War Prayer

A prayer in response to this article about the impact of the “American War” in Afghanistan:

Divine Lover in the heart of each image of God,

forgive us for seeking out the logic of war rather than the Prince of Peace.

We confess that loving our enemies is hard,

and we frequently give in to our fears when confronted with danger.

O God of all people,

even those living in Afghanistan, Iraq, and countries around the world terrorized by drone strikes,

lead us in the way of peace.

Let us challenge our leaders to take the narrow way of diplomacy instead of the wide path of destruction.

Christ our very breath,

call your church back to the way of nonviolence it practiced in its first three centuries.

Show it the folly of chasing after political power,

and the essential absurdity of using the tools of empire to establish the kin’dom of God.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Amen.

There is No Church In America

So, today’s shocking/not shocking blockbuster is that evangelical Christian and former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx is coming forward a year too late to tell us that if only we had actually followed the science rather than followed Trump’s calls to “liberate” states last year, we could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives:

“I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse,” Birx says. “There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

Now, this post is not primarily intended as a political rant. Wearing masks and not congregating indoors and temporarily suspending church services to save lives should never have been political issues. But the pandemic made it clear to me that you can’t rely on anyone in this country. There is no sense of the common good. And the church is more guilty than any other segment of the population of leaving people to fend for themselves. Deborah Birx is only a smart part of the problem.

The bigger issue is that there is no Church in this country. In its place, we have the Cult of Religious Freedom. We have the Cult of Christian Nationalism. We have the Cult of the Second Amendment (Molech Worship). And, to be honest, most of the local incarnations of this church are just cults of personality revolving around a host of Christian media stars and local pastors trying to become Christian media stars. And false prophets. Lots of false prophets.

The Church was intended to be the body of Christ. The same Christ who laid down his life for his friends and told Christ’s church to deny itself, take up its cross, and follow. It was intended to be a place that served and loved its fellow humanity because in doing so it was serving and loving Christ’s own self. And it did a pretty good job of this… for a couple of centuries.

But then empire took over, and instead of the cross we got the Crusades. We got patriarchy. We got the Doctrine of Discovery. We got settler colonialism. We got slavery. We got Jim Crow and Apartheid. We got homophobia.

So here we are, in 21st century America, and Christ has no Church. And while I do believe that there are groups of followers of the way of Jesus at the margins of whatever it is that is masquerading as the Church today (the black church comes to mind), I’m absolutely convinced that whatever the hell we are doing in those so called church buildings nowadays, it isn’t being the Church.

For me personally, I am still a follower of the way of Jesus, think that there is an ineffable God beyond my understanding, and enjoy being a part of the local church of which I am a part. But make no mistake about it: The Church does not exist in this country. Jesus has left the building.

Our Babylonian Captivity

As part of my morning prayers, the Psalm of the day was Psalm 137:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the LORD’S song
upon an alien soil?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,
against the people of Edom,
who said, “Down with it! down with it!
even to the ground!”

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy the one who pays you back
for what you have done to us!

Happy shall he be who takes your little ones,
and dashes them against the rock!

Setting aside the imprecatory last two verses, I was struck by how relevant this Psalm is for those of us who still seek to follow the way of Jesus in 21st Century America.

Like the Psalmist, we live in Babylon, the pre-eminent empire of our time.

The church has chosen the idol of Religious Freedom over the call to love its neighbor as itself. When faced with the gravest health crisis of any of our lives, it chose to flout lockdowns by singing its songs for Babylon in mass worship concerts and to teach its children to burn their masks rather than wear them to protect their vulnerable neighbors. When confronted with the essential dignity of all people, regardless of who they are and who they love, it chose to exclude and file lawsuits to enforce its exclusion. When challenged to treat people of all faiths with kindness and compassion, it whined about a “war on Christmas.” Neighbor love is not high on its list.

Like the Psalmist, we weep for the fall of Zion, the church which has been swallowed up by the original sins of our nation: white supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and patriarchy.

When confronted with the call to affirm that Black Lives do, indeed, matter, it chose to once again sit on the sidelines and offer up a weak “All Lives Matter.” When 10 AM on Sunday remains the most segregated hour in America, we know that the church has fallen. And when asked to just learn about and understand the struggle that BIPOC people in our country have always faced, the church instead made up a strange new theology that says Critical Race Theory is opposed to the gospel.

When we turn on our televisions and see Jesus Saves flags at an attempt to overrun and overthrow the people’s will through an election, we know that the church has fallen. When our fellow congregants are more likely to believe in QAnon conspiracies as in the radical love of Christ, we know that the church has fallen. When adhering to Fox News Conservatism become the marker of whether one is a true Christian, can we come to any other conclusion than that the church has fallen?

And when we see a “good Christian” gunman walk into businesses and murder Asian-American females in order to eliminate the “temptations” he blames for his “sex addiction,” we see the damage the church’s patriarchy and purity culture has done. How it blames women for the sexual violence of men. How it victim shames. How it gaslights. How it infantilizes men by stating that their raging hormones are uncontrollable and so they need to live a so-called “pure” life rather than doing the work needed in order to see all women as equals and not objects.

And so we weep.

But for those of us who still seek out the way of Jesus, “how can we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?” By joining in with the chorus of the captive American church, we forget our Jerusalem. It would be better if our tongue was unable to move than to sing the songs of empire disguised as worship and praise songs.

And so, I would rather leave the captive church than stay and sing its songs to Caesar. I would rather leave the captive church than hurt my very own flesh in my neighbor. I would rather leave the captive church than teach my children to forget who they truly are and how they should be in the world.

By What We Have Left Undone…

I just had a bit of an epiphany. I used to get really defensive when people would say that Christians are intolerant (“but but not all Christians…”). But to be honest, Christianity IS intolerant. It IS white supremacist. It IS hostile to people outside its mainstream, most especially LGBTQ+ folks.

The reality is that the Church is absolutely guilty of everything it is accused of being.

And I know, because I’m a part of one of these denominations, that there are “progressive” parts of the Church that are less all of these things. But we’re a small part of a dying Church that is dying even faster than the rest of it. And again, we’re only “less” of those things.

I guess for me personally, I can’t quit the Christian thing. It pointed me to Jesus both as a way of life and as a divine love to be shared with God and with everyone and everything in the universe. But I also don’t think I can just point the finger at “other” Christians. My Church is racist. My Church fails to welcome those fleeing persecution. My Church disavows people because of who they are and who they love. My Church voted for Donald Trump twice.

So all I can do is hold this in tension (or non-dually, if you will). The same Church that points to a divine love that is greater than even it understands also wounds people deeply.

One of my favorite prayers in the Christian liturgy is the confession of sin. I think that on behalf of the Church of which I am a part, this is my prayer today:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

This is my prayer for both myself and my church in this time.

Re-Build My Church

Stuart Stevens of the Lincoln Project has an excellent article out today about the electoral moment we are in. I’m not going to comment on whether I think he is correct in his reading of who will win on November 3, but his comments about the Republican party struck me as also applying to the American Church:

“There are many good men and women in the Republican party, but they have proven themselves to be smaller than the moment demanded. They stink of fear and desperation and it breaks my heart to watch them flail around trying to convince the world, and themselves, that they are not who they have proven to be. I feel sadness. I feel pity. But not remorse.

Today’s Republicans are not worthy of the great legacy they inherited. When grown men and women refuse to denounce a man who boasts he did not rape a woman because “she was not my type,” any semblance of public good has been lost. I can’t direct the Republican party to the lost and found where it might reclaim its soul, but I do know that defeat, while not sufficient, is necessary in order for it to embark on that journey.”

St. Francis, according to tradition, was told by God to “re-build my church.” He then spent the rest of his life doing just that, not only rebuilding the physical church of San Damiano, but also founding an order that inspires not only Franciscans, but Catholics, Protestants, and even people of other religions and no religion to this day.

The church in America, and indeed the larger Church worldwide, has spent the last 400 (or 1700) years building itself on a foundation of empire, conquest, racism, slavery, and genocide. And while many of the rooms it has built on top of that foundation have served it well from time to time, the entire edifice is now at risk of toppling. As the nones and dones stream out of its doors, it has entered a defensive crouch and tied its fortunes to a man who comfortably inhabits the throne of Babylon and Rome.

Regardless of what happens at the end of Trump’s political era, the question for those who remain in the church is whether they will circle the wagons and tighten their grip on their ever shrinking institution, or will they seek to rebuild Christ’s church.

As for me, I know where I will be. I will be trying to rebuild Christ’s church.

The Golden Calf

Yesterday, I stumbled across a Facebook thread between two of my college friends. The thread quickly went off the rails as one of my friends (male) brought their pet topic (abortion) into an unrelated post, and heatedly rebutted all of the comments posted by a number of female commenters including my other friend. Now, I’m totally not surprised by the behavior of my male friend, as he has morphed into an extremely politically and doctrinally rigid person since we left college, which has been a bit shocking to see considering the generous and easygoing person he was when I knew him. And as I watched him mansplain and ultimately belittle those who questioned him, I was saddened to see how small and angry he seemed to have become.

The conversation also led me to think more broadly about the moment we find ourselves in as a country. How have we gotten to a place where our opponents are no longer our neighbors who hold different political views, but that we consider them our enemies out to destroy all that we hold dear? How have we gotten to a place where we are talking about rejecting election results, civil unrest, and perhaps even civil war?

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the ten commandments, the story goes, he found that the Israelites, tired of waiting for him to finish his time with God, had constructed a golden calf to serve as the object of their worship. And some time later, established in the Promised Land, the Israelites, tired of looking weak by not having a King of their own, demanded that God give them one. In both cases, things ended poorly for Israel. Death, misrule, and exile awaited them in their impatience. But how does any of this apply to our current time?

A thought came to me after reading the thread between my two friends. It seems that Americans are having their own Golden Calf Moment. As talk radio morphed into agenda-driven cable news, blogs, and ultimately social media, politics has become more than something that neighbors politely disagree about and then get back to enjoying one another’s company at the pot luck. It has become an all-encompassing idol, crowding out grace and friendship as we draw battle lines.

A few hundred years after the impatience of Israel demanding a King, Jesus came on the scene and told us that “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44). Sadly, even the American church has gone down the road of the tyranny of the golden calf of politics, instead of the narrow gate of servanthood. Can we ever relearn to love our neighbors as ourselves? Can we ever dethrone politics from its priority place in our lives?

If we all make it through this wild election and likely post-election season, my hope is firmly placed in the church, or at least MY church, finding its way in the way of love. The way of Jesus. And not the way of the golden calf of politics.

Evangelicals and Trump

Apparently I’m not completely free, because I still have more to say about evangelicals. It’s a process, y’all.

Previously I’ve talked about how the election of Trump was a watershed moment for my faith with respect to evangelicalism, but I’m only now able to put into words why that is.

You see, evangelicals voted for Trump not in spite of their beliefs, but because of them. At its core, evangelicalism is really just fundamentalism with a pretty face. It is the direct descendant of the modernist need to create a dualistic alternative to science. The whole concept of inerrancy is a reaction to Biblical criticism and scientific fact. Well, once you jettison the tradition of the church, and the Patristic teachings, and you put the Bible in a straightjacket of inerrancy and literalism, funny things happen.

This is how you end up with complementarianism, with its corollary “no women in leadership.” This is how you end up cherry picking a few verses in scripture outside of the entire context of the revealed character of Christ, and saying that some people are going to hell just because of who they love or who they are. This is how you create a militaristic God to support your country’s foreign adventures. This is how you support a culture of incarceration (primarily of the race you are not) because of a need to submit to authority. And this is how you end up with health and wealth theology that has more in common with magic than with the teachings of Jesus.

Because if everything in the Bible is perfect, you have to take the most out-of-context scriptures seriously and come up with some sort of zany theology to match it.

Which leads us back to Trump. When evangelicals looked at Trump and Hillary through the lens of their theology, there really was no choice for them. Hillary was a woman, so she can’t lead the country because complementarianism. And Mike Pence was the kind of guy who will really put the “homosexual agenda” in its place. And Trump waves the flag and promises to protect us from the infidels. And “All Lives Matter,” after all, and the people going to jail really deserve it anyway, and Trump says he’s going to get tough with them. And the Republicans are really God’s party because they acknowledge that the really rich are blessed by God and those who aren’t are just poor slackers who deserve what they get. And Trump is super rich, so he must be super blessed.

And one more thing. Fundamentalism is at its core a deeply insecure belief system. It basically says that the Christian faith is not strong enough to weather the challenges of modernity, and so we must build a “wall around the law” like the Pharisees did to keep people inside. And this insecurity encourages racism, because it encourages a fear of people different than yourself. It encourages misogyny, because once you empower women, what’s next? It encourages homophobia, because that’s one “sin” most evangelicals don’t feel is relevant to them so it’s easy for them to cast the first stone.

So, long story short, the 2016 election was really a clarifying moment for me. It allowed me to see that not only did I not really believe evangelical theology on many key points, but in fact the consequences of adhering to that theology are in fact, dangerous to my relationship with God.

A Remnant

A lightly edited version of a my Tweetstorm from earlier today:

1000% this:

“They contended that white evangelical churches and organizations had for decades supported a political agenda that deemed unborn lives more sacred than living black lives.”

The emerging church tried to find a third way to stay in existing churches while rejecting those churches’ old wineskins. It didn’t work. I would totally follow evangelicals younger than me who leave evangelicalism to form something new outside of it, where justice isn’t a bad word. This movement should absolutely be led by people of color. I would actually submit that white Christians should stop pastoring churches for a couple generations, at least. White people need to learn to stop being in power in this country to wean ourselves off of our feelings (conscious or otherwise) of supremacy.

Trump’s election, in hindsight, was 100% predictable. Most white people can’t abide being led by someone not of their race (and if they are male, their gender). We fought a civil war and a civil rights movement but white people never repented!

There are certain “political” things pastors need to say. Black lives matter. Regardless of how you voted in 2016, supporting Trump now is wrong. The church needs to side with immigrants and refugees. LGBT people are also created in the image of God. If 80% of the church leaves, so be it. But a church that ignores injustice is no church at all.

Lost Mandate

Newt Gingrich is warning us that if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up in an atheist (or) Islamist country by the time his grandchildren (or, to be personal, my children, since they are about the same age) grow up. Now, not to be snarky here (ok, maybe a little), but I’ve never exactly viewed Newt as the Righteous Leader of the Church. But out of charity, I will give him the benefit of the doubt here.

That being said, my question to the Church (not to Newt) is this: what great things has Christendom done for the world which makes an atheist (I will set aside Islamist as that has exactly 0% chance of happening, despite tea party imaginings otherwise) future something to fear?

Is it the fact that we have turned the faith of the one who stated that how we treat the “least of these who are members of my family” reflected our relationship with himself into one solely focused on getting people into heaven and to hell with how they live on earth?

Or perhaps it’s the fact that we have turned the Gospel into a get rich quick scheme. Or a therapeutic treatment to allow us to live our Best Life Now? Or perhaps even that we’ve turned it into just another consumer good to be purchased by its adherents?

And don’t forget the fact that we have allowed his name to be known more for the people we hate and the stridency of our rhetoric than for the love of a God who would live with us and die on the cross to complete his plan for the forgiveness of every last person ever born.

To be perfectly honest, the church in the era of Christendom has lost its mandate to lead. In many ways, I welcome a future run by just about anyone OTHER than us, so that we, as a church, can stop worrying about how we’re going to prevent someone else from screwing things up (in a different way from how we’ve done it), and can focus once again on how we can be a witness to a screwed up world (there’s a better word for that, also featured in a Dead Milkmen song if you want to Google it, but I will refrain from using it out of respect for those who are already offended by my post). A witness of love, justice, compassion, and hope. Not of fear, anger, and uncertainty.

A Vision for the Future

What’s that scripture about “without vision the people perish?”

That’s pretty much how I have felt the past several months – like I am perishing. There’s been a war going on inside myself between the easy path – just go with the evangelical flow and live the typical American Christian lifestyle, which with three young kids is – trust me – very tempting, and the deeper path I believe God has revealed to me over the course of the past couple of years through any number of his servants who are already walking down that path.

But instead of choosing one vision or the other, I have been basically adrift – unwilling to “settle” for the easier path, but afraid that the deeper path is too difficult for a family to pursue. So I’ve been stuck in neutral, and in-and-out of depression because of it.

This is, of course, compounded by the fact that no-one – not my wife, not my church, not my pastor – no-one – is really thinking about the same kinds of things I am right now. It makes no sense to them. Why would I want to go to an Episcopal church on occasion? Why do I find the communion administered at my church lacking? Why would I choose to recite rote prayers at regular intervals? What’s with all of the candles and the sign of the cross? And am I crazy to suggest that perhaps we should be trying to find a way to live in community with other followers of Christ?

Perhaps I am crazy, but it doesn’t help that I’m the only one with this particular brand of craziness in my church.

And yet online I’ve found so many other fellow travelers. Through teachers such as Richard Rohr and Brian McLaren I’ve learned a great deal about the wealth that exists in the broader church, outside of the parochial confines of evangelicalism which largely rejected tradition in the 20th century. Which, of course, helps me feel a little more sane.

So rather than just perish, I figured it might be a good idea to try to construct a vision for what this “deeper path” might look like in my and my family’s life. To start, I wanted to lay out what it might look like in the 5-10 year time horizon. So here are my dreams:

In five to ten years, I would like to be living in the same neighborhood with a number of other families and others who are committed to a common rule of life – centered around a spiritual rhythm, engagement in the missio Dei in our neighborhood, and the pro-active embrace of Christian community for both those inside and outside of our community.

I would like to together start non-profit businesses which could act as “third spaces” for our community and the neighborhood in which we live. Instead of making people come to church, we would have the church come to them – both through these businesses and of course through our interactions with our neighbors.

I strongly desire to have my children see a faith that is active in the world – loving the poor, caring for the hurting, passionately coming to God in prayer, contemplation, and worship. A faith that welcomes all to the table, and that while seeking actively to understand the truth, is humble enough to accept those who may have different understandings without judgement, condemnation, or a need to be “right.”

Now, I can’t see a path to there at this point. I don’t know anyone else who shares this vision. I can’t imagine myself having the time to pursue this and still have any semblance of a family life. And, to be honest, I’ve had Christian community blow up in my face so many times in the past that I have a hard time believing something like this is even possible.

But for the coming year, I would like to start small.

Try to find a way for my family to serve the poor at least once a month.

Consistently pray at least the morning and evening office every day.

Find time at least once a week to sit in silence before God.

Have an extended time with God at least once a month.

Find a way to start sharing the spiritual disciplines I am learning with my wife and kids, and anyone who will listen, to be perfectly honest.

Perhaps if I just start small, then next year God will give me some more steps to take. And maybe that 5-10 year vision will have a chance of coming true after all?