Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
‘Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Over the years, people have done some breathtakingly generous things that have helped me and my family. The simple fact of life as that as much as the concept of the self-made man (or woman) is attractive and holds some value, it’s also very limiting.
When I was unemployed and needed a car to have a job, a very kind gentleman I’ll never forget stepped forward and made that happen. (His last name, fittingly enough, was Nobles.) When I was sick a few years back, the people who stepped forward, from my wife and my work partner outward, were amazing in their kindness and generosity.
I’ve tried to pay that back and forward over the years in a number of ways. If someone does you a kindness, you have an obligation to extend a similar kindness outward. For me, that all stems from a God who, in spite of my shortcomings (and they are legion), still longs for a relationship with me and loves me. If he, who is perfect and mighty, extends that kind of love to me, who am I to do otherwise?
For me that means my obligation to try to be positive extends beyond the boundaries of those who wish me well.
In other words, if you disagree with me vehemently about almost anything, I’ll still do my best to be decent to you. If you think I’m a stooge of the Communists who want to take the country over, that applies to you. Same if you look at my continued Republican affiliation and think I’m just a fascist, racist, sexist bastard.
It even means…and it’s hard for me to say this…I’ll help you out if your biggest desire in life is to remind everyone how many championships the Yankees have won.
I’m not perfect at this. Some might even say I’m not competent at it. But I do my best and I’m sorry when I, like everyone else, fall short.
That brings me to last week’s attempted coup. Some of the people who stormed the Capitol were trying to kill members of Congress. The woman who was shot and died was trying to invade a hallway where members of the House stood just moments before. They weren’t trying to break in for a Congressional tickle party.
I don’t understand how you can support that. I don’t understand how you can look at what happened and say it was justified or exaggerated or no big deal. I don’t understand. And I’ll argue against you vigorously.
And to be honest, I probably won’t like you very much; the feeling will probably be mutual.
But if you’re broken down in a rainstorm some night, I won’t go flying past you because of the bumper sticker on your car. If you’re feeling pained and alone because life crapped on you, I won’t rub salt in your wound. I’ll do my best to see you as a child of God.
Justice must be served over what happened last week. Those who broke laws must face justice. But beyond that, if we start withholding basic human kindnesses from those we oppose, we’re moving away from the ideal.
To be clear, I’m not advocating that we have to agree with people, concede to them, or meet their needs at the point of their definition. We should never justify those whose footprint on the world leaves an impression of hatred, selfishness, or harm to others.
In my world, God loves them, too. And that means I need to try.
Jesus said to love my neighbor. He didn’t say to like, honor, give into, grovel before, or validate them. It certainly doesn’t mean you get to punch me in the face, then become a victim when I don’t treat you like my best friend.
So I’ll try to do my best even when I don’t want to. I’ll accept that I’ll fall short and apologize where appropriate. I’ve been angry over the past five days, so I’ve probably fallen short a few times. And I’m not quite where Sarah Silverman is, but her stance is something to consider.
I’ve been the other before–and not without justification. And I knew I had to change. Without the possibility for vindication, change is pointless.
Justice must be done, but vindication must be possible.
In the Christian faith, tomorrow is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It’s the celebration of God loving us so much that he laid aside his Godhood to come and be with us. It’s a symbol of his love for us and the model for us to love one another.
I know that I’ve messed up things enough that I haven’t earned that love. I also know that in judging others to be outside the scope of that love–and that they’re worthy for me to kick their ass, I’m engaging in what might be the ultimate act of hypocrisy.
And yet the sight of someone walking into a public place without any type of face covering makes me angry to the point of almost literally seeing red. The guy verbally assaulting the Barnes & Noble lady that I posted yesterday makes me wish I was there so I could step in and crowd him the way he did to that lady.
For the first time in my life, I’m legitimately wondering if I’d avoid arrest if I engaged one of these eff you I’m not wearing a mask and you aren’t gonna do shit about it schmucks.
I used to be an angry guy. I’m a recovering asshole and i have to be careful every day that I don’t slip back into that mode again. In all that time, I’ve never felt compelled to physical confrontation, until the last couple of weeks.
I live with someone who has an elevated risk. Her job requires that she go to a place where a lot of people congregate. One of those people caught the Covid a few weeks back–had mild symptoms and got past them and is back at work. As I shared, her friend’s sister died yesterday.
It’s creeping closer like the movie blob and there’s quite literally nothing I can do about it. I can wear my mask and stay in–and I’ve done that. I wear the mask everywhere and after the Christmas flurry, I won’t be making frequent stops at the store.
That’s good for multiple reasons. One of this is, as I’ve started to say things to people without masks, I’ve wanted them to make a big deal out of it. To touch me, just once, anywhere, so I could touch them back as hard as I possibly could.
In short, I’ve become an angry fundamentalist. I’ve become everything I’ve worked hard not to be–and then a little.
Knowing you have a problem is the first step to fixing it. In this case, the second step is to remember what and who we celebrate tomorrow.
I think God might understand. When you love someone, you give them permission to hurt you, and I suspect we hurt him a lot when we tortured his son to death. God is both love and justice and sometimes, even in God, those two ideals conflict.
But I also think God would be disappointed if I hung one on the construction guy who marched into the store like he was conquering a beach yesterday with no mask on.
That guy’s my son, too, God is telling me. Remember that. And remember what I’ve forgiven you for.
I do need to remember. I need to remember all of it.
In the Catholic Church, this week’s Gospel reading is when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says that she’ll be having a baby and that baby will change the world. Mary, who’s probably in her mid-teens at the time, reasonably asks how that can happen. Gabriel explains it to her and she says to let it be done to her as he said.
As Christians, this is the model we’re supposed to take in how we deal with life–to let it be done to us as God says. The translation we used in my men’s group includes her saying “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
Handmaid isn’t an esteemed thing to be in society today. Ask Margaret Atwood. Ask the President. Ask anyone. We don’t like being servants.
But it’s what we’re all called to do–even guys.
Basically, if God asks us to do it, we’re supposed to follow through on it. It’s a humble position that entails a substantial loss of autonomy.
What would I do, being a man of a certain age, if God said to me “Chris, you’re gonna raise another kid.”? What if he said, “Chris, I want you to sell everything you own and follow me where I take you.”? What if he said, “Chris, I want you to submit to that person over there.”?
I hate submitting. If you explain something to me and convince me to do it because it’s a right and reasonable thing, then I’ll be on board. If you say that you have power and I will damn well do it because of your power, I might submit, but I’m probably going to fight it the entire way. Put another way: I’m not good at what this blog post calls for.
Christians in western culture aren’t collectively collectively good at it. We tend not to excel at humility. We suck at submitting.
St. Paul says that though Jesus was God, he didn’t see equality with God as something to cling to. Instead he took the position of a slave. He, being God, humbled himself to the point where he allowed us to torture him to death in the most humiliating way possible.
While we celebrate with holiday specials, gifts, seasonal food and beverages, and whatever gatherings we deem wise this year, the real message of the season is one of humility and obedience.
All of us will fall short, but this season shouldn’t be a cause for Christians to be militant or insistent. It’s not a time to be brash or arrogant. It’s not a time for us to demand.
I have to admit that I’ve struggled with that. Were I Darth Vader, the two women walking around Publix yesterday without a care in the world, or a mask, would’ve been choked to death with one. There are other Christians who’d probably like to choke the mask wearers to death.
That ain’t it.
It’s not culturally appropriate to be a handmaid. It’s not cool to be a servant. You can’t be a winner that way. And no one likes to be a doormat.
God didn’t make us to be number 1. He didn’t create us to dominate everyone in sight.
We’ve lost track of that–in particular, too many people of the faith have lost track of that. Our God is grand and glorious, so must we be. God wants us be rich, happy, and dominant.
If so, he’d have come to New York City in 1985, not the rural middle east 2000 years ago.
Today’s post was originally supposed to be about people who use their money or power to push to the front of the Covid vaccine line.
I’m pretty sure that Jesus would require us not to do that. Or to be schmucks about the masks (either way).
This is a guy who gave up his Godhood to die for us. He might reasonably ask use to give up some ego to live for him.
A Facebook friend posted this morning referencing the War on Christmas (and the War on the War on Christmas and so on). The ubiquity of Christianity in this country means that you probably know the story of Jesus being born in the manger because there was no room in the inn.
If Jesus came for war, he wouldn’t have been born in the barn in a backwater town where few paid attention right away. If he came to assert earthly power and force his name onto Starbuck’s cups, he wouldn’t have been an itinerant preacher wandering a relatively small area of the world in very uncomfortable shoes. If he’d come to force our knees to bend and out tongues to confess regardless of what we wanted, he would’ve called down the angels to slaughter the people who tortured him to death.
If I call myself a Christian, then, that should be my calling, too (except the shoes thing–the orthopedist said so).
As a society, we’re battered and beaten up. We’re brawling about the election, about race and gender, about climate change and socialism and whether it’s a sign of privilege to not be outraged all the time. We’re parsing words, looking for reasons to criticize and condemn. We’re looking at the all-too-visible failings of those people while we contort logic to make sure our people are untouched.
If there’s one good thing this holiday season, it’s that the War on the War on the War on Christmas isn’t being fought this year.
And if anyone should avoid such a war, it’s the people honoring the baby born in a barn and the man who allowed himself to be tortured to death to show us his love.
Maybe we’ll be back to bitching about holiday greetings and coffee cups next year.
I hope not.
Jesus, the guy we’re supposed to remember as the reason for the season, basically gave two commands: love God and love your neighbor.
This year, of all years, we who count on Jesus for whatever happens after we die, need to remember that we show we’re doing the first of those things by doing the second of them.
A couple of months ago, I posted about Father James Altman, the pastor at St. James the Less Catholic Church in Wisconsin. Father Altman said from the pulpit that you cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat or you’ll face the fires of hell. Clearly, that’s a misguided approach to divine love.
This week, video surfaced of Reverend Raphael Warnock preaching that no one can serve God and the military…America, choose ye this day who you will serve. (And a mighty roar went up from the crowd.)
Reverend Warnock is also running for the US Senate, facing Kelly Loeffler in one of the two run-off elections for Senate seats in Georgia. The rest of this particular Gospel from 2011 isn’t problematic And it’s possible the context of this remarks make them less than they appear.
This sermon is based on a biblical verse that reads ‘No man can serve two masters … Ye cannot serve God and mammon,’ a biblical term for wealth,” Terrence Clark, communications director for the Warnock campaign, said in a statement to Fox News. “Reverend Warnock was speaking about the need to commit to moral life before pursuing other priorities. As the video of the congregation’s response makes clear, this is another blatant effort by Kelly Loeffler to take Reverend Warnock’s words completely out of context.
Any version of the sermon I saw started with the controversial statement, but not what led up to it. Were I a Georgia voter, I would want more from the Warnock campaign, starting with the part of the sermon before this. If it’s not problematic, release it, so we can move on to the next thing.
But my concern is primarily religious in content. It seems odd to take the direct application of the Matthew 6:24, which specifically refers to money, and include the military in that injunction. Again, seeing the video before that statement would be helpful. If he said you can’t serve God and your family, God and your job, God and the military, that’s different than if he started with the statement about the military.
One way or another, the video’s problematic. If the context is different than what’s being shown. Loeffler’s campaign is morally bankrupt. In appealing to Christian voters, bastardizing a sermon about devotion to God would seem grossly unfair. It would also show utter disrespect to the core values claimed by those voters.
But if the context of the video is correct, the people Rev. Warnock has judged as not eligible for heaven are the very same people who fought and often died for his right to proclaim his judgement.
When I first wrote this, I was directly comparing Rev. Warnock to Father Altman. It’s possible that comparison is valid. But without further clarification, we just don’t know.
Clearly video of the sermon exists; the best thing would be to release the entire sermon. If it exists in its entirety online, I wasn’t able to find it.
Either way, we need to do better. One of the two campaigns is showing that its candidate isn’t fit to serve in the United States Senate. As you read this, you may have decided which campaign that is.
But the video shows that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions before all the facts are in. As of the time I wrote this, we have an edited video on one side and a statement claiming the video is misleading from the other.
God transcends our understanding. He’s God, not created by man. But the religions that follow him definitely bear the mark of the societies in which they were created.
And those societies were primarily dominated by men.
I seriously doubt St. Paul was right when he said women must wear head coverings and keep their pie holes shut in church. But the society of the time saw things like that. The Bible may be inspired by God, but it was written by men. And whatever you write, it’s gonna be affected by your view of the world.
All of this is to say that religion, particularly Abrahamic religions, owe women an apology.
If we’re made in the image and likeness of God–which Christians believe as absolute truth–then God must also be significantly feminine. The God who created women can’t be exclusively masculine. Otherwise that truth would be false.
Personally, I’ve always viewed the Holy Spirt as a feminine force. Somewhat mysterious, but nurturing and comforting. Perhaps that’s forward-looking. Perhaps it’s just me perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes. But it’s what I think.
I also think God as Father is probably a direct reflection of societal norms of the time. God is God. Gender is limiting and you can’t limit God.
And if God loves beyond our ability to understand, then why does it really matter if God is specifically masculine anyway.
Personally, I like to view God as both parents. As the Father, who when you fall down, picks you up, wipes you off, and sends you on your way. And as the Mother, who when the time is right, spends the time with you and gives you soft, sweet love.
All of this is to say, when Jesus comes back, what if he comes back as a woman?
There’s a lot of noise in Christian circles around the last command Jesus gave, to go out to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
For some, there’s the misattributed quote from St. Francis that says “And if necessary, use words.” Others say that’s faux religious hooey. You have to go out and tell the world about Jesus and do whatever it takes to let them know.
I wish I could find the tweet again. It showed an article that said proselytizing isn’t designed to make new disciples. It’s designed to piss off the people you’re trying to attract, so you can go back to your tribe and talk about how attacked you are, so you’re welcomed as a hero who took abuse for Jesus (or whatever religion you’re representing).
I’m not sure about that. But I am sure about the example Jesus gave us.
While Jesus was abrupt to the Pharisees and religious authorities, he never approached those outside the power structure with condemnation and the idea that you damn well need to get your act together to get right with him.
And Jesus dealt with some people the religious authorities considered awful people.
Instead, Jesus met those people where they were. Whether it was the woman at the well who was an outcast, the man born blind, or the whore about to be stoned to death, Jesus started in the moment. He built relationship with them first and only then did he talk to them about their actions.
With proselytizing, intent is less important than result. Too often, because it starts with a big scary God looking to divinely kick your ass. It doesn’t start with the Savior who didn’t even condemn the people who tortured him to death.
If you’re pissing people off, you’re doing it wrong.
Short of murder, kidnapping, fraud, or adultery, I’ve messed up in every possible way. For most of my life, whatever bad thing you said about me, I’ve already said worse about myself.
And here comes this all-powerful creator of everything who’s willing to metaphorically sit down with me, not condemn me, and help me to work through the mountain of crap I’ve strapped to myself.
How could I possibly respond to that with anything less than a gradually softening heart and a desire to try to be that example?
I won’t lie to you–I suck at it. But I’m better at it today than I was yesterday.
So please, don’t judge God by the people who piss you off in His name. He’s the guy who wants to sit in the room with you when things are going wrong, if that’s what you need. He’s the guy who wants you to choose to accept his love and forgiveness for the things that make you cringe when you think about them late at night.
We live in a fast-paced culture. Now takes too long. We have information at our fingertips. The correct interpretation of the facts I found on my favorite website–the one that agrees with me–is obvious. You must agree or something’s wrong with you. You suck. You hate America and black people and puppies. You monster.
I’ve done this. Maybe you have, too.
The message at church this week was about our collective presence on social media. About my social media presence.
As Christians, our job is to go and make disciples. Here’s what the employee handbook says:
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
Sometimes I’m not great at that. Sometimes I lose my mind online. When that happens, I get really sarcastic and kind of nasty. It’s not a pretty picture. There’s nothing specific about online schmuckiness in the Bible, but there doesn’t have to be. I know it’s wrong.
So if you read what I write and feel belittled, reduced, or invisible, I apologize. That’s not what I want to be about. And it sure as hell isn’t in the employee manual.
I wish I could tell you it won’t happen again, but that would be a lie. It’s a tough world right now. I’m not the only one who loses it from time to time. But I’ll try not to.
There’s so much noise right now. It’s hard to be empathetic when you’re swimming in a sea of rage. I do my best not to add to the rage, but I’ll fall short sometimes.
Disagreement with condemnation is virtue masturbation. It makes you feel really, really good for a bit, but it’s ultimately empty. It just builds a bigger wall. So I’ll try to remember the second bullet above–the part of about gentle and respectful.
It’s my job after all. The pay isn’t fabulous sometimes, but I’m told the retirement package isn’t bad.
I don’t want to get there and be alone. Even if you disagree with me on politics, race, and (yes) the Yankees, it’ll be better if you’re there, too.
Last week, we introduced you to Father James Altman, the pastor at St. James the Less Catholic Church in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Fr. Altman believes that one cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat. If you are, you face the fires of hell.
This week, because it’s 2020 and everyone has to be a putz on social media, Patheos magazine pointed out some of Fr. Altman’s, uhhh, ministry on YouTube. In one of his homilies (Catholic for sermon) he said most lynchings were caused by homicides and rapes, and that they were a form of capital punishment. As an afterthought, Fr. Altman said that executions carried out by a mob are “never good.”
Kind of curious about the Biblical reference for that, but whatever.
Father Altman also says that while a few thousand blacks were lynched, more than 300,000 white people were killed in the Civil War to free those blacks. Where’s that White Dead Guy Lives Matter movement, huh? HUH?
Put simply, Father Altman may be a beloved son of the Father, but he’s acting like a hateful jackass. People like him seem to believe they’re fighting against the Godless hordes and thugs fighting to strip America of its God-awarded Americanness and take away the red, white, and blue sword of divine justice and righteousness. Or some similar nonsense.
Voices like Father Altman’s aren’t historically the loudest from the pulpit. The abolitionist and civil rights movement had a huge clerical component. Today, both sides have a vested interest in holding up guys like Father Altman, Jerry (Take my wife. Please.) Falwell, Jr, and Paula White as leading voices of Christianity.
Their god is the President and their Gospel is earthly power gained by gleefully condemning and excluding anyone who dares disagree. Given enough power, they’d be no different than the people who cut off Daniel Pearl’s head while he was alive or drowned their prisoners in a cage.
If heaven is theirs, I’ll happily burn for eternity.
Within the Catholic Church, starting at the top with Pope Francis, down through leadership to clery like Father Richard Rohr, there’s a strong, more Christ-like stance. Father Rohr, a champion of the contemplative movement, is the polar opposite of Father Altman. While he doesn’t seem to plant a big, sloppy kiss on abortion rights, he believes strongly in the God of the prodigal son, that hell exists, but it may well be empty.
The Richard Rohrs of the world have their own biases, like everyone else. They tend to dismiss non-contemplatives (and non-liberals) as mistaken and in need of correction. But they’re at least working on the right mindset.
To be clear, according to Christian theology, we are all worthy of the fiery furnace. The miracle is that God came down to wear super uncomfortable shoes and hang with us and after we murdered him, he asked for our forgiveness, for that and everything else.
God didn’t so love America, or white people, or Republicans so much that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall have eternal life. It was for the whole world. And as soon as you count one person out, you count yourself out, too.
It’s important for Catholics and Christians at large to forcefully reject Father Altman’s theology of hate and exclusion, wherever it exists.
Although the non-believers will do it for us, these people are an abomination before the lord and theirs is a detestable sin.
Christians should call them out more publicly than anyone else.