Since April, a growing number of North Carolinians have gathered at our state’s General Assembly to collectively petition an extreme legislature whose daily decisions are attacking the general welfare. We have called these gatherings “Moral Mondays,” and an awakening of hope led by people of faith has been at the heart of them. Several weeks ago, our Moral Monday was led by hundreds of pastors, drawing attention from The New York Times. But pastors are not the only people whose faith is inspiring them to action. On this Monday in June, dozens of doctors, nurses, school teachers and environmental activists led the crowd of over 4,000 people. Holly Jordan, a Durham public school teacher, was among those arrested. This is the statement she made on the Halifax Mall before her arrest.
As a public school teacher in North Carolina – not an “outsider” that Governer McCrory alleges is at the helm of the Moral Monday protests, but an educator grounded in and devoted to the community of Durham – I am ardent to stand up for the future of my students. When I came out of college straight into teaching seven years ago, I believed that teaching English was going to be about, well, teaching English. I thought that my task was to impart in my students a love of, or at least a less fervent dislike for, Shakespeare and To Kill a Mockingbird.
by: Jacqueline J. Lewis on July 2nd, 2013 | Comments Off
New Yorkers rejoice outside of Stonewall Inn following the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. The decision on the Voting Rights Act, however, is no cause for celebration. Creative Commons: Michael Fleshman
This week my heart experienced incredible joy and deep sadness about the Supreme Court decisions. I am so thankful to God for the historic Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. I stood with other activists at the Stonewall Inn on Wednesday night celebrating with colleagues and allies. What an important victory! But the Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act felt like a punch in my stomach. I am an African American pastor; my people paid a high price for the right to vote. After all of the absurdity in the last presidential election about redistricting, and as our country “browns-up,” this decision is a huge step backward, and one that needs to be addressed swiftly.
The U.S. Supreme Court rulings are a testimony to the ways time and personal stories change our understanding. The decisions are part of an ongoing narrative of change in the movement for justice. It took time, but Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat changed the story of segregation in the South. It took time, but Martin Luther King’s inspired speech helped us all to dream dreams of reconciliation. It took time, but the court ruled it is unconstitutional to deny married same-gender couples federal benefits and the court paved the way for California to allow same-gender marriages. Congregations and religious leaders who testify for marriage equality change the story. We do it because we hear the “still-speaking Word” shout into our hearts: Now is the time for justice.
When I began advocating publicly for gay rights, my parents wanted to talk to me about “What the Bible says…” They are Christians, and their faith and the Bible sustain them. Even so, they stand back from some of what it says. They know that the Bible was used to justify slavery. They know the Bible has been used to prevent women from leading congregations. They understand that texts have contexts and that God’s Word is a Living Word. “What the Bible says…” isn’t the only thing that guides their lives. Like many of us, guided by the ethic of love, they listen for the “still-speaking” Word.
by: Galen Guengerich on July 2nd, 2013 | 6 Comments »
In today's society, science and religon don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Religion in America is in trouble, and science can help save it. Conventional wisdom suggests otherwise, saying that science is more likely to kill religion than to rescue it. I’m convinced that science is the last best hope for religion in the modern world.
The God Wars pit those who believe in a supernatural God that commands and controls from outside the natural order against those who accept rational thought and scientific research as the final word. For centuries, people have tried to arbitrage the difference between these competing worldviews. Today, more and more people are concluding that we ultimately have to choose. In this ongoing battle of Faith v. Reason, reason now appears to be winning: the majority of Americans either have no religious affiliation or, even if affiliated, see a conflict between being a devout religious person and living in the modern world.
This conflict is real, but unnecessary.
by: Donna Schaper on June 26th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
The Supreme Court has done us a big favor. In supporting gay marriage, it has encouraged the larger movement for human rights for gay people to deepen and to spread.
I won’t pop the cork on the champagne or say alleluia just yet. I want to get through the night in Greenwich Village and hope that the haters will not come out in too much force. Their hate now has nowhere to go but its final destination, of destroying that which they can’t abide. Once again, I am reminded how important it is to stop hate speech the second it starts. Otherwise it has nowhere to go but violence against the thing it hates, which has to be eliminated, according to the self-imprisonment created by hate.
It is going to be a scary night in the village, as have been many of the previous ones. We are going to do something small to stop it with dozens of other village churches. The Rainbow Sanctuary sticker will go on our door, saying quietly and firmly, this place is a safe space. It is a rainbow sanctuary at a time when the rainbows do need sanctuary. We do so on behalf of our sacred texts and equally sacred conversations.
In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice — the longest daylight day of the year — happens in ordinary time. There are times in the Christian calendar that signify specific aspects of the mystery of Christ. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebrate the birth of the Christ child and the visit and gifts of the magi. The time from Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, through Easter and on to Pentecost celebrates the temptation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then the coming of Holy Spirit to dwell with and within humankind. Ordinary time is the space between Epiphany and Lent, between Pentecost and Advent. This is usually between the end of May, or the beginning of June, until December.
So the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere saunters into our lives with no muss, no fuss, each day giving a little of its daylight back to the cosmos until the winter solstice arrives with the promise of longer daylight days.
The birds have been singing since spring. And to my untutored ear, the various tweets, chirps, piping, squeaks, and squawks together make a beautiful cacophony of anonymous nature that reminds me that there is a wondrous world beyond the banality of human affairs. A bird’s nest on the patio has been occupied for weeks. We watched the parents sitting on the eggs; then one day there were baby birds peeking over the edges. They are a family of robins who are our most immediate neighbors. Mulberry stains in the birdbath remind me of nature’s provision for her own. Birdsong and bird family and mulberries are ordinary.
The summer solstice comes when the summer garden is already planted: Basil, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, oregano in one box with cabbage; big boy tomatoes and cherry tomatoes along with cucumbers in another box; turnips, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce in a third; and marigolds in all three. The summer garden is ordinary.
Abbey Church at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.
I’m just back from three days at the monastery with a working group on community-pastors, scholars, monastics and new monastics trying to understand what it is we mean when we say we want “community” and how this desire is cultivated and directed toward the common good in our society. One of my great heroes in the American pursuit of beloved community is Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement with Dorothy Day. He was a street teacher who distilled his message into “easy essays.” I’m not sure this is yet 100 proof (as we say in NC moonshine country), but I tried to do a little distilling of what we discussed in our time together.
Toward a Definition of Community
Community is not the crowd where we are together without being known (though a crowd is fine-unless it becomes a mob).
It’s not the club where we commit without encumbrance (though a club is fine-unless it becomes a clique).
Neither is it the clan where we find safety in shared history (though one’s clan is fine, too-unless it becomes a gang… or a military superpower).
Beloved community is, instead, that fellowship in which we know ourselves as we are known in mutual dependence.
It is the membership in which we learn to take responsibility for our future in mutual accountability.
It is the circle of trust in which we know our flourishing depends upon mutual welcome.
When a scribe asks Jesus which commandment is the first of all, think what he is after. Not in this story is he testing Jesus; that was Matthew’s theme when telling this story, because Matthew wanted to show how the religious officials feared and hated Jesus. Mark’s story is simpler. This scribe admires Jesus. He wants to learn from Jesus how all truth is organized. What is the first good? What is the purpose of reality?
This scribe is engaged in the quest that has animated all our forebears. We want to understand the cause and the meaning of our existence. The philosophers of science in ancient Greece peeled back the multitude of sensations trying to comprehend physics through the four elements earth, air, fire, and water. They invented the word “atom” to refer to the smallest indivisible component of any object. Aristotle put the pursuit of happiness at the pinnacle of human motivation. According to Luke, the Greeks in Athens were daily in the quest for unified meaning. We can hardly credit Luke with an open mind as he dismisses all the Athenians and the foreigners there as “spending their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.” Perhaps Paul too thought them ignorant, but nevertheless he praised them for their hungering after an “unknown God.” Astrologers of ancient times sought one truth through the stars. In medieval times, the search for the Holy Grail captured the imagination of Europeans seeking that one thing above all. In our day, and for a century now, quantum physicists look for a “unified field theory,” a single, elegant explanation for all the forces at work in the physical universe. Every love song, sad or glad, is searching for the true one.
A long long time ago, I stayed two months with a commune in Copenhagen whose members aspired to hold all things in common and to decide all matters together, much like the practice in the earliest church, according to Acts 4. At the commune, holding things in common meant that one morning, my belt and jeans showed up on someone else’s body. That was nothing important. After a while, however, I noticed that access to the best clothes and money and critical decisions was retained by the three members who had the greatest personal appeal and energy. Political intentions notwithstanding, only these three had real power, yet no one was bold to disturb the communitarian experiment with serious political reflection. Being one did not work there and the commune soon broke up.
A few years later, I served as communications coordinator for a liberal non-profit organization whose membership aimed to decide everything by consensus. Far from strengthening the voice of the people, however, the pretense of arriving at consensus actually shut speech down. Emotionally needy members sucked all the time and oxygen out of a meeting, but no means existed for the body to hold them to account. No vote could say “Stop!” More-balanced members ceased discussing things altogether, hoping to get the meetings over with. The principle of majority rule would have better served the value of free speech; as it was, unity eluded them. “One” did not work.
As I prepared to enter the NC Legislature last Monday with hundreds of fellow citizens who are deeply concerned about how policies coming out of our General Assembly are harming our most vulnerable neighbors, I was glad to see Leigh Bordley, a member of our school board in Durham. I’m grateful for the work she’s doing for all kids in Durham (including mine). But I was moved by her testimony about why she, as a Christian, knew she had to go to Raleigh for Moral Monday.
When a friend of mine told me about her experience of being arrested on May 13th, it was the push I needed to do the same thing. I had read about the Moral Monday protests and intended to go – but in a general, amorphous way. Once I talked to my friend, I made a plan to go the following Monday. I was eager to go express my disappointment and outrage about the bills being proposed and passed in the General Assembly. I am blessed to have representatives there who represent my views; the only downside to this is that I have no one to complain to or try to sway when legislation I don’t agree with is being considered. Participating in the demonstration was one way to have my voice heard and at least be a warm body that could be put in jail.
by: Stephen Phelps on May 31st, 2013 | Comments Off
Have you ever had to reinvent yourself? I have. I am sure that many of you have. The phrase has a peculiarly American flavor, as if oneself were the hero of the whole project – designer, director, and finished product. But re-invention is just a phrase; the experience to which it refers has always belonged to the human predicament. Of such is the story of Arjuna – Odysseus – Jacob – Job – Jesus in the wilderness – Jesus before the Cross. Re-invention comes to this. Your hopes and values, your skills and habits prove inadequate to the present situation. Something’s got to give. As we have said here before, when facing great loss, the options before us are two: either misery, or spiritual growth; either despair, or a possibility.
An identity crisis so absolute has faced me in the aftermath of a divorce; in having career plans dashed; and more. On Memorial Day, countless wives and mothers and fathers, and now husbands too, remember the rupture in oneself brought by the news of a beloved soldier’s death. If the term “re-inventing yourself” is not altogether wrong, that is because we do not passively undergo an automatic transformation to new skills, new commitments, new values and hopes. These do not comes as butterfly wings come upon a caterpillar, or birth to a baby. No, one who commits herself to herself when all seems blocked, one who then swears loyalty to her own being, come what may, change what must, that one chooses to stand somehow on God’s side of life, where there comes into view a door not seen before, and a key.