Archive for the ‘Christians’ Category

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 …)

Christian Politics, round 4: Power & Weakness

I’ve been told that there are two subjects you never bring up at a dinner party: politics and religion.  This series of posts combines those taboo topics, potentially creating the perfect conversational hurricane.  But I’m happy to report that most of you have conducted yourselves in a civil manner, bringing up tough, thoughtful questions and conversing in a Christlike manner.  For that, thanks.

We’re going through 1 Corinthians in our faith group on Sundays.  Last week, in studying 1 Cor. 9, we stumbled upon the oft recited but seldom understood Pauline passages toward the end of the chapter:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Someone insightfully made the point that in verse 22, Paul doesn’t balance out his statement about becoming weak to win the weak by saying, “and to the strong I became strong.”  One would think he’d do this, but he doesn’t.  He makes specific mention of weakness and becoming weak, implying that in weakness, we best share in the blessings of the gospel. (it says similar things elsewhere in the NT)

Someone else brought up that this passage mirrors what Paul says about Jesus in Philippians 2: that Jesus “made himself nothing,” “made himself a servant,” “became obedient to death … on a cross” and was therefore “exalted to the highest place.”  This is the most orthodox image of Jesus that we have … that of God made flesh / humble / weak / servant, and that of self-sacrificial love.  What a powerful thought! (on a related note, check out my friend Mark’s post about Jesus: Enemy of the State … good stuff)

It seems to me that between clamoring to elect the right kind of king to create the society we want and jockeying for positions of power in Washington D.C., Christians on the left and the right have lost focus of this most central of Christian doctrine.  That in the kingdom of God, small is big.  Weak is strong.  Poor is rich.  Humble service brings exultation. Mustard seeds can move mountains.

And so on, and so forth.

What if political action was prophetic, not just challenging the issues that oppose the kingdom of God but also the very systems and processes that do as well?  What if, instead of engaging in a broken system to enact miniscule change, we began to utilize our God-given “prophetic imagination” (thanks, Walter Brueggeman) to think up creative, subversive political statements and action?  What if our very lifestyles were a prophetic political statement to our neighborhoods, cities, and the empire in which we reside?

I ate lunch with my good friend Brian today.  We have lunch once a week, usually, and often wind up talking about some aspect of the kingdom of God.  Today, naturally, we talked about the Christian political imagination.  He mentioned the fact that lots of books have been written recently and even conferences held about why men aren’t interested in church.  What if, he suggested, men aren’t interested in church or Christianity because churches don’t do anything exciting?  What if men (and I would add women to the mix here as well) desire action, adventure, risk — even discomfort — in a community of faith?  Not to say this kind of lifestyle would be popular or easy or win massive converts, but I think a sense of mission, calling, adventure, action, change — whatever active word you want to put there — is just what the church needs.

Indeed, what if the life of the Christian was anything but safe pew-sitting, but was a radical, prophetic, POLITICAL display for all the world to see?

Where can I sign up for that?

“Spare change for a hedge fund…

…to put [resigned Harvard president] Larry Summers back to work.” That is an actual quote I heard tonight out of the mouth of a panhandler in Harvard Square. Only in Boston…

That plea comes in a close second to the sign I saw a few months ago in downtown Boston: “Just out of jail. Need to get drunk and laid.” He didn’t get any of my money, but he did get points from me for humor and honesty.

What are some funny panhandler requests you’ve seen or heard?

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The 11th Commandment
Read this book:

Seriously, it should be required reading for every Christian (alongside the Bible, of course). Here’s a powerful passage to hold you over until you buy or borrow this book (which will be soon, of course):

Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.

sunday, lazy sunday…

604428_87312868.jpgOK, so I’m convinced that my friend Miller is a genius. He just might be the most profound theologian I’ve ever known. Don’t let his wardrobe and Texas drawl fool ya … this guy is a thinker. I want you all to go read today’s post. He touches on many of the things that we discuss regularly around here. The difference is that he puts it much more concisely than I ever have (and I’m supposed to be the writer!).

Miller’s also a wonderful father, so go back through his blog archives and check out his journey as a dad. The proof is in the three (going on four) incredible children (he would call them disciples) he and his wife are raising.

Here’s to you, Miller. Miss you, my friend.

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Related to Miller’s topic, I have really been encouraged (and convicted) by this article at www.theofframp.org. Since coming to Boston, we have been tormented and pestered by a single, seemingly harmless question:

“where do you go to church?”

Because we have intentionally chosen not to attend a traditional church here in Boston (instead choosing to be the church with the Christian / pre-Christian friends we’ve made, as well as to use our Sundays as intentional Sabbath time), we often find ourselves stumbling over our answer to that 6-word query.

“uh, well…um…we’re not really a part of a formal church community right now…”

or

“well, we’re trying to start something in our neighborhood…”

or

“…we set aside our Sundays for intentional rest, and going to church often hinders that…”

Why is that question so hard to answer? Why does a flood of guilt come over us everytime we hear those words? A better question might be why we hold church attendance (at a building, a set time, using our standards and definitions for “church”) so highly, and why we are so quick to hold others to our standards?

Some have even told me that when they left the institutionalized church, they immediately felt marginalized and sub-Christian in their former circles.

I think the above article (“Detoxing from Church”) holds many — but not all — of the answers to that question. So I’d encourage you to read it and tell me what you think.

If you have a suggestion for how we could better answer that question, I’ll take that too …

political (un)involvement: part deux

OK, so I rail against political involvement the other day on this blog, and then I read two very challenging passages from two very challenging authors that made me think again. What’s a guy to think?

The Irresistible Revolution.jpgFor those of us who grow instantly nauseated at the mention of the word politics, maybe we can break it down a little bit. The English word politics derives from the Greek word polis, as in “metropolis” or “Indianapolis.” The word is rooted in the concepts of “city,” “civil,” “citizen,” “civic,” basically what it means to be a society of people. Anything involving humans living together purposefully is political, a polis. As the people of God, we are building a new society in the shell of the old, a new polis, the New Jerusalem, the city of God. This is essentially a political act. Without a doubt, envisioning the radical countercultural values of God’s kingdom is by its essense political. Imagine the Gospels with every mention of king, kingdom, Lord, Savior, crowns, banners, and thrones (all words from the imperial lexicon) all edited out. A gospel that is not political is no gospel at all. The root of the word allegiance means “Lord”; that’s exactly what the early Christians were executed for, for pledging an allegiance to another kingdom, another Lord — treason. In 2004, as the presidential election rolled around, many of us studied the Scriptures and considered what it means to claim Jesus as Lord, or as president. When people asked who I was voting for, I would say, “My president has already ascended the throne and has already delivered the State of the Union address. I don’t believe that God needs a commander-in-chief or a millionaire in Washington, and I have little faith that either of the likely options will incarnate the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and the fruit of the Spirit. I will declare my allegiance from the mountaintops, joining the chorus of the saints and martyrs. And I will raise the banner of love above all flags.” After all, we vote every day by how we live, what we buy, and who we pledge allegiance to, so I just resolved to write in my vote, as I did not find it on the national ballot. And I was determined not to let my vote be confined to a private booth, secret ballot, or taboo conversation.

–Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution

Secret Message.jpgI’ve become convinced that although Jesus’ message was personal, it was not private. I’ve been convinced that it has everything to do with public matters in general and politics in particular — including economics and aid, personal empowerment and choice, foreign policy and war. The fact is, Jesus called his message good news, intself a public term that evoked the political announcements of the Roman emperors. When they would win an important military victory, they would send out messengers to announce good news. Caesar Augustus, for example, who ruled the empire from 27 BC to AD 14, articulated his good news in this inscription found in Myra, Lycia: “Divine Augustus Caesar, son of god, imperator of land and sea, the benefactor and savior of the whole world, has brought you peace.”

I’ve become convinced that if the good news of Jesus were carried in a newspaper today, it wouldn’t be hidden in the religion section (although it would no doubt cause a ruckus there). It would be a major story in every section, from world news (What is the path to peace, and how are we responding to our neighbors in need?) to national and local news (How are we treating children, poor people, minorities, the last, the lost, the least? How are we treating our enemies?), in the lifestyle section (Are we loving our neighbors and throwing good parties to bring people together?), the food section (Do our diets reflect concern for God’s planet and our poor neighbors, and have we invited any of them over for dinner lately?), the entertainment and sports sections (What is the point of entertainment, and what values are we strengthening in sports?), and even the business section (Are we serving the wrong master: money rather than God?).

–Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus

What do you think?

living in God’s story

This week I am in a challenging and Christ-centered class called “Living in God’s Story: Spiritual Formation in Missions.” We have talked about the spiritual disciplines, about church, about the nature of the Trinity, about our “missional God,” and many, many other things. Dr. Earl Lavender, director of missions at Lipscomb, is teaching the class and has shown a level of vulnerability and passion that I have rarely seen at the graduate level. It has been refreshing.

Here are some random quotes I wrote down from the class, in no particular order. Be blessed!

Scripture = paradigmatic stories about how God interacts in the world

We live in a world of competing stories. Everyone lives in a particular story, whether by default or intent. We need to re-introduce (for many people introduce) the story of God.

Salvation is living with Jesus.

If you’re God, why pray?

We need to believe that our life is to be fully absorbed in the kingdom story. It needs to consume us.

Mother Teresa: “I never pray for clarity. I only pray for faithfulness.”

Spiritual formation is learning to hear the voice of God in normal circumstances of life.

God created the universe as a symphony of praise, and spiritual disciplines help us to tune our hearts to that symphony.

Fantasize about God. Look for representations of God in everything we see.

What would church/our life/missions look like if everything we did was run through the understanding of God as relationship?

Every vocation is an opportunity to live out the kingdom life.

What we cannot now do through trying, the spiritual disciplines allow us to do through training.

The post-Resurrection life is not about doing the spectacular, it’s about helping people figure life out.

wealth

GKB has facilitated quite a discussion of the Christian approach to wealth and prosperity. Discussions like that bring out every possible opinion, from “God wants us to be rich” to “God wants us to be poor,” and everything in between. Sometimes it makes my head hurt.

But instead of defining ourselves as Christians by what we are not (not rich, not poor), what if Christians began to make some bold commitments to how we’re going to live?

Could we commit to not seeking our own interests, but the interests of our Father?

Could we commit to modeling a radically different way from the way of this world?

Could we commit to seeing that in our communities of faith, no one is going to be in need?

Could we commit to seeing that our eyes are fixed on Christ (and Christ alone)?

Could we commit to a “throwing off of all that hinders?”

Could we commit to trusting God for our provision?

Could we commit to viewing our “stuff” as God’s?

Could we commit to “seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God?”

Could we commit to “not storing up treasure for ourselves on this earth,” but treasures in Heaven?

Could we commit to following the way of Christ, who “had no place to lay his head?”

What implications do these raise? What would you add?