Politics


The political environment these days has become so poisoned, I thought it might be helpful to remember that politicians can have a lighter side.  It may be that reminding them of this fact can help move us back to some level of congeniality.  I hope you enjoy.

Peace be with you.

There is no one, and that includes Glenn Beck despite my respect for him, who will ever convince me that Jesus’ call to radical discipleship omits advocating for social and economic justice in the world.  However, I will admit that I am greatly troubled by those who think that it is the sole component of following in the Nazarene’s steps.  We lose sight of the fact that humanity’s physical needs are for a corruptible body which will one day molder in the ground when we focus solely on Jesus’ admonition to meet the physical needs of our fellow-man.   When Jesus calls us to promote justice, and yes I know that phrase is not explicit in the Gospels, He does so as a means to evangelism.  Let us be honest, people will be more likely to hear the Gospel call if they first see that we care about them and are not simply trying to get them in our churches and get their money.  Accordingly, churches should be prepared to spend money without expecting an immediate return as building this amount of trust takes time, but is not seeing even one soul come to redeeming faith worth every dime we might spend?  It is this soul saving aspect that fires my passion for social justice.  After all, the story of Good Friday and Easter morning is the story of God providing a means for saving the lost.  So, when I read yesterday an article promoting “Barefoot Sunday” on Easter Sunday I was appalled.  Easter is the pinnacle of the church year.  It is why we mark Christ’s coming at Advent, why we spend Lent’s 40 days preparing our hearts for the glory of Easter, and why we spend the remaining period of Pentecost continually being reminded that as the blood bought children of God we are to fight against sin and live in what Paul called “the power of the His (Christ’s) resurrection.”   Dr. Bart Ehrman said it best when he told our New Testament class at Carolina that without Easter there is no Christianity.  I do not believe anything should compete with preaching the hope of Easter to our fallen world and I find it mind-boggling that Christians are promoting such a cause that day.  The only feet we should be drawing attention to are the nail scarred feet of Jesus and there to offer our grateful obeisance for the gift of salvation.  Please, let me be clear, I think that the Samaritan’s Feet program is wonderful program that should be supported.  I believe that using the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination to remind the world of his call to fight injustice is normally a proper tribute to his life.  However, April 4th commemorates something far bigger than the plight of the world’s shoeless and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., though he gave his life for the cause of justice, combined.  The whole of humanity’s hopes, dreams, and eternal destiny hang  on hearing the glorious news that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, arose from Joseph’s cold, dark tomb.  Indeed, as Robert Lowry penned so perfectly, “He arose with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”   If we could let the world hear that oppression and enmity have already been defeated, that we do not have to search aimlessly for new solutions, we just have to fix our gaze on the resurrected Lord, then things will start to change in our world.  If we lose sight of this great truth, we can have barefoot Sunday every week while sitting the dark because we have given every dime we have to the poor and the world will still be going to Hell.  Let us rally around the cry, “Christ Above All” and see our world change.

Peace be with you.

Our nation has waged war in Afghanistan for the last 9 years, longer than the time we spent fighting the Civil War and both world wars combined.  Yet, I feel confident in asserting that the average American knows little if anything about the history of our enemy.  Our ignorance creates a soulless, faceless combatant that we cannot even feel enmity toward, let alone the compassion that Jesus calls us to feel toward our enemies.  Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” peels back the curtain shielding the Afghan people and reveals a thriving society that has suffered under almost 40 years of continuous war and destruction.  The narrative is woven around the friendship between Amir and Hassan.  Amir’s father is a rich businessman in the days before the Soviet invasion who will eventually flee to America with Amir after the Soviet’s arrival.  Hassan, a member of the Hazara ethnic minority, is the son of their servant and the same age as Amir.  The first third of the book details the highs and lows of a typical childhood friendship and explains the vicious secret why the friendship ultimately dissolved and how Hassan and his father felt compelled to leave.  The story then moves to America and chronicles Amir and his father’s life in Southern California as members of  the Afghan expatriate community.  The final third of the book focuses on Amir’s quest to bring Hassan’s young son, Sohrab, back to the United States during the Taliban’s final days and his acclimation to American society.  Most would point to the need for redemption that Amir feels as the driving force of the book and certainly that figures prominently.  Yet, I found Amir’s redemption to be half achieved for even after he brings Sohrab to the United States the situation remains tenuous.  I would argue that because Hosseini’s work so perfectly captures the human experience he is simply pointing to the fact that we cannot achieve true redemption apart from Jesus Christ.  I recognize that Hosseini never intended that picture to be painted, but I have to allow a book to speak to me and shape me.  I find little value in reading if the book does not shape me in some way.  Hence, while I was on an emotional roller coaster throughout the book, it was the middle narrative that chipped away at my heart.  Let me establish from the start that I believe part of America’s greatness is found in our population’s diversity.  Eliza and I are proud of our German heritage and have been shaped by it.  However, I have intense difficulty in understanding why current immigrants disregard adopting American culture and hold so strongly to their own.  It seems to me that they should have stayed where they were if their love was so great.  “The Kite Runner” helped me better understand why this occurs.  Amir and his father never desired to leave Afghanistan, but were forced to due to circumstances beyond their control.  Thus, when they come to America and join with others in the Afghan community to celebrate Afghan customs and celebrations, it seems perfectly natural because it is how they maintain some small part of the home from which they have been torn.  I know full well that if I were ever forced from American soil, I would certainly carry out some of the traditions that form our culture.  It occurs to me, however, that I am already an alien in a foreign land.  1 Peter urges Christians “as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”   Christians today spend a lot of time trying to look like the pagans around them.  We have created church models that better resemble corporations than the book of Acts.  Our models of success are copied straight out of leading business strategies and so cause us to miss the level of success God commands.  We are not faithful to our Christ due to exorbitant baptism statistics, we are faithful when we grow more in His image each day.  A strange thing happened to me as I read “The Kite Runner.”  I suddenly desired to learn more about Afghan culture.  I have purchased and read several books on the country and the people since completing Hosseini’s work.  I have even found a restaurant in Raleigh that serves strictly Afghan food and am anxious for us to go and try it out.  In other words, Marc, the outsider, has looked at the Afghan community and desired to know more about it.  Can you imagine what would happen if the Church realized it’s alien status and started acting more like it?  I doubt we would have as much trouble as we currently do attracting people to the Gospel and our Christ.  “The Kite Runner” is a beautiful story and I highly recommend it, but only read it if you are willing to let it shape you.

Peace be with you.

I began reading an intriguing NY Times Magazine article a couple of weeks ago while I was sick  and it was not until last night that I finished it.  I will admit that I knew some elements within American evangelicalism had such an agenda, but I did not realize the degree with which it was being pushed.  I really do admire those Christians who stand up for the Cross and the veracity of the Gospel in the public square.  However, I always wonder when exposed to the type of devotion detailed in the article what Jesus would say about it.  After all, did not Jesus tell Pilate “My Kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Would Jesus want us to expend countless hours of debate and money to prove the Founding Fathers’ faith or would He rather us go to currently living people and ensure they have faith?   I’m sorry, but I find it quite a stretch to think that lost souls will suddenly find the Gospel more attractive simply because George Washington was a Christian.  I agree wholeheartedly with the assertion that our nation is heading down the same path the Old Testament prophets warned would bring destruction, but inserting an abundance of Christian history and doctrine into public school curriculum will not bring about the change we need.   The result of a Supreme Court that concurs continuously on the side of the “incorporation by reference” effort detailed in the magazine article will not bring increased baptism rates and church attendance.  What will fundamentally change America and turn it’s heart back to God is the type of Great Awakening the article referenced.  The First Great Awakening was a large contributing factor to the American revolution.  The Second Great Awakening awakened the nation’s conscience resulting in a host of efforts, most notably the abolition movement.  Those with a theocratic agenda repeatedly assert they have truth on their side, but I think such assertions do little more than obscure the Gospel truth.  We would do so much better to fan the flames of revival than stir dissension amongst politicians and educators.  I have a history degree and I think to describe our founding simply on Christian terms is little more than gross negligence.  Yes, the colonists flight from religious persecution was a contributing factor to settlement, but it does not rank higher than economic development.   Jamestown and Roanoke were founded for profit, not faith.  The Founders knew history and their desire to not repeat 200 years of European religious bloodletting I believe led to the First Amendment’s religious protections.  They understood that religious battles would divide the country and divert attention away from governing it.   In other words, they were trying to protect us from the situation our nation is currently facing.  It is high time American evangelicals confess that we have been lured away from proper devotion to Gospel presentation and ensnared in the trap of believing in legislative mandated morality.  Let us take responsibility for instructing our children in the ways of righteousness instead of expecting a teacher, whether in a public or private institution, to do it for us.  Only then, will we be able to experience the true blessings of liberty.

Peace be with you.

I picked up Ron Suskind’s “A Hope in the Unseen” while leafing through the current events section at Edward McKay and thought the story sounded compelling and well it was only $2 so I did not have much to lose.  The truth is that there is a great deal to lose by excluding Ron Suskind’s look at the high school and early college career of Cedric Jennings from your library.  Cedric Jennings is an African-American honor student being raised by a single mother in the middle of inner city Washington, D.C.  Cedric works mightily to attain his goal of being accepted in an Ivy League school and escaping both inner-city poverty and the prison fate of so many African-American inner-city males, including his father.  Cedric’s decision costs him popularity and leads to derision by many of the other students in his school.  One continuing thread of the book is the fact that Cedric’s decision impedes, severely I believe, his ability to interact socially.   Indeed, the roller coaster that Cedric experiences as he learns these skills is part of the driving force of the book.  There are other important threads such as the development of Cedric’s faith and his relationship with his mother that are at the forefront throughout that are also commendable.  Cedric proves that one can successfully have a deep and abiding evangelical faith while holding reason in tension.  I fear we lose that view far too often these days as Evangelicals either surrender their college students to the supposed terrors of a liberal arts education by failing to adequately equip them for the concepts they will be exposed to or we impair them by sending them to like-minded Evangelical institutions where open exposure to such concepts are muted.  Yes, as Cedric proves, there will be ups and downs to reach this tension, but it seems that Peter took a similar path in understanding the person and work of the Christ and it was to his benefit that he did.  The thing that disturbed me most about Suskind’s account is that it lays bare severe deficiencies in the American education system.  My heart broke as Cedric is sitting in one of first classes at Brown University and fails to comprehend a reference to Ellis Island.   Can you imagine anyone passing through the halls of an American high school and not being taught about the portal through which so many entered the American melting pot?  Cedric wonders if he has reached too far because of the difficulties he experiences during his Brown tenure, but I believe America and not Cedric’s reach is at fault.  We have too long thrown money at the education system while not demanding significant returns for our investment.  I am sorry, but what good is it to require our students to pass standardized exams when we have people teaching them who have no business doing so.  Please do not think I am bashing the education system.  My beloved wife is a teacher and I would defend to the death the right to public education.  I just think the Cedric Jennings’ of the world deserve better.  Additionally, if the majority of our congregations are supposed to learn the critical skills of reading, reasoning, and comprehension through the public education system the Church deserves better.  How do we expect folks to be transformed by the reading of God’s Word without these skills?  How do we expect them to begin to be able formulate the phrases needed to share their faith if they have never been taught how to expand upon ideas?  I cannot encourage you enough to read “A Hope in the Unseen” and gain inspiration from Cedric and motivation to fight for the countless thousands like him.

Peace be with you.

Yesterday, one of my deacons took me to lunch and afterward asked if I had time to also drop by the quick lube while he had his oil changed.  I said sure and sat down in the waiting area with an assortment of folks.  I sat near an African-American mother and young son, who turned out to be rambunctious tot.  The mother continued to deal with the child’s disruptive behavior until finally she had enough and using a racial epithet told him she was about to use physical discipline.  I was shocked to say the least that she had used that word, a word that has such an abusive history, with her own child.   Yet, I should have not been shocked at all given its continued use in various entertainment forms, particularly hip-hop music.  Therein I believe lies the problem behind the mother’s statement, no one around me seemed phased by it’s use.  However, if the use of such epithets is problematic when part of our society employs it, would it not carry over to the whole of society?   Why is that child no less affected when one person uses it as when another does?  Dr. Martin Luther King stated in his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech that the civil rights movement and to a greater extent the African-American community would not be satisfied “as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only.”   Is not that mother’s statement yesterday robbing her son of dignity?  I know of no American who can truthfully say that our country’s race relations struggle has left them without some sin in their heart.  Yet, we must all recognize the perpetuation of that sin even by the smallest most insignificant action, regardless of skin color, continues the struggle for which so many have already fought and died to end.  Dr. King’s dream, hearkening back to Isaiah’s prophecy,  included a day when “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”   Such a day will remain a far distant dream as long as we continue to operate by two sets of acceptable behavior.  I am told that such behavior is acceptable because it allows for cultural expression.  I am afraid I cannot buy such a notion because it is antithetical to Christian teachings.  Let us recall that the child of God is a resident alien in our culture and we are called to not conform to our world.  I long to see the glory of God revealed in our world, but I know it will not be seen as long as myself and every other American fails in this fundamental task of dealing with even the most culturally accepted sin in our lives.  We are fast approaching the Lenten season and it would behoove us to spend part of this time reflecting on how best to eradicate that which lies dormant within our hearts.  The expression of God’s glory depends on it.

Peace be with you.

I have serious problems with the fact that in the intensely partisan and politically correct era in which we live, a public discourse about religion is unwelcome.  I cannot comprehend why commentators, such as Bill Maher, think it is open season to ridicule not only religion, but religious adherents as well.  I completely understand that they believe that all religions are little more than myths and fables that separate us and cause so much of the terror in our world today.  Yet, I think to blame religion for the world’s problems is an oversimplification of the situation.  Yes, religious fervor has played a role in some of the most horrific events in world history, but a closer examination of many of those events would find other factors that outweigh religious fervor.  How can the most gruesome of the 20th Century’s events be ascribed to religion?   I cannot find any religious motives in the actions of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or the Rwandan genocide.  I only see a desperate need to fulfill selfish ambition.  Indeed, if religion had been regarded in Rwanda the genocide may not have occurred.  Rwandans claims to be over 90% Christian, yet how many of Christ’s teachings on loving your neighbor and lifting up the dispossessed were adherred to in the Hutu rampage? I know that many would point to the Balkan wars and use that as the perfect example of religion run afoul, but given the dynamics of European politics at the time, I still can only ascribe the wars to the base political ambitions of Serbian nationalism.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that will Congress neither establish a national religion, nor prevent the free exercise any religion.  If these commentators are going to wrap themselves in the First Amendment, let them understand that if part of it is removed, some part of them may be exposed.  It is time that we have an active dialogue about faith in our country and allow adherents to defend their beliefs without ridicule.  The last time I checked, such open discussions were the promise of our democracy.  I know, that to have such an open discussion can allow for some off the wall statements, but I will deal with Pat Robertson later.  Ross Douthat had a wonderful article in the Sunday New York Times dealing with the fact that we should have an open discourse.  I will commend it to your reading.

Peace be with you.

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