You can’t say that in church

Apparently, there are several things that you cannot say or talk about in church:

1. Swear-words.

Apparently, God is not down with the emotionally-loaded verbage. However, fortunately for many of us, it appears that God doesn’t have that great of hearing as God does not hear the cussing and all the other poor words we use outside of the church building.

2. Sex.

Although God may have created two people naked and hooked them up to begin with, you can’t talk about any of that stuff in church. God’s cool with it and actually wants you to do it, but just don’t talk about it in God’s presence. Again, if you want to talk about this, go outside of the church where God can’t hear you.

3. Politics.

Here, I’m confused.

First off, we have the “Faith and Values” voters, the Faith and Freedom Conference, and enough “God-talk” in presidential campaigns to make a Pentecostal Preacher tired of it.

Second, much of the bible and the tradition that we receive talk about politics; they talk about power and people, and what else is politics other than the distribution of power between people? Think of the prophets’ call to justice between all people; of Christ’s welcome of everyone – specifically those on the margins; and recall the, at times, harsh words to those who have everything (something about the first being last, those who have something will lose it, yada yada yada). There is a clear precedent to see that God has some concern for the matters between people and the matters between nations.

Yet, there is the idea that faith and politics do not mix.

At the thanksgiving dinner table, this may be good advice depending on the political diversity of your family. However, are we in the church abdicating some level of responsibility to do justice  by insisting that politics (the assessment and critique of people and power) not be spoken?

Sure, there is the precedent of a separation between Church and State.

I find this to be a good thing.  The State should not be supporting a particular religion or denomination. Unlike the habits of a particular preacher several miles down the road, the church should not be endorsing a party or candidate – not only does that remove each person’s ability to think and discern, but it replaces the ideal of Shalom with the “practicality of the possible.” Further, it goes on to create a congregational adhesive that is a political party or a single issue rather than Love and Grace.

However, I’m not sure that we have to believe that it’s either silence in church or theocracy.

 

 

Certainly, we must move beyond partisanship if we are to discuss and evaluate politics.

But now, I have a problem.

What do you do when a particular party seems to align itself with a view that is more offensive to God’s calling of justice than another?

I know, I know, I know. The question is too subjective.

How do you define “Justice”? Parties aren’t always monolithic in their priorities. No party is going to be in line with everything that God desires from and for us.

All subjectivities included, I’m still curious.

After discerning a vision of Justice; after understanding that we speak of the actions and words of some, not all; after confessing that we are not placing our hope in politics, but do understand our location within and our responsibility to care for all people and to seek a power structure that is not oppressive, but liberating…

Then, can we speak up in church and call out people and parties when they seem to encourage policies and actions that would go on to create more injustice than justice? Is it possible to do this and remain apart from partisanship? Is it possible to do this as a product of our faithfulness?

The last thing this country needs is another partisan jerk. But I’m pretty sure that we could use more people of faith talking about policies (not personalities) and politics (not partisanship) and how they either help or hurt people with the power that is exercised.

So, how do we engage our faithfulness in the world of politics?

 

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I think… yeah. I just had an idea.

So see if you can follow this train of thought.

I was in listening to Pandora in the shower (where all good ideas emerge) thinking about how I need to add Martha Scanlan to my list. Then, I began to think of the beautiful cd cover:

And I thought, “Gee, it would be nice to get up to Montana or where ever that picture was taken. But in reality, I doubt I’ll ever be able to buy land up there. Good thing we have parks.”

Then I thought, “Hey, why don’t we expand the parks system right now?” And then, this idea emerged to resolve our housing, economic, and climate concerns:

1. The federal government offers banks the ability to write off the losses of their foreclosures (the ones that they rightfully seized) for the next three years (this may already be a choice for them, I’m not sure).

2. The banks then give the properties to the local governments where they are secured as parks for the next 100 years.

3. The foreclosed homes are then deconstructed. Compensation for workers would be a living wage with half of it provided by the banks and half of it provided by the federal government.

4. After the homes are deconstructed, the workers then plant native trees, shrubs, and grasses.

The result would be:

1. A reduction in the excess capacity of homes that are currently driving prices down, allowing prices to stabilize and eventually rise (creating more confidence in the market).

2. It would offer jobs to folks who are currently out of work or in jobs that pay too little.

3. It would even add a little bit of CO2-sucking greenery to not only provide better views, but work a little bit (very little bit) against climate change and all of the terrible weather we have been facing around the country.

Of course, this idea likely neglects several realities about property rights and bank’s rights. However, I’m not really sure that we should be so concerned with the latter after this entire financial-sector-led-economic-disaster (my initial preference would be for the government to seize the foreclosures from the banks). Still, a similar idea is already being done on some level in communities such as Cleveland – but the homes were sold to local governments then and since most local governments are tight on finances now, they can’t afford to purchase it, but probably wouldn’t mind if it was donated!

All this idea took, was a little music on Pandora and a little Martha Scanlan.

With the professional people who think and create policies for a living, we should have an unending flow of ideas coming from all over the place. Yet, all we hear is more tax-cuts, less regulation, debt ceiling shenanigans, and then pure silence from the Democrats who are just happy that the GOP is taking all of this flack from Rep. Ryan’s budget.

To date, it seems as though these Very Important People (as Paul Krugman refers to them) are all too concerned with the next election and the preservation of the status quo. So rather than risk anything, they play it safe. And while they play it safe, millions of people struggle and suffer.

We need more ideas and more imagination – preferably before 2012.

Giving Up The Apocalypse

May 21st has come and gone, and we are all still here.

At this point, I am more of a “prophet” than Harold Camping in terms of prediction/fulfillment accuracy.

But he is not giving up on sharing his wellspring of prophecy (after all, the third time is a charm). After a “really tough weekend” and after some more “research,” Camping has determined that the end of the world will actually be October 21st.

Oops!

However, he wasn’t entirely wrong about May 21st. According to Harold, this past Saturday we all endured “a ‘spiritual’ Judgment Day, which places the entire world under Christ’s judgment.” (I thought I felt a little more guilt recently…) I guess to find out what this “spiritual Judgment Day” is all about, we will have to tune in to Family Radio.

But I think I’m going to pass.

I’m just not that interested in the apocalypse or eschatology or some figment of our creation, such as the “rapture.”

Did you know that this idea of the “rapture” was created in the 1800’s by a preacher, John Nelson Darby, who thought that it was too cruel to subject good Christian folk to the fate foretold in Revelation? It isn’t there in the book.

Further, the book of Revelation isn’t really a book about something more to come, but something that has passed. John of Patmos, in his acid-like-trip of a vision, wrote of an epic story in which the early Christian communities resisted the oppressive imperial forces that sought to keep the community under control, if not get rid of them. The hope revealed in this vision is that God will come to reign in the wrongs and injustices and liberate the oppressed and reconcile enemies and all of creation. The hope is that all nations will be living under God (not just printing it on our money) in the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven and is made known and made real to everyone. It’s a good question to ask why people would want to go up to Heaven when Heaven is going to come down to earth, but that’s for another time.

So while the book of Revelation is an epic of encouragement and hope for the communities of that time and while it reveals this extraordinary trust in God – that God will not give up and give in to the injustice, hatred, and violence that is done on this earth – it is not likely a good “research tool” to discern when this reign will occur. The images and characters were fixed in that particular context and are not up for re-alignment with the U.N., President Obama, or the prevalence of Google. So please, no more “Rapture Index;” no more Harold Camping; no more John Hagee; no more Left Behind (by the way, isn’t it a little ironic that the co-author of the Left Behind series is critiquing Harold Camping?)

Let’s not focus on the end.

Not only because the texts and traditions that we embrace as Christians speak more of restoration than termination; not only because it can do some damage to those who are seeking a “way out” and place their hope in the end; but because it can become a distraction from what God seeks of us right here, today.

I’m recalling all sorts of texts and professors informing the class that eschatology is important in our systematic theology and all, but I’m not sure that it is. It might be nice to have a conclusion in your theological treatise, but I don’t know that an eschatology or belief in the apocalypse is necessary to follow the way of Christ.

I cannot recall Jesus ever saying,

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.*

* ‘All of this is so only if you believe that I will come down from heaven in a fury of judgment after the four horsemen process to announce my incredibly awesome entrance at some point in time to later be determined – possibly 2,000 years or so…’

I cannot recall Paul writing,

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not believe in the rapture, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not believe in the apocalypse, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not believe in the end, I am nothing.

I don’t think it’s necessary.

I can still continue to hope that compassion, grace, and justice will spread throughout the world. I can still trust in the radical Love of God that has the power to reconcile, restore, and even resurrect. I can still follow the way, because the discovery of wholeness and “New Life” throughout the journey is enough.

The grace that abounds, the Love that flows in and out, and the courage to work for justice and to work for peace are all good and beautiful things that come from walking along this path – they give life to me and, hopefully, to others.

Maybe that is the difference here – between those that discover the presence of Christ and the Love of God on the journey and those that believe they will discover the presence of Christ and the Love of God at a later date – currently, they just have their “ticket.”

So is God working here and now? Is God saving everything up for one gigantic moment (tba)?

I believe the former.

So goodbye October 21st. Goodbye 2012. Goodbye rapture index and Left Behind. Goodbye poor interpretations of the book of Revelation and every other apocalyptic text.

The hope that Love provides – that it is not going anywhere; that it is not going to give up; that it will ultimately win – that is all that I need to know how everything will turn out.

Today, it’s again time to follow the way of Christ – the way of compassion, Love, and justice.

Peace.

Jen Rocks

Today, I had the wonderful opportunity to go into Judia Jackson Harris elementary school and watch one of the best elementary teachers in the country spend her (for the foreseeable future) last hours with a class of first-graders. To make it even more special, this class of 16 was with her last year as kindergartners and “looped” up with her this year. The connections and relationships with the children and their families has been incredible – this was evident by the fact that just about everyone of the families came today to the end of the year picnic (by the end of the day, Jen only led 6 of her 16 kids out to the buses because the others had ridden home with their families!).

I had the chance to see the student-teachers that worked with Jen this semester and know just how well they will go on to teach (when they finally get an opportunity to do so thanks to the dramatic cuts to education).

I had the chance to see amazing teachers pass out hand-made gifts that they had spent endless nights creating.

I had the chance to see the wonderful atmosphere of cooperation and community as every class lined the hallways out to the buses and cheered as the “graduating” fifth-grade classes walked by (many with tears in their eyes).

Of the many chances I have had to be present and engage with this particular PUBLIC school – the administration, the teachers, the staff, and the children – it has been amazing. Jen has been part of this community for the past two years. She taught at another school in Clarke County two years before that. She taught one year in South Fulton before that and she taught three years in Atlanta Public Schools, where it all began for her. Unfortunately, I cannot say that all of these experiences have had such an impressive ethos of community and cooperation (looking at you administration), but the classroom ethos was always amazing.

And that’s because of the kids and it’s because of Jen.

All of the late nights, all of the exhausted Friday nights and Saturday mornings, all of the lesson plans, cutting, laminating, folding, coloring, posting, and the millions of purchased snacks for games. Somewhere in there, she still maintained a dedication to the children that was over and above. And of course, anyone who knows a great teacher knows that it’s not just dedication to them, it’s love for them.

That’s what I would see every time I walked into that school and into her classroom.

It provided the kids with a sense of community between one another, developed a respect between the kids where they could work out their own problems, and supported each and every one of them as they would try something new, do something creative, or share something personal.

And when the love goes into all of the preparation and implementation, it transforms the entire place: These children weren’t just learning how to read, they were developing a passion to read. And they weren’t just learning how to write, they were utilizing all of their creativity to write these outlandish and awesome stories, like one where Rosa Parks enters into a time-traveling machine to go back in time and meet all of these cool people, like Abraham Lincoln! They weren’t just learning about how they should think, they were learning how to think critically — and they’re 6!

I’m extremely grateful for Jen and her dedication, work, and creativity to teach so many children so many wonderful things, and to inspire them with a passion to want to learn.

And I’m extremely grateful for every other teacher out there like her, that understands what education is all about.

Now, if anyone has any investment opportunities, please let me know. Each and every year since Jen began teaching, she has promised the children that each and every one of them is to call her when they are about to graduate college, and she will come fly out to watch them walk across the stage, and then take them out to dinner.

It’s going to get pretty expensive.

Last night, after she had already fallen asleep, I asked Jen if she had told her class the very same thing – that she would come and watch them graduate and take them out to dinner?

She said “no.”

I was surprised.

I said, “no? why?”

She replied, “because I will come and visit them whenever they call me.”

That is a teacher.