God told me to run for President

God puts God’s hat in the ring… or rather, has it dragged there.

Four candidates for the Republican nomination for President in the 2012 election claim that God told them to get into the race.  Herman Cain says he had extended conversations with God about it.  Rick Perry is another candidate God wanted to run.  His wife is so sure Rick heard God correctly that she was so bold as to say the other three candidates heard God wrong.

Unfortunately, God’s press agent isn’t commenting at the moment.

But isn’t that the best kind of endorsement to have?  You can claim the God of the Universe is behind your candidacy which imbues your campaign with the ultimate in power, authority, truth and righteousness.  And, because the Almighty doesn’t speak audibly to the world, at press conferences or through a press agent, nobody can question or doubt the endorsement.  There is no way to counter the personal, subjective, religious claims of another person, unless you dismiss it out of hand as impossible.  That would be political suicide in America.  You don’t have to be a good Christian, or even a practicing Christian, to be President in America, but you can’t be non-Christian.

The claim is not without risks, however.  You have to bank on the possibility that there will be more people that think you are right than think you are crazy.  Among republican voters, I’m sure there are some that think they are crazy.  But there are enough of the faithful to make it worth the risk.  Republican strategists know they need religious folks to turn out the vote to beat Obama so they will accept a few hundred thousand crazies if it means winning back the White House.  If you believe David Cuo, who worked for three years in the Office of Faith Based Initiatives under George W. Bush and wrote the book Tempting Faith, this is exactly what goes on behind the scenes.

Who will be vindicated?  This is where it gets interesting, and where the power of the claim pays off.  If one of the 4 who claim God’s prompting actually wins it lends veracity to their claim.  After all, God is always on the side of winners, not losers (at least in America and not if you read the Bible, but we’re in America).   That will carry huge weight in the general election among the faithful.  Again, when it comes down to Republicans vs. Democrats the edge might just go to the man or woman that can turn out the fundamentalist Christian vote.  God is pretty good at that (whether God wants to be or not).  Like I said, God is the greatest endorser.  You can claim God’s endorsement and God won’t say a word.

Is it possible that God really did tell one, or all, of these folks to run?  As a follower of Jesus and a pastor by vocation, I would say it is possible.  However, I’m reluctant to take anyone’s word on that.  What I require is a little fruit in keeping with God’s agenda.  I want to see a Jesus-shaped platform.  Short of that, I think it’s a political maneuver.

Here’s an example of how I think.  Herman Cain said he had multiple conversations with God about running for President.  Then he makes a ‘joke’ about undocumented immigrants getting electrocuted on a border fence.  Let’s take him at his word, that he was ‘joking’.  If he considers it a joke to say that people who are trying to find a better life for themselves and their families should die on an electric fence I can’t believe he’s actually talking to God (at least not Jesus’ Father).  He may be talking to someone or something, but I’m not sure it’s God.  After all the Bible says that a person cannot love God who he doesn’t see if he doesn’t love his neighbor who he does see.  I think undocumented immigrants would fall under that neighbor classification.  If you don’t love the undocumented immigrant, how can you say you love God.  I don’t usually tell ‘jokes’ about people I love accidentally getting electrocuted on a fence designed to keep them away from me. That causes me to question his claim that God told him anything.  If God does talk to Herman, I suggest feeding him some better jokes…and perhaps a lesson from Jesus about loving your neighbor as yourself.

All I can say is hold onto your seats, especially if you are a follower of Jesus.  If this continues, this Presidential campaign is going to be a circus with God as the ringmaster, Jesus on the trapeze and the Holy Spirit taming lions!

So…my daughter got arrested!

My oldest daughter, Julia, was one of the 700 protesters arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the Oct. 1, Occupy Wall Street march.    I first learned about it from my youngest daughter.  She was on Facebook when Julia posted that she was about to get arrested.  I checked in via text and confirmed that Julia was safe.  She spent 4-5 hours handcuffed in police custody but was eventually released because her arresting officer never collected her and the three others in her arrest group.

Since that time, Julia has been a regular part of the Occupy Wall Street occupation in Zucotti park.  Between work and community responsibilities, she treks down to the park, listens in on general assemblies and participates in teaching groups.

When I’ve talked to people about it, their initial response is usually negative.  We are conditioned to believe getting arrested is always a bad thing and means you have done something wrong.  Especially in white, upper middle-class, rural communities. That conditioning is a large part of why the world is the way it is. In a world of “haves” and “have nots”, the “haves” don’t want to become the “have nots” so they usually don’t rock the boat, even when they know the boat is on top of the “have nots” and they are drowning.  However, there are some folks, with a latent activist bent, that are excited.  No small number of people have responded by saying “We all knew this would happen eventually.”  (Julia’s idea of Spring Break fun was providing direct material aid to undocumented immigrants in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, home of the most repressive immigration laws in the union)  Some people, like my mom, are constantly worried about her.  We don’t do much protesting in Metamora, IL so it’s a bit of a new thing.  Needless to say, the responses are as varied as those who give them.

All of this has left me asking how to support activists in your family and faith community?

This is what I’ve come up with so far;

  • Remember that the right to free assembly, free speech, and free association are the backbone of any democracy.  Our nation began with acts of protest that crossed the line into criminal trespass, destruction of property, interfering with commerce and treason.  Remember the Boston Tea Party?  At the same time, disciplined, non-violent direct action as accomplished such things as workers rights, the right for women to vote and federal civil rights legislation.  For any democracy to truly function as such, people need to have the freedom to protest.  It’s an important part of our social and political history as a nation.
  • You can support an activist you know without agreeing with them.  It’s here that those who form a community of support around activists can play a big role.  Our job is to make sure that as they protest publicly and without acts of violence, that they are treated fairly and justly by the structures they are challenging.  Agree or not with the position, people in the United States should be able to state that position publicly and peacefully without fear of intimidation, coercion, retribution or violence.
  • Learn through their participation.  One thing that is nice about Julia’s involvement in Occupy Wall Street is that I have a first-hand source of information.  I don’t have to rely on CNN or FOX News to tell me what’s going on, I can ask Julia.  Before you form opinions about a particular action or protest, learn as much as you can about what they are doing and why.  Withhold judgement and engage in dialog with others, especially if you find you disagree with them.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.  If you know activists, communicate with them.  Know when they are planning to protest.  Know when they are expecting the protest to conclude.  Check in before and after.  Double check that they are following safe practices for protests (things like always protest with a partner so you can look out for each other, keep phone numbers for legal aid on your person in multiple locations, don’t rely on your cell phone which could be confiscated upon arrest, etc.)
  • Engage multiple sources of news and information.  Don’t just listen to the news station you like.  Listen to FOX and CNN.  Read your local paper and a major city paper like the Chicago Triubune or the New York Times.  Seek out alternate media.  Follow protests on twitter by learning and following the appropriate #.   Find out if protest organizers have a Facebook page.   I can tell in very short order where a person gets their news and how many divergent sources they check.  Biased caricatures are easy to spot.  The truth is not one dimensional.
  • For faith communities, pray with and for the activist if possible.  Sometimes, like in my case, they are too far away.  Even so, you can pray for them where you are.  If you know when they are protesting pray before, during and after.
  • Join in when possible.  The best way to understand a group’s message and methodology is to jump in and see first hand what’s going on.  It takes courage to protest publicly.  It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s necessary at times.  Much of what we take for granted today was won through hard fought battles that involved courage, risk and personal sacrifice.  Don’t criticize others from a distance if you aren’t willing to put yourself on the line for what you believe.
Those are the things I have discerned so far as I think about how to support activists in our midst.  They may be helpful or unhelpful.  I’m sure they are incomplete.  If you are an activist, please check in and provide some feedback.  What kind of support do you need to do what you do?   If you are a pro at supporting activists in your family or church, offer some insights that the rest of us newbies can learn from.

Hoodwinked?

So here’s my question; How important is it that followers of Jesus actually live out the stuff that Jesus taught?

I’ve always thought it was pretty important, not as a means of earning my salvation or obligating God to save me, but as a means through which Jesus’ himself accomplishes His work here and now.

Somewhere along the line, I came to believe that it mattered that I choose not to chase after material possessions, but seek to give myself to that which doesn’t burn up, rust out or break down.    I came to believe that it mattered if I turned the other cheek, walked two miles instead of one, loved my neighbor as myself, and so on.   I came to believe that Jesus’ really cared about how I treated the poor, the stranger, the foreigner and the marginalized AND that he cared about how others treated me as one who is also poor, strange, foreign and pushed out of sight by some.

But over the last number of years, I must admit that there have been too many times when I’ve wondered if others believe that.  I’ve been surprised by the disconnect between embracing Jesus’ language, on the one hand, and actual lifestyle choices and practices, on the other.  I’ve been blown away by folks whose faith I admire who seem to also pursue the American dream in ways that make me squirm.  There have been times when I’ve thought “If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, he’d be rollin over in his grave” to see what we’ve made of his movement.  I’ve also been dismayed by the strength of my own drives towards things that burn up, rust out and break down.

In my most disappointed moments, I have felt hoodwinked.  I’ve had the overwhelming sense that I thought we were all in this thing together, headed the same direction, following the Jesus who calls us to give up everything, but we aren’t.  I’ve considered running after the American dream like everyone else seems to be.  I’ve felt like trying to have my salvation and American dream too.  After all, that seems perfectly acceptable these days.  I wouldn’t stick out.  I’d fit right in.

More recently, I was hit again with some words from the Apostle Paul when he says, “I’m taking hold of the thing for which Jesus took hold of me.”    That is an encouragement to continue to answer my own question, yes!    It’s incredibly important to actually live out the stuff Jesus taught.   It is the way towards a different world!

Have you ever felt hoodwinked in your faith?  Have you ever felt like you were living one way and everyone else, who was supposed to walking with you, is living another way?  How did you respond?

Insurrection (part 1)

“There is a fire inside the building; please step inside”   With those words, Peter Rollins begins the introduction to his newest book, Insurrection: To believe is human. To doubt, divine.

In the introduction, Rollins sets a course for what is to follow in the rest of the book.  He writes;

 “Each epoch in the life of the Church arises from the white-hot fires of a fundamental            question, a question that burns away the husk that was once thought to be essential in order to reveal once more the revolutionary event heralded by Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. Such questions do not address the vast sea of disagreements that exist within the shared theological horizon of an era but challenge the very horizon itself”

It’s a courageous and risky way to set up the content of a book, but it’s exactly what he does.  In the Christian community in America, there are many disagreements and debates that some consider white-hot.  The most recent flame up being universalism, hell and Rob Bell.  Yet, these debates are largely internal debates within the Christian community itself.  While those of us inside the Christian community often believe the hairs we split are substantial, to those that aren’t invested in the conversation they are of little or no practical value.  This hairsplitting occurs around considerable agreement about what things like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus mean, accomplish, etc.    Rollins won’t help you come to a conclusion about reformed vs. armenian theories of atonement/salvation.  He won’t help you decide if you like Mark Driscoll better than Rob Bell.  His conversation isn’t even in the same ball park.   He challenges the very horizon itself.

What is the white-hot fundamental question of our era?  Hear, Rollins relies on the later work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he writes;

“The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer succinctly articulated the answer shortly before his execution by the Nazis.  In a compilation of his personal correspondence entitled Letters and Papers from Prison, he wrote of how the question for us today is whether or not religion is necessary in order to participate fully in the life testified to by Christ.”

This idea sets up the rest of Rollins’ work.  It’s a question that challenges our basic assumptions about how we think about and relate to God.  As I get more into the works in later posts, I’ll talk more about this.  In short, Rollins asks questions and advances arguments and ideas that are familiar.  He reveals how the dominant understanding of God in our era is as a deus ex machina – i.e. the thing we roll out to solve our problems such as “fear, ignorance, or despair.”  He squarely critiques the ways in which the contemporary church uses Jesus as a crutch in the midst of life’s horror instead of helping people face it head on, in truth and hope.  The only difference is I usually hear these arguments from people that don’t believe the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus rests at the center of life.  So, it’s here that I find Rollins at his most intriguing.  He advances christological arguments against using religion as a crutch.  He pulls the crutches of religion out from under the reader.

Rollins ends the introduction with these ominous words (which, having read the book, should be heeded);

“This work of pyro-theology will involve outlining the present understanding of God, exploring the way Crucifixion and Resurrection open up a different reality, and charting what might arise should we be courageous enough to step into this reality.

This will not be an easy read; many will find it disturbing, for some of the things we hold precious will be attacked from the very outset.  But it is written with a firm conviction that we must not be afraid to burn our sacred temples in order to discover what, if anything, remains.

Indeed, perhaps it is not what remains after the fire has died that is true, but rather the fire itself.  If so, then we need to take the words of Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti seriously when he boldly declares: The only church that illuminates is a burning one.”

There you have it.  Peter Rollins pulls no punches.

General Observations

If you are familiar with Peter Rollins work (pervious books, sermons, interviews, etc.) some of the material will be familiar to you.  However, in my opinion, this is the most well argued and presented work of Pete’s to date.  There seems to be a sense of care and intentionality in this book that is unlike some of the more “stream of consciousness” storytelling and writing of his other works.  After listening to his Greenbelt 11 presentation, he makes this transparent.  He believes he has something important to say and wants to say it as clearly as possible.

Even though Peter is a PhD in Post-structural though (I don’t even know what that means) he speaks through stories and parables.  This makes the work, while difficult, all too accessible – that’s why it stings.

At the same time, from an American context, it’s difficult to imagine what personal and collective faith looks like if you embrace Rollins work.  He doesn’t write a chapter on “3 Steps to implement this in your faith, life and church”, which is the point.   Just saying up front if that is what you need, this book isn’t for you.  You will have to do some heavy lifting of your own and confront whether or not you truly what to experience crucifixion and resurrection or whether you would rather have a Jesus that will solve all your problems, make you happy, and protect you from reality (if not in this life, at least in the next).

My intent is to tackle some of the ideas in the book from my perspective as an Anabaptist Mennonite follower of Jesus and see what shakes out.

In the meantime, if you are brave read Insurrection (it will make Love Wins seem like a children’s book).