It was a year of prayerfulness.
We prayed for many things. We prayed for the courage to engage with each other in peaceful and productive ways over issues like gun violence and the color of that dress (blue and black). We prayed for refugees, that is, until an unrelated attack by non-refugees in Paris, and then we had to pray for hardened hearts to welcome refugees to our shores. Perhaps most ardently though, we prayed that, using his expertise in neurosurgery, presidential candidate and resident Egyptologist Ben Carson would finally locate his brain.
Courage, a heart, and a brain . . . sound familiar? NBC brought us a live production of The Wiz, which brought together two of my favorite things: musicals and homicidal Kansans. After the 74th commercial break, I prayed for my own Kryptonite crusted jacket.
For the United States (and perhaps the world), 2015 was less of a walk down the Yellow Brick Road and more of a trudge through a vast sea of unfixed, fixable problems. Still, a lot of notable things happened, and Christians (as usual) had a lot to say about it all, beginning in . . .
. . . when Pope Francis plays a role in brokering a deal that opens up diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. During the time of embargo, average Cuban citizens suffered the most, missing out on modern technology and culture and opportunities for prosperity. With churches across the country planning mission trips to Havana, the Cuban people’s suffering will become more acute as they encounter the American teenager.
Christians in Garland, Texas exercise their right to be buffoons (in the name of Jesus) by protesting a Muslim conference called, “Stand with the Prophet Against Terror and Hate.” These Christians earn Golden Globe nominations for brilliantly portraying “Terror” and “Hate.”
Speaking of terror, in . . .
. . . the director of LifeWay Research announces findings that Christian television is only watched by evangelicals and weekly churchgoers, suggesting that Christian media is subpar. “I never would have imagined this,” said absolutely no one who has ever viewed Christian media.
At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama urges humility about our country’s legacy of racism and slavery, especially in our national conversation about ISIS . . . or is it ISIL . . . or IHOP? Obama reminds us to be cautious in judging entire groups of people. Passionate Christians immediately decry these grossly anti-American sentiments, drawing on their deep faith in Jesus, who apparently never said much about judging others.
Many take advantage of the new “Hotline Project,” a 24-hour free telephone service that helps people transition out of faith. As it turns out, the problem with church in the United States is not that not enough people are going, it is that too many people are going even when it is terrible.
Speaking of leaving your religion, in . . .
. . . writer Rachel Held Evans reveals herself to be an Episcopalian, much to the disappointment of her evangelical readers, who join together in asking, “What is an Episcopalian?”
As the episcopacy becomes available to women in the Church of England, the Vicar of Dibley returns to compete for the role in a special episode of the famed television show. Conservative bishops consider this a step in the wrong direction, while progressive feminist Anglicans rejoice that finally women can cover their heads in church, this time with a mitre.
Speaking of white Christians, they are revealed to be a minority in the United States, adding to the anxiety white, conservative Christians feel about political correctness, but if white Christians go the way of other minorities, majority groups will reach out them with compassion . . . you know, like majority groups always do. It’s nice how things always work out for the best for everyone.
And another minority, gay Christians, find acceptance as Presbyterians “come out” in full support of their inclusion as God’s children, etc. (go figure). To top that off, evangelicals get real generous and proclaim that “the gays” don’t have to be celibate anymore to be good Christians, so long as they only engage in intercourse with members of the opposite sex.
Speaking of evangelicals, in . . .
. . . an influential American Baptist Churches USA pastor baptizes an infant, sending waves (or would that be a sprinkle?) across the country. A prominent Southern Baptist seminary president compares Baptist infant baptism to a vegetarian eating steak. The seminary calls for his resignation after he is outed for believing in vegetarians.
A group of evangelicals, scholars, and other religious leaders demand that President Obama nominate a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and Central Asia. Some doubt that this group would pressure Obama if non-Christians were the ones facing persecution, but I’m positive.
At an Applebee’s in New Jersey, a man burns his face on a piping hot fajita skillet while praying over the meal. A state appeals panel rules that he cannot collect damages because the danger of piping hot food was “open and obvious,” to which the man responds by using his gubernatorial influence to close all bridges leading to the New Jersey Applebee’s.
As much as that guy loves his fajitas, in . . .
. . . we learn that Mormons LOVE candy. According to sales data from The Hershey Co., Utahns buy confections at a higher rate than people of any other state. “It’s the one indulgence we’re allowed,” says one Mormon man before inhaling a Mr. Goodbar and three of his fingers.
Rick Santorum reveals that the separation of church and state makes him want to vomit, which is not the first time “vomit” and “Rick Santorum” have been used in the same sentence.
Ireland attempts to make Santorum vomit again as they become the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, leading some to ask whether the church has lost her influence in the country while others wonder how they’ll have time for all of the parades. The parade lobby is untouchable in Ireland.
And speaking of powerful lobbies, in . . .
. . . we have our 9,000th opportunity to talk about the Christian value of gun ownership when a young, white man enters a Bible study at the historically black Emanuel AME Church, killing nine people including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. President Obama eulogizes Pinckney, ending with a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The president closes his speech by promising an encore of “On Eagle’s Wings” at the next funeral for the victim of a mass shooting.
Westboro Baptist Church pickets the funeral of Iraq War Veteran Beau Biden because of father and Vice President Joe Biden’s intention to pray the Rosary during the service. “The Lord Jesus Christ plainly said to keep yourselves from idols at 1 John 5:21. Yo, Joe! Start reading the Bible and OBEY and get rid of the goofy beads” (a real quote), says a man with a tattoo on his forearm, Skoal mint pouches in his back pocket, and gun rack on his 2015 Chevy Compensator.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan speaks openly about his family’s Roman Catholic faith, including their daily practice of praying with those goofy beads. No joke here, it’s just nice to hear about someone who openly practices faith without discriminating against others.
Speaking of celebrities openly practicing their faith, in . . .
. . . Katy Perry (who always seems to be yelling) goes to court with two nuns over a hilltop convent she wants to purchase in the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. Even after Googling Perry, Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose were open to the deal. “Her costumes aren’t my taste, and her lyrics are suggestive, but when I found out she had previously been married to Russell Brand, I knew I couldn’t trust her judgment.”
Pope Francis (big Katy Perry fan) travels home to Latin America, visiting those on the margins of society and promoting his mission to create a “poor church,” a mission he achieves after some bad real estate deals in LA County. His trip goes well, though while visiting the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Pope Francis mistakes a giant tortoise for his predecessor and proceeds to confer a blessing, making the trip an embarrassment.
The Learning Channel, who brought you such educational programming as Toddlers in Tiaras, I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant, and Sister Wives, cancels 19 Kids and Counting once it is revealed that the title of the show refers to the eldest Duggar, Josh’s personal tally. The whole incident teaches us all a lesson about encouraging ridiculous programming, the first educational thing TLC has produced in over a decade.
The Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, activist, speaker, and prominent representative of the Black Lives Matter movement claims, “Martin Luther King ain’t coming back. Get over it.” attempting to emphasize that protesting injustice is not always a peaceful matter. Opponents of Black Lives Matter respond calmly by screaming “All Lives Matter!,” destroying Black Lives Matter signage (1) (2) (3), and forgetting that all lives matter when those lives are of refugees from Syria.
Speaking of race and reconciliation, in . . .
. . . a Rhode Island Episcopal Church announces plans to establish a museum to tell the story of their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This inspires other faith organizations with troubled pasts to dedicate similar museums, including an interactive museum by the Archdiocese of Boston to confront their role in . . . well . . . we all know where this is going.
A writer for Esquire dresses like a priest for a day and scribes his accounts of people staring without apology, asking for blessings and selfies, and video-recording him as he drank at a bar. “It’s easy to put on a cassock,” he said. “And it’s really not easy to wear one at all.” As a priest I can affirm this — the thing has like 37 buttons.
A study suggests that joining a religious community can do more for one’s sustained happiness than other organizations. The study examines a number of faith communities around Provo, Utah, and honestly, the report was covered in syrup and sprinkles and was unreadable, but everyone there seemed really happy . . . like too happy. But a sugar rush wasn’t behind Kim Davis’ happiness when in . . .
. . . the Kentucky county clerk celebrates her 50th birthday by eloping with coworker @nexttokimdavis, walking down the aisle to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Former Arkansas Governor and human windbag Mike Huckabee officiates the wedding. The couple lights a unity roman candle, which is still firing as Davis files for yet another divorce.
And speaking of ending marriages, Pope Francis moves to simplify the annulment process, whereby a union can be ended by claiming the marriage never existed, enabling the members of the couple to remarry and continue receiving communion. The simplified annulment process will include an American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course and a demonstrated ability to explain why in the hell Donald Trump keeps doing so well in the polls.
And speaking of presidential candidates with inexplicable popularity, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (polling at about 19 percent) receives $15 million, the largest donation yet, into a supporting Super PAC from the Wilks brothers, one of whom is a pastor. In several of Farris Wilks’ sermons at Assembly of Yahweh, Seventh Day, he compares homosexuality to bestiality, pedophilia, and incest, calling it “a predatorial lifestyle.”
“Predatorial,” technically a word, means predatory — seeking to exploit or oppress others, which is funny because the Wilks brothers made their fortune providing trucks for frackers, who exploit the planet’s resources for monetary gain. Yahweh, the creator of . . . creation . . . responds to the whole situation by spreading a parody “Netflix and Chill with Ted Cruz” campaign across Twitter.
Our God is an awesome God.
But hating on the gays continues in . . .
. . . when Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler urges Christians to boycott same-sex weddings and family members in his new book, We Cannot Be Silent. We know you cannot be silent Al . . . trust us, we know.
Presidential Candidate and Sleepy Dwarf Ben Carson opens up about his Seventh Day Adventist Faith, recalling times when he prayed, “Lord, you stab him in the belt, I’ll be the hands.”
As an attempt to court the evangelical vote, Donald Trump questions Carson’s religious affiliation, implying Seventh Day Adventism is not moderate enough, while Trump’s Presbyterianism is more “middle-of-the-road.” Carson responds calling Trump’s comments a “Great Disappointment” (this joke is for my one Seventh Day Adventist reader).
A New Jersey professor discovers a draft of the King James Version of the Bible dating from the first decade of the seventeenth century, which surprisingly includes Jesus affirming all sexual orientations and gender nonconformity as well a thoughtful appeal for common sense gun legislation. Many conservative evangelical Christians almost immediately convert to Orthodox Judaism.
The Episcopal Church elects the Right Rev. Michael Curry as their presiding bishop, a position that brings with it a bigger hat, a longer staff, and the sole responsibility to evangelize on behalf of all other Episcopalians.
Speaking of using faith to motivate behavior in the world, in . . .
. . . a gunman storms a clinic where women receive crucial health services, killing three and injuring nine others. He is captured alive and brought to court where he admits guilt and calls himself “a warrior for the babies.” Prosecutors are not convinced that this is the guy and let him go before rushing back to Cleveland to deliberate on how they can avoid indicting officers in the murder of Tamir Rice.
In related news, a study reveals that women seeking advice when contemplating an abortion distrust their churches. This survey of incredibly obvious results comes from LifeWay Research, who also studied Christian media viewership (see February). Later, LifeWay announces an upcoming study that will ask the question: Do people of color in mostly all-white churches have a different experience than their white brothers and sisters? (Spoiler: Duh.)
It is a pre-Christmas miracle when a church custodian discovers an abandoned newborn boy in the nativity scene of Holy Child Jesus Parish in Queens, New York. “The beautiful thing,” says Father Christopher Ryan Heanue, “is that this woman found in this church — which is supposed to be a home for those in need — this home for her child.” The mother responds saying that she tried Eight-Pound, Six-Ounce Newborn, Infant Jesus Parish, but they already had a baby in the manger.
And Starbucks gets an early start on the Christmas season releasing it’s famous red cup, this year opting for a darker shade of red than usual to highlight the ultimate earthly destination of the Christ child: the cross. “I just feel we need to really keep Christ in Christmas, the crucified Christ that is,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
Christians of opposing views on the refugee crisis argue two perspectives. One emphasizes the the risk of letting “them” in, while the other points to the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger . . . that is until the Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at the door and they turn off the television and pretends they’re not home.
And the pre-Christmas season (otherwise known as Advent) heats up in . . .
. . . as Christians of opposing views continue to argue about refugees and whether leaving the United States on moral grounds when Donald Trump is elected president warrants refugee status.
Politicians, including those whose pockets are lined with NRA money, call for prayer after yet another mass shooting, this time in San Bernadino, California. Prayers are answered when gun sales spike yet again, as they do after every mass shooting. Oh, I meant Wayne LaPierre and the NRA’s prayers . . . God’s not answering prayers for reduced violence and common sense gun legislation right now . . . it’s God’s resolution for 2016, but I’m sure God will need support of friends and family to make it happen. But let’s be real here, no resolution makes it past January 2, so the best we can hope for is only a moderate increase in mass shootings in 2016.
If that seems pessimistic to you, think about this: Donald Trump is still leading in the polls.
But you know what, the world didn’t end in 2015, and despite all of the ridiculous displays of stupidity from political and religious leaders, the world is basically good. We ought to dwell in the goodness of creation, strive to preserve it a bit better in the coming year, and seek to ensure that everyone is treated with the love they deserve.
So hug your loved ones a little closer, and maybe start investing in hair gel because I’m almost positive “The Trump” is coming in style.
Happy New Year.
The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
All images courtesy of the author.