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.

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.

Should Mccain’s expereinces count for him?

I’m fascinated at the symbolism that’s shaping up in the presidential election.  It looks like it’s coming down to a mostly conservative former prisoner of war and a mostly progressive former community organizer. 

As we assess these two facts about the candidates, it’s interesting to me how they play out.  There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that being a prisoner of war counts as something that works in Mccain’s favor.  There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that Obama’s time as a community organizer does not.

In the final analysis, these assumptions might turn out to be right.  But it’s incredibly difficult to even ask the question “Is being a former prisoner of war good preperation to be president?”

Before I explain why I think this is a question worth asking, I want to state some things up front:

#1) I thank God for veterans and recognize we would not have a country with out them.

#2) I can’t imagine being a prisoner of war.  Mccain experienced periods of torture.  So near as I can see, he came through this experience fairly healthy and whole.  I doubt I could do this.

#3) Though I am not a Republican and disagree with Mccain on a variety of issues I have a great deal of respect for him as a human being.  I appreciate that he is calls things like he sees them and doesn’t get hemmed in by partisan politics.

(It’s interesting.  If I were criticizing a liberal, I’d be able to bring up the idea that “political correctness” says I’m not supposed to call these things into question.  Conservative politics also has a code of things that are taken as sacred and that we’re not supposed to question, too.  Nobody’s come up with a neat little name for these ideas, so it’s harder to complain about the fact that we’re bullied into not talking about them.)

Having said all that, I’d like to explore  why I think we ought to question the assumption that Mccain’s experiences as a prisoner of war inherently lead to him being a better candidate.

The most obvious reason is that simply being a hero is not preperation for being the president.  Certainly character is huge.  And character certainly might have been built through that process.  But if that’s the real issue then we ought to look at all the candidates’ lives and choose our president based on who has suffered the most or overcome the most adversity.

If we engaged in such a search through all the candidates lives, and uncovered the toughest experiences they went through, we’d be wise to ask whether these experiences were a good thing or a bad thing for them.

When I look back at the traumatic experiences of my own life, I know that they leave a mixed impact on me.  Some leave me with strength and bitterness.  Others leave with me with greater endurance and also a prejudice.

So here’s the question: Did being a prisoner of war for five years, did being tortured for five years leave a positive or a negative impact on Mccain?

If it were me that experienced that, I know that there would be absolutely no way that I could come through that experience and be qualified to be America’s commander and chief.  There’s no way I could represent my country in an unbiased manner.  There’s no way that I could negotiate reasonably with other countries.

Mccain has strength in ways that I’ll never imagine.  I’m open to the outside possibility that someone, such as him, might make it through those 5 years and have it build them up.  I believe that people heal and overcome their wounds.

When we look at things on the surface, we often think “the person who has been through the most experiences is most qualified.”  But if we look at the issue very deeply we realize that there are limits to this. 

Most of us would not want to look like the potential boss’s ex-boyfriend in a job interview.  The boss recently experienced a break-up.  This experience does not better prepare her for making the decision around whether or not we’re qualified for the job.

If something horrendous happened to someone in my family, part of me might wish for the death penalty of the perpretrator.  I believe I’d be wrong to wish for the death penalty; I don’t believe in it.  But this wouldn’t make me wish for it any less.  Having a family member victimized would not prepare to judge fairly about legal issues.

We recognize this principal in jury selection.  People with significant experiences similar to the case are dismissed as the assumption is that the person could be biased.

Perhaps Mccain’s made it through to the other side of his experiences.  Maybe he’s grown through them.  Nobody’s really asking the question, so we can’t really know.  And some of the reason we don’t know, some of the reason we’re not asking is simply because we’re afraid that people will bully us by labeling us “unpatriotic” for asking the question in the first place.

 But it’s not an issue of patriotism at all.  It’s bigger than our country.  Nelson Mandella become president of South Africa within months of being released from a decades-long improsonment.  When this occured, people wondered the same things I’m wondering about Mccain: Is he unbiased?  Did the experience scar him?    Though Mandella is a hero and did an amazing job, it was appropriate to ask these questions in his case.  I’m suggesting here that we ought to be asking the same for Mccain.

At the bare minimum, I’d say that his experiences are a sword that cuts both ways.  In some sense it probably did prepare him for the presidency.  But how could it not have other, negative effects?  It seems to me that it’s incredibly important to wiegh these effects as well.