Monday, April 28, 2008

It keeps going, and going, and going...

So all the talking heads tonight on cable news are still obsessing over Rev. Wright. He spoke this morning at the National Press Club and, much to Sen. Obama's chagrin I'm sure, he did a Q&A following. His prepared remarks were much like his speech to the NAACP, but I admit that during the Q&A he crossed a couple of lines. But I continue to think that the media focuses too much on the content and not the context.

I'm not going to break down every word from this morning. I'd just be repeating myself anyway, just like all the talking heads tonight (and tomorrow, and probably the next night too). But I want to call you attention to some of what's being written on the subject in the blogosphere. Specifically from the links to the right, comments from preachers, writers, and theologians. Opinions that, to me, carry more weights than the "experts" we find on cable news.

First over at the God's Politics blog, Diana Butler Bass, an author with a PhD in church history, relates to Rev. Wright's speech on Sunday. Then the On Faith community lists several blogs from authors, theologians, and preachers putting Rev. Wright's words in perspective. Finally, the Beliefnet God-o-Meter lists several comments questioning the political consequences of Rev. Wright's continued coverage in the press.

I don't have much else to add, but I do want to offer my $0.02 on what Sen. Obama could do to overcome the bad press this is continuing to provide. If I were Sen. Obama (which would also assume that I'm black) I would embrace Rev. Wright's characterization of the African American Church instead of hiding from it. I would adopt Rev. Wright's cadence. And I would begin to preach the social change that frames the context of the worst of Rev. Wright's rhetoric.

Isn't that what we want in the leader of the free world? If his church is condemning American international, racial, and economic policies (note "policies" not the country itself) wouldn't it make sense to project himself as the agent to bring about the change being called for in those sermons? If his hope is in Jesus, shouldn't he have the same ambition as President Reagan to let his little light shine, and desire America to be "a city set upon a hill" instead of the imperialistic hypocrites that much of the world presently views us as?

I don't see it happening. Not with the overriding fear of the ever-present Separation of Church and State. But it would be a refreshing change from what even Rev. Wright recognizes as just "playing politics."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Gospel According to CNN

So I'm on the road this week for work, so I'll have an opportunity to post more often than once every couple of weeks, which regrettably has been the trend of late. Besides being able to blog more regularly, I also get to watch TV! I don't mean to glorify the idiot box; in fact we don't have cable at home because there's not enough worth watching to justify the price and there is too much depravity to want it if it was free. But I thrive off of being able to catch up on news and sports when I'm off the road. So I turn on the TV and start flipping and what do I find? The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, speaking at a NAACP event. Ok, I can see that, given how much press his relationship with Senator Barak Obama has gotten and how much traction a snippet of an "un-American" sermon has had in the press. So I watched, figuring I'd get a few minutes before the news went on with their regularly scheduled programming. And I watched. And I watched. Shockingly, the whole speech was broadcast. And now I'm watching all the talking heads dissect every word while announcing that that special we were going to show will eventually come on sometime later tonight or early tomorrow morning. Whodathunkit?

I'm not going to add my voice to the fray and offer yet another view of his speech and how it plays in the presidential election. But I will say this: he's good. In fact, he's really good. But it wasn't a sermon. And it wasn't from the pulpit. I was impressed with his delivery, the depth of his preparation, and even the substance of a "Change is Going to Come." I posted before that such language is wholly appropriate for a politician or an agent of social change. Personally, I don't know is theology. I don't even really know is politics. But I do think a mountain has been made of this molehill. And it comes down to a media that is thirsty for a villain.

I was earlier reading a debate on why do we lump the whole Muslim religion in with the acts of extremist terrorists, but we don't do the same for Christians or other religious groups? Now the example given was weak, and draws a firm distinction between religion and nationalism. But as hostile as our culture seems to be towards Christianity, the media still doesn't paint with the broad brush of saying that Rev. Wright represents Christianity as a whole, nor does Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson, Fred Phelps, Warren Jeffs, or Joel Osteen. But they make good news.

So here was an opportunity for a proclaimed man of God to have the national stage, politics aside. His introduction too, given I think by Rev. Wendell Anthony (they don't show the introduction as often as replays of Wright's speech) was a fiery "sermon" describing a God of hope, not of hate; of peace, not of war; and of unity, not of division and a servant of God, in Wright, that continues a long tradition in Christianity of "troubling the waters". This was a unique forum for Ambassadors of Christ to a world increasingly hostile to religion permeating a diverse culture. Combined with the extensive press Pope Benedict XVI received a week ago, and you could argue that Christianity is finding itself in a rare positive light.

Positive, because these headlines aren't being dominated by homophobia, war-mongering, race-baiting, blue or red, corruption, or scandal. Instead the headlines are about humility, change, and hope. Despite theology, denomination, or political affiliation, I would argue that God is being glorified by these men and these opportunities. And for that, I say Amen! Do I agree with everything they say? Of course not, but it doesn't matter because as Paul wrote, "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

See the Holy See Pt 2

I was able to listen to the ceremonies at the White House this morning (thank you XM Radio!) and I’ll post thoughts on that later after I have a chance to review the transcripts.

But I wanted to first follow up on the Newsweek article I linked last night. I want to primarily talk about the role of the Pope as a political and moral authority on the world stage. I’m no papal historian, so I just want to pull some quotes from the article and comment.

There are centuries of history tying the papacy to politics, empire building, wars, and corruption. But more recently, with less explicit political power, the Popes of the 20th Century have been agents of positive change helping WWI refugees, opposing Nazism and communism, and advocating what John Paul II frequently called the “Culture of Life.” Now the first Pope of the 21st Century, Pope Benedict XVI has some awfully big shoes to fill.

The Newsweek article points to John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979 as a watershed event in global politics not appreciated or recognized at the time. It wasn’t until the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Politburo collapsed that hindsight saw his visit as the catalyst that gave birth to the Solidarity movement. What’s striking about that visit, the article notes, was how Pope John Paul II never talked specifically about politics or economics. Rather, he focused on the country’s religious history and identity.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Lecture on Faith and Reason in 2006 is compared to JPII’s Poland visit by Newsweek as Benedict’s first geo-political battle. His statements are often reported in the press as insensitive, feeding anti-Muslim sentiment while fueling Islamic extremism. Yet the article points out that the opposite is really true and how it has forced Muslim leaders to look inward in the fight against Islamists.

Such an accomplishment sounds impossible in a world where it is widely felt that, “religious and moral conviction is irrelevant to shaping the flow of contemporary history. They may give meaning to individual lives; but change history? Please. The world has outgrown that.”

I think both John Paul II and Benedict XVI look like religious leaders should. Instead of directly attacking the current headline, they appeal to people’s hearts by applying the Gospel. Instead of debating red or blue, they address human nature and the power of the resurrection. Division of church and state? This approach is far from the theocracy that so many Americans fear and should be used as examples of how our candidates should approach their faith- as moral compasses, not policy defining.

The article continues to compare Benedict to John Paul in terms of the long range influence of their theology. The author notes how popular John Paul II’s encyclicals are in seminaries, but notes that should short change what the current Pope offers. Where I’ve come to admire Pope Benedict XVI the most is how his writings are Christ, not Church, centered. His is a theology, much like his predecessor’s, that can be embraced by Christianity as a whole.

One example from the article describes how a child asked how Jesus could be present in the Eucharist when we can’t see him. Transubstantiation is disputed in Protestant churches, but the Pope didn’t bog his answer down in that debate. Instead he replied, “No, we cannot see him; there are many things we do not see, but they exist and are essential … We do not see an electric current; yet we see that it exists. We can see that this microphone is working, and we see lights. We do not see the very deepest things, those that really sustain life and the world, but we can see and feel their effects … So it is with the Risen Lord: we do not see him with our eyes, but we see that wherever Jesus is, people change, they improve, there is a greater capacity for peace, for reconciliation …" And that answer, I believe, can be embraced by Catholic and Protestant alike.

Likewise another child asked about having to go to confession. Again, the Pope didn’t reply by answering, “whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven and whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven,” and defending the role of the priesthood. Instead he described confession much like grace was described during the sermon at my church a couple of weeks ago. "It's very helpful to confess with a certain regularity. It is true: our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same … Otherwise the dirt might not be seen, but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, about me: if I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I'm always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must work hard to improve …"

I just read a thread on a message board mocking the current Pope- comparing him to Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, harping on his involvement in the Hitler Youth, and noting how he’s “soooo much more boring than the last guy!” But those close to Benedict note that still waters run deep, and that while he may not have the magnetic personality of John Paul II he has a depth of practical theology that more than makes up for it. I happen to agree. And I look forward to this Pope being an Ambassador of Christ on the world stage.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

See the Holy See

Today, Pope Benedict XVI stepped on American soil for the first time. Despite his timing, it is not a political trip in the truest sense but is purely business, speaking at the United Nations marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. See a rundown of his itinerary here.

I'm following this visit with great interest. I grew up Catholic, was a good altar boy (spare the jokes), was Deputy Grand Knight of my campus Knights of Columbus, and saw, within spitting distance, Pope JPII when he visited Denver for World Youth Day. The book "His Holiness" continues to inspire me despite my lapsing from the Catholic faith and embracing what I feel to be a truer (evangelical? fundamentalist?) Christianity. When John Paul the Second passed away, I watched with breathless anticipation the selection of the new Pope, praying that his predecessor would follow his footsteps in leading the Catholic church in a more ecumenical, less traditional direction. While staunchly conservative (not necessarily in the political sense) Catholics cheered the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger I was skeptical of the "Pope's Rottweiler". And to be honest, I haven't followed him much since with the exception of applauding his statements in Regensburg, Germany where he "suggested that Islam had lost its reason and the West had lost its faith."

So I read with joy this article in Newsweek on the Pope's evolving role on the world geo-political stage. I'll be back later with more comments on the article, but encourage you to also follow the Pope's visit through the On Faith blogs linked here and over on the right.

Where have I been?

Well after my post "Coming of Age" the Feds logged my IP and that led them to my compound in Texas.

Ok, not really, but I didn't want the point I was trying to make to get blurred with the Warren Jeffs craziness that is happening in Texas. For the record, I don't advocate teenagers having sex although to some degree it should be expected. I also don't advocate pre-marital sex, so unless I'm advocating marrying teens and preteens, you can't make the connection.

Which leads me to Jeffs. What they're doing is wrong. My point about teenagers being mature enough to be held accountable spiritually also means they're mature enough to be held accountable sexually, but our culture has drawn an artificial line on what is considered sexually appropriate. Now we have to be careful in defining what is acceptable based on social norms, especially with the growing acceptance of homosexuality. But as Christians, we are also required to follow the law of the land unless it violates God's sovereign will. And presently, that means there are age limitations on when consensual sex is acceptable and also how marriage is defined.

The Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints is outdated and anathema to the Mormon church. But are their First Amendment rights to worship as they please being infringed upon by their children being taken away? Maybe. You could argue that we still have to follow the law of the land as stated above, but the courts have allowed peyote to be used in Native American worship and there are some "churches" out there who are trying to use that argument to justify smoking pot. How is this different? Technically it's not. But sex is more taboo in our culture than drug use, despite its glorification in our media. But that taboo is becoming less and less so as our culture advances.

The First Century Church was considered a cult because they didn't follow the social norms of Rome with regards to monogamy and child rearing. But the Church didn't change and the culture eventually did. We can only hope and pray the same comes true today, but we're up against long odds. We need to define our behavior, not by the culture but by the Bible. And in Jeffs' case, there's no Biblical justification for their lifestyle. So for that, they should be shunned both by the mainstream culture and by the mainstream christian church.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I was going to post a long rant about the YouTube videos of Sen. Obama’s pastor that have been making news lately. Even though the news broke a couple of weeks ago, it’s still a hot topic by bloggers so I’ll leave the rants up to them. I recommend these two from the Newsweek/Washington Post “On Faith” blog portal, these three from the beliefnet “god-o-meter” this one from Christopher Hitchens at Slate, these two from the Independent Conservative, and finally ones from ABC News and the LA Times.

I’ll only add that what I’ve seen on YouTube shouldn’t be preached from the pulpit. I also recognize that we’re seeing three minutes of 30 years of preaching. But I have a rule of thumb regarding this, and the same rule applies to all preachers across the political and racial spectrum from Pat Robertson to Jessie Jackson. What is preached from the pulpit should 1) give insight on the nature of God, 2) describe God’s relationship with us and/or vise versa, 3) edify and encourage the congregation using scripture (i.e. strengthening the church: 1 Corinthians 14), 4) instruct the church on living Christ-like lives or 5) lead others to a saving relationship with Jesus. If a subject doesn’t do any of the above, it shouldn’t be preached.

Hold a press conference if you want or host a TV or a radio show. But remember the words of Paul, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13:1-3

To me, Reverend Wright is just a clanging cymbal. But isn’t he doing #3 above, you might ask? Well, where’s the love that Paul talks about? I wrote about this before, and this is what I think Trinity Church should be doing. Maybe they are, but our media loves a scandal and this makes much better news than reflecting God's glory.