Tag Archives: politics

The Return of the Truth

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

I was infuriated.

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

“How stupid!”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Newtownian Understanding (part 2)

Do not remember the former things,

or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:18-19, NRSV)

Do you still remember? Are you still outraged? Does it even matter anymore? In this age of rapid tweets, social media and waning attention spans, we are so quick to forget our hurts and pains. Our grief and moments of change last temporarily since our lives our fleeting and we so rapidly move from one state of angst to another.

Yet, we said that the tragedy in Newtown meant something different. We said that this tragedy should never happen again. We claimed a new orientation to the mental illness and our obsession with guns. Despite all of our proclamations and aspirations, the talk about gun control and mental illness has evaporated into the partisanship of old, and the gridlock that has marked our politics in the 21st century.

We have heard every manner of proposal  from the liberal Left to the conservative Right. The National Rifle Association proposed arming trained volunteers to be placed in public schools, while others have suggesting keeping a national database of the mentally ill. All of which seeks to do new things in and have a new mindset without changing our traditional systems of thinking and politics as usual.

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This text form the prophet Isaiah should give us some grounding as to what our course is moving forward. The prophet conveys God’s promise that God is prepared to do a new thing in the midst of our very being. In the face of depressing circumstances in exile and the loss of all that was normative, God questions the people of Israel, that he is “doing a new thing” and “can we perceive it?” In the very midst of their despair and concern, God points them to the opportunity in their midst. The interesting point to the passage is that those opportunities God is revealing our not simply moments of change…..but they are moments for God to show God’s self strong. God presents the opportunity and we are called to see and act with the assurance of God’s promise that something new can happen and is happening in our very midst.

In spite of the things we said after Newtown, we have not thought any differently about our violence, our treatment of the ill, or our children. We find reasons to hold two contradictory premises: maintain the safety and security an open society, and yet affirm the right to carry weapons by all individuals. If we say that God is speaking to use through these challenging moments, we must be prepared to entertain the notion that some tensions are too difficult to hold. Being a free society means that we have certain rights that guarantee life and liberty. But being a civilized society means that we are prepared ‘certain’ rights for the sake of the good of the society…….right?

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In any event, our national discourse is being conducted in such a way as to negate whatever learning opportunities we could have. Our work is yet to be completed, but it begins with us having street-corner conversations about everything from gun control to the treatment of our mentally ill. The stigmas of gun ownership need to be challenged just as much as the ostracizing of people who seek mental health advice. True, the average gun owner does not seek to harm any person, but may hunt or use it for the comfort gun ownership may bring. Yet, the prophet’s words of examination and insight ring true, “do you see what I am doing in your very midst?”

If we think that Newtown is a ‘game-changer’ in the life of this nation, then it ultimately means opening our eyes to the ways we need to change for the betterment of our nation. I affirm that God IS  up to something. Hopefully, if we CAN perceive it and glimpse it as a vision of truth for the upcoming year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours…..

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Grief, Hope, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Sacred Memory, Social Justice

The Symptoms of a Familiar Disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

You Get What You Want

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Question of Intent…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Gosepls, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Jesus Christ, New Testament, Old Testament, Political Theology, Redemption

Claims to Legitimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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For the Union…

No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the LORD. So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. 26 Therefore we said, Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, You have no portion in the LORD. 28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, Look at this copy of the altar of the LORD, which our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you. (Joshua 22:24-28, NRSV)

All of us are horrified at events of this past week that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The violence that was perpetrated in a crowded movie theatre on the occasion of the premiere summer blockbuster movie. Allegedly James Holmes, a graduate student and possibly mentally disturbed gunman burst into the crowded theatre opened fire killing many and wounded many more. His actions have fractured a community and upended the sense of normalcy that should be indicative of a movie showing in a theatre in any American town.

Sadly, we in America are not foreign to mass shootings and public violence. The typical statistics of gun violence in the US orders somewhere around 10,000+ murders and/or injuries. Killing sprees and mass shooting though are always subject to media sensationalism and political navel gazing because it exposes the obvious conundrum of American social life. At our core, this nation holds to poles in tension: the importance and value of individual freedom and rights; and the basic protections and cohesion that is the hallmark of a nation-state. In other words, we as Americans elevate an individual’s freedom to chose a life of their own and posses what they wish and do what they desire. However, that freedom has to be balanced with the basic function of a government and society to hold a nation-state together as unified or even United.

These poles pull and tug at our fabric as a nation come to fine points of clarity in moments such as abortion, civil rights, religious freedom and peculiar enough, the Aurora shooting. Mental disturbance or not, Mr. Holmes’s act was perpetrated through his readily accessible access to weaponry and ammunition. According to reports, he purchased all of his weapons legally and arouse little or no suspicion with his actions. The fact is that guns are too easy to obtain (either legally or illegally), and gun violence is a problem of epic proportions in the United States. Gun violence is not unique to the US relative to other nations, but it is endemic to being in the US.

I could cite all the statistics and other data that confirms this truth, but why? The real issue has to do with what I said earlier; the values of individual choice over/and against our collective life together. The above passage from Joshua highlights the concern of some of the lesser tribes of Israel about their future in the life of unified nation. These tribes were cut off from the others by the river Jordan and while all who were living at that time understood their connection to the nation, these three tribes were concerned about future generations. What would happen to their small collective in years to come when their people on the other side of the river had forgotten about Rebuen, Gad and Manessah?

Their solution was to build an altar of remembrance to show their allegiance to the same God of Israel as their kinsmen. They could have simply expanded their territory east of the Jordan and united together as a new nation apart from Israel. They could have each explored their own ways of allegiance to God and not concerned themselves with unity. What they decide is to risk war over a misunderstanding about motives, just to build an altar to the God of Israel. It would stand as a reminder to all Israelites about the importance and significance of the unity of the nation regardless of the boundaries of geography (or later ideology).

We have an individual right to carry guns, and that is undisputed. That individual right does not mean we have to carry a gun. Further, in light of the scripture, it means that we have to be willing to occasionally revisit the importance of our individual right to carry over and against our willingness to be a unified nation. If the result of that right means we are divided by ideology, victimization and death through gun violence, then we should be willing as a nation to frankly talk about guns and so-called gun’s rights on the same constitutional plane as victim’s rights. Not calling for a repeal of the second amendment, just an uninfluenced and frank conversation about guns in the country.

The most bogus saying in American politics to day is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The point of the saying is to highlight the role the individual plays in making a decision to kill. Anyone who wants to kill someone will do so whether they have a gun or baseball bat; so then why restrict gun access, it is not the gun’s fault? This statement is bogus because guns have always killed people. Guns make it easy to kill people. Guns make it easy for people to kill themselves accidentally or otherwise. Guns contribute to a devaluing of life because people get a immediate result to the anger they carry. A gun in someone’s hand guarantees a death or serious injury. A baseball bat guarantees a fight. Arming people insures that people will kill people…

At this moment, more than anything else, we should be focused on a unity of spirit and solidarity with the victims of this heinous act (and all acts of gun violence). The unity of spirit involves a real and frank conversation about the role of guns in our life together. The vision of truth this week is that we finally learn from Mr. Holmes and the Aurora victims the lesson of living together in a violent nation.

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