What does it mean to be a Christian and what does it mean to have the resources to be a disciple of Jesus? That is what the readings are addressing this week.
I think that some of the language can be a bit jarring, particularly in Luke. Jesus says we must hate our mothers and fathers, siblings, spouse, children. However, he doesn’t mean that we need to literally hate the people we love the most; but instead he calls us to reject the power structures that oppress the most vulnerable in our society.
When we think about the Christian tradition and the way it is engaged in our current political structure, there is much to consider. Today, Christianity has become a tradition that is focused on ideas that do not necessarily connect with the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus had four primary principles that he preached: love, inclusion, liberation, and social justice. These are the resources we need to be disciples in the Christian tradition.
What does it mean to come to our communities from a place of love and inclusion recognizing that liberation and social justice are our primary goals?
That is what we are called to do. In the readings, Jesus is calling us to deeply consider what it means to focus on doing this work, being committed to a socially just community – one that cares for every person, offers fairness and equitable conditions; one that is economically just and recognizes the human dignity of every person.
This is the task that is in front of us, and it certainly was the task that was in front of Jesus during the Roman Occupation. This is where his message is grounded - in confronting the oppressive structures in our community and how they function to marginalize the historically disenfranchised.
Many of us are in a position in a society where we have some form of privilege - and perhaps even great privilege - and that is something we have to acknowledge, own, and recognize. Our privilege is also a resource. For those of us who are privileged, we have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of the voiceless. That is a critical part of the teaching
We also have to recognize that we must offer space for the historically disenfranchised to express their emotions, anger, and grief for being denied human dignity and forced into power structures that perpetuate their oppression.
When Jesus says you need to have all of the resources to be a disciple and that you need to be 'all in,' what does this mean? First, I think we need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that being 'all in' is rare - it is challenging and a great risk that many of us are not willing to take. That said, what we can do is wake up every morning and acknowledge our position in the world, our abilities to contribute to positive social change, and do our best to make that happen. We are not always going to be successful; but it is our intention that matters.
We need to dig deep within ourselves and recall the four principles of Jesus’ teachings and consider how we can enact these in the world. To love our neighbor means that we need to actually know who are neighbor is and what they need and want so that we can live out the Christian tradition.
This is what we are called to, this is how we can actively participate in our roles as human beings; to make humanity the greatest cause. To acknowledge that every life has value and that we are called to be the change.
We often think that as individuals we don’t have the ability to make an impact. But the truth is, it is the acts of individuals - the smallest acts carried out with the greatest love that transforms our communities.
Moving forward we must consider what the greatest issues are and how we can go about addressing them. How can we be good neighbors and how can we engage our communities from a position of love and inclusion with the purpose of creating liberative and socially just spaces? How can we honor the word ‘love’ in a mindful way rather than leaving it to become a hallow term carelessly spoken without intention? How will we wake up each morning and what will we challenge ourselves to do with each day?
This is what Jesus is calling us to do. This is what it means to be a Christian and to have the resources to be a disciple. We must return to the roots of the tradition and demand that the life of every living being is valued.
Gina Messina, Ph.D. (Formerly Gina Messina-Dysert) is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, and activist. She gives particular attention to the intersection of gender, religion, and politics.
Messina is the Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio where she formerly served as Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies. Prior to her time at Ursuline College, she served as the Director of the Center for Women’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education (WIRE) at Claremont Graduate University and as a Visiting Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola Marymount University.
Messina is the co-founder of Feminism and Religion, a project that explores the intersection between scholarship and the “F-word” in religion, community, and activism now with readers in 181 countries. And also the founder of its sister project, The Far Press, an indie feminist publisher focused on releasing books that explore feminism and gender, religion and spirituality, politics, and social change.
Messina has authored articles in a variety of publications and regularly writes for The Huffington Post. She is the author of Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence (2014), and Jesus in the White House: Make Humanity Great Again (2017). She is also co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay (with Jennifer Zobair and Amy Levin, 2015) Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century (with Rosemary Radford Ruether, 2014), and Women Religion Revolution (with Xochitl Alvizo, 2017).
Messina is a regular speaker around the US at universities, organizations, conferences, and in the national news circuit. She has appeared on Tavis Smiley, MSNBC, and NPR and took to the TEDx stage with her talk, “The New Feminist Revolution in Religion.” She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.
Messina earned her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University, focusing on women studies in religion, theology, ethics, and culture. She completed a Master of Arts in religious studies at John Carroll University. She also earned a Master of Business Administration with a dual focus in organizational leadership and marketing at the University of Findlay and completed her undergraduate degree at Cleveland State University.
Messina currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio (or Believeland as she calls it) with her budding feminist daughter and their feminist chihuahua.
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