Easter Reflections in the NY Times

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Tish Harrison Warren writes:

Whatever else Christianity is, it is an assertion of historic fact. The New Testament invites us to examine the evidence. Its claim of a bodily resurrection was as strange and impossible — as Updike says, “monstrous” — when it was first made 2,000 years ago as it is now.

It would be so much more acceptable if Easter were merely a ritual communicating religious ideals, teaching us to cultivate the better angels of our nature. But if Easter is only an abstraction, it doesn’t mean much to me. I’m with the Apostle Paul who wrote and the billions of Christians around the world who profess, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”…

But at the end of the day, there’s this unflinching claim to reality: an empty tomb, as Updike says, a stone rolled back, “not papier-mâché, not a stone in a story.” And I, like every person who encounters this claim, have to decide if Jesus’ earliest followers died for something they knew to be a lie….

Updike reminds us that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, the church is a lie, but Hopkins tells us that if he was and is raised, then absolutely everything can be changed and redeemed — even shipwrecks, even death….

The Resurrection happening in truth, in real time, is the only evidence that that love in fact outlasts the grave, that what is broken can be mended, and that death and pain do not have the final word.

Esau McCaulley writes:

It’s common, even in Christian circles, to think of the afterlife as a disembodied bliss in a paradise filled with naked baby angels tickling the strings of harps as our souls bounce from cloud to cloud. But Christianity has never taught a disembodied future in heaven. Our beliefs are more radical.

We believe that one day the entire created world will be transformed to become what God always intended it to be: free of pain, death and sorrow…Christians believe that our bodies will be resurrected from the dead to live in this transformed earth. Like the earth itself, these bodies will be transfigured or perfected, but they will still be our bodies…

Part of my birthright as a Black child of the South was grainy footage of Emmett Till’s family fainting at the sight of his disfigured body His mother wanted an open coffin to show the world what anti-Black racism had done to her child. She hoped that seeing such malice would bring repentance, but we humans are frighteningly capable of ignoring the harm we do one another. We refuse to see….

Jesus’ resurrection has implications not just for his body, but for all bodies subject to death. Christians believe that what God did for Jesus, he will do for us. The resurrection of Jesus is the forerunner of the resurrection of our bodies and restoration of the earth. There are endless debates and speculations about what type of bodies we will have at the resurrection. Will we all receive the six-packs of our dreams? Will we revert to the bodies we had in our 20s? I do not find these questions that intriguing. What is compelling to me is the clear teaching that our ethnicities are not wiped away at the resurrection. Jesus was raised with his brown, Middle Eastern, Jewish body.

When my body is raised, it will be a Black body. One that is honored alongside bodies of every hue and color. The resurrection of Black bodies will be the definitive rejection of all forms of racism. At the end of the Christian story, I am not saved from my Blackness. It is rendered everlasting. Our bodies, liberated and transfigured but still Black, will be the eternal testimony to our worth.

Fr. James Martin on the Need to Protect Refugee and LGBT Lives

Fr. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and editor at large at America. A prominent figure on social media, Fr. Martin can frequently be found on various platforms defending the life and dignity of all people, particularly the marginalized and vulnerable. He is the author of many popular books, including his latest, Learning to Pray, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, This Our Exile: A Spiritual Journey With the Refugees of East Africa, and Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.

In this episode, he discusses the threats faced by members of the LGBT community and why this constitutes a life issue, the seamless garment, the plight of refugees and his time in East Africa, the culture of vitriol on social media (and beyond), and the different approaches taken by Pope Francis and the US Catholic Bishops on life issues. Co-hosts Kristen Day and Millennial editor Robert Christian discuss the War in Ukraine, a recent Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty and religious liberty, and pro-life efforts at the state level, while offering their responses to the question of the month: how did you become a pro-life Democrat?

This episode can be found on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and below. You can support the show here: https://dflaef.givecloud.co/product/49FCC0C/whole-life-rising-podcast

At the Foot of the Cross

Whenever I come across images of a crucifix, I’m enamored by the ones placed in such a way that the viewer’s perspective looks upward towards Jesus. If one were to close their eyes, recalling the accounts in the gospels, one can enter through Mary’s perspective as she sat at the foot of the cross watching her beloved Jesus pass his earthly life, offering himself as ransom for our sins.

“Leave it at the foot of the cross.” I’ve come across that saying in a few instances, once in the context of leaving sin at the confessional after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. This means leaving the weight of anger, fear, and sadness that comes with sin and walking anew in God’s forgiveness and grace. It’s been a spiritual practice that’s been very important to me and a constant reminder that only Christ can carry our burden.

As we continue to navigate life in a time of pandemic, social unrest, and climate crisis, I feel a strong desire to be at the foot of the cross, gazing up at Christ.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to serve as a missionary in Kenya, working in an orphanage alongside the Missionaries of Charity, a female religious community founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta. I remember a sister encouraging me to always keep my focus on Christ and the cross, as I worked. The moment we begin to take our sight off Christ and the cross is the moment we begin to lose focus in our lives. Distractions. Preoccupations. Whatever you want to call them, there is an evident disruption one will experience when Christ and the cross are no longer the focus.

With nonstop news coverage, constant social media updates, and the latest controversies from political and religious leaders, there are many outlets competing for our attention. Where do we find ourselves amidst all this noise and chaos? Are our souls at rest? Venerable Fulton Sheen once said:

“There can be no world peace unless there is soul peace. A man who is not at peace with himself will not be at peace with his brother.”

At the foot of the cross, we will find our peace. At the foot of the cross, we can fix our gaze on the one who is the source of our peace. As our world continues to endure heartache and hardships, both at home and abroad, let’s sit at the foot of the cross more intentionally. At the foot, we sit with our mother Mary who shares in our sufferings, as well. In a world of chaos, we can find the focus and peace that we need today.

Patrick Laorden is an Associate Director of Ministry Services for the School Sisters of Notre Dame and a theological consultant for the Laudato Si’ Movement.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Why American Teens Are So Sad by Derek Thompson: “The Internet exposes teenagers not only to supportive friendships but also to bullying, threats, despairing conversations about mental health, and a slurry of unsolvable global problems—a carnival of negativity. Social media places in every teen’s pocket a quantified battle royal for scarce popularity that can displace hours of sleep and makes many teens, especially girls, feel worse about their body and life. Amplify these existing trends with a global pandemic and an unprecedented period of social isolation, and suddenly, the remarkable rise of teenage sadness doesn’t feel all that mysterious, does it?”

Pope Francis says the synod must hear ‘excluded’ voices. These five dioceses are trying. by Brian Fraga: “Diocesan officials, chaplains, social workers, lay ministers, parish leaders and others are listening to people with intellectual and physical disabilities. They are reaching out to those in prisons, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and mobile home communities. Pastors have organized parish listening sessions for LGBTQ parishioners and seasonal farmworkers near the U.S. southern border.”

Amazon Workers on Staten Island Vote to Unionize in Landmark Win for Labor by NY Times: “Workers at the facility voted by a wide margin to form a union, according to results released on Friday, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.”

At long last, the U.S. recognizes what the Rohingya already knew by Wai Wai Nu: “On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken officially declared that the U.S. government defines the crimes perpetrated by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people as a genocide.”

Parents Who Stay Home Should Get Public Child Care Support Too by Matt Bruenig: “As other states take up the child care question in the years ahead, they should opt for a more expansive policy that provides public support to all children, not just those enrolled in formal child care centers.”

The child tax credit was a lifeline. Now some families are falling back into poverty by Sarah McCammon, Lauren Hodges, Sarah Handel: “The payments from the child tax credit were closing the gaps on child hunger and poverty across America. And in the months since they ended, there’s evidence that the families who needed the money the most have already slipped back into financial trouble.”

How I’m Preparing for My Second Season of New Motherhood by Ellen Koneck: “I know now that that interiority and creativity returns. And in my experience, when it returns, it’s better and deeper and richer for having spent so much creative energy on creating and sustaining life rather than working in abstractions.”

Ukrainian Catholic Leaders Ask Pope To Reconsider ‘Ambiguous,’ ‘Even Offensive’ Plans

Photo by Simone Savoldi on Unsplash

via CNS:

The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church asked Pope Francis to scrap plans to have a Ukrainian woman and a Russian woman carry the cross together during the pope’s Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum April 15.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said April 12, “I consider such an idea untimely, ambiguous and such that it does not take into account the context of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.”

For Eastern Catholics in Ukraine, he said, “the texts and gestures of the 13th station of this Way of the Cross are incoherent and even offensive, especially in the context of the expected second, even bloodier attack of Russian troops on our cities and villages.”…

The statement from Shevchuk’s office said he, too, “conveyed to the Vatican the numerous negative reactions of many bishops, priests, monks and nuns, and laity who are convinced that gestures of reconciliation between our peoples will be possible only when the war is over and those guilty of crimes against humanity are justly condemned.”

“I hope that my request, the request of the faithful of our church, the request of the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine will be heard,” the archbishop said.

Russia’s Crimes Against Humanity on Full Display in Bucha

Photo by Chuko Cribb on Unsplash

via Max Bearak and Louisa Loveluck:

BUCHA, Ukraine — The name of this city is already synonymous with the month-long carnage that Russian soldiers perpetrated here.

But the scale of the killings and the depravity with which they were committed are only just becoming apparent as police, local officials and regular citizens start the grim task of clearing Bucha of the hundreds of corpses decomposing on streets and in parks, apartment buildings and other locations.

As a team from the district prosecutor’s office moved slowly through Bucha on Wednesday, investigators uncovered evidence of torture before death, beheading and dismemberment, and the intentional burning of corpses.

via Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday the killings in the Ukrainian town of Bucha were no random act of a rogue unit but part of a deliberate Russian campaign to commit atrocities….

“What we’ve seen in Bucha is not the random act of a rogue unit,” he said. “It’s a deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities. The reports are more than credible, the evidence is there for the world to see.”…

Grim images emerging from the town of Bucha near Kyiv include a mass grave and bound bodies of people shot at close range, prompting calls for tougher action against Moscow and an international investigation.

Building a Culture That Values Families, Rest, and Human Flourishing: An Interview with Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson is an attorney, mother of two, and Fellow at the Center for Public Justice, advocating for fair and family-supportive work. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed her on pro-family policies, rest, the pandemic, and meritocracy.

You’ve spent a great deal of time advocating for paid leave and other pro-family policies, but it seems like the cancer diagnosis you received last year, which you discuss in a recent Sojourners cover story, still transformed not just your life, but how you think about rest, human flourishing, and how policy fits in with some of these big questions. How has that experience reshaped your thinking?

The experience that propelled me into pro-family policy was maternity and motherhood. I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s widely circulated Atlantic piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” early in the morning after putting an infant to sleep for the second or third time, bleary-eyed yet still needing to get up for work the next day.

From the vantage of parenting, it seemed necessary to expand the timescope during which one’s job training or career unfolds so as to anticipate childbearing and childrearing as seasons within a whole working life. Establishing universal paid family leave advances this goal well. Were paid parental leave benefits and job protections universally available, it would provide parents with the resources they need to be present with their children and it would also help transform the template of an “ideal worker.” Rather than the unencumbered person who shows up the same way each day of their career, an ideal worker should be understood as one whose life includes seasons of time away from work in order to have children, raise a family, and take care of others periodically.

In some ways, experiencing cancer reinforced my views about work and care. At a minimum, having come to accept the value of caregiving through motherhood (contrary to the countervailing social pressure to value work over care), I have been more willing than I might otherwise have been to accept care and rest for myself. But, having recently completed the now-common battery of cancer treatments—surgery, chemotherapy, radiation –I’ve entered into a new, ill-defined state of convalescence about which my views are changing and, truly, are in formation. There is no “What to Expect When You’re Recovering” handbook…Some days, I can peer over the edge of illness into the world of health and vitality; others, I’m firmly planted in the place of exhaustion and fatigue. In other places and eras, I think, convalescence was a more capacious social category.  The role of convalescence seems to have shrunk as modern medicine’s capacity to treat illness has expanded. But the line between illness and wellness remains indefinite. I am not certain how to formulate policies that account for this. Should paid sick and medical leave be widely available? Absolutely. How it should be accumulated and allocated is not as clear. What is clear is that so many of us are in this liminal state of convalescence right now, recovering from COVID-19 itself or the sacrifices and solitude the pandemic imposed. I’m hopeful that, over the coming months and years, we can pay gracious attention to our own and our neighbors’ healing processes, offering each what’s needed in the moment and perceiving patterns that might ground just social norms and legal policies going forward.

How should Christians think about rest?

Culture often treats rest as an instrument or even an “achievable luxury.”  Rest enables our productivity. In the Christian tradition, however, rest is fundamentally a divine gift. As such, it is something stranger and much less within my control than I might wish it to be. When I have entered into the kind of rest that involves stilling my mind and orienting toward God in worship, the outcome is not always peaceful. Sometimes, lament or grief emerges in rest in ways that the opposing state—action—tends to suppress. I think of the gospel account of Jesus sleeping in a boat while a gale arises, stirring up waves that crash over the side of the boat (Mark 4:35-41). Perhaps rest is not incidental to the storm but entwined in it. As such, what is offered in the gift of rest is not the silencing of the storm—at least not at first—but rather an awareness of the wind and waves and, then, more deeply of the accompaniment of God’s presence in and through the gale.

During the pandemic, many students and workers who may have felt pressure to go to work or school sick have stayed home to recover (there are, of course, some who do not really have that option). Some problematic old norms have therefore been disrupted. Do you think we will learn anything from the pandemic and establish better norms in some of these areas or that we will return to the old way of doing business the first chance we get?

In 2008, the journalist George Packer wrote that the inequities and abuses of power revealed by a shocking financial crisis might lead to a fairer, more just America in which (to paraphrase) the pie would be smaller but more equitably shared. His expectation, though elegantly stated, has not come to pass. The aftershocks of the Great Recession have been far less predictable, less linear, and more subterranean than most would have predicted in 2008. So I am incredibly reluctant to judge the results of COVID-19 on our long-term ways of doing business. For those who work in white collar settings, there are new norms and new tools arising that might enable more remote work. And there is evidence that fathers in white collar, remote-accessible work took on a greater share of parenting responsibility during the pandemic—a trend that could, among other things, shift assumptions among employers, schools, and other family-adjacent institutions about the identity of the “go-to” parent in a household. But a more troubling consequence of the pandemic seems to be a sense of alienation and even anger with each other and with the institutions around us. In such a context, it will take a great deal of work to sustain workplace norms—such as workplace flexibility—that require a great deal of interpersonal trust. I would love to see workplaces dedicate a significant degree of intentionality to workplace systems and norms of all types, including accommodating those who have long shouldered the work of family care as well as all of us who are in some phase of convalescence or reconnection to work post-COVID.

You talk a little bit about the meritocracy and the ideology it generates and that sustains it. What role does this play in shaping how Americans live—both for highly educated workers and working class people? How does it shape our values, how we spend our time, how we see ourselves, and our family relationships?  And with structural factors playing a big role in the precarity and insecurity that so many families and individual people face today, is there a way for a person or family to successfully resist the norms and structural pressures that arise from meritocracy? I often think about this when reflecting upon the extreme individualism that shapes our society. Even those of us who are consciously trying to resist it and have many countercultural values probably live much more individualistic lives than we would in a society that truly valued community and solidarity. Is there a way out?

The problem is an ideology that hierarchically ranks our roles in society, assigning fundamental dignity and worth along a gradient. On a social level, we can reassert the fundamental, equal dignity of all persons by establishing a more robust social foundation for all—through access to a decent income, health care, and protected time for rest, recovery, and care.

On a personal level, one way out of “the meritocracy trap,” as the author Daniel Markovitz describes it, is to prioritize a quest for excellence over the pursuit of status. Likewise, I find it helpful to view work as a cultivation of craft rather than competition for position. Finally, your suggestion that family and community could be a way out is a beautiful one. Within families as well as within friendships, we can appreciate each other’s different quests for and ways of being excellent without ranking them. Ideally, this is a practice that inclines us to honor the equal dignity of all persons—in those outside of our families and friend circles and in ourselves as well.