Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Good Citizen

While i do not believe in allowing my national citizenship to require undue allegiance [I love you and i'll say you're right even when you're wrong], i do believe that every Christian is called to be the very best citizen of whatever community they find themselves in.

Good citizenship must of course be defined along New Testament terms.

Martin Luther King was often called "unpatriotic". The truth is, and which can now be seen in retrospect, he was one of the best citizens this country has ever seen. He contributed more than most to making this country a better country. He did this by placing Christ first, seeking God's ideals of justice and equality, and challenging the country using biblical principles [non-violent resistance while loving your enemy and desiring their ultimate good].

i don't believe that "patriotism" [love of country] is a healthy way to love, because it is too narrowly defined. Patriotism is narrow by nature, preferring one over the other, based simply upon one's location and too often not for some higher purpose. If all that binds us together is our location, then we are loosely bound indeed. This would be as dangerous as binding ourselves together based on ethnicity has proven to be.

i believe our love must go beyond patriotism. Let us love the community we find ourselves in. Not for the sake of finding ourselves there, but for the sake of making it all God desires it to be. Instead of being a lover of one's country, we ought to be a lover of our community, or as Jesus describes it: neighbor. Who is my neighbor? Whoever we happen to find ourselves in community with. Today, we find ourselves in community with the whole world. Any place in the world can be reached in about a day or less.

A Christian is called to be a good citizen, based on Christ's Way, wherever he or she finds him or herself. We are to seek to make our communities better, whatever community we are in, though never at the expense of another's community, because all communities are ultimately God's community, just as all human beings are made in the image of God.

Therefore, we seek to love our community, and our community seeks to make other communities better. So if i find myself living in Iraq, i seek to make that community better. If i find myself in Iran, i seek to make that community better. Whatever community i am in, i seek to make it better through love and community service, and there is no allegiance greater than this.

"Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven"

Some of the most important rules for the citizen of the Kingdom of God:
1. Love your enemies
2. Bless those who curse you
3. Do good to those who hate you
4. Pray for those who persecute you
5. Love your neighbor as yourself
6. If you have two coats, give one to your neighbor who has none
7. Love God with all Your Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength

"They call me a dreamer...but i'm not the only one"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Gospel According to Lost

Well, a long time ago, a friend recommended that i watch the show "LOST". i didn't take her up on it until earlier this year, when i could actually watch the first five seasons on Netflix without having to wait week to week. i just finished watching when i noticed this new book out called "The Gospel According to Lost." i thought i would check it out because i didn't much think about any Christian correlations within the show itself (perhaps because there was so much violence in it?). i thought it would be interesting to see what Chris Seay had to say.

Don't get the book if you haven't finished watching the first five seasons, since it has spoilers and it really only makes sense if you can follow along with its illustrations based on the episodes. The first thing i liked about the book was that it helped remind me of the story line from season one throughout. Secondly, it pointed out all sorts of things that i overlooked, namely the imagery used to depict the mixed nature of good and evil within all of us. Third, it helped reveal some major themes that i had overlooked. Finally, it intentionally used the lessons and illustrations of the show to challenge me with the underlining message of the Gospel.

It seems that nearly any show would have object lessons that could be used to illustrate Christian implications, as well as any other, and it seems fair to me that Chris would use popular culture to reconnect us with the Gospel. i actually prefer to listen to secular music because of what i can learn from basic human experience, especially when i can in turn interpret through a Christ-centered worldview. Since Christian music attempts to do this in such a straightforward way, i often feel it lacks in displaying the basic human condition...if that makes sense. In the same way i think Abrams "LOST" does an excellent job of showing the basic human condition, and Seay had done a good job of interpreting it through a Christian worldview.

Ultimately the book was a quick read, yet thought provoking and enjoyable for anyone who enjoyed following the series.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Citizens of the World

Everyone should have something to believe. Something outside themselves which they value more than themselves. Something worth dying [living] for. i hope that something will be someone: Christ.

For those who do not have Christ, i hope they do have something. For some, it is our country. Once a man said to me, "I'd have a hard time not killing someone who desecrated my [American] flag." This man found something outside himself, bigger than himself, worth living for.

As Christians i believe we are called more to be citizens of the world (to coin Rev. Martin Luther Kings term) than citizens of any particular nation. This term "citizens of the world" will be very disturbing for some Christians. Please, do not let the words get in the way of the meaning. i am not saying to embrace "worldliness". i am saying to embrace the idea that the Gospel has no boundaries, or borders. Jesus says that we are bound closer to those who share our faith in him than we are to our own parents ("Who is my mother, brothers, sisters?") Therefore, your Iranian sister is closer to you than your local Senator.

In this way Christ was a citizen of the world.

Christ had a national heritage and ethnicity. He was Jewish and a would be citizen of Israel, if there was such a thing at the time. His fellow Israelites were often upset with him because of his service to non-Israelites [Gentiles]. Jesus' citizenship was not with any particular nation. Rather he was a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and this kingdom knows no national boundaries. It is made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation.

In this way, if you are a Christ follower, you are called to be "a citizen of the world".

1. How will this effect our national allegiance?
2. How will this effect our support for wars against other countries?
3. Is it "anti-Christian" to think this way? If not, then why does it make American Christians angry?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


If you aren't praising your nation, or saluting the flag, people call you "unpatriotic". To be unpatriotic doesn't simply mean that you don't hold "your country" before others, but it actually insinuates that you are against your country.

i often write posts which question our allegiance to our country. Yet i have no hatred toward this country or any country. The reason i do this is to help separate Christianity from Patriotism. In the mind of many Evangelicals, the two have become nearly synonymous. For some, being a good Christian means being a good Republican, though they would never state it in these terms. But Jesus said, where your treasure is, your heart is also. The heart of many Christians can be found in their national and political identities.

i believe nationalism is one of the greatest enemies of our faith in America today. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves shouting "Caesar is Lord" rather than "Jesus is Lord". i hope to do all i can to reveal the unhealthy merger we've found ourselves in, and to help us to view ourselves as "citizens of heaven".

Being citizens of heaven means we are closer to being "citizens of the world" than citizens of any one particular country. More about that in the next post.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Every tradition was once an innovative idea.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Liberty

It is interesting how we’ve hijacked biblical terms and ideas, retaining the terms while altering the ideas. In this way we can shout for the triumph of Liberty, Freedom, and Justice, and claim God as our divinity who supports all these things, while actually meaning something entirely different.

The Liberty and Freedom that are ours in Christ is a liberty and freedom from sin (self-seeking and in some instances self-directing). It is not liberty and freedom from all things, to free us to do whatever we want. It is not the “free” markets or “liberal” ideals, such as “liberty” over one’s own body, even if it means to terminate a life. When freedom and liberty have no bounds, we will find ourselves bound by other laws, such as the law of selfishness and greed. God’s liberty and freedom do not lead to self-serving. Jesus said, “He who wants to be greatest among you must become a servant to all.”

When a law is passed that says it is illegal to kill another, it does not infringe upon my liberty. That is, it does not infringe upon the liberty that Christ has secured for me. It in no way hinders me from seeking Christ’s way. If I am taxed so that others may have health insurance, my freedom and liberty have not been denied to me. That is, not the freedom and liberty which Christ has obtained for me. Isn’t it him who said, “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.”

And when we fight in the name of “Justice”, are we fighting to secure God’s Justice? I believe God loves Justice, but we all have different interpretations of what that means. God’s Justice has secured Grace for every living person, especially the sinner. Yet this is not the kind of Justice we seek. When we speak of Justice, we do not seek Grace for the sinner.

Freedom, Liberty, and Justice are great ideals. Only we should not confuse ourselves by thinking we are holding to God’s ideals just because we’ve managed to hijack his terminology.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Faith & Political Power

The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus' Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.

-Pope Benedict XVI "Jesus of Nazareth"

Now here is someone that should know a little something about the nature of faith and politics. It seems the great demise of the Church has always been to pollute it with political allegiances and goals. It began with Rome, and keeps repeating itself throughout history. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Reformers, and in America today...Evangelicals.

We believe we can make the world a better place by wielding political power, but in the end it always corrupts and controls us.

It's like the One Ring in Tolkien's novel. We witness how it masters others, but for some reason we believe if we wield it, we would overcome its power and use it for good. That's exactly what it wants us to think.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Women & Men

Gandhi lived in a caste culture. That caste was divided along many lines, one of which of course, like most cultures, was men and women. Women of course are the "lesser" of the two. In Evangelical circles this tends to be a rather common thought, though it would never be said in those terms. There are many other ways to express a thought, other than exact statements. This makes it all the more incredible, that Gandhi, writing in the 1930's, from within a caste culture, should express this sentiment:

"To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then indeed is woman less brute than man. If by strength, is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman."

Julia Ward Howe wrote the ever famous song "Battle Hymn of the Republic". It is one of the "patriotic" songs in the hymnal (which is all sorts of wrong, but that's another issue). She wrote it with the mindset that God is on "our" nations side, and it is a prayer that God enable us to conquer our foes.

After seeing the young men returning from war empty, hateful, maimed, or dead, she had a spiritual revelation about the evils of war and how contrary it was to the ways of Christ. In an effort to turn our country away from war as a solution, she advocated a special day of the year to call women to turn the hearts of their husbands, sons, and ultimately the nation, toward more advantageous means of peaceful resolution. We call this annual holiday "Mother's Day".

One of the more patriotic fellows in our congregation, who doesn't much admire my stance on non-violence or patriotism, insisted that we sing this song on one of our patriotic holidays in remembrance of those who have served in the military. i couldn't help but smile at the irony as we sang.

i also couldn't help but admire this woman who was spiritual enough to not only admit her faulty thinking, but to actively turn others toward a more Christ-like direction. i have no doubt that she regrets ever penning this song, or that many continue to sing it, not realizing how her story ended. Yet her repentance and sensitivity upon seeing the truth speaks to the more pliable nature of women's spirituality, which allows them to truly be more easily led and redirected by God's Spirit. Truly, a sensitivity that comes more naturally to women than it does men.

This is of course a sweeping generality, and i know there are always exceptions.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Prince of Peace God of War

Here is a documentary my wife found that explains the Christian non-violence theory vs the Just War theory. It is very well done. Tony Campolo closes the documentary with an example of non-violent resistance and it's transformative effects. This was the only thing that seemed to be lacking and i look forward to writing about non-violent resistance and redemptive suffering as the most effective transformative power available. Jesus' teaching about loving your enemy are more than an act of obedience, it is the way to bring transformation to the world. This video lays out an excellent foundation for the New Covenant teaching and sets us up for further discussion on the effective power of non-violent resistance and redemptive suffering.

The video is one hour long and can be downloaded here. i've created a dvd which i would be glad to make available to anyone free of charge.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Seeking Immortality

Humanity is ever seeking a sense of immortality. Enkidu and Gilgamesh seek to slay the great Humbaba, the god. They know the task is likely impossible. Gigamesh thinks the task still worth the effort:

"Who can climb to heaven and become immortal?
Only the members of the divine assembly live forever.
The days of humans are numbered;
Human deeds are like a breath of wind.
Here you stand afraid of death. What about your mighty arm? I will stand in front of you.
Encourage me, saying: 'Fear nothing!'
If i die, I will at least have made a name for myself."

Humans are mortal, and the only way we really know how to become immortal is for our name to be remembered. We do that in some sense by passing on our name from one generation to the next. Or by somehow making our mark in history in such a way that our name will be remembered. Achilles was conned into fighting a war that would certainly end in his death. The temptation was that it would immortalize him by making a name for himself which would endure throughout history. He found this preferable to life itself. He found it to be in some sense a greater life. An immortal life.

We still seek our immortality through various means, though most often not so heroic or amazing. The most common way is through our posterity.

Recently, a woman in her later years of life, has come to me requesting that we put name plates on various items in the church that were donated some years ago by people she knows. Another man, i do not know, showed up at the church a few months back and said he and his mother use to come to the church some years ago. His mother had donated the communion table and he wondered why her name wasn't on it. Then he said, "Well, it does say 'Do this in remembrance of me', I guess i know who that stands for then" (he was referring to his mother). It was too outrageously funny to be irritated by it. i have some empathy, because i know the motive is the desire for immortality, and one of the main ways we humans attempt immortality is by ensuring we are remembered.

i was recently shocked to learn that in Germany there are no permanent graves. People rent spots for a number of years, like 15, and can renew them once or twice. Eventually the bones are removed and disposed of and that grave site is rented to someone else. Why was i so shocked? Because i realized that the grave marker is another one of our attempts at securing a sense of immortality. Some years ago, in New Hampshire, i stumbled upon an old graveyard. As i read the names on the gravestones, each person seemed to come alive again from a brief moment. Their lives were remembered hundreds of years later. i knew nothing of their lives, but it was enough to remember they lived. i carried their spirit (memory) forward to the present. They achieved their continued immortality.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Thoughts of the Ancients: Civilized

In the stories of Gilgamesh (3000-2000BC) there is a being, who is more human than divine, named Enkidu. After he is created, he enjoys running naked with the animals, and identifies more with them than the humans. Until that is, he discovers a wise and beautiful woman, who appears to him bearing her breasts. She lays her clothes on the ground and he makes love to her for six days and seven nights.

After this he returns to the animals, but upon seeing him they now flee. The wise woman then introduces Enkidu to humanity, making Enkidu some clothing from her own. They both walk clothed to the great city. Enkidu becomes civilized.

Adam & Eve also live among the wild, apparently not finding it strange to communicate with wild animals (talking to snakes). After eating of the "fruit" their eyes are opened. They realize they are naked and attempt to make clothes for themselves. When God arrives, he makes them more adequate clothing.

If both of the stories are considered to have a similar connection with the clothes, then it seems clothes are an introduction into civilization. When humanity is clothed, it becomes distinct from the animals.

Except that in the Genesis account, it appears that humanity has actually become less civilized. They become less human. Apparently, the clothes don't make the man. And so we also have to ask ourselves, what constitutes "civilized".

If a man is dressed in a three piece suite, should we assume him "civilized"? What if he's attached a flag lapel to his suit-coat?

What if he's not wearing the lapel? Would that make him "uncivilized" or just "unpatriotic", and is there a difference? :-)

Ahh... just some thoughts inspired by the ancients.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

First Steps

It may be, as has happened throughout my life, that i shall know the next step only after the first has been taken.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Guest Post: The Irony of Pslam 109:8 by Scot McKnight

This "Pray for Obama" Bumper Sticker Problem

Friday December 4, 2009

PrayforOb.jpgI have been paying some attention to the bumper sticker, sound-byte that says "Pray for Obama" with a Bible verse attached: Psalm 109:8.

It's a long Psalm, and most who read this on the back of someone's car won't know what Psalm 109 means, and many will think the person is simply a Christian who wants to have others pray for our President. But, a look at that Psalm creates a brooding if not depressing mood of something at work that deserves our concern. (After the jump I post the whole Psalm.)

The psalm is an imprecatory psalm, one of those psalms in our Bible that emerge from the depths of human misery and the cry to God for justice. Yes, these prayers pray for the defeat of one's enemies. But there's something in this psalm that makes me shudder what these Christians are suggesting:

Psalm 109 is addressed to God about the enemies of David. In other words, it is about those who despise the work of God through King David. It is about those who oppose King David, God's anointed leader of Israel (who had his own faults, not the least of which were pride, a messy family life, adultery and murder). David turns to God to tell God what he feels.

David says his enemies return hate for love (his love for them). Are those "praying for Obama" also loving Obama (their apparent enemy)?

Then what is implicit in this sad bumper sticker is that v. 8 is applied to Obama: "May his days be few! May another take his job!" The verses are surrounded by even worse imprecations about family and that his wife might be widow.

Here's the sad and tragic irony: interpreters today (Goldingay, Alter) agree that vv. 6-19 are the words of the opponents, the accusers, the enemies of God's king (David) and not the words of the man of God! I have italicized those words. In other words, these folks have clipped -- probably reading the psalm mistakenly -- words from the opponents of God and used for themselves.

It is probably the case that many see this bumper sticker, open the Bible to Psalm 109 and either shout "Yes!" or should "How awful!" but I wonder how many have read the Psalm carefully enough to see what it really said. If they do, they may discover they have aligned themselves with those who oppose God.

May God in his grace be merciful to each of us.

109:1 O God whom I praise, do not ignore me!

109:2 For they say cruel and deceptive things to me;

they lie to me.

109:3 They surround me and say hateful things;

they attack me for no reason.

109:4 They repay my love with accusations,

but I continue to pray.

109:5 They repay me evil for good,

and hate for love.

109:6 Appoint an evil man to testify against him!

May an accuser stand at his right side!

109:7 When he is judged, he will be found guilty!

Then his prayer will be regarded as sinful.

109:8 May his days be few!

May another take his job!

109:9 May his children be fatherless,

and his wife a widow!

109:10 May his children roam around begging,

asking for handouts as they leave their ruined home!

109:11 May the creditor seize all he owns!

May strangers loot his property!

109:12 May no one show him kindness!

May no one have compassion on his fatherless children!

109:13 May his descendants be cut off!

May the memory of them be wiped out by the time the next generation arrives!

109:14 May his ancestors' sins be remembered by the Lord!

May his mother's sin not be forgotten!

109:15 May the Lord be constantly aware of them,

and cut off the memory of his children from the earth!

109:16 For he never bothered to show kindness;

he harassed the oppressed and needy,

and killed the disheartened.

109:17 He loved to curse others, so those curses have come upon him.

He had no desire to bless anyone, so he has experienced no blessings.

109:18 He made cursing a way of life,

so curses poured into his stomach like water

and seeped into his bones like oil.

109:19 May a curse attach itself to him, like a garment one puts on,

or a belt one wears continually!

109:20 May the Lord repay my accusers in this way,

those who say evil things about me!

109:21 O sovereign Lord,

intervene on my behalf for the sake of your reputation!

Because your loyal love is good, deliver me!

109:22 For I am oppressed and needy,

and my heart beats violently within me.

109:23 I am fading away like a shadow at the end of the day;

I am shaken off like a locust.

109:24 I am so starved my knees shake;

I have turned into skin and bones.

109:25 I am disdained by them.

When they see me, they shake their heads.

109:26 Help me, O Lord my God!

Because you are faithful to me, deliver me!

109:27 Then they will realize this is your work,

and that you, Lord, have accomplished it.

109:28 They curse, but you will bless.

When they attack, they will be humiliated,

but your servant will rejoice.

109:29 My accusers will be covered with shame,

and draped in humiliation as if it were a robe.

109:30 I will thank the Lord profusely,

in the middle of a crowd I will praise him,

109:31 because he stands at the right hand of the needy,

to deliver him from those who threaten his life.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Violent Femmes; Lies

here's an old song i use to listen to that i recently rediscovered on YouTube