What I'm Reading
Trump Evangelicals Don't Go to Church
January 9, 2024
On January 8, 2023 the New York Times took a look at who the most fervent block of supposed “Evangelical Christians” supporting Trump really are.
As the article explains, “… as Mr. Trump gained ground in the early primaries, his growing strength among white evangelical voters became clear. Polls showed that the future nominee was most popular among one group in particular: white evangelicals who seldom or never went to church.”
The spiritual teachers for this group (if they have any) are not mainstream pastors in church, but obscure preachers who drew increasing attention around the time of Trump’s presidency. It is likely that some (or all) of these preachers never attended a reputable Christian seminary or any seminary at all.
From the article: “Mr. Trump elevated a cohort of obscure evangelical pastors and media figures, who were often outside the theological mainstream but unwavering in their devotion to him. He increasingly championed Christians as a constituency, rather than nodding to their values, as previous presidents had. His rallies took on a tent-revival atmosphere.”
A bit of history: A few decades ago, non-denominational churches started drawing large congregations, eclipsing mainstream denominations like Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian. To pastor a mainstream Protestant church, one must have graduated from a seminary. Some non-denominational churches don’t require that.* It’s hard to explain why this is a problem to people who don’t understand what a seminary is, but one thing it means is that the pastors in these churches often have little actual education in Christianity’s true foundation in Jesus’s teaching or in early church values. It’s like having a doctor who didn’t go to medical school. Case in point: as the article says, the main issues of the Trump “Christian” voting block are immigration and the economy; and as you might guess, they don’t mean sharing with those in need and welcoming the stranger.
Anyway, it’s an interesting article. It helps to explain why a main block of Trump voters support the most unchristian-like president this country has ever seen and why the hateful rhetoric and values they stand for are so absolutely opposed for what Jesus Christ stood for. Have a read.
Link to New York Times article here.
*Note: Some non-denominational churches do have pastors with seminary degrees. Some of the seminaries, like Liberty University are very Right-Wing, endorsing such doctrines as young-earth creationism, for example. Seminaries that tend to educate mainstream church pastors, like Fuller Theological Seminary are evangelical, but allow for some variety of perspectives within Christian Evangelicalism.
Pope Francis and the Art of Listening
July 22, 2021
Sadly, three things have come to characterize the 21st Century
for me. (Oh, how hopeful we were that the new century would
usher in the Age of Aquarius.) The three things? Disregard for
climate change, disinformation, and disintegration of dialogue
(dualism and divisiveness).
The following words by Pope Francis in his most recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti are worth reading and taking to heart. Not just for "the opposition" (whoever that is for each of us) but for us all.
"48. The ability to sit down and listen to others, typical of interpersonal encounters, is paradigmatic of the welcoming attitude shown by those who transcend narcissism and accept others, caring for them and welcoming them into their lives. Yet “today’s world is largely a deaf world… At times, the frantic pace of the modern world prevents us from listening attentively to what another person is saying. Halfway through, we interrupt him and want to contradict what he has not even finished saying. We must not lose our ability to listen”. Saint Francis “heard the voice of God, he heard the voice of the poor, he heard the voice of the infirm and he heard the voice of nature. He made of them a way of life. My desire is that the seed that Saint Francis planted may grow in the hearts of many."
"49. As silence and careful listening disappear, replaced by a frenzy of texting, this basic structure of sage human communication is at risk. A new lifestyle is emerging, where we create only what we want and exclude all that we cannot control or know instantly and superficially. This process, by its intrinsic logic, blocks the kind of serene reflection that could lead us to a shared wisdom."
"50. Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate. To do so calls for perseverance; it entails moments of silence and suffering, yet it can patiently embrace the broader experience of individuals and peoples. The flood of information at our fingertips does not make for greater wisdom. Wisdom is not born of quick searches on the internet nor is it a mass of unverified data. That is not the way to mature in the encounter with truth. Conversations revolve only around the latest data; they become merely horizontal and cumulative. We fail to keep our attention focused, to penetrate to the heart of matters, and to recognize what is essential to give meaning to our lives. Freedom thus becomes an illusion that we are peddled, easily confused with the ability to navigate the internet. The process of building fraternity, be it local or universal, can only be undertaken by spirits that are free and open to authentic encounters."
Humans have always found it hard to listen to others, especially to opposing viewpoints, but I began to see it escalate during the Bush Administration in 2001. I would love to see this trend reverse itself. I would love to have an actual sharing of ideas. I would love to see people listen to each other. I would love to see myself become better at it.
Link to Pope Francis' full encyclical here.
Nature, Mysticism, and Oneing
January 28, 2021
Last night, I finished an online class on Christian mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1416 C.E.) who lived during the Black Death. During that pandemic, one-third to one-half of all people in Europe died. In the midst of a pandemic that caused most church leaders to turn against nature, Julian is best known for declaring "All shall be well. All shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well." The class was led by Matthew Fox and Mirabai Starr. I found out last night that Mirabai's main teacher was Ram Dass. No wonder she resonates with me as in recent decades, he has been one of my main teachers.
This morning, as I was thinking about Julian and the urgent need to nurture our planet in the face of climate change, I read these poetic words by Mirabai.
"She [God] is your Mother the Earth, and you belong to her. She nurtured you in her dark belly, birthed you in joy, and sustains you at great cost to herself. You have slept in her forests, beneath the safety of her canopy. You have cupped her snowmelt in your hands. You have investigated the life hidden beneath the surface of her deserts, skied her alpine slopes, and biked her slickrock canyons. You have reveled in her generosity and been grateful.
"She has never asked much of you in return. Up until now, your gratitude has been enough. Your delight has been her reward. Up until now, she has not needed you as you have needed her. But that is shifting.
" . . . "Tell me what is troubling you, Mama,” you whisper, exactly as she always spoke to you when you were small and frightened and bleeding from some injury (real or imagined).
“'Pretty much everything, honey,' she answers. 'I’ll get through this,' she says. 'You’re not getting rid of your old Ma so easily.' She reaches down to smooth the crease between your brows. 'It’s you kids I’m worried about.'"
I quote Marabai's words from Richard Rohr's daily meditation here. They are from Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019), 135–136
Since mid-February I have also been reading chapters from a wonderful book by Potawatomi botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer. Her marvelous book of essays and biographical stories, Braiding Sweetgrass, combines indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, otherhood, and the teachings of plants. This is the most beautiful writing I have found since the early books by Barbara Kingsolver. Like Mary Oliver, Kimmerer is surely a modern-day mystic. She is not only in communion with nature, but she is able to communicate that oneness to the rest of us. What a beautiful gift-book to give to friends who love to read. Or buy and read it yourself.
Christianity: An Evolving Faith
January 4, 2019
In a period of "fundamentalism"* that has largely co-opted more than one faith path (certainly Christianity and Islam), an era in which the media reports nearly exclusively on literalist interpretations of sacred texts, I find it very difficult to explain to people where my views as a Christian lie. Today, I read a wonderful piece by Richard Rohr. I offer it as a window into a different flavor of Christianity, one that provides a floor beneath some of my plays. I hope it helps to answer some questions.
Here's an interesting thought from Richard Rohr that explains some of what goes wrong when people read sacred texts: "For all its inspiration, for all the lives it has changed, the Bible is undeniably problematic. Put in the hands of egocentric, unloving, or power-hungry people or those who have never learned how to read spiritually inspired literature, it is almost always a disaster." – Richard Rohr, Jan 6, 2019
*I actually prefer the word "literalist" to "fundamentalist," because I see the fundamental values of Christianity to be much closer to the ideas expressed in Richard Rohr's piece than to the values expressed by what our culture erroneously in my mind calls "Christian fundamentalism."
Fine Words from a Friend
Gail Mangham, October 30, 2018
Actor and director Gail Mangham had this to say about Prescott's "Night of Furies" held on October 29, 2018:
"Last night my friend, Micki Shelton, presented a reading of her play St. Agnes in Agony. I had read it closely a couple of times prior to the reading, so in most senses, there were no surprises. The play shifts back and forth from 4th CE in the western portion of the Roman Empire to the present. In the past, a girl of 12, Agnes, a member of a family of Christians (in secret only), well regarded and with strong ties to the power of the Roman and non-Christian community, refuses an arranged marriage stating unequivocally that she has already given herself to God. She refuses to make sacrifices to the Roman gods for the sake of appearances and the safety of her family. Her father hands her over naked to Roman soldiers for punishment. She is verbally abused and then killed.
"This story alternates with a modern day couple. The woman is preparing for a hearing (read Kavanaugh) while her husband wrestles with understanding, fully, the event of sexual assault in her teen years and its lasting effect on her.
"The play, a basically a cold reading, (the cast was together for the first time last evening) was a springboard for discussion around the #MeToo movement and the political climate in which we find ourselves. Seated on my left was a friend whose husband, a Holocaust survivor, died a year ago. She had come out to participate in this event despite the murders of the congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Saturday. Her anger melded with devastation was palpable. On my right was a friend whose music and activism has found its voice here and in the wider world. All around me and on stage were friends I’ve made through twenty years here in Prescott.
"Each of us brought a different set of life experiences to this event and reasons for being there. My own were many and varied. I wanted to support the playwright; I wanted to see this really talented cast bring the imprisoned words on the page to life; I wanted to experience the ties that bind all of us; I wanted inspiration for how to BE in this world, how to maintain internal balance while working on the change I seek.
"In the end what, perhaps, mattered most to me was the physical contact, the hugs, the simple act of touch from men and women I know, admire, even love. It was that communion of a small group of humans--irrespective of differences of race, gender, religion—that created the loop of energy between stage and audience fed by the liberated words of the play, that in the end brought me to my knees.
"While I’m sure most of us did not leave this experience with a game plan of how we might take action to effect change, I believe we did leave with much to think on. For me the words posted by a friend resonated as I left and remain with me today."
"You are not Obligated to
Complete the Work,
But Neither are you Free
To Abandon it."
Laudato Si on the Care of Our Common Home
Pope Francis, 2015
This morning I'm reading Pope Francis's encyclical on our world. Laudato Si. It's long yet SO worth reading. Here is the link to the entire encyclical, along with a few powerful paragraphs from it.
1) “For human beings... to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human be- ings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”.15 For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”
2) From page 49:
"We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” (Lev 25:23).