30 May 2010


The image to the left is the triquetra, an ancient symbol which, in the Christian imagination, came to represent the Holy Trinity. This afternoon, while at a mall in the Nashville area, my wife Banu got a temporary tattoo of the triquetra on her arm. (Maybe she’ll decide to get a permanent one—maybe I will!)

Today is Trinity Sunday. This day doesn’t get the attention it deserves, because too often, all people hear about it (if they do hear about it), is basically a description of the Holy Trinity. Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest at the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, portrays a deep and mystical view. Here’s an excerpt from today’s email meditation:

“All you can give back to God is who you really are. That’s about the broadest and deepest permission you will ever receive. It is our very incapacity and weakness which becomes the ongoing goad that deepens both our inner desire and our dependency on God alone. It becomes that which prods and invites us into ‘the cosmic dance’ of the Trinity where everybody else is included, and all judgments of others up or down become a waste of time. Remember, the Trinitarian nature of God is saying that God is more a verb than a noun; a flow more than a substance, a love more than an idea, a process more than any fast conclusion.”

19 May 2010

blessing torture

“A political dissident is arrested for leading a movement that threatens the stability of a region. He is ambushed and apprehended by his enemies, detained without a public trial, and tortured by soldiers at the command of their political leaders.

“No, I’m not describing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other detainee held at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I’m speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.”

That’s the way Skye Jethani begins his article, “The Informed Conscience,” in the May/June issue of Liberty magazine. Jethani is the managing editor of Leadership Journal, a publication of Christianity Today. Hardly a wild-eyed radical, he’s an evangelical Christian, ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

He continues, “The fact that Christians draw their faith, life, and identity from a Messiah who was the victim of political torture seems ironic in light of new research by the Pew Forum that indicates 62 percent of White Evangelicals believe torture of suspected terrorists is ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ justified. The research shows that people who attend church regularly were more likely to rationalize torture than those who do not go to church. [Emphasis is mine.]

“How do we explain these findings? Are Christians being more influenced by Jack Bauer than Jesus Christ?”

This opens up a big discussion. One of my earliest blog posts was on this topic. It can be easy to drift into support of almost any policy if fear is continually injected into the populace.

Jethani looks at it philosophically, saying, “Lurking behind this passive support of government torture is a utilitarian ethic that believes the ends justify the means—torture is justifiable if the information attained will save innocent lives. But David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today, points out a problem with this argument: ‘But Evangelicals have been eager to reject utilitarian ethics when addressing other issues—embryonic stem-cell research and population-control programs, for example. Even if embryonic stem-cell research turned out to be the best way to cure Parkinson’s disease, most Evangelicals would oppose it, just as we would oppose abortion even if it were shown to reduce, say, food insecurity.’”

The image is from the Pew Forum website, showing the results of the poll, which was taken in April 2009. The wording of the question was, “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?”

In my opinion, the saddest thing is that torture is even seriously debated in the church.

18 May 2010

don't you care?

At the beginning of chapter 16, Jeremiah gets a message from God that he can’t be happy about. He needs to forget any plans he has regarding marriage or a family of his own. In fact, he needs to forget about other aspects of community interaction, such as attending funerals. The reason? “Both great and small shall die in this land” (v. 6a). There’s no point in getting attached; these people are doomed. In verse 8, Jeremiah is forbidden to go to parties—so much for a social life!

So is this just a case of God making the prophet’s life even more miserable than it otherwise would have been? Does Jeremiah have no say in how he lives his life?

In the May 18 issue of the Christian Century, Belden C. Lane writes about “Caring and not Caring.” He refers to the Desert Christians, the desert fathers and mothers: Roman Empire-era monastics who went out and lived in the Egyptian desert. Lane says, “On the one hand, I tend to care entirely too much about others’ approval. I need to ignore it. On the other hand, when I’m not appreciated enough, I’m eaten by resentment and begin to turn inward—and a crippling indifference creeps up. The Desert Christians identified these two very different kinds of indifference as apatheia and acedia. They saw the one [apatheia] as an important virtue (trimming one’s life of trivial matters) and the other [acedia] as the worst of the seven deadly sins (undercutting any possibility of love).” (26) That deadly sin, of course, is sloth.

Today, we have conflated these two aspects of indifference. We rarely, if ever, distinguish between apathy and acedia. The former began as a healthy detachment that ignores what’s unimportant and is needed for spiritual life and growth. The latter is a state of inner listlessness that just doesn’t care—at least, doesn’t care about anything important.

So maybe the choices in Jeremiah 16 aren’t so one-sided after all. Maybe Jeremiah understands the difference between apatheia and acedia. Maybe by seeming not to care, he demonstrates the very depth of caring.

11 May 2010

holding pattern on rule of law

Attorney General Eric Holder seems to be giving in to the push to allow those accused of being terrorists to have their Constitutional rights waived…at least, for a while.

“For months, the administration has defended the criminal justice system as strong enough to handle terrorism cases,” says Charlie Savage, reporter for the New York Times. “Mr. Holder acknowledged the abrupt shift of tone, characterizing the administration’s stance as a ‘new priority’ and ‘big news.’” Holder wants Congress to enact a law allowing for lengthier interrogation without notifying suspects of their Miranda rights—the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

While measures like this may make many of us feel safe, they are short-sighted. When we start monkeying around with the framework of law that protects us from the power of the state, in the long run, it imperils us. Who decides who will be accused of being a terrorist (while pretending that an accusation equals guilt). Who watches the watchers?

(The image is cover art from the band Holding Pattern.)