Christianity for the Rest of Us

Christianity for the Rest of Us


Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords: Speaking for the Soul

posted by Diana Butler Bass

The Sunday
after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, my husband’s family attended
their Presbyterian church.  They
went with heavy hearts, expecting the pastor to help make sense of the
tragedy.  The minister rose to
preach.  The congregation held its
breath.  But he said nothing of the events in Memphis.  He
preached as if nothing had happened.

My husband’s
family left church that day disappointed; eventually, they left that church
altogether. 

This Sunday,
many Americans will go to church. 
A sizeable number of those people may be hoping to hear something that
helps them make sense of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and
the others who had gathered at her sidewalk townhall in Tucson.  Some pastors may note the event in prayer
and some may say something during announcements or add a sentence to their
sermons.  But others might say
nothing, sticking instead to prepared texts and liturgies.  Many will eschew speaking of politics.  

That would be
a mistake.

Much of
American public commentary takes place on television, via the Internet, and
through social networks.  We
already know what form the analysis of the assassination attempt will be.  Everyone will say what a tragedy it
is.  Then commentators will take
sides.  Those on the left will
blame the Tea Party’s violent rhetoric and “Second Amendment solutions.”  Those on the right will blame
irresponsible individuals and Socialism. 
Progressives will call for more gun control; conservatives will say more
people should carry guns. Everyone will have some sort of spin that benefits
their party, their platform, and their policies. 

But who will
speak of the soul? 

Since
President Obama has taken office, many ministers have told me that they have
feared addressing public issues from the pulpit lest “someone get hurt.”  Well, someone is hurt–and people have
died–most likely because bitterly partisan lies have filled the air and most
certainly because some unhinged individual killed people.

At their best,
American pulpits are not about taking sides and blaming.  Those pulpits should be places to
reflect on theology and life, on the Word and our words.  I hope that sermons tomorrow will go
beyond expressions of sympathy or calls for civility and niceness.  Right now, we need some sustained
spiritual reflection on how badly we have behaved in recent years as Americans–how
much we’ve allowed fear to motivate our politics, how cruel we’ve allowed our
discourse to become, how little we’ve listened, how much we’ve dehumanized
public servants, how much we hate.

Sunday January
9 is the day on which many Christians celebrate the Baptism of Jesus: “
When
Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the
heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and
alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved,
with whom I am well pleased.'” 
Jesus’ baptism in water symbolizes life, the newness that comes of
cleansing.  But there is a darker
symbol of baptism in American history: that of blood.  
In
1862, Episcopal bishop Stephen Elliot of Georgia said, “All nations which come
into existence . . . must be born amid the storm of revolution and must win
their way to a place in history through the baptism of blood.”  Baptism as water?  Baptism as blood?  Baptism accompanied by a dove or
baptism accompanied by the storm of revolution?

American
Christianity is deeply conflicted, caught between two powerful symbols of
baptism, symbols that haunt our political sub-consciousness.  To which baptism are we called?  Which baptism does the world most need
today?  Which baptism truly
heals?  Do we need the water of God,
or the blood of a nine-year old laying on a street in Tucson?  The answer is profoundly and simply
obvious.  We need redemption
gushing from the rivers of God’s love, not that of blood-soaked sidewalks. 

If we don’t speak for the soul, our silence will surely aid evil.  



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Comments read comments(64)
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Robin Spurling

posted January 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm


Thank you, I have been working on rewriting my sermon for tomorrow all afternoon. You last three sentences are superb and helping me find the words I need.



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Sierra

posted January 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm


To which I say Amen and AMEN!!
Well spoken words of wisdom. It’s too bad the evil shell is so thick it won’t penetrate many. May our Almighty God have Mercy on these people — ALL of them.



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Kathy Anderson

posted January 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm


Peace is achievable after repentance. Thank-you for this message, I’m strengthened because of it. God bless you.



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Allen

posted January 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm


I agree– today’s events need to be addressed. I’m not sure that I’d go straight to Martin Luther King Jr. on this one. Using the Isaiah 60 scripture for tomorrow, I think I’ll be talking about how we are called to rise up and shine the new light– even in the face of the same old, ever-present darkness. Isaiah writes to a community that felt forsaken by God, that saw their fearful situation as their just desserts. To them he writes of a coming day– a day they couldn’t bring into being on their own, but that would be God’s gift to them. By talking about baptism as initiation into the Kingdom of God– which is directly opposed to the kingdoms of this world– we are called to live by different rules, to shine with god’s light even in the presence of pervasive and persistent darkness.
This world we live in– filled even today with a persistent, pervasive darkness– needs us to reaffirm in ourselves the light of God and to shine that light for all to see. A friend of mine gave me a quote by Madeline L’Engle–“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” I think that will be the point toward which I will preach.



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The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

posted January 8, 2011 at 7:55 pm


And let the people say, AMEN!! I’ll be “sharing” this as widely … as well as sending it to the five new priests we ordained yesterday here in Los Angeles. Great work, Diana! Thanks and Brava!!



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Rev. Holly Reinhart-Marean

posted January 8, 2011 at 8:18 pm


Diana, thank you for opening up this discussion here. I need it and you are right, so do our congregations. I was trying to think of how to incorporate it in a helpful way which would get through to people’s hearts and spirits. Thank you for opening the door of my heart and mind to some of the possibilities by opening the door to discussion among us. Thanks to everyone who posts here in response, your input is so helpful as well to open up the discussion of faith and life.



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Brian

posted January 8, 2011 at 8:20 pm


You inspired me to write a prayer about this tragedy in AZ for Sunday morning: http://ephphatha-poetry.blogspot.com/2011/01/prayer-for-tragedy-in-arizona.html



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JD

posted January 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm


I think you totally missed the mark with this article. This tragedy has very little to do with politics, discourse, or listening to each other, or symbols.
It has to do with evil. This kid did this out of evil and would most likely done this with any type of motivation. His favoerite books were “Mein Kmampf by Adolph Hitler” and the Communist Manifesto
Evil exists no matter how much we wish it didn’t. The message that should be preached in the churches tomorrow should be that we cling to our faith in Jesus Christ and not let this tragedy infect us.



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Eric Elnes

posted January 8, 2011 at 8:54 pm


I was in the process of preparing reflections on “blessed are the poor in spirit” for tomorrow’s live netcast of Darkwood Brew when Darkwood Brew’s producer, Scott Griessel (Tucson, AZ)texted me about the shooting. I first got to know Gaby when she had just started serving in the AZ legislature. She attended a subcommittee at which I testified against AZ’s (first) attempted ban on same-sex marriage. She terrifically impressed me with her intelligence, knowledge of the issues (far more than her colleagues of many more yrs experience) AND her ability to disagree sharply with others (who supported the constitutional amendment) while conveying an attitude of respect and appreciation for them.
In the wake of the news, “blessed are the poor in spirit” took on a number of nuances that had not surfaced before. It made me remember Jeff Cook’s (author, Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes) observation that being “poor of spirit” points to the experience of emptiness, which we tend to think of in our society as a bad thing. Yet, Cook observes, when your gas tank is running on empty, it’s a blessed thing to recognize its empty state rather than drive down the road in denial. The state of public discourse in America is like that empty gas tank. Perhaps if more of us (and I do mean us, not simply “them”) recognize it, and respond by emptying ourselves of the vitriol and scapegoating, we might experience that toward which Jesus’ claim “blessed are the poor in spirit” points – “for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
Jeff will be our special guest on Darkwood Brew tomorrow. I think he and I may chat about this a bit!



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Warren Hicks

posted January 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm


Diana, I agree that we cannot ignore this event from the pulpit tomorrow.
That being said, this is a symptom of a deeper problem. One that John the Baptist learned all too well. Whether or not the Pharisees or Sadducees were what he said they were, he lost them at “Brood of Vipers” and the die was cast for him.
Therein lies the critical difference, it seems to me, in the Baptism of Jesus and what John had heretofore been practicing. Jesus, in Matthew says, that ‘all righteousness’ is to be fulfilled by John baptizing him. The word ‘righteousness’ may also be translated ‘justice’.
Today we have to claim Jesus’ baptism for all of creation as a means to justice and not the rectitude of some supposed moral higher ground based upon our ability to demonize ‘the other’ in the eyes of those who sympathize with us.
Whether it be in American political discourse (or lack thereof) or the referendum in the Sudan taking place tomorrow, we have to stand for the fulfilling of ‘all justice’ if the Baptism of Jesus is to allow the voice of God to be heard over the din of spiteful rhetoric regardless of its source.
So then, tomorrow, we will deal once again with senseless violence on the home front, while at the same time praying, with the hope of ‘all righteousness’ for situations teetering on the brink, like those in the Sudan.
A tough task, but one in which the Spirit can move, given space and open ears, hearts and minds.



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Eric Folkerth

posted January 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm


Diana: Thanks for this word of encouragement and challenge. I must say that tonight I am weary. As someone who has, many times, spoken against intolerance and the growing sense of fear and hatemonger in our society from our pulpit, I am tired. Very tired and very sad.
I see today as but a completely and totally understandable result of years and years of hateful rhetoric. I agree with you about the need to speak out, but I am tired and sad. I’ve been speaking out about the growing hateful rhetoric for several years, and tonight I’m weary and questioning my own ability to make a difference of any kind.
My wife is also a public official (judge) and we have lived with the knowledge of specific security threats at the courthouse. Nothing has ever happened, but several events have shaken us, and have reminded us of just how fragile our sense of security is. Frankly, public officials at all level of government have dealt with this sense of hate….every day.
I am thinking, though…and deeply grateful you have put this out today.
We need to speak out, I know. But I am weary at this moment.



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Reverend Jan Nolting Carter

posted January 8, 2011 at 9:55 pm


Diana—
Thank you very much for this, and for Brian’s response in prayer. I will preach tomorrow for a congregation that has repeatedly said that it does not want politics in the pulpit. I will be a guest preacher there. I agree, however, that it is long past time for our pulpits and our congregations to enter the dialogue. Jim Wallis and his colleagues at Sojourners have wisely reminded us that “God is not a Republican—or a Democrat.” When Jesus emerged from the water and the heavens opened and said, “This is my Son, the beloved. . . ” I do not believe that God was saying that God loved Jesus for his progressive characteristics or his conservative characteristics. When all of us emerge from the baptismal waters, God loves us. It is the immensity of that love that should be wrapped around our conversations with others–yes, sometimes in disagreement. That is missing from our public discourse. Good folks often are more willing to stick their heads in the sand than to enter the fray. We need to remember that we can disagree and still do so in an attitude of love and respect.
Blessings—



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Adam Copeland

posted January 8, 2011 at 10:38 pm


As a preacher, I appreciate the task of speaking timely words, and of speaking truth in a world which needs it so desperately. But I’m very reticent to jump to conclusions and play the guessing-game that we hear so much on cable news. Instant speculation is not what our world needs more of, it’s justice-seeking stamina. I’ll mention the shooting for certain–in the sermon, probably, and most certainly in prayers. I’ll speak those words of redemption and call my brothers and sisters to live out their vocation in a manner which might overthrow the filth that occurred in Tuscon. Thanks for your article, Diana.



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tom green

posted January 8, 2011 at 10:52 pm


Remember the commercial for the burger joint where the little lady opened the bun and asked “where’s the beef”? That has been my question to mainstream US Christian(especially Protestant) congregations…….where are you reflecting Jesus’ teachings in your churches and lives? Can you become relevant and make a difference?
I say follow the Master Teacher and always come from love. And never give in to fear.



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Rev. Joanna Tipple

posted January 8, 2011 at 10:54 pm


Thanks to the use of Jenee Woodward’s The Text This Week & faithful colleagues – (personally known & unknown) I found your (Diana’s) remarks re: today’s shooting. I appreciate the wisdom in your acknowledgement of the events of today and the spiritual repercussions which this and other events of this nature generate. And I also confess that I have been avoiding reading or listening to much of the reporting. For one thing – as my FB posts indicate, the details about the shooting changed over the course of the day. I did not want to – as Adam Copeland has mentioned – jump to conclusions until more facts were gathered and evaluated. I am also weary of the violence that is so much a part of our reality. I am not ignoring it or denying it’s presence. I am just weary of it. I have said a prayer for the immediate victims and families who have been affected by this – including the shooter. I have no doubt that I will include this somehow into the message but I cannot force it either. I don’t want to minimize or tivialize the impact of this situation but I am also aware that violent acts occur every day. Is the relevance of those acts any more or less than this one?



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Rev. Raedorah C. Stewart

posted January 8, 2011 at 10:54 pm


Diana, you are so on point with this clarion call to comfort and clarification. Even if there is none to be found in this moment of great angst and shame. Tomorrow’s sermon will not be business as usual. While sitting here refining the sermon “Oh, Grow Up!” on 2 Peter 1:5-8, flowery, inspirational illustrations have given way to this painfully poignant reality where soul-tending demands acknowledgment. And so I will. Even at the risk of not being invited back to preach again to this Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation that is, at cursory glance and soul stance, the antithesis of Giffords’ advocacy for the oppressed and advocate for justice. In the meantime, I weep and pray; and am taking others along with me.



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Mike

posted January 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm


The problem you’re making (and I only see it on the left) is the politicization of this senseless act of violence. This is not a political issue. I have only heard prayer and condolences on the right, not blaming anyone other than this schizophrenic mad man. I hope everyone preaches the only thing we’ve been called to preach as those called to be pastors–Christ and Him crucified. Blaming conservative political figures is irresponsible and evil.



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Mary Johnson

posted January 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm


Yes, we need to preach tomorrow in the context of these terrible shootings. Yes, something unspeakably evil has happened. If I did not adhere to a lectionary I might choose as my text the one where Jesus speaks out against “causing the little ones to stumble” (e.g. Luke 17). It is clear that the primary suspect in this case is terribly mentally ill. But getting effective treatment for mental illness is exceptionally difficult. And in a context of widely-available handguns, very angry rhetoric, and where we are loath to become our brothers’ keepers, this kind of terrible violence is a possible outcome.
Obviously, being a Servant of God in whom God’s soul delights, being a child of God in whom God is well pleased by virtue of our baptism, does not keep us safe from physical harm. In fact, speaking out, bearing witness to injustice when we meet it, does often put a person in harm’s way. Into what kind of ultimate, profoundly safe place are we inviting those persons who are baptized into Christ and will follow him in the way of the Cross? We are called as followers of Jesus to cry, “Enough!” in the face of senseless violence; to do the hard work of holding cynicism and despair at bay as we apply our creativity to the heartbreakingly difficult problems of our society; and perhaps hardest of all, to love and forgive, love and forgive, love and forgive…



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ScottieK

posted January 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm


I’m preaching on the Luke story about the guys who lower the paralytic friend through the roof to Jesus. The paralytic’s situation was hopeless, empty of Justice (meaning Kingdom justice). But his friends hope on his behalf. They believe FOR him. Because of THEIR faith, Jesus heals the man. That is, perhaps, our calling in situations like today where evil and hatred cause so much pain and destroy hope. We followers of Christ speak hope. That word is the action and the essence of faith. We speak hope because we know the one from whom Justice flows down like a river. Our hope is the fruit of faith. And it is the greatest need of a world ripped apart by violence and evil.



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Leslianne Braunstein

posted January 8, 2011 at 11:33 pm


The silence of the church through the years on issues relevant to the populace has been, at the very least, deafening. And we wonder why the pews are empty.



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Rev. E.H.

posted January 8, 2011 at 11:37 pm


Thank you, Diana. Your words stirred the prophetic sermon in me, and gave me courage to jettison a prepared sermon and instead “speak to the soul” from my pulpit tomorrow morning.
I’ve been tickled to see the link to this essay bounce through Facebook this afternoon — many of my fellow Unitarian Universalist clergy will be using your words to begin, or frame their sermons tomorrow. In that way, you have ministered to us, and re-called us to our vocation. Thank you.



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Rhonda F.

posted January 8, 2011 at 11:42 pm


Awesome an true, we need the refreshing, cleansing waters of God and him alone, thank you for sharing. Awesome!



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Robyn M

posted January 8, 2011 at 11:53 pm


Yes. We need the water of baptism. When you mention the blood, I cannot help but be reminded of some of the harmful theologies of atonement that exist within Christianity. That our sins are redeemed by the blood of our savior Jesus Christ. His blood was shed, like those of other martyrs, for the sake of peace and love. As we remember the courage of Rep Giffords and Judge Roll, let us not forget that those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus must not bear arms and rant words of hate, but we must be willing to risk our own lives for peace, justice, dignity, and peace for all.



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Mary Bennett

posted January 9, 2011 at 12:04 am


Bravo! from a Unitarian in Canada. The church I attended on the Sunday after 9/11 announced an evening service the following Thursday but stuck with the plan. I thought it was a mistake.



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Ron Amundson

posted January 9, 2011 at 12:33 am


I was going over the OT reading for tomorrow from Isaiah 42:1-9, and the first four verses jumped out in a huge way. For churches who follow the RCL, I think their will be a lot of emphasis in that direction. If only we as a society had taken heed of that. Anger and contempt and violence all build on one another. There are better ways to justice.



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kimberly

posted January 9, 2011 at 12:42 am


I just finished watching an old newsreel from 1938– the churches in europe were losing there voice due to coersian– and– unfortunately the church as a whole in america had not found theirs yet



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Bob Frei

posted January 9, 2011 at 12:50 am


Historically, widespread extremism in politics and religion have never ended well. Weak-minded fringe lunatics misunderstand the rhetoric, and think they are doing something great and noble that will make them heros to the masses. There are enough weak minds and fringe lunatics out there to create an epidemic. That kind of epidemic leads to a spiralling pattern of more and more violence, drowns out the voice of reason, and ultimately deafens much of society to the voices of hope, reason, love, compassion and brotherhood – and to the voice of God.



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James Diamond

posted January 9, 2011 at 1:05 am


Diana,
We are spending the winter in Tucson just a few blocks north of the shooting site. The tragedy has made me envious of a pulpit tomorrow morning but retirement requires it’s own discipline.
Your article was excellent and inspired me to contact a few colleagues to read your words with the possibility in mind of altering tomorrow’s sermon. Now I hope to find a preacher tomorrow morning who will not turn away from the pain that surrounds us all in Tucson. Thank you for a moment of comfort and inspiration.



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Rev. Le Anne Clausen de Montes

posted January 9, 2011 at 1:09 am


Thank you for this–as a preacher up working late tonight, I really appreciate the guidance as I try to wrap my mind around the tragedy.



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Kurt

posted January 9, 2011 at 6:10 am


well said…not if I can only say it as well to my people…



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Your NameAlvin Fischer

posted January 9, 2011 at 8:56 am


One can only hope that this tragic loss of life won’t have the effect of more disciples toward violent behavior. As is so often the case. Violence begets violence. May the preaching of the Word today be an example of restraint on the part of all speakers and listeners. Sadly, assassination of a political figure carries severe punishment, but why does ‘character assassination’ go scot free? If we were judged by our thoughts, wouldn’t many of us be in danger or confinement, or declared ‘mentally unbalanced or insane’?



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John Auer

posted January 9, 2011 at 9:55 am


Preachers are always called to be both pastoral and prophetic. Personal tragedy tears at us and opens us to a desperation of desire to see if at all possible that the suffering of any one or ones does not become the suffering of many. If there is any life-giving understanding of Jesus taking the sin of the world upon him, it is that suffering might stop with him — and with his body the church. How else to honor and follow his way but to see in and through each personal tragedy the systemic ways we fail to end all the suffering we can? Do guns in the end bring anything but suffering to human community? Can we not at least use this tragic, raw and bleeding moment to say again, and forever, a collective NO to guns? Thanks.



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Grace Cangialosi

posted January 9, 2011 at 10:30 am


My husband and I had exactly the same experience on the Sunday after MLK was shot–in an Episcopal church in DC, where the downtown was still in flames. Not a word from the pulpit. We never went back, but found a very different kind of church at St. Stephen & the Incarnation. I am now an Episcopal priest, and although I no longer preach every week, I have always believed that the pulpit is the place to bring the world and the Gospel together. And that is possible whether or not one is preaching from the lectionary texts. Using the texts as an excuse NOT to comment on what is happening outside is, in my opinion, a cowardly cop-out. I will go to a church today where the bishop is making a visitation. He is new to us, and I don’t know what he will say, but I am holding my breath. If we don’t connect the Gospel with what is happening in the world and with people’s lives, the Gospel will cease to be a living thing and will become instead mere words in ink on leaves from dead trees.



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the Rev. David Hicks

posted January 9, 2011 at 10:47 am


The memory of assassinations in America should be the wake-up call to deplore violence and sound a clarion call for politicians and the media to stop using the language and metaphors of hate, anger and violence. Yet, I am too painfully reminded of my own up-bringing in the church. It is true, that our call to peace is indeed found in the gushing fountain of baptism, yet the biblical, liturgical, hymnal and creedal call to faith are firmly saturated in the gushing foutain of Jesus’ blood. How many times have we taken the Lord’s supper and heard the words, “the blood of Jesus” or listened to sermons calling for the redemptive power of Jesus’ blood? How many people wear the sign of a cross around their neck, the sign of a Roman execution. The violence is not “out there” in America, it is in us, in the church.



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Grant Bakewell

posted January 9, 2011 at 11:39 am


Dear Diana Butler-Bass,
I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments here, and thank you! It would, however, be extremely timely and helpful if you were to consider a second edition of your book on the History of Christianity, and to add the significant portions of Christian history in which the nonviolence and peace of Christ himself was affirmed (by many individuals, denominations, religious orders, and solitary witnesses), amidst the many tragedies and misapplications of the just war theory, or the terrible history of the Crusades. I looked for such entries in your present book and was surprised and disappointed to find no reference at all to “nonviolence” or “pacifism” or “peace” listed anywhere, even in the index! Like your husband who sought words of peace and encouragement at his church, I put your book back on the shelf, and have decided to seek further reading about the history of nonviolence and pacifism in Christianity elsewhere. Please reconsider this important witness in the next edition of your book, which is otherwise quite interesting. Blessings+



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Linda Higgins

posted January 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm


My first response is that clergy have been trained not to respond from the emotions of the moment. It would be more real to expect a clear response next Sunday when they have had a chance to truly reflect on the tragedy. This week clergy like all are sorry for the families, still processing what really happened and beginging to reflect. Theoogy to be true and deep needs to not be responive but careful reflective. Quick responsive comments have leads to some of the bad theology we have heard such as blaming victims ect… To speak clearly takes clarity not just the pain of the moment.



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Sister Pam OP

posted January 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm


Preach forgiveness and love if there are no other words.



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Diana Butler Bass

posted January 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm


Grant–
Well, that’s an omission of the index only! Did you read it? The whole section on St. Martin (pp. 70-73) argues VERY strongly that pacificism was the norm for the early church (also the sections on hospitality and martyrdom presuppose pacificism as well as the section on “The Third Fall and Constantine”) and many of those included were pacificsts, especially the Anabaptists and Quakers. When my good friend, Brian McLaren, read the first draft he actually gave me a “thumbs up” for making such a strong point for the peace traditions.



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Streets Preacher

posted January 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm


Folks, if we preachers do NOTHING in the face of tragedy and senseless violence, then Evil wins. Any preacher worth their salt is taught to respond to an immediate crises, regardless of how much it throws off their carefully prepared sermons. We dishonor God and the people we serve in Christ’s name if we blithely ignore in our sermons when tragedy strikes.
I am a preacher, and I sure talked about this tragedy today in my sermon!



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Ann Johnson

posted January 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm


So if I didn’t change my sermon on Saturday night to deal with the shootings in Omaha, I missed another great opportunity? Sorry, as a week-by-week preacher, I can tell you that it’s impossible to respond every single time to every single thing that happens in the news or in the community in an appropriate way.
I’ve been in parish ministry for 23 years, preaching nearly every week of that time period. The Berlin Wall fell. Gulf Wars 1, 2, how many have occurred. A president was elected without a majority of the votes. September 11th occurred. Iraq happened. Afghanistan happened. The Oklahoma City bombing happened. Sarah Palin speaks. Glenn Beck speaks.
Every single time one of these big or little things happen, I am to stop and consider what has happened and change what I am say? That’s impossible. That’s being nothing more than a reactionary. And as a preacher that isn’t my job.
In addition, there is the Bible about which to speak. Does the Lectionary always offer an opening for the Issue of the Day? Nope.
Sorry. I am going to fail if someone wants an instant reaction to tragic events. I am going to stumble if I miss every, single, solitary event. I have a community of faith with its own life and issues as well. Am I to set aside those concerns? Sorry. Nope. I won’t.
Walk a mile in my shoes as the parish pastor and then we can talk again. Don’t tell me what I did wrong because I did nothing more than pray for the gun violence. Please consider the whole package.



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Ann Johnson

posted January 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm


I realized I referenced a school shooting in Omaha rather than the shooting in Arizona. What I wonder is as important to deal with a Saturday afternoon shooting in Arizona or a middle-of-the-week school shooting in Omaha which is much nearer where I live?



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Mary Sue Evers

posted January 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm


I know that preaching week in and week out is laborious and it’s hard to change sermons at the last moment, but yesterday’s shooting/assassination attempt was indeed a very big thing and I know my parishioners appreciated me addressing it in the sermon. And I appreciated them for allowing me grace for not delivering a polished product . . .



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Scott

posted January 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm


Thank you for your carefully thought and well crafted commentary, whch in part stimulated my own personal reflection:
I can’t help but wonder what will be the effect of the shootings in Tucson . . . No doubt, some will say that if everyone was carrying a gun, there would have been fewer killed. Others will shrug their shoulders and talk about how tragic it was, but it was “an isolated incident” carried out by an “unstable individual.” Some will say, “Someone ought to do something,” then resume their daily grind. . . . As a person of faith, I often hear the question, “What would Jesus do?”. Perhaps those of us who are true disciples should not only ask the question, but get busy and do it!



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Mary Beth Kovanen

posted January 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm


Do we speak of those who die of senseless violence every day all over the world… those who aren’t “famous” i.e. hold public office? It seems to me that this warrants a much larger conversation… and simply (although difficult:) that… conversation… dialogue. Proclamation is not dialogue.



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Mary Spradlin

posted January 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm


I appreciate a call to pastors to speak prophetically from the pulpit and to help our congregants respond from a faith-based (not shock-jock based) perspective. However, I am very disheartened to read this criticism against pastors who did not make this issue the pivotal point of their sermon on this day. Today in the Sudan, where unspeakable acts of violence have continued for decades, a historic vote is occurring. This issue, as well as the tragedy in Tucson, were thoughtfully lifted up in prayer today. But we did not choose to turn the focus of the service from the Renewal of our Baptismal Vows. Nor did I choose to include an emphasis on the Tuscon shooting in my sermon. I simply did not feel led to do this.
This morning, a young teenager came forward, with tears in his eyes, to be baptized. It was a very holy moment; a meaningful moment in his life, the life of his family, and the life of our congregation.
Perhaps I am just tired after a long morning. I know I shouldn’t let one blog entry discount the movement of the Holy Spirit in our worship this morning. But I am extremely disheartened to read that not giving this particular event weight in my sermon on January 9 2011 implies that I am a pastor who eschews politics and neglects my responsibility to my congregation.



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John Shuck

posted January 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm


Anyone is free to preach what one wants. If you don’t like Diana’s suggestion then leave it. I for one appreciated the blog post. Of course, it is easier for me as I don’t write my sermons until Sunday mornings. Here was my effort…
http://www.shuckandjive.org/2011/01/artists-baptism-sermon.html



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Julie Eberbach

posted January 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm


Ann, please take what I am going to say in the spirit it is intended. I’m glad I’m not a member of your church (you’re probably glad too). I’m sorry, but this is why the mainstream church in America is dying. Its time for those of us in the church to do more, to be more. I’ve walked the walk, so don’t go there. I’m tired…tired of the excuses, tired of the lack of courage. No one is asking you to be perfect or to be everything to everyone, just be honest and do the very best and most that you can. Whether we want to admit it or not, that is part of the ordination vows too. Ann, go deep and find the pastor and teacher you once saw yourself being and be that person.



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shaktinah

posted January 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm


I’m not a minister but have many friends who are. Yesterday afternoon, in the wake of the horrible shootings in Arizona, I saw many of them discuss on facebook how they were going to abandon/alter their previously planned sermons. And I was so grateful to them for their responsiveness, because, as you say, people look to their clergy to make sense of tragedy. For that same reason, I really appreciated this blog post. However, I knew from experience that it was unlikely that my own minister would change his sermon topic. Sure enough his planned sermon was delivered today as advertised. The only mention of the shootings happened during the congregational prayer. Do I think he “failed” as a minister? No. I know from other sermons that my minister is engaged with the world and social justice issues and if he doesn’t address the shooting today he eventually will. It is possible to appreciate Ms. Butler Bass’s words as wise encouragement for ministers to engage with current events without taking it as a personal criticism if, for whatever reason, people chose not to address the shootings this particular Sunday. The greater question is whether, overall, ministers give sermons that help their congregants make sense of tragedy.



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Keith Landherrr

posted January 9, 2011 at 11:06 pm


I find this to be so tragic and scary. In some ways this is worse than what goes on in the Sudan because we are supposed to be a safe society that allows for discourse and team building even when we disagree with others. This is what allow so many of us to believe that the problems in far away places such as the Sudan may be helped and solved because we are allowed to freely discuss the problems that occur elsewhere and to come together to solve them. This event causes hope to be dimmed and for that I am truly saddened.



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Kcinnova

posted January 9, 2011 at 11:13 pm


Our pastor this morning started her sermon, told us what she had planned to preach on, and segued into the Christian response to this tragedy. She quoted you at points as well.
Amazingly (or not, as God often moves in amazing ways), one special song — prepared months ago for this Sunday — was sung after the sermon: James Taylor’s “Shed A Little Light.” We are indeed called to reflect God’s light, and to shed that light in the world.



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Sister Pam OPA

posted January 10, 2011 at 1:45 am


Thank you for this blog post. You helped me consider that which needed to be considered. Today I preached and included a prayer for victims, their loved ones and the nation. The response was wonderful. The congregation prayed the Lord’s Prayer with such vigor and faith that the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ became palpable. To ignore the tragedy would have been like ignoring rattle snakes in the pews.



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John

posted January 10, 2011 at 10:22 am


Isn’t it odd that people always seem to look for an external reason why someone would willfully cause what happened in Tucson. Who can we blame? What can be done to prevent this in the future. Is there anyone else to blame other than Jered ? 
Jered alone is responsible. To use this event to blame others is sick political stupidity. The fact is Jered is a sinner who rejected the gospel (his admission) and acted out the sinful thoughts in his heart. God is sovern and either caused or allowed this to happen. The judge (according to what i’ve heard) who was killed is a faithful Christian who is in a better place. This is due to his faith, not his accomplishments). Our congresswoman is still alive by the grace of God. Old and young were also killed. We grieve the loss of life but thank God for giving us another opportunity to prayerfully reconsider our path of faith. Its too late for some, but not for the rest of us. Life is precious. Don’t waste another moment without Christ. Now is a good time to open a bible and seek the answers and truth that only God can provide!



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monkeypants

posted January 10, 2011 at 11:05 am


John, if the world and people were only as simple as you say, well, everything would be simpler. It just ain’t so. I say all this holding back tears for the people who were killed and injured. Though I have a strong political belief system, my response right now is just deep sadness and bewilderment…why do these things have to happen? I am not comforted by your answer because it is too simple. I know too much about the world and about people to believe what you are saying.
Some of the realities I am reminded of are the following: 1. mental illness exists; often it can be mitigated, treated, helped or even eliminated; other times it cannot be changed at all, and the person may pose a serious, ongoing threat to themselves and others; 2. Bad things happen, even to nine-year-olds, and this is horrible beyond belief; 3. We could do a lot better as a society of being kinder and gentler to each other all the time, everywhere; 4. people with mental illnesses of all kinds are right next to us, not “out there.” We could make their lives better by systematically creating a climate of peace, stability, and kindness.
I don’t pretend these ideas are the answer to all our problems or will eliminate violence. I just think that trying to create the kind of society Jesus envisioned would so radically change our world that we might find our problems miraculously improved or even eliminated.
My two cents on this sad day.



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Pixie

posted January 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm


Thanks, Monkeypants, for your rational, realistic and faith filled response. I wish there were a lot more people who thought and acted out your response in our society. We would all be much happier, safer and peaceful. Our society would come much closer to being a “heaven on earth”for everyone.



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John

posted January 10, 2011 at 7:03 pm


Dear monkey pants,
I fly jets. My 7 year old son believes it’s easy  to fly to his grandparents – he walks onto the plane, he sits and walks off a few hours later. My brother says flying is too complicated for him. Both are right. Fortunately, I’m trained to fly them so I find flying as easy as those who drive cars find cars.
Simple answer (100% biblically correct) is God is sovern
God loves his children
Nothing bad can happen that God doesn’t either causes or allow.
It’s better in heaven than here in this fallen world.
I trust God period. Simple and 100% true. The bible is provided to guide the simple, complex, and twisted when guided by His spirit. The world is a scary place without God’s presence, protection, and providence.
Regarding mental illness, 
1)diagnosing it is subjective.
2)correcting it and protecting others from it is also subjective.
3) I do not trust our political or medical community to get it right.
4) God can heal it, lead us to correct action, and protect us if it is His will.
Finally, the Bible tells us we live in a fallen world. It is naive to expect freedom and security from sinful men and women apart from God’s sovern influence and intervention. 
God bless



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Frank Bergen

posted January 10, 2011 at 10:08 pm


I’m an Episcopal priest in Tucson and a Democratic precinct committeeman and campaign volunteer.
I tried to speak for the soul Sunday at St. Matthew’s in Tucson. I’ve known Gabby Giffords for five years, since she began her first campaign for Congress, and I consider her a friend. She’s a wonderful person, brighter and harder working than most people I’ve ever known, and probably far less partisan than most of the politicians I’ve worked with, certainly less partisan than I am. I found it appropriate to apply Second Isaiah’s suffering servant description to Gabby. Thanks to all throughout the diocese who are praying for her and for all the others involved in this tragedy. I normally avoid the much overused — at least to those who’ve studied Shakespeare, the Greek dramatists, etc. — term, but the events of Saturday seem to me to be the tragedy of our society, state and nation, where we have seemingly come to believe we can say and do anything we please with no restraints, and damn the consequences. Once more we have seen the consequences and they have made me weep.



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monkeypants

posted January 11, 2011 at 8:33 am


Pixie, thank you for your kind words. Reading Ignatius has brought out the intellect and attention toward my own feelings as ways God is communicating. I have felt that very clearly lately with this tragedy.
John, I think my Catholic background and thinking and just plain “way of being” include a lot of allowance for mystery in my understanding of God and the world. I tend to think that I can definitely know the presence of God but that I am only “seeing through a glass darkly,” that much of what God is up to and about is not available to me. I am not a “100% sure” kind of gal. Which does not mean I have no faith in a real God who loves people and creation. I do.



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Fritz Wendt

posted January 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm


Hi there, and thanks for the timely words … I just found them now, but want to let you know that I’ve done some reflection on my own blog, at http://fritz-onthefritz.blogspot.com
Fritz



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shocker

posted January 28, 2011 at 2:13 am


Thank God we will probably not have to listen to Gabrielle Giffords ever again. Permanent speech loss or at least word jumble. Too bad the rest of Congress is still hard at work screwing up America.
Next lets take all our money back from NASA and spend it where its needed, and put her hubby on the unemployment line like the rest of us.
Who said this recession does not have a happy side.
:)



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dobbie

posted February 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm


shocker – i think God just put another mark against you in his book – may he slap you on the head someday and make you see the light.



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