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

Better Than Borders and Barriers

Two days into Black History month, on the eve of the Transfiguration, it might be well for us to remember one key theme of Epiphany: Jesus gathers around himself a community of former strangers now become friends, a circle of former enemies now knit together as one family, a body where difference enlivens and diversity enriches.

At the Society of Christian Ethics last month I attended a panel discussion that focused on the racial segregation of Christian worship in the US. Meeting in Atlanta, we took up Martin Luther King’s observation that 11 o’clock on Sunday was and still is the most segregated hour in America. One of the most challenging questions was posed by Bryan Massingale, who asked us when in the last three years we had heard a sermon that condemned racial division or that affirmed God’s vision of a multi-racial church. When? Well, I hope you did during Epiphany. Read more

Fools For Christ

I’m thinking this morning of Van Thompson. There he is down in Memphis, newly married. To the surprise of some, Van and Kristin have chosen to live in the Binghamton neighborhood, a community riddled with urban poverty and crime. They are two of many Christians moving into the community in recent years in order to bear witness and to offer their bodily presence. Read more

Looking Toward Lent

When we take too much pride in “family churches,” where neat, nuclear families dominate, we risk forgetting what Jesus did on Good Friday. “Family churches,” for all their honoring of family life, may limit the much wider embrace of God’s grace. Some priorities valued in family churches can be hostile to individuals who do not fit middle-class paradigms. They can exclude people Jesus would want us to welcome. The world consists of many persons who have had to take different and often painful roads. The true community Jesus seeks makes space for them all. — Peter Storey, Listening at Golgotha

It is not uncommon in a lot of churches, perhaps rural ones especially, for a particular family to be a dominant force in the life of the congregation. The family may be founding members of the church, pillars in the community. They may have donated a prominent stained glass window or paid for the pulpit or altar—maybe even bankrolled the fellowship hall. Read more

Telephones and What is Good for Us

David Kline is an Amish man. He insists that Amish people are not understood. Amish people are maligned for being against all forms of modern technology. That is not true, he says. Rather, the Amish use only those technologies that, in their best judgment, do not harm their community life.

For example, lanterns are not allowed on their farm field equipment. With lanterns they would be tempted to work into the night hours. And working in the fields past sunset would weaken their family life and would overwork their horses.

Several years ago the question came up about whether David Kline’s community would use telephones. Everyone in the church—the community—met and discussed it a number of times. It took all summer for them to decide whether they would have phones. They finally decided against it. And they had two reasons. Read more

When Eight Days Were Fulfilled

“When eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:21

Back in grade school, I flipped through a highly modernized version of Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, and came across this definition of “Sunday”: “In Christian countries, the day of the football game.” While I imagine my sons and I will take in a few downs together some time today, observing Christmas season its full duration is a virtue, brimming with goods “internal to the practice.” Read more

On Ontology and Organizations Voluntary

In his column, which is published in many Catholic diocesan newspapers around the U.S., this week, George Weigel, who is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., criticizes Catholic candidates who are running for the presidency when they appear to bracket their Christianity “when they put on their hats as public servants.”

Specifically, Weigel writes, “when a candidate for public office avers that ‘membership in the faith community’ is deeply personal or a matter of ‘my relationship with Jesus’ then suggests that being a Catholic Christian is a compartment of life that can be hermetically sealed off from first principles of justice (abortion, euthanasia, and embryo-destructive stem-cell research), we’re dealing with a confused camper. One might even say, it’s a camper with a severe identity crisis.” Read more

Eating Locally

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, a captivating story of her family’s efforts to eat locally for an entire year. From one spring to the next, everything they consumed was either grown in their own modest garden or purchased from farmers’ markets or dairies or butchers in their rural county in southwest Virginia (though they did make a few exceptions for staples like olive oil, spices, and fair trade organic coffee).

This is the kind of book that could get all preachy and high-minded, making the reader feel bad for being such a promiscuous eater, but Kingsolver is too good a writer for that. She simply chronicles her family’s triumphs and failures; their joys and frustrations. As she puts it, this is the story of what they learned, or didn’t; what they ate, or couldn’t; and how the family was changed by one year of deliberately eating food produced in the same place where they worked, loved their neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air (p. 20). Read more