Recently the online world has been filled with images of people in desperate conditions, images not from Pakistan or Syria but from the Greek islands closest to Turkey: Chios, Lesbos, Leros. One picture showed a migrant raft landing near sunbathing tourists on Kos, an island I once knew well. It was a way station on my yearly visits to the nearby island of Patmos, where St. John was once a refugee himself. I went there to visit another immigrant to Greece: a spiritual poet named Robert Lax, who was Thomas Merton’s best friend.
Shortly after Pope Francis visited the United States in September, many churches invoked his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, in services of blessing animals. From the spectacular event at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan to small gatherings of pets and pet owners on church lawns, Americans around the country marked Francis’s feast day, October 4, by blessing the animals.
They may not have realized that blessing the animals is a recent and very American development.
This past spring semester, I taught the book of Revelation at Faulkner University. Though I teach history at this Christian school in Alabama, this course wasn't primarily about historical interpretations of the text or American apocalyptic movements. It was a biblical exposition of a fascinating piece of literature.
Americans have been fascinated with Revelation for a long time.
Anti-feminist sentiment, misbehaving athletes, racist images, and student safety concerns all manifested themselves in one way or another during the 2014–2015 academic year at the University of Mary Washington. Now that the annus horribilis is over, new challenges present themselves. President Rick Hurley recently announced recommendations, including a series of discussions on civility.
It's a humanitarian crisis that has riveted the international community: refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere seeking asylum from civil war and violence. Images of the small, drowned body of Aylan Kurdi ignited our consciences and challenged world leaders to begin addressing the needs of these refugees.
The surge of unaccompanied minors into countries like Sweden mirrors the marked increase of Central American children entering the United States in 2014, fleeing violence at home.
Brooks students entered a dated and pretentious room with the feel of an old study. They sat in a circle as they listened to Professor Edward Blum. One lecture illustration was the defaced image of Christ from after the Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The room transformed as Blum’s slide showed the stained-glass window with a hole where the holy face of Christ had been.
Last semester, I had students review Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. For those unfamiliar with this book, the authors make two general claims:
America is a racialized society. White evangelical Protestants are unwitting proponents of racialization.
A new pope arrives in the United States. Expectations are high for this different type of papacy that brings fresh air from a land that has never given Catholicism a pope before. He comes to America as a media star, having energized not only Catholics, but many of other faiths or even no faith at all. His charisma and direct contact with people in the pews contrast starkly with the remoteness and intellectualism of his predecessor as pope. Catholicism has been in the doldrums for more than a decade, but his unexpected election has sparked excitement and curiosity. He gives voice to many who haven't been heard and have been yearning for leadership.
“Is there a back door out of hell?” I asked the students seated across the table from me. The question hung there for a minute as they considered it. If they said yes, what would that mean about how they had always thought about hell? If they said no, what would that mean about how they had always thought about God?
In fall 2014, I had the opportunity to teach Contemporary Religious Thought.