davis is the crowning example of living faith in a way that runs up against our politics or culture?

Now, Mike Huckabee is following in a long line of faithful Christians who follow the biblical mandate to visit those in prison (Matthew 25). There's nothing wrong with visiting anyone in prison, even Kim Davis. She needs love as much as anyone.

But if the visits are politicized, in order to accomplish specific goals, there may be a sense in which the caring action is taken for the wrong reason.

In this case, not only is the visit calculated to legitimate Davis's illegal action, it is also calculated to assist fundamentalist evangelical Christianity in making a move it has to make right now to maintain some level of its cultural leverage.

This kind of Christianity, having in the last decade or so lost its place of supreme power in our culture, now has to play the next power card. If they aren't the establishment, then they have to be the victim. 

Those of us who are not the American Christian establishment deal with our own kinds of psychosis, not the least of which is sycophantic envy of the attention lavished on evangelical and fundie Christians. Notice my blog post is even an example of this sycophancy (or perhaps parasitisism).

But the Mike Huckabee's of the world, faced with a Supreme Court made up of all Roman Catholics and Jews, and a president who is decidedly Christian of the progressive persuasion, and in a country increasingly made up of Christians but not the white Christians who are his "kind," is going to need to play the victim card in order to maintain any kind of leverage.

If nothing else, we need to remember that the great martyrs of every era are identified as Christian martyrs precisely because they didn't use their martyrdom for power or leverage. Not all martyrs are martyrs. Self-proclaimed martyrs, self-inflicted martyrs, self-serving martyrs, none of these stand the test of time.

Long-term, our nation will be judged more by how we welcomed the little children than whether we protected a delusional county clerk abusing her power. That's my take. That many so-called Christians can't see this is at least some indication of how deeply our form of Christianity has been co-opted by racism and much more. Extricating ourselves from such systems is the work of a lifetime.

Friday, September 04, 2015

An Update on the Refugee Crisis from LIRS

Loss and grief, pain and shock, anger and helplessness. 

SyrianBoysBehindFenceThese are all emotions that sweep over us as we see the pictures and hear the stories of the swelling refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. And none has been more heart-wrenching than the image of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washing up on a beach in Turkey, his family having tried so desperately to reach safety as they fled horrific violence in Syria. A precious life lost that could have been saved. And today, he and his 5-year-old brother and his mother were laid to rest.

The biblical concept of “lament”-- life-shattering sorrow comes to my mind and weighs on my heart these days. 

Yet each of us is called to lift our head out of sorrow and weeping and ask, “What can I do to help refugees like Aylan and his family?”

Refugees fleeing Syria need you.

I am asking you to join us with three simple actions that can make a real difference:
Thank you for your prayers and lifting your voice in support of refugees seeking safety.

Yours in faith,

Linda Hartke

P.S. Support all refugees here, especially helping communities prepare to receive Syrian refugees by making a donation to LIRS today.