Monthly Archives: March 2016

Layers of Community and the Institutional Church

I’m a pastor.  Full-time.  In a church.  That makes me more and more rare these days.  If you haven’t caught the news the institutional church is under growing great change (often called decline but I won’t claim that because I don’t believe it… its change that may look like decline and maybe this post will say something as to why).

So… as a pastor of a particular church I have a congregation that I serve.  People ask, how big is your church?  I pause.  First?  Its not my church.  But it is MY church in so far as I am one particular member of this thing that was here before me and will be here after me.  Yes I actually believe it will be thriving in the years to come – I just don’t know what that will look like.

But back to the question.  I pause really because… well.  Which congregation do you mean?  There are many ways to measure these things, and we are seeking new ways to measure because… well…. We like data.  It makes us feel effective.  I see some value to such things but only some, but that’s not what this post is about either.  My point is this: we have all known for a long time that communities have stated and unstated leaders.  There are people in leadership positions that are named and claimed, and then those whose word and opinion matter to the entire community even though it doesn’t come from a named position or authority.  Well I name that because I have noticed the same is true of our congregation and the communities in which I think of myself as some form of leader or pastor.

Bear with me for a moment as I count my congregations stated, and unstated, that I pastor in.

In my congregation there are about 100 some people who are primary community.  These folks are in worship probably 40-50 times a year, they are in bible studies, fellowship programs, mission projects.  I connect with these folks several times a week, every week.  For the most part they feel like my immediate family.  Each one.

Then there is the next layer of our congregation.  The average worship attender.  Probably about another 100 or so people who are in worship at least once a month, people I know by sight, and mostly folk who I have had lunch with or connected with on the phone or by note at some point.  People who I think of often if they are missing and feel pretty well connected with, but they are not necessarily part of my “everyday life” and I think of them as our extended family.

Then there is a more amorphous group.  The 200+ people who will come to worship a couple times a year.  It’s a group that is easy to dismiss but who I have recently been reminded are more connected than I think of them as being.  Two of the most recent examples of this was one person who sent in a note to the church asking that we make sure to keep them on the roles.  They said they would not be making to church but they love to follow everything electronically and hope that when life shifts they will be here again.  You know what?  That works for me.  It reminds me why it’s important that I film 90 second sermon teasers, and write newsletters and letters informing people of changes going on here at church.  It makes maintaining a facebook page and a webpage and youtube channel and a blog worthwhile because each of them connects differently with different folk.  The second note was more personal and came in through that same already named blog.  It reminded me that you can pastor folk you don’t even know.  There are people with whom I have significant interaction who I have never, or rarely met, who are not members of my church nor do I expect they ever will be.  But we have significant interactions not unlike pastor to congregant.  And it matters… to both of us.

So if you are counting that is like 3 congregations.  I know.  All of them have the same name over the door.  But I think they all have to be engaged and reached differently and they all engage and reach us differently.  For all intents and purposes they must be treated like different congregations.  And I didn’t even mention the shut-ins and homebound folk yet.  Make that 4 congregations.

And then there are the walk-ins.  I have friends who say they have no need of an office at the church.  That speaks to varying contexts because that really isn’t true for me at all.  I could, if I was so inclined, do nothing other than deal with walk-in visits.  From members to regular attendees of 12 step groups and the preschool, from homeless people to the random passersby.  One time I almost ended up doing a drop-in wedding of a couple I had never met… but that’s another story.  People see our church building and they know they can have an ear to hear them.  And that’s a powerful ministry to offer… its quite possibly the most amorphous community of them all but there are days I think it’s the most important one as well.

I also, through my church work, came to be involved in a non-profit that helps end homelessness through Housing First solutions.  I came to be on the board of that group, and then the President of the Board.  I spend a countable (not significant but not insignificant) amount of time on that work in its ebbs and flows.  And I love it.  I love that it has taught me much about the church and vice versa.  I love that it taps me into yet another community of hard-working, gospel-living (though they wouldn’t claim that with those words) people transforming the world for the better.  And I get to sit alongside them and soak up their wisdom and their stories and be inspired.  I’m a member of the congregation (not its leader) and proud of it.  But I do think of it as one more community I pastor.  And as with many of them, they don’t pay me to do so.  In fact its because that first community pays me and gives me liberty to do the work I’m called to do even when they aren’t the only ones I attend to that I’m able to do so many of these other things.  I’m pastoring many communities… but it is ALL one job. (or one vocation.. one calling… you pick the word you are most comfortable with).

I’ve lost track of how many community layers that is… but I want to talk about 1 and half more communities if you are still with me.  Advocacy.  My church is located one block from the Idaho State Capitol.  I never knew what this would mean to me when I took this call.  It has come to mean rallys and hearings and meetings with legislators.  Just today it mean praying at memorial service at the Idaho Supreme Court.  It is finding a public voice for my ministry that I never in a thousand years would have expected of myself.  I count a whole group of new friends and colleagues from that work as well.  People I otherwise would never have met and would otherwise never have known of me.  Good friends; good ministry.  What a gift to be able to be pastor in this world!  And that… leads me to the last one and the actual event that made me think of this post.

I was waiting to pick up my daughter at school.  A parent who I had met once before turns to me and tells me that he had seen me in the paper.  It got us into having a good conversation about faith and politics… and wow!  We are having taboo conversations while waiting for our kindergarteners to come out of school????? How awesome is that?  In fact I had that similar conversation in about four random places all as a result of being on the news or in the paper doing advocacy work as a faith leader in our community.  The point?  It isn’t to get yourself on the news.  It is that all of these communities can open doors to yet more communities… doors we have to be prepared to walk through and engage.

I am the pastor of a particular church.  But that work?  That work opens up an entire world full of congregations.  That work enables me to actually feel like an apostle… speaking truth to power, connecting the lost to communal help, and walking alongside those finding ways to quench a spiritual thirst as soon as someone will give them a language to help articulate both their questions and answers.

What a gift.

This is why I don’t talk about decline.  This is why I don’t talk about the death of the institutional church.  This is why I don’t even have a problem with attractional models of church (though we certainly cannot let those be the end all and be all of the Kingdom)… because all of these have the potential to be doorways to so many other communities.

It’s also why agility is my word of the decade.  There are many leaders being trained to do one thing.  And I bet they will do that one thing with excellence.  But for folk like me?  I hope we are trained to do many things poorly… because its not about how well we do them.  Its that we are willing to walk where the spirit leads.  We are willing to have feet in so many different places even when we have no idea what we are doing there.  We do not live in an Either / Or world.  Well, we need not live in such.  We can live in a both / and world… a world of improv and the great “Yes, and…”

So I say yes to my attractional institutional 1953 church… yes, and.  And so many other “churches” over layered with that church, and because of that church.

So the next time you ask me about my congregation?  You will need to be prepared to tell me just which of them you mean. 😉

 

 

 

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Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday.

It’s impossible really. There is no way to imagine what it was like. A day to sit in the anguish. To wake… hoping it wasn’t real… but it was. Still.

It was worse than that though. Because it was a sabbath day. A day of rest and worship. A day when the very ability to distract themselves from the pain was forbidden. How can we possibly imagine such a thing?

I have thought before that the closest I could ever come would be to not have Easter Sunday services. But it would be a gimmick and not the existential angst. But imagine… people come in their Sunday best… they expect brass and organ and cheerful flowers. They expect throngs of people that don’t normally come and imagine if it could only be like this every week. The expect it… But no. The door is locked. The lights are off. No music. No worship. No savior. He is dead, you say. Dead…. dead. How could this be? Go back home. Lock the door. Don’t admit you knew him. Rock each other to sleep… it’s over now. What purpose would worship even have? He is dead. Where is our mercy now… where does hope lie? What reasons are there to go on?

Don’t you get it? He was the one who had the words of eternal life… and he can speak no more. We are are all lost. Go home! There is nothing for you here…. not today. Not ever. Never. He is dead, dead, dead.

Good Friday: Keep Calm and Disciple On

I have told the story many times, so I won’t here.  But years ago Good Friday became a significant event in my Christian journey… A day I realized my need to kill god for God’s sake.

I, like a member of the fickle crowds that I am, had needs of God – about how God would be in the world – that were all me… me, my comfort, my needs.  And I nailed that damn god to the tree. God helped me do it.  Because until I was done with that god?  The God-who-is-I-Am could never be alive to me.  So I killed the god of my making and experienced the resurrection of God who is and is to be.  And… well that road less traveled has made all the difference.

So Good Friday matters to me.  Big time.  I want to feel the story.  I want to think long and hard about the true death of God. I want to think long and hard about ways I am still killing God.  And I want to remember that God-God’s-self will help with that killing… because we need to do a bit of razing, a bit of harrowing… to let new life spring up.

Now many of you also know I love the rock-opera / musical theater of Jesus Christ Superstar.  I think it’s a great exercise in interpretation.  I think it’s good interpretation.  I think it find a balance of story and entertainment. Frankly… I just enjoy it.  I watch it in Holy Week every year.  It’s the Christmas Vacation of Holy Week for me.  Half guilty pleasure, and half good reflection on the meaning of this week.  So I’m going to take these two thoughts and weave them together… And give you three things I noticed particularly in my last viewing that I am connecting with on this “Good” Friday.

  1. “You’ve begun to matter more than the things you say.”

Judas utters (screeches?) this line to Jesus in the opening song.  He is vexed that this whole movement is getting out of hand.  I loved the Judas of JCSS.  I love the spin on him as someone who really just wants to go back out and camp out in the wilderness with Jesus and the other 11 like some boy band that has no fame.  A Judas who is more confused than evil inspired architect of Jesus’ demise.  And this line?   On.  It is.  When Jesus matters to us more than “the way” of Jesus? It’s time to kill him off.  I think Jesus thinks that too (the JCSS Judas and I agree on that) which is why in John’s Gospel he tells them going away is the best thing he can do for them.  Nothing about Jesus’ literal death on the cross saves us, everything about the way Jesus lived his life and his death and his resurrection life does!  So maybe a little less worship of Jesus and a lot more following in his way of life is what the world needs.

  1. I had to do it.

(Judas to Jesus, Rome will) “object to another noise sect…They will crush us if we go too far…. Please remember I want us to live.”

(Peter in his thrice denial of Jesus)  “I had to do it, don’t you see?  Or else they’d go     for me.”

(Mary and Peter during the trial of Jesus) “Could we start again please… I think you’ve made your point now, you’ve even gone a bit too far to make you message known.”

Jesus was bound to die.  Not because of some spiritualized need for saving humanity – if God is half the God we imagine, God needs no cross to save anyone.  Jesus was bound to die for his uncompromising dedication to God’s Kingdom vision.  He upset religious people… in being religious.  He constantly holds his disciples accountable to a point of discomfort that makes most leave him far before the challenge of Holy Week.  And all of that reveals all our excuses for the self-deceptions they are – we didn’t have do anything… the “have to” is only the result of a bigger priorities in our life… including life itself. I don’t fault Peter his denials… Peter went on to do great things… and we all fall short.  But he didn’t have to deny Jesus… only if his life was worth more than his honesty and solidarity to the one he called Lord, Master, and Friend.   How often do we try to claim ourselves as slaves to the world to the obligations and the “have to do its?” Take back your own power.  Live to your top priorities and do so without shame.  This is why Jesus went to the cross… he loved LIFE more than his particular life.

  1. Forgiveness that hurts.

Two scenes hit me.  One where Jesus tries to put his hand on an angry Judas’ head and Judas shies away, and one where a beaten Jesus puts his hand on a frustrated Pilates’ face.  In both cases Jesus conveys a touch of love… and they cannot accept it.  A significant part of the story of these two as they interact with Jesus is trying to love and be loved by one you don’t fully understand.  If the world could learn nothing else from Jesus’ life and death and life again than this reality, that love need know no bound?  That would make it all worthwhile.  Maybe Jesus knew what he was doing after all.

As Good Friday comes to a close I am pondering these things.  I’m pondering what fears, priorities, and idols I need to kill because they are gods of my making… so that I might find in the tomb of that shattered clay the God whose love for us all is so great there is no boundary… not the challenges of human life, nor the suffering of inhuman death, nor hell itself that will dissuade God from holding fast, steadfast, to claiming us all.

In that sense it is good… but on the day when that cross is truly empty… when we have stopped needing to drive the nails into one another for our sake?  That day will truly be the best Friday of all.

 

Of Love… and Justice

This is like a retro post… as in the content contained here are two separate pieces that I wrote last week. But to call them separate is not entirely true.  They inspire each other.  The first is a reflection I wrote late at night while cooling off from a run (I’m training for a half-marathon for some crazy reason).  The second is a prayer I wrote the next day in preparation for an interfaith prayer service at the Idaho State Capitol as part of our advocacy to cover the health care cap in Idaho that has left 78,000 people earning too much money to qualify for medicaid but not enough to qualify for tax credits to be able to afford their own health care.  People working but not earning enough.  People caught in the gaps.  People just like you and me.

So one is about being moved to love of the struggles going on all around us… the other is a reminder that love is verb… which may just be justice.  And we are all equally on the hook to see that it happens.

May you love justice and justly love!

—-

Wednesday, March 16th

Sitting out on the front steps in 38° watching the clouds pass in front of the moon while steam rises off my sweaty head.

The world is calm. Quiet. Sleeping.

My house sits up slightly above the floor of the valley. From my front steps I can see thousands of lights. Street lights, porch lights, office lights… cars of late night folk returning to work, or going home, or visiting a friend, or wandering the street to avoid whatever it is they are avoiding.

And that’s the rub.

The world isn’t quiet. The stillness is deceptive. Each of those lights represents a person hiding a secret, a family struggling to keep the house and feed the kids, a marriage falling a part, a covey of people without homes huddled close to stay warm. A son who doesn’t know how to care for a mother who once cared for him or a daughter who wishes she could ask for help but has too much pride to admit the need. In an upstairs room a young teen contemplates how to tell a parent they are confused about who they are and they feel their body is lie telling the world all sorts of untruths about who they are in their heart of hearts… and next door their neighbor contemplates a body that didn’t survive as long as their mind and a world that is collapsing in on itself but they don’t know how to admit it. Not in the light of day at least….

The world sounds calm but our minds and our hearts are churning.

It’s not that the world lacks hope… or joy. There is abundant joy. But somehow our joy and our hope and care are ships passing in the night. We can’t see. We can’t feel. We just don’t know. We feel like those thousand lights are the stars… each so far and alone from each other reliant only on their own inner power for life.

But it’s a lie. It’s one glow that this city casts. Our glow. Our life. One life. We care. We are good. There is joy. Not one of us need be alone. Open your heart to the world and live for one another. Trust me. When we stop judging ourselves. So we can stop judging each other. And love… Life will be so abundant we will wonder what took so long.

I look at those thousand lights again.

They are all me. And I will not be whole until we are whole. Until the peace and calm I feel sitting here outside is echoed deep within.

Deep within.

All the way down. Down down down… To the marrow of our being. Where we are one, in love with our self.

It will not be easy getting there. Thank God I don’t have to do it alone.

——-

Thursday, March 17th

God who is Spirit and Life,

We are gathered here this day seeking light in the darkness.

In a world of abundant goodness, space, and life – we find ourselves all too often contemplating a scarcity of care.  We have developed a skill of not seeing those in need. When we turn to look upon the fields and valleys, streets and buildings of our world with the blinders taken off of our hearts and our eyes truly open we see so much neglect, so much need within the body of your creation and the people of our world, we see so many who have been forsaken in the marginal spaces of our society.

We have institutionalized an ability to be blind to this need.  This is our sin, God.  We have developed mental and emotional calluses that tell us, its not our problem… its not our responsibility.  Calluses that ensure our heart strings are not plucked by the human need around us.  We do not see the existential angst of the working family without resources enough to feed and house and provide medical care for themselves despite days and nights of hard work… how do you choose which way to neglect your child?  Our calluses keep us from seeing the elderly couple down the street whose savings proved shorter than their lifespan… we tell ourselves its fine because we won’t do that to ourselves… as if market production, disease, and accidents are something over which we have complete control.  We callus ourselves with myths about the people who are without homes… like they want it that way, they are lazy, its their fault, or they wouldn’t know what to do with money so why bother?  We make them out to be less-than.  A less than human people… just a condition… and then we do not have to care.

We live in a world where life is meant to flourish.  Where ecosystems are meant to sustain the health and the welfare of all.  Where our the structures of our society are meant to build up abundance and enough for all.  But rather than create balanced provision and care we seek systems that benefit our own good and forsake the ones our calluses allow us to ignore.  We have fostered a world where medical care is a privilege and not a right, and care for another is considered charity and not our shared responsibility as the interconnected web of life.

This day, O God, we come to stare into the voids of care we have created and allowed.  We stare down the structures of society misaligned to promote inequality: comfort for few and suffering to many.  We comes to raise a cry that this isn’t right.  That we are, in fact, each other’s keeper.  Not privately but in all our lives, private and public, individually and corporately – from the doorstep of our houses to the halls of our government.  We come to gather to say its time to close the gap in medical coverage and in our care for each other.

So we pray to you O God to heal, to bridge, to cover the gap.

Not the gap in our medical coverage – we’ve got that God.  That one is on us, and there is no reason we cannot get that done.

It’s the gap in our hearts that must first be filled… and healed.  It’s the callused eyes and feelings that must be broken open to feel the plight of our neighbor and be moved to love.  Oh Spirit of life, bridge THIS gap, unite us care and love for one another – provide us that healing which is beyond our kin, Mend the brokenness within us so that we may work on the broken around us -and structure our society and our lives to building one another up, to heal, to house, to provide an “enough” for all that none must live in existential angst of deciding which need to forsake.

And in the meantime, in the gap of time between now and when justice might roll down in abundant waters for all – stand in the gap God.  Stand once again in the gap with those for whom your love has always glowed the brightest… those whose lives are an everyday struggle for basic needs.  Stand in the darkness of our creation and remind us, remind us all… that we are not alone.

Amen.

When Great is the Enemy of Good

Many years ago my then boss had the whole pastoral staff where I worked read the Jim Collins book, From Good to Great.  I groaned.  I didn’t want to see applications.  I’m sure I made some snarky comments (sorry about that Tom).  But I will let you in on a secret… I like the book and I actually quote it quite a lot.  Messaging about getting the right leadership on the bus, making sure you measure the right things because, like it or not, we work to what we measure, framing your mission correctly to produce the best results, and disciplined following of your purpose with the ability to say no to anything that didn’t fit your mission… all of these have been important take-aways for me.

One of the phrases he uses (related to the name of the book and its predecessor book) is, “Good is the Enemy of Great.”  The premise of which is that often we are fine settling with something that is good and never seek to make it great… and it eventually means we are susceptible to languishing in mediocrity.  Companies that sustain greatness in their market never settle for being good.

Without saying he isn’t right (because I think he is but that’s another post about another problem), at the same time I want to say the reverse… sometimes – even often – great is the enemy of good.  My lens is the life of the church but this is by no means the only place where this can be true.  How often do we sit around saying something like, “We need to think about this more before we are ready to do it?”  How often do we hold off doing the right thing because we aren’t convinced we can do it well enough… or because we are afraid of failing?

At such times our need to be great – without fail – become the enemy of good… or really of anything at all.  We sit around board rooms talking about what we should do, or what we will do, or what other people are doing… but it doesn’t translate into any action at all.

Just this morning (which happens to be International Women’s Day so huge shout out to all the important mentors and friends of mine who are awesome women not to mention my three sisters and three daughters… oh and Caroline who is good and great all rolled up into one) I happened across this video from a TED talk by Reshma Saujani, whose work is inspiring and teaching girls to be computer programmers.  The TED talk is on the need to teach girls to be taught bravery and not perfection.  Her working premise that boys are taught to be brave: rough and tumble, swing high, get what you want.  While we teach girls to be pretty, smile nice, seek perfection, and be cautious.  We teach girls perfection, and boys risk-taking accomplishment and this habituates them to those roles.  The part that hits me the most is this:

You will see a blank screen and think the girl has spent 20 minutes staring at the screen, until you hit undo a few times and see that she wrote code and deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right and instead of showing the progress she made, she showed nothing at all. Perfection or bust… it turns out our girls are really good at coding but its not enough to just teach them to code… when guys are struggling they will come in they will say, “Professor, there is something wrong with my code.” But the girls will come in and says, “There is something wrong with me.”

Ouch.  And then I connect that dot back to our institutions (for me, the church) because I think we raise our churches like our girls… to think in terms of perfection: pretty, cautious, and flawless.  And how crippling is that?

I was taught by a child psychologist that when you take a young child into a room without a parent they will be lost.  They will sit in the middle and move nowhere and look at the world with fear.  When you put their parent in that room that same child will explore the room.  The world is safe.  Their world is anchored.  Later that child will develop what they call “transitional objects.”  A pacifier, a blanket, a stuffed animal… and they will transfer the safe feeling of parent to that object.  So as long as they have that object they “have” their parent and they are safe and can explore and engage.  But without it?  Again… fear.

As we age and mature we develop beyond our need for transitional objects.  We have discovered, one way or the other, that the world is safe for exploring or that its fearful and to be avoided.  EXCEPT in crisis.  In crisis we will revert to our child-like minds.  We will revert to fear, need for safety, and caution even if we are normally brave explorers.

I wonder if the mainline church is experiencing the life of “there is something wrong with me” mixed with more than a little of crisis inspired child-like fear of the world around them.  We have lost an ability to risk, to engage, to explore, and to play.  We are so convinced that we have to be great… that we do nothing until we are sure we can’t fail… and do exactly that from lack of doing anything at all.

In such a world, like Reshma Saujani’s coding classes, we have to simultaneously teach new skills and ideas while changing the wiring of the people we are teaching.  We have to inspire brave exploration, and playful experimentation.

I have to constantly relearn this for myself.  Two years ago I attended a workshop on 90 second sermons.  I got told all the right ways to do it, I got inspired and brought the idea home.  But then I got worried.  There were several things I needed to do in order to do it “right.”  I didn’t want it to flop so I wasn’t going to do it until it was great.   For a year and half I just let it go.  Then one day out of the blue a colleague and I said, “Let’s do it.”  We picked up a camera and filmed a short video sermon teaser and pushed it out.  We followed none of the rules.  The lighting was poor, the script was non-existent, and there was no time for post-production… and my 90 seconds was 2 and half minutes.  UGH.  ALL WRONG.  But… folk liked it though.  It worked.  Not great, but ok.  The next week I was convinced we needed to get it better.  To do it great.  To do it right.  Guess what?  Folk didn’t like it.  They said it felt too produced.  It was staged.  It lacked the easy energy of the first week.  What?

You mean you didn’t like great, but you loved it when it was just ok?  I could have been doing okay for the last two years?!?!?!?!?!?!  Yes.  That is exactly what they meant.  And I let my fear of something short of perfection hold me back, because sometimes great is the enemy of good.

And I have examples galore… worship videos posted online, my personal attempts to become a runner, changing our worship times, starting a new doxology,  producing a completely new bulletin, moving to gluten-free communion bread (ok that was a mess – literally!!! But we will keep working on it and amazingly enough the world still spun even when our bread was crumbling).  Every single one of them is an example of something that succeeded only when we stopped worrying about being great.  Every single one of them works not because it’s perfect but we because we took the risk to play at it and learn as we go.  They work because we not only did things differently but related to it differently at the same time.  Play not perfection.  Good not great.  Doing it, not just thinking it.

There is nothing wrong with us.  There is something wrong with our code.  And its time to change it.  Not perfectly… one small misstep at a time. Risking. Engaging.  Exploring…. Together.  A brave new world.

 

Faith and Politics: When Preaching Gets to Meddling

Today a friend made an off-hand comment that went something like, “Andrew is one of the most political pastors I know.”  He didn’t mean it negatively.  It was just an off-hand comment in a conversation about non-profit work.  But the comment stuck with me.  Am I really that political?  I don’t self-identify as such, and yet… I don’t have a problem with that identity.  Because you know what?  I think faith is necessary political.  In fact it kind of drives me crazy that people think they are two things that should remain separated.

Clarifying terms for a minute.  I am not talking here about the separation of Church and State.  Keeping those two institutional structures separated is a value I highly prize.  But faith and politics?  Those aren’t institutions or structures… they are, in a nutshell, worldviews.  And they cannot possibly remain separated if you are at all serious or committed to either one of them.

When a Buddhist maintains that all life is inter-connected and thus compassion should be the default engagement with all other life (alongside non-attachment) this is setting up a way of relating to the world that will necessarily alter their political choices.  Their politics and the choices they make about what would be “right” orientation to societal problems would have to flow out of their core faith values.  You don’t find a whole lot of militant Buddhists… because its hard to have a core value that claims my life is no more important that the life of the tree… the sparrow… or those other people over there, and defend a political choice to go to war.

In the three and half years I have been in my current call I have been mostly blessed with few people who really complain about my preaching… I presume they are listening but maybe that’s the key. 😉  But three instances that come immediately to mind were all when my sermon touched on political issues.  One such time I was outright told that I was to talk about scripture not politics…. right after I preached Ezekiel 34.  A chapter that is a prophet addressing the political leaders of Israel with rebuke for not doing their job protecting the weak and feeding the people so that the people became scattered and food for wild animals.  Now mind you… what Ezekiel says is shepherds and sheep.  So maybe there is some reason for confusion, but Shepherds in the Old Testament are Kings.  And we are the sheep.  And the Old Testament is time and time again… political.

So my argument then, and my argument now is this…. I cannot preach scripture without getting political.  If I am to do my job, as given to me by the very person complaining about “getting political” it would be to “get political.”  Because God is all about politics.  God has a political vision for the ordering of creation and human society within that creation.

Now, maybe someone is waiting to say, but Jesus….

I come from a confessional tradition.  We have creeds and catechisms that teach the faith. The earliest two we use in our Book of Confessions are the Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed.  But they aren’t really the first confession of the Church.  The first two creeds go farther back than that.  The first two (unofficial) creeds of the emerging Christian Church were:

Jesus Christ is Lord.

And,

Jesus Christ is Messiah.

The latter statement is a faith statement.  I believe Jesus is the long-awaited anointed one of God come to save God’s people (all people; all creation).  It moves into Jesus is the Son of God… to Jesus is God.  It is a bold claim of faith.  It lacks proof – it’s a faith statement, a statement Paul likens to the foolishness of the cross.  But it sets our worldview as formed by the worldview of Jesus.  Which is why I always identify myself as “a follower of the way of Jesus Christ.” So Jesus is Messiah is my faith statement.

But the other “first” creed, Jesus is Lord?  It is a political statement.  In a world where Caesar was Lord it stands as a contradiction – an opposing political party if you will.  It means Caesar isn’t Lord.  The way of Caesar and Empire are not the worldviews we choose… Jesus is the way.  You cannot follow both Jesus and Caesar.  Their “ways” are too disparate. So to become a Jesus follower is to necessarily make a political statement… one that cost many of those early followers their lives.  Someone look Peter or Paul in the eye and tell them faith isn’t political.

There is an old phrase that goes something like, “now your preaching has gone to meddlin’.”

I love the phrase.  I love it because preaching is ALWAYS meddling.  God is an imposition on our lives.  My life would be easy without Jesus.  Less meaningful for me?  Yes.  Better?  Not as I measure it now.  But it would surely be easier.  Because when I try to make Jesus’ politics my politics it forces me to meddle in the world in ways the world doesn’t appreciate.  Sometimes in ways even our own families and friends don’t appreciate.  But can we seriously call ourselves followers of faith (any faith, mine just happens to be in the way of Jesus) without allowing the truths that faith claims for us to pervade all our decision making… particularly our politics?

I will always try hard not to give answers.  I don’t it see it as my role.  I believe my role is provoke with good questions and train people with the tools for coming up with answers.  I hope to help people learn to connect the dots for themselves and to raise moral awareness of our choices and their consequences.

I will never say who you should vote for or even judge your choices (that one gets harder for me, I’m fallible and it isn’t easy).  But please, never tell me our faith isn’t political.  If you have made a political choice, I hope it reconciles with what you preach and pray and read and learn in your faith life.  It isn’t a matter of should… it’s a matter of ought.  Because if you really think your faith isn’t political than my response would be… you aren’t a person of faith.  I don’t mean that as a judgment of you, but a statement of what those terms really mean.  And to clarify further that doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person… I know lots of good people who self-identify as not being people of faith.  But I have a stake in asking you not to claim what isn’t true.  You cannot be a person of faith and keep that faith out of your politics because to be a person of faith means to passionately ascribe to a world view that has call on how we behave in the world.  And that is the exact thing that politics is doing.

So, people of faith?  Get political!

iec capitol

This picture makes me laugh – that’s me in the robe yesterday looking like a Secret Service Agent for God as I was standing outside the Capitol advocating for people  – because my faith makes me pro-people and Idaho needs to be too great for hate!  Thanks to the great people of the Interfaith Alliance and the Interfaith Equality Coalition for continuing standing up and being political because of, and informed by, our varying faiths.