Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Statues and The Image of God

Until recently, when Americans of a certain age heard General Lee they pictured this.

Not this.

But the times, they are a changin’.

For example, it used to be that White supremacists had to slink around at night bedecked in bedsheets and dunce caps. Nowadays they proudly show their faces in the orange light of...ahem…day.

Still, why did they descend on Charlottesville to defend a statue? (I’ve a hunch that the vast majority of them were visiting their "beloved site" for the first time.)

Remember when racists gathered in Arkansas to protect the 10 Commandments statue? Me neither.

So I don’t think they just have a thing for statues. There must be something more…

The Robert E. Lee statue is a symbol. And like all symbols, it evokes different things in different people. Some value it as an artifact of culture. Others view it as a reminder of oppression. Many see it as some old guy on a horse. (Ignorance is bliss?)

One thing’s certain; General Lee himself wanted no such monuments of war.

I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.

Regardless of one’s perspective, it’s rather difficult to argue that the statue stands for heritage not racism, when the folks vehemently protesting its removal are neo-Nazis, not history teachers. 

Again, symbolism is subjective, but more than this, a symbol’s meanings evolve. What a symbol stands for today may not be what it conveyed yesterday or what it will communicate tomorrow.

Yes, symbols can be very powerful; but even so, what are the statue’s actual effects on society?

Will the lives of African-Americans in the USA be better once it’s removed? How so?

Will its removal alter the study of history as we know it? How so?

Suffice it to say, I think the statue has extremely minimal real-world impact—except, of course, for the 3 people (and those who loved them) who were killed because of hate-filled people using it as a pretext for violence.

Jesus says that humans are much more valuable than sparrows (Matthew 10:31).

I’ll bet He thinks they’re much more valuable than statues too.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Jesus, Fire & Fury

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States . . . they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.
~Donald Trump

Will only the U.S. have option [sic] called “preventive war” as is claimed by it? It is a daydream for the U.S. to think that its mainland is an invulnerable Heavenly kingdom.
~Korean People’s Army (KPA)

All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. . . . Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
~Jesus

The stark contrast between the Way of Jesus and the ways of Empire couldn’t be clearer. Even so, do you think Jesus’ teaching “just won’t work” in the “real world”? Is His “wisdom” only so much wishful thinking? (Be honest.)

However we may answer; Christians within the USA—by and large—have not followed Jesus in the way of peace.  

Richard Hays observes,

One reason that the world finds the New Testament’s message of peacemaking and love of enemies incredible is that the church is so massively faithless. On the question of violence, the church is deeply compromised and committed to nationalism, violence, and idolatry.

In other words, despite Jesus telling us that we can’t possibly serve two masters, Christians doggedly persist in their attempts to do so. But to what end, dear reader? 


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

War Games

A couple of days ago a Chicago Sun Times headline grabbed my attention: “North Korea missiles have range to hit Chicago.

I almost cared enough to read the story.

Thinking better of it, I turned to my favorite newsman, Stephen Colbert, and as always he delivered.

I have a hard time believing Chicagoans will be scared by this. Okay? For Pete’s sake, the Cubs won the World Series! They already know the end is near.

Something else grabbed my attention just moments ago…fighter jets, circling my home.

I understand they were practice-bombing a bridge a couple of miles from my house. The sights and sounds were stunning. For about 15 minutes I watched in awe—the climbing, the diving, the synchronized soaring. It was spectacular.

Three thoughts tumbled into my reverie.

1) I’m glad they’re on our side.

2) I’m sure glad it’s only practice.

3) People who think their guns are protecting them from the government are delusional. (I’d be very surprised to learn that the fighter-pilots observed me gawking into the sky with my mouth open and thought: I’m glad he’s on our side.)

Sidebar: I know. Dead is dead. But “From my cold dead hands!” is so much sexier than “From my incinerated bits & pieces!” Forget Charlton Heston. Not even Liam Neeson’s pulling that off.

My ruminations grow a bit more somber now as I think about why the USA conducts war games.

It plays war around us to wage war around others. 

Thus, the display of raw power that mesmerized me looks and sounds a bit different to those who are being terrorized by a dispassionate deluge of death and destruction. 

This is the way of Empire but it’s not the Way of Jesus. Nowhere does Jesus teach His followers to kill their way to peace.

Jesus comments, “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn 14:27). Jesus’ disciples knew who Jesus meant by “the world.” It was plastered on city walls, engraved on columns and stamped on coins. The Roman Empire prided herself on peace, the famed Pax Romana. . . . The United States is famed worldwide for Pax Americana, for bringing peace the same way the Romans did. . . . We should not confuse Pax Americana with the Christian way. We need to stop writing scripture verses on the sides of bombs. (Richards and O’Brien, “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes,” p. 185)

Bombs with Bible verses? Eat your heart out, North Korea.

Friday, July 7, 2017

All Abooooaaaarrrd!

How many times a day is Hitler referenced on social media, do you suppose? (I defy anyone to read an on-line political fight—past 3 paragraphs—without finding a mention of Hitler, fascism, or Nazism.)

So I thought I’d finally join the chorus!

Just kidding (sort of).

I want to talk about something much more important: The church.

The odious truth is, “Hitler was an opportunist who was quite happy to use the church for his own ends.” 1

This is the truth but not the odious part. We expect politicians to try to exploit the church.

The odious thing is this: the church, by and large, was quite happy to be used by Hitler.

In general, Protestants in Germany found a way to be both believers in Christianity and supporters of Nazism.2

While this was appallingly generally true, thankfully it was not universally true.

One detractor was theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Someone asked Bonhoeffer if it would be wise to participate in the “German Christians” party and try to work within the system towards a good end (a kind of “lesser of two evils” approach…sound familiar?).

He famously replied: “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”
  
Bonhoeffer causes me to think of my own nation and how it seems to be headed off the rails. In my estimation, politics in America is a runaway train and has been for a long time.

Most of my adult life I rode the rails with my fellow travelers as we culture-warred against anyone and everyone too stupid to be in our particular car. It never occurred to me that my “enemies” and I were on the same train, going inexorably in the same direction—away from Christ and His Kingdom.

In Hitler’s Germany, most churches went along with the Nazis. Some did so reluctantly but many were enthusiastic. . . . Bonhoeffer reminds us that there are people of conscience and moral courage everywhere—there are just too few of them.3

My prayer is that more and more American Christians will open their eyes, exit the train, and walk with Jesus.
___________________________





Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Kingdom of Love

As I reflect on the United States and how it is polarizing within and diminishing without, my thoughts turn to GK Chesterton’s assessment of Rome.

There was nothing left that could conquer Rome; but there was also nothing left that could improve it. It was the strongest thing that was growing weak. It was the best thing that was going to the bad. (The Everlasting Man, p. 162)

Couldn’t the same be said of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, and Brits?

In with a “bang” and out with a whimper. Such is the way of empire.

But such is not the Way of the Kingdom of our God.

Of Christ and His kingdom prophets and angels agree: There will be no end.

Clearly, Jesus’ kingdom is superior to all earthly powers, and it is different in quality and in kind. He teaches,

The Kingdom of God can't be detected by visible signs. You won't be able to say, “Here it is!” or “It's over there!” For the Kingdom of God is already among you. . . . My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world (Luke 17:20-21; John 18:36).

To be sure, Jesus’ kingdom is a present reality that is in the world but not of or from it. He rules in the hearts of His followers.

Hence, Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of love, not force. Jesus says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. This is true of all earthly kingdoms. They come into existence and pass into non-existence by coercion.

Not so with the kingdom of heaven. It does not kill and it cannot be killed. No one is forced into or out of it. The kingdom of love has no end.

Furthermore, Christ’s kingdom is a domain of peace with no geographic borders, nationalities, or economies to advance or defend. In other words, His realm transcends all things that would divide and conquer us. Thus, the Apostle Paul writes, 

In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us. (Colossians 3:11) 

Christ is all that matters. Do we really believe this? 

Think about it. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Politics & Prostitutes

Ronald Reagan once quipped, “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”

Quite frankly, this is an insult to prostitutes everywhere.

Is it any wonder Jesus had no use for politics, religious or secular? Yet politicians were certainly interested in Him—all for selfish reasons of course, just like today.

Matthew tells us that a group of politicians (“the chief priests and the elders”) confronted Jesus regarding the matter of authority (21:23). They wanted to know who gave Him the right to teach and preach; the implication being, He had no authority since they hadn’t conferred it upon Him.

Politics is always about power.

So Jesus asked them a simple question: The prophet, John the Baptist—did you give him authority or did God? Fearing the crowd, the politicians refused to answer.

Then Jesus dropped a truth bomb: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Why would Jesus say such a thing? Is He trying to embarrass or anger them? No, though He surely knew He would do both. Rather, He is doing what He always does—speaking truth.

The leaders already confessed that they did not listen to the voice of God as it fell from the lips of the prophet. But Jesus says prostitutes and tax collectors did. They listened and they believed.

We learn from this that entrance into Jesus’ kingdom has absolutely nothing to do with one’s social status, gender, wealth, race or any other worldly identifier or achievement.

It’s a kingdom of pure grace.

As such, the kingdom of God—which is in the world but not from it—is antithetical to and transcendent over all earthly domains. And Jesus would like for you to be part of it, to follow Him in His Way.

Would you seriously consider it?  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Prince & The President

Then the devil took Him up and revealed to Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give You the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to You if You will worship me.” ~Luke 4:5-7

Without apology I imbibe as little news as possible. Nevertheless, this trickled in last week.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday meant to allow churches and other religious organizations to become more active politically, though the actual implications of the document appeared limited. . . .

[Trump said] “We are giving our churches their voices back and we are giving them back in the highest form."

Since reading this, I’ve had two nagging trains of thought—theological more than political.

Trump is quoted above as saying “we” (I don’t know if this is a magisterial we or if there’s a Republican in his pocket) “are giving churches their voices back . . .” 

As a Christ-follower this raises very serious questions.

First there’s a matter of fact: Were churches silenced prior to Trump?

Really?

Then there’s a matter of faith: Who gives the church her voice—the State?

Roll that around awhile…

Let’s board my second thought-train now.

Greg Boyd asks, “If Jesus viewed the desire to acquire political power to be a temptation of the devil, why do so many American Christians fight to acquire as much of this political power as they can?” (Keith Giles, Jesus Untangled, p. 16)

That’s a good question, Greg!

A few hundred years after Jesus, the church was seduced with secular power and she’s been hooked ever since.

Politics is the church’s worst problem. It is her constant temptation, the occasion of her greatest disasters, the trap continually set for her by the prince of this world. ~Jacques Ellul

Dear reader, the devil’s promises are hallucinogenic poison.  

So just say “No.” Jesus did.