Category Archives: Soteriology

When it is hard to be ‘Christian’…

There are days when it is hard to claim the moniker ‘Christian’.  Last week I experienced this in a very acute fashion: a woman was accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea, and a crowd beat her and burned her to death.  Such violence is deplorable under any circumstance, but the fact remains that the outrage levied against this woman was fueled in part by norms and traditions taught by Christian missionaries: that is, that indigenous religious expressions are suspect and a work of  ‘Satan’.  The animistic traditions indigenous to PNG certainly bore their own share of violence, but the outrage and form of vigilante justice evidenced in this crowd of 50 onlookers is reinforced  by rhetoric of ‘spiritual warfare’ and such, common to Evangelical-speak.  And I cringe that the teachings of Jesus could ever be carried so far as to commit such heinous acts.

And yet I am aware of a long history of such crimes in the name of the Christian tradition (see for instance, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, etc.).  It is just hard to understand in the 21st century. Or so we think.

While people in Papua New Guinea were deemed ‘savage’  as the world looked on in horror while 50 people stood and watched a woman burn to death, last Tuesday we ‘civilized people’ in the United States watched by the millions as murder-suspect Dorner burned to death.  So much for ‘innocent until proven guilty’.  It seems Dorner required no trial–thus no attempt at stopping the fire or rescuing him was made.  Instead, it was urgent that ‘the threat be removed’.  How expedient we can be when brown skin is involved.

There are days when it is hard to claim the moniker ‘American’.

I have to confess I’m just grieved over both situations.  And at a loss.

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The burden of poverty

I overheard the following speculation about the fast-approaching winter weather between two of my colleagues at the office: “One nice thing about winter in Chicago…there aren’t as many homeless around begging for money.” His conversation partner nodded in agreement.  They proceeded to discuss how it was hard to walk down the sidewalk at times without being accosted by beggars.  The usual “they are just going to buy drugs and alcohol” meme was repeated.  These gentlemen parted company as I made my way to the coffee machine.  I found myself suddenly conscience about the spare change I was using to get that cup of coffee.  I muttered something to the effect that the homeless weren’t migratory birds.  That elicited some harsh looks and one colleague said “You know what I mean… the homeless are a pain.”

I was stunned.  Yes. I know exactly what he meant.  We’ve become so very self-sufficient that we view poverty as a burden upon the wealthy.  How’s that for turning economics and logic on its head? It isn’t the poor who are burdened by their poverty: it is the wealthy who are inconvenienced, temporarily made to feel guilty, and are forced into being arbiters of stewardship and grace.  The poor just have to be poor.  (Read that as lacking agency, autonomy, etc.).  It is their ontology.


I said it before but it bears repeating here: When Jesus said in Matt. 26:11 that “the poor will always be among us”, it was not to let us off the hook and give us permission to ignore them because it’s a problem which just won’t go away. It was an instruction that we always have to consider the poor: plan to tend to them, make charity and generosity part of our daily lives.

In this particular season, remembering the words “the poor will always be among us” is to remember that their lack of visibility isn’t an indicator that poverty is being eradicated: to the contrary, the poor are dying to find shelter–quite literally.

To my grousing, nibbling colleagues who are making upwards of $100K, I ask you to learn to unburden yourselves of poverty, and instead embrace the burden of wealth (which is properly yours anyway).  Lay aside your claims to self-sufficiency and learn to recognize that the position you are in was not self-made. Be grateful for those who gave you a break: for parents who provided a home, guidance, an education; for health–both mental and physical; for employers who took a risk in hiring you for that first job; for congregations who provide you a spiritual home.  Remember that you didn’t earn everything you have.  Grace was afforded you when you least deserved it. Be an extension of that grace to others.

Foxes have holes…

Luke 9:58: “Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.”

When Jesus said in Matt. 26:11 that “the poor will always be among us”, it wasn’t to let us off the hook and give us permission to ignore them because its a problem which just won’t go away. It was an instruction that we always have to consider the poor: plan to tend to them, make charity and generosity part of our daily lives. (Photo taken on the way to my office today…)

Orders of salvation…

This piece was written a while ago, but is one of the incidents which prompted me to study theology after nursing school. I couldn’t move beyond the fact that salvation seemed to come in various forms.

Jenny put her call light on and motioned me to her bedside.  I questioned to see if she was having any pain.  She indicated that she just wanted company; the hospital after visiting hours can be awfully lonely, especially on the oncology unit.  Knowing she was single and had no family close to share her burden, I sat down and asked her about the middle-aged woman she had been laughing so heartily with earlier that day.  She relayed the following story to me regarding her double mastectomy two years before:

“I couldn’t stand to look at myself,” she commented.  “The hollowness to my profile…reduced to the appearance of a schoolboy.  The scars that move in all directions from my armpits to my sternum—the keloid ridges and lack of sensation.  There is nothing feminine about this.  There is nothing sexy about this.  I didn’t want to be touched.  I didn’t even want to leave the house.

“I don’t know why she insisted upon seeing it.  But after refusing to meet for weeks—mostly because I didn’t want to be seen in public—Linda called and announced she was coming despite my protests.  She surveyed the messy house with a hint of surprise in her eyes but didn’t comment or pass judgment.

“She merely took me by the hand and led me back to my bedroom.  ‘Let’s see it!’ she demanded.  My protests fell on deaf ears.  I stood there feeling humiliated and angry.  Why was my best friend placing me on display like some freak circus act?  Tears of frustration and misunderstanding slid down my cheeks.  She was unrelenting.

“Finally I acquiesced.  She stared me straight in the eye, holding my gaze as I unbuttoned my blouse and slid my camisole strap off my shoulder.  I saw her eyes descend from my face and I stared stoically over her shoulder.  A hand reached out and traced the edges of my scars…but I couldn’t feel it.  She bent forward and I glanced down uneasily.  Very tenderly she kissed the mangled tissue.

“Our eyes met and she stood upright and held me close.  Together we cried—grieving the loss and the indignity—but mostly grieving the space that had developed between the two of us.  Her restorative touch and sensual acceptance reinstated my personhood.  She is my best friend.  She saved me.”