Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Talking to an Anti-Abortionist

I have supported the right of a woman to choose abortion for as long as I can remember.

Because I believe that a woman has a right to manage her own body.


Last night, I had a lengthy conversation with an anti-abortionist.

Needless to say, it was frustrating for both of us, as we probed deeper into our values and the kind of world in which we want to live.

In a nutshell, my anti-abortionist relative believes that the inalienable right of the fetus to exist, along with the rights of the father, trumps the mother's interests in all regards.

In a nutshell, her womb doesn't belong to her, but to the fetus, and to the father, and likely to God.

My relative will gladly absolve women of all responsibility to insure a full-term pregnancy and delivery (we didn't get into rape and incest - though I think I know where that would go: pregnancy is the will of God and a blessing - he also thinks Akin is just a kindly kook who has as much right to be in Congress as anyone else).

He spoke of the 50 million abortions since 1973 (Roe v. Wade), observing, "Think how many presidents we've lost, and scientists and business leaders."

At that point, I pretty much lost my ability to think clearly, and I said, "We live in different worlds. I don't want to live in your world, and you don't want to live in mine." He nodded his head and sighed sadly. End of conversation.

The ideological divide is deep.

I'm not sure there are any bridges left.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Letter to Christian Friends

I am an American citizen - America is where I was born and live and will likely die. My life is connected to the character and wellbeing of the nation. As it goes, so I go; not the other way around, though I hope to have some influence, not simply as an individual, a lone-ranger of sorts, but in community with others who share a similar vision of faith, hope and love.

I strive for the Kingdom of God here and now, anticipating, in my own broken way, what God desires for God's creation and all of its creatures, great and small.

As such, I cannot hide my head in some spiritual sand. I cannot hold my breath, so to speak, until the flood of history ebbs, and I'm rescued by Jesus and taken to some sweet abode far, far, away.

This is not what Jesus intended.

As Jeremiah so wisely suggested to the exiles in Babylon - Pray for the city wherein you are, for your welfare is reliant on the city's welfare.

I am connected to America - its welfare is clearly my welfare.

With that in mind, I've been lately asking: What would the world, or America, look like if the Lord's Prayer petition were fully inaugurated: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?

Would there be unemployment?

Would there income inequality? Would some live in the lap of luxury, often excessive in its display, while others can barely scrape by, facing horrendous decisions about paying the rent, buying food or drug prescriptions?

Would there be children living in roach-infested hovels? Dying of starvation? Trapped in the wars fought by the powerful, for the powerful, in order to gain more power?

Would there be any form of racial, ethnic or gender discrimination?

Would there be anyone who couldn't have access to good health care?

Would there be children in dilapidated schools, with peeling paint and limited supplies, while other children attend lavishly outfitted schools with all the educational accoutrements needed?

Would there be gated communities?

Would there be skid rows?

Would there be hunger?


People in prison?

Answering these questions is vital; there can be no escape from them, nor can we simply say: "Well, that's God's business. One of these days, God will provide the ways and the means for all of this being resolved. In the meantime, we have to abide in Jesus, love his word and wait for the day of redemption; that is, when we die, and leave this world behind, and our soul takes a flight of fancy into the higher realms, to be with Jesus forever."

This is not the gospel.

This is not what Paul meant when he said, "Our work in the Lord is never in vain."

Nor what Jesus meant when he called his disciples, and, at the end, commissioned them to go into all the world, and into all kinds of place, with all kinds of people, to establish the kingdom, by making disciples, baptizing and teaching them everything Jesus taught.

With that in mind, thinking of Jeremiah's advice for the exiles, and my own life, and that of my family and friends, intertwined with America and its future, I ask the question: Is there a political philosophy, system and program that moves toward this, the Kingdom of God, in any way at all?

Are there political systems that move away from this vision of the Kingdom of God?

If the Kingdom of God is coming toward us, then we go out to meet it, and lay before Jesus the gifts of our world, the gifts of our prayers and our labors.

We shall not bring in the Kingdom in its completion, of course. Only God coming toward us can and will do that.

But we can and we must contribute to that Kingdom here and now - that's what it means to be faithful to Jesus, to follow in his footsteps, to take up the cross he gives to us, to die to the self, that we might live for the love of God and neighbor.

I challenge my Christian friends to ask the Kingdom questions, and then look at the political philosophies offered to this nation - none of them are "perfect," that is, complete. All are lacking, but some are clearly more aligned with Kingdom life, dealing with the questions raised above.

We do not have the luxury of dismissing everything and hiding in a spiritual cave, waiting for God to come our way and clear it all up.

We must cast our lot and make decisions.

We must live, in other words, for something more than just ourselves, our welfare, our security, our comfort and our peace.

If you know me, you know the decisions I've made.

I'll not go into those here; you can read my other stuff.

But here, at least, let me pose the questions of the Kingdom.

And encourage the reader to hold the Kingdom in one hand and the political philosophies of the day in the other, and see how they contrast and compare.

And to ask, If I have but two options, and only one vote to cast, what option offers a greater congruency with the Kingdom of God?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Threats to Social Security

Social Security, one of the hallmarks of America's greatness, and one of the anchors of a strong middle class. 

The far right-wing, which has now hijacked the GOP, has always hated Social Security, the only reasons being ideological, favoring a Social Darwinism, the winner-take-all version of economics.
Privatizing, even a small portion of SS, would reap billions for Wall Street, and in the end, speed up the transfer of wealth in this nation from the many to the few.

And if Wall Street fulfills its own nature, the billions given to it will mostly be lost, and we'll see again Hoover's poor houses and the further collapse of the Middle Class. 

Romney/Ryan/Rand - their perverted view of things will prevail, and the rest of America will be reduced to third-world status. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ecumenical, Evangelical and Emergent Protestism

For the last 50 years, Evangelical Protestants (EvaPs) have pummeled Ecumenical Protestants (EcuPs) with a long list of complaints:

1. EcuPs have failed to honor Christ, Scripture and Tradition.
2. EcuP's decline in numbers is proof of spiritual failure.

While asserting:

1. EvaPs are more faithful to Christ, Scripture and Tradition.
2. EvaP's numbers prove their faithfulness.

Reading EvaP books and articles, it's obvious: reliance on numbers is overwhelming. Ask an EvaP about evangelicalism, and very quickly one will hear a long list of statistics - new churches, numbers in attendance, missionaries sent out, money rolling in, students in seminary, and so on.

This litany of statistics reflects the American Spirit of entrepreneurial success, which tends to isolate success from a host of contributing factors that make the "success" less a matter of personal achievement and more a matter of "luck," or in the Christian vocabulary, a matter of providence, or grace.

If the Bible has anything to suggest, it's likely this when it comes to numbers:

1. All human greatness is of God.
2. All such greatness becomes arrogant.
3. God brings down all such arrogance.

God is kind enough to take the torch from all movements and bring it elsewhere, that it can burn afresh.

EcuP was clearly on top of the game after WW2 and throughout much of the first half of the 20th Century, and then "decline," with EvaPs now dominating the playing field.

Yet, in the early years of the 21st Century, we see similar signs of decline in EvaP that were evident in EcuP decades ago.

EvaP will continue to slide, as Americas prove, once again, how fickle and shallow are their religious pursuits - more interested in losing weight, looking good and being assured that God loves them, no matter what, and after death, going to heaven with all of their friends, while their enemies can just rot in hell.

And so it goes.

And where it goes in the next 50 years remains to be seen.

Perhaps there's hope in what might be termed Emergent Protestantism (EmeP), a fascinating amalgam of the various energies of EcuP and EvaP, driven by missional imperatives in a post-modern, post-christian, world.

Perhaps a chastened Protestant Christianity can learn again the power of gratitude and humility; that we are creatures, one and all, great and small, of grace, and by grace, called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (gentle metaphors), letting the world see our good works that the world might give glory to our Father in heaven.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

To Protestants ...

To Protestants ...

Unless we advocate believer's baptism and deny the validity of infant baptism, then we're likely a part of what's called Ecumenical Protestantism. Evangelical Protestantism, influenced by its Anabaptist antecedents, generally dismisses infant baptism and relies upon believers' baptism as the only acceptable mode of entrance into the church, and as proof of faith in Christ.

Within each group, lots of flaws, some of them even fatal. One of the fatal flaws of Evangelical Protestantism is its unrelenting search for "something better." This flaw generates a deep restlessness, often a hyper-critical stance vis-a-vis other Christians, even within their own ranks, and frequently leads to schism.

While EvaP has been more than willing to offer criticism of EcuP, calling the church "dead," and declaring that ECO (Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians), for example, will find "something better," EcuP has been reluctant to find the holes and offer careful criticism of the weaknesses inherent within EvaP.

EvaP has had pretty much a free ride in America in the last 50 years, puffed by the media and enjoying the success of numbers - which, by the way, seems to be the chief indicator of faithfulness. The more numbers a church enjoys, evidently the more faithful it is.

Sort of like the old Presbyterian notion that wealth proved God's blessing.

Both "proofs," of course, fail to stand up when measured by the Bible.

EvaP is riddled with holes:

1. Biblical studies often more driven by ideology than sound exegesis and historical studies.
2. Heavy reliance on numbers as "proof" of faithfulness and all the subsequent techniques needed to sustain numbers.
3. Preaching often driven by therapy rather than the biblical story, with its traditional focus on the individual, rather than God, and the need to "win God's favor."
4. Preaching that relies heavily on inspirational stories, heavy on the miracle end of things.
5. The Anabaptist notion that one must do something in order to win God's favor is the heart of evangelicalism greatest weakness. Like it's Anabaptist ancestors, it's driven by anxiety - "have I done enough - and pride - "look at what I've done."
6. The greatest weakness is its ceaseless quest for something better, never satisfied, and reluctant to give thanks and appreciate where it is.

As an Ecumenical Protestant, I'm well aware of our flaws, several of which are fatal, as well. Thanks to the EvaP, most EcuPs know their flaws well.

But our commitment to justice, equality, a trained and connected clergy, and sound biblical scholarship have served us and our culture well. That American Protestant Christians should find great appeal in EvaP is understandable and lamentable, saying a great deal about the character of American faith, and the failure of EcuP to sustain adult education.

Much work to be done on all fronts.

EcuPs need to deepen their own culture, find the best within it, sharpen and expand it, and for crying out loud, quit crying, and don't be afraid to challenge the EvaPs.

They need the challenge, and with honest and careful criticism, we might actually make a better impact on American and global culture.