Friday, October 31, 2008

Okay, I Give... This is What I “Personally” Think

I have been receiving an enormous amount of questions about my views on Christianity in the political process, moral voting, and “hot button” issues. At this point I hope to respond, generally without offending folks (which I seem to do often), but with a personal opinion and bent that I will be voting for Sen. Barack Obama, the best choice for the United States. I also believe him to be a man of morals, highly principled, thoughtful, and an undeniable brother in Christ. These are my personal views, and are not those of Still Waters Church, or the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. They are also views that I hold from deep and personal convictions that have formed me from my Christian heritage, the bible and my study of its contextual perspective, antiquity, and a seeking to endeavor to be Christ-like; to be “found in him.” As I write this, I am overwhelmed by the fact that I cannot capture all of my thoughts here, and what will eventually end up on this blog will be imperfect. I beg your pardon as we move on...

I love Jesus. My loyalty is only to him. I cannot live one way (unto him), and by another set of values (unto the world), or even to the United States. Christ cannot be co-opted by one political party over another.

In following Christ, I hold to the conviction that all war is entirely inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. To be his disciple, is to apprentice with him in all matters of this life; following him as disciplined as one can, albeit imperfect. For a Christian to embrace justification for killing those who are made in God's image, is completely out of his will. Dietrich Bonheoffer, the great Lutheran pastor and theologian, in reference to the part he played in attempting Adolph Hitler's assassination, recognized his cooperation in the plot to be on the wrong side of God's will. He was imperfect as I am.

If I am to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, I must reject war and murder. I am not suggesting that Barack Obama is holding my view. After all, he is running for the position of “Commander in Chief” of the military, and is not running for office in our Heavenly Kingdom, of which I find my citizenry. As people of the United Stated of America (an Empire), it's citizens demand security and retaliation on their behalf, and no one running to be the Chief Executive, in this position, would stand even the slightest chance of being elected should, they hold such a radical nonviolent position. Jesus himself, would never be elected into the highest office of the United States, even by Christians, today.

With that understood, I listen to the rhetoric from both “camps,” and for years. I am disappointed that Sen. Obama would use certain language in referring to Al Kida, Osama Bin Laden, and terrorists. Words like, “hunting-down” and “killing,” were once socially unacceptable and politically sophomoric, a kind of “low road” in communicating policy. But today, post 9/11, the public demands such language and actions from our political leaders, and in the name of “serving” constituencies, these words are unfortunately adopted—even by Sen. Obama. We have a national feeling of justification, but seldom consider the murder of innocent civilians –-casualties-of-war— in our justice serving, even within Christ's Church. We silently, within our own thoughts, erode to the “world's” methods, saying to ourselves, “Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but every now and then we just have to kill somebody. (aka, “Who Would Jesus Kill?”) His commands are to “love our enemies,” to “pray for those who persecute you,” and as his followers I am staggered by his Churches willingness to compromise on his policies, as OUR Commander in Chief. We might want to look toward our Christian heritage, and invoke the early Churches writings within the Apostolic Constitution on the Just War Theory, but any serious consideration of these policies, I have come to believe, will ultimately lead us away from war, not simply toward restraint. I disagree with Sen. Obama's and Sen. McCain's positions here, but I do not think that they hold the same position, and I look toward the literal lesser of two evils with regard to their policies.

I see and hear two different bents in these two “camps.” One has a more nuanced, and thoughtful approach to such serious matters, and one has a more rigged, concise, sound-bite approach. One talks about “winning” with a singular attitude toward all-or-nothing, rejecting compromise or finding a graceful way to return all control back to the Iraqis, or even apologizing for invading their country under false pretenses, to secure foreign oil. John McCain talks a lot about not sitting down with our enemies, and uses statements like “I know how to deal with Iran,” implicitly threatening military action, and joking about bombing them to a Beach Boys tune. He talks about supporting the troops but his voting record, with regard to after care for military veterans is abysmal, earning him a “D” from veterans groups (where Obama was given a “B”), based on their voting records. I prefer that if we are bent on being militaristic, that slow to war is better than rush to war. Diplomacy is far more preferred—talking, over shooting—and belaboring negotiations over bombing.

I was a registered Republican, and believed the rhetoric of “Compassionate Conservatism.” I live with, and my friends are, folks finding themselves in varying degrees of homelessness and poverty—those struggling through every stripe of desperation. I found this doctrine to be less than compassionate from my former party, after all the campaigning and shortly after swearing in ceremonies. Today, I am hearing this same desperation from folks on the next rung on the latter, who were mostly the ones willing to reach back to help those a little worse off. The ideology of the group is, of course, trickle down economics, meaning that the rich will take care of us, on the bottom rung of that ladder. I simply believe that to be naive, discounting something within the heart of all of us—greed. I have very good and generous friends on both ideological sides, and some point to statistics where affluent people out-give poor people. This is true, and I have those same statistics at my disposal too. We can agree that if poor people have less, then they can only give less. (I find that they do give in very wonderfully, and profoundly richer ways than just monetarily.) There can be an endless argument about these stats, but when I dig, for myself to find the truth, invariable, most (not all) of this demographic gives to religious institutions, such as their very own places of worship—where most of that money, inevitably, is returned to them in the form of goods and services; i.e., youth group materials and trips for their kids, new carpets and comfy chairs to soften their worship experience, and utilities to air condition and heat massive 30 and 40 foot empty spaces over their heads every Sunday morning, Saturday evening, and Wednesday night. There is also a really good feeling when we spend thousands of dollars to send one individual to a foreign country to do “short-term missions,” that usually looks like all of our comfortable worship expressions here in the states; i.e., puppet shows, skits and dramas, singing and dancing, and perhaps doing some work for a worthy cause. (I personally think sending those thousands of dollars to the indigenous Church on the ground would help them more.) I rarely see affluence befriending those living in the traumas of poverty, and so generosity, very rarely finds its way to them, unless there is a huge dramatic corporate cause, where we can donate a little money out of our excesses, and where we can draw attention to how much money we were able to amass, as we swell with pride.

My scriptures seem to gravitate toward caring for those on the margins with money, goods, and friendship. It also informs me that “to whom much is given, much is required.” Is the bible supporting a “redistribution of wealth?” In this area I do not need to divide my loyalties. As a Christian, if I am blessed with stuff (two coats for example), I am required to share it with those who have little (giving one coat away). Today's Christian argument seems to be that “I want to give less to the government so that I can care for those on the margins myself,“ but as stated before, those dollars rarely find their way to my friends. Since the Church in the US fails to care, in social ways, the US government is needed to help those living in difficulties. The dollars need to come from somewhere. If the US government were to resend the money for programs that help those in need that Jesus commissioned the Church to care for, the Church would be so inundated, overwhelmed and unprepared to truly meet the peoples needs, that the vacuum would be frighteningly insufficient, risking people's lives. Also, if the American Church were to finally awaken to their being the solution to our social ills, perhaps we could lower tax rates. However, with the current dynamic of greed vs compassion, state taxation vs Christian caring, forgive me for not holding my breath. I often think what it would be like if the Church were to actually succeed in its mission of reaching the world (including those in secular US government), convincing them that Jesus' way truly is “good news.” What if governments were to buy into his ideas of enemy love, caring for the least, giving special deference to the weaker members, etc? What would that look like? Seems to me it would look a little more like socialism, than capitalism—more like Acts chapter 2 than what we are experiencing here in the states. So I make no apologies for preferring tax breaks for those who cannot afford much, in order to help them out (the idea of leaving lots of crops in your field to give noble work –gleaning– to those with no field) and requiring far more from those who would otherwise hoard. When I am told that tax breaks for those with the most is a redemptive, viable solution to our social problems, I just cannot buy that logic. Big field owners will, instead, gather all of their crops, making more money and slaves, just as Jesus railed about to his contemporaries. It is also the reason why Joe the Plumber hired a publicist today. (Seriously, he did!) A redistribution of wealth is in my opinion, Christ's way, and for those who idealistically fear the evils of socialism, opt out of Medicare, Social Security, build and maintain your own roads and infrastructure, then sell all that you own, give it all the proceeds to the poor, and then take up your cross and follow Jesus. I think I know whose neighborhood you’ll end up in...

I am also mystified by how good Christians find no offense with a campaign that gropes for votes with slanderous, and immoral scare tactics. I hear accusations from the McCain folks about Obama being a socialist, a Marxist, and a friend of terrorists. Last I heard, “bearing false witness” was a bad thing. As I observe this election, and consider the many nonpartisan fact check sites, I am amazed by the disproportionate number of “false facts” attributed to the McCain campaign. Most of these sites are beginning to look more-and-more like anti-McCain sites by virtue of the number of corrections that need to be vetted, while Obama seems to remain focused on issues. One of the largest themes in our scriptures is summarized in the term “fear not,” something that Jesus talked about a lot, in the face of some very real and devastating governmental oppression. His way was not to convince his followers of a better kingdom through fear mongering and untruthful scare tactics. To believe every implicit and explicit accusation leveled at our Christian brother by his sister Sarah Palin, I should see him as a baby murdering, Nazi rock star, sleeper cell organizing, anti-Christ, bent on world domination wringing his hands as he just waits to fool the world with his evil plan after his swearing in ceremony. Unbelievably fantastic, just as the hokey left behind books.

In watching these two candidates during the economic crisis, examining their voting records, and looking toward consistency in message and honesty, I think that Barack Obama does not need to keep reinventing himself, and his message because it is centered on his core beliefs and is consistently honest, where John McCain needs to play to a centrist Republican base, while appearing to oppose them on more moderate matters. He is truly endeavoring to serve two masters, apparently, just to get elected. I said near the end of the primaries, that we had really good choices—that if we got any of the last three (Clinton, Obama, or McCain) as President we were lucky. However, after McCain's flip-flopping; his denying his own voting record; telling folks that he would not stoop to these tactics and then bordering on contempt; running an erratic and mean-spirited untruthful campaign; appearing to loose control of even his own campaign; and dangerously playing politics of hate mongering where Obama needs increased security, he has eroded into a John McCain that the former John McCain would resist.

As for abortion, I am pro life, but that having been said, McCain has just come to our side. Not long ago his advice to his own daughter was that if she was faced with an unwanted pregnancy, “the choice would be [hers],” and he would “support her decision.” Again, John McCain vs John McCain. The truth is that John McCain and Sarah Palin want abortion, not to be outlawed, but its jurisdiction returned back to the States from the place of Federal law, only forcing women to find a state where it would be legal. The abortion issue is complicated even though there are those who want it minimized to a sound-bite. Yes, we currently have abortion on demand, and after 6 years that the pro-life Republicans have had a lock on all three branches of government, in addition to the Supreme Court, virtually nothing has been done to reduce and/or eliminate abortions. This has been simply a talking point value and litmus test for every candidates conservatism, whether one is running for President or dog catcher. Everyone agrees that abortion is bad, every politician to the teen mother living on the street. I have yet to meet anyone who is enthusiastically running to the nearest clinic thrilled with the idea of ending a pregnancy. It just is never pleasant, and criminalizing a young girl who is scared to death is just as criminal. On both sides of the debate everyone agrees that abortion should be rare and acknowledge that this is not just about black and white simplicity, but within the debate, both sides fearfully polarize, knowing that if one side gives in, even to the smallest degree, they might lose the whole debate. There are arguably, some instances that an abortion might be necessary, and with an all-or-nothing climate, giving in to any of the 90 percent that is agreed upon, could slip into creating criminals where there might really be victims, to pose one sides fearful example.

Obama has expressed over-and-over his hearts dread over the pain of abortion, but believes that a more nuanced and thoughtful discussion and legislation is required to make abortion very rare. His voting record on this can vilify him if reduced to sound bites as McCain/Palin do, but the record also shows the bills set forth in Illinois were to erode the standing law, and the all-or-nothing sides were being worked. Obama's objection to the legislation was on the grounds that the lawful protections for the baby were already on the books.

I know that this campaign has been frought with painting Obama into, as corrupt a light as possible, wanting to highlight narrowly crafted excerpts from his voting record, eliminating context, in the Illinois legislature to the Senate, making him out to be nothing more than liberalism-as-usual, (a tactic that plays well for the Republican base), but politics is not just how you vote—it is also how you live. Barack Obama's political voting record is reflected also in the work he has done as a community organizer, in his concern-to-action for those on the margins, as well as his priorities in turning down over 600 employers, soliciting him for their companies, offering high salaries, and positions, after his schooling. He turned them down, viewing his highest priorities as to first, give back to those without a voice in some terrible places, learning, along the way, more than theoretic political bluster. I believe him to be a sincere advocate for those who Jesus calls, the least—those without political power, and that is the character of a very good man.

Jesus said virtually nothing about the topic of abortion per se', and it falls to us, to do a fair amount of sleuthing to form a biblical doctrine about abortion, with a heavy reliance on the Didache, helping to make it plain as to early apostolic teaching. What is also plain in that teaching, is caring for the poor, the redistribution of wealth, their prohibition of war, how we treat our Christian brothers and sisters, how we treat the world, the planet, and we do not need the Didache to arrive at those teachings with more than 2,000 biblical references for example about poverty and how God cares for them through (hopefully) us. Jesus seemed completely preoccupied with this, and rarely fell in support of trickle-down-economics—quite the opposite as a matter of fact. His “pro-life” stance seemed to include all issues of life beginning with babies, and following through to how we care for, and honor the elderly, completely condemning the governmental war machine, as evil, and giving special deference to the poor.

With all of the political stunts, from vice presidential pick, to double-mindedness in his connections to ACORN, deregulation, his relationship to lobbyists (who are running his campaign), playing both sides of the abortion issue, dangerously provoking followers to bigotry, hatred, and violence, lying about his opponent, his lack of understanding and grandstanding during the financial melt-down, catering to the wealthy and lobbyists, to his inappropriate, idealistically and old-fashioned understanding of the world today, particularly with regard to foreign policy, and his inability to work with the world, to restore the world's respect for the United States, rather than holding the biggest gun to convey power, I believe that John McCain is far past his prime. (I do not mean he is too old. I mean that he is viewing the 21st century world through a 20th century lens. Even the idea of “winning” this war is misguided. There will not be a time that we look back at this and declare a moment of victory. The new world we are now in is constantly shifting, and there is no concrete battle field for terror. In fact, an American democracy dropped into the middle of another culture that has breathed different values of normal life for millennia, could look frighteningly like a Frankenstein monster.

Sen. McCain has so very compromised the things that once made him a great leader, for the brass ring of the Presidency, that his credibility and respectability will take a very long time to restore. Republicans of notability and stature seem to be leaving him in droves. Even this morning, Ronald Reagan's former chief of Staff, has criticized him based on of “lack of sound judgment.” That is becoming all too common, and I simply do not want him representing me on a world stage, especially when a man like Sen. Obama is ready to begin.

I have watched Barack Obama, thoughtfully consider some of the most imposing challenges on our horizon, and have always been impressed with his calm command of the issues, and if one would take the time to actually read his proposals, it is quite undeniable that his ideas are sound, while he models the temperament to carry them out, and his Constitutional Law background gives him a clear advantage in navigating these, and challenges yet to come.

I know that there are Christians that believe that we are to live above the noise of this election, and I agree to some extent. But when the Christian majority has placed itself well within a Party that has conducted itself in this way for the past 8 years, and now embraces the political tactics of Karl Rove, which it so objected to only 4 years ago, I must insist on expressing the other side. Jesus resisted the Herodians (religious/politicos) with very sharp words.

Should you respond, I insist on civility.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Different Christian/Political Discussion

Very interesting piece about faith and politics, when CBN seems to have broadened it's discussion to include views of sincere Christians that are not co-opted by one party, or limiting politics to two or three topics. Enjoy...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

October 4, The Feast of Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury, pardon;where there is doubt, faith;where there is despair, hope;where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,grant that I may not so much seek to beconsoled as to console;to be understood, as to understand;to be loved, as to love;for it is in giving that we receive,it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,and it is in dying that we areborn to Eternal Life.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Thoughts from Fr Richard Rohr

Those at the edge, ironically, always hold the secret for the conversion of every age and culture. They always hold the projected and denied parts of our soul. Only as the People of God receive the stranger and the leper, those who don't play our game, do we discover not only the hidden and hated parts of our own souls, but the Lord Jesus himself. In letting go, we make room for the Other. The Church is always converted when the outcasts are reinvited into the temple.

God speaks the true word of power, but we cannot believe it. We trust in our power, which we think will change the world, but what has it done?

Conservatives tend to mistrust powerlessness, while liberals tend to mistrust power. Jesus puts them both together in an utterly new way that satisfies neither group. We have never had the courage to take the word of the Lord seriously. We are afraid of both gospel power and gospel powerlessness. We've experienced just enough Christianity, someone once said, to forever inoculate ourselves from wanting the real thing.

I am convinced that most of the saints were religious dropouts from societies that were going nowhere. Faith called them to drop out and believe in something else. Jesus' announcement of the reign of God was telling us that culture as we've created it is on a track toward self-destruction and emptiness. All we have to give up is the utterly false understanding that we have of ourselves from civil society. For some reason that liberation seems to be the most difficult thing in the world!

It's important to realize that Jesus' message was being given, at the same time, to those on the top of society and to those on the bottom. To those on the top, he is always saying, "Come down. Give up your power, your righteousness, and your explanations. Jump off the tower." To those on the bottom—all the nobodies—he's always saying, "Come up! You've got faith. Go show yourself to the priests. You've got the power."

There's a gospel to the oppressors and a gospel to the oppressed, reversing both of their self-evaluations.

Shame and honor were, in fact, moral values in the culture Jesus lived in. In other words, retaliation was the rule of Jewish culture. For Jesus to walk into the midst of that and to say, "Do not retaliate" is to subvert the whole honor/shame system. People who heard this would wonder, "How do I find my self-image, my identity?"

And all Jesus does is to point radically to God. Who you are in God is who you are. In that system there are no ups and downs, no dependence upon families and villages for self-esteem, upon wealth or good societal standing.

Jesus puts identity on a solid foundation: life in God and not in passing definitions of honor and shame.

Excerpts from Fr. Richard Rohr
Spiral of Violence, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, and Sermon on the Mount