Tag Archives: Politics

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

A Matter of Respect

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:17 (NIV)

A few weeks ago I ran into a person whom I’d not seen in quite a while. I confess that I don’t particularly get along with this person, and this person has made it very clear that they  don’t like me. I’m glad you are not privy to the spiteful thoughts and vengeful desires that welled up inside me when I  ran into them. The actions  of this person that I’ve witnessed over the years have been deceptive and have stirred up trouble in ways that have been destructive to community and relationships that I care about. The words of this person have been false and deceitful. The foolish behavior of this person has been mischievous and self-seeking.

Nevertheless, when I ran into this person in a public place amidst a crowd of people I smiled and addressed them respectfully. We had a brief interchange and I chose to keep my affect respectfully positive and my conversation respectfully benign.

I observe that the polarization of political and cultural thought in America has led to what I deem a general erosion of respect. I remember a time when  politicians, even bitter rivals, continued to treat one another with respect. Now I witness politicians who choose to be publicly disrespectful, malicious, and insulting to their opponents in order to maintain the support of extreme factions within their respective parties. I grew up being taught that freedom of thought, education, speech, religion, and the press came with the societal expectation of respectful public debate and discourse. Now I observe university campuses reduced to destructive chaos and physical assault on those who do not march lock-step with their particular beliefs and opinions.

Perhaps that’s why Peter’s simple command jumped off the page at me this morning: “Show proper respect to everyone.”

I believe I need to treat others with respect because we are all members of the human family descended from the same mother.

I believe I need to treat others with respect because we are all imperfect people in need of forgiveness and grace.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because I am constantly growing and needing the grace of others. I have to extend grace to others who are in process as well.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because it affords the best opportunity for strained relationships to find some kind of mutual understanding, reconciliation and redemption.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because the path of disrespect is harmful both to myself, other individuals, community, and humanity.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because it’s the way of Jesus, and as a follower I’m compelled to adopt His teaching and example.

This morning I’m thinking about the simple act of being respectful to others. A few weeks ago when I respectfully addressed my deceptive and foolish acquaintance I knew that I couldn’t control their reaction to me in the moment nor their continued words or actions. I can’t control others. I can’t control our current culture. I can only control myself.

I’m going to continue to pursue the path of being respectful. Who knows. Perhaps it will go viral.

A Prophet in Flyover Country

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake….
Amos 1:1 (NIV)

I have lived in “flyover country” my entire life. It’s a great place to live, work, and raise a family. You get used to the fact that most of what we see and hear in American news and entertainment media is sourced on the coasts. New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles are where most of the brokers of politics, finance, and entertainment live, move and have their being. It’s quite common to realize that we often see life a little differently here in middle America.

Whenever you read the writing of the ancient prophets in God’s Message, it’s important to understand the context of the prophet and his message. Amos was one of what we refer to as the “minor” prophets, and perhaps it’a an apt moniker for one who lived and wrote from what have been the flyover country of his time.

The “major” prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) lived where the action was. Isaiah and Jeremiah served in Jerusalem, the capital city which was the region’s political and religious center of power. Daniel and Ezekiel lived later and were persons of relative prominence and connection in the ancient city of Babylon during the height of its glory days. Amos, on the other hand, was a shepherd and fig farmer living in a small town of no real significance. We don’t even know if he owned his own flocks and figs, or whether he was simply a hired man.

Amos lived and wrote during a period of relative prosperity in Israel’s divided kingdom (about 740-750 b.c.). Things were humming economically and trade was good. The kingdoms held relatively strong, secure positions in the region. Everyone was feeling optimistic and perhaps even a little bit smug.

Amos, however, begins the assembled volume of his prophetic writings by telling us as readers that his vision preceded “the earthquake.” He doesn’t say “an earthquake” but “the earthquake.” Little is known historically about this event, but geologists have unearthed evidence of a major seismic event in that region around 750 b.c.  Interestingly enough, just yesterday I posted about the connection that is made in God’s Message between the shifting of things in the spiritual realm and events in creation. Amos foreshadows his volume of collected prophesies with a ominous word-picture. There’s going to be a major shake up.

What becomes immediately clear in the historical context is that Amos’ message isn’t exactly the mainstream media spin of his day. During a period of peace and prosperity this learned yokel prophet from flyover country isn’t feeling so secure about things from a spiritual perspective. He’s got a more sober view of where things are headed, if anyone will listen.

This morning I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit of a connection with ol’ Amos. I’m grateful for where I live and move and have had my being on this life journey. It may not be the center of action where finance, politics, and entertainment are brokered. I’ve visited all of them and always have a great time when I’m there and appreciate all the great people I meet. Nevertheless, I know I look at life with a different perspective than many who live in those places. It’s not better or worse. It just is. The major prophets had their roles to play and their message to give at the center of the action. Amos had his role to play and his message to give as he kept watch over his livestock in the flyover farm town of Tekoa.

The key, I’ve come to learn along this journey, is to be content with the role I’ve been given and faithful in carrying it out to the best of my ability.

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.

chapter a day banner 2015

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.