Monday, October 26, 2009

Resisting nationalistic idolatry

Since we talked about it a week ago at our church- my teaching followed by discussion and engagement with the issue, I've been thinking about nationalism a bit more in the past several weeks. Several things, rather independently, reinforced the significance of looking at this with respect to our faith as followers of Jesus.

A good friend of mine, Jeff Munroe, who is currently in Europe involved with a ministry, is in the U.S. on a visit and noticed a neon sign in front of a business where he used to live which said, "God Bless America." He wrote these words on his blog this past week: "To a European, God Bless America carries with it a certain arrogance that hints at feeling like God’s favorites. A European mentality would challenge us instead to put up a sign that asks God to bless our enemy – maybe a God Bless Afghanistan sign by the highway. Imagine the scandal that would cause."

That morning, early, as I'm reading/reflecting/praying, I read these words by Eugene Peterson about the prophet Jeremiah, "...Jeremiah was designated 'prophet to the nations' [Jeremiah 1:5]...The title 'prophet to the nations' is a deliberate rejection of any understanding of the life of faith that is identical with a single nation or a particular culture...Biblical faith always has and always will have this global dimension to it." (p. 182, Run With the Horses)

Then, that same day, I led to these hard-hitting words with respect to the sin of nationalistic idolatry, "People just know that God (or the gods) is on our side and against our enemies. It’s obvious, right? Nothing in history has caused more bloodshed than this arrogant and unfounded assumption. Nor, I submit, is anything more contrary to the Kingdom Jesus brought than this assumption." (Greg Boyd in an October 9 blog entry)

That led me to one of the sentences I remember from seminary days. (Funny- some of the things you remember.) I remember not expecting to hear it from this prof. He was the oldest faculty member at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and about ready to retire. Plain. Nothing fancy. Not a dynamic teacher. Not hip. He said something very close to this, "The greatest sin we find in the Bible is that of nationalism." He was an Old Testament prof and he would cite examples during my three years of Jonah, or Jeremiah, or the nation of Israel, etc. and how it was destructive for humanity. He said it often. You may or may not agree with him.

These were reminders to me that we must resist the pull of nationalism. We say "no" to it. It has caused, and continues to cause, untold harm.

And, we also say "yes" to what it means for followers of Jesus to live in ways that demonstrate that any theocracy is tossed out the window. That we, followers of Jesus, sojourn with those who are from all languages and nations and race and tribe. That we display a love and acceptance and compassion for all people, knowing the every person bears the image of God.

I'm glad for these voices again this week.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What are you against? Or, what are you for?

I'm against having an American flag in the sanctuary of a church where I would serve as pastor (or be a member). I'm against the death penalty. I'm against human sex trafficking. I'm against the Florida Gators football team (oops). I'm against...

Do you find it easy, like me, to blurt out the things you're against? That it might be even easier to say the things you're against rather than the things you're for?

From a faith standpoint- and mine on this path with Jesus, there are times when one must say "no" when we're moving forward with the "yes." In our church this fall, we're using the term Greg Boyd has used in stating things we believe we must "revolt" against as we are attempting to embody the good news of Jesus and his kingdom. Revolting against things like violence, individualism, judgmentalism, greed, nationalism, etc.

So, we sometimes need to say "no" to the things that harm or derail us from the good and true, light and wholeness.

But...There is often a "but." The priority is on what I'm for. What I believe in and will give my life to. This I'm for.

In attempting to start this church in Denver, it is easy to say what we're against, what we don't believe, and what we do not want the church to be or look like. But, that is not the focus and cannot be the focus on what will bring energy and life.

What am I for? I can't put it into a few words, but it includes things like: authentic relationship with God, family, life, forgiveness, genuine relationships, loving others (including enemies),...where do I stop?!

What are you for? It doesn't diminish the things you might oppose, but who wants to spend one's life living out what one is against?

There are times when we ought to say "no," and loudly, at times. But, front and center will be the "yes" that moves us, and with it will be the path it carves saying "no" to what we oppose.

When we help serve a meal to the homeless, it says no to poverty. When we take steps to forgive someone who has wronged us, it says no to hating enemies. When we listen with love to my next door neighbor who is Muslim, we say no to building walls with people. When we respect and look for ways to serve our spouse, we say no to dominant/subordinate relationships. When we...

What are you for?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Pledge of Allegiance

I don't recall saying The Pledge of Allegiance since my school days. I did it automatically, didn't think about it much as a child, and we didn't really talk about it at home. Although, the combination of my home church not having a flag in the church building, and the emphasis on serving others around the globe, did have a subtle impact on me growing up.

About the time we stopped saying it in school is the time I started to think about what it might mean to recite this pledge.

Fast forward to 1999: I'm the director of a faith-based, non-profit that helped lower income persons start or reinforce their own small business. As part of the networking and building of relationships in the community, I was invited to join the Rotary Club in that city. It was a huge one. 500 members. One of the top ten in the world with the number of members.

My first meeting, a luncheon on Mondays, I found myself faced with a decision: should I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, a practice I wasn't aware of? I didn't want to offend the friend that sponsored me to become a member, or those who were doing great things in the community, or those who had a different understanding of the Pledge. But, I didn't believe I could recite it in good conscience.

Why? It is tied to my understanding of my faith in and commitment to Jesus. It goes along two lines...

First, I see myself, and the church I'm part of, as "resident aliens" with respect to my posture in any culture or nation state. (The term that Stanely Hauerwas and Will Willimon that caught on for many.) I'm respectful and seek to be a responsible citizen of the country where I reside; but, I'm not anchored in, nor is my allegiance with that country.

My allegiance is to the transnational Kingdom of God, and to the King of this Kingdom. That's where my loyalty and allegiance resides. It embraces followers of Jesus spanning every tribe, language, race, and nation.

Second, I see everyone as a bearer of the image of God as Creator. Everyone. Not just those who choose to follow Jesus and believe in God. When my allegiance is to my nation (whichever nation that would be), that can begin to impact how I view others.

What did I do that day in Rotary? Maybe I was a bit chicken. I ended up putting my hand on my heart, as the rest of the 250 in that room did that day, but I didn't say the Pledge. I prayed. I prayed my allegiance, in a whisper, to Jesus. I prayed for others around the world in those seconds. (Which is what I did each week at Rotary.)

Maybe the Pledge isn't the main issue. What I do hope is that our churches will pledge allegiance to Jesus, envision a church where "in Christ there is no East or West," and that we will live and love in ways that view each person as a bearer of the image of God.