Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sometimes Ya’ Just Gotta’ Get Mad!

I was angry last Sunday—or, more accurately, I was angry most of last week. By Sunday morning I was in pretty good shape, anger wise; but, all week the anger distracted my sermon preparation.

Finally, I decided to quit fighting it and just go with the flow and see what happened. I hope it worked.

My anger, you probably already have guessed, was triggered by the responses to the tragic occurrence in Charlottesville, Virginia on the previous weekend. A protest rally turned bad, with counter protests and (some say) some government incompetence. Some showed up with guns and clubs and baseball bats, itching for a fight.

And all over a statue. Actually, it wasn’t about the statue. It was about what the statue represents, which is a story that’s over 150 years old. It’s history. Learn from it. And the statue could be—could be—useful in teaching in such a way that maybe we could avoid repeating history (like we’re doing in our squabbles over statues).

Anyway, while the events in Charlottesville are bad enough, they’re not the direct source of my anger. My anger stemmed from the denial of accountability that was rampant from all sides (some isolated individual responses on all sides notwithstanding).

In the first place, the climate that nurtures that kind of gratuitous rage and violence has been a long time in developing. A long time! And, aside from a few isolated voices from time-to-time, not many efforts have been made to slow the eruption of that adversarial culture that breeds hatred and intolerance of differences. Indeed, there are some elements that appear gleeful in their incitement of the hostility.

But, denial is the modus operandi for a significant population from all sides. It’s “their fault.” Or, "It all started when he hit me back!" Each side noted that the other side brought guns and bats and clubs, while overlooking their own side’s arsenal. Each side compared their evil with other side’s evil and rationalized their own with, “It’s not as bad as theirs.”

Aside from some fringe hate groups that seem to relish the tumult, virtually nobody admits to being a racist or a white supremacist; nobody admits hate; nobody admits complicity (either by overt action or consenting silence—or simply by benefitting from a dysfunctional system) in the formation of the aforementioned adversarial culture that foments the hatred.

And so we just move from one violent tragedy to another, while the general response is to deny complicity (directly or indirectly) and to blame everybody else. And efforts to reconcile are either ignored or outright rejected as radical left/right, etc.

And so, I just couldn’t not be angry at what we’ve become: primitive savages that don’t want justice or reconciliation. We want to control everybody else and make them like us. George Orwell got it only half right. Big Brother is emerging; but, he is neither Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, left or right. He is just a general, non-partisan climate of indiscriminate hate.

As I worked on Sunday’s sermon, I struggled with the Lectionary—all four readings. Finally the reading from the Hebrew Scripture spoke to me, and led my spirit back to a sense of hope.

On Sunday morning, I shared my anger with the congregation. Then I moved with them through the story of Joseph:

1.      He remained humble. He was second in power in all Egypt; but, he didn’t use that power to lord it over his brothers who had betrayed him and sold him into slavery. He didn’t claim anything absolute for himself; in fact, he told his brothers, “You didn’t send me here; God brought me here so that lives could be saved.” Until we can move through this cultural obsession with being right, and can be humble enough to admit, "I might be wrong (and truly mean it)," we will continue as is. Humility is the starting place.

2.      He demonstrated “love of enemies” which Christ would later endorse, and which St. Paul would confirm.

3.      He took initiative to reconcile, even though he was the one who was wronged! Talk about humility!

4.      He set a standard we Disciples, 3500 years later, would adopt as our identity statement: “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

5.      He refused to be discouraged. Wrongly accused and imprisoned, he remained faithful.

6.      He listened to God. Prayer unites us and aligns us with the will and the vision of God.

I hope it worked. I had found in the Scriptural story of Joseph a way to move through my anger, rather than act it out. I hope the congregation heard that. I hope we all can hear that, and can begin to move through this demonic insanity toward reconciliation.

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

Together in the Walk,


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Apocalypse Now?

Okay, friends and neighbors; I’m going to get very specific here, and I probably will upset some people (“What’s new?” you ask.) But I don’t think they will be any more upset than I am over the recent irresponsible misapplication of scripture by Rev. Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s key evangelical Christian advisers (and I use the word, Christian, in the nominative case, and not necessarily as descriptive of the faith as lived and taught by Jesus of Nazareth.)
In the first place, Rev. Jeffress uses Romans 12 to justify his ill-conceived counsel to the President. That epistle was a letter “written to line out a survival strategy for a minority faith in the cosmopolitan capital of a first century super power.  Paul was counseling some early Jesus-followers on how to deal with Caesar’s … saber-rattling, not counseling them on how to endorse it[1] or take it out. And to rip the text out of that context and plop it, indiscriminately into a context twenty centuries removed from, and 180 degrees in opposition to its origin is the grossest kind of irresponsible eisegesis![2] 
Just read the text. Just read the text!!!
Yes, there is that phrase, “hate what is evil” in verse 9—stirred into a verbal combination of some of the strongest exhortations to love found anywhere in Scripture!
“Hate what is evil” is about midway through a text that begins by calling its readers to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (vs. 1). Read it again: “sacrifice.” A few lines later the writer calls his readers not to think of themselves  more highly than they ought to think.
Then there follows a treatise on using the gifts of ministry given to the readers by the Holy Spirit—gifts the same writer, in another epistle, says are given for the purpose of building up the Body (the church). And none of the gifts named and described can be construed, even obliquely, to be used effectively in “taking out” an enemy.
Indeed, only a few lines further, we find this counsel (vss 14-21, underlining mine):
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I searched Google, and can’t find Rev. Jeffress’ specific application of Romans 12; but I can’t find anything in that text that even remotely would lead one to conclude that God had authorized anyone to “take out” an enemy or a threat. “…if your enemies are hungry, feed them…” 
Having been affiliated with the same fellowship as Rev. Jeffress, I anticipate that he will explain away this entire chapter by saying the writer is describing behavior limited to within the fellowship of the church, and his exhortation is not binding toward those outside the church. That perspective is, indeed, a presupposition with which the Southern Baptists bring to Scripture (that at least was the case when I was affiliated with them; however, my affiliation ended in the late 1960s). I do not find that restriction anywhere as a blanket pronouncement upon Christian ethics and relationships.
What I do find in this text is a call to love—including love of one’s enemies. In that exhortation, the writer is word-for-word consistent with the exhortations of Jesus of Nazareth.
There are other texts of Scripture that are used in some Christian moral and ethical conventions to rationalize Just War. I do not concur with those interpretations, and, in my estimation, neither Rev. Jeffress nor anyone else will find such justification in any biblical text. It’s all a part of the historic struggle among people of faith regarding how to balance a commitment to family and country with a commitment to live out Jesus’ ethic of love and unity.
Justify preemptive military action or assassination if you must; but, I sincerely believe you’ll have to look outside Christian Scriptures to do so. If the same Christ or the same Christian writer, or the same God who inspires it all can counsel, “Love your enemies” in one breath and then counsel, “Take out Kim Jong Un” in the next breath, then we’re dealing with schizophrenia, not faith.
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,

[1] Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2017/08/5060/#XZvmqkFJa5Lo8wIL.99.
[2] From Wikipedia: “…the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one's own presuppositions, agendas…”