There’s an overused quote by Chesterton that goes something like, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Let that sink in a moment.
We are in the midst of the Christmas season right now; our annual frenzy of indulgent consumption. According to both popular Christmas carols and the testimony of the Gospels, Jesus’ birth was heralded as the coming Messiah. He was to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy …
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.I)”>
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
This messiah was going to bring peace on earth and good will toward men.
What does that mean? What would peace on earth look like? Our imaginations are dull and we assume that the presence of peace is simply the absence of war or violence. So we think that “his government” is going to be a political enforcement of an absence of war. The rule of this Messiah would take away all weapons.
But that’s not what Jesus did. He came and nothing changed outwardly. The Roman Empire went on about it’s business and at what would be the end of Jesus’ 3 year ministry, crucified him. Giving rise to a secondary frenzy of indulgent consumption (but that’s another story). Jesus did manage to speak a few words that have been handed down to us in the millennia since his birth. He said things like this, “21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Read it carefully. Jesus was talking about more than the absence of murder, but the presence of love. We have laws which punish murderers and keep the crime rate low, but law cannot overcome the presence of hate. When we hate someone, we dismiss their humanity, we find reasons to ignore their thoughts and needs by calling them a “fool.” I am chief among sinners in this regard. But there it is. I cannot turn my face away from the idea that when I dismiss someone as a fool, I have morally killed them in my mind.
This brings me back to the Chesterton quote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
There are many other bits that Jesus threw out in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). I find in my life that I fail those far more often than I succeed. But if I put them all together in a holistic picture of how to live, I find that these bits create a vision of what peace could look like. It would be so much more than the absence of war or violence, but the presence of love. The kind of love which can cast out fear, making violence unnecessary.
Perhaps that prophecy in Isaiah meant not that God would enforce an everlasting peace through government, but that all the humans here would learn to love their enemies without fear, that we would not dismiss another’s humanity, that we would be able to live in peace and harmony with each other, not because of laws, but because our hearts have grown three sizes too large (to quote a more secular source) and we have begun to operate out of abundance, love and harmony. Maybe that is the hope we express every year … that someday soon we will all know peace.
Here in the LightHouse, marriage has been a popular discussion topic for the last several months. We — and when I say “we,” I mean, “I” supported by “we” — spent a large portion of our summer working with the LightUncles to throw a celebration of 50 years of marriage for the LightGrandparents in August. It was a weekend of laughter, fun, joy, and most of all, love. Enormous vats of love. I know that I steeped in it as much as possible. I know that my parents did too.
My parents are still walking more lightly on this earth because of the celebration we all shared together. So am I. So, I would dare to imagine are many of the folks who shared in the festivities together. We gathered together that fine August weekend to remember 50 years of loving well. I had another goal; it was that I wanted my parents to know how their lives had influenced and helped the lives of those around them in their community and family. We are all better for the team of LightMom and LightDad looking out into the world together.
As I reflect on that wonderful (and hectic) weekend I think about the institution of marriage and how it makes families possible. The gender of the parents is not the issue and we should not be creating Sneetches with stars on their bellies, and some without in this case as Dr. Seuss might have so lyrically put it.
THE SNEETCHES , by Dr. Seuss
Now the Star-bellied Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-bellied Sneetches had none upon thars.
The stars weren’t so big; they were really quite small.
You would think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But because they had stars, all the Star-bellied Sneetches
would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort, ”
We’ll have nothing to do with the plain-bellied sort.”
And whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
they’d hike right on past them without even talking.
When the Star-bellied children went out to play ball,
could the Plain-bellies join in their game? Not at all!
You could only play ball if your bellies had stars,
and the Plain-bellied children had none upon thars.
When we separate marriages into different sex marriage and same sex marriage and tell our children that some families are “right” but others “wrong” and therefore sort of distasteful, we are creating a new form of racism. Or, perhaps it is a very old form or racism and intolerance. Families are families, they are created by parents and children who love and care for one another.
There are many problems with this from a governmental perspective and from a Christian perspective.
We have a government which claims to value freedom of religion and specifies that there will be no state interference in religion; nor will there be any religious interference in state matters. When our governing documents were written, the assumptions they were based on were that the religion that would interfere would be Christian. That is no longer necessarily the case. While an overwhelming percentage of our population continues to identify with the Christian church, the numbers are in decline and we have rising numbers of other religions who must be accommodated within out borders this includes people who have no faith at all. In addition, if religion is going to be free of the state and vice versa, then it is possible for marriages to be performed by the state, and churches to be free to say “yes” or “no” to whether or not they will perform marriages within their walls. Churches are separate from the state. We need to remember that.
Those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ have no problem calling ourselves children a Godhead who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; overwhelmingly male with only female overtones. Yet many Christians cannot conceive of a human family with two fathers. Or two mothers.
It seems to me that the best way to defend marriage is just that. Defend marriage … of all kinds. Make it unassailable. Stop the pretenses and silliness. Build people up. Make them whole. But until the divorce rate in the church is significantly less than that of the rest of our culture, we need to keep our mouths shut and our arms open.
This is part of the October Synchroblog on Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage. Please read these other fine writers below for more perspective on this issue –
Kathy Baldock at Canyonwalker Connections – Marriage “I Do” For Who
Dan Brennan at Faith Dance – Sexual Difference, Marriage and Friendship
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Same Sex Marriage Synchroblog
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – In Defense Of Marriage
John C O’Keefe – Exactly What Is Gay Marriage
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Nobody knows why or how same-sex marriage is harmful
Herman Groenewald at Along The Way – Same Sex Debate
Margaret Boelman at Minnowspeaks – What Have We Done
David Henson at unorthodoxology – ban marriage
Erin Word at Mapless – Synchroblog: Legalizing Same Sex Marriage
Joshua Jinno at Antechurch – The Church Is Impotent
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival In My Head – It’s Easy To Be Against Equal Rights When We Have Them
Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – Synchroblog – Same Sex Marriage
K. W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent – Mountains, molehills, and same-sex marriage
Tia Lynn Lecorchick at Abandon Image – Conservative Christians and Same-Sex Marriage
The three people who are still reading this blog after my long hiatus, know that I have started writing again using a series of blog prompts put on by National Blog Posting Month found by clicking on that link back there. I found it through one of the writers in my feed reader. The day (last Monday) she posted, the prompt was this:
Do you owe an apology to anyone? Why?
That’s been rattling around in my head since then. I did not post anything that day. I’ve toyed with the idea of back posting ever since because … well … because.
Ready for the Ball
Friday night LightGirl went on her first date. She and her date went to a dance; the Blumen Ball the dance committee called it. It was a semi-formal dance put on for homeschoolers. KidCourageous (as he shall be known here) asked her to go about 10 days before the event. She accepted and they both were very excited (on a scale of 1 to Christmas morning they agreed it was like going back to Hogwarts). They had a wonderful time and danced the whole evening. Their chauffeur for the evening was KidCourageous’ older brother. LightGirl was presented with a wrist corsage and KidCourageous was a perfect gentleman all evening. She is still (Sunday morning) walking on air. If you are friends with me on FaceBook you can see photos there.
There was only one small snag. Several of the young men in LightGirl & KidCourageous’ group of friends thought it would be fun and funny to play games with them during the dance. These young men would surround them and separate the two of them regularly throughout the evening. It might have been funny had it only happened once or twice, but as young men are wont to do, they carried it on for too long and too far. LightGirl and KidCourageous became frustrated with the situation. But they handled it graciously and kindly without creating any fuss.
The next night, the ringleader of the young men was chatting with LightGirl on FaceBook (which they do regularly). She was still pretty upset with him for the antics of the previous evening. I encouraged her to let him know that she was unhappy, but to be kind about it. I guess she must have because he attempted to apologize. It was a rusty attempt because I’m not certain he does this very often. But all the ingredients were there … he acknowledged that he had behaved badly, he empathized that it was hurtful, and he agreed that he shouldn’t have done it. The only thing lacking were the specific words, “I’m sorry.” But those are the least important words in an apology; he included the more important ones. I haven’t been able to convince LightGirl that this is in fact an apology yet. She (at the time) was still too upset and hurt by past interactions with this young man to be objective. But I was really proud of him for taking that risk. She will come around and be able to see it in a day or so. My hope is that he will not be feeling rejected by then and their friendship will be restored. I think it will … they seem to practice this sort of thing on each other regularly and are getting better and better at it every time.
The whole incident pointed out some things about apologies to me that I’ve been reflecting on for some time now.
The first thing is this … an apology is a risky business. The person apologizing puts themselves in a vulnerable position vis a vis the person (or group) they are apologizing to. They are giving power and/or control over to that person/group. Forgiveness is a form of acceptance and redemption gives one re-entry to the relationship. When one apologizes one acknowledges both wrongdoing and that the other person may or may not offer grace in return. The restoration of the relationship is entirely in the hands of the person to whom one has apologized in that moment.
A proper apology consists of several necessary ingredients – an acknowledgment of wrong/bad/hurtful behavior, empathy with the person/group who was harmed by the behaviour, and agreement both that it should not have happened and that one will endeavor to prevent it from happening again.
Apologies cannot be demanded or manipulated. They can only be offered free and clear by the person who is apologizing. If they are not offered, but instead are made in response to a demand or as a result of manipulation they will be useless or empty. One cannot acknowledge wrong/bad/hurtful behaviour when one doesn’t know what one has done. This happens when an apology is demanded or manipulated as a condition to restore one’s relationship. One can only be mournfully sorry about general malfunctions if an apology is demanded or manipulated.
Most often, though, between adults (and near adults), apologies run in both directions. It is extraordinarily rare among two parties to a dispute to have only one which needs to apologize. When wrongs have been done they often have been committed by both parties.
If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you may recall an ugly leave-taking with my CLB back in early-ish 2007. It was hard. It was hurtful. It was/is permanent. It was a long drawn out process, during which an apology was demanded of me in order that my relationships in the church might be restored. I had no idea what apologize for so it was empty and meaningless. But I was trying to do anything I could to restore balance and harmony to relationships that had strayed badly off course.
I’m now apologizing to the people in question here. I still have no idea what the instigating issues were (though I have been told many times that I do). However, I can apologize for my very poor behavior during that months long process. I was defensive, angry and embattled. I was also very depressed. In the words of Paul the apostle, what I wanted to do, I could not do and I knew that I was doing what I did not want to do. Call it arrogance (certainly), call it tunnel vision, call it depression, or some of all of that and some other things that I have yet to identify, but I could not see any other path at the time than the one I/we traveled. I know that did damage to the people I was close to. I know our abrupt departure was frightening, upsetting, and painful. I apologize for that. I wish it could have been different. I wish I were different; stronger, better, wiser. But I’m not. I’m zealous, over-protective, and type A-high maintenance. In an attempt to preserve feelings and group unity, I kept secrets I should not have kept. Revealing them here, or now would not be profitable. But keeping them at the time proved ultimately harmful to everyone, including me. They seemed harmless. But secrets never are. All things kept in the dark ultimately prove to be harmful.
I know that I am in a much healthier frame of mind now. I have more tools at my disposal for communicating my difference of opinion with others without being as confrontational as I’ve been in the past. Do I think that any of this will or would change anything? I don’t know. All I know is that I need to do this for my own peace of mind. How it is received and what is done with it is out of my hands. If I had been healthier at the time there is a chance I might have been able to exit with less damage. Maybe. But … I’d hate to speculate now. What happens now … who knows?
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It has become quite fashionable to write posts these days waving good-by to the emerging conversation, drawing a line in the sand and staking a claim to a new path into a new future. I don’t quite know what to do with that. I struggle with it.
On one hand I see these posts as asking valid questions and see the people writing them as having legitimate concerns with the direction that the conversation is headed and how things are currently going. I have to say … I am in agreement with Sarah at Emerging Mummy who is uncomfortable with how commodified the conversation is becoming; more and more blog posts and comments seem to be platforms for someone to hawk their books, conferences, magazines, etc., etc. But thankfully, no bobblehead dolls … yet. I am really looking forward to Jeremy Bouma’s series that he has introduced here – Goodbye Emergent – Why I’m Taking the Theology of the Emerging Church To Task. He’s asking some key questions about stands that leaders in the conversation have taken on original sin, whether or not the Gospel is important, how we view the Cross and the heresy of Pelagius. You’ll have to read Jeremy’s post to see how he’s framed the questions and what (exactly) has grabbed people’s goats along the way. I see it as an introduction, a broad brush and we’ll see the details in the weeks to come. I’m sure I’m not going to agree with everything that Jeremy writes … that’s alright. I’ve become accustomed to not agreeing 100% with anyone, not even my dearly beloved husband. The only one who agrees with me all the time is my dog and his brain is the size of an orange (with a miniscule frontal lobe) … think about that for a while.
Mainly, I think we’ll disagree over Pelagius. I tend to think that P-man got a lot right. I think he’s often taken out of context and forced into the Greco-Roman context of Augustine where he makes very little sense. We forget that, indeed, the fight between the two started over something quite small … the date that Easter would be celebrated. And it escalated until Augustine finally won the battle to get Pelagius declared a heretic. Augustine was a recovering alcoholic and Pelagius was a party boy, some even say a glutton. They were diametrical opposites in every way. That they came to (theological) blows is no surprise. What if we return Pelagius to his homeland of 5th century Ireland and read him in that context? I’ve never done this, but my guess is that his “heresy” might not be so glaring. He was converting/pastoring Druids and Celts … not Romans, Egyptians and Greeks and that might be an entirely different thing.
So, on the other hand, I remember when I wandered all wobbly on to this road about 4 or 5 years ago. I’d just started blogging. I’d read a few books (Blue Like Jazz among them) and was asking a lot of questions. A LOT! I was going to a small church where some questions were encouraged and I started looking around the internet to see if there were more women like me. I’d found some men bloggers, but I wanted to find women. And in my search, I started to find more people who were asking some of the same questions I was asking. I found women too. Women like Julie Clawson, Makeesha Fisher, Linda (the blogger formerly known as Grace), Molly Aley and Christy Lambertson (both no longer blog). The list of women grew and grew and so did the men. Sometimes it kind of felt like the Old West in ways both good and bad out there. But the wonderful thing was anyone could participate. It was like my grampy’s old saying, “If you can read, you can do anything.” If you could read and write, you could participate. There were (and are) defined tiers of participation. There are definite leaders who’s blogs get a bazillion hits a day (and some people can dismiss that, but … well … fine. The rest of us know you’re being silly). I’m about the 7th tier down … maybe further (in case you were wondering) and I like it that way.
Over the last year or so things have begun to change. For a variety of reasons, some personal and some not, I don’t feel so comfortable in the greater conversation anymore. I don’t know quite what has changed. In some ways, yes, the conversation has changed. I felt (at the time and continue to feel) that creating an organization around Emergent Village was a terrible idea. I know it created efficiencies and abilities that were not available without the umbrella of an institutional organization. However, that’s just exactly the problem. Once an institution is created, then somehow that institution needs to be fed and maintained. Someone needs to guard the gate. Others need to dust the furniture. Still others need to buy food and prepare meals. And don’t even talk about the laundry! Gradually, when all those people are doing all that work together to feed and maintain that institution a couple of things happen. One is that they get to know one another and usually become friends. Another is that they start get a sense of ownership in that institution; pride in what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it. All of these are really good things for the most part and I’m glad for the folks who are involved in Emergent Village that they have that place. But (you knew that was coming) there is a flip side to all of that chummy joy. Eventually, other people come along who want to come into that institution, but they have muddy shoes and dusty pants and they leave their drink glasses on the table without using a coaster. In short, they do not have the same respect, love and care for the institution that those who feed and maintain it do and pretty much, these outsiders are not very thoughtful of the help either. Even when the newcomers stumble in and are appreciative, there is no possible way for them to appreciate the help (oldtimers) nearly to the degree which they deserve. This is mostly because those on the outside really have no possible way of knowing what is going on on the inside. It’s just the way institutions roll.
So, we’ve come to a place where there are a goodly number of people who are comfortable with the way things are (or are headed) in the emerging conversation. But there are also a goodly number of people who (for a variety of reasons) are no longer comfortable with it. Me, I feel like Robert Frost standing at the two roads diverging in the woods. Do we really have to choose?
Because honestly, the response to the questions and concerns of the people who are no longer comfortable has not been entirely welcoming. And I know (believe me, I know) how it feels to be under constant attack from the heresy hunters. There have been one or two here that love to drop by and call names, engage in straw man silliness and all kinds of hurtful evil in the name of Truth. I understand the frustration of hearing the questions all the time (I have two teenagers) … but. But. I’m just not sure that choosing camps, engaging in hyperbole, and generally dumping the frustration of a thousand other blogs onto friends and fellow conversants who are now choosing a road less traveled is the wisest, or indeed the most Jesus-y, choice we can make right now.
So I’m wondering what will happen now. Will emerging devolve into Augustians and Pelagians? Will the institution that is Emergent Village become more important to protect and preserve than the individual people that are under it’s umbrella? Will a “conversation” begun based on the tenet that it must be acceptable to question the faith of one’s elders, be able to survive the questioning of those who are now part of it?
Cholera: any of several diseases of humans and domestic animals usually marked by severe gastrointestinal symptoms ; especially : an acute diarrheal disease caused by an enterotoxin produced by a comma-shaped gram-negative bacillus (Vibrio cholerae syn. V. comma) when it is present in large numbers in the proximal part of the human small intestine. Merriam-Webster on-line
I just voted. Yes, I voted for the hip, young man of color for President. I have many reasons why and I’ll get to them in a second. But first a wee story or two.
It was exciting to go and vote this time. In fact, I scared my poor poll worker, I was so exuberant at the little screen. Then when she handed me my sticker, she hugged me. As I attempted to dance through the wrong doors in exit, all the poll workers called to me and I turned around abashed at my silliness. I was just too giddy. Why was I giddy? Here’s why.
I remember the 1960’s. Most of all, I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. If I had to pick a hero, he’d be it. He was a legend in his own time. I might pick Gandhi, but for a real American hero, I’d pick King. Every year I listen to his “I Have A Dream” speech and cry. I’ve studied his speeches and writings; I have a fairly good idea of which Biblical prophets he was studying when he wrote. And today … well, today … I got to vote for someone based upon the content of his character not the color of his skin. Amen and hallelujah. And the tiny little poll worker who hugged me? Well, she was African-American too.
Mind you, I did NOT vote for Obama because of his roots either. Did I listen to both sides? No, not equally. I lost respect for the Republican party back in 2000 and again when Republicans treated James Jeffords with such disrespect when he became an independent. The party had huge barriers to overcome in my mind, and they failed to get there.
Here is why I voted for Obama …
“People are more inclined to be drawn in if their leader has a compelling vision. Great leaders help people get in touch with their own aspirations and then will help them forge those aspirations into a personal vision.” John Kotter
I didn’t find that quote until about a week ago when I was looking for something else entirely. But it encapsulates my reasons for choosing Obama for president. Even my father has some qualms about the details of his platform, the hows and wherefors. What exactly will he do if he is elected? For someone with little time in his role in the Senate those are very legitimate questions. But it’s his ability to inspire that I look at.
Frankly, I’m tired of leaders who go around poking into private business looking for what is wrong. I want leaders who will inspire us to find our dreams and make them reality. It is in those dreams and that reality that we will rebuild our economy, our infrastructure, get us off the dependence on petroleum and many of the other ills that we currently find ourselves in. That sort of leadership is transformational; it begins at the top and trickles down. We learn how to encourage and develop our own dreams. Then we learn how to encourage and develop the dreams of others.
Or will it? Can a charismatic leader help us overcome our addiction to power? That’s the question for the ages. Too often people in leadership are at the top, they lead from above and are in a position of power. They have the ability to cause hardship, pain and devastation to those they purport to lead. Typically, those who are leading hold all or most of the cards. But in this new scenario, of dream empowerment, the little guy, the individual is given the space to dream and realize those dreams.
So, will we find this in Obama? I don’t know. I hope so. But that’s what I voted for; that’s what I’m hoping for. That’s the kind of leadership I’m hoping for. In this age of choleric leadership, we need something new. We need something that won’t revolt us and turn our stomachs. Something, someone nationally, and locally who will help us find our own dreams and turn them into reality.
This is part of synchroblog on Leadership … the rest of the most excellent writings are below, please check them out:
Jonathan Brink – Letter To The President
Adam Gonnerman – Aspiring to the Episcopate
Kai – Leadership – Is Servant Leadership a Broken Model?
Sally Coleman – In the world but not of it- servant leadership for the 21st Century Church
Alan Knox – Submission is given not taken
Joe Miller – Elders Lead a Healthy Family: The Future
Cobus van Wyngaard – Empowering leadership
Steve Hayes – Servant leadership
Geoff Matheson – Leadership
John Smulo – Australian Leadership Lessons
Helen Mildenhall – Leadership
Tyler Savage – Moral Leadership – Is it what we need?
Bryan Riley – Leading is to Listen and Obey
Susan Barnes – Give someone else a turn!
Liz Dyer – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Polls…
Lionel Woods – Why Diverse Leadership is Good for America
Julie Clawson – Leadership Expectations
Ellen Haroutunian – A New Kind Of Leadership
Matt Stone – Converting Leadership
Steve Bradley – Lording or Leading?
Adam Myers – Two types of Leadership
Bethany Stedman – A Leadership Mosaic
Kathy Escobar – I’m Pretty Sure This Book Won’t Make It On The Bestseller List
Fuzzy Orthodoxy – Self Leadership
Sonja Andrews – Leadership In An Age of Cholera
Tara Hull – Leadership & Being A Single Mom
Sometime during the last week or so, LightBoy came to me with a request for his Halloween costume this year.”I want to be a Blues Brother, Mom.”
It kinda took me by surprise. I had no idea where he came by that idea. I last saw that movie when it was in theaters and I think I was in high school, or maybe in college. Shortly after that there was a conversation dripping in disdain between he and LightGirl concerning the relative importance of the Blues Brothers. It ended with LightBoy reporting confidently, “Well, of course, they’re important! They INVENTED the blues.” I struggled mightily to keep from bursting into laughter at this and decided that it was time for my kids to be initiated into the comedic genius of John Belushi.
So it was that we watched “The Blues Brothers” for Friday’s family movie night. It turned out that in the intervening 25-ish years I’d forgotten quite a bit. No surprise there. It’s still a really funny movie. There’s quite a bit of, um, language in it. But since I was a naive 18 year old when I saw it the first time, I had no idea how many jazz and blues greats had been assembled to make that movie. Or how many blues tunes were in it. It was really amazing from that perspective as well.
Of course, the plot was very, very thin. Jake (John Belushi) gets released from prison. Jake & Elwood (Dan Ackroyd) go to visit the orphanage they were raised in. It is about to be auctioned off for delinquent taxes and is run by nuns, with an aged caretaker (Cab Calloway). Jake & Elwood decide to gather together their band and raise the back taxes. There are plot twists, etc. At every obstacle, Elwood responds, “We’re on a mission from God.” It’s his assurance that they will overcome every hurdle no matter how broad or high. It keeps them focused and on task. Ultimately and hilariously they do prevail, just in front of the police, the US Army, the “American Nazi Party,” and who knows else. The taxes are paid, the orphanage saved, but Jake & Elwood are triumphantly lead away in handcuffs.
I’ve been thinking about the movie quite a bit in the days since we watched it. It was funny, no doubt about it. Elwood’s signature line has been often repeated around our house with great glee and laughter. “We’re on a mission from God.” and it would lead him to some fairly nefarious behavior; behavior that inevitably involved fast cars or other silliness.
I’ve been thinking though, about how often we do that. We all do it. We think we’re on a mission from God; we’ve got righteousness on our side and so we can act with aplomb. Because our ends are right, we will somehow escape the consequences of our behavior. Or it may be that we won’t escape the consequences of our behavior, but those consequences will be worth it, just as they were for Jake & Elwood.
I’ve been wondering though about the detritus that we leave in our wake. If you watch that video (which is sped up and is really a montage), you see what happens when Jake and Elwood become so hyper-focused on getting the tax money to the office on time. The analogy has limits, I’ll admit, but then again, maybe it doesn’t . How many times do we do the same thing? How often do we think that we have to do something, that we cannot entrust a task to someone else and the cars pile up in our wake? All because, “we’re on a mission from God.”
How many times do we think that getting to an end point involves skirting the edges of the law or ethical behavior, maybe even falling over the edge, and that’s alright because, “we’re on a mission from God?” But the cars pile up in our wake.
So the question I’m posing today is this: does being on a “mission from God” excuse one’s behavior? Does being “right” or “correct” trump the commands given by Jesus in Matthew 22? Or is there something in there that will help us do both, that is be correct and be loving at the same time … without having the cars pile up behind us?
Way back when …
In the depths of my personal history, I lived next door to Pete Mondale and his wife. It was back in the day. Back when I had just gained my own personal freedom and earned my own apartment in Washington DC. It was a studio in a renovated brownstone in a neighborhood on the precipice of regentrification. I paid $280 a month for a room the size of my current diningroom, a kitchen, two large closets and a bathroom which was not so large. There were five apartments in the building and one in the basement in which lived an Hispanic family of unknown quantity. An intense guy named Mike lived on the third floor; he rode a motorcycle and took me for rides every now and again. The second apartment on the third floor seemed to rotate a lot. On the second floor next door to me lived a forty-ish woman and her little boy. She was on welfare and never turned the lights on … just the television. The little boy visited me a lot. After the mother died of a heart attack and the little boy went to live with older siblings, a young woman named Amy lived in that apartment. On the first floor lived an older African-American couple. For security there was a deadbolt on the front door to the building. If I stood in the middle of my kitchen and stretched out my arms I could touch the opposite walls with my fingertips … on all four walls. But it also had beautiful high ceilings and huge windows (three of them!). And I could afford a place of my own. All by myself. Nothing matched, except one set of coffee mugs, until my brother broke three of them in the porcelain sink and I slept on a mattress on the floor. But it was all mine. That, and my bicycle and my 13″ black & white television set.
The bonus was that it was next door to Pete Mondale and his wife. They, being middle aged, owned their whole house. They had regentrified it. It was beautiful. They took good care of their house. And, without being parental, kept half an eye on me. Just half. Just enough. We were not close at all, but I knew that if there was an emergency, I could knock on their door for help. There never was an emergency, but their door was always there.
Pete Mondale is the brother of Walter Mondale, who at the time was campaigning for president on the Democratic ticket. He was the first nominee in history to select a woman as a running mate, Geraldine Ferraro. They ran a exquisitely executed campaign that everyone knew was doomed from the start. They were running against the incumbent Ronald Reagan. It was gloriously hopeless from the beginning.
I had just begun dating LightHusband and his earliest memories of me are that I yell at the television during political debates. I still do, when I can stomach them. He was completely dumbfounded. Why would anyone yell at an inanimate object? But I was yelling at the foolishness of Reagan’s policies … remember trickle-down economics? … he was intrigued. Now he yells too on rare occasion.
In my family, we talk back to the television and radio and express disagreement. Especially when we think something is wrong or ill-founded (read: stupid) and we might even throw our hands up in the air as well. In fact, one time during a particularly good rant, someone asked me if I am Italian. Not one little bit, I replied. All British. Just none of the hangups. And I’m cheeky too.
All of that is to say, while I’ve been an independent for a long time, I’ve viewed life primarily through the lens of a Democrat. I worked for my senator when I was in college. Senator Stafford was a life-long Republican and I thoroughly admired him and supported his work. I believe that the government’s job is to protect it’s citizens, to provide a safety net for them should they need it, and several other things that I haven’t yet verbalized enough to write. I still don’t know who I’ll be voting for in the upcoming presidential election. There was a time when I certain it would be Obama … but recently I’ve been thinking about Nader. I know … throwing my vote away again.
In 1989 and 1990 LightHusband and I had been married a few years and we had our “conversion experience” and joined an Evangelical Free Church here in town. We took all the classes. Learned all the ropes. Joined all the clubs. Did all the right things. Learned how to fake it til we were makin’ it. Began teaching 5th&6th grade Sunday School. Sometimes the kids knew more than we did, sometimes we knew more than the kids … everyone learned in that class. I still keep in touch with a couple of those kids … who are now grown ups!! Somewhere in this time period one of the larger radio stations in the area became “Christian” so I began listening to it going to and from work each day. Thoroughly indoctrinated I was.
In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for President. And the whole world went to hell in a handbasket. You may not have not noticed it at the time, but it did according to all the naysayers in the Christian world. Particularly in the pulpit of many churches. I remember going to visit our pastor at some point during the election. He and his family had recently moved out of their townhouse right next to ours and were transitioning to a single family home. In the interim, they were house sitting across town. I want to take some time to set the stage for this visit because it’s important. This pastor and his wife were the people who had lead LightHusband and I to Christ. We were very close to them. Our houses had shared a wall for several years and we had shared life with them.
When we got to the house, I noticed that their two girls (homeschooled and in first-ish grade) were watching “Ren & Stimpy” that precursor to South Park without any supervision at all. It was an episode in which one character was farting on the head of the other in the bathtub. While we spent a lot of time quoting and laughing about Monty Python together as adults, I knew that this was not something either of them would condone for their very young daughters if they really knew about it. But they weren’t really paying attention. In any case, I was there to try to talk to our pastor about political discussions from the pulpit and why I didn’t believe they were appropriate. The whole “Ren & Stimpy” thing threw me off guard temporarily and of course, I was a young Christian arguing without much back up.
What I didn’t realize was that he didn’t think he had to listen to a woman about much of anything in any case so I might as well have been talking to a wall. At the time, I had no idea about the whole complementarian/hierarchical debate and the damage it could do a relationship. I also did not have a good enough command of the scriptures or the faith to be able to stand against his belief that politics and faith do mix in the pulpit. Oh, how I wish now for a Richard Land (head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) to counter-act the prevailing wisdom of the time. “Pastors are called to serve all their parishioners, he says, and to endorse a candidate even privately is needlessly partisan and divisive. “I have an obligation to minister to all Southern Baptists, and it’s true, four out of five of them voted for George W. Bush, but I have an obligation to that other fifth as well,” he says.” [We The Purple p. 144]
While Bill Clinton weathered some moral crises during his presidency, hundreds of thousands of people did not die at his command or because of his lies. He has his flaws, but despite the claims made about him during the election cycles of 1992 and 1996, he did not turn out to be the anti-Christ. Neither did Al Gore, nor did John Kerry. It’s interesting to me that in every election cycle there are Christians who make the claim that the Democratic candidate is actually the anti-Christ. It’s no surprise to me now that there are those out there making the same claim (and more stridently than ever) about Obama.
The point is that by the time George W. Bush was handed the presidency in 2000, I had come to the decision that it was safer in Christian circles for a person to acknowledge being a homosexual than to acknowledge being a political independent or Democrat. Not that either acknowledgment would be particularly safe, mind you … just that one would lead to slightly less ostracizing than the other.
That’s wrong. On both counts, but I’m not writing about homosexuals today. Jesus is not a Republican and I’m not certain He’d vote for one. But He’s not a Democrat either, and I’m not certain He’d vote for Obama. No matter how much I like him. I began to think more seriously about how would Jesus interact with the political system that we have constructed here. It’s fairly different from the political system that he encountered in first century Jerusalem. It’s not an autocratic police state. We have a lot more freedom. Trying to take the gospels and epistles and make a one for one comparison is fairly disengenuous.
I’m not certain Jesus would vote. Although it’s hard to know. He didn’t participate in the power structures of the day, but then hardly anyone did. The idea that an average citizen could participate at any level in a system of government was as foreign to them as flying to the moon. Who would do such a thing? If he did vote, I think Jesus would put relationship first over rules. I think he’d take that into consideration when looking at candidates and their platforms. He’d think about Love, Grace, and Mercy and how that all fits together.
But when push comes to shove … I don’t think Jesus would vote. Tomorrow I’ll tell you why.
I have three blood uncles. Two on my father’s side and one on my mother’s. That’s two brothers to my dad and one brother to my mom. All three served in the military. Two (my dad’s brothers) served in World War II. Interestingly, all of my uncles (by blood or marriage) served in the military. In my generation, I can only think of three or four cousins (out of about 30) who served.
Yesterday Uncle Ralph, the younger of my dad’s two older brothers, came to town to visit the WWII Memorial. He came with other WWII veterans in Connecticut and Massachusetts to visit the memorial. It’s part of a private program that is working diligently to get WWII vets to the memorial before they pass on. As Uncle Ralph told me yesterday, there are only 10% of the veteran’s left alive today. One of my older cousins arranged to get my uncle in the program and was his guardian for the trip.
As a pacifist by nature and by choice, I struggle with war and the need for it. I want to negotiate with evil and find compromises. I’m not always certain that is possible. Even though it is my choice. When I heard about the building of the WWII Memorial I was saddened by the glorification of war. When I heard about busing vets in to this mecca of war for one last visit, I was cynical. But our visit there yesterday changed much of that for me.
It was chaotic and messy and slow and hot and beautiful and gracious and happy and the smiles that wreathed those old faces were glorious. These men (and a very occasional woman) knew how precious life is because life had been lost. The drums of war were silent here and water in the fountains sprayed and tinkled, reminding us of life lived and worth living. These were the faces of determination and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Adversity which was not glorified nor was it depicted as something to be put aside. It is and was a part of life which creates character. It was that voice that I heard when Uncle Ralph kindly refused the use of a wheelchair, “I never fell out of a 25 mile march and I’ll finish today, thank you, though.” In his 80’s and he still has something to finish and learn.
I hope I end like that.
One of my favorite blogs to read and meditate on is Velveteen Rabbi by Rachel Barenblatt. Rachel is a rabbinical student who lives and blogs in western Massachusetts. This is coincidentally near where my brother lives and near where I spent a lot of time as a child, so I feel a tie to her for this reason. But I would love her writing no matter where she did it. It is is full of imagery that makes the divine more approachable, more meaningful, and more real.
She often, as a rabbinical student, writes some form of commentary on the weekly parshat (portion). I hesitate to use words here because those words will define something that I am not qualified to define. But here is my very limited understanding of the Jewish tradition surrounding their scriptures. It is very usual to read through the scriptures (Torah … a portion of our Old Testament) every year. You begin and end during Shemini Atzeret/Simhat Torah (which holiday falls at the end of the high holidays in the autumn). The scriptures are broken into portions (parshats) that are defined and one could find those in a variety of places. So that on any given week, those Jews who are doing so are all reading the same portions of scripture together. There is something comforting in that to me.
This week (as she has in weeks past) she wrote a poem, but led off with this bit from Leviticus:
And if any of those falls into an earthen vessel, everything inside it shall be unclean and [the vessel] itself you shall break. –Leviticus 11:33
I stopped right there. And could not go on. I did not (at that moment) read the poem. “Paul said something about earthen vessels. I know he did. Now where was it? And what was it, exactly?” All I could remember at that moment was it was a good thing and I needed to know the exact quote and I needed to read it in context. So I found it in 2 Corinthians 4 –
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Then I went back to Leviticus, searching for earthen vessels and what their specific outcome was to be. I read bits of Leviticus for the first time and was legitimately fascinated. Paul, the phormer Pharisee, would have known this. Clay or earthen vessels could be used for sacrifice, but once used, they must be broken. Bronze vessels could be scoured and cleansed, but clay vessels must be broken. I was particularly struck by this in Leviticus 6 –
24 The LORD said to Moses, 25 “Say to Aaron and his sons: ‘These are the regulations for the sin offering: The sin offering is to be slaughtered before the LORD in the place the burnt offering is slaughtered; it is most holy. 26 The priest who offers it shall eat it; it is to be eaten in a holy place, in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting. 27 Whatever touches any of the flesh will become holy, and if any of the blood is spattered on a garment, you must wash it in a holy place. 28 The clay pot the meat is cooked in must be broken; but if it is cooked in a bronze pot, the pot is to be scoured and rinsed with water. (italics are mine)
After all of this, I went back and read Rachel’s beautiful poem and was immediately struck by this verse:
The heart is an earthen vessel,
the body an urn: made from dust
and patched with slip,
divine fingerprints everywhere.
Read her whole poem, then her explanation of Talmudic tradition concerning clay pots. How they are broken and then glued together again. The Hasidic tradition which teaches that the earthen vessel is also a metaphor for our hearts. And I go back again to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth … “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” We will be (or maybe we are already) broken, and then glued back together … “patched with slip, divine fingerprints everywhere.” Rendered useless and then useful again. In the process of becoming holy, we must also become broken and put back together. We must leave our cracks on the outside … an aesthetically imperfect vessel, which God can now use.
How many of you have killed a fly?
Yeah, me too. Squashed it like … well … a bug. Have you killed other bugs? Me, too.
How about other vermin? Have you ever killed a snake? Or a rat? Have you ever run over an animal by mistake with your vehicle? Or … have you gone hunting and killed an animal on purpose for food?
I’m not certain, but I don’t think I’ve ever killed anything larger than a bug. I did, however, grow up on a farm and regularly participated in the slaughter of animals for food. As youngsters, my brothers and I held headless chicken races to see which of the chickens would run longest after having their heads chopped off during the annual chicken kill. It seems gruesome now, but it was a way of distancing ourselves from the pain of necessary killing. We needed those chickens for food and could no longer afford to feed them. We kept some for the purpose of egg laying, others were for meat. It was part of the cycle of the farm.
Since growing up in that environment, I’ve had occasion to consider just what mental gymnastics it takes for us to kill. For instance, I have an unreasonable fear of spiders. My fear of them is really sort of funny when you consider how much larger I am than they. But I can’t kill them. One day, many years ago, I encountered a spider in my kitchen and went to get my neighbor, so that she could usher the spider to a new life in the great outdoors. I’ve gotten a little better; now I just ignore them. When I see dead animals on the side of the road, I have a brief period of mourning for them. They died at our hands, ignorant of the danger involved in crossing the road. Some of them get caught between jersey barriers, trapped and die, able to get in, unable to escape. Most of this we justify by claiming our dominion over the animal kingdom. Afterall, we have bigger brains, no? It is, at the end of the day, survival of the fittest; the law of the jungle.
I’ve gone on to consider, then, the killing of other humans. How do we justify this? We have many forms of justification for this. Some times there is no justification and then we deem it to be murder. A broken law. Other times we do justify it and call it war. How do we measure the difference? How do we teach men (and now women) to know that difference? To overcome their built in tendency to not kill other humans? It’s simple really. We reduce those other humans to animals. That is how it is done. We tell our armies that the enemy is/are less than human … that is, they are at about the level of animals.
Think about it for a minute. When you hear people (or yourself) talking about the “other,” what language is used? It’s usually not kind or gracious. It is uncomfortable. Think about the current war in Iraq. I have heard the “enemy” referred in terms such as “ragheads,” “towelheads,” “camelmonkeys” and the like. This language is particularly prevalent among the military. This sort of language about “others” is nearly always prevalent in the military of any culture. When it begins to become more common in the general culture we find it easier to begin wars and the making of slaves (either literal or virtual).
It is through the use of language that we devalue people. People … made in the image of God. Children of God. How often do you devalue someone? When you are driving, what assumptions do you make about the drivers who get in your way? When you are out and about, what assumptions do you make about the people who are different from you in some way … be it the color of their skin, or their gender, or their age, or perhaps a physical/mental disability or difference? It is only when we lessen their value and make people into something other than fellow creations of the divine that we are able to commit mass murder. Even when that mass murder is for good reason. Or is it ever?
An Experience of the Captivity.
1By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
2Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
3For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4How can we sing the LORD’S song
In a foreign land?
5If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
6May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
7Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it
To its very foundation.”
8 O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
9How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.
Think about that last verse for a minute … who are the ones who seize and dash “littles one against the rock.” Who are those horrible people? What kind of monster would seize children and “dash them against the rock?” Well … a monster who didn’t really believe that they were children for starters. It would be a person or group who believed that he or they were doing some greater good in ridding the world of vermin.
You cannot kill those who you believe to be of equal value to yourself. I think that is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Now, consider for a moment what it feels like to be on the receiving end of those comments. We’ve all been called a “fool” at some point or another in our lives. Most of us know how to toss that off and move on. But do we understand the cumulative effect of years and years of being called a fool for reasons beyond our control … reasons having to do with the color of our skin or the shape of our eyes or the place of our birth? What would it be like to be underneath a boot for the entirety of one’s existence merely for the color of one’s skin and nappiness of one’s hair? To wonder every time you got into the driver’s seat of a car if you’d get pulled over for no other reason than …. a policeman’s wish. To wonder about the security of your employment. The realities of lynching because of race are not actually gone in our country. How does a person live with that shadow skulking about the occasional corner? It is not something that I ever have to consider.
Women are encouraged to take self-defense classes in preparation for fending off sexual predators. Perhaps people with different colored skin should also take such classes in preparation for fending off angry hate-filled mobs. Perhaps if we embraced where race relations really are in this country, the recent flap over Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s comments from the pulpit would not be seen as inflammatory. Those comments sound pretty awful. “America’s chickens coming home to roost,” in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks sounds callous, cruel and incendiary. One cannot condone a reverend or preacher actually saying those things in his outloud voice to a congregation can one? Can you? It causes us to pause in our adulation of his follower, Barack Obama, and wonder about his wisdom in following such a mentor. Or does it? Do we really know all that we need to know about Dr. Wright based upon a few sound bites that were released by media moguls who are less than enamoured of liberal causes? Watch, if you will, the above-referenced sound bite taken in it’s full context below.
I am not condoning racism. I am not condoning hate. I am not condoning frenzied, emotional outbursts that do not have love at their center from those who follow Jesus. However, when I listen to Dr. Wright’s words and hear more of his heart, I begin to understand more of who he is. I begin to understand why Obama may (or may not) heartily disagree with him, yet remain a member of Trinity. I have people in my life whom I love dearly, yet with whom I disagree vehemently about certain things. They are part of my family and we are as different as night and day. Would I should disown them, if I were to run for political office? My uncle has advocated (seriously, not as a joke) paving over the Chesapeake Bay and is a racist bigot. I have other family stories which would curl your hair. Most of us do. We are, in the end, all human and all say and do things of which we are later ashamed. Or not. But which make other people question our intelligence, wisdom and character when taken out of context.
Perhaps the larger question might be, what exactly are we looking for in a leader? Are we looking for perfection, a king, a messiah? To find that would be anti-constitutional. Or are we looking for someone with the intelligence and strength of character to know who a good mentor is and learn from that person, despite his or her flaws. Perhaps we need to find a person who can learn from many people drawing on their strengths along the way rather than slavishly following one person and mimicking the flaws in their jewels.
What can we understand from this? I think it is this … in the end we are all more alike than different. We need to ask more questions than we do when things like this hit the front page. Questions such as, who stands to benefit from this? And think long term when you answer that. Who is the long term beneficiary of a drawn out and equivocating Democratic primary race? Hmmm … the Republican party. Think about that for a while, while you ponder the ideas that have been raised in this very hateful period of the race.