Why You Get Mad When Your Pastor Mentions Politics, and Why She Has To…

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.

Christian Ideas of “Controversial” are Screwed Up…

This poor homeless statue of Jesus is still having trouble finding a home without controversy.

Appropriate, I think.  It challenges our sensibilities in a way that I think only Jesus does.

But, here’s the thing: this is not controversial from a Biblical perspective.

index

 

 

 

 

If Jesus wasn’t actually homeless (for a dude who might have had a home, he doesn’t hang much there in scripture), he certainly was found with the homeless and destitute, probably sleeping many nights under a sheet with the sky as a roof.

But this?  This is absolutely controversial:

muscular-jesus-breaking-cross

OMG, Jesus! Where did you get those quads from? Biking?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d say it’s damn near blasphemous…and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t think much is very blasphemous.

This is pretty controversial, too:

jesusarm-wrestlingwithsatandemon

Ugh…dualisms make me want to punch someone. Exorcising them from Christianity is like arm-wrestling the devil. Wait a sec…

 

 

 

 

 

Look at how crazy creepy that really white Jesus is wrestling with the good-guy from the Hellboy comics…

An uproar over this statue…that’s screwed up.  We see Jesus as Jesus is and get all offended.  That’s a teachable lesson for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.  But I haven’t heard much said about those other pics or others like them that appear on bulletin covers, emails, Facebook memes, or bumper stickers…in fact, I’d dare guess that most Christians would see them and not think two things about them: their veracity, their message, their scandal.

And they’re far more scandalous…

Want to know what else doesn’t seem to cause much controversy?  The fact that people die of starvation in the city of Chicago, one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

Or the fact that farm owners are committing suicide because they can’t make a living anymore, what with our demand for everything cheap and mass produced and all.

Or the fact that $600,000 was stolen from smiley Joel Osteen’s mega church a few weeks ago, and that was just one Sunday’s offering from plate-giving. For some perspective, that is almost double my faith community’s total operating budget.

Don’t let Jesus be shown homeless, but it’s sure ’nuff OK for the imago dei to be starving and dying while hundreds of thousands are collected each week from one place…and the only thing we can say is that we can’t believe someone would have the nerve to steal that money from a “church”…

Where’s really-ripped abs Jesus when you need him?

 

“Love is Heavy, but Hate is a Burden” or “The Old Switch-a-Roo”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.index

Love is heavy.

It brings with it many frustrations and tears.

I walk with people caring for aging parents and see this to the fullest.  They are tired, weary, worn.  They love their parents…but it is a heavy burden.

I walk with new parents and see the same thing, after a while.  They are tired, weary, worn.  They love their children…but they’re a burden.

Or parents of children with special needs.  Or adults who work primarily in the service industry.  Or adults who work in social services, or nurses, or educators, or hospice workers.

Or people who do justice work.

Because, and this is a truth about humanity that I think is under-appreciated by those who don’t work daily, one-on-one, with a wide swath of humanity: people suck.

They do; no two ways about it.

But sometimes the general nature of people can get the best of us.  Especially those of us who fancy ourselves as doing justice work.

How easily justice work can turn into hatred.  I’ve seen that too many times.  Justice work becomes full of “us and them” dichotomies when the heart is left unattended.  The unattended heart easily turns to hate over time.  Calcification is the natural state of everything that is left alone.

The heart is no exception.

We like to think that love and hate are opposites.  No; they are cousins.  Love and apathy are opposites.  Hate and apathy are opposites.  Love and hate are cousins who quickly dress alike in their zeal and passion when left unattended.

Love and hate are like those twins you dated in high school.  You’re always wondering if they’ve pulled the old “switch-a-roo” on you.

It does no good to hate the oppressor…MLK knew this in a powerful way that is instructive for us all.

Working against an oppressor must be a labor of love, not a labor of hate.  If it’s not, then pain is just transmitted instead of transformed.

This, of course, is easy for me to say as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, male.

But even there, too, I must be careful.  In my zeal for justice work I can get sucked into reactionary hate against my status and privilege.

I must learn to give up my privilege as best I can.  Hating it does very little to change things.  Only in giving things up can we change them.

Jesus understood this.  “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

As I said, MLK knew this.  He gave up his justifiable hatred for a humanity that moved…moves…too slowly toward justice and peace.

But that’s indicative of a heart attended to.  Attending to the heart is heavy work.

But letting the heart calcify…that’s the work of the dying and dead.

I think the task of justice work these days is to work against systems of oppression while also attending to the heart.

Unfortunately I don’t see it very often.  Too much “us and them” talk coming from liberal circles.  Too much silence from conservative circles.

The radical circles are the ones speaking against justice while attending to the heart.  MLK was a radical, not letting the heart calcify to the point of hate.  I think he knew that, to do otherwise would be to replace one burden for another.

And Lord knows we have too many burdens to add anymore to this world.

A Question for the Boy Scouts

I wasrainbow scoutsn’t ever a Scout.

I’ve known straight Scouts.

I’ve known gay Scouts.

I’ve known good and bad examples of both gay and straight Scouts, I think.  Their sexual orientation had nothing to do with their failure or success.

But I was never a Scout.

So, I want to ask Scouts a question: which of the 12 Core Value is most important?

Citizenship, compassion, cooperation, courage, faith, health and fitness (inexplicably one value), honesty, perseverance, positive attitude, resourcefulness, respect, or responsibility?

I want to know because I’m trying to understand what the ruckus over gay Scouts and Scout leaders is.

Because, as far as I can tell, encouraging Scouts to stay in the closet through barring and banning threats violates courage, honesty, respect, and responsibility on the Scout’s part, and compassion and cooperation on the establishment’s part.

So I’m trying to figure out how this was ever an issue. It seems like an honest Scout is the best Scout.

And I’m trying to figure out how they can allow openly gay Scouts, but not openly gay Scout leaders.  Are leaders not expected to uphold these values as well?  If they are to teach and model them, I don’t see how it can be otherwise.

I’m just really at a loss as to how this is an issue.  And I’m also at a loss as to how churches are now banning the Scouts over their half-hearted policy change.

Do these churches imagine that everyone in their doors are straight?  If so, they are delusional.

Are they imagining that Jesus would not have dined in the houses of the Boy Scouts because they now allow gay Scouts (but not, for some unknown reason–that I can only imagine has to do with some unscientific and failed belief in sexuality and sexual practice–gay leaders)?  If so, they are not only delusional but also illiterate.

Read the Gospels.

Because just as much as I want to ask the Scouts which of the 12 Core Values is most important, I want to ask those churches now threatening to deny Scouts a home which of Jesus’ teachings are most important.  The one on love?  Peace? Blessing? Self-sacrifice? Compassion?

Or the (non-existent) one on sexual orientation?

I would like to know.

Because my understanding of honesty means being honest with yourself and others, which includes an understanding of your sexuality.  Some might say it’s a personal responsibility thing to be honest about your sexuality.  Some might say it’s a courageous thing.  Some might say such an admittance to yourself and the world takes the conscious decision to cooperate with your sexual orientation rather than deny it to the detriment of your sanity, your health, and your relationships, and shows perseverance to do so in the face of discrimination.  Some might say it takes resourcefulness to pull up the necessary faith in yourself and your abilities to be so honest.  Some might claim it takes respect for yourself and a positive attitude to approach the subject with such openness.  And such openness is indicative of a compassionate nature, and let’s be clear, honest citizens are the best citizens.

In my estimation, it seems honesty might be the key to upholding the 12 Core Values.

So, enlighten this reluctant Christian, made that much more reluctant because we’re represented on front-page headlines by these sorts of squabbles and these mind-boggling banning policies: why is this an issue?