Tag Archives: Pope Francis

From envy, hatred, and malice

Again [Jesus] entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:1-6)

Green-eyed envy

“They watched him … so that they might accuse him.”

Each year, as Lent approaches, many acquaintances and friends announce that they will leave Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. They plan to take a social media fast.

Though I do not choose to do that myself, I can certainly understand the appeal.

Too often, and especially (it seems to me) among religious types, social media turns into a platform from which to pounce on people’s “mistakes” and “errors” — the things others believe or do that go against the grain.

The Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement and cofounder of Lent Madness, wrote a poignant post this week titled Practicing Our Faith Online, in the wake of many toxic responses to the news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

He muses, “Maybe we Christians can, and must, do a better job of practicing our faith online. Sometimes I’m the one who needs the reminder that Jesus calls me to practice a love that is not always easy.”

How easy it was for the Pharisees to “watch Jesus … so that they might accuse him,” rather than looking for ways to help their neighbor who suffered.

How easy for us to do the same, unless we soften our gaze (and our hearts).

Hardness of heart

“They were silent.”

Even (perhaps especially) when Jesus draws their attention to the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees refuse to see anything but Jesus’ error.

They won’t even entertain the spiritual question he poses — “is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” — because they are sure he is wrong.

“The opposite of faith,” says former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway, “is not doubt, it is certainty.”

What are you so certain about that you refuse to see another point of view?

What or who are you certain God hates?

Malice in the palace

“The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him,
how to destroy him.”

What are you willing to do when you are secure in the knowledge that you’re right?

The Pharisees, who taught religious purity and scrupulous adherence to the Law, went out and made common cause with the supporters of the puppet king Herod (and by extension, the Roman colonizers who kept him in political power).

This week, we saw another spectacle unfolding online — Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. taking the side of a political candidate and speaking out against the very simple statement of Pope Francis in response to a reporter’s question:

A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he says things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

As James Martin, SJ writes in the Washington Post, the Pope’s remarks were quickly misinterpreted, not least by the chattering hordes on social media but by Christian leaders like Falwell.

The New York Times reported that:

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and a supporter of Mr. Trump, said that the pope had crossed a line.

“Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country,” Mr. Falwell told CNN.

Jesus did not give instructions to political leaders; that’s certainly true.

What he did was announce the kingdom of God, heal on the sabbath, and turn religious people’s certainty upside down. He made them so angry that they couldn’t see straight.

And that’s what we Christians are called to do, too, if we are to be Jesus’ followers.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, if we get into trouble, first with the religious people around us and then with others who are certain that we are wrong to do good, to save life, to heal.

Good Lord, deliver us

Was it only a week ago — the First Sunday in Lent — that we chanted the Great Litany before the Eucharist?

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Jesus stands before us in the assembly, about to do something inappropriate and upsetting.

How soft is our gaze? How hard is our heart?

Are we reaching toward his healing power — actually doing something to help the hurting people around us — or turning our backs, putting up a wall between us and Jesus’ obvious error?

From envy, hatred, and malice … Good Lord, deliver us.

 

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The vows we make | A response to Rod Dreher

A Facebook friend and former parishioner shared, at my request, some of what he’s been reading about the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision regarding same-sex marriage.

One of those was Rod Dreher’s June 26 article “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn to Live as Exiles in Our Own Country” in TIME magazine.

Here are my thoughts in response to Dreher’s five main points.

A culturally post-Christian nation

We have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist.

I could not agree more with Dreher on this point.

However, I see this as a good thing. Our dependence is to be on God alone, not on “the fundamental norms [we] have long been able to depend on.”

Orthodox Christians and other social conservatives

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Obergefell decision — and the seriousness of the challenges it presents to orthodox Christians and other social conservatives … LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives.

Dreher suggests an equivalency between orthodox Christians and social conservatives that I believe is false.

Certainly, the Episcopal Church to which I belong has long understood that people of various political persuasions belong together as practicing Christians.

We’ve also seen in recent news regarding the environment encyclicals and statements by both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew — bastions of orthodox Christianity — that could by no means be called “socially conservative” in the sense Dreher uses.

In the second part of this paragraph, Dreher also suggests that “the next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions.”

Here again, as a Christian (and a non-stipendiary ordained deacon) I must say that I read this as a positive development.

It may be good for Christians no longer to belong to institutions that enjoy the benefits of a special status beyond what others receive — that’s what tax exemption is.

Instead of depending on our institutions or on “fundamental norms” that others in American society don’t enjoy, perhaps we should focus on practicing our faith in the middle of lives that are just like everyone else’s.

The institution of marriage

Third, the Court majority wrote that gays and lesbians do not want to change the institution of marriage, but rather want to benefit from it. This is hard to believe, given more recent writing from gay activists like Dan Savage expressing a desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy in all marriages.

Here Dreher makes a non sequitur between those who want to be married and those who “desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy.”

The Obergefell ruling is about those who want to be married.

Those who don’t want to be married (or don’t want to be monogamous) still don’t have to be married (or respect their spouses). The decision doesn’t change that.

The individualism at the heart of American culture

In his final argument, Dreher gets tangled up again.

[T]he Obergefell decision did not come from nowhere. It is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution, which valorized erotic liberty. It has been widely and correctly observed that heterosexuals began to devalue marriage long before same-sex marriage became an issue. The individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture is at the core of Obergefell — and at the core of modern American life.

Dreher correctly draws a line between the Sexual Revolution and the time when “heterosexuals began to devalue marriage.”

But to suggest that Obergefell is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution just doesn’t make any sense, and it’s another non sequitur.

Obergefell is about those who value marriage, those who have waited for years to have their faithfulness legally recognized, not those who “valorize erotic liberty.”

If Christians, for our part, want to combat “the individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture” we ought to encourage everyone to be married or to participate in intentional community.

The Benedict Option

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Dreher concludes his article by describing what he calls “the Benedict Option,” a shorthand reference to Christians retreating from the Roman Empire into monasteries following the example of Benedict of Nursia (d. 547).

He asks the question:

How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions?

And here at the end, you won’t be surprised that we answer the question differently.

In The Episcopal Church we already have a Benedict Option, and it’s called the Book of Common Prayer (or BCP).

The Book of Common Prayer, historically influenced by Benedictine worship, outlines a pattern of daily, weekly, seasonal, and occasional prayer that “builds resilient communities.”

It’s portable and can be carried out of our communities and into our lives in exile. The daily prayers are even available on an iPhone app. Everyone can participate in the Benedict Option.

See my other blog about the Daily Office for reflections about using the prayer book in just this way as I go about my work and ministry.

But here’s my biggest concern with Dreher’s version of the Benedict Option: When conditions are “increasingly hostile,” as he suggests, we ought all the more to open the doors of our resilient communities to all guests.

Benedict himself wrote in his Rule that “all guests are to be welcomed as Christ” (Ch. 53).

The vows we make

I have often taught that the vows a couple makes in the marriage ceremony are very much like the vows made by someone entering a monastic community.

Even though monastics traditionally make vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of life, the essential vow is the first one: to stay put in one community until death.

Benedict has harsh words for monks who continually go from place to place, looking for novelty.

Similarly, a couple being married promises to stay together “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death” (BCP 427). The essential vow is to stay put “until we are parted by death.”

For most heterosexual Christians, the way we experience the spiritual benefit of making and keeping vows is through marriage.

The more of us who can practice this spirituality, making room in our lives for another person and making our homes into “havens of blessing and peace” (BCP 431), the better.

Isn’t it great that, at least in the Obergefell decision, the Supreme Court has expanded the number of people in America who can now make those promises in the context of marriage?

We can’t always count on American society to mirror the best practices of Christianity (and I agree with Dreher that we shouldn’t expect it), but in this case I’m glad to see it.

God’s wheat, ground by the teeth of wild beasts

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In his spirited defense during the early brackets in Lent Madness, the Rev. David Sibley wrote this about Ignatius of Antioch, an early Bishop of Rome:

“Ignatius’ letter to the Romans expressed his firm desire to be led to his martyrdom, begging the church in Rome to let him be ‘food for the wild beasts… God’s wheat… ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may prove to be pure bread’ (Rom 4:1). Around AD 115, Ignatius was granted his wish, as he was martyred in the coliseum, given over to the teeth of lions.”

In my insomnia this morning, I was thinking of the election of Pope Francis and of the extraordinary challenge he faces as the spiritual leader of more than half the world’s Christians. As quickly as a puff of white smoke, he has become not only a source of guidance and a focus of reverence, but also a lightning rod for controversy, anger, and ridicule.

Exercising spiritual leadership at any level — you don’t have to be Pope! — can feel like being “ground by the teeth of wild beasts.” It is a terrible responsibility to educate the faithful, minister to the sick, reconcile the estranged, lead the congregation in worship, and feed the hungry, and if you’re honest about your own failings you’ll know how unprepared you are.

How appropriate is Psalm 69, appointed for Morning Prayer today!

O God, you know my foolishness,
and my faults are not hidden from you.

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel.
(Ps. 69:6-7)

Here’s what puts Ignatius’ martyrdom, Francis’ new role as Bishop of Rome, and our own ministries with those among whom we live, and work, and worship into perspective: We are not the bread of life. Jesus is.

We may be “God’s wheat,” but the “living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51) is Jesus himself. What we can do — all we can do — is give “our selves, our souls and bodies” fully to the task at hand. We unite our offering to his in order to become through him the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.

God grant that we may all offer solid food, nourishing bread, faithful witness to those whom God calls us to serve.