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 →


John 6:35, 41-51 – The 11th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, August 9, 2015

“The Jewish opposition grumbled about him because he said, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.” (John 6:41)

“Some People Following Jesus” – Gary Bunt (oil on canvas)
“Some People Following Jesus” – Gary Bunt (oil on canvas)

Call me a grumbler.

It’s as if the Jesus in John’s Gospel referred to me when criticizing the Jews and their questions.

They grumbled about him claiming to “come from heaven.”

They grumbled because he was the “bread of life.” (Indeed, in the verses following today’s Gospel reading, the “Jewish opposition”—as John labeled them—grumbled about eating Jesus’ flesh. Fools! Didn’t those no-nothings know anything about metaphors?)

The opposition grumbled about him being anything other than Joseph and Mary’s son, a country bumpkin from a backwater town in a backwater region of the Roman Empire who became a rabble-rouser, a hero to a few and an irritant to most.

While the Jewish opposition’s grumbles aren’t really my grumbles, I do grumble: about the elusive and enigmatic Jesus; about how some—including, frankly, me—act as if they possess secret knowledge on God’s thoughts. Continue reading →

The Verbs of Lent: 2

Mark 8:31-38The 2nd Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 1, 2015

“After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Jesus didn’t speak the pleasant, sit-at-the-library-table verb “study me.”

Instead, Jesus said, “follow me.”

Following is scrambling across the worst literal or figurative bridges in life, abandoning the safer side for no good reason other than faith.
Following is scrambling across the worst literal or figurative bridges in life, abandoning the safer side for no good reason other than faith.

It’s easier to study Jesus. I relish settling into my cushy recliner, cracking open a friendly book or two, and gleaning details about the context of Jesus’ era. How can we really understand any of those parables he told unless we understand the role of women in first-century Palestine, or the particular garments people wore, or grasp the pre-industrial techniques of farming, shepherding, carpentry, and so forth? I need to learn about Galilean geography during the Roman Empire so that I can (cleverly) determine when the Gospel of Luke is incorrect about a particular location. I wrestle with translating ancient Greek (should’ve taken more than one semester in seminary), but still like it when I find the nuanced meaning of a word in the Gospel of Mark to wow a congregation or shame an arrogant take-the-Bible-literally colleague . . . Continue reading →