The Common Good

gospel

The Nature of Joy

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:9-12

War is always ugly. The loss of innocent lives is never easy to swallow. And yet, as tanks open fire on the humble homes of the Gazan poor and rockets rain down on a terrified Israeli populace we are compelled to ask, “How do we keep coming back to this profane and violent place called war?” Why do we consistently and continually fail to understand the simple principles of our own faith and the faiths of those who profess a belief in God?

These simple faith principles speak of a command to love one another and to have a deep and abiding respect for all life – especially innocent life. Then, why do we fail to love justice, peace, and mercy as God commands and seem so determined to visit such violence and destruction on our world and on one another?

Similar questions arise for me in my work as a pastor who labors in organizing people of faith to contend with the tough issues that we face daily in our country. Issues like the mass incarceration of our young, the struggle for human dignity by the poor, the lack of employment opportunities for those who desire only to feed their children and raise their families, and the millions who yearn to step out from the shadows of unjust immigration laws and be recognized as cherished citizens of an open and welcoming nation. These are the tough issues that bring me and so many other clergy and people of faith from the confines of the church into the streets and homes of those whose lives are tethered closest to the pain of injustice. In each of these instances the moral challenges seems so clear but the outcomes are incongruent with the faith principles that are designed to guide our hearts and direct our actions.

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COMMENTARY: More Christian Influence? Be Careful What You Wish For

Right-wing politicians are fond of saying we need more Christian influence in American political life.

I don’t disagree with that. But I wonder if they have any idea what they are asking. For a nation guided by Christian principles would bear scant resemblance to their political agenda.

Take immigration, for example. Jesus practiced radical welcome, not the restrictive legalistic barriers envisioned by conservatives, and certainly not the denigration of dark-skinned immigrants and the unleashing of armed posses along the Rio Grande.

God’s people, after all, began as immigrants and refugees. God saw them as a “beacon” to all nations.

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GO: The Biggest Word in the Great Commission

Our son, Mattias, is a complicated kid. He’s sweet, creative and remarkably intelligent. But to say he is strong willed would be underselling his capacity for intransigence.

When he was in preschool he, like many kids, went through a “naked phase.” He never wanted to have his clothes on at home (which was no small issue with regard to our furniture’s upkeep), and getting him dressed in the morning was part chore and part all-out war.

“We have one of these kids every year,” said his teacher, a seasoned veteran. “What you have to do is call his bluff.”

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Are We Preaching a Gospel of Inadequacy?

Every time I go to restock my face cream at the cosmetics vendor, inevitably the sales ladies point out the fact my skin is particularly dry. Oh wait, not just dry, they say, they are also seeing signs of crow’s feet and — gasp! — some dark circles under my eyes. They masquerade as skincare health professionals with fancy dermatology equipment to properly diagnose the ills of my skin. All this, of course, so they can sell me the magic anti-wrinkle cream. And do I buy it? I do. (Dang it, you weak-willed creature.)

I recently read a book titled, Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, who pinpoints this trend over the last hundred years of advertising coined “inadequacy marketing.” He summarizes this form of storytelling as follows:

“Inadequacy stories encourage immature emotions like greed, vanity, and insecurity by telling us that we are somehow incomplete. These stories then offer to remove the discomfort of those emotions with a simple purchase or association with a brand.”

The first step in adequacy marketing is to create anxiety.

 
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A Gospel of the Garden

When God coupled the earth with the breath of eternity, our souls and the soil were fused and our destinies perpetually intertwined. While many of us have been taught that human beings have dominion over the Earth, we have not understood that what we do to Mother Earth, we do to one another and to God.

Dominion theology has led to domination, abuse, and destruction of Mother Earth and human communities. Every time we strip the land of its diversity, we strip a layer of humanity from our collective souls. Soil is also a community of diverse beings — some visible to the naked eye, some microscopic. A diversity of beings distinguish fertile soil from lifeless dirt. When industrial agriculture or chemical spills make these beings homeless, our soil becomes dust and is gone with the wind. Regardless of their visibility to the human eye, maintaining the homes of microbes intact, is what keeps the land fertile for growing crops which feed human beings. Adding microbes to “the least of these” who deserve our protection is truly an act of self preservation.

Respect and protection is a recurring casualty of dominion theology in that dominated land requires dominated people to work it. Plantations required slaves, and agribusiness requires exploited immigrants. Generational shame was whipped into the minds of enslaved Africans as their backs were abused in cultivating the land. Over the course of 400 years, a healthy relationship with Mother Earth was one of those legacies lost, stolen, or strayed for many African Americans. Restoring a healthy relationship with the land is a vital prerequisite for our urban youth to turn their food deserts into an oasis of food sovereignty.

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Seeing and Believing at Easter Time

Easter Sunday marks the holiest, most exalted moment of the Christian year. In Easter services all over the world, trumpets and organs blast. Flowers transform churches with their brightness. Worship leaders boldly proclaim: “Christ is risen!” Congregations echo back: “Christ is risen indeed!” The cycle of celebration and repetition begins as it should — a festive proclamation of good news. In Christ God has overcome the powers of sin and death, freeing us to live with hope and promising us life. Not just life after death, but full life, divinely inspired life — life in the here and now.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Even in these festive moments, many people express insecurity regarding the quality of their own believing.

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The Black Presence in the Bible: Uncovering the Hidden Ones

“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” -Psalm 68:31

The Bible is a multicultural book. This statement may sound controversial but archeology, history, and the text prove it to be true. In 2013 this controversy played out in the media when viewers of The Bible miniseries were upset that Samson was played by a black man. A second controversy occurred when a Fox News broadcaster confidently declared that Santa Claus and Jesus were white, yet when people researched original depictions of Saint Nicolas, they found pictures of a dark brown man. It appears that our faith has been distorted. As we celebrate Black History Month and prepare for Lent, how can uncovering the black presence in the Bible aid us in mourning against the sin of racism? One of the effects of racism is the whitewashing of history and sadly this has taken place even in our biblical studies.

The Roman Catacombs show biblical scenes painted by first- and second-century persecuted Christians, and their paintings clearly show people of color. What would Roman Christians gain from painting these characters black? What did these early Christians know and accept that seems unbelievable today?

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The (Anti)Gospel of Francis Underwood

"Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had. Don’t waste a breath mourning ... For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain there can be no mercy. There is but one rule. Hunt or be hunted." - Francis Underwood

So ends the Shakespearean soliloquy at the end of the first episode of House of Card's highly anticipated second season.

Underwood lives by a very clear code of ethics: Get to the top and do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. For him, the end always justifies the means. And so, although it certainly made me wince to see what happens in Season 2's opening episode, I was left in awe at the show’s brutal honesty of what a life purely committed to power potentially looks like.

Some scenes perhaps strike us viewers as far from reality (Washington can't really be that bad, can it?!?), but other vignettes are far more plausible. Consider Underwood’s commendation of a congresswoman for making the cold, calculated decision to “do what needed to be done” by wiping out entire villages with missile strikes.

Her “ruthless pragmatism” merely makes Underwood smirk.

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Pope Francis' Message for Washington

"Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words" is a quote widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It also seems to be the motto of Pope Francis. Instead of just talking about abstract doctrines, he consistently lives out his beliefs in public ways that have grabbed the world's attention. His example of humility, compassion, and authenticity resonate powerfully in Washington, where cynicism is rampant, pride remains even after the proverbial falls, and an ideology of extreme individualism has overtaken a significant faction within our politics.

The Pope's words and deeds fascinate us because they are genuine and selfless. How could a leader of global significance spend time cold calling pregnant women in distress, kissing the feet of young Muslim inmates, or embracing a disfigured man? What sorts of values motivate such behavior? These stories touched our hearts, but they appeared irrelevant to our politics.

Then the Pope started talking about our wallets, which, according to a several commentators on the far right, instantly transformed him into a threat to capitalism itself.

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