Wednesday, October 28, 2009

God is Bringing Goodness; Whether We Believe It or Not

Q: Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?

God Brings Goodness, Whether We Believe It or Not

I don’t believe in believe. If ever there has been a word whose theological currency has been exhausted it is “believe.” All I have to do is turn my television to a number local public access channel to find televangelists exhorting me to “just believe” and the goodness of salvation will be mine. It is this tattered and worn understanding of belief which I find to be the crux of this week’s question. ‘Does good only come through believing?”

To this question I must resoundingly respond in the negative. Within my Christian tradition goodness does not come through believing. The focus is not on the works of the faithful, whether that work is believing or feeding the hungry. Rather the focus is on what God does and is doing. And what God is doing is bringing goodness and life in the midst of this world. I believe that God is fully immersed in this world bringing justice, peace, and goodness through those of us who are both saint and sinner, both the dust and the arising.

Yet at the same time, I must profess that what we do believe is important. It shapes the way we view and interact with the world. It is important that I believe that God is fully immersed in this world, because it calls me to full engagement with this world. What we believe determines how we engage the world, but my faith rests in the power of God to bring life and goodness into this world with or without my belief.

As I considered this question my thoughts turned to the Living Room Café. The Living Room Cafe is a non-religious based organization located in Woodlawn on Chicago's south side, and a place where I am occasionally privileged to volunteer. It provides restaurant-style meals, case management, support groups, life-skills training, and financial assistance to homeless men and women. And even though the Living Room Café isn’t an explicitly religious or faith-based organization, it is readily apparent to me that God is moving and bringing goodness through the work of this organization. And at the same time what the Living Room Cafe believes matters. Their belief, that goodness can be found even in and amongst the homeless, marks and shapes their ability to cultivate goodness in the world. God is bringing goodness into the world, whether we believe it or not.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Widespread Panic: Why We Need Hate Crimes Legislation

Congress is expected to expand federal hate crimes laws to add "sexual orientation" to a list that already includes "race, color, religion or national origin." Is this necessary? Should there be special laws against crimes motivated by intolerance, bigotry and hatred? Isn't a crime a crime?

Widespread Panic: Why We Need Hate Crimes Legislation

Hate crimes cause wide spread panic and fear. Christians must work to check such fears with peace and hope. Special legislation recognizing these fear mongering crimes is one way to oppose such terror.

Compared to other crimes, hate crimes are perpetrated because of the identity of the victim, whether their race, sexual identity, color, national origin, or religion. And as a result, there is more than the individual victim of the individual act of hate. All people of that particular group are affected. They must live in fear that they might become victims solely because of who they are.

Hate crime is terrorism. This is perhaps the best example to illumine the seriousness with which we must take hate crime. In the events of September 11th, thousands of Americans were murdered because of their identity, because of who they were. And yet, they were not the only victims. Rather the whole United States, Americans everywhere, were inflicted with terror and live in fear, still to this day, because of this crime of hate.

Hate crimes based on race, sexual identity, color, or religion act in the same way. Hate crimes inflict unchecked fear and terror in the populations that see themselves aligned with these groups. They cause wide spread emotional damage. They cause people to fear because of who they are, because of how they were made.

In the face of such anxiety and fear, Christians must work for peace and hope. Like the God who created life and order out of the primordial chaos, Christians must work to bring life and peace against fear and terror. Laws specifically against hate crimes are one way of doing so.

Christians must take very seriously crimes perpetrated because of someone’s deeply embedded identity. In our creation stories we claim that humanity was created in the image of God. There is a unity with all of humanity being made in the image of God. Perhaps there will come a day when there will be no need for specific hate crime laws. That day will come when we truly recognize our unity, when all of humanity feels threatened by violence anywhere. We must recognize our common humanity, that we are all made in the image of our creator. And that violence anywhere is a threat against humanity everywhere.

But that day has not arrived. Here on the south side of Chicago, school children are continuing to die in the streets. Fear and anxiety spreads uncheck amongst the public school children of this city. And yet this violence is seen only as a problem to be solved, not as a threat against us all. Currently, that story repeats itself; here in Cook County and around the world. Until the day comes when we are just as aghast by crimes against the other as with crimes against ourselves, we need hate crime legislation.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love in a Time of H1N1

-Polls show a majority of Americans are concerned about the H1N1 virus (swine flu), but also about the safety and efficacy of the swine flu vaccine. Is it ethical to say no to this or any vaccine? Are there valid religious reasons to accept or decline a vaccine? Will you get a swine flu shot? Will your children?

Love in a Time of H1N1

God calls Christians to be engaged with the world, to do God’s work with our hands. For this reason Christians have a valid religious reason to accept the H1N1 virus. In particular, those who are called to work and care for those most vulnerable to the flu must seek the vaccine on religious grounds.

For those who fulfill their vocational callings by working with the sick, elderly, and the young (those most susceptible to the H1N1 flu) there are only two realistic options: vaccination or quarantine. For the sake of those most vulnerable to the flu, their caretakers must be vaccinated or removed from their positions of care. With these two options, Christians are called to be vaccinated and to engage in their work of care and healing.

It is this same call to care and healing which marked the identity of the meager Christian movement in the 2nd and 3rd century. As the Antonine and Cyprian plagues ravaged Rome, killing up to 2,000 people a day, most people of means fled the city to avoid the deadly effects of the disease. Those who stayed within the city sought quarantine and shelter from the sick.

But in these times many Christians sought out the sick and dying. In the face of epidemic, they sought to bring comfort and healing to those facing disease and death. One of the results of this radical offering of love and care was that Christians gained a level of immunity from close contact with the disease and survived the plagues in greater numbers than those who sought quarantine. But more importantly, the Roman world was greatly impressed by the Christian’s witness of love in action. It is this fulfillment of the call to do God’s work with our hands that played an important role in the development of the Christian movement.

In our times, people of faith are called to seek that same immunity, this time through vaccination, so that we might do God’s work of healing and comfort with our hands. A faith that calls for quarantine, that calls for disengagement from the world, until the time when all danger has passed, is a faith that has little bearing on the realities of our world. Rather, Christians are called to engage this world, to offer actions of love and care. Vaccination empowers God’s people to do God’s work in the world.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, October 11, 2009

There is Room at the Inn

At the times when the biblical narrative and the cultural/political narrative intersect, one does well to pay attention. And because we find God in the uncounted in Bethlehem, there is a clear imperative to count the undocumented in the 2010 United States Census.

Preparations for the 2010 US census are underway. The beginning of this seemingly innocuous process has garnered much emotion and passion. This will be the first census to count same-sex married couples. And in April the department of commerce announced that it would strive to count all undocumented peoples in this census. Perhaps as a result of these factors, the passion surrounding the census reached its darkest depths in September when a census worker was murdered in Kentucky with the word “fed” written across his chest.

And now, Senator David Vitter has put forth an amendment that would prevent states from counting those who have entered the country illegally. This amendment has been encouraged and pushed by many in the conservative media, in particular, Glenn Beck. And essentially, what they are saying to the undocumented, “You don’t count!” More than leave the census a few million people short, this amendment would deny the humanity of these residents of the United States.

In the biblical witness it is a census which forces Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph, along with many others in the empire, were considered important enough to tax. But Mary and Joseph weren’t counted important enough to have a place at the inn at Bethlehem. And surely, the infant child of these unimportant people, who at the time had slim hopes of even surviving to adulthood, would probably be of no consequence to the empire. In fact, Emperor’s registration there was no category low enough to count infants. In that census all the world was counted, except for Jesus.

Yet, in the uncounted God becomes manifest in the world. And in the uncounted of our times, we find people created in God’s image. And for this reason the undocumented must be counted in the census. By counting these peoples in the census, the United States government will not only be living up to its ideals, affirming the humanity of all those who live in its borders, but it will also be honoring God’s presence among all those who are oppressed and uncounted.

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hope: The Antidote to Terror

Q-- Eight years after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, fighting continues. Religious extremists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda retain significant power there. What is our moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan? If religion is part of the problem there, how can it be part of the solution?

For more than thirty years Afghanistan has been a country mired in turmoil and military upheaval. Beginning with Soviet invasion, then civil war, and US invasion in 2001, the Afghan people have been a people unable to find rest from war. Several generations have now matured in Afghanistan that have known only the realities of daily life grounded only by the certainties of violence and death. Since the US invasion into Afghanistan in 2001, over 30,000 civilians have died. Against this bleak history, the Afghan people deserve hope.

With Afghanistan’s history of military instability, some might argue that we are justified to leave Afghanistan as we found it, as a place in continual conflict. Yet, as muddied as the situation may be, we have a greater responsibility to the Afghan people. We need look no further than the phrase which former President George W. Bush used to coin the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, “The War on Terror.” If we are to truly defeat terror and eradicate terrorism then we must work to oppose terror with hope; hope is the only true victor over terror.

Hope is our moral and religious responsibility to the Afghan people. To a people stuck in recurring, decade long cycles of violence and instability, we are called to offer hope that their past isn’t doomed to repeat itself. They deserve the hope that when the United States leaves, we won’t be back again. They deserve hope in a future that is not tied to the industries of war and the dealings of death.

God brings hope in the midst of death and to those who mourn. And so we are called to help bring about hope in this place. In this way, religion can be a part of a solution. A solution where the concern is not the ability of the other to harm us or inflict death, but the concern is of the other’s ability and ours to have hope in a different future.

We are called to build the foundations of this future. We are called to help build the foundations of civilization, eroded over the past thirty years of war. We are called to build infrastructure, provide health care, and education. We need to put into place the building blocks of a society and economy not reliant on the industry of war. In doing so we will be helping to shape a hopeful future and clear a new path forward for the Afghan people. After more than thirty years, they deserve it.

Leia Mais…

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tarnished Medals

This past Friday in Copenhagen, the International Olympic Committee voted and announced that the 2016 Summer Olympic Games would be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Earlier in the morning Chicago was eliminated from contention in the first round of voting. There were two reactions here in Cook County. On one hand there was the shock and disappointment of the thousands who had gathered in Daley Plaza downtown. The Chicago bid had been thought to be one of the two strongest bids and those gathered expected to at least be one of the final two candidate cities. But on the other there was a feeling of relief among those who had hoped that the Olympics would not come to Chicago. They were relieved that corruption and displacement of the marginalized would avoid our city.

Their concerns are well founded. The Olympic ideal is built on the concept that around sportsmanship and competition humanity may gather peacefully without the barriers of politics, nationalism, or racism. This ideal represents our highest hopes for ourselves. But too often as the world is gathered together for the Olympics we find not this ideal, but violence, corruption, and disregard for the marginalized of the host city. Most often, we find that our realities don’t live up to our ideals.

But that is the nature of our humanity. Rarely do we live up to our highest hopes for ourselves. And yet, time and again we rise out of our depravity reaching towards these ideals. This reflects who we are, saints & sinners, dust & yet arising. Despite our failings we are called to reach towards our ideals and hopes. We are called to strive for peace, for the elimination of racism, and for justice. We are called to strive even though we know we will stumble along the way.

For me, the one enduring Olympic image is not the ‘Miracle on Ice,' or Nadia Comaneci getting the first perfect 10 in Olympic history. Nor is it the image of the Atlanta Olympic bombings, the disaster in Munich, or the racism of Berlin. Rather, it is at the ’92 Barcelona games in the semifinal heat of the 400 meters. Derek Redmond, a sprinter from Great Britain got out to a fast start. But at 250 meters, he pulled his hamstring. Yet with no hope to medal or to advance he continued to hop and limp toward the finish line. His dad eventually came out of the stands and helped him to struggle across the finish line.

That image (excuse the cheesy music) resonates because it’s a true embodiment of our humanity. With our failings, with our inclinations towards corruption and our torn hamstrings, we continue to strive on towards our ideals of peace and justice. That is what the Olympic ideal is about. As modern Olympic founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin says;

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

So, here’s to you, Rio. Here’s to your engagement in the struggle and to the striving. May your striving bring us closer to our ideals, closer to peace and justice. May you fight well.

Leia Mais…

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Check Out My Post in "On Faith"

Be sure to check out my response to this week's On Faith question on nuclear disarmament on the Washington Post's site:

Leia Mais…