Beyond the Boundaries of Speech

Can I avoid politics?

Probably not. (How can one avoid being political, if trying to follow Jesus?)

When—along with a zillion social media users and abusers—I stumbled onto Watson Mere’s 2017 artwork, “My Brother’s Keeper,” my partisan spidey-senses tingled. Its depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. hushing President Trump was blatantly political. As the website Good explained,

The American-born artist of Haitian descent living in Philadelphia created “My Brother’s Keeper” right before the Women’s March—and Martin Luther King Day—in January.

That would be 2017’s January.

With viral intensity, Mere’s image resurfaced in August of 2017 after the clashes between protestors and white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. For many, it was also a perfect visual for responding to the President’s alleged—and behind “closed doors”—derogatory January 2018 comments regarding other countries. Those countries included Haiti, where Mere’s parents were born and raised.

  • A women’s march, and a cry for equality.
  • A response to protests centered around hate.
  • Anguish over possible inflammatory language.

Mere’s “My Brother’s Keeper, for current American culture and within the real and imagined perceptions of our global neighborhood, is compelling. And simple. And biased. Two powerful people from different eras, with different values. One white, one black. One is the poster child for American exceptionalism and bluster. The other is a poster child for national humility and nonviolence. And, of course, depending on your political bent and personal beliefs, you will view my conclusions about Trump or King as righteous or wrong. Continue reading →

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Communion: the Sacred and Sensual Meal

In a church I served, several of us arrived early, positioning a couple of bread-making machines throughout the sanctuary. With the batter already inside, they were switched on. We then hurried to other chores to prepare for that Sunday’s communion service.

When worship began, the fragrance of baking bread filled the sanctuary.

Mouth-watering.

Nose-tickling.

I’m guessing there were random stomachs grumbling in the pews. We wanted worshippers eager for communion. We wanted them, young and old, visitors and veteran members, to anticipate the meal. Usually, communion includes a meager portion of a simple drink and a nibble of bread. And yet, the various ways Christians have celebrated communion are reminders of larger-than-life gifts. We gulp forgiveness. We are nourished with renewed life. We recall and claim Jesus’ ministry to all.

However, and whenever, the holy meal is celebrated it is a sensual moment. Taste, smell, touch, sound, and sight are all engaged. Continue reading →

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On Christmas, Mythology, and Loving My Cranky Mormon Friend

At Christmas, I posted this on Facebook,

Well . . . a Merry Christmas to my Facebook “neighborhood.” I’m enough of a still-learning student of my faith to view this day as part of a holy and humbling story. Our Christmas mythology* proclaims a birth that represented a counter-cultural and subversive tale written to challenge the hypocrisy and excess of an empire . . .

A long-time friend, once a college roommate, someone I now disagree with about politics and religion and completely agree with regarding the good San Francisco Giants vs. the evil Los Angeles Dodgers, asked about my use of mythology*. How does it apply to the Christmas story? Within the limits of Facebook personal messaging, I tried to give him a brief explanation.

I wasn’t very persuasive.

I suspect my buddy wasn’t much open to being persuaded.

To use inadequate labels, my friend is conservative compared to me. His politics veer toward the “right” while mine embrace the “left.” We are Christians, but as a United Methodist claiming progressive theological views, my faith influences don’t share much commonality with his Mormon beliefs.

For him, I think, the Christmas story is fact. Real. If Jesus’ birth didn’t happen exactly the way it was described in the Gospels, it was close enough. After all, even sacred scripture, inspired by God, may not include every single thing that happened. And so, for me to call the birth of Jesus a myth is to miss the mark. Wasn’t Christmas, as told by Matthew and Luke, an historical event in a particular place at a particular time for a particular purpose? I suspect my former roommate would confidently add that Jesus’ birth was predicted in Hebrew scriptures, a long-anticipated piece of God’s plan.

My friend is not alone in his beliefs. Continue reading →

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