Archives For Immigration

Every Last Loser

Jason Micheli —  August 25, 2019 — 1 Comment

Matthew 20.1-16

I’m sorry if you’ve been led to believe that Jesus should mind his own business and stay out of the public square. 

“I don’t want to hear about politics at church!” 

It’s maybe the only surviving bipartisan sentiment. Church folks always want the Church to stay out of politics, which for most of us— let’s be honest now— usually means we don’t want the Church to challenge our particular hue of politics. 

I remember—

One Sunday back in my very first church just outside of Princeton, after I preached an allegedly “political” sermon against state-sponsored torture, which both of America’s political parties supported at the time (this was right after September 11), this ruddy-faced church member assaulted me in the narthex and, sticking his finger in my chest, hollored at me, “Just where do you get off preaching like that, preacher?!”

I stammered. 

So he pressed me.

“If Jesus were still alive, do you honestly think he’d having anything to say about torture and the government?!”

“Um, well, uh…I mean, he was crucified, I think…um…maybe he would have…” I started to say.

He shook his head and waved me off.

“Jesus would be rolling over in his grave if knew you’d brought politics into our church!”

Of course, that’s the rub. 

It’s not our church. It’s not my church. It’s not your church. It’s not our church. It’s his Church. We can insist that the Church keep out of politics— that’s fine, I’m not a sadist. It makes my life easier— but notice how such insistence assumes that we’re in charge of the Church. 

Though we spent three long years plotting to kill him, unfortunately for us Jesus Christ is not dead. 

With Gestapo officers standing in the back of his lecture hall, spying on him, Karl Barth said: 

“If Jesus Christ is only a pleasing religious memory, there will be nothing left of the church but a human community which is puffed up with the illusion that it has inherited the kingdom task all to itself—an illusion that works its own revenge upon the church.” 

Most of the time, there, I think Barth’s describing the United Methodist Church, but Barth’s point is that Jesus Christ— God’s only chosen one— is not dead. 

And the God we serve is Living God, a God who speaks and acts, a God who calls and conscripts. The God we serve is a Living God, a God on the move, a God who is able— able to do more than answer the items on your prayer list. 

The God we serve is a Living God who is able to push and pull and prod and provoke his Church to go where it wants not to go.

In our sin, we can do our damnedest to keep politics out of the church, but can we, in our finitude, keep the Living God from dropping politics into our laps if God so elects? Are we able to resist the Risen Lord who persists in recruiting undeserving sinners like us into his labor?

———————-

I’m not being speculative here. 

Having returned from vacation last Sunday, I arrived here at church on Tuesday morning, bright and early, with a long To Do list and my whole work week meticulously laid out. 

Then our Lord, as he’s wont to do, messed up all my preconceived plans. He dragged politics into his church, and he strong-armed us into doing his work. 

We were in the middle of a staff meeting. 

A visitor buzzed the security intercom at Door #2. 

“I need help,” she shouted into the speaker in hesitant, broken English. 

Dottie, our secretary, buzzed her inside and showed her to my office to wait while we finished our work at the staff meeting. I figured if her request was illegitimate then she’d grow impatient with waiting and would move on to the next easy mark. 

When we were finished with our work, I walked back to my office and discovered a woman about my age, neatly but simply dressed, with her black hair pulled back taut. Three children sat across the same sofa as her. 

Their names, she told me, were Scarlett, Edward, and Denis— 6, 12, and 14 years old respectively. 

I offered her my hand and introduced myself in my broken Spanish. 

She introduced herself as Carolina. 

“I was a teacher,” she said out of the blue and looking like she was struggling to get the English right. 

I must’ve looked confused because she went on to explain, and what she told me wasn’t what I was expecting nor was it what I wanted to hear with such a busy week before me.

“We just arrived here,” she said, “last night. From Nicaragua.”

I still wasn’t processing her situation and it must’ve showed because she quickly added: “We left Nicaragua fifty days ago.”

“Porque?”

“My community very dangerous,” she said and wiped away tears, “I left— my home, my work— for them, for my children.” 

And then, as best as she could, she told me about their journey, first by bus, then on foot, and finally stowed away in the back of a delivery truck. 

Seeking asylum, they’d been separated and detained at the border and then eventually reunited and released on her own recognizance to report back at a later date. 

She pulled a cell phone out of her back pocket and showed me the documents that corraborated her story, the first one stamped with her mug shot. 

They arrived here on Monday and are now living in the basement of an acquaintance less than a minute’s walk from here. 

Literally, a stone’s throw. 

God apparently isn’t all that concerned with our concerns about keeping politics out of his Church. 

“Do you have any food?” I asked her. 

“No.”

“Do you have a job lined up?”

“No.”

“Do you have a lawyer— an abogado?”

“No.”

“What about your children— are they registered for school?”

She shook her head and appeared overwhelmed.

“What are you going to do?”

This time she had an answer. 

“I prayed and I prayed all last night,” she said, and she’d suddenly stopped crying and looked both serious and euphoric. “I prayed and finally God spoke. He answered me, and God said to me to come here.”

“Here?”

She nodded. 

“God said to me that he’d make you help us.”

“He did, did he?”

And she smiled and shook her head and said “Yes.” 

She said “Yes” emphatically, like she’d just witnessed a miracle.

“Isn’t that just like God,” I muttered under my breath, “he knows I don’t have time for one more thing and so he sends you my way.”

“Como?” she asked, confused by my mumbling to myself. 

“Nevermind,” I said, “it sounds like Jesus is determined for us to help you so what choice do I have?”

“None,” she said matter-of-factly, “no choice,” like it had been a serious question. 

As though God had made me her hired hand. 

———————-

Check out this parable. 

Jesus would’ve known it. It was taught by the ancient rabbis before getting recorded and canonized in the Jewish Talmud. 

“A king had a vineyard for which he engaged many laborers, one of whom was especially apt and skillful. What did the king do? He took his laborer from his work, and walked through the garden conversing with him. 

When the laborers came for their wage in the evening, the skillful laborer also appeared among them and received a full day’s wage from the king. The other laborers were angry at this and said, “We have toiled all day long while this man has worked but two hours; why does the king give him the full wage even as to us?” 

The king said to them: “Why are you angry? Through his skill he has produced more in two hours than all of you have done all the day long.”

Notice—

In the Jewish Talmudic parable, the emphasis falls on the exceptional worker’s economic productivity, but in Jesus’ remix of the parable, the stress is not on the laborer but on the landowner.

The focus is not on the worker’s activity but the owner’s activity, going out, again and again, seeking and summoning. The focus isn’t on the laborer’s contributions but on the landowner’s character, “Are you envious because I am generous?” 

Actually, in Matthew’s Greek, the landowner asks the grumbling laborers, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” 

Because I am good— that’s the money line; that’s the clue.

Right before Jesus spins his version of this parable, Jesus chastises a wealthy honor roll student for calling him good. “Good teacher,” the rich young man says to Jesus, “what must I do to have salvation?” 

And rather than answer him outright, Jesus takes him to task for his salutation. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” 

No one is good, Jesus has just said, but God.

If you want salvation, Jesus then tells him, you’ve got to be free for it. Freed for it. Go, offload all your stuff on Craigslist and then come follow me. 

In other words, whatever that word salvation includes it cannot exclude following and obeying Jesus Christ. 

Follow me, Jesus invites the rich kid with the perfect resume. 

But, Matthew reports (this was centuries before Marie Kondo), the rich young man had too much stuff in the way of following after Jesus so he turns around and turns away from Jesus and returns home. 

He is the only person recorded in the Gospels who’s invited by Jesus to become a disciple but refuses. 

And looking on the rich kid walking back home, Jesus says, “It’s hard for rich folks like him to follow me, about as hard as camel squeeing its humps and luggage through the eye of a needle.”

And the disciples, knowing they have more in common with the overachieving do-gooder than with the unemployed, homeless carpenter from Nazareth, throw up their hands, chagrined. 

“Then there’s no hope for any of us!” they gripe, “If a success story like him can’t follow you and following you is salvation, then who can be saved?”

Jesus responds, “For mortals, it’s impossible. But for God, all things are possible,” which offends Peter, who gave up his fishing business— all on his own— to come work for the Lord and here Jesus is saying “Well, God will get even losers like this rich guy to ‘Yes.’ Watch, God will make followers of them too.”

“That’s not fair” Peter grumbles, and I get it. Trust me, no one has a beef with Christ’s poor taste in Christians quite like a pastor.

“That’s not fair,” Peter gripes. 

So then Jesus doubles down with a redacted version of a familiar parable. 

———————-

The denarius, which the landowner pays all the laborers, was the daily subsistence pay required by the Torah. 

It’s prescribed in the Book of Leviticus. It’s minimum wage. It’s the equivalent of pulling a shift at Wendy’s. So the workers who show up just before quitting time— their pay is unearned, yes, but its not extravagant by any means. It’s not gratuitous; it’s what the Law requires.

This is not a parable of God’s grace as opposed to our works. 

This is a parable about God’s gracious and determined work to enlist every last loser to his work. Like alot of the parables, this one is misnamed. 

It’s not the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Heck, the laborers don’t do any labor onstage that we see at all. The laborers don’t so much as speak until they grumble at the very end. 

No, this is the Parable of the Land Owner and his prodigal labor of summoning workers to his vineyard. 

Nearly all the verbs in the story belong to him. He goes out— five times he goes out; he even goes out after there’s hardly anything left to be done— seeking laborers for his vineyard. 

Jesus tells you the takeaway at the very top of the story. 

“The Kingdom of God,” Jesus says, “is like a landowner who went out to find laborers…”

For his what?

For his vineyard.

Jesus assumes you know the Book of Isaiah where God’s self-chosen image for Israel and her vocation— her vocation to be a light to the world, to be a peculiar, set-apart, pilgrim people, to be a holy people, to be a nation within and among the nations, to be a people who embody— unlike the nations— God’s justice and righteousness— God’s image for his elect People and their vocation in the world is a vineyard. 

It’s Isaiah chapter five. 

God is the landowner who labors in this parable. 

It’s about God’s work to find workers. 

The primary difference between a Living God and a dead god, an idol, is that the latter will never shock or surprise you, never offend you or inconvenience you, and never call you to do something you wouldn’t have done apart from conversion and worship.

This parable—

It’s about this vocative God of ours. 

This God who refuses to accomodate our apathy and functional atheism by remaining comfortably distant and idle but is instead always on the move, going out, inviting and enlisting, calling and conscripting, seeking and finding and arm-twisting Kingdom accomplices in a world that knows not that Jesus is Lord. 

We can argue whether or not there’s any work we must do as Christians who are justified by grace alone, but the reality is that Jesus Christ is not dead and if he’s got a work for you to do, by God, he’s going to give it to you and he’s going to get you to do it.

———————-

I remember—

There was a young woman in one of the congregations I once served. Her name was Ann. She was a straight-A student at an Ivy League school. 

She was nearing graduation, and her parents couldnʼt have been more excited about what lay in her future: maybe a graduate degree at another prestigious school; maybe a career and no less than a six figure salary.

Instead Ann threw them all for a loop and one day, out of the blue, announced to her parents that rather than doing anything they wanted, she was going to work in a clinic in some poor village in Venezuela.

I only found out about this when Annʼs mother burst into my office one day, clearly assuming I was the one who put the idea in her daughter’s head. 

Red-faced and furious, she said: “Preacher, youʼve got to talk to her. Youʼve got to convince her to change her mind. Youʼve got to show her sheʼs throwing her life away.”

Ever the obedient minister, I met with Ann and communicated all her motherʼs fears: she was being naive, she was being irresponsible, she was being idealistic, her education should come first, she shouldnʼt jeopardize her career. 

The Gospel’s about grace not works, I told her.

Ann looked back at me liked Iʼd disappointed her in some way. “Didnʼt Jesus tell the young man to give up all his stuff and follow him?” she asked.

“Uh, well, yeah but…I mean…Jewish hyperbole and all…he couldnʼt have been serious…that wouldʼve been irresponsible. At least tell me why youʼre doing this.”

“Why do you think?” she asked like there could be only possible answer and it should be obvious. “Jesus sorta came to me and he spoke to me and he told me to go and do it.”

“He did, did he?”

And her eyes narrowed, like she was about lay a straight flush down on the table. 

“Are you telling me, pastor, that I should listen to you instead of him.”

“Um, uh…okay, I think we’re done here. Just leave me out of it when you talk to your parents.”

————————

I know you want to keep politics out of the Church. 

I get it.

But the problem is, it’s not your Church and the Risen Christ, the Living God, he’s on the move. He’s always going out, calling and conscripting.

And he is free to drop whatever work he chooses into your lap whether or not it obeys our boundaries of what’s acceptable. 

The Lord is no respecter of propiety. With pictures of asylum seekers all over the newspapers, God this week brought politics in to his church here. 

And just like that, God got us to working. 

Meredith, our Children’s Director, found games to occupy the kids while they waited. Peter put down what he was doing and left to stuff his trunk with food for them. And I stared at the fourteen items I had on my To Do list for the day as I waited on hold, making calls all day long for Carlina, connecting her with the county, finding her a lawyer, locating services, resourcing her three kids.

When we drove them home later, I carried bags of food inside and I gave her my cell number and I told her that if there was anything else she needed to call me. It was the sort of compassionate gesture you make to someone when you don’t really expect them to take you up on the offer. 

Later that night I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize. 

“This is Carolina,” it said, “thank you to you and your church.”

“De nada.”

And then I watched the text bubbles roll up and down as she texted another message. “The school say I need to go to Central Office to register my children.” 

“How are you going to get there?” I texted back. 

“I prayed,” she replied, “and God said you should take me.”

“He did, did he?”

“Si.”

And then the next text quickly followed.

“God say to tell you that I’m baptized. You have an obligation to me. As a brother. In Christ.” 

“That’s the annoying inconvenience of worshipping a Living God,” I typed but didn’t send. 

And so, thanks to Jesus, I spent most of the next day driving her and her children to Merrifield to get her kids registered and tested and immunized. And then the next day, Jesus apparently summoned my wife and son to go purchase school supplies for all of them. 

———————-

At the end of the week, I mentioned all the details to Dottie, our secretary and she replied, “In order to be a pastor, you must have to really enjoy helping people in need.” 

“Enjoy?” I asked, “Do you know many people in need? Most of them aren’t that enjoyable.” 

“Then why did you choose to do it?” 

“Choose? I didn’t choose it at all. I got summoned.”

‘Nomos’ is the Greek word for ‘Law,’ one of the two words, according to Luther reading St. Paul, by which God has spoken to us and still speaks to us. In this episode, we talk about the Law, it’s uses, and its fundamental purpose to drive us to the Gospel of mercy and grace.

Along the way, we talk about Romans 13, proof-texting, Jeff Sessions, and MSNBC. Is the take away ‘its okay to suck’ or is it, as Dr. Johanna insists, that we should have some shame?

As always –

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

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Click here to become a patron of the podcasts

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For Episode #157, we talked with Erin McKenney who is the Executive Director of Just Neighbors, a legal aid and advocacy organization for immigrants in the DC-Northern Virginia Region. We talked to Erin amidst the furor over the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border. Erin helps us think about the issue of immigration from a broader systemic perspective as well as biblically in a way that, I think, moves beyond headline hyperbole and avoids perpetuating the cultural antagonisms of Red vs. Blue.

You can find out more about Just Neighbors, donate, or sign up to help by clicking the link here

The whole podcast posse was together in Hampton, Virginia for a live podcast event with theologian Kendall Soulen. Over 170 people came out. We’re incredibly grateful for the support, thoughtful feedback, and encouragement. We ran out of our 50 free pint glasses an hour before starting!

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Help support the show! This ain’t free or easy but it’s cheap to pitch in.

Click here to become a patron of the podcasts

If you’re getting this by email and the show doesn’t pop up, you can listen at www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

On the heels of POTUS’ SOTU, with its alleged dog-whistles and nativismIn, it’s tempting for Christians to think we’re called to make this world a better place.

It’s just such thinking as this and in such times as this, John Nugent argues, that the Gospel becomes endangered.

In what Nugent calls the “Kingdom-Centered Gospel,” God created the world to be a very good place for his creatures but the sin of humanity corrupted God’s good creation.

So- God’s solution to the Sin problem was to call a particular People. God’s solution to Adam’s Fall was to raise up Abraham and to give him a family called Israel. God called Israel to be an alternative in the world. God called his People to live a set apart way with God as their King. And, through this particular People, God promised that the whole world would be blessed.

God didn’t explain how the world would be blessed through them.

God didn’t send them out into the world to bless it themselves.

God just promised that somehow through their life as God’s People would be a part of how God blesses the world.

What the Kingdom-Centered Gospel recovers that other versions miss is that all along God’s plan to make this world a better place was by calling a People. 

And this is the plan God continues in Jesus.

God sends Jesus to inaugurate a better place in and through a particular People.

Christ isn’t King in Heaven nor in our hearts. Christ’s Kingdom isn’t far off or in the not yet future. Christ’s Kingdom teachings aren’t impossible ideals for an after life nor are they a blueprint for society and its civics.

From the beginning God’s plan to make this world a better place has always been through a particular People.

So if Christ is King then Christ’s People, his followers, the Church- they are his Kingdom. The People of Christ- who are the children of Abraham- they are the Kingdom. They are the Kingdom where lost sheep are sought and lost children welcomed and where sin is forgiven 70 x 7 times.

It’s not only that God raised Jesus from the dead to be a sign of God’s New Creation, it’s that Jesus raised up a Kingdom called Church who are themselves a sign.

New Creation isn’t something in the future for which we wait.

New Creation isn’t something we work to achieve.

And it’s not something God is doing out in the world that we must join outside of or apart from the People called Church.

The People called Church- they are what God is doing in the world.

The Church embodies, proclaims, and displays God’s future now, New Creation even within the Old, taking it on faith that, like yeast folded into dough, what God does in his People God will ultimately do for the world when Christ comes back in final victory.

That’s the Gospel.

 

As John Nugent says:

The Gospel does not call us to change the world.

     The Gospel is how we are the change that God has already made in the world.

     The Gospel does not call us to fix the world’s problems.

     The Gospel is that we are God’s fix for the world.

Or we’re supposed to be.

But we can’t be who we’re called to be when we are more emotionally invested in our political party than we are in our faith, know more about the issues than we do our scripture, more invested in diversity as a political value than in the rough and tumble process of being a congregation with people we think are crazy.

John Nugent warns that when we rush out into the world to fix the world’s problems, by joining this movement or supporting that cause, endorsing this candidate or that party, we actually risk getting in God’s way.

When we try to fix the world’s problems by other means- especially the political means- we get in God’s way.

Because we’re supposed to be God’s fix for the world. We are the change God has already made in the world.

Rather than legislating abortion, we’re supposed to be the People who adopt and foster children, who welcome and support mothers.

More so than simply arguing about immigration and borders and walls, we’re supposed to be the People who welcome strangers and aliens.

While others fight over whether black lives matter or all lives matter, we’re supposed to be the Community who confesses, unashamedly so, their sin on a weekly basis, even our sin of racism, a community where there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither white nor black nor blue.

Economic policy, the Supreme Court, National Security- they’re important, sure, but they’re not the Gospel. We’re supposed to be the People who stay faithful to one another in marriage. We’re supposed to be the Community where none among us goes in need, where all that we have is shared with all whom we have in our community. We’re supposed to be the People who refuse to kill other Christians because that would be a light to the nations.

In such divisive, chaotic times it’s tempting to think we’re called to make this world a better place.

We’re not.

We are called to be the better place that God as made in this world.

As a pastor in a congregation split down the middle, we’ve got all the work we can handle just trying to be who God called us to be.

I’m just gonna keep repeating myself:

I believe the Church is called not to make the world a better place but to be the better place God has already made in the world. I believe the Church is that better place when our differences about the kingdom we call America are transcended by the Kingdom to which we’re called in Christ.

Such a community, one like the Trinity of difference and peace, is made possible only by listening to those who are different from you.

I last posted a rebuttal from the Right regarding our Pastoral Letter on the Executive Order on Refugees. Now, I thought I would post a rebuttal to the rebuttal, from one our (majority conservative) congregation’s leaders.

At a time when a lot of Christians are lamenting how the protests against Trump make them feel, I think it’s especially urgent to clarify how the Executive Order (and Trump himself) makes other Christians feel.

Again….deep breath…to be the Church is to listen peaceably to those different from you.

“I wanted to give you a quick series of thoughts on some of the recent discussions regarding the Executive Order.

Recently the vibe I’ve gotten is that the direction people want to take with this is to stay out of it because it’s too political, and to talk about this stuff in a church context is impolite.

I’m fine with that as a leader.  I can see the argument as to how that’s better for the church and its mission in the long term. I am not OK with that at all personally.  As you know, my wife and oldest son are immigrants from Muslim majority countries.  This very easily could have impacted them and our family had George W Bush done something similar after 9/11 (with far more justification).

I also have lived and worked with literally hundreds of Muslims.  I count many of them as close friends.  All of this is to say, I have very close personal ties to this issue and I will never be OK with any version of God that might countenance this, or even countenance not speaking out about this.  You can say I have strong feelings on the issue!

As I am in the minority, and as I have to respect the decisions of the rest on this, I will just kind of check out of discussions around this topic in the future.  I will be present, I will listen, but I won’t invest a lot of emotional energy in them as the result is it just makes me sad and angry by varying degrees.

And I am going to have to stop reading Jason’s blog for at least a little while!  I am not disappointed or frustrated with any members of our church – I have simply had different life experiences than them.

I have personally appreciated Michelle Matthew’s strong stand on this issue, and also the stand of the United Methodist and wider Church overall. And I hope and pray that I am wrong about our President and his motives.  Hopefully this whole issue blows over quickly, either because the courts strike it down or because it really is just a 90 day pause, and not a ban.

OK, long ramble over!

Thanks,

 

John Nugent convicted me I was wrong about the Executive Order.

How?

How about choice quotes like these:

“Christians have NO biblical mandate to tell the Powers how to protect their borders”

“America does need a Confessing Church because America doesn’t have one State Church but two State Churches, the State Church of the Left and the State Church of the Right.”

Boom.

With every Christian in American debating the fidelity of the Donald’s (so-called) Muslim Ban, I thought it a perfect time to chat with John Nugent about his new book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church. The premise of John’s argument is that the Church is NOT called to make the world a better place; the Church is called to be the better place God has already made in the world.

We’ve already got a episodes lined up for you waiting to be edited and posted with J. Daniel Kirk,  Mandy Smith, and Alice Connor. In the coming weeks we’re recording episodes with the likes of  Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Rohr, and Scot McKnight.

Stay tuned and thanks to all of you for your support and feedback. We want this to be as strong an offering as we can make it so give us your thoughts.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our website.

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

“….and it’s Christians who are bringing it.”

For Episode 77, our guest, Mona Reza, discusses the consequences President Trump’s Muslim travel ban has had and will have on her and our fellow Muslim American brothers and sisters.

With all the talk of travel and immigration bans there have been real consequences. American citizens who are Muslim have been forced to have tough conversations with their neighbors and children. Xenophobia is creating fear throughout our nation rather than embracing the diversity we have in our country.

Mona is my wife’s close friend and colleague. In addition to being a Catholic-educated, cracker-jack lawyer, a stellar mom, and a hardcore patriot, she’s also a devout, practicing Muslim.

Mona recently shared her thoughts and fears over Trump’s Ban in a post you find here. In a fractured and polarized culture, Christians can be a community where there is neither Republican nor Democrat only when they listen (to understand) to voices other than the ones they self-select to hear.

Let us know what you think of the conversation with Mona. If you’d like to hear more from her in the future, we’ll work to get her on the docket.

We’ve already got a episodes lined up for you waiting to be edited and posted with J. Daniel Kirk,  Mandy Smith, and Alice Connor. In the coming weeks we’re recording episodes with the likes of  Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Rohr, and Scot McKnight.

Stay tuned and thanks to all of you for your support and feedback. We want this to be as strong an offering as we can make it so give us your thoughts.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our website.

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

 

 

Like the community we call Trinity, I believe the Church is constituted by the sacraments in order to be a community of both difference and peace. I believe the Church is called not to make the world a better place but to be the better place God has already made in the world. I believe the Church is that better place when our differences about the kingdom we call America are transcended by the Kingdom to which we’re called in Christ, when we’re a place where there is neither Democrat nor Republican for we are all one in Christ.

It would be naive to suppose the local church can be a community of such character without intentionality.

Surely a requisite step to becoming a community of difference and peace is to (peaceably) listen to those who are different from you.

Last week here on the blog I posted a pastoral letter we emailed out to my congregation regarding the executive order on refugees. Nearly 1,000 people read the letter, almost a 50% read rate. Of those who responded to it, 81% were positive and affirming while 19% were negative or critical (or, to be no-bullshitting-honest, xenophobic).

Among the critical responses, I received the rebuttal below from someone I consider myself lucky to count a friend, someone who works in politics professionally.

As much as I think many Trump supporters need to get out of their echo chamber, I think progressive Christians right now would be well-served to hear how their cries of outrage are heard by conservative Christians.

In the spirit of aspiring to be that better place that is Christ’s fellowship of differents, I post it here so the cloud of witnesses on this issue has more than one blue hue:

1. Your letter to the congregation took a great deal of effort and perspective and risk and I appreciate that, not only from a detached theological perspective but from a personal one as well.

2.  I am of course pissed you wrote it now because we didn’t do this kind of thing when the previous President legitimized the most murderous regime in the world. Or when he put two supreme court justices who have a callous disregard for human life. Or when we allowed Christians and Yazidis to be slaughtered in Syria AND THEN REFUSED TO ADMIT THEM AS REFUGEES. (True story…you know how many Syrian Christians Obama admitted as refugees at the height of the crisis? Look it up. It’s under 500. And Christians are 10% of the population.)

Why do we now feel like this is the first time in this decade we need to weigh in? (this is a rhetorical question – I realize the pressure in your profession is immense, internal and external, and I truly do appreciate the risks you are taking, as is.)

3. I think a deeper pause is necessary than most protestant organizations, including Southern Baptists, have given on the refugee EO. There is no refugee “ban.” Read the EO itself. It is a 90 day pause, for seven countries – with “countries” being an incredibly generous use of the term to describe Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya since the term “country” would imply a functioning government.

Throughout our history political refugees have been people who were clearly fleeing oppression from a center of government power, but in none of those cases except Iran does any center of power exist on a consistent basis. IT IS POSSIBLE that after 90 days the President proposes something that is completely unacceptable.

But it is also possible that the “extreme vetting” his career state department bureaucrats will design will be a real improvement on the disastrous situation we have today, with not enough vetting, or the wretched European system of no vetting whatsoever to decipher refugee from jihadist.

WHY SHOULD WE, ALL DENOMINATIONS, HAVE VOMIT HATE TOWARD OUR NEIGHBORS DOWN THE STREET over a policy that is not even designed yet, much less implemented?

I realize that the issuance of an executive order on a Friday  night, with confusing language about green cards holders which was easily misunderstood by customs agents worldwide does not inspire confidence that these new procedures will be good. But they are not even yet in existence. And let’s all be honest that our current system is a disaster – with Yazidis and Christians slaughtered in Syria because they are too afraid of lax security in United Nations camps that they decided to stick it out and take their chances in their homes against ISIS than be raped under the auspices of UN protocols, waiting helplessly for an Obama administration that was doing nothing meaningful to get them out of harm’s way.

4. The failure to acknowledge that the pain and suffering and atrocities around the world due to US policies did not begin on January 20, 2017 is perhaps the most irritating thing about all these protests and whining and self-righteous calls to “stand for justice.”

Where have these people been? Why are they suddenly triggered? What makes the PhD students stuck in the Dusseldorf airport more sympathetic than the Yazidi woman raped because we wouldn’t enforce a redline we drew our own damn selves?

The idea of the novelty of the outrage is just too much to take. Plenty of us have been outraged for years and we did not take to the streets to try and tear our culture asunder as a result, or accuse those in the next pew of being unChristian.

The Left, and the professional clergy corporately, sure are not affording those of us on the Right the same presumption of purity of motive that many of us (most of the time) gave them – or at a minimum the same civility.

The glaring lack of that makes me appreciate your efforts at balance more.

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“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”

Pretty damn clear.

And, it should be noted, that’s a warning that comes from Jesus in his last teaching before the Passion, a teaching about Judgement Day.

It’s ironic to the point of paradox that today many Christians will demonstrate to advocate the sanctity of life while nary batting an eye at The Donald’s announcement that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians from entering. Of course, it should be noted, President Obama was hardly more ‘Christian’ on the immigrant and refugee issue.

That refugees and immigrants (to say nothing of death row inmates) are invisible on the ‘Pro Life’ continuum nor even countenanced among the ‘Every Life Matters’ rhetoric is but an indictment on the extent to which we’ve traded, possibly unawares, our baptismal charge for a particular political ideology. 

The theologian Robert Jenson complains:

‘The institution we call the church has been and usually still is one of the chief bulwarks we erect to defend our status quo against the threat of God.’

‘But,’ Jenson happily notes, ‘it is the oddity of the church that the communication- namely, the word of God, by which it lives fights against the stasis to which the church, like all communities and nations tend.’

As if to provide Jenson with anecdotal illustration of his critique, many evangelicals are happily acquiescing to Trump’s move to disqualify any refugees from being welcomed into our borders. Never mind that America could barely field a football team with the paltry number of refugees we’ve allowed up to this point.

We all know The Donald says the Bible is his favorite book and he’s made it his mandate to protect Christianity and make it strong again so I couldn’t help but wonder what passage inspired his America First policy.

Leafing through my own Harper Collins Study Bible, I think found his memory verses.

“When an alien resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them picket them with dehumanizing, xenophobic slogans, arrest them without cause, publish species crime reports, and ship them back to their impoverished, violent countries as quickly as possible where conscription into a cartel or rape likely awaits them.

The aliens residing among you must be treated as your native-born prisoners, their children as criminals and their home countries as places completely unaffected by your trade and foreign policies.

Love them as yourself Detain them on military bases and in prisons, speak of them in town halls as though they were plague-carrying rats, and have your first impulse be how to avoid any moral obligation to them for you were once aliens in Egypt this is your country and they should go back whence they came.

I am the LORD your [America’s] God.

If they cry out to me, then (too bad for them) I will certainly hear their cry reward your self-righteousness and unfaithful fear of scarcity.

My anger will blaze against you [those who advocate for marriage equality,] and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless uh, I think that about covers it.

– Sincerely,

God

from Leviticus 19 and Exodus 23 (no seriously, it’s in the freaking bible)

With Christmas not that far in our rearview mirror, it would behoove Christians to recall that the God who commanded his People to care for the poor and the refugee among them (Exodus 23) became, in Jesus Christ, both poor and a refugee.

Of course, the rub is with that modifier ‘his People’ because those of us who count ourselves among God’s People have other obligations upon us than what the constitution permits and goals other than the pursuit of material happiness.

Sure, I’m no different than the Donald. I’d prefer to feel secure in my community and, because I’m a sinner, aside from token expressions of concern, I’d rather remain safely distant from the problems and pain of the world. But, as Robert Jenson notes, I cannot because of the bible I read.

Perhaps it’s so obvious it doesn’t require comment, but the real tension exposed by the refugee question is the extent to which, for many of us, we’ve made being an ‘American’ equivalent to being a ‘Christian.’ If we’ve not made them equivalent, then the refugee crisis also reveals how, really, the former is more important to us than the latter.

When push comes to shove, its the logic of country, not the gospel, that determines our speech and actions.

In the name of security and ‘realism’ we excuse views contrary to the commandments. We do not declare that, because Christ is Risen, God will ultimately beat all our swords into ploughshares; therefore, we can take risks and welcome the stranger among us.

Not only are ‘American’ and ‘Christian’ not equivalent identities, they are, on more occasions than we care to countenance, conflictual identities.

While Americans have no primary task other than, each, the pursuit of our individual autonomy, the primary task of the baptized, as Stanley Hauerwas writes, is ‘to stand within the [violent] world witnessing to a peaceable Kingdom which reflects the right understanding of that very world.’ Even more important to our task as Christians is to remember that the peace to which we witness ‘is not something to be achieved by our power. Rather peace is a gift of God that comes only by our being a community formed around a crucified savior.’ 

Many Christians will object, as many of our presidential candidates do, that in the quote end quote real world we cannot afford the luxury of heeding the demands of our baptisms. Such objectors, however, forget, as only the comfortable can, that:

There is no morality that does not require others, including ourselves, to suffer for our convictions.

Christians who happen to live in America, then, seem to face an impossible dilemma between a posture of hospitality towards the stranger who may also be an enemy and a political crisis that seems to have no simple remedy beyond the nativist one.

Fortunately, scripture does not ever command Christians to accomplish anything, for, if Jesus is Risen, it’s not up to us to make the world come out right.

So the choice for Christians is not between doing nothing or attempting to do everything.

The choice is the one put to the first disciples: ‘Follow me.’

And in following, in our ordinary attitudes and deeds and within our communities of faith, we trust that the world of violence might have its imagination freed for a Kingdom that, if Jesus is Risen, is in fact the ‘real world.’

Just as the kingdom of Egypt welcomed the holy family who were strangers among them, we Christians (should) witness to the Kingdom of God by welcoming strangers as if they were the holy family.

 

If this sounds like an extreme liberal position to you, check out this video from the Jesuit Editor of America Magazine, Father James Martin.

Or, read this editorial by the conservative evangelical leader, Ed Stetzer, in Christianity Today.

 

 

Sodomites

Jason Micheli —  July 18, 2014 — 5 Comments

MURIETTAX400This post is written by my former youth director and now good friend Andrew DiAntonio, who just graduated from Yale last month.

The inspiration for this blog is ELIEL CRUZ’s similarly themed op-ed on the queer website Advocate.com.

America has too many Sodomites and their antics reveal the staggering godlessness of this nation. These Sodomites are amassing and they have the audacity to commit their sins in public – in front of children in fact.

They wave flags and hold up signs, they block streets and shout slogans.

These Sodomites are, of course, nativist anti-immigrant protesters who have swarmed the US boarder with Mexico to harass and terrify children seeking new lives.

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Waving the ubiquitous Tea Party “Don’t Tread on Me” Flag and screaming “not our kids, not our problem” these patriots are literally attempting to turn the poor and vulnerable away from the gate.

In Scripture the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were code for unforgivable sin, populations so depraved that God destroyed them in righteous anger.

They were a parable to warn God’s people about their own wicked ways. 

And throughout Scripture the sin of the Sodomites was callousness to the poor and violence to the stranger.

Get it.

The Sin of Sodom was turning away those most in need.

It was seeing the foreigner as a threat and trying to hurt them.

Throughout the Bible, God’s number 1 concern is how a nation treats the widow, the orphan and the foreigner. God blesses nations that have compassion, and curses those that turn the weak and helpless away. The Prophet Ezekiel describes the people of Sodom as fat and prosperous, but unwilling to share their good fortune with those in need. Isaiah pretty much says the same thing, but goes on to warn Israel that it doesn’t matter how much they pray, or how often they go to church – Isaiah tells us that all God really cares about is

“seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

So many American Christians LOVE to talk about how godless the country has become. They relish the opportunity to decry the ‘other’ as sinners – they refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding, or refuse to provide medically viable birth control to their employees. They make proclamations that if two men are in love that our nation will crumble.

But here’s a wake up call. A nation that turns away orphaned children, a nation that bars the gate to the most vulnerable people has already crumbled.

A nation that can’t show compassion for “the least of these” is doomed.

Jesus, in one of his final apocalyptic sermons, declares that he will judge the nations based on how they treat the poor, the hungry, sick people, those in prison and xenos – foreigners. Jesus promises that those who do not welcome the foreigner will face the same fate as Sodom. (as an aside, Jesus says nothing about Gays or birth control)

So to all those Sodomites out there who think the refugee children from Central America “aren’t our problem,” or should just be shipped back, y’all better watch your ass, because God’s gonna smote you.

Now that’s some ole’ time religion

12EVANGELICALsub-articleLargeThis past Sunday our scripture text was Romans 3.9-20, a passage that begins with Paul reiterating the Torah’s insistence that ‘no is righteous, not one.’

Like much of what Paul writes, that phrase is meant to be a breadcrumb trailing the reader back to a story in the Hebrew Bible. In this case, Genesis 18, the story of Abraham negotiating with God over the imminent destruction of Sodom.

In my children’s story, I retold the narrative of Abraham going back and forth with God, pleading with God to spare Sodom if only 50 righteous people could be found in it…only 45 righteous people could be found…and so forth until…zero, nada.

I left out of my children’s story the actual destruction of Sodom, even I have boundaries. I don’t mind telling kids violent stories as long as its not God doing the wielding.

I also left out, to one person’s mind who was leaving worship perturbed with me, the reason for Sodom’s destruction: homosexuality.

To conflate the issue of homosexuality with the destruction of Sodom is not only a gross adventure in misreading the text, it’s simply anachronistic. It’s true a sordid little confrontation happens in Sodom in the next chapter of Genesis, an encounter from which we now unfortunately derive the word ‘sodomy,’ but that’s actually quite irrelevant as God had already determined Sodom should be destroyed.

And why was Sodom on God’s s$%^ list?

The Book of Ezekiel provides the answer, making it all the more infuriating that people read homosexuality into the passage:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  

–  Ezekiel 16:49

Christians can (and do) debate homosexuality but the biblical passages that discuss homosexuality are few and, narratively, incidental.

By contrast, how God’s People relate to ‘the stranger in your land’ is a core confession of scripture.

God explicitly commands we extend compassion and care to the alien. What’s more this isn’t but one command among many but it’s rooted firmly in remembering our core identity. We love the alien in our land because once we were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Much like bread, wine, lamb and bitter herbs, our loving relationship with the immigrant recalls the Exodus story- the story of the Old Testament and the guiding metaphor in the New.

This year we kicked-off a new youth group experience for 4th and 5th graders I developed called Tribe Time, in which every session is playfully grounded in the Book of Leviticus.

While most adults shy away from it, Leviticus’ combination of gross, random imagery and moral stipulations makes it good fodder for training in the virtues.

You can check out the sessions outline for Tribe Time here: Tribe Time Sessions Outline

My point is that we have 80 kids in Tribe Time who all know that God commands us to welcome, love and respect the immigrants in our land because once we were in their shoes. And yet most church-going adults in America do not sense that immigration is in any way a theological or biblical concern.

One hears many warnings that welcoming immigrants will be the undoing of the American way of life. One does not hear many any warnings that failing to love the immigrant will be the undoing of our Christian way of life.

That this is so is but another indication, I think, that most of us are more truly formed not by the story of Israel/Christ but by the story called America.

Here’s a good, fair-minded piece from the NY TImes about how immigration is being rethought in many evangelical circles.

IMMIGRATION reform is not a liberal idea. It is good, old-fashioned conservative policy — at least that’s what its supporters want the Republican faithful to believe.

The Republican Party has “historically been pro-immigration,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, said after the 2012 election. The conservative National Immigration Forum declaresthat America needs reform that “celebrates freedom and values hard work.”

Some of the most enthusiastic endorsements of the new immigration bill have come from traditional evangelicals, who insist that reform “respects the God-given dignity of every person.” Richard Land, a Southern Baptist leader who was among the 300 evangelicals who went to Washington last month for “a day of prayer and action for immigration reform,” said that once Republicans toned down their anti-immigrant rhetoric, Latino voters would follow.

“They’re social conservatives, hard-wired to be pro-family, religious and entrepreneurial,” he told me. Mr. Land pointed to Senator Marco Rubio as the face of this “new conservative coalition.”

“Let the Democrats be the party of dependency and ever lower expectations,” Mr. Land added. “The Republicans will be the party of aspiration and opportunity — and who better to lead the way than the son of Cuban immigrants?”

The Christian right may be too optimistic about any change in the political sympathies of Latinos. Increasing numbers tell pollsters they favor same-sex marriage, for example. But the real surprise is that evangelicals may be wrong about the unyielding conservatism of their own movement.

Evangelicals’ growing support for immigration reform suggests an important shift in how conservative Protestants — who policed the boundaries of our national identity for almost four centuries — think about what it means to be American. It may also point to the beginnings of real change in how evangelicals understand the problem of justice in a fallen world, and the challenge that Latino and other minority Christians pose to the assumptions of the culture wars.

From the anti-Catholic paranoia of the Know-Nothings in the 1850s to today’s Tea Party tirades about immigrants’ taking American jobs, each wave of nativist hysteria has had its own enthusiasms. But all have feared that newcomers would subvert democracy and sabotage citizens’ claim to the American dream. Racism often inflamed this anxiety (Benjamin Franklin worried about the influx of Germans settling in Pennsylvania and doubted that they could ever “acquire our Complexion”).

Yet the more basic fear — underlying warnings that Irish Catholics corrupted elections by voting in blocs or, more recently, that undocumented Mexicans and their “anchor babies” sponge off the welfare state — has always been this: These foreigners don’t respect our values and if we let them in, they will destroy us.

For much of American history, most white Protestants shared in the belief that immigrants were vectors of anti-democratic viruses like Catholicism, anarchism and Bolshevism. Although by the 1950s liberal mainline Protestants had come around to the idea of relaxing immigration restrictions, the conservative National Association of Evangelicals opposed the liberalizing reform act of 1965, fearing “infiltration by influences subversive of the American way of life.”

Today, the culture wars and the constant skirmishes over the size and scope of the welfare state have convinced conservatives that the country’s direst enemies are not “subversive” foreigners, but homegrown liberals.

International experience has connected more American evangelicals to Christians living in immigrant-sending countries, and they now view them as ideological allies. Organizations ranging from Focus on the Family to Anglican splinter churches have been building relationships in the global south for decades. They have come to see Latin Americans and Africans as defenders of traditional gender roles and Christian civilization.

“We have a very positive ‘immigration problem’ in this country, in that the Latino community coming in, both legally and illegally, generally possesses a value system that is compatible with America’s value system,” Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, told me.

It’s true that Latino Americans tend to be religious (according to Gallup, 54 percent are Catholic and 28 percent are Protestant). However, even those at the forefront of collaboration with white evangelicals stress that important differences remain. Jesse Miranda is a Pentecostal who founded a national organization for Latino Protestants, Alianza de Ministerios Evangélicos Nacionales (AMEN), in 1992. “We used the term ‘evangélico’ when I founded AMEN, and said we won’t use the word ‘evangelical’ so the media won’t identify us with our white brethren,” he said.

Most Latino evangelicals are recent converts to Protestantism with no stake in the battles between fundamentalists and modernists that divided white Protestants a hundred years ago, or in the more recent campaigns of the Christian right. They care more about education for their children than quarreling over the theory of evolution.

This difference is not just political, but theological, and has consequences for the fate of illegal immigrants. For a Christian, the question of whether an undocumented immigrant is a criminal or a victim trapped in an unjust system depends on how one thinks about sin and human responsibility.

A century ago, preachers of the “Social Gospel” argued that sin was not only a matter of personal depravity: it was also a social problem. Our society, built by flawed human beings, is full of institutionalized sin, of greed and cruelty cemented in the structures that govern our lives.

The theologian Walter Rauschenbusch lamented in 1913 that “as long as a man sees in our present society only a few inevitable abuses and recognizes no sin and evil deep-seated in the very constitution of the present order, he is still in a state of moral blindness.” He urged Christians “to see through the fictions of capitalism.”

Conservative evangelicals decried Social Gospelers as liberals who replaced soul-winning with social work — or worse, socialism. They stressed personal responsibility and argued that genuine social change could come only through converting one sinner at a time to Christ.

Latino Protestants may share the core doctrines of white evangelicals, but not the fusion of Christianity and libertarianism that has come to pervade the right, perhaps in part because they have intimate experience with the inequalities ingrained in American institutions.

They have left their forefathers’ faith, but they tend to retain the common Catholic conviction that being “pro-life” requires combating social injustice and reining in capitalism when necessary. In 2011 the polling organization Latino Decisions found that although Latinos are committed to the American ideal of self-sufficiency and hard work, most don’t believe the free market can solve all problems. “Minority citizens prefer a more energetic government, by large and statistically significant margins,” wrote the organization’s researchers Gary Segura and Shaun Bowler. In 2012, 71 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama.

Americans’ opinions on immigration have always been connected to their broader ideas about the role of government authority. The platform of 19th-century nativists contained more than racist invective. It also proposed strong states’ rights, a smaller standing army and tight limits on government expenses — all to preserve the American ideal of the independent yeoman free to defend his homestead from crowned tyrants and foreign invaders.

White evangelical leaders are loudly rejecting the xenophobia of their ancestors, though most still cherish that old libertarian creed. It