Tag Archives: peace

Lord Bring your Kingdom: A Holy Week Reflection on Overland Park

Palm Sunday inaugurates Christian Holy Week each year. It commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem the week before his death and subsequent resurrection. I love Palm Sunday because it is not only the beginning of my favorite time in the Christian liturgical calendar, but because it celebrates peace. It celebrates that Jesus was not only the incarnation of eternal Love, but that he was the full embodiment of peace. Palm Sunday not only initiates the events of Holy Week, but foreshadows the eternal Kingdom – a Kingdom of peace, where redemption, mercy, justice, and of course love, are ever-present in the world, and darkness is cast away. As Christians, we believe it is Jesus, the Christ – our messiah – who initiated this Kingdom into being with his resurrection, and will eventually bring the Kingdom to its fullness when he returns in his Second Coming. So, on Palm Sunday, we wave our palm branches and shout, “Hosanna, blessed is the One who comes in the name of The Lord,” in recognition that Christ is our King who shall one day reign forever in the name of peace.

This past Sunday, as in every Palm Sunday that I can remember prior, I did just that: I celebrated the peace that is present, and fullness of peace that is coming. I waved my palm branch and sang Hosanna alongside my husband and brothers and sisters in Christ at First United Methodist Church in St. Augustine. On the walk home in the warm Florida sun I felt optimistic and hopeful, and full of love.

It was a normal, peaceful Sunday until a Twitter notification told me that several people I follow tweeted the same news story – the headline read “Shootings reported at two Jewish Centers in Overland Park, Kansas.” As I continued reading I learned that 3 people had been killed, and that the shootings were being investigated as a hate crime. Reports say the man yelled “heil, Hitler” as he was arrested, and that he has a long history of bigoted hatred.

When I guest teach college courses on religious pluralism, I often start by talking about religious intolerance. I define religious intolerance very generally. It could be stereotyping, discrimination, verbal abuse, or even violence of a person or people because of their religious or non-religious identity. I often do an exercise to illustrate all the ways different groups experience religious intolerance. I explain that in 6 different states Atheists are prohibited from running for public office; Christians experience misrepresentation in the media; Muslims often have to show up at the airport earlier than other folks because the know they’re going to be extra screening at “random,” while many a Muslim girl has had her hijab ripped off her head in a high school hallway; more than one Sikh has been killed or brutally beaten in the United States because they were wearing a turban after 9/11; Jews are ridiculed for being greedy and often experience vandalism of their synagogues and temples. I could go on and on and on. Students are often shocked to hear about the level of religious intolerance that exists in the United States. Many of them have experienced religious intolerance themselves, but believed that it was only their group that experienced hatred, fear or misunderstanding because of what they believed. Religious intolerance in the United States, believe it or not, is actually a common thread among all of our religi
ous/non-religious identities.

While I do full-time interfaith work, and religious intolerance is something I’m keenly aware of, it is still a shock when I see such ruthless violence because of religious hatred; particularly on a day when peace is to be celebrated. It reminds me that there is a long history of Holy Week related violence. In the Middle Ages in Europe, on Good Friday Christians would go out and beat or kill Jews after becoming impassioned by a Good Friday sermon, which taught them that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death (they were never reminded that Jesus himself was Jewish). While religious violence and hatred are nothings new, there are new ways to prevent and correct such hatred. The new Interfaith Movement can move us in the direction of religious peace and understanding in our country, and even world.

I am reminded this Palm Sunday about the WHY of Interfaith. Interfaith dialogue and cooperation is about promoting religious literacy; meaning, creating a world where we seek understanding about our religious and non-religious neighbors, rather that perpetuating assumption which often leads to fear, misunderstanding, and ultimately hatred. Scripture teaches us that what lives in our heart is just as important as what we act out in our lives (“Anyone who hates his brothers or sister is a murderer,” I John 3:15).

Maybe you’ve never pulled a trigger on someone because they were a different religion than you, but any time you have felt a hint of hatred, or judgment, or distaste about someone because of what they believed – you have sinned and sin is the Great Enemy of peace.

As Christians, it is our role to reflect the Kingdom we so eagerly look forward to. It is our duty to be embodiments of peace. I believe that Interfaith dialogue, relationships and cooperation is one avenue through which we can reflect God’s Kingdom of Peace.

Ask your Muslim or Jewish neighbor to coffee this week as an act of love and get to know them. Ask them what they believe – what is their religion all about? And not as a way to gather intel for conversion ammunition later on, but as a way to truly know them, and to truly love them. This is how we can make this a world where people don’t get shot because they’re Jewish, or Christian or Atheist, etc.

Let us meditate this Holy Week on Christ’s triumphal entry, which was an action sermon that preached peace. While we mourn the loss of life in Overland Park, and mourn the horrifying hatred demonstrated there, let us pray, “Lord bring you Kingdom.” And until that Kingdom comes in its fullness, let us act peace mediators by actively loving our diverse religious and non-religious neighbors.

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Moving Beyond the War On Christmas

There has been a lot of talk this season about the “War on Christmas.” Many of my fellow Christians seem fearful that Christian holidays, and in particular Christmas, will be “taken away.” I’ve heard many people I know express concern that “they” want to “take away our holidays.” Though I couldn’t quite tell you what having a holiday “taken away” means – I can only assume there is a fear that Christmas could be taken off the list of federal holidays.

I think that we forget Christianity was intended to be a religion on the margins. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness” is an oft quote piece of scripture from Matthew 5. Identifying as a marginalized, oppressed, or persecuted population is part of Christian DNA. Yet, Christians in the U.S. enjoy many privileges and comforts (for a list of those comforts see here). Christianity in many ways has entered the realm of the mainstream in the United States – especially when it comes to Christmas.

So when we see a billboard in Times Square posted by Atheist.org that says, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody” -of course it is easy and understandable (and perhaps even justifiable) to respond to this kind of antagonism with defensiveness, but I also think we cling to it as proof that despite our privileged position in the U.S. we are indeed “persecuted because of righteousness.” Though we feel the need to cling to this martyr identity, I think we are really just afraid to lose our comfortable, privileged position as Christians in the United States. I think we are afraid of disappearing into the margins of society. I mean – who wouldn’t be?

In 1870, Christmas was established by law as a federal holiday along with Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day. With this law, Christmas became a patriotic day, rather than simply a Christian holy day. None of us should be surprised that when the government of what is now the most religiously diverse country on the planet (and possibly ever) established Christmas as a federal holiday, Christmas entered the arena of the mundane. New myths of elves, and a jolly fat man who drove a flying reindeer -led sleigh, grew out of its foundation in an effort to make Christmas something all Americans could participate in. Of course, as a consequence, our free market took hold of the neck of Christmas and squeezed as much profit as they could out of Christmas, and so thousands of marketing campaigns developed to create a mad consumer dash to the finish line each Christmas season.

Christmas, a day to celebrate the birth of a little Galilean boy who would eventually preach the coming of the Kingdom of God, heal the sick, dine with tax collectors and prostitutes, teach forgiveness and then give the ultimate gift to humankind And so a season intended to remind us of grace and hope in the midst of the darkness and longing of winter, has become an American civic holiday filled with greed, selfishness and secularity.

So I ask you – which Christmas exactly, is this oft-spoken of “war” on? As far as I can see, the Christmas that is currently celebrated here in the United States, might not be worth saving. Perhaps we should let “them” (whoever “them” is) wage their war.

(Bear with me.)

When we say “they want to take away our holiday” – what exactly do we mean? As far as I can tell, what we really seem to be afraid of is Christmas being taken off the list of federal holidays. There are currently 11 federal holidays – Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Inauguration Day, Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Columbus Day (This list begs the question, which of these things are not like the other?). Officially, federal holidays were created to honor different parts of American heritage which helped form the U.S. as a nation and as a people (read more here: http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/Federal_Holidays.pdf). Additionally, being a “federal holiday” simply means that all federal employees are required to be given that day off by the government with pay.

So would it really be so bad if Christmas was taken off the list of federal holidays?

As a federal holiday, Christmas belongs to the entire citizenship of the United States, Perhaps the entrance of Christmas into public life is what led to its commercialization, so removing Christmas as a government recognized holiday could be a step toward reclaiming some of the holiness of the day (let’s remember that “holy” means “set apart”). If Christmas was no longer a day that most Americans had off from work then Christians would actually have to make a bit of a sacrifice to honor and celebrate this day; something non-Christian Americans have always had to do in order to take off work to honor their holy days. Perhaps taking Christmas of the list of federal holidays would be one step toward loosening consumerism’s grip on our Christmas traditions. Perhaps we would actually honor Advent as a time of meditation, anticipation, and preparation for the return of Christ.

I’ll I admit it – I love Christmas – sacred and secular traditions alike. I enjoy baking the cookies, buying the gifts, decorating the Christmas tree, watching the Christmas themed movies. I like hanging my stockings and dreaming up ways I’ll play along with myth of Santa Claus with my children. I love it all. But none of those things I just listed do anything to help me honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus, my Christ. I love all of those things because I did them as a child with my family, and I feel like I’m participating in tradition. Perhaps the “secular Christmas” has merit as a time to gather with family and celebrate the previous year.

And I’m not suggesting we rally and sign a petition asking the Federal Government to take Christmas off the list of federal holidays.

What I am suggesting is, if “they” were to take away Christmas as a federal holiday, would it really be so bad? Thanks to the first amendment, we would still have the right to celebrate and honor this day just as much as Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc. all have a right to celebrate and honor their special days. So would it really be so bad? And should Christians really get special status in the U.S. among these religions?

I am also suggesting that perhaps it’s time to drop the “War on Christmas” noise and focus on the sanctity of this time. Defensiveness and fear are not in the spirit of Advent, nor are they in the spirit of our beloved Jesus.

This Advent season, as we prepare for Christmas, rather than focusing on what could be taken away – let’s focus on what we have, and what we can give to others – hope; hope of a Kingdom where justice, mercy and peace will rule eternally under the Christ’s reign. This Christmas let’s honor the hope that was born in a barn that day in Bethlehem by dropping all grudges, shedding all defensiveness and reflecting the light of the hope we know is true – Jesus is coming.

Merry Christmas.

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