Monthly Archives: April 2021

Of Fear and Love


Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:25-31

1 John 4:7-21

John 15:1-8

Prayer of the Day: O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” I John 4:18.

This is remarkable, because fear is often the engine driving our religion, our politics, or financial planning and so many other aspects of our lives. Fear, of course, is not altogether irrational. To be sure, there are a lot of imaginary threats spawned by conspiracy theories, junk science and bad religion. But there are also plenty of real dangers out there, such as the dangers Black men and boys face when they encounter police, particularly if they happen to be in the “wrong” neighborhood at the “wrong” time. There is a very real danger that our failure to vaccinate globally against Covid-19 in a timely matter will give the virus time and opportunity to mutate once again into a form capable of penetrating our current vaccines. Persons who have lost their jobs, businesses and homes in the wake of pandemic induced economic turmoil are understandably fearful of what the future may hold for them and their families. The damage to our planet’s climate resulting from unrestrained greenhouse gases should frighten us all.

Fear is a normal and healthy emotion. In a properly functioning psyche, fear alerts one to the presence of danger and the need to react. Fear must not, however, be permitted to dictate our reactions. That is so far a couple of reasons. First, like every other emotion, fear sometimes yields a “false positive.” What I interpret as a romantic show of affection, might simply be a friendly hug. What I interpret as an insult might be nothing more than an awkward attempt at humor. So, too, what I perceive to be a threat might actually turn out to be harmless. Thus, it is critical to question each fear: Why am I afraid? What am I afraid of losing? What basis do I have for believing that this person, place or thing threatens my wellbeing? If I “shoot first and ask questions later,” I am likely to wind up with a hole in my foot and not many answers.  

Secondly, fear makes you stupid. When economic downturns occur, people tend to make poor financial decisions in a fit of panic. For example, otherwise savvy individuals are frequently convinced, often by unscrupulous hucksters posing as financial advisors, that the economy is in collapse and their only hope is to convert as much of their wealth as possible into gold bars.[1] On a collective level, nations reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic by shutting down their borders and pulling out of international agencies like the World Health Organization, little realizing that viruses do not respect borders and that a global pandemics require global responses. On an individual level, human beings deal with their mortality by steadfastly denying it, by covering it up with lotions, creams and hair color and by isolating the aged, infirm and dying in retirement communities, nursing homes and hospice centers. But the inescapable fact of death finally catches up and, when it does, the one whose life has been spent running away from it has developed no spiritual and emotional resources to meet it. In sum, fear works well as a warning. As a motivating force, not so much.

The Apostle John tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear.” In other words, love takes fear out of the driver’s seat. There is no fear of judgement, because God in Christ has taken punishment for sin off the table. Henceforth, judgment has the purpose only of moving us away from self destructive beliefs and conduct toward repentance and reconciliation. In much the same way, love banishes fear of others-whether they be painted as outsiders on the other side of the border threatening to take our country away from us, political opponents threatening to destroy our way of life with offensive policies and agendas or hostile nations threatening our national security. Saint John reminds us that if we cannot see the image of God in other human beings, then whatever it is we claim to worship, it is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, abiding in God’s love casts out all fear of death. That is a message to which I believe we mainline protestant folks have given short shrift. There are a couple of reasons for that. In our manic desire to be “relevant” and our craven fear of being mocked by the academic intelligentsia, we have bent every effort toward making our faith intelligible, appealing and unobjectionable to the modern mind. To that end, it was essential that the resurrection we preach not offend the cannons of modernism with anything that cannot be empirically verified. Resurrection is therefore less a bold proclamation than a truncated affirmation of humanist values easily digestible for a world too small for miracles and shorn of all mystery. A robust witness to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come is too big to fit our “worldly” and “modern” theology. The only way to make it palatable for the modern mind is to preach it as a metaphor for something else-political liberation, self actualization, the discovery of authenticity, etc. In the process, we have manufactured a faith that is inoffensive to the contemporary mind-and as boring as hell. Professor Lance B. Pope[2] puts it succinctly:

“If the summoning the church heeds is not the voice of Another-if it is merely a human projection arising predictably from so many wishes, needs, resentments, and drives-then the church has no real existence, no authentic commission to preach, but only a habitual and unwarranted longing to speak back to the world its own fears and hopes, filtered through the images of a very old book. In this case, the world shows great forbearance by benignly ignoring ‘preaching,’ which surely deserves worse than indifference.”  Pope, Lance B., The Scandal of Having Something to Say: Ricceur and the Possibility of Postliberal Preaching. (c. 2013 by Baylor University Press, Waco, TX) p. 3.

Another reason for our failure to preach the resurrection of the dead is fear of promoting “quietism.” After all, if we make resurrection from death and eternal life too prominent, our people might respond by giving up on his world and pinning all their hopes on “pie in the sky.” Perhaps that is one of those “fears” Saint John would have us “cast out.” If Ernst Becker is to be believed, humanity’s efforts to repress its craven terror of death lies at the root of our most atrocious collective acts of violence, war and genocide.[3] Thus, victory over death is perhaps the most basic and critical element of the gospel. If Becker dismisses religion as but another “death denial” mechanism, that is only because he, too, is captive to the moribund modernist outlook which modern theology has chosen to placate rather than challenge. It seems to me that a strong conviction that Jesus of Nazareth, the friend of “the least,” has been raised from death, that the nations of the world will be judged by how they have treated these “least,” that the future belongs to the God who promises a new creation in which the peoples of every nation, tribe and tongue will share the unity of the Trinity, that Jesus promises his disciples of all ages participation in that future, all of this goes a long way toward freeing us from the fear of death. Liberated from fretting about what we cannot (and need not) change, we are free to spend our lives focusing on more important things we actually can change. A robust resurrection faith makes each minute of life here and now more rather than less urgent.

In sum, Saint John would have us know that love, as it is revealed in Jesus, is the antithesis of a life in bondage to fear. It is life that can be live courageously, smartly and hopefully within all of the complexities and paradoxes given expression in e.e. cumming’s poem below. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.       

[love is thicker more than forget]

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

Source: Complete Poems 1904-1962 (c. 1991 by the Trustees for the E.E. Cummings Trust; pub. by Liveright Publishing Corporation). Edward Estlin Cummings (1894 –1962), published as e e cummings, was an American poet, painter, essayist, author and playwright. He authored 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays, and several essays. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a professor at Harvard University who later became nationally known as the minister of South Congregational Church (Unitarian) in Boston. He grew up in the company of such family friends as the philosophers William James and Josiah Royce. Cummings aspired from childhood to be a poet and wrote poetry daily from age eight to twenty-two. In 1915 he graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude with a BA degree and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. He received a MA degree from the university in 1916. In his studies at Harvard, Cummings developed an interest in modern poetry, which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, while aiming for a dynamic use of language. Upon graduating in 1917, Cummings enlisted in the armed forces and served in the ambulance corps in France during the First World War. There he was arrested by the French military on suspicion of espionage and held for three and a half months in a military detention camp. He was released at the insistence of the Wilson administration on December 19, 1917 and returned to the United States in January of 1918. Shortly thereafter he was drafted and served until November of 1918. Cummings spent the last decade of his life traveling, fulfilling speaking engagements and spending time at his summer home at Joy Farm in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. He died of a stroke in September of 1962. You can read more about e.e. cummings and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] I am not sure exactly what you do with a gold bar in a collapsed economy. But I have to confess that I didn’t attend the webinar where all of this was supposed to be explained.

[2] Lance B. Pape is Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Brite Divinity School.

[3] Becker, Ernst, The Denial of Death, (c. 1973 by the Free Press, a division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York, NY).

Jesus is a Globalist


Acts 4:5-12

Psalm 23

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18

Prayer of the Day: O Lord Christ, good shepherd of the sheep, you seek the lost and guide us into your fold. Feed us, and we shall be satisfied; heal us, and we shall be whole. Make us one with you, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” I John 3:16-17.

Saint John’s question took on burning urgency this week. Last Friday morning, the White House distributed the text of a directive to be signed by President Joe Biden keeping in place the Trump-era limit on refugee settlement of 1500. This in the face of a refuge flood at our southern border consisting in large part of unaccompanied minors and after Mr. Biden promised during his presidential campaign to increase that number to 62,000 for the remainder of this year and 125,000 the next. It now appears that, following an outcry from some members of congress and numerous churches, NGOs and prominent individuals, the administration is reconsidering its directive, though what the final refugee limit will be remains unclear. We can hope and pray that advocates for refugees will continue pressing the administration to live up to its promise of a more humane approach to human migration.

While the complex legal, economic and political considerations surrounding the issues of refugee resettlement and immigration are legion, the matter is as clear as crystal for disciples of Jesus. One who has the worlds goods and withholds them from another in need has not the love of God. The generosity Jesus requires of his followers is no less than the generosity he has shown them. Such generosity does not end with occasional acts of charity or even the surrender of all one’s worldly goods. Jesus calls for the sacrifice of life itself for the wellbeing of the neighbor.[1] However compelling the cries of “national security,” “border security” and “immigration control” might be in the political arena, they cannot be permitted to stand as arguments against the church’s call to serve the “least of these,” no matter on which side of the border they might be found.

The church, I must emphasize, is not an apolitical organization. As a people called into community where the “mind of Christ” is formed, it carries out Jesus’ mission to the whole world. Because the church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” its politics is inescapably “globalist.” While that term is considered close to the “F” word among a lot of nominally Christian folk, ranking as it does along with “communism,” “socialism,” “liberalism” and the like, the truth is, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus without being a globalist. Any so called Christian who goes about with terms like “America First” or “close the border” on the lips is biblically illiterate and knows nothing of Christ.

As a practical matter, human migration is an inescapably global problem. Pretending that we can solve it by regulating our borders is rather like locking your cruise ship cabin door as the ocean gushes in through gaping holes in the hull because, after all, your concern is only with your own cabin and the rest of the ship is not your problem. As long as life remains intolerable for millions of people around the world in their own nations due to corrupt, oppressive or failed governments, famines, war and extreme poverty, people living in these countries will continue attempting to find a better life for themselves and their children in other parts of the world. As long as gross inequality exists between nations such that increasing numbers of people are finding life intolerable at home, we can expect them to be on the move. As noted by Jeffrey Kaye[2] in his recent book:

“…migration will persist no matter what we do to try to restrain or restrict it, particularly as the income gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to expand. Build walls, and people will go over, around, and under them. Hire border guards, and people will bribe them. Step up patrols, and migrants will find alternate routes.” Kaye, Jeffrey, Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration (c. 2010 by Jeffery Kay; pub. by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) p. 11.

Kay concludes that “If limiting migration is a desirable goal, for the have-nots to stop banging on the doors of the developed world, they’ll need good reasons to stay put-economies that work, opportunities to prosper. This might be “pie in the sky,” but the alternatives are even bigger prisons, more police, and higher walls-because like it or not, widening economic differences between countries give impetus to the ongoing global march. Migrants who move from lower to higher income economies are often able to earn twenty to thirty times more than they can by staying at home. So unless massive income disparities are eliminated or reduced, if migrants believe the potential rewards of leaving home outweigh the risks of migrating, people naturally will up and leave.” Ibid. p. 256.

Though Kaye may characterize it as “pie in the sky,” there is precedent for the United States taking initiative for massive global reconstruction. It was called the Marshall Plan. Recognizing that a defeated Germany in the midst of a war ravaged Europe bearing the weight of “victor’s justice” following the first world war had given birth to the second, a farsighted Democratic President (Harry Truman), with the support of a Republican Congress, understood that the best defense against the westward spread of Soviet influence and a new round of global military conflicts threatening the security of the United States was a strong and prosperous Europe. Accordingly, Congress authorized the transfer of over $12 billion, equivalent to $130 billion in today’s dollars, for economic recovery programs in Western European economies. The result: increased economic and political cooperation between the nations of Western Europe, containment of the Soviet threat and no military hostilities for most of the century thereafter. Where there is political will and determination to solve global problems, history has shown us that significant progress can be made on a global scale.

But I digress. As I said before, for disciples of Jesus there is no debate over what we owe persons fleeing criminal violence, starvation and war. Yet it seems we as Christians in the United States have done a poor job of educating our people on the ancient New Testament duty of hospitality to strangers. If 81% of white evangelical Christians, 53% of white mainline protestants and 52% of white Catholics can support a man whose principal campaign promise was to shut our national doors to refugees,[3] the gospel of Jesus Christ is not getting through and the love of God is not sufficiently abiding among us. We need a wake up call, a jolt to shock us out of our complacency, indifference and hardness of heart so we can see what “America First” and “border security” mean in terms of real world effects on real people. As poet Jane Taylor urges,

O then, let the wealthy and gay

But see such a hovel as this,

That in a poor cottage of clay

They may know what true misery is.

Let me be clear: The United States of America is not a Christian country-nor should it be. In fact, there is no such thing. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” Hebrews 13:14. Nevertheless, though the nations are not required nor can they become Christian in any biblical sense, they are nevertheless called upon to be righteous. As the psalmist says, the nations are obliged to,

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;

Maintain the right of the afflicted

And the destitute.

Rescue the weak and the needy;

Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  Psalm 82:3-4

As church, we are the Body of Christ in the world, a Body that recognizes no borders, whether they be national, ethnic, religious, gender or racial. We believe that all nations are to be judged by the degree to which they have treated the most vulnerable of the human family. That is why we are commissioned with calling the nations, our own in particular, to do that which is commanded of them.

Here is the poem by Jane Taylor quoted in part above:


I saw an old cottage of clay,
And only of mud was the floor;
It was all falling into decay,
And the snow drifted in at the door.

Yet there a poor family dwelt,
In a hovel so dismal and rude;
And though gnawing hunger they felt,
They had not a morsel of food.

The children were crying for bread,
And to their poor mother they’d run;
‘Oh, give us some breakfast,’ they said,
Alas! their poor mother had none.

She viewed them with looks of despair,
She said (and I’m sure it was true),
‘’Tis not for myself that I care,
But, my poor little children, for you.’

O then, let the wealthy and gay
But see such a hovel as this,
That in a poor cottage of clay
They may know what true misery is.
And what I may have to bestow
I never will squander away,
While many poor people I know
Around me are wretched as they.

Source: This poem is in the public domain. Jane Taylor 1783 1824 was an English poet and novelist. Though her best known work (seldom attributed to her) is the text for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” Taylor contributed substantially to several collections of published poems. The authorship of individual poems within these collections is unclear and so it is impossible to determine precisely which ones were written by Taylor as opposed to her mother, Ann and other contributors. Her one novel, Display, published in (1814) went through at least 13 editions. Jane Taylor served as editor of the religious journal, Youth’s Magazine. She wrote numerous shorter pieces for that magazine, including moral tales and personal essays. You can learn more about Jane Taylor and sample more of her work at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] One could reasonably argue that Saint John refers here to the love required of believers for fellow believers within his community and that I am taking the above verses out of context. Be that as it may, Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear that the obligation to love one’s neighbor as oneself knows no political, ethnic or religious boundaries. Thus, the great commandment articulated by John as the rule for his church is no less applicable outside of our sanctuaries.

[2] Jeffrey Kaye is a freelance journalist and correspondent for PBS NewsHour.

[3] Chestnut, Robert A., A Post-Trump Postmortem for the Mainline Church (Progressive Southern Theologians Website, March 19, 2021).

Antidote for MAGA-16 Virus?


Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

Prayer of the Day: Holy and righteous God, you are the author of life, and you adopt us to be your children. Fill us with your words of life, that we may live as witnesses to the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out…” Acts 3:19.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” I John 3:2-3.

In a recent article published by the Miami Harold, Andres Oppenheimer[1] laments the decline of religion, particularly Christian religion, in the United States and worries that its place is being taken by political leaders and extreme ideologies lacking any moral content. Citing an Atlantic Monthly article authored by Shadi Hamid,[2] he argues that “Human beings, by their very nature, are searching for meaning, belonging, coherent structure” and that “nobody can survive long without some ultimate loyalty.” In the absence of religion, the political party becomes a church, ideology/conspiracy theories become articles of faith and political leaders become messianic figures. Oppenheimer writes:

“In a post-truth world increasingly devoid of values and in which populist demagogues have turned basic values upside down by normalizing lying, and political and racial intolerance, we urgently need a moral compass.”

I agree in part with Oppenheimer’s diagnosis-at least insofar as right wing politics have evolved into something akin to religion. A Trump rally resembles nothing quite so much as a religious revival meeting complete with denunciations of the devil (i.e., immigrants, liberals, socialists-fill in the blank), preaching hellfire (i.e., they’re going to take your guns, ruin your neighborhoods, steal your jobs), promises of salvation (i.e., MAGA, “take back the country,”) a savior (“Only I can stop the carnage,” “Without me the economy will crash,”) and, of course, a call to unite behind the messiah. Oppenheimer concludes his editorial with the following appeal to religions of all stripes in the United States:

“I hope that Christianity, Islam and Judaism will re-invent themselves, as any business losing clients or any civic group losing followers would do. Religions offer us ancient tales of wisdom — regardless of whether you consider them sacred texts or cohesive myths — that can serve as a much-needed moral guide. But they have to adapt to modern times and focus more on values than on dogmas or rituals.”

Sadly, I fear Oppenheim’s reliance on religion to counter the immoral impulses of Trumpism is misplaced. I am not convinced that Trumpism is antithetical to American religion or that it draws its support from those who have abandoned religion and are seeking something else to fill the void. [3] To the contrary, there appears to be a symbiotic relationship between religion and right wing politics. The Trump base is disproportionally made up of highly religious individuals who see no conflict whatsoever between their Christian faith and their political commitments. Those of us who watched with horror on January 6th as the United States Capital Building was attacked, occupied and vandalized by a violent mob of pro-Trump supporters could not fail to notice the abundance of crosses, Christian symbols and references to Jesus among the antisemitic slogans, confederate flags and fascist emblems.  

Rather than a competitor to religion, I would describe Trumpism as an infectious parasite, a “MAGA-16 virus” to which religious communities are particularly vulnerable. White evangelicalism has proven highly receptive to extremism. Many of its adherents hold science in contempt, view America as a “chosen people,” fear integration and the growing power of women in society. These folks are plagued by a craven fear that their country is somehow being taken away from them and so respond readily to the siren call of a strongman promising to take it back. I would add that Trumpism has found a home within sectors of Catholicism and mainline protestant churches as well. As such, American Christianity is an unlikely vaccine for MAGA-16.

Oppenheimer is, by his own admission, not religious. So perhaps he can be forgiven his seeming lack of understanding about what religious communities actually are and how they work. Speaking strictly as a Christian concerning the church, it must be emphasized that we are not a community tasked with teaching civic morality and, frankly, I don’t believe there is any need for that. Nobody needs to be told that lying, stealing and cheating are wrong. The problem is that our understanding of truth is colored by what we love, what we fear, the institutions we trust, the people we admire and the communities that form us. Whether or not you are “stealing” depends on your view about who is entitled to what. “Cheating” has little meaning where we cannot agree on what the rules are or what they should be or who should make them. Though it goes against the grain of our beloved American myth of individualism, we are quite simply the products of the communities in which live.

The church is the community in which the mind of Christ is formed, collectively and individually. It is the place where sin can be identified, named, confessed and forgiven. It is a community knowing, as does poet William E. Stafford, how important it is “that awake people be awake.”  The church is a living example, albeit a flawed one, of the way in which God would have us live together in one human family. While we are not indifferent to the destiny of the United States, that is not our primary concern. Our ultimate allegiance is to the reign of God proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth. Though we recognize a degree of responsibility for the wellbeing of our nation, we can never say “America First.” “First” is the gentle reign of God and the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that has no national, cultural, ethnic or tribal borders. Moral conduct is not learned through the study of any codified tome, but through liturgical practices of worship, prayer and generosity informed by the life and ministry of Jesus and the witness of the prophets and apostles. It is honed in the nitty gritty grind of day to day living and working with people whose sharp edges are gradually worn smooth by the inevitable hurt feelings, insult, misunderstanding, admonition, correction and forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness required to sustain a close community.  

What the United States needs to understand, as does every nation, is that all nations will be judged not by the heroism of their armies, the prosperity of their economies or their cultural achievements, but by how they treat the most vulnerable within them, “the least” of Jesus’ siblings. See Matthew 25:35-46. Making that bold witness requires more than a slew of preachy screechy social statements nobody ever reads passed at church assemblies to which no one pays attention. For the church’s preaching to be credible, its faith communities must be places where the reign of God it proclaims is visible. What made Saint Peter’s clarion call for repentance and faith so persuasive to his hearers was the faith community from which it came, a community in which “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” and “there was not a needy person among them” Acts 4:32-34. Saint John confidently assures his parishioners that they are, in fact, God’s children and that they are on the way to being “like” God. He can do that because he knows they have made a practice of complete openness to God concerning their shortfalls measured by the degree of compassion they bear toward one another. I John 2:1-2; I John 2:3-6; I John 3:16-17.

The church’s chief objective, then, is not to build up its membership or shore up the foundations of American morality. It is to make disciples from among all nations. Matthew 28:19-20. That task requires deep communities with thick faith practices and devotion to God’s reign of justice and peace that, in a world not yet ready for it, takes the shape of the cross. Has the church been at all successful in forming the mind of Christ in those it receives through baptism? I can honestly say that I have known more people than I can count whose lives have been shaped by the church in such a way that they bear faithful witness to Jesus and the kingdom for which he lived and died. But there is also the case of Dylann Roof, baptized and confirmed in a church of my denomination, who entered Mother Emanuel African Episcopal church in 2015 and shot the senior pastor and eleven other worshipers, killing nine of them. While many of our churches, including the one of which I am now a member, are working for and advocating justice and compassion for refugees at our southern border, I know for a fact that there are both lay people and pastors who, inspired by the hateful rhetoric and ideology of Trumpism, have added their voices to the chorus of xenophobic demands for their exclusion. While I don’t share Mr. Oppenheimer’s understanding of the church’s mission and how he thinks it should be carried out, I cannot deny that he is justified in pointing out that we have fallen short of our calling.

Sadly, the MAGA-16 virus has infected our ranks and, as Saint Peter reminds us, “judgment begins with the house of God.” I Peter 4:17. Fortunately for us, though, so does Resurrection. The lessons for this Sunday challenge us to appropriate that miracle-along with all the painful healing it entails. Before we can be a light to the world, we must let the light permeate our own souls and faith communities. What follows is a poem by William E. Stafford echoing in many respects what amounts to a call for self examination, individually and in community, that looks very much like what the Bible calls repentance.    

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Source: The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems (c. by 1998 by William Stafford; pub. by Graywolf Press). William Edgar Stafford (1914–1993) was an American poet. Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, he was the oldest of three children. His family moved from town to town during the Great Depression as his father sought work. Stafford helped to support his family by delivering newspapers, working in sugar beet fields, raising vegetables and working as an electrician’s apprentice. He received a B.A. from the University of Kansas in 1937 and began pursuing a master’s degree there as well. Before he could complete his program, however, Stafford was drafted into the United States armed forces. He declared himself a pacifist and was registered as a conscientious objector. He performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946 in the Civilian Public Service camps. During this time, Stafford met and married Dorothy Hope Frantz, with whom he later had four children. Upon discharge, he returned to the University of Kansas where he completed his master’s program. he received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1957 after teaching for one academic year in the English department at Manchester College in Indiana, a college affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. Stafford was 48 years old when his first major collection of poetry was published. Despite his late start, he was a frequent contributor to magazines and anthologies and eventually published fifty-seven volumes of poetry. You can read more about William Stafford and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

[1]  Andres Oppenheimer is the editor and syndicated foreign affairs columnist with the Miami Herald.

[2] America Without God, The Atlantic, 2021

[3] I would add that persons who have discontinued their religious affiliation or never had one to begin with seem less rather than more likely to be swept up into right wing politics. Many persons who have left their religious communities, particularly among evangelicals, have done so precisely because they could not reconcile their faith and values with their churches’ commitment to Donald Trump.  

Why Matter Matters


Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

1 John 1:1—2:2

John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, with joy we celebrate the day of our Lord’s resurrection. By the grace of Christ among us, enable us to show the power of the resurrection in all that we say and do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25.

Faith seems to be inextricably linked to sensory perception. Thus, the Apostle John’s insistence that the “word of life” he proclaims is one that can be “heard,” “seen” and “touched.” I John 1:1-2. Thomas insists upon seeing and touching the wounds of the resurrected Christ. John 20:25. Mary clings to Jesus for dear life. John 20:17. Even those of us protestants who are most averse to icon kissing, cross adoration and incense burning still maintain that “faith comes from what is heard.” In my own Lutheran tradition, we take seriously the admonition of Psalm 34:8, “taste and see that the Lord is good” by our insistence that the bread and wine of the Eucharist does not merely symbolize or memorialize, but truly “is” the Body and Blood of Christ. So we cannot be too hard on Thomas for expressing that same insistence on sensory perception in Sunday’s gospel. He is really seeking no more than what the rest of the disciples had already experienced and what all disciples seek, namely, to know the fullness of the resurrection.

It is significant, and worth recalling as we enter into this season of Easter, that the church’s hope is not grounded in the immortality of the soul, that is, the belief that some ethereal part of us goes on living after the body has been declared clinically dead. Our hope is grounded not in the power of the soul or any other part of us to survive death, but in God’s power and promise to raise the dead. We confess in our Creeds belief in the resurrection of the body. I don’t pretend to understand all that this entails, but at a minimum, it means that when the dead are raised, they are raised with bodies that can see and be seen, speak and be heard, eat and drink. Human life without bodies, if such a thing is even possible, is no longer human.

Is all of this simply abstract argument of interest only to ivory tower thinkers, but of no bread and butter consequence? I don’t think so. Bread and butter are directly at the center of it all. The gospel is inescapably materialistic. John’s gospel begins with the bold assertion that the “Word became flesh,” which is to say that God has a body. It is a mistake, therefore, to think of the Incarnation as a distinct moment in time. It is equally erroneous to view the Incarnation as a temporary state, as though the Word became flesh for the short duration of Jesus’ life and then went back to God’s natural “immaterial” state. We should think of the Word becaming flesh in much the same way as we think about the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. It is a sort of “becoming” that has neither beginning nor end. Incarnation is an essential aspect of who God is.

The upshot of all this? Quite simply that matter matters. The stuff of the new creation is the same as the stuff of the old. The resurrected Christ is a material body. He is a body that can be touched. A body that carries the wounds of the cross. A body that gets hungry and eats a piece of fish. The resurrected body of Jesus is no ghost, nor is it made out of some new supernatural material. It is the same body that was Jesus from the day of his birth. How it is that the resurrected Jesus is able to appear, disappear and manages to get into locked rooms without breaking down the door is quite beyond explanation. But the point is, there is complete continuity between the body of Christ crucified and the resurrected Christ. As author and poet John Updike puts it, “Make no mistake: if He rose at all/it was as His body…”

This strong incarnational faith expressed in our Creeds and in the New Testament is sometimes undermined by theology and piety tending to denigrate the material world. A hymn we used to sing in the church of my childhood declares:

The Lutheran Hymnal, (c. 1941, Concordia Publishing House) Hymn#660

I’m but a stranger here,

Heaven is my home;

Earth is but a desert drear,

Heaven is my home.

That sentiment is not altogether false. Jesus does warn his disciples that the world will misunderstand, persecute and even threaten their lives. John 15:18-25. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that the saints of all ages “have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” Hebrews 13:14. But for all the brokenness of the human family, the world is God’s creation, the cosmos for which God sent the only beloved Son. It is quite simply blasphemous to refer to this planet with all of its spectacular beauty, diversity and splendor as a “desert drear.” It is rank heresy to suggest that salvation consists in being raptured or otherwise taken out of this world to a “better” place. The earth is the object of God’s love, the stage of God’s redemptive drama and the raw material for the new creation where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. God will never abandon this planet and neither should we. 

For all of these reasons, matter matters. It matters that our worship be filled with music, graphic arts, dramatic action, the smell of burning wax and the faint scent of wine. It matters that the church be on the side of all who are advocating for the healing and protection of the earth’s threatened ecosystems and endangered species. It matters that the church be on the side of all those deemed “least” in the view of the rest of the human family. It matters that disciples of Jesus practice concretely the unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church over against populist and nationalist movements that would divide the human family along lines of nation, race, class, tribe or tongue. Matter matters because the Word became-and remains-flesh.

Here is the poem by John Updike to which I referred above.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Source: Updike, John, Collected Poems, (c. 1993 by John Updike, pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.). John Updike (1932-2009) was a prolific American author and poet. He grew up in Shillington, Pennsylvania. His early poems and fiction are grounded in the gritty industrial and cultural environment of the rust belt. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the American Book Award for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for both fiction and criticism. You can learn more about John Updike and read more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.