Donald and Francis

So the Donald says it’s “disgusting” that a religious leader questions someone’s faith or dares to correct him. Makes me wonder if he has ever thought what a religious leader is for. The purpose of having abbots, pastors, priests, and other spiritual guides and directors is to question us when we show our immaturity, to correct us when we are in error, to teach us so that we become more mature. Clearly, Donald has not had much religious teaching. He responds to criticism from the Pope with his typical bombastic reaction and asks how dare anyone criticize him, as if he were beyond error. Then goes off on this rant about how it would teach Francis a lesson if ISIS attacks the Vatican and it won’t happen if Trump is President. Please!
Pope Francis is a world religious leader and has a responsibility to speak out and offer criticism and correction when matters of faith impact matters of politics and the common good. I can’t tell you whom to vote for, but I will say that anyone who favors Donald Trump is riding an emotional reaction, not thinking clearly and does not have the best interest of our nation in mind.

Same God?

People have been asking the question lately: “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” I’ve seen theological articles, op-ed pieces in newspapers, blog posts….

My first thought is — “How can we know?” Which of us thinks we can define God well enough that we have captured God? That we can describe God to the point where we can say that “our” God is the same as or different that the God someone else serves?

My next thought is that the God I hope to serve, the one I hope to follow, I see most clearly, understand most fully in the person of Jesus. So, to the extent that someone who follows a different way conceives of God differently, I would have to say that we do worship different Gods. Even though our history is the same, that is, we are heirs of the faith of Abraham, we follow our varying understandings of God.

Something that brought this home was a little mantra suggested by Richard Rohr. He said, “Your image of God creates you.” That is, who we think God is shapes not only how we think about God but shapes what we do, how we live, and the actions we think are pleasing to God.

That makes a clear theology crucial. If we think God is waiting to catch us doing something wrong and punish us, we are more likely to be judgmental and harsh. If we see God most clearly in the self-giving of Jesus, we are more likely to be compassionate and gentle. It means that for me to clearly decide what I believe about God and what that means for my life is one of the most important things I can do to set my priorities and values.

In the end, I think we will discover that God is infinitely patient, and long-suffering with us and our fearful and violent ways. God invites us to discover that we have been forgiven and accepted, that we have nothing to fear, and that we are set free to love. That’s my image of God.

What’s your image of God? How does it shape your life?

Bombing in Syria

They say there is a cease-fire in Syria.

They also say that the Syrian government and the Russians claim it does not apply to groups they identify as “terrorists.”

So the bombing goes on.

There was a picture in yesterday’s Utica newspaper of children looking out a large hole in the wall of their home, a hole caused by bombing.

The Syrian government, the Russians, ISIS, the rebels, the “terrorists” – none of them seem to care about the people who are caught in the crossfire.

I can understand the motivation of “terrorists.” When you feel helpless, you might strike out at whatever target is handy. Then, when you take up arms to defend your home or your people, to someone you are a “terrorist.”

Lord, have mercy!

Thinking About Jesus

Reading an editorial in the Christian Century magazine, I ran across the statement that Jesus “was with God and was God in the beginning.”

I think this is a misstatement that confuses our understanding of Jesus and makes God more distant instead of bringing God closer. Here’s why.

Jesus was a person. He was born, grew up, worked as a carpenter, went to the river to be baptized by his cousin when he was about 30 years old, was tested in the wilderness, engaged in public ministry and taught a group of disciples for about 3 years, was arrested, killed and raised to new life.

We also believe about Jesus that in him God was incarnate. God was present in him in a way we can never fully understand. Our creeds say about him that he was fully God and fully human. He brought God close. He shows us God’s face. He is the most complete revelation of God we have, as we look at his manner of life, his teaching, his self-giving, his authority over evil powers, his love and sacrifice.

The Gospel of John tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” It is the eternal Word that was with God in the beginning, not Jesus. It’s important to make a distinction between the eternal Word and Jesus. Jesus was not eternal. He was a real, flesh and blood person, in whom God took up residence and walked the earth.

To say that Jesus came from heaven makes him more distant, makes him less human, removes him from the common experience he shared with us, his brothers and sisters.

Maybe for you this is an esoteric point. But I think it is crucial. In Jesus, God showed us that “matter matters.” God showed that the life we live in the flesh is being redeemed and being filled with divine presence. We have been made part of a new reality (Jesus called it the “kingdom of heaven”) as we are joined to our Lord in baptism and share his Table. We bear his healing presence in the world. We are, together, an extension of his incarnation. God is present in us. To the degree that we give ourselves to him, we continue his work of bringing life to the world.

Listening to John Dau

We didn’t have choir rehearsal last night, thanks to David having another obligation, so I was free. At Hamilton College Chapel, John Dau was speaking at 7:30. Mr. Dau is one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” He left his village as it was being bombed one night in 1987, when he was 12 years old. Like many of the others who escaped, he walked for 3 months to get to Ethiopia, where the refugees eventually were forced out. He wandered for many months, eventually ending up at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

Eventually he was granted asylum as a refugee in the US, and was resettled in Skaneatles, NY. When asked last night what his main challenges were in adjusting to US culture, he said, “Choices.” His hosts in Skaneatles asked him what he wanted to drink for dinner. He said, “soda.” They said, “what kind?” He couldn’t answer. In the refugee camp, you took what you were given and were thankful that you were alive. What did it matter what kind of soda he drank? He said it is the same shopping for toothpaste. All he wants is toothpaste! Why are there so many choices?

Now he is married and has children. His daughters were born and raised in the USA. They have no idea what his life was like as a refugee even though he tells his story. All they know is the abundance and the choices of their life in the US.

I am reminded of the simple blessings of being alive and am grateful.