The Hidden Reason I Love The UCC — It’s Us

My friend Evelyn Eddy posted a reminder on Facebook the other day that about three tears to the day before I was born, something great happened. My denomination came into being and made the world a better and safer place. By my standards, we are the best denomination out there. The reasons are not immediately evident, but they are vital to my understanding of what God calls us to be.

When I do chaplaincy with the mentally ill at Hartford Hospital, I begin with this:

“Hi, my name is John. I’m an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and I’m a member at South Church in New Britain, and I come to here to bring worship and the word and prayer and communion and all that sort of stuff… That’s who I am. You are?…” I say this because I am proud of all of that. I’m proud to be ordained. I’m proud to be a member at South Church, and I am proud to bring worship and the word and prayer and communion to people that other people would not acknowledge or scorn or simply throw away. I would be proud to be a part of any denomination that did that last part because that’s what Jesus would do. To be fair, many of my colleagues in all sorts of denominations would do that because it’s what Jesus would do. So, while that’s great, it’s not unique. But, when recently ordained Salem, Oregon minister Emily Goodnow does the wedding of two homeless gay people who fell asleep on the church steps, I know that tradition continues and I am proud. When supposedly “retired” minister Peter Wells goes to workshop after workshop teaching people how to make lasting change in the world while understanding how difficult the world is, I am proud. When Gordon and Cy Sherman and a gazillion people they raised in the faith are out caring for people and nature and causes you never heard of, I am proud.

Still, I have too may minister friends to say with any certainty that the UCC has the best minsters out there. God raises up great people in all sorts of denominations. I will say that being who and what we are attracts the best ministers to us, though. If you read this blog on any regular basis, you know the people I am talking about — Todd Farnsworth, Emily, Peter, Rick Fowler, the Shermans and the Deering crew. You also know that Baptists like Charlie Crook and independent pastors like Benny Claytor and Methodists like Newt Perrins are out there. God does what God does whenever and wherever God feels like it.

What makes our denomination so special? Barbara Brown Zickmund, one of ours, published a book years ago called “Hidden Histories in the UCC” in which she laid out the reason — people you never heard of fighting for women’s rights and civil rights and freedom from all sorts of slavery if I remember correctly. But what she also tells is the history of our polity (the way we do things) — and it is there that we find the hidden, subtle, not always understood thing that makes us great.

It is not that we don’t have problems. We do. We have abusive pastors, just like other denominations. We have mean and twisted congregations, just like other denominations — or non-denominations — do. It’s not that we have the greatest liturgy because every church has great liturgy and my favorite kind of Quakers have no liturgy at all. It’s not that we have the greatest music — our hymnal is as controversial as the next one and missing some incredible hymns bound to other denominations. It’s not that we’re right all the time about every issue. We’re not. We can’t be. We’re still human.

So here’s the deal, at least from my perspective: Our history and our polity yield a psychological health that makes it the best place to be you and me in the presence of God. Our denomination is not really just one denomination. In 1957, four denominations merged to form the UCC. On one side of the faith, there were the Congregationalist and the Christians who had become the Congregational Christian Church and on the other side there was the Evangelical Church and the Reformed Churches in America who joined to be the Evangelical and Reformed Churches. The Congregationalists (who I grew up thinking we were) are the Pilgrims and the Puritans from Europe and they believe that everyone should get a vote about what goes on inside the church. They believe in freedom and simplicity. The “Christian” church is the remnants of African-American churches started by and within slave communities. They also believe in freedom, of course, and had simplicity pretty much forced on them. I love the idea of having “Black Church” worship, with it’s deep, intense spirituality, in my blood.

The E & R side is really about limits — the limits imposed on us by sin — and the way we redeem ourselves from it. It’s also about doing good things in the world because they want to be good people in the world. It comes from a gritty, realistic view of what humans can be — in Germany during World War II, for instance. Not really into piety and moralizing myself, I thought I would hate these people but two of my favorite people — Daehler Hayes, former Conference Minister in Rhode Island and Doris Luckey, a parishioner in Rochester, NY — come out of this tradition. There are a series of hospitals and a health care system for seniors that comes out of this tradition. Further, as someone who works with addicts can attest, coping with the reality of sin and how to redeem and forgive ourselves is so very important.

Even people I didn’t think I should like inform and strengthen my faith because they force me to look at things I wouldn’t normally look at. Besides, I still don’t get how Daehler — one of the most unique people I have ever met — can come from such a structured background, but he does.

We are all on a continuum of faith and needs — some need more structure, some need less, some really need the Bible and some really need politics, some like prayer and emotions and some like to stay in their heads. If you can’t find a place where you fit in the UCC, you’re definitely not looking hard enough. That thing we say, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here”, is incredibly true and basic for us. We take in “strays” from other churches all the time because we can.

Taking you through “life’s journey” requires people who see faith as a life-time journey. There is a small movement here in Connecticut around life-cycle Christian Education and some of it’s leaders highlight the diversity of views here. Caroll Cyr, more conservative; Jane Rowe — traditional but not necessarily conservative; and Char Corbett — grounded but not necessarily traditional or conservative, all are involved and they get along well, informing each others’ work while committed to helping you figure out what you believe. They are them and they respect you for being you because that’s what we do and that’s how we think we should be.

My favorite psychological theorist, Virginia Satir, used to say, “The problem is not the problem. Coping is the problem”. We as humans can’t predict what the future holds. But we can figure out how to live with it and deal with it. We cannot control the existence of problems in the world. The challenges of today — Climate Change, Gay rights, immigration reform, prison reform, the existence of new “designer” drugs — weren’t even real things to our ancestors, but we deal with these issues all the time today.

How do we do it? We know that no one person or no one ideology or no one anything has all the answers. No one is right all the time, and the changes keep on coming. Our answer, in the United Church of Christ, is to widen the size of our possible answers enough that you can find yours. In one circumstance, Jane may have the right answer or process, in other Caroll or Char might. In another, Daehler or Doris might. In yet another, I might or you might. And even when an answer comes nationally (at our Synod, every 2 years), we acknowledge that it might not fit for the local congregation, so it’s not binding until they agree to it.

This dynamic isn’t who we are, because we change all the time, but it comes from who we are — it’s a bi-product of our being together. That’s what makes it “hidden” and hard to put your finger on, just like it’s hard to put your finger on The Spirit.

But, while I have a chance to make things more visible, I have wanted to write a piece on “be careful of the quiet ones”, people you never heard of doing incredibly good things in the world for a while. Here’s a shout-out to some of the UCC people I know that you should know, too.

Bob Kyte, somewhere in New Hampshire, a good counselor and friend that the Spirit just quietly flows through.

Julie LaBarr, and her family, the Sloths, genuinely nice people who care deeply and wrestle with issues all the time, while remaining Christian through it all.

Lynn Carmen Bodden, now living in Upstate New York and working in Connecticut, one of the best interim ministers in the entire country — loving and caring warmly while taking people through the deepest changes.

John Hudson, The Sherborn Pastor, in Sherborn Massachusetts, intelligent and caring, making a difference with his writing and his biking during the summer.

Leigh McCaffrey in Florida, the hardest working woman in the biz. The Blackest White Woman I know. Met God in a bar, and still believes those people have something to say.

The list goes on. As Mark Strickland of Lynnfield, Massachusetts used to sing, “You can meet them all at tea or at lanes or sea. The saints of God are folks like you and me. And I mean to be one, too”.

Peace,

John

A Bridge Over “Power”

Last night, I was reading The Nation (THE best magazine ever, in my opinion — I come back to it all the time) and I came across an article on online feminism and the fact that it has apparently gotten nasty between radical feminists online. A few weeks ago, a client and I got into it regarding authority. I was saying that I, as therapist, had power in the relationship by nature of my role. Further, while I knew of people who had taken advantage of their clients,it was my job not to. She argued that I didn’t have power, that’s we were collaborating on her treatment and, while she also knew people who abused power, she didn’t have to believe a damn thing I said if she didn’t want to.  Oddly, we both believe the same thing, because there is nothing so misunderstood, controversial, and divisive as power — for liberals and conservatives. We use the same word and mean totally different things by it. All of this got me to thinking about conflicts between me, my liberal friends, and my conservative ones.

Power, in the conservative political  world, is a good thing and we all have it. We can all rise above our circumstances if we just believe in ourselves enough. Freedom gives us that, and government doesn’t allow us freedom, so it dis-empowers, even –if its motives are good.

Power, in the liberal political world, is different altogether. For liberals, the world is sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, ageist and so on. We might have individual freedom and the moral responsibility for standing up for ourselves, and others, but the world/ the “system” is the problem, and government must act to protect people from the -isms by making more laws.

My “guru” in the psychological world, Virginia Satir, didn’t deal with political and societal power issues in the sense that it wasn’t her frame of reference. She doesn’t subscribe to a particular world view, so the lens of “power” and “dis-empowered” isn’t a given. She (and I) are much more “reality based” in her approach. If the way you’re living is working for you, fine. If it’s not, it’s “dis-functional” (a word she coined) and you need to do something about it. She believes a non-hierarchical approach is healthiest in systems, like couples, families, and societies and is about breaking those down when she can and when it applies. In short, there may be hierarchies, but you don’t have to subscribe to them and it’s not healthy to do so in any case.

Jesus, my religious and spiritual inspiration, is quite clear about power — “You are not to lord it over others”, he says in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 20:  25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

All of this is to say that some people will always want power over others, some people believe they have no power in their lives. Some people feel oppressed, some don’t. Some people feel they don’t oppress others, some do. In the words of the songs, “people everywhere/just want to be free” (the Rascals, in the 1960’s) and “everybody wants to be/closer to free” (the Bodeans, in the 1980’s).

Here’s where it gets tricky: What if you don’t see oppression and you are (supposedly?) oppressed?. Does seeing it mean believing it? Does denying it mean not believing it has any power in your life? If you don’t believe you are oppressed, are you?

If  you’re one of those “in power”, supposedly, the same questions apply. If you don’t believe in lording it over others, are you anyway? Is “white privilege” the same thing as “being racist”? Is “male privilege” the same thing as “being sexist”? It depends on who you ask.

The reality is this: we live in separate worlds and we can’t know each others’ experience until we experience it with them or through them in some way — like literature or art. Years ago, when my friend Greg Coles and I went to a yacht club for lunch (he’s Black, I’m White, He’s richer than I — he chose the place), we were ignored for the 45 minutes until we left after Greg tried to get their attention. When I was growing up, people didn’t think women needed as much money as men. Why should they? Today, we fight the battles over whether LGBT people have the right to be included in every facet of society. As someone who grew up poor, many of my peers later in life had no idea what it was like and saw me as having more power than they did. I saw myself as poor.

So, yes, racism actually does exist. You can still get pulled over for Driving While Black. Sexism still exists — women still make less money than men do for equal work, generally. Homophobia still exists. Ask gay couples who go to Jamaica or Olympians in Russia. Classism still exists, but is seldom, if ever, acknowledged. If you never bounce a check in your life because you have a thousand dollars in the bank, you pay less than someone who bounces a check so they can get milk.

Actual political oppression has always existed. The Romans in Jesus’ time oppressed the Jews and everybody else. Within the Jewish world, a woman with no husband had no power to vote or make a “legitimate” living. At the same time, as Monty Python’s Life of Brian points out, there was also “progress” in the areas conquered by Rome — roads, running water, etc. Does that mean the people were less oppressed? I don’t know. I bet some felt like they were and some didn’t. I bet some Romans believed they were doing the right thing while others had reservations about expanding the empire. In any case, I bet that you were more likely to be happy with the status quo/less likely to see yourself as an oppressor if you were a Roman and less likely to like the status quo/more likely to see yourself as oppressed if you were one of the annexed or conquered communities.

In America today, it’s much the same among liberals and conservatives. I wonder if people like Clarence Thomas or Herman Cain are oppressed simply because they don’t acknowledge racism. I find it hard to believe that a gay man or a lesbian running the halls of power on the White House staff is really all that oppressed, and I find it easy to believe that any person on the White House staff is in power. And yet, they are both true in different forms and to different degrees.  There are some who would say that the very existence of Barack Obama as President of the United States means that he is no longer oppressed and that racism no longer exists. See? That one’s in the most powerful position in the world, so he can’t be oppressed”, goes the logic. Furthermore, “because The Most Powerful Man In The World is Black, they have an ally in power and racism can no longer exist”, they say. If there is one thing that this administration has taught us, it is that even The Most Powerful Man In The World can be held back by racism. How else do we explain the unprecedented gridlock in Washington? I don’t know that any other President was called a “sub-human mongrel”.

(A brief detour here: Is “authority” necessarily  the same thing as “power over”? Obama’s got authority, clearly, as the President. Does he have power? Yes, of course. Does he have power over anybody? That remains to be seen, if he doesn’t take it.  Caring people, people with a conscience, try not to “lord it over” others. Hitler had both oppressive power and authority. Hitler would have killed Ted Nugent before the sentence about “mongrel” was complete and no one would have questioned him about it. Obama’s Secret Service detail “had words with” Nugent. Did they rob him of his free speech? Maybe, but he’s still a free man, and he can still speak.)

I have two white male friends who believe what I believe — that real authority is the antithesis of oppressive power. My minister growing up, Bob Kyte, once told me that “the only power we (ministers) have is trust”. A colleague in therapy-land, Will Foremaker, once said “a relationship can either be about power or it can be about love. It can’t be both”. Both of these men have power as politically defined, by nature of their jobs, by nature of the their gender and sexual orientation, and yet both men are about as egalitarian as they can be. Are they racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, classist, or the new one in the news this week, “transphobic”? By some far-left standards, yes. By some far-right standards, no. The more important question is this: “Are they jerks?” and the unequivocal answer is  “no”.  They both have authority in certain circumstances, but they don’t abuse it. Their having power over themselves means that they don’t need it over others and this is the thing that liberals don’t get in their power analysis. At the same time, this is the thing that makes conservatives cringe because “good” conservatives know this.  Power-analysis liberals get into these dysfunctional battles about “who’s the most oppressed?” as though “being oppressed” gives you power in some way. In this way, we eat our young. Feminism has suffered because there are mean feminists and nobody wants to be mean, so women distance themselves from the label. The fact of the matter is that there were feminists who were feminists who didn’t like men and there were feminists who liked being strong women. The second group is alot more fun to be around, while the first kept everybody — men and women — away. It seems to me that this first group are still around, still arrogant, and creating the “toxic environment” that the Nation article talked about.

It is this way, by the way, for any liberal group. Conservatives don’t go there. For them, if they’re not trying to be racist or sexist or homophobic, they aren’t.What I learned in seminary is this: labels like “sexist” and “racist” and “homophobic” mean nothing to our souls if everybody is racist, sexist, and living in a homophobic society.  Some people internalize their oppression (and are thus racist to themselves and others externalize it (and are racist to others). If that’s the case, the answer to the statement, “You’re a racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobe” is “Yes, but I’m trying not to be”.  Anybody who is trying to be is a jerk, but most people aren’t trying to be. They aren’t jerks — and that is where the bridge can be built among people of left or right persuasions and within each camp.

We shouldn’t waste our time on whether the -isms exist. They most certainly do, in all of us. We shouldn’t be wasting our time on who but ourselves is a racist, sexist, etc. Nor should we be wasting our time fighting over who’s most oppressed, because it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is who is being a jerk and who is not, who is intentionally being a jerk and who is not. The important thing is that we look at ourselves honestly, take responsibility for ourselves and our actions and do what we can to fight those people who are jerks to others — intentionally so. If you are doing that, labels don’t matter to me. Conservative or Liberal mean nothing. Nice and trying mean everything.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

What If … Just Sayin’

                                      “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” — Leviticus 19:18 (Hebrew scripture)
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law                                           and the Prophets” — Jesus in Matthew 7:12 (Christian scripture)

Apparently, some group of leaders in Arizona — like groups of leaders throughout history — have decided to make a stand for “deeply held religious beliefs” like anti-gay sentiments because they claim Christianity as their religion. At first, religious freedom, and the right to exercise your deeply held beliefs in the marketplace seems like a reasonable– if controversial — idea. But let’s think about this …

What if an Islamic taxi driver wanted a law to refuse service to Christians because of his deeply held religious  beliefs?

What if a female waitress wanted a law to refuse to serve men because of her pagan beliefs?

What if a transgender Buddhist wanted a law so they could refuse to serve heterosexuals because of their beliefs?

What if an African-American wanted a law saying they didn’t have to serve White folks because of their deeply held Black Muslim beliefs?

What if a Jewish couple wanted to pass a law so they could refused to serve Christians?

What if Native American casino owners passed a tribal law to refuse service to non-Native Americans?

What if atheists wanted to refuse to serve religious people of any stripe?

Would you be upset? Would you be howling at the indignity you suffered? Would you think they were bigoted against you? Would you think it unfair? Would you hold rallies against it and want your allies to join you? What if they publicly “excused” your anger because of your “ignorance” of their intent? Would that make it any better? Or would you just think it was a stupid, bigoted law?

Hey, it’s a free country and they have the rights to their deeply held religious beliefs.  Just saying…

Arizona “leaders”, have you actually heard of Jesus or the God he claimed to have as his father? Do you really think you are defending them? Just asking… because I’m not seeing it.

Political “leaders”.  Don’t you work for all the people of Arizona? Just asking… because I’m not seeing it.

Don’t all different kinds of people vote in Arizona? Just asking… Because clearly, you’re not seeing it.

Just saying…

 

Peace,

 

John

Good Things Are Happening, Too.

I’m scrolling through Facebook tonight and my good friend Mark has posted a sonogram of a fetus inside the womb of the woman he loves (Anna) and joy breaks out across my face!

I and my friends have had enough death this year. I don’t need to list the people who have died in the last year. Their names are written in pieces throughout my blogs. And needless to say what’s left of Oklahoma and Newtown’s populations are no doubt looking for good news.

While they probably don’t know Anna and Mark in those places , there are no doubt pregnancies and births happening all around THEM as well. They sneak into our lives as part of nature, quietly enough that the news doesn’t pick up on it.

Here in West Hartford , even though the streets are flooded, the grass is still green. Though the rains come , my friend Char can still post pictures of rainbows because there still ARE rainbows.

Yes, I’m sure that global climate change is still happening. Yes, the government still is reading our email. Yes, Turkey is quelling riots by force. For the most part those are the things we are in charge of.

But the cycles of nature are full of grace, despite our best efforts. They may not be as intense as the evening news cast, but nature’s beauty cycles have a quiet dignity and beauty all their own.

As much as I see the worst of what people can be, it is times like this that I am reminded that good people also impact the world by bringing children into the world and there is hope because of their influence. Good people raising spiritually beautiful children in the universe is also part of the world’s grace and a real joy to us, despite the world they are apparently brought into.

On days like this, I remember the good things in life — “I tell you that not even King Solomon in all his regalia was clothed as beautifully as this”, Jesus said about nature and it still is true.

My wife recently posted a picture of my two daughters when they were a toddler and a baby. They are now 14 and soon-to-be 12. They are beautiful and smart and talented and funny because they just are. Friend post on Facebook that their children are graduating from High School or College. How do these things happen? These things happen quietly, too, because we — like nature itself — put in a continual bit of energy and it grows in grace — the mystery of God’s will engaged in the world with or without our help.

My point is that sometimes we get lost in the pain and the destruction because they are so frequent and loud. Beauty and grace are just as frequent but nowhere near as loud and all it takes is the potential of a fetus to remind us … Just sayin’.

Congrats to Mark and Anna.

Peace ,

John

Jerry, I Hardly Met You

The adults in my house have come to the conclusion that 2013 has too many deaths in it already. Our housemate has done 6 funerals in the last month or so, my wife grieves and notices all the catastrophes of late and so far this year I have seen too much death too close to friends.

Today is no different. This evening I drove to Ansonia to support my friend Char at the funeral of her father, “Jerry” Curtiss. The pastor — Rev. Douglas Clark –did a nice job, remembering Jerry as storyteller, then he did the thing that makes psychological sense to me at these things — he left open space for people to say and do what they needed to.

The people who spoke weren’t your standard fare for such things. A woman spoke about Jerry as the kind of guy who took care of his own
parents. His son-in-law spoke about him as a good father-in-law who took in strays. Then a nephew (I think) spoke about him as a fisherman and friend.
The shock of the funeral (to me, anyway) came when a boy –probably 7 years old or so — stood up to speak. He saId a few quiet words about missing his grandpa and sat down with tears in his eyes.

Later, Jerry’s daughter, Sioux, also spoke and the service ended and we were all invited back to the home of family, but the magic had already been done. This man whom I has probably met 3 or 4 times had given me an insight from beyond the grave.

THAT is what I want to speak about. Years ago, when her first-born child was born, my friend Evelyn said the experience was emotionally “like Roots’ picture — holding the baby up to the sky and seeing the connection to every mother that ever been” in her family. Both of my “in-care” people — Char and Carrol Cyr — have been Christian Educators. The new staff person at South Church, Jane Rowe, is involved with the “intergenerational faith formation” movement in the Connecticut Conference with the other two. And Jerry, whom I barely knew exemplified all of them in one felt swoop.

Here’s the point: the Jews have it right. Whether or not there’s an afterlife, we transcend time with our lives. Jerry impacted four generations with one life, even if he never made it to heaven. He reached backwards in time, impacting his parents’ generation. He reached through his own time and his daughters’ and son’s generation. He touched the next generation after that, impacting the memories of his grandchildren. Whatever experiences he imparted to his grandchildren will be felt as well, by a fifth generation. Not bad for a man who, in theory, only lived onelife and now lives in eternity.

Each of us has that chance to transcend time through our one life, and probably do. The question, of course, is in what way?. Does our life reach across the generations with love, as he apparently did, or do we reach across generations with hatred? Do we care?

For those of us that are lucky enough to have children, the answer — for good or bad– is obvious. But even those who don’t literally give birth, give birth anyway if they are involved in education or mentoring or sharing or leading youth. this is how we transcend time and live forever, often even without knowing it. If God rewards us with an actual afterlife, that’s a special gift, but one we have proved we can handle if we cared enough to share our values in this life.

Jerry pulled it off. Maybe we can, too.

Peace,

John

The Last Bigotry?

In today’s Huffington Post, there’s an article about a speech by Bill Clinton with this quote:

The country has made tremendous progress in shedding various forms of bigotry, Clinton said. “We have just one bigotry left. We don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us.”

Seriously? Ok. I’ll admit that we have developed a new bigotry. But there’s still enough old
bigotry out there. Nothing personal, but I still wouldn’t want to be Black in this country. I wouldn’t want to be a woman looking for the same pay as a man. I wouldn’t want to be gay and live in the South.

But the oldest prejudice I know is the one we haven’t even to think about in this country. The prejudice I’m talking about is the idea that poverty is a fault. We believe that wealth is in our control and that people who don’t have the necessary resources for living deserve — on some level- to die, because it’s their fault. If bad things happen to you, you must have done something wrong. If you are poor, you haven’t done something right. Forget that you can’t find work. You didn’t work hard enough. Forget that no one will hire you. You are a mooch — a leach on the teat of America’s economy who doesn’t deserve to eat. Forget that you got a poor education or that your parent(s) had to work, you don’t have the skills to make it in polite society. Forget that people still doesn’t pay women the same as men. We fault “welfare mothers”. Forget that you can’t keep a job because you have a mental or physical illness you can’t do anything about. You deserve to be poor.

Don’t misunderstand me. There are poor people who are that way because of their own choices, just as there are Blacks who are lazy and women who abuse welfare, and gay pedophiles. But one doesn’t guarantee the other. It just points out our bigotry that we see all when it’s actually some. If you are offended by that comparison, you can feel the offense that poor folk put up with daily.

There are so many ways to become poor in this society, so many handicaps to prevent people from getting ahead, so many small mistakes with so many huge consequences, so many con men with no morals who rob the weak.
We need to get over ourselves and the idea that poverty is controllable. We need to stop punishing people for things they can’t do anything about. We need to give people an actual equal opportunity. We need to start helping them become their best self, despite what we might think. To do otherwise would be to maintain bigotry.

Peace,

John

Defiantly Hopeful

As a spiritual practice, I decided I would read the lectionary for something to meditate. (I have the lectionary app on my iPod already, so it was kind of a lazy choice/easy choice.)
Boy am I glad I did. The texts this week spoke to my heart in a way I didn’t even see coming. In case you are curious, those texts are: Isaiah 61:10 – 61:3, the gospel of John, 1:1-18, and Galatians 3:23-25, 4:5-7, and psalm 147: 13 – 21.

Isaiah 61:10 reminds me of the tradition of the Hebrews as underdogs. Stomped, kicked from country to country, burned, gassed, stolen from – the list of their oppression goes on and on — yet they remain as the prophet says determined to live a life of peace and tranquility. They don’t want to be The Most Powerful Nation In The World. They have a God who is in charge of being powerful , so they don’t have to be. Nor are they vengeful. This text us not about “we’re going to get our rights by getting revenge on our enemies”. When God says in the Bible, “vengeance is mine”, the Hebrews understand that it is not theirs to get. God seems to understand, to the Hebrews, that revenge isn’t the best revenge. Living well is.
As Israel and the Palestinians fought this past few months and Iran and Israel threatened each other, it seems clear to me that some of their leaders have forgotten the humility that this text requires. But that’s why they and we have the text — to remind us of who we are supposed to be! Within the Jewish state, people can call on their leaders with a text like this and remind them what their faith says their goal should be. “You throw a rock, I shoot with a tank, and you don’t even want to think about what happens if you shoot a rocket towards us” is — as God knows from his position of infinity — a short-sided view. It’s hard to live on a land that’s been destroyed, ripped up, become radioactive, etc. It’s hard to find lasting peace when you send your kids to fight a war and other people send their kids to do the same. Vengeance, in short, doesn’t really work — at least for any lasting time. That’s why we let God figure out what’s what. God at least has all the information.

As the month of mass violence continued for the whole of December,it sucked the life out of many of us, until we were lucky to raise one match against the darkness that inhabited our environment. Our second text — from the beginning chapter of John — reminds us that the darkness has not overcome it. But, as I type this I am reminded of the camp song I sang at Deering as a teenager: “it only takes a spark to get a fire burning”…. “Once you’ve experienced it, you want to pass it on”. I am beginning to see signs of hope out there– police in local communities giving Newtown cops the night off, people sending wishes and prayers, people loving their own still alive children, people calling for real rationality about gun laws.

To be truthful, I also see the squirelly side of human behavior– the people creating scams about relief for Newtown’s people. If there is one thing i have learned in 2012 it’s that no matter how bad a situation is, there are people out there who can make it worse. But these false starts — these stealing from what emotional reserves we have — can not prevent healing from happening. They can only delay it.

It is little things here and there that will erode the sadness and anger, the small band aids that hold us together until real healing begins to take hold… but the darkness has not overcome it. And, though our lives and the universe will never be the same after such a loss, we get a sense of eternity in John’s introduction that tells us that no voice is ever totally lost, that hope — even with false starts– does indeed return.

Furthermore, as Christians, we believe that we will see our loved ones again in the fullness of time, and we will be made whole again. Not even just scarred by the loss, but completely healed when we see our people all in one place — and all in one piece — once again. At that point, we will know, as God knows, that the darkness never overcame anything.
As a reminder that we’re still here in this life, we have this morning’s Psalm, on the other hand, which says one of the worst things we could say in these days of polarization and rigidity. In its very last line if our reading, it says, in essence, ” God only talks tous“. The “hallelujah” at the end I hear as “na na nuh na na!” with fingers in our ears and tongues sticking out”. I don’t consider it a good thing that God only speaks to people like me. In fact, I don’t believe that the God of the universe speaks to only one group on one planet. Having said, the God of Abraham is claimed by Christians, Jews , and Muslims so, clearly, there are choices to be made about what it all means. I choose to ignore this text, or at least that line.
All of this leads us back to the Galatians passage where “we are children, and if children, then heirs” — not by the rigidity of the law, but in freedom from it.
As I said, it’s all about choices. As the various mass murderers did their thing this past month, each has taken their own lives and we are stuck with the questions about what they were thinking.
As a therapist, I can tell you that there are only so many ways to become that evil — most have to do with shame and evil done to a person , locked in by the rigidity of someone else who has an agenda of their own and the psychopathological need to be right!. The problem isn’t being right, and it isn’t wanting to be right. This kind of thing becomes a problem when we need to prove that we’re right about someone else’s reality.

The fact of the matter is that, if you’re actually right, you don’t need an assault weapon to convince someone of it. The idea that the “only way” to prove you are a “real” man, a “strong” woman, or a “real” American is to exercise your right to own a firearm is ludicrous.

If I want to know I’m an American, I can look on my birth certificate and live in America. If I want to know I’m a man, I can look in the mirror. If I want to know I’m right, I can actually believe I’m right.

The Galatians text says that we are accepted. We don’t have to prove anything to anyone. We can choose to do this or that, but we are no longer subject to outside judgement. I don’t have to prove to the NRA or anybody else that I’m free. I just have to be free. That means I have the right to choose what fits for me. I choose not to ever own a gun. Thatright — the right to choose — makes me a Real American.

As far as shame goes, I don’t have to prove I’m perfect because a) I’m not and b) it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to prove I’m moral. I just have to try to be moral and let somebody else figure out if I am. I need to be, as Isaiah said, dressed up in righteousness and decked out in the jewel that is hope.

My friend Marilyn recently wrote: “we don’t need politics or laws , we need to be and act like Christians”. She was right, if she meant we have to believe that God runs the Universe, that we have to believe that we are loved by God, if not always by people, that we have to believe in an eternity where we’ll finally understand, and a present reality where we can make choices that act like all the other things are true. All of these things are well within the framework of our texts this week.

We will heal in time. We will learn from the Hebrews what it means to be defiantly hopeful and — in so doing — we will show that the light shines in the darkness — and the darkness has not overcome it.

Peace,

John

If You Cheat, No One Wins…

“Your Cheatin’ Heart Will Tell On You” — Hank Williams

As the election draws to a close, the parties are already hedging their bets with claims of voter intimidation, voter fraud, reminders of Florida during the 2000 election, Black Panthers guarding polls (Hi, Murph!), voter suppression (Hi, liberals!) and so on and so on.

Who knows what the election holds, and who will be president or senator, or representative, mayor in so those close elections? Certainly not me. It looks like it’s going to be close. Here’s my thing, though, and — oddly for me — it might considered a more Republican view of life. I believe in personal responsibility and morals as guiding principles, plus I don’t necessarily think we need laws for every single thing out there.  As a liberal, though, I also believe in fairness and access for all and voting rights for all those people who have been denied in the past.

Here’s what it all boils down to, though: as a human being, I don’t believe in cheating.

In Connecticut, where I live, there’s a close Senatorial race between Linda McMahon (R) and Chris Murphy (D). My daughter was confused as we had lunch today, because people at the polling places and on TV had T-shirts that said “Obama and McMahon”. She thought that Linda McMahon was a Democrat, but couldn’t understand her politics. I had thought it odd, and thought Republicans wouldn’t be happy, but it had never occurred to me that people would be confused. I bet, though, that someone in the McMahon camp did think it through and wanted that result.  I think that’s cheating — maybe legal, but cheating, nonetheless.

In Massachusetts, there’s a close race between Scott Brown (R) and Elizabeth Warren (D) for Senator. I like Warren a lot. I like her firebrand style and I agree with her opinions re: the middle class. Still, I have never thought Scott Brown was that bad a guy. He’s just your average Senator — a Republican from the old school… he votes with his conscience and what he believes is for his constituency. His actions, like anyone’s are mixed. Yet, some PAC or another is trying to make it seem like Brown is an evil, vile, Wall Street insider who is beholden to the tea party. He’s not, and to say he is, is lying. If I lived in Massachusetts, I’d vote for Elizabeth Warren, but I wouldn’t vote against Scott Brown. If whatever PAC it is convinces people to vote against Brown and they do so based on lies, that’s cheating to me, too. Others may call it “spin”, “debating tactics”, or “standard politics”, I still call it lying. Furthermore, intentionally lying to get votes is cheating. I don’t care if it’s been done since time immemorial.

In the Presidential campaign, there has been attempts in many states to keep voters from the polls, under the cause of “voter fraud”, but since voter fraud doesn’t happen very often (like nearly never), that’s also cheating — this time by limiting whose vote counts. Lying about voter fraud, and preventing people from going to the polls is also cheating.

On the other hand, I guess, Black Panthers are scaring people at voting booths in California. I don’t think they’re lying, but I haven’t read enough about about it to know.  Still, if they are scaring people away, that’s cheating.  There are also billionaire industrialists who have told their employees that if they vote for Obama, they’ll lose their jobs. That’s coercion and that’s cheating as well.

Here’s the long-and-short of it: we all know it’s cheating.Nothing I’m saying is a great surprise to anyone. That’s why this is such a big deal. People who claim to represent us and our values clearly missed the boat on this one, if they think that their tactics represent us. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t despise the tactics and yet they live on.

So here’s my solution, based in personal responsibility and morals, fairness and democracy: If you, as a candidate, win an election by cheating, you should step down. It’s as simple as that. If you, as an individual, help someone win by cheating, you should bar yourself from the political process. If you made a lot of money doing this, you should give the money back and bar yourself from the political process if your candidate won. If you prevented people from going to the polls, no matter how you did it, you should prevent yourself from going to the polls — maybe forever. 

Democracy is a great and wonderful thing. People who live in a democracy need to believe it’s real. They need to believe their vote matters. They need to believe they matter. If you can’t play by the rules, you shouldn’t play. Furthermore, if you are to tout “democracy” as the thing every other country needs, then you need to respect it, so people will respect you when you try to sell them democracy as a value. If you can’t represent a democracy, you haven’t earned the right to lead one.

Lastly, there’s the whole psychological thing. If you win by cheating — in anything — you never know if you really won. If you want to lead others, it seems to me you need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. The job of President or Senator or Representative– or mayor or school board member, or leader of a scout troop — is hard enough and fraught with enough perils. If — down under it all — you don’t believe you have the right to be there, it’s going to stink to be you.  Living with a personality that’s a house of cards is no way to go through life on a day-to-day basis. As Edgar Allen Poe pointed out in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Hank Williams pointed out in his song, “your cheating heart will tell on you”.

 

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of the Local Church Pastor

About two weeks ago now, my friend Todd, a UCC pastor in Massachusetts posted something on his Facebook page about “having a conversation with the father of creation spirituality…” I was so struck by this, that I decided to write.  What was astounding to me was 1) Todd knew how to find “the father of creation spirituality”, Matthew Fox and 2) That he was so nonchalant about it and 3) That no one else made a big deal about it – maybe because it seems “normal”.

When I was a church pastor, struggling with the Bible and homosexuality, I sent a letter to Robert MacAfee Brown asking him what he thought, and he graciously replied saying, “you think you understand the issue until you actually meet them, then you have to think about it and what to do”. By this, I guess Todd is “normal” for a pastor, but being a pastor is – for the rest of the world, almost by definition, not normal – and it’s not for the reasons most people think.

If you went to your local dentist – another professional – and he mentioned in conversation that he has just had a conversation with the man who invented crowns for teeth so he could do a better job, you’d think he was remarkable to go that far. If your mechanic said he had just spoken with the CEO of Ford about your oil filter, you’d think that extraordinary. If your lawyer had just had a conversation with a Supreme Court about something to do with your case, you’d think you were getting the best lawyer in town, but pastors do this kind of thing all the time. It’s part of their job. Local church pastors are the great translators, the bridge between worlds, for much of society.

Theologian Gabe Fackre pointed out that the cross had 2 axes – a vertical axis, connecting God to humans and a horizontal one connecting humans to humans. He said this in relation to Jesus’ work and salvation. I have used the analogy when speaking about forgiveness – “it’s great that God forgives you, but you still have the other side of the cross to deal with”.  This Cross/Bridge is what makes the job of being a pastor so different.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea that George Harris, the pastor at my home church, has put forth a vision statement that talks about the church “bridging” different parts of society in our little corner of New Britain, because it is indeed the work of the church to do this, but it is also the unspoken work of pastors on a daily basis.

When Todd brings his seminary education to the pulpit or talks to Matthew Fox, he connects the worlds of learned theology to people of all different stripes. He preaches to those with good education and those who like to read, but don’t have time to hack away at St. Augustine – and he preaches to people who can’t read.

When he steps out of the pulpit and joins people for coffee hour, he is just as likely to talk to a 4 year old about Barney as a 14 year old who cares about Katie Perry and High School or a 70 year old man who fought in Vietnam or Korea – and he is expected to be fluent in all of their languages. This is that vertical axis Fackre talked about.

And it is this way for every pastor I have ever known. It has been said that “pastors are the last great “generalists”. They are supposed to know a little something about everything”. In fact, they know a little about a lot of things in order to preach or counsel or teach or just hang out with people in the parish. But the reality goes deeper than that. The fact is that pastors know a little bit about a lot of things because they know a lot of people and they see everyone on the horizontal axis as well.

When Benny or Gerry Claytor or Vernon Thompson or any member of Bridgeport’s IMA had an issue in their community, they spoke to the Mayor or the State Rep whom they knew and was no more important than the Church Mother back in their pew. When Char Corbett does work on healthcare, she speaks the truth to power because the people in power are no more important in God’s eyes than the person in her church with no heat in her house because of her hospital bills. Pastors speak the Truth to power all the time and they bridge worlds doing it.

If you want a letter of reference for your kid’s college application, the pastor writes one. If you need help with immigration, the pastor writes to the State Department or the INS on your behalf. If you need to find food or heating assistance, your pastor calls around and knows who to call or finds out.  If your family is burned out of their home, as clients of mine were recently, the pastor gets the gears of the church going so that the church supplies furniture as best they can.

It’s not unusual for a pastor to speak to the mayor, read to school children, visit a wealthy matron, meet with local businesspeople at a committee meeting, and speak with a poor homeless addict all in the same day. Oh, yeah, and during the week, they try to find time to speak with God, as well – about the needs of their congregations. At the end of the day, that same pastor carries the weight around of each of them and builds another piece of the bridge that their lives become.

There are studies of job satisfaction which indicate that pastors, of all professions, are the most satisfied with their careers. At the same time, many pastors I know are nearly “burned out” at certain times of the year. How can this be? Here’s where the metaphor breaks down – or not – depending on your viewpoint. Pastors either are the bridge, in which case people drive over them all day, or pastors cross the bridge all the time. In any case, being a pastor is not a job for someone who doesn’t handle change or transitions well. All of this motion, all of this switching gears, all of this building connections wears a person out, even if they like the job. This is why they need so much time off.

So, here’s to that local church pastor, the bridge between worlds – the sacred and profane, the rich, the poor and the middle class, the powerful and the weak, the educated and the illiterate, those being born and those dying. May we and God, who gain so much from them, support them on their journey.

Peace,

 

John

 

(And congradulations to Todd, Joe, Eric, Lucille, Leigh, Matt, Pete, John, Gerry, and so many others who have been in the ministry for 25 years or so now.  I still miss Charlie, Benny and Newt.)

Different Questions — Faith and Politics

Especially for Murph and Marilyn and Bob and Carrol…

[This is a sermon I gave at Plantsville Congregational Church, UCC, Plantsville, CT   July 27, 2012. I am particularly proud of it, because it solves some questions I wrestle with frequently her in blog-land.]

First, let me start off this morning by saying “Thank you” to this congregation and Pastor Sandy for inviting me here to Plantsville UCC. This is my third time here and I’ve enjoyed each time I preach here. In years where I haven’t preached elsewhere, I’ve preached here at Plantsville.  This gives me a long time to think about what I want to say, so hopefully you get “prime” material in my sermons. Having said that…

When I was a kid, and people worried about being “polite”, it was said that there are three things you should never talk about in polite conversation – religion, sex, and politics. The challenge, of course, is to talk about the important things in life without at least talking about one of them. This morning, I want to talk to you about two of the three – politics and religion. Maybe we’ll save that third topic for next year – or never.

So, about politics… This year, in October, you will be asked to decide a lot of things about a lot of people. Certainly, there’s the Presidential election, but I’m sure there must be a Senatorial race, and State officials to be elected, and local boards of selectman and such. Then there will be, I assume, questions on the ballot for each of us to decide.  And somewhere in there, there’s the Christian vote – not The Christian Vote – as in Pat Robertson and all the folks on TV claiming the title, though they are somewhere in the mix.  I assume if you’re here, then you are the Christians I’m talking about voting come October.

Now, before anybody out there thinks I’m going to tell them who they “should” vote for, don’t worry, I’m not. I could give you all the reasons I’m voting for who I’m voting for, but that would be me and my vote. This is a democracy, after all, and you still get to vote for who you want to.  I can only tell you how I think you should decide, not who to decide for.

So, how do Christians like you and I decide?  Well, frankly, it’s not all that clear, but we have some clues to start with.  My seminary professor Mark Heim once opened a lecture with the statement, “If Jesus is the answer, what’s the question?” . That should be our jumping off point. Jesus – at least the Jesus who was alive in Biblical times – has never been to America in 2012. Just as Jesus of 4 A.D. had nothing to say about Madonna’s outfit in her day or Lady Gaga’s  anything in our day, there is no proof text that says “Vote for a Republican” or another that says, “Vote for a Democrat”.   Jesus never had to deal with the internet. Jesus didn’t even have to deal with movie theaters, let alone bombings that happen there.  So the world we consider is not the world of Jesus 2000 years ago.  We were left with the Holy Spirit and these texts here in the Bible to do the best we can. To believe we must vote this way or that is to limit ourselves and to commit idolatry. To worship one party or the other is too limiting for a God and Spirit who have seen it all. God is neither Democrat or Republican and we do God and our faith a disservice if we think  we have to vote one way or the other.

So, we don’t have one answer in the Bible, and we don’t have one answer in politics. So what do we have? We have questions – and we as Christians have to ask different questions of our leaders than, say, the Rotary Club.  So what questions do we ask to make up our minds?  The answers – at least some of them – can be seen in today’s texts.

In the Psalm reading, we see that God is a God of justice and a call for fairness to widows and orphans.  So, if a candidate were to walk in here today, we would have to ask them about justice and fairness to people with no voice – people in ancient days who were exemplified by widows and orphans.  Widows, as women, had no vote in the matters of the day. They had influence if they had a husband, but since widows no longer have husbands, they had no voice.  Plus, I assume they were grieving at the loss of their husband, in much the same way that orphans grieved at the loss of their parents.  You know what a mess kids can make with no parents around. Multiply that by some factor and you have orphans left to fend for themselves – thrown to the wind to make it on their own.

So, whichever candidate you vote for, and whatever ballot initiative you are asked to vote for, it seems to me,  we should take into account those who have no voice, those who have no vote,  those who are grieving, and those left by society to fend for themselves.  I don’t know about you, but in all the TV ads for this or that candidate, I haven’t heard anyone talk about the people who don’t vote, or can’t vote. That’s because the ads are aimed at those who do and can vote. We in the church are supposed to think differently.

See what I mean, we’re supposed to ask different questions? It’s because God’s version of “success” and your average American’s version of “success” might be totally different. According to the prophets of the Old Testament and people like Jesus, it doesn’t matter if we have all the money in the world. It matters if everyone has what they need – even people you’ve never heard of, people you don’t know, and people are the opposite of success by society’s standards, even – dare I say it? – your enemies.

If you and your politician are voting for yourselves, you’re missing the point. When you step into that voting booth, you need to vote for everybody – even people who can’t vote. You may have heard that some states are putting into place new voting rules like “needs a picture ID” or “must prove residency” . These rules, according to some people, are designed to keep people away from the polls. If that’s true, it’s even more important that you vote for everybody, because so many others have no voice but yours.

But if “Jesus” isthe answer to political questions, then we need to ask ourselves about what Jesus stood for.  To sum it up as has been done in the Bible, “Love God with all your strength and soul and mind and heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.  If that God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — is the same God of Christians and Muslims and Jews, then we need to vote for people who let all of those groups worship God as they see God.  How’s that for a different question?! Who is the candidate that allows all of those people to worship God – whether they call that entity God, Yahweh, or Allah? That person should get your vote. Which candidate expects people of those faiths to use all of themselves – their heart, their mind, their soul, and their strength – not just one or the other? That person is who you should vote for.

There are people who would have you vote with your soul – putting fear for it in you. There are people who would have you vote only with your heart. (so-called “bleeding heart liberals”) There are people who want you to vote with your head – people who love objectivity and the formulas that do this or that for the budget, for instance.  (There are people who want you only to vote for your wallet. I don’t think Jesus ever made a choice that way, so they don’t count).

I write a blog and every once in awhile, it gets hairy around politics, representing the polarization that we’re experiencing in this country today.  We get stuck in this either/or belief system. “Be a bleeding heart liberal” or “Use your head” we think. Others think, “save your soul and the soul of America”. But in the church, we’re supposed to be different.

The fact is that God gave you and I all three of those things, plus strength.  There are people who want you to think about who makes America the “mightiest” country, but might does not make right. Which of the people you elect tempers America’s might with its heart and soul and mind? The person who uses all of those deserves your vote, from a Christian perspective.

By now, you may be saying to yourself, “Then who’s left to vote for? Nobody on the ballot meets all those qualifications!” and you’d probably be right. But since we’re limited to choosing human candidates, you and I have to ask “who’s the closest to that answer?”.  Whatever we can do, we should do, even if that candidate is some weird third-party candidate that’s “never going to win” — or not. You have to use all your heart and soul and strength and mind to vote for  whomever you think is going to going to use all of theirs and is most likely to make a difference in the world in that direction.

Now, regarding the “love your neighbor” part – that polarized America thing I just mentioned even strikes there.  There are politicians out there who think that we “love our neighbor” by giving them everything. There are politicians out there who indicate that “love their neighbor” is rather like “tough love” —  let them wrestle with their choices, let them struggle and grow in their own strength. Give them nothing but “freedom” and let them be”.

Let’s look at Jesus and his community of faith, the disciples, in this morning’s text, the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus has just come back from time alone on the other side of the Sea of Tiberius and is met by a pack of people who want healings. Jesus, knowing he’s going to help the people, points out that there’s still a problem – 5,000 people need to eat. He suggests the first thing that comes into their heads – “we’ll go into town and get some”.

Then they realize that the 12 of them combined, and Jesus, don’t have that kind of money. I don’t know about you, but I never have enough money with me to feed 500 people by myself. That’s the ratio of “people out there” to “disciples”, so, no, that’s not going to work — so much for the “easy way” or the first thing that comes into their minds.

Next up, Andrew, the brother of Peter, says what they do have. – a young boy has 5 small loaves and 2 small fish. The writer underlines the point – a young boy has 5 small loaves and 2 small fish. Then Jesus gives thanks and – surprise – the miracle happens.

So, what do we make of this? What does it have to do with politics and elections? As I’ve said, we’re in a weird time in this country, where people divide things up in black-and-white terms. Some people say, “The government should fix everything!”. I’m closer to that way of thinking generally, but the more I work with people, the more I also see the value of expecting things from them.  If the government does everything, then that leaves a lazy populous who expect things to come their way and never work to better themselves, never become what they can be.

There are those who believe that government should do nothing but give people freedom. These are the people who say “the government that governs least governs best”.  And in today’s world of not compromising, people lock into one position or the other. Either the government should do everything and the people nothing or the people should do everything and government should do nothing.  But it’s not either of those. It’s both, as we can see if we look at the text this morning from the eyes of a faith community.

My wife and are going through the ups and downs of our faith lives together, as our own little community of faith. I think I have the strongest, truest deepest faith. Given to depression at times, I also have times where I have little or no faith at all. I think in twenty years of marriage, my wife has never lost her faith. Hers evolves, but it is never really gone.  Sometimes, she’s more rational, sometimes I am.

Years ago, she preached on this text and she said “the ladies did it”. I said, “What ladies?” She said, “Women with children always have food in their purse”.  When the disciples brought out the loaves and fishes and the women realize that it’s not enough, they feed their kids with what they have and they all have plenty!” For her, the parable was about believing that Jesus would provide, so sharing out of our bounty, much like the book “Stone Soup”.  I was always the “miracles” man and I just said, “naw, Jesus wants to feed everybody, he (as God) makes all the bread and fish anyway, so what’s the problem with making a few more. It’s about believing in Jesus’ love for us”.

But what if it’s both? What if Jesus, in God, does make all of the fish and the wheat and the leaven. That’s God’s soul or spirit in action. What if Jesus, as Jesus, wants the people to be fed?  That’s God heart in action. But what if Jesus, perhaps as both, sees the wisdom in letting humans do the work with what God supplies? I’m reading this book called “Kissing Fish” and it’s all about progressive Christianity. In it, the author says that God, even though God could do everything, chooses to limit Himself/Herself so that we can have equal partnership in creating the world – we can learn to create the world ourselves!

Preacher Jonathan Edwards was once asked, do we do things or does God, and he answered, “We do all. God does all.” That’s the way it really is. We do all we can, God does all that God can to further God’s design for our world.

So it is in politics as well. You know that quote about government governing best and least? The actual quote I saw on the wall of a church or Masonic lodge in Baltimore, I think, is this:  “Government that governs least governs best, after the people are taken care of”.  God gives us everything we need, and then leaves us alone to do what we will, hoping that we will share it. As long as we share it, God doesn’t need to correct us or send us prophets to point the way.  If we create a just society and God gives us everything we need, the world will function pretty darn well. Is it a miracle? Yes.  Are we allowed to do nothing because God can do it all? Were the disciples? No–  and neither are we.

So here’s the last question to ask as you vote for this person or that, this bill or that. Who expects the most out of us while providing for our needs. Who gives us the whole package– freedom to choose, responsibility to act and freedom from want? The person closest to that ideal, the question that leads us closest to that ideal is the one you should vote for as a Christian.

See what I mean, we Christians ask different questions than others? We’re not a simple people, we’re a complex people, in a complicated time and we’re capable of coming up with complex answers to complex questions which – Lord knows – we’ve got plenty of this election year. May God grant us the wisdom to do what we can with that which God gives.  Amen.