Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dedicated

The Washington Memorial to the civil rights leader was opened in August, but a freak hurricane postponed official ceremonies. A reminder that Rev. King weathered many storms.

And the fact that he was a Reverend needs a reminder, notes Elizabeth Scalia and others who rightfully point out that the Christian roots of the social movements have been ignored.

What saddens me instead is that while students might “sort of” remember who Martin Luther King Jr. was, he is not remembered as “the Reverend” Martin Luther King, a pastor turned social movement leader. […] Due to an absence of education about contemporary religiously-motivated social movements in public schooling and private Christian schooling, the average student will not identify the Civil Rights Movement with Christianity. Thus most students will interpret institutionalized programs that were borne out of the struggle to address systemic racial inequity as a secular movement. For the devout Christians, I’d expect that they will more often reject such programs on the grounds of preventing secular encroachment in the private domain where religious expression is protected under law. Those who participate in the Black Church however will stand in support of these programs knowing full well that its roots lie in the very application of Christian theology.

Dr. King’s niece sure does. Dr. Alveda King discussed these roots with me on radio and proudly proclaimed her uncle’s undying dedication to Gospel values in the civil rights movement, insisting he would uphold the sanctity and dignity of human life through natural death today, rejecting abortion and euthanasia as ‘rights’. Some have claimed otherwise, she notes, but then reasserts ‘Uncle Martin’s’ Christian beliefs that motivated his relentless struggle for human rights.

Another reminder is what he wrote himself, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. He explains the fundamental basis for civil disobedience in the face of laws against humanity.

I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Dr. Alveda King, in carrying on the tradition of her inheritance, says abortion is the civil rights issue of our time. And she’s dedicated her life to backing it up.

Tim Tebow’s faith in football

It’s about standings. Sort of…

He has an uneasy celebrity status in the NFL. Many athletes are Christians and visibly show or express their gratitude to God before, during and after games. But there’s something differently, prickly to the media, about Tim Tebow.

If there’s any question about the level of religious divisiveness in America, just look to the NFL, and the cult of personality, punditry, and outright passion surrounding Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. The former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida, a devout Evangelical Christian who isn’t shy about spreading the gospel, has completed just 45 NFL passes through the first one and a quarter seasons of his career.

However…

Tebow seems to have crossed a line that most athletes have respected. They’ll celebrate their own faith, but won’t challenge yours. “This is a sticking point,” says Arthur Remillard, a religious studies professor at St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa., who teaches a course on sports and religion, and starts it off with a Tebow discussion. “It’s one thing for an athlete to say ‘Thank you, Jesus,” on a Sunday afternoon. It’s another for him to make what amounts to a declaration that ‘I am morally superior to you.’ There’s a segment of the fan base that’s not too keen on hearing that.”

Is that what they’re hearing? Or more accurately (and there’s a difference), is that what he’s saying?

George Weigel says the reaction to Tebow is irrational.

Tebow is the son of an evangelical pastor and spends some of his vacation time working with his father’s mission in the Philippines. He famously wore eye-black with Bible verses inked on it in white during his Florida career, and he is not reluctant to share his Christian faith in other public ways. He visits sick kids in hospitals; he has said that he is a virgin who believes in saving himself for marriage; he and his mother taped a pro-life commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. There is not the slightest evidence that Tebow has ever forced himself and his convictions on his teammates or on an unsuspecting public.

And if Catholics would find his theology a little questionable at points, there is nothing of which I’m aware that would suggest that Tim Tebow wouldn’t be interested in sitting down and having a serious conversation with knowledgeable Catholics about how God saves those who will be saved. A guy who can command respect in the moral and cultural free-fire zone of an NFL locker room (not to mention the Southeastern Conference, which hardly resembles a network of Carthusian monasteries) is not likely to be shaken by a serious conversation about his understanding of how the Lord Jesus and his Father might effect the salvation of those who do not explicitly avow faith in the Lord Jesus and his Father.

No, Tim Tebow is a target of irrational hatred, not because he’s an iffy quarterback at the NFL level, or a creep personally, or an obnoxious, in-your-face, self-righteous proselytizer. He draws hatred because he is an unabashed Christian, whose calmness and decency in the face of his Christophobic detractors drives them crazy. Tim Tebow, in other words, is a prime example of why Christophobia—a neologism first coined by a world-class comparative constitutional law scholar, J.H.H. Weiler, himself an Orthodox Jew—is a serious cultural problem in these United States.

And the fact that it’s George Weigel writing this signals that the problem, reaching this height in major league sports in the US, is serious.

Tolerance, that supreme virtue of the culture of radical relativism, does not extend to evangelical Christians, it seems. And if it does not extend to evangelicals who unapologetically proclaim their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and who live their commitment to the dignity of human life from conception and natural death, it will not extend to Catholics who make that same profession of faith and that same moral commitment. Whatever we think of Tim Tebow’s theology of salvation, Tim Tebow and serious Catholics are both fated to be targets of the Christophobes.

Their war on Christianity is getting more radical, as Weigel notes in his concluding remark, which questions how democracy will survive this culture war with religion. It’s a recurring theme, gaining urgency. In the past two weeks, I’ve personally heard three bishops, two cardinals, one congressman, two constitutional law experts and several scholars express heightened concerns over the assault on Christians that’s reached unprecedented levels.

Without risk of exaggerating the football analogy, it’s clear they’re prepared for both defense and offense.

‘Love is stronger than death’

What can bring us peace when everything conspires to rob us of it?

The central message of the Resurrection.

Nearly 2,000 years later, the first Easter continues to provide lasting peace in the hearts of Christians.

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the greatest hope of all,” said Rev. Ben Lowell of Paulding United Methodist Church. “God knows what is going through our minds, he knows our sins and yet he still loves us. That’s pretty good news.”

Lowell called Easter a time of new beginnings and changed hearts.

“Easter tells us that life is stronger than death, that love is stronger than hate. It reminds us that today’s troubles are temporary. Even death is temporary.”

The celebrant at the Easter Vigil I attended quoted Jaroslav Pelikan at the end of his homily.

If the Resurrection is not true, nothing else matters. If the Resurrection is true, nothing else matters.

Remember the Resurrection

Sometimes priests and preachers remind us that we have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday. But who knew we needed to be reminded what happened on Easter Sunday?!

Seems it’s quickly turning into the big secular celebration Christmas largely has become for many people, including Christians preparing their feasts and decorating their homes with bunnies and colorful egg trees. Some scholars are saying we need to re-think Jesus.

Fewer than half of Americans mentioned Jesus’ death and resurrection when asked about the significance of Easter, according to a survey released last month by Christian researchers the Barna Group.

At the same time, the National Retail Federation reports we’ll spend more than $13 billion on the holiday for food, clothes, candy and greeting cards.

Although the holiday is meant to be the central celebration of the church, disassociating Easter from the biblical narrative of the resurrection or seeing it in symbolic terms makes Christianity “safer” for con-temporary churchgoers, some local Christian leaders say.

“Jesus is very challenging. To encounter him is existentially challenging. It can be scary and uncomfortable,” said Jeremy Wilkins, assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. “There is a strong pressure in our culture to reinterpret (the resurrection) or explain it or not to deal with it as the mighty and miraculous thing that it was.”

Yes, encountering Christ is existentially challenging, which is why He came. The more uncomfortable it makes us, the more we’re probably converting from sinner to saint….or at least growing aware of what it means to be both.

The resurrection’s Easter competition comes not only from colorful bunnies and candies, but also the historical accounts of the story that appear in books, newspapers and cable TV programs each spring…

“The skeptical mind is always going to try to find a physical, a psychological, an other-than-spiritual reason for the truth of the resurrection,” said Gary Moore, spokesman for Second Baptist Church.

And modern culture is offering up plenty of alternatives, leading to what he calls a “contrarian” view of Christ.

Unitarian Universalists and more liberal congregations emphasize the inspirational side of the Easter story, as a story of new life and the power to rise above hate and injustice.

“Let’s don’t try to water this down. Let’s not try to make it just an idea,” said Moore in response. “Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t stand for something else, like a metaphor. Jesus’ resurrection only represents his body, not his philosophy.”

Or, more historically put…

Jesus’ resurrection was the first testimony of Christian faith; early Christians circulated stories about seeing him after his death, which were recorded in the New Testament, said April DeConick, a Rice University religion professor and historian.

“As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Jesus served as a concrete example that God is good on his promises, and so the faithful followers of Jesus could be assured of their own resurrection after their deaths ,” she said.

And that’s the Easter truth worthy of a feast.

War on Christians

What a way to end Holy Week. Not unlike the original one.

Of the reams of articles out there on the embattled Successors of Peter and the Apostles and the whole Church, some are particularly strong and startling and important to engage. I can’t get them to you fast enough when I find them.

Here’s another one. It’s short and compelling. Take this pull quote…

This war on Christianity would not be so dangerous if the Christians understood what was at stake, but a large number of them join in the general incomprehension.

In my opinion, there’s one word in this piece that leaps off the page in importance. Small and in the middle of a sentence late in the article. But it’s pivotal. The “why” in this line:

But if we understand why he is immovable, then the situation can be taken in hand and there is no need to just wait for the next blow.

That WHY contains volumes. And, in fact, millennia.

Understanding gains context in this MercatorNet piece by the discussion going on in the comments section…

Flaming headlines

Media frenzy is focused wherever cameras are aimed and RSS feeds bring up top headlines, so we all learn to direct our attention to the gasping story of the moment. We’ve gone from Tiger Woods to….Pope Benedict.

Hold it. Let’s have a moment of serious reflection.

I’m getting so many headlines in my inbox and newletter feeds, it’s hard to keep up with it all. But for my money, the best analysis wrapping it all in one reflective piece right now is this commentary by Michael Cook. It goes beyond the usual papal or Church bashing to something much deeper, wider and more sinister.

The scandal of clergy who sexually abused children is diabolically real. It has to be confronted humbly and courageously by the bishops who run the Catholic Church. Clergy who are found guilty should be punished. Higher-ups who shielded them should resign.

There is no doubt that Pope Benedict is ready to take a tough line on this…

However…

The huge, unreported story is that we are in denial about a widespread, deliberate, systemic encouragement of people not to control their sexuality. It’s as if a health department allowed witch doctors and Reiki therapists to edge out surgeons. Or as if a defence department allowed its tanks to rust. Fundamental principles of a civilized society like sexual restraint, fidelity in marriage, and nurturing families, are being undermined. The mind-numbing list of politicians caught with their pants down, the tsunami of pornography, sky-rocketing teen sex – all these are warning bells about the consequences of creating a hyper-sexualised culture…

What kind of society are we creating if we actively encourage children to treat sex as  entertainment and encourage men to remain in a constant state of arousal? Sex is not a toy. Without clear moral standards, it is a natural passion which easily becomes an unnatural addiction. Does anyone seriously believe that in 30 years’ time there will be less sex abuse after giving children classroom lessons in how to masturbate?

Of all our social institutions, it seems that only the Church realizes that a crisis is brewing for which we are going to pay dearly in the years ahead. As Benedict told American bishops:

“Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person… What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?”

Who has taken that to heart since Benedict delivered that impassioned appeal in his U.S. visit in April 2008? Covering it in Washington at the time, my producer and I went over all the pope’s lines of the week’s addresses, and marked the ones that jumped out at us. That one did.

To whom else did it jump out?

The bandagon is rolling to pile on to bash the pope, and the clever media response is ‘oh, the Vatican is responding by blaming the media’. Let’s do some serious soul-searching on this, and ask what we can do for our own self-discipline, for our families, and our responsibility to the church in the modern world.

Serously, we are being watched. Practice virtue. It’s Holy Week. Good time to start over.

Artists giving Last Supper more food

Chalk it up to an abundance that didn’t exist in the time of Christ. Or an abundance of free time for art experts these days, time for them to take their fill of  research into the oddly inquisitive.

As Holy Week approaches, it’s a good time to look into the Last Supper.

Two researchers analyzed the food and plate sizes in 52 of the most famous paintings of The Last Supper and found that the portion sizes in the paintings have increased dramatically over the past millennium, from years 1000 to 2000.

Using a computer program, they compared the size of loaves of bread, main dishes and plates to the size of the heads of the disciples and Jesus in the artwork, including Leonardo da Vinci’s famous depiction of the event.

Findings published in April’s International Journal of Obesity: Over that 1,000-year period, the main course size increased by 69%, plate size 66% and loaves of bread 23%. The biggest increases in size came after 1500.

The researchers used paintings of this event “because it is the most famous supper in history,” which artists have been painting for centuries, so the paintings provide information about plate and entree sizes over time…

So that’s it. From the sacred to the profane. We are fixated right now on obesity, for good reasons. But since we’re also a pop culture, cross-coverage of popular issues is the media trend we can’t escape. Even in applying dietary notices to the great artistic renditions of Christ’s Last Supper.

The researchers themselves bring an interesting set of backgrounds to the report. One was Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell (University) Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, N.Y.

He did the research with his brother, Craig, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, and a Presbyterian minister.

The three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), which include descriptions of The Last Supper, mention only bread and wine, but many of the paintings have other foods, such as fish, lamb, pork and even eel, says Craig Wansink.

The use of fish in the meals is symbolic because it’s an image that is used to represent Christianity, he says. Among the reasons for the symbolism: A number of the disciples were fishermen, and Jesus told them “to be fishers of men,” he says. Plus, he says, Jesus performed several miracles with fishes and loaves.

As Easter approaches, he says, people may want to study the paintings because they illustrate one of the “most important moments in Christianity. It’s both beautiful and haunting.”

And that’s the bottom line.