Archives For Trump

    Stanley Hauerwas identifies the essence of Christianity thus:

“Jesus is Lord and everything else is bullshit.”

     If Jesus is the present-tense Lord of the cosmos and the response of faith Jesus demands is best understood as allegiance, it quickly becomes apparent that the world is filled with rival lords vying for our loyalty and allegiance.

When the Risen Jesus commissions the disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel he tells them the way they will manifest his lordship is by baptizing and making disciples of all nations; that is, Jesus commissions them to plant communities of faith. The life and practices of the church therefore are the ways we call bulls@#$ on the Powers and Principalities who would have us think they’re in charge.

This is slippery work for Christians in America, more difficult for us than it was for the first Christians.

It’s easy to be shorn of any illusions about the goodness of your nation when it’s making you lion food for Rome’s entertainment.

The first Christians thus harbored no confusion that the Kingdom of Caesar was commensurate with the Kingdom of God so their calling to be an alternative community, a set-apart people within the polis, was more self-evident than it is to us who live in an allegedly Christian nation.

About that nation, presently led (I use that term with no small amount of irony) by The Donald.

Many Christians, primarily progressive Christians but not uniformly so (e.g. Catholic conservatives like Michael Gerson and Ross Douthat and even my muse and mentor, David Bentley Hart, who is Orthodox), view support for The Donald as outside the bounds of Christian endorsement. Rev. Willam Barber, understandably if mistakenly in my view, has characterized even prayer for The Donald as “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”

The danger posed to America by The Donald, the thinking goes, is so grave Christians must meet it with protest, mockery, and resistance. Certainly all of those are valid forms of prophetic Christian witness, but i wonder if those are the only ways to resist, or, even, the first way to do so.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said the danger of patriotism is not love of one’s country but that very often patriotism does not allow for confession of collective sin nor expressions of repentance. Bonhoeffer writes in Ethics that to profess Jesus as Lord in the midst of this ‘religion’ of nationalism is to confess one’s own complicity in sustaining the very Powers the Church confronts. People forget- Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazis not to save the Jews but to protect his nation from the destruction the Nazis were wreaking upon it.

As a German Christian, Bonhoeffer’s first response to Hitler was to confess his Church’s own complicity in creating the conditions for the Nazism he now felt the Church was charged by God to resist.

Admittedly, the analogy to Hitler and Nazi Germany is an indelicate one. The takeaway from Bonhoeffer however is this one: perhaps resisting The Donald as the Enemy and his stubborn legion of supporters as the other is an insufficient Christian posture. Maybe like Bonhoeffer progressive Christians et al would do better to discern and confess the ways we’re guilty of creating the conditions ripe for The Donald’s demagoguery. What has the Church in America and the Left in America left neglected such that Americans felt only he could give them a voice ? And by what, I mean, of course, who. Who have we neglected?To what extend are we culpable such that those voters accepted The Donald’s (idolatrous) language of “Only I can help you…?”

Bottom line:

 Bonhoeffer provides a needful reminder in our current cultural climate.

Without confession, resistance only perpetuates the cultural antagonisms, which produced the very president progressives now feel compelled to combat.

In this respect, to call BS, as Hauerwas counsels Christians, entails a willingness for Christians to own and name their own BS; that is, their promiscuity with other lords.

For Episode #105, we talked with Brad Todd, a founding partner of the political consulting firm On Message

Brad talked with us about his new book, The Great Divide, about the Trump voter. Along the way he opines on gun rights, why United Methodist apportionments are bad, what Amazon portends about the future of both the Republican Party and the United Methodist Church, and why progressives need to pace their rage.

Brad earned his first paycheck as a writer at age 14 and he hasn’t shut up since. A refugee from journalism, Brad managed winning campaigns and led a state party before stumbling onto his future and present as an ad-maker.

Brad’s 2014 clients defeated three incumbent Democratic U.S. Senators in a single election cycle, a feat unmatched by any Republican media consultant in 34 years. Brad’s ads have been noted in the national media as “devastatingly effective” (Washington Post) and “jazzy, edgy, and hip – everything you don’t expect in politics” (USA Today).

A sixth-generation native of the rural Clax Gap community in East Tennessee, Brad is known for advertising that matches the cultural nuances of his clients’ districts and elevates their own unique personalities.

Brad’s candidate clients have included six U.S. Senators, three Governors, and more than two dozen congressmen. Todd’s firm, OnMessage Inc., is the only media firm to have beaten a House Democratic incumbent in each of the last four election cycles. In 2010, Todd was the lead consultant for the Republican takeover of the United States House under the leadership of Rep. Pete Sessions and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Outside the candidate arena, Todd has earned national recognition for his advertising on the issue of school choice and he has provided strategic and brand building advice for professional sports organizations.

He has a B.A. from Rhodes College and an M.A. from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Brad frequently writes opinions columns. Many are published in POLITICO, CNN.com, Roll Call, FoxNews.com, and appears on the Meet the Press Daily with Chuck Todd.

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This past weekend Rev. Dr. William Barber described praying for Trump “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.” Certainly, if what Rev. Barber has in mind is the sort of QVC Christendom prayer captured in this picture above, then I agree.

Here’s a story from the Washington Post

Looking at the clergy gathered around the Donald, I can’t help but wonder if they’ve shut their eyes not out of piety but, like Indy and Marianne in Raiders of the Lost Ark, out of terror, afraid that the holiness of God will smote them for their idolatrous acts. Let’s not kid ourselves. This isn’t an image of God-fearers beseeching God for God’s providence or peace; it’s a picture of sycophantic partisans wanting Religion, like holiday bunting, to decorate, and so to bless, their culturally-derived agenda. It’s a still captured image of collective cognitive dissonance, seeing the Donald as either a Cyrus-like agent of God’s mysterious ways or just willfully ignoring the Donald’s manifest immorality, narcissism, and ineptitude.

Still, if what Rev. Barber condemns is instead the sort of prayer the Book of Common Prayer gives us, then I’d argue that it’s theological malpractice to judge even the Donald as so beyond the pale to be exempt from our practice prayer:

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States…and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear… Amen.

And if what Rev. Barber has in mind is this sort of prayer from the BCP, then he might be the one flirting with heresy:

O God, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you…Amen.

On MSNBC’s “AM Joy,” Barber added:

“When you can P-R-A-Y for a president and others while they are P-R-E-Y, preying on the most vulnerable, you’re violating the sacred principles of religion.”

Citing the Prophet Amos, Barber suggested:

“What leaders ought to be doing is challenging the president, challenging McConnell Ryan, and challenging these senators and others and not trying to appease them. Instead, they’re acting like priests of the empire rather than prophets of God.”

Never mind that some of God’s prophets (Isaiah, Nathan) were in fact priests and scribes of the King’s court and that the actual ultimate indictment of prophets like Amos- idolatry- would twist secular progressives’ sphincters into a knot.

I think it’s revealing who Rev. Barber does not mention in this discussion of the president and prayer:

Jesus.

Notice how Rev. Barber referenced the sacred principles of (generic and abstract) “religion” rather than (the inconveniently specific) Christianity.

While I sympathize with his antipathy, Barber commits the same crimes of civil religion perpetrated by his peers on the religious right; that is, his argument is insufficiently Christocentric.

Just as ‘God bless America’ cannot be so easily transmuted into ‘Jesus Bless America’ or ‘God hates fags’ cannot be rendered as ‘Jesus hates fags” it’s difficult to argue that Jesus would not want his followers to pray for a man who, for progressives- admit it- personifies the word enemy.

Given his first sermon in Nazareth, a shameless cribbing of Isaiah, I’ve no doubt Jesus concurred with Amos’ condemnations of the affluent and their consequent apathy and that Jesus would take a dim view of Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian worldview. But when Jesus stands on the mount like Moses and gives his disciples, the New Israel, a New Law, one of the commandments he issues instructs his followers to forgive, love, and pray for their enemies.

In such a partisan, divided culture, where political ideology continues to prove such an attractive religious idol, it’s difficult to believe the Donald isn’t for progressive Christians exactly the sort of enemy Jesus had in mind. For that matter, Donald-loving partisans just might be the neighbors that Jesus also commands progressive Christians to love as much as they love themselves or pretend to love God.

It’s one thing to pray for an enemy comfortably overseas who will never impinge on anything in your life but the newsfeed on your iPhone; it’s another to beseech God for sufficient civility to love the ignorant, possibly racist, definitely xenophobic neighbor with whom you actually have to make a life.

Barber warns that it borders on heresy to pray for the president, an odd comment from a clergyman.

Surely Rev. Barber knows that 1 Peter instructs Christians “to honor and pray for the emperor” just as surely as Rev. Barber recalls from Church History 101 that when Peter issued that command for Christians to honor and pray for the emperor he had the Emperor Nero in mind, for whom the Book of Revelation marks with the number 666- not a very popular president.

Christians should not be chaplains of civil religion, praying for the president in the partisan sense of festooning his political agenda (to the extent he has a discernible agenda) with the appearance of divine blessing.

But neither should Christians be so captured by their own blue-hued civil religion that they are willing to qualify their allegiance to the Lord’s commands.

             Blessed are the poor. Check

             Pray for your enemies. _______

I agree with Rev. Barber that Americans should agitate against an agenda that would harm, callously so, the most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Unfortunately, Christianity has “sacred principles” in addition to the principle that we should care for the poor, welcome the stranger, and comfort the victims of our indifference- and caring for the poor, let’s face it, is a principle that is hardly unique to Christianity.

Another sacred principle, not of generic, generalized religion but of the offensively particular Christian Gospel, is that God loves not the good people who care for the poor and welcome the stranger (nor the ones who at least think the government should care for the poor and welcome the stranger for them) but the ungodly.

God loves not just the victims of our indifference but God loves the victimizers too. Indeed God loves them enough to die for them, especially for them. 

How can we not pray for someone like Donald Trump then when, Christians believe, Jesus prayed for someone just like him: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

To exempt someone like the Donald from the command upon us to love our enemies risks our forgetting that while we were enemies of God, God died for us.

Just as prayer should not be used as a strategy by Jerry Falwell Jr. and Richard Jeffress to advance their own independently derived agenda, praying for our enemies is not a strategy.

It is instead part of our own ongoing conversion to- which is to say, exorcism from the Red and Blue idols in our hearts- the Lordship of Jesus Christ who commanded us to do so. Scripture doesn’t teach that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies. Rather, in a world of violence whose injustice, poverty, and loneliness is made possible by seeking to determine our enemies for us, the  Lord has called us to be his subjects who love enemies.

We do this not because it ‘works’ but because Christ is the Lord to whom we owe our allegiance.

Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist “Church” in Dallas is following up last Sunday’s worship idolatry “Patriotic Sunday” with a concert at the Kennedy Center this Saturday. I blogged about it here. Along with President Trump, Jeffress will debut the new “praise” song “Making America Great Again.”

Where’s Woody Guthrie when you need him?

‘Pastor’ Jeffress’ golden calf shenanigans this week got me thinking of Monty Python and Pliny, the Roman Governor, in that order.

I know everyone prefers the Holy Grail, but have you seen the Monty Python movie, Life of Brian?

It’s set in first-century Judaea when the Jewish opposition to the Romans is hopelessly split into factions.

There’s a scene where one of the splinter groups has a secret meeting where a vigilante soldier asks, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

One by one his fellow freedom-fighters grudgingly admit a host of benefits the Romans have brought the Jews. But Reggie, their leader, remains unconvinced.

Reggie finally demands, “All right … all right … but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order … what have the Romans done for us?”

To which the reply comes, “Brought peace.”

And Reggie has no answer.

Not only did the Romans bring the world sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order and peace (by the sword), they also brought to the world a clear understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

Rome not only knew how to dig a sewer and pitch an aqueduct, they knew better than many Christians today know the fundamental claim of Christianity.

Around 112, a Roman civil servant named Pliny, who was Governor of Bithynia  in what is modern Turkey, wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor, Trajan, offering explanation for how he’d decided to deal with these strangers and dissidents he’d encountered called Christians.

Some he punished. Some he tortured and executed. Still others, those who were like Paul, Roman citizens, he transferred back to Rome.

But what about those Christians who, in the face of persecution, offered to cease being a Christian?

You can tell how Rome understood the key conviction of Christianity from what Rome required as proof of its renunciation.

To prove to Roman authorities that you forsook your Christian faith the Empire required that you offer a sacrifice of meat and wine and incense before a statue of the Emperor while confessing “Caesar is Lord.”

And notice, Pliny didn’t invite renouncing Christians to confess ‘Caesar is Lord’ in private. Pliny didn’t ask them to make a personal profession. Pliny didn’t gather them all together, have them close their eyes and bow their heads, and ask them to raise their hands if they accepted the Lordship of Caesar.

No, he required a public display of loyalty.

He insisted upon a public pledge.

When so many Christians today think being a Christian is about inviting Jesus into their hearts to be a personal Lord and Savior (whatever that means) or having faith in him, and when so many others think it’s primarily about following Jesus’ teachings or, even worse, that it’s about belonging to an institution, Pliny saw that loyalty and obedience to Jesus as present-tense Sovereign Lord was the fundamental claim of Christianity.

What Rome required of Christians to renounce their faith points out exactly what Christians affirmed when they converted to their faith.

Christianity, Rome helps us see, is about choosing between rival and irreconcilable claims upon us.

If Pliny understood that to swear Caesar is ‘Lord’ was to forswear Jesus as Lord, then it follows that to repent and confess Jesus meant to reject and condemn the another’s lordship.

So it’s not just roads and sewers and medicine and peace, Rome has brought us; it’s also a clear-eyed understanding that the core of being a Christian is pledging allegiance to Jesus as Lord.

And allegiance, Pliny points out for us, cannot be offered in a vacuum. To be allegiant is always and at once to be against. Affirmation is a simultaneous renunciation. The very act of pledging allegiance presumes an other contending for your loyalty.

Most often defined as faith or belief, the pistis word group in the Greek New Testament can convey a range of meanings. It can mean belief, faith, confidence, trust, conviction, assurance, fidelity, commitment, faithfulness, reliability, or obedience.

But, as Matthew Bates argues in his new book, if the stage we occupy in the Creed and Gospel story is the present-tense reign of Jesus as Lord and King of heaven and earth against whose rule rival Powers contend, then the strongest and clearest definition of pistis/faith is allegiance.

Caesar didn’t care whether his subjects believed in him.

Caesar cared whether his subjects were loyal to him.

Likewise, if Jesus is Lord then we are his subjects and faithfulness to a King entails not trust so much as allegiance.

Defining faith in terms of allegiance makes clear that what’s expected of us as subjects of the Lord Jesus is an embodied faithfulness that renders the distinctions between ‘faith’ and ‘works,’ a personal Lord and a Cosmic Lord, moot, for a subject cannot be loyal to a King while not heeding the King’s commands.

Imagine what becomes possible when in recasting pistis in terms of allegiance.

For example, the Apostles Creed makes more obvious what is at stake in the profession:

“I pledge allegiance to God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth…and to Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord…”

It works at Baptism too: “…do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior…pledge your allegiance to him…”

And at the Table: “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to give allegiance to him.”

Familiar scripture suddenly become like TNT when you redefine pistis: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and become allegiant to me.” Just that verse becomes an altar call that calls for a lot more than your mental assent or an affectation in your heart.

Or Paul: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who gives allegiance.” 

If faith is a matter of believing in Jesus, then Christians can disagree about the relative importance of racism, immigration, or poverty, dismissing it as ‘political.’

If faith is a matter of allegiance to Jesus, then how we address those issues might be debatable but that they merit our attention is no longer negotiable.

Translating pistis as allegiance just might be the way to make the Christian faith great again.

Stanley Hauerwas asserts that the essence of Christianity is:

“Jesus is Lord and everything else is bull@#$%.”

Hauerwas can make that claim because if Jesus is the present-tense Lord of the cosmos then the response of faith Jesus demands is best understood as allegiance, an allegiance that requires a readiness to call BS when we see it.

You do not have to believe in Jesus’ Lordship to know that the world is filled with rival lords vying for our loyalty and allegiance.

Or, simply working to dilute, confuse, or qualify our allegiance.

Again, witness Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist “Church” of Dallas

When the Risen Jesus commissions the disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel he tells them the way they will manifest his lordship is by baptizing and making disciples of all nations; that is, Jesus commissions to plant churches. The life and practices of the church therefore are the ways we call BS on the Powers and Principalities who would have us think they’re in charge.

The ordinary practices Jesus has given us are the ways we stand before all the golden calves, be they statues of Caesar or Robert Jeffress’ civil religion pageantry, and call BS.

Well, I tried posting reflections on Trump’s Executive Order from differing viewpoints. My aim was to offer hospitality for the ‘other’ perspective so the the Church might better be the better place God has made in the world where there is neither Democrat nor Republican.

Instead the red and blue hued views just prompted an amen chorus on either side of the field, each cheering the comments that championed their tribe. And don’t get me started on the dreadful links to absurd “news” sites some of you sent me purporting to reveal the “truth” about all Muslims every where.

Here’s an actual newsflash:

People who are shouting at each other are constitutionally incapable of seeing the image of God in someone else.

And there’s so much shouting in our culture these days. Assuming the maxim above, such shouting is a willful closing of our eyes and heart to God. How we debate, as Christians, in other words, is as important as the conclusions that we draw.

Rather than strap on my collar, hit you over the head with Matthew 18, and call you out on your sin of idolatry for putting love of party over love of the Christ-bearing neighbor, I thought instead I would offer these tips by way of the philosopher John Stuart Mill. If Christians would heed these then perhaps they could stomach social media without needing to resort to the sentimentality of puppy pics.

  1. Mill reminds us because we are fallible, if we ignore an opposing opinion we may in fact be ignoring the truth.
  2. Mill points out that even if another’s opinion is in error, it may still contain a portion of the truth.
  3. Mill reminds us even if we are entirely correct in our position that position risks becoming simple prejudice if we cease to be in conversation with those who would disagree with us.

So, before you post that self-righteous comment which only reaffirms your existing worldview remember that you are fallible, which is to say sinful. And before you dismiss your neighbor as ‘hysterical’ remember that to ignore one of your peers may be ignoring truth that the Spirit is trying to speak to you. Remember that even if you think one of your peers is wrong, it’s not likely they’re absolutely wrong. Listen for what you think is true about their perspective.

And do not forget that even if you have no intention of ever changing your mind on these issues, you owe your peers your conversation more so than you owe your party your loyalty.

I know many of the blog readers here are pastors of all sorts of denominations from all over the country. I thought it worth sharing the letter we sent out to my congregation regarding the Recent Executive Order on Refugees.

Dear Friends,

Back in November, we wrote to you, observing how it’s hard to imagine 1st century Christians caught up in whether Nero or Britannicus was the better successor to the Emperor Claudius. We may love America, but America’s politics is not the lever that turns the designs God has for this world; the Church is supposed to be the design God has for the world. The Gospel, we encouraged you to remember, is about Jesus the King who calls Kingdom citizens to live under the King in communities called Church regardless of who occupies the White House.

We wrote to you in November because many of you had expressed to us conflicting emotions and desires. Some of you were euphoric at the results and now wanted all Americans to come together behind our new President while others of you were despondent, determining the most patriotic posture towards the new President was to be the loyal opposition. We write to you again because in the days since the inauguration those emotions and the polarization between them have only grown.

Many of you have expressed to us your fear of the new administration just as many of you have expressed to us your fear of being judged for your support of it.

First–

We wish to emphasize that this diversity of views in our congregation is not an obstacle to be overcome but–we believe–is itself a sign of the Gospel. As Paul tells a congregation every bit as heterogenous as you “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male nor female, and neither is there Republican nor Democrat, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” Since its founding, Aldersgate has been a church where Goldwater Republicans have worshipped alongside Civil Rights marchers. Just this Sunday, a spokesperson for the Obama White House sang two pews in front of the kids of a Republican ad maker. In that same pew, a service later, two immigrants–refugees actually–from Africa prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

This diversity of viewpoints is true across both our campuses, Collingwood and Kingstowne, and it is reflected among our pastoral leadership as well. We do not believe this diversity of views is to be lamented, for in a time when our culture is so Balkanized by labels and loyalties we are a community where those worldly distinctions can exist in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

If the Gospel creates communities where there is neither Republican nor Democrat, then to say we must be a community of only Republicans or only Democrats is to place party over Christ’s Lordship. Such a move is what the bible calls idolatry. The Gospel instead creates community that is a “fellowship of differents.”

The Church is political in that it subverts the politics of the day by refusing the either/or dichotomy so often found in our politics. Indeed in such a partisan, divided culture we believe this is the gift Aldersgate can offer the wider world. Like the community we call Trinity, we can be a community of both difference and peace, which is an ongoing–and not always easy–process that Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation.

Second–

To be such a church does not mean we avoid controversial issues nor does it require that we opt out of the day’s politics when those politics encroach upon our summons as baptized Christians. In fact, the vows of our ordination require that, at times, we speak to the issues before us.

We write, therefore, to bring to your attention the concerns expressed by the wider, global Christian community over the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.”

Christian opposition to this particular policy is not about party, politics, or who is President.

From the conservative Evangelical Church to the Roman Catholic Church to the relief organization, World Vision, to our own United Methodist Council of Bishops: The consensus judgment of the Christian Church is that this executive order contradicts and impinges upon our obligation as the Body of Christ to care for the vulnerable, the marginalized, the immigrant and the refugee.

After all, as Christians we mean by the word “God” whomever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from slavery in Egypt; in other words, we profess that God sojourned with Israel when they were refugees from Pharaoh and that, in Christ, God became a refugee (from Herod) and upon setting his path for the cross he warned us that our eternal judgment will be weighed, in part, by how we care for the refugee (Matthew 25).

We bring this issue to you now because the headlines in our newspapers, the chaos in our airports, the questions in our inboxes, and the acrimony on social media make our speaking out unavoidable, while our silence would, in fact, make us outliers among the Christian community.

Here’s a sampling of the consensus from across the Body:

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President, Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church

World Relief (National Association of Evangelicals)

Christianity Today magazine

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

We understand–some of you support the executive order for commendable reasons, including concerns for national security and a desire for secure borders.

We understand–some of you oppose the executive order for commendable reasons, including fears that it undermines our national security and a desire for a more compassionate posture towards the vulnerable.

Wherever you fall on this issue, we believe there’s a place for you in this community and a way to practice your faith.

For those among you in the former category, we encourage you to support refugees around the world through other means, by giving financially to a ministry like World Vision.

For those among you in the latter category, we encourage you to advocate through groups within Aldersgate and Kingstowne and through the wider United Methodist Church such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Faithful Christians can disagree about the politics of red and blue.

Faithful Christians cannot disagree about the politics of Jesus.

That is, Christians cannot disagree about our obligation to care for and show hospitality towards–even at risk to our own expense and safety–the vulnerable.

And as the Body of Christ the scope of that compassion extends beyond our borders.

We’re a fellowship of differents, and on both sides of this issue there is scripture that challenges us:

Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, commands us to care for the refugee (Matthew 25).

Scripture also commands us “to honor and pray for the emperor” (1 Peter 2.17).

Remember, too, that when Peter issued that command he had in mind Nero–whom Revelation marks with the number 666–and not an elected president.

Christians are called not simply to make the world a better place; Christians are called to be the better place God has already made in the world. In our time and place, we believe what it means for Aldersgate and Kingstowne to be that better place is to be a place where all our differences about the kingdom we call America are transcended by the Kingdom to which we’re called in Christ.

We believe we are that better place God has already made in the world when we balance–in tension–those two scriptures, Matthew 25 and 1 Peter 2.

Finally–

We understand you bring a variety of lenses to bear on an issue such as this; we trust you understand it’s our calling to bring, as we’ve done here, a biblical and theological lens to your attention.

Obviously, this letter is necessarily a monologue. We invite you to make it a dialogue by sharing your questions and thoughts with us.

If you’re interested in a forum where we can all gather to share with one another our views and how we can practice them through this faith community, please let us know. We hope to offer such a venue in the near future.

We pray this letter is received in the same spirit with which it is offered.
Grace and Peace

 

 

In Episode 65, our latest installment of Fridays with Fleming, I talk with Fleming Rutledge about the message of Advent and preaching the word of Truth in a post-truth culture.

Just a reminder:

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..

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Want to join us?
All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 off:
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But this discount will only be good through Christmas!

Be on the lookout for future episodes with Colby Martin and Mandy Smith.

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

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13502037_1615405398788080_7321135075900787492_nIn the wake of the 2016 election, Morgan Guyton from the Crackers & Grape Juice posse and author of How God Saves the World from Us talks with Suhuey and Jen, United Methodist Hispanic Youth, about how racism recently intruded upon a gathering of youth in North Carolina.

Be on the lookout for future episodes with next week with Brian McLaren and Father James Martin and, this week, a special book debut episode to launch my book Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage Serious Chemo. For that episode, Teer Hardy spoke with an all star lineup including Tony Jones, Todd Littleton, Jeffrey Pugh, Kendall Soulen, and JC Herz. 

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here.

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 new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

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

 

9781501824753Bishop Will Willimon, author of Fear of the Other, was our guest preacher the Sunday after Trumpocalypse. His text was Romans 5. Not only is the book dedicated to Donald Trump (…without whose xenophobia ‘I wouldn’t have been asked to write this book.’) it’s an incredibly timely book for those who are repulsed by Trump and how we’re to love the ungodly which surely includes even Donald Trump.

“We’ve got to love the ungodly…even an ungodly liar like Donald Trump.”

Listen to it.

 

 

The Gospel in Strings

Jason Micheli —  October 17, 2016 — 1 Comment

6a00d8341fcbf753ef017ee4cfb7c0970dFor the text this weekend from 2 Timothy 2.8-15, I invited a string quartet to participate in the sermon. It was a craptastic disaster in the Saturday evening service, but I think it could turned out nicely by Sunday morning.

I owe a debt to John Nugent for his podcast with me recently and for his new book Endangered Gospel. Both the categories the quartet helped me explicate as well the bite at the end I owe to him.

     I’d like to dedicate this sermon to that special someone here in the congregation who was so kind and so thoughtful, so considerate, to add my name and my contact information to the mass email list of Donald J. Trump.

Thanks to you, ever since last Friday’s hot mic Access Hollywood video, I’ve received approximately 7 emails a day imploring me to do my Christian duty (in $50 installments) to bring America back from the apocalyptic precipice on which it stands and make it great again.

I’d like to dedicate this sermon to that special someone here in the congregation was kind enough and thoughtful enough, considerate really, to add my name and my contact information to the “Christians for Hillary” distribution list.

Thanks to you, ever since the convention, I’ve received approximately 12 emails per week rousing me to my Christian responsibility to protect the greatness of America from the apocalyptic specter of Donald Trump occupying the White House.

This sermon is for you too.

This sermon is for that precious parishioner here in the congregation who, every day, forwards me exhortations and editorials from Sojourners, the progressive Christian magazine, articles arguing that as a Christian I have an obligation to seek social justice, fight poverty and fight for a fair wage, combat racism and xenophobia, protect the rights of women and homosexuals, and reverse global warming.

This sermon is for all of you who’ve made it possible that not a day goes by in the life of your pastor that you don’t share something on my Facebook Timeline about Donald Trump, Michelle Obama, Chris Christie, Tim Kaine, Mike Pence, Jerry Falwell Jr., Planned Parenthood or the NRA urging me, as a faith leader, to fulfill my role to better society in blue or red hues.

This sermon is for that generous congregant who last fall, when I was still on medical leave, snagged me and my plus-one an invitation to an all-expenses-paid, clergy-only weekend retreat with Ted Cruz where, the invitation explained, we would strategize to restore God’s will for the nation.

And even though that sounds about as much fun as taking a bus full of 1st graders to Great Wolf Lodge for an alcohol free weekend- it was a thoughtful gesture. So this sermon’s for you too.

This sermon is for all of you who think that our democracy is hurting, our society is in danger, our nation in decline and believe that it’s our job as the Church to fix it.

This sermon is for all of you who think that our world is broken and think that it’s our responsibility as Christians to change it. To change the world, to make it a better place.

This sermon is for you.

Because when you think it’s our job as Christians to change the world, what’s really in danger isn’t the world, what’s in danger- what’s endangered- is the Gospel.

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     Paul defines the Gospel in verse 8 of today’s text.

“Remember,” he says, “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David- that is my gospel.” 

Jesus.

Christ.

Resurrection.

David.

Each of those elements in Paul’s definition of the Gospel they’re like instruments in a string quartet.

“Jesus” [Play Briefly]

     Jesus is the instrument that plays the salvation strand of the story; the name “Jesus” is shorthand for God takes flesh in Jesus and on the cross rescues us from captivity to the Sin of the world.

“Christ”  [Play Briefly]

     Christ means ‘Anointed One.’

In Hebrew, it’s Messiah. Rome used the word ‘Caesar.’ We translate it ‘King.’

“Christ” here in Paul’s definition of the Gospel is the instrument that plays the Kingdom strand of the scripture story, how God comes to us in Jesus as our rightful King and teaches his followers what it means to live as subjects of his Kingdom.

“Raised from the dead”  [Play Briefly]

     Raised from the dead is the instrument that plays the finale strand scripture, the New Age of which the New Testament says Christ’s resurrection is the first sign.

And the final instrument in Paul’s Gospel Music is“A descendant of David.”  [Play Briefly]

     David is the instrument that plays the Old Testament strand of the scripture story. David echoes how the Gospel is the outworking of God’s purposes first promised to the People called Israel.

Jesus.

Christ.

Resurrection.

David.

The Gospel is like a piece of music.

The reason there’s so much confusion over who we’re called to be and what we’re called to do is because for so long Christians have been fiddling with the music.

We turn some of the instruments way up and turn others way down, mute some and distort others to the point where we can no longer hear how, so often, the music we’re performing is something different from what the Author intends.

——————————

     One of the primary ways we distort the Gospel Music- we make it Heaven-Centered.

We turn the volume way, way up on Jesus and we turn the volume way down on Christ and David to the point that it throws Resurrection out of time with the others.

[Play]

In the Heaven-Centered Gospel, the Jesus part of the Gospel Music is so loud it sounds like the entire composition is about nothing more than God taking flesh and taking our sin to the Cross.

The only notes anyone can hear from the David part of the music are the ones that show how Jesus’ death for sin fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.

But if that’s all you hear from David, you can no longer hear that even larger theme of how God desires to have a People here on Earth who would live with God as their Sovereign instead of following a king like all the other nations.

And you forget that that’s really what the 1st Commandment is all about: “You shall no other kings before me.”

And then you fail to notice that our rejection of Christ comes not on the Cross but when we declare to Pontus Pilate: “We have no king but Caesar.” 

When you turn Jesus way up and David way down, you no longer know why Jesus bothered to spend 3 years before his death and 50 days after it teaching his disciples about the Kingdom of God.

In the Heaven-Centered Gospel, the Jesus part of the music blares so loudly, all you can hear is the noise about the world’s sinfulness. In such a world, what sense does it make to say that Jesus is King?

That’s why the Heaven-Centered Gospel turns the Christ part of the music so low it sounds like Jesus is just a King enthroned in our hearts.

Which distorts the fourth part of the music: Resurrection.

The Heaven-Centered Gospel so cranks up the volume on the fallenness of the world and so mutes God’s determination to rule this Earth, it makes the world sound disposable instead of a world where God is determined to have dominion.

And that distorts the Resurrection part of the music.

Because now, in the Heaven-Centered Gospel, what we hear isn’t that God will make this world a better place, body and soul. It’s the signal that God will take our souls from our earthly bodies and take them away to a better place.

This confused Gospel leads to confusion about who we are and what we’re called to do.

According to this Gospel, who we are- we’re sinners redeemed by his death who will be rescued from this world upon our own.

We’re not called to fix society’s ills or change the world or make it a better place because the reality of Sin is such that only God can overcome Sin.

And, according to this distorted music, God’s way of overcoming the world’s Sin is to rescue the faithful from it to a better place.

All we’re called to do as Christians is to give people Jesus so that they too can go to a better place when they die.

——————————-

     Another way we distort the Gospel Music- instead of Heaven-Centered, we make it Human-Centered.

We keep David so it’s barely audible still, but we fiddle with the music so that now the volume on Jesus gets turned down low until all that noise about the sinfulness of humanity and the fallenness of the world fades away. And instead we ratchet up the Christ and Resurrection parts of the music.

[Play]

     in the Human-Centered Gospel, because you can barely hear the Jesus music, you forget that constant refrain of scripture: that our situation as sinners is such that only God can rectify what’s broken in us and in the world.

So Christ, in the Human-Centered Gospel, is no longer a King who triumphed over Evil, he’s a King who taught us how to eradicate evil in the world.

And with the Jesus music and all its noise about sinful humanity and a fallen world muted, it begins to sound as if we’re capable of making the world a better place.

Jesus’ Kingdom teaching begins to sound like a description of God’s politics, like it’s God’s blueprint for us to usher in the New Creation.

In the Human-Centered Gospel, the Kingdom, becomes our job. Christ began the work of the Kingdom and now it’s our task to bring it to completion.

Of course, you can’t fiddle with the Gospel Music this way without, again, neglecting the David part of the music. In the Human-Centered Gospel, the only audible notes from the David part of the music are those from the prophets, who preached about justice and mercy and learning war no more.

The problem with the Human-Centered Gospel is that it relies on an optimism about human progress that is contradicted by the violence of the last century and the first part of this one.

Again, confusion over the Gospel leads to a confusion over who we are and what we’re called to do.

According to this distorted Gospel Music, who we are- we’re agents of God’s Kingdom, partners with God.

And we’re called to fix the problems of the world, to make the world a better place according to God’s Kingdom vision.

——————————

     A third way we distort the Gospel music- we make it World-Centered.

In the World-Centered Gospel, we balance the Jesus and the Christ parts. But we turn the Resurrection part of the music so that it’s loudest of all and we make the David part of the music play only the first measure of its music over and over, the creation story.

[Play]

     In the World-Centered Gospel, you can finally properly hear about Christ’s Kingdom in tandem with the reality of Sin and how God is the only agent who can overcome it to fix this broken world.

In that regard, the World-Centered Gospel sounds better.

But because the World-Centered Gospel makes the Resurrection part of the music loudest of all, what we hear is that God made this world. God cares about this world. God will redeem this world and God’s People can play a role.

In the World-Centered Gospel, the Jesus music is loud enough that we don’t lose sight of our sinfulness or the world’s fallenness. So the World-Centered Gospel doesn’t tell us that it’s our job to build God’s Kingdom.

Only God can make this world a better place and that renewal began in Jesus Christ and God is, even now, bringing it to fruition.

We can’t bring the Kingdom of God or make this world a better place, but what we can do, according to the World-Centered Gospel, is go out into the world to join with God in what God is doing.

We can join movements and causes. We can work for justice and advocate for change, and wherever we participate in such work we point to the day when God will, once and for all, make this world a better place.

Confusion over the Gospel Music leads to confusion over who we are and what we’re called to do.

According to this distorted Gospel Music, who we are- we’re witnesses who point to what God is doing out there in the world.

And what we’re called to do is roll up our sleeves, get out from behind the walls of the Church and join God in making this world a better place.

The World-Centered Gospel sounds better, no doubt.

But there’s still too many dissonant notes.

For example-

Jesus never tells his disciples to venture beyond the walls of their community, Israel, and work to transform pagan society or make pagan governments more just.

And in Jesus’ Bible, the Old Testament, God commands Israel to care for the needy within Israel not outside of it.

Even in the Sermon on the Mount, with a crowd gathered to listen to him, Christ isn’t talking to the multitude. He’s speaking to his disciples. He’s not describing how the world is to live. He’s describing how they’re to live among the world.

Obviously, as good as the music sounds, it’s still not quite Gospel.

——————————

     The Gospel Music Paul wants you to hear is Kingdom-Centered.

David provides the music’s bottom.

[Play]

     David is the foundation but finally all four of the instruments play equally and together to create a single composition.

[Play]

     In 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- this is the part you need to listen for- 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 the other versions miss is that all along God’s plan to make this world a better place was by calling a People.

And according to the Kingdom-Centered Gospel, this is the plan God continues in Jesus. God sends Jesus to inaugurate a better place in and through a particular People.

Jesus takes on the sin of humanity not to judge humanity or to forgive humanity but to restore humanity because redeemed creatures are the first step in a renewed creation. As St. Paul says if anyone is in Jesus, he or she is part of a new creation.

Because the Kingdom-Centered Gospel remembers that those baptized into Jesus are new creatures for a new creation, it knows how to play the Christ part of the music correctly.

Because 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.

No, what the Kingdom-Centered Gospel is able to hear in the music is that

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.

Like salt on food, like a pearl among swine, like a mustard seed on a mighty mountain, like a light among nations Christ’s People are in the wider world his Kingdom come on Earth, living as is in Heaven.

And that’s what the Kingdom-Centered Gospel gets right about the Resurrection part of the Gospel Music.

Because 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 Music.

And today, I want to dedicate this song to all of you who forward me your political action emails, all of you who put Christian voter guides in my inbox, every one of you who make exhortative editorials on my Facebook Timeline, tweet me your take on the debate, and tell me in breathless tones that if we don’t support this agenda or back that candidate all hope for changing the world and making it a better place is lost.

This Gospel Music is for you.

Because if you listen close you’ll hear-

     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 candidate than we are in our faith, know more about the issues than we do our scripture.

We can’t be who the Gospel say we are when we can recite the latest Real Clear Politics polling average but if someone called upon us to pray out loud we’d blush and stammer.

We can’t be who we’re supposed to be when we can argue for or against the ins and outs of HR Bill 501, but we aren’t prepared to tell someone else what difference Jesus makes for how we live their lives.

We can’t be who we’re supposed to be when we’re willing to go door-to-door for Donald or Hillary but haven’t ever once invited someone to Church.

Now that I’m Executive Pastor and know what everyone gives, I know it’s a safe bet that the Democrats and Republicans get more of our money than does Christ’s Church.

And nothing reveals more where we think the stakes lie.

So I dedicate this Gospel Music today to you.

(And to me).

Because if, as the Gospel says, we are the change that God has already made in the world.

Then that means 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 red and blue 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.

Rather than 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 where there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither white nor black nor blue.

Neither gay nor straight for that matter.

And, for that matter, rather than waging war for a seat on the Court we’re supposed to be the People who stay faithful to one another in marriage.

Instead of stalemating over economic policy, we should 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.

Let others debate our nation’s Defense policy and let us Christians be the People who refuse to kill other Christians because that would be a light to the nations.

I dedicate this Gospel Music to all of you who think we’re called to make this world a better place.

Listen to it again-

We’re not.

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

This song’s for you.

      [Play Whole Song]