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Chris Andrews: Cursing

By Rev. Chris Andrews

Former Angola Warden Burl Cain has been much in the news of late. He recently resigned as head of the large prison that sits on the banks of the Mississippi River just a few miles north of Baton Rouge. Warden Cain’s leadership of the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is being judged in the forum of public opinion, some claiming that he was a very good corrections professional and others that he ran a private fiefdom for personal gain.

I don’t want to take a side in the debate about Warden Cain and his effectiveness or lack thereof. I have enjoyed a very casual relationship with Mr. Cain over the years and always found his folksy way of communicating enjoyable. I also came to respect that the warden did make a significant difference in lowering the violence of the prison. He attributes that accomplishment to the innovative faith-based programs he encouraged inside prison walls. Angola has several chapels on its grounds that inmates use for worship and study. The prison has developed a relationship with New Orleans Baptist Seminary and now has seminary graduates ministering to fellow prisoners.

Like him or not, Burl Cain changed the landscape at Angola and I think for the better. I once heard Warden Cain say that one of his rules for Angola inmates was that there could be no cursing in the prison. He explained that when you curse someone you dehumanize them and then it is a short step to committing physical violence on the person being cursed.

That comment has stayed with me. I think the Warden is correct. The language we use vis-à-vis others shapes how we see the other. Think of how adults often use terms like “precious,” “adorable,” “cute,” when talking about or to children. These are words that prompt physical acts of love like cuddling, hugging and kissing.

My father was a cursing person. And he was physically violent. His blows were launched with curses directed at my brother and me as though the curse gave excuse to hit. He never cursed my sisters and consequently he never hit them. If my brother and I were just little #X#X#, then he seemed to have permission to hit us.

Outrage is fueled by cursing. Cursing another person denigrates in such a way that hurting them becomes permissible.

Maybe Warden Cain, for all his imperfections, has given us an idea worth pondering. What happens to me when I curse someone? My humanity is cheapened and compromised. What happens to the object of the curse? They are rendered of less value because now instead of a name they wear a curse.

It may not be your habit to curse another person. Good for you! But for those who are of a mind to throw epithets around the lives of others that in effect gives them a new, and lower, status, I say: Stop. Don’t curse another person. Through your curses you demean them and compromise your own decency.

The first instruction God gave to humans, through the patriarch Abraham, was to bless others. It is impossible to bless what you curse.

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Growing in the midst of limits

By Stan Williams

While working at three different Catholic institutions, I had the opportunity to go to mass on multiple occasions. Most were small gatherings of staff, guests, and friends. I was as humbled and fascinated as an evangelical Protestant can be.

I was an outsider to the process, to the rite, and outside of the circle welcomed to participation in the Eucharist. As the others would go forward to take communion, I would sit and marvel at how an ancient community unifies itself through exclusive membership and rules.

But in my meditation, I was occasionally exhorted, by the priest’s eye contact, motions, facial expressions to “get in line” and join the people of God at table.  Some priests will not allow those present to be excluded.

The priest does not change the rule, fix the church or make amends for the history and judgment of the church. But that moment in union with all the people in a room was quite powerful to me.  I did not feel justified or a thrill of doing something irregular. I felt included.

Today, I and many other folk around the world woke to read what the Pope had to say about love and marriage. He changed no laws. But he said this, “for this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.”

And he said, “Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that ‘a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties’. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.”

There is no acceptance. But an appeal to grace and growth is an opening unseen for decades.  I like the sense of dissatisfaction in this pope. No rule changes, no tectonic shift, no supernova, but some popes do not like people to be excluded.

Stan Williams is a homemaker, Sunday school teacher and RN in Tallahassee, Fla.

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Sing Sisters, Sing! Sing Brothers, Sing

By Joe Morris Doss

This is the fourth in a series of offerings that deals with the scarcity of hymns that address the crushing problem of poverty. We have noted two ancient exceptions, songs that seem to give Jews and Christians a defined mission toward poverty, one that is not going away until the problem does. The Song of Mary (often termed “Magnificat”) and the Song of Hannah are two of the most famous in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Mary sang of the promises to come of the birth of Jesus; Hannah sang of the promises portended in the birth of Samuel. Those promises included the elimination of poverty and did so most directly and most forcefully.

Nevertheless, the singing today about poverty is weakly measured. We have arrived at one important conclusion for why this is the case: too many of us assume that there is little we can do about it except piecemeal, mostly pastoral and person-by-person or problem-by-problem.

It required a profoundly prophetic voice, raised in the very names of Samuel and Jesus, for the Hebrew people even to imagine that the reality of poverty – so pervasive and persisting – could be tackled seriously.

The vast majority of people in the Roman Empire lived at a subsistence level, barely able to get their daily bread from day to day. There was an assumption was that no society could function, much less prosper and grow powerful, except by reliance on a large workforce of the poor. Slavery was an unquestioned institution for the same reason. Poverty for masses of the population had to be accepted as a given fact of human existence, a reality that could no more have been avoided or eliminated than disease, physical misfortune and death. Actually, insight about the assumed inevitability regarding both health and poverty is telling. Poverty was not the driving issue regarding the faith people might or might not have in God’s nature as just; the fear regarding health was the highest cause of religious consternation.Read More »

Chris Andrews: Reverence

 

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By Chris Andrews

The cheapest thing going these days may be human life. Killing is commonplace in our world. Bombs blow people away; guns snuff out life; starvation decimates; disease kills at any opportunity; refugees perish at sea. I checked out Goggle to see how many people die every day across the world and got a wide range of an answer: from 150,000 to 1 million. Probably the accurate number is somewhere in between, but nevertheless, the numbers tell a grim story: human life is expendable; it is cheap.

This week the world observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp where 1.1 million Jews perished at the hands of their captors.

When thought about from the perspective of almost three-quarters of a century, the holocaust seems unbelievable. How could it have happened? How could a modern nation that produced great art and music, counted brilliant scientists and theologians among its population and was admired for its cultural sophistication have perpetrated a horror like the Holocaust? And yet it did.

The Holocaust in Germany was not the first state-sponsored mass murder and, unfortunately, it won’t be the last. Destroying human life can always be rationalized by the destroyers as something that makes life possible and better for others. It is a sick calculus but one that has been at work in human history since history began.

It is easy to go numb before the constant wasting of life. We get used to it, accept violence as inevitable, and go about the day as though nothing is unusual.

I want to lift my voice in protest. The greatest gift we have is life. It is life that makes possible the experiences of love and laughter, tears and compassion, joy and joining, sadness and separation. Only the living are able to feel these things and it is in the experience of such that we taste life’s richness and hear its fine song. The dead know none of this.

What preserves life is reverence. Reverence for life takes a lot of work and intention in this kind of world. But I believe that if enough people reverence life by acknowledging its sacredness and working to bring the best possible life to all—that if enough people will do this—we could have a different world.

How can you have reverence for life? Try looking at every face as the face of God. Practice doing this, consciously. Believe that when you look at another person, you are really looking at an expression of God’s own self. The Bible teaches that God has created humans in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). If that is the case then every one of us is a reflection of the Divine. Would you raise your hand against God? Is that not exactly what occurs in every act of violence done by human against human?Read More »

Is Poverty a Necessary Evil in This World?

HymnalsThis is the third in a series, which addresses the question, “Why Are There So Few Hymns to Inspire Christians to Overcome Poverty?”

By Joe Morris Doss

One reason the singing of the church, and thus its work, is so measured in dealing with poverty is that too many of us do not believe that much can be done about it. Our aim is reduced to piecemeal goals, largely to supporting or serving meal-by-meal programs. This is important, highly valued ministry in and of itself, but humanity can do much more, and it is the job of the church to call society to task.

The Christian promise of justice and peace is not a simple matter of God fixing the problem or even of using us doing our part. According to the Christian vision, the goal is the fulfillment of creation in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom is present as well as to come, and yet we yearn to experience it in full realization. Christians have come to the realization that this is a long-term process of history in which human action plays a key role.

This is the third in a series of offerings that address the scarcity of hymns that address the crushing problem of poverty. We have noted two ancient exceptions, songs that seem to give Jews and Christians a defined mission toward poverty, one that is not going away until the problem does. The Song of Mary (often termed “Magnificat”) and the Song of Hannah are two of the most famous in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Mary sang of the promises to come of the birth of Jesus; Hannah sang of the promises portended in the birth of Samuel. Those promises included the elimination of poverty, and did so most directly and most forcefully.

The interconnection between these two songs is remarkably revealing of the entire Christian vision and, indeed, of how it evolved from the foundations of the small-but-chosen Hebrew tribe that escaped from slavery and established its own society in a new land. From this beginning, the vision was of a human society in which the will of God is to be done on earth as in heaven.

Soon, however, arose a crisis: could such a human society actually exist – last and prosper – in this world? Samuel was the leader who had to face this crisis. This son of Hannah was the last judge, the last person on whom the Spirit of God would descend to provide the inspiration for leadership through a do-or-die threat to the nation.

Samuel was the last judge because he found himself forced to appoint a king to rule, instead. He was the first prophet because he proclaimed that if Israel had a king and a form of hierarchical government, its people would soon mimic the other kingdoms of the world; there would develop a political and social hierarchy, a pyramid of privilege and dominance and enforced service – even slavery.

This stood for the contradiction of everything Israel had escaped. For this reason, it was when the kingship was established that God gave Israel the institution of the prophets, an institution that lasted for the entire period of the independent kingdoms, but no longer. Following Samuel’s path-breaking pattern the prophets refused to let Israel forget its promises for justice and peace in reliance on God’s rule.

The readers of our first two offerings in this series will recall that the Exodus had flipped on its head the view of cosmic reality held by all civilizations since the beginning in the cradle of the Tigris and Euphrates valley. These civilizations gradually began cropping up around the globe and adopted – made use of – the same pagan cosmology and religious belief. This left only the small and religiously isolated Hebrew community aware that God was not like the whimsical and amoral gods worshipped by pagan cultures, but a God of love, compassion, righteousness, justice and merciful grace. Suddenly, these people were given to understand that they live in a moral universe, and they were to live accordingly.

For this reason, once they established themselves among the people of the new land sufficiently to form a coherent society they refused to conform to the norm among nations by setting up a ruler at the head of a hierarchical society. The twelve tribes formed The League, and operated this way for several generations.

When a crisis confronted them, the spirit of God would come upon a leader, often an unlikely person, who would arise to lead them through it. The inspired “Judge” would then relinquish leadership when the crisis that demanded leadership had been quelled.

In the meanwhile, they tried as hard as humanly possible to build a society based on God’s righteousness, compassion, and justice – a society of shalom. Without going into detail it is worth noting that the divine life was to be expressed in law, worship, the arts, and the various institutions and structures of society – not only religiously.

But the threat of growing empires – with their size, military might and wealth – was too great. The need for strong central government in a land situated at the crossroads of trade and cultural interchange was too overwhelming. The threat of new neighbors – Greek sailors settling along the coast (Philistines) who enjoyed the advanced technology of an emerging iron age while Israel was limited to the use of bronze – was beyond their capacity to confront as a league. A kingship, by any other name, was the only alternative they could imagine.

From that point forward, the hope for the future was placed in a new vision of that which had been dreaded: a kingdom, but one of justice and peace that would be ruled by God through the office of an earthly king, divinely chosen.Read More »

The Joy Jesus Brings

Kathedraal - Bruiloft van Cana - Maarten de Vos (1595 - 97)“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.”’ -from John 2:1-11

By Richard Stiltner

A friend asked me what I think God wants from us. I replied that I think God wants us to be happy.

C.B. Forgotson, a noted Louisiana political commentator, committed suicide recently. His wife wrote that C.B. had suffered from depression all of his life. Few knew this, she said. She had learned of it only during his last years.

All of us get depressed at times. When the brain is incorrectly wired, a person can suffer from depression frequently and without apparent cause. Experts help us deal with organic problems of depression with medicine and therapy.

A number of people, however, suffer from self-induced depression. For them, anything that smacks of joy or fun is sinful and must be avoided. We see these folks in our churches. Some of them become self-appointed members of the anti-joy patrol. They identify joyful people and immediately try to isolate them.

Times are different now than when I was a child. At that earlier time in my region of the country, people in many churches had a long list of what we should not do. For example, we should not go to movies. I heard sermon after sermon with a warning of how terrible it is to do that.

The pastor who influenced me most in my formative years proclaimed that theme often. He was a good, well-intentioned minister. Later, he became one of the first in our community to buy a television set. I do not suggest that he was a hypocrite. Like me, he was a victim of the times. People have to think things through.Read More »

‘Do not fear’: Chris Andrews

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By Chris Andrews

Don’t be afraid, Mary,” said the angel after telling her she would be the mother of God’s son. “Don’t be afraid.” Of all the lines and words and songs that go with Christmas, this angel’s sentence may be the one most needed this Christmas season.

Fear is everywhere. In a time when terrorism has become commonplace, a pervasive atmosphere of fear has gripped much of the world. Politicians and pundits talk about “what happens next,” driving up anxiety about the condition of the world. Certainly, we live in perilous times. Horror upon horrors flash across television and newspapers as stories of innocent lives lost are told and retold. A strong case could be made for being afraid. Who knows what will happen next, or when?

Certainly, we live in perilous times. Horror upon horrors flash across television and newspapers as stories of innocent lives lost are told and retold. A strong case could be made for being afraid. Who knows what will happen next, or when?

So fear rules. And it seems that those who shout the loudest about reasons to be afraid are the most popular and listened-to voices.

This is not a good way to live. I don’t like being afraid; never have, whether I was dealing with the bully on the playground as a kid or fighting panic in the dark. Fear sucks. It feels bad. It robs your energy.

But fear is real, so the question is where to find an antidote for fear. Enter scripture’s wisdom: “Perfect love casts out fear,” says the little letter of I John in the Christian Bible. Read More »