Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Jefferson's Wall

One of the driving pieces of the Puritan migration to the New World was to escape state-imposed religion, which has never worked very well anyway. But state after European state used religion to buttress national interests and power, and people went to prison because of it, or were tortured and maimed, property confiscated and prohibitions imposed, with one version of religion trumping all others in service to national interests.

All of this history is clearly before us.

But over the years, many of the descendants of those who came here to be free of state-imposed religion decided that state-imposed religion, if it were their religion, the right religion, would be just fine.

The effort to formally establish religion has never ceased, and in recent years has gained momentum, driven largely by various forms of evangelicalism.

These interests added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and initiated the National Prayer Breakfast, in the early 50s, among other things, and struggled to establish state-mandated prayer in public schools, which ultimately the Supreme Court decided on June 25, 1962, in "Engel v. Vitale."

Jefferson's "wall of separation" was wisely raised up, to protect both religion and government from one another, that they might remain good neighbors, talking with one another, helping one another, but neither assuming control of the other.

Good walls make for good neighbors ...

Those who cherish their faith in God should be well-advised, that efforts to establish a religion backed by state interests can only fail it's intended purpose of instilling virtue in people's lives. It has never worked and never will.

If the state uses religion to further its own interests, religion is no longer religion in the sense of pointing us toward God, but only a tool to further some limited purposes which are mostly about power and money.

And if a religious body uses the state to further its own interests (as we saw in the Middle Ages), the religious body soon begins to look, talk, act and feel very much like the state, with soldiers, bankers and attorneys working over time to impose upon the people a particular religious expression, and woe to those who would violate it.

People of faith need to consider these matters with great care. The evangelicals of our day who so easily speak of "getting prayer back into the schools," and using Charter Schools to foster a sectarian creed, are making a huge mistake, often caught up in their personal version of the "culture wars" (one of the worst ideas every coined, because God is God in all realms - there is, in God's love, no competing cultures, no culture wars; only human vanity and the the lust for power that uses religion as a cover for its base interests).

People of faith (and these days, that encompasses a much wider horizon than previously imagined in the Western World) need to jealously guard their traditions from the intrusion of other religions or the power of the state. Every religion needs to respect the others, too, and the state serves its religious purpose best of all when it legislates religious freedom for all forms of faith and respect for the essential practices that characterize various creeds, without endorsement or establishment.

Religion, by its very nature, seeks the wellbeing of the land in which it resides ... but base instincts also drive religion to control and dominate. It's these latter instincts that Jefferson's "Wall" seeks to mitigate, both for the health of religion and that of the state. And with that Wall well built, religion can flourish and do what it does best - to provide encouragement and strength to its adherents to live well to the best of their ability, to encourage a nation to be just in its regard for all of its citizens, with a special effort on behalf of the poor and marginalized and to address the state when it appears that the state is veering off into some form of hyper-nationalism and its attendant militarism.

Jefferson was right, and it's in our best interests to heed his advice. Build the Wall high, maintain it well ... it has enough doors and windows in it to allow conversation and mutual regard, but preserve the Wall, and in so doing, the character of good government and the character of a living faith are more likely to be preserved and served.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Good Preaching!

Good preaching - okay, I'll have a go at it.

Preparation, preparation, preparation - and that's many years, and still learning, still preparing.

Writing, writing, writing - nothing hones the mind, the thoughts, the ability to give expression to the inexpressible. 

Humility, humility, humility - give it your best shot, and know that it fell short. Period! It was probably good, but there's always another Sunday.

Trust, trust, trust - when spoken in hope for the wellbeing of another, a changed social condition, the welfare of the world, God does something with such efforts.

Energy, energy, energy - deep and penetrating care for the Word, the world, scholarship, politics and hope. If you care about it, preach about it. If you don't care deeply, find something about which you care deeply, and go from there. At such a point, a little pulpit-pounding might just happen, and that's okay, too.

To this, I'd add: use a text, or something similar there to. Have the notes at hand, and let the congregation know that you produced something requiring labor as well as spirit.

Use a lectern, or pulpit - waltzing around on the chancel, platform, is mostly a preacher-centered look-at-me device.

Anyone with thespian proclivities can dazzle an audience, but preaching isn't about dazzle, it's about grace and justice, and those are both amazing things and hard things, requiring a lot of emotional and intellectual effort well-harnessed by training, by sermon-text and by humility.

Nothing wrong with flair - let the Spirit lead, but like a horse, if the preacher is going to pull the wagon, some serious equipment/equipping is needed. Dashing off here and there across the field may be pretty to watch, but in the end, to be of value, the horse is harnessed for the day's work.

Well, that's enough for this morning ... a Sunday morning in Amsterdam.