Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Symptoms of a Familiar Disease

When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.”

17 Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed. ’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:13-19, NRSV)

The last two weeks have been filled with riveting excitement, stunning defeats, shocking betrayal, hidden infidelity and public scandal.  We took a break last week from posting in reflection and honor of the veterans who served our country. In spite of that noble cause, we have been witness to the most peculiar set of events in modern times. All of which bear an interesting symptomatic footprint familiar to many of our lives. I want us to first look at our symptoms:

Election 2012. The results of the election on November 6th were shocking to many in this country. The fact that the Republican Party lost the White House by wide margins and all of its Senate prospects, so shocked aspects of the electorate that some officials declared a state of mourning for the Party. The core issue that lead to this shock (and the loss) that has been posited by some centers on the changing reality of the American electorate. Never before in American politics has a President been elected with less than 40% of the White electorate. Some commentators (and even the some elected officials) suggested the loss of “traditional America” and that we have lost something that never can be regained.

The disease manifests itself in a retelling of a myth for victory and success in American politics and the rejection of critical engagement of the reality in the world. Specifically, the belief in the supremacy of campaigning on a racialized electorate and the manipulation of partisan ethnic agendas could triumph over ideas. The construction of this reality devoid of facts and constructive narratives makes a false worldview that got shattered on November 6th.

Superstorm Sandy. The week prior to the election, the east coast of the US was pummeled by an unprecedented storm that reminded all of us of our fragility before nature. The illusion of humanity’s control of seashores, waterfronts and subterranean transit systems was shattered when Gotham itself was under 14 feet of water. THe stunning images and the challenges that have been experienced by citizens of New York and New Jersey (not to mention the 3 feet of snow that fell in West Virginia) reminded all of us that building communities on flood plains and sea islands is never smart.

Our dysfunction about creation and our unmitigated manipulation of its resources continues to undermine our relationship with our planet. We do REAL harm when we disregard our use of natural resources, pollute the environment and destroy ecosystems. We are irresponsible and negligent when we seek to bend the reality of our behaviors around prisms of politics and selfish economic systems.

Petraeus Scandal. We once and again find ourselves with the same ol’ story line. A powerful man with a prominent public image conducts secret life that undermines everything he supposedly stands for. Change the characters, the context and the story seems to never go away. CIA Director General David Petraeus and his months long affair with his biographer rocked the nation on the heals of the reelection of the President. Allegations of cover ups, leaks and manipulation all followed after he resigned for “failure to live up to the standards of the office.” Likewise, the exposure of several prominent military officials to the scandalous trysts and email communiques convey a general culture of elitism and laissez-faire among some of the most powerful people in the world.

The disease manifests in individuals who have no sense of their frailty around unethical behavior and unfaithful conduct. Regardless of the circumstances, conducting a secret affair and a secret life is too much for anyone to handle. Yet, people who go about participating that behavior are the same persons who see themselves as untouchable and incapable of fault.

Taken individually, each of one of these incidents seem to be failures of their own design. Whether political, relational and/or a fault of character, these moments can be seen as simple miscalculations, mere arrogance or just hubris. However, when we approach these incidents through the lens of our text, we can posit a deeper meaning to the disease at work.

 

The above passage comes the Saul narrative of 1 Samuel. In those narratives, Saul was chosen by God to serve as King over Israel, in spite of God’s provision and Samuel the prophet’s warning to Israel. Saul’s story as king is not a good one, and we find here the culmination of God’s rejection of Saul’s leadership. As king, Saul failed to carry out the divine directive of ‘ethnic cleansing’ toward the Amalekites. Saul instead leaves the best animals for himself and his men. The encounter between Saul and Samuel comes to a head in the above exchange.

This exchange is really about the two version of reality that Saul and God/Samuel are wrestling over. In the exchange, Saul own words give rise to the fact that he is a liar and out to serve a different focus and objective than what God intended for the king. The central diagnosis of Saul’s condition is found in Samuel’s statement in verse 17, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” Saul’s failure as a leader stems from his myopia toward his role and responsibility in Israel. Saul, a towering specimen of Israelite masculinity, acts as a small and insignificant man doing things in his own universes as if they have no consequences.

Like us, Saul has a myopic view and is only willing to see that which is amenable to his worldview. In an age when propaganda passes for journalism through the mouths of MSNBC and FOX News, we can choose the voice that best constructs the world we want to live in. Our given selection of propaganda means we no longer have to listen to dissenting opinion or the hard truth of a situation. Instead, we can use the selected reading or version of the facts to arrive at the predetermined destination with confidence and assurety of our rightness (and righteousness).

When science is more about political expediency and economics, and not about the facts proven through testing, it’s no wonder we think we can live anywhere and are shocked at the devastation when nature reclaims her territory. There are nearly 7 billion people living at the same time in the world today. To argue that our presence on the planet has little or no affect is worse than myopia, its BLINDNESS!! Our quest for new homes has not affected forests? Our burning of fossil fuels has not affected our breathing? Our fishing of the seas has not affected the population of sea creatures and their migration patterns? (How many sushi places our in your neighborhood?)

When we decide that our lifestyle and personal behavior doesn’t need to be regulated simply because of our position in life requires little ethical policing, our hubris will be our demise. It isn’t that David Petreaus or Paula Broadwell is any better or worse than we are. In fact, we are like them more than we care to admit. We believe that our public selves can behave in a disconnected way from our private selves and therefore the ethics of each can be regulated however we see fit. (“If Samuel didn’t see me carry out the mission God gave, then what he doesn’t know won’t get back to God!”, Saul seems to think.)

The disease is tunnel vision- the loss of peripheral vision resulting in a singular line of sight to which one cannot take in external sources of vision and light apart from a direct focus. We see what we want to see and ignore all other sources of information and thought. Total loss of sight is immanent unless medical treatment or an intervention is possible on behalf of the patient. In our case, we are the patient and we must to see the truth that is constantly all around. Stare the facts in the face and come to a collective agreement about what we see in order to take action for our future.

I once heard one of my relatives say, “Opened eyes make for a willing vessel”. I like to say, “sighted eyes see the visions of truth”…

 

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Interpersonal Relationships, Old Testament, Prophetic Accountability, Sacred Memory, Social Justice

You Get What You Want

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. (1 Samuel 8:4-9, NRSV)

For the last 18 months, the United States has been involved in the campaign for public office and tomorrow, this campaign comes to an end. (PRAISE GOD!) This campaign (as all of the ones each quadriennium), has been defined by the race for the office of the Presidency. There is nothing unusual about this tendency in the US, nor is the view that each Presidential candidate for office is the standard-bearer for all of the partisans that are running for office ‘down ballot.’

The peculiar phenomenon this election cycle is the degree to which the vision of each candidate is so radically different from the other and the extreme danger of the electing the ‘other’ to the highest office in the land. The troubling rhetoric, the vitriolic tone, and the intense mischaracterization of both of the parties this election cycle has created for many citizens a disdain for politics and the process of campaigning. When you add to this mix, the fact that this election cycle will break all records for political expenditures by candidates ($2 billion +), Political Action Committees (upwards of $2 billion), and general political parties ($ 1 billion +), there is a real disconnect between people and rulership.

I live in a battleground state where the near constant drone of political ads and nonsense overwhelmed many of my neighbors and friends. It has been so annoying that the amount of time I have spent watching commercials with the TV muted is greater than the time I have enjoyed any of my favorite programming. The complaints, the attention and the anxiety generated from this election season all is designed to move every eligible citizen to the polls for the sake of the candidate. We blame the ‘other side’ for chaos and distortion and we as citizens of this country throw our hands up in disgust at the behavior of our politicians while we vote for many of them tomorrow.

Lest we blame our politicians too much, I would like us to venture to our text. In this famous passage from the historical book of Samuel, the leaders of Israel approach Samuel in his old age. For most of their lives, Samuel has ruled as prophet and judge over the people. He has been fair, faithful and just in enacting the laws that God has decreed for God’s people. Despite all of this, the people come to him at seat of Jewish political power at Ramah to declare they no longer want him, but a king “like other nations.” The text declares that the indictment of this request is not against Samuel, but is against God since Samuel serves at the behest of God.

This exchange between people and ruler is interesting in that it exposes our natural human desire to determine our future (to include our governance). Those desires by themselves do not cause disorder and chaos. However the warning of the text is that we so often make choices about our future without regard to the consequences of our choices. Israel’s desire is rooted in what they think they deserve in relationship to other nations, not being cognizant of their own history and the effects of such a change in their governance. Their choice comes at a price that they may not ever fully understand. BOTTOM LINE: WHAT YOU HAVE ASKED FOR MAY BE THE VERY THING YOU GET!

 

Blaming our politicians for their incendiary remarks and their constant pandering to segments of the electorate is not in line with our philosophy of governance nor the biblical witness. Our most sacred civil documents begin with “We the People..” and are built on the premise that the demos- the people, determine their future. The fact that we vote for our officials means that we determine who leads us. We actively seek persons to serve and invest in them power to govern.

If all that be true, then we are getting this election, what we are asking for. The people who vote, the people who choose to participate in the system of campaigning and election are tacitly agreeing to campaign ads, coarse rhetoric and more than $6 billion in expenditures this cycle. The scary part is that in the United States, your non-participation also means you engage the system. By not voting and not registering your voice, you also ‘get what you ask for.’  Our system of democracy is built on people power. People engage in some means of election (either by direct election or non participation).

No matter what the level of engagement, our campaigns and our politics are designed for us and tolerated by us. If you want change in those structures, only people in relationship with their God can work to be different. That work gives us all a glimpse of the vision of truth.

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Endorsement: Many of you who follow my blog know my disdain for theological manipulators. Individuals who use theology, the bible and religious traditions as bludgeons against the more naive and generally discontent in society. There is no such thing a Christian angle on the choices before us. Many of the issues that are laid before us are not addressed directly by the Bible, and much of what has been said about Christianity in the public discourse is politicized and has little bearing on the truth of the faith.

However, I am most strong in my commitment to the democratic process (something also not present in the Biblical worldview) and active engagement with the election of one candidate or another. My view is that every voter, Christian or not, should consult their God and cast their vote. For that reason I have chosen to endorse principled participation in the political process. Don’t vote for or against because its the party line, or the “Christian” thing to do. Don’t vote for or against because you like one issue or the race or religion of a candidate is agreeable or abhorrent to your. Vote for or against the principles and values that are best reflected in one of these candidates/platforms. “Be hot or cold” this election and know that God is in the midst somewhere somehow!

 

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christian Church, Civil Religion, Community, Discipleship, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Old Testament, Political Theology