I’d like to go on the record and say that I am officially fatigued by the political rhetoric of the day. The vilification of presidents and opponents has risen to the level of ridiculous, and important values and traditions like reconciliation and giving someone the “benefit of the doubt” seem to me to have vanished…
And I’m not without some political history. A couple of years ago I read a great book called Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis. It was my first real window into the historical animosity that our political system has sustained from its very beginning. From name-calling to pistol duels, our political landscape has been fairly well stained with the blood and tears of some magnificent souls.
And today we continue to litter the hillsides with the careers and lives of our fellow American travelers. I’m tired of it. And I’m tired of Christians joining the fray, perpetrating some of the most tasteless dialogue while claiming a moral high ground. I’m not talking about the LEFT, and I’m not talking about the RIGHT… I’m talking about BOTH.
I want to believe it when St. Paul says that within the sovereignty and presence of Christ there is a new creation. I want to believe that many of the old orders will slip away. I want to believe that the people who claim Christ can act and speak in such a way that humans are blessed on both sides of the aisle.
How do we actually begin giving the benefit of the doubt back to others? Do we need a mantra to chant each morning, “All Democrats don’t hate the military, all Democrats don’t…” Or maybe it’s something like, “Bush isn’t actually stupid, Bush isn’t actually…”
Could it be that “loving our enemies” might fundamentally demand that we begin from the benefit of the doubt? Can the people of God hate their political opponents?
I’ve recently known a Christian minister to call President George W. Bush a bastard, and I’ve also heard many a Christian pass along their favorite jokes about President William J. Clinton’s sexual misconduct. Sickening.
I recall that one of my least favorably received sermons was during the Clinton years when I compared most conservative Christians of the day (me included) to Jonah sitting on the hillside at the end of the biblical book bearing his name. You know the whole story, right? Jonah never gets it… at the end of the story Jonah is still sitting on a hillside maliciously, maybe even gleefully, waiting for the fire of judgment to fall on the city. And that’s where so many Christians in those days sat, on the hillside hoping for a judgment and condemnation, with a nary a prayer for the man.
So, specifically, here might be some benefits of the doubt to start with:
- Gore is truly concerned about global warming, because he loves the earth.
- Bush is doing his best to keep us safe from extremists.
- Democrats really want to help the disenfranchised do better.
- Republicans really want to help the disenfranchised do better.
- Folks on the LEFT can be some amazing Christians!
- Folks on the RIGHT can be some amazing Christians!
- The goofiest commentator on the RIGHT doesn’t represent them all.
- The goofiest commentator on the LEFT doesn’t represent them all.
- If anyone says they’re trying to follow our Christ, believe them.
- Even if you disagree with their conclusions, believe a person’s stated intentions and desires.
Christ said that we should love our enemies… that aught to change our speech and lead us towards paths of reconciliation. Now that I’ve made my little list up there I feel like it barely scratches the surface. If fact, I’m embarrassed by how anemic it looks and feels. Surely the words, “love your enemies” carry more weight than that.
Maybe we have too little faith that God can take care of this world and too much belief that the wrong politician can actually destroy it.
I’m going to go pray for Nancy Pelosi and Rudy Giuliani now. I’ll spend some time in my Book of Common Prayer, pages 388-389 (Form IV) and pages 820-822. And I’ll try to love some the folks who most drive me crazy in today’s political carnival.
I had one of those moments in the car yesterday… my six-year-old is rifling thru my CD’s and holds up Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason and asks, “Um, Dad. Can we listen to this one?” Somehow thru tears of pride I choked out,” Oh, yes son, we can.”
I love that album, because you see, I also love to hear the gospel, no matter who’s sharing it at the time. Listening to that album back in ’88 was my introduction to the song On the Turning Away… these days I also have a concert version of it on the album, Delicate Sounds of Thunder. That song captures the heart of Jesus so perfectly when he’s announcing his life’s dream (and God’s desire) of making the world a better place for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. (Luke 4:14-21)
The CD was still in this morning as I drove to work so I skipped over to track 5 and dug on it again… have you ever really thought of all the power structures and systems that Jesus just ignored? He could have gone after the Roman political structure… the church did after only a few hundred years, but not Jesus. Jesus didn’t need political backing.
On the opposite of the political spectrum he ignored the cause of the zealots who fought Roman power… Jesus didn’t bother with being an anti-establishment activist.
Jesus also ignored a highly organized and earnest Jewish religious establishment… even though he seemed to have several Pharisees who believed and followed him. At different times you can almost get the feeling that if he had just toned down a little of the rhetoric, stopped talking about the poor and disenfranchised so much, and focused more on the average person’s sins and on being good Jews a little more, he could have gone far.
But then, he never really left the whole Jewish system behind either… always at the Temple, always at the feasts, always reminding people of the heart and intent of the Law.
What do we often do today? We strive in the opposite directions… we crave political power and political results, either left or right of the aisle. We might even proudly go guerilla activist in defiance of the powers that be. We seek opinion leaders in culture and woo them or pay them big bucks for motivational speeches. We bow to religious systems and build empires based on the potency, or lack of, in these theocracies.
While Jesus preaches good news to the least likely to receive any.
I’m actually in a good mood today… for reals. I hope you don’t think I’m ranting in a morose fit of depression. I guess I’m just feeling a little out of touch with Jesus’ folks. I haven’t spent much time lately with the disenfranchised, defeated, disheartened and dispossessed. My bad.
Peace, y’all! Todd
You know I didn’t do this kind of a post for Mother’s Day… I hope you can forgive me. But I thought I would collect here some of my thoughts I am sharing with a class tomorrow morning, the Sunday which we celebrate as Father’s Day.
What does our Bible most often give us, as pertaining to God? My thoughts are running something like this:
The scriptures give us (not exclusively) images of God in a quest to help us know God and love God. I’m daring in my sense of over-simplification, but I think the idea rings true enough.
Not being divine oursleves, not divine in essence or personality, we’re not able to perceive God in a full, undiluted manner… so the images of scripture quite naturally flow from our own context and existence to be understandable and cogent.
And here’s a point of distinction… these images must be allowed to function in ways that help us know and love, but not allowed to funtion in ways that circumscribe God. It’s healthy to remember that scripures aid us in knowing God, not “figuring God out.”
So, let’s cruise some (just a few) images: father, mother, bridegroom, shepherd, potter… and later in a fuller way, son and spirit. To help enliven our images we have some amazing verbs that come along with the God of our scriptures… God loves, hates, marries, becomes jealous, divorces, forgives, molds and fashions, protects, calls, sends, speaks, listens, and remembers.
I was in an unexpected and interesting snatch of conversation this past week when a friend bemoaned the fact that some of the push towards inclusive language in church culture and vocabulary was actually excluding the masculine. So, in a rush to make God not exclusively masculine, we might try to make God not masculine. But God is masculine. And God is feminine.
And God is so far past those adjectives and realities that after they help us understand and love God a little more than we have previously, we have to remind ourselves that our being drawn to God is the point of this exercise, not divine sexuality. When the images wear a little thin or start to get too bossy, leave them aside for a few weeks and come back to them… let them breathe a little.
Fellas, there’s not a doubt that the father image, the masculine image, is the hands-down winner of which image pops up most through the scriptures. But I don’t think that really gives us much reason for self-congratulaion or high-fiving. If anything, we might uniquely have a bar set pretty high for the love of a bridegroom, the patience of a father, the sacrifice of a parent. *sigh*
So, let us do what honor to the Divine image that we may! Let us give someone something to celebrate in the way we love, are fathers, and are husbands.
So, I’m preaching tomorrow nite in Fort Worth at The Search. I’m sitting here on Saturday nite with a beautiful, brown ale (Chimay, Blue Label) and finally ready to collect all my thoughts… and I was thinking of sharing them here.
The Philippians passage pivots around the idea of Christ’s humility, and our call to live in such a way… a way I think might be very difficult for many of us to imagine much less actualize. In my sermon time I don’t want to lay out a set of rules or expectations for personal humility, but to explore the depth of Christ’s humble way, and the barriers in our own thinking and way of life.
The main barrier for us just might be the way that we, as Amerians of our day, tend to think of humility. I believe we tend to think of it as an atribute mostly for “winners.” I mean a pursuit of humility doesn’t impede our drive to win, simply how much we gloat the win over the losers. But, maybe humility calls us to lose… to lose like Christ lost. Note the humiliy of Christ in verse 8… humility came at a great loss to Jesus, the loss of life. Yes, there was a victory, or an exalting, but it was later, after the humbling.
Don’t wander from the idea just yet… you see if we keep humility as an expectation for winners, then we’re free to chase our own rights and entitlements without any impediments whatsoever. Oh, we’ll be humble… as soon as we get what we want.
An here’s the perfect example: I wish I could have taken a photo out on the highway the other day, because a “winner” of a Christian cut me off on his way to cutting off many others. He drove a huge green pickup and on his back window was the giant outline of a shark, complete with a dorsal fin and teeth, and inside of the outline was the word “ZEALOT” in gigantic letters. Below it in all capitals it also said, “AGGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY.” And below that was a quote from Psalm 69:9, “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up…”
The imagery and wording alone would have made me itch, but his offensive, crappy driving just made it all too clear. This “Aggressive Christian” was all about his own rights, driving where he wanted, screw the turn signals and get outta my way! He didn’t give a flying rip about any other driver on the road… we had just better make way. I guess my Christianity wasn’t aggressive enough.
Do a double-take on verse 4 of our passage… the emulation of the humility of Christ in our own lives is prefaced by this starting place, “…looking to the interests of others.” Sounds like a call to lose. Sounds like some humility before the finish line. So we don’t circle the Walmart parking lot for ten minutes trying to beat the next chump to a front row spot. We walk from further back like a “loser.” And when we leave we take our buggy to the little buggy corral… because as a “loser” we’re not entitled to saving that extra 30 seconds and leaving it in our parking space.
So far we’ve got a mildly entertaining idea… but what happens when we start expanding our list of rights and entitlements? We eventually get a list that doesn’t sound so funny… funny like death on a cross.
Oh, and by the way. The humility of Jesus did lead him to a cross. Ours probably won’t. We probably won’t die in our obedience, but don’t let that curb your enthusiasm. We’re still called to the path, wherever it leads. Paul doesn’t say the destination (results) had to be the same… he calls us to the same “mind.”
So, I’m not telling you what to put on that list of rights and entitlements to lose. Ask the Spirit to help you out… that’s what I’m doing.
So, we’re going to be moving to Bethesda, Maryland. For a few months, the last couple especially, we’ve been in process with a great group of people in Maryland at the Church in Bethesda, in regard to their search for a new Senior Pastor. And after a trip out to Bethesda last weekend, we knew we’d found a place… and they seemed to know as well.
We’re still working on some of the details… packing, moving, etc. Teresa and I will probably drive a U-Haul out with our junk in the middle of July, fly home and drive the boys out in the van. For you who love our boys and our whole family, let me just tell you that this group of people in Bethesda has already shown enough love and gracious welcome for us to convince us that they will help us make a very blessed new home in Maryland.
This move is such a good thing for us! And we are so grateful to God and to the folks of the Church in Bethesda for such an opportunity.
Peace and Love, Todd
I am grateful to my good friend Suzanne who sent me this link today to find the announcement of Robert Webber’s death. (http://www.iwsfla.org/) What a great loss to us and a great joy and release for Bob. I did not in any way know him personally, but few authors have had the recent impact on me that he has had.
I drive a clean, cheap, fun and very light scooter. Why? Well, I wanted to do something environmentally friendly, economically smart, and fun… and I couldn’t afford a Prius. So, I bought my 50cc Yamaha Vino. And I love it.
But intersection after intersection all across Fort Worth and mid-cities doesn’t love me on a daily basis. I am too light on my scooter to trigger those stupid censors in the pavement. That means my green light or my green arrow never comes. So I try to do something good for the community… and I’m punished for it.
Where’s my green arrow? Don’t I deserve one, too?
I was talking with a friend today about “doing church” and it’s nature/mission/meaning, etc… and as we talked about doing this thru Jesus instead of Paul I was able to bring some thoughts together about a related subject. I don’t think we can talk about ecclesiology without talking about epistemology. The American Heritage Dictionary defines epistemology as “The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.”
You see, thinking “post-modern-like” precludes a deep abiding suspicion of anything like emperical/cognitive certainty. I mean that I can create certain constructs for understanding things and decoding what I see, read, touch, taste and reason… but at the end of the day all I have are some shnazy constructs. Philosophically speaking, I can perfect my reasoning abilities, but still not attain to a full-proof reasoning that is more accurate than my own emperical limitations, experiences, personal bias and desired end game. Chaos Theory stings a little at first, but then you just start feeling numb.
When was the last time you read your Naria, and I don’t mean blah, blah and the Wardrobe. I mean The Last Battle when Aslan blows up everyone’s constructs. So at the end of time for the world of Narian Aslan welcomes the devotee of another god accounting his righteousness and faith as service to the true God. The eagles fly in the new Narnian sky and exclaim that they’ve been blind up to that point… only now do they truly see, see colors, see light, see beauty.
Lewis’ point is not to assert the classical universalism. In fact Aslan points out that he and the other god are not the same God, not the same but opposites. And the new constructs do not invalidate the previous ones, but complete them. Lewis is painting a narrative of deep humility, when we just might find ourselves called “further up and further in,” only to find out that we didn’t know this part of the journey was coming. This type of raw humility could only be a descendant of nothing less than unabridged faith… faith that God is larger than my biggest construct and greater than my worst fault and more gracious than my best effort. I would like to think that I am anticipating the shock and surprise I will feel at the coming journey, not the dismay of those who disagreed with me.
So, let’s go on to talk about church… faithfully constructing away at the job, but realizing that at the end of the day, God owns the right to turn west when we go east, jump north when we fall south, and laughingly/lovingly take our hands and call us to an even newer place, new beyond our hippest hip… further up and further in.
Yes, I’m still not in a pulpit anywhere, but I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to engage a church family with when I find a position. You know, how will we intentionally grab onto the whole God story and start some stuff?
I’v been thinking about it for a while actually… and I’ve mentioned it before and talked about it with some friends… I’d like to explore what it means to do ecclesiology according to Jesus, and not so much according to Paul. The American Heritage Dictionary says that ecclesiology is “The branch of theology that is concerned with the nature, constitution, and functions of a church.”
I grew up in church doing ecclesiology, or “doing church,” almost exclusively with the Pauline letters and writings. Sure, throw in a little Jude and Peter now and again, but we mostly wrangled Paul’s stuf. And that sort of makes sense in a way… Paul was doing ecclesiology, and since that what we want and need to do (i.e. figuring out church), let’s start with him. But there is a problem with that approach. Paul did his ecclesiology a long time ago, in a very specific place and space. So, can we just cheat and copy his work?
Did you ever buy a college research paper online? Of course, I never did such a horrible thing, but again, it does make some sense. I mean, if someone else has already done a really good job of thoroughly examining the cash crop potential of raising Brazilian Emu in West Texas, why should I “re-invent the wheel?” You know the answer, don’t you… it’s because the actual content of the papers we wrote in college was most often secondary to the process and experience of doing the research and writing.
Sure, let’s research and reference Paul as a master in the field, but let’s also do the heavy lifting with the source stuff he worked with… the Lord Christ. Instead of just copying Paul’s work, can we join in the field of ecclesiology and make some valuable contributions? At least for our own time, space and place?
One last thing, tonight… I don’t think that this exercise I’m wanting to do will unearth any amazing, long lost secrets of ecclesiology. In fact, I figure that most of the major ecclesiological ideas that Christ models and teaches will illicit a few “no duhs” on our best days and a few “oh yeah, I need to work on that” on our worst days. I do believe that we might recover a good center, a solid core of identity issues that actually mattered to our King. And wouldn’t that make it worth while?
I’m gonna sleep some, and then come back to this.
Peace ya’ll, Todd
I was pointed to this video a while back by another blog and have been meaning to post it ever since… it’s pretty fun when we get nailed, huh?