The Spirituality of War

KnockoutAs the United States begins engaging with ISIS forces in Syria by means of air strikes, marking the beginning of another American “involvement” with conflicts in the Middle East, many commentators observed that the political world seems largely untroubled.  Few critics of this new action are to be found in the halls of power in Washington, where people all along the political spectrum seem supportive of the President’s decision to move in this direction.

On the one hand, this is not surprising.  Americans have seen images and heard stories about horrific atrocities committed by this extremist group, and there is no question that the massive numbers of people dying and suffering dislocation and deprivation deserve justice.  The real question is, what kind of justice do they deserve?

Americans have proven themselves time and again to be highly susceptible to a narrative that makes justice look a lot like vengeance.   We have accepted a conceptual framework in which the proper response to violence is more violence.   The level of violence within our own society makes this abundantly clear — as do the calls, in the face of that violence, for more violence:  are there school shootings?  Arm the teachers.  Are there dangerous people lurking on the streets?  Adopt open carry laws and arm the citizenry.  This same dynamic has created the highest rate of incarceration in the developed world, since Americans think it is best to imprison people for a whole range of offenses that are handled differently in other countries:  it is just meeting violence with violence in another form.  And, of course, the ultimate expression of this dynamic in our justice system is the continuation in most US jurisdictions of capital punishment — something that almost every other developed country has abandoned.   We are a people who are swift to judge, swift to pick up the nearest weapon to deal with whatever we deem threatening.   The name of this way of thinking and acting is retributive justice, a view that defines justice as a proportionate, punishing response to injustice.   It is a view of justice that is enshrined in large portions of the Hebrew Bible, where a kind of tribal understanding of justice from the early Hebrew period often surfaces.  It is exemplified by this verse from the Hebrew Scriptures:  “And a man who inflicts an injury upon his fellow man just as he did, so shall be done to him [namely,] fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Just as he inflicted an injury upon a person, so shall it be inflicted upon him.” (Lev. 24:19–21)

It must be said that rabbinical commentaries on passages like this often soften and nuance the meaning that is most apparent, with various scholars suggesting that monetary compensation (as we are familiar with through our own judicial system) can satisfy the demand for reciprocal injury in verses like these.

The rabbi Jesus went much further than softening and nuancing:

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.  (Matthew 5:38-42)

In the face of the seeming divine sanction that Jesus’ own tradition seemed to give to retributive justice, he prescribed a much different course:  one of non-resistance.  It is, perhaps especially for us, a radical teaching.  And most people, confronted with it, find a multitude of practical objections to it.   The teaching is linked with another teaching that immediately follows:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:44-48)

The relationship between these two passages suggests that Jesus roots his non-resistance teaching — his overthrowing of the legitimacy of retributive justice — in the spiritual practice of developing love toward our fellow human beings, a love that allows us to see humanity in even the most unrighteous of people.  This, Jesus tells us, is the perfection of God:  to see the world as a whole, and not to break into the dualism that the identification of others as our enemies necessarily entails.

Jesus, I think, recognizes the difficulty of this teaching.  His phrases about tax-collectors and Gentiles limiting their compassion to those whom are easy to love suggests that recognition.  But clearly he is calling those who would be his followers to a different way of living, calling us to embrace an understanding of justice that does not include retaliation.

Our willingness as Americans to resort to violence in the face of violence — despite the numerous examples in our history of how badly such a response can ultimately turn out — serves as a sign of our spiritually underdeveloped culture.  We have, consciously or unconsciously, adopted a religious perspective in which God is interested in punishment, and is not afraid to mete it out.   Scores of conservative Christian communities, pastors, and people have so pushed this image of God that it has become the default mode for many.   This image of God, and the bible passages that have been used to support it, do not correspond to the image of God that is supported by the teaching of Jesus.   Those of us who seek to follow Jesus have an obligation to deal honestly with his teaching of non-resistance and his vision of the oneness of humanity under God, and to understand its implications for our lives both individually and as citizens.

I will not claim to have the definitive answers when it comes to the latest crisis unfolding in the Middle East.  But I am fairly sure about a couple of things:  that our history makes clear that most of the time, when we employ our military power to correct what we deem to be an evil situation, more harm than good generally has been the result, and the problem we thought we could so easily fix turns out to be complicated beyond all expectation.  And, whenever a country chooses to engage in military action, the citizenry of that country should be disturbed.  We should be bothered.  And so should those who lead us.

The Forest of Deen

casting_the_first_stoneThe Forest of Deen appears in the last installment of the Harry Potter series as a place where Harry and his friends hide for a time while they are on the run from He Who Must Not Be Named.   Recently, Americans slipped into our own Forest of Deen as people got caught up in the controversy swirling around celebrity chef Paula Deen regarding her apparent racial prejudices and the vocalizing of the same.

Honestly, I was rather determined to steer clear of this controversy, which seems to be beginning to slip off the front pages.  But I overcame my reluctance when Paula Deen alluded, in a TODAY Show interview, to a story from the Gospel of John.  In that interview, she invited anyone who hadn’t said something that they regretted at some point in their lives to cast a stone right at her head.

The background to her comment is, of course, John’s story of the woman “caught in adultery”.    In Jesus’ time and place, the prescribed punishment for her misdeed was to be stoned to death.  In an effort to get Jesus to either sanction this penalty or to get him into trouble for refusing to sanction it, the crowd brings the woman before Jesus and asks him to say whether they should fulfill the law with respect to her punishment.

Jesus’ response is, well, classic Jesus.  Without getting caught in their question, he simply responds by saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”   The affect of his words is profound:  the crowd, one by one, drop their stones and drift away, leaving the woman alone with Jesus.   He refuses to condemn her, and sends her off forgiven with the words, “Sin no more.”

This particular teaching story of Jesus seems quite apt, actually, for the Forest of Deen into which we have recently gotten lost.  Crowds of people have risen up (and stepped up to media microphones!) to condemn Paula  Deen loudly for her apparent prejudicial attitudes and statements, and many have advocated to what amounts to a metaphorical stoning of her career, all in the name of justice or doing the right thing.

But the story from John’s Gospel should make us ask whether we are, indeed, doing the right thing.   One of the things that is revealed in the exchange between Jesus and the crowd in John’s story is that the members of that crowd were so caught up in passing judgment on the woman that they failed to examine their own lives.   Jesus’ words to them reminded them that they themselves were not so different from the woman they brought before him, that they, too, had made bad choices and sometimes had done the wrong thing.  Jesus reminded them that they were really no different from the woman they sought to destroy.  And as that truth washed over them, they found all their righteous indignation toward this woman extinguished, and they all walked off to think about their own lives, their own misdeeds, and their own need for forgiveness.

With the crowd thus transformed and chagrined, the threat of the woman’s impending destruction is removed.  And that allows Jesus to point her toward her own need for transformation.  Notice that he doesn’t just send her off — he sends her off with the words, “Sin no more”.   He recognizes that she has acted wrongly, he recognizes that there are things in her life for which she needs to repent and behaviors that she needs to change.  But rather than advocating her destruction, he seeks to give her another chance, an opportunity for rebirth.

Paula Deen surely needs to examine her own life — the way she was raised, the cultural attitudes that helped to shape her, and the way in which these have led her to somehow see black people in a different way than she sees white people.  But she is hardly the only person who needs to engage in that kind of self-examination.  The crowds clamoring for her destruction have their own prejudices and shortcomings that need to be examined and exposed to the light.  We all do.

Americans love a scandal.  We secretly (or not so secretly) enjoy watching people who have risen to great success suddenly plummet to the earth because — well, because they are human, and they have gotten caught being human.  Part of the reason, I think, that we enjoy it so much is that it seems to give us permission not to attend to the darker parts of ourselves, to ignore the fact that we, too, are human and make as many mistakes as the famous and infamous.  It is fun to be part of the clamoring crowd hauling others before the judgment seat.  If we stop our clamoring, however, we will hear the words of Jesus that remind us that we are on the same level as those we seek to judge.  We all stand in need of forgiveness, transformation, redemption, healing, and the opportunity to begin again.

I hope that Paula Deen will be able to use this crisis to grow as a human being.  But will the rest of us?

Fast Food Religion

fast_foodIn the history of Christianity (and probably most other religious traditions, as well), there have been periods when Christian clergy have been among the least educated in society, and periods when they have been among the most educated.  In today’s Christian landscape, in which “the church” has been fractured into almost too many branches to keep track of, the educational level of Christian clergy probably varies considerably.

What I find increasingly exasperating is the way in which clergy (and, in most cases, the flocks they tend) are increasingly identified with the most unsophisticated and uneducated elements of society.  This week, I came across an excerpt from a “Christian” textbook which purported to teach the “science” of creationism as if it were factually established.  But it didn’t stop there.  It had an entry about electricity which it called “mysterious”, and it basically said that we don’t know what electricity is or where it comes from.  I shudder to think what children educated  in “Christian” schools using such textbooks will end up like as adults.

Clergy who pastor the congregations out of which people who create and use such textbooks come have a huge responsibility for this perpetuation of ignorance in the name of religion.  I would like to think that these clergy know better, but I am afraid that they don’t.  I’m afraid that they believe the drivel that is being published dubiously as educational material.  Such clergy have bought into a mindset formed by biblical literalism that has made them into a kind of Christian Taliban:  people who reject the insights of other branches of human knowledge when they seem to conflict with the “plain words of Scripture.”  Such pastors are helping to create a dangerous segment of American society which is anti-intellectual, reactionary, and increasingly separated from the mainstream.  And, in the process, they are helping to marginalize religion in American life.

Yes, there is no shortage of clergy who are happy to rant about creeping secularism as the great enemy of religion in America.  What they fail to see is that their version of Christianity, which receives so much public attention precisely because it appears so bizarre to the mainstream, is probably doing more to help drive people away from “organized religion” more quickly and effectively than anything else.  Their effort to defend an unsophisticated and simplistic caricature of the Christian tradition is digging that tradition’s grave ever deeper.  Especially since American public opinion and perception is so profoundly shaped by the media, whose obsession with caricatured religion is itself rather bizarre.

I came across something else this week that I have been unable to find since.  It was quoting a well-known theologian whose name also has gone out of my head!  But the point of the quote was that we desperately need to abandon this simplistic approach to both the Bible and the Christian tradition, because it is this very approach that is taking the life out of both.  This person sought to make the point that religion should not be easy.  It should require us to struggle with texts, traditions, and meanings, because that very struggle is what moves us forward in our spiritual lives.

Sadly, Americans don’t like to go for complexity or struggle.  We like to make things as quick and easy as possible.  We want churches with the spiritual equivalent of drive up windows that serve up tasty religion that goes down easily and requires little from us.  But, just like fast food, while such a diet may taste good, it provides little in the way of actual nutrition for the soul.

The Real Crisis

Sydney-grief-counselling-how-to-deal-with-the-loss-of-a-partner..Put your sword back into its place; all who take the sword will perish by the sword

Matthew 26:52b

For years now, various right-wing religious types have been lecturing Americans about the moral dangers that are threatening to undermine our society.   The dangers they point to basically boil down to sex and abortion.  For years, they have been telling us that sex outside of marriage — particularly among gay people — somehow threatens the very foundation of American society.   Abortion, they insist, is similarly threatening.  And whenever anything terrible happens – including, tragically, the horror that unfolded last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut – certain representatives of this point of view insist on connecting it somehow to these same two issues.   To hear them tell it, forcing gay people into the closet and outlawing abortion would somehow result in a perfect society where nothing bad would ever happen.

What these same would-be arbiters of morality never seem to talk about is the real crisis in American society, the thing that is truly threatening to increasing numbers of people:  the crisis of violence.  According to one report, in 2012 there at least 16 incidents in the United States classified as mass murders involving a gunman who unexpectedly shows up and kills people.

  • February 22  – five people were killed in Norcross, Georgia, when a man got into an argument and opened fire inside a health spa.
  • February 26 – one person killed, 20 others injured when multiple gunmen opened fire in a Jackson, Tennessee, nightclub
  • February 27 – three students killed at Chardon High School in rural Ohio when a classmate opened fire
  • March 8 – two people killed, seven wounded at a psychiatric hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when a gunman entered the hospital with two semiautomatic handguns
  • March 31 – two people killed, 12 injured when a gunman opened fire at a funeral in a North Miami, Florida, funeral home
  • April 2 – seven people killed, three wounded by a former student at Oikos University in Oakland, California
  • April 6 – three died, two wounded by two men who started randomly shooting black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • May 29 – six people died (including the gunman) at a Seattle, Washington, coffee shop
  • July 9 – three people killed, including a 16 year old, at a soccer tournament in Wilmington, Delaware
  • July 20 – 12 people killed, 58 wounded at a midnight movie screening in Aurora, Colorado
  • August 5 – seven people killed, including the gunman, at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • August 14 – three people killed at Texas A&M University by a rampaging gunman on campus
  • September 27 – five people shot, three wounded,  at a sign company in Minneapolis, Minnesota by a laid off former employee
  • October 21 – three women killed, four others injured at a spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin
  • December 11 – three people killed, including the gunman, in a “random” shooting incident at a mall near Portland, Oregon
  • December 14 – 28 people killed in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook Elementary School

It is long past time for Americans to stop worrying about who is having sex with whom, about who is marrying whom, and about what healthcare decisions women are making for themselves.  These are not things that endanger American life.  We need instead to turn our attention to the very real anger problem we have in this country, and the violence that is ending lives and tearing apart families and communities.

From a Christian point of view, Jesus had nothing to say about gay people or abortion.  He did, however, have a lot to say about violence, about the danger of allowing anger to build within us.  He also had a lot to say about our obligations to take care of each other – and he spent a lot of his time healing people who clearly suffered from what we would now understand as mental illness.

Yet, Christians who are given a public forum rarely talk about these things.

It is deeply troubling to me that many of these same people, when the subject of what to do about guns or ammunition arises, have as their first reaction the defense of their personal right to bear arms.  I don’t think this would have been Jesus’ first reaction.  I think his first reaction would have been a concern for others’ rights – like the right to live in peace, without fear of becoming the victim of random violence.

It is also troubling to me that many of the solutions offered involve arming our teachers or posting armed soldiers at all of our schools.  Is this really the kind of society we want to live in?

These are complex issues, and I don’t mean to imply that they are easily addressed.  But we can no longer ignore them.  No other country in the world (except in places of war) experiences this level of violence.  America, we have a problem – a problem that is literally killing our children and something must be done.

Jesus as One of Us?

Consider the following verses, attributed to Jesus:

Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ – Mark 10:18

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12

I find them interesting.  In the first one, from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus seems to suggest that it would be a mistake to equate him with God.  He says these words in response to someone who addresses him as “good teacher.”  In the second verse, from John’s Gospel, Jesus is shown suggesting that those who trust in him will not only do the kinds of works that he has done, but “will do greater works than these” because, presumably, through our trust in Jesus we are able to experience an empowering relationship with God.

Taken together, these verses perhaps hint at something which probably sounds almost heretical to say to most people:  that in his historical life, Jesus was not all that radically different from the rest of us.  Now, before you take up your pitch forks and torches, hear me out.

Marcus Borg, in his book Speaking Christian, suggests that there is a distinction between what he calls the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus.  The pre-Easter Jesus refers to what we might call the historical Jesus.  He lived in a particular time and place, did and said particular things, ate, slept, drank, had a certain height and weight, and ultimately died on a cross.  At that moment, the historical, pre-Easter Jesus ceased to exist.  He was gone.  Three days later, his followers began to have experiences of the post-Easter Jesus:  the Jesus who was not limited by the constraints of corporeal reality – he could appear and disappear, he could be with people and remain unrecognized, he could walk through walls.  The post-Easter Jesus was not simply a flesh and blood person who had been reanimated; this was something different.

And so Borg goes on to point out that the pre-Easter Jesus was seen by the early  Christian community as a revelation of God in the shape of a human life.  In other words, the pre-Easter Jesus shows us what we can see of God in a human life.  And Jesus was extraordinary, remarkable, unique.  Meeting him was a transformational experience.  But, Borg argues, the pre-Easter Jesus was not divine; he was a revelation of the divine, of God, but that is saying something different.  The pre-Easter Jesus was fully human, as we are.  The post-Easter Jesus, the Risen Christ, he was experienced as divine by the early Christian community.  This post-Easter, divine Jesus was able to promise his disciples that he would always be with them, wherever they were – and that sort of omnipresence is a divine quality.  You might remember that Paul writes in the New Testament that Jesus was “declared to be Son of God with power . . . by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).  In other words, Paul does not attribute divine titles to Jesus until after the resurrection.

Yet, as Borg points out, most people tend to conflate the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus into one, projecting onto the historical Jesus a divine status which the early Christians did not actually attribute to him until after the Easter event.  The result of this conflation is that people tend to believe that the pre-Easter Jesus was able to accomplish extraordinary things, to be a transformational presence in people’s lives, because he had some “boost” of divine superpower.  And that notion diminishes Jesus’ humanity.

It also allows us to distance ourselves from the historical Jesus.  We can easily tell ourselves that it was all right for Jesus to be about all the things he was about during his public ministry because, after all, he was divine!  We, on the other hand, cannot possibly be expected to do those sorts of things because we lack that essential element of divinity that he possessed.  And so we make ourselves safe from Jesus and free ourselves from the challenge of becoming like him.

Yet in the face of that sort of thinking are the two verses with which I began, in which Jesus’ seems to make clear that he is not the same as God and in which he also makes it clear that those of us who trust in him will do greater works than he did.  While we tend to lower our expectations with respect to what human beings can accomplish, Jesus seems to raise them quite high.   The message seems clear enough:  Jesus was able to show the world God’s passion and character so clearly that when people saw what Jesus was doing, they were also seeing what God was seeking to do in the world.  We are challenged by Jesus to do the same thing:  to show the world God’s passion and character as clearly and decisively as we possibly can.  It does not mean that we are divine – it does mean that we are living as fully, dynamically and as wonderfully as possible into our own humanity.

So You Don’t Believe in God…..

I came across this piece by Gordon Atkinson a while ago, and so I thought I would share it with you this week (with a nod to Greg Schaefer of the Lutheran/Episcopal Ministry at Stanford who found it and thus led me to find it).   It’s funny, thought-provoking and kind to Episcopalians.  I’m in the mood for something lighter this week!

Gordon Atkinson writes:

So you think you want to try Christianity, huh? You’ve been casting about for some system of belief for years. You have what we might call a spiritual itch, and you’d like to try and scratch it. Only there are a few problems.

First, you aren’t sure if you believe in God. It’s an intellectual problem, really. You just aren’t sure if there IS a God. And if there is, you’re not sure you would trust the Bible to teach you anything about that God.

Second, you don’t know anything about the practice of Christianity, and you don’t even know where to start. What church should you attend? Who should you listen to? What exactly would be required of you? How much would you need to do so you could honestly say you gave it a try?

To start things off, you are now officially one of my favorite people. I don’t know why this is, and I don’t feel like unpacking it right now, but some of my favorite people don’t believe in God but are looking for something spiritual. Perhaps. Kind of open to the idea. Kind of in a maybe state about the whole God thing. Kind of sort of.

I love people like that. And my experience is that they are often incredibly nice, kind, open to new ideas. Just cool people.

I wish we could start things off for you with a big convention of misfit spiritual thinkers. That’s always been a fantasy of mine anyway. It would be mostly agnostics with some seriously troubled and doubting Christians thrown in the mix. We’d get rooms in a hotel somewhere and meet during the day to talk about God, the absence of God, the meaning of life, whether or not there IS a meaning of life. That kind of stuff. No one would think anyone else is going to hell. So we could all relax about that. At night we would drink beer, watch movies, and sit around laughing. We might play some pranks around the hotel. I’m not saying we would; I’m not saying we wouldn’t. But pranks would definitely be on the table and open for discussion.

Yeah, that would be nice. It probably won’t happen though. A lot of people who would want to be there couldn’t afford to go or couldn’t get away. That would bum me out. Plus, I tend to come up with cool ideas, but I’m not so good with the follow-up detail work. I’m pretty lousy at that, actually. I haven’t even picked up my dirty clothes from yesterday. They’re behind the door in the bathroom. So what, I’m going to organize some huge convention thing now?

Still, it’s a nice thought, right?

So anyway, back to the whole “So you want to try Christianity” thing I was talking about. We won’t be able to kick this off with a convention, so you’ll probably need to find a church.

Hoo boy, this is going to be hard. Um, don’t go to a Baptist church. I say this in love, as a Baptist myself, but the odds of you finding a bunch of Baptists who would be excited to hear about your agnostic, quasi-spiritual journey are about a thousand to one.

Try…oh…I don’t know…the Episcopal Church. I’ve always thought they were the smartest Christians, exceptions duly noted of course. And they’re used to dealing with cerebral questions of ontological and existential meaning, like “Should we keep having this prayer service even though no one shows up anymore?”

My Episcopalian brothers and sisters would treat you right. Maybe. Some of them would.

Okay, so I have two suggestions for you on this journey. Both of them are insanely unorthodox, from a Christian perspective. Don’t worry. I’ll handle all the objections and outrage from the brothers and sisters. And you don’t know any better, so you’ll be fine with these.

First, it’s okay that you don’t believe in God. What can you do about that anyway, except be honest about it? Hell, I don’t believe in God myself sometimes. I come and go with that one. Sometimes life seems rather bleak, and I just can’t see it, you know? I want to. Just can’t. But mostly I believe in God now. Mostly.

It’s okay. You’re really looking for a spiritual practice anyway. Whether or not you end up believing in God isn’t important right now. I’ve always thought that what you do with your life and your body is more important than what you say and think. You’re curious and open. That’s all you need, because anywhere you begin is a good place to be.

Second – and this one is counter-intuitive – you should understand that prayer and worship and all that ritual stuff will be very important to you, since you’re not sure if you believe in God. You won’t have any nice, lovey-dovey God feelings to sustain you, so you’ll need to lean into what you have. Show up and do the singing and praying and liturgy stuff. Enjoy the archetypal beauty of it. Let go and be ancient for awhile. Go to church. Talk to “God.” Talk to people you meet. Be about the journey and be listening. You’ll be fine.

And finally, this: If any church doesn’t treat you with complete respect and hospitality while you hang around there, trying things out and listening for any voice you might hear, send me an email. Send me an email….

And who knows? Maybe the two of us will get motivated to organize that agnostic/misfit-Christian convention thing. I’m thinking Chicago would be a nice place.

Yeah, Chicago.

I would SO be there.

Expansive Heroism

Our annual celebration of July 4th usually gets us thinking about heroes and heroism.   In America these days, it seems that there are only about four kinds of people who are given the title of Hero publicly:  members of the military, firefighters, police officers and paramedics (those who have been grouped together as “first responders” since 9/11).   Now, let me be clear:  I have no problem whatsoever calling any of these people heroes.   Members of the military, along with their families, make real sacrifices to fulfill their vocations and, implicit with that vocation, is the willingness to make “the ultimate sacrifice” in situations which may cost them their lives.   Many of them also pay a heavy price in terms of sacrificing their psychological and spiritual well-being as a result of being exposed to the kind of violence that is at the heart of warfare.

First responders, too, make sacrifices to fulfill their vocations.   Some of them always have to be on duty no matter what holiday we may be observing, and they may be required to run into burning buildings to save us, stare down the barrel of a gun wielded by some kind of thug or hold someone’s life in their hands while they rush them to the hospital.  This, too, is a kind of heroism that is worthy of our respect.

What troubles me is not the attention paid to these heroes, but the way in which we restrict the definition of hero to only people who fill these kinds of roles.  What about other kinds of heroes?  Like the single mother who can barely make ends meet and has no one to help her with her kids but who carries on with life, holding down a job and getting her bills paid and raising her children.   Or like the homeless man who seemingly has no hope but who continues to put one foot in front of the other day after day and find some reason to live.  Or the person caught in depression who can hardly function but who finds a way to make it through the next hour believing, despite any evidence that she can see, that someday the depression will be better.  Or the alcoholic who has found his way to sobriety and works his 12 steps and goes regularly to AA, knowing that his life would be utterly set back to square one were he to take so much as one drink in a moment of weakness.

The list, of course, could go on and on.  These are the everyday heroes who live life in the face of hardship and struggle and suffering.  These everyday heroes could be added to the other everyday heroes who don’t make the news but who make the world better by doing what they do:  teaching, taking care of kids, removing our garbage and recycling every week, catching rats who have taken up residence under our houses.  The list indeed could go on and on.

Jesus was always making heroes of people who didn’t get recognized as being particularly heroic.  He recognized the heroism of the poor, of the oppressed, of the marginalized and disenfranchised.  He celebrated the heroism of the sick and of those whom others classified as unclean.    To all of them he said over and over again, “Blessed are you….blessed are you…blessed are you.”

Now that we have finished our July 4th celebrations and recognized our public heroes, perhaps we can celebrate the everyday heroes who live under the national radar but whose lives are no less heroic than those who receive our public honors.   How might we celebrate?  By simply taking a a moment to say, “Thank you.  I admire your heroism.  Blessed are you.”