by The Rev. David R. Henson
There is no longer a war on hunger in this country
There is no longer a war on poverty.
There is a war on the hungry.
There is a war on the poor.
It is being waged all over the country with the most recent — and visible — battle coming from Raleigh, N.C. and the now-viral incident with the Rev. Hugh Hollowell
’s Love Wins
It’s ironic, really.
Conservatives love to tell folks that the best way to end poverty, homelessness, and need in our country is through the work and generosity of private individuals and private donations, not through government programs.
The answer, they say, is charity.
Yet in a stroke of cruel hypocrisy, when charities actually address these issues in real life, they aren’t commended for their work.
Rather, they are threatened with arrest.
(This article is also posted as audio file read by the author at the end of the post).
Dear John and Jane Public,
Honestly, don't fret over it. I get it. Dear God, I get it. You've found a new god. Truthfully, I've seen this coming for awhile. I tried to deny it. I even tried to change it. (I have to admit, even in all my divine wisdom, I just did not see the whole MLK, contemporary prophet thing not working. But humans, YOU try to figure them out).
You know, there was a brief time there, just after 9/11 that I thought we were going to make it. I really thought you finally “got it.” In the midst of chaos you sought out community. In the midst of anger and fear you united over differences and seemed to be hoping for a greater good. Good times. Hopeful, even.
It's OK, I understand why the new god in your life is so appealing. Sure, it hurts a little, but c'mon, I'm God. Seriously, I'll be OK. This new god of yours is all shiny and is promising you “prosperity.” Let's face it, the certitude of the “prosperity” your new god offers has a particular kind of appeal that the hope of love, peace and grace that I offer you just can't touch. This new God of yours, he offers you everything without sacrifice (well, without sacrifice on your part; others will pay quite dearly), and admittedly I ask a lot of you. I ask you to lay down your life for the sake of others. I ask you to love your enemies and to be a servant of all. Honestly, I get why you want to be with him.
In a lot of ways, it's better like this for now. This relationship between us hasn't been very good for me either. Don't get me wrong, I still love you. You have no idea. But, honestly, you've been more of a user of me than a follower of me. I thought Jesus put it about as clearly as possible when he said, “you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Really, I thought that was pretty clear, but like I said, “Humans, YOU try to figure them out.” You post My name on your money and even added Me to your pledge, but you deny the sacrifice it takes to follow Me every time a child dies of hunger in your nation of plenty, every time a person dies of a curable disease for lack of health insurance, every time you kill people to show them that killing people is wrong. Did you realize that both corporate profits and the poverty rate are growing? That's one Hell of a problem... and I'm finally getting the message.
You know when I really knew it was over? Or at least when I finally admitted it to Myself? In the last two debates. Please, don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm God. I know you know. When they cheered for death. Twice. That's when I had to admit it. You see, I came to put an end to death, not celebrate it... at least not that way.
There were lots of tell tale signs. I just love you so much, so I guess I let myself overlook them. Take for instance, until recently it was only the things I created that were considered people, but now the things you've created are considered people. (How something as literally heartless as a Corporation can be treated as a person, in all of My infinite knowledge, I will never understand). I don't think you are actually playing God by doing it (much), but I do think you are denying Me and, in doing so, denying who I created you to be.
I'm not giving up, just giving in a bit, for now. I love you - so much. I will keep sending my prophets. You will know them by their love. If the people you follow are teaching you to hate and fear, to exclude people for any reason, then they are not sent by Me, even if they say they are. So, when your infatuation with this new god of extremism, nationalism, might-makes-right, and privilege is through using you... I'll still be here. Waiting. Loving.
My Peace, Love and Grace to you,
No time to read this article? Listen in while you work:
By request, this blog article is now available as a pdf.
Permission is granted for limited distribution "as is" with no altering.
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“In the beginning God created”...us. Shape it however you want, a fairy tale, the literal truth, a divine metaphor for evolution, Christians around the world believe that those words tell us the truth about our relationship with God no matter what our takes are in regards to their literary form. The Creation Stories in Genesis tell us that the life we have is a gift from God. The stories that follow in the 66 books which compile the Protestant Bible, particularly the life of Jesus, remind us that the only reasonable, the only rational response, to that gift, to that act of grace from God is to take care of the gift, including taking care of each other.
When it comes to church attendance, it would seem that the majority of church goers, have missed that point. They lean heavy to the political right and toward policies that actually do the opposite of caring for creation and each other.
Please note, I did not say “when it comes to most Christians.” Unfortunately, the variance between people who practice Christianity and people who attend church is wide and seems to be increasing. And yes, I speak from personal experience as a minister. There are churches, of course, that are bucking the trend, but there are far too few. And, yes, I am speaking from personal experience again.
And yes, your Christian beliefs should influence your politics. They should influence your relationships, your work life, the way you drive, the way you treat people with whom you disagree... every element of your life. If they do not, you are not taking “In the beginning God created” seriously enough. If you do not, you are not taking “no greater love has anyone than this, that they lay down their life for their friends” seriously enough.
Your Christian life is to be first, primary, and above all things in your life, even if it means you must leave a relationship as primary as family to do it: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” said Jesus.
I'm left to wonder if the Modern Day Jesus might not say to U.S. church goers that your Christian life is to be above all things in your life, even if it means you must leave a relationship as primary as your political party to do it: “Anyone who loves their political party more than me is not worthy of me.”
You don't have to like it. It is difficult and it will make your life less than... well, less than convenient. Which is, quite frankly, what many on the far right are truly interested in: a life that is easy and convenient – no pressure to give up what I have, even when others suffer, even if it cause others to suffer; no laws limiting my ability to excerpt power other others (a BIG biblical no-no); no strangers from a foreign land encroaching on my white-privilege... I think you get the picture.
You don't have to like it. It is difficult and it will make your life less than... well, less than convenient, but I think that is exactly what Jesus expected. Just read Mathew 10 as Jesus sends out the twelve disciples saying things like, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death,” “You will be hated by everyone because of me.” Christianity is antithetical to the far right's pursuit of an easy and convenient life.
Christianity is to be the filter through which all your life's perspectives and actions are filtered. Nothing comes before it and everything is viewed through it. You don't have to like it, and it will be difficult, but if you want to call yourself Christian, you do always have to attempt to do it. That does not mean fighting for a Christian nation, prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments posted on every open wall in government buildings. (In many ways it means the exact opposite of that).
Politically, it simply means voting for and supporting candidates who hold these things to be self evident, that all people were created equal, created equally by God. It means supporting candidates, who because of it, govern with a bias toward the least of these and with a disposition of love and caring toward all people regardless of sex, skin color, religion or lack of religion, nation of origin, sexual orientation, ability or disability, age, economic position, heath, employment, addiction... or any number of things for which the far right continue to try to penalize people.
“In the beginning God created”...us. Not you. Not me. Us. We are the children of God. If one of us suffers, we all suffer. If one of us is marginalized, we all suffer. If one of us goes hungry, we all suffer. We must stop pretending that Christianity is somehow different than that and start voting with our Christian filters on.
Religion and nations alike have bought, hook, line and sinker, into the myth of war. Not that war itself is a myth - clearly it is not. Rather, they bought into the myth that War can make things better. We have this convoluted idea that War is redemptive, that through acts of violence (whether they be preemptive or in retaliation) we can squash out... well, violence. Said differently, we genuinely believe that the path to peace (God's peaceable Kin-dom) is violence.
There is something sadly human about it. Possibly even, sadly masculine about it. From cartoons to video games, kids (particularly boys) not only buy into, but are instinctively drawn toward this myth, as we take on the role of "good guy" (after all, most of us want to believe that, in such a messed up world, at least we, ourselves, are “good”) and project our own less that laudable personality traits onto the bad guy. "You loser!" “You're nothing but a violent punk.” From pretending to be Superman in our backyard as kids to playing Call of Duty or even Angry Birds as grown ups, we have a deep inward desire (need?) to take on our perceived role as “good guy” and project our negative, violent, aggressive and even lustful behavior onto the villain (be they Lex Luthor or eggs stealing pigs... those nasty, rotten, mucus-nosed, structure-building, egg-stealing pigs... but I digress).
In a sort of sub-conscious psychological dance, we attempt to vanquish this world of all the evil we see in ourselves and in others through acts of physicality, violence and aggression which we justify by pointing to the higher good they achieve – ridding the world of nastiness and evil. That's the myth of redemptive violence. It says that violence can end violence, that war can make peace, that domination can usher in equality.
The reality of it is that it breeds. Violence breeds violence. War breeds war. Domination breeds domination. Superman never ushers in world peace. He keeps fighting the same battles over and over again.
It turns out, we already understand this reality of violence and war; we already intrinsically get that redemptive violence truly is a myth. Even as we played superheroes as kids, we understood that our actions would never really end the violence in the world. We knew that victory was temporary when it was won through force. We knew that Superman would never usher in world peace. We hoped for it, but we knew different. We cannot beat the demons within (or without) by calling on the very source of their power – namely, excerpting power over others.
As Christians we are called to practice the love of our enemy (even the one within). The concept is essentially “redemptive love.” Rather than practicing power over, it calls us to participate in power with. In short, Jesus calls us to stick with love. At all cost. Just look at his own life.
As for me, I've decided to go with the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King who once said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Dr. King's final speech, “I See The Promised Land,” was given on a stormy night which would become the eve of his assassination. He opened saying, “I'm delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.”
In his speech he imagined God giving him the option to live at any point in time. He soars through many of the peaks of history but ultimately tells God he choses to live in the second half of the twentieth century. He comments on his decision saying, “Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars... something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up...the cry is always the same-- 'We want to be free.'”
Sounds a lot like the first half of the twenty fist century to me. As Dr. king noted about his day and age, we too are “forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men [sic] have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it.” Dr. King tells us that the demands of the times now force us to do it. It is no longer, as he rightly points out, a question of violence and non-violence; it is a question of violence and nonexistence. Be they war and peace or human rights, these problems persist and so must we.
Not surprisingly, in his final speech, Dr. King gives us some sage advice for how we go about non-violently confronting these problems. It begins with staying united. Those of us who favor the side of peace and the promotion of all human rights must stay united. As he, points out with great historical acuity, when the Pharaoh needed to prolong slavery, he promoted disunity amongst the slaves. Unless we wish for all of humanity to continue to be enslaved to violence, unless we wish for select groups to continue to be abused and marginalized, we must stop our petty infighting and stand with a united voice that speaks out louder than any divisions based on nation, creed or educational background.
Dr. King also asked us to stay focused, to “keep the issues where they are.” We cannot be distracted by violence, name calling, holier-than-thou attitudes or hatred. We must be focused on our purpose – love. We must be brave and be bold in that purpose, but we must not let the seeds of hate take root in the fertile soil of righteousness. If we let them take root, it will grow into a thicket that will prevent us from reaching our goal. When we gather to non-violently oppose war and the abuse of human rights, the presence of violence, name calling, holier-than-thou attitudes and hatred only distract from the vision we are trying to cast. The vision will be obscured by our lack of focus on the message of love and while people will talk, they will talk about the hate and not about the core issue of debate. We must not be distracted.
To borrow from Dr. King, the question you must ask yourself is not, if I stop to help the victims of war and those whose civil rights are being ignored, what will happen to me? The question you should ask yourself is, if you do not, what will happen to them? You see, we must stay united and we must stay focused against the storm of violence and abuse of civil rights which continues to roll in on us from the mountaintops upon which the powerful sit. From Union busting to preemptive wars, a storm is brewing and it has been brewing.
Dr. King asks us the question, will you gather in spite of the coming storm? Will you unite? Will you stay focused? Are you determined to go on anyhow?
The Republican party has finally jumped the shark. “Jumping the shark” is a T.V. production term that refers to the “Happy Days” episode where Fonzy literally jumped a shark. It was originally meant to indicate a point at which a T.V. show's plot goes so far it becomes absurd. Colloquially, the term has come to mean the point at which a one time successful organization or project takes a turn for the worst.
A Republican group with a typically misleading name, Latinos for Reform (update: this group is backed by the Swift Boat people
), bought up $80,000 worth of ads on Univision in Nevada. They were not promoting all the good things the Republican party has done for the Latino community (how could they?). They were not making promises to the Latino community about how they will champion their causes (because they won't). They were trying to encourage them not to vote
Why? Because they, and I quote, they “can't ask people to support a Republican candidate who has taken a completely irresponsible and bordering on racist position on immigration.” So, they try to run an ad to encourage the Latino population not to vote. And (big surprise here) they aren't exactly upfront about why they are doing it.
The argument in the ad is basically, the Democrats haven't done anything for you, so show them a little something by just not voting at all.
Wow...just wow. The Republican party's willingness to manipulate reality all for the sake of a win speaks directly to their lack of respect for the citizens they are suppose to represent if elected. An ad that pretends to support the Latino community's cause is actually designed to do the opposite, insure that the person elected will continue actions that their supporters themselves call “irresponsible and bordering on racist.” Basically, they use double talk and false sincerity to encourage inaction, so that their candidate can win and promote racially motivated immigration law.
As far as I'm concerned, they jumped the shark on this one. Like them or not, just based on shear effectiveness alone, you have to admit that the Republicans are pretty good at the mudslinging and political double talk that has become unfortunately essential in a candidate’s T.V. ads. And they always manage to walk that line of deniability even when their accusations are out and out lies. This time they didn't. They jumped the shark in both understandings of the word. They crossed the line that that have so carefully walked for so long in their blatant disregard for the Latino community. In doing so their successful ad campaigns have clearly taken a turn for the worst. It also has taken a turn to the absurd.
Their false motivations, political lies and willingness to sacrifice truth for winning could not be clearer on this. I am astounded that the general public still manages to identify the Republicans as the most Christian party. Jesus was the truth. Those who play fast and loose with the truth do not follow Jesus. Jesus ' primary message was love. Those who step on the least of these do not understand what love of neighbor looks like. Jesus spent a great deal of his time with the marginalized. Those who would encourage a terribly underrepresented segment of our society to not vote clearly do not grasp the bias the Gospels have for the marginalized.
The ad that they planned to run asked the question, “aren't you tired of politicians playing games with your future?” Well, Univision certainly is. They decided not to run the ad
. Viva La Univision!
"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,and to walk humbly with your God?"
Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day
. The fact that we even have to have this day is a sad statement about how committed we are as a nation to justice and to equality. It is also a sad statement about the hate and fear-mongering that continues in this great nation. There are still untold numbers of people who must pass for someone they are not, out of fear for how they will be treated.
Yes, we live in a nation where, for some people, being the people God created them to be must be feared and hidden... “In God we trust,” indeed. Justice is blind? From what I've seen, it is not nearly blind enough.
In terms of seeking equal rights for our gay brothers and sisters, we have been traveling in the right direction for some time now, but we have been traveling too slowly, to begrudgingly and by asking too many to hide too much of the reflection of God that is uniquely revealed in them. Justice delayed, certainly is justice denied. And as Dr. King reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Today I ask my minister friends and my straight friends to stand with me on this National Coming Out Day. Stand with me and our homosexual brothers and sisters who were made equally in the image of God and should be treated equal in this great nation of ours. I ask you to come out for equality.
Fear can be overcome with knowledge. So let's let those who have had to pretend to be someone they are not for so long know
that not only does God love them, but we love them – that not only does God stand with them, but we stand with them.
Equality is not up for biblical questioning my friends. We are all created equally in God's image. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So I ask you to step up and speak out. Share the HRC
logo on your FB page, on your Twitter page. Post quotes about equality, loudly claim your love for all of God's children and demand that they ALL be treated with the same grace, dignity, respect and rights that are afforded to you.“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
I'm afraid a lot of people aren't seeing what's happening in our nation where, after 9/11, “United We Stand” was plastered on the bumper of what seemed like every car. Many people do recognize that there is a increase in the chatter of disagreement in everything from politics to theology, but I worry that too many are not seeing where this is heading...or worse yet actually want it to go there.
We are approaching The Great Divide in the U.S. We are steadily marching toward a time of a dialogical quagmire – a time when the heated, yet rational debates of our founding Fathers are relegated to historical hooey because we see them as naïve and clearly uncommitted because they weren't willing to besmirch their opponent to the point of devastation.
We are gazing into a gaping chasm of malcontent when the either/or diatribe of “you are either with us or you are against us” will not only define the prevailing zeitgeist of our nation but will divide us to such a degree that we will reach impasses of the likes few have ever imagined. It has the potential to put a strangle hold on an already far too ineffectual congress; the results of which will be to deepen the recession, increase the gap between the haves and have nots, and continue to lessen the influence of the United States throughout the world. That doesn't even begin to touch on other areas that will be impacted such as education, scientific advancement and civil rights (and many, many others).
Those who fan the flames of division all too frequently claim to do it from a Christian perspective. People who promote hate and division are not practicing the core value of Christianity – love. It is time for those of us who take the teachings of Jesus seriously to stand up, to be a light on the hill of rationality, tolerance and unity. We must take back the prevailing Christian dialog of this nation. We must wrestle it away from those who choose to use it to attain power and money. We must claim our voice as Christians and say, “No, I do not hate my enemy – I love them. I do not hate you – I love you. I refuse to be divided from any of those created in God's image simply because they disagree with me, attack me, or call me names.”
It is time to replace the drive to division with a call to love. With love, we do not have to agree, but we do have to be civil. We do have to be respectful. We do have to practice tolerance. We can stand divided, but it will take a deeper understanding of what it means to love your neighbor to do it.
The Christian Lef
t is much more than a Facebook (FB) page, it is a growing movement
. It is the future hope of The Church and the only non-hypocritical way The Church stands any long term chance of being an effective Christian voice in politics. (Wow. I hope I didn't overstate that. Let's see, “ the future hope of The Church and the only non-hypocritical way The Church stands any long term chance of being a effective Christian voice in politics.” Nope, that's about right).
Let me say that while The Christian Left is much more than its FB page, if you want to participate in this very important dialogue, the FB page is a fantastic place to start. It engages head and heart, politics and religion, theology and contemporary topics...it's worth the read and the engagement it takes to be a part of the dialogue will do us all some good. I might just add, if you do decide to join the dialogue (and I hope you will), it'd be helpful if you were to check out our Code of Conduct
But let's get on with the whole “We Need The Christian Left, Now More Than Ever” title. Bit of a bold statement, isn't it? Well, not really.
Christianity, over the course of a few thousand years, has drifted away from the teachings of it's founder. That man was a walking Heath Care System. He wisely, gently and unapologeticly confronted hate at every turn. He always believed people could be better than they are and when he met someone, he asked them to change – toward the better person he knew they could be. He loved people and abhorred abuse of power (in both religions and politics). He walked quietly on this earth and yet made a loud impact. He was willing to lay down his life for the love of others.
In a world where big business seems to control everything, even the government; in a time when the Supreme Court is sometimes promoting businesses' rights over individual's rights; we need a guiding principle that reminds us that our Creator wants us to put people first. In an environment when news channels are formed around encouraging people to be afraid and fear people who are not like them or don't believe the things they believe, we need a point of light that beacons us toward acceptance and love. In a nation where businesses' bottom lines continue to be promoted over the health and welfare of the 'least of these,' we need the image of a healing hand that reached out, even to lepers, to heal without asking for or expecting anything in return...other than faith. In a world being devastated by our consumerist attitudes and privileged lifestyles, we need Jesus' life to remind us that we must walk gently on God's Creation. We need the man who hung on a cross for love, to teach us to live our lives for love.
You see, the reason we need the Christian Left now more than ever, is because it is not really 'the left.' If anything, what Christian 'leftist' stand for is just good theology. If anything, we should be the “Christians centrist” or the “Christian originalist.” Ultimately, we are 'left' only by comparison, relative to what the dominate voice of Christianity in the U.S. claims Christians stand for. The same voice that has left younger generations beleiving that Christians have become, well, unChristian
We need the Christian Left now more than ever, because we need to follow the teaching of Jesus more than ever.
With their ironically named “Pledge to America: The New Republican Agenda
,” the GOP continues to bang the gong that declares, “We are Christian mostly in name and not so much in action.”
While I certainly give them credit for wording much of their “new” pledge in a way that sounds...I don't know, nice?, the outcomes of what they are standing for strike me as particularly unChristian.
Their pledge is particularly focused on business, making it clear that the primary driver of the party is business, particularly big business, not Christian precepts. Business has one driving force – money, God has one driving force as well – love. You cannot serve God and money, you cannot serve two masters. They don't even seem to be ashamed of it either. The Director of their “Pledge to America” is a former lobbyist
for AIG, Exxon and Pfizer – it should probably be named, “Pledge to Big Business.”
The pledge, in more than one place, makes it clear that they desire to get rid of the new health care law, replacing it with...well, it's really hard to say from information in the pledge document. It is clear that while they will repeal the act, they also must like it because they are keeping 7 of its key elements
. As you might expect, their proposal also does not have any real indication of how to control health care spending or regulations designed to keep expenses affordable. Ultimately, it continues the pledge to big business and leaves the least of these (particularly the sick) to fin for themselves in a ocean of big business sharks (read health insurance companies, large medical corporations and the pharmaceutical industry). “... inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'” Matthew 25:40.
The GOP's pledge also states that it will be keeping the Bush tax cuts in place, including those for the wealthiest people in the US. It would seem that part of the solution to make this affordable in terms of the national debt is to also cancel all the unspent stimulus money. Basically, one focuses on the lifestyles of the rich, powerful and famous, and one focuses of the lifestyles of middle America. Jesus had some pretty condemning things to say about the rich and spent most of his time ministering with commoners.
The last piece of the pledge I'd like to address from a Christian point of view is the inexcusable absence of social justice issues. They are blatantly missing from the pledge. I realize this was done for political reasons...and that is exactly the problem. You do not get to imply that you are the party for Christians and not address the issue of social justice in your pledge for moving forward. If Jesus would have written the pledge, you best bet it would have been a recurring theme.
I do not mean to imply that the Democratic Part is by default the Christian party. They are not. While they do address issues of social justice more directly, they are a far cry from what a Christian party would look like. I am saying that claiming the Christian monicker for political gain and the manipulation of the every-day Christian is a game of falsehoods that both parties need to stop playing and those of us who claim to be Christians, much like Jesus confronted the Pharisees, need to step up consistently, confidently and boldly to say to our politicians, "stop making false claims in the name of God, stop taking God's name in vain."