Monday, May 26, 2008

One Nation Under [the Hindu, Buddist, Muslim, Wiccan, Christian...] God

Is it possible to "take America back for God"? Did it ever belong to God? If it did, which God? It's true that during the founding of America the majority of it's immigrants (invaders) were Christian.Yet the founders of the new Country did not establish a Christian nation. In America, we established a system that was intended to promote freedom, including freedom of religion. In short, we established a nation that was intentionally designed to be pluralistic.

So when the Chinese immigrants came to help build the railroad system we did not expect that they would be Christian. Our laws were not intended to force them to convert to Protestantism. Whether individuals expected this or not is outside the argument. The nation was set up to embrace all people of all faiths.

Christians today often forget this, saying that we are hurting the nation by taking "God" out of the public arena. They decry the taking of prayer out of the public school, taking down the Ten Commandments, and the such. Yet they quickly forget that keeping prayer in the schools in an intentionally pluralistic society means that their kids would be taught to say prayers from all religions. That if we allow the Ten Commandments, then we need to allow plaques with the great moral principles of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, Wicca, and others.

Of course if this ever happened Christians would be up-in-arms protesting. This is because they assume that prayer in the schools will be "Christian prayer" and that freedom of religion will be exclusively "Christian religion".

Do the Christians of America know where they are?

When a soldier dies for us to have freedom of religion, he/she dies for the right of all people of all religions. He does not die exclusively for the rights of Christians to worship Jesus, but also for the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, and even those who desire to worship in the Church of Satan, which is a legal religion in the United States.

i am thankful for the rights that we have in this increasingly pluralistic society. i am grateful to the soldiers who died so that i could be free to believe and worship whoever and whatever i choose, which for me is Jesus Christ. Yet in no way do i see the American flag as a symbol of Christianity. i believe that all nations, by basic moral principle, should allow for freedom of religion. This is not a distinctly Christian principle, it is a principle basic to humanity.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

For God & Country

We have a saying that is familiar to both Christianity and Nationalism. The saying goes something like this, "I would die for my..."[insert: "Country" or "Faith" here]

While the statements are virtually identical, they actually mean very different things. In the first statement, "I will die for my Country" what we mean is that if my country is ever in need of my service to fight in a war, i will be prepared to fight. Another way we could put it is (though it doesn't sound as nice), "I will kill for my Country". Nobody goes out to a civil battle without bearing arms or expecting someone to have some sort of weapon to protect them and use against the "enemy". Typically if a person dies in battle it is because someone got to him/her before their side could get to "them".

The call to "die for our country" is the call to take up arms and fight for our country. Many have died for such a noble cause. My point is not to say that it is wrong, only to show the difference.

What is the difference when it comes to being willing to "die for our faith". Well, in Christianity, when we say "I am willing to die for my faith" it is never a call to take up arms. In fact, it is just the opposite. It is a declaration that if ever i was put on trial for my faith, knowing that to hold to my faith would bring certain death, i would not renounce my faith".

While smuggling Bibles into countries where Christianity is illegal is a common practice, smuggling guns in for those same Christians to fight for the right of their freedom would be very out-of-the-ordinary, and perhaps could we say..."unchristian". Yet we encourage conversion to Christianity even in countries that we know will put converts to death. We tell them that they must be willing to die for their faith.

Is it right to kill in order to obtain freedom-of-religion? Perhaps. Is it Christian to kill in order to obtain freedom of religion? No. Can you imagine Jesus holding an M16 and shooting someone so that he could have the right to pray openly to the Father? Yet he certainly calls us to be willing to lay down our life for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of another. Jesus' call to lay down our life for another is not a call to take up arms.

Therefore, to die for your country is a noble cause and to die for your faith is a noble cause. But to say that we could die for "God and Country" is typically a misconception, though not all together impossible. [Surely we could think up some scenario like a military chaplain dying on the battlefield].

If you take up arms, it is not for God, but for your country. This too is considered noble.

"You've heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth...But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Matthew 5:38-48 & Lk 6:27-28; 35-36.

Virtues & Vices

The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.
- Elizabeth Taylor

Friday, May 23, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

If you haven't yet read "An Evangelical Manifesto" i recommend you do so. This was a recent declaration as to what Evangelicalism is, against what it's become. It is a call to recapture the true spirit of Evangelicalism.

"But if the Evangelical impulse is a radical, reforming, and innovative force, we acknowledge with sorrow a momentous irony today. We who time and again have stood for the renewal of tired forms, for the revival of dead churches, for the warming of cold hearts, for the reformation of corrupt practices and heretical beliefs, and for the reform of gross injustices in society, are ourselves in dire need of reformation and renewal today. Reformers, we ourselves need to be reformed. Protestants, we are the ones against whom protest must be made.

We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior."

The only part i'm not sure i agree with is the idea that we need to work toward securing equality for all expressions of religious freedom. Not that i'm against it, because i'm not against it. i just don't believe that Christians need to fight for the freedom to practice their faith. They simply need to practice it, whether they have the freedom or not. And yes, of course they always need to allow others to use their religious freedom, since Christians are never to force or coerce anyone toward their own practices.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guest Post: Polly Poppins


TheyA long time ago I had the not-so-great privilege of living on a military base. What I noticed was this:

Three guys in a room, two from New England and one from the South. The Southerner is the other.

Another guy comes in the room, now the first three guys are white. The new guy is black, so he is the other.

A woman enters the room, now the first four people there are men. The female is the other.

Another woman enters the room, wearing civilian clothes. Now the first five people in the room are all Marines. The new woman is the other.

A pizza delivery guy enters the room, the civilian pays for the pizza and passes out plates. Six people are eating dinner, one is just doing their job. The pizza guy is the other.

The first three guys finish their pizza and leave. If two of the remaining three are wearing uniforms, then the civilian woman is the other. But if everyone is in civilian dress, it's clearly the black man. Unless the woman Marine is black, too, and then, most likely, the white woman is the other.

The world is a big place. The people in the world move around a lot. We draw alliances by differentiating against others. We can only be we if there is a they. Only as I've mentioned before, there is no they.

There's really not a we either.

But the idea that there is a they and a we is what makes life navigable for most of us. It's also what makes life bearable. No one wants to be alone. Everyone wants to belong to someone or something. And yet that changes, seems fluid, like water taking on the shape of its container. Only less water and more tears.

I don't know what that means, exactly, only I'm pretty sure it's true.

Anyway, the strangest thing in the world is to be part of we and then to realize that (no, actually) you are they. How does this happen? The tribe grows or shrinks and the other is redefined accordingly.

Right now there are a lot of people on the planet. There are a lot of people on my block. There are maybe too many people parked right in front of my house. I don't know who the are, but sometimes they belong here and sometimes they don't. It all depends on the mix.

Mr. Poppins told me about this guy who had all of his stuff listed as "first come, first serve" on Craig's List as a joke. He pulled up the dirt road to his house and his barn and found a swarm of people had descended, taking everything but the air. He tried to stop them, after all it was his stuff. Only the people, who had become we, felt it was their stuff now. He protested that he was the we who belonged there, and they did not. His argument did no good.

It's a good thing he had the sense to take down their license plate numbers.

My goal, the one thing that should I achieve, I know would make me a better person, is to have a me that is constantly aware of what it means to be both we and they and to use my we-ness, whenever I am able, to include they, until we are all either me or we and there is no they.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008


The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.
- David Friedman

"Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God"
Matthew 5:9

Monday, May 12, 2008

I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb

We've been remodeling our church to make room for our summer guests. It's a very small chapel that only seats 100, and during the summer we get more than we can fit comfortably. During the remodeling job i followed-up on a long-standing conviction i've had since i began pastoring this congregation. i decided to put the American flag in storage and leave the Christian one up, but in a different place. i've never understood the combination of the Cross, Christian flag, and American flag. If we had the American flag there because we wanted to pray for our nation, that would be fine. The theology behind the flag at the front of the chapel simply isn't that innocent. The flag stands by the cross because American Christians believe the Cross stands by the flag. This theology blinds us from the Gospel which is for all tribes, tongues, and nations. It takes away from the biblical theology that there is no Jew or Greek, and that we are citizens of God's Kingdom, not any kingdom of this world.

i'm fine with the American flag in any other public building, or even in a chapel, so long as other world flags are present. i cannot embrace the unbiblical theology that America is a Christian nation or ever was, or that we are some type of new Israel. That's just not biblical.

Today i had a congregation member notice the flag was missing and declared war on me, telling me that if i were his son he would kick my ass, and that i should get on a plane and move to some other country. He then conjured up some idea that maybe i wanted to desecrate the flag and said it would be hard for him not to kill me. i asked him where he ever got the idea that i would do anything to harm the flag and why would he allow such thoughts to enter his mind? i had no intention of harming the flag and have nothing against it, i simply don't think it belongs in the chapel, behind me as i speak, and along side the cross. i speak on the teachings of Jesus, not America. Placing that flag in such a prominent position simply sends the wrong message. He said removing it from the chapel was just like desecrating it.

Well, he's threatened to leave the church if the flag isn't put back. i told him he had as much right to put it back as i have to take it down and he could do just that, but that i disagreed with it unless there were other flags, like the Iranian, Iraqi, and Afghani flags present as well. i reminded him that Christ died for his enemies and loves the Arab Muslim as much as he loves you and me. i asked him if he would be willing to die for a Muslim and he said "no, never!". i told him that Jesus' Gospel calls us to do just that.

So today i ordered a new flag that i thought we would both be able to agree on: a world flag. i told him about it and why i believed it better reflected the Gospel and assured him that both the American flag and Israeli flag were present on it as well. He didn't care, he's not coming unless the American flag remains where he returned it, right by the cross!

So today i received my first threats of physical abuse and murder. i should be proud, since that's how they treated Jesus and the prophets.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Imagine all the People"

We were at the park with the kids the other day. Just us and a guy playing his guitar. He was in rough condition, seemingly owning only a ten speed bike, a guitar and the clothes on his back. He did have a tall can of Miller, but it wasn't to be a lasting possession.

He played guitar fairly well and had one of those voices that was somehow really bad and yet good at the same time. More and more musicians are getting away with the good bad voice thing these days. Did that start with Cobain?

i liked his selection of music, which was mostly early and pre-eighties rock. He really liked the Beatles and played "Imagine". i like that song. Not because it suggests that the world would be better without religion and our preoccupation with the afterlife, but because i think it hopes for the kind of world Christ intended.

Jesus taught us to pray "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". He had a very relevant message for today. He desires to see us living out kingdom principles in the here and now. Those principles are much like the lyrics to "imagine" which describe people who realize they share a commonality called humanity. That in some way we have a responsibility toward one another.

Jesus calls us to imagine that there are no national boarders, and that the world is indeed one. He tells us to imagine that there is no difference between Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free (Gal 3:28). Imagine that anyone in need is your neighbor, and respond. Imagine blessing those who curse you, instead of responding with bombs and tanks.

"Blessed are the peacemakers" he declares!

Jesus says,

"Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world."

The earliest Christians grasped the message and its meaning:

Acts 2:44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Acts 4:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Acts 11:27-30 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

"You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one"

And Jesus prayed to the Father saying, "
10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one."

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

John 17

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Well Adjusted?

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
- Krishnamurti