Showing Christ’s Face to the World

6C28F758-DBFD-4071-83A5-62877D45408F

Mother of God, Protectress of the Oppressed.  Iconography by Kelly Latimore.

On many fronts, I am troubled today by the appointment of Paula White as head of the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, a successor to previous administrations’ faith-based office that coordinates outreach to religious communities. The news reports point out that she is neither seminary trained nor qualified to hold this position, and yet the president identifies her as his “pastor.” I cannot help but wonder: When did it become acceptable to evangelicals to tolerate a woman as their president’s pastor?

It appears that Donald Trump has employed a Pentecostal televangelist from Florida, an outsider whose populist brand of Christianity mirrors his own conquest of the Republican Party.  She is in many ways a quintessentially Trump figure: a television preacher, married three times, lives in a mansion.

And like her president, Ms. White has survived accusations of financial misconduct and ethical improprieties. Among Christians, she is a divisive figure because of her association with the belief that God wants followers to have wealth  — commonly called the prosperity gospel. This theological perspective is highly unorthodox, and is also considered heretical by many Christians.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, who organized the Moral Mondays protests in North Carolina and who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, calls White’s appointment “a very ominous sign” and signals that “Christian narcissism” has come into the White House. He said this:

The so-called prosperity gospel is a false gospel that can be compared to the theology that justified slavery because of economic prosperity. It is an attempt to interpret the gospel to be primarily about personal wealth and personal power, which is contrary to the theology of Jesus where the good news was always focused on caring for the poor, the least of these, the stranger, the sick.

I just spent five paragraphs trying to show Paula White’s face to the world when what is infinitely more needful is showing Christ’s face to the world. With that in mind, I feel compelled to switch focus to the theology of Jesus that insists upon caring for the oppressed.

Some of you may know that I am an iconographer and one who is very interested in the theology of icons and their call to holy introspection. An iconographer colleague of mine gave me this wise counsel:

Look at the eyes first and see the light that shines through them. Stand reverently and quietly before the icon until the image speaks to you.

Icons hold a spiritual effect, a history and a message. So in thinking about caring for the oppressed, I turn to two icons depicting the Mother of God and her Son. 

The first, an icon by Kelly Latimore, is Mother of God, Protectress of the Oppressed. Russian Christians for centuries have called Mary the Protectress of the Oppressed. While some icons embrace traditional forms, this one has been re-imagined. It reflects current political morés related to the treatment of refugees and migrants at our southern border. Christ has assured us that He will always be found among the poor and oppressed. In that light, this depiction of Mary is a refugee mother and child behind the fence our government has erected to separate them from “God-fearing Americans.”

964C5DCC-D500-4E83-8132-6C43132AAF53

Mother of the Streets.   Iconography by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

The second icon, written by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, is Mother of the Streets. Each year, larger numbers of homeless people live in the streets of our cities — jobless workers, battered women, the untreated mentally ill, or simply those too poor to get by. They tend to be “invisible” to us. This icon depicts the Mother of God as the mother of those on the streets. Her garments, and those of her Son, are covered with jewels and gold decoration, making manifest the hidden worth and dignity of street people, who are living icons of God. In 1984 the Catholic bishops of the U.S. declared, “To turn aside from those on the margins of society, the needy and the powerless, is to turn aside from Jesus. Such people show His face to the world.”

It matters whose face we show to the world. It matters whose face we see. We can choose to “see” the Donald Trumps and Paula Whites of the world, or we can turn our eyes on Jesus. It matters whose face we “see!” And it really matters whether or not we will be found in the city streets, on the border and at the fences, at the margins of society where so much oppression holds sway. It really matters whether or not our every day, holy acts of compassion show Christ’s face to the world.

May God create in us compassionate hearts. Amen.

 

F9FA5D3C-53F0-4043-8A72-F9E2D63F7349

On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant currently scheduled for November 12th at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

“Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

Fault Lines and Faith

88629599-A458-49EB-B5B9-A413BEE5FD59

Aerial photo of the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain,  http://www.geologyin.com.

Last week, we were inundated with media reports about President Donald J. Trump’s performance in his private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. From the outset, voices cried out in protest that the President of the United States would even consider a meeting with the Russian dictator. Now we are working through what the U.S. president said or did not say during the meeting. In a sense, we are standing on the fault lines of our nation.

There is no shortage of criticism on the opinion that President Trump took sides. In fact, he took Vladimir Putin’s word over the findings of several American intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Alina Polyakova, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said this in a conference call with reporters.“It was telling that the U.S. president did not mention Ukraine or Crimea once. The U.S. president also didn’t mention U.S. sanctions and basically let the Russian president set the agenda on Syria and other items as well.”

Condemnation of this meeting was swift, sweeping and widespread. The Chicago Tribune reported a plethora of reactions: “Bizarre. Shameful. Disgraceful. And that’s just from the Republicans.” Disgraceful, embarrassing, incompetent, disturbing, unpatriotic . . . There are so many negative descriptors in the narrative about this meeting. People of faith stand on the fault line wondering if and how we should respond. 

Now, the shock has somewhat abated. People, Democrat and Republican, are making their way back to the comfort of normalcy. To be sure, some Democrats are wringing their hands a bit more than they did before the Trump/Putin meeting, but at the end of the day, everyone will settle down on top of whatever fault line is nearest to them. I cannot help but think of the words of Edwin Muir from his poem, The Transfiguration, “But the world rolled back into its place, and we are here. And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn, As if it had never stirred.”

So after all the upheaval caused by the Helsinki meet-up, and after all the amped-up rhetoric of condemnation of the American president’s performance, it seems as if “the world rolled back into its place,” as if nothing has stirred. And yet, some people of faith feel an unease on this fault line, a vague sense that all is not as it should be, and wondering what all of this has to do with us. Most of us are do-ers, so inaction is difficult even when no clear action is before us. For good or ill, we are here in “the living of these days,” and there are indeed some clear actions we must take.

One set of effectual actions, as suggested by my friend, Ken Sehested, is to be prepared, to listen to media reports from a variety of sources, but to remember that we draw our bearings from “a larger horizon.” Ken writes this in a meditation entitled “We Must Be Prepared: A Brief Meditation for the Living of these Days.”

We must be prepared. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. We must listen to the news, from a variety of sources. But we must not draw our bearings from that news. Ours is a larger horizon.

It seems to me that all of our responses — whether being fully informed, shaping our opinions and convictions, advocating with members of Congress, or praying for our nation and our leaders — must emerge from that place called “a larger horizon.” 

And about the living of these days? These are the days we have, the good of them and the not so good. Certainly, we can feel hopeless when we hear disturbing headlines about any number of fault line issues. The narrative from the U.S. President clashes with the best direction from his own staff. The story of the private Helsinki meeting changes from hour to hour. Lawmakers are calling for recordings of the meeting. There is a palpable lack of trust within the Trump administration. 

In these days, we do feel threatened by fault lines, feeling them shifting underneath our feet. But along with the fault lines, we also have a living faith that guides us to create positive change, compels us to continue standing up for the marginalized people among us, strengthens us to labor for the good of our communities and our nation, and ennobles us to speak out for truth and justice.

God People, Trump, Morality and the First and Greatest Commandment

352F795F-C66F-45DB-838E-B2CEDFF6EA39Take a trip with me into the Bible Belt for a visit to the town of Luverne, Alabama, population 2,700. In the First Baptist Church on Main Street, we can hear a sermon on one of the Ten Commandments, one sermon in a ten part series. The people in the pews are good people, “salt of the earth” Christians who seek to live exemplary and moral Christian lives.

Good to see you this morning,” the pastor said, shaking hands as the worshippers took their usual places in the wooden pews. He walked up to the pulpit and opened his King James Bible.

“Today we’re going to be looking at the Seventh Commandment,” he began. “Exodus 20:14, the Seventh Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ ”

And from there the pastor’s dilemma is whether or not to mention the adultery of the president of the United States, the man that these Baptists believe is their savior.

Surveys and polls abound, but one particular survey indicates that Trump’s support among Southern Baptists is over 80 percent. These are the 80 percent people who showed up on Sunday morning to hear what their pastor had to say about committing adultery. 

On this day, in this sermon, the U.S. president will get a pass. After all, the people insist, he alone has saved them from sure and certain annihilation by hordes of illegal immigrants, MS-13 gang members, Muslims, terrorists, abortion supporters, liberals, and black people who most certainly would have taken over their country and killed all the white Christians.

Does that sound a bit too dramatic to be real? Tragically, it’s not an exaggeration. It is exactly what these people believe.

The Washington Post article sums it up:

The First Baptist Church’s pastor “looked out at all the faces of people who felt threatened and despised in a changing America, who thought Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were sent by Satan to destroy them, and that Donald Trump was sent by God to protect them, and who could always count on [pastor] Clay Crum to remind them of what they all believed to be the true meaning of Jesus Christ — that he died to forgive all of their sins, to save them from death and secure their salvation in a place that was 15,000 miles wide, full of gardens, appliances, and a floor of stars.”

And there you have it . . . a snapshot of the erroneous beliefs that have divided the American people. The remedy? Who knows what might unite a people of such disparate convictions and skewed ideas? It is a question worth pondering and asking for God’s wisdom in finding the answer. One thing I do know: divisions, xenophobia, racism and general hatred between the people who carry the labels “liberal” and “conservative” is not pleasing to God. In fact, God might counsel us to focus less on “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and instead to live into “the first and greatest  commandment” and the second one too:

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

This is the first and greatest commandment. 

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

— Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)