Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Once you see how an Anabaptist approaches baptism, it becomes easier to understand why and how s/he makes determinations about other issues. At the heart of much of anabaptism is choice, more accurately, at the heart of anabaptism is the lack of coercion.  For many Anabaptists, Jesus is the one who humbled Himself unto death. He forced no one to embrace Him, to follow Him, to worship Him. This is more than a type of libertarian freedom, but a commitment that Jesus does not force His very self on anyone, even knowing that the curtailing of such freedom is in the individual’s best interest.

One of the places this is evident is in Anabaptists’ approaches to church/state issues. Since both the Catholic and Protestant churches continued to baptize infants, which made citizens of the baptized, when Anabaptists refused baptism to children they were also making a statement about empire, kingdom and state. The early Anabaptists (and I’m compiling three separate groups in the 16th Century Radical Reformation) saw the state as antithetical to the kingdom of God. In response, the church was to remain distinct from the state (we’ll talk about The Schleitheim Confession next time). The early Anabaptists witnessed how devastating the entanglements of church and state had become and they wanted no parts of it. At all!

Clearly, some Anabaptist groups have taken this impulse to separation to an extreme; the Amish for instance. Behind the Amish itch to create a separate world is a deeply held belief that intermingling with “the world” would corrupt the church. History, including the Reformation itself, has given us much evidence that they were and are right. However, the limitations of separatist movements is nearly self-evident.

The way this instinct in Anabaptism gets played out among mainstream Anabaptist like myself is predominately in the political realm. Caricatures of evangelicals are what they are, but I have never been a congregant of a church where American Flags adorned the walls; though you would see flags from  countries where the church supported missionaries. In Anabaptist churches you will be hard pressed to find church leaders advocating a particular political agenda, or suggesting to congregants who they should vote for. As a matter of fact, in most of the churches I have been a part of, if someone were to do so, many people would be offended, even if they agreed with the politics themselves. In Anabaptists churches You will not typically find big to-dos on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the 4th of July. We find ways to both honor the service of our members who have sacrificed for America and acknowledges that all humankind are our brothers and sisters. 

Our instinct is that church and state don’t mix. What’s more, for many Anabaptists, open political discussions in church would be considered coercive. Politics change, Jesus does not! We make our camp on Jesus, everything else is too transitory. Anabaptists see the church as a kingdom within a country, and while you are free to advocate in whatever way you like outside church life, Anabaptists are suspicious and uncomfortable with political advocacy inside it. As a matter of fact, early leaders in my tribe, like David Lipscomb, abstained from participation in civil government and, believe it or not, some of our current thought-leaders do so as well.

This approach to church and state is strange to many evangelical and Catholic believers.  But Anabaptists have never minded being thought of as strange.

More to come…

There is a fundamental problem with “purity test.” If you hadn’t noticed, the American political scene is in shambles. Neither party is looking all that great and regardless of your personal political leanings, you’re likely not satisfied with all that is Washington D.C.. Here in Northern California the disenchantment is heard across the dial from Mike Malloy and Ed Schultz on the Left to Rush and Hannity on the Right.

One of the reasons – at least in my view – is the idea of purity tests.

For some reason, with America facing undreamed of obstacles, so much of our politics has become about pushing moderates out of the picture in order to anoint pure ideologues. Apparently, the worst thing someone can be in modern politics is reasonable, and if not reasonable, and least malleable, or perhaps possessing the simple ability to make concessions and compromise for the sake of the greater good.  It is a sickness of both the left and the Right. As a matter of fact, both parties have recently had to publicly reject the idea of a “purity test” in order to discern who is and who isn’t “fit” or “right.” You are either all or not at all. That’s how purity works. It’s a binary condition. Either you are or you are not.

Here’s the problem: Purity tests don’t work! At least not in terms of relationships and extending love  and well-being to others. Modern politics only illustrates this long overlooked truth. But this post really isn’t about politics. This is really about you and me and how we interact with others who don’t view faith, life, morality and the world as we do.

Jesus enters ministry when religious teaching was almost entirely about purity tests. It wasn’t just the much-maligned Pharisees either. Both the Sadducees and the Essenes were competing in the Jewish religious marketplace, and all three groups rigorously mandated that a series of highly visible, yet largely superficial, markers be demonstrable in order to illustrate who was in and who wasn’t. They each, in essence, had their own purity tests.

But Jesus bucks the entire system of purity. As you know, the Pharisees had reduced God-following to rules and restrictions codified to build a hedge around the Law. What started as 10 fairly straightforward Commandments had blossomed into a yoke of Law that no one could keep and probably no one wanted to keep. People – like the adulterous woman that was brought and accused before Jesus (John 8.1-11) – who stepped outside the hedge, failed the purity test. And, according to the Law of Moses, should have been stoned. Yet Jesus says, and I’m paraphrasing, “There’s something more important than your purity test.” When faced with the opportunity to apply the thumbscrews of purity, Christ rejects it. And not only in this episode, but over and over, when given the choice to accuse the impure and unclean, Jesus chooses grace.

The reason is simple: Jesus is much more concerned with people than He is purity. He is much more enticed by the prospect of relationships than He is enamored by the purebred. And as holy and giving as Jesus is, He chooses grace over purity not because it is an act of the Divine, but because an orientation of grace is the only way relationships can work! Grace is a thoroughly practical choice. If you choose to extend redeeming love to people, you must choose grace. If you reject them, they won’t hang around long enough to be redeemed. Jesus is teaching us that we have to accept people even if we don’t agree with them.

It’s simple really: Without a fundamental orientation toward grace, there is no way people can be in relationship with one another. For example, if our children are required to do everything specifically as we ask and when we ask, what do we then do when they fail us? Better yet, what happens in marriages when one spouse makes a mistake, or, God forbid, disagrees about a significant issue? What should we do with friends whose opinions differ? Cast them out? Spurn them? Turn our face away? Exclude them? Exclusion, interestingly, is the only place a purity test can lead. Purity Tests only add to the divisions, separations and ruptures in our world. If you are consistently giving others a purity test, soon there will be no more takers. No one can pass your highly personalized test! No one thinks, feels, and behaves exactly like you.

Now before the theological or behavioral police club me to death, I should mention that I am not talking about a lack of accountability or moral standards. They exist and are needed. What I am speaking of is the realization that everyone we know will eventually fail to do the thing we wished they would do when we wanted them to. And if purity is the rubric than each new failing threatens to end the relationship. On the other hand, if grace is the lens with which we see the world, then all people – regardless of who they are and what they practice – are potential allies and friends. They are hearts waiting to be redeemed by God, as my wife might say.

So say “goodbye” purity tests and the natural divisions you bring and “hello” to the embrace of grace.  In the end, it is the only way to have one another.

Dr. Joel C. Hunter gets it right on conflict resolution:

I enjoyed watching NBC’s “Inside The Obama White House” this week. Rochelle and I always enjoy a peek behind-the-scenes of “the people’s house.” I remember that we stole some Christmas tree ideas from Laura Bush a few years ago. While these specials are typically over-hyped and choreographed (as if the President goes to Five Guys Burgers every week); I was interested in one thing President Obama said in the interview.

When asked about cable news, he mentioned that he did not find the conversations helpful. He went on to say that many of the hosts, contributors and personalities are “set pieces.” What he meant was that the T.V. personalities played characters — the conservative, the liberal, the gas-bag, the funny gas-bag, the crier, the yeller, the out-raged, etc….

I thought it was interesting that the President said he found the conversations unhelpful. In his opinion, when everyone already knows what everyone else is going to say before they say it, the conversation gets stuck and there’s no need to bother to listen. And stuck dialogues are devastating  for any organization.

At times in my ministry career, I have cast myself as a character in the church story. I’ve been the young and naive — and played it masterfully. I’ve been the fly in the ointment, the voice no one wants to hear, you know, the prophet. I learned over time that once you’ve played your role and learned your lines for long enough, most people play President and simply don’t tune in to your channel anymore.

This is the danger of becoming a set piece.

The trouble is that many times the set pieces we become are partly  — if not mostly — us. That means to keep other’s attention, to be a channel worth viewing, we need to keep our perspectives fresh, new and evolving. Which, in turn, means that we must continue growing and developing. Our perspectives need to be challenged and we need to be opened to being challenged. If not, we cannot grow.

As a church leader, I know that people need fresh words from God, and as the human voice that’s given the microphone, that fresh word is expected to come through me. I — nor my church — can afford for me to be a broken record; a set piece.

And in whatever capacity you serve your family and humanity, you can’t become a broken record either. So here’s your challenge: What are you doing today to keep it fresh?

Richard and Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

We’re in a season of celebrating at my house. The reason? Rochelle and I decided a few weeks ago that life was too short not to live with great joy! Plus, we realized that there is much to celebrate in life (and my mom bought me a sweet grill). One of our upcoming celebrations will be Loving Day!

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving began dating when Mildred was just 11 years old and Richard was 17. In the early years of their marriage, Mildred and Richard were arrested several times together. The reason? Mildred was black and Richard was white. And in 1958 it was illegal for them to be married in the state of Virginia. Apparently, Virginia has not always been for lovers.

Threatened with years of imprisonment, the Loving’s changed history when they challenged the Constitutionality of Virginia’s marriage laws and in 1967 won the day when the Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. From that day forward, every state, including those in the south, which had laws forbidding it, were required to recognize interracial marriage.

Mildred lived a quiet life after Richard’s death in a car wreck in 1975. Not one for the spotlight, Mildred said of her life, “I never wanted to be a hero, just a bride. It wasn’t my doing, it was God’s work.”

Each June 12th, couples across America celebrate “Loving Day” which celebrates the legalization of interracial marriage.

So for marriages like mine and kids with mocha colored skin and long, curly hair I say to Mildred and Richard, “Thank you for Loving.”

This my review of Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in An Age of Excess which I also posted over on Viral Bloggers.

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I’ve been speaking to my friends and anyone else who would listen lately about the lack of exegetical living in the contemporary American church. By it I mean that my lifestyle, and the lifestyles of most of the people I know in the American church does not resemble that which we see in the New Testament. We are rich, white (though I am not), and overly concerned – some might say, “obsessed” – with politics, power and control (at least in my humble opinion). All that to say, Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess is part of a necessary corrective the church needs.

Following in the vein of Justice in the Burbs, Samson, offers forth an argument for people of faith to ask difficult questions regarding excess, the Other and how much “stuff” is “enough stuff.”

It should be said at the outset, as a reader of Justice in the Burbs and as one who is and has friends connected to Christian involvement in social justice and emerging churches, I strongly agreed with Samson’s assessment of American Christianity. I found his diagnosis predominately correct and his suggestions useful. Unfortunately, I suspected I would before the book arrived in the mail for review. Therefore, I attempted to read the text as someone who would be either neutral or suspicious of Samson’s views.

Enough establishes two dominant goals for itself. First, Samson wants to reveal to us how deeply consumed we are with “stuff.” Indeed, “consumed” is the operative word throughout Enough. Secondly, Samson offers to call us to an alternative consumption: A vision of God and God’s work in the world.

The Major Problem:

Enough is divided into two sections. The first six chapters lend themselves to theological concerns, while chapters 7-10 present issues and suggested actions and attitudes to alleviate or relieve the before mentioned issues. As Samson clearly states, if you have a strong theological background or formal theological education you can skip the first section of the book, and I suggest you do.

The major deficit within Enough is that it is simply not convincing – at least in terms of convincing those who need convincing. Reading as a neutral, someone in need of convincing, I continually thought that I didn’t understand what the problem was/is. Samson’s work simply does not lay out the argument in ways wherein someone who did not care would be caused to care. It was not until chapter 7 that Samson states, “…we are consuming ourselves to death.”

As a pastor, I know many good people who are casualties of commerce, one-sided political listening, and American exceptionalism gone mad, that they simply see nothing wrong with our culture of excess. What’s more, when presented with an argument like Samson’s, they respond to it as “radical liberalism” or “radical social justice.” This issue of contentment and consumption is important enough that I wish the theological rationale was as weighty as the issue itself. Oftentimes, I felt Samson voiced a strong conclusion that his argument either could not or did not support.

Part of the unconvincing nature of the work is the overt, left-leaning political messages. Throughout Enough, Samson takes us on his own political journey from a political, social, and cultural conservative to someone who has rejected much of what he once held dear. I fear that many who would benefit from reading Enough, will be off-put by a tome that too often reads as a quasi-treatise on “How Christians Can Be Democrats.” This, ultimately, blunts Samson’s message. It becomes too easy to dismiss. Again, this is not necessarily a repudiation of Samson’s ideas, rather I offer a perspective on how more people may embrace contentment over consumption.

The Major Benefit:

However, there is far more positive than negative to say about Enough. It’s greatest strength is that Enough does not leave the reader in the abyss of ideas. Samson furnishes some real, reasonable, and workable solutions to finding contentment.

First, Samson highlights the importance of the Eucharist as a lens in which we view the Other and what it means to live at table with others. This image alone should reshape much of what happens in the American church. Using the Eucharist as way of life has endless implications. Samson could have massaged and developed that metaphor alone and Enough would be well worth the sticker price.

Second, throughout Enough, Samson drops thought-bombs that prompt the reader to set the book aside and think about the repercussions.  Such lines include the following: “There is a big difference between being pro-life and pro-birth,” and “…without government spending, companies such as Amazon or Google would not exist.” Here Samson puts many of our assumptions under the microscope and reveals our forked-tongued lifestyles and rhetoric.

Third, Enough places lifestyle over think-style as the major conversion from carnality to Christianity. It have an inclination that many of the young people in my faith-community and the larger community where I live would be easily won to the vision of Christianity outlined by Samson. It is both compelling and, at times, inspiring in terms of the what the world would be like if more Christians were drawn into Samson’s portrait of the Kingdom of God.

Fourth, the concluding chapters of Enough are choc-full of realistic, helpful suggestions for moving away from consumption. This is truly what people need. In fact, if someone does not need convincing, the last six chapters will serve as a valuable “how-to” that should be kept near your day-planner in order to check in monthly and ensure you are moving toward goals of repair and sustainability.

Conclusion:

Book reviews should answer one question: Should I buy this book? In the case of Enough, the answer is an adament “maybe.” It’s just hard for me to suggest making a purchase when we’re discussing consumption. I am one of those people who have read and own enough books for any two or three people, and often I purchase books I can’t possible read in a timely fashion. Currently, I have 5 books on my “to-read” list. For me, reading and books are a problem of consumption. I consume ideas and the articles, books and blogs that contain them.

At the same time, I know that books are the best way to disseminate information, and the information Samson sketches needs to get out. So the decision is ultimately yours. I will say this though; the ideas argued in Enough are good and worthy of integration. Shop wisely….

I’m not a Chicken Little type when it comes to the changing demographics of the world and the current state of the Christian church. I believe Jesus when he tells Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. If they do, then Jesus was wrong and we should all go about doing something else anyway. But as my latent concern for evangelism grows and my heart becomes more missional (not to grow larger churches, but so that people will come to know Jesus), videos like the one below concern me.

While I may not vocalize my concern as demonstrably as the narrator does, the facts are the facts and they are indicative of the churches increasing malaise when it comes to boldly proclaiming our confession that Jesus is Lord. While more and more Christians are rightly becoming more focused on justice issues around the world (I’ll be teaching a class on it next week at Pepperdine University), we cannot lose sight of Jesus’ warning to be less concerned with what can destroy the body in relation to what can destroy the soul.

So here are our options as Christians: 1. Have more kids or 2. Get busy being the church in the world. I’m a both/and kinda guy.

P.S.

I need to mention that one of my church members sent me this video. He said he didn’t know if the stats/facts are/were true and neither do I. At any rate, except for the Southern Hemisphere, the Christian church ain’t doing that great. That’s my point! Not to scare folks — which might be the intent of the film makers.