Archive for September, 2009
One of the temptations that I have fallen into over the course of my crawl with God, and my walk with friends, is the temptation of seeing them as objects, either to be studied, used or discarded. Especially with God, as his personal presence is not always evident, I find myself engaging him mechanically, like I would engage my computer, or my car. “Okay”, I think to myself, “I’m needing a boost in this particular area of my life, so I think I’ll add a dose of God’s love to send me on my way, worry free, running good.”
Particularly when it comes to theological reflection, and my penchant for strong axioms, I find myself thinking that it is my brains – or lack of brains more specifically – that keeps me from diving deeper into the unveiled light of His glory. Come to think of it, doesn’t the study of God assume Him to be an object? I mean, I don’t study my wife. I contemplate her. I watch her actions, her reactions, her likes, dislikes, moods, comforts, discomforts and I take them in like food; but that is far removed from study, at least as I understand the idea of “study.” All my appraisals of her come in process, in time, as I talk with her, as I move with her, as I watch her with her friends, hear her talk about her day, as I hear her history. I don’t view her from afar; I’m able to view her because she’s let me into her life … because she’s married me. And I wonder if it’s not the same with God … if my understanding of Him should be the result of me being in process with His presence, with his history, with his friends. And I wonder if me being allowed into His life is more dependent upon my heart than my brains … if the greatest theologian is just the closest person to Jesus.
I’m comfortable with my set of propositions about God. I’m comfortable because it makes me feel like I somehow have grasped God. That I’ve somehow caught Him and can now, because I know how He works, can somehow, like my dog, manipulate His performance. I’m comfortable with absolute ideas. After all, ideas aren’t sensitive to my sins. They don’t look at me, but I look at them. I judge them; I, if I’m smart enough, can even control them.
It’s scary to move Truth outside of the category of “idea” and out of the category of “object” and into the category of “person.” It’s scary to think that Truth is wild. To some degree, or to some quality, it is like my relationship with my wife. I don’t own her, yet I’m a part of her and what I do with myself … whether I look at porn or I flirt with other women … greatly influences her life. My life is tied into her and so is, with God as person, my life intimately tied into the very heart of God.
It’s too easy for me to want to view God as an object because it’s too scary to think otherwise.
I mean, he was mumbling.
The Republican Party should be listening to Pastor-elect Barack Obama’s call for change. Perhaps they need it more than anyone these next couple of years. In fact, as many of us learned in church this past Sunday, it’s not just the Republicans who need it. From the whites to the blacks and every skin tone in between, change is the ever-elusive pursuit of the human soul that we always want yet rarely capture. Some look for change in others, some look for change in themselves, some look to God for change and many Americans now look to Barack Obama.
A glaring irony in the supposed “godless” Left is that their end game pursuit looks a lot like the early New Testament church. In its incipiency, the church had an economic structure that encouraged the haves helping the have not’s … and it worked! The early church was the one place where there was no stratification … where there was no male, no female, no slave, Greek, or Jew (or at least Acts lets you think so). There was this beautiful hope that a nobody could become somebody (or at least equal) in the community of the changed.
Hope. Change. Haven’t I heard that message somewhere else? During Obama’s campaign stumps I often checked the channel just to make sure I was still on CNN and not TBN. It may be that it’s not just the conservatives who have transgressed the church/state divide.
President Bush took his religious ideology to D.C. but in the end, it may be the liberals who have their functional church in Washington with Obama as the head pastor. When will both these Democrats and Republicans understand the hard-learned lesson that the Founding Fathers proclaimed? The lesson that the state can only work an external change within society, and that God through His Church can influence internal change (mind you, internal change can never be coerced, which is why the government can never change men’s hearts through laws, regulations and punishments, but only influence his/her external actions). And that we should never confuse the external, action based change of the civil government and the heart-level internal change produced by God and the church. Let’s pray Obama doesn’t confuse the two. Let’s pray we don’t confuse the two.
Or maybe, so many have forsaken church or disliked church that we’ve forgotten its function? Maybe the introduction to this short diatribe was wrong and you weren’t at church this past Sunday? So maybe you’ve confused Obama for your pastor and your pastor for the law executor? Maybe you haven’t, but I know all too many who have. It’s not that we’re wrong; it’s that we’re confused. That goes for the Church as well … it is no longer a place of grace, but a place of law, political backbiting and stratification, resembling civil government more so than the forgiven bride of Christ. I guess you could say that Church and State have traded their roles.
But I am still confused. What is “it” that the government can change? And in what way can “it” change? Can the government change the “it” of supposed godlessness in the families of America? Many red bleeding Christian republicans think it can change it. Can the government change the “it” of the poverty mentality in so many of the poor? Many blue hearted liberals think it can change “it.”
In the end, Obama may be right. Change is what we all need. Hope is what we look for. And maybe Obama will change some of the junk in D.C., yet I’ve never placed much hope in men, or a man for that matter. For neither man nor man’s government can change the deep problems of America. Has it ever, like cool water on a hot day, quenched the longings of your soul? Government can only change so much, right? Obama may be right, but I’m not sure he doesn’t have the wrong job … that went for “W” as well.
As for me, I’m a political atheist … I don’t believe in politics as a deity substitute. But I do believe that the real change and real hope that we want is found in Jesus and His community of the changed.
The most famous cemetery in North America houses some 300,000 human remains of presidents, government officials, soldiers and their spouses, all in the front yard of Robert E. Lee’s mansion (it was a overt gesture of blame by the North). I was there today, burying the wife of a WWII veteran. The photo shows the Army honor guard taking the casket out of the hearse and to the grave. This was the sixth time I’ve been involved with a burial at Arlington and it involved the least pomp. No gun salute. No caisson. No folding of the flag. No tears from the family.
The cemetery was founded after the Civil War, a reminder of the lose of war. And ironically, if all the war stories were recorded that are buried in the graves of Arlington, it might be enough to forestall any meditations of future wars. But those stories … those warnings, those horrors, those difficulties, those darkest hours of the human soul, and heroic sacrifices … are forever lost like the minds that once held them. Underneath the hallowed grounds of Arlington lie the dead, imbued by the mystery of stories “better left unsaid.” Buried stories, untold truths, mysteries forever, in graves they lay.
I’m going to play the prophet for a minute. In the very near future you will hear your Sunday morning pastors talking more and more about God as a person and less and less about the ideas about God. “Wait,” you say, “they’re already doing that …? They’ve been doing that for years!”
Okay, so I guess I’d be a better prophet if a prophet meant telling what is already happening, which I can do for you. A prophet that tells the future is scary, and a prophet who tells the past is, well, redundant, so bear with me. Modernity arguably had it’s start with Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” Even hundreds of years later, this little “foundation” is still creating trends today … notice the emphasis on “I” and “think” and the “I am” identity. Along with philosophical historian beast Robert Solomon, I’ll argue that this little statement has created one of the irrefutable foundations Western culture is built on, spawning individualism and molding the materialistic Western mindset. It has helped created the Enlightenment, survived Romanticism, aided existentialism and eventually birthed modernism.
For the sake of this short article, I’ll be simplistic and reductionistic by defining modernism as the belief that truth = fact. This was originally fought against by Christianity, but was eventually amalgamated by liberalism, rejected by fundamentalism and finally defended by evangelicalism. So that a couple decades ago, conservative evangelicals had a list of ideas you had to believe in order to become a Christian. Mind you, it was accepting ideas that made you a Christian, and not, as we hear today, relationship with God that made you a Christian.
Yes, it’s true. God isn’t primarily an idea, but a person. He isn’t an object, but a subject, who is concerned with relationships. The truth in Christianity isn’t even the Bible for Jesus said, “I am the way …” you know the rest. And this new movement, although in ecclesiology, tends toward (I can’t say the movement on blogger), in theology it’s being called post-conservative / post-liberal because both conservative and liberal sides are recognizing that they were fighting on a field (modernism) that isn’t even a Christian field.
How does this all apply to politics? Well, this is where I can play the prophet. Few people have connected this to politics … well some have. Let me ask this question, “If a Christian’s main concern is not idea but personal relationships, would he or she be more likely to get involved with political platforms or people?” I’ve set up the answer to this question, so it should be pretty easy. Many Christians may be post-conservative / post-liberal in their theology (that is relationship oriented), but few have translated this to their politics.
As I have said before, the fact that Christians are often more concerned with national politics than local affairs is telling of their misplaced agenda and still modern mindset. Many Christians are more willing to talk about policies they can’t effect instead of reaching out and touching people they can. I guess Christians are more comfortable with defending ideas than they are people, and in this respect they are still trudging the modern paradigm.
What I’m promoting here is not a blend of conservativism and liberalism; what I’m promoting is a redefinition of politics from the platform base politics to the defense of people politics … away from ideas and towards local action. What I’m promoting is less national and more local (sound conservative to you?).
If you want to solve problems, sure, get involved in national politics, but not at the expense of the local / meeting people where they are at, helping the community poor, giving support to the mother who’s thinking about abortion by taking her into your home, by adopting local, by getting a job closer to home, by getting involved in your school board, by seeing your work as a mission field, by prayer walking through your town, by standing up for the sexually abused, by being involved enough in your community to even know who the sexually abused are, by running for a local political position … by preaching the Gospel, by being Jesus (does this all sound liberal?).
See, when we focus on the local people … on being Jesus in your community, you may find yourself disassociating with a straight-ticket platform and associating with the broken heart of God, which will often cross (no pun intended) political lines.