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My, my, my. The Church Lady must be having a field day. I refer of course to the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Dana Carvey’s judgmental and oh-so pious authority on all that is good and evil. She was always quick to call out hypocrisy in the “whited sepulchers” who frequented her show. Such insight has never been as necessary as it is now.

America likes to think of itself as a Christian country, though religiously speaking, we’re actually mutts — a mix of everything, from Mormons to Sikhs. Yet those who project — and protect — this “Christian America” image most fiercely seem most in need of a reminder of what Christianity actually is.

There is no Christianity without Christ. And to know what Christianity is about, one only has to access the words and deeds of Christ. This is not a case of “what would Jesus do?” but “what did Jesus do?” He embraced the outcasts and told us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, a radical reversal of the current state of immigration. Jesus, tellingly, put no codas, no provisos, on his commands — no clauses like “only if they speak English” or “only if they have a good job.” Indeed, he seemed most concerned about those most on the outside, most in need of lifting up.

Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty (written, I hate to tell you, Mr. Miller, expressly for the Statue of Liberty) comes down hard on the side of the outsiders — and, consequently, the side of Christ. To stand in defiance of the huddled masses longing to breathe free is to stand in defiance of God.

Oh, I know. It’s hard to welcome the stranger. Strangers are scary precisely because they are strange to us. Is every immigrant a good person? No, but neither is every homegrown American. It is simpler to draw ourselves inward, to turn our backs on the “other” and “take care of our own.” Except who decides who is “our own” and who is not? Who was the “neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

I am not saying that everyone opposed to the welcoming of immigrants is a bad person. But neither is he or she following the precepts of Christ.

What I’m asking for is very simple: a little truth-telling. It’s time for a good scrub, America. Let’s wash out our mouths with soap and water and get down to brass tacks. Either we welcome strangers or we do not. Either we are Christian or we are not.

But we don’t get to have it both ways.

The world is spiraling out of control. We are not evolving, but de-evolving. Every day things become more vicious, more divisive, more hopeless.

Here’s where you’re expecting me to say, “Have hope! God is with us!” I am not going to say that.

I’m growing increasingly tired of hearing, “hope and pray that things will improve.” I’m not sure that’s enough. It feels to me as if God is pushing our buttons lately, with a very intentional agenda in mind: What will it take?

What will it take for you to call your senator? What will it take for us to understand that we are all human beings and need to take care of one another? What will it take to stop blaming and start working on solutions? What will it take for us to wake up?

It is all very well and good to hope and pray. In fact, prayer can be powerful action. But there is more to be done, and it starts with making our actions congruent with our beliefs. Do you claim to be a Christian yet don’t care about (or actively work against) the welfare of the poor, the immigrant, those standing on the margins (like the LGBTQ community)? You might want to re-evaluate. Do you hate liberals? Conservatives? Hating is not a Christian value. Spewing that hatred, whether online or at a “rally” is not a Christian activity.

Which is not to say that Christians have a corner on morality; we don’t. And part of God’s wake-up call to us is recognizing that we, in our diversity of faith traditions, are more alike than different, that Sharia law doesn’t hurt me any more than someone keeping kosher does — just follow your own beliefs and be considerate of others’ beliefs. Religion isn’t the enemy; it’s people who misconstrue and misinterpret religion, who forget that God is love — above all else.

I firmly believe that Jesus was a radical. He didn’t come to soothe anybody’s spirits; he came to shake things up. And that’s what God is doing now. God is shaking and shaking us, trying to make us declare exactly who and what we are and what we believe is right and just.

So…are you ready to stand up? If not, what will it take?

After his visit, my father-in-law doesn’t say goodbye. “Be here when I get back,” he tells each of us. This thought encompasses so much more than “farewell.” It says, “take care of yourself,” “I want to see you again,” “I intend to return because I will miss you”…so much more than “goodbye” ever could.

I like to think that Jesus, in his death and resurrection, said much of the same thing, but on a different level — bigger pool, bigger rock, bigger ripples. Christ wants us to be here for him when he gets back in a human way, but also on a spiritual level.

First of all, he wants us to literally be here. He wants the earth to exist, for people to exist, for the world and her occupants to flourish. This intention serves up a silent command to care for earth’s resources, as well as to care for one another. Killing and war are not ways to keep ourselves around. Wastefulness will not extend our lifetimes. Economic disparity, while good for a small percentage, will not cause the other 99% to endure.

Next, Jesus wants us to show up for him. That is, he wants us to do what he asked us to do: to forgive one another, to help the poor and sick, to love not just as we wish to be loved, but as God loves. (I’m reminded of the show “Square Pegs” — yes, I’m dating myself — wherein the New Wave character distinguishes himself from punkers by pointing to his hair-do: “Totally different head. Totally.” To love as we want to be loved is all well and good; to love as God loves…that’s a totally different head.)

Lastly, Jesus want us to be in a state of grace when he returns at the end of the world. No, we don’t know when that will be (some fringe group predicted it would be the day I wrote this). But whenever it is, for one of us or all of us, we need to be ready. That necessitates working on ourselves constantly, striving to know ourselves better, to understand our motivations and emotions better and improve the ways we represent God in the world. Because hopefully, we do. Or, rather, we do — whether we realize it or not. God is a God of love. That’s how God wants to be known and shown. If we are believers, it is our responsibility to portray that love in all we do. If we are not believers…well, why not do good anyway? Those who do evil are remembered for a while. But those who do great good are remembered for far, far longer. And isn’t immortality — in some way, shape or form — what we all want?

I am certain of few things, but I know God loves us. Let us respond in kind. Let us care for the gifts we’ve been given, which includes one another, show compassion in our day-to-day living, and stand strong in the face of evil for the right of love to persevere. Let’s be here when God gets back. Okay?

Of late, the popularity of Pope Francis has plummeted, particularly in the U.S. I guess some people (particularly Conservatives) don’t like what he has to say. Which is really funny when you think about it — because there’s nothing that Francis is saying that hasn’t been said before, by Jesus himself.

Feed the poor? Check. The rich man will not get into heaven unless he changes his ways? Check. Blessed are the suffering and outcast? Yep, that too. Honestly, you’d think the Pope was saying something radical. Anyone who’s read the Gospels knows who the real radical was and is. It’s why Jesus was put to death: Instead of leading an army against the Romans, He took the side of the marginalized. He wasn’t what the people of the time expected from a savior. Nor is Francis what you might expect from a Pope. He eschews pomp and circumstance for humility and simplicity. He doesn’t try to be popular.

Just as Jesus riled up the powers-that-be, Francis disconcerts the mighty. As well he should. Who said being a Christian was going to be easy? Anyone who thinks so is barking up the wrong tree (in the medieval sense, where “tree” meant “cross”). It is the Pope’s job to disconcert. That is how change occurs.

And, as ever, we need to change. Thousands and thousands of years post-Christ and what have we learned? We still choose war over peace, division over communion, and money over just about everything else. We still lack in love. We would still crucify Jesus for not being what we want.

If Christ came back tomorrow, I daresay he would be even less popular than Francis, especially in America, a country that many (especially those in power) call “Christian,” a country that claims to be “one nation under God.” Which begs the question: Do we really know what being Christian means?

Look to Francis for answers. And if you don’t like those answers, feel free to be disconcerted. You should be.

I confess; I wanted to open with a joke about how anyone who would burn down a church probably can’t read this. Admittedly, it was a cheap shot. But I can’t get past my dismay at the continuing tide of violence and bigotry in this country. I’d love to be able to dismiss church-burners as idiots, thugs and losers. Wouldn’t it be easier if they were? But some of them — and I include here those who don’t actually light the matches but think about it in their heart of hearts — are almost certainly our neighbors, people we see every day and think of as reasonable folks.

I imagine what church-burners are trying to destroy, ultimately, is hope. That, I can tell you, is impossible. Hope is made of impermeable material, tougher than Kevlar, bulletproof, flameproof. Furthermore, the people whose hope the church-burner wishes to extinguish have been living on hope for hundreds of years; hope is bread and butter, manna and sustenance to their communities. It has been, in all too many dark times, all they had.

I have never seen a church burn. But I have seen hate. When I was a kid, someone defaced the statue of Mary in our church’s courtyard. They cut off her hands and wrote words on the statue that my mother would not allow me to see. My mom also tells stories of how the Klan burned a cross on her parents’ lawn, how she herself was mocked, called “Cat-licker” and other unoriginal epithets by fellow schoolchildren. The aged nuns at my college alma mater still sit sentry, day and night, in case someone decides to burn down their church, as has been attempted in the past. The point is, those people, from the vandals to the name-callers, did nothing to our faith but strengthen it. Faith cannot be killed, not by the hottest hate or most scorching disdain.

Anyone who calls him or herself a Christian — or, indeed, a human being — owes it to the world to stand up against anyone who attacks a spiritual home or any of the people who hold the place dear. In the wake of this most recent spate of bigotry and racism, we need to make a louder noise. Taking down the Confederate flag is not enough. We need to make clear that this will not stand. Nobody who lives in this country must be treated as “other.”

Church-burners, and potential church-burners, if you are reading this, please knock it off. I know I’ve said a lot of harsh things, but you must feel very unloved to do what you are doing. Return to God’s loving and forgiving arms. All of us who stand with love are waiting for you.

Back in college, I once had to take a bus to the airport in Indianapolis, a two-hour drive. A fierce snowstorm was brewing, and none of my friends dared drive me themselves. Boarding the Greyhound, I found every seat taken but one…in the very last row in the back, next to a man who made Charles Manson look like a choirboy. Knowing full well that the driver would be concentrating on the storm and would never see my imminent death, I took the seat anyway.

Though I immediately stuck my nose in a book and prayed for anonymity, my seatmate engaged me in conversation. He even introduced me to his friend “Red Dog,” who occupied a seat ahead of us and to the right. (Why weren’t they sitting together?) Turns out, my new friend was on his way to Chicago after a disastrous trip to Las Vegas, during which he was incarcerated for possession of “one little knife.” With these words, he drew a dagger from his boot.

“How unfair,” I hear myself squeak.

That I made it to Indy at all (with Red Dog even gallantly helping with my luggage) is an act I attribute directly to divine intervention.

Yesterday, I saw an article about the number of weapons seized at airports in 2014: an average of six guns a day, with a high of 18 one day in June. Grenades, C-4, landmines. Not to mention the wide panoply of knives and other pointy things. Knives baked into food, knives disguised as markers and canes or slipped into the inner workings of a laptop. Hundreds and hundreds of knives, all knowingly hidden from authorities.

What struck me first was the number of people who openly flouted the rules of air travel. What struck me second was this: why? Were the weapons meant for self-defense or something more nefarious? Why in a nation of people who overwhelmingly believe in God, who claim to be religious, who call out for prayer in school and demand to know on Facebook whether or not I agree that we are one nation “UNDER GOD” — why in the world are we all armed to the teeth?

If we truly are a Christian nation (as some pundits assert — I rather hope we are more diverse than just that), then why do we feel the need to fend off one another, to be ready to attack at will? Jesus never carried a weapon. When confronted with violence, he turned the other cheek, accepted the crown of thorns, carried the cross, let the nails be hammered into his skin. It says very little of Americans that we are so prone to violence, so attached to our weapons of choice that we dare not be parted from them even while we travel by winged metal tube for a few paltry hours.

Violence and the weapons from which violence springs cannot be held in tension with true spirituality and belief in a loving, giving God. The two are incongruous. As St. Paul observed, they will know we are Christians by our love, not by the razor-sharpness of our blade or the caliber of our firearm.

Being Christian means loving others not just as much as we love ourselves, but as much as Christ himself loves them. And that requires a love beyond human bounds, a love that does not discriminate, that does hesitate, that does not demand qualifications. It is the kind of love that makes weapons ludicrous, laughable.

So what gives? Either a large number of us are hypocrites, or we love our weapons more than we love God. And yes, I know that’s an inflammatory statement; I meant it to be. This is a subject that demands serious self-examination. If you believe in the sanctity of gun rights, how do you square that with the perfection of love your faith calls you to? And no, “hunting” is not a sufficient reply. No one’s going hunting at 20,000 feet. (I hope.)

This isn’t chocolate and peanut butter, folks. These are two ideas that don’t go together. So why not put down your weapons? Arm yourself with love instead. I guarantee a better bus ride for all of us.

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