Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

letterHey guys,

I’m going to be a bit transparent and bear my soul for the (electronic) world, but mostly just for you for a minute (though you can’t read yet, but you will one day soon at the rate you guys are going!). I write as your dad. And I do so knowing that not everyone your dad knows will like this letter. But I’m banking on the fact that we can be honest with one another and still be together, right?  That’s what we say, right?

Look, I was disappointed in the election last night.  And not because a party won or lost, but because I really wasn’t sure what to do with the candidate that won.

And now, on the other side of Michigan’s electoral votes, I’m curious about the future, but I can afford to be.  Because our President-Elect (who I now pray for and who will be our President) said some things that really trouble me, though they weren’t to me. And I have to be honest about that with you.  That’s not to say none of the other candidates, including the primary rival, didn’t also say or do some things that made me cringe.  But he said things about vulnerable people. He said things about people with disabilities.  He said things about veterans, about our Muslim brothers and sisters, about our Mexican brothers and sisters, and about our Black brothers and sisters.  His VP pick has done things that hurt our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. 

He said things about women that I never want to hear out of your mouths.
Ever.

In fact, he said those things so loudly, that it was hard for me to hear the other things that he was saying, so I’m really confused today about what is next. Confused and curious.

But I know that others did hear him, and liked what they heard (what they liked and what they heard, I’m not sure, but it’s clear they did).  And they, too, are our brothers and sisters, many of them, I think, in vulnerable situations, too.  And I think that we share more common values than disagreements. I really do.

But you have to know something about yourselves, boys.

See, you’re middle class white kids in a country that’s still made for you. You don’t need to feel ashamed of that, by the way. But you need to be aware of it.  The current world is situated for you, and your responsibility is to start situating it for all, with all. The risk for you in the world is minimal, save for those risks we all have associated with living: cancer, natural disasters, deranged individuals, and the hazards of driving with your grandparents.

And so, what I want to say about disappointment is this: though I am disappointed (and disappointed that we do not, yet, have a female Chief Executive as an example for you, though your mom is pretty good at filling the role), disappointment is something you must get used to.  You don’t always get what you want, even when you feel you work really hard for something.

But I will be more disappointed if we somehow fail to help you understand two things:

  1. You live in community with other people, a community that is ever expanding, larger and larger. All of the following has to do with that, because no attempt at shrinking it will make it smaller. So you must get used to this. Know your words in this world have consequences. And your actions have consequences. So you must defend the weak and vulnerable. You must have courage to be who you are. You must look after your fellow brothers and sisters, especially those who are looked down upon or who are in vulnerable situations. That is your responsibility, no matter who is the Chief Executive of our country, because that’s what God and decency requires of us. And, if they’re worth their skin, they’ll look after you. That’s how good community works, and even if we’re not yet *good* at community, you can be good within community.
  2. Sometimes you’re going to be disappointed. And that doesn’t mean that you get angry (though anger is natural and OK in pieces) or get even (never OK). It means that you lean into your values of cooperation and love and respect and you do what you can, where you can.  And you don’t have to hate or hurt people who disagree with you. They are part of your global neighborhood, guys.

The world you’re growing up in is more divided than ever.  Some of that is because my generation and previous ones haven’t really learned how to disagree well with one another.  We’re struggling with an increasingly globalized world in a way that we aren’t really prepared (or mature enough?) for in most cases.  We’ve been fed that we must tolerate one another, when really what we should have been taught is how to love each other.  We’re not yet comfortable with that.

And no amount of platitudes will ease this discomfort.  What you must do is reach out to those different from you, however that difference is made evident, and be with them.  You don’t have to stand for intolerance, but I don’t want you to just tolerate anyone, either.

I want you to love people, as you’re best able. And loving people means you don’t make fun of them, you don’t assault them, and you don’t generalize them. It means you listen and have dinner with them, and you pick up the tab half the time.

And yes, you can be snarky, but try to avoid cynicism.  And yes, you can have strong opinions, but if your opinion becomes a personal attack, it fails to be an opinion and has devolved into a baser form of communication, which should be avoided at all costs because, well, you’re bright guys and are better than that.

We’re going to be disappointed sometimes, boys. But know yourself, and know who, when disappointment strikes, will feel the aftershock the most.  And that’s who you look out for. And not because you are some sort of savior or guardian, but just because that’s where you’re supposed to be, by God.

Got it?

Love you guys. Go Cubs!

Dad…

It seems like after every national tragedy–and let’s be honest, tragedy on any scale–people have this “ah-ha” realization about the fragility of life.

I think that’s a pretty natural reaction.  A wake-up of sorts.

And that “ah-ha,” that realization, often gets filtered into a phrase that comes out something like this: “we’re not promised tomorrow.”  It’s a carpe diem phrase of sorts. A call to mindfulness.  A call to smell the roses.  A call to, as Qoheleth and Dave Matthews chirp, “Eat, drink, and be merry” for tomorrow we die.

Or, at least, we might die.

On the one hand, I get that sentiment.  In a cosmic sense it is absolutely true, and shouldn’t be ignored.

But the tragedy in Orlando was not some cosmically caused killing.  A meteor didn’t fall from the sky and destroy Pulse. It wasn’t some freak shark attack.

If it had been a meteor or a freak accident, then I could get behind the phrase “we’re not promised tomorrow” as a response to this terrorist attack.

But this was a terrorist with a gun living under the laws and regulations of the United States of America.  We can’t just shrug our shoulders, hold our babies closer, and hope it doesn’t happen to us.  That’s ridiculous.  On some level, uttering that phrase in response to this particular act is just plain stupid sentimentalism; a vapid romanticism.

At its core, the laws and regulations that we live under are a social contract of sorts, a promise if you will, that your tomorrow cannot be purposefully infringed upon by my actions in a way that inhibits your “life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.”

I’m saying that those people at Pulse were promised a tomorrow.  At least in the sense that no one could infringe upon their tomorrow in a forceful way by law.  We had a social contract that someone decided to break, and here we are shrugging our shoulders and saying, “No guarantees.”  Sure…no guarantees.  But we do have promises which, while not guarantees, are the social contract version that is pretty darn close.

And when we say something like, “We’re not promised a tomorrow” as a response to a situation that is a breach of social contract we abstract the incident to arms length, when what we actually need to do is draw the incident as close as possible.

Because things at arms length…we have little control over that. It’s a psychological crutch. But this type of mass shooting is actually something that we, through our social contracts, can take action on.

When Moses went up to Sinai and descended with those two tablets (three, if you believe Mel Brooks’ account), it was to establish a social contract both between humanity and between Divinity and humanity.  It is basically a response to, “how shall we then live?”  And it was, in essence, a promise of tomorrow for those people.  This is how we order ourselves, by promising one another a tomorrow because God has intended tomorrows for humanity.

And for the Christian, the promise of tomorrow goes even past death.  So Christians must take quite seriously this part of our social contract.

And we cannot, of course, ever guarantee something like this shooting won’t happen.  Our laws are no preventative guarantee; they are a promissory note, though.  A promissory note that we all sign onto.

And, look, the promise was broken.  Let’s not pretend it was an act of God.  Let’s not pretend this was written in the stars or some similar platitude that will help us swallow this pill.

Do not swallow this tragedy.  Choke on it.  Choke on it and let action to save lives be our response.  If you throw it out at arms length we’ll just do this all again.

Let’s not pretend we have no way of figuring this out. We know how this happened; we know how it happens.

Let our “ah-ha” moment not be a realization about the fragility of life, but a renewed commitment to tomorrow and to keeping promises and to doing the things that help us all to keep our promises.

Because, actually, we are promised tomorrow.  Not guaranteed…but at least promised.

And if you say otherwise, you are delusional or lying or just unwilling to face the reality that we are not powerless here, we’re just choosing to be powerless here…

Let’s start with some political statements:church_state

“Jesus is Lord.”

Yes; that is a political statement.  You might think it’s pretty innocuous.  Perhaps you even think it’s a bit annoying (sometimes I find how this seems to be a catch-all answer for some annoying).  But, actually, for the ancient people in Palestine, this statement was scandalous.  Because they only had one Lord: Caesar.  And if you went around saying Jesus stands in the place of Caesar for you and your family…well…keep your politics to yourself.

“Prince of Peace.”

Yes; a political statement.  Want to hanker a guess as to who was the Prince of Peace in ancient Palestine?  If you chose Bill Murray, you were off by a few thousand years.  No, it was Caesar.  He was hailed as the one who kept the empire out of war.  He was the harbinger of peaceful times.

That is, unless, you were some of the occupied people under him.  The Roman Empire kept peace through military might and subjugation; through intimidation and economic sanctions.  Is that really “peace”?  The absence of war does not mean the presence of peace…

In fact, the opening chapters of the first three Gospels are chock full of political language.  But no need to just stick to the New Testament.  The prophets were certainly not quiet about politics, both domestic and foreign.  The whole book of Exodus was leaving one political reality for another, tackling immigration head-on.  The whole book of Leviticus was about how the people would organize themselves in the new land.

See, we have people who get pretty angry when they hear “politics” preached from the pulpit.  In fact, a colleague of mine recently noted that pastors should preach the Gospel and then shut up.

But, well, nothing happens in a vacuum.

(…I love that pun)

We aren’t people who are floating free in our own little religious world.  We must talk about politics from the pulpit.  The ancient texts compel it; the modern times call to us from the news programs and paper rags.  We are being pulled into it by the past and the present, and the preacher must put these two things together to comment on how God might be leading us into the future…

We should talk about how farm bills do or do not help feed the world.  We should talk about how, in Chicago, we are bankrupt and giving huge corporations billions in tax breaks while, just this last year, my housing tax went up, but my house value went down.  And if that’s the case for me, who lives in a pretty good neighborhood, what does that mean for my sisters and brothers who don’t?

Explain that to me, please.

We should talk about what it means to be able to carry on your person a weapon that is made only to kill other people.  What might God have to say about that?  What might the Christian world have to say about that?  Especially in Chicago where we don’t ranch cattle, but live in a concrete jungle.

See…your pastor has to talk about politics because you are enmeshed in political systems that have a spiritual dimension.  But we’ve been trained by the world to have a negative reaction to such talk because we see politics as divisive rather than unifying.

But, if there’s one thing that does unify the world, it’s that we are all under a political system of some sort.  And we should talk about it.  Your pastor should talk about it.

What she shouldn’t do, and here’s the rub, what she shouldn’t do is be partisan.

Sure, she has her own opinions.  And you might know them, too.  But her opinions aren’t the Gospel.  And you preachers…that’s important to remember.  God is not a Republican, nor is God a Democrat.  God is not in the Labour Party nor is God a Tory.

That being said, to pretend like the texts don’t say something about political issues is naive.  You follow the Prince of Peace, and yet you don’t think that God might have an opinion on war?  You say “Jesus is Lord” and yet your church is making most of it’s decisions based off of economics, putting money in the place of power?

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Your church shouldn’t feel like a gathering of the Democratic Party.  That’s a church that would have a hard time saying “Jesus is Lord” and meaning it.  That’s a puppet platform.

Your church shouldn’t feel like a gathering of the Republican Party, either.  Or any part, for that matter.

So many do, though.

And I’ve been accused in my time of preaching politics…it’s a careful line the preacher has to walk, and hopefully it’s done with fear and trepidation.  Politics so easily turn partisan.

But let us not pretend that God might not have a word or two for the systems that surround us, for the systems we’re embedded in, for the systems we inhabit.

We can be careful how we speak, but we cannot not say anything.

Radical Axis...for those no good at geometry...

Radical Axis…for those no good at geometry…

So, I have to be honest, I really can’t take churches that identify as “liberal” or “conservative” anymore.

And I know that’s saying a lot since many consider the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, my church body,  to be “liberal, mainline, Protestant.”

If we are that, then we’re in trouble.  We will, as a denomination, die if that is the case.

And we will die because a church cannot be rooted in God but worship a principality like a party platform or a political ideology.

We need to be a radical church.

Radical churches don’t flow with any political ideology, and yet they understand themselves to have a voice in the public square.

Radical churches understand that hunger can be temporarily alleviated through food pantries, but that systemic change only happens through hunger awareness, advocacy, and systemic upheaval.

Radical churches understand that talking about violence has less to do with “rights”, and more to do with how the Prince of Peace might call a Christian to respond.

Radical churches take seriously personal responsibility and communal responsibility.

In short, a radical ethic would be: our responsibility is to our neighbor and our neighbor’s responsibility is to us.  This cyclical nature of Christian ethics should lead not to a party platform but to a subversive way of living in the world.  We do not separate into sheep and goats, but rather once separated, jump over those lines to stand in solidarity with those who have been unjustly labeled.

Labeled either way.

“Wall Street Fat Cats” are just as labeled as “Free-loading Takers.”  Yeah, we hate to acknowledge that, but it’s true.  Us/them dichotomies don’t seem to be in Jesus’ language.

So why has the church so easily adopted us/them stances?

Because we love being correct.  And for us to be correct, someone else has to be mistaken.  We easily adopt imperial language and imperial ideologies for this reason, and then we get sucked into name-calling, trench digging, wall building, and campaigning.

And then we count the votes of who is with us and who is against us.

What if a Christian understood their obligation to communal ethics as challenging both the label makers and those who have been given labels?  What if being the voice of the poor and the marginalized also included an anti-demonization clause?  That is, even those who call names cannot be labeled, lest they then become the marginalized.

Radical Christianity understands that “Those without sin should throw the first stone,” while also reminding everyone to, “go and sin no more…”

What would such a church look like?

I don’t know.  I don’t know that I’ve seen one.

But I do know that radical churches don’t rely on lock-stepping with any party or ideology, and they understand that difficult topics will raise eyebrows and don’t get too anxious about it.  They may disagree internally about specifics, but can agree that Christian responsibility leads us to discuss these things honestly and seek to take action on them.

And they agree that they can’t just pray over issues.

We should not pray any prayer we’re not willing to be the answer for.

And that’s scary to think about.  It’s radical to imagine.

The Christian church needs a break.  We need a break from “liberal” or “conservative” labels, and if you’re proud of that label being associated with your church, I would challenge you to rethink that pride.

Perhaps you’re muddying the waters.

And if you’re proud of the fact that your church doesn’t get involved in ethical arguments, I would challenge you there, too.  If you haven’t been accused of being political, I have to wonder what you’re thinking when you pray for change.  An ideology of non-confrontation is no more helpful than a political monicker being attached to your name.  I think you need a break, too.

Perhaps you’re muddying the waters.

I’m a Reluctant Christian at times because we have become too eager to be powerful in the ways the world tells us we need to be powerful.  We’ve adopted corporate business models and political platforms in the attempt to be relevant.

And we need to be radical.

We need to reclaim a radical Christianity.  And maybe that means that churches don’t get a tax break anymore.  After all, if we’re beholden to Caesar, we’re more likely to play by imperial rules.

And maybe that means that pastors don’t get tax breaks anymore. That’s radical.

And perhaps “faith-based initiatives” refuse government money from now on.

That’s radical to think about when so many people are trying to do so much good with that money…

And yet, we’ve muddied the waters.

Maybe we need a break.

It’d be radical…but I’m pretty sure no one ever accused Jesus of being ordinary.

I hate election season.

I love election season.

I kind of love to hate election season, if I’m perfectly honest with myself.

For some pastors it is truly a struggle to stand in a pulpit and say…anything.  They struggle out of fear.  There is a fear that connecting the faith with the life of the body politic will illicit the dreaded “email of political shaming.”

Luckily, I don’t get many emails like that.  But I have colleagues who do.

I keep emails that I get telling me that I’m too “political” in my sermons in a special folder.  It’s tentatively labeled “Trash”…but I may change it to “Inconsequential.”

Funny enough, it’s the same folder where I put emails that deride me for not being political enough in my sermons…

It’s not that I discount what people are saying in those emails; I take them seriously.  But I don’t see a way around preaching the way I do.  I think we’ve screwed up our definitions on what is a “political” issue and what is a “faith” issue.

Poverty is not a political issue.  It is a faith issue. It is an ethical issue.  It has just been politicized.

Dignity for the marginalized is not a political issue.  It is a faith issue. It is an ethical issue.  It has just been politicized.

In many respects, how we care for our sick, our elderly, our children, our indigent…these are not political issues. They are faith issues.  They are ethical issues.  They have just been politicized.

I love election season because it has the potential to be an intellectual exchange of ideas that results in action.

I hate election season because it invariably turns into a steaming pile of vacuous rhetoric with sides parading issues as if they and they alone are the standard bearer bringing awareness to them, and that they and they alone care about them.  The opposition not only doesn’t care, but hates the issue and those that hold it dear.

Typical political pandering.

And then I rise in the pulpit on Sunday and say things like, “The early church held all things in common…” (Acts 2:44), or “And Jesus healed the paralytic who was cared for by his friends…” (Mark 2:1-12), or “Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Egypt, where he was kept as an immigrant in a strange land until the age of…” (Matthew 2:13)

And what I receive in return are emails that accuse me of preaching socialism, endorsing free health-care, and taking sides on immigration issues.  In effect, those emails are insinuating that these issues are political in nature, and that I’ve made them into faith issues.  Unfortunately, that’s a reversal of reality.

And then I hear issues of personal morality, particularly how we love and how we reproduce, take the stage in spectacularly religious language that seems to drip from pastors mouths in the pulpit laying the bedrock for party platforms.

I wonder if those pastors get emails.

The message is that personal morality fits within the church walls and the political sphere.  Communal ethics, however, are purely political and have no place within the church walls.

Let us not make the mistake of thinking that social issues are God’s good news for a suffering world.  As a Christian I see God’s good news as Christ himself and the work that he did/does in the world for humanity.

But let us also not make the mistake of thinking that we come from a tradition whose sacred texts have no commentary on ethical issues.

I’m a reluctant Christian sometimes because we have a schizophrenic relationship to just how our sacred texts can be used in public life.

To ensure freedom of religion we must have a political process that is free from religion; this is true.

For me, this means that a particular candidates faith tradition, whether it is Christian, Mormon, Muslim, or Atheist, doesn’t affect my vote.

(In our current political season, I care that Romney is a Mormon about as much as I care that Obama is a Christian: I don’t care.  Not one bit)

It means that you cannot use the word “God” to get votes, either in your party platform or in your stump speeches.

It means that if you pick up a baby on the rope line, it better be because you’re checking to see that she’s within the weight ratio for her age, and not to show that you value “faith and family.”

But while we must have a political system that is free from religion, I’m not sure how we can have a religious tradition, that seems to focus intently on how to live together, free from commentary on issues that have been politicized.

My faith is integral to how I treat my neighbor, and how I hope society treats my neighbor.  And to ensure that I keep my faith integrated into my practices, I need a preacher and a church that looks at scripture and civilization together in such a way that we acknowledge personal and communal issues within the church walls.

And I need candidates and political parties who are not opportunists. I need candidates and political parties who don’t look at moral issues through the lens of political manipulation.  I need candidates who shun the vacuous political rhetoric of vote-getting and take up the prophetic leadership voice of one who speaks truth to power even as they seek it.

No more political pandering to my faith, please.

But can we dare to speak about issues in church and not assume that we’re pandering politics?

I don’t know, but I don’t know how to stop doing it.  I have issues with issues.

And if you have an issue with this post, feel free to send an email.  I’ll put it in my special folder…