Evil will not have the last word

But in what passes as public discourse, it will keep trying.

So my last post below wondered aloud whether we’re still able to disagree with civil discourse, or not. It was kind of a rhetorical exercise, because the reality has been obvious for a while now, rendering the term ‘civil discourse’ almost quaint.

Since then, we went through what Christians have traditionally known and observed as Holy Week, and Jews the Passover. A time of spiritual reflection and prayer, of sacrifice and service, of shared humanity and salvation history.

But some believers and non-believers alike have either kept one foot in both that realm and the rough cut real world, or kept wholly and entirely flailing in the cultural abyss that gets no one anywhere but falling downward. Time and again, political power brokers have derided the lack of civil discourse and called for it as a new campaign, just after another tragic crime of some sort. And less than a week later it’s back to politically partisan sniping with media as complicit messenger.

On the news consumer level, people go at the messenger and each other in comments sections, or com-boxes, as if words have no meaning or whatever meaning suddenly assigned them for pragmatic purposes, as if there are no consequences for actions which include the act of character assassination or at least denigration. Pope Benedict often warned that modern man lives as if God does not exist, a re-statement of different Psalms decrying people acting ‘as if there is no God’.

Who will stop this?

Pope Francis is among the latest to try. Here are a few of his messages from the holiest days of the liturgical year.

Good Friday:

“In the Cross we see the monstrosity of man, when we allow ourselves to be guided by evil; but we also see the immensity of God’s mercy who does not treat us according to our sins, but according to His mercy”. This was the message at the heart of Pope Francis’ brief unscripted address Friday evening as he presided at the traditional “Via Crucis”, or Way of the Cross, service at Rome’s ancient Colosseum.

His scripted messages are already like little darts, targeted at our follies of idolatry (including making our own ideas into false idols, our opinions into little gods, until we’re so turned in on ourselves and ‘self-referential’ we lose side of ‘the other’ and feed into ‘the globalization of indifference’). His unscripted ones seem like deep sighs or sudden impulses that cry out to our shared humanity – shared, he’s quick to claim, by him – to stop and look and see, to listen and hear, to drop what we’re doing and be still, and then maybe notice that the ‘existential peripheries’ to which he urges us to go, to show the face of love to others, might be right in front of us.

However…and this is important to get…the ‘culture of encounter’ he keeps calling us to create, does not mean jumping into the culture of confrontation.

Easter Vigil:

Returning to Galilee, he noted, “means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey.”

“From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters,” the Pope said, highlighting how “that flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.”

That’s a good place to pause and take a good look at how we’re doing with that, Christian and anyone of goodwill. Are we bringing more heat than light? Do the flames we light ignite joy? Or do they singe and burn, causing distress?

Pope Francis then explained that there is “a more existential ‘Galilee’” in the life of every Christian after baptism, which is “the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission.”

Christians should pay attention. Non-Christians can benefit from a good existential message about recalling the first time they experienced the transcendent, a higher power they knew was not them and beyond them. For all, it’s the first encounter with the power of love and redemption.

Addressing those in attendance, the Roman Pontiff encouraged each to ask themselves: “What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Did it go away or I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?”…

“This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia,” the pontiff clarified, but rather “it is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.”

Again, encounter the fire and consider what we’re doing with it.

Easter Sunday:

“The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death,” he preached on April 20.

The Holy Father emphasized the power of God’s “unconditional and faithful love” for every human situation, praying for the many areas of the world suffering from violence or conflicts, and urging Christians to seek paths of peace and reconciliation…

“In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.”

So now that we’ve celebrated Easter, and the Passover comes to completion, and those who don’t observe but have watched and felt something, whether longing or fulfillment, hope in the face of despair, seeing so many of the world’s believers recall the depths of human trials give them over to the heights of divine triumph and celebrate the mystery and gift of it all…here’s a question.

Have we been changed? Do we want to be? For believers, the Resurrection is the ultimate ‘re-set’. Love finds a way.

The earth on Good Friday

According to the Bible, it quaked. Something to recall this year as Earth Day falls on Good Friday.

Except in the Philippines, where they’ve moved the date to honor the holiness of the Triduum.

Acton has some good perspective on this.

Remember when, in 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) declared that 50 million people could become environmental refugees by 2010, as they fled the effects of climate change? They’d rather you didn’t. It turns out that the climate refugee problem is only the latest disaster-movie myth to be shattered. AsianCorrespondent.com reported earlier this month that “a very cursory look at the first available evidence seems to show that the places identified by the UNEP as most at risk of having climate refugees are not only not losing people, they are actually among the fastest growing regions in the world.”

John Couretas addresses the issue of religious leaders involved in a World Council of Churches climate change conference and a certain apocalyptic vision afoot these days, not based on scientific credibility.

Religious leaders should celebrate Earth Day 2011 by showing more humility in the face of the exceedingly complex scientific, public policy, and political questions bound up in environmental stewardship. A good start would be to drop any attempt at interpreting deep climatological data, which like complex policy or economic questions, is outside the usual competency of seminary training. Instead, religious leaders should focus on advancing an understanding of environmental stewardship that has a place both for productive economic activity and the beauty of God’s creation — without the Manichean split.

The virtue of prudence should lead us all to do more to reduce destructive man-made effects on the environment, with an eye toward improving the overall health of the air, water, and land that sustains us. De-carbonizing the economy, over time and in an orderly fashion, without wrecking economic life that likewise sustains us, is the reasonable way to do that. A strong market economy that creates the sort of wealth that can lead to practicable and affordable energy alternatives, free of the waste, abuse and cronyism that accompany government subsidies, will get us to a cleaner future faster than more “expert” management from Washington, the UN, or the WCC.

Meanwhile, on Easter Monday in the Philippines

the government has scheduled tree and mangrove-planting events.

It will also encourage communities in Manila to “adopt a waterway”, and clean up the capital city’s creeks, canals and storm drains.

Do whatever you can, putting first things first.

Obama’s inclusive address

President Obama issues an Easter address that aimed at the widest reach of the message of salvation at the heart of the Resurrection. Sort of…

President Barack Obama’s Easter address calls on people of all faiths, as well as nonbelievers, to embrace their common aspirations and “shared spirit of humanity.”

Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to touch lightly on some of his administration’s priorities: expanding health coverage, creating jobs and improving education. But his comments were more spiritual than political in tone.

Well…sure. Once those political issues got in there, it just takes a little spin to cast them in a spiritual light. Read the whole AP piece and see how each political issue the White House is pursuing gets included in the Easter message: jobs, health care, education….they fit conveniently into this message of our “unity of purpose,” our “common bonds.”

All of which leaves me wondering why he gets such a pass from scrutiny on the ultimate test of inclusivity. When he bases his presidential address on the Easter message of “our shared humanity,” how can he stand for the exclusion of a whole class of human beings from sharing in those human rights….and not be called on it?

‘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.