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Absolutely semi-reliable predictions for 2019: 12-31-18

When I tell you that I never came close to predicting that Donald Trump would win the 2016 presidential election but that I predicted that the Cubs would win the World Series every year from about 1950 through their eventual win in 2016, you will know that my predictions are, at best, suspect.

PredictionsStill, it's a gift I have. And I can't help sharing it with you. So, in the field of religion, ethics, spirituality and similar pursuits, I offer you a preview of what you're likely to see happen in 2019.

-- Pope Francis will decide the miters (tall hats) that bishops wear are just too silly to continue. And will order those leaders, instead, to wear baseball caps embroidered with the Ten Commandments.

-- The Protestant Church of Reformed Anglican Baptists of the East will finally give up trying to hide its internal divisions and break up into the Protestant Church of Reformed Anglican Baptists of the Near East and the Protestant Church of Reformed Anglican Baptists of the Far East.

-- Hanukkah, pretty far down the list of important Jewish holidays, will be sponsored in 2019 by the National Council of Churches as an interfaith act of friendship -- and because 98 percent of American Christians think Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas.

-- A megachurch in Texas will secede from the state and elect its own governor, the founding pastor, who will declare all cash gifts to him tax free -- for both the giver and receiver.

-- Six new movies about Jesus will appear. All will claim to be based strictly on the gospels and each of them will present a radically different image of Christ. Viewers of each film will gather into six new denominations, each of which eventually will split into six more.

-- Publishers will put out 185 new editions of the Bible, ranging from The Bible You Thought You Knew to The Commuter's Bible and Lunch Box to The Camper's Bible and Solar Lantern.

-- The congregation of a mosque in Michigan will offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees. Both of the Syrian refugees the Trump administration allows into the country in 2019 will accept.

-- One Catholic diocese after another, to pay for never-ending costs of the sex abuse scandal, will set up GoFundMe pages. By this time next year donors will have kicked in a national total of $1.38.

-- The United Methodist Church, now arguing internally about LGBTQ issues, will split. One side will be known as the United Methodist Church That's Faithful to Scripture and the other as the United Methodist Church That's More Faithful to Scripture.

-- A new religion called the Twitter House of Shallow Spirituality will sweep the country. But no more than 140 members may join at any one time.

-- John Nelson Darby will return to Earth to admit that he just made up the whole idea of the Rapture. "But," he will tweet, "I made it back to Earth so maybe Jesus might, too."

A year from now I will be back to grade myself on my predictions. But I'm guessing I'll still be thousands and thousands of falsehoods behind President Trump.

* * *


On a much more serious -- and real -- note, religious freedom in China seems to be deteriorating by the day. As this Fox News piece notes, "China under President Xi Jinping is clamping down on minorities, tightening control over a wide spectrum of religious and political activity. In some places, a campaign to 'Sinicize' religion has prompted authorities to seize Bibles, remove the 'halal' designation from food products, demolish churches and strip mosques of loudspeakers and Islamic crescents and domes." Let your member of Congress know you are concerned about this. Let Sam Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, know, too. There's a "contact us" link on the State Department page to which I've just linked you. Write to Brownback. I just did.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about a Catholic and a Lutheran church forming a partnership -- now is online here.

On Jesus turning water into grape juice: 12-29/30-18

As you know if you've been following my writing for awhile, I think that you have two choices when reading the Bible: You can take it literally or you can take it seriously. But you can't do both.

Water-wineIn that spirit, I point you to this blog this weekend.

The author describes an illustrated children's Bible that has been distorted to fit the theological beliefs of the people who put it together. Which means that in the story of the wedding at Cana about Jesus turning water into wine, the whole story gets watered down, almost literally.

The headline on the story is "Jesus turns water into juice."

And the text reads: "Jesus and His friends went to a party. They had good grape juice to drink. And then the juice was all gone. Jesus told the helpers what to do. 'Put water in those big jars,' He said. The helpers did, and then -- Jesus changed that water to juice! How could He do that? He is God's son."

Oh, my.

Maybe the first clue that this story is going to have a specific theological agenda is the third word, "His." Throughout the short story, the pronouns referring to Jesus get capitalized. It's a way of making sure readers know that Jesus is to be respected because he is divine and deserves capital letters. It's an understandable conceit but also unnecessary. The divinity of Christ does not depend on the capitalization of pronouns, after all. But let it go.

However, the major problem here is that the authors don't want kids thinking it's OK for even adults to drink wine. So they change it to grape juice, thus completely distorting and disrespecting the text.

The author of the Patheos blog rightly condemns all this: "What they fail to realize is that they are in fact deifying themselves and their own opinions in this process. And worse still, by passing on these practices to children, they are causing little ones to stumble into the same sins that they commit."

Well, until I ran across this Patheos blog I had never seen a children's Bible that bent the Greek and Hebrew (and some Aramaic) original text out of shape in this way. There are, of course, always interpretive choices to be made by translators, but those translators are not free simply to make up things to meet their own theological agendas.

Do your children or grandchildren have Bibles written for children? Maybe it's time to give them a read. If you discover this kind of dishonesty going on there, it's time to replace those books with something reliable.

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What happens when the line between church and state gets blurred? Take a look at Germany. As this Washington Post piece reports, the national government there is considering taxing Muslims to help control Islamist radicalism. To American ears, that sounds like an unwise, unhealthy crossing of the church-state border. But because the state there already collects taxes on Catholics and Protestants just because they're Catholics and Protestants, the Muslim idea begins to sound halfway sane. And that's the problem. Government everywhere should get out of the religion business. On the other hand, religion should be free to have its voice heard in the public square. That's how it should work.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about a partnership between a Catholic and a Lutheran church -- now is online here.

A church looking into the abyss: 12-28-18

This year, 2018, may well be remembered as the time in which an important shift occurred in the Catholic Church, one that finally convinced not just the people in the pews but many of the leaders of the church that something has to change in the institution's approach to the now-decades-old scandal of priests abusing children and bishops covering up for them.

McCarrickOne sign of that is that the National Catholic Reporter just named disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (pictured here) its "Newsmaker of the Year."

When the Vatican removed McCarrick from ministry after revelations of a long history of abuse, this NCR editorial notes, "The secretive, all-male, allegedly celibate clergy culture, where bishops can enjoy privileges once reserved for royalty and the extremely wealthy, was coming apart. There is no place left to hide. Insiders knew that — many of them saw it coming — and wondered when the scales would tip toward total disclosure. But it remained largely a deep-in-the-Catholic-weeds understanding of things. Theodore McCarrick helped move it into the open."

Some people who have stuck with the church through this horrific scandal have begun leaving, a deeply painful choice that they did their best to avoid.

Their departure is yet one more voice calling for significant institutional change in Catholicism.

As the NCR editorial notes, "McCarrick's fall provided the world with a rare look at a privileged life, protected by clerical secrecy and advanced by accumulated power and access to monied interests. It was all fertile soil for corruption. He was the beneficiary of a system that remains in place. If it is not radically reformed, changed well beyond alterations to institutional structures and norms, the corruption will continue in one form or another.

"Theodore McCarrick paid a huge price for his deception and betrayal of trust. He did not, however, act alone. He was enabled by peers who operated within an ethos that encouraged secrecy and protection of hierarchical privilege at all cost."

I have said again and again that the world needs a strong, healthy, compassionate, merciful Catholic Church. But it can't be any of those things so long as its Theodore McCarricks can go decades without being forced to confront their egregious sins. If the church leaders can't fix this now, when members are demanding change, the future of the church looks grim, indeed. And should.

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Staying on the same subject today, I offer you this link to an AP story about how Pope Francis took far too long to confront the sex abuse scandal in the church. The result, the piece says, is that "damage to his moral authority on the issue has been done. Before his eyes were opened, Francis showed that he was a product of the very clerical culture he so often denounces, ever ready to take the word of the clerical class over victims." Can he now recover? I'd like to think so, though it's really late and he may not have enough time left in office to undo the damage.

The path forward from doubt: 12-27-18

Among scientists, I've learned, are those who think that when their experiments don't yield clean results, which is to say expected results with no oddities, it's a hassle and they must figure out just what went wrong. And there are those who think such results are trying to tell them something -- something that perhaps they hadn't previously imagined.

Cover-Value of DoubtThe second kind of scientist is the kind we most want.

Why do I mention this today? Because it all ties in to the way people also think about religious faith. Here's how:

In the current issue of Harper's magazine is this great account of time spent by scientists at or near the South Pole gathering meteorite material there.

The author of the piece, Barry Lopez, describes temporary life in that frozen area and speaks about how it provides time and space and quiet to ponder the mysteries of the cosmos.

"The belief that one can reach a state of certainty, about anything," he writes, "acts as a goad for those who regard the anomalies that inevitably turn up in their data not as a caution but as an inconvenience.

"'I had a theology professor once,' I say to (fellow scientist there) John, 'who told us that religion was not about being certain but about living with uncertainty. It was about being comfortable with doubt, and maintaining the continuity of one's reverence for a profound mystery.'"

Exactly right.

In fact, that's a primary point I tried to make in my last book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith.

As I write there, the opposite of faith isn't doubt. Rather, the opposite of faith is false certitude. Doubt can be a good and legitimate path to a faith that will sustain us in good times and bad. It doesn't mean we doubt everything forever. Rather, it means we are free to ask the hard questions and to check our answers with members of a community of faith that can help us see the way forward more clearly.

So when your data -- whether scientific or spiritual -- throws you a curve, perhaps the message isn't that you messed up and need to redo things. Perhaps the message is that life is more complicated than you imagined, that life throws us curve balls and splitters and spitters and late-breaking sliders on the corner of the plate.

When that happens, stay at the plate. You get lots more than three strikes in life, after all.

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Yesterday here on the blog I wrote about the need for Americans to have deep discussions about issues of war and peace in light of President Trump's order for U.S. troops to leave Syria and the resignation in protest of the secretary of defense. To add to that discussion, here is a Boston Globe editorial about why the president's isolated decision-making process in such matters is so dangerous.

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P.S.: Many years late, no doubt, I've finally created an Instagram account. Follow me there. I'm wtammeus.

Time for Americans to talk war and peace: 12-26-18

Last week, soon after President Trump declared victory over the ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq and ordered U.S. troops to come home, his secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, resigned in protest. Well, it was protest of that and other matters on which he disagreed with Trump.

War-peaceBut the question of whether ISIS really is beaten was quickly raised by lots of folks who answered: No. And who worried that if U.S. troops are pulled out of the fight it will lead to the restoration of ISIS, which has lost nearly all of the territory it once controlled.

I thought this BBC piece did quite a good job of outlining how ISIS got created, grew and then ebbed under fierce resistance from many sources, including the U.S.-backed coalition of military forces from which the U.S. now is withdrawing.

The article noted that "while its physical caliphate is gone, the 'enduring defeat' of IS is far from assured."

The core question, of course, is why this is a problem that should require an American commitment of blood and treasure. Why shouldn't the enemies of ISIS on the ground there be responsible for making sure ISIS stays moribund?

This seems like an excellent time for a wide conversation among Americans about whether what President George W. Bush labeled the war on terror needs to continue and, if so, in what way. The questions to be answered are nearly endless.

What connection does ISIS have to America's efforts to make sure that our homeland is never targeted again as it was in the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania?

Who are our friends in the Middle East and -- more importantly -- who should be our friends? On what basis should this friendship be formed? On the basis of our desire for cheap oil or for the promotion of shared values that promote freedom (including religious liberty), democracy and foundational human rights for all?

Are there still sources we can trust to provide accurate and useful information and analysis to help us with such questions?

Inside of nearly all adult Americans, I'd guess, is an inner isolationist who wants to be done with the wider world to focus just on our own neighborhoods and the needs of our nation. Isolationist thinking has been destructive and debunked in countless ways for more than a century. But is it possible that some aspects of such thinking might be useful to us today?

What do our faith traditions tell us about war and about the requirement to be peacemakers? Shouldn't we be cautious when we find religious leaders being cheerleaders for war in various ways? In what way might it be possible for people of faith in America to be peacemakers? Or is that simply a naive question in the face of a world full of conflict and evil?

Do you see why the principled Mattis resignation and the troop withdrawal decision might be just the kick in the pants Americans need to start talking about all of this in some depth?

How can we do just that?

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In his Christmas message, Pope Francis said he's against "insatiable greed." No wonder he's made some enemies. That sounds downright un-American.

What's 'common grace'? More than we deserve: 12-25-18


Merry Christmas.

I'd like to offer you a small gift today. Below is a column of mine that ran in The Kansas City Star on July 31, 2004. And I think it says something useful about the God of Christmas. The headline on it was:

Grace and the thirsty ground

ABIQUIU, N.M. -- Soon after we arrived at our lodge here (at Ghost Ranch), the rain slanted in from the west-northwest and gave this high desert country a rare and lovely drink.

The reddish-orange penstemon flowers, which a tiny green hummingbird had just been visiting, began to drip luscious wetness onto the hard ground, and the purple salvia tangoed in the welcome winds.

This makes no sense, I thought, and it isn't fair. A drought has plagued northern New Mexico for months, and suddenly -- as if on some whim -- the rain falls. And not just some weightless mist or a few fat drops that vanish in the aridity but rain that turns into an afternoon soaker, rain carried on insistent winds that bend the fir trees and junipers. The dry arroyos filled up with creamed-coffee-brown water that cascaded downhill as if it were alarmed by something dangerous and was crazy to escape.

But fairness, of course, has nothing to do with it.

Glass-half-empty people, who demand fairness, might call this rain nature's or God's fickleness. But I'm a glass-half-full person, and I agree with the theologians who would call it common grace.

Jesus talked about common grace when, in Matthew, he said, "he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." The God he described is simply prodigal, if indiscriminate, with gifts.

And why is the God of the Bible like that? What kind of wimpy God is it who gives treats to good and bad people alike? Does the deity have no discernment, no Santalike system for making lists and checking them twice to see who's naughty, who's nice?

Well, those are very human questions -- reflecting the way people would run the world if it were up to us. It's one reason we make such a mess of the parts of the world we do try to manage.

Common grace, paying no heed to merit, today delivered prayed-for rain. It sent thunder booming along the tops of mesas, growling at us, making us feel small and in need of shelter. It made the trees dance and the swallows dive through the drops. It offered life-giving water to life that thirsted.

People of faith sometimes attribute both good and bad things to God, praising God for heartbreakingly beautiful sunsets and blaming God for the deaths of children struck by lightning, squashed by trucks or eaten by cancer.

There is, in such discussions, wide room for disagreement and different perspectives about the nature and purposes of God. But wherever people come down in such arguments, they all know in their truest hearts that if it were up to them, the world would almost never experience common grace.

Humans are prone to judging, to figuring and odds-making, to keeping scores and grudges -- all our CPA, bottom-line ways -- and in the end they would cave in to that and never send rain on both the just and the unjust.

If we really are created in the image of God, somehow our ability to grant grace to all people has gotten largely left out of the equation. The characteristic is so rare that we call the few people who have it saints. I know many lovely and generous people but none who at all times and in all places is capable of bestowing common grace on everyone.

Some years ago, when I taught Sunday school to sixth- and seventh-graders (many of whom by now have become mothers and fathers), their reaction to the parable of the prodigal son was inevitably the same. They thought it was unfair for the father (who, in the parable, stands for God) to treat his no-good son with such love and generosity. The son who stayed home and was obedient should have gotten all the grace, they thought.

Yes, but the point of the parable is that God doesn't work in such calculating, eye-for-an-eye ways. The God of that parable is generous, bestowing grace without measure to people without merit. Many would say the same of nature in all its naturalness.

Some people imagine that God -- like some celestial schoolmarm -- carefully decides who gets rain, who sunshine, who snow. Others think it all happens by some impersonal force that can be scientifically explained. In either case, the rain falls unexpectedly on the just and the unjust. It falls in the desert and in tropical rain forests.

And it is a humbling reminder about our own pettiness, our count-the-costs ways. If it were up to us, common grace would be as uncommon as gully-washers here in New Mexico's high desert country.

(The photo here today is one I took at Ghost Ranch in 2010.)

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If you want a location where the celebration of Christmas usually is low-key, quiet and not very commercialized, you might do well to pick Israel, this story suggests. Long ago I was in Bethlehem for a Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Nativity. It was packed. But, as I recall, nobody mentioned Santa, so at least the focus was on the right matters.

Do we live by instinct or daily mindfulness? 12-24-18


In recent months I have become acquainted with Yael Shahar, whose terrific book, Returning, I reviewed here. Some weeks after that review ran, I arranged to Skype Yael into a discussion of that book held at my church. She was in Jerusalem, where she lives, while we were in Kansas City. Which meant that she was kind enough to let us speak with her about 3 o'clock in the morning her time.

She also writes something called "Memory and Redemption" online here.

In fact, I've just linked you to the piece to which I want to respond.

She raises there an intriguing question of whether our faith tradition (she speaks specifically of Judaism, her tradition) should be so deeply ingrained in us that we simply live out its truths without having to think much about them or whether it's somehow better (or at least more likely) that we stop and consider in any given situation what our faith tradition calls on us to do and be. In other words, which faith road do we usually take?

I'd never heard the question raised in quite that way before. She writes:

"Clearly, one must understand the rules of the game before we are to be able to function within its framework. In living Jewishly, that means understanding the particular halakhot applicable in each situation. However, it seems to me that we can — and often do — internalize the halakhah to such an extent that we act on it without conscious awareness, much the way we speak a language without consciously being aware of grammar.

"Is this a good thing? Is it better to perform an act in full awareness of what we’re doing and why? Or, is it better to internalize right actions to such an extent that we never even consider an alternative?"

(The terms halakhot and halakhah refer to Jewish religious laws.)

For me, and I'm guessing for you, it's not a question of either/or but both/and. That is, over the course of my life as a Christian I have tried to understand what the faith calls me both to do and to be. In other words, many of my actions and reactions to what comes to me in life have become fairly routinized. I don't have to ponder deeply about whether to fulfill my financial commitment to my church, for instance. I simply write a weekly check. It's a spiritual discipline. Similarly, I don't need to stop and wonder whether my religious tradition would allow me to steal food from the grocery store when I go shopping there. Simply not an option.

On the other hand, each day I am presented with countless opportunities to violate the essential tenets of my faith. And although I have sought to internalize those tenets deeply, I recognize those temptations and have to be mindful of my choices when they appear, particularly in unusual circumstances.

Yael concludes her thoughts about this in a similar way: "In an ideal world, right action will be instinctive and utterly un-self-conscious. But at the same time, we’ll also instinctively know the deeper meaning behind all our actions: that we are made in the Image of God."

Perhaps the question is whether our spiritual path is moving us toward a more instinctive moral response to the universe or whether we are increasingly having to check our actions and thoughts against our ethical and moral standards as we pass through life. The latter way of living, it seems to me, eventually would exhaust me.

(The split-road photo you see here today is one I took some years ago at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, and a version of it is used as the cover of my first book, A Gift of Meaning.)

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As the United Kingdom staggers toward -- or away from -- Brexit, this interesting Bloomberg piece places the current political battles in Britain in the context of earlier religious battles. As it notes, "The English Reformation, as the split from the Roman Catholic church is known, created bitter divisions that lasted for centuries. Brexit, another attempt to reclaim control from a European supranational body, has also split Britain in ways that are not yet fully understood." Ask me in 50 or 100 years how this turned out, though that may be too soon to know.

How should the funerals of suicide victims go? 12-22/23-18

A few weeks ago, an 18-year-old college freshman committed suicide. His funeral Mass was held at a church in Michigan, where the priest delivered a sermon that spoke frankly about suicide and that the family believed was terribly unfair and not comforting.

Coffin-flowersThis Slate piece tries to unpack why many Catholic priests struggle with funeral services for people who have died by suicide. One reason the story is helpful is that it gives readers a link to the priest's (slightly redacted) homily so readers can decide for themselves whether the priest was out of bounds or, rather, was simply speaking frankly about church beliefs. In fact, as you read that article I encourage you to click on the sermon link and read it for yourself.

As the piece notes, "The conflict illustrates the widening chasm between the sober rituals of a Catholic funeral and the expectations of families who prefer an upbeat 'celebration of life.' In the Catholic tradition, a funeral is not just a time for consolation — though it is that — but also a worship service, and an obligation to pray for the soul of the deceased. 'The church is very clear that [homilies] are not to be eulogies,' said Michael Heinlein, a columnist for the Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor. 'The problem is that’s what people want. Many priests have simply given in to that.' (The Order of Christian Funerals, the church’s guidebook for funeral services, specifies that eulogies are best delivered at the wake, rather than at the funeral itself.)"

Something similar has happened in Protestant funerals, too. Which is to say that sometimes they become not what the church says they should be -- a witness to the resurrection and a retelling of the gospel story -- but, rather, a loose time for story telling that contains either little theology or some home-brewed theology that doesn't match church teaching.

(The excellent book to read about all this is Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral, by Thomas G. Long.)

To go back to the Slate story, it also noted this: "Suicide often complicates the tension between pulpit and pew. For centuries, the church banned Catholics who died by suicide from receiving full Catholic funerals and from being buried in Catholic cemeteries. Those strictures are no longer in place, and the church now acknowledges that mental illness and other suffering often plays a role in suicide. But the stigma lingers, as it does in much of secular culture."

Because theological and biblical illiteracy are rampant in Christian pews and because funerals often are attended by people who are not part of the same faith tradition as the deceased and, thus, don't quite know what's happening or is supposed to be happening in a funeral, priests and other pastors would do well at the start of such services to explain briefly what is happening and why. And if the homily is not to be a eulogy, the officiant should explain that stories of remembrance will be encouraged after the service as the family gathers to greet friends.

But it's also true that priests and pastors leading funerals should be as clear as possible with the family about what they intend to say and why they intend to say it. If the family disagrees about some of that, the time to work out those disagreements is before the service. To be slammed by something unexpected, as happened in this case, is primarily a failure of the priest, who should have been much clearer about where he was going with this service.

Leaders of all faith traditions would do well to study this particular case to determine what went wrong and to prevent such things from happening to them.

A funeral, after all, is a time when families need comfort, but it's also a time when the religious community can restate what it holds to be central to its faith. Those two goals should not result in conflict that can't be resolved.

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My favorite translation of the Psalms is done by Robert Alter of the University of California at Berkeley. Not only does offer fresh and insightful translations these ancient hymns of faith -- which, by the way, almost certainly were not written by King David -- but he also provides translation notes that explain and enlighten his word choices. Now Alter has translated the whole of the Hebrew scriptures in a three-volume set called The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. And this New York Times story about Alter and this important work helps all of us understand why Alter would even try to do this and why he has succeeded in so many ways. "Published this month," the story reports, "it represents the culmination of nearly two and a half decades of work. . .As a translator, he has tracked verse by verse through the Hebrew Bible to make these structures visible in English, in some cases for the first time. Over the course of his career, he has also helped establish the University of California, Berkeley, where he has been a professor since the 1960s, as one of the world’s premier centers of Hebrew literary study." I can't wait to own this work. More, I can't wait to read it.

No Christian holiday is as political as Christmas: 12-21-18

Just a few days until Christmas, let's just go ahead and upset almost everyone by declaring the first Christmas to be ripe with political meaning.

Jesus-politicsWhen Christians tell me they don't want to hear politics from the preacher in the pulpit, I wonder why they don't want to hear the gospels, which are nothing if not political. I agree I don't want to hear naked partisanship from preachers, but being political is something else.

As this blog has it, ". . .Christmas perhaps more than any other time is when the Christian faith is at its political zenith."

What does the author of that piece, Casey Tygrett, mean by that? This:

"There was an oppressive empire called Rome standing on the necks of faithful people like those who raised, fed, and clothed Jesus. The announcement of Jesus’ birth is a counter narrative to that empire. The Romans offered Pax Romana, 'Roman peace,' which came through allegiance to the Emperor and the death of Rome’s enemies.

"Jesus brought something very different.

"Mary’s child would dismantle political and religious systems of oppression by lifting women and lepers into the light of life."

The very first creed of the Jesus followers was made up of these three words: "Jesus is Lord." Which not only declares who is Lord but also who isn't -- Caesar. Which is to say that followers of Jesus give more allegiance to him than to whoever is in power for the state.

None of this, of course, means that all Christians agree on all political matters. Not even close. But it does -- or at least should -- mean that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a provocatively political act that requires one to care for the things and the people for whom Jesus cared and gave his life. And it does -- or at least should -- mean that whatever broke the sacred heart of Jesus should surely break the hearts of his followers, whether that's illness, poverty, discrimination or any kind of oppression.

And we simply can't respond to any of that without being political. As author Glenn Tinder notes in his book, The Political Meaning of Christianity, the spiritual center of the Western politics is the religious belief that all people are of inestimable value and must be treated as precious children of God. To do that requires involvement in a political system.

So Merry Politichristmas.

* * *


Staying with the political theme today, I want to tell you that someone in Spokane, Wash., has created a Christmas play about Mary, mother of Jesus, but this Mary is no meek and mild young woman. Rather, she's the person who spoke the revolutionary words of the Magnificat. You know, the Song of Mary that she sings in Luke 1 in which she praises God for having "scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations" and for having "pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly." No wallflower this Mary. She sees God's counter-cultural priorities and praises them.

A short pause for a few laughs: 12-20-18

We've gone way too long here without a little humor break. So today I'm going to pass along some faith-based jokes to lighten your day a bit. Well, unless you hate them, in which case I'll apologize right now for burdening your day.

LaughfaceAnd, yes, as I've said before when I devote a post to jokes, these would be funnier if I'd made them up. But I've simply swiped them from hither and yon, so they are what they are. And if you know some better ones, send them along for the next time I do this.

-- A bus full of ugly people had a head on collision with a truck. When they died, God granted all of them one wish. The first person said, "I want to be gorgeous." God snapped his fingers and it happened. The second person said the same thing and God did the same thing. This went on and on throughout the group. God noticed the last man in line was laughing hysterically. By the time God got to the last ten people, the last man was laughing and rolling on the ground. When the man's turn came, he laughed and said, "I wish they were all ugly again."

-- Late one night, a preacher was driving on a country road and had a wreck. A farmer stopped and said, "Sir, are you okay?" The preacher said, "Yes, I had the Lord riding with me." The farmer said, "Well, you better let him ride with me, because you're gonna kill him."

-- On their way to get married, a young Catholic couple is involved in a fatal car accident. The couple found themselves sitting outside the Pearly Gates waiting for St. Peter to process them into Heaven. While waiting, they began to wonder: Could they possibly get married in Heaven? When St. Peter showed up, they asked him. St. Peter said, "I don't know. This is the first time anyone has asked. Let me go find out." And he left. The couple sat and waited and waited. Two months passed and the couple still waited. While waiting, they began to wonder what would happen if it didn't work out; could you get a divorce in heaven? After yet another month, St. Peter finally returned, looking somewhat bedraggled. "Yes," he informed the couple, "You can get married in Heaven." "Great!" said the couple, "But we were just wondering, what if things don't work out? Could we also get a divorce in Heaven?" St. Peter, red-faced with anger, slammed his clipboard onto the ground. "What's wrong?" asked the frightened couple. "OH, COME ON!," St. Peter shouted, "It took me three months to find a priest up here. Do you have any idea how long it'll take me to find a lawyer?"

-- A husband and wife are in church. The preacher notices that the husband has fallen asleep and says to the wife, “Wake your husband up.” The wife answers, “You're the one who made him fall asleep, you wake him up.”

-- A girl asks her father, "Why does it rain? Is it God sweating or crying?" "No," says her father, "it rains to make the plants grow. Do you understand?" "Not exactly," says the girl. "Why does it rain on the sidewalk?"

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In the scandal of Catholic priests abusing children and bishops covering up for those priests, here is a story from Montana that got reported last year by the Great Falls Tribune but that I missed and that didn't get a lot of national attention. It's worth going back to. Have a look.

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The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters and Essays, edited by Carole Vanderhoof. This is part of series of books from Plough Publishing House that seeks to reveal biblical themes in the works of famous writers. Previous volumes have covered Dostoyevsky, George MacDonald, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Tolstoy. Sayers, born in Oxford in 1893, is best known as a mystery writer, particularly for books involving the sleuthing of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, but she also wrote essays and other works with Christian themes and explorations and was a well-known translator of Dante's Divine Comedy. Although I've heard of Sayers over the years, I've never paid much attention to her work. This volume helps to fix that -- and will for you, too.