Tag Archives: Christianity

A Snaphot of Christianized Nationalism in the U.S., 1916

While there’s no precise analogy between our time and 1916, this newspaper clipping certainly holds some eerily familiar echoes:

From The Devils Lake World and Inter-Ocean, a newspaper in Devils Lake, N.D., June 29, 1916: nationalism It seems strange to sing patriotic songs in a sanctuary built for worshiping God.

But the issue then as now is not so much replacing one thing for another as conflating two unlike things.

Christianity’s Hell: Born in paganism, raised in Judaism

Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Nortre Dame, writes in The Daily Beast:

“Chronologically speaking, hell didn’t always feature in conceptual maps of the afterlife. In the Hebrew Bible there are frequent references to Sheol, a place of shadows located physically beneath us. This is where everyone goes when they die, because people are buried in the ground. Upon occasion, Sheol opens its jaws and swallows people—a phenomenon we probably know as earthquakes, but which can in part explain why death is described as swallowing people up. Without a doubt, Sheol is a generally dismal place where people are separated from God, but it isn’t reserved for the especially wicked.

“In Judaism, the idea of post-mortem judgment, reward, and punishment seems to have gathered strength in the second century BCE. During this period Israel was again a conquered land, ruled by a succession of oppressive Greek empires. Along with high taxation and cultural colonialism, Alexander the Great and his successors brought the ideas of post-mortem punishment in the underworld to the Holy Land. There were many other potential religious groups envisioning post-mortem destruction, but the Greeks appear to have been the most influential. Think Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill, Tantalus being cursed with eternal thirst, and Prometheus having his liver eaten on a daily basis. For beleaguered and oppressed Jews, the idea that the injustices levied on them in the present would be rectified in the afterlife held a lot of appeal. And that kind of justice involved punishing their tormentors as well as rewarding the righteous.”

Read Moss’s entire article here.

Also see Emil Brunner on fear, The Judgment, and the Kingdom of Heaven.


Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, October 2014

Updated to correct the photo and add another.

Photo taken inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com.

Photo of the side of the altar area, inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com. Travel. Italy. Vatican City. Rome.

The other war on Christmas

When I was a kid, my friends and I would occasionally hear adults talk about the pagan origins of Christmas trees. In our Christian homes, churches, and schools, such talk was not merely chat. It was actionable language. Within those overheard snippets was an implicit threat: possibly an end to the Christmas tree at home, and by extension,  possibly an end to all those great things kids love about Christmas.

The anti-Christmas tree mentality never took root in my home or many other homes (although if memory serves, there were rumors some classmates’ parents had forbidden having a tree).

And I think I know why, at least in a broader sense: holiness movements and purity movements and other moralistic movements seem concerned with things the members should not-be and things they should not-do. Rarely is there a concrete, image-based sense of what is being substituted for the not-ness. (By image, here I mean anything that appeals to the perceptions of the five senses.)

The calling in those holiness, purity, and otherwise moralistic movements seems to be to achieve something more or less invisible and essentially unmodeled. Even the word “holiness,” an abstract concept, is hard to experience. But as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.

So people remain under control of the images and symbols to which they attach (on varying levels, within community as much as within an individual) significance and meaning.

In most areas of life, abstract ideas cannot drive culture out of a community.

Culture is embodied in things and in relationships.

Indeed, a family Christmas tree, with its handed-down ornaments, can be both an embodiment of the holiday and a symbol for the way a particular family joins together at the same time, year after year.

To change the culture, create new, concrete images with subversive intent, and find ways to embody whatever you might be teaching or communicating.

This Advent season, a very long wait: ‘Christians around world under siege’ – Chicago Sun-Times

Steve Huntley, in the Chicago Sun-Times:

During this season of joyous religious celebrations and especially the holiday cheer enjoyed with family and friends during Christmas time, we should not forget that in too many corners of the world Christianity is under siege with Christians abused, brutalized and murdered.

Ghastly crimes like the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian Christian school girls by the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram, the beheadings of Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the flight from riot and murder by Coptic Christians from Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood reign make headlines….

ICC’s Persecution.org website and organizations and individuals such as Open Doors and the Gatestone Institute’s Raymond Ibrahim do the good work of trying to keep the plight of Christians in the public eye. Their reports, easily accessible on the Internet, make for disturbing reading.

Ibrahim wrote of a Christian convert from Islam in Uganda who established a Christian school. Hassan Muwanguzi was beaten by Muslims, hauled into court on trumped-up charges of “defiling” a Muslim girl, saw his home burned by arson, was sickened by poison, and survived an attack by four Muslims that left his 12-year-old daughter dead.

In a crime that “has shaken Pakistan’s Christian community to the core,” ICC reports, a mob accused a Christian couple of burning pages of the Koran, beat them and burned them alive in a brick kiln. The woman was pregnant; the mob left the couple’s four children orphans.

Open Doors reports that a Christian convert in Egypt faces a five-year prison sentence and that an Anglican church in Nigeria shut down after 11 members were killed in attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists. Open Doors says that in India, Christian pupils and teachers won’t have a Christmas holiday because the government declared Dec. 25 “Good Governance Day” with a student essay competition that day. Furthermore, a Hindu nationalist group says the day should be devoted to “re-converting” 4,000 Christians to the Hindu faith.

via Christians around world under siege – Chicago Sun-Times.


Using the language I know

I thought at this point I had made my sense of things clear: For several types of reasons, I’m just not sure about the Christian faith anymore.

However, most of my life, I have lived and learned within the context of at least four distinct forms of Protestant Christianity.

I find nothing inconsistent about being doubtful while critiquing Christian leaders based upon the inconsistencies between their public claims and their ministries.

Especially when those Christian leaders made my doubts seem more legit, not less.

I once read an interview with the man behind the band Iron & Wine. He said some folks had asked him why he uses biblical language and allusions in his songwriting when he is not a believer.

The thrust of his answer, as I recall it, was something like this: it’s the language available to me, and it fits the settings and characters of my songwriting.

I certainly see the richness of various Christian traditions. In a world gone gnostic, with so much of our communication taking place in disembodied formats, Christianity still has rich veins of language and symbolism and ritual, however despised by the new iconoclasts of both evangelicalism and atheism.

In a world gone gnostic, the thought of logos made flesh ought to fascinate anyone who appreciates tactile, sensory experience.

Beyond that, I would say to any young writers in my classrooms, use the materials you have — stories from your lives, images, settings, characters, cadences, symbols, archetypes, and songs.

Sometimes, if you’re diligent in setting the context, the truth will show up.

‘When the church is where the war is’

Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

— U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight,” Songs of Innocence