By Will O’Brien
A few years ago I was visiting good friends at an intentional Christian community in a large city. This was a community I dearly loved: For many years, persons from privileged backgrounds, following Jesus’ call, had served, lived with, and developed ministries with the folks who lived on the streets of that city. They engaged in powerful and creative prophetic witness to the compassion and justice of God, insisting on a commitment to struggle with society’s most marginalized persons. These good saints had taught me, inspired me, challenged me, and emboldened my faith in countless ways. Continue reading
By Will O’Brien
Among the many manifestations of his project to “make America great again,” President Trump has frequently and pompously declared that “We will be able to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again!” When he spoke at last fall’s Values Voters Summit, this vow garnered the most boisterous applause. For many conservative Christians, Trump is the conquering hero who waged battle against secularism in the annual “war on Christmas” – and finally won the war. Like many Trumpisms, this would be simply pathetic were it not for the fact that it is part of a treacherous national vision. Continue reading
The Alternative Seminary will be un-domesticating biblical tales of liberation for all radical disciples in the Philly area next weekend:
Saturday morning, December 9
9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Project HOME, 1515 Fairmount Avenue
Part of President Trump’s vision of “making American great again” is that – to hell with political correctness – we will all be able to say “Merry Christmas!” again.
This is deeply ironic but sadly telling: Much of the Christian church in the United States has been co-opted by an American gospel of prosperity, racism, violence, and militant nationalism. The celebration of Christmas is often wrapped in innocent, feel-good, Hallmark-card imagery. But in fact the biblical texts describing the coming of Jesus are making powerful assertions about the politics of the Bible that speak very much to our contemporary global crises. We will reflect on the “nativity narratives” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to see how they express core biblical themes of justice and liberation. We will try to “un-domesticate” these tales of liberation and reflect on how they are truly challenging us in terms of our allegiance and our discipleship. A perfect event for Advent. A light breakfast will be served. A $5 donation is requested to cover costs.
If you are interested in participating, please contact Will O’Brien at (215) 842-1790 or email@example.com by December 3.
The Alternative Seminary is a program of biblical and theological study and reflection designed to foster an authentic biblical witness in the modern world. For more information, see www.alternativeseminary.net.
Philadelphia March. Photo from the News and Observer
By Will O’Brien
The Wednesday following the violence in Charlottesville, I joined with thousands of people in Philadelphia, mostly persons of faith, to march in the streets and rally. The energy was high, the anger was rife, and the sense of energy to change palpable. As distressing as the events were that precipitated this march, it felt good to be there.
But it also stirred some long-standing concerns and questions of mine. This was partly the result of recently picking up off the shelf my old copy of Will D. Campbell’s memoir Brother to a Dragonfly, a book that had a powerful impact on me when I first read it over thirty years ago. Campbell was a Southern Baptist preacher from rural Tennessee who became an important leader in the civil rights movement. As a white southern man, he was part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His radical understanding of the gospel and his own discernment of the racial crisis in his home region led him to the conviction that “Jesus died for the bigots as well,” and he took to a very controversial ministry among Ku Klux Klan members. Ornery and wickedly funny, Campbell often cut through the pretensions and hypocrisies of many white liberal activists. Continue reading
Day 18 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only real party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence?
By Will O’Brien, of Project H.O.M.E. and the Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia
The Scriptural tradition, particularly in the scrolls of the prophets, communicates the deep wisdom that human history is marked by the persistent instinct toward power, particularly in governmental systems rooted in oppression and militarism. The late Walter Wink gave powerful articulation to this Scriptural wisdom: he termed it “the Domination System,” which recurs in sundry forms at different epochs throughout history. Continue reading
By Will O’Brien
Several of us attended the “Repairers of the Breach” Moral Revival Tour with Rev. William Barber when it rolled into town on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention on July 25. Will O’Brien write the following short reflection (originally published on the Red Letter Christians blog.)
The Friends Central Meeting on Cherry Street in Center City Philadelphia has probably never reeled and rocked like it did on Monday night. Rev. William Barber from the Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina brought his Moral Revival Tour to our city, slyly scheduling it just as the Democratic National Convention was starting to convene a few miles south at the Wells Fargo Center. Lots of spirited singing, praying, and mighty preaching, all geared toward the prophetic vision of justice. Continue reading
By Will O’Brien, Alternative Seminary, Philadelphia, PA
At Easter services yesterday, our congregation celebrated the resurrection with the requisite Easter hymns. Though a few lesser known ones were thrown in the mix, we indulged in many of the great soul-stirring choruses: “Up from the grave he arose,…” “Christ Our Lord Is Risen Today,…”
On a personal aesthetic note, I don’t bear a lot of fondness for some of these old classics, and their theology occasionally rubs me the wrong way. But on this particular Easter Sunday, I was struck by how these hymns are almost without exception imbued with a brash and bold tone of triumphalism. We hailed the mighty and exalted king. In illustrious melody, we sang of glorious victory over foes (namely sin, death, and despair) vanquished and conquered. Continue reading