Writing, Sports, Stephen King, and Donald Trump

I am envious of bloggers and writers who are able to maintain a consistent online presence.  Noticing that my last blogpost was more than four months ago, consistency is not the  name of my game.  When it comes to writing, the idea of writing is a lot more romantic and attractive than the actual writing itself.  It was about a year ago that I completed the longest writing project in my lifetime – a 200-page, double-spaced ode to sports and youth ministry.  As I clicked the final “submission” button for that project, somewhere a fleeting thought of optimism passed through the neurons of my cerebral cortex elating, “Now I will have the time and energy to blog and write more often about the things that I really want to write about.”

In one of Stephen King’s books he talks about how often people approach him and say, “Man, I would love to write a novel, but I just don’t have the time.”  King’s response is, “If you are a writer – you write.”  I think about that statement often.  As I have grown older, I have found an increasing joy in writing.  I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of artistically crafting sentences: searching for the right nuance of adjectives, wracking my brains for just the right verb, diving deeper for most meaningful word, typing and deleting, typing and deleting, typing and deleting.  I’ve come to appreciate something almost therapeutic about writing.  And yet, much like those throes of people who approach Stephen King, I just can’t seem to find enough time to write.  I just might not be a writer.

While irons never seem to leave the fire and familial responsibilities compete with pastoral ones, sitting quietly in front of a keyboard, typing out the thoughts and feelings pouring through my mind at any given moment just never seems to make its way to the top of the leader board on that day’s to do list.  Nevertheless, in the 60 days that have already passed in 2016, I have felt an overwhelming tug to make the time to write.  It’s almost as though I need writing to help work through and process the infinite number of feelings and emotions that are taking place each and every moment.  Reading and writing are important times to pause amid the busyness of the day.  Even now, I am compelled to tell myself to listen.  So, maybe this is another installment with the next coming four more months from now, but my soul needs decompressed, and in order to do that, I first need to purge.  So, forgive me while I purge through a litany of disconnected and unrelated topics and subjects that have been racing through my mind lately.  If you read them, thank you, and I hope you find some value in them – but the real value in this exercise is in my purging more than in your consuming.

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Thoughts on youth sports and theology continues to take up a rather large portion of my time.  I recently read and reviewed the forthcoming book, Overplayed, by David King and Margot Starbuck.  The book comes out next week and reiterates a lot of the stuff I have been saying over the past couple of years.  My review is for the Englewood Review of Books and will probably be available next week.  I don’t want to rewrite the review here, so I’ll just link it when it is available.  In short, Overplayed would make for a great book for church youth groups or small groups of parents whose children are involved in youth sports.  Parents will find it both encouraging and challenging on several levels.  It is easy to read and easily utilized as a small group discussion book.

I continue to be amazed at how often I am having conversations with parents about the challenges that youth sports presents their families.  The Metzes are about the feel the full effect of having active children as our girls have decided to branch out from the confines of the dance studio this spring and summer with soccer and softball teams.  I continue to learn, discuss, and explore as we go!

The Stephen King Project2099-500x800

Awhile back I created a tab on the blog for The Stephen King Project.  If you’ve clicked on it, you’ve discovered that it is incredibly empty.  Nothing there.  I have a good idea, good intentions, but just haven’t been able to put it all together.  Back in 2014, I set out to read all of Stephen King’s books chronologically beginning with Carrie.  Some I had read before, so I am re-reading them when I come to them, but most of them I am working through for the first time.  Obviously (now two years later), I am working slowly through them, but my admiration and appreciation for King continues to grow.  Hopefully, this week I will be finishing up his longest novel (and maybe my favorite? we’ll have to see how it ends): It.

Few authors have been as popular as King and his early works are especially well known because of the incredible number that were turned into movies.  His stories tend to be gory, gruesome, and he is easily the best known author in the horror genre, but what can be easily overlooked is the complexity and (often) beauty in his writing.  Additionally, there are clear Christian theological undertones that inform many of his stories and I hope that one day The Stephen King Project will include a theological review of each of his stories.  It is a particularly compelling example of King’s use of Christian metaphor and imagery.  In a lot of ways It is an extended (if gruesome) parable of Jesus’ teaching, “Let the little children come to me.”  This project falls quite low on the list, but I’d like to at least type out some quick thoughts as I finish each of the novels while the story in fresh in my mind.  Stay tuned for my take on It.

Sports and Christianity Conference

Just today I set up a Go Fund Me account to help pay for me to attend the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity event at York St. John University in York, England.  I anticipate sharing two papers at the event: “The American Youth Sports Industrial Complex, the Betrayal of Local Community, and its Impact on Local Congregations” and “The Priests of the Games: A Call for More Christian Referees.”  World class theologians will be there giving keynote presentations: Stanley Hauerwas and Tony Campolo, as well as the author of one of the most significant books to be written on sports and Christianity in the last 100 years Michael Novak.  I hate to ask for help in paying for the trip, but my education budget is tapped out for awhile.  I am excited about the possibility and hope to go be a part.  Incidentally, if you’d like to help, here’s the link to my page:
A Brief Word on Politics

I think I am suffering the effects of a political hangover.  I mean, here we are in the most unusual and interesting political election in any of our lifetimes, and I just find myself rather disinterested.  That’s probably overstating the case a bit, but I do feel rather unemotionally involved.  That’s not to say I’m not frustrated with the cantankerous fighting between politicians and the seemingly lowering of standards by which politics are handled.  That’s  not to say that I remain incredibly disappointed in Christian leaders voicing their support for Donald Trump.  Thankfully, there are many others doing that.  The problem is, none of the other candidates are any better.  And I don’t say that in any kind of dismissive, upset toddler kind of way.  I mean we will constantly be disappointed and upset if we continue to place our faith and trust in the powers of this world.  There is a reason my belief in pacifism has grown in recent years instead of weakened.  The rancor of politics affords people the opportunity to make themselves feel like they are fulfilling some drastically important political responsibility and the weight of the world lies on their vote while not actually contributing to any project or efforts that actually enact change.

I’m not saying politics don’t matter or that elected officials don’t matter.  I know plenty of Christians who vote their consciences (many voting for opposite candidates), and I can respect that.  However, it is more difficult to respect those who treat their vote as their most powerful weapon or voice.  As Christians, we wield a power so much stronger than that.  We don’t need to go around rubbing that in people’s faces, but can’t we find the internal confidence and reassurance to not have to play by the same rules as everyone else?  No matter what person is elected – Hillary, Bernie – or even Trump . . . we’re going to be OK.  I think deep down, most Christians believe that, I’m just disappointed that I don’t hear more people saying that – actually leading with that.

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While I am purging.  I have this sinking feeling, as a Cleveland sports fan, that it’s happening again.  The Browns are in complete disarray and things may be looking optimistic for the Indians (it’s just so hard to win it all in baseball), but with LeBron’s decision to come back to Cleveland, it appeared all but certain that the Cavs would be the harbinger of sports championships for the city so desperately longing for one.  They were so close last year, and they’ve tweaked here and there to try and take that final step . . . and then it just so happens (in true Cleveland fashion) that something we’ve never seen before is beginning to take place.  What Golden State is doing with Steph Curry at the helm is leaving the sports media speechless (and that’s saying something).  There’s still quite some time to go, but you have to be crazy not to at least question whether or not the Cavs can climb that mountain.  I’m no the-sky-is-falling pessimist, but I am beginning to have that feeling of “here we go again” as the Warriors are playing at such a ridiculously high level.  My respect for LeBron is immense since his selfless return to Cleveland (how could it be seen as anything else), but the curse of Cleveland seems to be working in an altogether different way than it ever has before.  (If you’ve read It, it’s kind of eerie to see the parallel here as the clown manifested itself in so many different ways through its history in Maine – the same thing can be said of the curse in Cleveland.)  The sky is definitely not falling and the Cavs are definitely one of the best teams in the NBA . . . but those teams in the West . . . they certainly give us Cavs fans plenty to be worried about.  Let’s just hope I’m wrong.

That’s enough purging for today.  Hopefully, that purging will help me to move towards some more well thought-out ideas in the coming days and weeks.  Some of the things I hope to be posting about soon . . .

  • My (not so successful) experience with Lent this year
  • Our journey through the books of the Bible (Acts, Exodus, and Matthew so far)
  • Parenting in this age of technology (I am teaching a class in a couple of months about faith and technology with a special attention to parenting)
  • Politics – I’m sure I’ll get back in the ring to discuss them
  • Neighboring
  • Maybe an article or two specific for my Christian tradition (the Churches of Christ)
  • Woodworking – I’ve got a couple of projects at home waiting for me to dig into this spring – I want to try and document more of these things here on the blog

 

 

Homosexuality: Does a Pastor have to have an Answer?

As a minister, you get used to hearing people ask you what you believe about all kinds of different issues.  This occurs from people within your church as well as people outside your church – from Christians as well as non-Christians.  Occasionally, I’ll even receive Facebook messages from high school friends and old acquaintances asking my opinion about certain matters – anything from doctrine to politics to current events to interior design – ok, that hasn’t happened, but just about everything else has!  Most ministers become adept at navigating their responses to delicate and controversial issues in order to convey their true feelings while also respecting a diversity of thought and opinion.  Some, like Patrick Mead, even offer an ongoing “ask the preacher” kind of format in his blog. No doubt, we all have our sacred cows and find it difficult to answer both honestly and succinctly to certain matters (just ask me about militarism), but by and large, this is something that comes with the territory and the title.  We are teachers.  Those who preach come from a long line of prophets and Christian leaders.  Our voices aren’t more important than anyone else’s – I firmly believe that – but our voices are often heard by more than others.  Even those of us who preach at small churches like mine carry some degree of influence.  Thus, people are genuinely interested in what we have to say.

Generally, I truly appreciate these inquiries and am humbled that anyone cares about my opinion.  I try to be a constant student, love learning, and make every effort to be as prepared for any question or discussion that may come my way.  The older I get and the more I study and learn – the more inadequate I feel and the more difficulty I have in offering short answers to just about any question.  I find I hate yes/no questions more than ever.  And the more I change my mind about things, the less certain I become about many of the beliefs I currently hold.

And so, inevitably, I find myself asked in different ways, under differing circumstances, and by a broad diversity of people what I believe about homosexuality and correspondingly what I believe the Bible teaches about homosexuality.  I have some pretty controversial perspectives on politics and nationalism (along with a few other things :-)) but I have become more afraid of tackling this topic than any other . . . by far.

If you are like me, you have a short attention span when it comes to reading blog posts and so, if you are truly like me, you probably won’t read this entire thing, because . . . if you’re like me, you can’t write shortly or succinctly about this one, but I’ll do what I can to offer what is at the heart of my struggle here.

In response to one of the most recent inquiries into my beliefs about homosexuality and Christianity and the Bible, I hemmed and hawed and finally said, “I don’t know.”  It wasn’t a cop-out and I wasn’t trying to avoid the discussion.  Honestly, I’ve been studying and thinking about this issue pretty seriously since 1998 when I was first exposed to teenagers who were wrestling with this issue.  I was pretty confused back then, and I find it discouraging that 15 years later, I’m still really confused and unsure.

And now everyone wants to know what I think – well, not everyone, but three or four people.  As of late, it’s become an explosive topic to discuss – even more than in the past.  I’m disappointed that more high profile pastors and Christian leaders aren’t having honest public discussion about the topic.  I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. I’m sure they’re scared to death to open this can of worms.  Sure, the boisterous voices on either the far right and far left of the issue are quick to throw out their zingers and offer their messages of condemnation or salvation, but just look at how many are really quiet.  My tradition is, admittedly, an interesting one, but we have our fair share of public figures, and I haven’t heard many of them address this topic head on.  Thank you for being an exception Sally Gary!

This post is already long, so let me get to the heart of things here.  You want to know my opinion about this matter?  I don’t know.  Honestly.  I don’t know what I believe about it.  I feel caught between a rock and a hard place in coming to terms with a theological articulation that I am comfortable with.  I’ll offer a point or two below to highlight why I don’t know, but first I want to ask the question, “Is it so bad that I don’t know?”  Haven’t we moved beyond the era where pastors and other teachers and leaders have to be “answer men/women”?  Haven’t we been wrong on enough matters to keep us from speaking too definitively on just about anything?  I know this scares the hell out of some people, but just look at the track record of the church.  We’ve been wrong . . . really, really wrong, on some crucial matters in the past.  Southern churches on slavery and later on civil rights, German Lutherans and their dual kingdom theology allowing them to turn the other way at Hitler’s rise to power . . . torture and execution of heretics . . . need I go on?

Even the Bible gets it wrong.  If you’ve never squirmed your way through some of the Old Testament passages that kicked the women out of the camp because they were on their period or that would offer a rapist the woman’s hand in marriage for a fee or read the book of Joshua and considered the countless women and children that were murdered at the hands of God’s people, you have skipped over the icky parts.  Maybe I’m overstating it to say that “the Bible gets it wrong” . . . but my point is that it’s not like this sacred book that we all point to for guidance and truth can just be picked up preached without some unpacking.

For this issue of homosexuality, there’s a lot at stake, and I understand that’s why it’s so explosive.  All wrapped up in this matter are the issues of politics, the sacredness/sacrament of marriage, equality, rights, biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), your view of Scripture, your view of the state, love, parenting, creation, the nature of God, the nature of humanity, science, genetics, and probably a thousand others I’ve overlooked.

And I don’t know what to do with it all.  Theologically and hermeneutically, I struggle to make homosexuality “fit.”  There’s a lot at stake in order for me to make it “fit,” and slowly around me some of those troubles are beginning to fall away.  However, for good or for ill, I remain reluctant to make that jump.   Experientially, I struggle to make the prohibition of homosexuality “fit.”  Friends, companions, and conversation partners I have had in the past and currently have help me struggle through their created nature.  Why would they have feelings like this?  Why would God make them like this?  What does it mean?  It is like other struggles (alcoholism, etc.) but it’s not the same.  Not by a long stretch.  And so . . . what to do?

I have a good friend who is transgendered and, whether she knows it or not, is helping me think through this as well.  When I say alot is at stake, this comes front and center in the matter of gender identity.  The first question we ask upon a child’s birth is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  It’s the fundamental black and white question in our society.  But what about when it’s not black and white?  What about when we understand gender as more than anatomical?  When that question becomes complicated, that seems to make the point that everything is complicated.

There are so many related issues under the rubric of homosexuality and I am far from prepared to delve into even a few of them.  For now, I am prepared to let you know that I don’t know.  Many, maybe even most, will look at that as being “soft.”  A cop out.  Wimping out.  Maybe it is.  Maybe I am.  I do believe that most of what I am hearing and reading about regarding the matter of homosexuality from professed Christians isn’t helping anyone.  It’s often vitriol, judgmental, and condescending.  I know that all of it isn’t and that we are becoming more adept at public discourse regarding the issue, but we have a long ways to go.

I also know that there are many Christians who are struggling through this matter.  I know many of them are not in churches that allow them to share openly and honestly the struggles that comes with these feelings and, perhaps, being in these relationships.  I know that I don’t understand what they are going through.  I want to empathize, and try as much as I can, but I don’t understand their struggles.  I am full of my own struggles and know the temptation of pornography, short skirts, and tight shirts.  I know the power of libido and confess my own shortcomings in taking captive those thoughts to Christ.  And I know that I am not in a position of being your judge, and hope that these people can find friends and companions that will help them navigate these challenging waters.  I hope to provide some additional posts in the coming weeks into some of my struggles through this issue, but as for now, I just wanted to say to all those who want to know what I think about homosexuality: “I don’t know.”

Welcome to Holy Week: The Super Bowl as Religious Festival

One of the most intriguing aspects of the study of religion and sport is to watch the games evolve from sacred origins to a more secular place today.  Allen Guttman summarizes this evolution well: “We do not run in order that the earth be more fertile.  We till the earth, or work in our factories and offices, so that we can have time to play,”  (From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports – p. 26)  Of course, that is not to say that the sacred is completely absent in today’s games, and that is never more clearly on display than the week of the Super Bowl.  A little over a decade ago, Jospeh L. Price penned a brief essay entitled, “The Super Bowl as Religious Festival.”  Though he doesn’t describe the comparison in great detail, his observation is keen.

In his book The Holy Trinity of American Sports, Craig Forney explores the elements of America’s civil religion in our three most popular sports: football, basketball, and baseball which he believes, “form a trinity of ‘major sports’ working together each year in portrayal of the national worldview” (16).  Forney, among others, point out that the ebbing and flowing of American culture is largely dictated by its sports.  Rather than January ushering in the start of a new year, baseball’s spring training, and college basketball’s March Madness provide a more accurate occasion for a new year.  Coinciding with the renewing of nature in spring, these spring sports capture the imagination of the American public and catapult us forward into a new season.  As sports continues its burgeoning throughout the cultural landscape, at both subtle and overt levels, sports dictates the framework within which much of culture operates – whether one is a sports fan or not.

What makes sports so powerful, I am in the process of arguing, is that it is so intertwined with other powerful realities: politics, economics, and culture to name but three.  The National Anthem serves as an invocation, as well as a military fly-over, and often a recorded message from the President.  The astronomical price of advertising during the Super Bowl is common knowledge and accentuates the economic power that sports have come to embody.  While sports have an obvious universal appeal, each culture has its own games and national imperialism often has sport as a key element (think of the prominent way that Americans emphasize (and proselytize baseball, basketball, and American football around the world), but have been slow to accept hockey (from Canada), and soccer, rugby, and cricket (from Europe)).

All of this comes together in the spectacle of the Super Bowl.  Football is a fall sport, but its championships are played in the winter.  College’s champion was crowed a few weeks ago, and now all eyes have turned to the American crown jewel of sports: the NFL, and it’s crowing moment – the Super Bowl.  To the extent that sports is America’s civil religion, the Super Bowl represents its most important religious festival.  There are regularly serious petitions set out to make the Monday after the Super Bowl a national holiday.  It is the culmination of a year’s worth of sporting events, set to restart itself with the basketball season, and just-around-the-corner MLB spring training.

If the Super Bowl is the chief religious festival in the United States, that makes today the start of Holy Week (and in true America style – our Holy Week actually last two weeks – with the additional week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl).  There will be non-stop talk about the game, the teams, the half time show, the commercials, past Super Bowls, past Super Bowl MVPs, the current state of football, and any other obscure, quasi-related topics they can find.  And the game will be played, after the seven hour pregame show, crowning a new champion who will be “going to Disney World” .  .  . and then . . . the whole year will start over again.

Stating that the Super Bowl is a religious festival is neither to affirm that as a positive cultural trait, or to chastise it as all too secular.  It’s simply an observation of our culture.  This weekend, our nation will be littered with Super Bowl parties, tailgate parties (all inside, in this part of the country!), fun and game.  It’s the one time of the year that, even if you don’t care the slightest for sports, come next Monday, if you don’t know what happened the day before, people will look at you like you’re Amish.  In any regard, I have no interest in the teams that are playing this year (other than the fact that as a Browns fan, I never root for the Ravens), but I will watch all the same.  I will enjoy a fun evening with people from my church, as well as friends from our neighborhood.  It seems to me to be the perfect night for America to truly embody the ethos of the New Testament ideal of koinonia . . . it’s just disappointing that it takes a sporting event to draw us together like this.

In any case, it’s almost baseball season!  This is our year!  Go Tribe!

 

Would Jesus Christ Have Gotten his Conceal to Carry Permit?

The gun control debate is dominating the blogosophere lately and this question has popped into my head a few times.  Really, I don’t have any really strong feelings about gun control.  I think there are too many guns in the world and I would like to see fewer of my Christian brothers and sisters talk about them as if they are sacred, but as it stands as a political conversation, I think the whole debate is muddied by politics, dirty money, and . . . well, crazy people.

Guns mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  I live in a part of the country where hunting is a huge deal.  Hunters love their guns.  I’ve never been a big fan of hunting and am not sure I could kill an animal with dry eyes, but I respect their rights to want to hunt (hey, at the end of the day it keeps fewer deer from my front fender).  I am also coming to better understand the urban culture of protection and defense better.  Professional athletes have largely opened our eyes to their need to feel “protected.”  My house has never been broken into.  I have never been held at gunpoint or knife point . . . so who’s to say that wouldn’t change my mind about everything.

IT’S OUR RIGHT!  IT’S ONE OF OUR LAST LIBERTIES!  These are the kinds of things I hear Christians saying and see them writing about in their public forums.  I put it caps because more times than not they seem to be yelling.  To say it is a passionate base would be an understatement.

But today, I conjure up the spirit of Charles Sheldon and his century-old quandary of “What Would Jesus Do?”  One of the chief problems of Sheldon’s question is that it sets us up to create a Jesus who looks a lot like ourselves.  None of us are very good at seeing Jesus at odds with our own personal beliefs and stances.  He lived in such a different time and era, this question often serves as a more of a red herring than anything significantly contributing.  But, when it comes to America’s love of guns, I think it is a valid question to ask.  Would Jesus get his conceal to carry permit?  Would he feel the need to protect himself just in case he was threatened?  If someone tried to kill him?  We need good guys to use guns to stop the bad guys . . . so the logic goes.

And this is where the Bible gets tricky.  We want to uphold Jesus as moral exemplar . . . while at the same time acknowledging that . . . well, he was Jesus.  So, we cut ourselves slack at times and provide caveats for following his example.  The prospect of more and more innocent Christians throwing their bodies in front of firing weapons is disgusting and seems to prove the aforementioned point.  Unless someone stoops to the level of the shooters, how will they ever be stopped?

I understand these questions, and I respect their motives.  And yet . . . it’s hard to see Jesus strapped with a pistol to the inside of his robe.  I think even the most robust Christian gun-lover would have to admit that – it’s hart to picture.  It’s hard to picture him raising his eye to the sight of an assault weapon.  It’s hard to see him defending himself when he was attacked . . . be cause he was attacked . . . and he DIDN’T defend himself.  It was part and parcel with his message.

John Howard Yoder and others talk of the power structures of our world being organized and ordered by God, but not necessarily meant for Christian participation.  Perhaps the only way to stop a tragedy like those that have happened in recent months is to fight force with force.  But this is not the way of Jesus.  It’s fallout from a Fallen world – and it is not meant for the Christian.  We must believe that Jesus’s death was not simply a one time redemptive event (thought it was that), but that it was also an example of what the new kingdom looked like.

I don’t have strong feelings at all about gun legislation.  I think that discussion exists as much to distract us from reality as much as anything.  My concern is for the tone and rhetoric used by Christians when speaking of weapons.  Perhaps asking Would Jesus have gotten his conceal to carry permit is too far afield and instead we should be asking How would Jesus talk about guns?  How would he talk about the “right to bear arms” . . . we all realize that that’s not in the Bible, right?

Life in a (THE) Swing State

If you’re following the political trail of the Presidential race, then chances are you are pretty tired of hearing about Ohio (and Pennsylvania and Florida) . . . but mainly Ohio.  Unless you’ve lived here during one of these very closely contested races, it is difficult for you to imagine the deluge of political propaganda that is thrown at us Ohioans.  Television, radio, Internet, door-to-door, posters, billboards, yard signs . . . it truly is incredible how important my vote has become.  One of the candidates is within a few miles of my house just about every week.  It’s a great opportunity for political education for my children – but what to teach them?

Really it’s just my son who’s old enough to pay attention to this election season and we’ve started fielding his questions – “Are we Republicans or Democrats?  Why are they saying those mean things about the President?  Are those things about Mitt Romney true?  Why do we have elections?’  and on and on we go.  While the challenges of explaining the electoral college to my seven-year-old go without saying, the real challenge I’m having is how do I help frame his reference through the perspective of a sovereign God who is control of everything – assuring him that no matter what happens, God is in control, while at the same time, encouraging biblically informed opinions and feelings about political matters.

I haven’t figured out the answer to this one, but I have been getting a lot of “how not to . . .” illustrations from other Christians in the media, on Facebook, among other places.  This is such a complicated issue, and I don’t have the energy to get into the complexity of it, but there is one specific shortcoming that has been really highlighted in this year’s Presidential election.

When Barack Obama ran for the highest U.S. office in 2008, one of the conversations I found myself having regularly with Conservatives had to do with their fear of his “liberal” Christian connection to people like Jeremiah Wright and his membership within the United Church of Christ.  Were they even Christians?  I talked to more than a few Christians who had serious doubts about that – and that really concerned them.  They were fearful of the idea of social justice (a specific target of a particular Glenn Beck episode I remember watching), of the politicizing of the UCC, among other things.  What has been particularly interesting in this year’s election is how that narrative has changed.  Granted, I have seen a speckling of concerns over Romney’s affiliation within the Mormon Church  here and there by Christians, but it has in no way been to the extent that Obama’s Christian heritage was attacked four years ago.

Obviously, the narrative has been altered in order to best benefit the candidate chosen by the GOP.  This year, perhaps more than any other, highlights how sticky the situation becomes when a religious groups become bedfellows with a particular political party.  Romney’s people know they have to give great care to the public image of his faith convictions.  They strongly state publicly his personal moral convictions about personal matters of morality that will resonate with the broader conservative Christian base, but keep the particulars of his ties to the Mormon church on the back page.

I’m not too interested in having a discussion about the awfulness (or greatness or indifferent-ness) of having a Mormon President.  What concerns me is how easily politically engaged Christians allow themselves to be duped by the media and spinsters – often while they are decrying the impact of the “liberal media” at the exact same time.  Shaking your fist at the established media outlets can give this sense that “I have done due diligence of not getting fooled by those mainstream liars,” and have a comrade with everyone else who says the same thing.  It has become the new rallying cry and the new uniter.  At the end of the day, though, the fact of the matter is we still allow our political ideology to dictate our feelings about things rather than an overflowing faith conviction.  Christians watch political news outlets and listen to their radio programs and then sprinkle some Scripture on top and feel we have a completely biblically justified political position.  Perhaps it is unfair to disconnect the two . . . however . . . in order to be as supportive of a President whose faith is based on, what most conservative Christians, at least, would say, a myth while challenging the faith of an Orthodox (though liberal) Christian illustrates this point poignantly.  We’re allowing ourselves to be united over political arguments that become more and more distant to biblical foundations.  It is easy to deceive ourselves and think that God is of a certain political persuasion (though we’d never admit that) and end up demonizing others – after all, that’s what all these political ads in Ohio do.

As I seek to provide political guidance for my children, I am working to show them the folly of image and hype.  That very image and hype of President Obama that Republicans believed won him the election in 2008 was sorely lacking during the last debate, and, ironically, many Republicans found themselves basking in the same conversation – “He looked great!’

The Christian narrative is one of peace, non-violence, loving the other, considering others before ourselves, taking care of those in need, providing for those who need provision . . . these concerns are all overtly political – unfortunately, seldom does the Christian allow their political narrative to BEGIN here!

Book Review: Who is my Enemy?

We all have a tendency to consume media and interact with people who make us feel comfortable and conform to our current patterns of thinking.  Republicans watch Fox News and listen to Rush, Hannity, and Beck while Liberals watch MSNBC and listen to . . . well, no one since liberals don’t tend to do radio well.  We like to be pushed and challenged, to an extent, but we usually prefer that to happen in extremely sanitized ways.  We tend to write people off the moment they register on our “not-like-me radar.” Whether we admit it or not, our subconscious is on a constant quest to discern certain key words or phrases from those we are talking with or reading to know whether or not we should dismiss them or listen intently to them.  What kind of language do they use?  What key phrases do they refer to?  Who do they reference and quote?  We all have our circles of comfort.

What I like about Lee Camp is that he tends to bring all of us to places of discomfort – probably one of the reasons a lot of people don’t bother with him.  Camp teaches at my alma mater, Lipscomb University, and is really one of their brightest and most audacious professors.   Having studied under John Howard Yoder at Notre Dame, Camp is on a lifelong quest to embody the pacifist, non-violent principles articulated by his academic mentor.  He says as much in his first book, Mere Discipleship.  There, he brings to life issues that are most often left to academic ramblings.  There, he teases out the practical implications of a Yoderan social politick in the life of the Christian.

Camp’s latest effort, Who is My Enemy?, is really a case study in following Jesus’ way of loving your enemy.  He begins by sharing his experience of delivering a lecture at a seminar on conflict resolution at Lipscomb University which addressed the relationship between Christians and Muslims.  Some of Camp’s comments, rightly or wrongly interepreted, set off a firestorm directed at Camp accusing him of everything from ignorance to cowardice.  This experience drove Camp to learn more about Islam and wrestle with Christians’ relationship with Islam (and Muslims, specifically).  The result is a jarring and, often, center-shaking work that all Christians should read – whether they think they’ll ever speak with a Muslim or not.

There is so much good in this book that I want to offer a few posts in which to share my reflections.  For full disclosure, I’m a big fan of Lee Camp and believe that he provides a very important voice among Christians, even though many people would be extremely troubled by his teaching (more on this later).  As a fellow Church of Christ-ite, he also represents my particular background underneath the Christian umbrella well.  While there certainly will be those who question Camp’s philosophy and some of his conclusions, it is difficult to ignore someone who actively pursues those who are different to humbly and peacefully engage in dialogue and share Christian love.  That may be what gives Camp’s words such power – a strong mixture of humility and Christian audacity.

Here’s a (not-too) brief first reflection . . .

One of the most compelling aspects of Camp’s book for me was rooted in an earlier work by William Cavanaugh in The Myth of Religious Violence.  We have all been taught that religions are insatiably violent by nature – at least in dealing with those who think differently than they do.  Their constant warring is largely to blame for many of our world’s problems.  In the West we are taught that Western civilization has solved the riddle to these problems: make religion a private concern.  That’s what has created our great nation of freedom.  The Muslim states, so we are told, have never figured that part out.

The question Cavanaugh raises in this pointed critique of what many take as “common sense,” is what constitutes religion?  How do we so easily assume that Islam is all tied up in the war-making rhetoric and actions of nations like Iran and Iraq, but Western nations like ours are freed of any religious integration?  Cavanaugh’s theory here is that “religion” was a creation of modern Western civilization.  Throughout history, there was no separation from religion and the rest of life.  Although we’ve tried with all of our might, it’s awfully hard to claim that the Bible makes any such claims.  Thus, the more we have attempted to make Christianity a “private religion” in our evolved Western state, the more we have neutered the Gospel as it was given to the first Christians.  The earliest persecuted Christians didn’t seem to think they had been converted to some kind of private personal piety, how could this have become the “common sense” articulation of the Gospel today?

Camp summarizes Cavanugh and makes the following point: “the ‘myth of religious violence’ posits that the violence of religion is unacceptable, but the violence of the secular state is either ignored or seen as legitimate.  The violence of religion is always necessarily irrational, but the violence of the state is seen as necessary for peacemaking.  Once this assumption is swallowed, the violence of the state is justified, overlooked, ignored, or even celebrated by Western Christians, all while believing that the solution is for Islam to become more Western.”  (113)  The end result is that the church has often become nothing more than what Camp calls a “lapdog for the state” and “chaplain for America.”

I know this is a bit jumbled (and long), I’ll try to engage in a little more succinct matter late this week.  I’ll end with this parable in which Camp further makes this point:

“A king went out to conquer, amassing great wealth and power.  There came to him a people who asserted that some other was king, whom they called ‘Lord of Lords.’  The king replied: you may freely worship this one you call, ‘lord,’ you may freely build your buildings and write your books and seek your converts to this one you call, lord,’ while I am your public king.  I shall make the laws, and you shall obey them.  I shall tell you what enemies to kill, and you shall kill them.  I shall give you a marketplace, and you shall seek to maximize your profits and keep all your profits, even at the expense of the poor, or the widow, or the stranger, and thence you shall pay taxes with which we shall wage war against all who threaten your freedom to worship your personal ‘lord.’

“And the people replied: We will gladly do as you say, O king.  Indeed, we shall obey your laws.  And we shall seek great profit and keep all for ourselves.  And we will kill your enemies, for you, O king, have allowed us to pray to our houses of worship, in the privacy of our closets.  Even more,  O king, because you have allowed us to worship thus, we will denounce all those who do not exalt you, and we will proclaim that you have granted us the right to worship, and we shall profess that any who do not obey your laws or maximize profit or kill your enemies are no servants of the private Lord of Lords.  We will hang your standard in our halls of worship, we will honor those who fight your wrars, and we will celebrate those who heedlessly maximize profit.  Oh, grand us such liberty as this, O King!

The king was pleased, and his new subjects served him well and were happy and satisfied.  (115-116)

 

 

 

 

Superman Not an American???

This little frame from the most recent Superman comic has created quite the platform for discussion.  My previous blog, God, Superman, and the Buckeyes, seems to be the perfect repository for much of recent big news (scandals at Ohio State, and now this??)  This is right in my wheel house.

A couple of years ago I published an article examining the ways in which media portrayals of heroes are little more than an extension of the state seeking to glorify national interests and solidify patriotism in children (think G I Joe, Superman, etc.)  The authors Jewett and Lawrence have done a lot of work in this regard from the perspective of American history.  It seems that this latest turn in the Superman saga sparks a potential follow-up article (which if I can find some time I’ll work on some day , but here are some initial thoughts).

There is little doubt that Superman is the archetypal American “mono-myth” (a term from Jewett and Lawrence).  After all, he has always fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”  Created by Siegel and Shuster in 1938, the comic had World War II and the Cold War to foment Superman in the American psyche as extension of all that is good in American foreign policy.  2011, however, is a much different time than the 40’s and 50’s.  The global political landscape has changed so drastically that Superman is having to reinvent himself to make sense in today’s global world.

It will be interesting to watch the conservative backlash from this event (and to see if the comic creates a new storyline where Superman’s American citizenry is once again affirmed), and it is one of those instances where we can learn alot about people from popular culture.  No doubt, the underlying impasse for many will be the presupposition that Superman’s renunciation of his American citizenship is predicated on the idea that his quest for truth and justice (and freedom?) finds him at odds with the American economic and political policies in the world.

There’s much more to come on this . . . but I wanted to throw out some initial thoughts of mine . . .

Letter to my Libertarian Friend

I have a good friend from college who’s now a veterinarian in Northeastern Ohio.  He helps contribute to the website: XEKE.COM – I’m sure they’d appreciate your visit, especially those Libertarians who stop by here frequently 😉 I respect Ryan a great deal and I know he does me . . . we just look at the world differently, and banter back and forth on occasion.  He’s smart and respectful . . . just a little off when it comes to politics 😉  Ha!  Hopefully, this will provoke some helpful reflections from many.

I haven’t spent a good deal there, but as I looked over it today, I was compelled to put some thoughts together to share with him.  Mainly, I find it beneficial for my own thinking as I continually work through my own perspectives and test my own thoughts.  In addition, provided they purport to proclaim the name of Christ through their perspective, I thought I would add a pastoral voice.  After bantering through it a great deal, below is the final product I passed on to him earlier today.  I thought through a bunch of things, so I figured I’d post it here as some of you may appreciate looking at some of the issues I raise.

Hey . . . so I am apparently trying hard not to get any work done today and I, through a strange series of clicks that can only happen through our strangely connected world . . . ended up on your libertarian political website and felt (as you can imagine 🙂 compelled to respond.  The sheer divergence of our perspectives on the matters you address is incredible.  I always enjoy our quips back and forth as I test and trial to my philosophical constructs over against many others whose differ.

With a website like yours, it is especially challenging to engage in dialogue because the real dialogue has to take place at a very philosophical level – that’s clearly where we diverge.  So, choosing an issue or current event to go back and forth like talking leaves instead of the root.

I do have to do something today 🙂  so I’ll try to work through some thoughts on my own.  Maybe you can post them on your Reponses section – ha!
There’s a couple of thoughts just in general I’ll make – just kind of observations from looking at four of five articles on your website.  I’ll tell you first of all the vibe that’s most troubling.  It’s probably a personality thing more than anything, but I am constantly bothered by what I come away perceiving as a, “Everyone is morons and if they would just reason it (ie. if they were as smart as me) these problems would go away.”  I can imagine your response at this point would be, “I never said that,” and of course you didn’t, but it’s the vibe I get from watching most political conversations take place.  Glenn Beck is super good at it.  “I mean, I’m just telling you the facts and they must be blind because here it is in black and white . . .” and those on the Left and Right kind of both move according to that drumbeat.  If it was that easy – if all we had to do was look at the facts, these divisions wouldn’t exist, at least they wouldn’t be so sharp.  But that’s the thing, it isn’t just the facts.  I saw at one point you make the reference that you just were going to deal with the facts and ignore the emotions of one of your responder’s comments, as if the “truth” is more important and objective than the emotional response.  Perhaps it is, but it’s awfully presumptuous to believe that you are more privy to those facts and that truth than those who differ with you or could it be that their understanding of the truth has been forever compromised by a situation or experience.  We can rest assured that your response is free of any kind of emotional presupposition?  Often in your responses in regards to racism, in particular, you seem to say, “Just set aside any kind of prejudice or racism that you’ve experienced and just be reasonable.”  But who can do that?  Who can free themselves of their experiences and provide an objective perspective?  No one.  Those experiences are just as informative and important as any “objective” truth, fact, or statistic.  We are an incredible complexity made up of our experiences, educational background, and upbringing.  “Just stick to the facts.  Just stick to the truth.”  There’s always more than the facts.  There’s always more than the truth.  Conservatives like to drone on about the liberal bias of the media.  Fair enough, but let’s not presuppose, as many seem to do, that they’re offering (or can point us in the direction of) the REAL truth . . . the REAL facts (the rest of the story.)  How about saying it’s another perspective?  Maybe a better perspective?  Instead, it can easily wind up being (and I feel this is the way it often is in conservative outlets – maybe liberal too, but there are just way more conservative) well . . . hey, you’ve just been misled.  We love our little Youtube soundbytes and clips.  Whether it’s that clip you posted the other day about some congress woman being referred to as “Ma’am” or the crazy lady who’s made dumb comments about masturbation and witchcraft (SNL spoof was great by the way) – we can throw out all kinds of tidbits that support or challenge us.  The result is that no one can quote an article they’ve seen here or there, or a program they’ve watched because it’s full of blatantly misleading information  . . .  I’m not proposing a cure here, I just believe we (especially as Christians) have to admit our bias going in and move with humility.  How often can you associate that word in political discussions?  I don’t care what point we’re making or what side were arguing, if we can promote a spirit of humility and love through all that we do, we’d probably be doing pretty well.  What is the real value . . .in the end . . .of being right?  Perhaps God can do more in us when we are wrong.  Maybe God wants us to be wrong – to have our perspective shot to hell.
I, as you probably would imagine, am a pretty serious critic of Rand’s libertarian ideals and their enmeshment with the Bible.  With that said, I do not propose to be all that well informed as to the particulars of her philosophy, so you can disregard my critique as uninformed because it is that, however, I am becoming better educated through the recent surge of the tea party and similar Conservatives disillusioned with the established Republican party.  Also I have a slight familiarity with Alan Greenspan’s affinity to her politics and economics.  Interestingly, upon watching a documentary on PBS awhile back (again, here you can write if off as a product of the liberal media and cut me off at the legs, but I’m going forward as though it was reputable), the editors of Frontline proposed that the financial meltdown of 2008 was largely an identity crisis for Greenspan as it represented a challenge to unfurled individualism and capitalism and seemed to work to their ultimate fulfillment . . . and he was forced to go completely against his political and economic outlook in affirming the need for systemic intervention.  That’s about as deep in the water I can go on that matter for now . . .
I would be probably best labeled as a Christian anarchist who finds in the “kingdom of God” (an overt political image) an alternative society living in the here and now for Christians.  In short, my perspective is that you (and those espousing your ideology) have been co-opted by a political ideology that has polluted the Gospel.  Many Christians in your position (it has been my first hand experience) see more in common with a political ally who is not a Christian than a political foe who bears the name of Christ – illustrated in some of your questioning of Jeremiah Wright and (though I didn’t see it, I’m guessing) Ted Strickland – both ordained pastors.  Getting into all this who is a legitimate Christian and who isn’t is not the most productive conversation, but we’ve got to walk cautiously as we demonize other’s perspectives accordingly to their political labels.  While your website is certainly not even close to being the worst, you do raise questions about the validity of ministers based on a message you believe is “false.”  As an aside, much of what Wright teaches parallels the message of the minor prophets and their prophesying against Israel.  Those books aren’t often studied in white-suburban churches . . . they hit a little closer to home.  They are hard-hitting, in-your-face and have a very similar message to much of Wright’s words.  Overall, I’m not saying he’s off his rocker . . . I’m not saying he is . . . I’m saying he’s a Christian whose allegiance is first of all to the kingdom of heaven and should be judged by that first and not by politically-insensitive words.
Perhaps my best critique of your politic is this . . . Rand’s individualistic-driven libertarianism highlights a Western individualism run amok of the Gospel.  It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s “rugged individualism” disguised as some kind of quasi-Christianity.  It completely sets aside the communal nature of the Eastern context of Scripture.  It elevates individual moral decisions over systemic accountability.  (Ie. Jeremiah Wright is judged by his “racist” statements – thus he’s not a Christian, regardless of any kind of systemic impact that he may have on the kingdom.  “All fall short . . .” you know that spiel . . . one of my biggest critques of conservative politics is that it emphasizes personal moral convictions while often ignoring – or at least diminishing the place of larger systems issues of sin in society.)

I wanted to find one matter from your writing that helps illustrate my overarching concern for the perspective you are promoting (in the name of Christ).  Could you please justify the following statement based on a Christ-inspired, kingdom-centered perspective?

“Illegal aliens do not, and should not, receive the same civil rights that true Americans receive. The idea that a pregnant illegal alien can illegally enter our country, give birth to her “anchor baby,” and all of a sudden her child is a citizen is a joke and a fraud. True, we do have THE best medicine in the world. True, our health care system is THE best health care system in the world. True, socialized medicine has failed every where in the world it has been forced upon its people. That being said, a woman who illegally enters our country has no rights, her child has no rights, and tax payers dollars should never go toward health care, education, welfare, etc. to an illegal alien.”
I don’t now which of you wrote this statement (it’s kind of old, but I think the illegal immigrant discussion is a good one to help talk us through some of the ways our kingdom perspective has been co-opted).  By the way . . . the use of inflammatory words (or at least, extreme words) like “a joke” and “a fraud” show that your arguments are not free of emotion either.  But to my point, I find this series of statements disheartening, unfortunate, and, I believe, contrary to the mind of Christ.  To say that anyone has “no rights” is to co-opt the message of Christ for a much more narrow civic message (America).  How does this perspective jive with Paul’s words that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”?  I have a suspicion your perspective is that Paul is aiming this perspective at those within the church – whom he no doubt is.  However, it is the life of Christ enacted in the early church.  To be honest . . . I have no side in the argument that “a woman who illegally enters our country . . . tax payer dollars should never go toward health care, education, welfare, etc.”  The Christian has no role in the government – that’s my prevailng thought.  However, I believe it is more in the mind of Christ that my tax dollars go to providing food for this woman than to building another nuclear weapon.  Would you agree?  I think you’d have to do some kind of hermeneutical gymnastics to find a text that would be more supportive of government defense than welfare.  Of course, I completely deny the idea that there is something redemptive in violence – that shows my bias.  There’s some OT texts I struggle with . . . but there’s some NT texts I hope you are struggling with.  As Christians our concern is that the less fortunate and down-trodden are taken care of – I don’t care how it happens.  In the OT, the rich were told to give up what they had so that the poor would be taken care of (leaving gleanings from their fields, the Jubilee year, etc.)  Don’t get caught up in this idea that the Bible eschews socialism at every turn – it’s easier to make a biblical case for socialism than capitalism (consider at an elementary level, which sounds more in line with Christ? a system where the poor and disenfranchised are taken care of by leveling wealth or a system that is based on individualism and competition . . . hard to justify either of these latter on the grounds of biblical texts . . . the argument that the former requires “stealing” from the wealthy . . . well, I don’t know . . . I just know that is the way the entire OT system was laid out . . . and it was never called “stealing.”
OK, I got off topic here for a minute . . . let me make my main point.  I believe the main philosophical underpinning dividing us is that you make a clear distinction between the morals and structure of the civic authorities that I do not.  In order to espouse your position, you have to.  A lot of this comes down to how we interpret Romans 12 and 13.  Chapter 13 is everyone’s favorite passage about submitting to the govt. and right after that we’re told they are given the authority of the sword.  However, right before this in chp. 12 Paul tells Christians not to repay evil for evil but allow God’s wrath to fall.  A clear contradiction – either Christians should be involved in violence or not.  To say they can be under the guise of the state, you have to create that dichotomy – there are things the state can do and has been empowered to do and somehow in the end the means will be justified.  I cannot follow this line of logic.  I believe that the message of Christ completely flipped that mindset upside down.  He said the means must always justify the end.  This means we stand in the face of horrific events like WWII and raise our hands unable to take up swords against what we perceive to be a major evil and surrender our lives trusting that God will move.  God will make it right.  Upon our death, we are left to point the accusing finger at Him for we have refused to continue to contribute to the un-ending cycle of violence.  It largely comes down to our view of the unfolding of history as well.  I believe God is in control of history and that I have nothing to worry about: not the Democrats (or Republicans) or Socialists taking over Washington, not Iran’s nuclear program, not the crisis in Darfur, not global warming . . . I believe the church is called to minister in all these areas . . . the church is the most significant power in our world . . . and it is therefore so disappointing when we give that respect and title over to any government (which many appear to do in their incredibly high view of the U. S. Constitution).

So . . . there’s a long rant that got me out of an hour’s worth of work . . .now I really have to get something done.  I feel compelled to work through some of these issues at times, not necessarily to convince you or anyone else that my opinion is right, but to help me think and pray through my own position.  Much of what I’ve written here challenges you and your perspective fundamentally and I would imagine it will be hard for us to find a middle ground, for the lack of a better image, or even points of contact.  I would encourage you to read some Mennonite and neo-anabaptist theology.  I appreciate your political involvement and concern, I would just encourage you to throw the net out further . . . read from a broader pool, especially when it comes to theology.  There’s an emerging school of theology from the liberation theology camp . . .they’ve been tampering through their emergence in Latin American countries and attempts are being made at shaking out some of its excesses, and I believe, by the time you and I are old, this will be a major perspective among all Western churches.  It’s often called post-colonial theology.  I know we mostly like to read the stuff that agrees with our perspective and ushers us on forward . . . but there is great value for me as I sit and listen to Glenn Beck’s nonsense every few weeks 😉  I make an effort to expose myself only to as much of this that is helpful and upbuilding . . . much of it is not . . . look over much of the writing you’ve done in this camp and ask yourself, where am I most productive?  Where am I building the biggest bridges for Christ?  Don’t get caught up in the addictive realm of politics  . . .

Hope this is helpful . . . at some point or another . . . it has been for me .  . . hope you and the fam are well!  Thanks again for our frequent FB exchanges!
And . . . to something we can agree upon . . . GO BUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   😉
By the way  .  .  . since I’ve taken so long to type this out, I’ll copy this and put in on my blog for my post this week.  I look forward to the conversation.

Adam

Would Jesus Say the Pledge of Allegiance?

I’ll go ahead and say it – I’m biased.  So are you.  I wish I could just set aside my bias and look at things from a purely absolute kind of way – that’s just not possible.  So . . . admitting my bias up front, I make this statement: I just cannot picture in my mind Jesus Christ himself – the Son of God and our Savior – standing up with crowds in the community, placing his hand over his heart, looking upward toward the stars and stripes and reciting the following words (remember, the Son of God . . . saying these words? . . . )

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I’ve had this conversation with countless people.  Hardly any agree with my position, and few understand where I’m coming from.  I just don’t think Jesus would have been able to get past the first two major clauses.  Can you see a red letter edition of the Bible with the words, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands”?  Jesus’ allegiance was clearly not to Rome . . . or even to Israel.  He didn’t come as a zealot to fight the government by force, but he just as clearly did not come acquiescing his politick through syncretistic approaches.

I suppose the argument comes that perhaps America is a “less bad” nation than Rome so we have an exemption.  That if Jesus were American born and had been part of a government “by the people, for the people” that that would have changed everything.  And that is something we just can’t know for sure.  I have my bias there, and you have yours.  My chief aim of concern is whether or not Jesus wants us offering our allegiance to anyone, anywhere.  To an extent this can call into question our allegiances to sports teams, universities, regions of the country, products we buy, etc.

Pretty much everyone I have had this conversation with believes they can offer their pledge to the government but it’s just not as central/important/meaningful as their pledge to God.  I see where they are coming from . . . I just can’t get there myself.  As I’ve often stated, there is much to be thankful for in this country, and certainly God has blessed it.  Maybe he’s blessed it because there were some God-fearing members among the Founders.  He’s also blessed it in spite of a great deal of misgivings and atrocities.

It’s certainly un-American, but not un-Christian to remind people today that this nation was founded on the pursuit of freedom and liberty and all of those oft-quoted important qualities – but it was also built on the annihilation of entire nations of American Indians and on the backs of enslaved blacks.  And how tired people grow of hearing this reality . . . but how can a Christian ever ignore it and act as if it was just collateral damage in some great Christian plan?  How can the Christian believe that the God of all people inspired this wonderful nation’s creation to come at the obliteration of entire cultures of people?  How are we to interpret this history as Christians?  Is this simply collateral damage?  Is this simply the “cost of freedom”?

I don’t have a sufficient answer here.  You can quickly turn to the Old Testament and illustrate to me how God often poured out his wrath on his people through the military conquest from foreign nations.  You can show me the atrocities that were done at God’s request.  I don’t understand those texts.  I suppose here I am left to vacillate.  I can appreciate the other perspective here.  However, the God that Christ showed me in the New Testament highlights that my role is not in condoning or participating in such fallen powers.  I will let God do what God is going to do, and stay faithful to my calling as a citizen of the kingdom.  At this point I am left with two options – either the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament (the Marcionite heresy), or Jesus was furthering the revelation of the Old Testament – again, don’t understand it, but I certainly can’t picture Jesus obliterating men, women, and children in the conquest of Canaan.

Last night as I flipped through the television channels in a few moments of “down time” I came across the fiery and well known preacher John Hagee.  He was in the midst of retelling the story of George Washington from Valley Forge noting how incredibly evident it was that God was with him.  He interchanged biblical texts and early American documents with such ease it was difficult to know which was which.  He received a roaring applause of approval at his calls that “It took sacrifice and commitment to fight off tyranny then, and it will take the same to fight off the tyranny in Washington today!”  The co-opting of the kingdom of God could scarcely be plainer.

As Christians, it is our belief that God is in control of history.  Our belief in Scripture assures us that God will redeem and renew this world – with or without our help.  It is time for Christians to make that their rallying cry during election time.  Let the apocalyptic message of Revelation pervade our politics instead of the constant call for “moral values” or “winning America back” or whatever other token phrase may arise.

It’s my least favorite time of the year – election time – where the idolatry of American Christians is as prevalent as ever.  We are called to be the colony of Christ-followers living out a subversive faith with no political allegiance – not morally-equipped powerbrokers ready to take back the government for God . . . my understanding of sovereignty says it’s already his . . .

Discipleship and Citizenship

The title to this post gets at the heart of a discussion that is growing broader and more lively by the day among Christians in America.  What is often disguised as simply another part of the broader dichotomous political debate in the United States  (Liberals/Conservatives; Democrats/Republicans; us/them) really fails to wrestle with the more troubling and prevailing presupposition – the uncritical jump into the political machine by Christians as part of their faith responsibility.  The question of “Who should I vote for?” or “What should I vote for?” or “What party should I register for?” et al. fail to deal with the more fundamental and essential question – “What is the relationship between discipleship and citizenship?” or put another way – “What is role of the disciple in politics?”

While this topic is certainly too broad to cover in a blog post, I want to begin to open the topic for reflection over the next several posts.  In this opening installment, there are several biblical texts to consider in our efforts to unpack this complicated topic a bit.

The Old Testament paradigm is only moderately helpful here as the entire Old Testament system centered on a theocratic government – something that was obviously replaced by New Testament times.  What of discipleship and citizenship in the New Testament?

Jesus’ ministry offers a few insights into his relationship with the governing bodies of his time.  We know that Joseph and Mary obliged following a government-decreed census in going to Bethlehem.  Herod’s pursuit of the babies in Bethlehem leaves an early indication (in Jesus’ life) that governments and political powers can run contrary to the will and intention of God.  I would argue that this tension between Christ and the ruling authorities simply anticipates a lifelong tension that Jesus would deal with.  It was ultimately by the political power of Pilate that Christ would be crucified (which is not to discount the power that the religious establishment played in prompting the murder).

It is interesting to note that, in accepting death on a cross, Jesus chooses NOT to pursue his political options.  “What options could he possibly had?” comes the question.  I don’t want to make Pilate seem like a good guy (he certainly was not), but doesn’t the text of Matthew allude to the fact that Pilate was trying to get Jesus out of this situation? (see Matthew 27: 11 ff.)  Again, I am not saying Pilate’s motives were pure or anything like that, but, politically speaking, I believe Jesus could have lobbied himself out of this situation.  If this is so, it begs the question, why did he choose the way of the cross?

Theologically speaking, the cross was certainly a unique event in the unfolding of the salvation narrative.  In that vein, I’m not sure how far the implications can be brought, but I do think it is a fair place to begin.  Peter was certainly open to other options the night before in Gethsemane.  What of his other political interactions during his ministry?

We immediately bring to mind the instance which prompted Jesus’ teaching “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12: 13 – 17).  At a elementary level we can affirm precedence for paying taxes – even when we believe the taxes will eventually, at some point fund programs/events/whatever that are contrary to Christ.  I find the vast majority of this nation’s military industrial complex to be contrary to the nature of Christ, but in light of this text, feel justified in paying my due tax burden.

But note the response by Christ here – give to Caesar what is his.  Jesus highlights a dichotomy that will later be drawn out further by Peter in 1 Peter 2: 9 – 12.  Aliens and strangers.  With that later text in mind, it is clear to see it reiterating Christ’s teaching on taxes – those taxes are for the people that are residents here, not us aliens.  Pay them in order to keep the peace (1 Peter 2: 12 says to live such good lives among the pagans that . . .)

It is often cited that Jesus didn’t actively demand centurions and other government employees to leave their positions.  As an argument from the silence of Scripture, that is problematic, but there is also a sense that revelation is progressing . . . remember, we’ve already acknowledged that the ways of the Old Testament have changed . . . progressed  .  .  .

Life in the rest of the New Testament expounds upon the dichotomy cited above.  Paul’s political involvement seems limited to times when it would protect him and benefit the Gospel (ie. invoking Roman citizenship for protections).  However, to view Paul or any of the New Testament players as political activists would require a great deal of imagination.  Instead, throughout Acts the leaders face confrontations with the political leaders.  Peter’s statement early in Acts represents well the divisive situation “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4: 19).

A lot more needs to be said, but this seems a good place to stop for today.  I would summarize my perspective on the above conversation this way: The overarching theological perspective provided by the New Testament text is that Christians are part of a kingdom (an overtly political word – more on that later).  The nature of that kingdom is very similar to Israel’s early existence in Egypt – strangers and aliens – displaced people.  The idea of an “illegal alien” in our current political debate should be a concept for us to embrace and relate to (unfortunately, too many people never get past their political angst regarding the term to appreciate the theological illustration).  As illegal aliens, we enjoy the system in place.  We drive on their roads, we buy and sell and trade their goods, we work their jobs . . . so long all is consistent with our faith.

Christ’s death on the cross as the Suffering Servant is the chief piece of my understanding of the New Testament’s teaching on politics.  Jesus chose intentionally to silently let the status quo political process to unfold – allowing kingdom ethics (subversiveness) to prevail over the ethics of politics (power and persuasion).  I’ve rambled on enough.  One of the chief texts I have not considered is Revelation which we will turn to next.  There is much to unpack here, so comment away.