A time of anticipation – and questioning
By Michael M. Barrick
Note: I acknowledge that other faith traditions have sacred observances now and throughout the year. I make no claims to an exclusive truth. Rather, I simply follow the advice of Mark Twain and write what I know about. So, having been raised by devoted Catholic parents, it is only natural that at this time of year, I ponder Advent.
LENOIR, N.C. – As I gaze out the window above my desk listening to Christmas music and watch the ground silently and magically turn white from a predicted 2 – 4 inch snowfall, I am naturally nostalgic.
My fundamental belief is that Advent is about love – nothing more, nothing less.
Yet, as I generally do every December, I am struggling to hold onto what I believed as a child when the snows began to fall in the West Virginia hills. It is a time of anticipation – and questioning.
Naturally, as a child, my anticipation had more to do with the football or bicycle I hoped I was going to get on Christmas morning. Now, in my seventh decade on the planet, I find the season to be a time of questioning.
My fundamental belief is that Advent is about love – nothing more, nothing less. It has taken my whole life (well, not yet is hasn’t), to figure out that Jesus simply calls us to love and expressly forbids us from judging others. Amy Grant sings of it in “Emmanuel, God With Us.” The claim of Christmas is a claim of Incarnation, a claim many simply find implausible.
Even if you do believe it, living it is a whole different matter. Others often confuse me for Scrooge in December. That’s not true; I’m always a curmudgeon. The difference in December is that I find it difficult to not get angry since most Christians don’t seem to make much effort to examine and live the implications of the Incarnation.
So, I just get particularly grouchy in December. A lifelong friend, though, has helped me look at Advent differently this year. The question I ponder every December is eloquently and expertly addressed by the late Dr. Howard Thurman, a theologian I learned about from my friend, who sent me Dr. Thurman’s book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” published in 1949.
Dr. Thurman gets immediately to the point on page 1. “Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak.” Forcing us to study the human Jesus in first century Palestine, Dr. Thurman adds, “The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them?”(Italics added).
Dr. Thurman is not alone in asking that question. Several musicians cause me to consider the message and meaning of Advent. Among them are:
- “Grown Up Christmas List” by Amy Grant
- “Summer Sun or Winter Skies” by David Haas
- “Mary Did Your Know?” by Kathy Mattea
Each, like Dr. Thurman, gives us much to contemplate this month – and always.
© Michael. M. Barrick, 2017.
Obsession with stuff that will become dust – like us – reveals our true priorities
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – Before this day is out, we will almost certainly see images of people stampeding over one another in order to be the first to get the newest trinket, cell phone, computer or toy. Then, of course, there are the unending advertisements in print, on TV and the web.
It is indeed, Black Friday in the U.S.A. Not, however, for the stated reason. A person recently asked me why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. I explained that it is the busiest retail day of the year, the day that helps ensure that the red ink on the balance sheet turns black for the year. However, I didn’t stop there. I also used the question as a teachable moment. I added that Black Friday is an apt description of our nation’s heart. In short, I said, it proves we care more about stuff than people.
You will hear from certain preachers and politicians that this is – or should be – a Christian nation. Black (Heart) Friday proves this is simply not the case. But in case anyone wonders what a true Christian nation would look like, consider first teachings from Jesus about money and possessions, and then what we are taught are God’s priorities. This much is clear: the “Christian” nation that many envision is totally opposite of what you read below.
Let’s begin with the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. … No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? … So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 19-21, 24-25, 31-33 NIV).
Is there really any doubt that serving money is our nation’s top priority?
God’s priorities, conversely, are quite different, as we read in the Old Testament: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV).
Our obsession with today’s best deals for what amount to nothing more than meaningless trinkets reveals a nation that is anything but “Christian.” So, think for yourself. Do not let the carnival barkers lead you astray. If we will change our priorities and care for people instead of possessions, we will find our land a much more livable and welcoming place. We don’t need to call ourselves Christians to do that. We simply need to behave as humans, not desperate animals.
Moore’s racist statement on 1965 Voting Rights Act offers a teachable moment
By Art Sherwood and Michael M. Barrick
Remember when the question “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)” was trending?
Well, Roy Moore of Alabama has forced the nation – and most critically, Christians of all stripes – to ask that question again.
Last week, at a revival meeting – oh, I’m sorry, I mean campaign event – in Jackson, Ala., Moore revealed his racist views when he said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had created “a problem.” As numerous news outlets reported, Moore said, “They started creating new rights in 1965. Today we’ve got a problem.”
He is right. We do have a problem. Religious-based bigotry continues to be a guiding principle of far too many politicians like Moore. And, he was called out on it by Rev. William Barber, a founder of Moral Mondays in North Carolina, as well as scores of other pastors and laity at a gathering in Birmingham later in the week.
As Christians, Moore’s comments at first infuriated us, as we have seen far too many people – especially teenagers and younger adults – abandon Christianity because of people like Moore who pervert biblical teaching for political gain. Then we realized he had presented us with a teachable moment.
Indeed, we have both witnessed first-hand the caustic effects of politics in religion.
From 1979 to 1989, I served as a trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During that 10 year period, I watched in dismay as a highly-respected pastor from the Dallas area was denied a teaching position because he had the temerity to allow his congregation to include women when electing deacons. This was just one event of many in which Baptist seminaries were taken over by fundamentalists so that they could transform the Southern Baptist Convention into what we see today.
As a Southern Baptist, however, I know that the concept of the “priesthood of the believer” requires that I use the brain given me by God to apply the teachings of Jesus.
Not only does political intrigue sully Christianity, but the misapplication of our faith also corrupts politics. Again, an anecdote drives home this point. During a recent election, a candidate for office was working a poll on Election Day and had a voter tell her, “I’m going to vote for you.” When the voter came out about 30 minutes later, she told the candidate, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t vote for you because you were not on the ‘Christian list.’”
Political office is not a place to impose our Christian beliefs on others, but rather to acknowledge the demands it makes on us personally. It is not our place to judge another’s faith journey, and certainly not the role of government to make any such judgments.
This is ludicrous. There is no “Christian list.” Neither political party – indeed, no political party – can claim to be the “Christian party.” Indeed, this sort of demonizing of people is entirely inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. This story is one that is repeated across the nation. It causes harm to the political process and our faith.
As a high school representative on my parish council in Clarksburg, W.Va. during the early 1970s, I witnessed the viciousness of ethnic bigotry as churches were consolidated. Parish priests who tried to reconcile the groups often found themselves banished to other parishes or desk jobs.
More recently, right here in Caldwell County, when I served on the Republican Executive Committee about 18 years ago – in fact, at my first meeting as a member – the local GOP opened the meeting by telling me they had a gift for me. It was a Confederate flag that read, “Hell No, I Won’t Come Down!” The reason I was given this “gift”? The Lenoir News-Topic printed an editorial I wrote as a newly elected member to the School Board. In it, I argued that it was time we put a stop to students wearing t-shirts with Confederate flags to school and flying the Confederate flags from their trucks.
That flag presentation was the primary precipitant for me eventually leaving the GOP, though I repent for not doing it immediately; however, I naively thought I could change it. When presented with the flag, I answered the only way I knew how. I said, “I accept it in the spirit in which it is offered.” Many people living in Caldwell County today were at that meeting. In case there is any confusion for them about my answer, I will clarify it. The “gift” was offered in hate. While I did not accept it with hate in my heart, I knew their motivation and wanted them to know it.
Roy Moore and his ilk are the products of such bigotry.
The Bible teaches something far different than bigotry. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5: 22, 23 NIV).
While political leaders applying – and debating – Christian faith is as old as the republic, using our faith to oppress people – as Moore did by saying black people should not be allowed to vote – is simply evil.
We hold a different view. We believe that this is what the Christian faith requires of those in leadership:
- Show a preferential concern for the poor and vulnerable;
- Run a campaign that reflects favorably upon our faith; and,
- Upon election, govern with a servant’s heart.
There is a point-of-view within conservative Christian circles that it is not the role of government to care for the poor and vulnerable. First, Jesus never prescribed how we are to care for the poor, sick, imprisoned, widowed, orphaned and other vulnerable people; he just said care for them. That means we can do it individually, through government or corporately as a church.
We should remember that the only time in the New Testament that Jesus states how our lives will be judged is found in Matthew 25 in the story of the sheep and the goats. There, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40 NIV).
We believe that Christians seeking and in office must live as Christ lived – with a servant’s heart. Scripture teaches, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant …” (Phil. 2:4-7, NIV). So, we must first have a servant’s heart. That is the number one characteristic of a leader.
Once in that leadership position, we must live a life of love. We can – and must – do it. Still, in politics, that is no easy charge. Consider how counter to the political culture this insight is: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13: 4, 5 NIV). These verses warn against everything that is customary in politics. If we behave as most politicians, we are in violation of Scripture. Consequently, we undermine our witness and ruin our chance at our most important calling – “… the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24c, NIV).
Political office is not a place to impose our Christian beliefs on others, but rather to acknowledge the demands it makes on us personally. It is not our place to judge another’s faith journey, and certainly not the role of government to make any such judgments. Indeed, as we read in Matthew 19:22, Jesus does not hesitate to respect free will and allow people to walk away from him. So, whether we are at home, in town, at church or a U.S. Senator, we are to live our faith for the benefit of others, not to impose it upon them.
We do not need, nor can we survive, a theocracy. However, we are called to live authentic Christian lives, regardless of our vocation. It is not easy to do, especially in the realm of politics. It is not easy to do so when governing in a republic, with so many voices and so many needs. But it can be done. It must be done. If we do so, we are promised success of the highest order, according to Paul, who also wrote, “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8 NIV).
About the Authors
Dr. Arthur M. Sherwood earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Duke University in 1970. He has devoted his career to helping veterans and others with spinal cord injuries maximize their ability to function independently. He has also been very active in the Baptist faith, having served as a Trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for 10 years, and staying active in a local congregation wherever his vocation has taken him.
Michael M. Barrick is a writer and educator. He has a B.A. in English and history from Glenville State College in West Virginia. His understanding of Catholic teaching on social justice informs his writing.
Both live in Caldwell County, N.C.
‘We Are Strangers No Longer’ asserts that Gospel requires that immigrants be welcomed
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The Asheville Vicariate Council of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte has issued a Pastoral Statement in support of immigrants. The document, “We Are Strangers No Longer,” follows below. (El Consejo del Vicariato de Asheville de la Diócesis Católica de Charlotte ha emitido una Declaración Pastoral en apoyo de los inmigrantes abajo).
In our first pastoral statement over eleven years ago, WELCOMING THE STRANGER, we invited our Catholic community to welcome the newest immigrants to our Asheville area. At that time we were responding to widespread panic within the immigrant community when a number of people were detained and deported. We joined with the bishops of our country in calling for a comprehensive reform of a broken immigration system. In the ensuing eleven years, our Catholic community generously welcomed our newest brothers and sisters. Today, immigrants are no longer strangers, but an essential part of our faith communities. Unfortunately, the broken immigration system of eleven years ago has all but collapsed. Today, the conditions faced by immigrants have considerably worsened.
Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him . . . .
Our immigrant brothers and sisters have called on us to respond once more to the panic in which they and their children live. They never know when their families will be torn apart. Children, many of whom are citizens of our country, live in constant fear that their parents may never return home from work. Parents worry that their children, who have received protection under the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), may be permanently separated from their families and deported. The threat against families is real. The fear is intolerable. After eleven years of failed attempts to reform our laws concerning immigration, families and children are still living in fear.
This situation is happening to our immigrant brothers and sisters here and now. They are our parishioners and have shared with us their rich traditions of faith and family. They make a positive contribution to the life of the Church, the community and the economy. In response to the Executive Order on Refugees this past January, 2017, the president and vice-president of the national conference of Catholic bishops stated:
The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself. Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity. Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him . . . . Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present. And He says to each of us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
(Joint Statement, USCCB, 30 January 2017)
And as Pope Francis continually reminds the Church, “the face of each person bears the mark of the face of Christ!” And he adds:
“Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. ”
(Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2014)
Through the centuries, people have looked to the Church as a sanctuary where people may turn for help and protection in time of need. As immigrants today look to us for spiritual support in this time of crisis for their families, we are united in calling on our Catholic community and all people of good will to stand with immigrants and their children. We invite Catholic Charities and our area Catholic schools and Faith Formation programs to be especially mindful of the needs of children who are living in fear. We encourage our parishes to respond with generosity to immigrants especially those have been detained and separated from their children and loved ones. And we commit ourselves as Catholic leaders to continue to work and pray for the comprehensive reform of the immigration laws that will keep families united and allow all immigrants to know their dignity as children of God. May our Church always be a sanctuary where no one is a stranger!
Asheville Vicariate Council
Very Rev. Wilbur N. Thomas, Vicar Forane, Rector/Pastor
Basilica of St. Lawrence, Asheville
Rev. C. Morris Boyd, Parochial Vicar
Basilica of St. Lawrence, Asheville
Rev. Patrick Cahill, Pastor
St. Eugene Church, Asheville
Mr. Juan Antonio Garcia, Coordinator
Asheville Vicariate Hispanic Ministry
Mr. Nicholas Haskell, Coordinator
Poverty & Justice Education, Diocese of Charlotte
Rev. Douglas May, Maryknoll Missioner
In-Residence, St. Eugene Church, Asheville
Rev. Shawn O’Neal, Pastor
Sacred Heart Church, Brevard
Rev. John Pagel, Priest-at-Large to Hispanic Community
Rev. Roberto Perez, O.F.M. Cap., Parochial Vicar
Immaculate Conception, Hendersonville
Mr. Robert Phillips, Representative, Catholic Charities-Western Office
Diocese of Charlotte, Asheville
Rev. Adrian Porras, Pastor
St. Barnabas Church, Arden
Rev. Martin Schratz, O.F.M. Cap., Pastor
Immaculate Conception, Hendersonville
Sr. Peggy Verstege, R.S.M., Hispanic Ministry
Sacred Heart Church, Burnsville
Sr. Maria Goretti Weldon, R.S.M., Director of Mission and Values
Sisters of Mercy Services Corporation, Asheville
Rev. Fred Werth, Pastor
St. Andrew Church, Mars Hill
Rev. Dr. Michael Zboyovski, Deacon
St. Eugene Church, Asheville
Ya No Somos Extranjeros:
Declaración Pastoral del Consejo del Vicariato de Asheville de la Diócesis de Charlotte, 2017
En nuestra primera declaración hace once años, ACOGIENDO AL FORASTERO ENTRE NOSOTROS, invitamos a nuestra comunidad Católica a dar la bienvenida a los nuevos inmigrantes de Asheville. En aquella época estábamos respondiendo a un pánico universal de la comunidad inmigrante en lo cual muchos estaban detenidos y deportados. Al mismo tiempo, nos juntamos con los obispos católicos de nuestro país llamando por una reforma completa del sistema quebrantado de inmigración. En los once años después, nuestra comunidad católica generosamente acogió a los nuevos hermanos y hermanas. Hoy en día, los inmigrantes ya no son extranjeros, pero forman una parte esencial de nuestras comunidades de fe. Desafortunadamente, el sistema quebrantado de inmigración de once años atrás ya casi colapsó. Ahora, la situación de los inmigrantes está mucho peor.
Nuestros hermanas y hermanos inmigrantes nos pidieron a responder una vez más al pánico en lo cual viven ellos y sus hijos. No saben cuando sus familias van a ser destrozados. Los niños, muchos que son ciudadanos viven en el miedo que sus padres van a regresar a casa después del trabajo. Los padres están preocupados que sus hijos, que tiene protección por medio del programa de DACA (Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia), van a ser separados permanentemente de sus familias y deportados. La amenaza contra familias es real. El miedo es intolerable. Después de once años de intentos fracasados de reformar nuestras leyes de inmigración, familias y sus hijos sigen viviendo en miedo.
Nuestros hermanas y hermanos inmigrantes están pasando esta situación aquí y ahora. Ellos son nuestros filigreses y nos han compartido sus valiosas tradiciones de fe y familia. Hacen una contribución positiva a la vida de la Iglesia, la comunidad y la economía. Respondiendo a la Orden Ejecutiva de enero de 2017, el presidente y el vice-presidente de la conferencia nacional de obispos católicos declararon:
El Señor Jesús huyó de la tiranía de Herodes, fue falsamente acusado y luego abandonado por sus amigos. No tenía dónde reclinar su cabeza (Lc 9:58). Acoger al extranjero y a los que están huyendo no es una opción entre muchas en la vida cristiana. Es la forma misma del cristianismo en sí. Nuestras acciones deben hacer que la gente recuerde a Jesús. Las acciones de nuestro gobierno deben hacer que la gente recuerde la humanidad básica. Cuando nuestros hermanos y hermanas sufran rechazo y abandono, nosotros elevaremos nuestra voz en su favor. Los acogeremos y los recibiremos. Ellos son Jesús, y la Iglesia no se apartará de Él . . . . Nuestro deseo no es entrar en el terreno político, sino anunciar a Cristo vivo en el mundo de hoy. En el momento mismo en que una familia abandona su hogar bajo amenaza de muerte, Jesús está presente. Y Él nos dice a cada uno de nosotros: “todo lo que hicieron por uno de estos mis hermanos más pequeños, lo hicieron por mí” (Mt 25:40).
Y como el Papa Francisco siempre dice a la Iglesia, “en el rostro de cada persona está impreso el rostro de Cristo.” Y el papa añade:
Emigrantes y refugiados no son peones sobre el tablero de la humanidad.
(Mensaje Para La Jornada Mundial Del Emigrante Y Del Refugiado 2014)
Através de los siglos, la gente ha visto a la Iglesia como santuario donde busquen ayuda y protección en tiempos difíciles. Pues, como los inmigrantes de hoy nos piden apoyo espiritual en estos tiempos difíciles para sus familias, estamos unidos en llamando a nuestra comunidad católica y a todo el pueblo de buena voluntad a mantenerse a lado de los inmigrantes y sus hijos. Invitamos a Catholic Charities y las escuelas católicas de nuestra área y los programas de catequesis a tener en cuenta las necesidades de los niños que viven en el miedo. Al mismo tiempo, animamos a nuestras parroquias a responder con generosidad a los inmigrantes especialmente a los que han sido detenidos y separados de sus niños y seres queridos. Y nos comprometemos a luchar y rezar por la reforma completa de las leyes de inmigración para mantener familias unidas y permitir que todos los inmigrantes realicen su dignidad como Hijos de Dios. ¡Qué nuestra Iglesia sea siempre un santuario en donde nadie es extranjero!
No Nukes for anyone
By Michael M. Barrick
In the early 1980s, I had a t-shirt that exclaimed, “No Nukes!” It caused more than one confrontation, which of course was my intent. The reason I was so confrontational was because I considered escalation of nuclear weaponry insane. President Reagan, in particular, seemed to be a bit trigger-happy.
He was not the first though. I have known since I had to throw by butt under my desk or up against a wall at school in 1962 that nuclear weapons could make all of mankind extinct. As a first grader, I was not old enough to grasp the “All of mankind” concept; however, television and magazine images of exploding mushroom clouds I did understand – it meant I would be vaporized – extinguished!
My awareness of all of this began with the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was enlightening to a six-year-old. The president was serious, our parents more so with each passing day. The nuns at St. Mary’s in Clarksburg, W.Va. were the ones having us diving under the desks. We followed that by saying the rosary and going to confession quite regularly. At six, I was a handful, but I really didn’t have much to confess. In hindsight, I’d like to say, “Thanks for messing with my head.”
Speaking of which, during the time I was wearing my “No Nukes!” t-shirt, President Reagan mused about eliminating nuclear weapons from the planet. In a Time magazine interview in 1984, he revealed, “I just happen to believe that we cannot go into another generation with the world living under the threat of those weapons and knowing that some madman can push the button some place.” He added, “My hope has been, and my dream, that we can get the Soviet Union to join us in starting verifiable reductions of the weapons. Once you start down that road, they’ve got to see how much better off we would both be if we got rid of them entirely.”
That interview occurred the same year our second child was born. We are now grandparents of an eight-year-old. She is the second generation since that interview to live with the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation. This lack of leadership simply won’t do. And, before we can lead, we have to get over our sense of moral superiority – which is clearly the reason we think we should have nuclear weapons and have the right to tell others they cannot. The United States would never submit to such dictates from a foreign power (OK, there is that Trump/Russia “thing,” but let’s just let it play out for now).
Additionally, from the perspective of those who don’t live between the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the borders with Canada and Mexico, the United States is, at best, hypocritical to demand that other nations not develop nuclear weapons programs. That is true even when we are dealing with a nation that threatens us almost daily, as does North Korea. After all, we are the only nation to ever use them in war – twice.
Put frankly, the United States lacks the moral authority to demand that any nation adhere to our wishes – about nuclear weapons or anything.
So now, we find ourselves in a helpless diplomatic situation with North Korea. We can’t bend them to our will. If we choose war to do so, we will witness human, cultural and environmental destruction that few of us alive today have ever seen our nation engaged in.
So, what to do? Resurrect the vision of Ronald Reagan – and much of humanity since the end of World War II: A nuclear weapons-free world. Does such a vision seem impossible? Yes – until you consider the alternative. All weapons of war are always used. As I’ve written before, waging peace is much more difficult than waging war. It requires more patience, creative thinking, and a humble spirit. Humility is not exactly our nation’s strongest attribute. It is even less so under Donald Trump. So, the Anti-Nuke movement must re-originate from our neighborhoods and our towns.
As a child, in fact, I was taught that peace was to begin with me – a lesson I learned at home, my Catholic parish and Catholic school. Indeed, David Haas, a singer-songwriter that has written hundreds of songs that are used in Mass of Catholic parishes in the United States and beyond, challenges nations to wage peace in his song, “Enter God’s House.” The lyrics begin, “All you nations, all who seek peace: / leave your arms and weapons behind. / Come and climb the mountain of God. / Enter God’s house!”
The United States must heed this call for two reasons. First, as the only nation to use atomic / nuclear weapons, our nation is obligated to lead the effort to eliminate them. Secondly, this nation is run by a political party that claims to be the party of God. Of course, that’s cowpatties, but they certainly have a chance to prove it.
All they – and many hawkish Democrats, too – have to remember is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:19).
On Twitter: @appchronicle
Encountering a disturbing view of the Christian faith
By Art Sherwood
PATTERSON, N.C. – Last week was a wonderful week, celebrating the 241st birthday of the United States. It is always a good time to ponder enduring statements from our founders, such as “When in the course of human events … ” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”
But as John Adams said, it is not just a time for reflection about freedom and liberty; it is also a time for celebration! So, like lots of folk, we celebrated our nation’s birthday with family, as our daughter visited with three of our grandchildren. Enjoying the beautiful mountains of North Carolina under clear, blue skies included an adventurous trip to Tweetsie Railroad.
That is when our celebration was momentarily interrupted and again left me pondering. This time, it was about something as precious to me as my family and our nation – my Christian faith. As I was standing in line so the children could get their pictures taken with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I struck up a conversation with another grandparent doing what I was doing. After a bit, she noticed the logo on the front of my shirt – “The Christian Left” – and asked me what it was about. I explained that it was a counterforce to the Christian right, who abdicated any claim to Christianity in the last election. I then showed her the back of the shirt, which says, “Love Thy Neighbor.” It goes on to list various groups of people, such as “LGBT Neighbor,” “Imprisoned Neighbor,” “Hindu Neighbor,” and so forth. She then responded, “Love is not enough,” and entered into a rant about how if we don’t do something we will become like them. She protested that she was just an old fashioned Bible-believing woman. About that time, the line opened up and we ended our conversation at that point.
I, too, am an old fashioned, Bible-believing person, which is why I found her response so disturbing.
Love is enough. It is more than enough, it is everything. At least, that’s what it sounds like Jesus said in an exchange recorded in the Gospel of Mark (12: 28-34 NIV). Jesus was asked “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
That’s it, Jesus says. Love. It is all that is required, and it requires all from us. It is required of all of us who claim the name of Christ.
The account continues, “Well said teacher. … You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
It’s also noteworthy how Jesus responded and how this exchange concluded: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
I however, continue to ask questions – of those who adhere to a very disturbing view of the Christian faith. Indeed, the brief encounter served to validate the point made by my friend Michael Barrick to me last week, when he said that in North Carolina our political divide is a proxy war of theologies – the theology of fear which breeds hate or the theology of hope which is the path to the love of which Jesus speaks. The former is exemplified by the Rev. Franklin Graham; the latter by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II.
As a lifelong Sunday School attendee in Baptist churches large and small from Texas to Washington, D.C., I am blown away that someone can say they are Bible-believing Christians on the one hand and say love is not enough on the other. I don’t see how they can ignore the entire New Testament that is all about love. Sadly, the tactics of fear used by so-called Christian politicians and their powerful pastor allies is working. It makes me question: What happened to trust in God? What happened to turn your cares to Jesus?
What happened is a terrible failure of teaching by our spiritual leaders who have abdicated their job to lead us to the love of God. This too seems to be clearly addressed in scripture: “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock” (Ezekiel 34: 2b-3).
Based on my short conversation in a line at Tweetsie Railroad – and decades of service to Baptist churches and 10 years (1979 – 1989) as a trustee at Southwestern Theological Seminary – I would have to agree with what we read in Ezekiel. The shepherds are attending to their gods of power, money and sex instead of their flocks.
So, the poor and vulnerable are hurt the most, even though Jesus demonstrated preferential concern for them. I can’t quite figure out what’s being taught in Sunday School these days, but Michael and I have concluded that we are, indeed, witnessing a religious proxy war being played out in the North Carolina General Assembly. At the moment, the “Love is not enough” faction is winning.
We can counter that. Take a moment to listen to “We Should Only Have Time For Love” by Claire Lynch. It’s worth a listen. Its message is timeless. And complete. We should only have time for love for one simple reason – love is enough. But we won’t know that until we try it. So it is up to us to keep proving it.
© Art Sherwood, 2017. Photo by Jacob Meyer.
A poem at Pentecost
By Michael M. Barrick
For Christians that follow a liturgical calendar, Pentecost is a commemoration of the beginning of the church, as read about in Acts 2: 1-11. This poem, while originating from a long, ongoing dialogue about the Incarnation with a dear friend who is a Catholic priest, is certainly not intended only for the “religious.” It is my experience, in having friends of every faith or no faith, that there is something intangible that happens among friends and family that mystically connects us. This is one such expression of that phenomenon.
It is the language of the Incarnation.
To the rationalist, it is unintelligible; to the mystic, the native tongue.
It is the language that made and keeps me as one
It is the language that prompts my confessor
to call or visit at the most unpredictable – but perfect – times.
It is the source of the compassion that compelled me
to apologize to Nan as her son – my friend – was dying.
It is the language that overwhelms me with tears
during morning prayers or while walking in the woods.
It is the language that compels me to approach strangers
with a smile.
It is the language of family and friends,
for those despairing and despondent.
It is the language that ignites the spirit of peace
through the arts.
It is the language that calls us to love all of humanity
with mercy, grace, and hope.
It is the language that compelled John to leap
in Elizabeth’s womb upon the greeting from Mary.
It is the language
of the Master of my heart.
© Michael Barrick, 2015 -17.
Enough about the apocalypse; help prevent it
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – Just after 10 yesterday morning I dispatched – politely – a Jehovah’s Witness fanatic from my front doorstep.
I did not run her off because she’s a Jehovah’s Witness; I ran her off because she was fear-mongering. I stepped outside and she handed me a brochure, saying, “You know, this is something that is on people’s minds these days – the return of Jesus.” I handed it back to her and said, “Save this and give it to someone that is interested.” She said “Thank you” and left.
I will not waste my time talking to fanatics about religion – or anything for that matter. I don’t like strangers coming unannounced to my door. It’s rude. Paul wrote that “Love is not rude” (look it up; hint: it’s in the “love” chapter), yet it’s generally agreed upon that he was a real pain in the neck.
I also saw the word “prosperity” on the handout. Having spent a decade researching and writing tens of thousands of words about the totally false “name-it-claim-it, health-and-wealth, prosperity gospel,” I knew immediately I was dealing with a hopelessly deluded person.
I also do not like people using the threat of an impending apocalypse to scare me into “finding Jesus.” It’s cynical. It’s certainly not rooted in a faith of hope. It is also not rooted in a religion of action, but rather fatalism.
Sadly, though, it is effective.
Not with me. First, because of experience. Second, because I believe in logic. What she was peddling is paradoxical. Why, if you believe the return of Jesus is imminent, would you also – and in particular your pastor – be concerned about prosperity? Illogical as it is, obviously millions fall for it.
So, rather than harassing people enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, those of you peddling your religion door-to-door could instead live your faith. Maybe if you do, so many frightening things wouldn’t be happening. “Thy Kingdom come” would happen if people bothering me and my neighbors would instead simply live according to their precepts. Below is one that is quite timely.
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
So, go see what you can do to protect our immigrant friends. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll find Jesus on my own.
© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. The Lenoir Voice is a sister publication of the Appalachian Chronicle.
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