Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Love Over Fear


“There is no hierarchy of sinners, only a healing we all need.” So says Dan White Jr. in his timely and accessible book, Love Over Fear.

Dan addresses this healing we all need in a way that is neither sentimental nor preachy, focusing instead on the arduous task of learning to love with the others-oriented affection of Jesus (as opposed to our more natural postures of “avoidance” and “attacking”).

He observes, “. . . not only did Jesus come to show us what God looks like, He also came to show us how to look at people.”

Recognizing the problem of polarization and how we are conditioned to see nearly all things—and people—in categories of “Left vs. Right” or “us vs. them,” Dan cuts through partisan divides and rhetoric and challenges the reader to follow the politics of Jesus. He demonstrates how Jesus can never be co-opted by the Left or the Right and how Christ’s love knows no “us vs. them” boundaries.

Love Over Fear is a terrific read for anyone seeking to follow Jesus in the Way of peacemaking. Dan presents a path to greater peace within and without. Read the book and give it to a friend. Better yet…give it to an enemy.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Last Words


There is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church
is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called
to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy,
and stick around no matter the outcome.
~Rachel Held Evans1

I last saw her at O’Gara’s in St. Paul, MN. She was belting out Free Fallin’ with Trip Fuller and Greg Boyd.

That was September 21, 2017. Not two weeks later, Tom Petty died.

And now Rachel’s gone too.

Though we had never met I had many interactions with her agile mind…a couple of books, a few blogs and some video presentations. There is much to appreciate.

I was particularly drawn to her honesty and humor; her capacity for vulnerability.

She understood there were folks aplenty who disagreed with her brand of faith and she was just fine with that.

The church is not a group of people who believe all the same things; the church is a group of people caught up in the same story, with Jesus at the center.2

Always gracious.

Earlier this year I highlighted Rachel’s sentiment: “Those who say having a childlike faith means not asking questions haven’t met too many children.”3

A simple, marvelous, neglected observation.

Her conclusion?

We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, “Let me tell you a story.”4

May our childlike faith be as persistent as our childlike questions.

Yesterday as I reminisced through Inspired, I wondered: What are her last words in her last book. To Henry,

There is not a writer in the world who could adequately capture the love I have for you, sweet boy. May you always know without a doubt that you are loved, and may you always be surrounded by good stories.



____________________________

1Searching For Sunday, p. 208

2Inspired, p. 157

3Ibid, p. 220

4Ibid, p. 221

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Nazi Theologian


The initial editor of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) was Gerhard Kittel, a theologian, linguist and New Testament scholar of impeccable scholarly credentials. . . . Kittel was legendary. . . He . . . became known as the Nazi Theologian.1

Kittel believed that God had elevated Hitler to power in order to save Germany from the “culture-destroying” Jews . . .2

Nazi theologian…so that’s a thing?

How does such an oxymoron—a Nazi theologian—exist in reality, not just in nightmares?

Three things come to mind.

Fuhrer furor
As stated above, Kittel believed God “elevated” Hitler to make Germany great again. His coreligionist, Julius Leutheuser exulted:

Christ has come to us through Adolf Hitler…We know today the Savior has come…We have only one task, be German, not be Christian.3

Children, can you say personality cult?

Unbridled nationalism
Did you notice that Leutheuser’s “Hitler Jesus” tasked his followers to be German, not Christian?

The Nazi theologian cannot seek the kingdom of God—even when he/she is doing theology.

He/she can only serve the nation state. This, of course, is done primarily through force and coercion. Thus, nationalism predictably enjoins militarism.

White Supremacy
The Nazi theologian is above and before all things a racist. He/she reads all scripture and views all human nature through racial lenses.  

In her/his mind, God is utterly committed to White supremacy.

Thus, according to the Nazi theologian, to undermine their cause (the “purity” and dominance of the Aryan race) is to fight against God.

Why think about this stuff?
Because it seems to me that essential ingredients for evil theology cannot be confined to the time and place of Nazi Germany. Evil theologies existed long before and sadly, they will continue to exist long after Hitler’s reign of terror.

Bad theology is recyclable.

It would be a mistake to assume that these German theologians were particularly obtuse or perverse men. . . . [T]hey were . . . persons who desired to support and help their country . . . the positions they took were--given the context within which they were living--carefully thought out and thoroughly reasonable.

One cannot read his account [Robert P. Erickson’s, “Theologians Under Hitler”] without wondering whether, if present right-wing and nationalistic tendencies in the United States were to move in a fascist direction, there would not be many American Christians who found similar ways to understand their faith. The fundamental Christian symbols and ideas are open to a wide range of interpretation, and there seems no way to prevent their being put to thoroughly demonic uses—all in good faith.4

Dear reader, those sentiments were first published October 6, 1985.

Surprised?

Needless to say, I don’t find myself praying for more theologians when it’s followers of Jesus we sorely need.

A Nazi theologian? Possible.

A Nazi follower of Jesus? Manifestly impossible. 

_________________________________







Thursday, March 21, 2019

Taxation: Theft or Charity?


A couple of weeks ago Chuck McKnight published an excellent article entitled, “Jesus Was A Socialist.” His exegesis of Christ’s teachings is quite good.

His thoughtful piece prompted me to write a much shorter blog introducing an alternative to socialism, capitalism, and communism known as Distributism.

As I think about the pushback from “Christian Right” types, two common objections, expressed variously, seem to emerge—and then also merge.

Objection 1: Socialism is evil because taxation is theft
According to this train of thought, taxation breaks of the 8th commandment: You shall not steal. So, when a government taxes its citizens—under threat of law—it is stealing from them. (I mean, who voluntarily pays taxes?)

But does the Bible equate taxation with theft?

No, it doesn’t.

From Paul the Apostle:

Pay your taxes . . . Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. (Romans 13:6, 7)

(The KJV uses the word due…taxes are due the government).

From John the Baptist:

Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” (Luke 3:12-13)

Notice, their corruption is not in collecting but in collecting more than the government authorizes.

From Jesus the Christ:

“Teacher . . . Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. . . . “Here, show me the coin used for the tax . . . Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:16-18)

Clearly, Jesus does not conflate taxation with theft.

Objection 2: Socialism is evil because charity must be voluntary
This too suffers from a confusion of categories. Taxation isn’t charity. (Has anyone ever really thought otherwise? Nobody pays taxes out of goodness of heart!)

But this is where the two objections merge…

In my experience, those on the Right consider taxation to be theft only if it’s used for purposes of human flourishing (what they mistakenly call “charity” but is actually welfare).

So…using 6 trillion tax dollars to kill people in the Middle East is morally acceptable to them; whereas using a fraction of those same tax dollars to house, feed, heal, or educate folks in the US would be morally wrong.

Warfare is just. Welfare is evil. What sort of arithmetic is this?

Dear reader, I submit to you that taxation is neither theft (in the Bible) nor charity (by definition).

That being said, there is a Bible verse that speaks to unjust taxation on the poor.

You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. (Amos 5:11)

I’ve yet to discover God in the Bible decrying the plight of the wealthy. He’s always for the poor and the oppressed, it seems.

I close with another common yet even less nuanced objection to Chuck’s writing.

It goes like this: Socialism has murdered millions of people.

Of course, socialism has murdered nobody. Socialists, on the other hand, have killed lots of folks. But capitalists are really giving them a run for their money. Aren’t they?


Thursday, March 14, 2019

What Dreams May Come?


The major noneconomic means of restoring equilibrium are charity, welfare and government spending, and consumer credit (usury). . . . Those who would propose a cure, must first analyze the cause. And the cause is always and everywhere the same: a lack of justice. (John C. Medaille, Toward A Truly Free Market, p.p. 54, 57)

I recently shared on Facebook an article by Chuck McKnight entitled, “Jesus Was A Socialist.

(I know. That’s not provocative at all.)

Chuck’s article, like Chuck’s beard, is a bit lengthy. But it’s just so good! Even if you disagree with his conclusions, I think you’ll appreciate his handling of Jesus’ teachings.

Anyway, it created a small stir in a “My Jesus ain’t no liberal so to hell with you” sort of way. But despite the pedestrian protestations, I was reminded of an economic concept introduced to me several years ago by a then close friend.

It’s called Distributism.

Distributism is the wild idea that property, power, and wealth should not be concentrated in the hands of a few tyrants running the State, nor in the hands of a few oligarchs running a corporation, but should instead be owned by all human beings, who have a natural right to private property, work and the fruit of the labors supplying their needs and the needs of their families.1

Most people have never heard of Distributism. They know only about socialism and capitalism and favor one or the other while they suffer under a combination of both. . . . If more people were exposed to the idea they would realize that it makes sense. They would at least realize that there is an alternative to the two ideas that they claim polarize them but which in fact unite them in despair.2

Basically, Distributism focuses on private property and all things “small and local.” That said, I’m not an economist and I don’t know enough about Distributism to advocate for it. But I like to imagine a form of it in my hometown.

Our town has a factory that I am told turns a profit of 3 million dollars per week. (I’ve not validated this, but figures for this particular industry seem compatible with the claim.)

The folks who work the lines of the factory work extremely hard and fast. Within a handful of years many of them break down physically, in various ways, due to repetitive motions and so on.

The rank and file worker lives paycheck-to-paycheck in the low-income range. In other words, wages have not kept pace with increased productivity and profits. Not even close.

Now imagine…

What if instead of corporate execs taking all 3 million dollars every week, they took…say…only 2.5 million? What if every week they distributed 500,000 dollars among their 1700 or so laborers—the people who are doing the actual work? How would such an arrangement affect workers and families?

How would our community be bettered by having an extra 500,000 dollars a week flowing within the local economy?

Can I at least imagine such a thing?

Is that too “utopian”? Shall I be condemned and burned as a “heretic” for entertaining such wicked, anti-capitalist thoughts?

I’ve been told such imagining is na├»ve. Is it though?

Justice has a beginning. I think most of the time it’s in the dreaming.



_______________________________



Saturday, March 9, 2019

Love Mercy

Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, entered Virginia federal court on Thursday facing a recommended sentence of 19 to 24 years, and left with a sentence of less than four years. Many people are outraged by what they see as an unreasonably lenient penalty for an unrepentant crook . . .1

A few thoughts come to mind.

First, Americans love putting non-violent humans into cages.

Think I’m overstating the matter? Then please recall mobs of *Trumpians hostilely chanting…Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!

(A rather odd rallying cry for folks who tear up singing “O’er the land of the freeeeee…” don’t you think?)

That Americans are fond of caging non-violent humans (many of them in privately owned, for profit prisons) is undeniable.

In addition to its high rate of incarceration [the highest in the world], the U.S. also has the largest overall number of people behind bars. The more than 2 million jail and prison inmates in the U.S. are far more than are reported in China . . .2

Second, it seems the justice system is skewed. Maybe I’m mistaken, but it appears to me—and certainly to others—that the rich and powerful take care of the rich and powerful.

The American criminal-justice system works at every stage and every level to give chances to people like Manafort and deny them to poorer 
people. . . . The system isn’t broken because Manafort got four years rather than the 19-year recommendation that the sentencing guidelines spat out. The system is broken because other people get the long sentence—because other poorer and often darker people don’t get the same chances. It’s broken at every level . . .3

Third, Jesus calls us to an entirely different Way; a way that is neither Left nor Right. (He’s always political but never partisan.)

He does what few dare to do: He identifies with those who are imprisoned. “I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:36).

Sadly, standing with condemners comes naturally and easily to me (and probably to you too). But this is not where Jesus is.

He’s with the condemned. Maybe this is why so many prisoners come to faith in Christ.

The bars that keep them in cannot keep Him out.  

Jesus wants us to follow Him. This means standing where He stands. So…we’re gonna have to work on this whole love mercy thing.

_________________________________

*I use the term Trumpian descriptively, not pejoratively. A Trumpian is a follower of Trump as a Christian is a follower of Christ.



3https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/03/what-manafort-sentence-reveals/584452/

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Rightly Having Enemies


Rightly having enemies is an unsung discipline in the Christian life.
~Melissa Florer-Bixler

I came across the above tweet a few days ago. (Thanks to DerekVreeland for pointing me in that direction.) What does it mean? With no context I’m not sure. But Melissa does cause me to think!

First, I think rightly having enemies means that as Christ-followers we should have enemies. (By “enemies” I mean those who dislike and/or oppose us because of what we stand for or who we stand with.)

This is important for folks like me who’ve grown weary of the never-ending bickering and fighting so ubiquitous to our culture(s).

I don’t like having enemies.

Yet how can I actually follow Jesus and not have them?

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. (John 15:18-20)

Second, it seems to me that rightly having enemies means we should have the right adversaries. But here’s the problem. Everyone on every side believes they fight on the side of the angels. More evil is done in the name of “God and country!” than just about anything.

Maybe the New Testament can be our guide.

Who are the antagonists of the Gospels? Those who abuse political and religious authority and thereby perpetuate systemic evil against the poor and the marginalized. It’s never the run-of-mill “sinner” who is the enemy of Christ.

How often we reverse this!

Typically, those caught up in culture wars have wrong enemies because they’ve made wrong friends. In other words, they’re cozying up to coercive religious and political powers (perennial anti-Christs) in effort impose their will upon society.

Third, rightly having enemies means we do not go about making enemies. We go about making peace. We simply stand with Jesus as He stands for justice. This standing alongside Jesus raises the ire of those aligned with oppressive powers of the day. We make enemies (indirectly) by making peace (Jesus’ way).

Jesus’ way

This brings me to thought number four. Rightly having enemies means we love those who consider us their enemy. The antagonism is all theirs. The love is all ours.

You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! (Matthew 5:43-44)

Is rightly having enemies an unsung Christian discipline? I’m not sure.

But I do know this: Jesus wasn’t hated by traditionalists and murdered by empire because He was such a likeable guy.