Posts Tagged ‘politics

05
Oct
20

One Coin… Two Sides

So, have you ever seen this translation of the Bible? It’s the one that starts with the words, “In the beginning, God got political.”

No. Of course you haven’t seen that translation. I just now concocted that verse.

But I did so to make a point. The point is that whenever two or more people try to figure out the best way to do life together, politics enters the picture. 

Person A’s priorities and interests bump into Person B’s priorities and interests. What happens when those priorities and interests don’t mesh smoothly? Decisions have to be made about how to mesh those non-meshing interests.

And when that happens, BOOM! Politics enters the picture. 

I mean, God could have chosen to keep the universe sweet, simple, unspoiled, and void. But God didn’t. God decided to make a world. And God followed that up by making people. And that’s where this whole political mess began.

Some people of faith argue that faith is all about developing a personal relationship with God. And yet, from cover to cover, the Bible tells an intensely political story. In the Old Testament, God’s chosen people – the Israelites – continuously tried to follow God’s leading as they asked themselves, “How do we structure the society as a whole so that it reflects faithfulness to God?” Their story is a saga of ebb and flow… success and failure… faithfulness and infidelity in that project.

The Old Testament book of Amos offers a heavy dose of declaring God’s will for justice for the poor and marginalized and liberation for those living in bondage. 

And when God saw that the appointed “shepherds” (read “religious leaders”) of Israel were failing to attend to the interests of those on the margins of society, God issued this scathing rebuke through the prophet Ezekiel,“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NRSV).

Yikes!

Then we jump to the New Testament and see that one of Jesus’ favorite themes is “the kingdom of God,” or its companion phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” In fact, in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) we see him employing one of these phrases on 84 separate occasions. And as Warren Carter, my New Testament seminary professor famously said, “REMEMBER! If it’s repeated, it’s IMPORTANT!”

Keep in mind… at the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, he and all of Israel were subjects of the Roman Empire. In other words, they were part of the Kingdom of Rome. For someone to stand up and publicly declare allegiance to “the kingdom of God,” was seen as a daring, if not downright seditious, political statement. It was the same as saying, “I am NOT part of Rome’s kingdom.”

One of Jesus’ main actions was healing broken, forgotten, marginalized people. Parables like the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son all serve to illustrate his preferential leaning toward the outcasts of the world. 

Some call it mercy. Some call it justice-seeking. Some call it both.

Later in the New Testament, we hear another example of a similar kind of open political rebellion. The apostle Paul regularly declares that “Jesus is Lord.” (Acts 10:36, Acts 11:20, Acts 20:21, Romans 1:4, Romans 5:21, etc., etc.). When he said this in the context of his time, his audience also heard him declaring, “Caesar is NOTLord.” 

Based on much reading and prayerful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that faith is inescapably political. They are two sides of the one coin… the coin known as, “Humans living together in God’s creation.”

For those still wondering WHICH is the most faithful political horse to back during the upcoming election free-for-all, may I recommend this guidance from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, 12th chapter? That is where we read:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:14-19, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

03
Oct
20

A Tangled History

Yesterday I wrote about the way politics and faith seem to live on polar opposite ends of the known universe. (a post which you can read in its entirety here.)

As we check the historical record, however, it seems they have not always been such oppositional bedfellows.

In the earliest pages of Hebrew literature, we see that guidance about how to live life was actually a pretty simple process; God spoke. People listened… or didn’t. Consequences followed. God spoke again, and the process repeated itself.

Among ancient civilizations, Israel was not alone in claiming some kind of divine authority as a guidestar. However, Israel was unique in clinging to the notion that Yahweh sought an on-going relationship with all the world’s inhabitants… beginning with them.

In the early stages of that relationship, there was no intermediary. God spoke directly to Adam and Eve… directly to Noah… directly to Abraham… and to Isaac and others. 

As the people became more numerous, we came the time of the Judges. These were not judges in the sense of today’s legal system. They were actually the first intermediaries God used to communicate God’s eternal words of guidance. (One of the earliest, and most respected judges of that time was a woman named Deborah. You can find her story in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5). But the basic idea was the same… God spoke to the judges… the judges passed God’s words along to the people… the people either complied or didn’t. Consequences followed, and the cycle repeated itself.

But it wasn’t until the early Israelites stopped and looked around them that the real trouble started. When they looked to the north, south, and east, they saw the nations on every side were ruled by mighty kings from splendid palaces. They sat down on the floor – very much in the manner of a stubborn child – and said, “If they can have kings, so can WE!”

God tried to talk them out of it, warning of the lurking dangers, to no avail. Israel held its breath until it turned blue and passed out. And so, God threw up God’s hands in frustration, relented and said, “Fine. Suit yourself. Have all the kings you want. You’ll be sorry!” Or words to that effect. (1 Samuel 8:19-22, NRSV). 

And thus began history’s long, painful saga of the numerous attempts to answer the question, “Who will lead this nation?”

Some of those attempts have leaned on the leadership skillsets of extraordinarily talented people… and then on their somewhat less-talented offspring. Others have attempted to re-establish the idea that God is really in charge, working through a humanly engineered theocracy (from the Greek theokratia meaning “rule of God”). Most of the time we saw that those were theocracies in name only. People were still calling all the shots, merely invoking God’s imprimatur as they did.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Age of Enlightenment ushered in the consensus that it was a dangerous, unseemly thing to mingle the realms of the ethereal and the ephemeral. And as that consensus grew and took root, great thinkers of the day (such as Sir Francis Bacon), believed they had finally severed any of the dodgy connections that remained between faith and politics. 

But just like the south’s legendary kudzu plant, those connections simply would not die. We see remnants of them today in evangelical Christian groups like the Religious Right, Liberty University, and organizations such as Ed McAteer’s Religious Roundtable, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Tim LaHaye’s Council for National Policy, and many others.

Those connections also thrive at the other end of the ideological spectrum. The so-called progressive Christians have been known to mix a strong dose of political agenda in with their theology as well. As a result, some of their churches tend to look more like social service agencies than places of worship. 

The examples of excess we see on both the right and left leave us all wondering: is there even such a thing as a BALANCED, or MODERATE mixture of faith and politics? Or are these two things that should simply be forever separated… 

… like matches and gasoline?

Hmmm… where might we look for an answer to that question?

Hey! What are the chances that maybe the Bible has something to say on the topic?

Tune in next time.

Abundant blessings;

01
Oct
20

The Intersection

Sometimes they seem to go together like…

Concept of where Religion and Politics intersect.

… anchovies and marshmallows, or

… toddlers and Harleys, or

… armadillos and highways, or

… two other things that really, really don’t go together at all.

And no, I am not talking about Joe Biden and Donald Trump. I am talking about faith and politics

I mean, just look at these two! Politics is so very… OF this world. It happens right in the middle of the sloppy “sausage-making” of all the laws and policies that govern our lives together. 

In the often-unseemly world of politics, heads roll, dreams die, spirits wilt. Fortunes (and reputations) are made or lost… certainly altered… forever by the single stroke of a pen. It is an arena rife with name-calling, cheating, character assassination, graft and fraud.

YUCK!

Faith, conversely, purports to offer each of us a platform from which to take a higher, loftier perhaps, more principled relationship to the world around us. It invites us, in the words of Saint Paul, to, “… look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen…” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV) as the way to secure our footing. 

Like I said… armadillos and anchovies.

But are these two realms really so incompatible after all?

For the rest of this post – and maybe lapping over into one or two additional posts – I would like to try and answer three basic questions: first, IS THERE a relationship between faith and politics? Second, SHOULD THERE BE a relationship between them (whether there is one or not), and finally, what should that relationship LOOK LIKE… assuming there is and should be a relationship.

During my time serving as the pastor of several different local churches, I regularly heard members of the congregation say something like, “Faith and politics don’t mix.” Sometimes the comment was much more pointed than that. It was more like, “Pastor… I’d sure appreciate it if you’d just keep your politics out of it and just focus on preaching the WORD OF GOD!”

And in a very real sense, I had to agree with them. It would be utterly misguided for anyone who calls him or herself a follower of Jesus Christ (especially a pastor!) to promote the idea that the REAL savior of humankind is a card-carrying Republican or Democrat. 

Our hope – as Jesus reminds us – should only be built on the solid rock of God’s eternal promises. (Matthew 7:24-27). 

And yet, there is this central, unmistakable fact that none of us can avoid; faith and politics both have to do with LIVING OUR LIVES. 

These strange bedfellows both concern themselves with how you and I THINK… how we TREAT one another… how we MAKE DECISIONS… and how we set our PRIORITIES.  

They both claim they are based on a set of VALUES. They both claim that a system of MORALITY lies at the center of their work.

And it should not come as any great surprise when I tell you that even the most deeply spirit-centered, faith-based people I have met also have some pretty strongly held political views, too. 

We may not like it. It might feel “icky” at times. But whether we like it or not, faith and politics DO have a connection to one another. It is a connection we can trace just about as far back as time itself.

Moses and Pharaoh, anyone? 

A much more intriguing question to ask might be, “What kind of relationship should faith and politics have?”

But maybe we will leave just that one for another time.

Abundant blessings;

02
Nov
18

“Just Kidding!”

Political opponentsI had gone out to play with my friends after dad finished giving me my every-two-week haircut. His barber chair was right there in the living room of our home.

With five kids at home – four of which were boys – my folks were always looking for ways to cut costs. Home haircuts were a huge help to the budget.

Dad was efficient with his barbering, but not always deft. My homemade haircut looked… like a homemade haircut. And as I met my friends in the field that day, my best friend Robbie pointed at my hair, laughed, and said, “Hey, Rusty… nice haircut! Did your dad put a bowl on your head before he cut your hair?”

And then he laughed, playfully punched me in the arm and said, “Just kidding!”

Of course, he was. But the initial sting of the joke stayed with me… because I knew he was actually not kidding at all.

In less than a week the mid-term elections will be over. We will all finally know the results of these watershed votes. Half of the candidates will win and pump their fists victoriously. Half will lose and go home to lick their wounds and ponder their next moves.

But the REAL blessing of next Wednesday will be the blessed disappearance of all of the political TV ads.

Thank you, eight pound, 10-ounce baby Jesus!

After the election dust clears the men and women who have gone on the public airwaves for the last three months, hurling the most vicious, degrading, debased, and insulting remarks at one another will step back, grin sheepishly at each other, and say, “JUST KIDDING!”

They will each call for a time of reconciliation and “coming together” in the name of the country/state/district/county/school board.

The rest of us will wake to discover that the predicted horror and disaster of electing a (REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT) to high office has actually not quite materialized.

We will see that electing a Republican did NOT actually lead us straight to a fascist state run by self-enriching oligarchs. We will also see that electing a Democrat did not – in fact – kill the economy, roll out the Welcome mat to bands of bloodthirsty terrorists, or usher in the new age of socialism.

Yes, we will all pause and realize that the vicious attacks unleashed in the campaigns were not REALLY serious charges. They were all “just kidding.”

But I can’t help but wonder; what is the price we pay for listening to this non-stop venom, in terms of the health of our nation’s soul?

All throughout the Bible, we see that it has some strong words to say about… strong words. Jesus, for example, said, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.”(Matthew 12:36-38, NRSV)

James, Jesus’ brother, warned us about the dangers of the human tongue: “… but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”(James 3:8-9, NRSV).

Lord, as I listen to the election returns, help me be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. And help me – and ALL of us – heal from the wounds inflicted over the past few months.

Remind me that red or blue, left or right, you call me to love as you love.




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