One Christian’s Voting Guide

imagesChristian bloggers, clergy, and laypeople everywhere are blowing up social media with angst over which candidate to vote for in the upcoming general election.

But people make it more complicated than it needs to be. Part of the problem is many Christians limit their criteria to one or two wedge issues that are never even mentioned by Jesus.

Make is easy. Open up to Matthew 25 and get reacquainted with the works of mercy that, according to Matthew, Jesus uses as criteria for the Last Judgment:

  • Feed the hungry: Which political candidate is about food safety and security for all?
  • Give drink to the thirsty: What about the indefensible water crisis in Flint, Michigan?  How about the rest of the U.S. water supply?  Which candidates are fighting fracking and the pollution of ground water?   Which candidates are fighting to make safe this necessary compound for sustaining all of life?
  • Clothe the naked: How about a wage fair enough to buy some clothes? How about Oregon and that $14.75 minimum wage? That’s economic justice.
  • Shelter the homeless: Don’t complain about Section 8 housing if you’re going to call yourself a follower of Jesus.  Even the least of these deserve a roof over their heads. Which candidate supports such endeavors? For this issues one must turn to local leaders.  For example, look for local candidates advocating for the homeless.  There many creative initiatives seeking to alleviate this chronic issue, such as the tiny home village taking shape in Dallas, Texas.
  • Take care of the sick: Healthcare and all that that implies. For all.  That means everyone. This is a no brainer.
  • Welcome the stranger: For Jesus this included the foreigner and the “other.” Xenophobia has no place in the heart or actions of a Christian.  Study the candidates.  Which ones display xenophobia and bigotry, or worse, stirs the “shit pot of hate?” Don’t vote for that one. Period.
  • Visit the imprisoned: The U.S. has one of largest populations of incarcerated people worldwide. This is a human rights issue. Further, the high school to prison pipeline remains fully supplied by dropouts, fostered by a less than engaging education system.  Which candidates offer a plan to simultaneously fight poverty and improve education.

A lot of Christians like restrict these marks of faithfulness to the work of individual congregations, contending that the government should play no part in such matters.  I suspect that argument is popular for these Christians because Matthew 25 doesn’t play into their efforts to legislate an ideological, and unbiblical, morality, forcing it onto the wider population. But this has only created animosity toward Christianity.

The acts of mercy in Matthew 25 are inconvenient for sure, even for those who try to live them out faithfully. Individual congregations cannot afford, due to dwindling giving and church participation in the U.S., to realize these acts in a vacuum that transforms the wider culture. There has to be a partnership with other faiths, and even secular institutions.  That’s why it important for Christians to vote and keep in mind the matters that Jesus declare to be most crucial.

It’s fine if one disagrees that Matthew 25 should inform a Christian voter.  Just don’t claim to be casting a vote in the name of Jesus, otherwise.

Pope Francis on Walls and being Christian

Today Pope Francis reminded the world that building walls isn’t Christian.  Donald Trump took this personally.  But Pope Francis got it right.  The Judeo- Christian texts are filled with instances of God breaking down walls, removing barriers, and lifting veils.  Nothing- not even the powers-that-be, as the Apostle Paul reminds us-  can separate us from the love of God.  This is not metaphorical for Paul.  The Christian faith is about community.  We can’t have authentic community when barriers stand between us, especially those built by fear mongering politicians.  Putting up a wall between nations, especially in the 21st century, runs counter to all our ancient texts proclaim.

For centuries, political hopefuls have co-opted the Good News, corrupted it, disembodied it, and gutted it of its economic and social implications in order to posture themselves for more power.  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are merely the latest in a long line of offenders.  But they didn’t get where they are on their own. They had help.  They have been aided and abetted by “Christian” leaders and their followers for a very long time.

The Gospel of Jesus is, both, spiritual and social.  They cannot be separated. God’s justice is for all. It is distributive. It is not limited one faith over another.  And it certainly isn’t about this business of building walls.

If the question is whether or not Pope Francis as any business calling out potential world leaders for misrepresenting the Christian faith, the answer is: absolutely he does.  In fact, a leader in his position had better call them out or further risk the integrity of the church universal.

There are seismic shifts occurring in religious communities everywhere.  People of all faiths are tired of their religion being used as a justification for terrorism, or a shield for some to stand behind, while they deny the civil rights of other, or as an excuse to carry out xenophobic and oppressive policies.

So, a word of gratitude for Pope Francis and those like him who muster the courage to spoke for the voiceless in our world and calling out those who misrepresent the Good News.

**I recognize the Pope lives behind walls as do many people.  The point is that bridges send an entirely different signal than barriers.  Our world needs a different kind of leadership.  I think the Pope is expressing, in part, what that kind of leadership looks like. 

 

Rumi: On Jesus

Rumi was a 13th century Sufi mystic.  A poet. A theologian.  A Muslim.  I’ve often thought he understood Jesus and the task of the church better than most 21st century Christians.  These words from Rumi about Jesus are among my favorite:

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“Where Jesus is the great-hearted gather.

We are a door that’s never locked.

If you are suffering any kind of pain, stay near this door. Open it”

The Essential Rumi, Trans., Coleman Barks

Lent 2015.2: Jesus and the “Have Nots”

Democrazia-in-movimentoAfter Jesus emerges from his fasting he spends a great portion of his ministry  afflicting the “haves” and comforting the “have nots”.  He seems to have no use for an economic system that allows greedy “tax” collectors, for example, to prey upon the most fragile.  This focal point of Jesus’s ministry cannot be ignored during one’s Lenten journey . . .or after.

 For the Christian, and non-Christian, poverty is a moral issue.  It’s sinful no matter how we look at as it is created and perpetuated by humans.

Decades ago the United States declared a “war on poverty”.  Here is what Stringfellow had to say at the time on the matter:

. . .a war on poverty has been declared, but as of now, it seems more an appeasement of the conscience of the prosperous than empathy for the sufferings of the poor.  Poverty  cannot be undone in America by appropriating a nickel where five dollars is required.”  William Stringfellow, Dissenter in a Great Society.

Stringfellow’s could have easily been written in 2015.  Everyone, Christians included, as Stringfellow later explains, are part of the political process whether we want to be or not,  Poverty is not only a moral crisis, but it is also a political one: it is sinful and it is a matter of life and death for those who live it day in and day out.

For us Christians in the United States, as part of the church and part of the political process,  there really isn’t any question as to how we are called to act upon the matter.

Why I’m Not Giving Up Beer for Lent

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with updates from friends and acquaintances announcing what they are doing for Lent. Some are using it as a time of sacrifice, while others are being moved to action. 

Curiously, I meet more and more folks who are drawn to the season of Lent; some aren’t even Christian. Maybe it’s the appeal of a designated time for self-reflection. Christian or not, it is appropriate to enter the next few weeks with an awareness of Lent’s significance to the Christian faith.

The season observes the roughly forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the “evil one” and immersed in self-examination. We have limited testimony to Jesus’s words and thoughts. But his was a journey that helped refine his identify and purpose for this world.

Jesus emerged from his wilderness wandering transformed; he was ready to challenge oppressive paradigms, reach out to the the poor, and offer grace and forgiveness to those labeled “unclean” by others. He taught people how to pray and what people should really be praying for: daily food, justice, and forgiveness. He refused to take part in violence. He refused to give in to conventional forms of power and greed- and he had sharp words for those who did. He radicalized what it meant to be a neighbor. His embrace of the “other” was wide and his love for the unloveable deep. He ate meals with the unwanted. He didn’t even put up a fight when he was falsely accused, convicted and given the death penalty. This was the life he modeled.

Lent, particularly for Christians, is a spiritual journey to the foot of the cross. It begins with the acknowledgement of our mortality: our limited time. The hope is that the journey is a transformative one: that we each come out on the other side changed, renewed, and ready to respond to the one who beacons, “Follow me.”

Whatever your reason for choosing to observe Lent, I hope you made a commitment that will challenge and transform your inner being. May that transformation result in a greater self- awareness and a deeper sense of compassion and justice.

Oh, right, you started reading this because you wanted to know why I’m not giving up beer for Lent. That’s easy: St. Patrick’s Day. I’m parting with red meat instead.  There are a couple of other commitments but those are between me and God.

Cheers!

“The Name Cuts Deep”, by Saffen

The Name Cuts Deep

Here’s another one.
A boy, eight days old.
It’s time: time to cut away
Unneeded flesh, to sign the scar
Of God in manchild’s private place.
No one else will know but him and his.

The rite calls for a name.
Have you a name yet, son?
What shall we call you, little giant?
Call his name “Jesus”? Why?
Because he’ll save his people?
What a huge load for such little shoulders.
What dreams parents have, what expectancies,
Poor little child, to have God’s work
Assigned so soon.

Cut the name in deep. Tattoo it indelibly on tortured Hebrew flesh.
Scare it with raw wounds to acquaint you early
With cross and barbs and nail.
You’ll be Jew soon enough to know

The Name cuts deep in certain flesh.
Now you belong to God.
There’s no escaping that.
His name for eternity. Get used to it now.
“Jesus” is the handle you’ll get used by.
You’ll wish you could change your name
Into incognito, when the whole world
Calls it out in curse and prayer.

Go home for now, lacerated boy,
Don’t grow up too soon. 

by Wayne Saffen

Quoting Jesus: An Apologia from Richard Rohr

I’ve been coming back to Richard Rohr’s gem of a book, “Falling Upward,” for the past year. Rohr speaks to spiritual matters, particularly the male journey, in ways that few have been able, or dared, to do in our time. I I find his personal defense for quoting Jesus poignant.

So I offer this personal apologia for those of you who perhaps are wondering why I quote Jesus so much. You might be saying, ‘Does it really matter?’ or ‘Does it have to be in the Bible to be true?’ Well, I quote Jesus because I still consider him to be the [emphasis Rohr’s] spiritual authority of the Western world, whether we follow him or not. He is always spot-on at the deeper levels and when we understand him in his own explosive context. One does not even need to believe in his divinity to realize that Jesus is seeing at a much higher level than most of us.

For some of you , my quoting Jesus is the only way you will trust me; for others, it gives you more reason to mistrust me, but I have to take both risks. If I dared to present all of these ideas simply as my ideas, or because they match modern psychology or old mythology, I would be dishonest. Jesus for me always clinches the deal, and I sometimes wonder why I did not listen to him in the first place.