Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What Are Faithful Christians To Do?

Whether we can or want to admit it, the U.S. presidential election has revealed, more than ever, a dispossessing underside of the American collective heart. In a warm fuzzy feel-good space, we all liked to think of ourselves as magnanimous, generous, positive, influential role models for the world.  There's a mythological belief among Americans that our patriotism, our Christianity, our leadership, our moral character exceeds that of all others in the world. In an arrogant spirit we often think of ourselves as "so good" how could anyone else not like us?  The election has ripped away the facade of goodness.  Tolerance is being rescinded.  Communal compassion is breaking down.  Full color is getting squeezed into narrower monochrome bands.  Acceptance and kindness giving way to fear and hate.

What are faithful Christians to do?  A lot of the flock has scattered like sheep before wolves. Whatever we might think about how the national politic is going, it is pretty apparent that it didn't get here by Americans standing shoulder to shoulder as a whole.  We got here by being separatists and isolationists. We've come to pride ourselves, define ourselves by the labels we choose - those for ourselves as well as others.  Just a few examples: Conservative-Liberal, Democrat-Republican, Rural-Urban, Rich-Homeless, Gay-Straight, Muslim-Christian, Terrorist-Righteous Defender...  The lists continue ad nauseum. 

Isolated in our little enclaves, we've tended to give a live-and-let-live gracious bow to those around us from other enclaves who we felt sorry for or with whom we felt a kindred spirit.  If we couldn't get along we steered a wide berth around them and kept to ourselves.  The racist or sexist jokes told at family gatherings we let slide because we didn't want to upset family.  We despise terrorists without really knowing the bone-deep suffering and misery that spawns it; nor own the retaliatory terrorism handed down in response.  We hold hands and shake our heads sitting in our church (with our kind) wondering where we're headed.  We gerrymander our own safe life zones.  So the election happens and we discover that there are a lot more people in enclaves that we didn't realize even existed and they're angry from feeling put down and unaccepted. This election may be one of the truly history making ones -- the election that blew the Melting Pot to smithereens. A lot of people don't want to be melted together with "those kind."  

The Christian response is grounded in the Gospel, in the Eucharist, in community.  It is grounded in knowing our neighbors, breaking down walls, expanding our understanding, and reveling the extent to which an infinitely creative God with infinite intelligence will pursue the widest and wildest possible options, so that human beings would not become lonely or bored.  One of the Church's greatest offenses to the world has been it's isolationism.  It has historically attempted to cut the world into us against them.  Beginning in the Book of Acts, Peter and Paul argued who would be included in this newest religious enterprise.  We're still arguing, and still missing the point of being part of the Body of Christ.  Our faith-filled Christian response should be love your neighbor -- whoever they are.  Our faith-filled Christian response should be understand the suffering of another.  Our faith-filled Christian response is come out of your bunkers and eat with us.  The banquet table is prepared.  We can't set a table for the entire United States.  But we can set one in our neighborhoods, in our cities, and in our churches.  Come to the banquet and let's talk.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving musings

But let justice flow like water, and righteousness like an unfailing stream."  -- Amos 5:24

On this Thanksgiving Eve, when so many families are in the midst of their remnants returning home, when feasts and gratitude flow for what abundance is present in our lives, let us take a few moments to pause...  Pause to reflect on two weightier words: justice and righteousness.

The Prophet Amos has just proclaimed pointedly how God no longer enjoys or takes notice of our feasts, solemn assemblies, and offerings.  Yet we are here: heaping tables with each one's favorite food, some gathering for a worship service at their church, and most offering an extra measure of bounty to the homeless via a donation or serving at a community meal for the marginalized.  And yet, in light of injustice and lack of real righteousness, these symbols mean nothing.

If we take a timeout from our privileged places, and solemnly look around our world we see so much to be sad about, so much unfairness...  From Tennessee and the children killed by a reckless bus driver to the last hospital bombed out of existence in Aleppo Syria to the bedside of a dearly beloved's dying -- and so much hunger, 795 million in a world producing 1.5x what everyone in the whole world needs.  Where is the justice?  How do we find any sense of righteousness?  

The answer does not rest in feeling guilty or even repenting.  It doesn't come from donating more, or working harder.  Justice and righteousness are not rooted in any works that we can perform.  They are rooted in one's true heart and in faith in One greater and more capable than any.  One who "exceeds anything we can ask or think."  

When hearts are rooted in the heart and soul of Jesus, His mercy flows into life bringing the deepest possible sense of gratitude.  Out of that flows a true discipleship, which writes into our agenda the meaningful ways to reach out in service to Him and the world's need.  As Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes, so He blesses our service and labors for the Kingdom of God.  Pursuing that heart flow, grounded in Christ, brings justice and righteousness to our lives and that of the whole world.