Tag Archive | faith

Unboxing Myself

Unboxing Myself
David R. Weiss – May 6, 2023

This essay is a conversation across time. I began my March 8 post, “Giving Up on Church for My Children,” with this line: “Perhaps every decision has multiple forces, tiny and large, stretched out behind it. This one surely does.”

Well, this post begins on September 14, 2022. I never completed it, but it feels important to come back now, fill it out, and publish it, because it explores one of the seismic shifts happening inside me that proved to be a precursor to my decision to “Give up on church for my children.”

I’ll start with the original September material (so you can get a sense of how these thoughts first took shape almost eight months ago), and I’ll note where I begin with fresh writing.

September 14, 2022—

Strange. For the past several weeks since Mom died (August 24), a multitude of people have been kind enough to check in with me to see how I’m doing. I’m fine. I’m not pretending to be okay; I’m simply not overwrought by grief. I think I lost so many pieces of Mom over the past years as dementia stole whole swaths of her from the rest of us, that my grief began and stretched out for years. Maybe at some point a finer more focused grief will find me.

Puck – photo by Ben Zamora-Weiss

For now, Mom’s death has unleashed an avalanche of existential restlessness. And I am wrecked. Or, maybe, it’ll just be the boxes I’ve been living in that get wrecked. I hope so.

I’ve been in therapy for a while now. Processing trauma and depression (both have roots running back to my teen years, with fresh additions of both in adulthood) and exploring how the dynamics of my mostly happy childhood have unhappily conspired to undermine some of my best hopes for adulthood. Oops—never saw that coming. Of course, it’s a long, complicated tale. In a sentence: the course of my life has been shaped and misshaped by a dysfunctional dance between my academic-intellectual excellence and my unconscious yet powerful pattern of linking … knotting … chaining (dammit!) my self-esteem to the external approval that came easily and abundantly. Not unlike Pavlov’s dog’s, my public performance became paired so consistently with positive reinforcement, that I fused the two together.

Thinking back to last week …

I am at L.’s for a counseling session on September 7. Recently back from Mom’s funeral. Trying to catch up on life and feeling the demands press in from all sides. I am stretched.

But, for now, I am settling in. Eyes closed, L.’s voice leads me through a short full-body check-in, encouraging me to listen for the whispers of my Self in the bodily sensations that are also finding their place in the room. In the quiet. In the stillness. The rocking chair (no proverbial couch in L.’s office) is firm, and, by now, familiar. We—the chair and I—move in a slow rhythm, initially negotiated between intent and inertia, then settling into something like a gentle wave. It is a good feeling, but as I rock, an inner restlessness rises within me. Asking me to trust a still deeper goodness. I resist. I relax. I’m in.

I never know what I’m listening for in these first moments. I sense stiff muscles, weary bones, occasional tingles and tickles. Does L. really think my assorted appendages bear messages? Do I? No matter. It works. Having “settled in,” I open my eyes, and she asks, “What comes up for you today?” Something always comes up. As often as not, what comes up is a bit messy. Not wholly welcome. Appearing as if at the invitation of a Self that is as yet distant kin.

Today the words speak themselves before I think them—an incantation set loose in the room. “I want to unbox myself.” L. smiles. “Tell me more.”

And this captures what I said …

I’ve become keenly—uncomfortably—aware of all the boxes I place around myself. The ways I’ve limited who I am and who I desire to be in order to maintain the approval of others. The ways I conspire with outside expectations to box myself in. And, in order for my truer Self to expand and flourish, I need to unbox myself. Which is scary.

Not least, because I’ve done it so well, that very few people suspect how hard I am working at being someone else than myself … for their sake. Well, for my “mistaken sake,” to keep the external approval rolling in.

It hit me while driving home after Mom’s death. Mom barely knew me over the past year. She remembered my name; somedays, my wife; never my kids, my work, or my writing—not really any of my life. She didn’t really know me at all anymore. And yet—for her sake, and mine, and Dad’s, and my sisters’ sakes—I wish I’d gotten home to see her (and my immediate family) far more often in what turned out to be the last year of her life. I didn’t.

Box 1. Instead, I limited my trips home … lest I inconvenience—no, less I disappoint and risk losing the approval of—those I work for at church. It’s only a part-time job, but with hours scattered across the week, it’s impossible to get to Michigan City (eight hours away) without missing a couple of days I’m scheduled to work. I write that now with a measure of disbelief.
I placed the approval of others above presence to my mom and family.

I understand, many of us are limited by the demands of our work schedule. But this particular work generates only marginal income and is NOT central to who I am. I should have quit my job (or insisted on redefining my schedule) rather than place myself in a box that left Mom and family mostly on the outside.

It’s not a disaster. Mom forgot every visit within hours of my leaving. I don’t “blame” anyone but myself. And even myself, I only blame if I don’t learn from this moving forward. Still, it’s a searing insight to realize how beholden I’ve been … even as an articulate, successful adult … to outside approval. “Entangled” fits.

But that’s actually the least significant box, because that bit of work doesn’t matter all that much in the big scheme. There are other boxes, and they’re interwoven. (Box 2: climate. Box 3: church. Box 4: theology/faith.)

[That’s the end of September 14, 2022 material.]

Six days later, still stinging from these insights, I resigned from my parttime job at the church. But I gave twelve weeks notice, until mid-December, so as not to disrupt any fall programming that my parttime position supported. It was, as I look back, my weak attempt to curry one last round of approval on my way out the door.

Fast forward to May 5 and I’m going to fill out—then rip up—those last three boxes so I can be done with this and move on.

Box 2. Climate. I’ve steeped myself in climate reading since 2016. When I returned to this theme (which I’d first explored almost two decades earlier in grad school), I naïvely assumed I would add my voice to the growing chorus of those working on climate issues—and that, even if only in the nick of time, we would indeed “save the planet.” Sadly, I no longer regard that as possible. But, not wanting to risk the approval of those many friends who still want the last line of every alarming paragraph I write to come back to a note of hope, I’ve worked hard to keep the public display of my personal views on the climate crisis just this side of alarmist so as to remain in a box labeled (even if only in fine print) “respectable.”

Bottom line: the planet will (eventually) be fine. But we will not, nor will many of our companion creatures whom we continue to sacrifice to idols of consumption and convenience. So, this is the work that will occupy the rest of my life: how do we live with purpose, when we can no longer realistically live with hope? Believe me, that’s a heavy lift. Our world is collapsing, and while there are things we can do to lessen the impact (the single biggest of which is to radically simplify our lives), there need to be people working patiently and with focus on what collapse means for our humanity and how we might safeguard some of the character and culture that we’d like available for those who will endure the worst of what is yet to come. That’s my work. And I cannot do it faithfully so long as I’m beholden to the approval of others.

Porter, Puck – photo by Ben Z-W

So, tear that box up.

Box 3. Church. Insert “Giving Up on Church for My Children” here. Clearly, one big part of tearing up this box is the urgency of ecological-social collapse and my driving desire to speak in words that might reach my children. But there’s a bit more to it than this. Because as much as the “church” box keeps me away from my children, it affords me security and approval from my past. But a security and approval that not only hinders my work now but hinders as well the authenticity that must be the foundation of what I’m doing. The Christian church is no longer the right place for me to be.

So, tear that box up, too.

Box 4. Theology and faith. This is the box I’ve held most dear. It’s where my intellectual and artistic gifts—heart and mind—intersect to shape my most prized identities as theologian and writer. The identities themselves are profoundly true. But so long as I express them inside a box bounded by the expectations and approval of others, the whole of me and my gifts cannot show up. And now they have to. Too much is at stake to play it safe any longer.

Hell, too much was always at stake. It just took a climate crisis and my kids to make me choose risk over security.

Obviously, I’ve hardly been a “preserve-the-status-quo” theologian. I’ve rather ransacked the attic of Christian theology to find kindred spirits over the years. I’ve found myself drawn to theology from the margins, often hearing in these voices the call for justice that most resonates with my own sense of the sacred. I’ve often told others over the years that I managed to remain Christian thanks to the company I found in the attic and at the edges. (See “Tipping Points” and “Doubtful” for more on this journey.) And that was true.

Nevertheless, I have also silenced more than my share of intuitions along the way. My sense of God is so thin as to be vanishing. My view of Jesus is so wholly human as to deny him any divinity that I don’t also share. My sense of ethics is so thick as to eclipse any interest in an afterlife. And yet, with my sense of self tightly tethered to outside approval, I’ve spent most of my adult life carefully contributing to a conversation in a tradition where I still feel boxed in.

Last July I was unnerved by an article in Christian Century, “When my dad killed God.” In it, Don Hamilton wrote about the backlash his father, William Hamilton, experienced in the mid-60’s after he became associated with “death of God” theology. Despite its name, this theology was less about “killing God” than making honest theological sense of the human capacity for evil—a capacity often wrapped in religious language (still today!). “Death of God” theologians pressed toward an ethic that prized the precarious pursuit of compassion apart from any divine guarantee of success. Don Hamilton wrote that his dad “never stopped being a Christian, with Jesus as a companion on his journey.” But he became the target of hate mail and death threats, eventually losing his teaching position and a host of friends. Although written with genuine warmth, it was not a cheery remembrance. Rather, a costly one.

Ironically, what unnerved me was that, already while reading it, I regretted that I’d never dared to be honest enough to spark that much controversy. My own theological inklings over the years—captured in my sporadic journaling—are testament to questions no less piercing than William Hamilton’s. To suppositions no less daring than his … no less faithful(!) to the legacy of Jesus. But I’d never dared to go public with mine. So how were my kids ever to fondly recall my courage?

Then, this past spring, I began exploring the Unitarian Universalist tradition as a faith community that might offer me more “breathing space.” I read a bit of early UU history … and discovered a whole other attic of kindred spirits. From the 16th to 19th century, these first precursors to the UU faith were impassioned voices at the edge of the Christian tradition. They questioned doctrines that felt too small for God as sensed by their reason, experience, and pursuit of justice. The story of their bold commitment to unbounded authenticity (which eventually led them further and further afield from Christianity) has been … bracing for me to read. Because, up to now, my commitment has been to an authenticity bounded by the Christian tradition, even if mostly at the edge.

Porter (box), Persimmon – photo by Ben Z-W

It’s time to tear that box up, too.

I cannot and do not discount those who find the Christian tradition a fruitful space in which to do their work. But I also cannot and do not discount any longer the sense within me, that my own theological wings might’ve unfurled in even deeper and more gracious ways had I allowed myself to venture beyond the tradition of my upbringing sooner. I have poured energy—endless and creative, prophetic and persuasive—into dialoguing with a tradition increasingly not my own.

And now that my own children, as well as the wider world, need my wings unfurled as fully as possible, it is time for me to pour my energy—endless and creative, prophetic and persuasive—into dialoguing with authenticity. In community with others, yes. But beginning with an authenticity that is foremost my own.

I don’t yet know entirely what form that will take, but I’ve already told my kids to be ready to write that remembrance. And once I clear away all these torn up boxes I intend to get to work.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

Doubtful: My Life as Thomas’ Twin

Doubtful: Insights from My Life as Thomas’ Twin
David R. Weiss – April 16, 2023 – Pilgrim Lutheran Church, St. Paul

Thomas, who insists on touching Jesus in order to believe in today’s Gospel reading, is known as “the Twin.” Perhaps because he was a twin; or maybe simply as an inside joke, since in Aramaic “Thomas” means “twin.” In any case I experience myself as Thomas’ twin on a regular basis. Caught up in the throes of doubt. Faith seeming just beyond my reach. If only I could touch … I could believe.

Béla Iványi-Grünwald (1867–1940) public domain / wikimedia commons

If you ask me, Thomas gets a bad rap. I actually think there’s some powerful wisdom hiding in plain sight in this tale. This morning I want to suggest that perhaps, in the throes of doubt, TOUCH is where faith is born. I can only speak for myself, but I’ll save some time at the end for others of you to weigh in if you wish. So, here are some insights from my life … as Thomas’ twin.

Each of us moves through life with our own unique temperament. Mine has been shaped—at times misshaped—by a powerful intellect that has often insisted on knowing things for sure and has often eclipsed my capacity to honor my feelings. Beginning in adolescence, I suppose, is when DOUBT as an existential posture in life first dawned on me.

I felt inklings of a religious vocation during a confirmation retreat, but those inklings were accompanied by a veritable flood of uncertainty. Meanwhile, a couple high school friends were deeply involved in charismatic youth groups—featuring vibrant, extraverted, gushing, warm, fuzzy faith. Their effusive “certainty” left me (and all my memorized catechism “beliefs”) overfull with doubt. As if, whatever my “faith” was, it was just “pretend” compared to theirs.

But by the end of high school and through my college years, my point of religious reference shifted from charismatic Christianity to a more academic arena. My intellect—my budding prowess as a student of theology—managed to mostly silence the doubt. For the better part of four years, I “saw” Jesus with confidence through the lens of my studies and my intellectual mastery. I suspect I could always still hear the murmurings of doubt deep down, but the din of my vocational angst was louder, and my need to drown out doubt with doctrine was such that I may have convinced myself much of the time that I believed.

Until May of my senior year in college. That’s when Doubt came for me. By name. The last course I took at Wartburg College, in a “May Term” in 1982, was on Existentialist Literature. My intellect was in turns: intrigued, giddy, dizzy, and then full of doubt. We read Sartre and Camus, both brilliant atheist French philosophers. They were intriguing, fascinating, compelling even, but I managed to take them in stride. It was two Christians who threw me for a loop.

Søren Kierkegaard and Miguel de Unamuno were both philosopher-theologians with razor sharp minds, undeniable passion for God, and faith so entangled in doubt you couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other started. They wrote about their doubt so faithfully and so eloquently that I could not help but hear my own doubt in their words. And I knew this was indeed one truth at the heart of my being. I might learn to be whole alongside this truth, but I would never be whole by continuing to deny it.

I was still far from “touching Jesus,” but this encounter in May 1982 was perhaps the moment when I finally gained courage to say, “Unless I can put my finger in the mark of the nails and set my hand in the wound in his side, I cannot believe.” There was a sort of a tragic comfort in being honest. Plus, I was not alone. There were other bright, gifted, passionate people who bravely wrote at the edge of belief. I both admired and feared their courage. What would that mean … FOR ME?

It wouldn’t take long to find out. I was already admitted to Wartburg Seminary for the fall of 1982. Still entirely unsure that I had a call to ministry, only that I was drawn to God … and now ironically, drawn to God with Doubt etched openly on my heart and mind.

Seminary was a rich, complicated experience—all three years I attended. And all three times I quit—full of doubt. I was Thomas every step of the way. And seminary is a hard place to carry doubt as your best friend. In mid-October 1982, just seven weeks into classes I wrote this poem. My first attempt to name my faith so clearly outside the ramblings in my journal.

Require of me anything, Father
but ask not that I have belief.
I will feed in your name, the hungry;
to the poor I will offer relief.

I will visit the sick and the prisoners;
the naked will be clothed by me.
I will gladly give shelter to strangers;
I will refresh all who are thirsty.

Yea, Lord, I will see you in all flesh;
for my neighbor I will die without care.
But ask not, O Lord, that I have faith;
my attempts have brought only despair.

Demand of me but that I live faith,
that my struggles, so frantic, never cease;
that my faith be the love I show all flesh,
that my hope, in my doubt, be my peace.

These words have been the rhyme of my life ever since. That fall they represented my first efforts to work things out in my head. I wasn’t actually doing any of those things. But I was beginning to recognize that IF I was going to touch Jesus, this was how it would happen.

That first year in seminary I read John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus and met a scholar who showed me a Jesus far more invested in this world than the next one. Later on, Marcus Borg and a host of other Jesus’ scholars would fill out this portrait of Jesus much further, but Yoder’s was the book that first invited me to seek Jesus right here in the contested messiness of life—and in radical, nonviolent solidarity at the margins.

I made three tentative attempts to touch Jesus during those years. To put my poetry into action. I led a youth group project folding origami peace cranes in my home congregation. It was an astonishing success. As we folded peace cranes, I shared with the youth what I had learned about pacifism and being peacemakers in the world. And suddenly it was a moment of painful learning as well. The enthusiasm of the youth sparked anger among their parents, several of whom were proud Vietnam war vets. I might have been trying to touch Jesus, but I ended up poking these parents in the eye. The project was shut down by the church council, my hand slapped away, as it were, before I ever got to touch those nail marks.

Back at seminary I became active in anti-apartheid work through the seminary’s Namibia Concerns group. And—chastened by my peace crane debacle, I led a far more savvy and successful campaign to have the seminary remove its nuclear fallout shelter and declare itself a nuclear free zone at the beginning of Advent, as an act of faithful public witness: truth-telling in an era of nuclear idolatry. I managed, if only just barely, to touch Jesus in those deeds.

But I lacked the confidence to call that “faith.” Over against the expectations of family and pastors, the seeming calm certainty of my seminary professors, and the over-stated Lutheran enthusiasm of my classmates, my simple deeds of solidarity seemed not much more than frantically treading water.

Looking back, THIS WAS the birth of faith for me. But I had never been taught—never invited—to recognize faith as anything other than believing assertions that only ever elicited doubt for me.

There were other moments of insight in seminary, but none that provided a sense of vocational clarity. So, I left seminary after three years and spent the next forty months or so wandering in the wilderness. “Forty,” of course, is a biblical approximation for “a dang long time.” It was about six years altogether, during which time I did mostly very menial work: hotel housekeeper, construction laborer, restaurant kitchen worker, shipping and receiving clerk, and (with apologies) junk mail labeler. All the type of things that an M.A. in religion qualifies you for.

Still, during these years, although I drifted to the edge of church, I also got much better at touching Jesus. I volunteered in a soup kitchen. I lived—at least partly by choice—a very simple life. I became active in a peace group devoted to nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons and U.S.-funded human rights violations in Central America. I helped—albeit it a safe distance—with the largest nonviolent trespass on ICBM missile silos in Missouri in U.S. history. I wrote and directed a street theater protesting U.S. foreign policy in Central America. And I was twice arrested and jailed for nonviolent protest actions in Madison, Wisconsin. Among other things.

I’m not sure that at the time I would’ve described these actions as “touching Jesus,” but I knew they were more meaningful and lifegiving than anything I’d done with my life up to that point. They were as close to “holy,” as I’d gotten. And yet, fulfilling as those things were, I sensed that my unique gifts—the strength of my intellect, the scope of my imagination, and the power of my words—were still waiting to be fully engaged in touching Jesus.

So, in 1992 I returned to grad school, this time to the University of Notre Dame, to begin a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics—which is more or less academic jargon for “touching Jesus.” These were hard years. Grad school might be a fine place to hone one’s thinking about compassion, but the rigors of study and what we ruefully called the “gladiator” style of seminar discussion did not make it an easy place to learn the practice of compassion.

Moreover, I was caught in a failing marriage. One imploding through emotional dysfunction and too often exploding in physical violence. I was regularly battered and bruised, inside and out. Not the story I’m here to tell, but few things amplify DOUBT to an all-encompassing experience the way that being caught in domestic violence does. That particular chapter of my life shaped my spiritual journey in ways I am still working to understand. I mention it here to acknowledge—emphatically—that for all of us, our inward journeys are always embodied journeys. And my embodied journey during these years was rough.

Nevertheless, in 1997, I had a moment as defining for me as that course in Existentialism at Wartburg College. A few years earlier, in sync with the ELCA’s early tumultuous venture into rethinking its stance on homosexuality, I began to focus a chunk of my academic theological energy on this question. I put my intellect, as it were, at the service of exploring how the church might “touch Jesus” in its encounter with gay and lesbian persons. My intellectual passion was fully engaged, but in February 1997, something shifted.

I read an anonymous poetic lament written by a gay senior at Notre Dame, published in a student magazine. He gave voice to the pain of “living in fear” (that was the title of his poem) across his entire four years at Notre Dame. Trusting no one with the truth of his self. Suddenly, that night, at home, in the midst of a violent marriage—my own “living in fear” that I had spoken to no one about—and with all my head-learning about homosexuality swirling around—

I found myself in the upper room alongside Thomas.

And in the anonymous gay young man, there stood Jesus, inviting me to place my fingers in the nail marks of his silence, to put my hand into the wound of his fear. And I did: writing and weeping through the night. My gifts of mind, imagination, and words all found desperate purpose as I wrote a prose-poem response to his piece, in what became a twenty-year practice of using my gifts to touch Jesus through my work in solidarity with LGBTQ+ persons seeking affirmation, welcome, and justice.

Of course, A LOT happened during that span from 1997 to 2017. My work with and on behalf of LGBTQ persons, involved befriending, writing, teaching, speaking, agitating. If you had asked me during those years to check off all the Christian doctrines I could cheerfully affirm, I would not have had an easy time. Intellectual doubt about this doctrine or that doctrine has been my constant companion—even as I taught college religion. Since my seminary days, I have been passionate in my conviction of a gracious energy at the heart of the cosmos, an energy that looks like mercy, justice, and compassion when active in human lives. And I have found the Christian account of Jesus rich with echoes of that truth.

But doctrine has always felt like being in a room with other apostles clamoring on about how they just saw Jesus … and I wasn’t there. And all their excited words only raised DOUBT in me.

But I have learned not to be captive to that doubt. I’ve learned to touch Jesus—not as the need to “prove” my faith, but as the humble expression of my faith. This is where resurrection makes sense to me. Not as a contested claim about what may or may not have transpired physiologically with Jesus’ body following the crucifixion. But as a practiced claim about the holy work of doing justice, chasing after mercy, and showing compassion. In using my unique gifts to do these things with passion and creativity I touch Jesus: I glimpse what it means to live life with a sense of purpose that is undaunted by death. That’s resurrection, if you ask me.

There is one last chapter I should add before I close. Because it’s started here, some eight years back, and has recently taken an unexpected turn. Some of you might recall I spent the 2014-2015 program year with you as Theologian in Residence. As the year was wrapping up, over the spring and summer of 2015, I felt a fresh restlessness inside. As though another encounter with Jesus, inviting me to touch a new set of wounds—was on the horizon. I revisited some writings from my years at Notre Dame … about care for a wounded planet. They called to me anew. And I have spent the past eight years touching Jesus primarily through my work around the ecological peril that faces us and all life on this planet these days.

I’ve worked tirelessly to awaken the church to this peril—and to inspire a thoughtful, faithful response. I’ve written more than a hundred essays. I’ve penned several hymns, written devotions and worship resources, led book groups and more. I have devoted myself to touching Jesus at the intersection of Christian faith and ecological crisis.

And then, last August, my mother died. It was not an especially tragic death. The last years of her life had been tragically marred by dementia. So, her death, in some ways, was release. When it came, it was relatively quick and peaceful. But for me, her death—as a parent’s death might often be—became a spur to some profound existential self-examination.

In short, I realized that all of my work on our present ecological peril almost entirely misses the mark with my own two children. Neither of whom have any connection to a church community or a Christian frame of reference any longer.

Now, I should clarify a couple things here before I say anything more. My children are GREAT. They are principled, caring, compassionate persons. But they are NOT Christian. And they are NOT prepared for the ecological crisis that is taking aim at their generation and the next. I should acknowledge, as well, that altogether I count SIX children in my family, but Ben and Susanna are the two I have fathered since birth, so they hold a special place in my point of reference. Altogether, only one of our six children and only one of our nine grandchildren are church-connected. And NONE of them are prepared for the ecological crisis that will be their inheritance.

So, I find myself poised at a significant crossroads. Five of my children—including the two I have fathered since birth—and eight of my grandchildren are beyond the church and beyond Christian language. My fervent concern over our ecological crisis hardly speaks to them at all because I have invested my energy in speaking to a community that no longer includes them.

This is how I put it in a recent blog post: “I have frequently said that Christianity has no monopoly on insight into how to foster our best humanity or how to respond to the crises we face. Whenever I do so, I always explain that I choose to work in the Christian tradition because it is the language in which I am most conversant. This is all true. But if the language I know best does not reach those I love most dearly, how can I not set off in search of other words? This is how alarmed I am by the still mostly unseen ecological unraveling that is already happening moment by moment in our midst: I will forsake my faith home to go find language that can reach my children.”

Words as eloquent … and painful … as any I have written. Many persons have been appreciative of my honesty, and many have acknowledged sharing my concern. But, also, sure enough, some of my friends have accused me of renouncing my faith or betraying the church. And that has stung.

What I know to be true, is that my faith has always been framed by doubt. And this doubt has gifted me with a desire to touch Jesus. Not to “prove” my faith, but to express it. I am choosing now—if possible—to touch Jesus outside the church, for the sake of my children. I don’t think that’s the right choice for everyone. But, for me, it is the fulness of faith.

I am Thomas. Doubtful. And Faithful. My guess is that many of you are, too. So, while I’m happy to take questions or comments, I’m also happy to hear from you, if you’d like to share briefly about where you touch the wounds of Jesus in ways that express your faith.

Thank you.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

When Even Strong Words Fall Short: A Moment for Commensurate Heroism

When Even Strong Words Fall Short: A Moment for Commensurate Heroism
David R. Weiss, January 19, 2018

Perhaps no value holds a more central place in Christian life than compassionate hospitality. It lies at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, is unmistakably a force that leads to his crucifixion, and ever afterward has been among the signposts of both sainthood and mere Christian discipleship.

Under President Trump—and an emboldened GOP that aims to deftly leverage his overtly racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamaphobic, and xenophobic messaging to their own political advantage—no Christian truth is more under attack than the call to practice hospitality.

Currently, as Republicans threaten to shut down the government over Democrat insistence that any budget agreement includes recognition and resolution of plight of those immigrants currently suspended in DACA, the GOP gambles that Americans—the majority of whom still fain “Christianity” as a identifier—no longer really give a damn about its central call to hospitality. At some level they may be correct, although public polling sets support for a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) solution at more than 80%.

But alongside . . . in the shadow of . . . this spotlighted budgetary blip is the ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) assault on immigrants who by many measures contribute to the strength of our nation. It is “open season” on immigrants, even those previously protected by their public profile.

As The Nation reports today:

This week, longtime New York immigrant-rights activist Jean Montrevil, who had lived in the US for 31 years and was arrested just a week prior, was deported to Haiti. On Thursday, Ravi Ragbir, a leader alongside Montrevil with New York City’s New Sanctuary Movement, was transferred back to the New York area from Miami after ICE took him into custody during a check-in on January 11.

Also on January 11, ICE pulled over and arrested Eliseo Jurado, the husband of Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a Peruvian woman who has taken sanctuary in a church in Boulder, Colorado. This string of recent arrests prompted another immigrant-rights leader to come forward. On Tuesday, the longtime Seattle-based immigrant-rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando went public with details of ICE’s enforcement against her. On December 20 she received in the mail what’s known as a notice to appear, [which] signals the beginning of DHS deportation proceedings. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard from immigration,” Mora Villalpando told The Nation. “My case makes it clear that this is a targeting of people who have decided to be outspoken,” said Mora Villalpando, who has never received a deportation order and says her criminal record is clean. “I only have traffic tickets in my life, and that’s that.”

ICE denies that these enforcement actions are politically motivated. “ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security,” ICE spokesperson Lori Haley said. “However, as ICE leadership has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

Meanwhile, locally, Saint Agnes bakery has abruptly turned off its ovens and closed its doors—apparently in response to a threatened ICE audit of its business and its employees. As many as a dozen longtime and skilled bakers—vibrant members of our community who for years have made the bread we bought in local stores or ate on the plates of local restaurants—quit on the spot for fear of deportation.

Such actions by ICE should be named theologically for what they are: Antichrist. These aggressive campaigns to deport and/or intimidate undocumented but also un-criminal members of our communities are expressions of political terrorism. They seek foremost to sow fear, both among immigrants (undocumented and otherwise) and among citizens. They feed xenophobia. They kill the spirit of hospitality that is the first behavioral mark of a follower of Jesus.

Thus, while I applaud the strong words of the Minnesota ELCA bishops in condemning Trump’s latest round of racist messaging—messaging that’s already actively echoing across our heartlandit isn’t enough.

If we hope to save the soul of Christianity—to preserve the dignity of humanity itself, and to make possible a future in which America’s ideals might one day be realized—two things are essential and urgent.

Our bishops—not just in Minnesota, not just Lutheran, but religious leaders of all faiths—must raise a united voice that echoes the words Archbishop Oscar Romero spoke in his sermon on March 23, 1980 (the day before he was assassinated). Addressing his nation’s soldiers, he announced: “In the name of God, in the name of these suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression!”

I call on our bishops—our religious leaders from coast to coast, border to border—to announce with one voice to ICE agents: “In the name of God, in the name of these suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression!”

And then I call on faith communities in every town, village, city, and glen to step forward in radical hospitality—what my former grad school mentor called “commensurate heroism”: that is, to say to every ICE agent who risks his or her livelihood by choosing hospitality over terror, who risks their job to defy unholy orders, “we have your back. If you shoulder the risks to which your faith calls you most directly, we will help you bear the costs incurred.”

I’m glad to see Democrats hold the line on a DACA resolution—even if it means that Trump and the GOP choose a government shutdown over a commonsense and humane resolution, because such a choice will help further unveil the dysfunction of the Grand Old Party and the moral emptiness of the President.

I’m glad to see the strong statement by the Minnesota ELCA bishops, too. Such words can inspire persons of faith to realize that moral decency and simple humanity are not mere whims to be entertained from an armchair. They are compass points that direct our actions—sometimes in direct defiance of authority, sometimes in direct support of our neighbor, always in the direction of hospitality.

And it’s time for our leaders to connect those dots publically and invite, implore, beg, even order the rest of us to connect the dots in our lives.