Politics & Religion

I find at this time in the cycle of American politics, people on either side of the political spectrum seem to truly enjoy slinging mud at each other and speaking ill of each other’s preferred candidate. This is true to some extent in any country. And those who claim to be Christians seem to be the greatest offenders.

I’ve always been perplexed at this seemingly incongruous fact. Bruce Reyes-Chow reflects on this in his blog and offers some insight:

It seems that supporters of both parties are pretty inconsistent when it comes to examining what the campaigns are putting out there about the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, taxes, poverty, etc. Generally speaking, when we like and support a candidate, we believe them and if we don’t support a candidate, we find every way to discount their every claim as an utter lie.

Seeing as many of the people who show up in my various news streams are of the Christian variety, I have noticed the same patterns when we approach Scripture. Now don’t worry, I am not trying to equate our political system and God’s movement in the world. I am only pointing out  how we tend to approach our beliefs in times of disagreement. These are the things that I have noticed:

When we read the Bible, The Word of God…

  • We lean into and take at face value passages that reinforce our already held beliefs.
  • We dig deeper into the history and context of the passages in order to discount any that call our beliefs into question

When we hear words from politicians…

  • We lean into and take at face value the words that our preferred politicians says.
  • We dig deeper into the words from politicians we don’t like in order to discount their version of the truth.

In both of these cases we are basically doing two things: one, finding all the support we can to affirm our already held beliefs and, two, finding anything we can to discount the beliefs that others might hold as true. In the end, we are more concerned with making sure that we are right, rather than being open to the possibility that our beliefs might need to change, shift or … heaven forbid, be scrapped in totality. (Read the full post here.)

I don’t believe anyone could agree 100% with any politician’s policies or values. That is a reality of life. It’s up to responsible citizens to weigh what is being said and what is being done against what is right and good for the nation, and then vote accordingly.

Brian McLaren has put this well in his three recent politically-focused ebooks: The Word of the Lord to . . . Democrats, Republicans and Evangelicals respectively. These are well worth reading and are available via Amazon and other reputable ebook sales sites.

Regardless of how you choose to vote–either in the upcoming U.S. election or in next year’s Australian election–don’t simply tow the party line. Look at the issues and values and vote for the leader who best reflects God’s concern for the world: the poor, the marginalised, the stranger, and the vulnerable.

. . . Oh, and we need to remain open to the reality that many of those beliefs and ‘truths’ we now hold dear may one day turn out to be poorly founded or totally wrong.

Realising this, Reyes-Chow concludes his post:

In the end, there are no easy answers and I find strength in the fact that we will always fall short of perfection. But if we can all acknowledge these realities of shared hypocrisy and extend a little grace towards our enemies in these times of battle, maybe we will all see the other side of this election season a little less bruised and battered from the fight.

Meanderings . . .

From StillSpeaking:

Can reading be a form of prayer? I think so.

Not all reading. The books that are marketed as “page turners,” or with words like, “you won’t be able to put it down,” aren’t in my experience all that conducive to something like prayer (though they may get you through a long plane ride).

But many books – not only the Bible – but all those books that cause us to listen, to wonder, to pause and to ponder, can lead us to reading that is a form of prayer. A listening for God, a being seized by something deep and holy and true.

“Why are we reading, if not in the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?” asked Annie Dillard.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we feel again their majesty and power?”

For most of my life, I’ve begun my days early and by reading. For me it is a form and time of prayer, a time to listen for and to God. It is a time that leads to other prayers, including this one:

“Loquacious, still-speaking God, thank you, thank you, thank you – for books and for writers, for words and for reading, and for those who taught me to read and to learn to love it.”

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

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From Bruce Reyes-Chow:

Every once in a while during some online interaction, I find myself pounding my head on my keyboard in frustration and asking myself, “Why bother?” The frustration is usually born out of a conversation about a political or theological tweet or update, when it becomes clear to me that some folks are more interested in winning battles than building community. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for vigorous and passionate debate, and I am often complicit in exacerbating unhealthy dialogue, but too often it seems that we slip into modes of communication that seem to say that the only way I can be built up is for you to be torn down.
Honestly, sometimes building community just gets too damn hard and I want to quit. It’s not worth my time, my energy or my effort. After all, I could be doing so many other things that would be so much more worthwhile. And then I remember this great exchange from the movie, “A League of Their Own,” when star player Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis),wants to quit the team and she is challenged by manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) to ask herself, “Why?”

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. (Read the rest of this post here)

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From Emergent Village:

What you give leadership to will always grow. That is, if I give my time to getting in shape, I’ll get in shape … If I give my time to creating a great teaching ministry on Sunday morning, then we’ll provide a service to people who really like that kind of ministry. Since we know most Sojourners don’t wake up Sunday mornings looking  for a good sermon, we’ve decided to put our energy, efforts, and focus into the  incarnational aspects of our church instead of the presentational aspects. – Hugh Halter

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From Diana Butler-Bass on the Future of Faith:

In many cases, I’ve learned from “enemies” how NOT to behave in the world. Indeed, a dear friend, who once watched as I was struggling with an institutional crisis, said to me, “Diana, the point of this is to teach you how to be a leader. You now know how to listen because no one has listened to you; you now know how to respect others because you haven’t been respected; you now know the importance of the outsider because you have been cast out.” I hadn’t thought of that until he underscored this for me–I realized how often we take negative experiences and return evil for evil. That’s a primary problem in our political life and global relations–not to mention the life of denominations and congregations. But Christians should be able to break that cycle—and turn even the most painful experiences and worst criticism into a life of learning how to do better, how to forgive, how to love more. Understanding, listening, discernment are the basic practices in living a life of forgiveness—and when one is hurt, those practices are often blocked by fear.  But the more you do them, the more habitual they become. And it becomes easier to learn from everything from mere differences of opinion to verbally violent attacks.

That’s what I’ve learned personally. As a church, I hope we can learn defensive-less-ness. Jesus was not one who was much interested in protecting or defending. Jesus was about loving and laying aside. Movements that are about “protect and defend” are far outside the Gospel narrative, outside the witness of Jesus.  They aren’t Christian. We need to understand the fears that motivate such movements and the people attracted to them. But we must be equally clear that there is another way–and we must always, always, always stand as communities of conviction based in love. (Read the full interview here)

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“Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” – Paul Tillich

“What the Gospel forever takes away from Christians is the right to judge between the poor and the unworthy poor.” – Dorothy Day

“Be wise not to use or abuse people to pursue vision and projects. Vision and projects may perish. People don’t. Value people.” – Eugene Cho

‘”Good morning, God,” I said to start the day. “Good God, morning,” I said after sighting headlines “Police slam Catholic Church”.’ – Father Bob

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From Eagle Brook Church:

Clearly, the most creative Church promotional video I’ve seen in a while. But then what would you expect from a church with nearly 15,000 members?

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And now for something weird and wacky: For the Bible Tells Me So? And our ‘worm’ on ‘Can of Worms’ tonight is: “Should parents be allowed to execute their own children?”

Young Adults and the Church, Truth and Christian Identity

Bruce Reyes-Chow has put up another insightful post on his blog, this time focused on why he believes the Church is ‘doomed’ when it comes to reaching the elusive young adult. Do yourself a favour and read the full post. Here’s one paragraph that stood out to me:

I find it interesting that most of the conversations about “reaching young adults” take place among people who are distinctly NOT young adults. I think it is a way that many of us try to prove that 40 really IS the new 20 and extend our youth for as long as we can. Sorry folks, but as we age, our roles and perspectives change. I for one do not regret this, rather I embrace and welcome the roles that I will hold in the future. If we are reach young adults with integrity, then young adults must to be at the table and part of the direction setting in significant ways. Much like we would never plant a Korean American church with a team that was 90 percent non-Korean, we must not try to create relevant young adults ministries by relying on the musings of even the best intentioned 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds. For as hip of a 43-year-old as I fool myself into believing I am, I do not and will not experience the world through the eyes of a 20-year-old — and there is nothing I can do to change that. The best thing I can do is to acknowledge this reality and then find the best ways to empower, guide and support that 20-year-old as she/he discovers a place and role in the future of the church. This posture must be taken in all aspects of the journey: planning process, fiscal management, organizational development, etc. if we are to truly create and sustain ministry with and for young adults.

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While we’re at the Patheos Progressive Christian Channel, Kevin Miller has written about why he would rather seek truth than defend an idea.

. . . [A]s much as we’d like to believe we are primarily rational beings, we simply are not. Emotions play a huge role in the truth-seeking and idea-defending process. Even the term we use to describe a moment of intellectual discovery—an “A-ha! Moment”—is primarily emotional in its connotations. This is nothing to be embarrassed about. We enter the science lab and the theological library as whole persons, not disembodied minds. And we need this kind of emotion to spur the tremendous effort required to coax new insights out of stubborn data and then to gain them a fair hearing. . . .

. . . Problems arise, however, when we become so emotionally attached to an idea that it no longer exists independent of our selves. We have invested so much of our lives into articulating and then defending the idea that it becomes fused with our identity. We don’t just hold an idea; we are the idea.

“I don’t just hold conservative views; I am a conservative.”

“I don’t just believe in universalism, I am a Universalist.”

If we’re not careful, we go from thinking, “My idea might be right” to “My idea can’t be wrong.” And the reason it can’t be wrong has less and less to do with the idea’s relative merits. It’s the fact you’ve ordered your entire existence around that idea, and if it’s wrong, well, you’ve wasted your life. (Read more here.)

The way I see it, when the truth becomes so much a part of your identity that you cannot live with the thought of finding out you may be wrong, then it is held too tightly. At that point, you are so emotionally invested in this way of thinking being right that you can no longer distinguish the idea from reality, the ‘fact’ from the emotional response to that ‘fact.’

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Speaking of truth and identity, Brian Mclaren’s new book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, is being released next week and I, for one, am eager to see Brian’s take on interfaith dialogue and Christian identity. From what I have read so far here, it seems like the greatest obstacle we face in relating to those of other faith communities is that of our own fear.

The single greatest obstacle to rethinking Christian identity won’t be imposed from the other side by other people, whether “us” or “them.” The single greatest obstacle will arise inside each of us. Your greatest obstacle will be in you and mine will be in me. In the end, it’s not the threats of others that cause me to shrink back, but rather my own fear.

You can order copies of Brian’s book postage-free here.

Another Slippery Slope

Many people use the “slippery slope” argument when warning others about what they perceive to be the danger of a certain way of thinking or behaving.

When worship music took a turn toward contemporary styling back in the 60s and early 70s, I heard many pastors preach against “the devil’s music” (it was actually 20 years later in my church circle–that’s how behind the times we were). They claimed that this was the first step down a “slippery slope” that would lead to all sorts of sinful behaviour in churches including drugs, drunkenness and sex amongst the young people. (Obviously, such pastors weren’t aware what was already happening in their youth groups . . . but I digress.)

When the issue of women clergy began to be an issue (and some still believe it is), the slippery slope argument went something like this: “You permit a woman to be in the pulpit and women will get the idea that it’s OK to tell men what to do, they’ll start doing this at home, and the family will experience upheaval and possible disintegration.”

When the Emergent Movement started gaining momentum and receiving attention, preachers like John Piper (among a multitude of others) warned that those who accepted such a theological shift would find themselves on a “slippery slope” that would lead to ultimately denying the existence of God.

Which brings me to today.

The most prevalent argument in conservative circles today is that accepting homosexuality will inevitably lead to a breakdown of morals; legalising gay marriage will surely lead to the breakdown of the family unit. Some take it further and actually name the sins that will follow as we travel down this “slippery slope.”

Bruce Reyes-Chow has made a excellent point on the Patheos blog how that not promoting and legalising equality for LGBTQ people is also a slippery slope, as demonstrated by the recent exploits of now-infamous Pastor Charles L. Worley and his declaration that LGBTQ folk should be locked behind electric fences and kept there until they all die out.

. . . [I]t would be easy to dismiss him as some radical, fringe person that should be given little attention or thought. After all, no reasonable and faithful person would ever think these things, let alone say them.  My friend Eugene Cho, in his excellent post chastising Worley and others, says, “No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, there are some boundaries of human decency that should never be crossed.”

For the most part I agree, most people who think homosexuality is a sin, probably do not think that LGBTQ people should be rounded up until they die off. And then I think back to some meetings/debates among those whom I would consider “thoughtful and faithful” communities in my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). When it came to homosexuality, the slippery slope argument was always busted out, “homosexuality will lead to … [insert perceived sexual ‘deviance’].” After an awkward moment of “Whoa, did he just say what I think he said?” most of us would simply dismiss these folks as fringe, after all, the slippery slope argument is unwinnable — and what does it matter anyway?

And then you hear people like Worley and others who do in fact verbalize what we know already happens, people take anti-LGBTQ thought, theology and rhetoric and walk down that slippery slope to the point of killing people who are gay. I am generally not a slippery slope kind of person, but in this case, I will borrow a page from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who believe that the affirmation of of homosexuality, as choice or creation, will lead to the destruction of all that is good and holy and say this:

You can wrap your theological position in all the “speaking the truth in love” or “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric you want, but if you hold the idea that affirming homosexuality will lead to the destruction of societal “norms” then you had better claim the other side: anti-homosexuality rhetoric will lead to the death of human beings because they are gay.

He continues:

. . . [T]hose of you who continue to give life and validation to anti-homosexuality thinking must know that you have been given the privilege of being thought of as reasonable and faithful. This protection has given you a false security that your words, no matter how diametrically different they may sound from Worley’s, do not lead to violence.

They do.

(Click here to read the rest of the post.)

I suppose the biggest problem I have with slippery slope arguments is that they tend to be mostly conjecture. We don’t really know where following a certain path will lead because we haven’t yet been down that path. All we have to go on is history.

Has contemporary music in church brought illegal drugs, booze and sex into the sanctuary?

Have women in leadership positions in our churches resulted in the breakdown of families?

Has the Emergent Church been the birthplace of increasing numbers of atheists?

Will granting equality to our LGBTQ family & friends bring about a rise in perversion and the destruction of the family unit?

Based on all information available–and the testimony of history–the answer is and must remain “NO.”

Under One Sky: Reflections on Remembering 9/11

As I watched the prelude to SBS’s coverage of the 9/11 10-Year Anniversary on Dateline last night, I was awestrcuk by the seemingly-unending ripples in the pond that this single act of terrorism had begun.

From Iraq and Afghanistan to the streets of Middletown, New Jersey, the stories showed not only the diverse effects of this act, but also the people affected and how they continue to deal with their loss–physical, family, emotional, religious or national.

On the program, Australia’s Prime Minister at the time declared he had “no regrets” about committing his nation’s resources to the war on terror, yet one who worked closely with the U.S. Vice President and Secretary of State in the days after 9/11 admitted that America could have listened more instead of reacting so quickly. In Iraq, 10 years on, the famous square where Saddam Hussein‘s statue was pulled off it’s marble base stands derelict while thousands of people still live alongside rubble with no water or electricity and little if any health care. Meanwhile, the generosity of the folk in Middletown, New Jersey, towards the Muslim community shows us that a peaceful understanding is still the best way forward in times of crisis.

Today in my inbox I found a refreshing story of one congregation’s creativity in remembering those affected by this tragedy, and also those who are taking steps to heal divisions caused by loss, fear, and misunderstanding.

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“Did you not know? Have you not heard? I am doing a new thing. I am making a way when there was no way. I am making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

On this tenth anniversary of the invasion of American sky by attacking and suicidal airplanes, my congregation is putting up prayer flags. There will be hundreds of them across our grand interior sanctuary, each hand-calligraphed by artist Carla Shapiro on pillowcases. In the year after the attack, she wrote out 2,500 obituaries of those who died in the World Trade Towers on prayer flags. She then hung the flags over the Esopus Creek in upstate New York, where the printing weathered into what can only be called an ancient script. Now the words are blurred, like the words on an old tombstone. The language looks Arabic or Aramaic in script, but words can no longer be read. Shapiro was trying to tell us something. She was visiting the 9 – 11 grave. She was mourning. She was remembering. Ten years later what she remembered is that memories fade. Images blur. Time moves on.

After last year’s downtown anti-mosque campaign, courtesy of the hate people and their signs, “Jesus hates Muslims” and “No Mosque on Sacred Space,” the fading and the blurring is welcome. We will learn again that no one religion can own Jerusalem or ground zero or Jesus or God. We will know sacred space in a blurred obituary, a prayer flag, a neighborhood, anywhere and everywhere but in an expensive fight for it. Sacred space will be known by the wars it does not create instead of for being their instigator.

Across the street from Judson Memorial Church, on the South End of Washington Square Park, a seven-story Spiritual Life Center is opening at New York University. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and more will cohabit a space. Students will learn a new way of campus ministry. We joke about whether such ecumenicity is too close or too far from ground zero. Framed between this new building and our own rises a new smaller tower at the World Trade Center. From the arch at Washington Square Park North, you see all three buildings, as though they were always there, as though we hadn’t lived through a decade of emptiness in the sky or immature religion on the ground, and Americans, Afghanis and Iraqis uselessly dead in wars no one really understands. The artists and architects have given us what we couldn’t find ourselves. They have shown us a new sky and a new scape. From these we will also draw a new spirit, a mature religion, and a revenge-free way of living under one sky.

God of earth and air and sky and water, God whom no one faith can capture, draw near and let this next decade be one of remembering how much we love each other. Help us beyond high-priced, useless revenge into free and abundant relationship. Amen.

Reflection by Donna Schaper, from StillSpeaking

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Related to the 9/11 commemoration could also be the election campaign ongoing in the U.S. and the way the candidates often capitalise on fear and anger to gain popularity. Bruce Reyes-Chow writes in The Huffington Post (Read it here) about the applause at the Texas state execution statistics at a recent Republican party debate.

In conclusion he writes:

Regardless of where you may stand on the issue of the death penalty, politics and faith, if you call yourself a Christian and this bothered you, let this be a reminder that we must keep telling a different story and we must live a different life. It would certainly be easier to give in to deep yearnings for revenge, to applaud at the death of our enemies and to think that our faith justifies both, but it does not. In the face of evil we must not respond with revenge, judgment and more evil, but with hospitality, goodness and love. This way of life is not easy for anyone, nor is it a politically prudent stance to take, but I believe at the core of my soul, this way of life is a faithful one and one we must all try to live.

Yes, there is a better way.