by Mark Sandlin (and friends)
"That's not Christian! You're using Jesus to promote your liberal agenda!"
I'm getting this a lot. I've spent a good deal of my life reading and studying the Bible (even going to graduate school for it). One of the things I do now is write this blog about what I've learned.
The interesting thing is, I very frequently get accused of promoting a progressive agenda. Frankly, I think that says more about the Bible than it does about me. It's also been said that "the truth has a liberal bias." So, there's that too.
Well, if I'm going to be accused of having a progressive agenda, I might as well know what it is. So, I asked my friends on The God Article's Facebook page
what their "#1 priority as a progressive Christian"? Then, using their thoughts and mine, I put together this little "To Do" list. I wouldn't exactly call it a complete list -- but it's a good start. I don't get it right every day but I am trying.
One of the fun things many bloggers miss out on is figuring out what Google searches bring a person to their blog. Until recently one of my favorites for The God Article was “is Mark Sandlin gay?”
I had just posted my Clobbering “Biblical” Gay Bashing
piece (which was ultimately picked up by Believe Out Loud
) and it would seem that someone thought the best way to to disprove what I said
, would be to prove that I am gay
I know, the problems with that kind of logic are mind-boggling, but it happens all the time. If you can't attack the message, attack the messenger. In this case, it also happens to be impossible to prove, because I'm not. And, at the same time, it really shouldn't matter if I were. It's like arguing that Newton's theory of gravity simply can't be believed because he directly benefits from it being real. Hogwash.
So, as I mentioned, Believe Out Loud picked up my Clobbering “Biblical” Gay Bashing
piece and it kind of had a second life. I've even heard that it's making its rounds in some Mennonite circles. That's pretty cool. Along with it came a whole new set of Google searches bringing people to this blog. And among them is my new favorite. Are you ready?...
I'm a PROPHET!!! Woo hoo! And there was much celebration and general-merrymaking.
Actually, the Google search was for “false prophet mark sandlin.” But still, "prophet" – woo hoo? And there was mild joviality and arbitrary-frolicking.
Like I said, if you can't attack the message, attack the messenger. So, someone doesn't like what I say, or doesn't want to grapple with whether or not it is actually biblical, or whatever – so they Google “false prophet mark sandlin.” So, now that's a thing. Google databases have me and “false profit” forever linked. And I just don't care.
I am no prophet. False or otherwise. Big surprise, right? But I am just the littlest bit humbled by the whole thing.
I'm a bit ashamed of the Church. Oh, don't get me wrong – plenty of churches do lots and lots of brilliant things. Frankly, were it not for the missional efforts of the Church, I hate to even think of how far under some people would have slipped. The church where I serve, for example, is a small church, but we manage to feed a few hundred people a month. We're talking about people who have slipped through the charity cracks and probably have very few options for food left. Feeding them? That's a good thing. A really, really good thing. Still, I'm a bit ashamed of the Church.
We've become a lot less than we were created to be. We've been told what is required of us, we've been given examples of what that looks like and then we've proceeded to do what we want to do, take the easy way out and choose paths that allow us to feel good about ourselves for doing something, but never actually making a lasting impact. At least most of us have. We feed a person for a day, we turn their power back on for now, we give them shelter for a night, and that's a good thing... but we fall miserably short of challenging and changing the systems that will have those same people starving in a week, sitting in the dark next month, sleeping in the streets all too soon.
We've been told what is required of us, we've been given examples of what that looks like but we, the Church, busy ourselves with “the work of God” and miss out all together on the rest of the words of God. We let our silent good deeds be the end of our efforts to help, dooming struggling children of God to suffer under the oppressive and cyclical nature of systems designed to keep 'the least of these' in their place. We are much better and much more comfortable at giving people a hand out than giving them a hand up. Put simply, we prefer the self-serving feelings of charity to the self-sacrificing realities of justice.
As Christmas quickly approaches, it gets harded and harder to not get caught up in the consumerism that has come to define the season. Amidst all of this season's consumption, groups like adventconspiracy.org
are advocating a change - a change from consumption to compassion. What if this Christmas season, instead of giving presents to our family and friends, we put the same time and effort we spend shopping for and thinking about those presents into spending time with them - presence rather than presents, substituting compassion for consumption?
Take it one step further. What if, rather than spending all that money on each other, we spent the money on “the least of these?” What if, instead of fulfilling our perceived
"needs," we filled the real
needs of people around the world as our gift to our friends and family, by giving a family in Zambia a milk cow
or someone in the Uganda honeybees
. That $150 Kinect for XBOX 360 will be yesterday's news next Christmas. The milk cow and the honeybees, which you can help provide for $50 or less, will be providing much needed nutrients for years to come.
Maybe you don't feel like you can afford to just "give" your money away, even if it is for a good cause. In financial times like these, many of us really can't. Just keep in mind, if it is bad for us in the world's riches nation, it is probably worse for others around the world. So, here's an alternative to alternative gift giving ideas: microloans. Groups like kiva.org
are pulling together small (or even large) amounts of money from those who have to help out those who have less. It is an opportunity for those who are "the least of these" to, through their own inventiveness and hard work as well as the good will of others, better their lives through loans they would not have had access to otherwise.
Does all of this mean I'm suggesting that there should be no presents to open around the tree this Christmas and we'll just have to sit there and...and talk? (I know, sounds horrible doesn't it?) No, that's not what it means. Over and beyond giving cards to let people know what you have done for "the least of these" in their name, there are plenty of other ways to give that doesn't mean throwing inordinate amounts of cash at the large companies that frequently, through questionable production and employment practices, take advantage of "the least of these" around the world so that we can play video games for less than 200 bucks. Check out buynothingforchristmas.org
and sites like it for more information.
In doing these things, not only will you be helping those in need, but you will also be helping fight the systems of domination that help keep the under-served “in their place.” In order to prepare the way for the Lord, in order to begin to taste what the peaceable kingdom of God here on earth might be like, we must (as John the Baptist told us) lower the mountains and raise the valleys - if you have more than you need share with those who do not have enough, begin dismantling systems that support consumption and domination. (see my sermon “All Means All
As Christians we should stand more strongly in our convictions and start looking critically at the domination system out of which we operate. We should stop shopping at stores that get their goods from places that require workers to perform for little pay in substandard and sometimes unhealthy work conditions. Which means not buying clothes from places like Wal-Mart and even Target. We should stop buying food from places that take advantage of migrant workers, overlooking their human rights in an effort to provide cheep food. Which means we stop eating at places like McDonald's, Taco Bell and Subway until they correct their dominating ways (like all three have in their most recent cases). We should stop allowing our consumer oriented lifestyles to destroy our environment. We should show compassion to workers around the world by buying Fare Trade goods, so that we can be insured that no one is being dominated or taking advantage of because of our support.
This Christmas, let's honor the greatest gift of all by giving the world the greatest gift we can give it - peace, real peace. As worshipers of the Prince of Peace, let's take a stand again our domination oriented systems of consumerism and adopt instead a peacefully oriented system of compassion.
Education is the first step. So, go learn more about things like Living Wages
, Fare Trade Goods
and Advent Conspiracy... and start living into compassion.
This Christmas lets give the best we have, let's give ourselves to God and to the work of God. Let us deny the shallow consumerist disposition of the systems of domination and leap into the depths of a life lived in compassion. Let's prepare the way for God by leading peaceable lives that value ALL flesh. This Christmas let 's begin living lives that will allow us, and all of God's children, to have a taste of what the peaceable kingdom of God might be like.
In many ways, this blog page is my response to what I see as a general malaise that has fallen across Christianity in the U.S. We have bought so far into a kumbaya, turn the other cheek, Jesus is more of a doormat than a door theology, that we have rendered ourselves ineffectual. We think that being nice and kind and loving to one another means not making anyone upset and being non-confrontational. Worse yet, we have started measuring our success at being that kind of Christian by how many people 'like us' compared to how many people don't.
How we got here, I hardly know and, quite honestly, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that a very large number of Christians practice their faith by this misguided understanding of what love looks like. In that kumbaya version of Christianity having an “attitude of gratitude” means possessing a disposition of constant submission to the world and those who think they rule it – turning the other cheek so many times that you no longer know if you are looking left or right. Biblically that song is a disharmonious, disconnected and disturbing distortion of who Jesus was.
Need I remind us all that so many people didn't like Jesus that they nailed him to a tree. Not because he was a bad person, but because he did not make nice when people distorted God's message of love. He didn't turn the other cheek when politicians and religious leaders conspired to step on the 'least of these.' He stood up for what was right. He flipped tables in the name of God. He did not lash out violently at another human being, ever, but he did lovingly confront them. He was always motivated by love... but he did not back down, he did not sacrifice the Word of God for the comfort of humanity; he did not keep his mouth shut in the name of being nice.
For too long the people of God have suffered – for far
too long. God has claimed the meek and the poor in spirit and those who morn and those who thirst for justice and the merciful and the pure of heart and the peacemakers and those that suffer persecution for justice sake as God own, as the children of heaven. Those who take advantage of the meek and persecute people who work for justice, have been given a pass by Christians who think that 'turn the other cheek' means to sit passively by like a doormat as they and the marginalized get stepped on, used and abused, by the powerful who wipe their feet of the world's sometimes gritty reality so that the houses that they have built on the backs of the rest of us don't get soiled with the pain, the abuse, the hatred of the world that they themselves have created.
When Jesus was confronted with people that had distorted the purpose of the house of God, he flipped tables. When Jesus was confronted by people using God's name to dupe those who had little, who were meek, who were abused and marginalized, he flipped tables.
What makes a peace-loving, easy-going, hippy-dippy, Jesus freak start flippin' proverbial tables? People using God's name for false purposes. Politician and religious leaders using religion to further marginalize 'the least of these.' Pharasetical proclamations from 'Christian' leaders that inspire hate, division and at times violence (even if veiled in words like 'hate the sin, love the sinner).
I had had enough and so The God Article began. I hope you too have had enough. If you have, let me hear from you in the comment section, share this post with your friends far and wide. In the words of Bob Marley, “Get up, stand up. Don't give up the fight.” Start flippin' tables.
In the name of Jesus, people like The God Article
, The Christian Left
, The Progressive Christian Alliance
, Those Crazy Liberals...and Conservatives
are taking up the good fight. It's time for us to not only flip the tables but to turn them. It is time for us to take back the voice of Christianity. It is time for followers of God to start acting like followers of God. We must confront hate at every turn. We must profess love in every moment. We must see Christ in every face... and it might just take flipping a few proverbial tables.
"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 the Body of Christ to justice and to equality. It is also a sad statement about the hate and fear-mongering that continues throughout The Church. 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.”
Probably my favorite sermon from Dr. King was, "The Drum Major Instinct." The great line, "If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That's a new definition of greatness," comes from that message.
If you haven't heard or read "The Drum Major Instinct,"
before going any further take a moment and click on the link.
Another fantastic read, is this speech by Valerie Smith
, the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and director of the Program in African-American Studies, entitled "Memory." In it she, among other things, speaks of "The Drum Major Instinct." I particularly like her perspective on how we try to reduce Dr. King to an icon.
Once, after listening to that sermon, I started thinking about High School. You see, I am embarrassed to admit that in High School – um... in High School, I was a drum major. There I said it. Not the impressive strutting to the rhythm kind of drum major you will find at the A&T Aggie’s football games, mind you. No, my shirt was made of silk and the collar reached my shoulders. The pants were just a bit to form fitting for my taste and I wasn’t there for show, my only job was to direct the band.
Not to bore you too much with the story, but I was a reluctant drum major. In Junior High (I guess I’m supposed to call it Middle School now), I was a drummer. Technically I was a “percussionist,” but I really could not read a note, so I preferred to think of myself as a drummer. I was pretty good at it and the “easy A” certainly didn’t hurt my GPA.
When I moved to High School, I was one of the first ever sophomores at Asheboro High to earn the right to play the tri-tones (that’s the set of three drums) in the marching band. To be quite honest, I really loved it and, as I said, the “easy A” certainly didn’t hurt my GPA.
By the end of that year I was put in a very uncomfortable position. The Band director had called me in after school one day. “Mark,” he said, “I grade people here on their ability to live up to there potential.” “No problem there,” I thought, “I put everything I have into those drums.” He continued, “And I believe you have the potential to be a drum major.”
Now here’s the thing, I’d say there were a good number of the people in the band would have paid good money to hear those very words. I, on the other hand, felt like I had been told that Jesus would be appearing in the auditorium next week and I had been elected to run the coat check. It was devastating. I didn’t want to do it. I liked how things were going. I didn’t know anything about being a drum major. The very thought of it frightened me. I was a reluctant drum major.
Thinking of "The Drum Major Instinct" and what Dr. King teaches us about human behavior and the behavior God expects from us, I believe that we, each one of us, are reluctant drum majors. I believe that there are two sides to the drum major persona. One lives out the Drum Major Instinct. That instinct, as Dr. King puts it, is on a “quest for attention and recognition and importance.” That’s the part of us that tries to one up the neighbor and feels like many of those who are less fortunate are probably either getting what they deserve or are trying to take advantage of the system. It is also the part of the persona that likes Dr. King as an icon. It likes to wrap him up in a few clever remarks and keep him buried in 1968.
I believe however that there is a second stronger part of the drum major persona. It is that piece of us that was formed by the very breath of God in the very image of God. It is the reluctant drum major. It isn’t seeking attention or recognition or importance. It is a reflection of the God who made us; the God who loves us, all of us; the God who suffered here on earth through the person of Jesus. That part of us does not seek attention or recognition or importance – it only seeks justice and peace and righteousness.
We, all of us, have let the less Godly part of the drum major in us win out. We, all of us, have reduced – yes,reduced Dr. King to the status of an icon – a logo if you will, a picture of a time gone by, no longer relevant. Oh, we say the right words. We talk the right talk, but the status seeking drum major in us is only playing the game. For if we were to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk – well, we might have to stoop down from the heights of our comfortable lives to look into the eyes of those who, contrary to what we might think, are not trying to take advantage of the system but rather are being taken advantage of by the system.
The reluctant drum major in us sees that. It sees the ills of the world. It sees how God’s children are marginalized as the band plays on as if nothing is wrong, or at the very least as if all is right. That part of us calls out, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” That, that is the message of Dr. King – not the icon, but Dr. King the reluctant drum major.
Truly answering God’s call to be instruments of justice on this earth – to let justice roll down like mighty waters – means, for every one of us, living life differently than we do right now. It might feel devastating. Many of us don’t want to do it. Most of us like how things are going. For heaven sake, we don’t know anything about being a drum major. The very thought of it frightens us. But if we don’t do it, in the words of Dr. King, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” (Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963)
So, on this day, the day we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I ask you to look at your life, look at your heart and answer this one simple question: Which one is winning? The status seeking drum major…or the reluctant drum major? Have you turned the legacy of King into to an iconic tomb or are you marching to the tune of his biblically inspired message? What I can tell you is that in life there is no “easy A” but God still wants us to live up to our potential.
Let us take up the march as reluctant drum majors. Let us shout to the world, not only in words but in our daily deeds, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
My Family Gathered Around The Spot The Dream Was Announced