Tag Archives: Politics

Opposition is Inevitable

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that [Jesus] drives out demons.”
Matthew 9:34 (NIV)

One of the things I have noticed over recent years is the divergent poles of political thought on both sides of the political spectrum. One side thinks that everything they believe is “all good” and whatever the opposition believes is “all bad.” Those in the middle who desire to seek compromise are pulled apart by the extremes on both sides. No matter what good any one tries to do or say, they are immediately attacked, slandered, criticized and their thoughts summarily dismissed.

I found it interesting that amidst Jesus’ unprecedented display of divine power and love He experiences criticism and negativity on all sides.

  • Jesus extends forgiveness to a paralytic, then heals the man … and the religious leaders dismiss Him a blasphemer.
  • Jesus shows love in reaching out to Matthew, the tax collector, and his friends … and He is condemned by the religious leaders for being with sinners, and criticized by the disciples of John the Baptist for partying and not fasting.
  • Jesus arrives to raise the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead … and He is laughed at by the mourners gathered there.
  • Jesus quietly heals two blind men, restoring their sight. He asks only that they keep quiet about it … and they do the opposite of what Jesus asked.
  • Jesus casts out a demon who had made a man mute … and the good religious people said that Jesus must be the Prince of Demons.

Along life’s road I have come to understand that you can do nothing worthwhile in this world without being criticized and condemned by somebody. Opposition is inevitable in this world, even to the things of God’s Spirit. Today I witness Jesus, who is healing, forgiving, loving, raising the dead and releasing people from spiritual bondage. At every turn He is being criticized, dismissed, ignored, laughed at, and condemned.

Why should I think that it would be any different for me?

This morning I’m reminded that no matter where Jesus leads and no matter what I am called to do, I will encounter some measure of doubt, criticism, hatred and opposition. My job is to press on, keep my eyes focused on Jesus, and to love even those who criticize me for it.

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

Just Like Yesterday

“What troubles you now,
    that you have all gone up on the roofs….”
Isaiah 22:1 (NIV)

I have a very clear memory of an episode of Happy Days, the iconic sitcom about American life in the 1950’s. Ron Howard’s character, Richie, along with his friends go all-in campaigning for Adlai Stevenson. Richie even falls for a girl in the campaign office. At the end of the episode Richie comes home heartbroken when his new girlfriend says she can’t see him anymore because he’ll only remind her of Stevenson’s defeat. He returns home and his parents inform him that Eisenhower was declared the winner. It was one of my first lessons in the roller coaster of American politics.

I grew up in the angst of the Watergate scandal. I remember in high school and college the heated anger toward Reagan from the left and assurances that he would lead to America’s demise. I remember the same predictions on the right, and conservatives threatening to leave the country if Bill Clinton won. The same things are now being said on the left these days.

As a student of history I have learned that the political pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth. One of the amazing things about the way the American Founding Fathers designed our system was the opportunity we have every four years to go a different direction, and how often we do exactly that.

Isaiah’s prophetic word this morning was for a generation of people in Jerusalem who were experiencing political upheaval much greater and more dire than anything we are experiencing this morning. The siege of Jerusalem would end in mass death, starvation leading to cannibalism, and the enslavement and captivity of an entire generation of people (read Lamentations for Jeremiah’s poetic take on those terrible events).

As I wake in my hotel this morning my day is starting pretty much the way it did yesterday, the way it did when I started this job in the Clinton years, the way it did after 9-11, the way it did during the eight years of the Bush administration, and the way it did for eight years under President Obama.

America, in its relatively short history, has proven to be incredibly flexible and resilient. I don’t see that changing. Richie Cunningham may have suffered the defeat of Stevenson, but the election of JFK was just around the corner as America left the stodgy Eisenhower to embrace a new political generation. Happy Days ended long before it could tell that story, just as Isaiah’s prophecy would end long before he would witness the restoration of Jerusalem whose destruction he prophesied. No matter how you feel about the election results this morning, you can be assured that the story will continue.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to work. Just like yesterday.

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

…seek righteousness, seek humility;
Zephaniah 2:3b

I have been making my plodding, repetitive trek through God’s Message for 35 years. One of the fascinating things I’ve experienced is the way in which it always seems to meet me right where I am on life’s road. The Message doesn’t change, but I change and my waypoint in the journey changes each time I return to a book, chapter, or verse. I get something new out of it each time.

Like most Americans, I’m finding myself caught off guard by our current political landscape. I’ve never experienced anything like it in and find myself daily scratching my head at the headlines and Presidential polls. A trash-talking, ego-driven reality t.v. celebrity who says things that would get any middle schooler running for Student Council expelled is one of our leading candidates. Amazing.

Perhaps that is why Zephaniah’s admonishment leapt off the page at me this morning. I acutely feel a desire to find more individuals on every gradient of the political spectrum who honestly and sincerely are seeking to do the right thing while at the same time seeking humility in their quest. It’s easy to find arrogance. It’s easy to find insults hurled at others. It’s easy to find trash talking and people screaming at each other (at the same time) from opposite sides of the issues. We have these things in abundance.

Today, what I seek are individuals willing to have respectful dialogue, willing to humbly listen to other opinions, willing to agree to disagree, and willing to hammer out compromises. Of course, I cannot control Presidential candidates or news channels or others. I can only control my own thoughts, words, actions and relationships. So I will continue to seek to do the right thing, and persevere in choosing humility.

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Featured image: gageskidmore via Flickr

Flip, Flop, Fib, and Fake

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
John 19:12 (NRSV)

Last night Wendy and I watched the end of the Presidential debate as we prepared for bed. It gave both of us a good laugh to watch seemingly intelligent people flip, flop, fib, and forestall. Amazing how so many people can evade so many direct questions. It does not matter what side of the political spectrum you lean. The truth is that both sides of the political spectrum will argue whatever is expedient to their momentary political need, even if it is 180 degrees from where they stood months or years ago when the political situation was reversed.

This is all fresh in my mind this morning as I read the chapter of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Make no mistake. The entire series of kangaroo court trials that Jesus went through were political in nature. Jesus threatened the power of the Jewish religious leaders and their economic cash cow in the Jerusalem temple. The trials started at the home of Annas who was the father-in-law of the current High Priest, Caiaphas. There were two reasons for this private questioning. First, Annas was the power behind the throne. He was the Godfather, and Caiaphas was his puppet. Second, Caiaphas was quickly and dutifully trying to assemble a quorum of their tribunal body, the Sanhedrin, to render verdict on Jesus. Of course, this was all done in the middle of the night which was against their laws, but in Watergate like fashion they found it politically expedient to fudge those laws because they wanted this to be done quickly and out of the public eye. Caiaphas was, no doubt, stacking the quorum with those who leaned against Jesus politically.

The leaders had another problem. They wanted Jesus put to death, but they had no authority to do it under Roman rule. The Roman Empire was the occupying force in Palestine. They were the ultimate authority and Pilate, as the Roman Governor, was the only man who could legally give the order to execute Jesus. So, the Jewish leaders had two choices. One was to have Jesus assassinated, which risked huge social and political backlash given Jesus’ popularity. The other was to convince Pilate to crucify Jesus under Roman law. The problem with that was there was nothing Jesus had done that really mattered to the Romans.

Now the Jews hated the Romans the way any people hate any occupying force. The French and Dutch hated the Nazis when they were the occupying force in World War II. The Ukrainians hate the Russians right now. So, what is fascinating in today’s chapter is to watch the political machination the Jewish leaders make to the Roman Governor.

First, make the appeal and hopefully Pilate’s in a good mood and will do what we ask. “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have brought him to you.” You can trust us, Pilate. Jesus is a bad guy. Just give the order.

But, after questioning, Pilate finds no reason to execute Jesus.

Next tactic, apply social pressure. Whip up the mob to convince Pilate that executing Jesus is the expedient thing to do. It was still early, remember, and the leaders had already been working for hours to assemble a sympathetic crowd of Jesus’ enemies. Make a big public demonstration. Make it loud. Chant. Threaten social unrest. The crowd begins to chant and shout for Jesus’ execution.

Pilate is scratching his head. This makes no sense, but the pressure  is enough to prompt further questioning. He questions Jesus and still finds no reason to have him crucified. Pilate tries to give Jesus back to the Jewish leaders and give them permission to crucify the Nazarene themselves.

The Jewish leaders, however, know that it would be political suicide to kill Jesus themselves. Their poll numbers would plummet. The ignorant masses would turn against them. They had to have their enemy, Pilate, give the order. Pilate questions Jesus again. The Roman Governor recognizes that he is caught in a political trap. Jesus does not deserve death, but the leaders of the opposition could make his life hell if he doesn’t do what they want. Once again he pleads for Jesus release.

The Jewish leaders sense Pilate’s hesitation and fear things are going against them, so they make the argument “Jesus claimed to be King, so that is treason to the Roman Emperor.” This is ridiculous. The Jewish leaders didn’t care what Caesar thought or about treason against Rome. They’ve suddenly become Roman patriots? This is pure political expediency and it’s cunning. By making this accusation they are telling Pilate that they could appeal to Caesar and tell the Emperor that Pilate ignored a threat to Rome. When Pilate still seems unconvinced, the Jewish leaders go all in and pledge loyalty to their enemy: “We have no king but the emperor.

Pilate was politically trapped and he knew it. He needed to keep the peace in Palestine at all costs and, reluctantly, he is compelled to make Jesus the sacrificial lamb to keep that peace.

Today I’m thinking about politics and elections and appointments and history. Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world, and as a follower of Jesus I find myself constantly struggling with tension between two kingdoms. God both tells me to be mindful of, and obedient in, my citizenship in His kingdom and also my citizenship to the rulers and authorities I find myself under in this world. I look at the Presidential candidates across the entire ideological spectrum and perceive the entire lot are flippers, floppers, fibbers, and ego driven fakers.

God, give me wisdom, and please…have mercy on us.

 

The Great Debate

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
John 8:58 (NRSV)

In yesterday’s post, I got to thinking about the events John describes in the context of our own contemporary presidential election in the United States. I’d like to extend the metaphor today because you can’t truly understand the context of the events in today’s chapter without understanding that there is an on-going political debate taking place. The issues being debated are the very two questions with which I ended yesterday’s post:

  1. Who is Jesus?
  2. What do we do with Him?

It’s also important to understand that the party officials, the Jewish religious leaders, were all lawyers. They acted much like Supreme Court justices interpreting our Constitution, only they were legal experts interpreting the Law of Moses (all the religious rules and regulations in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, et al). These lawyers were also in political, social, and economic control of the Jewish people under Roman occupation, and of the Temple. These legal, religious, political officials were threatened by Jesus for a number of reasons.

First, Jesus was highly critical of these political, religious lawyers (in today’s debate Jesus calls them children of the Devil). Second, Jesus’ teaching and actions were a tectonic paradigm shift that cut against the grain of the ruling party’s conservative, narrow interpretation of what God desires and expects of His followers. This threatened their thought control over the populace. Finally (and getting to the real crux of the matter), Jesus was also extremely popular and it was creating social unrest that threatened these lawyers political and social control. Their power, authority, and economic cash cow was threatened (think of it like one of our political parties who might lose their control over Congress).

And so, as Jesus is in the Temple teaching, these legal/political/religious party officials send waves of lawyers to debate Jesus on a variety of issues. Their goal is to trap Jesus into saying something that would give them authority, according to their almighty law, to arrest and kill the young troublemaker from Nazareth.

First, they send a woman caught in adultery who, by law, should be stoned to death for her crime. The legal team, however, seemed to forget that the law calls for both the woman and her adulterous lover to be condemned. Jesus, however, refuses to debate the jots and tittles of the legal issues. He simply highlights the accusers own sin and hypocrisy, publicly shaming them into abandoning their blood fury.

The next legal team questions  the claims Jesus has been making about Himself on the grounds that the law requires two witnesses. Jesus counters that God, the Father, is His second witness. He adds that if the lawyers would get their heads out of the law and sought to  know the Father (author of the law), they would understand this.

Finally, the lawyers ask Jesus point-blank who He is. Jesus once again offers cryptic answers to the direct question, stating that they will know for sure “when you have lifted up the Son of Man” (a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus’ own crucifixion).

The audience is impressed with Jesus’ dismantling of the lawyers’ arguments. The debate is going Jesus’ way, and many of the Jews in the audience decide to switch their party affiliation and join Jesus’ camp.

The debate now shifts and Jesus goes on the offensive. Like all good politicians, the ruling legal officials liked to align themselves with the beloved, historical pillars of the party. They were known for calling themselves “children of Abraham” and draping the mantel of Abraham’s legacy around their shoulders. Jesus questions their hypocrisy, asking why they have been in their smoke filled back rooms plotting to kill Him.

The debate quickly spirals into back and forth name-calling (sound familiar?). The lawyers hold fast to their “Children of Abraham” branding. Jesus counters by accusing them of being murderers. The lawyers raise their own Abraham claim and double down, claiming that God is their father. Jesus counters that the devil is, in fact, their father because, like the devil, the evidence proves they are all liars and murderers. The lawyers, now really pissed off, counter by calling Jesus a demon and then throw in a racial epithet by throwing out rumors (from the internet, no doubt) that Jesus is a actually a half-breed Samaritan.

Jesus then shifts the debate once more, this time claiming that He personally knows their beloved Abraham (to wit: “I knew Abraham. Abraham is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no child of Abraham.”), and that Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ take up His campaign. The legal team scoffs. This is ludicrous and insane. Abraham lived over a thousands years ago. How could Jesus actually know Abraham?

Jesus ends the debate with the most headline grabbing, jaw-dropping, topic trending statement of all. Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Only, in the Hebrew language Jesus used the word that is transliterated into English: “Yaweh.” Yahweh is the name God gave to Moses on the mountain when Moses asked who He was (See Exodus chapter 3). Yaweh was the unutterable, sacred, holy name of God. To the Jews, Yaweh was forever to be considered “He-who-must-not-be-named.” In saying “Yaweh” Jesus both directly claimed that He was God and gave his political opponents their legal grounds to pounce. And, pounce they did. The lawyers suddenly became executioners. They immediately picked up the stones (perhaps the dropped stones intended for the adulterous woman) to carry out swift justice.

Today, I am reminded that I am reading the testimony of a member of Jesus’ own inner circle, John, who was a first-hand original source witness of this debate. I am struck by the fact that Jesus seemed to foreknow the way these events were going to play out, and ultimately contributed to their outcome. I am, once again, reminded that Jesus claimed to be God. If Jesus wasn’t lying, and if He wasn’t crazy, then I’m left to accept that He was exactly who He claimed to be. And, I’m left to make up my own mind about the second issue of the debate: What am I going to do with Him?

 

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Resuscitating a Worn Out Phrase

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
John 3:5 (NRSV)

I find it fascinating how some words or phrases take on unintended meanings. As I follow the media coverage of the presidential elections, I will on occasion hear those in the media labeling people, or groups of people, as “Born Again” Christians. The phrase became popular back in the 1970s when Chuck Colson, a convicted Watergate conspirator, wrote a book entitled Born Again to tell the story of his own spiritual rebirth. Now when the label is used by members of the media, I get the feeling that the intended image is that of a narrow-minded, widely ignorant, politically conservative, socially repressed minion blindly leading some televangelist. While there are definitely people who fit that description, I find it sad that they seem to have become synonymous with the term “born again” because it empties the phrase of its intensely powerful meaning.

The phrase “born again” did not originate with Chuck Colson or evangelical Christians. It comes directly from Jesus, and it’s found in today’s chapter. Jesus was having a conversation with a religious man name Nicodemus and he simply makes the statement that if you want to enter God’s kingdom you must experience a rebirth.

The idea of rebirth is not new and it wasn’t new when Jesus said it to Nicodemus. It’s a theme woven into the tapestry of time and creation, and even Jesus seemed a bit frustrated that Nic was perplexed by something so spiritually elementary. Every year lifeless seeds buried in the ground bear life from the ground in the spring, grow to maturity in the heat of the summer, bear fruit during autumn’s harvest, then die and decompose in the harshness of winter. Spring is an annual, seasonal rebirth. Each week we start on Monday and work towards Friday night when we can take a break, end the week and start a new one. Every night we go to bed in darkness, enter the oblivion of sleep then with the break of light and the dawn we start a new day.

“Wait ’til next year.”
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“This is only for a season.”
“I just have to get through this week.”

God layers the Great Story with this theme of rebirth. The final chapters speak of a new heaven and new earth, and God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (btw, the reference to that verse was embedded in the the crux of my first tat). So, it should not be a surprise that Jesus tells Nicodemus that one of the basic realities and necessities of God’s Kingdom is a rebirth of Spirit, a new start, a new season, a spiritual new beginning. It has nothing to do with political affiliation, demographics, denomination, or attending church. What Jesus was saying was simple and organic: those facing a dead end need a new start, anyone whose spirit is languishing in darkness needs a new day to dawn, those whose hearts are frozen need the thaw of Spring, everyone who is dead in their sin and shame need to experience the power of a spiritual resurrection.

Today, I’m feeling the desire to breath new life into the worn out phrase “born again.”

Caucuses, Circuses, and the Crowd

But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to [the crowd], because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
John 2:24-25 (NRSV)

I must admit that Wendy and I are enjoying the blissful serenity of our evenings now that the Iowa Caucuses are over. For the past few months we have been accosted nightly by political ads, surveys and invitations to town hall meetings.  The media circus combined with the daily candidate rallies get a little old after a while.

It is, I admit, fascinating to watch the side-show which is our presidential election process. Candidates mug for the press and try to create media buzz. Depending on the poll of the hour, the candidates might flip on this issue and flop on that latest trending topic. Every one of them is looking for an edge to swing the crowds to their camp on caucus night.

Perhaps the fresh memory of such things are what caused the verses above to leap of the page at me this morning. John relates two distinct stories from the vast reservoir of stories he could have drawn upon. In the first story, Jesus is reluctant to perform a miracle doing so only at the passive aggressive insistence of His mother. In the second story, Jesus creates a scene at the temple which was sure to make headlines and create buzz. John is careful to note two things about this noteworthy event. First, he makes clear that Jesus’ motivation was sincere zealousness, born out of the corruption and racketeering Jesus witnessed in what was supposed to be a place of holiness. Second, Jesus was not trying to start a political movement or swing the crowd to caucus for Him. He didn’t trust the crowd.

This morning I am reminded of a few specific moments along my life journey. I have felt surges of popularity (albeit relatively small) and I have felt the sting of others turning their backs on me. The experiences are enough to teach me that trying to consistently win the approval of the crowd is a maddening, and largely vain, pursuit. Though, one simply needs to follow the travails of our presidential candidates for a few weeks to see the truth of it. I’m glad that Jesus was more interested in doing what was right than in doing what was popular with the crowd. That’s the example I continuously endeavor to follow.

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