Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yard sign during the election

I'm squeamish when talking about politics and the church since I have witnessed its abuse over and over again. I was hesitant to put a sign in the yard for a presidential candidate as I didn't want this to be perceived as a pastor indicating that this is "the" way one should vote.

But, it felt different this year, and for the first time in my life as a pastor, our church community had a discussion about the election- should one vote as a follower of Jesus? If so, what should be the values that help guide that decision? So, we put a sign in a yard. And even though it may appear trivial, I didn't want to say in this setting whose name was on that sign until after the election.

When I had finished mowing my yard in mid-October, and I was sweeping off the driveway, my neighbor across the street hollered, "I like your yard. I mean, I really like your yard since the yard sign went up." (pointing to the Obama/Biden sign) "Oh, yeah?" I said. I started meandering across the street to his driveway where he was shooting some hoops.

He is about 23 years old, working on his MBA and living at home temporarily. This was going to be his 2nd presidential election in which he would vote. I'm 53 and this was to be my 9th. "You like it, huh?" He begins to tell me that this is how he is leaning but he hasn't made the final decision yet.

And what he said next is why I mention who I voted for. He said, "I'm surprised, though, with your sign. You're a pastor in one of those evangelical churches, right? [It would be too complex to get into some theological discussion of where I fit, so I just said, "Yeah, sort of."] "Well, I thought all of you pastors vote for the more conservative, Republican candidates, especially because of their view on abortion. So, why are you voting for Obama?"

We had a great, short discussion. I was able to say that when I vote, I take into consideration a list of values, growing out of my faith in Christ, that includes abortion, as well as, policies and positions related to poverty, education for children in poor communities, issues related to justice for the poor, minority populations, and others, gender issues, war, death penalty, etc., etc. This was the first time he heard those issues from a pastor. I asked him what issues were important to him and it was a wonderful exchange.

I'm not here to advocate that this was the "right" candidate. But, I am happy for a growing group of those in the evangelical community who are saying there are many more issues than just abortion that should matter to us.

Not only am I opposed to the concept that if you are a committed follower of Jesus you will vote for this candidate (fill in the blank). But, I also do not place my greatest hope in the ballot vote for a candidate; I believe a much greater impact is found when a community of those who follow Jesus embody his life in them, living it out in their context. So, I'm with a growing group of voices like Greg Boyd and Shane Claiborne who point to this reality.

So, in four years, maybe I'll vote, maybe not. Maybe I'll put a candidate's sign in my yard, maybe not. But, I do hope our church will be growing, day by day, in what it means to be the church, a church incarnate embodying hope, forgiveness, justice, equity, courage, compassion, grace, loving one another and enemies, and living in the way of Jesus.

That's my most significant vote.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

This justice thing

I'm reading a remarkable book, one to digest, savor and not let the words die when it finds a home on my bookshelf. At the same time, our new church, all of ten weeks old, is in prayer and discussion on very specific ways we will go to Kingdom-work in serving others and seeking to do justice. This is built into what we see this good news of Jesus Christ to be about.

Three thoughts from this book are on my mind this morning, and they feed into what we are considering as a community seeking to follow Jesus in the way of service, social justice, compassion and peacemaking. This is from N.T. Wright's most recent book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

First: in building for the Kingdom with respect to our calling and mission as the church, Wright notes that justice is not an add-on. With regard to the specific issues in our day and context, he believes "the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world." (p. 216) He calls this the "number one moral issue of our day." If this is on target, what does this imply for the mission of the church?

The second thing that I am pondering this morning is the idea of holiness. Oh, boy; sounds real "churchy" or religious. Without going down some rabbit trails on this term, and some of the intricate biblical definitions, for our purposes here I'll use it to mean: seeking to live our lives in concert with the ethics, values and morality of the Kingdom of God. God is holy; we seek to live our lives as God revealed himself in Jesus.

One of Wright's phrases is particularly relevant here: "Christian holiness consists not in trying as hard as we can to be good but of learning to live in the new world created by Easter....Personal holiness and global holiness belong together." (p. 253) Our personal lives are not isolated and severed from the call to do justice and to be a voice that will address specific issues of social injustice. If we are not endeavoring to live a just life, it will be difficult to call for justice in other places.

The third nugget is that we need one another. The "church." Or whatever we want to name this (sometimes a name loses its meaning if it is distorted over time)- community of faith, a community of Jesus' followers, etc. We will be called individually, in clusters or collectively as a church to serve needs in our city or to be agents of the Kingdom helping to bring about justice. And, in Wright's words, "All will need one another for support and encouragement. All will need to be nourished by the central, worshipping life of the church." (p. 268)

I find energy in considering these aspects for our church, and, I would suggest, for other churches and communities. These have concrete, practical application for the church:
  • We will need to be people of prayer and discernment to be led to the specific areas where we are called to serve and to address social injustice. What are the great moral issues of our day? What are we called to do as individuals and as a community?
  • The connection between personal and global holiness is especially vital today. Many are disillusioned with the "church" because of the disconnect many see or perceive. People want to see what we say. This is not about perfection; it is about spiritual transformation.
  • This must all be based in community. We are not isolated islands of individuals. When we are called by God to serve in a particular capacity (tutoring disadvantaged kids, feeding a homeless population, visiting a discarded, lonely senior, becoming an agent of change for in public housing, etc.), we will need support from others. And this is not just any community; it is spiritual community rooted in Jesus. We need life and nourishment that comes from prayer, scripture, and worship of God, the source of our life.

The possibilities are endless for a community of hope!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I was riding my bike, minding my own business…

I had my next post almost written in my head, and then I went on a bike ride…

Then a new idea popped up on the ride. It had to do with peace and war, and a guy driving a pick-up truck that was being totally ridiculous. Those who know me understand how much I love biking. Road biking in the Denver area. It’s a gorgeous early evening, perfect weather and I hopped on my bike for an hour ride.

The sky is turning colors as the sun is going down- blue, pink and blistering orange. My heart rate is up because I’m getting a decent workout, but my “heart” is at peace because I’m relaxed and loving the ride! We all have things that renew and bring life, clearing the mind and soul. Biking is one of those things for me.

The ride is great until… this huge, apparently new black pick-up starts to veer to the right in my direction. Toward the bike lane. The well-marked bike lane on the right. I had ridden along the Cherry Creek Reservoir and then went outside the park on some roads next to the park to vary my ride.

This was late in the afternoon/early evening and there was a long line of traffic waiting for the red light. I’m cruising on the bike path, with other bikers that day, and approach the light. “Why is that truck starting to head toward the bike path, off the road??,” I wondered. As I got closer, it was obvious he was trying to nudge me off the road. I slowed down and he kept inching over into the bike lane. I could see him looking my way in the rear view mirror.

Instead of an absent-minded driver, here was a guy intentionally moving into the bike lane when he sees this bike ready to pass him in the bike lane. What’s the deal?! Actually, a few other words went through my mind, muttering them under my breath, but I can’t put them down here!

As I barely made it past him, almost getting knocked off the path, my thoughts go down this path: Ok, so you don’t bike or jog or whatever and you’re ticked off when you see persons working out….You’d probably have a gun rack in your rear window if it was legal in the city…Then some other prejudiced thoughts leaked out.

I’ll never know what was going through his head: it might be some stupid insecurity, or he’s frustrated at a long line at the traffic light, or he had a bad day at work. Who knows. Whatever it was, he was still being nasty for whatever reason. And, I was upset. Angry.

Now here’s the good thing about biking for me: in the grandeur of creation, with blood pumping into my body, God seems to speak to me quite often. (Not that “speaking” of an audible voice but with nudges and thoughts.) And, it happened that day.

Like this…What are you thinking, Phil? Are you going to turn this into hate for your “truck-enemy?” Ok, so he’s being a jerk- for whatever reason; but hate won’t win. Further, if you can’t work at the love-the-enemy-thing for the dude in the black truck, how are we going to work at communicating this Kingdom message to broader and more perilous situations of violence and war?

Busted! Alright; I get it! So, after I had some time to reflect a bit, and when he finally got through the red light and passed me, I reluctantly prayed for him. There wasn’t a gush of warm, fuzzy feelings. But, I prayed for the guy, and it was a start to diffusing of the anger.

A lesson on praying for and loving our enemies, as Jesus calls us to do. Now, I don’t suggest that there is a direct parallel to this situation and the decision to dropping horrific bombs and killing thousands of people. I believe issues of violence and war are areas for the church to address, live out and be prophetic for the sake of the good news. However, I was reminded of how all of this must start from within- having our heart continue to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus- this Jesus who has called us to these very things.

Peace (shalom= wholeness, well-being, peace) is not just peace within or peace in one’s heart. But, it is hard to display the outer forms and actions of non-violence and peace without the inner work of peace.

I don’t always succeed in this; I’m still a work in process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. But, this also was a result: by God getting it through my thick head, and heart, that I should pray for that guy, I was released from a spirit of retaliation and the rest of the bike ride was great!

Want to guess how the rest of the bike ride would have gone if I held onto the resentment, listing the reasons in my head this guy is crazy??

(Next: a follow up to my presidential candidate’s sign in our yard.)