A Gut Check...

As we draw nearer to the election day i feel more and more like i'm watching a football game. People are democrats or republicans more out of loyalty or because they were raised that way, or because one team is winning. Very rarely do i read in the popular media a well thought out explanation of the differences/advantages/disadvantages of being a republican/democrat.

I see all sorts of commentary on Palin's sexiness and outfits and much made of Barak's Muslim heritage but no real commentary on why these things matter. I also haven't seen an unbiased account on the political history of America and just what was going on during the boom years. I've seen alot of facts spun to prove a point, or to sway a vote, but nothing to show the possible consequences of a policy or a historical view on the fall out from similar measures.

And then today i read a commentary in the NYTimes that cited a behavior scientist that made this statement "...but he does touch on many of the perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck."

Granted this piece was on how we as human precipitated the financial crisis through our belief in deregulation. But i think it could easily be applied to politics. We tend to watch/get our news/hang out with people who support our biases. Very rarely do we deeply engage with the people across the aisle much less be honest with ourselves about our prejudices and where they were formed.

So why do you vote a particular way? Let's move beyond the "bible sez" cuz we all know the devil can quote scripture too. Besides I've read biblical arguments on both sides. And historically democrats were christians. Most of the southern democrats switched to the republican party over race. The evangelicals over the issue of abortion. Should we as christians be one issue voters?

I guess what i'm looking for is an engagement/discussion of, "is it your class/race/personal history that has led you to vote one way or another?" Because it is through those things that the lens through which we engage scripture/God/one another is formed.



Joe the Plumber and Spreading the Wealth...

Let me open with a verse from Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I confess i didn't watch the debate, but instead i watched the follow up news coverage and found myself intrigued by Joe the Plumber. I found some interesting news stories on the guy and watched a clip of the exchange between him and Barak.

I'm not going to argue about who's system is good or taxes being raised. That's a dead horse in my opinion cuz both sides think they're right and can predict the future. Instead im interested in the christian/biblical response to the notion of spreading the wealth around.

Lately i've discovered i can read boring books online and have decided to delve back into re-reading the works of Walter Rauschenbusch. For those of you who dont know, he is the father of the Social Gospel movement and greatly influenced MLK and a few others. Very important theologian of whom you've probably never heard of. But in his book "Christianizing the Social Order" he points out that capitalism is neither good or bad/moral or immoral. Instead its the values that we are taught by the church and school that form the morals that are applied to our business and economic systems. There is a tug of war between the two and they are constantly influencing one another.

Back to Joe, who may not be a plumber... One thing Barak said is that he thinks we should "spread the wealth around" Which brings me to the verse above. Several times in the New Testament we are told that the people in the early church lived in sharing communities. In fact two people were killed for lying and not sharing all the had with the community. (bonus points for verse and names of those people!) The "plumber" replied that being taxed at a higher percentage for making more would be a disincentive for him to pursue wealth. Which of course the republicans jumped on and used ad nauseum in their campaign ad and apparently in the debate.

However in re-reading Rauschenbusch and going through Acts again. I found myself asking some hard questions about Christians, wealth and politics. Questions such as; Should Christians be affiliated with a particular party? (little known/forgotten fact was that in the early 20th century the majority of Christians were democrats, it wasn't until the fall out from the modernist/fundamentalist controversies and the manipulation of the abortion issue that Christians moved to the Republican party). Should Christians be pursuing wealth? If we are people of the book, how come many churches don't encourage/practice the kind of sharing we see in the New Testament?

If anything this election is a call for us to re-examine christian community and our interaction with our political/economic system. Im not arguing for moving socialist, tho i do have moments.(especially considering the blatant corruption in the markets and medical insurance systems...) As a friend pointed out, in the early church that kind of sharing was voluntary. But it does set an example for what should be happening in our churches.



Where have all the Billy Grahams gone?

I was reading a news story about Billy Graham's recent accident and i came upon the realization this election year that there are no strident/representative/very public christian/evangelical voices out there.

It seems that the 20th century was dominated by Mr. Graham and his evangelistic outreaches. Big events where he traversed the world sharing Jesus. But since he's entered his dotage, no one has stepped up to fill the gap. Sure we got our Rick Warrens and Bill Hybels, but they are pastors with laaaarge congregations, not evangelists in the traditional 20th century sense.

Perhaps there's a historian out there with more to add to this observation. At first glance (cuz that's all i have time for right now) it seems to me that this is reflective of a larger shift in the culture. Perhaps, this is reflective of the slow food/locally grown movement and the shift from suburban to urban centers. Perhaps...

Or because i've been buried in books so long i've somehow missed the next big evangelist preacher person...

It does make me wonder who the next "pastor to the president" will be!


Os Guinness is my new hero of the evangelical world!

Apologies for the delay in posting, its been crazy around here!

Moving on!

I was privileged this week to attend a talk given to pastor by Os Guinness. For those of you who may be scratching your heads, he's one of the writers of the Evangelical Manifesto you can read here. What i found most interesting about his talk is that it helped me crystallize alot of what i'd been observing and reflecting about american culture and the church within it. Its always nice to get your observations affirmed by a reputable scholar! I wish i'd been able to take notes! (doh!)

But some points i remember him making are:

That we need to thoughtfully engage the culture. This means looking at the history of the current popular ideas, e.g knowing their autobiography. Then we need to assess their impact on the street level. In order for us to do that we need to have a good sense of our own christian history! (One thing that i have become more and more convinced is the need for churches to teach more than "just the bible". People need to know their history, we need to know the names and deeds of the saints who went before us!!!)

He pointed out that in the 20th century faith went from being solely private to ultra-political. Both of these movements had disastrous results for Christianity in America. One of these results is that america has been led further down the path to secularization making it harder for people of faith to have a voice in the public sphere. He suggested that we make sure to speak into the culture but let them make their choices and yet continue to be a witness to the love of Christ and the Gospel.(a fine balancing act!) I liked his point that we are told to "love our enemies" and most Christians who are members of the "moral majority" and such other groups have demonized their enemies. Where's the Gospel in that?

He also talked about technology and its impact on culture. No one really philosophized on time and shaped how we thought about it. Instead its the invention of the watch and its ever-present ticking that shapes how we think about time. Think about the impact of cell-phones and the internet on the culture and the church?!

He also cautioned against innovation for innovations sake. In America we are blitzed by advertising/consumerism. They are always telling us to seek what's new and different. But what's new and different isn't always what's good and healthy. I'll have to come back to this later and do a whole blog post on it, when i've sorted out just how i feel about this. (Esp since i'm a bit of a gadget freak!)

Finally he pointed out that it's actually good to be a little "behind the times". Because we can see the result/errors/consequences of the philosophical/technological trends and innovations. Europe was heading in a secular direction much longer than the States and yet we have failed as a church to learn from Europe's example. He pointed out that churches in developing countries are failing to learn from our example and shared several illustrative stories.

Speaking of churches in the developing world. As has been noted the shift of power has moved south. Along with this shift has been the emergence of different modernities. What this means is that there is an American/Chinese/French way of looking/thinking/doing. So there is no sense of the need for integration. Instead there is fragmentation. He then asked about how the church and Christians are speaking/demonstrating/interacting with this. There was much more to this point, but i cant remember all the points, but i have a feeling this is something i'll circle back to!

So there's the highlights from the talk. Hopefully i'll be able to get a recording and then i can do a much better interaction with the material. But for now i'm still chewing on the bits of the talk i remember! Perhaps i should finally break down and buy one of his books....?



In reading the NY Times as i am prone to do on a daily basis i ran into a review of Bill Maher's movie Religulous. This caught my eye because i have a good agnostic jewish friend with heavy leanings towards atheism. We are planning to watch this movie together. This could be interesting.

As a person of faith i sometimes, ok, often, find movies like this annoying.They all tend to focus exclusively on Christianity. Mainly in part because they don't have to worry about Christians issuing fatwas (instead we write angry diatribes and boycott the merchandise). I have yet to see a movie like this on Buddhism/Islam/Hinduism/Confucianism, e.g. non-western religious traditions. They also tend to be made/written by smart, angry, disenfranchised middle class white men with a narcissistic streak.

The arguments also tend to be more about shock value rather than deep engagement with the opposite side. "Lets ridicule people of faith and their scriptures, rather then engage them and see what they think about those funny/weird/possibly wrong areas in their scriptures of faith." They also say that those scriptures are outdated. I think this is a cheap shot, esp since as humans we all share in the birthing/eating/breathing/relating/sexuality/dying process. These experiences cut across all human boundaries. Scriptures of all kinds are still read today because it speaks to those common experiences. In a way its nice to know that existential angst existed waaaay back in the day. (see Ecclesiastes and Job)

Finally they are quick to point out the turmoil in the middle east, the crusades and Sarah Palin as proof that religion causes more harm than good. They dont bring up the wee fact millions of people were killed by atheistic regimes(Lenin/Mao/Pol Pot to name a few...). In fact some of the biggest human rights violators are atheistic dictators! (Kim Jong-il anyone? anyone?)

These people ignore that Mahatma Gandhi/Mother Teresa/Martin Luther Kind Jr/Dalai Lama/ to name a few... were all not only people of faith, but leaders in their faith communities. If there is one good thing that can be said about faith is that it forces one out of selfish naval gazing makes one admit the value and worth of those around them, human or not...

So yes I'll go watch the movie. It'll probably engender fierce heated discussion that will get me riled. But unlike my atheistic counterparts, at least i'm willing to take their questions seriously and not ridicule them for their lack of belief in something outside of themselves, be that God/nature/nirvana/Jesus/wood sprites/etc...