Great article from Reuters by 

Since President Donald Trump’s election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat Gothic chapel of New York’s Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually draw.

In January, the 181-year-old Upper Manhattan graduate school, whose architecture evokes London’s Westminster Abbey, turned away about 1,000 people from a lecture on mass incarceration. In the nine years that Reverend Serene Jones has served as its president, she has never seen such crowds.

“The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action,” she said.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the “religious left” is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.

This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump’s policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

“It’s one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn’t done a good job of organizing,” said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York.

“It has taken a crisis, or perceived crisis, like Trump’s election to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square,” Hornbeck said.

Religious progressive activism has been part of American history. Religious leaders and their followers played key roles in campaigns to abolish slavery, promote civil rights and end the Vietnam War, among others. The latest upwelling of left-leaning religious activism has accompanied the dawn of the Trump presidency.

Some in the religious left are inspired by Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic leader who has been an outspoken critic of anti-immigrant policies and a champion of helping the needy.

Although support for the religious left is difficult to measure, leaders point to several examples, such as a surge of congregations offering to provide sanctuary to immigrants seeking asylum, churches urging Republicans to reconsider repealing the Obamacare health law and calls to preserve federal spending on foreign aid.

The number of churches volunteering to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers doubled to 800 in 45 of the 50 U.S. states after the election, said the Elkhart, Indiana-based Church World Service, a coalition of Christian denominations which helps refugees settle in the United States – and the number of new churches offering help has grown so quickly that the group has lost count.

“The religious community, the religious left is getting out, hitting the streets, taking action, raising their voices,” said Reverend Noel Anderson, its national grassroots coordinator.

In one well-publicized case, a Quaker church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 14 took in a Honduran woman who has been living illegally in the United States for 25 years and feared she would be targeted for deportation.

Leaders of Faith in Public Life, a progressive policy group, were astounded when 300 clergy members turned out at a January rally at the U.S. Senate attempting to block confirmation of Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, because of his history of controversial statements on race.

“I’ve never seen hundreds of clergy turning up like that to oppose a Cabinet nominee,” said Reverend Jennifer Butler, the group’s chief executive.

The group on Wednesday convened a Capitol Hill rally of hundreds of pastors from as far away as Ohio, North Carolina and Texas to urge Congress to ensure that no people lose their health insurance as a result of a vote to repeal Obamacare.

Financial support is also picking up. Donations to the Christian activist group Sojourners have picked up by 30 percent since Trump’s election, the group said.

“It really took decades of activism for the religious right to become the force that it is today,” said Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political science department at Stonehill College, a Catholic school outside Boston.

But the power potential of the “religious left” is not negligible. The “Moral Mondays” movement, launched in 2013 by the North Carolina NAACP’s Reverend William Barber, is credited with contributing to last year’s election defeat of Republican Governor Pat McCrory by Democrat Roy Cooper.

The new political climate is also spurring new alliances, with churches, synagogues and mosques speaking out against the recent spike in bias incidents, including threats against mosques and Jewish community centers.

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which encourages alliances between Jewish and Muslim women, has tripled its number of U.S. chapters to nearly 170 since November, said founder Sheryl Olitzky.

“This is not about partisanship, but about vulnerable populations who need protection, whether it’s the LGBT community, the refugee community, the undocumented community,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

More than 1,000 people have already signed up for the center’s annual Washington meeting on political activism, about three times as many as normal, Pesner said.

Leaders of the religious right who supported Trump say they see him delivering on his promises and welcomed plans to defund Planned Parenthood, whose healthcare services for women include abortion, through the proposed repeal of Obamacare.

“We have not seen any policy proposals that run counter to our faith,” said Lance Lemmonds, a spokesman for the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Duluth, Georgia.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Additional reporting by Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou Jonathan Oatis)



Posted by: smstrouse | March 24, 2017

From ‘Is God Dead?’ to ‘Is Truth Dead?’


I was only sixteen when the iconic Time “Is God Dead? cover appeared on April 8, 1966. I wasn’t at all theologically adept then, but I do remember being intrigued. After all it was 1966 and “Question Authority” was becoming the mantra of my generation. And something obviously connected because I’m writing this as I’m attending the God Seminar sIMG_1833ponsored by Westar Institute.

Remember the Jesus Seminar? Here’s me dropping my bead into the box to vote on the question of whether “Is God Dead” has lost its freshness and radicality? And yes, it’s the same box and beads from the (in)famous Jesus Seminar.


I voted red on that question. But the question of the death of Truth is another story. Time editor Nancy Gibbs wrote in the new Times issue that just like many said they believed in God in 1966, many today “would say they believe in Truth, and yet we find ourselves having an intense debate over its role and power in the face of a President who treats it like a toy.”

Maybe this debate is even bigger than the one about God. My answer to the “God is dead” question would be “what’s your understanding of God?” We would do well to put to death some of our previous understandings. And it’s OK to have differing definitions, especially when we can have healthy conversations with one another about them.

But Truth? We’re not talking here about different claims of religious truth; we’re talking about facts. Not “alternative facts,” true facts. I know, that’s redundant, but some people today don’t seem to get that.

I hope there’s as much – or more – uproar about this issue of Time as there was about the 1966 one. I hope that members of the Truth Seminar forty years from now won’t even be talking or voting about this, that they’ll be laughing and remembering that short time when the country went crazy and declared Truth dead.

We’ve got to make that future a reality. We cannot allow Truth to be killed off.





Posted by: smstrouse | March 18, 2017

When Empire Asks: What Is Truth?


At his trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “I was born and came into the world for one purpose – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice.”
In response, Pilate asked,”Truth? What is truth?”

That’s the question before us now in this “post-truth” era.

Although it’s not a new phenomenon. As Hannah Arendt, trying to make sense of Hitler’s Germany, wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism:
Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda
is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends
               entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.       

TruthinessDefIn more recent times, we’ve seen a more playful attitude towards our political scene. In 2006, Merriam-Webster chose ‘truthiness’ – coined by comedian Stephen Colbert – as the word of the year.

But now, in the era of “alternative facts,” we’re not laughing. In 2016, ‘post-truth’ was chosen by the Oxford Engliscyv0o0exuaajypfh Dictionary as the word of the year, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

What can we do in the face of the willingness of an over-whelming number of people to abandon factual truth in favor of something that fits their own worldview or addresses their particular fears? A recent article in The Christian Century, Fascism can’t be stopped by fact-checking, advises that “Neo-fascism can only be ‘fact-checked’ by active resistance. It cannot be met halfway but must be opposed by people who are willing to take a courageous stand for an alternative political vision anchored in inclusion and justice.”

This doesn’t mean that we abandon trying to engage those with different views from ours in conversation – as difficult as it may be. But as people of faith, if we truly believe that the Divine rests in each and every one of us, we can dismiss no one from our care and concern.When it comes to talking with individuals about why they voted for #45, we may find it helpful to seek an understanding of their truth: the emotion and personal beliefs that informed their decision.

But when it comes to our elected leaders, it’s a different story. We must hold them to a higher standard – to truth. And when they do not meet that standard, then they will be ‘fact-checked’ by active resistance. When the empire strikes back by calling truth “fake news,” we must resist. And we must demand that the media call out those who propagate lies and ‘alternative facts.’

And we must hold ourselves to a commitment to truth:

  • If-you-could-just-fact-check-things-before-reposting-them-that-would-be-great-meme-35966accessing reliable news sources
  • fact-checking information, especially on social media sites (please, please, please use or Snopes before you send around that post about schools handing out donuts with Muslim writing in icing, etc.)
  • calling out false information shared on social media

We must not allow post-truthiness to become normalized.
We must, like Jesus, bear witness to the truth.

Posted by: smstrouse | March 11, 2017

Resisting Muslim Ban 2.0

PosterMockupDo not be lulled into complacency by the success of protests against the travel ban issued against seven Muslim countries back in January. Nor by the actions of federal courts in blocking its implementation.

Muslim Ban 2.0 was issued this week to far less fanfare than the original. One concession is the removal of US ally, Iraq from the ban. But make no mistake, it’s still an attempt to keep members of one particular religion out – a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of our Constitution (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…).

The administration of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named may hope to avoid the backlash set off by the first order. Because 2.0 doesn’t apply to current visa holders, we probably won’t see the kind of demonstrations that took place at airports back in Janaury.

But challenges have already been filed by the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, and the states of Washington and Hawaii. We should watch for decisions coming down from these lawsuits to learn whether HWSNBN will be allowed to continue insinuating religious discrimination into our country’s immigration law.

While there is no mention of a Muslim registry in this new order, we can only expect that, if left unchecked, the Islamaphobic nature of the current administration will continue in that direction.

Stay informed. Use reliable news sources. Become acquainted with organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Get in touch with your local interfaith council to see how you can support the Muslim community in your area.

Remember, we’re all in this together. If one of us is oppressed, we are all oppressed.


Posted by: smstrouse | March 4, 2017

Avoiding Resistance Burn-Out

resitanceIf there’s one thing we know, it’s that our resistance against the dismantling of our democracy is going to be a long haul. I hate to use war imagery, but it seems appropriate to say that we are waging a war with innumerable fronts: health care, the environment, the rights of women, immigrants and refugees, transgender people, Black people, Muslim people, scientists, etc., etc., etc. My email inbox overflows with petitions, calls for letter-writing and phone-calling – and of course, requests for donations.I’m approaching burn-out. And from what I hear from others, I’m not an isolated case.

So here’s the thing, members of the resistance: we have to develop a strategy for the long haul. I’ve been giving this some thought, and here’s what I’ve come up with for both my own activism and my own sanity.


  • Choose your battles. It will be impossible to sustain energy for every one of the fronts under attack by the current regime. I suggest picking one, two, or three (however many you have the ability to make an impact) and put your efforts into those. I find that I am most passionate about women’s issues and countering anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about all the other despicable actions being taken in other areas. I will join in resisting those as I’m able. But my main focus will be in my two primary choices. This also means that I’m going to have to trust that people of good will are stepping up and putting their effort into the areas they’re most passionate about. And I will give them my full endorsement and encouragement. We are truly all in this together.
  • safe_image-phpFind your community. The resistance can’t be waged solely on an individual basis. Collaboration is the name of the game. Not only is it more effective in getting things done, it’s also better for morale to be among those working for the same goals. As Robert Fulghum wrote in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
  • Be positive. I know, this is a hard one. But Michelle Obama had it right: “When they go low, we go high.” We need to keep our language civil and stop hurling epithets at those with whom we disagree. As a Christian, I need to continually remind myself of the belovedness of each and every person in the eyes of God. That does not mean I have to condone their behavior. But if I truly believe that the presence of divinity in each person means that there is always the possibility of transformation, then I must include even He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
  • Rely on your spiritual practice. This might be prayer or meditation. It might also be getting out into nature, immersing yourself in writing, music or art. This isn’t an escape from the world; it’s part of how we are called to be in the world.

    Take the example of Vedran Smailović. During the siege of Sarajevo, Smailović, a former cellist in the Sarajevo Stringevstafiev-bosnia-cello Quartet, played in the midst of the ruins of the city. I can’t think of a more powerful expression of prayer. His example is a reminder to me of the power of beauty and wonder in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.

    So whatever gets you in touch with something bigger than yourself and inspires your soul – do it. It will be the fuel that will fire your imagination and energize your resistance. And when you need a boost, watch this video. I’ve seen it many times and it inspires every time.

We don’t have the luxury of burning out.
We must keep the fire of resistance burning – together!



Posted by: smstrouse | February 26, 2017

173066Metamorphosis into Christ Nature: A Sermon for the Transfiguration of Jesus

Just imagine being with Peter, James, and John coming down that mountain with Jesus. You’re probably thinking about the extraordinary thing you’ve just witnessed. Your friend Jesus had suddenly started to glow – literally. Then you saw him talking with Moses and Elijah, the two biggest names in Jewish tradition. Never mind they’re long dead. This was epic! And then, to top it off, the voice of God came from the clouds! Like the other disciples you fell down on the ground scared out of your wits, until Jesus came over and told you to get up. I imagine when he said, “Don’t be afraid,” you all thought to yourselves “Yeah, right.” But you did get up and headed down the mountain with Jesus, thinking, “Wait till I tell my friends about this!” Except Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone about this just yet.” Imagine keeping something like this under your hat.

It is hard to imagine being there. It’s hard enough for us to read about and try to figure out what that was all about. People have been arguing about that for millennia. The story of the transfiguration or metamorphosis of Jesus appears in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), so it would appear to be a pretty important story to those early writers. But it’s also a story that raises a lot of questions. What are we reading here? A fable, a myth, a theological metaphor? Eyewitness history?

Of course, some simply dismiss this story as bizarre fiction. They did that from the beginning. Tacitus, considered one of the greatest historians of the Roman empire, sneered at the “pernicious superstitions” of believers. Suetonius, in his Life of Nero, derided Christians as those “adhering to a novel and mischievous superstition.” What we see in the second reading is the author of 2 Peter (speaking as Peter) recounting the experience to rebut criticisms that the early believers followed “cleverly invented stories.”

So what really happened? No one knows for sure. But using the “criterion of embarrassment,” which says that if part of a story puts Jesus or the disciples in a bad light it’s not likely to have been either invented or airbrushed, there just might be some truth to this crazy tale. I mean Peter comes off as a dunce in the story. Unflattering details like this suggest that the gospel writers were writing history, even if the story, like so many stories in the Bible, is easier to describe than to explain.

Let me tell you what I think. I think something did happen, and Jesus was literally if briefly “metamorphosed” before their eyes. The disciples saw the human Jesus – itinerant rabbi, wisdom teacher, rabble-rouser, boundary-crosser – suddenly also take on his divine nature. He became Jesus the Christ; you could say he took on Christ Nature. But here’s the thing: I don’t believe that those two natures are mutually exclusive. Jesus didn’t cast off his humanity in order to put on the divine. Nor did he then take off his glitzy divinity clothes and put his ordinary human clothes back on. I think Jesus always had those two natures within him, and for a few shining moments, the disciples were able to get a glimpse of what the fullness of humanity looks like. Some say that this is an out-of-place post-resurrection appearance. But I don’t believe that it took dying and rising for Jesus to manifest his true nature.

Moreover, I don’t believe that Jesus was the only one with Christ Nature. I think we all have it. Now I don’t expect to start glowing like Jesus did any time soon, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have that potential within me. And so do you. The divine is within, and with it is the possibility of exuding your Christ Nature at any time. Try this: take your own name and put Christ after it (remember Christ was not Jesus’ last name!) Sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it? Yet when we take away the dualism of heaven/earth and human/divine, and we see Jesus as the epitome of what it is to be human – that is to carry within us the presence of the divine – then we begin to see ourselves as Christ bearers to the world. We don’t have to wait until we die to be transfigured, metamorphosed into insert your name Christ.

It may not happen often, but when it does, others can get a glimpse of what it means to be truly human. I say that it may not happen often – it may not happen ever happen – because this transformation takes a tremendously God-centered soul. Most of us are pretty far from the spiritual maturity of Jesus, and to get there requires the willingness to die to the self, the ego which we cherish so much.

I want to say something about this spiritual process. The word ‘transfiguration’ comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word ‘metamorphosis.’ We often think of metamorphosis in relation to the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. You’ve probably seen the pictures of the stages of the process: the egg, larva, cocoon, and the adult butterfly. I was at a retreat recently led by the International Association of Sufism. The annual retreat is called The 40 Days: Alchemy of Tranquility and this year’s theme was “Transformation Through Practice and Knowledge of Unity (Unity meaning oneness with the Divine).

One of the presenters was comparing the metamorphosis of the butterfly to our own spiritual transformation. And he said something I’d never heard before. He said that in the chrysalis stage, all that is inside the cocoon is goo. If you were to cut one open at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. I thought this was a great metaphor for the spiritual journey! Feeling formless, like goo: all traces of the former life being dissolved, not knowing which way is up and which way is down, not able to see any hint of a future way of being, in other words, a complete mess. Caterpillar soup. I’ve been there!

When I got home from the retreat, I wanted to check this out. And it turns out that this information was only half right. According to Scientific American, the contents of the cocoon are not entirely an amorphous mess. There are highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs  in there. While the caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly – discs for its eyes, its wings, its legs and so on.

Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form all the features of an adult butterfly. Jonia Mariechild, describes the process on her website Butterfly Mysteries:

“The caterpillars new cells are called ‘imaginal cells.’ They are so totally different from the caterpillar cells that its immune system thinks they’re enemies and gobbles them up! But these new cells continue to appear. More and more of them! Pretty soon, the caterpllar’s immune system can’t destroy them fast enough. More and more of the imaginal cells survive. And then an amazing thing happens! The tiny lonely imaginal cells start to clump together. They all resonate together at the same frequency, passing information from one to another. Then after a while, another amazing thing happens! The clumps of imaginal cells start to cluster together! A long string of 1836870clumping and clustering cells, all resonating at the same frequency, all passing information there inside the chrysalis. A wave of Good News travels throughout the system – lurches and heaves, but not yet a butterfly. Then at some point, the entire long string of imaginal cells suddenly realizes all together that it is Something Different from the caterpillar. Something New! Something Wonderful! And in that realization is the shout of the birth of the butterfly!” Wow! The wonder of nature!

But again, it’s a great metaphor for our own spiritual transformation. This imaginal stage is also called the imago, the image. Within the goo is the image of the butterfly. You might recognize that word, too, from the theological term ‘imago Dei,’ the image of God. The author of Genesis wrote that we were created in God’s image. Within our goo, we have the spiritual cells, which can make us into something new. Not goo, but spiritually mature human beings who know we have the very image of divinity within us.

Is this a lot of esoteric nonsense that has no practical application in daily life? Not for me. And I hope not for you. My hope is that each of us is in a process of transformation. Maybe you feel like you’re in the goo stage, but you trust that the imago is in there and it will work itself out. Maybe you feel like your new self is just about fully formed and you’re almost ready to burst forth. Maybe you still feel like a caterpillar, just chomping away on leaves to survive. At the retreat, one of the leaders explained about the name The 40 Days: Alchemy of Tranquility. He said that forty days didn’t mean that literally in forty days we’d experience whatever transformation we were looking for or what God was working in us. It could be forty minutes, forty years, or four hundred years. The point is to be open to the process through practice and knowledge of your oneness with the Divine).

And when you do, there will be those times when others will see glimpses of your Christ Nature. And like those imaginal cells lumping, clumping, and stringing together to make something new, we will come together for the good of the world. Transfiguration doesn’t have to be about someday in heaven. It can happen today. And as Jesus lived and worked and taught in the midst of empire, so can we.

We are in a time of national trial; of that there is no doubt. Many of us also have personal trials with which to contend. Many people will feel great despair at the enormity of the problems we face. But this is where the transfiguration of Jesus can give us the hope we need. The transfiguration was all about the human Jesus. And we human beings can relate to him and learn from his teaching and his example. The transfiguration was also all about the divine Jesus – not a separate entity from the human Jesus, but intertwined with his humanity, at one with God. When we catch this brief glimpse of the fullness of his being up there on the mountain, we see our own imago Dei. And we know that we are not powerless in our being in the world. We, too, are imbued with Christ Nature, that enables us to go down from the mountaintop, back into the world to do what needs to be done.

So what difference would it make if you were to acknowledge and embrace your Christ Nature? What difference would it make in our world if we were to acknowledge and embrace our Christ Nature?

9921760A big difference!
Be transformed. Transform the world.




Exodus 24:12-18
The story of the Transfiguration is a classic instance of a New Testament story imitating—and elaborating upon—a story from the Torah. In this case one of the key texts that serves as an intertextual stimulus and model for the New Testament is the story of Moses being called up the mountain to commune with God.

Then YHWH said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there, and I will give you the Law and the commandments, which I have inscribed on stone tablets, for you to teach them with.”

So Moses and Joshua, his attendant, went up the mountain of God, saying to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return. Aaron and Hur will be with you; if there is a dispute among you, turn to them.”

Then Moses went up the mountain to where the clouds engulfed it. The glory of YHWH then came to dwell on Mount Sinai. The cloud covered the mountain for six days; on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of YHWH looked like an all-consuming fire at the top of the mountain. Moses climbed the mountain until he disappeared into the cloud, and stayed there forty days and forty nights.

2 Peter 1:16-21
What we seem to have here is a snapshot from the middle of the 2nd century. Almost 100 years after the death of Peter we find an anonymous Christian leader invoking the authority of Peter to address the pressing pastoral challenges of his own time. This text counteracts the claim being made by some that the promise of Jesus’ return was invented by the apostles.

We did not cleverly devise fables when we taught you of the power and coming of our Savior Jesus Christ; we ourselves saw the majesty of our Savior. For Jesus was honored and glorified by our Creator God when the voice of the Majestic Glory spoke out, “This is my Own, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.”

We heard this ourselves – this voice from heaven – when we were with Jesus on the holy mountain. Moreover, we have the prophetic word, which is even more certain. Depend on it for your own good as a light shining in the dark, until first light breaks and the morning star rises in your hearts. At the same time, you need to know that no prophecy of scripture ever occurred by one’s own interpretation. Prophecy never comes through an act of human will, but comes as people have spoken for God under the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus is transfigured. Moses and Elijah appear and then strangely disappear. Peter is perplexed. James and John are anonymous. God quotes Godself. The disciples are overcome with awe. Jesus tells them to say nothing about what has happened! Mystery and divine presence are pervasive.

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain to be alone with them. And before their eyes, Jesus was transfigured – his face becoming as dazzling as the sun and his clothes as radiant as light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Then Peter said, “Rabbi, how good that we are here! With your permission I will erect three shelters here – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”

Peter was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them. Out of the cloud came a voice which said, “This is my Own, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests. Listen to him!”

When they heard this, the disciples fell to the ground, overcome with fear. Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up! Don’t be afraid.”

When they looked up, they did not see anyone but Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone about this until the Chosen One has risen from the dead.”






Posted by: smstrouse | February 24, 2017

The Lenten Resistance

resitanceMarcus J. Borg tells the story of  a Buddhist who once quipped, “You Christians must be very bad people—you’re always confessing your sins.”

Lent is one of the places where the Christian emphasis on sin becomes even more evident – and for many of us, more problematic (I’ll have more to say about this over on The INTRAfaith Conversation blog). In no way do I discount the reality of sin and our need for confession. But each Lent I wrestle with finding a way to move beyond our fixation on sin and on the belief that Jesus had to die in order to save us from said sins.

So I want to give a shout out here to Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell at Rev-o-lution, a great resource for liturgy and sermon preparation. This year she had a really brilliant idea for Lent, which I am absolutely stealing (with attribution of course): “Revolution, Revelation, Resurrection: 7 Ways of Resistance for Lent”

Revolution, Revelation, Resurrection: 7 Ways of Resistance for Lent has preaching ideas, as well as liturgy, prayers, and action ideas. And there are even Star Wars references!

I am so appreciative of this concept. Even if I don’t use all of the material or edit it to fit our community, I love the blending of our desire to
a) be a voice of faith in our political milieu, and
b) hear a word of hope and grace for our own spiritual nourishment.

It would be very easy to become so focused on our political activism that we neglect our spiritual health. Part of our Lenten discipline this year will be to resist – not only the temptations of empire, but the temptation to despair or the temptation to think we can do resistance all on our own steam.

So I created the above logo to reflect our way through Lent: the Star Wars symbol of the Resistance with the cross. Both Star Wars aficionados and Christians may be offended by this blasphemy, but for me it’s the perfect symbol of our Lenten Resistance. I hope you’ll join up!


Posted by: smstrouse | February 20, 2017

“Persistence, not Perfection”: A Sermon for Epiphany 7

16473565_10155078525834783_1389208840310346122_nEpiphany 7            February 19, 2017                 Matthew 5:38-48

“Persistence, not Perfection”*

Back in the day when churches had acolytes, it was the duty of every young person in the congregation to take a turn at suiting up in a robe and going decorously up to the altar to light the candles. In one of my former congregations, this was a pretty big deal. Back then the big marble altar was still up against the wall. On either side there was a brass candelabra with seven candles in descending order. On the altar itself were two more large brass candleholders. These candles were to be lighted only on the Sundays we had Communion (this was when Communion was only on the first and third Sundays at this church). Now there was a very specific way that all these candles were to be lit. Evidently the previous pastor had been insistent on this and all the acolytes trained by him knew the drill.

Then I came along. Sometimes a newer acolyte – or one of the older ones who forgot – would ask me, “Do I light the candles from the left side or the right side?” I’d have to say that I didn’t know. I didn’t say I didn’t care, although I usually quipped that since girls weren’t allowed to be acolytes when I was their age, how was I supposed to know?

Anyway – one Sunday little Millie Martin was scheduled to be acolyte. I was already up in the front, in the big chair behind the lectern, and I could see across the way into the sacristy where Millie’s mom was helping her get the candle lighter ready. So Millie comes out and starts lighting the candles on the candelabra. Suddenly I hear this hissing noise from the sacristy. Millie hears it too. She looks over, and I can see her mouthing the word, “What?” I couldn’t hear what Mrs. Martin was saying and evidently neither could Millie, so she had to go over and find out what the problem was. When she came back out to finish lighting the candles, I noticed that she was crying – not big, sobbing crying, but definitely shedding tears.

The acolyte always sat in the chair next to me, so when Millie came and sat down, I asked what was wrong. She said her mother told her she was lighting the candles wrong; she was supposed to light the altar candles first because it was a Communion Sunday. Thankfully, there was a long prelude that day because I needed to talk to that child.

The first thing was to tell her that actually her mother was wrong; it was not a Communion Sunday and Millie had been doing it right in the first place. The second thing was to tell her that I didn’t think Jesus would be concerned about which candles were lit in what order anyway, and there was never a need to do things perfectly in church. After church, as I was standing by the door greeting people on the way out, I watched as Millie went up to her mother and announced that the pastor had told her that it was OK with Jesus to not be perfect – which warmed my recovering perfectionist’s heart.

Those of you who know that I’m a big fan of the Enneagram know that I am a One, which is sometimes called the “Reformer,” but is also often called the “Perfectionist.” Ones believe there’s a right way to do something and a wrong way and are often very happy to tell you the right way – whether you want them to or not. But Ones don’t only pick on others. Depending whether they’re on the healthy or unhealthy end of the spectrum, Ones have a strict inner critic that lets them know when they’ve made a mistake. You know the phrase “beating yourself up”? Ones are the masters of it. So, as a recovering perfectionist myself, I sincerely hoped that I had nipped this tendency in the bud for Millie.

So it is always with dismay that I read Matthew 5:48: “Therefore be perfect, as God in heaven is perfect.” Really? After my victory over the forces of perfectionism with Millie and over my own inner critic, how can I believe that Jesus would say something like this?Especially after taking us through all the hard teaching of the Sermon on the Mount? Turn the other cheek. Go the second mile. Love your enemy. Pray for your persecutors. Just to name a few. Jesus has set the bar extraordinarily high for those who are courageous enough to be his disciples. And we’re supposed to be perfect at it?

As gospel (which is supposed to mean good news), this seems like a whole lot of bad news. Especially now, as people of faith are looking for spiritual guidance and strength to face the bad news of the day – in its multitudinous forms. As we struggle to get organized and figure out what can be done – on national, local, personal, and congregational levels – it just isn’t helpful (sorry, Jesus) to lay the demand of perfectionism on top of all that.

So what do we do with this vexing verse? The first thing is to do a quick check on this word in Greek (this is why we learn this stuff in seminary) where we see that the word here is telos. That can be translated as perfect, but not in the sense of always doing everything correctly or of moral flawlessness. Perfect can also be translated as complete or mature. A further definition of telos is an intended goal, a determined end. And in this case, this definition makes the most sense. Throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes, Jesus has been talking about how to live in the Realm of God. That is our goal, our intended end, our completion, the vision for which we strive.

So we could say that Jesus is not asking us to be perfect, but to persist in the goal Jesus has for us. Being a disciple doesn’t require perfection but persistence in bringing the vision of the Realm of God, the Beloved Community to bear on our world. Not that persistence is an easy path. We read the names of some of history’s persisters in the opening litany brought on by the attempt of Senator Elizabeth Warren to read the words of another persister, Coretta Scott King, only to be silenced, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

16716325_10211052711326871_7231659121742261363_o The litany was written by someone in the United Methodist tradition and posted on Facebook. We could add to it with some of our own Lutheran persisters, as well as countless others from history. And we can add so many more from the New Testament: the woman looking for her lost coins. Mary of Bethany sitting at the feet of Jesus. The woman with a flow of blood who dared to touch him. The woman at the well. The women who went to the tomb. The sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and her hair. The poor widow’s offering. His mother insisting Jesus help out with the wine at a wedding. Mary of Bethany (again) confronting Jesus at the tomb of her brother Lazarus. The gospels do suggest that an essential characteristic of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to persist in working toward the goal that the Sermon on the Mount lays out for us. I’m sure you can name your own examples of persistence – not only women, although the Elizabeth Warren incident brought on that particular battle cry.

As I said earlier, Enneagram Ones are also often called Reformers. People like Cesar Chavez, Daniel Ellsworth, Angela Davis, Al Gore, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt are often put into the One category. Also, quintessential reformer Martin Luther. Those of you who participated in the Enneagram workshop we did a few years ago might recall that we agreed with the idea that a congregation can have its own number and that First United was probably a One congregation – based primarily on our commitment to justice issues.

I heard a webcast recently that discussed how the different Enneagram types are responding to the election. Ones, along with Eights and Threes, are the ones leading the charge to “do something!” (hence, Tamara organizing the trip to the March on Washington). Twos, Fours, and Sevens – being more relational types – are experiencing the difficulty of broken relationships and desiring of their restoration (hence Pastor Anders attending the inauguration in a referee jersey, carrying a copy of “Reaching Across the Red-Blue Divide”). I actually think Middle Circle (like their pastor) is an Enneagram Seven – which is (dare I say it?) perfect because Seven is the direction in which a One moves when it is healthiest. Not that we give up our One-ness, but we become less “perfectionistic” and I’d say better able to carry out our work of persistent reformation.

We also need to keep reminding ourselves that we are not alone in our persistence and resistance. Jesus is not telling us to get our acts together and do this right. I think many of us all over this country are struggling right now to know how best to engage. There are so many issues. Every day brings another executive order, another petition, another request to make a phone call, make a donation, show up for a rally. We worry about our stamina for the long haul of this resistance. So this is not the time to be perfect, but to persist. As individuals, as families, we need to make decisions about where to focus our energies. As a congregation, we need to do the same thing. We’ll be talking about this more in our leadership circle. How can we focus our resources and our energies in ways that will sustain us for the duration?

And we need to remember our foundation. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the groundwork has already been laid. “No one can lay a foundation other than the one already in place.” Our foundation is our spiritual connection to one another and to the Divine. When we care for and maintain that connection, we are stronger beyond our wildest imagination. Going persistently deeply inward enables us to reach persistently widely outward.

16640746_10210793947658069_9042263697397313655_nThis is not the time to be perfect, but to persist. To persist toward the goal to which the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount give witness. To persist in bringing about the Commonwealth of God for all people in the face of continued resistance. To persist in a vision that others might not be able to see, but that we see. Not toward the goal of judgment, correction, or condemnation, but toward the divine end that realizes the full blessings, the perfect shalom, that God intends for all of creation.     Amen

*Many thanks to Karoline Lewis (another Enneagram One) at WorkingPreacher. for the inspiration.

Matthew 5:38-48
“You have heard the commandment, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I tell you, offer no resistance whatsoever when you’re confronted with violence. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other. If anyone wants to sue you for your shirt, hand over your coat as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles. Give to those who beg from you. And don’t turn your back on those who want to borrow from you.

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are children of God. For God makes the sun rise on bad and good alike; God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Don’t tax collectors do as much? And if you greet only your sisters and brothers, what is so praiseworthy about that? Don’t Gentiles do as much?

Therefore be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect.


Posted by: smstrouse | February 17, 2017

More People of Faith Need to Speak Up

This statement arrived in my email inbox from Islamic Networks Group. According to their website, “ING is a non-profit organization with affiliates around the country that are pursuing peace, and countering all forms of bigotry, through education and interfaith engagement while working within the framework of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom and pluralism.”

I know that the undersigned wrote this statement hoping to have it published as an OpEd piece. But so far, no media outlets have picked it up. So it’s up to us, folks, to spread the word about interfaith cooperation, spiritual self-care, and hope in these trying times.

We as a society are in a tumultuous moment—not only politically but morally. Millions of people find the actions of the Administration, and of Congress also, deeply immoral, and they are taking to the streets to voice their discontent. People of faith, individually and as communities, are prominent among them. But do people of faith have anything unique to bring to the struggles of the present moment? Can they do more than simply swell the multitudes protesting in the street or overwhelming Capitol telephone lines?

Yes, they can. In a moment where the latest executive order or the latest protest threatens to suck up all the world’s attention, people of faith have resources and wisdom that reach back millennia, and we need to bring them to bear on our current struggles. Here are some of them:

Religious and ethical resources bearing on today’s contentious questions:
The questions roiling the public today touch directly on issues about which our various traditions have much to say. This rests on the wisdom of centuries and cannot be written off as manifestations of modern liberalism. People of faith have rich spiritual and ethical resources that speak to today’s debates, including traditions and teachings addressing peace, nonviolence, mutual respect, hospitality, charity, and pluralism; and these resources point to basic values shared by all major world religions and also by humanists and other non-religious people. In the current climate, where certain religions (primarily, of course, Islam and Judaism) are openly or implicitly demonized, it is vital to point out these shared values and to use them as a starting point for addressing the ethical issues entailed in today’s conflicts. The issue of the reception of refugees, for instance, touches directly on questions of hospitality and care for the vulnerable that virtually all religious and ethical traditions address.

Spiritual resources for selfcare: Dealing with deeply-felt political and moral issues can easily lead to burn-out or, worse yet, to self-righteousness and anger that trigger speech and action that violate the very values we are trying to inculcate. Here, too, our traditions have rich resources to offer, including approaches to prayer and meditation, sacred texts that profoundly and powerfully express the truths and values that should inform our grappling with current issues, and the examples of adherents past and present who have lived by the virtues that we wish to see emulated. People of faith and spirit need to avail themselves of these resources and encourage fellow activists to draw on them.

Hope: This could have been included under either of the two preceding points, but it so undergirds and completes everything we seek to say here that it deserves consideration on its own. Particularly when one is, politically speaking, the underdog, it’s easy to be overcome by frustration and even despair. But whether one believes in a beneficent deity or divine reality or simply in the potential of the human mind and spirit, our religious and ethical traditions offer assurance that evil does not have the final word—that, as Martin Luther King said, echoing words from a long tradition, “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” Our spiritual traditions empower us to see that long arc beyond any current defeats. The current moment requires people who can draw on those traditions to kindle hope as we tread a challenging path of resistance.

Merely having these resources is not enough. We need to be both media-savvy and organizationally savvy—media savvy to draw media attention to our presence and our message, and organizationally savvy to initiate prayerful and spiritual events that build awareness of our values and resources among a broader public and inject them into current debates. The current Administration appears to be listening to the voices of only one segment of our country’s broad spectrum of faiths and faith communities. We, who on the basis of our faith share the moral concerns of so many of our fellow citizens, need to raise our voices to ensure that the values we seek to live by are heard above the din.

Rev. Ken Chambers, Interim Board President , Interfaith Council of Alameda County
Linda L. Crawford, Executive Director, Interfaith Center at the Presidio
Rev. Kristi Denham, Co-President, Peninsula Multifaith Coalition
Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director, Islamic Networks Group (ING)
Fatih Ferdi Ates, Director, Pacifica Institute
Diane Fisher, Director, Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley
Andrew Kille, Chair, Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC)
Will McGarvey, Executive Director, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County
Michael G. Pappas, M.Div, Executive Director, San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC)
Steven A. Pinkston, Director of Christian Service, Bellarmine College Prep
Scott Quinn, Acting Director, Marin Interfaith Council
Rita R. Semel, Founder and past Chair, San Francisco Interfaith Council
Moina Shaiq, President, Tri-City Interfaith Council
Stephanie S. Spencer, President-elect, Eden Area Interfaith Council
Jessica Trubowitch, Director, Public Policy and Community Building, Jewish Community Relations Council – San Francisco Bay Area
Ardisanne Turner, Chair, United Religions Initiative North America


Posted by: smstrouse | February 11, 2017

Apocalypse or Paradigm Shift?

imagesStephen Bannon fancies himself an apocalyptic prophet. According to articles in Time  and The Nation, White House strategist  Bannon is a big fan of a theory of American history put forth by Neil Howe and William Strauss in a book called The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy (1997). Although their theory isn’t widely taught or discussed in the media, it may very well be a cornerstone of the new administration’s worldview.

Called “amateur historians” in Time and “pop historians” in The Nation, Howe and Strauss identified an 80-year cycle in American history, punctuated by cataclysmic crises that destroy the old order and create a new one. War is the hallmark of a “fourth turning” and according to Bannon, “There is a major war brewing, a war that is already global. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”

Like all apocalyptic writing, The Fourth Turning addresses people who feel that they are under attack and offers them hope in the midst of their persecution. His 2010 movie Generation Zero ends with both warning and hope: “When you get into a crisis era, literally anything can happen. The restraints come down. These are the eras of revolution. These are the eras of reigns of terror. But the question of what the new order will be is up to us.”

As I read about this, I couldn’t help comparing this worldview with that of those who271-600x600 think we’re in the beginnings of a paradigm shift, a new axial age. In my book, The INTRAfaith Conversation, I come at this idea from a religious/ spiritual perspective. However, it’s actually based on social theory. The word axial comes from German philosopher Karl Jaspers’ use of the German word ‘achse,’ which means pivotal. The theory is that during certain periods of history there have been major shifts in the political, philosophical and religious systems of the world.

Catholic theologian Ewart Cousins called the end of the 20th century the beginning of a Second Axial Age. In this new era, humanity is coming to understand the world and human responsibility in global, not local terms. This shift is the impetus for working together for the betterment of the world. Professor Leonard Swidler of Temple University wrote:

Like the first (axial age) it is happening simultaneously around the earth, and like the first it will shape the horizon of consciousness for future centuries. Not surprisingly, too, it will have great significance for world religions, which were constituted in the First Axial Period. However, the new form of consciousness is different from that of the First Axial Period. Then it was individual consciousness, now it is global consciousness.

The first Axial age ushered in a radically new form of consciousness and the great religions of the world are the product of that period. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Judaism all took shape in their classical forms during this period; and Judaism provided the base for the later emergence of Christianity and Islam. Karen Armstrong, whose 2006 book The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions chronicled the development of religion in the First Axial Age, has written:

imagesAll over the world, people are struggling with these new conditions and have been forced to reassess their religious traditions, which were designed for a very different type of society. They are finding that the old forms of faith no longer work for them; they cannot provide the enlightenment and consolation that human beings seem to need. As a result, men and women are trying to find new ways of being religious. Like the reformers and prophets of the first Axial Age, they are attempting to build upon the insights of the past in a way that will take human beings forward into the new world they have created for themselves.

What are some of the main characteristics of the emerging paradigm?

  • It’s global. Humanity is seen as a single tribe and this one tribe is interconnected with the total.
  • It’s an age of dialogue. Instead of talking only with those like us, we meet with people of differing convictions, not as opponents, but in order to listen, share and learn from one another.
  • It’s characterized by a deep commitment to environmental justice, including a shift from an exclusively anthropocentric view to one which sees humanity in interdependent relationship with all other life forms and with the Earth.
  • It will involve a redefinition of religion. Many of the answers given in the past do not address questions being asked today.

I believe that a lot of the anxiety among the apocalyptic crowd is due to the fact that shift is happening.

Is your worldview apocalyptic or does it embrace paradigm shift?

Which do we want our political leaders to embrace?





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