Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Indivisible


I don’t recall how it began, but yesterday I was thinking about that phrase in our Pledge of Allegiance: “…under God…” Apparently there are some people who oppose it, if social media posts can be trusted. Frankly, I don’t remember any comments to that effect. What I do remember is a lot of social media posts defending it in ways that make it seem there is a concerted, organized attack on it.
Anyway, it occurred to me that the implication is strong, if not intended, that being “one nation under God” is what makes us “indivisible.” The two concepts at least are related; therefore, what can be concluded from the obvious: that the United States a is not, in fact, one nation indivisible—under God or otherwise? We are a divided nation, a “nation coming apart at the seams, a nation in which each tribe has its own narrative and the narratives are generally resentment narratives."[1]
I expect the knee-jerk response is, “I and my tribe are under God. If everyone would just be like us, we’d be indivisible!” It may describe “undivided;” however, it does not describe “united”, as in States of America. It describes uniformity. There’s a difference. Uniformity is related much more closely to satisfaction and complacency than to growth and progress.
If we truly desire to be indivisible as a nation, why aren’t we engaging in efforts toward reconciliation and unity, instead of raging at each other over the slightest differences of opinion.
Some things are clear: first, we’ll never agree about what “under God” means. One source identifies 35 Protestant Denominations in the USA, most of them sub-divided into numerous branches and schisms. The founders of the denomination I serve envisioned a Christian coop through which could be realized their proposition “That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one…”[2] Today their “Restoration Movement” to unite all Christendom is splintered into three distinct (and often antagonistic) denominations.
Christian history is a chronicle of uninterrupted human division. Furthermore, in this land of religious freedom, the number of Protestant Denominations doesn’t begin to account for the variety of ways in which deity is perceived and worshiped. 
So, how do all those denominations and schisms emerge? Some charismatic person becomes convinced that he or she has a unique and unerring insight into God’s will and intention and convinces a group of followers to break away with him or her. The power behind most schisms is the magnetic persuasiveness of the founder who has a splinter of truth, rather than the presence and leading of the Spirit of God in whom alone dwells absolute truth. [The Protestant Reformation, perceived by Protestants (sic) as a valid response to corrupt leadership in the Mother Church, notwithstanding. In most cases I expect every schism represents itself as “restoring true faith;” but that’s another blog.]
We can’t agree on who God is or how we are to relate to God; nor can we agree on what it means to be God’s people. Therefore, we render the term, “under God,” essentially meaningless.
A second clear reality is that our current strategy of insulting and vilifying and demonizing everyone who disagrees with us cannot possibly be considered a faithful embodiment of the presence of God under whom we claim to be “indivisible”. Such interpersonal animosity has not produced—nor will it ever produce—indivisibility; nor has it created—or will it ever create—a climate in which an indivisible nation can thrive or even emerge.
Finally, the familiar tactic of demanding conformity to our own ideology has been equally unproductive in affecting any kind of indivisibility. I’ve said before: my favorite definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result.
The greatest irony of all is that out of the vast variety of Christian doctrinal communities, the consensus message perceived by a “spiritually yearning, institutionally pissed off public”[3] is that we really don’t believe what we claim to believe. We are perceived as hypocrites. 
We wave the “Grace” flag, as if we really believe it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NRSV). Most of us who grew up in the church can sing “Amazing Grace” from memory. 
But an overwhelming number of professing Christians don’t believe it, if their witness by word and deed is accurate. What too many professing Christians’ lives testify—and the consensus stereotype by which that spiritually disillusioned public judges us all—is that we are saved by affirming correct doctrine—being “right”--and excluding everyone who doesn't affirm our correct doctrine.
I’m just not willing to bet my eternal destiny on the correctness of doctrine, knowing full well that my perception is limited by the clay of which I am made. Instead, I’ll place my trust in the One who alone is my doctrine, and I’ll confess in the words of St. Paul:
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:9-13 NRSV)
And therein lies what I believe is the only credible doorway through which we may finally live out our pledge to become an “indivisible” nation: “The greatest of these is love.” 
We’ll never agree. On much of anything. But, in love, we can seek to understand each other and to embrace our differences, not necessarily as error, but as partial truth. And in that effort to transcend our antagonistic obsession with uniformity, I suspect we’ll discover a more nearly complete indivisibility.
That’s the way I see it through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Vinegar vs Honey


This morning I awoke with an ear worm; which is not unusual for me. An ear worm is a song, or a line or two from a song, that plays over and over in your mind. Some of my ear worms drive me almost crazy (I know: short trip); but most are relatively peasant, like today’s.
There was a folk group in the 60s and into the 70s—25 or 30 high school kids. They dressed alike (neat and well-groomed) and they had guitars and drums (all acoustic) and they traveled around, sharing their considerable talent and uplifting message.
Their theme song has been my ear worm this morning:
“Up, up with people; you meet ‘em wherever you go!
Up, up with people; they’re the best kind of folks we know!
If more people were for people, all people everywhere, 
There’d be a lot less people to worry about, and a lot more people who care!
Contrast that uplifting message with today’s put-down culture. A standup comic is more likely to get a laugh from a put-down joke than from other kinds of humor. Remember Don Rickles?
On Facebook there are a lot of kitten and puppy photos and cooking videos. There’s a lot of poetry and inspiration and prayer requests and plenty of positive, uplifting content.
Sadly, however, when the topic is politics or economics or morality, the put-down pundits come crawling out from under the woodwork. One might not know what these vermin are for; but they leave no doubt about what they’re against. And the primary thing most of them are against is anyone who disagrees with them!
They’re easy to recognize. Their posts will be saturated with disrespectful, insulting put-downs of anyone who dares disagree with them (about anything!), and their vocabulary will be peppered with words like “idiot” and “stupid.”
I’m not an expert on modern marketing and advertising strategy; but it seems evident to me that if your intention is to promote something, be it a product, a service or an ideology, the more effective strategy would be to lift up the positive aspects of whatever you’re promoting or selling. Convince me of its value and why I should buy it.
On the other hand, I am something of an expert on my own feelings and responses, and I know for iron-clad certain that if you disrespect me, insult me or put me down, there’s not the proverbial snowball’s chance that I’ll be buying whatever you’re selling. Your strategy is counterproductive.
A Facebook friend (a friend since high school days) and I are on opposite ends of the political and economic ideological spectrum, and yet, we carry on discussions for days on Facebook. Never once has either of us insulted the other; as a result, our discussions have broadened my own perspective, helped me better to understand his ideology (if not agree with it), and even have convinced me of the validity of some of his arguments. 
It is possible to disagree with respect, and for both parties to benefit!
I could wax theological and biblical here (which is my other area of relative expertise); but, hopefully my comments speak for themselves. So, here’s my question for today: given its counterproductive outcome, what is to be gained, what possible benefit accrued, using the disrespectful, insulting, put-down approach?
Just wondering.
That’s the way I see it through the Flawed Glass that is my World View. 
Together in the Walk,
Jim

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Say Something Often Enough...


The longer I live, the worse things get (I swear there’s no cause-and-effect relationship here).
It’s not politics. Co-opting a quip from Oklahoma’s favorite son, Will Rogers, “If you don’t like the political climate today, just wait a while.” The pendulum swings back and forth, and bitter partisanship has always been a part of politics; although, only in recent years has the bitterness and animosity come out of the proverbial “smoke filled rooms”.
And it’s not that the bitter partisanism is out of the closet and infecting the general population through social media (although it is). Nor is it even those who hide behind the anonymity of social media, sniping away at anyone who dares disagree (although many do that, too).
My concern is that so many people (and in my biased view it seems to be coming more--but not totally--from the right than from the left) redefine things to match their personal biases, and then proceed as if those redefinitions are universal and absolute. In that contrived absolutism, truth is measured, not by any objective or verifiable standard, but by their redefined reality. In other words, if I disagree with it, it’s not true.
That contrived absolutism not even denied!!! In fact, it’s flaunted! Early in the current administration’s tenure a spokesman for the President said—on live TV—there are “alternative facts.” 
If I disagree with it—or if I simply don’t like it—it’s “fake news.”
If you say anything often enough, people start to believe it.
For me, the most problematic redefinition is of the word, “socialism.” What so many call “socialism” is not really related to socialism. For example, conservatives generally imply that anything involving government is, ipso facto, socialism.
In researching the word, I discovered that “socialism” describes a wide range of social and economic systems, with a correspondingly wide range of governmental involvement and non-involvement. The concept of socialism evolves, constantly adding sub sets. Some economists say pure socialism has never been practiced.
Bottom line: invoking the label “socialist” or “socialism”, without layers of qualifiers, is virtually a worthless exercise in meaninglessness.
The issue was clouded even further during the 2016 political campaign, when Senator Bernie Sanders self-identified as a “Democratic Socialist.” Millennialists (born between 1980 and 2000) quickly identified with his model.
A Forbes article says Bernie’s approach isn’t socialism at all.[1] Millennials’ attraction to it emerged out of what they perceive as the failure of capitalism on all but the top financial levels. The article notes that even the Nordic countries Sanders touts as models of “Democratic Socialism” are more free market than the US.
Capitalism has not failed. Systems don’t succeed nor fail. People succeed or fail. As one of many economic systems, capitalism[2] is merely a tool with no intrinsic moral or ethical value. On paper, it appears to many (including me) to be a superior system, when applied with integrity. But, while “any system will work, if you’ll work the system,” it also is true that every system is vulnerable to corruption. Glenn Reynolds, an opponent of socialism, says, “Under capitalism, rich people become powerful. Under socialism, powerful people become rich.”[3]
While millennials like to toss around the idea of socialism, they also like to consume; they like profit and entrepreneurialism, and many dream of owning their own business. Those preferences fit no known definition of socialism.
In the minds of millennials and others (including me), the current application of capitalism, given its absence of integrity, has not provided the equitable opportunities its proponents peddle.
Capitalism is said to reward hard work; and yet, a new economic stratum called the “working poor” demonstrates that, in capitalism, hard work is not always rewarded equitably. It becomes increasingly difficult, even when working 40 hours—or more—each week, to provide safe housing, utilities, healthy food, basic transportation and health care. Many elderly, whose generation set the standard for hard work and productivity, now must choose between food or medicine. But capitalism has not failed. The failure is on those who abuse and manipulate the system for their own profit, without regard for how their manipulation hurts others!
Similarly, socialism is a system—a tool. Nothing more. Its value is a measure of how it is applied. Again, I believe it is inferior to capitalism. But too frequently what is being called socialism today—by both its opponents and its advocates—simply is not socialism. 
Here are a few things socialism is not:
1.      Governmental involvement is not de facto socialism. In socialism, the government may or may not own and control the means of production and distribution. There’s a world of difference between the government owning the means of production and distribution versus the government regulating those same means.
2.      In practice, socialism has not been about sharing. It’s been about coercion.
3.      Taxation is not socialism. Every governmental system, good, bad or indifferent, requires taxation.
4.      Social Security and Medicare are not socialism. They are managed and administered, but not owned (that’s the key), by governmental agencies. They are funded in exactly the same way as my private pension and insurance plan. The difference is that the funding is through enforced taxation. Either way, the consumer pays.
The following definition of socialism is consistent with every definition I find, and is more comprehensive than most: “Socialism is a political (or economic, your choice) system in opposition to capitalism. The difference is who owns the productive assets. Under capitalism it is the capitalists: investors discrete from both the labor and the organization being labored in. Under socialism, some form of the people or labor own those same productive assets. Ownership could be direct, or through some system of government—but that's the difference. Socialism means some collective method of the ownership of productive assets. ... A Credit Union is a socialist organization because it is collectively owned.” [4] It has nothing necessarily to do with government.
Government involvement may be good, bad, or indifferent; but it is not ipso facto socialism. The misuse of the word is driving an ideological wedge deeper and deeper into the festering wound of disunity that increasingly describes the heart of America. 
Let’s at least have a common vocabulary before we slap each other in the face with our labels.
That’s the way I see it through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Tim Worstall, “Bernie's Democratic Socialism Isn't Socialism, It's Social Democracy,” Forbes, May 17, 2016. Worstall is a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London.
[2] Actually, I prefer the term, “free enterprise,” which is different from capitalism, although derived from the same roots.
[4] Worstall, op. cit.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

One More Plea for Civility

My undergraduate degree is in sociology, and there was always an open debate between sociology and psychology regarding the relative impact of social vs. psychological influences. The debate continues among the laity, fueled to a significant degree by responses for and against the writings of Ayn Rand.
In today’s climate of extreme partisanism, it’s rare to see an argument for any consideration of relativity. Everything is cast in absolute terms; therefore, it’s really difficult to hold an intelligent—or civil—debate about anything (there’s that absolutist thing again!)
Hillary Clinton wrote a book entitled, It Takes a Village. Reaction against it predictably was based not nearly as much on the merits of her thesis as on her political and personal reputation.
An old friend (since high school days) is intelligent, educated (actually an educator) and articulate, so I take seriously his comments. His brother also is educated and articulate—a colleague in ministry—whose comments I also consider thoughtfully. They both are Libertarians; and since I am a very liberal Democrat, you can imagine some of the conversations that emerge when we make contact.
I also have a cousin—a sweet, compassionate young woman who has survived some of life’s hardest knocks. She is conservative; although, she may be the only true “independent” among all my acquaintances.[1]
I mention these three because each of them is able to carry on a conversation in which there is disagreement without becoming sarcastic, disrespectful, or insulting. They focus on issues instead of personalities, and in virtually every conversation with either of them I find my own awareness expanded and my understanding more empathetic.
By contrast, most of my remaining acquaintances, liberal or conservative, if they participate at all in politically or socially controversial conversations, resort to insulting put-downs directed at any who disagree with them. With increasing frequency, I find myself dropping out of those conversations or ignoring them altogether. They accomplish absolutely nothing; indeed, they are counterproductive to any hope of reconciliation and unity.
The vitriolic conversations I observe appear to emerge out of a mindset that says, “I’m right; and I have to convert these infidels!” I have friends who actually have said we are obligated to confront “their” stupidity! (And the overuse of the word, stupidity is another obsession of mine.)
Here’s the thing: if you refuse to accept me for who I am and for what I believe—if you have a need to change and correct me—if you require that I be like you—before you can treat me with respect and common courtesy, there’s not much hope of deepening our relationship. If I perceive that you are trying to change me—to coerce or intimidate or humiliate me into becoming something I am not—then my sense of distrust and defensiveness is activated.
On the other hand, if you treat me with respect and common courtesy first—if I perceive that you truly are listening to me and trying to understand me[2]; then I am much more likely to trust you and listen to you and to seek to understand you. I may not agree with you, nor do I have a need for you to agree with me; but, if we understand each other first, there’s at least some hope that we’ll move closer to agreement.
And see, here’s the other thing: since the earliest days of this wonderful American experiment, this inability (or unwillingness) to tolerate differences has existed. Remember reading about the infamous duels to the death (Aaron Burr actually killed sitting Vice President, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel that emerged out of the long and bitter partisan rivalry between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists.)
And what was gained? One human death; the virtual end in dishonor of Aaron Burr's political career, and what some have argued was the final nail in the coffin of the Jeffersonian Federalist party.
And what has been gained by the bitterness and animosity that has continued until this moment because we humans cannot tolerate differences? Hmmm? I’ll wait.
On Tuesday evening President Trump echoed the same whine that has come from every president and politician since (at least) President Nixon: “Why can’t we set aside our partisan differences?” The reason is that the whiner, whether Democrat or Republican, liberal, conservative, independent or Libertarian, means: “Why can’t you who disagree with me stop disagreeing with me?”
So, how’s that working out for you? for our nation?
I don’t want Republicans and Libertarians to agree totally with me! Democracy flourishes on lively debate in which all parties listen to each other and try to find the best in each other’s position.
I truly believe that we all have something of value to offer, and that many of our harshest disagreements are matters of degree, if we only will listen to each other. I refuse to believe that any one party—or any one person—has all of the truth about anything. But actualizing that truism would require each of us to acknowledge and accept the possibility that “I” may not be absolutely, irrefutably, and eternally right about everything.
Oh, well. I can dream.
That’s the way I see it through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

[1] Within my limited circle of acquaintances there are several who claim to be political “independents,” but whose conversation mirrors and supports virtually anything that opposes the Democratic party.
[2] And it always is my intention to be the same kind of listener; in fact, I have specific training in listening. I hope I am a good listener.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Rules vs. Trust


Rules and laws are inversely proportional to trust: more rules indicate less trust, while a greater level of trust is indicated by a relative absence of rules. 
Rules and laws usually come about in reaction to a hurtful interaction within a group, or to prevent its happening (again). Our United States Constitution was intended to prevent replication of the monarchial tyranny the colonists fled and against which they rebelled. The Constitution essentially limits government by establishing boundaries beyond which it may not go; but within which it is free to act.
Two ideologies clashed at the Constitution Convention. Situational revisions aside, those two groups continue today. They were born in animosity and that animosity has increased. It’s amazing that the Constitution got finished![1]
One group bore an unqualified distrust of government, but trusted individuals to be responsible and ethical in their dealings. They stumped for minimal central government, preferring to give more power to state and local governing bodies. That perspective is extended into today’s conservative political system.
The other group distrusted the integrity of individuals, especially in regard to unregulated commerce and banking. They advocated a stronger central governmental regulation against the threat of economic oligarchy . Today’s liberal principles emerged from that foundation.
Both ideologies remain virtually absolute, with neither crediting anything good to the other. Few, if any, voices call for acknowledging any good in both, and there is an ominous absence of any effort to find common ground on which to build consensus on anything. No political balance or trust is to be found.
Rules and laws are meant to restrict the influence of whatever entity is mistrusted. The power pendulum swings from left to right, and back. Endless partisan adjustments to and rescinding of laws, and the institution of more laws are meant to shackle the mistrusted “other party.” The result today is a convoluted system of laws, many of them self-contradictory, which transcends most human comprehension.
But, lack of comprehension does not discourage the hostile debates that indicate a gross decrease in trust and a consequent need for power and control.
In a pioneering study in group dynamics, Jack Gibb and others named four primary concerns for evaluating the level of trust within a group’s culture. The concerns determine the level of trust formation,[2] regardless of the group’s size. The following graph offers a visual guide to understanding the aforementioned concerns:
Primary Concern
Derivative Concern
Symptoms of Unresolved Concern
Symptoms of Resolved Concern
Acceptance
Membership
Fear/Distrust/exclusion
Acceptance/Trust
Information Flow
Decision-making
Politeness/caution/
Strategy (often secretive or behind-the-back)
Spontaneity/feedback
Goal Formation
Productivity
Apathy/Competition (silencing innovation)
Enthusiasm/Creative work
Control
Organization
Dependency/
Counterdependency that challenges for leadership
Interdependence/role
distribution

In my opinion the dynamics in the column labeled “Symptoms of Unresolved Concern” is a portentous description of our beloved United States of America.
So, what is the source of the mistrust, and how do we overcome it?
I suggest the mistrust is a product of hurtful experiences in our past. As a child I was pulled off my bicycle and chewed on by a big dog and, to this day I grow anxious when a big dog approaches me. I’ve learned compensatory behaviors to defuse any threat; but the mistrust is still present—until a relationship is built.
If building a relationship is key to overcoming mistrust, some concerns must be considered. Trust, by definition involves risk. So does love, which I believe should be the ultimate goal and intention of all human interaction.
Trust and love require—indeed, they are defined by—vulnerability. There is risk of betrayal and rejection. The alternative is to insulate oneself from betrayal and grief, but the payoff is fear and distrust. So I repeat: trust and love require—indeed, they are defined by—vulnerability.
A second concern in building trust is re-learning the lost art of listening. I’m not sure I could be a good listener had I not had extensive training in counseling and in conflict resolution. Even with the training and years of experience, it doesn’t always come naturally. Often, I have to be intentional about flipping on the “LISTEN” switch. 
Nevertheless, listening is a key requirement for building trust. Evidence is rampant on social media that people don’t really listen—not even when the message is written in clear script. Instead of listening, they are preparing their rebuttal (even though they may not—probably don’t—really know what’s been said). How many times, while reading a Facebook conversation, have you discovered, within relatively few exchanges, the focus has been diverted totally from the original topic.
Someone posts about compassion for the poor, and within two or three responses the conversation is diverted to how liberals are shoving a welfare state down our throats. The diversion kills a conversation that may have led to a charitable proposal acceptable to all concerned. And mistrust, if anything, has increased, along with animosity.
Or a Facebook conversation about illegal immigration is diverted to a condemnation vs. defense of President Trump’s wall. The conversation might—might—have been more productive if the responders had listened and stayed on the subject, which probably was a concern for national security and public safety. If the responders wanted to pontificate against the wall, they would be better advised to start their own conversation. But, then, in all likelihood that conversation would be diverted, too.
How on earth can we build trusting relationships if I don’t really know what you’re saying, and you don’t know what I’m saying? Without that knowledge, we’re left to assumption and opinion, neither of which is trustworthy.
At the infamous bottom line, while there is risk in trusting, there also is risk in listening. If I really hear you, I risk learning something new; indeed, I may hear something that requires me to reconsider previous convictions. 
But, then, that would mean I’d have to admit I am, at least partially, wrong—that my opinions are not absolute. And that may be the greatest risk of all.
That’s the way I see it through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

[1] In many ways, it’s not finished, even yet. As a living document it is adjusted according to ongoing needs.
[2] Leland P. Bradford, Jack R. Gibb, and Kenneth D. Benne, editors, T-Group Theory and Laboratory Method (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964)  

Monday, January 7, 2019

Saying Goodbye to Christmas


Yesterday was Epiphany, which means Saturday was the “Twelfth Day of Christmas”. So, yesterday afternoon I took down the outdoor Christmas decorations—the last one in our neighborhood to do so. I suspect a large percent of folks don’t know about the twelve days of Christmas, or about Epiphany; even though, virtually everyone who has any familiarity with Christianity knows about the “Three Wise Men.”
Well, anyway, I took it all down yesterday. It was a bitter sweet exercise. The season has been busier than some in the past (or is it that at almost 77 years of age, it just takes more effort to do the same things?) So, I’m relieved that the pace is slowing; and, yet, I grieve the passing of what also has been one of the most enjoyable Christmases in memory. We’ve had all our kids, and they came in shifts, so we got to focus exclusively on one family at a time. Their trips to our home overlapped, so we also got to experience short times of “whole family” togetherness. It was good.
I’ve had what seems like a harder time than usual letting go of the season. I think I’m aware that, at my age, my usual assumptions about “next year” are not as solid as in previous years. Don’t misunderstand: I’ll still plan and anticipate and prepare for “next Christmas.”
Last Thursday (the Tenth Day of Christmas) I was at home alone. Jo Lynn had gone into Little Rock to keep a regularly scheduled appointment with her doctor, to do some shopping, and to meet some friends for lunch. 
I turned on all the Christmas lights in the living room, built a fire in the fireplace, and tuned in to my favorite YouTube Christmas channel: one final orgy of self-indulgent Christmas nostalgia. It was great; and it was even better when Jo Lynn got home and we could share the moment. She didn’t even laugh at me—too much.
So, now the cat’s out of the bag, and you know what a sentimental mush I am. I even like Hallmark Christmas movies.
But, yesterday was Epiphany. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.(John 1:3b-5 NRSV)
Light. Shining for all the world to see.
Christmas has been very personal for me this year—like birth. And now Epiphany calls me to acknowledge the universal manifestation of God’s love and grace. It’s easier to let go of something dear when there’s something drawing me/us toward something else that also is exciting and enriching.
I sense a new sermon series coming into the light: a series on “Light”. 
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2 NRSV)
May the light shine on you, and may your own light reflect the One who is light!
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Lifting Up Christ

A common foundation for doctrinal absolutism is the dictum, “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” Too often, the reality is that God didn’t say it. Some fourth-grade Sunday School teacher or some preacher with serious control issues said it.
See, here’s the thing: too many of us Christians don’t trust God to be God and to do the things God does. Too many of us don’t really believe in Grace as unmerited favor. We think, in our arrogance, that Grace is dependent upon the inerrancy of our proclamation and the absolute necessity of our agenda. And so, we bang away at inflicting our tunnel-vision obsessions about how things “ought” to be, instead of lifting up Jesus.
Jesus said (my paraphrase) “If I am lifted up, I will draw all people to me;”[1] but, we don’t really believe that, so we bang away at abortion and homosexuality and correct doctrine and social justice, and we debate each other over issues of individual responsibility versus social responsibility. And we—not God—demand conformity to our understanding of eternal mysteries. Moreover, much of our babbling is informed more by political ideology and social prejudices than by the biblical witness!
In the process, our efforts have done more harm than good, and the result is a shattered Body of Christ. Today’s most visible and verbal manifestations of Church are driving more people away from Christ than they attract.
Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all people to me.” What therefore is suggested by the fact that more people are fleeing the church than are uniting in a common extension of Jesus’ life and ministry? Do I need to spell it out?
In Luke 10:5-9, Jesus sent 70 disciples on their first mission, giving them specific instructions. While some would argue that it’s a different version of the same event, all three Synoptic Gospel report the sending out of the 12, with similar instructions.[2]
In his parting instructions in Matthew 28 and in Acts 1, Jesus commissioned his disciples to “Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV) And “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Luke 1:8 (NRSV)
My point is this: in every case the instructions were to go [without compensation beyond room and board; but that’s another issue altogether], to offer peace, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, and to “make disciples” and “be my witnesses.”
The sum of Jesus’ instructions included serving and ministering to the sick and marginalized people (“the least of these”[3]) and proclaiming “good news” related to the kingdom of heaven. There is nothing in his instructions about judging or condemning. Indeed, he was notorious for hobnobbing with whores and Publicans, and said those people were more fit than the religious elite for the kingdom of God. It was about “lifting up,” rather than about “putting down.” That kind of gospel attracted followers and created disciples!
When Jesus’ ministry did involve criticism or condemnation it virtually always was aimed at those whose priorities elevated power and wealth over compassion and spirituality, who mistreated the poor, the widows, the lepers and the dispossessed, and who used religious authority (and/or a fusion of religious and political power) to benefit themselves and keep dissidents in their place.
Jesus described the kingdom and his own role in it as sacrificial service. He summed up his first sermon by saying (my paraphrase again), “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all your other concerns will find their proper place in your lives.” (Matthew 6:33)
But too many of us don’t believe that. The “spiritually yearning but institutionally disillusioned public”[4] avoids the church because they see us struggling to exert our political/religious agenda, using whatever ends-justify-the-means strategy necessary to accomplish the task. That’s what they see; and in too many cases their vision is accurate. Sadly, like most everyone else, they stereotype all expressions of organized Christianity on the basis of those impressions. Thus the reality of a fragmented church trying to minister in a fragmented world.
The most verbal proclaimers of Christianity don’t truly believe that if we simply point to Jesus, lift him up and seek first the kingdom, the kingdom will come, “on earth as it is in heaven.” And the harder they work at lifting up their agendas of condemnation and coercion, and as long as they insist on conformity to their ideologies and agendas as prerequisites to grace and inclusion in God’s kingdom, the longer the kingdom’s coming will be delayed.
That’s the way I see it through the “Flawed Glass” that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim


[1] I understand the context in which Jesus said this and acknowledge that his intention was much broader than my application here; however, I believe my understanding is not contrary to the overall teachings and ministry of Jesus. I am open to discussion on the matter.
[2] Matthew 10:7-11; Mark 6:8-13; Luke 9:2-6.
[3] Matthew 25:40, 45
[4] A term coined and developed by Thomas G. Bandy in Christian Chaos, Kicking Habits, Moving off the Map, Growing Spiritual Redwoods, et. al.