Category Archives: Civil Religion

It Ain’t What you Think

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24, NRSV)

The last forty years in American public life have been the most socially and culturally divisive, perhaps since the Civil War. The American republic has always been made of complex perspectives on a wide variety of issues.Throughout American history the divisions of black versus white, free versus enslaved, indigenous versus immigrant, North versus South, Christian versus “everybody else”, gay versus straight, east coast versus west coast, and just about any other division has dominated our portrayal of our selves as Americans.

While our divisions were built into American identity from the outset, the last half century has given way to consequential tears in the fabric of the Republic. We have used certain divisions to reinforce other in order to build coalitions, voting blocs and larger groups of influence. Our social discourse complexifies with compound descriptors like “Christian-southern-whites”, or “non-immigrant native-speaking persons of color”, or “black Southern gay men”. All of these descriptors are not just describing realities, but in fact are making out tribal distinctions. The carve out new spaces for entrenchment-home encampments to find like-minded believers  in order to feel “at home” somewhere. We shape these tribes (with their particularly ascribed stereotypes, ideologies and political instincts) in order to make the world digestible and manageable.

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BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Probably the most maligned of these complex tribal distinctions is any one of them that include the moniker Christian-a very well earned distinction. Throughout the centuries, Christianity has perpetuated some of the most egregious crimes or acts on other people. Slavery, indigenous conquest, and the subjugation of non whites, were all perpetrated with Christian institutional endorsement. Continuing in that surrogacy, we as Americans have used the Christian moniker to create new and distinct tribal groups to reinforce political and social beliefs. Since the Moral Majority of the late 1970s, to be Christian in America is to be part of the “Conservative” tribe and political party. For the mainstream, to be Christian means believing in creationism, being pro-life, for a singular definition of marriage (between a man and woman) and to believe in the divine right to American Manifest Destiny.

The problem will of this is the truth of the Judeo-Christian faith; it does not neatly fit into such well constructed, poll-tested, hermetically sealed demographic voting categories. Jesus was not a republican or a democrat. He didn’t defend unborn life at the expense of the living. He didn’t campaign for tax reform or wrap himself up in anyone’s patriotic symbology. He didn’t promote biblical adherence in schools, idolatrous belief in a state-sponsored savior, and he sure as heaven didn’t count on America as being the vehicle for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus wasn’t a progressive either. He wasn’t an American liberal seeking to harmony with everyone and promoting peace, love and soul. He didn’t believe in pro-choice, a government sponsored social safety net, and the unity of all humanity under one banner of peace. He wasn’t a socialist who believed in the redistribution of wealth (despite what you might read in the Gospel of Luke). He’s not the Jesus of the elitist and pontifical Left, or the xenophobic hypocritical Right. A pox on both our houses!

The American tribal adjective- Christian is a perversion of the ancient teachings of the one called the Christ. We lack the seriousness to believe the faith we practice. No, I am not suggestion that “we all fall short of the glory of God”. I am asserting that we (as Americans) intentionally avoid the hard practice of The Way! To be a follower of Jesus means leaving “stuff” behind, denying yourself, and taking up a cross. It means hearing the voice from eternity call you to “drop your nets” and follow him. It means you (and this nation) are far from the kingdom values we espouse and say we believe. Its just easier to pervert the gospel than to live it.

Only the words of the prophet Amos can give us the wisdom we need in our hypocritical and fiercely partisan time. God wants none of our worship, festivals or pomp when we cannot see the third way of moral justice. The vision of truth can only be revealed when we let go of our tribalism and let Christ challenge us all…

 

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Church, Civil Religion, Discipleship, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Sacred Memory, Uncategorized

The Return of the Truth

(It’s been a long time since Ive posted. In fact, its been four years (How telling??). A lot has happened in those years- and a lot remains the same. I apologize for the silence, but the truth of the matter is that its more complacency on my part than anything. A confession: I got comfortable in the status quo of equal rights, healthcare for all, and having a black President. And in the face of continued injustices somehow I are complacent…For that I pray for God’s forgiveness. There is still too much to work for and to not be coopted into normalcy. For things are NOT normal…

I am reactivating and recommitting my self to the spiritual practice of my writing. The clarity of thought and purpose of thinking, and the calling to stand for what is moral, Godly, and true. Some are called to march, others to be arrested, others still to be run for office….I have always been called to teach, educate and empower. This blog is a means to the end.)

 

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“But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” –Daniel 3:12-18

 

In our house we listen to Christian contemporary radio station. It’s one in our home 24 hours a day. Our children love the music, and for my wife and me, (two theologically educated clergy persons), the messages are more theologically consistent than most of the gospel music being played. The music and messages that are on the station are often found to be in more evangelical churches and that is fine because they speak a truth that we can affirm in our house. Occasionally, the station has guests on to talk about inspirational topics our to simply encourage listeners on certain topics.

This was the case this past Friday. In the aftermath of a most divisive election and on the day of a deeply unpopular inauguration, the station had a Christian counselor to come on  and to talk about strategies to heal and restore relationships.(- good topic right? sigh) When responding to the question about what we are to do as Christians in the aftermath of the election, the guest put forth the classic answer of Christian conformity- “we are to pray for our leaders as the Bible instructs.”Citing Daniel and Paul, the guest went on to say our prayers for our president’s success mean we are being faithful to the Bible.

I was infuriated.

Livid that such a perversion of the faith could be on my “theologically consistent” radio station, I started yelling at the radio in the car.

“How stupid!”

“Thats the best answer you can give??!!”

The truth is that the Bible offers dueling views on our role as people of faith in relationship to government. Sometimes the text tells us to stay and pray for the powers (Jeremiah’s message to the exiles). At other times it tells us to stand up and fight for the oppressed (Moses against Pharaoh). While the guests comments weren’t wrong, they didn’t tell the whole truth. Protest, resistance and standing up for God in the face of impending death is very much a faithful response to government as much as “praying for our leaders”. The above text from Daniel demonstrates that for us.

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These three boys who are coopted into the Babylonian governmental service still know the truth of their heritage and faith. Their names and identities were coopted for the purposes of social control by Nebuchadnezzer, but they knew who they were. And while they could do many things for the government of the king, they would not blaspheme their God by bowing to another. Therefore, they resist.  The speak truth at the risk of their lives. They exercise a faith filled response-trusting God over the king or any political system.

Beloved, people of faith have failed. We have failed. Faithful living is not conformity. It never has been and it never will be. To be faithful is to be radical according to our societal norms. We as American Christians have lost our saltiness, and traded it for prosperity and stability.

As faithful people, we are not Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, red or blue. Those are the definitions that society imposes. Our job is to resist those and any other attempts at categorization. We are people of the Way of Jesus Christ. The Way that always finds a different path. The Way that risks all to save all. The Way that reveals the visions of truth in a world full of lies. I’m back now…let the work begin.

 

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Civil Religion, Community, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Uncategorized

What ‘s Worth Learning…

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:17-23, NRSV)

I sat and watched horrified last week when a new show debuted on TLC cable channel. The show was entitled ‘Sisterhood’ and supposedly chronicles the wives of American pastors in Atlanta. While advertised as an informative show that seeks to “capture a candid look into the lives of devout yet fierce preachers’ wives.” In reality, it was a much more embarrassing image of Christianity in general and Christian marriage in particular.

My problem with the show is indicative of all shows of the ‘reality’ genre. Shows like ‘Real Housewives’, ‘Basketball Wives’, “Honey BooBoo’, ‘Love and Hip-Hop’, and all like them perpetuate false narratives about what we really are in our lives together. These shows find the most extreme of our behavior and turn it into a ‘sideshow’ (pun intended) for profit. These shows essentially degrade our lives to the most sensational, most entertaining, most retrograde behaviors in pop culture fads that undermine family, faith and friendship.

I have always said that a show like Real Housewives was neither real nor starred housewives. But this new show called ‘Sisterhood’ seems a bit beyond the border. It features a group of ‘Christian’ women that apparently have come together for the sake of the show. They share the experiences of hurt and pain, joys and concerns about being “Christian married women” facing the challenges of life and ministry in the way they know how.

The premier episode featured argument, theological bickering, and hypocrisy that counters everything Christian, marriage and relationships and the role of women in ministry. The show hopes to “follow them as they navigate through marital troubles, financial issues, parenting challenges, personality conflicts and even demons from the past.” Instead, this show and most shows like it serve nothing more than to feed our need for elitism and the desire to “at least not be that person”. It’s disgusting and beneath us a people living in relationship with each other.

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My view point may be naive and I will take that criticism, but selling your life and your lifestyle for the sake of television fame is not the will of God for any of our lives. Celebrity, fame, fortune as motivators for your life is quite simply, insufficient. Our text for today highlights the problems of piety and religious traditionalism built on performance. More specifically, Jesus states the obvious: behavior does not defile and make unclean. Defiling behavior has its source in the human heart. Jesus has to chastise the Pharisees, educate the people, and warn the disciples that simple pious behavior is insufficient to show faithfulness. God is ONLY pleased with a human heart oriented toward God and a behavior that is in sync with such a heart.

For Jesus, it is not that behavior and actions don’t matter; they do! Jesus wants us to place behavior in its proper place. It isn’t doing the right thing that makes you righteous, it’s the belief in the right thing that motivates the behavior. Doing what we as a society believe is correct is not always the right thing in God’s economy. Taking care of self, cleanliness and obedience to family are all socially constructed norms; but Jesus overturns every single one of these teachings at one point or another in his ministry.

As a society, we often spend so much time being concerned with the way people behave and act and if that behavior conforms to the prescribed norms of our lives. We then use our behaviors to define a mainstream and then use any and everything outside that norm as entertainment, exploitation and for profit. It is truly a sad state of affairs when a channel that markets itself as “The Learning Channel” has devolved into little more than a carnival show for every aspect of life.

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We deserve better and should require more of ourselves than mere voyeurism. Seeing marriages fall apart, drama and fighting between women, promoting backbiting and lying all in front of television cameras for the sake of fortune and fame is defiling. No matter the stated intentions of education, or promoting or insight or even “FYI”, we are essentially defiling notions of family, friendship and faith.

My grandmother had a simple saying that “just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean you should do a thing.” I modify this homespun wisdom to say that just because it’s there doesn’t mean it needs to be seen. Broadcasting hurts, pains, curiosities and the frivolity of all that there is in the world is irresponsible. The need to know is not so great that it warrants the selling of one’s lifestyle nor the exploitation of individuals for mere entertainment.

In this new year, let’s avoid the voyeurism and seek a vision of truth instead.

 

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Newtownian Understanding (Part 1)

Jesus wept. (John 11:35, KJV)

The simplest verse in all scripture, (and the one that is easily remembered during games of scriptural recall), is the above passage. In all of the Biblical witness, the profundity of scripture is so often found within its deep phrases and careful construction of the narrative. Understanding the nuances of the story and all of the subtleties of a passage of text, so often exposes the deepest meaning and truth for application. John 11 verse 35 captures all of that in two simple words……..Jesus……wept. It is the most provocative and deeply profound statement in the Bible.

John’s understanding of Jesus as the “Word made flesh” means that this Jesus is God realized and revealed in humanity. John’s Jesus is independent of the disciples and ready to engage all of the tasks of human existence because of the confidence of the relationship he has with “his Father.” The relationship is so connected and so intertwined that we understand John’s Jesus as fully God in the moment. So what Jesus does, so God does as well. When Jesus acts, God is at work. Jesus speaks, God is speaking. They are “one.”

So then, the moment when Jesus comes to the tomb of his deceased friend Lazarus, is an eye-opening moment in the life of Jesus and all of us. For in this moment, despite all of the power Jesus possesses to rectify the situation……..Jesus cries. God cries. Its earth shattering and provocative. It challenges all notions of divinity but yet it is witnessed to right there in the text. The fullness of divinity expressed the deepest and fullest moment of humanity…….grief.

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The events of this past Friday are so disturbing and numbing that it really defies words to attempt to explain. I, like many others around the world, was shell-shocked and stricken by the horror and evil visited on elementary school teachers and students. Much of my crying came from watching my own children play, oblivious to what was taken place in the world and how the parents of those twenty children could no longer do so. It hurt to see the pain in Connecticut while seeing the joy and innocence in the eyes of my children, knowing that the world we live in will one day jade those eyes and cause them to produce many tears.

These situations have become all too common in our country and frankly, a form of this type of violence occurs in neighborhoods and cities across this country everyday. Mothers and fathers are nearly constantly weeping because of the loss of a child to gun violence and assault. News images and reporters cover a fraction of the violence that visits many neighborhoods and communities. In America, we have sadly learned to cope with mental illness, gun violence and the tragedies of mass public killings. By the way, if we have found a way to cope with the killing of our children at the mall, in movie theaters and at schools, we have developed our own level of mental illness in society.

Each time this horror visits us (be it in Tuscon, Aurora, or Newtown), we as a nation quickly move from sadness to debate about fault, illness, or theological/philosophical distraction to satiate our desire to understand or make sense of these situations. People say things like “God needed another flower” or “its all part of God’s plan”. (In fact, if you read the John passage closely, you will discover that Jesus makes his own theological assertion about the death of his friend). In my experience, these assertions and claims, do little to provide the ‘help’ and understanding that people think they do. In some cases, it causes harm and pain. It is not constructive to try and comfort without first wrestling with your disturbance. That means taking time for self-reflection and processing. Some might argue that theological assertions and policy debates are ways to grieve and process our emotions in periods like this. This might be true, however, while there is no ‘right’ way to grieve, there are constructive ways to grieve. Constructive grief means dealing with the hurt your have experienced in ways that continually allow you explore meaning and feeling about a situation. This is very difficult and shouldn’t be done alone. Sadly, many do not know or are unwilling to go through the hurt to Process their emotional health. Rarely do we take the time to process our own emotions in light of these situations. As a result, we learn little from these horrific moments and become broken people ignoring the cracks and fissures of our neighbors and friends, because we don’t want to expose our own brokenness.

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In the days and weeks ahead, my vision of truth is that we take time to grieve constructively, together. We seek to understand ourselves in the light of this confusion. We weep. We write. We pray. We do the things as families, communities, neighborhoods that restore wholeness in our lives together. Constructive grieving is done privately and publicly and experienced individually and collectively, so that no one is simply alone and no one is delusional about their hurts and pains. We live together and grow whole……..together.

There is an interesting conclusion to the pericope of Jesus weeping. Jesus weeps and then orders the stone be removed and does something. After he weeps, he takes action. After crying, he addresses the situation. Quite simply, there is a time to cry and then there is a time for action……. (Part II will turn out attention to that action)

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Vain Worship…

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die. ’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. ’” (Matthew 15:1-9,NRSV)

The last two weeks for the nation’s new pastime have been the most horrific and tragic in quite a long time. The National Football League has suffered the violent loss of two of its players, the possible criminal indictment of a third and the tragic death of a girlfriend and mother of three. By now, sports enthusiasts and cultural watchers alike have been made aware of the case of Javon Belcher and his wife Kassandra Perkins. (Click here for more information on the case.) 

The Murder-Suicide at the Kansas City Chief’s practice facility rocked the world with the violence and senselessness of the acts. There have been many op-eds and pundits examining the angles of this tragedy. Two of the more controversial perspectives came from NBC News Sportscaster Bob Costas and centered on the role of guns in the tragedy. Costas borrowed from a column of Fox News Journalists Jason Whitlock and centered on the US culture of big business sports, the role of guns and domestic violence in the tragedy. 

Unfortunately, while we were still grappling with the horror of the events of December 1st, Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle Josh Brent and practice squad player Jerry Brown got into a car in which an intoxicated Brent decided to drive on December 7th. Brown was killed in the car accident and Josh Brent has been charged with a form of intoxicated manslaughter. In the wake of these tragedies, pundits have been quietly reflective on and muted in their responses out of respect for the evolving criminal nature of this tragedy.

In both of these horrific events, no one seems to be asking a more poignant question. While pundits and columnists have spent a great deal of time analyzing the players, our culture, and the proliferation of guns, it seems to me that now would be a good time to look in the mirror and examine what these tragedies and our responses to them say about our society.

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Our text grapples with an interesting redefining of communal accountability. In this confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew, Jesus and his disciples are caught violating rules of religious purity. In a swift retort, Jesus challenges their definitions of righteousness and piety. In the face of strict ritualistic obedience and adherence to tradition, Jesus confronts false piety and warped superstitions to free those who might be bound by these systems.

Adherence to the status quo for the sake of tradition and making up the rules as you go along are designed to keep people captive. Trapped and hopefully compliant, the Pharisees represent all that is wrong with many of our religious and institutional structures. They can be so dependent on people remaining in the system without hope of escape. Conformity, non thinking and non questioning participants keep the system going while at the same time remaining deeply entrenched in warped thinking.

Much of our allegiance to the gridiron sport of Sundays in the Fall and Winter is rooted now in deeply held traditions and beliefs about our teams, our athletes, and our culture of competition. Last year’s NFL labor dispute centered on the distribution of nearly 9 billion dollars in revenue between 33 teams. The Sports Entertainment Complex is an institution of our culture and like the religious institutions of Jesus’ day, self righteousness, adherence to honor and tradition, and false piety are all used to protect its interests.

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Instead of focusing on the loss of two innocents, Kassandra Perkins and her three month old daughter, the Chiefs opt to compete a day after this awful tragedy. The Dallas Cowboys take to the field in competition while one of their own sits in a jail cell (he was released on bail Sunday night); many of their own players took the field with tears in their eyes. Instead of pausing and calling for moments of reflection and focus, NFL carries on under the banner of “getting back to a sense of normalcy.”

Our ‘get-over-it’, ‘suck-it-up’ culture is rooted in part in the way we play our sports. Players getting concussions week upon week and still going to play. Families and teams being torn asunder by pain and violence and the League moves on without disturbance or disruption. AND EACH WEEK WE TUNE IN TO KEEP THE INSTITUTION ALIVE…..

The Jesus of Matthew 15 is the Jesus that calls us to be liberated from blind obedience to our traditions. It isn’t our guns or our gladiator obsessed spectating that is causing this callous nature. Its simply us. More than anything, lets pause long enough to see the vision of truth that liberates the chains of spectating and blind allegiance to the field. I pray that we may be different so that Kassandra Perkins will not have died in vain….

Selah……….

 

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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

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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