Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Politics in the pulpit"

These words mark the header in the "The U.S. at a glance..." section of this week's issue of The Week Magazine (a great way to get your news in a quickly digestable form).  Apparently a group of pastors who are part of a group called Alliance Defending Freedom (whatever that means) plan to endorse political candidates from their pulpits on October 7th, and then send videos of said endorsements to the IRS, basically daring them to remove their tax exempt status.

I hope the IRS throws the book at them, and I don't want to hear anything about how oppressed Christians are in our hedonistic culture, blah, blah, blah.  The law is clear.  Churches and other non-profits are exempt from paying any income tax or sales tax as long as they don't endorse particular candidates.  Throw the book at 'em.

Are you telling me that there aren't enough major issues facing the world today that those preachers could preach about? 

Besides all the legal stuff, to stand in the pulpit and endorse a human candidate for office smacks of idolatry and lack of faith to me.  As Christians, we are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom or Realm of God, not the United States of America.  The voice of the prophet is one who calls us to follow the ways of God, especially as we witness God's actions in Jesus Christ.  To do otherwise is an abuse of the privilege granted to those of us who dare to stand behind a pulpit (or music stand in some cases).

Open questions to those pastors: In whom does your faith lie?   

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A week of atonement

This week is brought to you by A Better Atonement.

This post is inspired by three things:
Within the podcast and in his book, Tony Jones offers wonderful, articulate, valid critiques of many traditional theories of atonement, especially Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA).  Basically, he challenges his readers to consider alternative ways of explaining just what meaning we make out of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I'll let you check him out to learn more.

Then, I attended an event advertised as a worship service.  It consisted of standing in a room with a band leading us in song for over an hour.  Two scripture passages were read that were seemingly unrelated to any of the songs we were singing, and no attempt to expound on said scripture was made.  Practically every song promoted PSA (you know, Jesus took the blame, God's wrath is satisfied, Jesus-you're awesome because you died for me), or talked about elevating God above everything else, or threw around holy, worthy, and glorious so much they lost all meaning.  To be fair, we did sing Be Thou My Vision, and My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.  The final hymn to go home on was How Deep the Father's Love For Us (find the lyrics here) in which we are reminded of our wretchedness, our blame for the crucifixion, and about the unspecified reward we have received because of the gruesome event of the cross.

I left feeling convicted that there is a great need to introduce people, through song, liturgy, and preaching to alternative views of the incarnational event and thus the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I found myself wondering if God might actually be a bit embarrassed by some of the so-called praise songs that are sung in God's name.  Does God delight in "Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other Our God is Healer, awesome and power Our God, Our God..."?  What happened to Christ being found in the least of these? Does God want us to sing about how wretched we are to God except for Jesus changing the channel with the cross?

To quote Tony Jones as he addresses those who claim the wrath of God: "So it seems odd to first have to convince people that God's wrath burns against them, then to convince them that Jesus lovingly took on that wrath."

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Just like the movie Dave

Tis the season for children to buy notebooks, pencils, erasers, and Trapper Keepers (OK, maybe not anymore) in preparation for the return to school.  Working parents breathe a sigh of relief, knowing their children will be in school for the bulk of the day, while stay-at-home parents make plans to put the house back together after a summer of good times.

Well, this isn't the case in Sumner County, TN.  The school board submitted their annual budget to the county commissioners, and they waited until the week before school to say, "Nope.  You need to do it again, and this time cut 7.5 million dollars."  They did this after asking for similar cuts for the past few years.  The school board pushed back and said they are already running at minimum capacity and that further cuts will adversely affect education of students.  Currently, school is on hold while the school board and county commissioners try to work out a deal.

And now I'll get to the title of this post.  I have become utterly convinced that many Americans, especially the Tea Party, No More Taxes, and No Big Government types think that all government agencies, including school boards just need to call in somebody's loveable family accountant to look at the budget and find all of the ridiculous spending that's clearly ridiculous and wrong headed.  This happens in the movie Dave, starring Kevin Cline, and he's able to find 10 million dollars or so in the budget to fund a a program for needy children. 

Here's the problem, though.  That's hollywood and this is the real world.  I would imagine that if the loveable family accountant were to sit down with the school board and work through their budget, he/she wouldn't find much that's clearly ridiculous.  The county commissioners suggested lowering teacher pay.  Seriously?  Because they're really raking it in.  Somehow we're all fans of eliminating teacher tenure and placing government mandated restrictions on what they teach and how they teach, while also placing a cap on how much they get paid, and yet when one makes the exact same argument for running health care that way, people throw a total hissy fit.  Let's compare the rhetoric surrounding health care and education:

Health Care:
"Nobody will want to be a doctor if you limit pay. We have to pay the most money possible to get the best possible candidates!"  "I don't want a gu-ment bean counter controlling my health care!" "Rationing health care is bad."

"We need to get a handle on what those public schools are teaching our kids." "Being a teacher is a calling...they should understand that we can't afford to pay them very much." "Make due with limited resources and outdated equipment/books/supplies"

OK, I'm about to seriously go on a rant, so I'll wrap it up for now.  I would simply love for some logical consistency as people make their arguments for or against the role of government in society.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Atonement vs. Reconciliation

Today's Daily Lectionary reading from the Old Testament is Leviticus 16:20-34 in which instructions continue for how Aaron, as the priest of the Israelites, will deal with the sins of the people. This is where the practice of the "scape goat" is established. I've been using the newly published Common English Bible for my daily scripture reading/prayer time, and I am often pleasantly surprised by the choices made by the translators. For example, verse 30 reads, "On that day reconciliation will be made for you in order to cleanse you. You will be clean before the Lord from all your sins." In the NRSV, the word is atonement, not reconciliation. As the passage continues, Aaron continues to make reconciliation instead of atonement.

To my knowledge, this translation is the result of the input of many scholars from varied traditions, and they claim to be making an effort at an accurate, readable translation. When they vary from the Greek or Hebrew, they note that (unlike the NIV which just changes it). While some Hebrew scholars might take issue with reconciliation as a substitute word for atonement, I think it's a wonderful move. It implies the healing of an ongoing relationship rather than the payment of some debt owed. I wonder how different discussions of salvation and the removal of sins might be if we rooted ourselves in the word reconciliation instead of atonement.

For additional reading, check out Tony Jones blog series on rethinking atonement: Tony Jones Atonement