I’m working on transforming myself from a left-wing Christian into a… no-wing Christian.   (We shouldn’t need wings to fly, ha-ha.)

There’s been this tension I’ve been experiencing recently.  It’s been around politics, really.  I am so far from having it worked out.  I’ll probably continue to slip into old patterns when I don’t mean to.  But I’m going to shoot for being a no-wing Christian.

Conversations (both online and real-world) with many of you, and books like Shane Clairborne’s excellent Jesus for President have been some of the external factors that have shaped and driven some of the internal considerations that bring me to this place.

I’m probably going to be mining this territory in my brain/mind/heart/soul for some time, but today I’m going to start with some realizations that maybe laid the groundwork for where I’m at now.

These realizations are the hypocrisy of the right… and the left.

(If hypocrisy is too strong a word, at the bare minimum let’s call these inconsistencies.)

Inconsistency #1

The right says that the government shouldn’t police anything material, physical.  They say down with the EPA, down the FDA, down with consumer protections, because the market will keep us all safe… and then the right goes on to affirm that the government should police everything moral.

Inconsistency #2

The left says that we need tons of government regulation of material things.  But this regulation stops with anything we can put our fingers on.  Many folks on the left want the government to be a-moral, which seems to me do be a virtual impossibility.

Inconsistency #3

The right claims that a free market capitalist system is so powerful because greed is such a profound and universal characteristic.  Yet the claim seems to be that if we weren’t taxed so heavily the extra wealth that we’d all have would be used for so many charitable causes that we wouldn’t need government welfare programs.  This leads to the question: which is it, are people basically good or are people basically selfish?

Inconsistency #4

Many people on the left assert that convicted killers have a right to live, yet won’t accord that same basic right to children who haven’t left the womb.

Inconsistency #5

Many people on the right claim that we don’t have the right to terminate a pregnancy which will eventually lead to a human child… Yet they think that we do have the right to extinguish a fully developed human in the case of the death penalty.

I’m sure that there are more than just these.  And I’m sure that there are ways that some of these tensions and inconsistencies might be resolved.  But they all lead me to the conclusion that there aren’t any real political solutions.

Jesus for President

An ongoing thing I wrestle with: If Jesus’ claims are supreme on my life, how political should I be? And given that I live in a Representative Democracy, what political decisions should I make.
One example of my attempts to come to terms with this is here
I picked up this phenemonal book: Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. They state elequently and convincingly this tension that I feel: on the one hand, many things Jesus said and did had profoundly political repurcussions. On the other hand, Jesus was and is larger than politics itself: he transcends easy distinctions like left vs right, Republican vs Democrat, conservative vs. liberal. I’m going to share a couple passages and then spend a couple paragraphs wondering what these passages mean to me.
The passages:
“But it wasn’t as if Jesus, in using such (politcally charged) language wanted Rome’s power or wanted to gain a foothold in the culture wars of his time. He didn’t want to climb Caeser’s throne. This political language didn’t harmonize with the contemporary church project of “reclaiming America for God.” Precisely the opposite: Jesus was urging his followers to be the unique, pecular, and set-apart people that began with Abraham. He didn’t pray for the world in order to make governments more religious; he called Israel to be the light of the world- to abandon the way of the world and cultivate an alternative society in the shell of the old, not merely to be a better version of the kingdom of this world.” (71)
“It’s extraordinary that when the Devil said all political power in the world belongs to him and he can give it to whomever he wishes, Jesus didn’t dispute the claim: he just flat out refused the offer. He knew well the bitter fruits of this world’s power. He saw governmental power not as a coveted position to run after but rather as the Devil’s playground. Jesus’ ancestors had suffered from the bloodshed and hunger and pain inflicted by Kings and empires. He knew how the powers had killed the prophets before him, and so he abondoned himself to the imperial cross. Instead of ascending the throne of power to establish Go’d society, he would descend into the world as a slave.” (86)

It’s tempting for me to ally myself with people who play politics in the direction I agree with. If this account is right– and it seems like it is– then I shouldn’t do this. My temptation is a distant echo of Jesus’ temptation itself: will I just flat out refuse the offer, too?
So often I don’t. In truth, I don’t even know if I know how. Should I vote? Should I formulate poltical opinions? Should I share my political opinions? Should Christians run for office at all? If we do, what sense does it make to leave our convictions behind?
There’s more questions than answers here… But maybe they are the right questions to be asking.

Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Jeremiah Wright

I have blogged about Barack Obama and why I support him. It seemed worthwhile to throw a few thoughts out around my take on the current goings-on with his campaign. For those who don’t know, comments made by the pastor of a church he attended for years have recently come to light. These comments were hate-filled and wrong.
In response, Barack has denounced these comments and distanced himself from these comments.
As he should have.

I don’t deny being troubled by all this. I am glad Barack is distancing himself from the “Rev.” It somewhat calls his judgement into question. Until recently, Rev. Wright served on a council for Obama. (I gather that the council was advisory in nature) Strategically, it’s not good. People have been fixated on the question of Barack’s religious affiliation. When it became clear that he was a Christian there were questions about the nature of this church. These questions were minimized by Barack and his people. Makes them look quite foolish now.
However, I still support Obama. One of my thoughts is that all this requires a little context. Here’s some quotes from his pastor; the source of these is http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080315/ap_on_el_pr/obama_pastor
“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Wright said. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
In a 2003 sermon, he said blacks should condemn the United States.
“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

Now, compare these:

Then Falwell said, “What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
Robertson replied, “Well, Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror, we haven’t begun to see what they can do to the major population.”
Falwell said, “The ACLU has got to take a lot of blame for this. And I know I’ll hear from them for this, but throwing God…successfully with the help of the federal court system…throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools, the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad…I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America…I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen.”
Robertson said, “I totally concur, and the problem is we’ve adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government, and so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do, and the top people, of course, is the court system.”
Falwell added, “Pat, did you notice yesterday that the ACLU and all the Christ-haters, the People for the American Way, NOW, etc., were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress, as they went out on the steps and and called out to God in prayer and sang ‘God bless America’ and said, let the ACLU be hanged. In other words, when the nation is on its knees, the only normal and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be doing all the time, calling on God.”

The source for these quotes is:


There are some critical distinctions between the two quotes. (I’ll explore these differences in a minute.) But there are striking and ironic paralells.
Ultimately, all three men begin with the bible and they notice that God has removed his protection (or even actively punished) disobedient nations. All three men began with what they saw as real evils occurring in our society today. All three men placed some of the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks on the members of society doing the evil.
All three men were wrong and their words are about equally despicable. I do not want to give the impression that I am seeking to let Wright off the hook simply because Roberton and Falwell are equally ignorant. I do want to put this in a context; the shoes has been on the other foot. We should react to Wright with whatever level of indignation we had for Robertson.

Yes, there were differences. One is that Robertson and Fallwell identified specific groups within American society. In the first paragraph, Wright says “we” and in the second paragraph he clearly identifies The American Government as the culprit. (It should be noted that since our government is, in theory, a representative democracy thisn isn’t an inconistent move to make, identifying us with our government.)
We could be argued all day long whether the ACLU or American forieng policy disasters are more evil. I don’t think that’ll get us very far. I think it’s fair to note that Robertson and Fallwell lists some groups who deserve criticism. Wright lists some groups who deserve criticism. Both also demonize undeserving targets.
A second difference is that Roberton and Fallwell have engaged in some confusing apologies, back pedaling, and explanations since they made these comments. Wright has not: but he also hasn’t had much time too.
Thirdly, the comments from Wright are actually taken from two different sermons, seperated by 2 years. By placing them together there is an implication that paragraph 2 is somehow related to paragraph one. But Wright spoke them years apart!!! Furthermore, If a Pastor spoke 40 out of the 52 weeks in a year, and if he preached from 2001 through 2008, this would mean 40 X 7= 280 times. If each sermon lasted an hour, then this means that there are 280 hours of material.
It’s entirely possible that Wright is a maniac. However, given 280 hours of anybody speaking, it would be pretty easy to find two paragraphs which, when taken out of context, sound quite dangerous. If these two seperate paragraph were placed next to each other, it would become easy to miss that they weren’t said together and things would sound worse.
Finally, there is the question of authority and responsibility. If God has called all three to be pastors then there is a level on which all three are equal in this regard. But there is another sense in which there are important differences. Roberton and Falwell have thousands of times of the power of Wright. Robertson has aspired to political office. Both have audiences of millions including very powerful political figures.
Wright might have enjoyed some of this if Obama had been elected and his comments had gone unnoticed. But her certainly didn’t have this power when he made the comments.
Even Spider-man knows that with great power comes great responsibility.

What it comes down to for me is this: Obama blew it. However, It’s important not to over react to this. A good barometer for appropriate levels of outrage would be to put the shoe on the other foot.
How did we react to politicians who claimed to follow Robertson or Falwell after there 9/11 comments? How satisfied would we have been if this hypothetical politician reacted in the same way that Obama currently is reacting?

Isaiah The political progressive.

I don’t understand how the Right Wing managed to hijack Christianity.  I won’t make the argument that Christ is more left than right.  And things are slowly changing.

I’ve been reading Isaiah tonight.  Probably me talking less and scripture talking more is wise on all kind of fronts.  So I’m simply going to toss out a few verses.  Maybe later I’ll babble some on Jesus’ affinity for Isaiah.

For those unfamiliar, Isaiah is calling out the entire country of Judah.  They’d grown complacent and corrupt, he’s promising God’s mercy if they repent and offering some amazing prophecies of Jesus.

From chpt 1:

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
       I will hide my eyes from you;
       even if you offer many prayers,
       I will not listen.
       Your hands are full of blood;

 16 wash and make yourselves clean.
       Take your evil deeds
       out of my sight!
       Stop doing wrong,

 17 learn to do right!
       Seek justice,
       encourage the oppressed. [a]
       Defend the cause of the fatherless,
       plead the case of the widow.

23 Your rulers are rebels,
       companions of thieves;
       they all love bribes
       and chase after gifts.
       They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
       the widow’s case does not come before them.

Chpt 3:

14 The LORD enters into judgment
       against the elders and leaders of his people:
       “It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
       the plunder from the poor is in your houses.

 15 What do you mean by crushing my people
       and grinding the faces of the poor?”
       declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.

Chpt 5:

 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
       is the house of Israel,
       and the men of Judah
       are the garden of his delight.
       And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
       for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
       and clever in their own sight.

 22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
       and champions at mixing drinks,

 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
       but deny justice to the innocent.

I’ll stop today with Chapter 10:

1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
       to those who issue oppressive decrees,

 2 to deprive the poor of their rights
       and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
       making widows their prey
       and robbing the fatherless.

I’m not claiming that Conservatives, or Republicans hate the poor.  I am saying that on the one hand we claim all scripture is inspired but then overlook or minimize passages that don’t fit into our world view.  These are the smallest handful of verses that I believe tend to get brushed under the carpet.

More on the contrast between Obama and Mccain

In a post I wrote this morning, I observed that the symbolism that’s shaping up in the current presidential election.  Here is an article which puts a different spin on the same information.  I read it a few hours after writing that post.  The statement from the Republican around the contrast with Mccain as a “war hero” and Obama as a “poster child for the anti-war movement” struck me as particularly relavant.

I think the first thing that’s worth noticing about all this is that it at first looks like an unbiased observation.  However, the terms “hero” for Mccain and “poster child” certainly carry emotional weight. 

Compare the statement above with reversing things, “Obama is a hero of the anti-war movement, Mccain is the poster-child of someone who has been in war.”

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’d like to return to the theme of that prior post: Why do we assume that Mccain’s experiences in Vietnam more adequately prepared him for the role of President?

I am not denying that the man is a hero as stated in the last post.  I believe that the hatred and scare tactics promoted by our current president have given power to a double standard.

We are all so afraid of the future, and outsiders, and other countries, that we’re desperate for a father figure, a face that looks like most of the faces we saw playing the wise old dad growing up on sit-coms.

I don’t consider it surprising that people create paranoid and hate-filled emails about Obama.  That happens to everybody in the public eye.  But the fact that people take this seriously is evidence, I think, for this phenemona.  If both of Barack’s parents were of European lineage, if skin was white and his eyes were blue, nobody would be getting mileage out of him not putting his hand to his heart during the national anthem. 

When people are afraid they are at their worst.  If we weren’t living in such a fear-filled time I think that these delusions wouldn’t be treated as so credible… Seriously, do we really want a president who gives more thought to his lapel pin than his positions on the issues?  Because that’s what we’ll end up with if we make accesorizing a political issue.

A bunch of reasons why I’m voting for Barack Obama

For whatever it’s worth, here’s the reasons that I think it’s worthwhile to vote for Obama.  I’m putting a special focus on reasons that put to rest the narrative that Obama is a starry-eyed idealist with no real experience of specific plans.

(The following reasons are in no particular order.)

#1) He’s basically the only candidate who has the record to claim that he was opposed not only to the specific execution but also the general theory of invading Iraq. 

#2) He can move from sweeping, philosophical generalizations to down-in-the dirt, nitty gritty plans.  Because nitty-gritty doesn’t play well in our sound bite culture, people miss this… He has mind-numbingly detailed plans on issues like health care.  See his website (http://www.mybarackobama.com) The site gives you the option to see his views on outlines in either broad strokes or specific reports.  The one on health care, for example, is enomorous.  Frankly, I got lost in places.  I think it’s fair to say you don’t agree with him.   But to claim that he doesn’t have a specific view is foolish.

#3) He gets education.  One of his strengths in general is to see that many debates which get played as either/or are really both/and.  For example, the debate about education gets played as “accountabality or support for needy students/ districts.” Obama gets that real accountabality (not pseudodata from inapropriately interpreted standardized tests) AND support are necessary.

#4) He is a supporter of real diplomacy, international engagement, and recovering America’s ruined repuation around the world.

#5) He’s the first presidential candidate that could be fairly seen as a representative of the Christian Left.  His speech in June to an audience of evangelicals was more than brilliant, it was also courageous.  The man didn’t simply spout platitidues he knew that audience wanted to hear.  He fairly assessed the good and bad news about politics and religion.  He proclaimed the truths he sees and admitted the ambiguity and struggles he feels.

#6) He hasn’t accepted any interest groups money.  Is there any other “top tier” candidate who can claim the same thing?

#7) He’s a bazillion times more electable than Hillary Clinton.  He’s also three times as charismatic and  eight point five times more charactered.  (By the way, how does Hilary get to play the experience card over Obama?  Are they allowing us to put our spouses information on our resumes now?)

This of course could go on… and if anybody sees things differently I invite them to share there perspectives.