Give to Caesar…

The other day, in answer to a recent assignment, I wrote a quick knee-jerk response to a blog post that piqued my interest.  I found the post on a blog I follow that recommended another site.  https://promptlings.wordpress.com/2018/03/27/we-have-met-the-enemy-redux/   Today, I am trying to respond in a more thoughtful way, and hopefully, it makes sense.

A couple of years ago, when I first started this blog, I thought I would use it as a place to respond in an unfiltered or uncensored way, to the political news of the day. In the same way that J.Dennison describes in her Filosofa’s Word, I am often annoyed by the response of extreme, right-wing, conservative political groups in regards to social issues in our country. I had planned to use this forum to voice that sentiment, but as time and the election passed, I became angrier in my frustration and decided that would not work for me. I feel that people are so entrenched in their point of view that there is no longer room for dialogue. However, when confronted by blatant abuse of power, I feel compelled to comment. J. Dennison’s article was written last year, but as she explains the problem continues and appears to be a norm more than an isolated incident.

A couple of days ago I received CBS News article about former President Jimmy Carter titled, Jimmy Carter on his journey of “Faith”. It was an interview with Jane Pauley about his impressions on life, religion, politics and the current state of affairs in this country. It also served to promote for his new book, “Faith: A Journey for All” (published by Simon & Schuster, a CBS company) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/jimmy-carter-on-his-journey-of-faith/

Jimmy Carter has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Even though he was a one-term president, his life out of office has been remarkable in terms of his work with human trafficking, civil rights, world peace etc. What I like the most about Jimmy Carter is that he has always been very clear about the importance of maintaining the separation of church and state. President Carter has used the Biblical passage in Matthew 22: 20-22 to support his stance with religious leaders in this country. In this passage, Jesus of Nazareth is asked by a prominent religious group of the time if they should give “tribute to Caesar”. Jesus asks them to show him a coin and poses the question, “Whose image is this?” When they respond, “It’s Caesar”. He gives them back the coin and simply tells them “then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”

I believe that the religious leaders of our time are very much like the High Priests in Jesus time. In a simple comparison, both groups are driven by special interests that benefit them over the common good. They get caught up trying to maintain the status quo by clinging to archaic traditions and forgetting basic spiritual teachings. Christian religious leaders in this country have overstepped the boundaries and not for the good of the faithful. I can also easily compare their increasing influence over our government policies to Ayatollah Khomeini’s surge to power in Iran in 1979. This meshing of fundamentalist and conservative values in current political trends is what is causing such divisiveness in our country. On the surface, it appears that it is merely tension among racial or ethnic groups but unfortunately we often see that the churches can turn family members against each other for the “sake of the Gospel”. We remember that Christians were OK with slavery because the Bible talks about Christian slaves. Now we see that many prominent Christian groups are hateful toward the LGBT groups. They are Ok with domestic violence and rape of a wife. They want to provide medical care s they see fit – Cialis for men but not birth control for women and I can go on.

I was raised in a fundamentalist, Christian environment. I even attended a Christian Bible College my first year right after high school. It was there when I first began to really question what I had been taught. I would constantly be sitting in a class and think to myself “Wait- what?? Come again? Can you repeat that? I don’t think I heard you right? Didn’t Jesus pray for us to be as one so that the world would know that this is from God? Why are you throwing the brother under the bus?” Bottom-line, although my faith remains intact, I have moved away from the basic premise that the only way to God is by way of the Fundamentalist Evangelical teachings.

Twelve years ago I converted to Catholicism with all its scandals and turbulent history. I was at a time in my life when I craved spirituality but did not want to go back to my previous involvement in” holiness churches”. I was fortunate to find a Catholic Community that met my needs. I had friends, members of the local parish who were good, sincere, caring souls. I decided to take a closer look. The Pastor was an Augustinian Friar who demonstrated a great love for the people in the immigrant city where he served. I was taught the difference between traditions, rituals and a personal spiritual relationship with God. Contrary to what I had been taught, this was not mindless idol worship but rather these are tools to help enhance our spiritual practice and connection with God. This community participated in a different yet fulfilling type of worship. All within the Christian teachings of the Catholic Church.

Since this is Holy Week for Roman Catholics and other Christian faiths, I wanted to share a “verbal snapshot” of how I experienced my first Lenten season and Holy Week in that Catholic community. The first thing I noticed was on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent was that Church was dressed as the desert, devoid of all splendor to reflect a spiritual pilgrimage of sacrifice that would end with Easter Sunday celebrations. As Lent progresses into the final days of Holy Week, the sanctuary dressings continue to change to reflect the spiritual journey of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.

One of the biggest traditions of Lent around the world is the Via Crucis or the Way of the Cross. It refers to a series of images and Bible readings depicting the life Jesus Christ culminating on the day of his crucifixion. In my parish, these images were placed around the Sanctuary and during the weeks of Lent, each day prayer groups would stop at each image to reflect on Bible passages and pray. This particular community in an old mill city in Massachusetts had a predominantly Latino population. Culturally it was a big deal that on Good Friday the Via Crucis was taken to the streets. The Stations of the Cross were now at a homeless shelter, food pantry, soup kitchen, school, nursing home, hospital, rehab facility etc – wherever there was a need. The crowd that gathered behind the priest, the simple wooden Cross and Bible characters, numbered several hundred. As we walked, we sang solemn songs of repentance and sorrow and yet there was an uplifting spirit of hope.

At each station we stopped, the Priest read a passage from scripture, shared a reflection about the need the particular station and most of us joined in prayer. I imagined that the group gathered here had similar characteristics to that crowd outside of Jerusalem on the way Golgotha. There was the faithful who came to worship and relive those moments spiritually with the Lord. There were those who came out because that’s what you do on Good Friday if you are Catholic Latino and live in this city. There were kids that had obviously come out to check out the cute girls and vice versa. There were moms with little ones and old ladies in wheelchairs. There were those hanging out the windows and front steps watching the “procession” go by – some probably silently praying for the souls of idol worshippers – not really understanding what was going on but what they were taught. No judgment- I was there once.

The crowd, in response to the scriptures that the Priest read, were yelling “Crucify him, crucify him” or a little further responded by mocking “Jesus” as he carried the cross. It was around this time that I got lost in my thoughts and transcended to that place so long ago. I asked myself a simple question… if I had lived then, which side would I be on? I had been raised a good, church girl. I had respected the church leaders and more than once followed their advice – sometimes even when things didn’t feel quite right. I probably would have listened to him for a while as he taught on the mountainside. I would have heard of his miracles. Perhaps he would have healed my mother. According to what is written, for their own special interest and personal gain, the high priests and religious leaders enticed the crowd to request that the Roman government crucify the Nazarene. Would I have turned my back on him now because the High Priest told me he was evil, blasphemes? Hindsight is 20/20 they say. Sound familiar?

We don’t have a physical Christ to crucify today, but His teachings are being attacked or shredded bit by bit each day. In John 18:36 Jesus said “my kingdom is not of this world… It is in another place.” So why are church leaders today forcing their beliefs upon our nation, hating strangers like the Good Samaritan of the Bible, making judgments by their own standards and blaming Jesus? They use verses out of context to convince their followers. Even Trump has been heard quoting the Bible.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have friends who I care about, and I believe they are truly faithful to the spirit. They are filled with all the love and compassion that one would expect of a follower of Christ. There are many good people in these fundamentalist evangelical churches looking for peace, looking for love and have found it for the Spirit is more powerful than man. There are plenty of good pastors that truly have a vocation to serve. We must not let those power hungry people turn us against each other and take over all that is good in our country. Church and state must coexist. I believe people need spirituality but the government should not dictate how we address our personal spiritual needs.

4 thoughts on “Give to Caesar…

  1. Wonderful post! I was raised Catholic but have certainly strayed from my roots. I am envious of those with great faith. These times make us question so much, but it’s good to really look deep into who we are and what our “bottom line” is.

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    1. Thank you for your comments. Before I made my decision to convert, a couple of friends gave me a few biographies of some of the Roman Catholic saints. I love history so I enjoyed them very much. One thing I found consistent was the struggle. The struggle to have faith in or remain faithful to a greater power is real. For me, I’ve decided to make it a daily practice – literally, I practice believing. At one time I had a gratitude journal and that was helpful to keep me focused. I was telling someone the other day that after looking at other faith practices, I find there are many more similarities than we care to acknowledge so I decided to stay close to home. Thank you again for stopping by.

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