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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category



The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not an ATM Machine

Oct16

by: on October 16th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Today in the Roman Catholic church we celebrate the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century French nun. Jesus not only appeared and spoke to St. Margaret Mary, a nun of the Visitation order, He let the nun, like St. John the Beloved at the Last Supper, rest her head on His heart. Some outside of the Catholic church mistakenly believe that we Catholics worship the saints. Nothing could be further from the truth: we venerate the saints. Indeed, every Christian, Catholic or not, whose Christian life has been enhanced by devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has great reason to thank St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about St. Margaret Mary today, not only because it’s her feast day, but because I think if the nun lived in the world today, and in this particular money-obsessed country, the poor woman would have had to go on Xanax. The financial exploitation of Jesus Christ not only occurs in every region of the United States of America, it is has become entirely normative.

Equally devastating, American Catholic bishops, who otherwise never hesitate to inject themselves into any number of modern-day events and issues, remain largely mum about the galloping spread of the total lie that is called the “prosperity gospel.” For decades, as televangelists have reinvented, refocused, and altogether sharpened their tool of spiritual destruction known as the prosperity gospel, Catholic bishops have been out to lunch. Perhaps the reluctance to forcefully challenge the purveryors of this naked distortion of Christ’s teaching is rooted in fear: How can Roman Catholic bishops throw stones at prosperity gospel preachers when some of them are living in glass mansions themselves?

Yet I think it is important to emphasize to all spiritual progressives, regardless of faith tradition or no tradition, this particular point: When Roman Catholic clergy, and I would include Mainline Protestant clergy also, keep mum in the face of the spread of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” your lives are undoubtedly impacted as well. For if we, in the name of religious freedom, consent to living in a society where Jesus Christ can be turned into a personal ATM machine without anyone standing firmly against it – or at most just give a roll of our eyes at the practice – don’t be surprised when you find yourself living in a society that is simply brimming with people who are trying to turn you into an ATM machine as well.

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Weekly Sermon: Learner’s Mind- Between Empire and Kingdom Come

Oct14

by: on October 14th, 2013 | Comments Off

Text:Jeremiah 29: 1-7; Luke 17: 11-18

In the first pages of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, the reader confronts a Columbus quite different from the one we learned in school. Some may be aware that he sailed on condition of receiving a large share in the profits from his gold-seeking adventure, but everyone knows that early on October 12, 1492, a sailor finally sighted land.

Columbus’ ship was met by Arawak Indians swimming out to greet the visitors. In his journal, the explorer wrote of these Indians:

They are well-built, with good bodies and handsome features. . . [They] are so naïve and free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say No. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone… They do not bear arms and do not know them. . . They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want .. .


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Thou Shalt Not Employ a Transgender Professor? It’s Not a Verse in the Bible

Sep27

by: on September 27th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

I don’t know H. Adam Ackley, the professor of theology at Christian Azusa Pacific University who was recently fired after coming out as transgender after teaching there for fifteen years, but having gone through my own difficult coming-out experience at Yeshiva University, I can imagine some of what Professor Ackley is going through.

ackley

Dr. H. Adam Ackley tells his students for the first time of his transgender identity. He had just written his name on the board. Credit: RNS/Annie Z. Yu.

Unlike Yeshiva University, Azusa doesn’t grant tenure. If I hadn’t received tenure before coming out, I am sure that like Professor Ackley, I would have been terminated, and for similar reasons. Some may think that religious universities are driven in this regard by fear of God, but there is no verse in the Bible in which God says, “Thou shalt not employ a transgender professor.” No, religious universities, like secular organizations that fire transgender employees, are acting out of fear of human beings: fear that students won’t register for classes with a transgender professor; fear of parents, who might send their children and tuition elsewhere; and fear, above all, of alienating alumni and other donors whose contributions keep the lights on and the doors open.

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Prayer and Action: Finding Our Center of Gravity

Sep18

by: on September 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »


A year ago today, my friends Chris and Phileena Heuertz started Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism. In twenty years of working among the poorest of the poor, they learned what we’ve learned here: it’s easy to loose your center. But Christian tradition offers us a wealth of resources to help us find our center in prayer. And we have it on good account that this Center holds. To celebrate the first anniversary of Gravity Center, I wanted to share this reflection on how contemplative, liturgical prayer has saved me and our community.

If the Baptists who raised me in rural North Carolina taught me anything, they taught me to love Jesus and the Bible. Hard-working farmers and factory employees, my people had high hopes for me. They stressed education and sent me with care packages to go out and see the world. But however far I might go, they made sure I knew that Jesus and the Bible were at the center of everything. Jesus was our Lord and Savior, the ultimate answer to life’s biggest questions and my heart’s deepest longings. In Sunday school, I learned that you find Jesus through the Bible. The Good Book was our constant companion. We memorized it chapter and verse.

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Weekly Sermon: Learner’s Mind — If What You Fear Does Not Exist

Sep9

by: on September 9th, 2013 | Comments Off

Text: 2 Kings 6:24 – 7:21

O my God, Such an appalling story is this. The beloved city, Israel’s capital, is besieged by Syria. Famine – man-made, war-made – has them by the throat. No crops come from the fields for no one dares venture outside the city walls. No one is free. Everyone is terrified. Carrion and pigeon poop are sold for food at extortionate prices. The moral life of the people has collapsed in greed, violence, and betrayal. Are your ears still burning with the complaint of the mother who went to her neighbor’s house expecting boiled boy for lunch, but was deceived? Despair over his city has shrunk the king to an inner tornado of angry, hopeless watching – like the useless official in New Orleans after Katrina. Why should the ruler trouble to punish these women, or anyone, for their evil deeds when the whole fabric of society is rotting, starring with the leaders’ failure to find peace with Syria. Why, the sentence that immediately precedes this awesome story is, “And the Syrians no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.” But here they are again – and are we not responsible for this utter human disrepair?

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919

The king of Israel now aims his impotent fury at God, or at the man of God, Elisha. He wants to kill somebody. We have been in a like place before.

This story is a parable of our self. We are the walled city. We are its violent, deceitful citizens. We are the raging ruler, who when the need is greatest, leans only to his own understanding, and has no God, though he goes to church each Sabbath day.

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Will Pope Francis Take Jewish-Catholic Relations to the Next Level?

Aug21

by: on August 21st, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

As has been widely reported, Pope Francis began his papacy with an already strong relationship with the Jewish community. Yet only time will tell if this pope will put the final nail in the coffin of Christian anti-Judaism: namely, an official end to the absurd notion that Christian faith produces more compassion and mercy in the human heart than does the Jewish faith.

It is worth noting that in addition to his expressions of solidarity with Argentina’s Jewish community, Pope Francis, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, participated in a Jewish-Catholic Tzedaka service; a charity effort where Jewish and Catholic volunteers went out – together – distributing aid to the poor and downtrodden of Buenos Aires.

Arguably, inter-faith Tzedaka-like service programs could be a template for a healthy, and I would argue very necessary, reform of Catholic religious life: specifically, the kind of reform that would help to end the utter fiction that Christians are more loving and compassionate than Jews.

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Weekly Sermon: Learner’s Mind — This Is Not The Way

Aug19

by: on August 19th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Text on Sunday, August 18, 2013

2 Kings 6: 8-23; Luke 19: 39-42

Late last spring, I read a new book by Nick Turse called Kill Anything That Moves. I recall the moment I finished it. I closed the cover and laid it on the table and wept some while in silence.

It took Turse ten years to compile this history, never told fully until now. He interviewed hundreds of veterans and Vietnamese and pored over files forgotten or hidden by the government. More than 1,000 footnotes armor his book against the rage it will provoke in many Americans. Its 250 pages still the heart like the most appalling confession of sin our soul could conceive.

Here is one veteran’s memory of one atrocity. It is not My Lai; it merely mimics My Lai, except that it was undocumented until now.

We moved into a small hamlet, 19 women and children were rounded up as Vietcong suspects and the lieutenant that rounded them up called the captain on the radio and asked what should be done with them. The captain simply repeated the order that came down from the colonel that morning . . . to kill anything that moves . . . I looked toward where the supposed Vietcong suspects were, and two men were leading a young girl, approximately 19 years old, very pretty, out of a hootch. She had no clothes on so I assumed she had been raped—that’s standard operating procedure for civilians—and she was thrown onto the pile of the 19 women and children, and five men around the circle opened up on full automatic with their M-16s. And that was the end of that. (Turse, p. 238)

If we can’t deal with these things in church, what good is church? Where else will we cry this utterance in a way that can do some good? Told short, the book shows that murder and rape and bombing to death of millions of Vietnamese civilians was unleashed by orders from the top. Through a decade of hell, on virtually every day and in every province of Vietnam, North and South, America practiced genocide. Of 5.3 million civilians wounded by our war, one third were women and one quarter were not yet at the age of puberty. We lost our mind. We also lost hundreds of thousands of our veterans to homelessness, mental illness, unemployment, and prison. We utterly lost our way.

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Nuns Who Commit Sexual Abuse and the Annexation of Mercy

Aug15

by: on August 15th, 2013 | 10 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons.

Steve Theisen, 61, is the Iowa director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Unlike the vast majority of men and women whose lives have been positively affected by the support SNAP provides to victims of clergy abuse, Theisen was not sexually abused by a Catholic priest: he was sexually abused by a Catholic nun.

The abuse began in the 4th grade, when Theisen was just nine-years-old. He stayed after class one day to wash the blackboards. Alone with the nun in the classroom, she showed him how the Eskimos kiss: by rubbing noses. Some weeks later, she then showed him how Americans kiss. Then a few more weeks passed. The nun then said to the boy, “This is how the French kiss.” And with that, the forty-something nun stuck her tongue in the boy’s mouth. It escalated from there. As Thiesen recalls, the nun never touched his genitals, and neither of them were ever disrobed. But from 4th through 6th grade, after school and sometimes on weekends, the nun would have him on the floor, French kissing and necking. Sometimes the nun would be on top of him, other times she put the boy on top of her.

Theisen also recalls sitting next to the nun in chapel. She would hold his hand under her religious habit so that no one would see.

It was not until well into adulthood that Theisen told someone what had happened to him: his therapist. It took 18 sessions with the therapist to finally open up about the experience that so affected his life. As Theisen explained to me, trust does not come easy to victims of child sex abuse.

Theisen’s testimony is gut-wrenching to hear, for those who are willing to listen. Not only did he live in daily fear as a child that someone would find out what was happening between him and the nun, he was also wracked by guilt. For when the school children would ask the nuns why they wore rings on their fingers, the nuns would tell the children that they were married to Christ. During the abuse, Theisen thought he was committing “the most grievous sin in the entire world because he was fooling around with Jesus’s wife.”

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Weekly Sermon: Learner’s Mind — Be Bountiful

Aug5

by: on August 5th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Text: 2 Kings 4: 42-44; Luke 9: 10-17

The stories of Elisha are tucked away in a few chapters of 2 Kings, where most Christians never tread. Perhaps we heard them in Sunday school, but since then, they have been locked in a cabinet. Now, suddenly, this dusty old box bursts with a word like one of the best-loved gospel stories, the feeding of the multitudes. Set side by side, this Elisha story and the Jesus story look like twin sisters: the hungry crowd, disciples with only a little something in a grocery bag, the master’s command—Give them food, the disciples’ protest—How?, the command repeated . . . and then, food for all.

Meditate with me on this promise, this hope, this possibility of food for all. As ever, we won’t worry whether this all happened just so, for here is the heart of the story: Food for all. When there is food for all, when the hungry are filled with good things, then there will be no more war, no more greed, no more racism, no more mean streets, no more mass incarceration, no more border police, no more deportation, no more joblessness, no more fracking the foundations of the earth, no more lousy education, no more lousy housing, no more bankruptcy and death when sickness comes to the uninsured, no more rotting democracy, no more hunger and thirst—when there is food for all. This possibility in the feast of food for all—you have always felt it.

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Bishop Katharine: Seeing the Divine in All People

Jul30

by: on July 30th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Bishop Katharine, the first presiding woman bishop in the Anglican Communion. Credit: Creative Commons.

In May, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, came under blistering criticism within her own and other Christian denominations for a sermon she gave on the island nation of Curaçao. The sermon was so provocative that it led critics on the Christian right to charge that the first presiding woman bishop in the Anglican Communion was possessed by the devil.

In six sentences, the bishop upended a longstanding interpretation of an event recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, in which St. Paul is said to have delivered a young pagan slave girl from demonic possession. The slave girl was also a fortune-teller in the city of Philippi, and her craft brought great profit to her slave masters. When Paul and his companions arrived in Philippi to spread the Gospel, the girl followed them around, shouting to everyone, “These men are servants of the Most High God; they will make known to you a way of salvation.” The slave girl did this for several days until Paul finally got annoyed, turned to her and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you, come out of her!” (Acts 16: 17)

From then on, the slave girl was silenced.

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