The trembling of the white establishment

Here’s a line from a song we sang yesterday: “When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death-knell ringing…” 

I think that’s what we’re really seeing in all these cries for secession in the aftermath of the 2012 election. Tyrants trembling, sick, fearful, acutely aware of their own pending (political) demise. Bill O’Reilly put it best: “The white establishment is now the minority.” To them, no longer being able to lord power over everyone else amounts to their own oppression. The fact that the face of power in the US is (still) brown, maybe because, by God, a majority of people WANT it that way, just reinforces that – and is utterly terrifying to them.

Obamacare and raising taxes on the rich ain’t the issue. The real issue is those faint death-knells ringing in the background, growing steadily louder as time marches on, signifying that the myth of white, middle-class normalcy is ending, and America is evolving into something other than a monolithic, assimilationist blob of red, white, and blue ca. 1950. We just may have to find a way to live together across difference, rather than (a) forcing sameness upon all, (b) excommunicating those who don’t agree, or (c) withdrawing, like unpatriotic cowards. 

In my humble opinion. 🙂:)  On a related note, read on for the sermon I preached yesterday…

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On the future of Christianity (and values, Rob Bell, and God)

I recently spoke at a rally for Michigan workers here in Battle Creek.  I said some political stuff (in a values and hypocrisy kind of way, not so much party-line kind of way.  You can see the video here).   One of those who attended the rally found me later on Facebook and thanked me for being a Christian leader who was willing to “address the issues that most skirt around.”  It got me thinking, and I responded that it saddens me that progressive people of faith have not been effective at articulating a faith-based vision of social justice and love; and that in this vacuum, much more extreme voices have dominated the public discourse. Consequently, “Christian” has practically become synonymous with “asshole” in recent years, and I am very eager to chip away at the walls my co-believers have erected, wherever and however I can.

But it is also true that for what it’s worth, things are actually changing rapidly among Christians. On the one hand, progressives are getting bolder and better at naming their values,  but there is also an emerging debate raging among evangelicals themselves these days as seen in the recent storm of controversy over Rob Bell‘s new book, Love Wins. On the surface, all the uproar is about whether and how to interpret the doctrine of hell, but in the wise words of my CPE director, “the issue is not the issue.” In this case, the underlying issue is ultimately about whether or not the Christian church can finally embrace a God who is capable of acting in ways that are beyond our imagination:  can we keep God in a box or not?  Because it is our precisely our declaration that we’ve got God figured out and you don’t, that allows Christians to adopt a posture of violence and exclusion toward the rest of the world.  But on the other hand, if we are finally ready, after 2,000 years and counting, to concede that people are in relationship with God in ways that are not ours, and that we need not necessarily embrace, understand, condone, nor condemn, just imagine how different  the world could be?  What if the majority of children grew up in a society (and faith tradition) that is both profoundly faithful yet acknowledges the reality of different beliefs and understandings?  What if the response to difference was not to try and establish that which is ‘true’ or ‘correct,’ but rather to get curious about it, and to get curious about the beliefs we ourselves hold true?

Anyway, I’m glad to be part of a changing world, in relationship with a God who is ever breathing new life into our dusty lungs.

Also fervent prayer.

I have been enjoying Jessica Hagy’s Indexed for quite some time now. As I am presently seeking my first call in the United Church of Christ, I was inspired to follow her example (and steal her style) this morning:

Neither your God nor your non-God are universal.

As usual, I leave some of my best efforts in other blogger’s comment sections.  What follows is adapted from a response to this post, in which the writer criticizes “progressive Christians” for cherry-picking from Christianity only that which we agree with. Ultimately, I take issue with her/his underlying assumptions.


…I don’t know if you read Christopher Hitchens or not, but you and he both seem to be under the same weird notion that in order to be authentically Christian, one must accept everything in the chosen holy books verbatim, and if one doesn’t, her beliefs don’t count. I defy anybody to subject himself to a similarly foolish standard in any other scientific or philosophical field: take all of Plato verbatim, or take none of Plato. Take all of Nietzsche, or none of him. Take all of Sartre, etc. This approach to anything – knowledge, belief, science, etc. – is clearly absurd.

Where did we get this idea that there is no validity to any body of work unless it is all literally true? From Christians? Maybe some of us, sure. But when others of us reject this paradigm, please don’t act as if religion is supposed to operate differently from any other human activity when it comes to how we form our beliefs.

As a progressive Christian, I am a pluralist, which means that one of my foundational beliefs is that God is too big to be fully understood by any humans. Ergo, to quote one of my professors, constructing theology means “groping toward the infinite with the tools of finitude.” Rather than provide a single, unified view of God, I think the Bible’s various narratives and themes instead reflect ongoing traditioning and theological changes and different emphases over a thousand years or more, and such traditioning and changes in interpretation have been ongoing ever since.

I don’t mind anybody calling into question any aspect of faith that is found to be problematic. But I do object to atheists or Christian fundamentalists alike who try to mandate universal definitions to what it means to be Christian, or who God is, or Christ, and so forth, whether for the purpose of rejecting or affirming such dogma. Neither camp is capable of defining the terms and forcing everyone else to adhere to them. So, militant atheists and frothing Christians alike, kindly knock it off already.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Thank you, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered folks, and all otherwise-queer people who are among my closest friends and parental figures, most awesome mentors and professors, and all those who’ve helped mold and nurture me into the queer-loving straight guy I am today!  Would that I might develop a similar courage and conviction to fully COME OUT in my own right, the born-again child of God I was created to be.

My sources for revelation

As a seminarian of the liberal Protestant tradition, I do not believe that everything in the Bible is necessarily (a) the Word of God, or (b) intended to be literally applicable to our lives.  I believe neither that the Bible was penned by God personally, nor “divinely inspired” – insofar as that means that God actually told its authors to write everything in it verbatim.  I don’t accept that view because I cannot, at this time, reconcile such literalism with passages like Numbers 5, Judges 19, 1 Timothy 2, nor the bizarre practices alluded to throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy, just to name a few.

So what, then, are my sources for revelation? There are three: I know God and receive God’s message through personal, direct experiences and prayer, I know others who are personally in relationship with and have ideas about God, and yes, I have also come to know God through revelation about God as written in the Bible. I take seriously the command to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (and might!). But I can do none of these if I must attribute all of the crazy, violent, and disturbing passages in the Bible to God’s own dictation, rather than humans operating within the science and social circumstances of their time.

Let me be clear: the Bible is essential, not optional, and contains great truth about God and from God – and perhaps even more truth about humans, even in the most terrible passages.  But to try and interpret the whole thing, good and bad, through the rosy lens of “God said it, so it must be true,” is to let oneself off of the responsibility to critically interpret the text through our present day lens, in the context of what God is trying to tell us about what’s happening today.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright – in context

For two weeks now, the vast majority of media coverage surrounding Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright, has been a straw man of epic proportions. After combing through countless sermons in order to isolate individual phrases that might be “shocking”, the media has successfully constructed a false caricature of Rev. Wright – and we’ve been beaten over the head with it for the better part of two weeks.

Rev. Wright’s comments seemed crazy. (“God damn America!”) They seemed indefensible. (Following 9/11: “America’s chickens have come home to roost.”)

Then, only after the storm started to die down, Rev. Wright’s comments actually appeared in context:

In Isaiah and elsewhere (how about Rome??), God does indeed curse the nation who puts herself ahead of God. The injection of context to this issue makes it immediately apparent that Rev. Wright has been unfairly demonized throughout this entire process. His words are not only justifiable in context, but dead-on. It’s serious, well-founded theology – and it’s a far cry from the ugly caricature of that we’ve been spoon-fed by the media for the last two weeks.

Now, let’s turn to Rev. Wright’s comments following 9/11. He was roundly criticized for saying that “America’s chickens have come home to roost,” which was the extent of the sound byte. Here’s the full context (it’s long, but it’s glorious):

So let’s get this straight: for two weeks now, the media has been claiming that Rev. Wright has “blamed America for 9/11,” when in fact, Rev. Wright was quoting – in context – a white ambassador? And Rev. Wright gets two weeks of bad press for this???

Say it loud: the talking heads are not your friend!

The willingness of so many to accept the character assassination of Rev. Wright just underscores the need for all of us to think for ourselves during this election season, and not blindly accept ideas constructed from 30 second sound bytes.

For additional reading on how much the “30 seconds per sermon” approach sucks, go here. For more videos of Rev. Wright, go here.