Fleeing coronavirus and finding our mortality

A tourist dons both a Carnevale mask and a protective face mask as he visits St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, on Feb. 25, 2020.  (AP Photo/Renata Brito)

By Tara Isabella

What follows is an excerpt from her column for Religion News Service.

Our reaction to the coronavirus threat at the personal level — our desire to stockpile hundreds of dollars’ worth of hand sanitizer (less effective than soap and water), or to leave places where there is no reported threat — is also a statement about our need for control: our bodies, our world.

That’s what makes the mere possibility of sickness and death that now dominates our news cycle so strange: It reveals precisely how incorporeal, and disengaged, our daily lives tend to be. It’s something we liturgical Christians feel fleetingly as the ashes are pressed onto our foreheads once a year, a wobbly kneed quickening in the face of mortality that vanishes almost as soon as we totter back out through the church doors.

The statements about mortality we make on Ash Wednesday (and, indeed, through Lent) are only shocking because they have virtually vanished from the rest of our cultural consciousness. We forget that we are mortal bodies — indeed, that we are mere bodies at all: that our flesh is not something, through judicious diet and detox teas and expensive exercise classes, that exists purely under our own willed jurisdiction.

…That the Christian faith carries with it not simply an acknowledgment of the inevitability of death but also the promise of a bodily resurrection [is] all the more astounding and all the more seemingly out of step with an era in which our bodies are sacrosanct and in which sickness is seen as such an alien part of the human condition.

Read entire RNS piece HERE

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Arthur Brooks on forgiving your enemies

Arthur C. Brooks’s remarks, as prepared, for the National Prayer Breakfast keynote address on Thursday February 7, 2020, at the Washington Hilton. 

Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, Speaker Pelosi, heads of state, members of Congress and honored guests: Thank you for inviting me here today. I am deeply honored and grateful to address the National Prayer Breakfast.

As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.

I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won’t depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together. Continue reading

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Remembering a legend, his daughter, and their friends

As a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, I mourn the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the other seven precious souls on the ill-fated helicopter crash. At 41 years old, The Black Mamba was not only Gianna’s basketball coach, but more importantly, her loving father.

“Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world; it’s my greatest accomplishment,” Bryant told Maria Shriver’s “Sunday Paper” back in November. “I’ve learned so much, but perhaps the most profound thing has been the fierce, unconditional love you have for your children when you become a parent. I’m blessed to have had that experience four times now and there’s nothing more powerful in this world.”

That resonates with every parent. No matter what team you cheer for, Kobe Bryant was a steely competitor who developed his skills to the top of his profession. He was an A-list legend. Nothing but respect and Laker Love for #24. RIP.

At the same time, each precious soul on that helicopter deserves to be remembered for their own unique life and gifts, outside anyone else’s shadow. Everyone on board was a life-lover — whether a parent or child. We remember John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan.

Words can never express proper sadness for a loss so great to their loved ones.

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A snake in the manger

Screen shot from “Love Actually”

By Steve Beard

There is a grand Christmas tradition at our house on the evening of December 25: separating the crumpled wrapping paper from the bows that can be reused next year. For many families, Christmas Day signals the winding down of the holiday. Soon the decorations will be packed away and the Christmas tree will be at the curb.

For many Christians around the world, however, the Christmas season only begins on December 25 and is observed over the next 12 days until Epiphany (January 6) – marking the visit of the Magi to the Christ child and the revelation of God becoming flesh.

Remember the song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” with its Turtle Doves, French Hens, Swans-a-Swimming, and Pipers Piping? There are all kinds of theories about the song’s origin, including it being used as a catechism tool to teach theology. Among the Geese-a-Laying and the Maids-a-Milking, there was supposed to be a symbolic spiritual message generations ago.

In our modern era, the quirky British comedy Love Actually inevitably shows up on television at Christmas time. One of the more memorable scenes is when Daisy (Lulu Popplewell) proudly tells her mother Karen (Emma Thompson) about her role in the Christmas play at school.

Daisy: I’m the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah.
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: Yeah, “first” lobster.
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daisy: Duh!

Continue reading

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Generous Love: The Salvation Army

Courtesy of Salvation Army.

By Steve Beard –

For more than 150 years, The Salvation Army has been the most consistent, creative, and trustworthy symbol for a warm hearted faith and a generous helping hand for those in need. With a legacy of rushing into where the need is greatest, it has earned a coveted reputation for integrity and compassion without prejudice or discrimination as both a Christian church and an excellent charity.

Although it is most well-known for its Red Kettle campaign at Christmas, the Wesleyan-oriented ministry works year-round to alleviate human suffering and offer hope.

Having served survivors of every major national disaster since 1900, its industriousness is a powerful testimony for its purpose and passion. The Salvation Army annually helps more than 20 million Americans fight poverty, addiction, and economic difficulties through a variety of outreaches. Through emergency relief in disaster situations, rehab work with those battling drug and alcohol abuse, providing food for the hungry, and clothing and shelter for people in need, The Salvation Army operates from 7,600 centers around the United States. It is simply indispensable. Continue reading

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Gratitude and the Rock of Ages

Gratitude is priceless. Norman Rockwell’s 1951 painting Saying Grace, however, sold for $46 million in 2013.

I can still faintly visualize it. Many years ago, I was watching the first game of the NBA Championship series when it was announced that the rock band U2 would be performing for the half-time show. U2’s concert was in Boston while the basketball game was being played in Los Angeles. When the cameras suddenly switched from one venue to the other, television viewers saw Bono praying on his knees.

“What can I give back to God for the blessings he poured out on me,” he asked. “I lift high the cup of salvation as a toast to our Father. To follow through on the promise I made to you.” The lead singer of one of the most popular rock band on the planet was loosely reciting a prayer from Psalm 116 (The Message) on nation-wide television in the United States.

Most viewers probably would not have known what he was reciting. However, it was kind of a startling opening shot of a rock star on bended knee quoting from an ancient psalm about gratitude. Those with eyes to see, saw it. Everyone else enjoyed the show. Continue reading

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I Spent Years Searching for Magic – I Found God Instead

Photograph by Joshua Davis/Unsplash

A few beautiful selections from Tara Isabella Burton’s fabulous piece in Catapult:

“The faith I found proclaimed a sanctified world, and a redeemed one—an enchanted world, if you want to call it that—but one where meanings were concrete. It offered me not just a sense of emotional intensity, but a direction in which to channel it. It contained magic not  for the sake  of magic, but rather miracle  for the sake  of goodness. God died and came back from the dead not because magic was real, but because love was stronger than an unmagical world.”
“One of the many odd things about Christianity is that it trades not in grand narratives but in their subversion. Christ the king comes into Jerusalem on an ass.  An ass!  This unprepossessing carpenter from Nazareth (can anything good come out of Nazareth, people ask) who confuses the hell out of everyone around him is actually the promised Messiah. He has a Passion and a death and then a few days later he’s alive, because death doesn’t matter, because death has been defeated, because the way you think the story is going to end isn’t the story at all. Also, you never get to be comfortably, certain of Not-Nothing, ever again. You never get to be certain of anything.  Blessed are those who have not seen and believe. 

“The claims magic made on me—grandiose, vague, extravagant—were incompatible with the person I was becoming, who I wanted to be. The person who learns to love not just The Story, but also the human being telling it, and the parts of the story the human being is not ready to tell, just yet.”

Read the entire article HERE

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Happy Birthday, Wanda Jackson!

Wanda Jackson, Queen of Rockabilly

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God, Drugs, and Rock n Roll: Greg Laurie interviews Alice Cooper

Some Alice Cooper fans might be surprised by this interview with Pastor Greg Laurie from Riverside, California. After all, Alice Cooper is considered to be the original full-scale “Shock Rocker” and has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide. Despite a tongue-in-cheek horror rock show and a over-the-top stage persona, Alice Cooper is a family man, top-notch golfer, and a committed Christian.

The interview is conducted at The Rock (a Teen Center created and started by Alice that I visited a few years ago), Laurie asks about Cooper’s faith and his desire to help at-risk young men in his community.

To watch the interview, click HERE 


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Back Row America

Chris Arnade

Chris Arnade earned a PhD in theoretical physics and spent 20 years on Wall Street making piles of money as a bond trader. In a season of disillusionment with his lucrative career, he began walking around New York City to relieve stress and take photographs of graffiti artists, Schwinn bike clubs, and pigeon keepers. That hobby led him to eventually become an irreplaceable photojournalist and chronicler of the down-and-outers and drug addicted in our ferociously polarized society. 

For three years, he went in search of those who “lived under bridges, in abandoned buildings, in sheds, in pits, in broken-down trucks, on rooftops, or, if they scored enough money, in per-hour motels,” he writes in Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America (Sentinel 2019). Traveling more than 150,000 miles to has-been communities struggling to survive, he photographed and interviewed the poor and strung out in places such as Buffalo, New Haven, Cleveland, Selma, El Paso, and Bakersfield. “In each of these places, people have a sense of being left behind and forgotten – or, worse, mocked and stigmatized by the rest of the world as it moves on and up….” Continue reading

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