Category Archives: War

Not Against Us, Then for Us!

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40, NRSV)

Many of us were shocked and appalled to awaken to the news of the death of a US Ambassador this past week. Further, many of were still shocked to see violent eruptions of protest at our embassies in the Middle East and other countries. Both the death of four diplomats and the destruction of diplomatic missions remind us of the dangers and hostilities that often are part of this world in which we live. However, I was much more disturbed at the root of all the chaos….

A video had been produced in Los Angeles back in June by a man calling himself Sam Bacile. The video purports to be a feature film that ‘exposes’ the true Islam and its revered Prophet Muhammad.  The video in actuality is a poorly produced vile insult to everything that is religious and decent in the world. I have not dignified the creators by watching any part of the video, but many reports portray it as everything from “pornographic to absurd.” The fact that this movie was made in the US (and seized by fundamentalist Islamic clerics) serve to many in the Islamic world to be further evidence of the US’s vile hatred for Islam.

On first account, I am still stunned that such a video (and let’s be clear it is an internet video) is able to produce such a backlash in certain parts of the world. My shock quickly fades when I contextualize my understanding of the Islamic faith with traditional values of the sacred religion. Respect, honor and dignity are of extreme importance in public discourse and are highly valued in the Islamic religious culture. Violations of this code can be treated as gross negligence worthy of retaliation. That explanation not withstanding, the violence and death of last week us not at all justified by the majority of Muslim throughout the world.

At issue for me is the level of our own intolerance and understanding of the ‘other’ in the world. Many in the United States are still deeply suspicious of Islam as a religion and some are outright hostile to what they perceive as a threat to our national security. Many communities deny the construction of new mosques and undermine the work of Muslim groups through openly questioning the motives and their presence. Many professed Christians openly commit to violently “protecting” their native land against a 21st century infidel that looks nothing like the average Muslim adherent in America (or the world for that matter.

Adding insult to injury is the discovery that Mr. Sam Bacile is actually an alias (one of more than a dozen) of an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who is seeking to air his own Islamophobic views. So here, you have a Christian (in the same vein as Terry Jones last year burning a Quran on Sept 11) exposing their deep fear and hatred in the name of truth and free speech. Our fears, our hatred, our hurt and our pain being used to inflict others with hurt pain and injury.

Jesus in the above passage is answering a query from one of his disciples who sees someone operating from a different understanding than the disciples have. The man is casting out demons in the name of Jesus but does not belong to the twelve. He is outside of their experience and from what the disciples can tell, has no experience of Jesus personally. He makes all of the right moves (as testament to his ability to actually cast out demons), but is not in line with the disciples’s understanding of belief and behavior.

Jesus says one of the most profound things in the New Testament. He says, “Don’t stop him. Whoever uses my name to do powerful things will not soon say bad things about me. Whoever is not against us is with us.” I love this statement from Jesus about the ‘other’. What he is saying, is that “a person who operates as I operate will not turn away from me.” Anyone who is not overt in their opposition to our message, our actions, our hope, and our love as Christians is still with us. Jesus’ statement makes the world a little less complicated than we have made it. Their are only those who are against us, and with them, we can see who they are in that they oppose us.

 

The bigger lesson from Jesus is that we need to acknowledge where we see Him at work in the other and celebrate that as a manifestation of the work of Christ. We are so easily led to acknowledge the difference and separation and the negative points in anything opposite our own perspective. Our conservative  ideologies define the norms for both sides: The Muslims who protest violently are the “true Islam” while the Christians who foment anger and hatred are the “the real views of all Christians”. These limited and narrow minded views are minorities within religions that are much more alike in their views of humanity, God and the service to one another. (To be clear, Muslims and Christians are very different in belief and practice, but we are not so different as to not recognize the oneness of God working in both of our traditions.)

 

Jesus’ statement calls into question our own proclamation of “if you are not for me, you are against.” In fact in turns it on its head, for His statement is literally, “if you are not against me, you are for me.” The only way this idea can be lived out is through a reaffirmation of goodness of our God in the world working through many of our traditions. Seeing someone doing good work in the world (regardless of the tradition) is a reason to celebrate the goodness of our God working in them. Seeing the Muslim feed the hungry or take care of the sick is to see God use them in the same way God uses every one of else.

Places of division and discord are ready and always apparent. It takes a vision of truth to view your ‘other’ brother or sister as a co-worker with God…..and with you.

 

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Of Sacrificial Worth…

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8, NIV)

In the lives of most Americans, we spend a great many holidays eating and creating merriment. New Year’s, Valentine’s, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Fourth of July are all days that feature prominently food and/or food products. The value and worth of those days are often measured by the food you eat and how you consume it on what day, (Hot Dogs on July 4th, Boiled Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies on Easter, Turkey on Thanksgiving). While I can understand the origins of many of these feasts that occur (history often shows feasts as being communal ways to celebrate events), our contemporary celebrations carry the feast traditions without any real understanding our reflection on the significance of the holiday. Thankfully, not all holidays are lived in this way. Yesterday was Memorial Day…

Sure, Memorial Day is the day that prominently features cookouts and parties in the good ol’ American feast tradition, but it also has a prominent feature that, no matter how full you get, you cannot ignore. It is the one holiday that features solemnity and reflection while offering hope through celebration. It is a holiday that is built upon the oxymoron of the “good sacrifice”. The feasts of this past weekend cannot happen or continue in the future without the sacrifice of those who have gone before. In many respects, Memorial Day carries with it the same peculiar paradox that Good Friday carries in the Christian experience. We celebrate the memory and sacrifice of families and service persons who have fought and continue to fight for this nation, its freedoms and the promise of this Union of States to be a “more perfect union.”

The significance of this day cannot be devalued. In spite of capitalistic attempts at making a easy dollar with a “Memorial Day Sales”. The sacrifice of too many men, women and their families will not allow the marring of this Holiday. They serve as watchpersons and gatekeepers that protect the legacy of the past for the heritage of the future of this nation. The wreath laying, the sound of taps being played, the height of civil religion on display all provide forceful reminders to the contextual ‘spirit’ of any the celebrations (more appropriately, observations). In my area, the sound of 15-20,000 bikers fills their air on Sunday prior to Memorial Day.  Rolling Thunder, as they are known, serves to disrupt the quiet peace of Sunday afternoon and force into your memory the real reason for why we observe this day. Like the sound of nails being driven into the cross at Calvary, these motors cry out for attention and respect. For those who have died, they are the voices to call attention to their sacrifice.

Like this passage of text, Paul reminds all believers of the irony of the sacrifice. We are often taught that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one). My Star Trek fans might recognize this! (Greek Philosophy also addresses this.) Paul turns that thinking on its head by recognizing the rarity of sacrifice for a greater good or ideal. He takes it a step further by proclaiming, Christ died for those who are imperfect and flawed. Rare is the one who dies for the just, but even rarer is the one who dies for the one who is wrong and unjust. It doesn’t happen! O, but it has, for the text says “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Every Sunday we proclaim Christ and Christ crucified for the sins of the world! This  and every Memorial Day weekend, let us endeavor to say quite simply, “Thank You!”

Much of the world finds it hard to believe that such a man would do such a thing (let alone that it is even possible for such a thing to take place). Yet, we on this past weekend celebrate the many who have lived and died in service to this nation. Some of whom did so when this nation was unjust in their treatment of them.

The many women who served….

African-Americans who served prior to desegregation…

The Native Americans who served…..

The Japanese Americans who served in WWII….

The GLBT who have served silently….

Those who served in Vietnam….

The power of Christ resides in all those who answer the call to serve in spite of the world’s labeling of them to not be qualified. We give thanks to God for the sacrifice of Christ Jesus who died for all of us in our ‘lowly state’. But we also give thanks to God for those who answered the call to serve even when this nation treated them with ‘lowly stature’. This Memorial Day week, let us continually thank God for the visions of truth our service members fight for each and every day. Here’s to that day when we beat out swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks…

 

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The ‘Us and Them’ Syndrome…

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him out of Israel; the people also wept bitterly. 2 Shecaniah son of Jehiel, of the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra, saying, We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you; be strong, and do it. 5 Then Ezra stood up and made the leading priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear that they would do as had been said. So they swore. (Ezra 10:1-5, NRSV)

One year ago this week, the nation observes the 1st anniversary of the most infamous revenge killing in the history of the country, the death of Al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was widely considered the mastermind behind the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington D C and the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. The nation launched two wars with 11 years of conflict in Afghanistan.

I recall most vividly watching the news on May 1st evening to see many young college folks at local colleges and universities headed to the White House and national monuments to shout and ‘celebrate’ bin Laden’s death. All the social media sites were lit up like Christmas trees and a Presidential statement was delivered to the nation late that evening. Most striking to me, was my own feelings. I had (and still have) mixed emotions about the events of that night and even the death of bin Laden.

I am dazed at my oscillation from relief to disgust to fascination at the society’s relationship to this news. Like most Americans, I am relieved that a singular threat of known terrorist leadership can no longer be a threat in the same way. But I am also saddened at the disease of denigration that so often characterizes our perception of the enemy. In the days, weeks and months after the carnage of September 11th, Americans rallied together for support and communal strength and that is wonderful. Americans also begin to foment real and seething anger at the enemy (which initially was Al Qaeda and bin Laden, but quickly morphed to include all of Islam). Communal bonding was gave way to fear and xenophobia, and justice quickly transformed into revenge. As those feelings came to the surface, an ugly tradition in human experience began to rear its head.

We as Americans, (and more broadly humanity in general), have a dual mindset of national bonding while at the same time, fomenting deep fear and exclusionary beliefs. Throughout human history, strong and positive nationalist movements very quickly have turned into dangerous and destabilizing xenophobia. It leads to the syndrome: The belief ‘in us degenerates into a denial of the God ‘in them’. Let me say it this way: Whenever we as human beings characterize the adversaries in life, we have a strong tendency to denigrate their person-hood. We deny their humanity and vilify them. This is and always should be a disconcerting approach to our enemies.

 

The text above is deeply problematic because it exposes the ethno-nationalism that existed in the post-exilic nation of Israel. After having gone through exile and the confusing and disorienting chaos of the loss of Jerusalem and the Temple, the people gather to rebuild and be restored under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. The text portrays the people who returned as looking to assign blame for the state of the ‘fallen’ experience with God. Nationalism always needs a scapegoat; a ‘other’ to be upset with and cast blame for the present state of things. In the text, the leaders and elders decide that it is the foreign women in their midst. Had the men not married these “foreign women” then they would “not have sinned”. The chauvinism and arrogance of the passage is disturbing by itself. Add to that the xenophobic way in which they deal with the remedy for the problem is even more worrisome.

 

 The text reveals our human instinct to assign blame and concern always for the “stranger” or “foreigner” who has found their way into our midst. Never mind that we often invite them and want to celebrate diversity in our communities. The moment that we feel threatened or outraged is the moment that the ‘other’ gets dehumanized and vilified to our elevation and celebration. It means that immigrants that have been the backbone of our societal fabric for more than two centuries now are ONLY portrayed as job-stealing, baby-having, crime-spreading “leaches” on the American way of life. (See how easy it is to deny humanity to another? The language gives it away, every time!)

 After September 11, 2001, we as a nation fell victim to the same instinct to dehumanization and undignified behavior. It started with an exploration of terrorism and Al Qaeda. It moved to language about Muslims, Mosque, and Arabs. It spread to anyone profiled to not be “American”. Eventually it became an all-encompassing and pervasive use of nondescript pronouns (them, they, those) appear and lead to a rejection of any portrayals of normalcy in the life of those communities. (See TLC All-American Muslim controversy). The result is a total denial of the humanity of “them” and a limiting of what it means to “be human” or be American or be anything in order to place blame, cast judgment or to use toward an intended end.

The “foreigners” become all those who we don’t want to be US. They are the people who “reject the nation” and “undermine ITS values”. Our problems and our concerns are rooted in the “foreign” problem and if we could just get rid of them, then we can and will prosper. The text implies this in a cursory reading and we have seen many national policies throughout history portray this as truth. The fact is that the Bible itself argues multiple perspectives with regards to the reasons for exile. Some say it was because of unfaithfulness to Torah (to include violating the prohibition on intermarriage), while most prophets argue the larger violation of justice, obedience and faithfulness to the ritualistic worship traditions. The point is that an “us and them” theology/ideology is never the cure-all. It always leads to a narrowing US and a more expansive THEM.

Sure, all of our neighbors are not like us. They don’t eat what we eat or look like we look. Some or our neighbors don’t like us. A few of our neighbors are actually against us. But they are still human. They have families and friends. They attend weddings and funerals. While they may not eat what we eat or look like we look, they do eat food and look more like us than not. They are US and WE are THEY. We don’t have to agree for this to be true. It is an ontological fact. It is what it means to live as a human BE-ING.

Our differences don’t make us enemies, our policies and perspectives and ideologies do. We further our own objectives and they further theirs; that’s life on the playground just as much as life on the world stage. Those differences do not in any way diminish the humanity of the one(s) who we stand at odds with. Difference does not equate to diminishment. Any other attempt and distinguishing values and virtues without context is an attempt at finding an excuse to make them less than we.

Celebrating the death of any human being is in itself inhumane. Those who participate in that celebration call into question their own humanity and not that of the deceased. Its time for us to do better in the scope of human history. Seeking the humanity even in your enemy is the God principle in all of humanity. It is what makes us a reflection of God’s wonderful creation: To agree to be human if disagreeing with everything else. If all humanity would pursue this goal, then perhaps we move one step closer to a vision of truth.

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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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The Search for Redemption Continues

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us! 40But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong. 42Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom. (Luke 23:39-42 NRSV)

So here we are again, a humiliating and meaningless death orchestrated through subtle forces of coercion and manipulation. The victim: An innocent bystander, who, through being who God intended him to be, became confrontational to the systems of oppression built on assumption and fear. The threat: A perceived and misunderstood phantom of fear’s construction. The action: Unwarranted but final, forceful but empty and seemingly hopeless yet filled promise for greater opportunity.

The actions of George Zimmerman and the Sanford Police department, (and more importantly the murder of Trayvon Martin), has caused many in our society to reflect on all matters concerning race, to jurisprudence to proper attire for minority males (see Melissa Harris-Perry and Geraldo Rivera). While these critiques are good at channeling the continual refrain of equality and fairness under the law, they merely renew the same debates and issues of the last 150 years of racial inequality. That does not at all mean that this is not an effective means of redress in society. It doesnt always account for the critical analysis of the theo-logic in light of the socio-political structures present in society.

I too, am driven to careful reflection and critique in light of the violence in Florida almost a month ago. Although I must admit, my reflection is specifically unique in the course of discussions surrounding this gross miscarriage of justice. In light of the Lenten and Easter seasons, I am led to reflect on power of death and the theological meaning for social change. Out of the many billions of folks who have died, there are some deaths that fundamentally redefine the way we exist in the world. I believe Trayvon is one of them, but by no means the first.

Most of our modern perspectives on death and dying are rooted in fear. The most heinous of deaths is any murder: the killing of another (the law would add: with intent). From the so-called first murder of Abel in Genesis to the present, the act of murder displays one of humanity’s greatest sins toward our neighbors. So often, murder is completed fear and hatred towards each other, it is hatred’s ultimate end. Civilizations the world over (including many religious and Christian civilizations), have sought to contextualize and sanitize this scandalous and perverse act. Murder for soldiers in time of war is a crime but killing the combatant enemy isn’t murder. Killing in self-defense is appropriate under certain criteria (depending on the state you live in and whether or not you pursue your assailant are both mitigating circumstances). God throughout the bible coexists in the world between “Thou shall not…” and “Go and take the land and …”, both of which are at odds with the other. The biblical mandate seems to be static and unchangeable both in Genesis and in the Mosaic covenant in the Ten Commandments. Yet, the heart of the Christian narrative centers on……..murder.

The death of Christ is an innocent man’s death according to orthodox Christian teaching. A man, who is without any error, is convicted of crimes he did not commit. Given a swift and biased trial, he is summarily executed. By any definition, the death of an innocent person by the hand of another is murder. Christians interpret the death of Christ as something greater and much more profound than any of the contemporaries of Jesus’ time would have thought. The thief’s confession at Jesus’ side, (as well as the mocking thief) acknowledges the truth of the moment: an innocent man has died. The truth goes deeper: an innocent man has died and we are complicit in his death and need his forgiveness. The mocking crowd and thief remind us of the power of fear and coercion in moments of murder. This scene is very much like the arguments being offered today trying to find justification for the unjustifiable. Despite the horror of the moment, it isn’t until after his death (and resurrection) that Christians like Paul would appreciate the theological significance of Christ’s death as being the Good humanity would need to be in right relationship with God. And it is only because of that death, that we even come to know of the life of the man who changed all of history.  The Gospels and the church are written and founded upon the confession, Jesus is Lord! but only after he is murdered.

Regardless of this divine truth, the crux of the Christian narrative is problematic in a violent and murderous world. The faith in Christ’s death is mysteriously redemptive for all of creation: this is the spiritual claim that asserts primacy over the graphic horror of an innocent man’s death. His death is like ours but doesn’t mean the same thing. His life was similar to ours but cannot be understood in the same way. These contradictions are at the heart of the Christian faith, despite the fact that the murder of innocents is still very much a part of our life today. If the work of Christ is efficacious for us in the modern time, then there must be a greater purpose to the death of innocents in the present, after the death of the Innocent One? In other words, how can we redeem the lives of the innocents who are murdered in our present day?

The challenge for us as Christians is to see the redemptive power of the deaths of the innocent in the larger sweep of Universal Justice. Troy Davis, Medger Evers, Shaima Alawadi, Matthew Shepherd, Sean Bell and Trayvon Martin are just some of the innocents who were murdered. I am sure there are countless others, who we will never know. We have labeled their deaths as  ‘meaningless deaths’. Meaningless because they didn’t have to die or their deaths were so outrageous that their meaning was totally indefensible. Yet I challenge all of us to rethink our use of a ‘meaningless death’. The value of every life is sacred and immeasurable. The loss of anyone in this world, particularly to the act of murder, cannot be measured by the mere act of the death itself. The power of the singular moment of Christ’s death is the beginning of understanding the power of Christ in totem. His power, (unleashed at his death) is to impart life and change in the world through understanding his life. This death is not just one that sets him free but then convicts the systems and stagnancy of the world. It demands and cries out for redemption and change in the world.

I believe the power of Trayvon’s life should be interpreted through this same lens.  In the immediacy of his death we search for justice and to date, have found it lacking. Yet, this search and the search for all of the countless relatives of the innocents still call us to be better and do better. Their deaths are not meaningless, they are tragedies of the first order, but every life is meaningful. The truth of the Trayvon Martin case and many of the other innocents is to call us to seek our redemption. We have to be and do better than we are, lest we (in the words of Paul) crucify them afresh.

Redemption means recognizing the power of the life force in all of us and abandoning the categorization of murder and fear. It means living with divine justice and mercy as realities and not relativistic ideals. Redemption means seeking forgiveness from the innocents as the thief does in the passage. The change this redemption brings means no one should have the power George Zimmerman had that February night. Redemptive change means no state, no nation; no human principality has the power to murder. It is too great a risk to take the innocent with guilty, even though it still takes place. Yet even then, God is able to bring purpose to our idiocy; to bring hope to our fears; and bring peace to our chaos. It isn’t until we choose redemption that the twisted irony of a macabre day of death can be called ‘Good Friday.’

Recognizing that life and death have meaning and purpose in God’s creation is the first step to this redemptive life. Sadly the completion of this reality may still be a ways off. Yet, the vision of truth can be closer in our sight if we choose to search for it now, before another innocent dies

SELAH

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An Inconvenient Truth…

The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading. (Lamentations 2:14, NIV)

Some years ago we were all informed (or misled depending on your view) about the importance and significance of the effects of global warming in our world. Led by former Vice President Al Gore, the work of the documentary centered on providing obvious and direct evidence to the fight against global climate change and its effect on our way of life. The title “Inconvenient Truth”, reflected in part the obvious nature of the change in climate and our full willingness to ignore the signs and implications the movies brought to the forefront. The reaction to the movie further substantiated the title of the movie.

The reality is that this title is very much an existential statement as much as it is a catchy title. The life shaping and life defining moments in our lives are often outlined through ‘inconvenient truths.’ These are the kinds of truths that we know instinctively yet do not enact because it cost too much to our personhood to change. Inconvenient truths disturb us and tell us that everything is not okay and the reality we painted for ourselves is frankly…….false. They are experienced in relationships when we’ve already known for sometime that a relationship is not good for us and yet we remain forconvenience and safety instead of doing what we know to be healthy and fruitful. They are experienced in daily economic decisions when we knowingly make decisions that cost us more in the long-term (and the short-term) just to satisfy an immediate desire. Inconvenient truths are present in all our lives and nag at our very being while we do everything we can to ignore it and get rid of it. That is why it is inconvenient.

In the past few weeks, we as nation exposed two very basic inconvenient truths. These truths have been with this country for a very long time and yet we have done what all people and nations do when faced with inconvenient truths….hide from them. The reality of war is the first truth; not just war but all that goes along with it. Specifically, that war is more than ugly it is horrific and its effects last for generations. This first ignored truth is personified through the life of Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and the shooting of 16 civilians (if unfamiliar, see here). Regardless of your view of the soldier and national policies of defense, the inconvenient truth sheds light on something that has always existed and that we have attempted to redefine. General W. Tecumseh Sherman once  said “War is Hell”, and how right he was. General Sherman’s sentiment was as much true in the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War as it is true in our present day. The reality of this hell is not altered by the use of drone airstrikes, precision guided bombs and surgical strike teams. The images and memories of war live as much with the soldiers and “enemies” alike.  Lives are taken and psyches altered permanently. We can ignore it and convince ourselves of alternate stories, but truth’s inconvenience will always rear its head, usually at the most inconvenient moment.

 

The second inconvenient truth deals with the failings of our “more perfect union”: we exist as a divided society. This division is along three simple lines: sexuality(to include gender), class and race.  Any one of these in any society is divisive and causes a great deal of tension. In the US, all three of these are of great consternation and problematic for the one who exists in any (or all) of these categories in opposition to defined ‘norms’. The sad part is that most Americans have convinced themselves that we do not have a race or class problem, and that women, gay, lesbian and transgender persons can all co-exists in harmony.  In the face of the hallucinogen of American Exceptionalism, there are moments of inconvenience that show that all is not well in Oz.

The violence toward gay, lesbian and transgender persons all belie our challenges with equality of sexual identity. The political climate of constantly legislating women’s reproductive health as well as the basic disparity of pay for women reveal the failure of male dominated systems (of thinking and of industry) to recognize the power men enjoy. The killing of Trayvon Martin is another instance in the long horrific history of racial prejudice and fear in the United States. The last event in particular is egregious and outrageous. Read the following account by ABC NEWS:

“Martin, a black high-school junior, was making his way home with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea on Feb. 26 when George Zimmerman spotted him, called a non-emergency dispatch number to report Martin looked intoxicated, followed him, and then minutes later after an altercation, shot him.

Zimmerman, 28, who is white, claimed self defense. 

The night of Feb. 26, Zimmerman made a non-emergency call to police before fatally shooting Martin, in which he told a dispatcher, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something.”

(ABC NEWS full cited story here)

This teenager, (a high-schooler) is murdered because of fear and gross prejudice. Mr. Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty, but that is only if he is ever placed in the  criminal justice system. To date he has not been investigated for murder. Self-defense killings (not that this was) is still a murder. Lives are taken and psyches altered…….permanently. Trayvon Martin is not the first to die and his family is not the first to grieve because of the reality of racism in a country that continually redefines reality. I am also afraid that he will not be the last. 

We wonder why many in our society are so quick to “play the race card”……Because it is reality. This is not a game, it is an inconvenient truth. The fact that we are so quick to do nation building, KONY 2012 and all of the other novelties point to level of inconvenience that race generates in our country. Even if we conveniently elect an African-American President.  The failure of anyone in law enforcement to conduct a proper homicide investigation and seek justice for all parties belies the level to which race is so much a guiding factor in our social mores and normative behaviors. Yet, we believe that if we continue the mantra of equality then speaking will make it so. Hardly….

Selah….

 

As Jeremiah does in the passage from Lamentations, inconvenient truths unabashedly show the reality of the world. Jeremiah speaks after the fall of Jerusalem reminding them of the failure of convenience in conveying the truth of their situation. As a prophet, his message of destruction was consistent and in opposition to all the other prophets who spoke words of comfort and hope- a convenient portrayal that denied the truth of their situation. How things have changed…… not so much?!

Ultimately though, Jeremiah’s message and admonition discloses an even greater reality- inconvenient truths are Divine. They are messages and moments given by the Divine to the created. They are the Divine in us calling us to be the image of God in creation, bringing us to account. They are the moments that call us to be greater than our choices. These moments are the  God-moments that speak to our souls and offer us a different way. Thank God for Inconvenient Truths

The sin is that so often we think it too hard to live into that Divine  reality. Yet, if we believe the God who so often interrupts, then surely this same God’s reality (no matter when and how it comes) is attainable, if only in part.  After all, visions of truth are so often inconvenient to their visionaries…….

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Filed under Christianity, Discipleship, Hope, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Sacred Memory, Social Justice, Trayvon Martin, War

THE WAY 2012

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. (Matthew 21:23, 45, 46 NIV)

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. (Matthew 22:15 NIV)

By now, the work of Jason Russell and Ben Keesey’s viral video ‘KONY 2012’ has become common topic of discussion at water coolers across the globe. If you have not yet seen the video, you can check it out here. Nonetheless the riveting docudrama detailing the carnage and violence of the longtime Northern Ugandan separatist movement known as the Lord’s Rebel Army (LRA), headed by warlord separatist Joseph Kony. The stated goal of the KONY 2012 video is to “make Jospeh Kony famous” and bring a level of awareness to the world about the violence and destruction that has been wrought by the LRA on Ugandan children and the nation as a whole. The larger non-profit Invisible Children is the brain child of Russell and Keesey  to effectuate the larger goal “stopping” Joseph Kony. For more non-partisan information on the LRA and Uganda, click here.

There has been much conversation and debate about the strategy, organization and management of Invisible Children as well as the naiveté of the filmmaker’s method of bringing light to the plight of the victims of the LRA. Some critics are adamant in their rejection of the neocolonial perspectives while others are fiercely opposed to making a warlord ‘famous’. Some critics dislike that a white man (Jason Russell) records the video (along with his son) with naive excitement and very basic language about a complex African civil war. Other critics abhor the tactics of fundraising on the backs of the child victims of the LRA and making war famous. There are competing videos, op-eds, columns, interviews and speeches that use a multi-fold method of attack to undermine the work of Invisible Children and/or the film (or both). The global nature of our communication means that even citizens of Uganda have heard of the movement and stand at odds with the film and filmmakers, for a whole host of reasons. While there are several factual errors in their video (location of Uganda, and the current whereabouts of Joseph Kony to name a few), there is an inherent truth to what the video is attempting to communicate. Nor am I going to take factual cues from a YouTube video……period!

I am in favor of the campaign to bring global attention to the plight of the children of Uganda. (I am in favor of bringing light to any of the dark and hidden places of death and destruction in order to bring change). I think the work of Invisible Children and its video serve a noble cause to make the world a more livable place. This blog post is not about validating or defending the work of Invisible Children (there are plenty of places you can get that information). Instead, I write to offer a parsing of the criticism and opposition that has permeated the world’s response to this movement.

I am awestruck at the vehement opposition to the burgeoning KONY 2012 movement. I am puzzled at the nature and theme of the critics and the nature of their criticism. My sole introduction to the movement came from a college-age member of my congregation messaging me with the video and exaltation to “watch and take action”. They also expressed that they were going to begin a chapter of the movement at their college. A day later, that same member of my congregation was confronted with the critics and exposé of the work of Russell and Keesey. Specifically, a movement that took hold in the last two weeks has now incurred the ire of journalists, governments, politicians and a whole host of citizenry around the globe.   The criticisms do not seem to address the merit of what the video seeks to do….. simply inform. Every comment begins with, “while I agree with the idea, the method…”

I see the heart of the criticism as ultimately the critique of an anti-establishment movement by the institutional structures of established-driven societies. That is to say, in many of our societies, credibility is only given to the agency of institutional prerogatives. If a group wants to offer systemic change in the world, they need to use established and generally acceptable means to promote change. Any activity or movement that doesn’t jive with established practices of fairness, reporting, political correctness or narrowly construed definitions of equality is discredited as suspect, flawed and/or downright fraudulent. In religious contexts these movements are unorthodox and blasphemous and cause all sorts of consternation for the practitioners, managers and conveyors of the institutions of societal orthodoxy.

The institutional resistance to this new movement reminds me of similar resistance to the effects of a first century movement in Palestine that was just as anti-establishment as this one is in the 21st century. The gospel of Matthew highlights the direct confrontation with the institutional systems of Jesus’ time and context. In fact, that confrontation lasts until the end of the gospel. The movement that Jesus has started and nourished challenges everything the invested structures of society hold sacred. Jewish Law, Roman law, cultural expectations and traditions, and all of the institutions that manage those structures get challenged in the face of Jesus’ movement. By the time he enters Jerusalem in this 21st chapter, Jesus gets quizzed and cornered at every turn. In many respects Jerusalem is the epitome of the Judean institutions of governance and societal norms. Here, Pharisees and Sadducees, Centurion and Gentile, all commingle to highlight the supremacy of institutional authority in Judea.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem comes while every aspect of his being, (his parentage to his motivation to his methods) is questioned in an attempt to discredit his authenticity and his movement. Matthew intentionally portrays this systemic rejection as the culminating acts of Christ’s redemptive work. Using the institutional means of ‘authentication’, the representatives of institutional power (Pharisees, Sadducees, Governor Pilate) are all shown finding ways to debunk and undermine Jesus and his followers.

Yet, there is hope in that this movement is anti-establishment   (specifically, counterestablishment). Jesus builds a movement from the institutional ‘rejects’ and the ignored persons in the society. The people who institutions invest in ignoring are the very people who follow The Way. The work of the Christ here creates a new way of being that forces the structures of institutionality to confront the people, issues and challenges they have ignored. Therein is Christ’s Judgement, not that he has to say anything, but our reaction to the moment seals our verdict.

Invisible Children is not a religious movement, but a movement nonetheless. The power of this movement is found in the very thing the institutions of the present age use to move any of us, social media, video, campaigning and word of mouth. The reality is that the movement’s work forces governments, societies, churches, and all of the other structures of institutionality to face their failures. It hurts us to be reminded of the inaction in the genocides of Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and others. It is convicting to be confronted with where you have failed the children Liberia, Sudan, Myanmar and the war-torn countries of the world. The KONY 2012 movement conjures up those images and those emotions all over again.

This 21st century movement has rallied a generation that institutions labeled as ‘lazy’ and ‘ineffectual’. A people, No! A generation is on the move and looking to change the world for the better. And so, like the Pharisees of the Matthean corpus, (and like all other generations that seek counter-establishment ways of changing the world), we too reject this movement. Our rejection is damning more for what it says about us, then what it says about  Invisible Children. We use our disdain of the counter-establishment methods of a grassroots movement to justify our inaction and dismiss the willingness of a few to change the world.

The source of my anger lies in the fact that Invisible Children shouldn’t be the group that is ferreting warlords and war criminals out of their hiding places. Non-profits are not theologically equipped to face the suffering humanity in all parts of the world. There has long since been a movement in the world that is the anti-normative and be counter to the status quo in any age. It started in the gospels long ago and flourished to change a world of institutional ways of being into a world of abundant living. The vehicle for social and communal change is the church. It is the Christian church that speaks truth to the powers of the world. It is the Christian church that has the audacity to be hopeful that societies and people can change and justice for the oppressed is still possible.

For far too long, the church has turned a blind eye to oppressive governments and corrupting influences that cause simple situations (food, shelter and protection) to devolve into complex political cultures (civil war, economic stagnancy, famine, and the like). Sadly, the church is the establishment and often partners to exclude and reject the very people who it is called to find and affirm. Many times we the church, and the society, define the truth through the lens of protectionism and past hurts. Out of fear we seek not to speak about the things of the world that need speaking on. From places of hurt we modify our speech to the point of nullifying our prophetic witness in the world.

My vision of truth finds the church and our society willfully seeing the glimpse of truth others see in our world. #THEWAY 2012

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Filed under Christianity, Church, Discipleship, Gosepls, Jesus Christ, Prophetic Accountability, War