"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Naming the Demon


I just read a post on Facebook, supposedly (and I have no reason to doubt it) written by a young Latino woman whose mother was a legal immigrant, but her father was not. She made it clear that her father wasn’t a burden on society, but rather was a hard worker and contributor. Well and good. It’s a point we can and should applaud.
Then she launched into another strain that I think may cut to the core of the undeniable divisiveness in America [“A house divided cannot stand.” ~ Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 12:25; Mark 3:5; Luke 11:17 ~ also, Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858, in a speech accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's US senator (a campaign which he lost)]. She wrote:
“I was raised in Oregon, and started learning about politics in my private middle school. I remember that we were encouraged to write about America’s problems and that I was brainwashed to think that America was some unfair country. When I started high school, more and more people started hating America because it was the cool and hip thing to do. Then I thought to myself, “why do I hate America?” And I couldn’t find a reason to hate it.” (italics mine)
The implication is clear, and I have no reason to doubt that she validly perceives some effort to “brainwash” her. I have no doubt that there are schools, churches, clubs, and other social groups that indoctrinate their constituents in virtually any kind of ideology from religious doctrine to socio/economic castes to politics to issues of science vs. creationism ad infinitum.
While her implication is clear, and quite possible accurate, she continues to generalize from her statement that she was brainwashed, and the implication grows into an indictment that all liberals hate America and believe America is bad and unfair.
I’m sorry she had a bad experience while growing up—an experience that skewed her thinking into a divisive us vs. them (us =  good/them = bad) mentality. 
There is a world of difference between hating (or loving) America and demonstrating an integrity of honest self-evaluation. The patriotic hymn, “America the Beautiful” has these words in its second refrain: “God mend thine every flaw.” To deny or ignore our flaws and to make no effort to correct them is, in my opinion, an unpatriotic act of abuse and neglect. On the other hand, the effort to correct our flaws is an expression of patriotic love.
In my limited observation, I see conservatives (Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party, Alt-Right, et al) finding fault with America every bit as much as I see liberals doing so. The two polarities simply point to different faults, based upon their different ideologies. 
The partisan antagonism that divides America is a self-feeding demon that has become an end in itself. It focuses on symptoms, while ignoring (or denying) causes. And it justifies a growing refusal to consider any possibility that the “other party” may have something of value to offer.
Divisiveness is not the result of our different ideologies. It is the creator and sustainer of them
And we continue to feed the demon.
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

Friday, July 6, 2018

America the Beautiful


We sang “America the Beautiful” in church last Sunday. 
I know the danger of mixing patriotism and religion: "civil religion", it's been called. And yet, there are those who expect at least a nod toward the flag on Sundays related to patriotic holidays. Some of my clergy colleagues really bow their necks and rigidly oppose what, admittedly, can be a deadly cocktail. Oh, they may condescend to mention it in a prayer or something. And, quite frankly, I don’t disagree with their theological reasoning.
For me, I find it more constructive to go ahead and include some patriotic expressions in the worship service, and to use my pastoral role as teacher to set what I consider an acceptable context for such inclusion. For example, last Sunday, here was my invitation to the Table (as Disciples of Christ, we observe communion weekly).
“As a minister, I struggle with patriotic holidays: Independence Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day… Not that I struggle with patriotism. I’m a combat veteran; I served under fire—served under the flag that stands to my right when I’m in the pulpit.
“I participate, when the pledge of allegiance is recited. Sometimes I tear up when I hear the national anthem—or the Marine Corps Hymn. I vote. I’ve held public office. I write my Congressional representatives on a regular basis. On national holidays we fly the flag at our house.[1] 
“I’m just not at peace bringing all that into this room. Oh, I have absolutely no problem displaying the flag or singing patriotic hymns. I’m just concerned about misplaced priorities. I’ve seen church fights over whether the American flag is on the wrong side of the platform. Patriotism and religious faith never have been a beneficial mixture. 
“In this room, this table is central. And at this table I hope we remember the words of that late addition to the pledge of allegiance: “under God.” And there are two ways to read that: (1) “One nation under God.” And I’d have difficulty affirming today that we are, indeed, a nation under God. (2) “One nation; under God indivisible…” And few would deny that, today, we are a nation divided.
“And so, in this room, I bring my love of country to this table, where I celebrate the God under whom rests the only hope I know for this nation to be, truly, indivisible. You are invited to share the loaf and the cup, and to remember the one whose sacrifice can truly unite us.”
But, I digress. We sang “America the Beautiful” in church last Sunday, and I felt tears beginning to sting my eyes. It wasn’t just the hymn, although it can be a source of emotion. What brought me to the verge of tears was a new insight into Katharine Lee Bates’ words[2], especially in the refrain. Each refrain is a prayer:
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in law!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea!
As we sang on Sunday, I realized that each of these refrains was a prayer of humility, asking that God guide our nation through and away from the human temptations motivated by greed or lust for power. And, given the depraved condition of our nation’s public life, it occurred to me that, on the eve of our nation’s birthday celebration, nothing was more appropriate for worship.
Postscript: Originally, I wrote in the paragraph above, “…the depraved condition of our nation’s public life today…” But, upon only a brief reflection, while America has authored eras of great and noble altruism, scientific and technical achievement, and charitable embracing of the down-trodden (both domestically and globally), our nation, from the beginning, has endured, sometimes just below the surface and sometimes out in broad daylight, a disgraceful flaunting of jingoistic, chauvinistic greed and lust for power. Indeed, it is precisely those decadent qualities that our founders sought to avoid by the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as in much that has been legislated since our founding.
And, while there is no political or economic system that is immune to the impact of such corruption, the work of our founders, with its self-correcting checks and balances, is thus far the single most effective human effort both to avoid and also to correct its damage.
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw!
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Except for this year. I recently reorganized our garage, and the flag somehow is still in hiding!)
[2] Actually, the words we sing are “third generation”—a second edit (1911)—of Bates’ original poem, which was written in 1893.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Fingers That Point to the Moon


We had a dog—a Cocker mix—named “Ginger”. She didn’t know she was a dog. She thought she was a people. She was dumb as the proverbial board; but, she was gentle and loving, and she lived a long and pampered dog’s life.
I tried to teach her to fetch. I’d throw a ball; but she wouldn’t chase it (our eldest son said she was smart: she knew if she went after it, I’d just throw it again.) But, I persisted. I’d throw the ball, and she’d jump around and watch it, and wag her tail (actually, she wagged the hind half of her body!).
I’d point to the ball, and yell, “Fetch!” And she’d get all excited and jump around and wag away; and the more animated I became, the more excited she became. I’d point my finger and yell, “Fetch!” and she’d jump around and wag herself and look… at my finger.
There is some question as to the authenticity and origin of the statement, but I recall what came to me as a quote from a Buddhist teacher: “I am a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t look at me; look at the moon.”
Our American flag, the “Stars and Stripes,” under which I served in Vietnam, and to which I have pledged my allegiance for over 70 years, has become an end in itself, and a growing segment of our population is becoming distracted from the reality toward which it points: “one nation, under God[1], indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” [italics added]
Imagine: we are fighting over the flag, while trampling all over the “liberty and justice for all” to which it is pointing. Which is the greater disrespect: to disrespect the flag, or to disrespect that for which it stands?
And, by the way, how does one disrespect the flag? According to the Flag Code, established June 14, 1923, some of the ways to disrespect the flag include: 
·         Wearing the flag, or its representation, “as clothing, or using it as drapery or bedding”; 
·         Printing or otherwise impressing it, or its representation, “on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard”;
·         Using it “for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever”;
·         Embroidering it “on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like…”;
·         Using it “as a costume or athletic uniform”; [I presume “Uncle Sam” is excepted, grandfathered into the Flag Code, since he pre-dates the Code by some 110 years.][2]
Having just celebrated Memorial Day along with the rest of America, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we express our patriotism, and it seems to me that working for the “liberty and justice for all” to which the flag points, would be an excellent way to demonstrate our love for our flag and, more importantly, for what it represents.
And for those who would presume to establish their own demonstrations of patriotism as the standard for everyone else, and who stand in judgment over those who don’t measure up to their standards, I would ask:
·         Have you served in the military?
·         Have you served under fire?
·         Have you thanked someone who has served under fire?
·         Have you held public office?
·         Have you been a candidate for public office?
·         Have you contributed or otherwise helped in a campaign for public office?
·         Have you voted in every election?
·         Have you communicated with the public officials who represent you? 
·         Have you worked in some concrete, tangible way to bring about “liberty and justice for all?”
·         Have you listened to, and tried to understand, the views of someone who represents a different perspective that you, but who, nevertheless, loves this country, too?
Those are some of my own standards of patriotism. I don’t claim the list is complete; but, it’s where I start. And, at the risk of sounding boastful, yes, I have done all the above. And I invite your contributions to my list.
And in a related perspective, I remember one who said, “Take the log out of your own eye before removing the speck from someone else’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5) 
I hope I’m looking at the moon, and not just the fingers that are pointing to it.
That’s the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] http://www.ushistory.org/documents/pledge.htm:  The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). It was originally published in The Youth's Companion on September 8, 1892. Bellamy had hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country.
In its original form it read:
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
In 1923, the words, "the Flag of the United States of America" were added. At this time it read:
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words "under God," creating the 31-word pledge we say today. Bellamy's daughter objected to this alteration.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Original Sin?


It has bothered me for years, and I have spoken and written about it many times; so, for those who know me at all, this may seem redundant. Hopefully, there will be a new angle today: some new insight you or I (or, even better, we) may understand for the first time.
I’ve been reading John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, in which the late president quotes from John Quincy Adams’ diary:
“I have already had occasion to experience, which I had before the fullest reason to expect, the dangers of adhering to my own principles. The country is so totally given up to the spirit of party that not to follow blindfolded the one or the other is an expiable offence. … Between both, I see the impossibility of pursuing the dictates of my own conscience without sacrificing every prospect, not merely of advancement, but even of retaining that character and reputation I have enjoyed. Yet my choice is made, and, if I cannot hope to give satisfaction to my country, I am at least determined to have the approbation of my own reflections.”[1]
John Quincy felt he was uniquely and solely qualified and duly compelled by God alone to enact and promote specific policies and principles. His adamancy (many called it blatant stubbornness) did not help him win friends and influence people. As Kennedy put it, “He was, after all, ‘an Adams … cold, tactless and rigidly conscientious.’”[2]
And yet, what most severely alienated him from even his own Federalist Party was that he prioritized the good of the country over the platform of his, or any other, party. After serving as sixth President of the United States, he was elected to serve in the legislature of his home state of Massachusetts. When first asked to serve in that capacity, he agreed, but declared that he would not actively seek or campaign for the office, and, if elected, he would serve on the basis of his own sense of what was right, “completely independent of my party or the ones who elect me.” Adams remains one of few American statesmen who served from a non-partisan position.
It’s been around since Cain and Able, and has manifested itself at the social level at least since Abraham’s son, Ishmael, viz., a hateful, antagonistic division, defined by diverse ideology or competing self-interest. We humans simply cannot tolerate any divergence from our own individual and/or group ideology or goals. It makes virtually no difference how large a group may be, or how the group is constituted and designed. It can be a couple or a family, a sports team, a civic or fraternal organization, a religious community, town, state, tribe or nation; but, it is most visible in the political partisanism that has raged in virtually every culture since humanity manifested a social nature.
If there is an original sin that has cursed humanity, it’s not the eating of an apple. It’s our failure to accept each other on the same basis God accepts us, viz., grace. Indeed, we don’t even accept the grace God extends to us (which may well explain our human tendencies toward adversarialism).
In theological terms, we speak of “realized grace” as a category distinct from grace, itself. Though grace is extended to all, without merit, we humans have great difficulty realizing and accepting “something for nothing” (which is precisely what grace is!) In the experience of unworthiness regarding offered grace, we humans attempt to justify ourselves by comparing ourselves with others: “I’m not as bad as she!” (a practice Jesus compared to taking the speck out of a brother’s eye while ignoring the log in one’s own eye).
Yet, when we put conditions on grace, we thereby totally erase any vestige of its qualities. The moment it is made conditional in any way, it ceases to be grace, and we all are condemned, “for all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Thus, in our condition of “unrealized grace,” our struggle for justification takes on the aforementioned adversarial nature.
It is significant that Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) immediately follows his response to Peter’s question, “Lord, if (a brother) sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”[3]
Perhaps the first step in overcoming our partisan divisions is to surrender our obsession with self-justification, and to open ourselves to the possibility of grace. German-American pastor, teacher, and theologian, Paul Tillich, put it this way in one of his most frequently read sermons:
“There is too often a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us by necessity either to arrogance or to despair. 
It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. For if we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation. [Italics mine.]
We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly, it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it.
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged.
It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!"
If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance. 
In the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to others and to ourselves. We experience the grace of being able to look frankly into the eyes of another, the miraculous grace of reunion of life with life. We experience the grace of understanding each other's words. We understand not merely the literal meaning of the words, but also that which lies behind them, even when they are harsh or angry. For even then there is a longing to break through the walls of separation.
We experience the grace of being able to accept the life of another, even if it be hostile and harmful to us, for, through grace, we know that it belongs to the same Ground to which we belong, and by which we have been accepted. We experience the grace which is able to overcome the tragic separation of the sexes, of the generations, of the nations, of the races, and even the utter strangeness between man and nature. Sometimes grace appears in all these separations to reunite us with those to whom we belong. For life belong to life. [Italics mine. This is the key to my thoughts today.]
And in the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to ourselves. We experience moments in which we accept ourselves, because we feel that we have been accepted by that which is greater than we. If only more such moments were given to us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self- complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life. We cannot force ourselves to accept ourselves. We cannot compel anyone to accept himself. But sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say "yes" to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us.[4]
That’s the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim


[1] John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956) page 38-39 (italics mine).
[2] Ibid, page 39.
[3] The saying is rendered, “seventy times seven times” in some translations. In either case, the number seven signified completion or perfection, and to pair it with itself—or to multiply it times itself—was to make it infinite. The intention here is that one’s forgiveness should be without limits or conditions.
[4] Paul Tillich,You are Accepted”, Chapter 19 in The Shaking of the. Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Some Thoughts RE: Public Education


Our education system is under attack from a segment of our conservative population. Public education and higher education, iconic foundations of our strength as a nation, are being undermined; indeed, to some degree, it appears they are being dismantled intentionally.

It has been said, and I concur, that democracy needs an informed electorate in order to thrive. I know: there are some who split hairs over whether we are a democracy or a republic. That’s a smoke screen. The reality is that we are both. Democracy identifies the source of our authority (we the people), while republic identifies the way we organize our governing process.

So, let’s not try to sidetrack the conversation or misdirect it. The education system upon which our wellbeing depends is in jeopardy, and in some quarters its demise is welcomed—even orchestrated! As a result, our freedom is threatened.

I am educated. I have a bachelor’s degree from a state school, and two post graduate degrees, although neither is a product of public or state systems. I often have been called “over-educated,” and have been accused of being brainwashed by a leftist/liberal system. My intelligence has been questioned by an implication that my thoughts are not my own, but, rather, simply “regurgitated leftist talking points.”

It’s true: with all my degrees I didn’t learn to weld or to repair a washing machine or to run a lathe or milling machine. But I have rebuilt two automobile motors, a clutch assembly and more carburetors than I can count—in my garage. I also have rebuilt a washing machine and two dryers. And I was able to do those things because the greatest benefit from higher education, to me, has been the ability to do research and to educate myself. And I was doing that prior to Google; indeed, before I ever had touched a computer or a cell phone. Yes, Google has extended that benefit and made it more easily accessible; nevertheless, sometimes the Card Catalogue and the Dewey Decimal System remain the most productive resource.

The greatest benefit of education, in my experience, was not the content of what I learned (although that is of great value), but, rather, the process of learning, itself. Using the process, I have educated myself in management and administration procedures (an area that was inadequately covered in my seminary experience) and have kept up with emerging trends in my profession.

So, why is there such strong opposition to public education and higher education? Can we be honest? I suspect the most basic reasons are because public schools consider evolution as a valid theory, they expose students to a variety of social and political ideologies, and they don’t embrace and enforce a very specific theological doctrine. To some extent the opposition to public education is a renaissance of the age-old legalism/diversity dichotomy that characterized the confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees of his day.

I have a hunch that if opposition could be quantified and measured, the opposition to public education would be seen to grow directly out of the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial,” and it would be seen to pick up steam with each succeeding expression of public tolerance toward social, cultural, ideological and theological diversity. The opposition is not to public education, per se, but to diversity, which is a direct result of, and therefore a prerequisite to, personal freedom.

Perhaps the half-century decline in effectiveness of mainline and evangelical churches has played a role in the increasing opposition to public education. Since churches have lost their effectiveness and (maybe more importantly) their influence and power, there may be some who wish to shift their pedagogical responsibility to the education system; that is, to have the public schools do what the church and the family have not been able to do effectively. I have no data to support that idea; but, it’s hypothesis that might be researched.

Or, maybe those who oppose public education are seeking a scapegoat, and thus are blaming the education system for the decline in the influence of church. Again, it’s a question; not a statement.

So, what can be done to resolve the ongoing disruption of our children’s and youth’s development? I don’t know if I have the slightest idea. Historically, in circumstances of ideological gridlock, when either or both sides have been unwilling to consider any variation from their own specific doctrines, our freedom has been compromised; and virtually nothing has been resolved.

Sadly, I think the gridlock resulting from such a refusal to negotiate puts us in a win/lose situation. “My-way-or-the-highway” always does that; but, it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to resolve any issue—ANY ISSUE! The first step is to define the issue in terms of need. Most people define most problems in terms of some preferred solution. And the saddest part of all is that too many people don’t really want to resolve the issues between them and others. They just want to win the fight.

Until there is a willingness to enter with integrity into a valid conflict resolution process, I suspect it will remain a win/lose situation that will continue to be resolved—one way or the other—at the polls.

That’s how it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Jim

Monday, February 19, 2018

II Chronicles 7:14


During the early years of my ministry, a popular text for revival preaching was II Chronicles 7:14. It called God’s people to “turn from their wicked ways.” The “wicked ways” most often addressed by those revival preachers related to personal immorality: things like drinking and smoking and illicit sex, none of which were the specific focus of this text; indeed, none of which were major emphases through most of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In real estate, it is said that the three most important factors are “location, location, location.” In that spirit, I would say that three of the most important factors in biblical studies are “context, context, context.” In this case, the text cited above is a part of the story of the dedication of Solomon’s newly built temple.

The verse does not address any specific evil or wickedness, but, rather, is a general promise from God regarding future times when the predictable consequences of Israel’s predictable behavior predictably would result in hard times and suffering. When that happens, God says, “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (NRSV)

In the context of the entire biblical account of God’s relationship with God’s people, the sins and wickedness most often addressed were not instances of personal immorality, but, rather, corporate sins of injustice, idolatry, cruelty, and the ill treatment of the poor and the dispossessed.

Jesus’ focus also was on the plight of the poor; indeed, he welcomed and included those whose personal morality was most questionable. Personal morality can be changed for the better when the person is addressed with compassion and dignity; in other words, when addressed with grace.

On the other hand, corporate sins, including organized greed, injustice, racism, class distinction, indifference toward the poor, are more difficult to overcome. Over and over in the Hebrew Scriptures, it was these corporate sins that most often were confronted and said to be the cause of Israel’s downfall.

In that context, I want to take a fresh look at II Chronicles 7:14.

“If my people, who are called by my name…”  In ancient cultures, a name was not simply a label for identification. One’s name was a part of one’s identity. To name a person was to call that person into presence. To call God’s name was to call God into presence. To do so frivolously (“in vain”) was considered blasphemy and invited divine wrath. The implication is that a people who identify themselves with God’s name are called to reflect the nature and will of God.

“…humble themselves…” Another of God’s pet peeves regarding God’s people was their penchant for pride. God often called them “stiff-necked.” Pride. Arrogance. Almost always it is expressed as a certitude that one’s own ways and ideologies are the only correct ones. Sound familiar? Opposing groups in our culture generally look at each other with disdain—even with hatred. Differences are not tolerated. Diversity is seen as a negative, rather than an enriching quality.

“…pray…” Not “thoughts and prayers” for victims and their families in response to tragedy. The call is to intense, regular, systematic prayer that, indeed, will “…seek (God’s) face…”; prayer that seeks to align one’s own life and will with the life and will of God; prayer that establishes a godly character; prayer that changes the one who prays. If more people prayed like that, and then lived out the identity established through that kind of prayer—lived it in the presence of all with whom they came in contact, including the depressed, the lonely, the bullied and the rejected—perhaps there would be fewer reasons to offer “thoughts and prayers.”

“…and turn from their wicked ways…” This is one of the simplest biblical descriptions of repentance. As stated above, the wickedness that most offended God, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, was arrogance, injustice, idolatry (the worship of other gods, including wealth and power), cruelty and indifference toward the poor. There’s plenty of that still going around today. Do you suppose that wickedness still offends God?

Then comes the promise: “…then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Is it possible that the outrage against personal immorality (you fill in the blank), is at least partially a way of deflecting a sense of guilt over the corporate sins that offend God and divide us?

Is it possible that the obsession with personal responsibility, while refusing demand accountability and responsibility at the corporate level, is at least partially a causal factor in the decline of our culture?

From the other perspective, is it possible that an unbalanced emphasis on corporate, to the neglect of personal responsibility is a root cause of cultural deterioration?

Jesus said to the Pharisees, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23 NRSV, emphasis mine)

I passionately believe it is this imbalanced approach to morality and ethical relatioships that leads to narrow, partisan division.

What if we read this text while looking in the mirror? And what if we got together in groups and did the same?

That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Jim


Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Tale of Two Kingdoms


The link below is to an op-ed piece by David Rourke, published yesterday (January 19, 2018) in the Dallas Morning News. 
In the piece, Rourke points out what he sees as a split among American conservative Christians—a split defined by “how inconsistent the Christian right has been on policies that line up with the principles the Bible would deem to be true, good and beautiful.” 
On one side of the split is the new guard: those who “appear unwilling to make the moral compromises necessary to support the GOP as we know it.”
On the other side is the old guard, whose… 
“…problems are enormous despite positive intentions. Many of these traditionally religious right evangelicals pick and choose what parts of the Bible they apply to American society, especially when it comes to the sanctity of human life. For example, many are passionately pro-life when it comes to unborn babies but not when it comes to women, refugees, minorities and the poor. Further they entangle the agendas and ideologies of the church and the Republican party. Instead of seeing America as a type of wayward Babylon, they see America as a type of Jerusalem.”
It's not a new distinction. Rourke uses the language of St. Augustine (4th century): “the city of God and the city of man have competing aims. Until conservative Christians get this, we will fail to faithfully be in the world but not of the world” “In the world but not of the world” is a distinction implied (but not directly stated) by Jesus in his Gethsemane prayer for his disciples (John 17). Standing before Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
That distinction is consistent throughout the New Testament between the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) and the kingdom of the world, the former ruled by God and the latter ruled by Satan. Christians live by a different standard (spirit) than that of the world (flesh).
Augustine used the terms, city of God/city of man. John Calvin (16th century) would try to reorder Augustine’s city of man to make it become the city of God. His vision for a Christian community still inspires many, although his vision of a brutally judgmental God became counterproductive to his vision.
In Christ and Culture (1951), H. Richard Niebuhr outlined five prevalent viewpoints with which Christianity has confronted the distinction and relationship between the kingdom, or city, of God and the kingdom of the world/city of man:
o   Christ against Culture. 
o   Christ of Culture.
o   Christ above Culture. 
o   Christ and Culture in Paradox. 
o   Christ Transforming Culture. 
Today’s evangelical Christians fall, it seems to me, in either the Christ against culture, or the Christ Transforming Culture mode. Christ against culture is generally the position taken by dispensationalist premillennialists, who believe the world is beyond saving, and that they are called to win as many individual souls as possible for Christ before he returns to destroy the Prince of this World (Satan) and establish the kingdom of God once and for all, either here on earth or in some totally different realm.
The Christ-transforming-culture camp believes it possible for humans to make the world Christian, and attempt to do so by taking over the political structures of government and enacting Christian legislation to win America back for God. It is to these conversionists that Rourke refers in his comments.
In perhaps the most comprehensive commentary on these distinctions to date, Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,[1] suggests that the two realities (the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world) are mutually exclusive, and cannot be merged, because they emerge out of mutually exclusive paradigms.
The kingdom of the world is established and maintained by what Boyd calls a “power over” model, which he calls the power of the sword: the ability to enforce specific values and cultures on another, with or without the other’s approval. By contrast, the kingdom of God is established and maintained by a “power under” paradigm, which Boyd calls the power of the cross: a Christ-like sacrificial, loving service extended to all, including one’s enemies.
Boyd says Christians should be involved in the political process, but should not confuse their involvement with a manifestation of the kingdom of God. Christian legislators can enact policies that reflect God’s will; nevertheless, those policies do not transform a nation into the kingdom of God, because they are established and maintained by a power over model. Only a Calvary-like love will transform the world.
Meanwhile, the unworkable effort to merge the two kingdoms increasingly distracts Christians from their calling, which is to mirror the loving, inclusive, sacrificial servanthood of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yet, we are not simply to do nothing. We are called to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with (our) God” (Micah 6:8). We are called to live as witnesses to Christ’s Calvary-like love, even for his enemies, trusting in God’s promise (manifested by Jesus) that love is more powerful than the sword; trusting that God can and will work through our love to transform the world.
But we are not called to inflict or enforce that paradigm on anyone else. To do so would make it a kingdom of the world reality.
Rourke concludes: “The mission of the church and the mission of the Republican Party cannot cohabitate in a strategic partnership, regardless of how well the GOP seems to line up with Christian thought in a given era. The closer these institutions come together, the more the church will lose credibility and power, the more the church will look less like itself and more like the world. To use the language of St. Augustine, the city of God and the city of man have competing aims.”
I concur.
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Zondervan, 2005.