20161108

From Indifference to Love

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! — Psalm 139.23

To love our neighbor is to become involved in politics. From city councils to foreign policy, we are naturally drawn into the realm of politics as we fulfill Scripture’s mandate to care for and serve those God has placed around us. And yet, to be involved in politics is to become frustrated.

The most natural response, especially in a nation lush with freedom and comfort, is to choose indifference. Why get involved when it just results in frustration and disappointment? “A soul becomes apathetic when sick with self indulgence,” reminds Saint Thalassios. Surely if God were to search the heart of the indifferent he would find nothing less.

“Indifference can be tempting—more than that, seductive,” Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel warns in his 1999 speech, The Perils of Indifference. “Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”

Indifference, Wiesel observes, “is not only a sin, it is a punishment.”

In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman…. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.

Our lives will become infinitely more complex as we lean-in to politics on behalf of our neighbor. Of course. But the cost of indifference—willful ignorance, purposeful disengagement, or obstructionism—is far greater. To choose to involve ourselves is itself an act of love—and, as C.S. Lewis reminds:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

May not our hearts be silent; may we find our peace in the sovereignty of God.

Today’s Reading
Hosea 14 (Listen – 1:39)
Psalms 139 (Listen – 2:26)

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20161107

Confessions of Political Radicals

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. — Psalm 138.7

If anything has become clear from vitriol of this election year, it’s that the radical edges of culture have gained louder voices. The problem with these voices is not that they are too radical, but that they are not radical enough. Father Richard Rohr observes:

There is a lot of talk today about “radical” politics. Depending on your political affiliation, the candidates on the other side often look “radical” and “extreme.” “Radical” comes from the Latin word radix, meaning “root.” For something to be “radical” it should cut to the root of our problems, which politics rarely does.

To be radical is to confess. A radical voice not only confesses what it perceives as the key problem, but what, or whom, it trusts in as the ultimate solution. How are we to solve for corruption? How can we end xenophobia?

The solutions put forth over the past few months have asked our nation to double down on its trust in “chariots and horses”—the government’s power and leaders—rather than turn to anything that transcends our most significant national problems. Rohr continues:

True religion is radical. It moves us beyond our “private I” and into full reality. Jesus seems to be saying in the Sermon on the Mount that our inner attitudes and states are the real sources of our problems. We need to root out the problems at that level. Jesus says not only that you must not kill, but that you must not even harbor hateful anger. He clearly begins with the necessity of a “pure heart” and knows that the outer behavior will follow. Too often we force the outer and the inner remains like a cancer.

Living a radical political life is easy. The spectrum of focus is so narrow one never has to deal with internal darkness or cultivate the humility to live at peace with others. But to live a truly radical life—a life rooted in the the gospel’s transformation of self and overflowing with love for others—is a far more severe calling. It is the narrow road of peace few choose over the wide road of angry rhetoric and perpetual cynicism.

True radicals see Christ as their preservation in the midst of trouble. Through their trust in him they relinquish the need to manipulate others into their view, dominate in policy, or demand that earthly events unfold to their pleasing. True radicals have the privilege of seeing their own lives transformed through grace and the faith to believe that the servant’s path will change the world.

Today’s Reading
Hosea 13 (Listen – 2:26)
Psalms 137-138 (Listen – 2:13)

 

20161104

The Church, Politics, and the Future :: Weekend Reading List

“Christians in the first-century were a minority in a hostile world,” observed John Howard Yoder. A theologian and ethicist, Yoder believed that ancient Christianity’s minority status was radically different than the posture every Western Christian after Constantine would embrace. This historic standard is part of why the rapidly diminishing power of cultural Christianity in the U.S. has been so traumatic.

The Church, prior to Constantine, was defined by outward character and practice. Constantine effectively conscripted the West into Christianity—demanding they appear as Christian, or face brutal consequences for defiance. Because everyone essentially held the same external practices, the identity of a true Christian shifted inward, to the transformation of the heart and soul.

Over time the external signs of faith became less and less valued—until even the efficacy of an external sign was questioned. Yoder follows the logic of a modern Christian debating giving away all of his wealth:

What would happen if everyone did it? If everyone gave their wealth away what would we do for capital? If everyone loved their enemies who would ward off the Communists?

This argument could be met on other levels, but here our only point is to observe that such reasoning would have been preposterous in the early church and remains ludicrous wherever committed Christians accept realistically their minority status. For more fitting than “What if everybody did it” would be its inverse, “What if nobody else acted like a Christian, but we did?”

In many ways, the faithful Christians celebrated throughout history are the ones who defied Yoder’s calculated control of external works of faith. “Anyone who has read Eberhard Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography knows it is impossible to distinguish between Bonhoeffer’s life and work,” writes theologian Stanley Hauerwas:

Bonhoeffer’s work from beginning to end was the attempt to reclaim the visibility of the church as the necessary condition for the proclamation of the gospel in a world that no longer privileged Christianity.

Hauerwas notes that, not only was Bonhoeffer’s faith deeply integrated into his life, but, “Bonhoeffer’s life that was at once theological and political.” Quoting from The Cost of Discipleship, Hauerwas continues:

According to Bonhoeffer sanctification, properly understood, is the church’s politics. For sanctification is only possible within the visible church community. “That is the ‘political’ character of the church community. A merely personal sanctification which seeks to bypass this openly visible separation of the church-community from the world confuses the pious desires of the religious flesh with the sanctification of the church-community, which has been accomplished in Christ’s death and is being actualized by the seal of God.”

Bonhoeffer saw that the holiness of the church is necessary for the redemption of the world.

Though Bonhoeffer saw American theology as superficial, he has many followers currently echoing his ethos for Christian praxis. A New Yorker profile on the Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore noted, “he says that Christians in America must learn to think of themselves as a marginal community, struggling to survive in an increasingly hostile secular culture.”

Moore tends toward introspection, admonishing Southern Baptists to think first—and often—about their own sins. The denomination was formed, in 1845, by white Southerners who split off from a national Baptist movement that was growing increasingly intolerant of slavery. Moore sees in his theological ancestors a cowardly and catastrophic willingness to ignore the uncomfortable. “If you call people to repentance for drunkenness, or for adultery, or for any number of personal sins, but you don’t say anything about slaveholding or about lynching,” he says, “you’re just baptizing the status quo.”

Though leaders change and the appearances of majority diminish, the call and foundation of the Church remain. Hauerwas, again quoting Bonhoeffer, concludes:

The church names that community that lives in radical hope in a world without hope. To so live means the church cannot help but be different from the world. Such a difference is not an end in itself but “automatically follow[s] from an authentic proclamation of the gospel.”

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Hosea 10 (Listen – 2:47)
Psalms 129-131 (Listen – 2:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
Hosea 11 (Listen – 1:53) Psalms 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)
Hosea 12 (Listen – 1:51) Psalms 135-136 (Listen – 4:23)

 

20161103

Seeing Beyond Suffering :: Throwback Thursday

By William Cooper (fl. 1653)

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! — Psalm 126.5

It is a very high privilege for a Christian to be conformed to Christ. To be conformists to Christ, is to be nonconformists to the world. But what conforms us more to Christ than the cross? Therefore give thanks for it. “That I may know the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

This is part of that excellent knowledge for which Paul accounted all other worldly privileges but dung. To this conformity in afflictions unto Christ we are predestinated. “If we suffer with him, we shall be glorified together.” It is this way that Christ entered into glory. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

If we will enter with him, we must follow after him. How? By taking up his cross. The cross of Christ sweetens our sufferings in the bitterness of them—as that piece of wood sweetened the waters of Marah. Christ, like a good physician, first tasted the medicine that he gave his patient.

Never hope to go another way than the Captain of our salvation hath led us; for if we baulk his track, we are lost. Must we not then give thanks for affliction that conforms us to our Head?

The cross is a Christian’s banner, his honor, and the special favor of the Lord towards him—therefore be thankful for it. Let not this seem a riddle or paradox. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” This he accounts a peculiar gift of God to them, whereof but few in comparison do partake.

Mark what the apostle Peter says: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” God’s Spirit manifests itself variously in several subjects; but in sufferers for Christ the very spirit and quintessence of glory seems to be extracted and poured on them.

Upon all these accounts, and many more such, we are to thank God for crosses and corrections, because the good of them doth flow from God’s goodness, not from their nature. The Lord can make the persecutors of his people instruments of good to his people: no thanks to them, but to him.

Today’s Reading
Hosea 9 (Listen – 2:52)
Psalms 126-128 (Listen – 1:58)

 

20161102

Augustine on Political Leadership

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! — Psalm 123.1

We do not attribute the power of kingdoms and empires to anyone except the true God. It is He who gives happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven to the righteous. And it is He who gives kingly power on earth, both to the righteous and the unrighteous, as it pleases Him. His good pleasure is always just.

He is the one true God who never leaves the human race without justice and help. He gave a kingdom to the Romans, as He also did to the Assyrians—and even the Persians, who, as their own books testify, only worshipped two gods—to say nothing of the Hebrew people, who, as long as they were a kingdom, worshipped none save the true God.

The same One who gave to the Persians harvests gave power to Augustus and also to Nero. To avoid the necessity of going over all of those to whom He has enthroned: He who gave power to the Christian Constantine also gave it to the apostate Julian—whose gifted mind was deceived by a sacrilegious and detestable curiosity, stimulated by the love of power.

Are not all things ruled and governed by the one God as He pleases—and if His motives are hidden, are they therefore unjust?

For if you are awaiting an opportunity, not for liberty to speak the truth, but for license to revile, may you remember Cicero, who says concerning some, “Oh, wretched are those at liberty to sin!” Whoever deems himself happy because of license to revile, he would be far happier if that were not allowed at all.

The cause of the greatness of the Roman empire is neither fortuitous nor fatal. (Some call things fortuitous which have either no causes or causes which do not proceed from some intelligible order; others call that which happens independently of the will of God and man fatal.) In a word, human kingdoms are established by divine providence.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.

God is supreme and true—He can never be believed to have left the kingdoms of men, their dominations and servitudes, outside of the laws of His providence.

*Abridged and adapted from The City of God.

Today’s Reading
Hosea 8 (Listen – 1:58)
Psalms 123-125 (Listen – 1:52)