Guns and Jesus Christ

6 07 2009


I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions lately about this recent hot topic. Some of that discussion has, indeed been over the conflation of the Church and the [American] State. That’s not what I want to focus on here though, a lot could be said on that, but perhaps another time.

Most recently, as part of one of those discussions on Beliefnet, someone spoke of the need of churches to protect themselves, either of parishoners packing their own protection or having security detail to protect the congregants and minister(s). No doubt, part of this idea may be influenced by another recent major happening.

As a people, we Christians are invited into a dangerous, vulnerable life of living beyond ourselves for the sake of others. That isn’t hubris for the sake of sounding pious. That’s actually what we’re supposed to do. We’re actually supposed to surrender ourselves for the sake of the other, give up our rights to life, and feed, clothe and love our neighbor. Sure, that neighbor might be a gun-wielding psychopath, but that changes nothing. When Jesus gave the parable of the good Samaritan, it was in response to a man who asked, “but Lord, who is my neighbor?”. Our neighbor is not only the one like us, or with whom we happen to get along. Our neighbor is everyone and anyone. The man asked this in response to when Jesus spoke the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as yourself.” Who are we to love? Everyone. And if for a moment we try and tiptoe around this, thinking that those who wish or cause us harm are outside of the boundaries of our love, Jesus said quite flatly, “You’ve heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies.” Indeed, it’s the love of our enemy that Jesus says is the witness that we are children of “[our] heavenly Father” who causes it to rain on both “the just and the injust”. In Luke’s version of the Sermon, Jesus says, “…who is merciful to all, even the wicked and the thankless”.

Dangerous love, that’s what we’re supposed to have. Love so dangerous that it could even get us killed.

What is a church if we’re starting to talk about using armed force to “protect” it? How can the Church be the Church in such a situation? Have we, here in the West (and particularly in America) become so complacent, so comfortable, so easy-going that the idea that we might actually have to spill our own blood to live out the commandments of Jesus makes us shrivel up in fear? That is nothing but a parody of discipleship. And I’ll admit that I’m fully saturated in guilt in this respect, I’m no less complacent and no less comfortable than the next–God have mercy on me–but, how can this be?

Is this what our religion has been reduced to here? To nothing more than a parody of faith?


My Plastic Jesus

26 08 2008

Oh my plastic Jesus,
How I love you so,
You are so fake and sterile,
No punch, no pow, no go!

When I worship you,
I pose you as I will,
Karate chop the bad guys,
Send ’em all to hell.

You are my plastic Jesus,
My saving friend indeed,
My soul you send to heaven,
You’re everything I need.

You demand nothing from me,
You do everything I say,
Serving you is easy,
Cheap grace means no pay.

Oh you’re my plastic Jesus,
In my church of plastic smiles,
When hypocrisy is abounding,
I love how you keep silent.

The poor I can ignore,
And I can beat up on gays,
Because you’re my plastic Jesus,
Gee golly you’re A-OK!

Can thump a plastic Bible,
Every single day,
Carry you on Sunday,
Cheaply, you’ve washed my sins away.

You’re my plastic Jesus,
You mean everything to me,
As long as you’re my Jesus,
My life is mine to keep.

What I want

4 04 2008

I want to be so fully liberated into the love of Christ that no fear or hesitance can even come close to stopping me from overflowing with love into the world around me. To be so full of reckless abandon and grace that I can let go of everything. I want to be so fully crucified, so fully united to the crucified Jesus that I become absolutely empty, empty of want, empty of lust, empty of fear, empty of greed, empty of selfishness. Empty. I want to be so completely empty that my life can mean something.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace! Your will be done! Here I am, send me!


3 04 2008

Desmond Tutu The word ubuntu has its origin in the Bantu languages of sub-saharan Africa. The word ubuntu is very hard to translate directly into English, no single word truly captures its meaning. It is used to describe humanity, the reality of being human. It also translates into generosity. In a speech where Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Bill Clinton shared the platform, Clinton gave a literal translation of ubuntu as “I am because you are”.

Ubuntu is fundamental concept among many African peoples, and it represents a major way of thinking about yourself in relation to those around you and the world at large. It represents a way of understanding that you are fundamentally, not just connected with others, but that your own being is dependant upon others.

It seems to me that ubuntu is a powerful word and describes how we live to share in one another. To live beyond yourself and in others. To divest from yourself your own clinginess to being, and to offer youself for the sake of others, to live ekstatically (beyond or outside yourself). Indeed another way to translate ubuntu is “community”, which shares much in common with the Greek idea of konoinia, of sharing and having in common, of partnership and unity–communion.

I think ubuntu might just be one of those world-breaking concepts that can radically shift the very ways in which we perceive the entirety of our reality, especially for us who live in the West with our distorted view of individualism. We tend to have a very narrow and selfish view of individuality, rather than a broad and selfless view of individuality. We stress “my individuality” rather than investing ourselves into recognizing and cherishing individuals as they are, we look inward to ourselves rather than outward to others. We hoard our identity within, rather than share our identity without. Ubuntu, let me have my identity in you, the one that I cherish.

Ubuntu. I am because you are.


Am I a Rebel?

15 11 2007

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve talked on this subject, or something similar to it. Yet, here I go again.

In some ways I sometimes wonder if I’m a bit of a religious rebel, and yet rather than eschewing tradition, orthodoxy, I always seem to be drawn ever closer to them. Though I never seem to be so ambitious as to simply say, “I am this thing, and I’ll play by all the rules.” On the contrary, I always seem to be in some odd place, existing in the wilderness between urban sprawls.

When someone discovers I’m a Christian one of the first things they usually ask (if they as me anything at all pertaining to it), is what kind of a Christian I am. It’s an honest enough question, one I’ve asked others myself. Presumably the question is asking what sort of church I go to, in which denomination do I kick off my shoes and hang my hat. It’s a fair question, but it’s one I’ve been unable to answer for nearly seven years.

Depending on whether I think a simple response or an accurate (though more complex) response is required, I’ll give some short-hand answer such as “Well, I’m kind of like a Lutheran, only I’m not, nor ever been a Lutheran.” or I’ll offer this response, “I’m a Christian with one foot in the broad Evangelical tradition and the other foot in the broad Catholic tradition.” In either case I’m sure you can tell that both responses may leave a person befuddled.

I’ll use plenty of descriptor-terms to describe what species of Christianus I approximate: Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran-esque, Reformational, Traditional, Creedal, Sacramental, to name a few.

To the casual observer this list may seem fairly odd. But I assure you that I take each with the utmost meaning in my self-designation.

I remember I once had a person tell me something like, “You can’t be both Protestant and Catholic, it doesn’t work that way?” Well certainly you can! Lutherans, Anglicans and other “High-Church” Protestants have been doing it for nearly five hundred years.

I think the problem comes in when you begin to take these terms and make them titles of particular church clubs, you have “The Protestants” over here and “The Catholics” over there, which is certainly true in most senses. I’m just not sure those are the only senses by which we have to use them.

I’m most certainly Protestant in that sense, I’m neither Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and last I checked I was never a member of a Coptic or Ethiopian church. My theological persuasion is still pretty Protestant, but enter my rebellious side. Unable to simply sit comfy I put on my leather jacket and kick start my Harley and I’m off on some journey on the highway.

But where am I going? That’s an excellent question.

I’ve long been what I consider “ecumenical”, meaning that in some way I believe that Christians should spend more time talking to one another instead of anathemizing one another. What I mean by that term has evolved over the years.

The lines which divide various Christian “bodies” have become fairly fuzzier over the years, so much so that I’ve begun to question the very idea of having some “denominational title”, I know of other Christians who out of their own dislike for denominational disputes and titles have joined the “non-denominational” bandwagon. But, really, for all the talk of “non-denominational” these come across as virtually carbon copies of one another. I have no interest in the “non-denominational” movement because it seems like a bad alternative to the “denominational” system. It’s not really non-denominational, it’s simply quasi-denominational.

So that’s not the route I want to take, that much I know for certain. And yet, as said, all these boundaries seem to be a bit blurry.

The more I’m on “the road” so to speak, the more I kind of just think I want to be part of it all. Now certainly I’m more comfortable in the Lutheran theological arena than the Baptist one, but I don’t really want to say “I’m Lutheran, not Baptist.” Not because it’s approximating a semblence of truth, but because somewhere deep inside me I honestly believe in an idea. I certainly believe that there are Christians whose theology is closer in approximity to mainstream Christian orthodoxy than others, and often in different ways. I think the Lutheran conviction about the Gospel is more faithful than the Catholic one; I think the way Catholics “do” church is more faithful than the way Baptists do it; yet in all three cases we are still talking about Christians. I am theirs and they are mine. This is that idea I was getting at. That while our mileage may vary, all of us Christians are still Christian, and thus we are all part of the same fundamental thing.

I sometimes honestly do feel that there are Christains out there who are practicing a completely different religion than the one I am. These off-beat folk who go around pounding Bibles over everyone else’s head certainly seems absurdly foreign to me; but this is the exception rather than the rule.

So what am I? I have no idea, I just know I’m a Christian. I guess I’m just slowly learning what that means exactly. So maybe I am a rebel, then again maybe I’m just a pilgrim.

Where am I headed? I’m not entirely sure, though I pray to keep my eyes on the Son just over the horizon. I’ll just continue to enjoy the ride.


What is the Via Crucis?

17 07 2007

Centuries ago Christians made pilgrimages to the Holy Land, to visit the sacred sites. Inevitably every pilgrim would trace the final steps of Jesus life, leading up to the crucifixion, by walking a traditional road–the one believed to have been used by Jesus–from Pilate’s courtyard to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where the condemned were crucified.

In Latin this road became known as the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering; and alternatively known as the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross. Over time a tradition developed, where regular spots, or stations, came to exist, where pilgrims would stop, recite prayers and meditate upon each moment of Christ’s Passion.

Walking the Via Crucis became a part of Christian spirituality, a way of enjoining oneself to the sufferings of Christ, a way to abide by the call of Christ,

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” – Mark 8:34

The Crusades and following wars began to separate Western Christians from visiting the holy sites, and a system of walking the Via Crucis without physically being in Jerusalem developed during the Middle Ages. The spiritual discipline of the Stations of the Cross were developed to this end.

The Via Crucis, however, is not merely some medieval tradition, but a more deeply rooted spirituality. It springs from a fervent desire to, as the Apostle Paul writes,

To know Him and the power of His resurrection, participating in His sufferings by being conformed to His death,” – Philippians 3:10

The Way of the Cross is not simply a spiritual exercise, but, in my estimation, the chief form of life in the here and now.

The Way of the Cross is the most resonantly human form of being. Suffering echoes through our humanity, as we sojourn through life, seeing life come and go before our eyes. The majority of the world’s citizens do not live in luxury, but in utter poverty–our American condition is the abnormality of the broader human condition. Where children starve, and mothers see their children collapse in death, where wars tear apart families, where disease infests entire nations.

The Way of Suffering is normative to human life.

God, in condescending down into that human experience, in the Person of Jesus, comes into the full depth of penultimate human existence. By bearing the Cross, he bears the fullness of human wretchedness, and the call of Jesus to, “pick up your cross” is no trifle. Rather it is His demand, that if anyone would seek to follow Him, they must do as He does, and bear cross and suffering, and enjoin upon themselves the suffering of humanity.

While Christ alone overcomes death, He calls all to enter into His death–for His death is the ultimate death, the death of Death. Coming to participate in His death is both the annihilation of our former life, and the beginning of the new.

Since in Christ we are a “new creation” (writes Paul), it can only come in being ripped away from what we once were, and being born anew into something totally other.

And in the midst of all that, is the Cross.

The Way of the Cross is the path we must all walk if we truly seek a genuine death, a death that ends all death–the death of Death itself. The scandalous mystery of the Cross, however, is that when death is, itself, crucified, all that is left is life.

The Way of the Cross, is the path toward life.

But Eternal Life is found in the Way of Suffering, Christ Himself the One True Victim, who joins Himself to all the victims of suffering, calling them into a community of resurrection and transfiguration. A Community of Grace.

So we hope for the resurrection from the dead, and life in the World to Come. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, the old has passed, behold, He makes all things new.