Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Offense...

This incident with Miss California is all over the news and the blogosphere... At the risk of stepping into mess, I think I'm going to comment. This augments some comments I had on Facebook, so my apologies. When bubble-headed bleach blondes are vapid and inarticulate, we mock them. But when they take a substantive stand on a national issue (whatever one's view) we respond in shock and anger. Shame on us. And why would a judge ask a question with such a one-sided view of what should be the correct answer? Isn't the point to see how contestants can articulate their views under pressure? I suppose that the Miss America pageant has the right to employ as judges whomever they want, even ones that enrage the singer Fergie. But by making such a choice, aren't they politicizing the process? So why should anyone be surprised at a political answer to the question? Just because it wasn't the one they wanted shouldn't be the issue.

Different folks will take different sides of this issue, as they have the right to do. As I parse Ms. Prejean's answer however, she points to that saying "we live in a land where you can choose..." She doesn't seem to me to attack others' right to choose, only that her choice is different. What is the great threat to same-sex marriage if Miss America is against their issue? Is their political operation so fragile that her advocacy against them would throw their political fortunes into disarray? Or is just unthinkable to one side of this issue that others might have a different opinion on an issue they believe passionately about?

This is really the heart of the issue, from my point of view. I hold an opinion of same-sex marriage that is similar to Miss Prejean. Many evangelical Christians do. On this and dozens of other topics, public discussion means that I face a welter of opposition--often virulent--from folks equally convinced of their correctness. That's difficult for me, because I don't consider myself hateful. I truly want a reasonable, edifying conversation with others about important, if sometimes controversial, subjects. So I feel qualified to give some advice about discussing with those who disagree. It's hard, and requires humility. Mr. Hilton stated, "We were/are just soooo angry, hurt, frustrated by her answer." I can relate to that feeling, as many times in the public arena I have been hurt or frustrated by positions that seem diametrically opposed to my own. I despair that we can ever come to any agreement--but I press on in discussion, but with one caveat. I have to admit, I may be wrong.

Because let's be honest. Christians have argued stridently for slavery, divine right of kings, separation of the races, torture and killing of Jews, and any number of subjects that today "Bible believing" evangelicals would not support. One could even make a case from Scripture, that God is right-handed (Col. 1:15), that believers should swap spit after church services (Rom. 16:16 unless that's not a 'holy kiss') or that every Christian should sell their possessions and give the money to the poor. (Luke 12:33) My point is, sincere believers have marshalled the Bible to support positions that in time proved more "culture-bound" than divinely inspired. It leads one to humility in expressing one's point of view. This is what I see missing in Mr. Hilton's remarks--humility, an admission that from the perspective of history, his position might turn out to be more a product of very public sentiment in favor of the homosexual lifestyle than "the truth." Time will tell.

That is not to say, however, that one's religious or spiritual values should not influence one's political or social views. Far from it--how can our religious beliefs not inform our opinions on critical subjects such as marriage or family? I have friends on all sides of this spectrum, and I think it the height of arrogance to suggest that they not consult their faith background or atheist background for that matter, in order to determine their political views. Some of my friends find their religious beliefs guiding them to support monogamous same sex unions--should they be excluded from the discussion? Yet that's what is being said in this situation..."Religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family,” said Keith Lewis. What's the point of religion if it can't shape one's worldview?

The deeper question is: how will we shape policy for our country, which by the framers' intent, should NOT establish A religion as the ultimate arbiter of truth? The answer of course, is that we are a republic. We the people have entrusted to our elected leaders the responsibility of making laws based on input from the people, and consultation with the Constitution and other foundational documents. To apply, if Perez Hilton or Mario Armando Lavandeira, or whatever he goes by, doesn't like Miss Prejean's opinion, doesn't want it to be the law of the land, then he should lobby and raise money, and write trashy blogs, or whatever he wants, and try to carry the day by his arguments for his side. The process of truth in a republic is inherently political. It's the risk we take in not entrusting the secular truth question to religious leaders, as was the case in Europe's past. Although as a religious person, I believe that absolute truth does not change, I have to admit that secular truth does change (compare the Dred Scott decision, the Roe v. Wade decision, Brown v. Board, etc.) Bottom line--if you don't like a particular view, consult your Bibles, your Koran, your Bagvad Gita, think, and politic strenuously for your point of view. But don't tell me that I don't have the right to do the same.

Let's look at a rather bizarre example to illustrate this: the so called Texas Polygamy Cult, founded by jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who took over in 2002 as prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke off from the Mormon church in the 1930s over the issue of polygamy. Authorities took into legal custody more than 400 children and 133 women deemed to have been harmed or in imminent danger of harm. There was no groundswell of outrage from the American public, Christian or otherwise, that these people had been unfairly treated. We all thought, "Man that's weird." Because polygamy is a marriage position held by very few folks in America. But fast forward to a different country, with a different background, and one finds a vastly different story. Jacob Zuma, a polygamist, is poised to be the next president of South Africa. And when his latest wife was asked to comment on who would be the "first lady" all she could reply was "Jesus is Lord." Apparently, in her Zulu Christian background, polygamy is supported by the Bible, where one finds patriarchs such as Abraham and Jacob, and Biblical heavyweights such as David and Solomon having multiple wives. Again, secular truth is political.
No offense to anyone, (lol) but holding views based on your religious and social upbringing is the only kind of views anyone holds. We are all a product of our background. All we can hope for in the public arena is that we each come humbly to the table, argue passionately, respect all sides, and come out with what we can to guide our country into the future. If my view is out of political vogue, that doesn't mean I will stop trying to convince others. If my view is popular, then I have even more reason to check my heart and ensure that arrogance is not blinding me to errors in my own ways. Props to Miss California for not only being beautiful, but for thoughtfully sharing her own opinion on a tough subject for us all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To Pooch or not to Pooch?

Ok, this one is a VERY serious subject. I know we've treated Easter, faith and politics and weighty subjects before. But this topic has life-altering implications. Should I buy a pooch for my family or not? And if so, is this the best time?

I know what you're thinking--what does this have to do with spiritual pilgrimage? "Everything," is my immediate response. Buying a dog requires maturity. Self-discipline. Insider knowledge on the right kinds of foods to buy and not to buy. For instance, I can't remember; can dogs eat chocolate? Isn't that poison to them? Or potatoes; I think there was some story that dogs can't eat potatoes. See, I break into a sweat thinking about all those details. I just don't know if I'm ready for this kind of responsibility.

Because the last time I had direct experience with a dog was when I was a kid. And to be honest with you, I was not so much into the responsibility part of owning a dog. Don't get me wrong, I loved good old Lappy. That was our part-collie, part-border collie, UPS truck-chasing machine of a dog growing up. I could scratch behind his ears with the best of them, but when it came to feeding him, brushing him, giving him heart worm pills (you gotta be kidding me!) I just broke out in a cold sweat and found a reason to disappear...go read a book, watch paint dry, whatever I could do to duck it. And now, as I look into my heart, I see the same immature (lazy?) attitude lurking.

So would immaturity and laziness keep me from giving my kids the time of their life? Not consciously, of course. I would name many other reasons, making mature adult sounds as I cite the lack of a fence, dog allergies, busy family schedules, evidences of my children's immaturity (hello pot, this is kettle. You're black) but I'm willing to bet it's my own immaturity that's to blame. I find it stunning that a reasonably mature adult can still have fortresses of adolescence smiling with puerile indifference deep in our hearts. I mean, I have three kids for heaven's sake, what can be so hard about this?

I guess that I need to face this childhood impulse to slackness head on. Suck it up and learn the grown up responsibilities of being a dog owner. I could use some suggestions on what breed to buy, however. And the longer you take, the longer break I have from maturity. So make your comments DETAILED and involved. The kids have convinced my I think I may be mounting Custer's Last Stand. But I did think it was brilliant that I showed them all "Me and Marley" the other day. As they were all crying, I said "That's what happens when you get a dog; he tears up things and then he goes and dies on you." I'm holding my ground for now...

What should I do? Let me know your opinion.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holy Week Pt. 4--Good Friday?

Holy week is drawing to a dramatic close. The Gospel events bunch thick with significance, and it becomes difficult to distinguish their individual details. Like Seurat's famous "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" the details blur close up, yet from a distance the stipling of color reveals a broad panorama of redemption. First, the details...

Stations 10-14 are all inside theChurch of the Holy Sepulchre article, and the interactive floor plan of the church, for details and photos. Briefly, the last five stations are as follows:

  1. Jesus is stripped - top of the stairs to the right outside the entrance
  2. Jesus is nailed to the cross - upstairs just inside the entrance, at the Latin Calvary
  3. Jesus dies on the cross - Rock of Golgotha in the Greek Orthodox Calvary
  4. Jesus is taken down from the cross - statue of Our Lady of Sorrows next to the Latin Calvary
  5. Jesus is laid in the tomb - in the edicule on the main floor, inside the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre
All these actions are now commemorated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The gospels reflect this mass of activity, with nearly half of the book of Mark dedicated to Passion week, with Luke, Matthew and John close behind. Why such preoccupation with the events of the death of one solitary Palestinian day laborer? 

It strikes me as particularly discordant in contemporary American culture.  We rarely discuss death frankly and openly. We banish it to the margins of conversation, preferring to speak of health care (death management) plastic surgery (aging denial) or the eternal youth of celebrity. I wonder if the fear of death is behind the spate of "doctor shows" on TV; ER, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, even CSI, etc. Video docs become for us modern priests who dissect death, and discuss for us it's implications in sterile, safe confines of an operating room set. Yet Good Friday is all about the slow, inexorable drumbeat of death. 

But before I too harshly judge my contemporaries, I remember that Jesus' friends were slow to accept his death as well. He predicts his own death three times, and was received with incredulity. Surely our predicament is not that bad. Surely death is not necessary. The teacher did not agree:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again
Good Friday reminds me that I am not good. Good Friday reminds me that something in me must die to become all Jesus wants for me. There is an inevitability to death that I can not escape. No denial or delay can overcome the finality of my own death--and unless I come to that great day prepared, I shall have no recourse. It is the death of Jesus that prepares me for my own death. It is the resurrection of Christ that assures me of life beyond. It is the death of Christ that speaks to me of the sin that so brazenly lives in my heart today. In visiting these final stations of the cross, I hear an invitation to look honestly at the face of sin in my own heart.  And admit that death is the only option, no matter how extreme.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Holy Week Pt. 3- Take Up Your Cross

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. Matthew 27:32

This doorway opens to a simple Franciscan Chapel built in 1895, and forms the fifth station of the Via Dolorosa. The Latin inscription reminds us that a cross was lain upon Simon the Cyrene, an African man. Although legend imputes upon Simon a generosity born of compassion in this act, the text of Scriptures gives no such elaboration. Rather, the soldiers of the Roman guard force him into service, as Jesus was exhausted from his scourging and trial.

In this man Simon the entire meaning of Easter’s cross comes clear. Simon happened upon the scene of Jesus’ death. Probably an African Jew in town to celebrate the Passover with a synagogue of countrymen, Simon unwittingly stumbles into the greatest drama of history. This is a biblical character I can connect with…one caught up into something so much larger than himself that he could not possibly understand it all. And yet in his ignorance, Simon the Cyrene performs the very act we as Christ followers are invited to perform voluntarily…take up our cross and follow Him.

So what does it mean to take up your cross and follow Christ? To one who has heard these words his entire life, they have a religious familiarity. But what can they possibly, practically mean? An implement of torture, an element of execution, juxtaposed in my daily, dull routine? What could Jesus possibly mean? 

The Jerusalem pilgrims know that Jesus' cross was both method and means for one to follow God's plan.  A Jewish intellectual, contemporary to Jesus, said of the cross " the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." There is a power in giving up a life of striving and struggling to earn God's favor, and embracing surrender to God's will. Jesus came to a religious people who could never keep the letter of their own law, and became the perfect embodiment of their hopes and dreams--the spotless Paschal lamb. That Jewish intellectual saw in the foolish story of a prophet killed in shame on an implement of torture the way out of his own shame--a fierce life of lawkeeping that drove him to religious extremism, and murder. 

Grizzled soldiers placed upon Simon the Cyrene the cross of Christ. This Easter, I am asked to walk in his steps, to deny myself, and take up the cross daily. With Paul, the lawkeeping intellectual set free, I can find in the cross a release from my religious maze of rules. I can entrust myself to the one who kept every rule, and lived the spotless life of a sacrificial lamb.  The one whose Father accepted His sacrificial death as substitute for a world tainted with self--he took the punishment that was meant for me. In the ancient words spoken by the prophet. 

He was pierced for our transgressions, 

he was crushed for our iniquities; 

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, 

and by his wounds we are healed.

Post- biblical tradition tells us that Simon discovered this truth for himself, and passed it on to his sons. I pause this Wednesday before Easter and pray that I might pass the mystery of the cross to my children as well. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Holy Week Pt. 2- Who's He?

The first station in the traditional "Via Dolorossa" was Jesus' condemnation by Pontius Pilate. The story as  shared in the Gospel of John contains several "zinger" statements that intrigue me. The first comes from the lips of Pontius--the Roman governor or prefect of the Judean province from AD 26-36. He says to Jesus, his prisoner on trial for his life:

"What is it you have done?"

It must have seemed a natural question for a man of power. "You've aroused such hatred in your enemies, admiration among your followers. What exactly have you done? Pilate was a man of the world, a man of accomplishments and influence. We find Pilate in later Jewish sources locked in political struggles with Herod Agrippa. He was a mover and a shaker, and evaluated Jesus on those same terms. "What of substance have you accomplished teacher, that I might respect you?" He seems to ask. 

"My kingdom is not of this world."

Jesus' response is crucial to understanding the Easter story. "My kingdom is not of this world." My accomplishments may not appear in your papers, or register on  your power and influence scale. But make no mistake, I am a king, and my accomplishments make a difference, just beyond the geographic boundaries of your political map. The Via Dolorossa goes straight through the state of "powerlessness." 

Easter undoes my political calculations. I too want to be significant. I want the things I'm working on to be considered important. When men meet other men, it is not uncommon for the first greeting to be "What's your name?" The second close on its heels, "What do you do?" To be a man is to accomplish, to do things of significance. Being a ministerial type often does not seem to match up in the unspoken "man math." What do you do? "I build things," a construction worker might say. "I fly super sonic airplanes," a pilot might answer.  "I say prayers and lay hands on them that they might get well," Jesus might have stated. "I lay down my life that men might find the way to God."  These accomplishments land one not on the "Who's Who" list--but on the list of "Who's he?" 

As one who has longed to be on the "Who's Who" list of worldly accomplishment, the Via Dolorossa winds me through the station of powerlessness. It reminds me that we who walk in the steps of Jesus may not always be respected by those in power. Easter demonstrates faith that embraces political power as its supreme validation loosens its hold on the historical Jesus. This station of the cross encourages me to give up pursuit of "Who's Who?" and endure the scorn of "Who's He?" Jesus followers have a destination and a kingdom not of this world. 

Have you stopped at the station of powerlessness? Can you endure the scorn of "Who's He?" from those powerful in your life? 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Holy Week Pt. 1 - The Tears of Christ

Dominus Flevit

As they have for centuries, pilgrims will stop at important sites in Jerusalem during Holy Week to commemorate the steps of Jesus the week before He died. Modern pilgrims have opportunity to pause on the Mount of Olives at one of the newest shrines in the Holy City, Dominus Flevit--whose Latin meaning is "The Lord wept." On this Monday of Holy Week, I'd like to stop with them to consider what made Jesus cry. 

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it...because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." Luke 19:41,44

Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because He foresaw its destruction. He shed tears over the innocent children who would suffer from the stubborn decisions of their parents, who first rejected their Lord, and then rebelled against their Roman masters. Jesus wept because peace was possible, yet people rejected the possibility of peace. He gave special focus to the religious elite of the day, who were offended at the authentic worship given to Jesus. The words on the lips of the pilgrims that day sang out in fulfillment of the angels' promise at Bethlehem so many years before, "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

Lest this become an arcane history lesson, chastising the Jews for rejecting their Messiah, I wonder, "What does this have to do with me?" First, Jesus sees all my sin from the beginning. He took the road to the cross BECAUSE He saw the roads I would take. He weeps over my continual disobedience and rebellion against my rightful ruler. I think about how often peace is possible in my relationships, in my family, yet I choose a harsh comment, or put myself first when I could serve instead. Regardless of how invisible or subtle I believe my choices to be, Jesus sees. And He weeps. 

From His perch atop the Mount of Olives, Jesus sees more than my individual sin, injurious though it is. He sees that groups of people who should believe in peace, but instead sow discord and hate. His chosen people the Jews still fight over the very ground Jesus walked. And the church, God's people grafted in to become holy, we find the same spirit. Do we recognize the time of God's coming? If Jesus were to show up in one of our over-produced, slick worship services, trailed by the lepers and prostitutes that were drawn to Him, would we recognize Him? 

This Holy Week, I ask, does my heart break for the things that break the heart of Jesus? As we heard the powerful presentation of Linda Smith of Shared Hope International on children forced into sexual slavery all over the world,  I wonder at the sexual appetites of the West that create bondage for so many. Do we weep over the children as Jesus did? 

This Monday of Holy week, I pause with the pilgrims to consider the the tears of Christ. The tear-shaped sanctuary Dominus Flevit maintained by the Franciscans gives me the opportunity. It also suggests a way forward to the possibility of peace. The Franciscans were once based in Assisi, city of their founder St. Francis. Yet in 1217, they made the decision to go out from there, to spread the joy of the gospel around the world. This Easter, let us with Franciscan fervor, look beyond the walls of our "holy huddle" to see the lost and hurting in this world and truly make a difference in their lives. I want to ask "for whom does the Savior weep" and involve myself in responding to them. It is a pilgrimage...for I find in myself too many of the things that make Jesus cry. 

How about you?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Faith and Politics

Left wing vs. right wing, Republican vs. Democrat, partisan politics embroils us all at least once every four years, and often many times in between. I have been asked to moderate a debate between the Regent College Democrats and Regent College Republican entitled the

Faith and Politics Symposium
April 14, 1-3 PM
Regent University

So I thought, what better place to solicit questions than from my good friends online? Whether you consider yourself a Democrat or think all Democrats are donkeys; whether you are a libertarian or are so ardently Republican that you wear a Karl Rove bathrobe whenever you lounge around the house, I'm interested in your feedback.

Please post on my blog, "Tweet" me (drrichkidd) or stop by my Facebook site with your questions.

  • What would you like Democrats and Republicans to respond to in the area of Faith and Politics?

  • Where would you like to call our political parties to accountability on issues of faith, morals or values?

  • What priorities of the Scripture would you want party faithful to reckon with as they consider their political platform?

I can't promise I'm fair and unbiased...that's for the professional spin doctors to pretend. This doctor realizes that we all have our perspectives and pre-understandings that color even the questions that we ask. That's why I need YOUR help. What I can promise is that I will read every question and include every one I think would sharpen the debate on both sides.

Thanks in advance for your questions and your help. Blog on.