Tag Archives: Chicago
It took time to understand that a liberal Midwestern city like Madison has its own scalding injustices and inequalities, all the more invisible for the city’s self-regard. And it took time to understand that these are all parts of one whole. The state made the university, and the university brought the world to the state. The city was open to migration but not to integration; it kept all the old farm-town rituals of minimization and self-effacement but put them in a new political and cultural key.
God, he suddenly saw, did not send his Son to die for us in order to multiply the terrors of the law. God did not forgive our old sins in order to make us even more afraid of the sins that still lay ahead of us. God did not reveal his righteousness to the faithful in order to torment those faithful with a still higher standard of perfection than what they knew before. God’s righteousness is not the demand that we wring every last little imperfection from our crooked souls. Instead, it’s almost the opposite: God’s righteousness is the gift that makes us righteous, even though we are sinners, even though we are not just a little imperfect but are instead complete disasters, even though we know and want to know nothing at all about God and his love for us and for our neighbor.
There I was, an hour early in my new dress shoes and business-casual ensemble, wanting to present every bit of the serious and patient foster dad from the suburbs I wish to be. I am always mindful of the stigma that can attach to foster children and foster parenting, and I would do nothing to legitimate that stigma. This child’s excessive exuberance or vocal exertion will be, to me, merely the rough poetry of childhood; my own role will be sober and affectionate, savoring nothing of mercenary or needy motives.
This is not to say, as politicians like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have recently suggested, that churches can step in to replace the social safety net. But in their own small, often invisible ways, local churches do something that I am tempted to call radical in our segmented, individualistic society: They ask us to bear with one another.
God becomes a human being so that human beings can become like God.
And this happens to us anywhere and at any time. Whether you are surrounded with loved ones, or stranded away from home, or simply without close family or friends. Whether you have a stocking full of old family traditions or whether you didn’t even grow up with a tree. Whether you know the songs or not. Whether you’re at a festive gathering or whether you’re at an all-night diner, with only those other people who have nowhere else to go.
I’m excited to be visiting two Chicago churches in October to talk about Sacred Signposts: Words, Water, and Other Acts of Resistance. First up will be Augustana Lutheran Church and Lutheran Campus Ministry in Hyde Park, a place that’s very important to me. The Wednesday night services in Lent brought me to worship for good, […]
It’s important not to expect the wrong things from a Q and A between some guy and the shiny new bishop, so if some questions or demurrals go unanswered, I hope you’ll be indulgent. But we were able to have a friendly and serious conversation about topics facing his community and the church writ large: bioethics, racism, the place of churches in society.
I didn’t stay there. If I were assured of a hundred more years to live I don’t know that I would ever read Niebuhr again. Part of the problem with the blazing sunset era of high Protestant theology was that its authors sought to provide us with a place to stand–where faith and reason, revelation and science all worked together–when all they could offer was a point of transit. From the perspective of one moving out of Christian faith, however defined, those points of transit seem feeble and dishonest. For one moving into it, they can seem necessary and providential. Christians have a tendency to ask for kinds of assurance, whether from theological faculties, great collections of bishops, or second-century papyrus, that none of these can give. Our needs and our doubts give shape to the theories of revelation or ecclesiology or whatever else that we may then point to in order to meet them.
In America the past becomes history very quickly, at least for some of us. By the time I was growing up, Martin Luther King, Jr. was an official symbol of the nation, which he still is today. I learned about him in school in a town that had deliberately excluded African-American homeowners into my lifetime. What was left out of the picture I was given was the profound hostility many people, north and south and everywhere else, felt toward him at the time of his death. What I had to learn later, on my own, is that he spent the last years of his life warning about the danger posed to American cities, and to the American soul, by generations of oppression and deprivation; that he spent those years trying hard to prevent chaos and violence; that he was not heeded by politicians or public opinion; and that the chaos and violence came, most explosively after his own murder. No one who was living in Chicago in 1968 can forget that.
The loss of this mode of politicking is the less-seen shadow side of the dysfunction and looming institutional crisis created by extreme gerrymandering. Once you know with a mathematical certainly who you don’t need, and where you don’t ever have to go, you are just wasting your time trying to hear out and nod along with some random collection of constituents. You have to tend to your party’s nominating voters and your funders, and they don’t care whether you’re able to empathize with whatever marginal voter you’re chasing at the mosque or the deli or the tavern.