Tag Archives: current-events

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.)

 

hqdefault.jpg

“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.

the-angry-christ.jpg

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.

 

Comments Off on The Return of the Truth

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

A Poor Imitation…

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him

that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no one,

and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;

so his own arm brought him victory,

and his righteousness upheld him.

He put on righteousness like a breastplate,

and a helmet of salvation on his head;

he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,

and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.

According to their deeds, so will he repay;

wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies;

to the coastlands he will render requital. (Isaiah 59:15b-18, NRSV)

I, like many of my friends and colleagues, am devastated and disappointed as a result of Saturday night’s verdict in the Trayvon Martin cased. The 18 months of waiting, the intense media scrutiny, the charged testimony, and the 16 1/2 hours of deliberations brought back a not-guilty verdict and released George Zimmerman. The thousands of hours of interviews, the fervor and anticipation in social media, and the attention to the minutia of race relations, community engagement and social stereotypes all lead to a seemingly forgone conclusion: George Zimmerman legally killed an unarmed teenager.

I tell you, I am disappointed……but not surprised. I am not surprised because what could a jury do when the prosecution argues none of the central factors that define the case, race, vigilantism and poor investigation? In a conversation with a dear friend and colleague, I expressed to him my utter dissatisfaction with the prosecution in the case. “They haven’t even proven to me that George Zimmerman is guilty, and I already believe he is!”, I told him. The prosecution was not prepared, organized or even thorough in their execution of the case. Unprepared witnesses, unclear strategy, and no mention of the key factors of the crime (racial profiling for one) defined the character of the prosecution’s case. You can’t win if the jury does not have a clear understanding of your theory of the crime.

And since I am talking about the dynamics of the law and the case, let me take a minute to define the difference between being guilty as a verdict of a court of law versus the actually committing of a crime. You see, in our system of jurisprudence, the evidence and the law are the only factors for consideration in order to prove the ‘guilt’ or ‘innocence’ of a defendant. The job of the prosecuting attorney is to arrange the evidence in such a way as to ‘reconstruct’ a narrative of the crime placing the defendant as the one who is centrally responsible for both the evidence and the crime. This is actually a huge responsibility since the only job of the defense is to offer a ‘reasonable doubt’ to the prosecution’s case. Defendant’s have no real burden of proof other than to discount what may take months or years for the prosecution to put together as the narrative, given the evidence.

Unknown

What this system does not give is a guarantee that the one ruled guilty is actually the one who committed the crime. This system of jurisprudence offers the ‘faith’ that if the evidentiary hearing is sufficient enough that a jury of ‘peers’ believes a particular theory of the crime, then justice is served. This system can only give assurance based upon a “preponderance of the evidence.” However, this system is likely to get it right as much as it likely to get it wrong. For one who masters the elements of trial law, jury selection, and storytelling can convince a court (within reason) of their theory of the crime and thus get someone acquitted who may have actually committed the crime (see OJ, Casey Anthony, and any number of Jim Crow ‘trials’, etc.).

Given my skewed understanding, I started reflecting on the results of the case and listening to the press conferences of both the prosecution and the defense on Saturday night. What I wrestled with deeply disturbed me. For one, why is it that the prosecution in Florida (or any state for that matter) is always so effective when the defendants are represented by public defenders or cheap legal representation, but not so when there is ‘good’ legal representation? Why is it that under ‘normal’ circumstances, the prosecution is often so confident in their theory of the crime, that they bully defendants into plea deals so that they never set foot into a court room? Why is it that a ‘typical’ prosecution often gets away with certain ‘tricks’ that are overlooked by inexperienced defense attorneys and trial weary judges only to the detriment of the defendant’s fair hearing before the law?

I think that ultimately, the Zimmerman/Martin affair has revealed the underlying problem with our system of ‘justice’. It is the same problem that was brought to light in the OJ Simpson case, the Casey Anthony case and many of the other high profile cases that result in a prosecution’s failure to prove the case. It is brought to light in any high profile, well-heeled defendant is brought before a court of law to be held accountable for some act. In those instances, the respective prosecutions are forced to bring their ‘A’ game, because so many people count on them to get it right. At best, they are mediocre; because, quite simply, their normal actions against a defendant often involve ‘tricks’ and other mechanisms to avoid an intense trial on the evidence and facts. Plea deals, zealous prosecution and other powers of the state so often overwhelm ‘ordinary’ defendants that there is seemingly little for them to be able to react to. ‘Ordinary’ defendants don’t have deep pockets to get the attorneys that check after prosecutorial misconduct. ‘Ordinary’ defendants cave under the bluff of evidence that prosecutors throw at defense teams. ‘Ordinary’ defendants don’t have an entire world rooting for (or against) their acquittal……

 

selah-3

 

Now, as you may have guessed (by my oversimplification of the legal system), I am not a lawyer or even a legal secretary.  What I know of the law comes from a careful reading of some textbooks on law (and a hell of a lot of ‘Law and Order’). I am a practical theologian. I speak to matters of faith and how our faith speaks to the matters of our life. In light of that disclaimer, I can say this: our current system of jurisprudence offers little in the way of the justice that God is looking for in the above passage from Isaiah. You see, justice is first and foremost a divine concept. The Bible is replete with examples of God’s cry and call for justice to be made known among the nations and the people. Justice, like love, is an aspect of God’s character. God is the balance on the scales and the mediator of the morality of the universe. The nature, occasion, and execution of justice is solely the ultimate purview of God.

Like all attempts at human imitation of the divine, the American justice system falls far short of the divine character. Perverse and distorted, the justice system is riddled with loopholes and undermining of the traditional rules that distort the divine position. Not unique to America, the truth is that humanity’s justice is not God’s justice. This passage from Isaiah forecasts the beginning of new vision for Israel. It is a vision where God, out of sheer frustration and disappointment, comes down to be justice for the nation. In this anger, God deals with the unjust to reestablish the plumb line for the nation and for the world.

images

Just because justice is divine, doesn’t mean we cant’ do our be better. (Love is divine and we spend a lifetime trying to perfect it!) We can do better by our citizens, by our mothers and fathers, and by our God. As long as there are those who are prosecuted disproportionately, we can do better. As long as there are those who can ‘buy’ the right defense to find the holes in our legal system, we can do better. As long as people feel unsafe and unprotected by the systems that are meant to protect us, we can do better. God requires it…..lest God comes down and see about it for Godself!

My heart breaks for Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin as they have no closure and no opportunity to grieve fully in light of the continual questions that permeate this case. All of hearts should break at the injustices of our life together. We can and should do better by Biblical standards. For all those who mourn and suffer under our best attempts at justice, my vision is for their healing, and God’s justice to be done “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

 

 

Comments Off on A Poor Imitation…

Filed under Community, Grief, Hope, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability

The Cure for a Corrupt Mind

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin (Romans  7:14-25, NRSV)

In the last several weeks, the news media has spent a great deal of energy uncovering instances government mismanagement and corrupt behavior. Classified leaks, secret cover ups and scapegoating have dominated the news cycle. The IRS, NSA, DOJ, Benghazi and the palace intrigue of wondering what the President knew and when he knew it, are the latest parlor games in Washington, DC. The seriousness of these events are still hijacked by much of the media (which for the most part has lost all sense of objectivity), to stoke general fears of government overreach, state monitoring and possible media interference.

Let’s be clear, in a free society there should always be the expectation of free access to people, places and information. Any reason for secrecy should be carefully debated, explained and then continually reviewed to see if the reasons are still valid for secrecy.  Open societies can have secrecy, but what makes them different from totalitarian secrecy is that there are well-defined and oft debated reasons for secrecy. The freedom of information is held with primacy along with the need for security.

images

Much of that process took place when the Patriot Act of 2001 was enacted by Congress as a result of the attacks of September 11th. There were many voices of consent and dissent that were part of the discourse but in the end, a free society chose secrecy balance by freedom. The Act has been renewed several times by members of congress with overwhelming support, each time with new hearings and new conversation of the reasons we have for being secretive. To date we have chosen to keep the balance toward secrecy.

Unlike the surveillance programs, the other scandals are true instances of misconduct and negligence on the part of our government. These other scandals are bureaucratic and selfish attempts at government (or persons charged with the public trust in government) to act toward personal ends. We often miss the incredible selfishness that is present in our government structure as institutional preservation outweighs all other considerations toward morality. Whether it is secretly seizing records in a criminal investigation, withholding applications because of political affiliations, and/or the editing of talking points to save political careers; the trouble centers on the will to do right, over the will to do for self.

Government is not the only place where this battle of will is played out. So often we as individuals are faced with this same battle of wills. We battle between what we know is right and moral to do in a situation, and then battle against what we want to do for ourselves. Paul alludes to this very battle in this letter to the Romans. In discussing the work of the Jewish law in the life of the believer, Paul defines the law as convicting and clearly designed to bring us to an understanding of our immorality before God. So then, in light of the law, we are forced to know what the difference is between right and wrong.

As a result of that knowledge, we must choose. Empowered by a will to do either good or evil, we choose to act in the world. We choose to conform to the law or “live in the flesh” (according to Paul). Like much of the foolishness going on in our government, we often choose based upon self gain, preservation and a general belief that ‘no one will find out’.  Unfortunately what results from decision-making in this way are corrupt, ineffective and blatantly selfish actions that cannot be undone.

images-1

If all we had was our understanding of the law and our failure to live up to it, then we indeed would be doomed. But Paul says in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”. It is by and with and through Jesus Christ that we are empowered to be different. By taking on HIS will, we see different options for being the good sheep He calls us to be. Sure corruption is always possible, but Paul’s admonishment is to be different for the sake of Christ. This same Christ who took on indifference and hatred make a decision for Him. This same Christ who died for you, the epitome of selflessness. Make the right choice because of who He is to you…

My vision of truth for us is just that: Be different for the sake of the one who became different for you.

 

Comments Off on The Cure for a Corrupt Mind

Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Epistles, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Jesus Christ, New Testament, Political Theology

Following a Different Policy

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel? He said, “I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brothers blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:8-10, NRSV)

This past week a stunning thing took place at a assisted Living facility in Bakersfield, California. A woman had gone into cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing. A nurse (remember that) on staff called 911 and was waiting for instructions. The operator on the line stated quite clearly that CPR was needed and that it needed to be performed immediately. The nurse’s response is bone chillingly inhumane and robotic. The exchange went as follows:

911 dispatcher: Are we just going to wait and let this lady die?

Nurse: Well, that’s why we’re calling 911.

911:  We need to get CPR started

Nurse: They’re refusing CPR. They’re going to let her just die.

911: I understand your boss is telling you you can’t do it but if there’s anybody, a      human being, I don’t…. is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?

Nurse: Um, not at this time.

I must admit that when I first heard this I was struck by the irony of it all. A woman who is a nurse, and is trained to help people, quotes company protocol and policy when someone has a heart attack. In a “Assisted Living” facility no less!!(Worse yet, it has been reported that the deceased daughter is “satisfied with the treatment” her mother received.)

Apparently, the company that owns the “assisted living” facility has a policy that does not assist people in active medical distress other than calling 911. This company has effectively enshrined into company policy the phenomenon that we occasionally see from people in the streets. You see it through the hidden camera footage when people see someone on the streets in distress and then do little to nothing to aid that person. Sometimes they don’t even call 911 or reach out for anyone.

Cain and Abel

This behavior is not new. If we trust the witness of the scriptures, we find the first such incident in our above text. Often called the first incident of murder in creation, the above passage seems bigger than just sibling rivalry gone awry. Likewise, this tale is not merely about what happens when we are not forthright in our feelings. All of those explanations can be found in the text but Cain’s response to God’s prompt seems to be particularly telling.

When God “stumbles” upon the scene of fratricide, God asks,Where is your brother Abel?”, to which Cain offers a stunningly blunt and sarcastic retort, ““I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” The response seems on the surface to be both disingenuous and pompous. At a deeper level, the writers of the passage are placing a double entendre into Cain’s mouth. The retort is both a denial of Cain’s familial responsibility for his brother and is a passive slap in the proverbial face of God. In other words, when God poses the question of Abel’s whereabouts, Cain’s response in our vernacular is, Don’t know what you are talking about. Keeping people isn’t my job, it’s yours!!

More importantly in the passage, Cain’s response reveals a truth of our own human shortcomings. When we fall short of expected behavior and fail to be human in our behaviors to our fellow sojourner, we resort to hiding behind the ‘policies’ we craft for ourselves. Whether it’s Cain hiding behind the witness of God’s character as humanity’s caretaker; the Pharisees being scolded by the Jesus for hiding behind the sabbath; or a nurse in Bakersfield, we use the convenience of policy to cover our ineptitude or inhumane practices to one another.

Beloved, we are made to be connected to one another. We cannot live a part from each other and thrive. We are meant to live in community and even though communities don’t always get along we are called to do it together. Resorting to legalistic interpretations of ‘policy’ stifles what has always been intended for each one of us. ‘Policy’ has a place in so far as it helps us to understand our relationship with one another and the ways we relate to God. However, our heavenly mandate is always answer yes when the question is asked, “Am I my brother’s/sister’s keeper?”. The 911 operator almost seems to be asking that very prophetic question of the nurse when she simply asks, “is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” In the same way that Cain killed his brother Abel, this nurse willful inaction stole the chance for life for that woman. The nurse’s response to the operator says it all: “Um, not at this time.”

images

We are better than what this nurse and this company offered this dying woman. It is insufficient for the company to say that they let all of their residents know of the CPR policy in advance. There is still a human standard, a basic standard or life. This standard applies to all areas of our life together. We can do better in our conversations about guns and violence and not hide behind a policy that “guns don’t kill people”. We can do better in our policies toward war, healthcare, poverty and all the ways that we should be “keeping” our brothers and sisters. God requires more and Abel’s blood cries out for me. We should demand better from each other and from those who lead us.

Getting the lesson from the Cain and Abel narrative without the death of another one of our brother’s and sister is a vision of truth…

1 Comment

Filed under Christianity, Community, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Justice, Old Testament, Redemption, Sacred Memory, Social Justice, Trust

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.

Jovan Belcher

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.

Hurt RG3

 

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……….

 

Comments Off on Vain Worship…

Filed under Civil Religion, Community, Discipleship, Gosepls, Hope, Justice, New Testament, Political Theology, Sacred Memory

The Symptoms of a Familiar Disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Comments Off on The Symptoms of a Familiar Disease

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

You Get What You Want

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

******************************************************************************************

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!

 

Comments Off on You Get What You Want

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