Archives For Election 2012

Jesus’ Politics

Jason Micheli —  March 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

121101065950-red-blue-state-jesus-custom-1This weekend we continued our Counterfeit Gods sermon series by exploring how partisan politics can be an idol, taking away from our ultimate allegiance to Christ. Here’s a great post from Darrell Dow on that same theme:

American politics is religious in its fervor. American religion is political in its function.

No matter how tall the wall that our Constitution has built between the church and the state, you’ll find some people from every political persuasion who will invoke Christian thought as the basis of their convictions. Every agenda has its religious texts and scriptural narratives informed by biblical images. An embattled union is David to the corporate giant’s Goliath. Those seeking social change cast themselves in the role of prophet or Apostle by turns speaking uncomfortable truths to the powerful and spreading the gospel of equality and justice. Most of all, Jesus gets quoted by everybody.

Who doesn’t own Jesus in an election year? Jesus is a Democrat. Jesus is a Republican. Jesus would want more social programs for the poor. Jesus would strike abortion providers dead in their tracks. Jesus would outlaw assault rifles. Jesus would institute the death penalty. Jesus has a seat on every side of every issue. It’s a good thing he’s got divinity on his side because anyone else would likely crack under the strain.

During the last election cycle I even began noticing Vote for Jesus as a slogan on bumper stickers and signs. This campaign to elect the Lord is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’m pretty sure Christ doesn’t have a US birth certificate. I can only imagine what Donald Trump would have to say about that.

I’ll have to confess that I’ve never voted for Republican Jesus but I did admire him as I pictured the muscular man who favored free enterprise, led an ear-chopping posse of swordsmen, and taught the poor that the path to happiness was hard work as a cog in the capitalist machine. I imagined that someday he would lead troops into a bloody final battle against the forces of Communism, atheism, and pretty much anybody else that didn’t go to my church. This image of a conquering right-wing Christ was very satisfying stuff in my youth but I’m happy to say that my Jesus isn’t like that anymore and hasn’t been for many years.

Even though my Christ had grown kinder and gentler over the years, however, he was still pretty darn conservative so when I started a new project last month that I’m callingMy Obama Year, I realized that spending twelve months of listening, empathizing, and trying to understand those who live to my political left would mean understanding their Jesus as well. That takes a good deal of doing. Jesus is pretty personal.

The process of rediscovering Jesus comes with a warning: It’s good to be cautious when you start to reconstruct Christ. It would be easy to slip into the path of simply switching out Jesus the Iron-Jawed General for a Jesus that drinks free trade coffee, carries a union card (Carpenters Local 316, perhaps?), and has a Free Tibet sticker on the guitar case he carries to protests. Unfortunately, a liberal caricature of Christ is no more helpful than the extreme right-wing version because it robs us of the main focus of his teachings which were largely personal not political.

Jesus was not a general nor was he an activist. Not only did he never run for election, he never even voted in one. Other than some cutting words about the spiritual conditions of some of the Jewish leadership, his largest political statement was a martyrdom during which he didn’t even bother launching a defense at his own trial. As politics goes, that’s not exactly a great way to have a career.

Maybe Jesus isn’t really anything like the political images painted of him. Perhaps the time has come for all parties and political persuasions to stop claiming to have exclusive rights to Jesus and instead think about what he did teach us — lessons that are bigger than our issues or agendas. He taught outlandish love for our enemies. He taught unthinkable grace toward our neighbors. He told us that the kingdom of heaven is now here. It’s here! It’s here in publicans and in Pharisees; in prostitutes and in preachers; in Democrats, in Republicans, in you, and in me.

What would happen in our country if the kingdom were right now fully realized and grace and graciousness ruled our politics? What if the greatest commandment in our law was love? I can’t really imagine it — which I suppose just means that there is a lot of work still left to do for all of us.

In the meantime should we vote for Jesus? Why would anyone need to? I think that to do so would be as superfluous as it is insulting.

When you live in a kingdom there’s no vote need to vote for the King.

1358799163252.cachedRachel Held Evans has a list of points for Christians to remember today. Here are two I think are spot-on:

As Christians, we are reminded today that our ultimate allegiance belongs not to a political party or even a country, but to the Kingdom of God, where the first is last and the last is first, where the peacemakers and the poor are blessed, where enemies are forgiven and slaves are set free, where our King washes feet, where abundant life grows from a tiny seed into a tree—not by power or might but by the Spirit. If this Kingdom can flourish under the Roman Empire, it can flourish under any government, in any country, and in any circumstance. We are never without hope.

There is no place for followers of Jesus to be consumed with either hate or adoration. Jesus teaches us to love even our enemies, to bless and not curse, to reserve our adoration for God alone, and to humble ourselves in the face of power. Responding to today’s events with either despair or unbridled glee communicates to the world that our trust is in the government, not in Christ.

You can check out the others here.

Chad Pecknold is an acquaintance whom I’d like to become a friend. He teaches theology at Catholic U and lives here in the neighborhood. He has the distinction of being the only person I can strike up a conversation with about Alisdair MacIntyre or Cormac McCarthy’s apocalypticism at the summer pool (Yes, those are the kinds of things I read at the pool).

Chad’s got a great essay reminding Catholics (I’d insert ‘Christians’) that we not only believe certain convictions we also, necessarily, disbelieve others. In other words, the stories of the world given to us by political parties etc don’t always or don’t often jive with our Gospel story.

Here’s the first part of his post. Click over to read the rest.

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One of our greatest living philosophers, Alasdair MacIntyre, recently gave a lecture at the University of Notre Dame titled “Catholic instead of what?”  MacIntyre always has a way of provoking thought, of unsettling our categories, and helping us to understand ourselves and our place in the world.  This brilliant lecture was no exception.  He began by observing that Catholics have always understood themselves in contrast to something else.  That is a particularly good starting point for any post-election analysis since Catholics have been increasingly reduced to a political caricature of what they are against (contraception, abortion, redefinition of marriage).

MacIntyre stressed that Catholic Christians have always lived the Christian story in such a way as to unfold its communal learning before the whole world, largely in terms of affirmations and denials.  For example, Catholics have always believed and affirmed “that God exists, that the Word was made flesh, that the bread and wine of the Eucharist becomes Christ’s body and blood, that the pope and the bishops teach with apostolic authority.”  But Christians also disbelieve, as often in response to confused internal claims (such as heresies) as to external claims (counter narratives).  In each particular time and place, Catholic Christians have disbelieved anything that provides grounds for rejecting the Catholic faith. That is, MacIntyre stresses, “a reflective Catholic is always a Catholic rather than something else.  So Augustine was a Catholic rather than a Manichean; Pascal was a Catholic rather than a skeptic or a Cartesian; Maritain was a Catholic rather than a materialist Bergsonian, etc.”

MacIntyre was asking, as he so often does, what it means to be a Catholic Christian in a secular culture.  But the context of his comments suggested an even more timely question in the post-election season – one akin to the one he asked in 2004 by reflecting on why he would not be voting – what does it in mean to be a Christian in a liberal democratic culture such as ours? What does it mean to be a Christian in a thoroughly polarized political climate, with a “vulgarized liberalism” on one side, and a “vulgarized conservativism” on the other?
I am prompted to step back from our fractious political climate for a moment to assess:  where are we now?  How do Catholics understand themselves in the wake of the last election?

In response to a quite important policy question concerning the HHS mandate, MacIntyre had the good sense to affirm the Bishops in their fight.  It is the Bishops, after all, who have led us to ask ourselves (more than anyone else) the question: “Catholic rather than what?”  Yet MacIntyre also paused at the dangers implicit in the fight.  Is it possible for Catholics to simply become coopted, subsumed, reducible and redefined by politics?  He gave this important caution: “If we are going to think well about politics as Catholics in the United States now, there are a lot of things other than politics that we have to start thinking well about [too].”  And I think one of those things that Christians need to think well about are the narratives that shape how we ourselves think about the shape and scale of our politics. In every age, Christians have found their own narrative to be at odds with other narratives that in some way deform or divide the fundamental unity of Christian faith.  At times, Christians can be subtly coerced, often by the psychological force of the general will of the culture they inhabit, to make affirmation and denials that do not flow from their own substantial commitments as Christians, but which mirror affirmations and denials of another narrative.

Currently the literature is awash with accounts of why Christians are more aligned with Republicans, or why Christians are more aligned with Democrats, but I must admit that I find both suggestions equally worrisome.  To say that a Christian must be a Republican rather than Democrat, or a Democrat rather than Republican – while having some intellectual cogency with respect to the hierarchy of moral truths under consideration – seems also to be a sign of a very deep confusion worthy of reflection.  It should signal a warning:  the deepest commitments of Christians are being parceled out for other purposes, deformed and divided for political ends which undermine Christian faith.

Here’s the rest.

It’s nearly a week since election day. Most of us have settled back into our lives and Facebook is no longer a minefield of incivility.

In the past week there’s been considerable analysis of the Republican’s demographic problems. Politicos point out how the Republicans will prove incapable of winning national elections if they continue to rely on the vote of white Protestants, an increasingly shrinking piece of the electoral pie. Only 1/5 voters last Tuesday so identified themselves. If Republicans want to put together a national, majority coalition, observers have said often since Tuesday night, they need to adapt and reach younger voters, more diverse voters and religiously unaffiliated voters.

Some Republicans in the press have embraced this reality- always the first step to change- while others have denied it and posited other explanations for their defeat Tuesday.

Here’s the truly sobering data from Tuesday night. The Republican Party’s problems is the same problem the Church faces.

According to the Pew Trust Survey, released last month, nearly 20% of Americans identify themselves as ‘religiously unaffiliated.’

The stigma against religious ambivalence that was once so strong among the greatest generation, and even their children- which, no doubt, led to a degree of shallow, cultural Christianity off of which the Church has been subsisting decades- is no longer. People today feel free to identify themselves as unbelievers without concern that someone will look down their nose at them.

No surprise: many of the religiously unaffiliated are my age and younger and they’re diverse.

In a nutshell, the Church is facing the future holding Mitt Romney’s electoral strategy, which a week’s hindsight demonstrates is a losing bet.

And just as Republicans have been doing this week past, some Christians are willing to face the reality (and the challenge) and vision for the future while other Christians seem determined to deny reality or, worse, blame the culture, turn their backs on it and jettison the universal implications of their beliefs.

Interestingly (tragically), the convergence between the Pew Trust survey and Tuesday night’s results goes deeper. The Pew results found that very many of those who identify as religiously unaffiliated do so because they perceive Christianity to be “deeply entangled with conservative politics and do not want to have any association with it. As a result, many young Americans view religion as judgmental, hypocritical, homophobic, and too political.”

What’s more, 2/3 of the unaffiliated say the Church is too concerned with money and power (70%) and too involved in politics (67%).

In other words, the ’80’s and ’90’s may have been good for the Christian Coalition but the fruit they’ve reaped has not been good for Christians.

As Mitt Romney found out Tuesday, the college students who voted for Obama this time around aren’t the same college students who voted in 2008. Meaning, the trends are only going to continue and get worse for the Church unless we face facts.

The bad news in the data is that the Church has allowed our infatuation with the trappings of Empire to define how many perceive us.

The good news in the data is that most of the unaffiliated have bowed out for good reasons and not- thank God- because they’re not open to Jesus.

…Jesus is Still Lord and He’s Neither Red Nor Blue.

And the same will be true at the swearing in.

And the same would be true had the results of the election gone the other way.

Christians who find themselves this morning either euphoric or despondent…shouldn’t be either one.

Scot McKnight does a good job at his Jesus Creed blog of framing how Christians distinguish politics from the Kingdom, and how, for Christians, the word ‘election’ refers to being chosen by God to serve as a witness to others; it doesn’t refer to the means by which we demonize others.

Here’s what he says:

Somewhere overnight or this morning the eschatology of American Christians may become clear. If a Republican wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if a Democrat wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented Christian becomes depressed and hopeless because a Repub wins, or if a Republican oriented Christian becomes depressed or hopeless because a Dem wins, those Christians are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics.

I can’t imagine 1st Century Roman Christians caught up in some kind of hope whether it would be Nero or Britannicus who would succeed Claudius.

Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. And I hope we can create a better economy. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on my political party? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn’t matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing progressive wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology.

Now before I take another step, it must be emphasized that I participate in the election; and I think it makes a difference which candidate wins; and I think from my own limited perspective one candidate is better than the other.

But before I take the next step I’ll say this: if our candidates lose won’t make one bit of a difference for our obligation to follow Jesus today. Not one bit.

Participation in our election dare not be seen as the lever that turns the eschatological designs God has for this world. Where is our hope? November 6 may tell us.

What I hope it reveals is that:

Our hope is in God. The great South African missiologist, David Bosch, in his bookTransforming Mission impressed upon many of us that the church’s mission is not in fact the church’s mission but God’s mission. Our calling is to participate in the missio Dei, the mission of God in this world. So, at election time we can use the season to re-align our mission with the mission of God. Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God. God’s mission is gospel-shaped. Some today want to reduce gospel to personal salvation while others want to convert into public politics and secularize the kingdom of God. The gospel is about Jesus the King and the gospel is about kingdom citizens living under the king regardless of who is in “power.” Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates God’s people. God’s gospel-shaped mission creates a new people of God. In fact, the temptation of good Protestants to skip fromGenesis 3 (the Fall) to Romans 3 (salvation) must be resisted consciously. The gospel creates kingdom citizens who indwell the church and live that vision.

Here’s the rest of Scot’s post. 

Who I’m Voting For…

Jason Micheli —  November 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

Yeah, sorry for the tease, but I don’t think so.

I posted this last week but the WordPress analytics tell me not enough of you took a gander. So with the polls closing soon here’s some pastoral, Kingdom-focused wisdom from yours truly….

 

Every now and then I flirt with the belief that Christians should opt out of campaigns and elections, let the chads and voting booths, the empty soundbites and inane talking points lie fallow for a season.

It’s not that I don’t think certain issues are important. It’s not that I don’t think Christians should be engaged in the concerns of their given context. It’s that I suspect a mass Christian opt-out on Election Day might be a helpful and cleansing reminder to our politicians that A) the means by which they engage political conversation couldn’t be more divergent from our faith convictions and B) the notion that the teachings of Jesus fit perfectly into either party is what the Church has usually referred to as heresy.

After all, issues and elections may be important, but only Jesus will bring the Kingdom and Jesus’ plan to heal the world is neither the Democratic or Republican platform but the Church. The extent to which that notion scares you or strikes you as naive exposes both Jesus’ unreasonableness and your own lack of faith.

Every election year when well-meaning Christians either ask me voting advice or just post their silliness about ‘voting the bible’ on Facebook, I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s maxim that he’d rather have an effective pagan leader than an incompetent Christian at the reins of government.

When it comes to me, I’ve got conservative Tea Party types convinced I go to sleep at night beneath a portrait of Che, Mao and Jesus arm-in-arm. And I’ve got liberal Democrats who think I’m raging right-to-lifer. There are military folks who think I’m a Mennonite in name only and left-leaning activists who think my reluctance to believe in ‘rights’ language is proof I’m a backwards fascist.

Without trying to sound self-congratulatory, such ambiguity makes me, I think, a Christian. Or at the very least, a pastor.

As examples like Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams point out, Christian convictions do not easily lend themselves to party affiliation despite those parties’ drooling eagerness to adopt ‘God language’ into their platforms.

Which is to say, as a follower of Jesus, you shouldn’t really care for whom I vote just as I, frankly, do not care for whom you do.

As Jesus might say, ‘render unto Caesar …’ or maybe he would say…’the law and the prophets do not hang on…’ or maybe he would say…’put away the sword…’ or how about ‘the Kingdom of God is like a tiny-not-as-significant-as-your-paid-advertising-mustard seed…or might he warn ‘you cannot serve God and Mammon…’?

This screed was prompted and brought to you by Jonathan Martin’s Election Day Communion meme:

A sermon for All Saints based on Ezra 3

On Thursday afternoon this week, I found myself in what you might describe as a ‘sour mood.’ Or, as my wife likes to put it, I was ‘man-strating.’

First, early on Thursday I received an email from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named here in the congregation, my own personal Caiphus. For some reason, he felt the need to email me to dispute Dennis’ sermon from last Sunday.

You know, the sermon that was written by and preached by NOT ME. I mean if I’m going to start getting blamed for Dennis’ sermons too then he’s got to step up his game. Specifically, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wanted to dismiss the Pew Trust statistics Dennis shared with you, about the percentage of people in their 40’s and 30’s and 20’s for whom church is not relevant to their lives at all.

His email was succinct: “I come to church every Sunday. If other people don’t that’s not my problem.”

That’s when I started manstrating.

Right after reading his email, I got in my car where I discovered that every single radio station was playing a campaign commercial, the kind explaining how this Tuesday is the most critical date in the history of human civilization and unless Barack Obama/Mitt Romney wins the earth will stop spinning, America will cease to exist, and the Death Star will reach full operational capacity.

Driving in my car, my mood worsened.

When I got home Thursday afternoon, my phone rang. And rang. And rang…don’t you love phone calls this time of year? Barack Obama’s campaign called me 3 times, asking for my vote and my money. Mitt Romney’s campaign called me 2 times, asking for my vote and my money. George Allen and Tim Kaine followed with robo-calls of their own, asking for my vote and my money.

So when my phone rang for the 8th time, I was full-on manstrating.

 

‘Is Jason Micheli there?’ the voice on the other end inquired.

 

‘No, he’s not here,’ I lied, ‘can I take a message?’

 

‘My name’s Matt. I’m calling from Princeton Seminary.’

 

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘this is Jason.’

 

‘But I thought you said…’

 

‘Never mind what I said. How can I help you?’

He then explained that he was a seminary student and that he was calling on behalf of the Bicentennial Campaign, soliciting gifts…and testimonials from alumni.

He tried to grease the sale by telling me all the new things going on at my alma mater, and then he asked if I would make a gift to the campaign.

I said sure. He said great. I said okay. He asked how much.  I told him.

And he said: ‘Times are tough, huh?’

That’s when my mood turned truly foul.

‘Look kid, maybe no one’s told you yet what you can expect to make as a pastor but I’m not Bill Gates. Besides, you should’ve called earlier. I’ve already given money to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, George Allen, Tim Kaine, NPR and the Rebel Alliance.’

He sounded confused.

‘Well, um, would you like to share any thoughts about how your seminary education prepared you for ministry? We’d like to compile these and publish them in the alumni magazine.’

And instantly my mind went to that email from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sitting in my inbox, still waiting for a reply.

And I knew this was one of those moments where a grown-up could choose to bite his tongue and not resort to petty sarcasm. But I’m not one of those grown-ups.

‘Sure, Matt, I’d love to share my thoughts. Here goes: Princeton Seminary prepared me exceedingly well…to maintain a church for church people.’

I could hear him typing my response.

‘In fact, Matt, why don’t you suggest to the trustees that they can slow down, delay the Bicentennial for several decades, because based on how Princeton taught me to do ministry it must still be 1950.’

‘That’s not the kind of feedback we were looking for’ Matt said.

‘Of course not, but its what you need to hear.

Princeton Seminary taught me to pray the kinds of prayers church people like, to preach the kinds of sermons church people like, to plan the kind worship services that church people like, to manage the kind of church that church people like.

 

But seminary didn’t teach me how to do any of those things in a way that makes church relevant and life-changing to an unchurched person.

 

And that’s the future, Matt. And the clock’s ticking. It’s ticking faster than any one in church wants to believe.’

 

Those Pew statistics Dennis shared with you last week- about how with each new generation the church plays an ever-shrinking role- those aren’t just numbers.

They’re people with names and stories. People God loves.

 

That’s why this week I sent our youth director, Teer Hardy, out into Alexandria and DC, to find some those people behind the numbers and hear their side of the story.

 

I wish I could show you the video he shot. If we were in the National Cathedral, I could show you the video. But since we’re in this sanctuary, you’re just going to have to listen. Here’s one of the responses (Cue Audio)

 

My name is ___________________. 

I’m 33. I’m married and have a 1 year old boy. I work full-time.  

As a 30-something, how relevant is the Church to you in your life? 

At this moment, not very much. I guess it’s been almost five years since I worshipped in a church, besides a few weddings. Some of my earliest memories are of going to church during Advent. 

I miss that element in my weekly life, of worshiping and belonging to a community. Part of me would like to have that resonance of faith in my daily life, but most churches don’t seem to have someone like me, someone my age, in mind. Your question could easily be turned around, couldn’t it? How relevant is someone like me to your church? 

When you hear the word ‘worship’ what comes to your mind? 

The word ‘worship’ doesn’t immediately lead me to think of institutional religious practices. 

To worship, to me, is to reframe my attention away from everything I typically pay attention to as a full-time working mother, and turn to God, experience awe, gratitude, connection to other humans. I could attend a formal church service and never experience any of those things, but I do experience them in other ways and places.  

What assumptions or habits do churches have that are an obstacle to someone your age? 

I think there is a risk of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. I think churches sometimes try to pander and make themselves appear relevant to a young audience. People my age and younger are a lot savvier now. We’re marketed to all the time; we can tell the difference between a sales pitch and a genuine interest in us.

 

This is someone who grew up in church and is open to being a part of another one.

 

But did you hear what she said?

 

People like her won’t return to what they left if it’s the same exact thing they left before.

 

Now it’s easy to write people like her off. You can say ‘it’s not my problem.’

I could steer you towards plenty of people who would agree with you.

 

You know where they’re all at this morning? That’s right, in dying churches.

 

And Methodism’s got plenty of those. Churches who love their way of doing things more than they love their mission to reach new people.

 

Churches where perpetuating how they do things is their mission. Churches who feel no urgency until the day comes they can no longer pay the bills.

 

But, just in case there’s still some of you who want to dismiss the statistics and not be bothered about the strangers in the street who don’t think Jesus can change their lives, we solicited some other interviews too.

 

Cue Audio:

My name’s _____________________. I’m 24 and work full-time.

 

What about how churches do worship fails to resonate with you? 

 

I think everyone is at a different place in their lives and everyone has a different perspective. I know that my ideas and opinions about things have changed, and I would be amazed if they didn’t change again. Sometimes it feels like churches want new and younger people so long as we don’t come with our own opinions and needs. We’re expected to sign on to exactly how they like to do worship. In that sense, it’s not much different than children’s church when I was a kid.

 

It’s difficult for me to accept someone else’s preferences if I don’t get the feeling that they’re open to someone else’s way of doing things too. 

 

This other response come to me by way of Facebook:

 

My name’s ____________________. I’m a Graduate Student.

 

I think my faith is in a transitional phase. In college, I found Christian groups to be radical and extreme and it made me doubt the beliefs I had learned my whole life in church and youth group. It left me feeling that the Church just isn’t all that relevant to real life. 

 

Worship sometimes feels like a passive ritual to me. You show up, listen, then go home.  It doesn’t impact my day to day life. 

 

 

Those two people. Guess where they came from?

They grew up here at Aldersgate. They’re ours. Yours.

So, even if you think we don’t have a responsibility to reach as many new people as we can, at the very least you should agree that we have an obligation to people like these two.

After all, you’ve made promises to them.

Remember? When they were baptized- you promised to do whatever it takes to nurture their faith.

 

If we’re not willing to create the kind of church that will be relevant to them when they grow up, then, frankly, we should stop baptizing them when they’re babies.

 

If we’re not willing to adapt how we do church, we should stop baptizing children.

 

Because every time we baptize, we vow to do everything it takes to make them a saint.

 

Shirley Pitts can tell you- John Wesley understood this.

Remembering the saints is something we do. Once a year.

 

Producing saints, Sunday after Sunday, day in and day out- that’s our Christ-given great commission.

 

 

This is what you need to remember.

 

Dennis and I- one of our three goals for the coming 18 months is to raise the number of people in worship by 10%.

 

Round it up to 100 people if you want.

 

Before you nod your heads and say ‘that’s a great idea!’ remember the Ezra chapter 3 catch:

 

We can’t say we’re going to build a new temple and think we can do so by replicating how we’ve always done things before.

 

Because how we do things now will net us what we have.

Now.

 

We’re making worship our number one focus this year and our goal is 10% more people worshipping God with us.

 

To get to that goal, we’re going to have to be creative, take risks, value people over preferences, we’re going to have to examine all our assumptions, we’re going to have to get more basic/more essential, and change.

 

And if you think I’m talking about worship style or music style, you’re missing the point. For example:

 

Most of you would be very reluctant to invite an unchurched friend to worship with you. I understand that reluctance, but it’s got to change.

 

Many of you can’t talk about Jesus or use religious language in a normal conversation with your peers. I was like that; I understand that, and we’ve got to change that.

 

Many of our members are involved in all kinds of activities in the church without ever worshipping with us. I understand that’s an ingrained part of the church culture, but it’s a part of the culture that’s got to change.

 

Other than acolytes, we don’t have our children or youth involved in worship, serving communion, reading scripture, helping to plan, leading prayer or ushering. I understand that might sound chaotic. It’s still gotta change.

 

Many of you don’t know the names of the people you sit near in church every Sunday. I DON’T understand that and it’s definitely got to change.

 

Many of you think worship is something Dennis or I or Andreas or Jason or the band or the choir offer you, and you receive- rather than something we collectively offer our larger community on behalf of God.

 

And more than anything, that mindset has to change.

 

Look, I know change bothers people.

I’ve been at this long enough to have habits I’m afraid to change.

I understand.

 

But what I want to bother you more, what I wish I got emails complaining about, what I wish I got emails complaining about, is how our community is filled with lost coins, lost sheep, lost children and how we’re not laser-beam focused on getting them here so they can embrace a Father who’s waiting for them.

 

I want that to bother you because Jesus made it very clear: it bothers God.

 

I was still on the phone with Matt from Princeton when another call beeped in.

It was probably another campaign calling me for my vote and my money.

 

But at least it snapped me out of my rant and Matt said:

‘That’s a good point Mr Micheli, but transitioning a church into the future- don’t you think that’s your congregation’s responsibility too? Don’t you trust that God can equip your people with the necessary gifts?’

 

I told him he must get very good grades in seminary, and he chuckled gently.

 

And then the little jerk asked me for more money.

 

But he was right.

 

Building on our foundation for a new future is a gigantic, God-sized calling. And it belongs to all of us. Together.

 

Ezra says the leaders who build the new Temple after the exile are the grandkids of the ones who remember how things used to be.

 

Ezra says, at first, everyone thinks their idea to build a new Temple is a great idea.

But Ezra says some have a change of heart when they realize the new Temple won’t be the same as the old.

 

Some refuse to give their money to it, Ezra says.

 

Others opt out Ezra says.

 

But others, those who are old enough to remember what was 50 years ago, Ezra says they weep.

 

They weep, but they’re still there. They’re still there when the new Temple is dedicated.  They’re still committed. They’re still contributing. Because of what God did for them in the past, they’re still invested in the future of what God’s doing.

 

And sure when the new Temple is dedicated, Ezra says you can’t distinguish the sound of celebration from the sound of grief.

 

But that’s okay.

 

Because as messy as it is, that’s what it sounds like- celebration and grief, that’s what it sounds like- when God’s People take the next faithful step.

 

 

 

 

 

Psych, not really.

Yesterday, I posted about the ‘Behind the Veil‘ video making the internet rounds. I commented that I was surprised to hear Mormons baptizing in the name of Trinity, which made me wonder if the video was authentic or a campaign year smear video like the ones out there smearing the President.

So here’s the answer straight from an old friend, Shauna, speaking for all Mormons everywhere, which I guess ironically Mormons can do.

Shauna: Well, I can tell you the video is legit. I couldn’t watch the whole thing A) because I’ve been to the temple and done and seen all those things and don’t need to watch it B)B) the tone of the printed commentary was driving me nuts! Mormons 100% believe in the trinity, just not in the way it’s defined by the Nicene Creed. It is our first Article of Faith – We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

Jason: Except, as you guys define it, it’s no longer the Trinity as Christians have defined it :) :) At least I’m pleased to find out A) something I didn’t know before and B)B) it’s not some sort of 2016 Anti Mormon film flying around out there. All of which gets back to my original Billy Graham’s a theologically deficient political opportunist point.

Shauna: As for temple work done for those who have died, three things 1) we don’t “use children” any worthy member over the age of 12 can participate in baptisms for the dead; 2) the church does in fact have very strict policies for submitting names of those who have died, you have to be related, you have to have permission from the closest living relative, and you can’t submit the names of celebrities or Holocaust victims and 3) we believe that the spirits of those who have died maintain their agency; we perform the work for them and they are free to accept it or reject it as they choose, same as they could here on earth

Jason: You should post on my blog sometime.

Shauna: Like a question and answer? The answer I should give is, “Answers to all your questions can be found at mormon.org,” but let me know what you have in mind. You have an interest in understanding, many others do not. I once had a “friend” insist that we worship idols in the temple. He read it somewhere, so of course it must be true, and would not believe me when I told him, other than furniture, there’s nothing to see but lots of flower arrangements and religious paintings (mostly from the Bible). And I have to add that (having known you in high school)I have an impossibly hard time taking you seriously!

I know, I know, I know. It’s fashionable to sneer, mock and look down our noses at Europe. Make fun of the French army, ridicule their vacation schedules, empty churches and crushing tax burdens. It’s a litmus of Americanism to show how far you’ll go in mocking the Old World and even Old Europe. I get it.

But whenever I hear someone making cracks about Europe or conflating an entire continent with the bogeyman of socialism, I wonder to myself: have they ever actually been to Europe?

Because here’s one thing I know about all those countries we mock:

They have really freaking fast train systems. 

And our DMV has more in common with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil than the Founders’ vision. 

Malte Lehming has a good rejoinder on this theme in the NY Times. He writes:

This fall my newspaper sent me to the United States to cover the elections. I brought my wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 9, with me.

Since the children were born here, while I was working as my paper’s Washington correspondent, they have American citizenship, and the trip seemed a good opportunity for them to get to know their homeland a little better.

This is the same homeland where conservatives have been howling about how the Obama administration is pushing America ever closer to European socialism. Europeans, they say, have the longest vacations (Germany), the highest debt (Greece), the highest taxes (Scandinavia) and the most bureaucracy (Brussels). Europe and socialism: the two appear in American conservative rhetoric almost as synonyms.

But as a German citizen who has now fought fierce battles with American telephone companies, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the public schools, I find it strange that Americans fear a socialist state. Because Europe’s bureaucratic nightmares have nothing on America’s.

For example, it took an entire day for my wife and me to get our visas processed. We had to answer dozens of detailed questions online: the exact dates of our previous stays in America, the dates of trips to other countries where we had needed visas, the complete birth names of our grandparents. And if we took too long to answer and didn’t save our work in the meantime, the Web site automatically shut down and we had to start all over again.

Then there was the little matter of getting our daughters into public school. The pile of forms weighed nearly two pounds. Our pediatrician back home had to certify all vaccinations, which again had to be authenticated by a second doctor, certified in the United States. And the entire family had to be present at each of these appointments.

And don’t ask about getting a phone line installed before our arrival. Our landlord tried to help, but it took him weeks of bouncing between Comcast and Verizon.

Nothing, however, reminded me more of the worst parts of the German system than the Virginia D.M.V. Its Web site helpfully said that if I had a German driver’s license, as well as authorized proof of residence, I could trade it in for a state license without further tests.

What it didn’t say, though, was how long the process would last. In the meantime, my entire file was lost.

None of this would be out of place in many European countries. But citizens of those countries, which embrace the notion of a larger government, also benefit greatly. We pay high taxes, but we get great infrastructure in return.

I spent half a day hunting for a store with flashlights in stock, because a storm had knocked out our power. In five decades in Germany I have never experienced a single power failure, because the power lines are usually underground and well maintained.

Yes, we have long holidays. But we probably still work more than our American colleagues, because our buildings are intact, the infrastructure works and we don’t sit around in traffic jams every day because of road work.

So why do Americans look only at the bad side of Europe? Done right, with enough money, it is punctual, efficient and organized. One may call it socialist, but it makes life easier.

Disclaimer:

Let me repeat again what I’ve said elsewhere. I’ve got several Mormon friends. In some ways, I’ve more in common with them than secular friends of mine. Saying Mormonism is different from Christianity is not to call their faith or character into question.

And I don’t care for whom you vote.

Actually more important than the election, for Christians, is the issue of Christian leaders, like Billy Graham, suddenly changing their views on Mormonism out of political expediency. If Christians want to vote for Romney, they should vote Romney because he’s their preferred candidate. Christians don’t need to revise the Nicene Creed in order to vote for someone whose religion is different than theirs.

Stay with me.

Tony Jones, our Scholar in Residence from this summer, has this post on Mormonism and how it diverges from traditional (as defined by the historic creeds) Christianity. Jones says:

I am not on a witch hunt. I am not anti-Romney. I think there is some historical consensus as to what is considered Christianity, and this ceremony does not accord with that consensus.

Some of my friends say, “If a group says they are Christian, then they are Christian. That’s good enough for me.”

Well, that’s not good enough for me. 

The ceremony Jones refers to is this one, from the short doc Behind the Veil. It shows a Mormon baptism ritual for the those who’ve already died. Mormons, after all, baptize in absentia and after the fact.

But here’s my question and my pushback-

As is the problem with anything on You Tube, it’s hard to establish the veracity of the content.

This video may be a snapshot into rituals non-Mormons are forbidden from seeing. But in watching it, I noticed that the baptizer is baptizing, like we do, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Which strikes me as odd (getting back to my point about Billy Graham) since Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity.

So, is this video legit and Mormons do baptize in the name of a doctrine they disbelieve?

Or is this illegit and the name of the Trinity betrays its inauthenticity?