Archives For Witness

Here’s the second part to our conversation with Dr. Ruben Rosario Rodriguez.

Back in the day, Ruben taught me Barth for the first time. Now, we’re both black sheep, closet Reformation guys in Catholic and Wesleyan folds respectively. Ruben Rosario Rodriguez is professor of theology at St. Louis University and is the author of the powerful new book Christian Martyrdom and Political Violence.
In this installment, Ruben talks particularly about racism in both the academy and in the student body.

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As I’ve repeated these last weeks, I believe the Gospel creates communities where there is neither Republican nor Democrat. The Church, however, is political in that it subverts the politics of the day by refusing the either/or dichotomy found in our politics. Like the community we call Trinity, the Church is a community of both difference and peace, which is an ongoing–and not always easy–process that Paul calls the discipline of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a discipline that requires the habit of listening to those with whom you disagree.

To that end, I offer this challenging reflection from my friend David Fitch, professor at Northern Seminary in Chicago and a theological brother from another mother. David is the author of the new, damn fine book Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. Get it here. No, really, get it now.

I think it’s a peculiarly relevant critique given that abortion is the particular issue on which many conservative Christians rationalized their vote for a candidate whose character would have otherwise disqualified him among those very people.

What if many Christians voted for Donald Trump hoping for a pro-life administration, yet Donald Trump will always be more pro abortion than President Obama?

Here’s David’s piece:

“To change behavior by law has never been the Christian way. A country may be preserved by laws but cannot be redeemed by them. The law has limited effect.

Even Luther and Calvin agreed on the law’s limits. Evangelical protestants (of which I am one) who claim we are saved by faith not by works would also seem to agree. Instead, people are challenged by culture, a way of life, by examples of a life well lived, not being told what they can and cannot do.

This we hope leads to a saving faith, not mere comformity to rules. There is nothing remotely pro-life/anti-abortion about a nation that legally prohibits abortion but promotes a culture that sexualizes and abuses women. It is this sexualizing misogynous culture that promotes abortion.

This is why I have never taken lightly the way the way a leader lives his/her life morally before a country (I couldn’t support Clinton).

Ultimately President Trump, even though he appoints a pro-life judge, is a pro-abortion president.

By his example (the locker room talk, the groping-and maybe assault, the sexualizing of women, the multiple divorces, the misogynous comments toward women, the multiple scandals) he promotes a sexualizing-of-women culture through his own example and the people around him.

The most pro-life thing Donald Trump could do is visibly repent of his behaviors before a listening nation.

You can have all the laws in the world, but if the (young) men of this culture see that these are the values that ‘successful men’ in USA live, the Trump presidency is a complete failure on the pro-life issue.

He is ultimately more pro-abortion, less pro-life, than President Obama ever was. And for this I grieve.”

imagesTwo weeks ago I came out of the closet. You can read about that here.

Having worn a clergy collar for a burial, I stopped at Starbucks to do some work before going home. The collar elicited not a few stares and prompted a couple of groups of friends to look for another table other than the one next to the ‘Father’ to have their coffee and chat.

But the collar also provoked several sincere questions about life and faith, an oddball question from an even odder person about the Book of Revelation and one pseudo-confession.

And to top it off, I even made sure I tipped the Barista because grace might be free but you don’t people thinking Christians are cheap.

The few hours I spent there made me think there was something to this visible-faith business and, in a previous post, I committed to wearing the collar in a public space once or twice a week during Lent. 

Friday.

This past Friday I went to Barnes and Noble and set up a workstation in the cafe.

Collar?

On.

To my left and right and all around me were other folks of all ages doing exactly as I was doing. Reading. Studying.

But right there in the front me, only four feet away, was an oldish Hispanic man sitting at a two top curled up against the green column.

The collection of dirty grocery bags spread out around his feet- not to mention his odor- told me he was homeless. 

So, there I am:

The gleam of my MacBook shining beneath the overheads, my iPhone at my left like a prized rifle ready to shoot, snacking on my piping hot sun-dried tomato sandwich…wearing my collar.

All we needed were a couple of dogs and you could’ve called me Lazarus.

The homeless man was asleep. Snoring actually though he was still quieter than the realtor behind me yammering into his phone about ‘points.’

The homeless man hadn’t seen me there. But everyone else had seen me. To be honest, I’ve no idea if anyone in the cafe had put 1 Homeless Man + 1 Priest together to make any assumptions; they might not have even been looking at me.

But it sure felt like every pair of eyes there in the cafe (plus the nimrod hawking the Nooks) were bearing down on me. Everyone else probably only heard the Norah Jones playing- is Norah Jones ever not playing at BN- but all I could hear was every single freaking person thinking out loud:

‘Look, that priest is stuffing his face with a homeless person right in front of him, disgusting.’ 

‘See that, it’s easy to talk the talk isn’t it? But when it matters those people don’t actually walk the walk.’ 

‘This is exactly what’s wrong with organized religion.’ 

And then above the imaginary din rose another voice, Jesus’ voice. In case you’re wondering, I imagine Jesus’ voice to sound a lot like the Dude from The Big Lebowski. 

thedudeJesus, the Dude, told me:

‘Whenever you do it for the least of these, you do it for me.’ 

 

‘Okay, alright’ I said, louder than I realized and to no one but the voices in my head.

He was still sleeping.

I got up and bought a bowl of broccoli cheddar and half a roast beef sandwich. He woke up as I slid the tray onto his table.

‘Gracias’ he said.

‘De nada’

I sat back down.

‘¿Cómo se llama usted?’ I asked him. (What is your name?)

‘Jesus’ he replied in a hoarse Spanish accent, ‘Jesus.’

‘No… Bleeping… Way…’ I thought to myself.

God has a sense of humor, I guess. I halfway expected to see goats and sheep stroll past the rack of SI Swimsuit Editions.

Here’s my Lenten confession:

If I hadn’t had that collar on, it would’ve been 50/50 whether or not I ignored Jesus at the table in front of me. If I had looked like a regular Joe, I could’ve gotten away with acting like one.

But with that collar strapped uncomfortably around my neck like a plastic yoke I felt an obligation to Jesus- the one sitting in front of me smelling of the street.

If nothing else, I felt obligated to that Jesus because of the expectations I perceived among the crowd in the cafe.

Before you point it out, I will: I’m well aware that the fact that I was responding to their expectations reveals how fleeting is my sense of obligation to that other homeless Jesus.

Maybe that’s why nuns call their old school outfits ‘habits.’

Maybe we need some outward, visible sign of a faith that’s still trying to get all the way inside us. Maybe we need something like a yoke that pulls us to act on our faith- at least until it becomes a habit of love.

 

Coming Out of the Closet

Jason Micheli —  February 15, 2013 — 10 Comments

I have a collared clergy shirt. A couple actually.

I don’t often wear it.

I usually only pull it out for burials (it’s hard to drive to a cemetery wearing a robe and even more awkward getting dressed beside my car in front of mourners).

I sometimes wear it to weddings (because wedding planners often think I’m 14 years old and attempt to treat me accordingly).

I often wear it to nursing homes (where the collar communicates better than my words to someone who struggles with hearing or memory).

I usually don’t wear it. Much like clergy robes themselves, I believe anything that exacerbates a distinction between clergy and laity is unhelpful in a Post-Christian culture where most Christians are incapable of articulating their faith to others. Because, as the unspoken assumption goes, ministry is the minister’s job. Not mine.

I did a funeral and burial this morning.

Clergy collar? On.

Afterwards, because my cleaning lady was at my house, I stopped at Starbucks where I now sit.

Coffee still in my hand, butt not yet all the way in my seat, laptop only halfway opened and the person next to me asks: ‘Is it strange having everyone around you know what your faith is.’

I was taken aback because, let’s face it, most of the time I can glide through my day with no one knowing that part of life and identity save for the people I meet in the safe confines of the Church.

And most of you can glide through life with no one knowing that part of your life.

And most of you do.

Just sitting here for the past 90 minutes, I’ve had three other questions from three other people- and one of them bought this ‘Father’ a coffee too (which was kinda embarrassing).

I’ve always had a beef with clergy robes and clergy shirts for being antiquated (the average unchurched person has no idea why I would dress like a 4th century lawyer- or Obi Wan- on Sunday morning).

I’ve always taken issue with the fact that robes aren’t really traditional (Methodists only started wearing them around WW II), and, as I mentioned, I genuinely believe smashing the clergy/lay divide is a necessary task for the Church to survive into the 21st century, for if pastors are the keepers and dispensers of holy things the Church will never reach unchurched people.

But sitting here in Starbucks suggests something different to me. Maybe there’s something ‘invitational’ about the collar.

It outs me as though I were wearing a storefront sign around my neck

I know some clergy say they don’t wear collars and robes because they want to be able to ‘relate’ to people. I think, and always have, that that’s stupid. Especially in the case of the collar. After all, if I were just sitting in a t-shirt this afternoon, as I usually do, I never would’ve been in a position to ‘relate’ to anyone.

Because I could just avoid them. As I usually do.

Maybe there was something to all those Levitical commands about God’s People cultivating a very precise, distinctive appearance.

Which leaves me with a conundrum.

  1. I don’t think clergy/lay distinctions are helpful.
  2. This stupid collar that’s crimping my overlarge Adam’s apple is more helpful than a cross around my neck- because everyone wears those.

So maybe the solution is:

  3. All Christians should have to wear these out and about.

I doubt I’ll get many takers among the laity on #3, but I’ve decided on a little experiment during Lent. One or two days a week during Lent, I will hang out in a public place (SB, Pub and the like) and see what sorts of conversations come.