Category Archives: 2012 Election

Kingdom Living

THIS IS A RESEND FROM LAST WEEK!

Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:14-15, ASV)

The last month of public discourse has been interesting. As it relates to the election and the future of global affairs, there has been much speculation and forecasting in regards to the way current events have unfolded. Amongst the chatter are reactions to the Petraeus scandal, fiscal cliff negotiations, election recap, GOP talk, economic rebounding, Middle East Peace and all manner of other prognostications. While most of the discussion is rooted in an attempt at analyzing the facts, there has been some prognostication by certain Christians that infuriates me.

This group typically reacts to the overanalysis and intense scrutiny of real world facts by appealing to an otherworldly escapism.  I have heard, on more than one occasion, these Christians excuse their lack of needed participation in controversial and relevant actions by claiming their citizenship to “another kingdom.” Specifically, this statement, (as they use it) is implied to mean that they don’t have to engage in the realities of this present life (realities like the election, ending poverty, seeking human rights, eliminating economic disparity, etc.). There should be no engagement in those activities because “when Jesus comes, all of this stuff will be made right by him”, I was told by one person. Another person justified their failure to vote in the election as “not participating in a world that is going to be condemned by the coming kingdom of Jesus.”

This worldview is not new, nor is it only present in times of intense crisis. This worldview forms the foundation of many movements, the most prominent of which shapes the theology of Jehovah Witnesses. At its core, this approach to life carries a sense of anticipation and expectation at the coming reign of Jesus Christ. While that anticipation is shared by all Christians, this view defines one’s social engagement through the lens of Christ’s coming reign. Known academically as Millennialism and Dispensationalism, practitioners believe in the reign of Christ as future event distinct from this present time. Developed in the 19th century reading of the Biblical text, Millennial and Dispensational theology hinges on the destruction of all present systems of the world so that Christ’s reign can be truly “new.” In many cases, the hermeneutic (lens for interpretation) includes Christian Zionism, the Rapture and a literal (or even Fundamentalist) interpretation of the text. (The Rapture is not even mentioned or outlines in the Bible.)

What these ideas (and their adherents) fail to engage is the critical analysis of the teachings of Bible, the Christian ideas of the end of time, and (above all) the work of the historical Jesus. The above passage taken from the opening of Mark’s Gospel offers a different view from some of my Christian friends. This passage occurs at the conclusion of Jesus’ baptism and wilderness experience. Jesus steps onto the scene in Galilee and begins his formal ministry with a simple, yet earth shattering pronouncement, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel.” 

The kingdom of God is at hand? You mean the very first thing Jesus does is make a pronouncement of what is taking place and not what is going to come? Every act, every sign, every moment of betrayal and trust, joy and pain, miracle and madness, are all part of the kingdom? Yes! According to Mark’s understanding, Jesus’ presence and mission ushers into the world the very kingdom which we now speak of in escapists terms. For Mark’s Jesus, the role of the Christ births the new kingdom and gives humanity entrée into the love, hope, trust and peace that this kingdom creates.

Most interestingly, for my millennial Christian compatriots, the work of Christ, follows his pronouncement of the kingdom. He makes the pronouncement and then he proceeds to perform the work for which the kingdom is to be known. In other words, the Jesus that pronounces the kingdom, then demonstrates the kingdom by caring for the needs of the blind, the sick, the bound and even the dead. Jesus does not merely talk about the kingdom of God as a futuristic reality, but makes it real in the lives of the people that are present.The idea that we take no action because of what Jesus will do is simply a form of lazy escapism. This view makes a mockery of what Christ has done! The active work of the church and her disciples is to “go and make new disciples” or at the very least set the standard for what God’s continual kingdom of love, hope, trust and peace looks like in the 21st century.

The kingdom of God hasn’t gone anywhere, its subjects just stopped believing in the power of that kingdom to make the crooked nations straight, heal the sick of the world, open the blinded eyes that further oppression, and liberate the captives of our economics and social policies. Instead of engaging the ‘principalities’ of systemic oppression and subjugation that plague this world, some of us use our energy to escape to a place and a day that may be long in the coming (or may be tomorrow).

The Christ gave us one more command while we anticipate his return and we no longer have a vision of the truth, we will know it then. He said “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” Beloved, it’s still day, and there is still work to do….

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christian Church, Christianity, Church, Community, Discipleship, Gosepls, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Jesus Christ, New Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Redemption, Sacred Memory, Social Justice

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

The Question of Intent…

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… (Matthew 1:1-6, NRSV)

The Christian faith is built upon many different tensions. Seemingly contradictory, traditional Christian tenets hold a tenuous grasp of polar opposites. The story of the faith is built on God becoming human, bringing the dead back to life and saving all of humanity to eternal life by dying. Christian disciples are both free to exercise their will, within the confines of God’s will. Christians carry within them all the promises and power that God conveys to God’s children, yet we often act with all the values of people who are not yet disciples of Christ.

One of the strongest tensions present in the Christian worldview is that of God’s intent and humanity’s exercise of free will. Beginning in the garden of Eden and working all throughout the biblical narratives humanity seems to so often get it wrong, and yet somehow, God’s will is enacted in creation. Many times, despite humanity’s best efforts to the contrary, God’s overarching plan is realized for the betterment of creation.

 

In contemporary life, we struggle with the realization and exploration of Gods will versus our own wants and desires and more specifically, how these two tensions are experienced for us. We hear that struggle whenever we hear a preacher or congregant talking about “staying in God’s will” or “waiting to see what God is going to do”. Many of our churches have preached that people ‘be in the will of God’ at the same time they say “God has empowered them to take action” without understanding inherent contradictions in those statements.

The working of God’s intent and design in humanity cannot ever fully be understood. Nor can the gift (sometimes perverted) of human intent and action in the world (free will) ever be fully appreciated theologically. However, an example of where we get it wrong is found in the comments of Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock a few weeks ago. The gist of the story is linked here. Mr. Mourdock argued at a debate that,

“I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception,” Mourdock said at a debate with Democratic opponent Rep. Joe Donnelly and libertarian Andrew Horning. “The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother.” Mourdock added: “I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize: Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” (Taken from an article entitled ‘Richard Mourdock under fire for rape remarks’ on www.politico.com)

Now, parsing his words, I believe that Mr. Mourdock was referring to the life of the child that results from pregnancy and to not the rape itself. While life is indeed a gift from God, Mr. Mourdock’s statements relegate women (and all humanity) to mere backdrops on the stage of creation. No matter how life comes into the world, we should be grateful for it and ignore the means of conception? No matter how painful or complicated or unintended or unlawful that conception might be? In other words the extension of this argument is that the ends justify the means. Rape results in life and therefore (fill in the blank). While the latter statement, Mr. Mourdock never said, I am using the extension of his argument to illustrate a point. (It also should be noted that I do not believe politicians should be in the business of doing theology.)

According to this theology, the free exercise of human will only serves to enact God’s will. We act and regardless of what we do, God’s ends are always served. As good as that might sound, the implications of this theology means that acts of violence like rape are what God has always intended. Everything from the murder of Abel by Cain to nuclear war, the Holocaust and genocide are all God’s will in the end. You see, in this theological frame, you cannot distinguish human action from God’s sovereignty. Despite the abhorrent implications of this theology, many serious God-fearing Christians (as given testament to by Mourdock’s statements) believe in this kind of warped orthodoxy.

Our text for today offers us a more genuine theological perspective. This text is the opening of the gospel of Matthew and is known as the genealogy of Christ. Contained in the heritage of Christ is every manner of human experience and relationship. Some children are produced by traditional marriage (ancient marriage), others are products of rape and incest, while others still are counter to cultural practices and have suspect origins. Peculiar that the savior of the world comes down and through many of the same experiences that all of us have in our family tree?

With all of this abounding soap operatic history, the writers of the gospel make a subtle distinction when speaking to human intent and God’s will in relationships in verse 6b. The writer recognizes the parentage of Solomon but makes clear, that Bathsheba was never lawfully David’s wife; she was “the wife of Uriah”. If you are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheeba (2 Samuel 11), you will discover the machinations of David to get his way with another man’s wife. (It should be noted that if this incident had taken place today, David would have been considered a statutory rapist for using his position to coerce sexual activity).

 

Despite this failure of David, the point of the writer in Matthew’ geneology is that we cannot ever, from our limited vantage, distinguish God’s intent from our human action. The biblical witness and story convey that our only real vantage for understanding is in reverse: seeing how God can redeem the actions that we perform. And God CAN redeem our mistakes and mess-ups! We make huge mistakes, we are violent towards one another. We steal, we cheat we murder, those acts are not God designed or God intended. They are the results of the perversion of the gift of human will. It is within the power of God to redeem our horrible acts toward each other to find moments of grace and healing. It isn’t as easy as it sounds nor is it as simple as exchanging pain for healing. It takes time, effort and mercy and sometimes takes a lifetime to adjust to. Some victims never reach that point in survival. Just ask any victim of sexual assault and violence.

The truth is always more complicated than any politician (or any human being) can ever really understand. In the end, speaking for God is always problematic and risky. Let the works and intent of God be revealed through experiences in the life of God. Somewhere in the midst of human trial and God’s design we can find a vision of truth that moves us closer to healing.

 

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Claims to Legitimacy

 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. (John 9:24-30, NRSV)

The struggle for a voice in society is normative. The differences between people who have access and make things happen, versus the people who lack that access are part of the fabric of human relationships. That access, (or the lack thereof), often means that an individual does not have a ‘presence’ in the society. They are physically present, but have no active influence on the community in which they are merely existing in. Having a voice or being voiceless can be determined by many different factors. Gender, religion, race, ethnicity, creed, and sexual orientation all can be used to elevate ones voice or to deny ones right to be heard. Thats what makes it a struggle…. one must push through the community to have their voice heard.

Key to fight against giving audience to all, is the role of power. Powerful people/institutions/organizations play an intricate game of oppression simply to keep the voiceless from gaining an audience and/or being heard. It’s true of dissenting political groups as much as it is true of patriarchal systems that reinforce hierarchy. Systems in power want to keep their power; very often at the expense of the people who simply need the world to hear their pain and suffering, joys and concerns, fears and triumphs. There are subtle ways that these power systems keep the status quo and negate those who seek presence in the larger society.

One way that was on display this past week, was demonstrated in our country’s culture and political wars. Member of Congress Todd Akin’s off the cuff comments regarding “legitimate rape” highlight an example of what power does to keep things in check. You see, legitimacy is a cloak for power players to maintain their status. One way to deny the authenticity of person/being/humanity is make a declaration of legitimacy. African-Americans, at one time in our nation’s history were denied the right to vote, bring a court case or even be a full person…..they were considered illegitimate. Many insurance companies and other businesses invoke clauses within contracts that deny access to certain contractual rights. In so doing, they delegitimize the nature of the contract (and maybe the claims of the person). Legitimacy, is a qualifying term that can easily undermine relationships, stall negotiations and patronize people who are seeking equal voice in any situation (see equality around marriage, equal pay, etc.).

Struggle between power brokers and the powerless is nothing new and in our passage, this dichotomy is undergirding the text. Specifically, in chapter 9, Jesus brings sight to a blinded man. He was known to a great many people and so the healing brings a great deal of attention to the blinded man. So much so, that the power structures of the day, the Pharisees call the man before them an attempt to discern what happened to the man. Their rationale is that, defects are signs of sin and that Jesus is not a healer or prophet of any kind…….he is illegitimate. This blinded man is also a voiceless person in ancient Israel. A former blind person is a bullhorn!!

The resulting confrontation is one in which the miracle that Jesus has performed and demonstrated through this man who was once blind is being negated (or at least trying to be) by the Pharisees. In the end, the blind man, in response to berating of questions of legitimacy decides to simply state the obvious, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” In other words, “y’all are supposed to be the experts on religious purity and healing and you don’t know what the h@#$ is going on. All I know is he healed me!”.

The former blind man gives us great instruction when it comes to people making claims of legitimate or illegitimate actions……its all legitimate. This man’s healing is just as legitimate as the rest of them. The experiences of the individual cannot be undermined in the eyes of God. They are all credible. Whenever we try to delegitimize the experiences of another, we really show our own insecurities before God and our neighbor. We do not have the power to question legitimacy of the other’s lived experience. For one to claim such authority, means the person making the declaration has ‘power’ over the other individual…..a claim none of us can credibly make.

 

 

Rep. Todd Akin exposed a deep flaw in religious patriarchy (to which religion has been used to cover up). The flaw uses rules and regulations to stifle and undermine and expel many who the power structures deem illegitimate. In today’s world, many Christians feel the need to define the world according to the rules and regulations that have been edited and refined in scripture. Rep. Akin’s comments, while they are his beliefs, expose a power structure’s party line that is rooted in an undermining worldview of women who have both been raped and/or experienced abortion, or both. Those rules are interpreted through the lens of scripture and tradition and enforced to define who is legitimate and who is not. Yet, the Jesus of the scriptures took care to break those same rules when the were applied to him. They called him illegitimate…… what do they call you?

Jesus and this blind man give us a vision of truth that labels us all legitimate sons and daughters of the most high King. Let us be brothers and sisters legitimized by the word and work of the Christ…….

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Deal with Reality…

I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing. You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”(Revelations 3:15-17, NRSV)

The President supports same-sex marriage. Surprise!! It’s a political position that honors his reading of the Constitution and upholds equality under the law. It’s an important position because it brings consistency and equality to a nation that has nearly always been unequal in its execution of the law (see race, ethnic,gender, class distinctions). He says he has been evolving and while that may be true, reading the text of his presidency already saw a continual movement in one direction. The President’s position also exposes the deep rift in this country regarding reality versus perception.

We distort arguments to validate our position. We allow our preachers and pastors to throw the Bible and it’s God to the dogs when it talks about wealth with responsibility, women’s roles, sacrifice and obedience, injustice and righteousness and nearly every other subject we as a society disagree with, but want any passage that speaks against homosexuality to be foremost in our spiritual discipline. Really? Really?? Really!??

For many in our society, the President’s words are deeply problematic. Being for traditional marriages and civil unions is one thing, but being for gay marriage is something else. Really? Black communities (in some instances a bastion of homophobia) who voted for him in record numbers now are questioning their allegiances in ways that they never questioned Bill Clinton (when he knowingly cheated on his wife). Black church pastors who touted their involvement with helping to bring awareness to Barack’s campaign are now silent or withholding support because they can’t “condone a President who is against the word of God.” Insert expletive of your choice here….

I don’t believe that the political agenda of the GLBTQ community is the problem in this society anymore than the civil rights movement was ‘problematic’ to the society of the 1960’s. It is merely inconvenient and tiresome. Why? Because we in America don’t like frank and direct conversation about anything! We can’t stand it. Be it long-term debt, social safety nets, race and gender roles, and discrimination or anything else that defies our perception; we don’t discuss it. We use comedians to laugh at our ineptitude and satirists to disguise our fear of reality.

People of faith can disagree about matters of faith and that is fine. We cannot disagree about reality though. The reality is….

…that the Bible is NOT as clear as we like to think about the sexual standard for God. Several texts speak against homosexuality, while others say love your neighbors as yourself. Don’t stone me, I won’t stone you?! The Bible in several places speaks strongly against homosexuality for cultural and sociological reasons (wrapping it in theo-logos) but it also treats women in a way that we abhor for those same cultural and sociological reasons. Why is it permissible to be for in way scenario and against in another? For the same reasons though? Choose you this day………

The reality is…

….that we don’t believe everything that’s in the Biblical text ANYWAY. Our behavior toward one another in general bears this out. We don’t believe, Jesus really died on a cross. We don’t believe that David slew Goliath and we don’t believe that “it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than pull a camel through the eye of a needle.” For if we really believed those passages as much as we believe the ones about homosexuality, then we would be different. We would have a little more gratitude and gratefulness because of an empty tomb. We would view many more of our challenges as empowered believers as opposed to deflated fear mongers. And we would have a lot less of our possessions because we needed to “get into heaven.” We would act different and live differently. Jesus himself says, “I judge a tree by its fruit,” and now I see the tree as bearing the fruit of hypocrisy.

The reality is…

….that many of the same black parishioners, pastors and clergypersons who are criticizing the President so often employ, collect money from, and even counsel members who are gay and lesbian. Some of those members are forced into secrecy and live double lives so as to not be “outed” and ostracized from family and friends. All the while their Pastors preach a gospel of being your best self and being transparent before God and humanity. It is widely known and accepted in many Black churches that the choir directors, some choir members, and musicians are gay and lesbian. These churches operate under a spiritual DADT policy that gives the church everything that they want on Sunday without the church having to acknowledge the hypocrisy to which they operate under. We the church rather have our individuals live out a lie rather than stand to tell a corporate a truth.

The reality is…

…that the President is elected to be President. He ain’t my pastor or the chief theologian of the empire. He is a political animal with opinions. He has every right to support, advocate and petition for his agenda however he wants. I do not expect or require whoever the president is to attend church, read a Bible, or even be Christian. I do expect them to govern fairly, equally and within the bound of the Constitution. Get over it, President Obama is a Christian and he is a politician, (you can decide which one comes first). He also is a Christian and he is for same-sex marriage (you can be both).

The reality is….

…that we as a nation (particularly as Christians), do not take marriage seriously. Marriage historically is not a religious phenomenon. Marriages were global and not rooted in some expression of God to humanity. Marriages have been and are cultural expressions. To watch any wedding is to see a cultural dynamic at work. Because religion is so often intertwined with culture, the two are inexorably linked. But that is an educated argument that can be persuasive for the logical. Let me be real... Churches have failed to counsel, promote, educate and engage the questions people have in their marriages. Divorce rates are through the roof. People get married and have children for tax benefits, money, fame and nearly every other reason under the sun, but if gay people get married, its the end of stable and loving families as we know it? Really? Wanna keep marriages strong? Be consistent in your commitments, loyal to your spouse and stop peeking in everyone else’s window!

The reality is that God wants consistency. The text above admonishes the Church and its body of believers to be “hot or cold”. One or the other. This or that. For God or against God. But not both. Be consistent in your living of God’s precepts or else fail in your living within the life of God. It seems rather self-evident that if you are not consistent, then you are inconsistent. But the witness of the text, is that the standard is always consistency and not holiness (true the Bible doesn’t agree on this either). The same is true in the prophetic texts of the Hebrew Bible, don’t worship me if you not gonna DO and BE the stuff that I need you to be (see Amos and Jeremiah). At some point, God wants to count on you to be love, be faithful and be steadfast which may mean that holiness may have a different context to be lived out.

I believe that what concerns God most is our consistency in approaching God and applying the texts of our faith. The same-sex issue is the slavery issue of our day. We were inconsistent then and we are inconsistent now. Churches can practice whatever they want to practice.

If they don’t want to practice same-sex marriages, fine! Don’t! But be real, blame it on doctrine and tradition and not on God. It ain’t God’s fault.

You wanna be against the President? Don’t! That’s your business. Blame it on your ideology and not your Bible.

Believe gay folks are going to hell? That’s your belief and you can keep it. Just blame it on bigotry and not God. Say what you want, God did create Adam and Steve, Mike and John, Sarah and Jane, Adam and Eve, David and Sally, baby girls and baby boys, malformed and disabled, friend and foe, liberal and conservative, Me and YOU! God created everybody and everything! Recognizing the sacred worth in our society as basic people created in the image of God is a universal truth. Being consistent with how we treat them is a vision of truth.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christian Church, Christianity, Discipleship, Homosexuality, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Jesus Christ, Justice, New Testament, Political Theology, Social Justice, Uncategorized

A War not Worth Fighting…

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ (Matthew 28:1-10 NRSV)

As a father of two girls, husband to a very well-educated and gifted United Methodist pastor, and son who was raised by a multitude of women, I am deeply appreciative of the women in my life. Women in my family and in all aspects of my life have contributed (and continue to contribute) to my identity and engagement in the world. More to the point, I learned how to be a better man and father by valuing and seeking to understand the women in my life. Indeed the value of over half of our society is immeasurable as women are, in many cases, the central backbones of our families and national framework.

In light of this simple but inescapable truth, I am confused by the new caricature of politics as being a “war on women”.  The comments of political pundits and social critics are nearly always caricatured in someone to vilify the ‘other side’. That contextual point notwithstanding, the events of the last year or so in legislative and political politics have been framed as an attempt to set the country back to the 1940’s and 50’s cultural attitude toward women. Legislation around reproductive rights (or the restriction thereof), social and family policies and comments deriding stay-at-home mothers are all cast by the media as being part of the salvos in the battle for the woman vote and the role of women in our electorate.

This ‘war’ (for some reason this country is insatiable when it comes to fighting wars [war on drugs, war on poverty, war on obesity, etc.]), is a media contrived and conceived war. This ‘war’ is an election year farce that seeks to juxtaposition the political parties for votes of the majority sex. Latching on to gender roles as an election issue is cheap and lazy politics. It also affirms the reality of many of our patriarchal societies. But it’s not new. Male dominated societies have never credibly appreciated women as co-laborers in life. (I can say this based on the simple fact that very often, women were not even at the table for the discussions that impacted them the most!)Here’s the brutal truth: The role of women in our society has never been recognized or accepted as equal.

The text from above is indicative of what is present in all four canonical gospels. The canonical Gospels report that women are the first to arrive at the tomb. Each of the gospels mentions women as being the central conveyors of the message that Jesus is not dead but alive. More specifically, the Gospels all agree that Mary Magdalene is the one that encounters the risen Christ (if not conveys the message directly to the other disciples). I use this text to point out the idiotic contradiction in the Christian tradition that has been passed down for centuries. Many Christian traditions barred women from service in either ordained ministry or leadership of any kind in the church. Piecing together various scriptures of the New Testament epistles, keepers of this vain orthodoxy argue a biblical rejection of women in leadership. Roman Catholics and some others have theology that puts priests as an exemplar toward Christ and therefore women cannot serve in leadership either.

Only in the past 80 years has the Christian church begun to properly challenge itself and ask the critical questions of dominate influences of patriarchy on religious practice. In those instances where the church wrestles with the truth, the church has expanded its view and reach and added to its credibility. Sadly, the failure of the Christian church to properly deal with its compromised theology in other situations means it has no credibility in standing on the moral authority of its witness. It is hypocritical and arrogant when it attempts to speak about women’s issues (or any other issues) and can’t get ‘its own house in order’.

To me, these sexists’ theological stances are not supported by the witnesses at the tomb and take semantic hoops and loops to justify in scripture. However, this is what happens when patriarchy dominates the discussions of society. Whether it happens in cultural, social, economic, or theological realms, the furtherance of male dominance and control means that we ignore the reality of life as balance in order to further dominate and demean one another. We bar women from leadership even though most churches in the United States are actively comprised of more women than men (to the tune of 2 to 1, in some cases). We champion “women’s rights” while at the same time, devaluing Employees Paid Parental Leave Act and other laws that honor the role of motherhood in our society. We fight over reproductive choices and rights to life, but ignore the plight of millions of working mothers who struggle to care for the children who didn’t ask to be aborted or born. We pay them less for the same job, and ask questions of their motivations, ability and performance that we take for granted when men do much less. We’ve always done it and we are guilty of fighting for a cause that has become insidious.

These fights will continue until we are held accountable to our participation in the system. To that I say, thank you Ashley Judd. Her poignant and scathing critique of patriarchy is the kind of commentary that makes us all better and changes the conversation from a political moment to an ontological question. In other words, her comments make us better human beings if we listen.  When commentators, media figures and fans begin to ask questions of her appearance with no basis for inquiry, she exposed ALL of our participation in the ‘war on women’.

Oppressive systems are only sustained when they recede into the background and are hidden in secrecy. What Ms. Judd has done, provides an example for all of us in ending the millennia long wars on women. Truce and peace in this war is the vision of truth for all of us…

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christian Church, Christianity, Church, Gosepls, Interpersonal Relationships, Justice, New Testament, Political Theology, Social Justice, War