Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on The Church and Prop 8.

Ok. I am not sure how this one will turn out so bear with me. What you are about to read is a thought process. It is not a well-researched thesis with infallible logic. It is an attempt to sort out the many different and often competing ideas swirling around in my head. This may come off as really random and without flow so I apologize in advance. I welcome any input to the conversation.

This blog was inspired by the passing of Prop 8 in California. The proposition banned gay marriage in the state.

Before I start, I want to make a few things very clear: I am a follower of Jesus. I believe he is the Word made flesh. I believe he died on a Roman cross taking the sins of the world upon himself. I believe he rose from the grave. I believe His spirit dwells within his followers. I believe the Church is his body on earth. I believe the Bible is my authority and when properly interpreted and followed, can change us in a radical way. I believe that following Jesus is the absolute best way to live for both the individual and the world. Ok?

And due to those beliefs, I believe that a homosexual lifestyle is not an appropriate way for a follower of Jesus to live. I also think that a greedy lifestyle is inappropriate way to live as well but no one really talks about that. Ok?

An overwhelming percentage of Evangelicals (I consider myself Evangelical) supported the prop. No doubt they were motivated by their beliefs in what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

So that is the current situation we are dealing with here. Before I talk about it any further, I want to reflect on the state of the world that the Church was born into 2,000 years ago.

Rome was the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. The Roman Emperor was the most powerful man in the world. He was believed to be the Son of God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Christians were forced to be an underground sect because they refused to worship the Emperor. During the reigns of Nero and Domitian, persecution of Christians became state sponsored and totally out of control. Christians who would not bow to the Emperor could be killed on the spot. Nero used the bodies of Christians as tiki torches at his parties. Domitian required people to worship him in order to participate in the economy.

It was in this environment that the early church flourished. Much of the new testament was written during these times. Leaders of the church called believers to perseverance in the face of extreme suffering. They considered it an honor because they could participate in the sufferings of Christ.

They had absolutely no political power. And they thrived. They outlived the Empire.

Fast forward 2,000 years. Christians in the U.S. not only live in a society that allows them to worship without persecution, but they live in a society where they are a significant voting block and can sway the outcome of a presidential election (remember 2004?). Our society resembles Rome only in the sense that we are (or were depending on how you look at it) the most powerful and influential nation in the world.

That, to me, poses some problems for us in the Church. Jesus never sought political power. In fact, he called people to enter the Kingdom of God, something totally unrelated to political power. The Kingdom is where God had rule, where losing your life means finding it, where the servants are the greatest, where the first are last and the last are first. It is a place where sickness is trumped by healing. It is a place where the poor sit at the seats of honor and the rich and powerful are humbled. It is subversive. It is hidden. It is a tiny mustard seed that turns into a tree that blesses all who come to it. It is not of this world and does not operate by the same rules as earthly kingdoms and governments.

If anything, Scripture teaches us to be at the very least skeptical of governments. A common image for them is that of a beast.

So what does the Church do when we actually have political power? How do we use that power? DO we use that power? These are questions I have been wrestling with. Hasn’t history shown us that when you combine religion with political power, bad things happen? To be fair, officially removing religion form public life also has bad results.

I also think that when the Church becomes too powerful (politically) it begins to move away from the teachings and life of Jesus. His power came from God, not form being legitimized by the government. Remember, they were the ones who wanted him dead.

Many Evangelicals think that allowing gay marriage to be legal threatens the sanctity of marriage. Does it? What about people who get married and don’t believe in God? Is their marriage ok? Is the greatest hope we have for the world that everyone would be married to someone of the opposite sex? That feels like setting the bar really low and also sounds virtually nothing like what Jesus preached. What about people who get married in Las Vegas in a drunken stupor only to get divorced the next day when they realize how stupid they were. Is that marriage still sacred?

More questions:

Why does the church need to be legitimized by the Government? The church in China is illegal and it is exploding with growth. India is not super friendly towards Christians and the government often turns a blind eye towards persecution, but it is spreading like wildfire there. Why do we need to be different? Maybe if we had a little hardship and suffering, we might see our faith deepen and we might be forced to get back to what Jesus taught rather than try to legislate our version of morality.

If gay people can’t get married, should we also not allow greedy people to get married? Should people who have cheated on their spouses not be allowed to visit them in the hospital because they violated the sanctity of marriage? We just aren’t consistent. We want the government to protect something that we don’t even have a good track record with. Everyone knows the divorce rate amongst Christians.

Here is a situation that I think could work. Make gay marriage legal and allow churches to not have to do it. Why wouldn’t that work? There is a clear separation of church and state and first amendment freedom of religion. Yes, we would take a lot of heat for it but so what. I don’t get the feeling that the early Church stood outside the Roman senate and demanded that the temples where male prostitutes would go be closed because it violated their beliefs.

The American church has had a TERRIBLE time reaching out to the homosexual community and a terrible time addressing the issue in their own congregations. I am fortunate enough to be in Christian communities where I could wrestle with the issue if I needed to, but I don’t think that most people feel like they could. If you were struggling with homosexual feelings and longings, would you go to the church for help? I am just going to go guess that you wouldn’t. That is sad. How did we get to the point where the people who loved to hang out with Jesus now feel like they can’t go to church?

Again, this is a jumble of thoughts, unorganized and incomplete. I know I have more to say but I am tired and need to go to bed.

Thoughts? Leave a comment.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Musings of an Election Junkie

So pretty much since mid-August, I have been on a political news binge. Every day I cruise through yahoo news in search of the latest form the campaign trail. I must admit that I was completely fascinated by the whole Sarah Palin thing. I still am. I was barely able to tear myself away from the VP debates in order to watch Oregon State lose to Utah a week after kicking the snot out of USC. I downloaded Barack Obama's plan for change so I could have a better understanding of what he was all about and I actually read about half of it before the details of health care put me to sleep. I have never done this before and am slightly proud to say that this is the most politically informed I have ever been. I still feel like I know next to nothing in the grand scheme of things but it's a good start. Here are some thoughts I have had during my time with the political IV stuck in my arm.

Fact Checking is Fun!

www.factcheck.org has been a wonderful find. I first checked it out after the RNC. Man, those guys (and girls) made up a whole lot of BS. It is really refreshing to have an unbiased group do a lot of hard work in giving us the facts and the truth. They cite all their sources and don't let anyone off the hook. I even read their analysis of Obama's acceptance speech. I was disappointed. I REALLY want that guy to just tell us the truth. He doesn't need to make stuff up about McCain or mislead us about what he is going to do. I think Obama can win big if he takes the moral high ground. He'll probably win big anyway but it would be more satisfying. Also, it was way fun to watch the ladies on "The View" just grill McCain and straight up call him a liar. WOW! I could definitely go for some more of that.

Venting to People Who Agree With You is Also Fun

Ok, I am a little ashamed about this one. I am all for people with differing opinions having civil conversations with each other and attempting to understand the other's point of view, but sometimes you just need someone who shares your pains and joys. I find that they are often difficult to find in certain communities that I am involved in. Thanks Trina!

Message Boards Will Make You Loose Faith in Humanity

If anyone has read any Op-Ed pieces recently, they will note the message board section underneath the article. They usually increase the length of the page you are visiting by a factor of ten and make it take forever to load. I keep telling myself not to read them but I just get sucked in. They are even on things like SNL Video Clips (which have been VERY funny lately. See Below). Anyway, I find that there are about two types of people on them: slightly smug people who tend to be liberal, and irate people who tend to be conservative. If you follow the conversation long enough (I have gone for like five pages worth of comments on some) you will see it quickly turn into name calling and bold assertions of absolute truth. I start to find myself empathizing with these anonymous posters and getting angry or defensive, as if they are personally attacking me. These post things are on just about every news and blog site now, including this one and they allow people to safely rip people new ones from the comfort of their own mothers' basements. Do they think they are going to change anyone's mind this way? Has anyone ever based a decision of even remote importance on the rantings of some unknown voice on the internet? I miss schoolyard fights.

Thank God for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

I don't think I can say enough about these people and their writers. They help me realize how ridiculous this whole thing is. And by whole thing I mean American culture as a whole. We are pretty dumb sometimes. If you don't watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, PLEASE go do it. I want to roll out of my chair when I watch these shows. and ironically enough, it often takes a fake news show to give you an accurate picture of what is really happening. So Jon and Stephen, I tip my hat to you. Keep up the good work.

I Need to Go Outside More

See heading above.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Yes Alanis, it IS ironic.

I hesitated to use that title because this isn't funny but I just couldn't think of anything else.

It all began about a month ago when I was spending some time on youtube looking for new worship songs. As a worship leader, I feel this is a good thing to do. sometimes you find a real gem. Anyways, I stumbled across this video of a song from the Hillsong folks down under. It was called "Healer." The song was pretty good but what really got me was the story behind the song. The guy who wrote it is a pastor down there and he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was not given much time to live. After hearing the news, he went into his studio and began to write the song. The song is a declaration of faith that Jesus can heal him and that even in this very difficult situation, he will trust Jesus. Solid. The video of the performance kicks it up a notch. The dude is on stage with oxygen tubes up his nose. I even think he had a cane. Everyone who was interviewed was saying how that was the most incredible moment to sing the song with him. They felt like the presence of God was there in spades.

Then I read something today that shook me up a bit.

It was an article from an Australian newspaper talking about that pastor. He never had cancer. It wasn't that he was misdiagnosed, he lied about it. He made the whole thing up so he could inspire people with the song and the story. Nobody knew. Not even his own family.

And it made me sad.

Not angry, maybe a little frustrated, ok, a lot frustrated. But not angry. I understand weakness and the feeling like you have to have it all together. I hope that I am a person who can extend grace to those who need it. But at the same time, it makes me really sad.

Sad that we are so blind to what God is doing in our midst that we have to make it up. Sad that we might now even realize what God really wants for us. Sad that it seems like the norm is now for Christian leaders to commit scandal after scandal. Just sad.

Maybe behind the pretty light show, the huge venue, the 15 musicians on stage, the sound system that lets you get lost in the music, and the jumbo-tron screen with all the words, our "worship" is nothing more than a sham. Do we hide behind it all? How come when I watch those videos I wish I was part of that Band making that great sounding music for the thousands of people who have shown up. Why can't I remember that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Or that when two or three are gathered, He is there?

That is not to say that all the people who put on those concerts or who go to them are fakers, as I am sure there were plenty of people that night who needed to declare that Jesus is their healer. It's true. He is and I believe that. But what good is it all if people feel like they have to put on a show to help people connect with God? Even when that show is lying to your family. It is a dangerous thing to connect the worship of God with being entertained or entertaining. Very dangerous. Evil? maybe. I am not sure I am willing to go there just yet.

I am pretty sure that God said something like "Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" Maybe we ought to listen. Maybe I ought to listen . . . and name my blog after it.

Nevertheless, I hope and pray that he and his family find healing and restoration through this.

God, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.