Prayer, Imagination, and Voting

Prayer is a political thing. As we approach the throne of grace, we literally invoke the heavens to come down onto the earth. And when the heavens invade our world, the Earth is literally reborn, reimagined, recreated, redeemed, and renewed. The heavenly reality is so much more than a fuzzy after-life. Rather it is another kingdom and dominion-- an utterly different reality than the one we know. Jesus said that this kingdom was literally crashing into our current living situation.

In Jesus' day, and in many places still, disease and sickness bring great stigma with them. One can easily think of some of the more dangerous contagious diseases that exist and how individuals are isolated from the community in order to protect the village from infection-- such as leprosy in the NT. Jesus, of course, interacted with many diseased people-- healing many but not all. Although we today are often blown away by the miracle (and we should be!), what often goes unnoticed is that he interacted with these people in general. The act of speaking, dining, and touching these people was the more important healing-- to be recognized as a human being who has worth and value rather than being stigmatized and rejected.

When we pray, we must imagine a new way, a brand new reality. Often we ask God to heal the sick among us; however, are we truly imagining a new interaction and treatment of these individuals? Are we dreaming of new ways for the community to minister to these souls as well as ways for them to contribute in wonderful ways to the community? Jesus prays to the Father while touching and eating. The prayer is not detached from the individual's place in life.

As we approach election day, I am receiving plenty of emails and blog posts about how I should vote as a Christian, passionate pleas to vote in particular ways or for particular candidates-- all written as end of the world, life and death decisions. How can I vote about issues surrounding poverty without touching the shoulders of someone who is impoverished? How can I vote about health care without eating with someone who has none? How can I vote about relationships and ethics until I've cried with someone caught in the midst of true trial? If one truly cares about poverty, then she will eat with the poor. If one truly cares about abortion, then he will befriend a woman who felt like she had no other choice. If one truly cares about the sanctity of marriage, then she will listen to the gay man who pours out his heart. Without this tangible interaction, we will not know how to pray. If we do not know how to pray, then we will certainly not know how to vote.


The Truth of God

This is a quote from Debra Dean Murphy in her book Teaching That Transforms: Worship as the Heart of Christian Education (a book I highly recommend and am reading again since two years ago):

The truth of God-- what catechesis seeks to impart-- is not a thing to be grasped but a way of life to be embodied. This way of life-- living true to the cruciform pattern of Jesus' own life-- is a doxological practice, learned over time in the worshipping body gathered regularly for prayer and praise.


Small Government, Military, and Colonialism

By and large, many conservative "believe" in having a smaller federal governement. This, of course, is stretching the use of the word "believe."

When you look at spending, the Republican party since 1980 has added more money to federal deficit. The federal government expanded under Reagan and G.W. Bush than at any other time in the past 60 years. Still, just about any conservative you meet will talk about how they value a smaller federal government, spending limit, etc.

Of course, the military, which is where a lot of this deficit came from, is not considered as a part of this "big government." Although the military ultimately answers to the Big Chief and the Pentagon commanders and the Department of Defense are the biggest expenditures of the executive branch of the government, most conservatives do not consider the military as part of an expanded federal government.

However, in the eyes of the globe, this is precisely how the American federal government is expanding, and how "big brother" finds his way into everyone's lives. In fact, our reach is so far and has so much influence over trade policies, interational disputes, etc. that many call our government imperialistic. Although we are not technically colonized other nations in the classical sense, it seems that we have in many ways colonized many, many places on the globe.

Many citizens here in the United States will speak about how great of a country we have, sing the virtues of the USA, and talk about patriotism and spreading democracy. They will speak about a grand history of liberation, wealth, and freedom. However, when put under the microscope, such ideas seem to be distorted. In its history, this land never belonged to "us." In fact, the whole land from Atlantic to Pacific was inhabited by Native Americans tribes. We took the land and kept taking the land even up through the 20th century.

Then there is the problem of slavery and racism. Up until the early 1970s, blatant disrimination was rampant. Even now, passive forms of discrimination still function towards African-Americans. Then there is the issue of immigrants-- legal and illegal. At some point, "we" began thinking that this land belonged to "us." Although a majority of Americans claim to be Christian, this idea of the land belonging to "us" seems to be very anti-biblical-- especially since "we" took the land from the Native Americans.

Put these things together with dozens of botched military activities, economic programs, and international policies, and what you get is not a benevolent nation with great actions of compassion and justice. Instead, you have a nation that was founded on killing and stealing, who has oppressed an entire skin color of people, and who still govern out of fear from the "other." Indeed, perhaps we should be afraid of the other. Eye for an eye seems to be the ideology of the day. We took, stole, manipulated, oppressed, and killed. Perhaps, we will reap what we sowed. Perhaps, we sowed in unrighteousness and will reap more unrighteousness.

To be sure, there is another side of the story shared here. There are plenty of good deeds, good policies, and good people trying to do good in the world-- in the past and now in the present. However, the story that I have shared is rarely shared (in my opinion of course). Perhaps some will feel that "we need to focus on the positive." This is just a stunt of words to prevent us from taking a sobering look at the oppressive policies and manipulative actions being done today.

I am always amazed at how we are willing to be 100s of billions of dollars in debt for a war on the other side of the world, but we would be unwilling to spend $500 billion in deficit on education. I can hear someone saying right now, "Well, we should not be in deficit for any reason-- military or education." That same person will scream, shout, and send a letter to his congressman when a "liberal" suggests spending that much on education, but will call it patriotic when we shoot a smart bomb that destroys an entire neighborhood halfway around the world.

I'm tired... very tired of the rhetoric and contradictions. I'm tired of people who call themselves Christians who sanction or at least turn a blind eye to "collateral damage" (a nice phrase for murdering innocent people!!!). I'm tired of Christians who believe in a large military apparatus that literally is in every region of the globe-- this is far beyond national security. I'm tired of Christians who say they believe in stewardship who continue to elect officials who wasted money in deficit spending. I'm tired of Christians who say they are pro-life and yet advocate for larger military budgets. The United States has committed the very worst atrocity in the history of the planet-- two nuclear bombs dropped on two cities full of innocent people-- including many, many children!!!

And yet, I will be the one who is questioned for writing this post. American Christians from the evangelical tradition question my faith-- in fact many don't even question... they believe that I am really not one. The first Christians sacrificed their lives without weapons in hand-- that is the true sacrifice. Just as Jesus told Peter, "he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword." It's time for us to listen to Jesus. We must be Christians who live in America rather than American Christians. And in the end, this will actually make for a better America. The best way to be patriotic is to be Christian because it will make our communities better places which will in turn make a better nation which will in turn create a better world.


Pendulums, Converts, and Robust Faith

Growing up in a fundamentalist, evangelical Baptist congregation in rural Indiana, my congregation had a constant in-flow of "new converts" from liberal, mainline Protestant congregations and from the Roman Catholic Church. These new members would hear the message of individual repentence and the hope of being "saved." Often, these converts were middle-aged adults who had stopped going to church after high school. They would talk very negatively about their past church experiences as dead ritual, as places that produced a lot of guilt, and as places that believed you "work your way to heaven."

As an adult, I have found so many people like myself who grew up in a fundamentalist, evangelical, conservative background who have "converted" to these more liturgical based denominations-- often liberal Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox. We long for a worship that does not depend on me and my experience and what I can get out of church/God. We want a faith that is about the community and world rather than the individual. We long for rituals that will create space for worship, and we want a faith that seeks to do God's will here on Earth just as it is in heaven. These former evangelicals, including myself, often talk negatively about our conservative backgrounds.

In some ways, these two groups represent two seperate faiths. But I always believe they were meant to be one faith that is balanced. Each strand by itself is a fallacy. Together they make up the truth of the Christian faith. God wants to change me, convert me, and save me. God also is greatly concerned with communities, social justice, the ritual of worship. God cannot be bound by ritual and thus speaks openly and newly to us. We cannot just have such a casual relationship either, thus we have orders of worship that story us in the ways and nature of God. I have the hope of being changed because I am part of a greater community. That community as a chance of being renewed and becoming God's kingdom because God has changed me.


The Denial of Jesus Christ

I have wondered at times throughout my life why martyred Christians refused to sacrifice to Caesar or deny that they followed Christ. Indeed, as I've been reading from the ancient church fathers and mothers this semester in my church history class, this same question has come to mind several times. Why not just deny? Your life is spared for another day and then you get to go back home and be Christian, share the good news of Jesus with others, and continue building the church community. God will forgive, the church will forgive, and everyone's good.

The Romans wondered this as well. Local rulers would even plead with these Christians to deny Christ so that they (the rulers) would not have to execute them. Many of the local rulers felt that the Christians were not a real threat to the empire, were good people, and contributed in many great ways to the empire. Many of them did not want to kill the Christians, but in the end they did because the Christians were breaking the law. They even would use the reasoning I used above... just deny Jesus right now here in this court and go back to your community and be Christian and stop getting caught!

It occurred to me today what the real harm in denial is about, why the Romans would plead for a denial, and why I have wondered this as well. Empire!

Yes... EMPIRE. As a product of the American empire and the Romans a product of their empire, I have been schooled in a particular way of living in the world. A part of that way of living is "say whatever you need to say, do whatever you need to do, to advance our cause in the world (we would of course believe it to be a noble cause, even go as far as calling it a Godly cause: peace, freedom, liberty, democracy). We justify our actions in this way. If war and violence is needed to advance the cause, then we go to war in order to create peace down the road. If we have suspect in custody at a jail and need to tell him a few lies to get him to talk, then fantastic. We caught the guy. Justice is served. We feel safe again. And if we think we are doing something that is wrong, we figure that we can ask for forgiveness later. This is in fact the way empires have always acted. Some are more compassionate than others. Some are more moral than others. Some have better systems than others. But ultimately, the empire is the great deception.

The Christian martyrs of history and contemporary continue to refuse to deny Jesus Christ. They do so knowing that such a refusal is a direct confrontation of the very core values that make up the empire.


Proud Of My Mennonite Links

As some of you know, I have a Masters degree from a Mennonite affiliated school. Of course being there at the school, they had a profound effect on some of my theology. Although I have chosen to remain in the reformed circles, there are many things that I envy about the Mennonites. Here is a link to just one article that makes me proud of my Mennonite sisters and brothers.