Tag Archives: Politics

Good and Evil: Crazy Right

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Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. -St. Paul in 1st Corinthians

One of the more interesting moments in the Gospels is when Jesus is teaching and his mother and brothers interrupt Him because they think he’s gone crazy.

Now if you are new to Biblical criticism, it might surprise you to know that this is actually something that helps to prove the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus. Most scholars think that whenever the Bible includes the negative stuff that people thought about Jesus, it lends more credibility to the idea that they are telling the truth about Him in other places.

But I think this little story adds credibility in other ways as well.

The Sanity of Evil

When I was a junior in college, I toured the concentration camp Auschwitz with a few other friends. It was one of the most profound and heavy days of my life. It was looking at evil in its purest form.

Several decades ago, Thomas Merton (a Catholic Mystic from Kentucky) wrote about one of the most disturbing things I’ve read about the Holocaust. It was about Adolf Eichmann, the man who engineered the death camps and who was ultimately responsible for the efficiency of the murder of millions and millions of Jews.

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part, according to Merton, is that when Eichmann was on trial for his crimes against humanity, they did extensive psychological testing on him. They wanted to see what was broken inside of his mind to make him doing such heinous things like this. But one of the most disturbing things about his trial is that when they examined him to see just how crazy he was, they discovered….

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Eichmann was perfectly sane.

Which is so much worse isn’t it?

Because Eichmann, wasn’t just a crazy man going around killing people. He was an organized businessman/leader who had a desk job. He didn’t have trouble sleeping at night, or problems eating. He was in fact a real family man, a community oriented civic leader. He was proud of his job and loved kids. He was someone we would have considered normal. Maybe we would have even been an elder in our churches.

He wasn’t crazy, and that is the problem.

Here’s what Merton says:

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.

Which brings me back to Jesus. I would think that if Jesus is who Christians think he is, then we would constantly think he sounded crazy. Since the beginning of history, we have developed ways to justify our sin and call it normal. If the world really is upside down, than if Jesus is revealing the way God created the world to be, he is always going to sound a bit…crazy.

So back to Thomas Merton. Here’s what he says about a world that calls genocide sane:

What is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? Evidently this is not necessary for “sanity” at all. It is a religious notion, a spiritual notion, a Christian notion What business have we to equate “sanity” with “Christianity”? None at all, obviously. The worst error is to imagine that a Christian must try to be “sane” like everybody else,”

Every culture puts immense pressure on the individuals within that culture. We are taught to think of the world in certain kinds of ways. We are constantly being tempted to think succumb to group think. The problem is just how unaware we are of this.

Have you ever noticed just how easy it is for us to think that Jesus endorses the same wars, every politician, every tax cut, or tax increase that the news shows you watch endorse. Jesus tends to care about the same things that we do.

And that Jesus is perfectly sane.

I’ve noticed over the years, that we religious people have the imagination to call anything Christian that fits with the world we need to exist.

Unless we read the Gospels. In which case we begin to have uneasy realization that Jesus is crazy.

No mater how we try to spin the story, the Bible is filled with dozens of irrational people. From Moses to David to Abraham to Mary and Paul, people who see what God sees don’t act like everyone else. They are the ones who think differently about the world. And they tell stories about talking donkeys and pregnant virgins and people raising from the dead.

They are insane, but they have a faith about the way the world will one day be.

They believe that one day their crazy will be right. 

Something is Missing #1: The War Of Christmas

Today I want to start a series for the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. We are in a season that Christians have, for over a thousand years, called “Advent.” And I’d like to start this Advent series with a blog about war.

I’m obviously way too sentimental.

I don’t know what my favorite Christmas tradition is. Maybe it’s putting up the tree with the family, or maybe it’s reading the Christmas stories to the kids at bedtime. But I know what it’s not. Every year, around this time almost like clockwork, we start hearing the pundits on television talking about the war on Christmas. It’s normally about how some nativity scene in some city was forced to move away from a public park next door to some land owned by a church.

And we call that war.

I’m tired of culture wars in general, but I’m specifically tired of this piece of it. And not for the reasons you might think. Sometimes the ways that Jesus followers get involved in the public sphere hurt the reputation of Churches. I don’t think that’s true here. I just think it hurts the Churches.

I think it hurts Christmas.

Because if we think that moving our nativity scenes is the equivalent of war, then we should go back and read the Christmas story. Do you remember why Mary has the child in a stable? Remember why God has to send some coded message to some wise men with stars? It’s because Herod, the King of the day, heard the rumors of a this new baby king, and as the sitting ruler, he didn’t like Christmas either. So he tricks some wise men to go fetch Jesus for him so that he might “worship” the baby. And when the wise men see Jesus, when they realize that God is doing something through this little baby, they sneak off and never return to Herod. And when the sitting King realizes this, we finally understand what he meant by “worship.”

Herod commits infanticide on hundreds or thousands of baby boys.

That’s what a war on Christmas looks like.

The Christmas story starts off with a first century Hitler on the throne. Who’s so afraid of losing his political power that he’s willing to wipe out an entire generation of Jewish boys just to kill one of them. Joseph and Mary and Jesus all have to flee the country, Joseph goes from this devout Jewish man, to Jack Bauer overnight.

And Herod does this all, not because he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he does it, because he does understand Christmas.

Did you know that right now, all over the world there are people who gather together in secret to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just by gathering together they are breaking the law, and it’s not because the national governments of the places they live in don’t understand Christmas, it’s because they do! Christmas is the arrival of a King, and if you are a political leader or king of any stripe then Christmas is going to be hard to accept.

Because the truth is that there isn’t so much a war on Christmas as there is the War of Christmas.  Continue reading Something is Missing #1: The War Of Christmas

An Election Week Prayer

Yesterday at the Highland Church of Christ, I shared this brief word of encouragement for how Jesus followers might enter this election week. I hope this breathes a fresh word of peace into our lives. May we not be fearful.

Henry Kissinger used to walk into the Oval Office and begin the meeting of the Presidential Cabinent by telling the people gathered, “Today, we will make decisions that will impact the course of human history!”

And they believed him. They felt the weight of the world on their shoulders.

And then Watergate happened. It was the scandal that rocked the nation, and a few of the gentlemen who were in that room, the ones who were making decisions that would change the course of history, went to prison. One of those people was Charles Colson, and it was in prison that Jesus found Charles Colson. He became a part of a thriving jail ministry, and after he was released Colson kept serving in a prison ministry where he saw thousands of people become followers of Jesus.

Decades later, Colson would make a trip to Rome, where he would walk around the great historic city and it’s cites. And he said as he walked around the ruins of the once great Rome, it slowly dawned on him that the Roman Senators probably started off their days with someone telling them “The decisions that we made today will change to course of human history.”

And the late Charles Colson realized that “Today that Rome is just a pile of rocks, but the Kingdom of God just keeps going on.”  Continue reading An Election Week Prayer

The Great Affair

When I was first starting full time ministry, Leslie and I were mentoring a handful of young adults just a few years younger than us. We met a couple of times a week to pray and just talk through life together, it was one of those things that you take for granted but realize later what a holy moment you are being prepared for. After about a year of this, we got a call from one of these young adults. They had just found out that their father had been cheating on their mother…a lot. He had thrown away a marriage of 25+ years for a few passing moments. Paul says the wages of sin are death, and it was in the next few hours that I got a glimpse into what that meant.

I remember vividly the next few hours, sitting in a room with this little betrayed family, hearing moans that can only come by the worst kinds of hurt. I remember the confusion and pain and groans that came over the next days and weeks. And I remember thinking about how much more sense Scripture was making in light of all this.

The way that Bible primarily talks about sin, is quite different than the way we talk about it. We use metaphors like gulfs and bridges, but the Bible doesn’t talk about sin in terms of location that much, instead it talks about sin in terms of relationship. That is, sin, for the people of God, is like adultery. In fact, some of the most provocative language in the entire Bible is from the prophets trying to make sure we know just how seriously God sees this, and how offensive our adultery really is.

So when we first started looking at the book of Revelation, we noticed that one of the things that Jesus was saying to the churches was that they had forgotten their first love. From the outside looking in, they were successful, faithful churches. They were doing and saying all the right things, maybe they had just forgotten who they were doing it for. Continue reading The Great Affair

The Victory of the Lamb

One of the surprising things about the book of Revelation is what doesn’t surprise us. Maybe it’s because we have been too busy paying attention the cryptic numbers, or the dragons and the locusts, but one of the things that is central to the book of Revelation is the thing that should actually shock us the most. And we just read over it like it doesn’t matter.

This is what I’m talking about.

All through Revelation, John talks about victory. Now the word victory for the little churches that he’s writing would have been a loaded term. It was after all more than just a result or an idea. It was a god. Literally, they god’s name was the Roman god Nike. The Romans worshipped victory. She was portrayed as a winged goddess, and her image was on the shield of Roman soldiers. There were statues of Nike with her foot on the globe (a symbol of total world domination). Her image was often on coins reminding people in the marketplace that Rome was victorious.

On the arch of Titus, from 81 A.D., gives us a look into how they used Nike to tell their story. It was right after the Romans had crushed the Jewish people and for their propaganda they set up an Arch (which makes us rethink St. Louis). On one side, it showed the battle that they won, and on the other side of the arch, it showed the goddess Nike putting a triumphal wreath around Titus’ head. They had a theology of military victory (that everyone would have known about), that was reinforced with every victory parade, every time you bought or sold with Roman money, or whenever you went into town. You would see Nike.

Nike was a winged symbol that showed everyone who saw her that Romans always win.

Take that Michael Jordan.  Continue reading The Victory of the Lamb

Can I Get a Witness?

 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,  who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. -Revelation 1:1-3

So there was this time when I was a kid, I was nosing around in some letters that somebody had written my mom over a decade before. They were talking about a future visit and what they would be able to do when they were in town together. It was a letter about people being reconciled after a long time apart, and they were coming soon.

As we read through the book of Revelation, we would do good to remind ourselves that this letter isn’t written to us, at least not directly the way we think about it. It was first written to Jesus followers who lived in the world ruled by Rome. They were misunderstood, for the most part they lived in poverty and on the margins, they were beginning to be hated and persecuted, and so God gives John a vision for them.

He shows John life in the Heavens, he opens up the curtain between Heaven and earth and John sees Jesus coming in the clouds with trumpets with a sword and blazing eyes. And I guarantee you whenever this  little church that was gathered around listening to this letter being read,  when they got to this part, they began to whisper it. Because everybody in that day knew what that language meant.

That was how they talked about Caesar.

Caesar was, after all, indisputably the most powerful person in the world. He ruled the world from India to England and he did it with an iron first. However, you need more than just military might to rule that much land, you need faith. So Caesar needed people to believe he was divine, the son of God, and the Prince of Peace (all titles applied to him). When he was going places, they would say that Caesar came in the clouds and was preceded by trumpets. He was a force to be reckoned with, and these seven little churches (probably, for the most part, just a handful of peasants and slaves) were just a fly on his windshield that he could easily flick off. He had done that plenty of times before.

But…. Continue reading Can I Get a Witness?

More Than Civil

So this video was filmed right in the middle of the African-Americans starting to do sit-in’s on southern eating establishments. They were breaking several unjust laws, and forcing the issues of racial prejudice and injustice back into the forefront of the American white people. African Americans were being arrested right and left, and so Dr. King, as the leader of this national strategy, was brought onto the Meet the Press show to give the rationale behind this movement.

He was 31 years old.

Which is convicting in itself for me. That just happens to be my age. By the time Dr. King had lived as long as I had, he had a command of national issues, a passion for justice, and a strategy that was starting to pick up steam. I’m realizing I just might play too much Xbox.

But here in this video, Dr. King is taking quite a bit of flack, he’s being asked some hard questions by some white reporters who seem to be feeling some anxiety associated with the spirit of that age (not to mention some poor fashion sense). And Dr. King never loses his calm, he never responds belittling or with anger. Heck, he never even mentions that thing that the woman reporter is trying to pass off as a hat.

Now there is a couple of observations in here for us. For all the reporters logic, and sense, they seemed to be unaware that they were speaking squarely with the voice of the status quo. Their imaginations had been captured by the spirit of the age, and they could not see it. It’s always a danger that when God sends a prophet people won’t be able to even consider the possibility that they could be wrong and he or she could be right. We build monuments and bridges for Dr. King today, but in his day, in many of the circles that celebrate him today, he was considered as favorably as a turd in a punchbowl. There is a real danger of not doing a fearless self-inventory when we hear someone who disagrees with us, or calls us to something beyond what we currently think

The second thing that stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with graphics, sound bytes taken out of context, and lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. It makes for some great entertainments, and some horrible people.

But that wasn’t what Dr. King’s dream was. Continue reading More Than Civil

Separation for Church and State

When I was young we had a nice woman come and knock on our door campaigning for herself to be the new Saline County Treasurer. She was kind and bubbly, and she asked me if I would help her win.

I was 10.

But I said yes. Actually, my friend and I went up and down both of our streets knocking on doors and handing out yard signs and bumper stickers for her. We even had learned a few of her talking points as we tried to convince others to take up our righteous cause. It was intoxicating, to say the least. In fact, she really just got us started down the road of political action.She was the gateway politician for us. 2 years later my friend and I would get out the phone book and call every single person in the Benton area to vote for George H.W. Bush’s re-election against Clinton.

On the night of the election, we gathered with in the Republican Headquarters of Benton and waited as the results came in. We were devastated when they did. Clinton had won, and Saline County had even voted for him. Who would have thought that two 12 year old boys making un-authorized phone calls for Bush wouldn’t have worked?

And that’s kind of the end of my political activity. I’ve voted and had heated conversations just like the next person, but I’ve tried to stop putting as much weight as I used to on the political system. I’m still glad that we have public servants who (hopefully) try to work hard and honestly to serve their constituents. But I am a preacher and so my concerns are now quite different than the American government. They are much smaller, and much more important, and still somewhat tied together. Continue reading Separation for Church and State

Imagination Over Politics

I remember the first time I met a Democrat. I mean a real live, bonafide Democrat, not just one of the scarecrows we had set up in the backyard.  I had met a friend at Harding, and everything seemed to be going fine, we had similar interests, had served in similar programs and after a few months of knowing him he dropped the D-bomb. But he wasn’t at all what I had grown up expecting, I couldn’t find the horns anywhere.

In his book, To Change the World, Robert Hunter makes a thousand profound observations, but his first one, the place he really starts his book from is that we have over politicized every aspect of our culture. Today when we meet someone, we almost always, in the back of our mind our trying to figure out where they fit on a political spectrum. And whether or not the relationship can progress depends, in large part, on whether we are in tune with one another political ideology.

And it’s not just which way a person votes. Almost every aspect of who we are and the choices we make have been politicized. Hunter points out, “Categories of identity that are not in themselves political have been suffused with political meaning. This is precisely what has happened to the categories of race, class, gender and sexual orientation.” In other words, you are what you vote, and you vote what you are.

It gets worse. Continue reading Imagination Over Politics

The Sexuality of Power

Ask any Jewish person about their day in the sun, and they might mention Abraham, they’d give Moses some respect, but I would bet almost everyone would eventually land on King David. He was, after all, a man after God’s own heart. Not to mention that he helped usher Israel into their most prosperous time in history. They lived in the promised land and everything was right with the world.

One of the things that is interesting to me about the way we talk about David is how easily we parse his life. We either talk about his giant killing days or his wise rule as King…Or we talk about his dark side. The Scandal of Bathshebagate.  I can understand why we tell that story, as far as bible stories go, it’s got it all. Murder, adultery, betrayal, and lust. It’s like a late night movie channel special.

Or it’s like any political leader today.

I’ve spent the better part of last week trying to avoid any comment on Congressman Weiners’ recent “exposure” in the media. It was difficult, (sidenote: this exercise helped me to realize just how low my maturity level was). The sad part for me was that I like Congressman Weiner, I had seen him on several interviews and he seemed personal, compassionate and intelligent. But after the sad turn of events of the past few weeks have taken it’s toll, it’s easy to start demonizing him, but…. Continue reading The Sexuality of Power