You are being discipled by Fox News. And if not by Fox News, maybe by CNN, Blaze Media, Democracy Now! or Ben Shapiro. And maybe the news media is not discipling you, but possibly someone other than Jesus is.
We do not normally think that spiritual formation takes place while we follow the news in our preferred outlets. The truth is that we are often unaware or not critical enough of the messages we are receiving from these sources. As long as news media is a for-profit industry, as long as they need sponsors, target groups, marketing strategies and as long as media outlets simulate a fourth branch of the government, we must be careful of what we uncritically digest.
Please do not misunderstand me, American media outlets have done a lot of good for our country. They often denounce corruption, share information the government would rather keep quiet and a host of other services for the welfare of the general public. I am not anti-media in any way. I am, however, not in favor of allowing media outlets to take over a role that belongs to Christ and the church.
How does the media disciple us?
Christ’s Kingdom project teaches us what it means to be human (we are made in the image and likeness of God) and how to live with one another in society (loving our neighbors and enemies as an expression of our love for God). Jesus teaches us what should enrage us (injustice, hypocrisy, legalism) and what should be cause of celebration (repentance and resurrection). Jesus tells us what is the goal of human history (a day of reckoning when God will right all wrong and restore our broken creation and our broken bodies). The Gospels give us a political theology (Christ is King, Christ is Lord and not Caesar).
If you have watched or read anything from CNN or Fox News lately, you would know they’re teaching us ways of being human that are contrary to the ways of Jesus. They’re telling us that God’s chosen people is America, that we should be fine with the status quo, that the poor and the foreigner are our enemies, that political top-down power and influence is what is going to bring about real change. The way they report the news if powerful because they are not simply stating facts but sharing key parts of larger narratives that support different visions or worldviews. Neither Fox or CNN, neither the right or the left faithfully tells the narrative of God’s upside-down Kingdom.
Christians are told every day on cable news that they must choose to be on the right or the left and that to be for something you have to be against someone. However, in between the right and the left stands the cross where we are called to die to self, to individualism, to country, to the myths of nationalism, white supremacy, neoliberal and socialist economic systems and to adopt Christ’s Kingdom project as the only true expression of Jesus Himself, the way, the truth and the life.
Will you allow Jesus’ Kingdom project to be the dominant narrative that tugs at your heart, that shapes your vision of the world, that determines how you view and treat others? Will you let Jesus teach you about what should make you angry or why you should celebrate? Will you recognize Fox and CNN for what they are — human attempts to make sense of human life and society that do not express or represent faithfully the witness of Jesus Christ in the world?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
“So let’s run the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1). Let’s fix our eyes (12:2) on Old Glory and all she represents (Christian Nationalism), fix our eyes (Hebrews 12:2) on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire (Christian Nationalism). And let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) and freedom (Christian Nationalism) and never forget that where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). That means freedom always wins (Christian Nationalism).” — V.P. Mike Pence
In the next to last paragraph of Pence’s speech, he marries Christian Scripture and nationalist sentiments much like the Emperor Constantine or the Catholic kings and queens of medeival Europe.
For those of us who worship Christ as King, for those of us who pledge allegiance only to the Kingdom of God, for those of who understand our citizenship to be with God in heaven, this shameless and blatant mix of Holy Scripture and Christian Nationalist tropes is very disturbing. Why? Christian Nationalism is an affront to God. Christian Nationalism must always talk vaguely about God and Jesus and precisely about country, or in this case, the flag and what she represents. Christian Nationalism calls us to worship country and not Christ or at least to divide our loyalties and worship both.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews calls us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” not on a human empire like so many that have come and gone throughout history. I will not look to country for meaning, purpose or my identity — for these things I will look to Christ and to Him alone. The courage that inspires me to give my own life in sacrifice for others was not displayed on the battlefields of Korea, Vietnam or in the Middle East but on a hill called Golgotha.
The author and perfecter of my faith does not give me freedom in order to begin an uninhibited pursuit of happiness but the freedom to answer freely His call to discipleship. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “when Christ calls a man, he bides him come and die”. Christian Nationalist freedom is without loyalty to the ethic of the crucified Christ, whereas the responsibility to freedom in Christ is freedom to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him every day.
American politicians know that many Americans are deeply religious. But they’re counting on our religiosity, our “cultural Christianity” and a vague commitment to Christ and the Scriptures in order to rouse us to the cause of country. In other words, they want to tap into a power greater than politics (faith and worship) in order to mobilize a people for their own ends.
American politicians have always feared Christians with a higher calling, one that surpasses country and bows only to Christ. Christians who pledged their only and undying allegiance to the Lamb and who rose above partisan politics were put on the FBI watchlist. Why? They cannot be bought or driven by fear.
What I have been written today is not a call for Christians to vote one way or another but to wake up to the dangers of the bastardization of the Christian faith for political purposes. Christianity is a politic, it is an interpretation of human history, it is a coherent vision for human life and society. You should pray and agonize when contemplating who to vote for but please, I beg you, do not think that God is bringing His Kingdom or the world that He wants through the top down, through the power brokers, through the Republican Party. He’s reserved that privilege for the poor, the poor in spirit, the meek and the lowly (Matthew 5:1ff).
I highly recommend the following book in order to understand these issues from a biblical and theological perspective:
A prayer by Karl Rahner and a painting by Giovanni Bellini
“God of my Vocation” A Prayer from Gebete des Lebens by Karl Rahner, translated by James M. Demske, S.J.
O God my Father, You are the God of free favors, of grace freely given. You who Your mercy to whomever You please, where and when You choose.
If it’s true that Your calling of human beings to share in Your own Life is a completely free gift, then, as I well understand, this summons is not something given to every man along with his nature. Man finds You only where You choose to be found.
And as proof that Your salvation is a gratuitous gift, every man’s road to eternal life, even though it leads to Your Infinity which is everywhere, must still take the “detour” through that definite human being who was born in Palestine under Emperor Augustus and died under the Governor, Pontius Pilate. We must take the “indirect route” leading through Your Son Who became man. Your grace comes to us not in the “always and everywhere” of Your all-pervasive Spirit, but in the “here and now” of Jesus Christ.
Your Holy Spirit blows where He will — where He will, not where I will. He is not simply always there, whenever and wherever a man wants Him to be. We must go to Him, there where He chooses to give His grace. And that’s why Your salvation is bound up with Your visible Church. That’s why Your grace comes to us in visible signs.
This is all quite clear to me, Lord, and I’m very happy about this distinctive characteristic of Your grace. It’s comforting to know that I can approach You not merely in the realm of “pure spirit” — this “pure spirit” about which the philosophers talk, when they start founding religions, has always struck me as being not spirit, but a pure ghost, anyway — but in concrete, tangible, visible signs. It warms my heart to know that I can be sure of Your power and presence in my life through the water of baptism, or by the audible word of forgiveness spoken by the priest, or in the holy bread of the altar.
For my part I want no religion or pure spirit, or pure internal experience. Basically, such a religion is a mere human invention, in which man ends up grasping only himself, instead of You. He plumbs only the shallow waters of his own spirit, and penetrates only his own poverty-stricken interior, instead of sounds the depths opened up by Your free word. And Your word tells us more of You than You could ever write in the narrow pages of Your creation.
But, my God, this arrangement of combined internal and external worship has brought something into my life which often lies heavily on my soul. You have made me Your priest, and have thus chosen me to be an earthly sign of Your grace to others. You have put Your grace into my hands, Your truth into my mouth. And although it doesn’t surprise me that men should recognized You when You come to meet them in Your only-begotten Son, or in the chaste water of baptism, or in the silent form of the host, or in the words of Scripture so simple and yet so profound, still I find it all but incredible that You desire to come into Your Kingdom in the hearts of men through me. How can people possibly recognize You in me?
Indeed You have gone so far as to give me, along with my priesthood, also all the other mans You use to convey Your loving greeting to men. You have equipped me with Your word, Your truth, Your sacraments. And You have attached these things to my ministry in such a way that they penetrate into the inmost regions of free souls only when these souls accept me, only when they take me along in the bargain.
Can people really recognize You in me? Or can they at least grasp the fact that You have sent me as the ambassador of Your truth, the bearer of Your mercy? When this question occurs to me, it seems that Your Gospel of joy and for my brethren is to me, the messenger, only a crushing burden.
I realize that You have sent me, that I am Your messenger — maybe a very pitiful one, but for all that still Your messenger, a man sent by You and stamped with Your ineffaceable seal. Your truth does not become false just because I preach it, even though I too am a sinful man, to whom the dictum can be applied: omnis homo mendax, “every man is a liar.”
Your grace remains pure, even when it is dispensed through my hands. Your Gospel is still the good tidings of great joy, even when it’s not particularly noticeable that my soul is exulting in God my Savior. And Your light continues to shine forth, changing the dark death-shadows of our earth into the brilliant noonday of Your grace, even when this light has to find its way to human beings through the cracked and dusty panes of my tiny lantern.
I know, Lord, that as a priest of Your true Church, I should not let the sense of my vocation, and the courage to preach Your Gospel in season and out of season, depend on the consciousness of my own personal worth. Your priest does not approach people as a revivalist or an enthusiast, not as a purveyor of mystic wisdom or gnostic or Pentecostal prophet, or whatever else such persons may call themselves. These can communicate to others no more of You than they have themselves. But as a priest, I come as Your legate, as a messenger sent by Your Son, our Lord. And that is at the same time less and more, a thousand times more than anything else.
But, O God of my calling, it would be so much easier if I could just deliver Your message and then, when Your work is done, go back to living my own life. Then the burden of being Your messenger would be no heavier than that of any other messenger or administrator who does his job and is done with it. But Your charge to me, Your commission itself has become my very life. It ruthlessly claims all my energies for itself, it lives from my own life.
As Your messenger, I can live my own personal life only by passing on Your word. I am Your messenger and nothing more. Your lamp — excuse me for being so bold, Lord — burns with the oil of my life. In Your service there are no office hours after which a man can closeup show and be his own master again. I can never forget that I am Your servant and go back to being a mere “private citizen.”
Truly it’s an unspeakable honor and privilege to be able to serve You with all one’s energy. I must thank You that You have turned my life to Your service, that I have no other “profession” that conveying the message of Your salvation. I must be eternally grateful that, in my life, profession and devotion are completely identical — there is no distinction between what I do out of duty and what I do out of love.
And yet, if it were only possible in Your service, as in every other, to separate official business from one’s private life! How much easier it would be! And I don’t say this because I would prefer to give You only a few hours’ service a day, and spend more time communicating to others my own religious experiences and inspirations, setting them on fire with my own enthusiasm and conviction. On the contrary, I want to be Your messenger, the transmitter of Your truth and Your grace, and nothing more. And precisely because that’s what I want, I sometimes with that people could better distinguish my official position from my private life.
Can one pass on Your truth without having fully grasped it himself? Can I preach Your Gospel, if it has not struck deep roots in my own heart? Can I pass on Your Life, if I am not alive with it myself? Your holy signs can produce grace of their own power, it’s true. But would my fellow men allow me to mark them with these signs, unless my own countenance were to them a sign that You had sent me? It’s unavoidable: Your official business and my private life cannot be separated.
And that is precisely the burden of my life. For look, Lord: even when I announce Your pure truth, I’m still preaching my own narrowness and mediocrity along with it. I’m still presenting myself, the “average man.” How can I bring my hearers to distinguish between You and me in the frightful mixture of You and me that I call my sermons? How can I teach them to take Your word to their hearts, and forget me, the preacher?
I want to be a transmitter of Your light, and to do so, I must nourish it with the oil of my life. And yet I can’t avoid placing myself before the lantern, coming between Your light and the searching eyes of my fellow men. I seem to be good for nothing at all but making the already-dark shadows of this world even darker and longer.
I understand all too well that, at the end of my priestly life, I shall have only Your poor, unprofitable servant. I shall have been the messenger whom You have sent on ahead, who, instead of cleaning the way for You, more often succeeds only in being a roadblock. Any grace that goes out from me is Yourgrace. Whatever of mine goes out from me is nothing, only a hindrance or, at best, a means You employ to test my fellow men, to see whether their instinctive love can recognize You, even when You disguise Yourself, almost beyond all recognition, by appearing to them in me.
O God of my vocation, when I consider these things, I must confess that I don’t at all feel like taking my place in the proud ranks of Your confident and conquering apostles. I rather feel that I should be on my way, simply and humbly, walking in fear and trembling. I don’t mean to criticize those among my brethren who can be so happily sure of themselves, those of Your servants who do so unmistakably reflect the inner confidence that they are coming in the name of the Lord God of Hosts, and who are quite amazed if anyone does not immediately recognize in them the ambassadors of the Almighty.
I cannot belong to that fortunate group, O Lord. Grant me rather the grace to belong to the number of Your lowly servants who are rather amazed when they are received by their fellow human beings. Let my heart tremble again and again in grateful surprise at the miracles of Your grace, which is mighty in the midst of weakness. Let me continue to marvel that I meet so many persons who allow me, poor sinner that I am, to enter into the secret chamber of their hearts, because they have been able to recognize You hidden in me.
Thus I shall be happy to set out again and again on my messenger’s rounds to my fellow human beings. You have sent me, and so I go in Your name, not my own. Let Your power triumph through my weakness, whenever You desire it to do so.
As I proceed with Your message along the pathway of my life, I shall no doubt often experience what befell Your prophet of long ago: I shall be disillusioned with Yahweh, laughed to scorn by people, a man of contention before the whole world. Then I must speak out — and woe is me, if I do not — I must speak of You, the One whom it is more fitting to honor by silence. I must speak, even with the tormenting feeling of being mere sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. For who can really know for certain whether or not he possesses the love without which everything else is just hollow noise?
In the strength of Your word I shall march continually around the Jericho of human souls, even with their laughter ringing in my ears, until You bring its walls crashing down. You will do this of Your own power, so that no one can boast before You of his prowess over souls. Thus will my mission be fulfilled, in the same way as was that of Your Son, my crucified Master. And for this, may You be praised for all eternity.
O God of my vocation, I am only a poor mask, behind which You have chosen to approach human beings as the hidden God. Grant me the grace day by day to be ever more free from sin and self-seeking. Even then I shall remain what I can’t help being. Your disguise and Your unprofitable servant. But then at least I shall grow ever more like Your Son, Who also had to envelop the eternal light of His divinity in the form of a servant, to be found in the garb and livery of a man.
When I bear the burden of Your calling, when Your mission weighs down heavily upon me, when Your Majesty humbles me, and my weakness is taken up into that of Your Son, then I may confidently trust that the hindrance which I have been to Your coming may still turn out to be a blessing to my brothers. Then perhaps You will transubstantiate my servitude — for only You could work such a change, unseen by me and my fellow human beings — into a somehow sacramental form, under whose poverty You will be the bread of life for my brethren.
O God of my vocation, let my life be consumed as the Sacred Host, so that my brothers and I may live in You, and You in us, for all eternity.
Karl Rahner. Prayers for a Lifetime. Albert Raffelt, ed. New York: Crossroad, 1995.
1. Je louerai l’Eternel de tout mon cœur,
Je raconterai toutes tes merveilles,
Je chanterai ton nom.
Je louerai l’Eternel de tout mon cœur,
Je ferai de toi le sujet de ma joie, Alléluia !
2. Dieu, l’Eternel, est Roi, il règne à jamais,
Pour le jugement il dresse son trône,
Il jugera la terre.
Dieu l’Eternel est Roi, il règne à jamais,
Le monde verra la force de son bras, Alléluia !
3. Dieu voit les opprimés, il est leur abri,
Leur refuge au temps des grandes détresses,
Son nom est leur salut.
Dieu voit les opprimés, il est leur abri,
Il sauve les siens, car il est le Dieu saint, Alléluia !
Escuché este hermoso himno por primera vez en Marsella cuando visitaba a los hermanos en la Iglesia de Cristo — Chapelle de Fuveau.
I heard this song for the first time in Marsielle when I visited the brothers and sisters at the Église du Christ — Chapelle de Fuveau.
I grew up, like many Americans, in a monolingual household. My only access to foreign languages was through impersonal means. I could hear Spanish on television but I had to go to the public library to find Pimsleur cassettes in order to learn a few phrases in French and Italian.
Once at university, I met a professor whose love for languages was simply inspiring. Surprisingly he only lectured in theology. (One of the brightest linguists on campus was not asked to teach languages! It remains a mystery to me!) While we shared a love for theology, he did not share an overwhelming interest in those languages that captured my imagination at the time. He was in love with German.
My first and only previous experience with the German language consisted in a spot on the first row at the Boettcher Concert Hall at a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. In my youthful ignorance, I could only appreciate what seemed to be to be a tragic story sung in a harsh language. Instead of catapulting my interest in German, I left the opera that night with greater decision to pursue further study of the Romance languages.
After meeting Herr Professor Antwine, I would often visit his office to talk about the Bible, theology, ministry, and our common love for languages. For many years, Clyde would speak with me about language acquisition, the importance of grammar and the beauty of being at home in your second language. Who would have imagined that he was planting seeds that would later lead me to study German?
Upon hearing Clyde’s glowing reviews of German literature, I could not deny its aesthetic qualities. Either way, I had few opportunities to read German literature or to revisit Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. Nevertheless, after moving to Argentina, I began reading more German theology and even German language poetry and literature.
Meister Eckhart, Friedrich Schiller, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan Zweig, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bertolt Brecht, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Wolfgang Borchert, just to name a few. In all honesty, I’ve only read these authors translated into English or Spanish. Nevertheless, I hope one day to read them in the original German.
I’m thankful for the seeds that Herr Professor Antwine sowed in me so many years ago. He not only sowed seeds of love for the German language, but for all languages and he taught me how languages open our eyes to beauty in unexpected places and ways.
Today, Easter Sunday, I’ve spent some quality time with legendary composer, Gustav Mahler. (You can give yourself that luxury in quarantine.) In what I now recognize as a very beautiful and emotive language, Mahler speaks to the truth of the resurrection.
La Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar from Venezuela under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel performs Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. This is the symphony’s final movement.
The lyrics were written by Friedrich Klopstock and Gustav Mahler.
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
Wirst du, Mein Staub,
Nach kurzer Ruh’!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben
wird der dich rief dir geben!
Wieder aufzublüh’n wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Ernte geht
und sammelt Garben
uns ein, die starben!
O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube:
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, ja dein, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt,
Was du gestritten!
Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten!
Was entstanden ist
Das muss vergehen!
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Hör’ auf zu beben!
Bereite dich zu leben!
O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!
Dir bin ich entrungen!
O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!
Nun bist du bezwungen!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
In heißem Liebesstreben,
Werd’ ich entschweben
Zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug’ gedrungen!
Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
wirst du, mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen
zu Gott wird es dich tragen!
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.
To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.
O believe, my heart, O believe:
Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!
What was created
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!
O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You conqueror of all things,
Now, are you conquered!
With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God shall it carry you!
I am thankful that Clyde took time out of his busy schedule to not only encourage me to proclaim the truth of our Creator but to also see the love and beauty of Christ in its many diverse expressions.