Thanks for following Faith on the Fringe

Thanks for following Faith on the Fringe.

I appreciate your support and interest.

For some months, the blog has been hosted on this website: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthefringe

I’ve posted an excerpt from my novel in progress written about Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, Christmas, and so much more.

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The Second Coming

Happy birthday, William Butler Yeats.

The Second Coming

by W.B. Yeats

June 13, 1865 – Jan. 28, 1939

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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Sunny day suicides – reminding us of who we are

“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Working on my high school newspaper, a classmate and I wrote an article about suicide.

I don’t remember which of us physically wrote the article. (My friend was much, much smarter than I was, so I assume he did most of the writing.) I do remember talking with him about my interview with a suicide hotline official.

A singular fact from the interview has stuck with me, all these decades later.

Look at this list of familiar names. Notice anything?

Musician Richard Manuel – died March 4, 1986.

Actor Richard Jeni – died March 10, 2007.

Author Virginia Woolf – died March 28, 1941.

Musician Kurt Cobain – died April 5, 1994.

Athlete Junior Seau – died May 2, 2012.

Actress Dana Plato – died May 8, 1999.

Actress Lucy Gordon – died May 20, 2009.

Actor Ray Combs, Jr. – died June 2, 1996.

Fashion designer Kate Spade – died June 5, 2018.

Chef Anthony Bourdain – died June 8, 2018.

Author Ernest Hemingway – died July 2, 1961.

Musician Marcel Jacob – died July 21, 2009.

Actor Robin Williams – died Aug. 11, 2014.

Did you notice?

According to the suicide expert I interviewed, most suicidal people don’t take their lives around Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s; around happy, holiday times. Depressed people stay inside and alone when the weather is cold, but so does everyone else.

But when the weather is nice, on warm, sunny days, when others are outdoors, suicidal people feel their depression most acutely, the expert told me. Suicides rise when the weather is better.

I’ve never confirmed it (and still haven’t), but it certainly seemed to make sense, even if only anecdotally.

Haunted by darkness and shadows, hounded by thoughts most of us can’t begin to imagine, anger and sadness turn inward. Gripped by despair that seems to get worse when others appear happy, people seek to end the pain, by ending their lives.

Despite growing awareness and empathy, the stigma around mental illness remains strong. I know from experience – nothing chills a conversation quite like mentioning taking medication for depression for nearly a decade.

For survivors, suicide is the most difficult type of death to accept.

Unlike long illnesses, shocking accidents, or even senseless murders that leave holes in our lives, suicides leave friends and family with tragic questions that can never be answered.

Talk of suicide always reminds me of the poem Richard Cory:

Richard Cory

By Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Suicide reminds us that all the riches of the world can’t make Richard Cory happy.

Suicide touches our own deepest sadnesses.

My friend from high school, who wrote the article with me? We remained friends for the next 30 years, through college and into adulthood. We hung out, invited one another to concerts and crossed paths at local music festivals.

On an unseasonably warm Nov. 24, in 2016, two months short of his 50th birthday, my friend took his life.

For suicide support, visit https://afsp.org/find-support/

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The crisis in the U.S. church

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White Men: demanding rights for themselves they refuse to extend to others

Discrimination is wrong.

Some people need to be told discrimination is wrong.

For whatever reason, they never learned that it’s wrong to discriminate against others because of skin color, or gender or size or age or sexuality or nationality or religion.

It’s un-Christian, un-Biblical, un-American and unfair.

Some people claim God made everyone equal, but then they treat others unequally. They demand preferential treatment or are blind to the benefits they receive because of their gender or race.

They think they are somehow losing rights when others get the same rights they have  – Their marriages are somehow threatened, because someone else is married, for example.

When shown how discrimination is wrong, they don’t care.

They complain about “political correctness,” or bemoan not being allowed to discriminate by picking and choosing who gets equal treatment in public policies, in laws and in the marketplace.

They demand for themselves rights they refuse to extend to others.

Discrimination has been so normalized that it makes equitable treatment appear like special accommodations.

A surprising number of frightened white men think they’re being discriminated against when other people get treated equally.

The United States was built on a false promise of equality from rich, white men who marginalized everyone else.

Poor white men, women, blacks, Asians, Jews, Hispanics — all have been sold a false narrative that they have the same opportunities as the wealthy elites, while being blamed for being victims in a society driven by victimizing them. The prison industry is built upon the crushed hopes and dreams of the working poor, for example.

In the past century, as marginalized groups have moved into the mainstream, the white, wealthy, male elites have grown more adept at fanning fears and pitting exploited groups against each other.

The white, male elites have cobbled together an ever-shrinking coalition of racists and religious radicals while anesthetizing the majority of the population with entertainment, a celebration of ignorance, and irrational fears. The ruling rich reached their summit, and society its nadir, with the election of an incompetent, frightened, cowardly, racist bully to the highest office in the land.

Jesus offers a better way.

The message of Jesus is good news to the poor. Liberation for the oppressed, freedom from fear. Release for the captives. The love of God.

This is the Good News Jesus brings.

The message of Jesus is in direct conflict with the white patriarchy, so white, male preachers obstruct the true message of Jesus by focusing on hell, judgement and condemnation.

Jesus tells us the characteristics that God blesses. These are not the characteristics of the wealthy elite.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

In other words, blessed are those who don’t discriminate.

Discrimination is not of God and neither are those who support discrimination.

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Z Powerful Love and Progressive Christianity

The Royal Wedding was eye-opening for many people.

The Right Rev. Michael Curry, leader of the Episcopal Church in the USA, preached for 13 minutes about God’s love. (A transcript of his sermon is below.)

This is what Progressive Christianity looks like. This is the message of Jesus.

Love God. Love others.

There are some who complain that his message of God’s love is incomplete — that Curry didn’t mention God’s judgement, or repentance. These complaints say more about the complainer than they do Curry’s sermon. Jesus mentions love much more  than he talks about repentance.

The love of God supersedes everything else. Scripture says God is love, not God is judgement.

Another complaint is that the Royal Wedding wasn’t the place for a sermon… a sermon about love. Perhaps these people forget that a common wedding scripture reflects on love:

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. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Some are unhappy that Curry supports LGBT rights. But what’s the alternative? Opposing the civil rights of some people? That’s not the message of Jesus.

Jesus is on the side of the poor, the forgotten, the minorities and the oppressed.

Always.

Jesus opposes the oppressors – the occupying Roman government, the military, the hypocritical religious and political leaders.

When religious leaders try to tell women how to live their lives, Jesus sides with the women.

The Royal Wedding sermon focused the world’s attention on a Progressive Christian voice. Curry is one of many preaching the Love of God.

There are a lot of us in the world preaching this message. This list includes many major Progressive Christians.

Here are three posts I’ve written.

We are ALL loved

Love

The Gospel is about God’s saving love

 

Jesus offers liberation and freedom, a gift from God. Unconditional love.

Accepting the idea that God loves us exactly as we are is daunting for many people. That’s why they cling to the idea of an angry, judgemental God. It’s impossible for some people to understand a faith that’s more complex than their own. And God’s love is complex, and incredibly simple.

The mainstream media are filled with right-wing, conservative Christians who don’t reflect the message of Jesus. So it comes as a surprise to many when the authentic message of Jesus is preached.

But the message of Jesus is alive in the world and alive in the hearts of millions of Jesus followers. God’s love is alive.

This was the message of Bishop Curry and remains the eternal message of Jesus. God loves us and wants the best for us. Amen.

The transcript of Bishop Curry’s sermon:

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” ~ Song of Songs 8:6-7

The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, and I quote:

“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”

There’s power in love. Do not underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. Oh, there’s power, there’s power in love.

Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. Our lives were and are meant to be lived in that love. That is why we are here.

Ultimately the source of love is God himself. The source of all of our lives. An old medieval poem says it: “Where true love is found, God himself is there.”

The Bible, 1 John 4 says it this way: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; Everyone who loves is born of God.”Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:4-8)

There’s power in love. Love can help and heal when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate for living when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live. Set me as a seal on your heart, for love is as strong as death. And the love that brings two people together is the same love that can bind them together, Whether on mountaintops of happiness and through valleys of hardship. Love is strong as death It’s flashes are flashes of fire.

Many waters cannot quench love. Love can see you through! There’s power in love.

But the love of which we speak is not only for couples getting married or just for interpersonal relationships.

Jesus of Nazareth taught us that the way of love is the way to a real relationship with the God who created all of us, and the way to true relationship with each other as children of that one God, as brothers and sisters in God’s human family.

One scholar said it this way: “Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history: a movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to live that love.” (Charles Marsh’s The Beloved Community)

I’m talking about power. Real power — power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform.

They explained it this way — they sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity, it’s one that says: “There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole,
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
If you cannot preach like Peter,
And you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
How he died to save us all.
That’s the balm in Gilead.”

This way of love is the way of life. They got it — he died to save us all.

He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate out of it. He wasn’t getting anything out of it — He did it for others, for the other, for the good and well being of others.

That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love can change lives and it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think and imagine a world where love is the way.

Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way. Imagine our neighborhoods and communities when love is the way. Imagine our governments and nations when love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way. Imagine this third old world when love is the way. No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a might stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing book. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty good room — plenty good room — for all of God’s children. When love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all. We are brothers and sisters, children of God. Brothers and sisters: that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. Let me tell you something: Old Solomon was right in the Old Testament — that’s fire. And with this, I will sit down: we got to get you all married.

The late French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, was at once a scientist, a Roman Catholic priest, a theologian, a true mystic. His was one of the great minds and spirits of the 20th century. He suggested that the discovery and harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries of human history. Fire, to a great extent, made human civilization possible. Fire made it possible to cook food, thereby reducing the spread of disease. Fire made it possible to stay warm in cold climates, thereby marking human migration around the world a possibility. Fire made the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Industrial Revolution possible. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human capacity to take fire and use it for human good. Anybody get here in a car today? Nod your heads if you did.

I know there were some carriages. If you drove here this morning, you did so in part because of harnessed fire. I know that the Bible says I believe that Jesus walked on water, but I have to tell you, I didn’t walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text, tweet, email, Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible.

de Chardin said that fire is one of the greatest discoveries in all of human histories. He then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire. Love is the very fire and energy of real life! Dr. King was right: We must discover love. The redemptive power of love. When we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. My brother, my sister, God love you, God bless you. My brothers, my sisters, God love you, God bless you. And may God hold us all In those almighty hands of love. Amen.

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Toxic Christianity

I saw these bumper stickers on a truck recently.

There’s so much going on here, I didn’t bother to look at the other side of the vehicle.

It’s a toxic mix of nationalism, violence, racism, ignorance, gun fetishism and bad theology. For example, armed resistance to tyrants is not obedience to God. Christ calls us to put away our machine guns, and follow him peacefully. Sherman and Grant didn’t own slaves, Lee and Jackson did.

Other stickers portrayed the owner as a serious church attender, including, this one:

In a recent article on HuffPost, Robert Jones, CEO of The Public Religion Research Institute, and author of The End of White Christian America, was quoted as saying:

“evangelicals have recently grown anxious about the declining dominance of white Christianity in America, both demographically and on such culture war issues as same-sex marriage.
“The idea of a Christian nation in American history has always been wrapped up with protecting the power of whiteness and Protestantism,” Jones said. “The KKK, for example, targeted not just African-Americans but also Catholics and Jews as threats to their ideal of American society.”

Millions of Americans are in Christian churches every week, and they have no idea of the message of Jesus, they have no understanding of the lessons of the New Testament, of the Jewish prophets, or of the traditions of the first generation of Christians.

With racist, frightened eyes, they look past God’s message to do justice and to love kindness and instead they focus on violence.

The greatest commandments — to love God and love others — become an afterthought as they focus on a handful of verses to justify their own bigotry and biases.

We who follow the teachings of the Prince of Peace, who strive to live the lessons of Jesus, must do more to help the misguided Christians who think violence is an answer.

Let me make it plain.

Guns are of the world, not of God.

God’s plan to redeem the world does not include guns.

You can not love others with a gun in your hand.

Hands filled with bullets can’t receive blessings from God.

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