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Trinity Sunday 2021 - Year B
Memorial Day this year coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Hundreds of Blacks were brutally killed, their homes and businesses were wiped out. They were casualties of a furious and heavily armed white mob of marauders and arsonists.
Remembrance of the massacre has been stifled, resisted and contested ever since it took place. It is not commemorated like Memorial Day a celebration that emerged out of the Civil War tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers.
Given all the deaths suffered because of war, racism and other disparities (e.g., people without money, food, water, and shelter) tomorrow is a day to imagine a better world for all people.
And, today is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar. What can we make of this unexplainable mystery in a world torn by so much inequity, vitriol and division? Liturgical theologian Cláudio Carvalhaes reminds us the Trinity “is a Christian belief where God is one in three persons: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You would think this is craziness! But for Christians, it is how God moves, relates, dances, and manifests Godself in the world—always through relations.”
While the word “trinity” does not appear in Scripture, nuanced references are found in Matthew 28:18-20 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. We can can gain some insight from today’s biblical texts that might help us understand the importance of treating one another with fairness.
In the Psalm (33: 4-6, 9, 18-20, 22) we read that God’s works are trustworthy, that God loves justice, and that the earth is full of God’s kindness. But to keep the presence of God engaged in our lives we need to cooperate with God with acts of love and kindness. (Deuteronomy (4:32-34, 39-40)
The commission in the gospel to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:16-20) needs interpretation. We can encourage others to join our efforts to establish peace on earth through evangelization and by example but not through proselytism or violence.
Right relationships, are key in any community organization. Imagine what the world would be like if there was a congenial and respectful interdependence among all peoples. Nation states, organized religions, political parties, and local neighborhood communities would not be at such odds with one another. Different races, genders, and ethnic groups would no longer hate one another.
Dr. Carvalhaes continued: “In many ways, the Trinity is an entanglement that keeps unfolding back and forth, a sign and metaphor for our own ways of living together, being different and yet being a part of the same life.”
Karen Kilby uses the term social trinitarianism to describe the Christian interpretation of the Trinity. She sees it as consisting of three persons in a loving relationship, which reflects a model for human relationships. 
There are countless people and groups of individuals who, in the steps of their forebears, continue to support and sustain diverse relationships among human beings that can be both complicated and wonderful.
One example is an artist who contributed to social concordance her entire life. A current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — Alice Neel: People Come First — is a retrospective of this radical American portrait artist who died in 1984. Neel’s life was marked by sorrow and joy, depression and resilience. Nevertheless, she was always an advocator of social justice. She exuded a creative commitment to humanist principles that inspired her life as well as her art.
Art historian Hall Rockerfeller wrote “Her [Neel’s] work was undiscriminating … Her sincere and thoughtful engagement with her subject regardless of their color or creed was unusual for the time, and men and women of varying race, sexual orientation, and religion can be found throughout her oeuvre, all rendered with the same honest brush.” Neel herself once said: “For me, people come first, I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.”
On this Memorial Day weekend we remember lives lost because of war and hate crimes. Our association with a God who continues to create, a child of God (Jesus) who made God known to us and a holy Spirit that steadily sustains us can energize us to become more resilient in a period of history where we cannot be sure of anything the tide changes.
1. Karen Kilby is an American theologian and is currently the Bede Professor of Catholic Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University.
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THE UNBRIDLED SPIRIT
It was not the fierce wind, flaming tongues or the instant translation of foreign languages that stunned and frightened the people huddled in that Pentecost room. It was the pressing question: “Now what do we do?” Jesus was no longer with them and they were not sure how to organize themselves. How would they continue the work of their deceased leader? The biblical texts (Acts 2:1-11) provide an answer — a powerful Spirit took hold of them.
But the next steps were not that simple or fast paced. History tells us the early Christian movements took different routes and not everyone was on the same path. The tension between the Jewish Christians and the converted Hellenist (Greek) Christians is one example.
New Testament scholar Harold W. Attridge wrote: “The Christian movement probably began not from a single center but from many different centers where different groups of disciples of Jesus gathered and tried to make sense of what they had experienced with him and what had happened to him at the end of his public ministry.”
Another biblical expert, the late Holland Lee Hendrix, added: “Christianity, or one would rather say "Christianities," of the second and third centuries were a highly variegated phenomenon. We really can't imagine Christianity as a unified coherent religious movement.”
We can see something similar happening to Christianity today. It is not a “unified coherent religious movement.” Many moral issues are affecting each of us directly and indirectly. The information from politicians, research centers and religious leaders is not always clear. Our interpretations of the same message are wide spread. We can easily become confused, overwhelmed, and disparate.
One would think that, if all of us were on the same biblical page or even in the same book, this country and the world would be a more peaceful and equitable place to live. It is not. For instance, it is well publicized that Catholic Christians and their bishops do not agree on everything. We are divided on many issues and we have very different ideas about how to achieve various agendas.
Catholic doctrines assert that different gifts and offices are all united in one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13) The church itself is called a “sacrament of unity.”  Could it be that there is not only one Spirit but many life forces at work in different people and groups in dissimilar ways.
Linda Thomas, professor of anthropology and theology, provides a welcomed and important feminist view point. She writes about the work of the Spirit in the struggles of black women. “Black women have particular insight into the power of the Spirit because their historical radical marginality puts them in the center of myriad realities in which deeply rooted, unacknowledged, and unconventional wisdom dwells.” 
Diversity is everywhere, in everything, and in everyone. Variety or heterogeneity is a healthy and rich ingredient of life. Unity is also wonderful where it exists. But collaboration, which, ideally, is a good strategy for finding a common ground, can lead to an uncontested, single-mindedness. A balance between standing together on issues and accepting perceptions and solutions that challenge long standing assumptions is required.
One way to reach this accord is to employ a practice of intersectionality — a bringing together of divergent energies, spirits, talents, and gifts to a common ground. It starts with listening to and respecting what different people and groups have to say about the issues affecting them and what they would do to seek reconciliation. This is an interfaith strategy that reaches out to all races, creeds, genders and nationalities seeking peace and harmony.
In a Catholic example, Pope Francis is changing the way the Synod of Bishops operates. The Pope wants to make synodality the main driving force in the life of the church. To do so he is requiring bishops to “actively listen” to the views of church members before making proclamations that affect their lives and the lives of others.
Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, said: "the time was ripe for a wider participation of the people of God in a decision-making process that affects the whole church and everyone in the church.”
Skeptics are doubtful that all bishops will agree to this strategy. Some bishops, like some politicians, are reluctant to give up their power and privilege. How then are we all suppose to work together to renew the face of the earth in peace? (Psalm 104; John 20:19-23)
Pentecost was a celebration marking the early wheat harvest. For our Jewish friends it is the feast of first fruits, Shavuot. For Christians it marks the infusion of the Spirit God into the lives of all people. That spiritual appropriation was not a one-time deal. It is a never ending process of growth and development.
The acknowledgement of the different ways the Spirit is present in the lives of all peoples requires a sense of solidarity and respect of the other. The holy Spirit is unbridled and cannot be contained or possessed by a privileged few
1. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 26.
2. Thomas, Linda E. “The Holy Spirit and Black Women: A Womanist Perspective” in Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice. Daggers, Jenny, Ji-Sun Kim, Grace, eds. (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) 73-88.
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WHAT IS TRUTH?
The Seventh Sunday of Easter Year B
Every so often during a pick up basketball game there is disagreement over the actual score. In one contest, a player argued the score was not true. A guy on the other team cried out, somewhat jokingly, “you can’t handle the truth!”
This meme was heard in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” LTJG Kaffee (Tom Cruise) pressed Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) on whether Jessup ordered a Code Red.  “I want the truth,” Kaffee queried. Infuriated, Jessup angrily shouted back, “You can’t handle the truth.”
In today’s gospel (John 17:11b-19) Jesus is praying to God to keep his disciples united, protect them from evil, give them strength to carry on. And don’t forget, Jesus adds, “consecrate them in truth.”
To be consecrated is easy to understand. It means to be set apart for a purpose, to be dedicated, to have a strong commitment. Christians celebrate their prophetic and priestly voice in baptism. Their role in the world is strengthened by a holy Spirit. They are sustained in their vocation by celebrating the eucharist with others.
However, the expression “in truth” is more difficult to interpret because there can be variable theories of truth. In a biblical context the word truth refers to the life of Jesus of Nazareth, his way, his light, his message, and his respect for all people. To be committed to that “truth” is to stand for what Jesus stood for — justice for everyone.
The question “what is truth” is at the heart of many problems we are experiencing in this country and perhaps elsewhere on the global stage. The adherence to and promotion of falsehoods and outright lies serve to establish a collective feeling in a large segment of a population. When the lie is repeated over and over it no longer appears to some to be false but actually something they come to believe as true. The earth is flat … the earth is flat … the earth is flat ….
The fabrication is designed to strengthen the ideologies of a sector of a social, political or religious establishment. Most often those who spread the falsehoods are threatened by what is proven to be true either by science or evidence. The escalation of falsehoods creates confusion and doubt among people who are simply searching for honest answers.
Consider these few examples of where facts and truths are blurred or rejected because of the proliferation of misinformation, speculation, and conspiracy theories:
The number of deaths actually caused by the virus. The effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines. The validation of the 2020 presidential election. The cause of Middle East conflicts. Voters have rights. The implications of religious doctrines on public and private lives. The prevalence of racial bias.
To lives as a disciple of Christ and his standards in these confusing times one discerns what must be done so that people do not suffer or die because of injustices — lack of money, food, water, decent housing, and health care. Lies and falsehoods that threaten these basic human rights must be stopped.
When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God he was not referring to a romantic heavenly place. He understood his life’s mission was to create a peaceful, equitable place for everyone here on earth. If we continue his undertaking the world will be better not only for us and our families but also everyone else.
Luke, the author of the first reading (Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26), was concerned about who would carry on the work of Jesus. The passage specifically tells of the selection of Matthias as an apostolic minister to replace Judas. A good questions for us is are we to be counted among the disciples?
The first place for Christians to start is to make a commitment to spreading the gospel truth. Then we will link arms with those from other traditions dedicated to the same mission.
Of course, when it comes to abiding by biblical shibboleths, there will be different interpretations and skepticism. One could argue because the scriptures are not history books but testimonies the stories could be fabrications.
It seems clear, however, that the underlying long term message found in all of these texts is that, in order to create a world where justice and equity are experienced by everyone, truth must prevail. Lying and perpetuating falsehoods has no place in this narrative. How we handle truth and share it with others will make a huge difference in the future of the worlds we live in.
1. In the movie, In the film, the “Code Red” is used for a punishment or action taken against marines that is extrajudicial or, outside of existing military law.
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CAPTIVE NO MORE?
Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year B
Thanks to the nudging of a good friend I am reading His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope. This gripping book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham is hard to read and … hard to put down.
As I track the chronology of the ongoing civil rights movement, I keep asking myself where was I and what was I doing in the 1960s. That was the period when John Lewis and others, in their early 20s, were feverishly fighting and risking their lives for human rights especially for people who are Black.
The life story of John Lewis is rooted in the Bible. Meacham wrote: “For a youngster of great imagination and quickening faith there could be no more moving saga than the biblical epic of fall and resurrection, of exile and deliverance.” From his youth Lewis felt there was no justification, no reason at all, for Blacks to be held captive by a racist culture. And, he spent his life trying to end the prejudice, the brutality, the slavery.
For some people the fear of being held captive, of suffering and dying, is countered with hope, resilience and a yearning for new life. Many believers find strength in the life story of the Nazarene Jesus, his promises and how he himself rose up from vanquishment. Today’s gospel (John 15:9-17) is comforting. Jesus said: “I no longer call you slaves but friends.” 
One commentary suggests that Jesus wanted to have a relationship with his followers that included honest communication and support, rather than tyrannical dictatorship. Jesus trusted that his disciples will carry on his mission (“if you keep my commandments”) in the same way he honored the vision of the creator God — truthfully, kindly, and without compromise.
In the Acts of the Apostles (10:34) Luke imagines that a mission to the Gentiles will result in social integration rooted in respect for the other. Peter appears to accept this task. He encouraged both Gentiles and Jews to associate with one another: “God shows no partiality” he said. This line underscores the constant message in the second testament that God judges no one.
This is why, in light of the Christian calling to work for justice, it is exasperating that so many people are still held captive in our country and around the world. Those who are oppressed are good people who keep God’s commandments and try to live honest, decent, faithful lives. The slavery they experience comes in many forms. Here are some examples. I am sure you can name other subjugations.
Teenage girls and boys controlled by a sex trafficking industry. Street people hooked on drugs. Americans trapped by the need to consume more goods than they need. Powerless families struggling in totalitarian countries. People stereotyped because of color, age, gender, religion, ethnicity.  Couples mired in abusive relationships. Children and adults subject to slave labor. Members of religious institutions disenfranchised by difficult doctrines. And, to the point of John Lewis’s story, people of color held captive by centuries old cultural chains that deprive them of civil liberties.
Something is wrong in this country when elected politicians use misinformation rather than truth to stay in power; when religious leaders rash judge the members of their own spiritual tribes; when citizens, normally helpful in emergencies, can be self-serving the rest of the time; when extremist groups claim that America was founded to be a powerful, wealthy White only country.
The rise in hate crimes  and other acts of insurrection is a wake-up call for us that this republic, founded on democratic principles and the value systems of diverse faith traditions, is about to be held captive by nativistic prejudices driven by lies, power, wealth, and greed. This is not the freedom from oppression that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died for. This is not what John Lewis and others worked for, risking their lives for equal rights in the United States.
In her study of the second testament, Jin Young Choi wrote that the evangelist John "invites us to see the life Jesus has given to the world in the midst of wounds, pains, and traumas.” We are the ones who are healers and comforters. We are the ones who can release afflicted and exploited and misjudged people from whatever and whoever holds them captive.
1. In some bibles you will find the word “servant” instead of “slave” but linguists agree that the Greek masculine noun δούλος is translated as “slave.”
2. The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) published this statement
3. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups has risen exponentially in the United States since the election in 2016.
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WHO ARE YOU?
Fifth Sunday of Easter B
Years ago I was part of an interfaith team that worked with Navy chaplains stationed around the world. Our primary task was to help them design, use, and evaluate worship services. In one of the exercises we asked them to tell us how they would describe themselves. Was their primary identification based on gender, occupation, vocation, rank, relationship, ethnicity, race, religion or something else?
In today’s gospel (John 15:4a, 5b) Jesus uses yet another metaphorical expression to describe himself — the true vine. It was the seventh figure of speech in this gospel that included: I am the bread of life, the resurrection and life, the light of the world, the sheep gate, the way, truth and life, and the good shepherd.
One wonders if the carpenter Jesus from Nazareth had a little trouble discerning his identity. Or, did he use so many illustrations to help his followers understand who he truly was and what he had to offer them?
Jesus’s reference to vines and branches is pertinent today. Often the passage is explained in ways that are quite demanding. If we do not identify with Jesus or follow his ways we will wither on the vine and be burned in a fire. But, if we bear good fruit we will flourish and be saved.
Once again, as with the good shepherd passage, this portrayal speaks of our relationships not only with Christ but with each other. Commentator Mary McGlone suggests that “By using the image of vine and branches, Jesus explains that we are an intimate, inextricable part of him and of one another.”
We are slowly coming to understand how closely connected we are to other inhabitants and plant life on this fragile planet. The spread of the Covid-19 virus is universal. Climate change has a worldwide impact. No country is isolated from the global economy. Conflicts within foreign nations affect every other nation.
How we identify ourselves as key players in the world will make a difference in our lives and those of our neighbors here and elsewhere. The international vineyard depends on how much we share the fruit each one of us produces in this land of abundance and liberty.
Who are we as a nation? There are different opinions about our identity. Are we an egalitarian republic that welcomes and supports racial, ethnic, and gender diversity? Are we a country defined by a caste system that divides us into racial and economic parcels? Is our national vineyard slowly shifting from being a democracy where all voices and votes matter toward a plutocracy dominated by a minority of the wealthiest citizens?
Who are we as a Catholic Church? The pastoral vision of the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council invited all faith traditions into spiritual solidarity and a liturgical and social action agenda for all to participate in. Are we a synod of laity and clergy working together to maintain an effective voice amidst changing religious, cultural and moral frameworks? Are some privileged patriarchs making solitary decisions that cause feelings of disenfranchisement among even the most faithful Catholic citizens?
The pandemic made us aware of how important our identity as a nation and a church is. We rallied together to care for one another. Parents, teachers, partners, health care providers and volunteers of all kinds stepped up in their respective roles to ease the pain caused by a relentless virus. The biblical text for today both affirms our efforts and challenges us to look more deeply at our identity as people of faith and how that affects our causes in the public sphere.
Theologian Gennifer Benjamin Brooks said the vine and branches narrative “speaks of interdependence rather than the independence and self-dependence so highly valued in these United States.” In this context a social safety net is necessary so that the fruits of our labor are distributed more equally.
The “new deal” set forth by government leaders on the national level aims to rescue those who are just barely clinging to the vine. The plan needs our endorsement. We realize that all of us belong to the same human sheepfold. We can identify with shepherds responsible for keeping the flock safe from all harm. Likewise, we are the vines where branches grow and flourish and are expected to yield good fruit.