Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

March 12 is the feast day of Maximilian of Thavaste, whom tradition holds was beheaded for refusing to serve in the Roman military because he was a Christian.

1. On the 12th day of March during the consulship of Tuscus and Anolinus [295], when Fabius Victor had been brought into the forum at Tebessa, together with Maximilianus, and their advocate Pompeianus had been granted an audience, the last declared, “The temonarius Fabius Victor is present, together with Valerianus Quintianus, the praepositus Caesariensis, and the fine recruit Maximilianus, Victor’s son. Since he is acceptable, I ask that he be measured.” The proconsul Dion said, “What are you called ?” Maximilianus replied, “Why do you want to know my name ? It is not permitted to me to serve in the military since I am a Christian”. The proconsul Dion said, “Ready him”. When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied, “I cannot serve in the military; I cannot do wrong; I am a Christian.” The proconsul Dion said, “Let him be measured”. When he had been measured, an official reported, “He is five feet ten inches tall.” Dion said to the official, “Let him be marked.” And as Maximilianus resisted, he replied, “I will not do it; I cannot serve in the military.”

2. Dion said, “Serve so that you do not perish.” Maximilianus replied, “I will not serve; cut off my head; I do not serve the world, but I do serve my God.”Dion the proconsul said, “Who has persuaded you of this ?” Maximilianus replied, “My soul and he who has called me.” Dion said to his father Victor, “Advise your son.” Victor replied, “He himself knows – he has his purpose – what is best for him.” Dion said to Maximilianus, “Serve and accept the seal.” He replied, “I will not accept the seal: I already have the seal of my Christ.” Dion the proconsul said, “I will send you to your Christ right now.” He replied, “I wish that you would do so. That is even my title to glory.” Dion said to his staff, “Let him be marked.” And when he was resisting, he replied, “I do not accept the world’s seal, and if you give it to me, I will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received] the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he whom you do not know, who suffered for the life of the world, whom God surrendered for our sins. All of us Christians serve Him. Him we follow as the source of life and author of salvation.” Dion said, “Serve, and accept the seal, so that you do not suffer a terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will not die. My name is already with my Lord; I cannot serve in the military.” Dion said, “Have regard to your youth and serve; for this befits a young man.” Maximilianus replied, “My service is for my Lord; I cannot serve the world. I have already said: I am a Christian.” Dion the proconsul said, “There are Christian soldiers in the sacred retinue of our lords Diocletian, Maximianus, Constantius, and Maximus, and they serve.” Maximilianus replied, “They themselves know what is best for them. But I am a Christian, and I cannot do wrong.” Dio said, “What wrong do they who serve do ?” Maximilianus replied, “You know well what they do.” Dion replied, “Serve, lest, having scorned military service, you begin upon a terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will will not die; even if I do depart the world, my spirit will live with my Lord Christ.”

3. Dion said, “Strike out his name.” And when it had been struck out, Dion said, “Because you have disloyally refused military service, you will receive the appropriate sentence in order to serve as an example to others.” And he read his decision from his tablet, “Maximilianus, since you have disloyally refused the military oath, it has been decided for you to be punished by the sword.” Maximilianus replied, “Thanks be to God.” He was 21 years, 3 months, and 18 days old. And when he was being led to the place [of execution], he spoke as follows, “Dearest brothers, with an eager desire, hurry with as much courage as you can so that it may befall you to see the Lord and that he may reward you also with a similar crown.” And with a joyous face, he addressed his father as follows, “Give that guard the new clothing which you had got ready for me during my military service, so that I may welcome you with a hundredfold reward and we may glory with the Lord together.” And so he suffered death shortly afterwards. And the matron Pompeiana obtained his body from the judge and, having placed it in her carriage, she brought it to Carthage, and buried it beneath a little hill near the martyr Cyprian and the palace. And so, after the 13th day, the same woman died, and was buried there. But his father Victor returned to his home with great joy, thanking God that he had sent on ahead such a gift to the Lord, he who was about to follow shortly afterwards.

As I wrote about this account last year:

Controversy surrounds the historicity of this account. However, what’s important about this story is not its historicity, but that the early church would celebrate the protagonist of such a story as a martyr. Declaring someone a saint is a political act, and the canonization of Maximilian as a saint in the eyes of the church also tells us something about the orientation of the early church to questions of war and violence. Interestingly, the author of the above-linked article debunking the historicity of the martyr story dates its composition to C.E. 384-439, during the time when the militarized Constantinian version of Christianity was supplanting the earlier anti-violent incarnation.

Today is also the anniversary of Fr. Rutilio Grande’s murder in El Salvador in 1977. Grande was a close friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero and an outspoken opponent of the abuses of the U.S.-backed government. The speech that probably got him killed was his “Apopa sermon,” delivered on February 13, denouncing the expulsion of a fellow priest from the country. He said:

“I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border.  All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive—against sin, it is said.  So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter.  They would accuse him, the man-God, the prototype of man, of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and i.e., against the minorities. …Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again.  And they have said so.”

One month after delivering the Apopa sermon, Grande was gunned down, and the local government authorities refused to order an autopsy. The Jesuits hired their own physician to conduct an autopsy, which determined that Grande had been shot by the same type of automatic rifles used by the police. This was only one of several signs of government complicity in the murder.

Grande’s death was a crucial moment in Romero’s life, and triggered his move to openly oppose the Salvadoran government. He canceled all future attendance at state events and meetings with the president pending the fulfillment of his demands for an official investigation, and that investigation never took place.

H/t to Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, for reminding me of these anniversaries.

I’ve often said that I think the Christian religion could benefit from a shift away from emphasizing a set of beliefs to an emphasis on daily practice. Take, for example, the practice of meditation.

“The [newly released] study, published last month in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, suggests that meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy. …These brain changes may suggest that meditation improves people’s ability to regulate their emotions, control their stress levels, and feel empathy for others, says Britta Hölzel, the study’s lead author and a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Geissen in Germany.”

It would be interesting to see if there are any similar alterations in the brain arising from anything in typical Christian worship services in the U.S.  Given that in recent history, frequent church-goers in the U.S. were found to be more prone to support torture, I doubt it. That points to a severe deficiency in Christian spiritual life in the area of empathy development that church leaders should be working urgently to address. But, until that happens, we individual Christians should be adopting practices like daily mediation on our own.


Oh, look! Check out what today’s text is from the Lectionary!

Matthew 5:38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Oh man, I am tempted to just walk into any church in town and watch the fireworks. If I had to pick, I would say this is the single most important chunk of teaching from Jesus’ life, and it’s also the one that breaks people’s brains. Congregation after congregation will be watching a version of this tomorrow from the pulpit:

A whole 211 words spoken by a dusty, wandering moral genius more than 2,000 years ago, and I’m willing to bet 90 percent or more of the clergy and preachers in this country will spend well over a thousand words explaining to thousands of people why Jesus could not possibly have meant what his plain words say, or if he did, well, gee, wouldn’t it be nice if the world worked that way (as if the occupied, exploited, internally divided land of 1st century Palestine were some Connecticut country club where everything is simple and idyllic and not at all complex or violent or dangerous). Nothing in this could possibly mean that we have to give up the power of violence even in self-defense of life, liberty or property, right?

No, what’s really being said here is that if someone hits you, you hit them right back so they don’t hit other people ever again, or at least they never hit you again. What’s being said here is that if anyone tries to take your coat, you cock that pistol and say “Make my day.” What’s being said here is that if someone ever tries to take your liberty by force, you go buy some Lockheed Martin missiles and General Atomics Predator drones and you blow those mothers off the face of the earth. That’s the only Christian thing to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world like Jesus (pat him on the head now) where nobody ever tried to take your land, or national freedom, or your life? If only the world worked like that.

If only Jesus and his people had some experience with real cold-stone dictators or occupations or terrorism, he would have made sure to tell you what 90 percent of preachers and clergy are going to tell you this morning.


I missed church today after planning to go for the first time in a while. I wish I’d gone. I would have heard these words from the Lectionary for today:

Matthew 5:1-12

5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in hear in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Today’s text readings in the Lectionary mark the beginning of the readings of the Sermon on the Mount in the liturgical year.

I wish the Sermon was the creed we’d read every week in church instead of the anachronistic Nicene Creed. The core teachings of Jesus, not the resolution of the theological disputes of the 4th century, should be the guiding lights of our practice and faith. The Sermon asks so much more of us. I guess that explains it.

I’m really trying not to flip out every time the right wing says something this week, but Sarah Palin is not making it easy for me.

Her latest statement on the Giffords incident is, in a word, vile. Not only does Palin miss the chance to show any contrition for drawing up maps with crosshairs over the now-shot Rep. Giffords’ district (or for her and her colleagues violence-laden rhetoric), but she managed to invoke the status of a persecuted European Jew to describe the awful phenomenon of people finally holding her accountable for her words.

Just so we’re on the same page here, this is an excerpt from Palin’s statement:

If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

The phrase “blood libel” has a very dark history. It’s not a phrase that simply means “to falsely attribute responsibility for violence.” It has a very specific meaning, and it refers to the old European anti-Semitic slander that Jews kidnapped Christian children so they could eat their body parts during religious festivals like Passover. This slander led to the false prosecution of any number of Jews in cases where a murder of a child occurred, often of whole groups of Jews who were implicated in the hate-motivated conspiracy theory of the local Christians. Blood libel played a major role in the persecution of Jews in Europe over at least two centuries. Pogroms have been triggered by the blood libel.

Sarah Palin is drawing an analogy between people finally calling her out on her and her movement’s violence-laden rhetoric and the anti-Semitic hate slander that led to the killing of European Jews.

This persecution complex of the right wing astounds me. With the Supreme Court, Congress, and the White House under the control of majorities who identify themselves as Christians, with a de-facto religious test built into our politics for high elected office, with Christianity being by far the largest religion adhered to by religious Americans, the right wing puts out constant propaganda that “we have to turn America back to God” and that “Christianity is under attack.” While it’s true that Christianity is under attack in other places around the world, honestly and violently under attack, that is not the case in the United States.

What is the case in the U.S. is that we have a political movement jockeying to represent a clearly defined demographic group, in this case Christians, that make up a majority of the population (again, because that group has enormous political power, not because it’s “under attack”). What all these claims of persecution and of the need to “turn America back to God” amount to is a call that the majority be able trample the rights of the minority so the majority can live in a pure society untainted by the sin of the outsider. What the folks making this argument may or may not understand is where this kind of agitation leads: what Rene Girard identified as the “sacrificial crisis.”

In a sacrificial crisis, a society’s rituals for managing violence break down, the ritual observances’ ability to create unity losing their effect. The society begins to look for causes for the ineffectiveness and for the increasing pressure within the culture, for the “anger of God.” They inevitably focus on the contamination of “the Other,” the person or people in the group that are different than the majority, those that “pollute” an otherwise “pure” culture. As the idea solidifies that the Other is to blame, a herd mentality begins to form that directs the violence of the community in the Other’s direction. The community is once again united–in violence–as they sacrifice the Other. The unity created by the majority’s mob mentality gives the illusion that the rituals are working again, masking the fact that the unity is only the unity of the gang.

This is why it’s so essential that we continue to hold people like Sarah Palin responsible for their violent rhetoric: our country is ripe for a crisis. Our rituals aren’t working. The Prosperity Gospel is in the gutter. Millions of people participated in a mass movement to get the right wing out of office, and it we still find ourselves mired in war, unemployment and general malaise. Millions of other people just voted Republicans into office in Congress, but they’ll discover as they did in the Tom DeLay years that people who campaign to obtain political power don’t generally use it to reduce the power they have. (Just wait until they get the Presidency and Congress again, and watch.) In short, it seems like nothing is working, and each of us is becoming less secure. As the pressure builds, the tendency to identify an Other and make violence against that Other acceptable will increase.

The right wing is playing with fire, both with their violent rhetoric and with their language of persecution. Each pushes a society already sliding in the direction of a sacrificial crisis that much closer to the edge. That’s what makes Sarah Palin’s statement so appalling. Not only did she not retract her violent imagery and rhetoric, but she compounded it with the language of bloody persecution. If those who support people who use this kind of language don’t forcefully denounce it, we’re all going to get burned.

I’ve not written anything specifically for this blog in quite a while. I’ve been struggling quite a bit lately, trying to figure out whether I still had faith in The Faith at all. My problem is epitomized by this blog post, penned by Bryan Fischer, a prominent supposed “Christian conservative.” He’s decrying the fact that there seems to be a trend among Medal of Honor Awards lately wherein the medal is awarded to people who save lives, rather than kill “bad guys.” Here are some excerpts.

We have feminized the Medal of Honor.

According to Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal, every Medal of Honor awarded during these two conflicts has been awarded for saving life. Not one has been awarded for inflicting casualties on the enemy. Not one.

Gen. George Patton once famously said, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his.”

When we think of heroism in battle, we used the think of our boys storming the beaches of Normandy under withering fire, climbing the cliffs of Pointe do Hoc while enemy soldiers fired straight down on them, and tossing grenades into pill boxes to take out gun emplacements.

That kind of heroism has apparently become passe when it comes to awarding the Medal of Honor. We now award it only for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them.

So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?

I would suggest our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery. We know instinctively that we should honor courage, but shy away from honoring courage if it results in the taking of life rather than in just the saving of life. So we find it safe to honor those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies.

Jesus, in words often cited in ceremonies such as the one which will take place this afternoon, said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). So it is entirely right that we honor this kind of bravery and self-sacrifice, which is surely an imitation of the Lord of lords and King of kings.

However, Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless – yes, meaningless – if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life.

Let me say at the outset that I have a hard time mustering a respectful response to this sort of vile garbage. Not only are the teachings of Jesus nowhere to be found in the sentiments expressed in the article, but there’s a deep sexism overlaying the entire piece that conflates the feminine with weakness and negativity. Unfortunately, in my experience with American Christianity, Fischer is a microcosm of the faith these days.

Jesus never killed anyone, period, and his teachings allow for no celebration of killing people. A metaphorical, even spiritual, mortal blow cannot be conflated with using a projectile to puncture a human body so it cannot function. They are not the same thing.

Self-sacrifice in the service of high ideals is never meaningless, not even when they fail to strike even metaphorical mortal blows. Remember this guy?

Tank Man

A lone protestor for democracy stands alone against a line of tanks during the Tiannamen Square protests.

Does that scream “meaningless” to you? I note that China’s authoritarian government is still standing. The meaning of Jesus’ nonviolent self-sacrifice includes the same sort of meaning we see in the picture above. Part of the meaning of the cross is the stand Jesus took against the Roman occupation and the self-serving collusion of the political and religious leadership of his people. Even if nothing else happened but a mundane death on a mundane piece of wood, there is deep meaning here from which we can learn.

Fischer’s article is hardly the only example of this sort of false Christian spirituality rampant in the group of people that considers themselves the “Body of Christ.” It entails an obfuscation of the concrete, inescapable and thoroughly nonviolent meanings of Christ’s actual words in favor of a formulaic and otherwordly system of thought that gets adherents blissfully free of the actual ethical demands made in the teachings of Jesus. It allows people who ostensibly follow the Prince of Peace to celebrate the killing of other human beings, as long as they are “bad guys,” even though the spirituality they espouse loves rubbing people’s noses in the fact that we’re all “bad guys” who deserve to die.

This sort of thinking produces all manner of perverse attributes of the so-called “Church.” For example, the followers of a man who was tortured to death by authorities are inexplicably more likely to support government-sponsored torture. And frankly, if these are the indicators of what it means to be a Christian in America these days, I’ve got no interest in sharing the label. If Fischer and the pro-war, pro-torture crowd are the dominant manifestation of Christianity, count me out. To put it another way, if Fischer is a Christian, then I am not.

Sometimes the only way to follow Jesus is to get away from the Christians.

The text from the lectionary for tomorrow in Christian churches is the story of the parable of the prodigal son. The deeper meaning of the story is Jesus’ warning to his ethnic brethren that the cultural purity movement they’d mounted in resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine had become so exclusionary as to render it ripe for the judgment of God. And so it’s fitting that those of us who show up in church tomorrow, the day after September 11, should have to sit and listen to it. It’s especially fitting considering the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry washing over the United States, driven largely by people who declare this a “Christian nation.”

Let me put this as clearly as I can: the folks in New York City who want to build an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan should be welcomed. If there’s construction work to be done, Christians should be out there with their sleeves rolled up and their brows sweating to get it built.

Here’s what one cultural center opponent had to say today about his desire to see the cultural center moved:

“Got to be someplace else, not over here, because that’s like a slap on the face of the people who lost their families over here,” said another opponent.

Alongside the mosque’s opponents were anti-abortion activists and other demonstrators who were focused on Christian topics.

News flash, bigots. Muslims died when the towers fell. In fact, the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center contained an Islamic prayer room. Muslims have lived in New York long before 9/11, and they have every right to build whatever center they want to build to deepen their involvement in the community. What does your convenient white-and-Jesus-washing of the dead in the attacks say to your neighbors (oh, be careful how you relate to those folks as Christians…not a lot of fine print in that commandment from your Lord and Savior)? Do you think maybe it could be interpreted as a slap in the face? And just what was Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount about a slap in the face, anyway?

Shame on those of you out there pushing that smug, self-righteous message that Muslims in this country should be culturally sensitive because of September 11 and what happened at Ground Zero. Do you have any idea what it was like for Muslims across this country the day after September 11?

I remember riding on a bus in Lubbock, Texas in September 2001, when some cocky jackass college kid stood up and started showing off for his friends by yelling, “Where the fuck are the Afghans on this bus? I’ll fuck you up!” I’m sure that was the least of the white Christian cultural sensitivity the Muslim community in Lubbock had to endure. Every Muslim had to suddenly declare in public that they condemn an act of horrendous violence, and if they didn’t out of self-respect, watch out for the ugly arguments from silence coming from the culturally sensitive Christian majority. I believe there’s another saying of Jesus about a plank in one’s own eye, or something.

This Islamophobia isn’t limited to the rallies in New York. Here in my own state of Texas, the State Board of Education is actually going to consider a resolution later this month that claims that the textbooks we use in this state are biased toward Muslims and against Christians. Raise your hand if you felt pressured to declare “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his profit” while sitting through World History in Texas. I’d be willing to bet my next margarita that your hands, dear Texans, are down.

But Texas is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a cultural purity movement afoot in this country, and what’s worse, political demagogues, having humiliated themselves by failing to govern for 8 years and getting thrown out of office, are trying to stoke a populist, bigoted backlash to get back into power. Even the dead on September 11 have to all be non-Muslims–reality be damned.

Know this, fellow Christians: claiming that you belong to a “Christian nation” is not a trivial thing. And while you’re sitting there in church tomorrow, listening to the words of Jesus echoing forward through the centuries, you better really listen. You better think twice about trying to exclude the unworthy from your culture. God is running toward the outsider, always and forever. If you are trying to keep the Other out, “your mouth is writing a check your butt can’t cash.” As we say here in Texas.

Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it. You shall love your Muslim New York neighbor as yourself.

From tomorrow’s reading, Luke 15:11-32:

11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”