The Violence of Love

mural of Oscar RomeroEaster Monday marked the anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered while celebrating the Eucharist at the chapel of Divine Providence Cancer Hospital in San Salvador on March 24, 1980.

We should not wonder that a church has a lot of cross to bear. Otherwise, it will not have a lot of resurrection. An accommodating church, a church that seeks prestige without the pain of the cross, is not the authentic church of Jesus Christ. (February 19, 1978) Read more

The Face of Race

a face made up of sections of different faces

At the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. – Barack Obama, 19 March 2008, Philadelphia 

When William F. Buckley died a few weeks ago, much was made of his love of language and his penchant for polysyllables–sesquipedalian that he was. Where a simple expression would do, Buckley preferred instead to dazzle and intimidate with word choices that were exotic, obscure, inaccessible. For Buckley it was all about vocabulary (though of course his politics were pretty scary). Which is exactly what it is not about for Barack Obama. Read more

Nice Guys and Crucifixion

palm leaf
Even if we have somehow managed to remain blissfully ignorant of where our Lenten journey has been taking us, or with whom we are traveling, the traditional Gospel text for Palm Sunday—and indeed, all of Matthew’s Gospel from Chapter 21 on—serves as a rather abrupt aide memoire. For some time I couldn’t really get my mind around the significance of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. Why a colt; why the palms; why the coats in the road; why the crowds shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David?” And what did any of that have to do with Jesus’ going immediately from this spectacle to the temple and picking a fight with some of the most powerful men in Jerusalem? Did Matthew or one of his redactors omit or edit out an important transition between verses 11 and 12, or was I simply missing something? Read more

The Risen Lazarus is No Stranger

Lazarus arisesThe eleventh chapter of John’s gospel brims with riches, providing the biblical verse nearly everyone remembers, “Jesus wept,” as well as the clearest possible statement of the functional principle underlying every City of Man, “It is better for one man to die than for the people to perish.” Lazarus’ tomb is also fertile soil for midrash, the imaginative stories in which the student rubs again those irritant nodes of scripture, such as the sacrifice of Isaac, Lot’s wife, Jacob and the Angel, and Jephthah’s vow. Chesterton, Browning and Plath, among others, turned the story into poetry, while rock bands as diverse as The Boo Radleys, Carman, Chimaira, and Placebo have Lazarus songs. The Christian East, in particular, devotes significant liturgical time and theological reflection to Lazarus rising from the tomb. And, speaking of tombs, Lazarus has far better claim than most New Testament figures to more than one burial place. Read more

What Do You See?

Jesus healing blind men

“Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” — John 9:40-41

When I was in seminary, one of the questions that we were instructed to ask ourselves in any ministerial context was: “Where and who are the invisible people?” This question was intended to help us to find those people in every community that are out of sight and out of mind to so many in the church and to ask the crucial questions about why they had been relegated to the margins and pushed “out of sight.” I was in a meeting recently when someone critiqued this language of invisibility. Invisibility, she argued, indicates that there is something inherent to the person or group of people that makes them unseen. The real issue is not that they are invisible, but that we are blind to them. These people and communities exist, materially and concretely, in plain sight—but those of us who inhabit our middle class, mostly Anglo, mainline society are able to live our lives comfortably pretending as if those on the margins do not exist. Read more

Coming To Our Senses

This year our Lenten journey through the wilderness is not one that we walk alone. The persons who come face to face with Jesus in the Gospel of John on the Sundays in Lent are our traveling companions. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Mary, Martha, even Lazarus, all have a place on our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. From Sunday to Sunday while each of these persons experiences Jesus in individual ways, collectively they reveal to us the fullness of who we are as well as our total emptiness before Jesus. Read more

Come and See

Third Sunday in Lent – John 4:5-42

Interpreters of this lengthy passage are usually quick to point out the “three strikes” against the woman at the well: her gender, her ethnicity, and her dubious marital status. And despite the fact that she engages Jesus in the longest conversation he has with anyone in the gospels, friend or foe; that she can hold her own in a theological debate; that she is the first person Jesus reveals himself to in John’s gospel; that she is the first evangelist and her testimony brings many to faith; despite all of this—what the Samaritan woman is most remembered for, it seems, is that she had five husbands. Read more

Unexpected News

This past Sunday brought NCAA basketball just down the street from my parish on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati. We’d been warned parking would be a nightmare for the 11 o’clock mass, so we went instead to St. Joseph’s church, a largely African-American Catholic church in Cincinnati’s struggling West End. My family had worshipped there before – usually at the end of one of our parish’s “urban plunge” weekends – and knew we were in for a powerful experience.

But what struck me more than the heartfelt singing and unselfconscious prayer was the force of scripture proclaimed by mouths familiar with the bitter taste of injustice. Read more

Lent is Scary; It Hurts Like Hell

The Catholic lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Lent include the Transfiguration account, a reading many Protestant traditions heard two weeks earlier. In any case, I have nothing to add to the vast libraries of commentary devoted to that gospel episode. It’s 2 Timothy that I have on my mind this Lenten week (Those of you hearing Romans 4 also have something meaty to dwell on. It’s rather more closely related to the Genesis passage, but that’s another matter…) Here’s the text from Timothy:

Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

The traditional practices of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – were, of course, never meant to earn God’s love and forgiveness. Read more

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras.

The phrase conjures images of drunken revelry and riotous carnality, tempered with a little voodoo carnivàle. Associated as it is with that most sensual of American cities, New Orleans (at least until Katrina and its aftermath changed the city and our perception of it forever), “Fat Tuesday” seems the antithesis of anything holy or sacred. Read more