Wheat and the Chaff

Wearing Christ On Your Sleeve

Much seriousness is traipsing the front pages of newspapers and our minds these days: floods, food shortages and price hikes, and political-social unrest in Egypt and bordering states. It’s right that our hearts and minds focus on these heavy matters. But it really leaves little time for the less consequential to inhabit our thoughts. That’s why I’m thankful that Union graduate Robert Loring sent me this website that sells Christian clothing. Before you get ahead of yourself with thoughts of habits or white collars or austere monkish robes, think much more modern. Think graphic… Ed Hardy, even. (Do you think I can get an Ed Hardy habit?)

What does this type of garb have to say? While many are evangelical in nature — this image attesting – for me it is saying less about a reflection on being a person of “the way”, and more about a way of being part of a culture. Which brings up the long debate of how Christ and Culture have always been weaving in and out of each other. It gets at the question, what is Christ’s way in the world? A survey on that question can be found in H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, where he describes various understandings of Christ “against,” “of,” and “above” culture, Christ “transforming” culture, and Christ in “paradoxical” relation to culture. I would find it difficult to pinpoint one of these above the other, though my hopes are on the transformational element. The thing is, like these shirts, we seem to make God in our image rather than the other way around. If Christ can inhabit the front of our shirts, can Christ also inhabit the whole or our being to transform us and a world toward the commonwealth of God? Does a shirt that says “Jesus is my homeboy” work toward that end?

Your thoughts on the aesthetics and popular renderings of Christ are welcome here.

Guest Writer Cathy Cornell: 48 Hours in Juarez

Marriage is all about sharing…So I’d like to share my blog with my wife, Cathy Cornell, who recently returned from a trip to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.  These are her reflections.

Paul Knitter

Fourteen more people were killed in Ciudad Juarez during the first forty-eight hours of this week. This is not an unusual toll for Juarez…but one that is more deeply troubling and sad for me now that I have witnessed the life of the people there this past weekend. What follows is my journal recounting my recent forty-eight hours in Juarez.

Peter Hinde, Carmelite priest, and Betty Campbell, Mercy sister, both dear friends, were there to meet me at the downtown bus station in El Paso, Texas as I hopped off Bus #33 from the airport. We walked the few minutes to the border and over the bridge to Juarez. The first surprise was how different this border crossing is from the crossing in Nogales (across from where my mother lives in Tucson); in violence-torn Juarez there’s no swarm of vendors because there’s no stream of tourists.

In fact, at first, it looks like a ghost town. Empty, skeletal foundations mark the spot where a business area had been planned. Only a few years ago, the area was cluttered with shops, hotels, bars and prostitution. Today only empty, hollow streets.

The boarded up buildings along the dusty roads of the neighborhoods are the most obvious sign of trouble here – so many places closed up because owners couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the extortion fees (reported to be $100 a week). And the stories I heard – of the woman who was kidnapped in May and returned because her family was able to scrape together the $100,000 ransom; slowly she was healing from the horror of that experience…or Maricela who was murdered outside the government building in Chihuahua because she persistently demanded justice for the prior killing of her daughter … or the teenage boy from the neighborhood who went out to ride the dunes in his new car and never returned (his body was found days later).

And then we arrived at Peter and Betty’s home, Casa Tabor – a colorful and peaceful oasis in this desert, a community house of hospitality and peace. A place of beauty, of memory, of life, possibility and creativity. I walked with Betty to the nearby store and saw the neighborhood soccer court where the head of the soccer team was gunned down not long ago (there are no longer swimming pools or other recreation areas for young people and only one library). We entered a local store (open only because they do pay the extortion) and its warm welcoming environment with smiling neighbors and a shopkeeper who likes to joke around. This was my introduction to the paradox of Juarez.

I’ve come to Ciudad Juarez to join the fast to end the bloodshed; it was led by churches and human rights organizations as part of the bi-national rally for peace and justice on this troubled border. The crowd gathered at the Benito Juarez monument downtown – families and loved ones of so many murdered or disappeared, seminarians, priests, nuns and joined by journalists, photographers and people from other countries who desire peaceful change.

Banners hung on the fence surrounding the monument – the most prominent being “No More Bloodshed” and Ni Una Más” (not one more) protesting the savagery against women which has claimed the lives of 446 women from Chihuahua state last year. A multicolored homemade banner commemorate the life of their beloved “Tatic,” the recently deceased Bishop Samuel Ruíz García from Chiapas.

As the bell rang, those of us fasting donned little white masks covering our mouths to mark the beginning of our fast. Representatives from the organizing groups – numerous parishes, Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, Migrant Human Rights Center, Women Workers Pastoral Center of the diocese of Juarez passionately called for an end to the violence and madness. Local seminarians led us in prayers for peace and a clown lightened and activated our energies by engaging all of us (including the somber seminarians on stage) to wave our arms and jump up and down in unison. Our many grins and giggles helped us tolerate the sadness, grief and tension that held us all.

Then a caravan of vans and cars snaked through the city to the border fence at Anapra where we joined others on “el otro lado” (“the other side” as El Paso is called) for a bi-national rally for Peace and Justice Without Borders at noon. The US Border Police monitored the scene from the El Paso side while the Juarez side was completely without police protection. From the crowd in El Paso we heard strong statements critical of US immigration policy, of US drug consumption that fuels the violence in Juarez, of the lack of regulations to limit the thousands of guns bought in the US which are used to perpetrate the horror, and of US military and economic policies that undermine the possibility of a sustainable solution to this nightmare. Poems and songs, prayers and pleas, testimonies of family members who have lost loved ones to the violence…of kidnappings, shootings, and awful torture. More stories were told and many tears shed. The children mimicked the clown’s antics and then settled down in a circle while their minds, for a short precious time, were captivated with silliness and joy.

On the way home, a female lawyer spoke of her increasing hopelessness of finding a way out of this deadly morass where seven to ten people lose their lives each day…and we spoke of the need to keep going as well as to care for ourselves and each other. The inspiration of the day’s gathering was palpable, but the uncertainty of the future weighed heavily on those who are trying to build a culture of peace.

A short while later, with the sun going down, I walked with Peter and Betty down the uneven dusty road, past modest homes and unsteady shacks, past children playing in the yards, dogs barking, and grownups doing their daily errands. Life goes on in Juarez. Moments later we were at the church at the bottom of the valley. Betty and I took our seats and greeted many friends in the parish and Peter processed in with the other priests to begin the Mass in celebration of Pastor Arturo’s fourth anniversary in the priesthood. With standing room only, the people sang and prayed together with gusto. Yes, this is Juarez too. This is Juarez where we gather in an upstairs room decorated with brightly colored balloons and streamers, a room filled to capacity with tables and chairs and heavy plates of delicious rice, beans and meats for all. This is Juarez – ancianos, babies, toddlers and teens, all together, full of life, with such beauty and joy.

Before leaving Juarez, I wrote fifteen more names on the memorial mural of the dead of Juarez in the patio behind Casa Tabor. As I wrote, my sadness and horror at the tremendous loss and grief of the people broke through very forcefully. I walked the labyrinth that Peter created in the garden nearby as I prayed that all may be free from this suffering. I chatted with Betty’s chickens (Chula, Bonita and Hermosa) in their brightly colored coop as the sadness moved through me and the joy of being with good friends comforted me. This is Juarez, where people grieve amidst the suffering and death in their community and where people comfort one another and celebrate life. I’m reminded of the chant we said after a distraught and angry parent gave their testimony – No Estás Sola – You are not alone. We must find ways to respond to the people of Juarez – by visiting and supporting their brave workers for justice, by working in our country to end the insidious ways our country’s policies promote and sustain this violence (for more information, see http://forusa.org/blogs/john-lindsay-poland/not-giving-our-city-fastingciudad- juarez/8457), and most of all, to remember our one-ness with our brothers and sisters in Juarez.

Juarez – You are not alone.

Cathy Cornell
New York, NY
February 4, 2011

Let My People Go

Protester faces off against police forces in Egypt

We are so accustomed in the Abrahamic tradition to see Egypt as the oppressor to be overthrown. It is a central part of the Exodus narrative, which has been crucial in Jewish history as well as African-American Christian identity. So what happens when Egypt itself yearns for freedom?

That is precisely what we are seeing now. The people of Egypt are straining against the bonds of a modern-day Pharaoh, and he’s one that the United States has nearly unequivocally supported. The Sarthanapolos blog has an excellent guide about “How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt”, which contains many corrections to the distorted view that we have had of our Muslim sisters and brothers for years. Notably, it points out that Mubarak and Nassar before him were not peace-seeking fonts of stability but repressive dictators and that the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything like Al Quaeda.

How long must we follow Constantine before we remember Christ?

More information:
Al Jazeera English’s special coverage
follow @AJELive on Twitter
NPR has coverage of Egypt and the wider Middle East

W&C finds Religion in the News… no really.

This seminarian is no different from anyone else. These have been disturbing, nonsensical days that I can hardly begin to make meaning of one way or the other. When I don’t understand–especially when phrases from the middle ages pop up in present political rhetoric–I look to the wiser ones that have gone before me. So what does blood libel mean anyway? Union’s Mary Boys talked to CNN today to help us understand. Yes, Wheat and the Chaff is actually highlighting religion in the media. Imagine that. Enjoy!

And friends, I don’t know much, but if you have someone you love, tell ‘em. That may not seem to have anything to do with this article, but I can assure you it has everything to do with the healing we all need right now.

Remembering What We Already Knew

Friedrich Schleiermacher: "I totally told you that like almost 200 years ago!"

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Paul Wallace at the Religion Dispatches reception at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Atlanta. He’s a lovely man and his wife is equally charming as he. I sincerely recommend his writings at RD to anyone interested in the science-religion dialogue.

His most recent piece deals with something that’s often on my own mind: whether science and Christianity can coexist. I am sympathetic to Paul’s journey through Buddhist thought to arrive at a harmony of Christianity and science. My own Buddhist experience has shed much light on my Christian faith. It is not, however, entirely necessary to make such a detour. I often find that my experience with other faiths does not cause me to import new ideas into Christianity. Rather, it causes me to reflect on what I already knew.

To whit: science and religious belief. There was a copy of On the Origin of Species on the bookshelf in my childhood home and while it never sat literally next to a Bible, the image is almost too much to resist. I don’t know that my church had a specific answer to the seeming conflict between worldviews. I do know that my parents and their friends (biologists, physicians, mathematicians and clergy) were able to find a way to navigate this divide. What I want to mention here, however, is not that as much as it is something much much older.

The fact is, Christianity had room for the evolutionary worldview 20-30 years before Darwin published his major work.

Friedrich Schleiermacher wrote in The Christian Faith, 2nd edition:

Further, since divine omnipotence can only be conceived as eternal and omnipresent, it is inadmissible to suppose that at any time anything should begin to be through omnipotence; on the contrary, through omnipotence everything is already posited which comes into existence through finite causes, in time and space.

In other words: the Christian faith cannot hold that we came to be through God’s omniscience and omnipotence directly. We came to be indirectly through finite causes that, yes, were put in place by God. This is not Intelligent Design. This is theology making room for Darwin before he asked for it. Evolution as a finite cause in time and space has been thought of as not just compatible but necessary to Christian theology since the 1830s.

This is not at all to say that Paul is wrong in his journey through Buddhism. He just took the scenic route.