NERV: Matthew 25

From the New Evangelical Redacted Version. Matthew 25:31-46.

Advent 2017.1 – Impatient Waiting

False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray. . .be alert. . .I have already told you everything. . .keep awake.
Mark 13:21-37

The powers and principalities of the Earth have cast a dark, ominous presence over this world that, if left unchallenged, will siphon all hope from those who need it most.

The shadows are stalked by false messiahs and prophets who prey upon the fears of the masses, convincing them that only they can save this world from destruction. Or worse, they pacify their audiences by affirming their prejudcies and hatred, and in return the people lay their hands on the deceitful ones, offering unholy blessings.

They create phony wars on one of the holiest of days and make empty, meaningless delcarations like, “We’re saying Merry Christmas again.” For they know the problem the  Christ Child poses is a political one. This Gift Bringer promises hope, love, peace, and justice. But not the familiar justice of retribution and punishment. No. This is about God’s justice- Restorative. (re)Distributive. Abundant. God will not be mocked.

God’s Light of Hope shines truth upon those who practice the dark arts of oppression, disregard for basic human rights, dehumanization, greed, and war, dispelling their lies. For Jesus has already told us all we need to know.

The Light of Hope grants the faithful the “impatience to wait for [Christ’s] coming to the bottom of our toes, to the edges of our fingertips” (W. Brueggemann). We are awake, alert, prepared.  We are not idle. Instead, we are mobilized and actively defy those who would bring harm upon our sisters and brothers no matter their place in life. So, we walk toward the Light of Hope, yearning for the promise of the Christ-child. The Gift Bringer. The Messiah.

A Cup of Blessing

“I should be content to look at a mountain for what it is
and not as a comment on my life.” David Ignatow

Whenever I hear someone declare, “We’re so blessed,” or, “I’ve been blessed,” there is often a hint of “humble bragging” involved. This is usually the case when the “blessing” in question refers to one’s privilege or station in life. One example is believing that wealth and prosperity is a sign of being “blessed,” or “favored.” This is not so.

A blessing, as I have understood the term, is rooted in a sacred context. It involves the divine. It’s an act of praise, even worship.

A blessing requires no talent or privilege on the part of the recipient. The early meaning of the verb “bless” strikes not a boastful but a reverent tone: make holy, sacrifice, and bestow good. Such an act can only be met with humble gratitude. It’s not only about us; It’s also about the One who blesses. It’s a reciprocal relationship between God and God’s people.

Whether through nature, the people who add depth and meaning to our lives, or through the table of Christ, God is one who continually blesses. We who are blessed need only respond with our reverential and humble thanksgivings.  Today may our prayers at the table not confuse our privilege or the gluttonous feast with the blessing equally offered to all and represented by the “cup of blessing which we bless“: the cup of Christ.

Have a blessed day of thanks.

Texas Governor Urging Pastors to Support “Bathroom Bill”

Yesterday I wrote a about Christianism and it’s heavy hand in US politics. Some of my clergy colleagues may not agree with applying this term to fellow Christians.  I recognize that there are many Christianities.  We come in a variety of flavors, so to speak.  But there is a distinct difference when political leaders move to legislate restrictive and discriminatory policy in the name of any religion.

Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, recently acted in a way that bears all the markings of Christianism.  Dallas CBS affiliate reported that Robert Morris, Pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, was asked to urge his massive, multi-campus congregation to influence their state representatives to vote for the controversial “bathroom bill.”  The Texas Senate has already passed the measure, but Texas House Speaker, Joe Straus, has been opposed to such move, saying it will harm the state’s economy. Religious leaders speak on public matters all the time. So, what is the problem here?

Abbott has been known to post scripture and Christian based content to his Facebook page. But there are numerous Christians, including myself, that do not support legislation that sets apart or reduces any group for any reason, including the LGBTQ community. I am particularly concerned when a politician maneuvers to legislate such discrimination, hide behind religious beliefs and then call on mega church, or any church, pastors to do the dirty work of stirring the emotions of their congregations over a problem that doesn’t exist.  This is Christianism, which is just another form of fundamentalism.

I know that many of my fellow clergy are taking note of this and are having meaningful dialogue with their congregations regarding difficult issues, especially when the issues directly involve ostracized people.  But we need more.  I believe the conversation must expand through relationship building, education, and calling what the likes of Gregg Abbott and Robert Morris are doing for what it is; attempting to define public policy according a narrow “religious” viewpoint.  There is nothing to say people of faith cannot act on their faith in the voting booth.  But there is a boundary between the secular state and religious ideology for a reason. Keeping that separation in place prevents us from becoming a theocratic state.

*The image below was recently posted on Gregg Abbott’s Facebook page along with the biblical citation for Isaiah 14:27, which is about God’s prophetic promise to defeat Israel’s oppressors. I find this ironic given the recent bill he signed banning “sanctuary cities.” 

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Christianism: On the Rise or Last Gasp?

I first learned the term “Christianism” in a piece by Andrew Sullivan a few years ago. Christianism is a label well earned by Christianists (inaccurately labeled the “Christian Right” by mainstream media), who are religious fundamentalists in the US that advocate for a political agenda with dangerous theocratic leanings. Christianists now occupy influential political positions and possess unhindered access to all branches of the federal government, as well as numerous state and local governments.  At the risk of sounding paranoid, this is cause for real concern.

Texas is a case study in just how Christianists, if left unchecked, will craft legislation that jeopardizes the freedoms we all enjoy. For example, Texas lawmakers are currently proposing legislation that would give adoption agencies the authority to discriminate at will. This bill, claim legislators, “protects religious freedoms” of private adoption agencies, many, of which, receive public funds.  The truth is this bill is aimed at discriminating against LGBTQ couples who seek adoption.  Further, it opens the door for more forms of bigotry behind the veil of “religious conviction.” This cruel from of governance does not come from “the Christian Right”; It is neither Christian nor right. This is but one of many efforts currently underway to legislate a “religion” that not does not reflect any of the tenets of Christianity.  Rather, this kind of policymaking comes from Christianism (which is just another form of fundamentalism); it is dangerous and undermines our 1st amendment protection from an established religion.

We’re certainly not living in a theocracy, yet. But there’s definitely an unholy alliance between Christianists and the government that is supposed to protect the rights of all who live within these United States. It is important for people of faith and the media alike to identify what Christianism truly is; It is bad for the United States and for the global community.  Whether what we’re witnessing is just he beginning of something or the last gasp of a dying breed doesn’t matter: We must resist all efforts of what looks like a theocracy in the making.

I’m With You Thomas

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,
I will not believe.” ~ Thomas, the doubter
John 20:25

I started defending Thomas years ago. His skepticism resonates with me, even if for different reasons. I accepted long ago that doubt is just one part of the faith journey- a necessary part. It has prevented me from being “certain” and ideological.

Blessings may be upon those who “hear and believe”, but sometimes “seeing” goes a long way in restoring confidence to the doubtful.

Perhaps, one doubts the fundamental faith claims made by the church, like the resurrection of Jesus. I experienced such a faith crisis in my early 30s. I knew then my understanding of what it meant to proclaim “Christ is risen” needed to change. Later, a mysterious encounter with the divine at the funeral of a man I never met would reassure, for me, the promise of resurrection- but with new understanding.

Others need to see the church do something other than bully people, foster hatred, or abuse. There are a many congregations in our world that are authentic centers for sanctuary, healing, forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance.  The world needs to see- and hear- less of the brutish preachers (let’s not name them- they get enough media attention) and more of the fiercely loving communities that embody what Christ called his followers to do. “They will know we are Christians by our love,” as the old song goes.

So, Thomas, in my book, and I’m sure others, you get a pass- not that you need my stamp of approval.  I just hope others who share your doubt will embrace it, because, contrary to what some might say, it actually strengthens one’s faith.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio, 1601-1602, , Sanssouci Picture Gallery; Potsdam, Germany