Sunday, November 27, 2016
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
But then we are hospitality people too; throughout the Bible we find warm sentiments toward the stranger, the foreigner, the sojourner, the needy – so immigrants, illegal or not, on Christian principles, should be welcomed and cared for, right? “The alien who lives near you shall be to you as the native born; you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34) – or think of the way Jesus described the way those who will be saved treat aliens: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). After all, Mary and Joseph, with the child Jesus in tow, were refugees themselves.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
before his crucifixion, Jesus said “The poor will always be with you” (Mark
14:7). He wasn’t saying Therefore ignore them, or There’s nothing you can do, or Blame them. He was quoting Deuteronomy 15, where Moses
clarifies that our work to care for the poor is a constant responsibility,
never to be shirked.
Poverty can be politicized, but in God’s mind and heart, poverty is a profoundly theological and moral issue. In Old Testament times, and certainly since Jesus came along, God’s people have an absolute obligation to care about and for the poor. We love Jesus by loving the poor (Matthew 25)! Voting, for followers of Jesus, cannot be reduced to Who will fatten my pocketbook? We hold in our hearts those who have no advocate, who cling to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, children without means – and we strive for a politics that will lift them up and empower them.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
At the same time, we miss the mark now and then, and we forget what church “stands” can and cannot do. Again I’ll turn to former Republican Senator John Danforth, who dreams of a church making a difference in every aspect of life – and yet he keeps us humble, reminding us that even if a whole denomination stakes itself out on a moral issue, that denomination isn’t 100% unified on it, and we are only a tiny fraction of the population. Who cares what the Methodists or Lutherans think? Is anyone listening in Washington, or the state capitol, or in Palestine or the Sudan.
Sometimes we venture into zones where we simply have no expertise. If the church or an individual Christian feels inclined to speak God’s word to housing or education or immigration or finance, we’d best study up on the issue and even better talk to somebody on the inside before we challenge anybody.
And yet, even if nobody much is listening, and even if we don’t know all we need to know, as God’s people we stand up and speak, humbly, compassionately, but surely. Maybe it’s not effective; but Vaclav Havel reminded us that “Hope is the ability to work for something simply because it is good, whether it stands a chance of succeeding or not.” Jesus spoke, and wound up abandoned and on a cross.
A fair test of the holiness of any Christian moral campaign was voiced by Jim Wallis: “When the voice of God is invoked on behalf of those who have no voice, it is time to listen. But when the name of God is used to benefit the interests of those who are speaking, it is time to be very careful.” Should we speak up only for ourselves, or battle for those who already have enough? or for God’s children who have no resources, and no one to stand with them?
Danforth prods us from a different angle. As an Episcopalian, he observes his General Convention advancing positions on public policies. They speak “many words about the responsibility of government,” but then they say “little to nothing about the responsibilities of the people, including its own members.” Ouch. A church that dares to be relevant, to bring God’s Word to life in the thick of the real issues of the world, had better be careful not just to talk about what somebody else ought to do differently. We begin, and continue, with our own labor to change what we can.
Mother Teresa was a staunch foe of abortion – but whenever she spoke of the importance of protecting the unborn life, she always added, “Give us the child.” She and her Sisters of Charity were poised, always, to care for the life they said mattered.
As we move into October, I want to try to say something about Christianity and how God asks us to think about race, life, immigration, marriage, guns, and a few other things – and in each instance reflecting on what God is simultaneously asking us to do.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Friday, September 23, 2016
Many of us were distressed with the press right now, and for two good reasons. The storyline on TV and in the newspaper was this: “Three thousand people showed up to protest in Charlotte, and although it began peacefully, it grew violent.” Whites and those who support the police gobble up this storyline, but it is patently false and only feeds false biases. I was there. What happened was: Three thousand people, black, white and brown, engaged in an intense but peaceful demonstration that remained peaceful. Two or three dozen provocateurs jumped into that march, and began throwing rocks, breaking windows, and setting things on fire. Who was most mortified, and actually terrified by the provocateurs? The three thousand peaceful demonstrators. This is what really happened, and the distinction is enormously important to us, and in God’s eyes.
Neither of which were true, but when I posted a disclaimer on Facebook, my friends unleashed a torrent of scathing remarks about the press, that they are vile, biased, liars, we can’t trust them. The worst ravage of postmodernity, and what will be the ruin of Christianity if we are not careful, is this ferocious rage against the idea that events can in fact be accurately reported. I have many friends who work at my local paper. They are thoughtful, hardworking, diligent people doing their best to get out complicated stories under the pressure of deadlines. I posted a rejoinder, explaining that newspapers actually say true things we need to know. You should even consume news from multiple sources. Something happened, and you can figure it out. But the hostile fantasy that you just can’t know leads to the fiction that there is nothing left but ideology, which is nothing but idolatry, and a faith like Christianity that really does hinge on some facts winds up crucified.
Truth is the casualty when our ideology blinds us to simple facts. I was quizzed by church members asking me why I was standing behind leaders of the NAACP “who as we know are anti-police.” At first, I defended myself, saying “It’s important to stand with African-American clergy during these days, doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything they say.” But I actually did agree with what Rev. Barber had to say. He named simple facts, like an all-too pervasive anti-black mood in the police force, laws our legislature have passed that are detrimental to the poor, unacknowledged racism. He denounced violence. The protesters are angry for reasons that aren’t mere moods. There are some simple truths, and if the truth will set us free, we can detect it in the exasperation, the frustration and the pain of our brothers and sisters who are black - and we have to find a way forward to change things. Change is another real thing that can happen.
In Charlotte we see how truth really is the foundation of trust. A huge segment of our community doesn’t trust the police; but another segment swiftly and adamantly supports our police. There are some basic facts, though. Our clergy asked officials for transparency. If evidence isn’t released, if we can’t be trusted to sort through what happened in the shooting, why should trust be returned? If no policeman is ever prosecuted successfully for wrongful killing, how could there be anything but exasperated rage? Our police chief is African-American, and his own father was killed under questionable circumstances by a policeman. Surely he will know that facts matter, and then accountability to those facts will be the only way to trust, and then freedom from distrust.
Here’s a simple, obvious truth I denied myself. For three days I have harbored a kind of crushing disappointment in myself. I’ve moaned things like "Race relations are worse than ever." "I’ve spent my entire adult life working on racial reconciliation, and here we are." "All those workshops, community dinners and conversations, friendships with clergy who look different, it was all a chimera, a waste." I was so forlorn I thought I’d reach out to a couple of friends who would commiserate with me. One was an African-American pastor I’d phoned the night before near midnight, the other a conservative rabbi in town. Then truth dawned in my embarrassingly dense skull. I had their cell numbers, and their love and trust. I’d whined to my rabbi friend a few years ago saying, "Murray, we’ve been working so hard and so long on this stuff but things are still awful." He responded, "You’ve got it all wrong. If we hadn’t been doing all we’ve been doing, things would really be in a much worse mess."
Lost in the smoke is the truth of a great work God has been doing in my lifetime. We have actually made great progress on race. Sure, we have light years to go. But many of us who follow Jesus have made friends we’d not have had a generation ago. We know how to stand together, how to support one another, how to be the Body of Christ. We haven’t perfected the thing, but we’re on our way. Why should I feel discouraged? His eye is on the sparrow, and his eye sees we really are making some progress down here.
It was on the third day that something actually happened, and it got reported. Those who heard the news were confused, and there was violence to come. But the truth was out, and the truth then did begin its relentless labor of setting us free. So call somebody, read the paper, pray, and hope. God is still God.