Monday, November 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

As cited by Brian McLaren in The Secret Message of Jesus, this statement was made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in "Where Do We Go from Here?" annual report delivered at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on August 16, 1967 in Atlanta:

Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder.
Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth.
Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate.
Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.

The chapter I'm reading now addresses war and its place in "Christianity" (or lack of place). It makes me wonder anew about going to war. And the comments about torture and its use make me all the more thankful today for Barack Obama's dedication to closing down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

I'm thinking now about the place that the military has in our country. I do appreciate the sacrifice that the men and women in the military make for us. And yet I wonder about whether Jesus would use violence against another, regardless of what that "other" did.

I tried to make these two (US Military and being like Jesus) align in my mind... then realized the major point that I was missing: The United States is not the Kingdom of God. Of course the US has a military force - because it is of the world, not of God. People may argue this point with me, but when it comes right down to it our military is here to protect us, not to defend God's honor. He can do that all on his own - and he has. By sending Jesus as the pacifist redeemer.

Annoyed + Theology = Me Today

Why am I so annoyed by everything this morning? Maybe it's because I'm surrounded by idiots. Oops did I say that out loud? Okay, maybe I'm not surrounded by idiots, but there are a few. And it seems like a few idiots make everyone else seem equally idiot-prone. Before you know it, you feel claustrophobic... like they're somehow going to suck your brain down the drain with them and you can't get away fast enough!!! I'll stick my earplugs in to stymie their attempts.

Okay. Earplugs in.

That rant was completely un-Jesus-like and I'm embarrassed by it. But since it's the real me I'm not going to erase it.

On to bigger and better things... I'm continuing to read The Secret Message of Jesus and I have to say that I haven't felt so inspired and empowered by a message in quite some time. If ever. Being the type of person who likes answers, I've been painfully devoid of them for a while now. But this book has helped me see things in a new light... a new perspective that makes sense to me. I always thought that Jesus was supposed to make sense and that somehow I just wasn't getting it. In reality, it wasn't me that wasn't getting it. It was the people who were teaching me what to believe.

There's no way to do justice to the content of the book here (you should read the whole thing), but I'll tell you the secret: Jesus' message wasn't salvation. It was that the kingdom of God is RIGHT HERE. RIGHT NOW. Not after you die. Not sometime way in the future after all the wars have been fought and all the terrible things in the Book of Revelation have come to pass. THIS IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD. And the reason we are here is to show it to people. We are "secret agents" for the Kingdom and our jobs are: service, love, justice, mercy, humility and hope. By showing people these characteristics of God, we show them the Kingdom. Not the make-believe pie-in-the-sky would-be kingdom... but the one that already exists on earth right now as we speak.

No wonder the whole message of salvation has seemed odd to me. What hope does it give to someone to tell them that if they come to know Jesus, things on earth won't change for them but when they die they'll go heaven? Um.... why not just say, "There's no hope this side of death, so pray this prayer and then go step in front of a bus and you'll enter the Kingdom of God." ?? No thanks. I'd rather know the Jesus who says, "Know me. Do what I've shown you - live the way I lived. And people all around you will see God and know real hope right now." I like it!

So, theologians and Bible scholars.... tell me why this message is contrary to our "born-again-get-saved" attitude? And is it bad?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Franciscan Benediction

Since I've started blogging here more than myspace, I wanted to requote this... I'm continually trying to remember what it says.

As quoted in the book Prayer by Philip Yancy:

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to our children and the poor.

Amen.

Change We Can Believe In

"Change we can believe in" was one of the campaign mantras from Barack Obama. It was one of the ways in which he successfully instilled hope in a generation of Americans who had largely become apathetic. I include myself in that group. I hadn't become apathetic about the future of our country (or my own future), but rather apathetic about politics... assuming that it was hopeless. That nothing could be done to change the direction of our government. That my beliefs and concerns and hopes were of little import to the people governing my country. Obama changed that... his own "audacity of hope" giving me the audacity to speak out about politics in a way I have never done before.

But that hope for change didn't come straight from Barack Obama. That hope came from a newfound hope in who God is... and who he isn't.

My faith has been stretched and reshaped in recent years. I've had trouble believing in the God that much of "evangelical, conservative Christianity" promotes. The God who "hates gays" - who promotes prosperity theology and values big business and financial freedom over showing mercy to the poor and downtrodden and hopeless.

Many would have us believe that God is a Republican. I think not. He's not a Republican or a Democrat or even an American. God loves Muslims. God loves gay people and black people and my loud next-door-neighbors. God loves John McCain and Barack Obama. God loves Iran and North Korea and Russia. God started all of this in Iraq... you can't tell me he doesn't love that country.

We've so Americanized God that it seems people truly believe that God cares about our "right to bear arms" and whether or not we fly the American flag. I don't think God cares about that at all... I think he cares about (as MLK Jr. put it) the "content of our character." I agree that the founders of our country were guided by their faith in God. But that doesn't give America (or Americans) exclusive right to Him.

I've rambled... but my point is that the reason I believe Barack Obama offers change we can believe in is because he has a different perspective than what we're accustomed to. He shows a great respect for other people, regardless of their beliefs. Because I believe God loves all of humanity, I believe he smiles when we show that love by listening to one another and respecting each other.

This morning I visited the Awaken service at Martin UMC, a small(ish) church near my house. The message was about change... about how Jesus offers true "change we can believe in." But what does that mean? I would like to go back to the basics of who God is. How is God different from what we believe him to be? And how can he change me?

This brings me to action. To quote a great American movie (National Treasure), "If there's something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action." This is a paraphrase of a line in our own Declaration of Independence. A greatly American document, but seemingly a very "biblical" perspective.

The most uncomfortable moment of Barack Obama's election-night speech for me was when he said:
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
Eek. He's asking ME to get my hands dirty. To not just be a commentator, but rather a participant. And God is doing the same. What does that mean? I don't know for sure, and I'm kinda scared of it. Scared, but invigorated. I hope the hope doesn't stop here. I'm praying that God will give me the courage - the audacity - to follow through.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can!

I'm almost speechless... almost. Last night was one of the most amazing moments of my lifetime. There are three times in my lifetime that are noted as "remember where you were" moments: when the Challenger blew up (I was in band), 9-11 (a Tuesday morning - work and staff meeting), and when Barack Obama became President (I was sitting on the edge of my cushy chair). Of those three moments, last night is the only one that isn't noted because of its unbelievable death and destruction, but rather because of its hope and promise for the future.

I grew up in a house where dating outside your race was prohibited. You wonder why I'm single today? It's because there were no white boys in my town. I never got to learn how to date... to be in a normal relationship. The only relationship I was in during high school had to be kept a secret from my parents. What I learned about relationships at that pivotal time in my life was how to make sure no one ever knew about them. Wonder why I'm screwed up and afraid of commitment?

But watching Maya Angelou this morning on the Early Show, I felt such compassion for those who have truly suffered from racism and discrimination... the real victims who endured (and still endure in some cases) real suffering. Like Dr. Angelou, I feel so proud to be an American today, because today we (my generation especially) have taken a stand and said enough is enough. We are ready to move forward, and we're going to drag everyone else with us kicking and screaming if we have to! Think we can't do it? Oh, yes we can!