The definition of marriage is one of the questions at the heart of the debate in contemporary Christianity about whether same-sex marriages should be affirmed by the church. In this debate, you’ll often hear those with more conservative positions on the question argue that same-sex marriage violates the “definition” of marriage given by Jesus, who declared that marriage was between a man and a woman. And so it’s worth looking into the question of whether Jesus did in fact define marriage in any meaningful way, because the answer isn’t as definite as some make it out to be. Continue reading
This is a revision and update, sadly, of an earlier post from 2012.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.” —Psalms 46:4–5 NRSV
In AD 410, the Visigoths sacked the city of Rome, bringing about one of the great crises of faith of the Roman people. Had God abandoned Rome? Was the Christian God a failure, allowing something to happen that the old gods would never have?
In response, the bishop of Hippo Regius in Libya wrote his masterpiece City of God. In it St. Augustine argues that there are two “cities,” two communities defined by the object of their love. In the city of the world, the citizens love power and domination. Their rulers and those they rule are dominated by the lust for domination. They seek earthly security, success, and stability. In the City of God, the citizens love God. They serve one another out of charity and love. They live with hope in the midst of the world, as pilgrims on the journey.
Augustine went on to note that Rome was not the City of God. What fell was not God’s city, but the city of the world. God’s city endures. Continue reading
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
February 6, 2019
Yedid Nefesh, Matthew 8:23–27; Mark 12:30–31; Qur’an 28:77, 13:11
When I was in law school, I brought a bag of chocolates to the last exam of my first semester and before we sat down to our three-hour slog of a Contracts final, I gave everyone in the class a piece of chocolate—either Hershey’s kisses or Reese’s peanut butter cups; I forget. That turned into a minor tradition that I followed every fall exam period. I was gratified to hear my friends tell me that that piece of chocolate would sometimes be the thing that gave them a little boost of energy in the middle of the ordeal.
That habit continued years later when I entered the seminary and when I became a campus minister, one of the things I did during finals was to set up a table in Mary Graydon during the winter finals period and for days on end distribute free chocolate to stressed out college students. “Spiritual Therapy Through Chocolate” we called it. It was a proud tradition that Rev. Joey Heath-Mason and the United Methodists continue to this day.
But there was something curious I began to notice as I tabled throughout the finals period. Students would constantly ask what they had to do to get a piece of chocolate. “Nothing,” I would respond.
“Oh, I’d love some chocolate—but I’m not a Methodist.” “You don’t need to be; it’s free. Take some!”
“Do I need to sign up or anything?” “Nope, just take some.”
I would even practice a studied indifference to the passers-by—greatly facilitated once WiFi was introduced into Mary Graydon—of being busy at work on my laptop while crowds of students walked by. Some would “steal” a piece as they walked by, seemingly not understanding that the chocolate was there to be taken. Beyond the signs that said things like “Free Chocolate: Consider it spiritual therapy during finals” and “Chocolate is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” (a reworking of Ben Franklin’s quote about beer), I added a sign that said, “Free chocolate: if you had to do anything to get it, it wouldn’t be free.”
But still the questions persisted. I’m sure Joey will tell you that they persist to this day.
And there was something that became apparent—this was an object lesson in grace: how hard it is for people to accept something that is freely given. Something that benefits them even, without assuming that there’s a catch. Continue reading
Every year at this time the internet once again tackles the pressing question: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? I remember the first time I heard this question, the answer was so self-evident in my mind: of course it’s not a Christmas movie. But a lot of people argue that it is—including most of the young adult men who populate the campus ministries I’ve been involved with.
So why is it that I think it’s not? Given the number of people who disagree, fairness and open-mindedness dictate that at least some inquiry be made into the question beyond my knee-jerk reaction. Spoilers follow. Continue reading
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
December 5, 2018
Philippians 3:7–14; 4:10–13; Qur’an 3:159; 42:38; 2:185
When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood that had woods on one end. As our house was at the end of the block, these woods were effectively my back yard. And I spent hours exploring the woods and walking along the creek that went its way through them.
There was one part of the woods that I called “the crooked forest” because it had some of the strangest trees in it. One was shaped like a lowercase ‘h’, bent in a horseshoe shape nearly entirely over before reaching back up to the sky. Another jutted out sideways for a bit and then sharply angled back up. Still others had strange twists and turns in their paths toward the sunlight in the forest canopy above.
I long wondered: what happened to those trees? Was it a snowstorm that bent them? Did another tree fall onto a sapling bending it before it sprang up again? And how did this happen to more than one tree? I never knew what it was and never figured it out. But it was clear: something had happened to those trees. Something had bent them into very un-tree-like shapes. But whatever that something was, it had not prevailed; the trees now reached for the light. Continue reading
I can remember my parents explaining a number of things to me about college before I left: what early morning anthropology classes were like, what a “credit hour” was, and how it worked with roommates. “They’ll assign you someone your freshman year as a roommate but more than likely you won’t live with that person after that. You’ll make a friend somewhere and you’ll probably live with that person after your freshman year.”
So, I will admit that I was surprised to discover that not only would I room with my freshman year suite-mates sophomore year, but with one or another of them junior year, senior year, and my year of grad school. In fact, of the four suite-mates I had my first year, three of them remain among my closest friends in the world to this day.
I have kept in touch with each of them individually since we graduated, and on occasion three of us might be in the same space at the same time for a wedding, but the four of us had not been in the same physical space since we graduated in 1990, twenty-eight years ago.
Last weekend, we fixed that and got together in New York for something of a reunion. I had proposed the idea a couple of months before because I missed seeing everyone and thought that the opportunity to get together would be a lot of fun. I was right about that. What I did not anticipate was just how meaningful it would be. Continue reading
In the apocalyptic vision found in the biblical Book of Daniel, mention is made of a “contemptible person” who arises through deceit and intrigue to take power. In the exercise of his power he persecutes and afflicts the faithful, armed forces occupy and profane the holy temple, and they perform a “desolating sacrilege” that renders the sacred space unfit for worship.
This passage and the rest of such passages in Daniel likely refer to the persecution and oppression of the Jewish people by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who forbade the studying of the Torah, forcibly tried to Hellenize the Jews, and committed the abominable act of sacrificing a pig upon the holy altar of the Temple, desolating it through an act of idolatrous sacrilege.
While this passage is about a struggle nearly 2200 years ago, it is hard not to think of these words in light of the horrific killing of eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more descriptive term than sacrilege to characterize the murder of innocent worshipers in a house of prayer. This violent act profanes a space meant for community, safety, and comfort. Indeed, the taking of a life is itself a sacrilege—defiling with the idols of violence and hate the temple of flesh that houses the spirit of God.
Those who hate have made an idol of their hate. They worship at its altar and at that of violence for the purported deliverance from trouble they claim to offer. They worship idols of hate and violence that are no less desolating of the sanctity of our common life than the sacrifice of a pig on the altar of the temple was.
Later in the passage from the Book of Daniel mentioned above, the text reveals that the idolatrous oppressor king shall seduce with intrigue “those who violate the covenant.” “But,” it continues, “the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action.” (Dan. 11:32)
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by acts of violence and to witness so many people seemingly surrendering to the idols of hate and violence. But we who would be “the people who are loyal”—to justice, to peace, and to love—cannot allow the idols of hate and violence to go unchallenged. We cannot allow the desolating sacrilege to have the last word. Indeed, in the words of Daniel, it falls to us to “stand firm and take action.”