The statue has sparked both commendations and disapproval from Davidson residents, one of whom even called the police thinking the statue to be a live person.
Pointless spectacle or profound statement?
Recently a friend and I were talking about the church as compared with other religions. When most people in the United States think of Buddhism they don’t think of the intolerance expressed in the Buddhist expulsion of Hindus from Bhutan or the anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka. They think of meditation. When most people think of Hinduism they don’t think of the Hindu communal riots against the Muslims. They think of yoga. When most people think of Judaism there’s a tension between the powerful Jewish stand for justice through the centuries and the current bad behavior of Israel. “If only Christianity could get to the place where Judaism is!” We laughed.
As Good Friday drew nigh this year, I (a Scottish Quaker) joined together with a Catholic archbishop and a Church of Scotland convenor outside a nuclear submarine base at Faslane in an act of public worship: a Witness for Peace of Scottish Christians Against Nuclear Arms.
We stood on a podium drawn from the folds of many different denominations represented there that day, the underlying undivided Christian church that prays: “Thy kingdom come.”
We prayed thy kingdom come – not Caesar’s kingdom come, but God’s; and so Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you a king, then?” To which the Prince of Peace replied: “King is your word.” And he spoke unto Pilate of nonviolence, saying: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it was, my followers would fight….” (Jn. 18:36-37).
Back in the early 70s, Jesus was big on Broadway. Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell were both controversial and engaging tellings of the Jesus story that grabbed America’s attention. Suddenly everyone was talking about Jesus. But Tom Key noticed something: the popular stories left out the resurrection.
Picking up on the Southern paraphrase of Matthew’s gospel by Clarence Jordan, Key wrote The Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical in which Jesus gets in trouble in Georgia for trying to integrate the church and is ultimately lynched by a KKK mob outside of Atlanta.
But Jesus doesn’t stay dead. The resurrection is the last act-an interruption of human hatred that leaves the beloved community singing “Jubilation.” It’s a great story.
I’ve been thinking of Key and Jordan this Easter, partly because Jesus is in again this year. Heaven is For Real sold $22.5 million in tickets at the box office on Easter weekend. The Duck Dynasty clan has had one book or another on the NYT best-seller list for over a year.
But again, something is missing.
None of the Jesus stories that are getting air time bring to life the essential point that Clarence Jordan made so well:
The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers and sisters with him.
The problem isn’t that there’s nothing good in Heaven is for Real. It just isn’t the good news of the resurrection of Jesus.
Passover is the only holiday I’ve ever felt affection for. A seder was the kind of ritual I recognized instantly as a child, from my own haunted house initiations and flashlight-in-the-basement spiels. With its serving bowls of mud, roots and tears, its affirmations of specialness, war stories, ghost stories, dirges and anthems, oaths and blood-rites, it was like deep woods camping with my grandmother’s good silver.
Our half-Jewish, half-Anglican, all-agnostic family celebrated Easter, Christmas and Hanukah, none of them with conviction. But unlike those holidays, or at least their modern, Americanized incarnations, with their generalized insistence on FUN! SOMEHOW! NOW!, Passover was a holiday we did, a physicalized story. It didn’t put the kids at a card table – it asked for our questions, made room for our mischief and spoke our language. And it was hosted by my mother’s parents, who did everything with conviction.
A story told as a meal, the seder was a project of dramatic progression, told in a familiar, child-friendly style of Biblico-magical realism, in part to help the kinder at the table digest its leaden, bitter core. It would not be easy to find a modern, non-Orthodox Jew who believes that Moses literally parted the Red Sea, but the central fact of the story, that the Jews were slaves in Egypt, is offered as a hard pit of truth, the source of an earthy gravity at the center of the evening, around which spin the fantastic stories of water turning into blood and staffs becoming snakes.
Today, on Ash Wednesday, I participated in a deeply meaningful worship service and nonviolent direct action against drones at the gate of Beale Air Force Base. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “My body is tired but my soul is rested.” Actions of faith and conscience are good for the soul. You can see KCRA’s coverage here and a video of the arrests here.
The worship service was exquisite. Although today is a Christian holy day and we used traditional Christian symbols in worship, the service was unique in that it was open to and inclusive of people of all faiths and philosophies. It included a prayer in the four directions based on Indigenous spirituality, the World Peace Prayer (from the Hindu religion), and a Hebrew song introduced by Rabbi Seth Castleman. I was reminded of the passover we celebrated in the same spot outside the same Beale gate last year.
Today’s Ash Wednesday service included both personal and national repentance, particularly related to U.S. militarism and drone warfare. We celebrated Holy Communion and used ashes as a sign of repentance and mortality. The “passing of the peace” included some people carrying the message of peace to the TV crew and Beale officers. Several participants told me that it was the most meaningful Ash Wednesday service they had ever attended.
Following the service, five of us, including two other ordained ministers, walked across the boundary line onto base property. We sprinkled ashes that represented the ashes of children killed by U.S. drones. Some of us carried crosses with artistic renditions of some of these children, with their names, ages, and countries of origin.
Like readers of Tikkun I am passionate about peace in Israel-Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East. Being a theologian/writer with a background in Jewish-Christian dialogue, I have mainly sought to speak to peaceseeking Christians—and others—who are willing to look beyond the polarity of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli towards envisioning a solution for both communities and building on the prophetic traditions of each other.
I believe—like Gandhi—that you have to look truth in the face, and take the courage to tell it.
Watch the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr.’s Sermon on Psalm 23 and Luke 8: 40-55 as he explores seemingly minor details in the text that, upon further investigation, hold surprising spiritual power and significance.
As the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen reveals in this article on the Vatican’s response to the never-ending atrocities in Syria, it’s not just the “family values” politicians who manipulatively exploit the warm sentiments that many associate with family life. It’s Roman Catholic prelates too.
But before getting to Allen’s must-read article and the too-close-for-comfort relations between the Vatican and the Assad regime, here is this opening paragraph in a New York Times report today about that regime’s so-called local “ceasefire” initiatives, which vividly describes Bashar al-Assad’s truly demonic use of food to attack his own people, be they rebel fighters or innocent civilians:
To the starving residents and rebel fighters in the bitterly contested suburbs of Damascus, the offer from the Syrian government can be tempting enough to overcome their deep mistrust: a cease-fire accompanied by the delivery of food supplies, if they agree to give up their heavy weapons and let state-run news media show the government’s flag flying over their town.
But as The Times reporter Anne Barnard chronicles in the same article, the offer of food is merely a ruse used by the Assad regime to get locals to hand over rebels:
The government rains aerial attacks on areas that refuse cease-fire offers. People in places that accept can find themselves facing new demands: to turn over wanted men, give up their light weapons and accept a military governor. Food is delivered piecemeal to retain the government’s leverage.
The government has repeatedly given permission for aid convoys to enter, then blocked them, as people continue to suffer and even die from a lack of food and medical care.
International aid workers, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect aid projects, say that the government has shown little commitment to the politically neutral delivery of aid. Many contend that the government uses the truces more as a tool of surrender – starving people and luring them into one-sided deals – than as building blocks of compromise.
Now enter Pope Francis and the Vatican’s handling of the Syrian atrocities.
Picture a world where politics is not so polarized. Imagine that the American people are flat out in favor of a plan that could lift more than a million of their neighbors out of poverty. And they’re arriving at this position not out of narrow self-interests—most Americans aren’t poor—but for essentially moral reasons. Actually, not much imagination is required. At least not when it comes to public opinion on a perennial issue: the minimum wage.
For decades, polling has shown support for a higher minimum wage ranging somewhere between unambiguous and unbelievable. In November, a Gallup survey found that 76 percent of the people would vote for a hypothetical national referendum lifting the bottom wage to $9 an hour. That’s $1.75 more than the current federal minimum; it would also be more than any increase ever passed by Congress. Last summer, a less independent poll conducted by Democratic-leaning Hart Research Associates found eight in ten Americans flocking behind a $10.10 per-hour minimum wage.
Try to identify a considerable subgroup of American opinion that’s content with the $7.25 regime. You’d think, for example, that self-identified Republicans would want to either freeze the wage or tamp it down. You would be mistaken, according to the Gallup breakdown: Republicans favored the $1.75 hike by an unmistakable 58-39 percent margin. Meanwhile, in a previous Gallup poll, the support among self-identified “moderates” was rather immoderate (75 percent).
There is something we all need before we die, if our last day might approach not as debilitating necessity or worse, an evil night meddling with all our days long before they are full. If you have attended a funeral where memories of the deceased kindled intense gratitude and admiration, you might say we need to live in a way that lights such fires in others. That could be a lovely aim, but not a universal one. There is something far more fundamental to our existence than warming many hearts as we go.
We need first to come to peace with all that is undone. I do not mean “resign ourselves” to the fact that our work will be interrupted. No, I mean real peace now; peace that no part of us or our work is ever done. Everything we are and everything we do which is worthy of the names “being” and “doing” is never full, never perfect. Everything is partial. Death is not at the cause of our partial performance, as if our life were a play of several acts whose curtain falls before the performance is finished. No, the cause of our partial performance is that we have no end. We are an infinitude of ends. We are an open mouth of yearning and desiring and need.
Ecclesiastes says that “God has put eternity into the mind, yet so that we cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.” Our eye is set on a far thing. If our yearning is base, we call it covetousness. If it is high-minded, the philosophers call it “transcendent” – a fancy word whose roots mean “climbing beyond.” We are always climbing beyond ourselves. It is our nature. Sometimes it seems plain that we cannot finally arrive at anything worth climbing after, but we mostly do not live in peace about this. In fact, all our wars, from the most private torments to the most appalling acts of violence, are driven by the endlessly open mouth of human nature. A Christian’s faith, by contrast – if it is faith and not more duty or a point of pride in climbing over others – mostly shows up as peace in “a passion for the partial.”