Commenting in Community

Scripture: Romans 14.7
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.

It is certain that nothing is more threatening, nor more often fatal, to Christian societies, than the contentions and divisions of their members. By these wounds the life and soul of religion expire. — Matthew Henry (1672-1714)

Never read the comments. — Internet Proverb, Anonymous (of course…)

Reflection: Commenting in Community
By John Tillman

When Paul wrote, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters,” one might imagine that he had a vision of modern Facebook comment squabbles. But in truth, the Holy Spirit was revealing not the future, but a current and eternal, deeply ingrained, sinful, broken need that we have to dominate and control others.

Writing for The New Yorker in 2013, Maria Konnikova discussed Popular Science’s justification for discontinuing comments on its site: “Internet comments…lead to a culture of aggression and mockery that hinders substantive discourse.” Popular Science eliminated comments completely and many sites disabled anonymous comments.

The consensus seemed to be that commenters using their real identities and names would be more civil, less brutal, less confrontational. Boy, were we wrong.

One of Facebook’s uniquenesses from its inception was that you were never anonymous—you used your real name. But Facebook comments through recent elections and conflicts have revealed that we don’t need to be anonymous to be as nasty as we want to be to each other. It seems many people don’t mind attaching their identities to noxious ideas, lies, exaggerations, hurtful and mean-spirited memes, name-calling, and desperate pandering to the powerful.

Whether online or in person, Christians have a greater identity than our own to represent and a greater power to be accountable to than a forum or group moderator. It doesn’t matter how many upvotes or likes we get from comments if we misrepresent the Spirit of Christ.

What is missing in online commenting is precisely what commenting attempts to recreate—community. In community, we have relational equity to push for change without being pushy. Our comments in community may be corrective while still being loving, and supportive without giving license to sin.

We can work together to sort out what we hold as sacred, as long as we remember that our fellow believers are held sacred by Christ through his sacrifice.

The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise — Psalm 51.16

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 16 (Listen – 3:45)
Romans 14 (Listen – 3:28)

God’s Regret and Samuel’s Anger

Scripture: Romans 13.1
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

Scripture: 1 Samuel 15.11
“I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

Reflection: God’s Regret and Samuel’s Anger
By John Tillman

Today in our reading plan we come across two passages that, read together, show us a wide spectrum of God, government, and the role of spiritual leaders—Romans 13 and 1 Samuel 15.

Romans 13:1 and related passages seem to have become very popular with certain conservative Evangelicals since November. For the previous eight years, however, conservatives were mostly silent on Romans 13 and it was progressive Christians quoting these passages with great frequency. Biblical commands to submit to governing authorities grow and shrink in popularity as Christians are more, or less, satisfied with the governing authorities they must submit to.

The Bible shows us in many places that it is not uncommon for a political leader to be anointed by the religious leaders of the day, and yet that leader may fail to to honor God’s most basic requirements for leadership. It is also not uncommon for these kinds of leaders to ultimately be destroyed and removed from leadership by God. Saul is a great example of this pattern.

Samuel anointed Saul as king, yet nearly from the beginning, Saul was a blundering mess of a ruler. When God informs Samuel of Saul’s latest blunder, Samuel becomes angry and cries out to God all night before going to confront Saul.

Saul deals with Samuel like a modern politician speaking to the press. First, Saul does not obey the command of God. Then he lies, stating confidently that he obeyed completely. Samuel challenges him with facts. (“What is this bleating…”) Then Saul walks back his previous comment and gives an excuse. (“…to sacrifice to the Lord your God.” Emphasis mine.) When Samuel lays out the facts again, Saul then returns to his previous lie, doubling down on it—asserting his obedience and innocence of wrongdoing.

What are Christians to do when the anointed leader, the authority established by God, proves to be unworthy?

Samuel’s mourning for Saul and angry night of prayer helped him share God’s regret and rejection of the man he formerly supported. And, at God’s urging, despite the danger, Samuel began actively seeking out Saul’s replacement.

May we share God’s regret when leaders make poor choices and when governments fail to provide justice. May we not accept half-truths and lies—holding leaders accountable. May we turn away from leaders when directed by God, even if they tear our garments as we go.

The Morning Psalm
A crooked heart shall be far from me; I will not know evil… — Psalm 101:4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 15 (Listen – 5:46)
Romans 13 (Listen – 2:35)

Slavery, Racism, and a Lone Christian Voice

Scripture: Romans 12.9-10
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Reflection: Slavery, Racism, and a Lone Christian Voice
By John Tillman

Yesterday we quoted parts of Kimberly Flint-Hamilton’s article, Gregory of Nyssa and the Culture of Oppression about the unique Christian theology that defeats the ideology of white supremacy and racism. Today, I wanted to give some space for a more detailed explanation of Gregory’s theological stance as outlined by Hamilton.

In the late fourth century a lone Christian voice spoke out against the oppressive institution of slavery in a way that none had before. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394), one of the Cappadocian Fathers, laid out a line of reasoning vilifying the institution as incompatible with Christianity in his fourth homily on Ecclesiastes. It is considered the “first truly ‘anti-slavery’ text of the patristic age.”

Gregory understands Genesis 1:26-27 to be about not just the creation of the first humans, but “the fullness of humankind, comprehended by God’s ‘foresight,’” This fullness of humankind, which Gregory calls pleroma, includes all humans, from the very first to the last, throughout all ages.

God endowed human beings with dominion over all other creatures, but not over other humans, so slavery calls God’s will into question. “Irrational beasts are the only slaves of humankind,” Gregory writes. “but by dividing the human species into two with ‘slavery’ and ‘ownership,’ you have caused it to be enslaved to itself, and to be owner of itself.”19

Since all humans are reflected in pleroma, the beauty of pleroma cannot be revealed by subordinating one portion of humanity to another. Only in universal freedom can the fullness of pleroma unfold, with each individual human being contributing. Slavery, racism, and oppression in general, are completely incompatible with the will of God.

We can learn a great deal from Gregory of Nyssa. All corners of humanity, including men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and people of every race, ethnicity, class, and nationality are part of pleroma and reflect God’s beauty and perfection.
As difficult as it can be to see past the veil of institutionalized oppression, we have a moral obligation to try.

It takes wisdom and courage to challenge the status quo, to call the dominant culture to task. And it takes hard work to defuse the standard arguments that we have all heard since childhood— “They wouldn’t be poor if they worked hard,” “There wouldn’t be so many of them in prisons if they weren’t guilty,” “It isn’t really their fault that they suffer so much from unemployment and poverty, they just lack the appropriate work ethic.” Fifteen hundred years later, we are still fighting the anti-slavery, and anti-racism, and anti-oppression battles. We may be victorious yet, but it will take all of us to engage the battle.

*Quotes condensed from Kimberly Flint-Hamilton’s article, Gregory of Nyssa and the Culture of Oppression

The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 14 (Listen – 9:01)
Romans 12 (Listen – 2:58)

Racial Equality is a Radical Christian Concept

Scripture: Romans 11.1
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!

Reflection: Racial Equality is a Radical Christian Concept
By John Tillman

Racial equality is a radical Christian concept that the world has never fully understood. Wherever slavery and racism are thought of as evil it is only because Christians taught society that it should be so.

Christianity has a robust theological basis for the rejection of racist ideology. Where many attempts to counter racism rely on simplistic concepts of accepting differences and getting along, Christianity goes deeper—asserting that at our core all humanity shares an essential nature of being image-bearers of God. This theology took centuries to affect global change in the church and the culture, but it has its roots with an early church father, Gregory of Nyssa.

Kimberly Flint-Hamilton highlights Gregory of Nyssa’s unique theology and rejection of the status quo of his day when it came to racism and slavery.

Slavery was very much accepted by everyone—Christians, Jews, and pagans alike. Church leaders accepted it just as absolutely as the rest of society.

It had been woven into the fabric of society for so long that it was accepted without question. It became convenient to subordinate theology to tradition, and to use Scripture as a tool to explain, justify, and even sanction the culture of slavery.

Trapped in that oppressive cultural matrix, most people were blinded to the injustices of slavery.

It takes courage to question the status quo and great strength to break the cultural bonds that shape our perceptions and understandings. This is what makes Gregory of Nyssa’s accomplishment so remarkable: he escapes from the invisible trap laid by generations of oppressors and confronts the established hierarchy.

Historically the church has fought so long against slavery and racist ideology that it will be a shocking setback if Christians today fail to summon the courage to resist (or admit to) the rise of racist groups in this new millennium. The way forward in dealing with racism is not denial or pride, but confession and humility.

May we no longer protest our innocence of the sins of racism and the vestiges of slavery’s cultural effects. May we instead confess these sins to God and to each other and move forward together in redemption.

*Quotes condensed from Kimberly Flint-Hamilton’s article, Gregory of Nyssa and the Culture of Oppression

The Refrain
For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture; we will give you thanks for ever and show forth your praise from age to age. — Psalm 79.13

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 13 (Listen – 3:54)
Romans 11 (Listen – 5:23)

Uniqueness of Prayer

Scripture: Romans 8.26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

Reflection: Uniqueness of Prayer
By John Tillman

Christian prayer is unique among the religious prayer traditions of the world. In nearly every other religion prayer is either penance, incantation, or mere escapism. When Christians pray we are not paying for our sins, struggling for the attention of a disinterested deity, or striving to make meaningless our physical lives through transcendentalism. Instead, by no power or worthiness of our own, we are welcomed on a personal level—ushered in hastily to a God who has been waiting for us to join him.

Prayer has a dual nature of timeliness, relating to us in our moment of existence, and timelessness, connecting us, as Roberta C. Bondi writes, to all Christians at all times.

Whenever we pray, we pray with the whole people of God, with the people of the old covenant as well as with all the faithful Christians throughout the centuries and in all places. At the same time, with God’s enduring love as its starting point prayer is an expression of each person’s relationship with God. Therefore there is no one right way to pray.

Our prayer is unique. But this does not mean that it can be merely whimsical, without definite patterns and commitment. Whatever time of day we set aside for prayer, whatever place we select, whatever forms of prayer we use, it is important to understand that regularity is more sustaining in prayer than intensity or length.

The power of connection that is possible in prayer can be intimidating. Systems and forms of prayer help us to grasp and hold on to something that can carry us farther than we can go on our own. Bondi discusses “thinking small” about our practice of prayer—not being intimidated or discouraged by missing a day, but simply starting again.

We are spending time with God, learning who God is and who we are, learning to love God and God’s world. This happens over a matter of years. If we miss some days, we should simply start again and think small.

If prayer were penance, missing a day would multiply our sins. If it were conjuring a god, we’d be alone and powerless. If it were escaping reality, we’d be trapped. But prayer depends not on our power or sinlessness. And though consistency makes us more sensitive to God, he is always with us, in our present reality, and he will not forsake us, even if we forsake our meeting in prayer.

*Quotes from Roberta C. Bondi’s essay, The Paradox of Prayer, in Communion, Community, Commonweal edited by John S. Mogabgab

The Refrain
One thing I have asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life… — Psalm 27.4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 10 (Listen – 4:34)
Romans 8 (Listen – 6:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 11 (Listen – 2:43) Romans 9 (Listen – 5:15)
1 Samuel 12 (Listen – 4:19) Romans 10 (Listen – 3:21)

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