Dead Man Walking: An Evening with Sr. Helen Prejean in Durham

At the end of her talk to a packed house at Trinity United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina, on Friday, December 2, Sister Helen Prejean (whose work on death row was made into the award-winning film Dead Man Walking) lifted her arms out wide and said, “What does the Gospel of Jesus say? We have to show compassion for the victims of murder on one side of the cross and for the perpetrators of murder on the other side of the cross.”

The closest I have come to knowing a victim of murder and the perpetrator of that murder occurred around the death of Eve Carson, the UNC student body president who was murdered in the spring of 2008.

I was just finishing my course preparation when I received the email that the body of a murdered victim found near campus had been identified as the beloved student body president. Shocked and horrified, I stumbled toward my class on that bright sunny day wondering, [Read more...]

A Story of Turning the Other Cheek

A problem with moral standards, whether rooted in Christianity or otherwise, is how to express them in a cultural context. That is, are we doing something because we think it’s right to do or because it’s socially-normative behavior. (And I realize that the two need not be separate). As such, sometimes we understand the morality of behavior more clearly when it goes against cultural expectations.

Here’s a story from NPR several years ago that illustrates it. It tells of how a man responded to being mugged. The “proper” response to being mugged is to 1) be safe and 2) contribute to the mugger getting caught or hurt. Instead, this victim expressed love.

It starts: [Read more...]

Confession: It’s Cheaper than Therapy

Since becoming Catholic last Spring, I’ve had opportunity to think about what’s been gained by swimming the Tiber, as well as what’s been lost—by which I mean things about my former religious life and culture that Catholics just don’t understand or do. My post a few weeks back about the absence of a contemporary Catholic music scene was one of those. This post is about an addition: the confessional.

I admit I anticipated this part of Catholic life with some trepidation. On the other hand, I had never sensed a great deal of settled reconciliation with the Almighty in solitary, silent, mental confession. Which meant forgiveness took on the form of a circadian rhythm of sorts. I would feel bad about things for a day, confess silently, and then wake up the next morning having largely put behind me whatever it was that I had blundered the day before. Although a good night’s rest seemed to sufficiently shelve yesterday’s misdeeds, I don’t know that the divine economy actually works like that.

Alas, that approach is no more. Now confession is spoken, in real time, and it occurs when I go and actually do it. The psychological difference between a silent and a spoken confession is like night and day.

Lots of Christians are a part of accountability groups, of course. [Read more...]

A Favorite Conversion Story

I was talking with a good friend about deconversion, and we commiserated that it’s a depressing topic. He told me of one of his favorite conversion stories, which I had read years ago and loved for its power and authenticity. It’s from the autobiographical writing, in Traveling Mercies, of Anne Lamott.

She was going through a very tough time in her life, addicted to cocaine and alcohol and just having had an abortion of a child conceived in an affair with a married man. In the week after the abortion, she took to bed with alcohol and pain medication. She writes (p. 49-50):

“After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there–of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about [Read more...]

Those (Ir)Religious Asian Americans?

So I still haven’t answered the question about whether there was a more prevalent Asian American Christian community in college. My focus on this topic isn’t just a nostalgic obsession; it had apparently been a major observation just around the time I graduated and had a strange resurgence about a decade later. The first major attention that appeared in academic circles came from Asian American Studies scholar Rudy Busto way back in the 1990s where he reported that the Asian American evangelical presence was “anecdotal”.

His bigger point was whether there was something important racially about the presence of so many Asian Americans in groups like Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and home-grown groups with names like Grace Christian Fellowship and Asian American Christian Fellowship. I’d like to revisit this question in a later post. For now, I want to point out that there was a lot of buzz over the remarkable presence of religious Christian Asian Americans on a lot of college campuses in the 1990s. At the same time (the same year even), there was another news report that made huge waves in the Christian Asian American scene. It was called the “silent exodus.” [Read more...]


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