Monthly Archives: July 2009

Mother Teresa, Saint or Sinner?

mother_teresa_costume218Ever since the publication of Christopher Hitchens book, The Missionary Position, I keep hearing from people who believe that Mother Teresa was twisted person who intentionally perpetuated poverty rather than relieving it because she believed things were better that way.  I attended a discussion for an unrelated book last night in which one of the audience member commented that Teresa kept people poor because she thought it would help them get to heaven.  The moderator pushed back at that idea, but it obviously had some currency with those present.

I’m not an expert on Teresa, and I haven’t gotten around to Hitchens’ book.  So no answers here, but I do have this question.  I wonder whether its the case that Mother Teresa’s admirers and detractors would all essentially agree on the facts of what she did, but interpret them in almost opposite ways.  Could it be that she chose to focus on comforting the sick and dying rather than relieving poverty because that was her calling, her charism, and she needed to focus on bringing a personal touch to as many people as possible in Calcutta?  Those who fell under the influence of her ministry certainly seemed grateful.  Hitchens, whose vision goes no further than the material comforts of this life has no appreciation for a touch of grace to the dying because it doesn’t solve anything he can see.  It has no tanglible results.  But with every hug, every bath, every spoonful of soup brought to the lips of an invalid, Teresa was sowing grace amidst despair.

I’m not opposed to poverty relief efforts–quite the opposite!  But I do recognize that there is more than one kind of good work in the world.  I’d be cautious about criticizing someone for doing a kind of good work different than the one I prefer.  There’s room for both.

And I’m definitely of the opinion that Teresa is just too tempting a target for my atheist friends.  There’s a little too much glee in the criticisms.  What a delight it is to show that the woman so admired around the world was a fraud!  If the iconic holy woman of the modern age was really a pathological deviant, then there can’t be anything to that Christianity stuff after all, can there?

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Filed under Atheism, Books, Politics and Culture

Slavery in the Modern World

Not For Sale: There are 27 million slaves worldwide right now.  Here’s a map of where they are.

For many people, awareness of modern slavery—especially slavery in America—began with John Bowe, when his article “Nobodies” was published in the New Yorker in 2003.  That was subsequently followed by a book of the same title, part of which became the basis for This American Life #344 “The Competition.”  Here’s Bowe on NPR’s Marketplace as well.

Now ethicist David Batstone (interview) is devoting his time to abolishing slavery, through his book Not For Sale, and through co-founding the Not For Sale Campaign, which “equips and mobilizes Smart Activists to deploy innovative solutions to re-abolish slavery in their own backyards and across the globe.” Here’s an excerpt from the book.

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Filed under Books, Politics and Culture, This Is Good

Will a Pain-Free Heaven Be Boring?

From an email I sent today answering a question that followed-up on a recent sermon.

I think you understood what I was saying exactly right. And, wow, that’s a good question. If troubles are valuable here for our growth, will we not have them in heaven?

I think it’s hard to figure out exactly what is going to happen in the world to come. On the one hand, the lion will lie down with the lamb, and God will wipe away every tear, and there is no more sorrow or pain or death. On the other, it seems to me that there will still be meaningful work to do (although what kind of work I really can’t imagine). Since the saints will reign with Christ, doesn’t that mean that they will be overseeing some kind of divine project? For a long time I’ve thought that the verses that say those who are faithful with few things will be trusted with many things imply some kind of continuation on the new earth–if we are faithful here, God will give us even more (and more meaningful) work to do there. Since human fulfillment seems to depend a lot on creatively overcoming obstacles to accomplish purposeful work, I have a hard time thinking that God would wire us that way and then the resurrected life would wind up being one enormous, overly long summer vacation. There’s more there, although the Bible only hints at it.

I guess my working theory is that in our incorruptable states, pain and loss won’t work any more as a means to growth. Peace can permeate everything. But somehow I don’t think that means we give up on excitement–it’ll just turn into the kind of excitement when things get gradually better and better, in surprising ways, and each new step forward is an unexpected delight. But I can’t provide book, chapter and verse for that! It just seems to be to be the overall trajectory of the scriptures.

Thinking out loud here,

Kirk

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Filed under Bible, Reflections

Economics As If The Bible Mattered

Good stuff here. I’ll weigh in if I can find the time.

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Filed under Politics and Culture, This Is Good

Reading Alasdair MacIntyre in Church

It’s not the most profound thing ever, but I just presented a conference paper on Alasdair MacIntyre and moral formation. You can get to it by clicking the articles link in the upper right, or find the link under “pages” in the sidebar.

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Filed under Ministry