There is, after all, something revolutionary in Christianity — a tendency to upend, reverse, and radically transform. In Mary’s magnificat, the song of praise, she offers at her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, she proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant . . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This list of upsets issues from the mouth of a peasant girl who has been promoted to an almost unimaginable status. That the radical reversals of Christmas are enumerated to us by a young woman of no particular social standing is itself an incredible bit of turnabout.
The revolutionary character of Christianity is usually washed out and mostly confined to specific political moments when it’s useful to refer to it. But this selectivity, too, should be upended. Christianity is at all times concerned with the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most oppressed; it is permanently interested in reversing this order, in aiming at and accomplishing the unexpected.
One of the central insights from Jesus’ teachings was forgiveness, and the central insight of forgiveness is its power to liberate us. To forgive is to let go, to release the anger and resentment that poisons the mind.
Metta is a basic quality of awareness itself
I was recently listening to Joseph Goldstein’s teachings on Mindfulness (Abiding in Mindfulness), and he said that “metta [loving-kindness] is a basic quality of awareness itself.” For me, the implication is that the Buddhist emphasis on mental awareness combined with the Christian emphasis on love and charity compliment each other, and perhaps are, in fact, simply different nuances of a luminous mind and an open, liberated heart.
As a kid I remember singing a song about being in the Lord’s army. It was a fun song, probably one of my favorites. It was an action song, I think that was the appeal when I was such a young kid. There were these dynamic movements that had all of us Sunday School kids marching like we were in an infantry, spying on the enemy, and taking aim and firing a gun. That was a long time ago. Tomorrow I go on a meditation retreat. It’s a far cry from the Lord’s army or Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric that flirts so coyly with the idea of a holy war against Islam. I am, quite literally, going to sit on my ass for ten days. Read more
By way of a holiday reflection, I wrote a review of It’s a Wonderful Life for Cinema Faith. Cinema Faith is a new film website with thoughtful articles and a reviews written by insightful young Christians.
Here’s a quote from Frank Capra, creator of It’s a Wonderful Life, a quote I discuss in my short review:
Forgotten among the hue-and criers were the hard-working stiffs that came home too tired to shout or demonstrate in streets … and prayed they’d have enough left over to keep their kids in college, despite their knowing that some were pot-smoking, parasitic parent-haters. Who would make films about, and for, these uncomplaining, unsqueaky wheels that greased the squeaky? Not me. My “one man, one film” Hollywood had ceased to exist. Actors had sliced it up into capital gains. And yet – mankind needed dramatizations of the truth that man is essentially good, a living atom of divinity; that compassion for others, friend or foe, is the noblest of all virtues. Films must be made to say these things, to counteract the violence and the meanness, to buy time to demobilize the hatreds…
Understanding what it means to be thankful has proved a more difficult task than I would have thought, and I’ve thought a good bit about it over the years. I mean really, I have, I’ve thought about it a good deal more than you might think I might have thought. Being thankful is a pesky problem, actually. Read more
Slavery was called the South’s “peculiar institution.” If you’re like me, then you hear the word “peculiar” and think “strange,” or “weird,” or “ridiculous” in the very worst way. When I hear that slavery was called a “peculiar institution” that makes sense: it was a very strange, a very creepy and an ominous organization that charted the course of our culture into deep darkness, a darkness that continues to cast a shadow over our society. I’d always imagined that the term “peculiar institution” was coined by the Abolitionists or others who opposed slavery. I learned last night that I was wrong. Though you may find it peculiar in an odd sort of way, let me tell you that it was actually Southern thinkers and politicians who first talked about, yes even praised and exalted their peculiar institution. Read more
I’m not typically the guy with the Facebook updates sharing what I ate for breakfast. I don’t mind seeing what you or others eat for breakfast, and I certainly don’t have anything against breakfast, per se. Breakfast is a wonderful time of the day, so rich with potential, our bodies are on the verge of great creativity and productivity, if only it were given the fuel necessary to energize it. For my part, I had a bagel with cream cheese. That was my breakfast. And I sprinkled some sugar on it and added cinnamon. That’s not my typical breakfast. Usually it’s just fruit. Fruit and perhaps a handful of almonds. Why is this my normal breakfast? Well, if I told you, then this would start to seem like a story. Read more
It was refreshing to see a nice sunset last night, on the beach of the Pacific Ocean, no less. As the sun went down, it seemed to melt into a pool of orange and yellow brilliance, casting soft dusty pink colors on the far side of the beach. These colors all deepen as the sun slowly sets. Read more
People often ask me about the culture shock that I must experience, travelling back and forth between places like remote McCarthy Alaska and Silicon Valley, the mega-bucks techie epicenter of the world. Well, I’m kind of used to it. After a while, it becomes familiar, I suppose the mind eventually realizes that there’s really no reason to freak out, just switch into that other way-of-being and roll with it. A friend of mine who has travelled a lot more than myself says that when she is travelling she will sometimes forget what city she is in. Like, for more than just a few seconds.
I’m on a train, public transportation in the South Bay area, i.e., Silicon Valley. Typically it’s a fairly dull ride with the typical variety of office suites and manicured bushes passing me by. The passengers getting on and off are, by and large, heading to their tech jobs, Macbooks on laps, buds wedged in ears, and phones at the ready.
I have been intensely engaged in a few Facebook conversations regarding the Ferguson shooting of the unarmed black man, Michael Brown. All in all, the conversations tend to be productive. But many whites (and in some cases non whites) are quick to condemn the rioters. I hear comments to the effect, “Why can’t blacks just get over it?” With a black President, they say, we have proof that the playing field is equal. I posted a picture of Malcolm X, and I made the comment that “Those who are oppressed and denied justice have the right to take power and freedom by any means necessary.” It prompted a lot of tense comments, as you can imagine, most of which disagreed with me.
One person posted a lengthy quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “The Other America.” Turns out MLK wasn’t all that far away from Malcolm X.
I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a fellow subversive mystic, in the Jesus tradition. He is also a figure that many mainstream white Americans admire. However, in his speech, “The Other America” (1968) King talked about the African-American riots of the late 1960s, and there are two things that might surprise most white people.
1) The unemployment rate among African-Americans is actually higher today — around 11% — than the statistics that King quotes in his speech in 1968 — 8.8%.
2) While reaffirming his personal commitment to nonviolence, King does not come forward with an outright condemnation of the rioters.
In an unusual case, transcripts of the grand jury proceedings in the Michael Brown killing have been released. The officer on the scene chased after Brown, shooting him six times, firing a total of 12 shots. Witnesses on the scene testify to Brown having his hands in the air before the final and fatal shots were fired. The officer was not indicted.
In justification for his actions, the officer stated, “There’s a lot of gangs that reside or associate with that area. There’s a lot of violence in that area, there’s a lot of gun activity, drug activity, it is just not a very well-liked community. That community doesn’t like the police.”
Is this the best we can do, as a culture? Continue to fire our guns ala Yosemite Sam style? The reality is that this our only philosophy. We have a long history of meeting violence with violence, and we keep reaping what we sow.
From Bishop Spong’s book A New Christianity for a New World.