Archive for July, 2008

Brilliant.

Ahhh, satire.  You are a shrewd and honest lady.  (ht)

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jesus / Obama

I’ve admitted a number of times that Barack Obama’s rhetoric of changing the world, creating a new world, bringing hope to the world, etc., stirs me a little inside.  I’m stirred because that’s what I want.  I live by the idealistic mantra that “another world is possible.”  That the world is broken, but slowly and surely, it is being put back together.

My problem, however, with Barack Obama is this: He doesn’t point to the Risen Lamb as the source of this new world.

His religious rhetoric implies that he views Jesus as the supporting actor for the real leading lady, politics.  I don’t doubt that his faith in God is real, but I simply don’t think he’s asking the question, “How would society be different if God were running the show, not man?”

Furthermore, as the linked article above satirically points out (along with magazine covers, news reports, and daily conversations with Obamites), many people view Barack — consciously or subconsciously — as a sort of savior figure.  As if one man could really bring about the kind of “new world” he preaches.  Christians, especially, should know that this is impossible.

But, like the Israelites, many Christians on both the Left and the Right are yelling, “Give us a king to lead us!

From time to time, when I hear an especially stirring Obama speech, I can find myself yearning for such a one.  Lord, forgive us.

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Christians & Politics, Rd. 7: Links Galore

So, it seems like everyone in the blogosphere (or at least the corner that I read…) is discussing the role of Christians in the political process.  I’ll share the three links that came across my Google Reader just today.  The first two are crucial, and the third would be good were it not for its crackpot author. =)

David Fitch writes a thoughtful post called, “‘Not Voting'” as an Act of Christian Discernment: Calling the Emerging Church Into a Different Kind of Faithfulness.” His 3 points?

  1. The State is an (Preserving) Order of Creation
  2. Voting is Violence
  3. “The Christian Nation” — or, the impulse to vote is to see justice take hold through the public sector.

Knightopia.com reports on a talk by Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, the always colorful and radical New Testament scholar and cultural critic from Duke. Hauerwas always offers us a thoughtful and impassioned perspective on just about any subject, particularly those related to issues of church and state.  His comments at Renovatus Church are no different.  Here’s a snippet, but read the entire thing (and listen to the audio if you have time):

I’m told I’m supposed to be a ’sectarian fideistic tribalist,’ is the description of me, asking Christians to withdraw from the world. I wouldn’t mind withdrawing, but hell, we’re surrounded. There’s nowhere to go. The question is how to just keep going through, and you’re going to take some losses. So we have to be wilely as serpents on these matters. I’m not asking you to withdraw from politics. I’m just asking you to be there as a Christian.

There’s nothing more important in American politics than being able to hold people to truthfulness, and the reason that American politicians are afraid of telling us the truth is because the American people don’t want to know it.”

Very interesting perspectives, admittedly different from what I’ve been saying.  I’ll share theologian N.T. Wright’s views scriptural perspectives on the “public nature of the gospel” in the next post.  Oh, and it’s interesting to note that both Fitch and Hauerwas say they’ll probably vote for Obama.

Finally, here’s a piece I just had published over at the zine, Jesus Manifesto, reviewing more carefully the Al Jazeera report on U.S. religion and politics.  Nice of them to print it.  (by the way, if you’ve liked this series on politics and religion, you’d love many of the articles over at JM …)

Christians & Politics, Rd. 6: Al Jazeera

Just saw these on the Ordinary Radicals blog.  Their the two parts of an Al Jazeera English special titled “Inside USA: Christianity, Politics and Power.”  I think this is fabulously done.  Maybe it takes a news organization from a slightly different worldview to frame the questions in such a way that an actual story emerges…

Given our conversation over the past few weeks, I’d love to hear your general thoughts on these two videos, as well as your opinions on the following questions:

– How well are all of the major platforms in this debate characterized or represented in this piece?

– What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

– What are your outstanding questions after watching this?

– Did anything about this piece unsettle you? Comfort you?

– Who made the most sense in this piece? (doesn’t have to be the person you agree with)

– Did the questions raised, images shone, or interviews conducted in this piece raise any new questions about your own opinions?

OK, I’ll let you watch the videos now.  Enjoy.

Part 1

Part 2

Christian Politics, Rd. 5: Civility

Where I would hope all Christians agree regarding American politics is in communicating with each other in a civil way.  With everyone, even if they have a different take on the most important issue to you. All Christian speech is seasoned with salt, edifying, and spoken in love.  This is a given.

Or so one would think.

Christians have led political assaults on the character of political rivals for decades in America.  Left-wing, right-wing, and all wings in the middle.  In recent years, one of the most frequently used media with which to launch these character assaults is the Internet, and specifically e-mail forwards.  Many people are beginning to see an influx of these e-mail forwards, which slander the character of the Presidential candidates unabashedly.  (remember the string of e-mails questioning Obama’s patriotism because of the photo to the right?)  One must not understimate how effective these e-mails are in creating doubt in the minds of undecided voters and angering and re-energizing the party’s base.

But they are sinful.

My dad forwarded me a different kind of e-mail today. It was a message a friend of my dad’s sent to everyone in his e-mailbox, specifically regarding the kind of hateful political speech that I’m talking about here.  Here’s a snippet:

One of the things that I notice is that no matter where you might fall on the political spectrum there are voices that operate without love, compassion or willingness to be involved in productive conversation.  Some voices are so strident that they will resort to any tactics whatsoever to win political points regardless of whether or not those tactics are constructive or even true.
So, I have one request of each of you this election campaign and that is this:

Please don’t send me any politically themed email forwards.

We all get them.  Liberals send them out blasting the conservatives.  Conservatives denouncing the liberals.  Over the next four months everything possible under the sun will be said about both Senators McCain and Obama.
And I really don’t need to read them.
So, I ask you.  Remove me from those forward lists.  I’m willing to dialogue with people but I really don’t want to participate in the internet culture of character assassination and vicious rumor-mongering.

He goes on to say that “politics can bring out the worst in all of us.”  Amen to that.  We must all — especially those of us who say “Jesus is Lord … not Caesar” — acknowledge our propensity to let the political circus expose our darkness.  And if we choose to participate, can we at least agree to let our speech bear witness to the love of Christ?

The Pearl

This is just such a beautiful song by a great artist.  And the lyrics are haunting, real, and worshipful.

The best modern lament psalms are being written by “secular” artists. (by this I mean artists outside the Christian music industry)  Given CCM’s propensity to produce slick, attractive, packaged, mass-produced and easily cloned products — with profit as its primary goal — this comes as no surprise.

Yesterday, I found out about NoiseTrade.com, a site invented by recovering former CCM musician Derek Webb. NoiseTrade is a “fair trade” music site, where artists (including Webb, his wife Sandra McCracken, and bands Sixpence None the Richer and Waterdeep, among others) provide their music for download in exchange for any amount of money the downloader wants to pay OR for free if he/she refers three friends to the site. All this is done sans record labels, by the way.  It’s a cool concept, and one that I’m sure will be replicated more and more in the future, given the growing open-source nature of music in emerging generations.

It’s nice to see gospel-infused music following many in the church back to the margins of society where it belongs, and out of the limelight, the center-stage, the profiteering.

Christian Politics, rd 4: Takin’ on McLaren!

OK, let’s get back to it.  Christianity.  Politics.  What are we to do?  Does God care?

I have already made the suggestion in these posts that Jesus was radically political, but not in the way his disciples or enemies thought.  He came to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God, which would bring sight for the blind, health for the sick, freedom for the captives, and so on.  Everyone thought he’d do this by way of a military coup, but boy did he have everyone tricked.  His method would be just a little different … like, try the complete opposite.  He’d give himself willingly over to the authorities, take an unthinkable tongue-lashing and physical beating, and then take up his cross and carry it to a prolonged and excruciating death.  And then, three days later …

I’m also suggesting that Jesus’ political example was not simply one more cute thing the Son of God did that we can gloss over and chalk it up to the whole “being God” thing or to context or whatever — I think his political posture was quite intentional and intended as a precedent for his movement.

What is this movement?  A movement that actually joins the risen Lamb in his Luke 4 mission.  A movement that refuses to settle for a “gospel of sin management,” as writer Dallas Willard phrases it, where we set out to answer basically two main questions: “What do we do about original sin?” and “How do we go to Heaven after we die?”  Indeed, the mission of the church — and the gospel, even — are probably quite a bit more far-reaching than we ever imagined.

Brian McLaren photoThis brings me to some material I ran across on Brian McLaren’s blog.  McLaren, of course, writes lots of good books and speaks a lot.  His book titled The Secret Message of Jesus probably did more for my understanding of Christ as a radical, subversive, prophetic-yet-action-oriented man than probably any other work.  McLaren’s latest book, which I haven’t read, is titled Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.  Nice title!  As you can see, McLaren and I agree on the broad, far-reaching scope of Jesus’ work int he world.

Well, McLaren has been posting a series on why Christians should vote.  You can read them at the following links: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (more to come, I’m sure…)  While I still greatly value McLaren’s voice and scholarship, I must take issue with some of his points regarding the Christian’s political responsibility.  The post I take the most issue with is Part 1, where he explains why he feels Christians should vote, in 4 points.  (you should click on the link above and read the whole article if you have time)  I definitely think he gets most of the big theological stuff right, but I’m not sure his conclusions and calls to action mirror the meta-narrative he’s conveying. (I’ll put his writing in quotes and respond directly underneath)

1. True, there are plenty of reasons to be disillusioned with US politics (corptocracy and plutocracy being major ones). But in my travels in other countries it has become clear to me that even though our system has a lot of problems (and that was a gentle understatement), many other nations are far more corrupt, far less transparent, etc. If we in the US don’t try to make our system work, we’re setting a pretty poor example. Besides, in every other area of my life – church, family, business, etc. – I don’t let disappointment or disillusionment or setbacks make me withdraw into inaction. Rather, I become more committed to make things work.

Tony Campolo once said, “America may be the very best Babylon in the world, but it’s still Babylon.”  McLaren’s turning this statement around in an effort to justify participation in Babylon’s corrupt politics as a means to seek change.  Setting a pretty poor example?  Of what?  What’s a better example: A nation where every Christian votes, or a nation where every Christian lives like a Christian and takes care of the broken world around them?  To me, Christian participation in American politics as a primary means to see lasting change falls under Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.  Ask some of the original members of the Moral Majority how that worked out for them…

2. I don’t expect any candidate to be perfect. In fact, my theological beliefs tell me that I will always be choosing between the lesser of two evils – or more positively put, the better of two less-than-perfects. The fact that candidates are willing to endure the hard work, the media scrutiny, the pressure, the responsibility – of both the election and the office – can be seen a sign of something good. After all, if all a candidate cared about was personal peace, personal comfort, or personal wealth, there are a lot better ways to get ahead. So rather than say, “I don’t think either candidate is good enough for my vote,” I’m more prone to say, “Thank God that people are willing to run at all, and thank God that we have two candidates as good as the ones we have.” We could be choosing between Mugabe and Mugabe.

I think he’s settling here.  Is it God’s desire that his followers ever choose “a lesser evil”?  Isn’t this where the upside-down gospel breaks in and provides a “third way?”  OK, so I like the fact that Obama wants all Americans to have healthcare, but I also know that he will take our nation back into bloody war if need be, while continuing the trajectory of American empire-building.

Theologically, I’m not sure the continuation of McLaren’s argument flies.  Celebrities of all kinds — movie stars, musicians, artists, adult entertainers, etc — “endure the scrutiny, the pressure, the responsibility” of being in the limelight.  I don’t think Brian’s saying we should put just anyone who meets these criteria on a pedestal or play by their rules, is he?  And let’s not fool ourselves here with the motives of politicians … power, money and fame are enticing mistresses indeed. (God knew this all along, but the Israelites just had to have a king…)

3. I believe there is much to protest in our current system. But noninvolvement, it seems to me, generally empowers those who are in control. So non-voting becomes a kind of passive vote for the people in power.

OK, he really confuses me here, because passages he’s written in recent books have contradicted his sentiment above.  Since when is it the task of Christians or the church to prevent the people in power from having their power?  What’s more, doesn’t voting do the same thing he’s warning against here?  Both McCain and Obama are already powerful guys, and the guy who loses will have lots of power right along with the guy who wins.  My view is that putting one’s hope in this system where whoever raises the most money wins simply reinforces a worldly — not a Jesus-y — definition of power.  It says that in order to get X, Y, and Z done, we need to elect so-and-so, and basically accept all the awfulness that goes along with the process.  A) I don’t buy it that we need to have so-in-so in power to get X, Y, and Z done.  My Jesus has been working miracles in lives and communities since the beginning of time, and I think our biggest problem is that we simply haven’t trusted him enough. And B) We should mourn, not reinforce, the racket that is the election system.

4. I believe that a commitment to Christian discipleship should make me a better neighbor, employee, spouse, child, or parent too. Similarly, I believe that “citizenship in God’s kingdom” should make me the best kind of citizen possible, not the worst. Of course, because of my commitment to God’s kingdom, I have a broader range of concerns than I would without that commitment. (More on this in the next post.) But I believe that those concerns would in the big scheme of things make me an even more valuable citizen. My civic responsibility would certainly not end with voting, but I can’t wee why it would stop short of voting either.

OK, Brian, I’m with ya through most of the overarching points here here.  But I’m not sure “being the best kind of citizen possible” = playing by the political rules of our host empire.  Wouldn’t it be like Jesus to model a way of living that gives the powers and principalities of this world fits?  I strongly question the witness of a church that follows the “lamb who was slain,” takes the lowliest seat at the table, and becomes like a child, yet jumps headlong into a system that, by its very nature, embodies the opposite of these values.  And in the last sentence, he seems to imply that a vote is just a little part of being a citizen of this country, so why not bite the bullet and do it.  Because it’s a matter of principle!  How can a church whose commander-in-chief is a Lamb who was slain cast even one vote for a candidate who seeks change in a completely different way?

McLaren is such a trusted voice in the ongoing conversation about what it means to follow Christ in contemporary culture.  In no way am I denigrating him as a prophetic figure in the church.  (in fact, go ahead and check out this PowerPoint presentation he made at the Sojourner’s Pentecost event in D.C. recently … really good stuff)  I do, however, think he would approve of my jumping off some of his points to spur on a little healthy dialogue.  Also, I realize that some of what I’ve written above may sound a tad abrasive, especially to those who will most likely vote in November.  While I want us to have a free and open dialogue on the journey of being shaped into Christ’s image (and I want us to be shaped into Christ’s image as well!), I also want to recognize the diversity in the body, and the reality that really faithful believers have and will come to a different conclusion on the role of Christians in politics.

photo break

Lest we get too serious around here with all this politics and religion talk, let’s take a break from that (more to come…I promise) and look at some photos from the summer so far. Click on any of them to make them larger.