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You’d have to be living under a rock these last few years to not be aware of the escalating frenzy around women’s health and women’s rights that is going on in political and religious spheres. There have been a myriad of bills that include unnecessary intrusive procedures, limiting birth control coverage, diminishing the definition of rape and even the “Protect Life Act” bill H.R. 358 which would allow women who need abortions due to life threatening conditions to be turned away. There is an extreme obsession with female “pelvic issues”, as one theologian has named it.

Then there was the recent kerfuffle about Rush Limbaugh’s vile tirade about Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute for testifying about mandated insurance coverage for birth control. (Originally, no female voices were going to be allowed at all at the committee.) In addition, he showed quite a bit of unfortunate ignorance about how female contraception works, adding weight to the questions, why are men deciding what is good and necessary for the female body? Why the need for such obsessive control? I was saddened but not surprised to hear some female conservative Christian friends support him, even with the clearly uninformed and misogynistic attitudes. This all came not long after John Piper asserted that, “Christianity should have a masculine feel.” He justifies that by listing all of the men involved in Jesus’ ministry in that very patriarchal society. Apparently, God intended that the subversion of women into a male dominated religion was meant to help her “flourish.”

While so much of this is justified and defended as “biblical truth” it more accurately reflects an interpretation forged through long term, deep-seated, negative attitudes towards women. These attitudes deny the humanity and dignity of women as full Image bearers. To believe that woman can only flourish while being ruled over by men is the same rationale used to justify colonialism in Africa and the worldwide slave trade in which it was believed that whites should rule over blacks for their own good. The roots of beliefs like these spring from the ancient patriarchal belief system that held women to be property and whose duty it was to enhance the power and numbers of the male leaders’ tribe. Therefore, he must control her reproduction to protect his interests.

What we see happening today in parts of conservative Christianity is that it has become a very disembodied religion. It has become belief in beliefs. (Insert a long boring historical explanation about the impact of the enlightenment, rationalism and singular trust in cognitive ways of knowing here.) It’s like when Jesus was faced with the Pharisees as he healed a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees knew the law. They had their beliefs. I imagine they could also see the disconnect – the cruelty that existed in refusing healing to this man, yet they insisted on the following the letter of the Law, certain that to do so would please God. Over and over, Jesus challenged religious beliefs for the sake of love. He healed on the Sabbath, touched women- even bleeding ones, and touched the dead among other things that were forbidden for a Jewish man. The Pharisees had beliefs; Jesus lived an incarnational faith.

Like the Pharisees, those who are acting in ways that diminish the voice of women and the needs of women are trapped in their beliefs. There is admittedly a lot at stake for them here. One (conservative) seminary professor has said, “I contend that if we lose the battle over the gender debate, we lose a proper interpretation of God’s word,… We lose inerrancy. We lose the authority of the Bible, and that is detrimental to the gospel.” There’s little wonder that it feels so threatening to them to even consider that their interpretation may have problems. If your belief is in beliefs and one belief is found to be faulty, the whole house of cards will come down. Such a precarious situation means that they must defend their beliefs fiercely. When that is the case, they must not only enforce their beliefs over others but also absolve themselves from the inherent disconnect: responsibility for the suffering they might impose. They remain safely removed from the messiness of lives and stay unmovable in their beliefs, certain that this pleases God.

The problem is of course, that this is far more than a problem with interpretation. This has real life impact on half of the human race. Other examples include the refusal of the Catholic Church to allow condom use which has been shown to contribute to the proliferation of HIV in Africa. The book Angela’s Ashes follows the story of an Irish Catholic man and the chronically hungry children of his community that was pressured by beliefs that to forbid reliable birth control was pleasing to God. In addition, many women who take birth control do not do it for family planning reasons but for medical reasons, such as to prevent ovarian cysts or to correct hormonal problems. A woman who uses birth control is no more a slut than a man who uses Viagra is a dog. But these woman and their children are the flesh and blood realities impacted by the rigid adherence to beliefs over faith.

Most importantly, Jesus came to unseat our enslavement to beliefs, literally the letter of the Law, and to center us on himself, God revealing Godself in Christ. Jesus said nothing about doctrine or positions during his years on earth. But he did teach and demonstrate an embodied love – cool water for the thirsty, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry, help for a wounded stranger by the side of the road, and human dignity for all, even or perhaps especially, for women. To reduce following Jesus down to a set of beliefs to be enforced has turned his emphasis upside down.

I admit that beliefs are easier than faith. And lest anyone make assumptions, I do hold to Christian creeds about God and our faith. I have many conservative Christian friends whom I respect and admire. They are still my homies and I would consider many of them the very best people on earth. But there must be room for healthy self-criticism and self-reflection for the parts that seem to have shifted their gaze. When beliefs become the most important thing, it changes the very nature of our faith because Jesus in flesh and blood is no longer the center. This is how we tell the difference: Beliefs cause us to hide and preserve and rule over, faith draws us across borders into the reality of others’ lives and needs in humble love. Then people, not beliefs, become the point.

Jesus expanded the gist of the “moral law” a thousand fold. And some of Jesus’ best friends were (are) sluts. Just saying.

Enjoy the other Synchrobloggers:

Marta Layton The War on Terror and the War on Women

Kathy Escobar replacing the “f” word with the “d” word (no, not one of those ones!)

Tammy Carter Pat Summitt: Changing the Game & Changing the World

Wendy McCaig Letting Junia Fly: Releasing the Called

Words Half Heard Lenten Submission: Rethinking Hupotassō

Jeremy Myers Women Must Lead the Church

KW Leslie Churches and Women

 Michelle Morr Krabill – Why I Love Being a Woman

Jeanette Altes – On Being Female

Melody Hanson – Call Me Crazy, But I Talk To Jesus Too

Glenn Hager – Walked Into A Bar

Steve Hayes – St. Christina of Persi

Leah Sophia – March Syncroblog-All About Eve

Liz Dyer – The Problem Is Not That I See Sexism Everywhere…

Sonja Andrews – International Women’s Day

Sonnie Swenston-Forbes – The Women

Christine Sine – It All Begins With Love

K.W. Leslie – Undoing the Subordination of Women

Carie Good – The Math of Mr. Cardinal

Dan Brennan – Ten Women I Want To Honor 

Our Synchroblog this month explores the ever-expanding gap between rich and poor in our country and others. Reports show that this gap is has reached its highest level in 30 years. One only needs to look at history to see that money equals power in this world. And when so much power is in the hands of a few, the many are disadvantaged. The extremely poor are even more at a disadvantage. Dr. Cornel West says, “Poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.”

I didn’t want to be part of this blog. It gives me a pain in the gut to think about these things. I have seen few issues create more anger and divisiveness than this one. I have seen it turn seemingly civil and kind people into raging, snarling foes. Even for those who can contain their anger, there remains a certain unwillingness to see the plight of others who are impacted by their views. And I have no solutions. I do believe that re-regulating Wall St.* and insisting that the very rich and the big corporations pay their fair share in taxes is the right thing to do. That’s just common sense. But I don’t know how to change our love for this beast that ensnares our lives. We need to try. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that reference the poor. That’s a significant clue that this is supposed to matter.

In all honesty, all I know to do is call out to the church, for we are the embodiment of Jesus now. Jesus turns power upside-down. He is the one who takes an axe to the roots of systems that exploit and oppress. Like Jesus, we are the persistent little stream of water that gradually softens the rock hard foundations of the structures of power. I don’t know so much about what to do, but I do think we can explore who we are meant to be.

I have come to believe that money stands in opposition to the Kingdom. There is nothing else about which Jesus gave such an explicit warning. He made it very plain in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt. 6:24) Jesus is rarely so dualistic in his thinking. But here He is very plain. It’s either/or.

Money seems to break down the very essence of who we are meant to be as human beings. It disembodies our faith. It quickly divides us into the haves and have-nots, distancing us from the realities of each others’ lives. The money/power thing exposes how one of the saddest questions in the scripture has played out throughout time: “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” With the heart of Cain, our answer is a loud and definitive, no. We do write out our checks to a local charity or dish out food at a homeless shelter. But truthfully, we are the jealous workers in the vineyard, so afraid that someone will get something they don’t deserve, especially when we’ve worked so hard.

We have forgotten that the source of the goods we produce buy and sell were never ours to begin with. We are divorced from the acts of others in our communities that make it possible for us to work at all, to manufacture, create, transport materials, or buy and sell anything. The further away we have moved from tilling the earth to forth food in order to survive, the more disembodied our lives and services have become. Trading stocks and making decisions that affect the lives of millions have become an a-moral acts, truly distanced and disconnected from the men, women and children who are affected. Finally, we have dared to believe that what we have earned is our own. We have hidden ourselves away from any reminder that in truth we all are needy, dependent people because our very ability to think and create and work comes from God from the start.

Christianity involves coming back to ourselves as a whole. Jesus is not just a ticket to heaven, but the means of reconciliation and restoration to a communal life of Shalom, which is a community of universal flourishing, wholeness and delight**. Even the Our Father prayer invokes community. Together we say, “Give US this day OUR daily bread.” This Jesus thing is all about being intimately connected with the needs and realities of the other.

In small ways and within small groups, some things are beginning to change. Churches are connecting with those who create community gardens for themselves and others in need. This allows for the dignity of taking part in working for all, as well. Interest is growing in establishing more local, sustainable food supplies. There is a renewed interest in handmade goods and skills. People are simplifying their lives and getting rid of stuff. With less to protect, perhaps we’ll have more to share. With less to protect, we may recover faith in a new way. We might actually remember what it means to trust for our daily bread, trusting God by trusting each other. Maybe we’ll also remember what is means to be grateful.

In light of all this, I celebrate a woman with a level of faith I don’t know yet: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

[*Seriously, how did de-regulation happen? Was everyone asleep? That de-regulation happened was a clear example of the power wielded by those with extreme wealth.]
[** The word shalom is described in "Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin", by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.]

LInks to the other Synchrobloggers will be added as they come in:

Marta Layton – Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to hate …

Kathy Escobar – Pawn Shops, Empty Refrigerators, The Long Hill Up

Carol Kuniholm - Wondering About Wealth

Glenn Hager - Shrinking The Gap

Jeremy Myers – Wealth Distribution

Liz Dyer – The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem

Ellen Haroutunian – Economic Inequality: Coming Back To Our Senses 

K.W. Leslie – Wealth, Christians, and Justice

Abbie Watters – My Confession

Steve Hayes – Obscenity

This is part of a larger synchroblog, which is when many bloggers write on the same issue. This month, the topic is immigration. This is a tough, complicated issue. In our extremely fragmented and polarized nation there are loud voices on all sides. Some are angry that people are entering our country illegally, thus breaking our laws. Some are voices of fear, particularly when immigrants bring in unfamiliar religious or political thought. Some are voices of resentment, especially when it comes to added taxpayer burdens and the scarcity of available jobs and resources. Still others speak out for compassion and human rights.

I felt I needed to seek a wiser, more informed voice to address all this. Wisdom is so often found in recalling our larger stories. So, I called dad. He is almost 82 years old. He has served in public offices for years. His grandparents immigrated to America though Ellis Island.

Dad reflected on the system that was in place to receive and process the massive influx of people coming from Europe and Asia during the earlier decades of the 20th century. These were people who were searching for safety, political asylum, religious freedom, hope and opportunity. Thousands and thousands poured in on huge ships. As is common to our fallen human condition, preference was given to more affluent passengers. Those from “steerage” class were put through the most rigorous testing to be allowed admission. There was a hospital on or near Ellis Island in which passengers sick from their long journeys could recover, though some were ultimately refused and sent back. Often, their rejection was due to a diagnosis of tuberculosis, yellow fever or other diseases against which there was little effective treatment at the time. Also, if a person was deemed unable to support themselves and likely to end up on welfare, they also would be excluded. It was a system with considerable flaws and strengths but in the end most people were admitted. The question is, what is the system in place now, particularly when it comes to our struggling Mexican neighbors?

I am not sure why our recent government administrations (of either flavor) have not done much to create a system of fairness, welcome and safety at our southern border. To do so is essential because the issue is much, much larger than the problems inherent in the influx of undocumented people. The lack of such a system can bring much harm to those who are least able to protect themselves. There is the harsh reality of human trafficking, which imprisons and exploits thousands or perhaps millions of men, women and children. The incidence of this modern day slavery is at an all time high. There is also the dodgy demand for cheap labor. It seems that those who use the cheap and often unprotected labor that undocumented peoples provide have more power and influence on border issues than those who don’t. And I wonder too, about the influence of the drug cartels. They are powerful and malicious and they can threaten or buy elected officials on both sides of the border. Are these types of perpetrators the ones who are really calling the shots when it comes to immigration on our southern border?

Despite our economic woes and internal splits, we are still the land of opportunity, the land of hope. And of course we are NOT the Kingdom of God, but we are a place where, at least in theory, everyone has a voice and certain inalienable rights. Of course people would want to come here. My heart aches for those who have been maimed or killed in their efforts to cross the border and find a new life and new opportunities in the United States. Those of us who have never felt so desperate are fortunate indeed. We need a reasonable and compassionate system in place to facilitate the immigration of struggling people into the United States. Without that, Dad says, people will continue to die in the desert. They will continue to fall prey to unscrupulous opportunists. The powerful and greedy will continue to control their lives and ours.

So how does the Church respond? In a recent gathering of friends we shared the Bread and Wine together and reflected on the surprise of the gospel. There were stories such as that of a man who heard a piece of gossip – a sex scandal- of a rival of his who was a fellow pastor with a large ministry. He felt enraged at the hypocrisy, and felt quite smug about the information, knowing it would take down this guy and put an end to his ministry. But then he heard Jesus say, why would you do that? Why destroy him? He felt compelled by Jesus to seek the man’s friendship. As trust was built, confessions were made and healing was started. The gospel is so often a surprise; it’s so different from the letter of the law. It always has in its center the heart of a person, the immeasurable value and preciousness of another. It has a passion for rescue and restoration. We have too often become sin managers and are so easily offended at the idea that someone has broken the law that we forget the larger purpose of our call. We indeed are our brothers’ keeper.

I have talked to some kind hearts who leave water bottles and other supplies in the desert and provide places of respite for the travelers who are crossing into the US. They believe they are obeying God through these acts of civil disobedience. I love their compassion and I do believe they are obeying a higher law. But these acts alone are not enough. Let’s remember the reason our grandparents and great-grandparents came here. Let’s remember the compassion and cruelties of the past. It is up to the government to establish a reasonable and compassionate immigration policy as is fitting to the history of the United States, a nation of immigrants. It is up to the Church to preach the welcome of God. The radical and undeserved hospitality of God is the scandal of the gospel. May we live it well. After all, we are exiles too.

Links to other bloggers will be added as they come in.

Steve Hayes Christians and the Immigration Issue

Matt Stone – Glocal Christianity  Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?

Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being The Flag

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can

Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories

Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear

Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge

Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother

Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration

Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Right

Kathy Escobar at Carnival in My Head – It’s a lot easier to be against immigration reform when you have papers

Jonathan Brink – Immigration

Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – Immigration Reform

Beth Patterson What we resist not only persists but will eventually become our landlord

K.W. Leslie – the Evening of Kent – American Immigration

Christine Sine – Godspace – Immigration Reform- Yes, No, Don’t care

How do we respond to the Cordoba Project, aka The “Ground Zero Mosque”?  Some say the placement of an Islamic place of worship near the hallowed ground of 9-11 is just plain insensitive. Others say to refuse it is a violation of the first amendment which guarantees freedom of religion. Still others say, well it’s not about freedom of religion because there are other precedents for not allowing something of this nature near a hallowed site, such as, land use disputes that battle a casino construction too close to a historic battlefield. That point seems to most deftly avoid the real issues of the heart. People are resentful and afraid. It is all about fear of this religion.

What is the Christian response to all this? It seems that in this day in which our country is more polarized than ever, and fear and self-preservation seem to have the loudest voices in the land, that we need to take extra care not to forget who we are. What is most unique about Christianity is the visible, radical hospitality of God who not only welcomes the other, He became the other, and ate and drank, lived, laughed and wept with the other.  Without the reality of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus, we are just another moralistic system. Jesus is our precedent for how to treat those who are “different” (whatever that means), even those who are (real or perceived) enemies.

Radical hospitality cannot be offered without radical forgiveness. Indeed, I wonder if they are the same thing. Forgiveness opens the spaces of the heart that were slammed shut due to hurt, fear and shame. It’s easy to whip up feelings of fear and resentment for political gain, but where are the voices of forgiveness and reconciliation? And, where are the voices that preach the laying down of the desires of the ego so that Christ might be visible in us? These are some of our core Christian values.

What Bin Laden -who does not represent most Muslims- wants most is to goad us into a Holy War. Us against them. Religious beliefs against religious beliefs – tricking us into believing that Christianity must prove itself by postures of domination and power. Jesus took a radically different route by setting a table in the presence of his enemies. Of course some of his enemies couldn’t bear to sup with him, but that didn’t void the invitation.

What would it look like to put aside our own fears and harrumphs and accounting of offenses and set a table of hospitality?  Might it look like blessing the Islamic Community Center (whose community also lost people on 9-11) to proceed in peace? Remember, offering peace and reconciliation is rarely a nice, fluffy, feel-good process. It hurts. It is the embodiment of the gospel. And, it is the best way forward into healing.

**********

In addition, please check out the blog of Samir Selmanovic, a Christian pastor in NYC who is one of the most reasonable and empassioned voices in interfaith dialogue today. Find him at www.samirselmanovic.com. And read his book! (my review)

And once again because we all think way too highly of ourselves and need to laugh at ourselves a bit, the link below is some related humor on the issue. Jon Stewart and company rightly ask, should an entire religion be judged by its biggest assholes?
(sorry, can’t imbed)

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-august-16-2010/mosque-erade

A sad but good NYT article-How Fox Betrayed Petraeus

My family recently took a road trip north to Yellowstone National Park and then east to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. It was our kids’ idea. They are now young adults and they wanted to spend 5 days in a car with us! They are at that age where things change so fast and they will be gone before we know it. So of course we packed the car and off we went, after re-arranging a labyrinth of work and social schedules to find the days that would work for everyone.

I have seen plenty of national forests and have had the privilege of traveling overseas but this is the first time in my life I have seen Old Faithful and Mt. Rushmore, believe it or not. Old Faithful was fun to watch and we are all glad that we saw it but the geyser spurt was so brief that it had my son snickering. It didn’t seem worth the ride to him. We decided it could use some, um, Viagra.

Old Faithful before eruption

Old Faithful before eruption

IMG_1805

Old Faithful at its peak - sorry I couldn't make WordPress turn it upright

Mt. Rushmore, however, was truly a-mazing because of the sheer size and scope of the work. We had a marvelous tour guide. She was a Park Ranger who told us many stories. She mentioned that this monument was created on a mountain face that originally belonged to the Lakota tribe. The story goes that in 1868 the US government agreed to give the Black Hills (in which this mountain is located) back to the Lakota tribe as it had been their ancestral land. But when gold was discovered in them thar hills, the government broke the treaty and took the land back. This resulted in battles, ending with the Lakota ceding their land again.

In 1980 the Lakota won a settlement from the government of $122 million (if I remember correctly) but were offered no land. The Lakotas refused the settlement and the money has been put into a trust fund for them. Our guide says it is now worth over $900 million, yet the Lakota continue to refuse the money. They want their land. That says a lot about what these people hold sacred. Interestingly enough, our tour guide happened to be of Danish descent (which is the same as the Rushmore sculptor, Gutzon Borglum) as well as Lakota descent. So, she explained, she certainly had mixed feelings about it all. It felt especially poignant to hear her unique point of view.

Mount Rushmore, taken from just inside the park entrance

Mount Rushmore, taken from just inside the park entrance

She described the monument and the purpose of each Presidents’ presence on it. First there’s Washington, obviously, as he represents the birth of this nation and was the general of the continental army during the Revolutionary War. He was our first president and he refused multiple terms because he felt that it could lead to the abuse of power. He also refused to be crowned King, thus preventing this country from becoming a monarchy like Britain.

Jefferson represents the expansion of our young nation as well as the wisdom of the founding fathers, having written the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents. In addition he showed considerable foresight in the Louisiana purchase and other territorial acquisitions including the Panama Canal zone. (This heightens the controversy of this monument, as all 4 Presidents served during years of acquiring Native American lands. The Manifest Destiny and all. I am glad there are still conversations going on about this stuff.)

Lincoln (not in order as they are on the mountain) represents preservation of the Republic because of crafting the emancipation proclamation and bringing an end to slavery, thus keeping and expanding the values of “all men created equal”.

Roosevelt represents conservation, as this was a major focus of his administration. He had the foresight to create national parks and he advocated for the sustainable use of our natural resources. One historian writes, “Roosevelt regarded the land as an economic resource which must be conserved and managed to protect the long term economic and political strength of the nation.”

It was a great history lesson and it filled us with gratitude.

But then she asked us a great question. She asked us to gaze at the sculpture and ask ourselves, is it a finished work of art? She pointed out the obvious unfinished aspects that we had overlooked. We went into the sculptors studio to see the original model and saw that it indeed had many more features that are not on the mountain today. (Borglum’s untimely death had a lot to do with that.) But she added, we wouldn’t airbrush something into a piece of work by Picasso. So, is it finished? Well then, we all agreed, yes it is.

She said, “Let me offer my opinion if you please.” (We did.) “It is still far from the artist’s original vision. It is rough in spots and if you look close you can see deep fault lines. There is room for improvement and must also be carefully preserved. At the same time it is a beautiful monument to the United States. We are also unfinished, a bit rough in places and we have major faults. There is much need for improvement. However, given the ideals that are preserved in the monument, I wouldn’t take any other nation any day over the USA. So, the Mt. Rushmore sculpture is both unfinished and also just right to represent us.”

I couldn’t agree more. And it was so worth the trip.

So what did you do on your summer vacation?

The original model for Mt. Rushmore, preserved in the sculptors studio

The original model for Mt. Rushmore, preserved in the sculptors studio

Not long ago I was lamenting out loud about all the splits and fissures in the Church, and the vehemence with which so many hold their positions. Stances are more important than community, dogma more important than people. How will Jesus ever make us one? He has prayed for this for us (John 17). A pastor friend replied, “Oh, in heaven, we’ll all be changed.” There we go. While it may have been obvious to many of you, it finally occurred to me that many in the Church lack a real vision for what the Kingdom of God looks like. No wonder so many get caught in trying to legislate the Kingdom, bringing in laws that will help to sustain the illusion of a righteous life, even while many others struggle out in the cold. The “Someday Kingdom” kills the Kingdom now. There is no vision for what a transformed heart looks like – one that finally, finally, after eons of trying to be God and building enmity between each other as a result, has begun to imagine love.

Well God is shaking up our nation, putting those who had been last, first and taking away the god we have served so long and so well – our economic power. There is fertile ground for the seeds of the true Kingdom to sprout, right now, on this day. Can we imagine what it might look like?

A Pastor in Houston can. Below is an email that we received from a conservative black pastor in our denomination. He’s calling us to something really important. His gracious words stirred my soul and broke my heart. He gives a beautiful challenge – an opportunity for bridge building, for real Kingdom love, for such a time as this. He also reveals the gaping wounds of what fear and hatred do to us.

Let’s do what he asks. It’s time.

(posted with permission)

November 6, 2008

To:  My Fellow Followers of “That Way”

From:  Rufus Smith, Pastor, City of Refuge Church (Houston, TX)

                As Chairman of the EPC’s Urban Ministry Network and the only black senior pastor in the Central South, may I ask you to consider pausing this Sunday or next to openly recognize the historic American election this past Tuesday? The question is not  whether you or I voted for President-Elect Obama or not, but the issue is the potential capacity of his election to expedite the erasing of the stain, stigma and stereotype in the collective soul and psyche of an indigenous ethnic group and a nation.

Whether you agree with the election results or not, on Tuesday, something happened in the minds and hearts of a significant percentage of African-Americans in your cities, towns and churches. For many whom we are trying to evangelize and disciple, please acknowledge in some way this political seismic shift, atmospheric meteorite and divinely permitted event (Ps. 75:1-6); to ignore it  with silence or inaction would be a setback and a squandered bridge building opportunity.  Make a phone call, send a note, visit the office, issue a statement or whatever else the Lord may lead you to do to some African-American pastor or leader in your community.  

As a Christian, I am NOT personally distracted from the first task of Glory to God via worship and making disciples of every ethnicity; for I deeply believe that our hope is salvation in Jesus not legislation through jurisprudence.  As an American, I am prayerful for my President Elect and push for his success (I Tim. 2:1-5 as I did for President George W. Bush); As a Black American, I am as proud as a prancing horse.

 I was very somber Wednesday. Quite unusual for me. It seemed surreal. Time stood still as I savored what had just happened in my beloved country, 388 long years after the arrival of the Mayflower, the glass ceiling and, I believe, a national curse had been broken.

 My 18year old daughter Rhoda called me at 10:45am on Wednesday in tears. 

 “Dad, she said, you won’t believe the stuff I am seeing and hearing…Please come get me”.  I warned her on our drive to school this morning of the backlash some would have today. Several of her classmates are dressed in black today to commemorate the destruction of our country and have hurled insults at her. She has been their classmate for 12 years at this highly esteemed Christian school. My wife Jacqueline went to share an off campus lunch with her, then take her back to school where she belongs to continue her maturation process.  I don’t fully blame the kids, but their behavior is indicative of the work we still need to do in our society, even among Christians.  We as elders know that the ultimate issue is sin not skin. I don’t expect those who are not black Americans to share the SAME EUPHORIC INTENSITY of this HISTORIC DAY as I do. They can’t.    At stake is how this atmosphere can be a time of bountiful harvest for the LifeGiver King  and how it can hasten the probability that inner city churches and multi-racial churches like City of Refuge can become commonplace in our children’s lifetime.

I trust that a sacred and civil dialogue can begin for some and continue for others. This time can be a Kingdom building opening for those of us who name the name of Christ and are Christians first, Americans second, and African-Euro-Asian-Latino, Native Americans third.

 

 

I listened to  Philip Yancey  preach this morning. He was brilliant as always. He talked of the story of the election in the Ukraine a few years back during which opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned and disfigured. That whole election process was fraught with corruption and fraud. After the run-off election, the exit polls recorded results that indicated that Yushchenko was victorious, which differed drastically from what was reported “officially”. As this story was being presented on the Ukrainian news, there was a small screen in the corner of the TV where a woman, Natalia Dmytruk, signed the newscasts for the deaf. In a courageous act of defiance, she did not report the “official” news, but instead, she said that the other guy (government favorite Yanukovych) is reported to have won and then added, “I am addressing everybody who is deaf in the Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies. . . . And I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you. Maybe you will see me again –.” She then encouraged everyone to meet publicly to show their outrage at the fraud. It’s pretty awesome that the popular protests which overturned that fraudulent election were started by the deaf community.

Philip shared quite a few “small screen” stories. Essentially, having the “big screen” position is not what brings true power or true hope. Those of us without the big screen attention, without the microphone, and without power, can change the world through the conviction and courage of the empire-rocking gospel. The larger point was that whatever happens on Election Day, the subversive influence of those constrained by the love of Christ can still expand the Kingdom, one heart at a time. We need not put our trust in political parties, candidates, policies or markets. Build your house on a rock, he said. Yes, we sang the old Sunday School tune.

Then after church we had our women’s boutique. It was very nice and all the proceeds were for the single moms in our community. Still, the buying of goods for Christmas (there’s nothing wrong with that and I shopped too, I’m just saying) reminded me of a video I saw recently (see below). It is by a group called Advent Conspiracy, which says Christmas can [still] change the world. They believe that there is a way out from the consumerism of Christmas (which we all claim to hate) by pooling our gift money together. In doing so, we can raise enough to provide the whole world with clean water. It really resonated with me. I do believe God is calling us all to something very, very different from how we’ve lived.

Philip ended with a similar challenge. What if, during this anxiety riddled time of economic downturn, instead of hoarding out of fear, our giving actually increased? What if during our time of doing without, the non-profits that work to end AIDS in Africa, that serve the broken and the least of these, that seek to free trafficked people, that feed the poor, shelter the homeless, care for the orphan, visit the sick and imprisoned, were to flourish?

It would be the act of subversive, courageous, small screen people. 

What if?

 

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