Do we trade in faith for politics?

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This is not a new topic for me.  I’ve written about it several times before.  It’s a question that is foundational for Christians – what is your foundation?  Where does your hope lie?

Does your hope lie in politicians of either political party?  Does your salvation come from one political party or the other controlling the US government in 2016?

Michael Gerson wrote an opinion piece in June asking a similar question to Evangelical leaders about their an event they held in support of the Trump candidacy:

The whole event, however, was taken — by the media, public and Trump campaign itself — as an evangelical Christian stamp of approval. Seldom has a group seemed more eager to be exploited.

and…

We are reminded, second, that much of the religious right’s criticism of President Bill Clinton’s character was a ploy. Franklin Graham now argues that because Abraham lied, Moses disobeyed God and David committed adultery, Trump should get a pass, not just on his personal behavior but also on his deception, cruelty and appeal to bigotry. It is a non sequitur revealing the cynical subordination of faith to politics.

Gerson is right on target with both of these statements.

And yet, he’s missing something else – the same could be said of the focus (however smaller it may be, yet it’s still there) of Christian leaders offering some kind of endorsement of Hillary Clinton too.

When did Christian leaders go around openly endorsing candidates for office?  Actually this has been going on for some time in some Christian circles.  Yet, that doesn’t excuse it.  Often it ends up sounding like what Gerson mentioned in the second quote above.

It is subordination of faith to politics – telling everyone that what is really important ultimately is politics.  Our faith can be bent to fit whatever political persuasion we hold on to.

If that is the case, then that faith is worthless.  Christianity is just like any other power hungry organization that has existed throughout history – more interested in fighting over and about obtaining power and using it, rather than something radically different in human history.

All of this is not to say that Christian leaders should not voice their opinions about politics.  What I’m saying is this – what’s most important.  Does one’s politics and ideology influence their religious and faith life?  If so, then we’ll be able to hear it in the pronouncements about who is good and who is bad, who is in and who is out, who is with us and and who is with them.  The hallmark of politics is division and power.  If politics is our foundation, then our religion and faith will be shaped by these things.

If, on the other hand that our faith is our foundation, then how we do politics will be different – radically different.  Jesus is the best example of this.  There were so many times that those with a political bent tried to get Jesus to play by their rules – to determine if he was with “us” or “them.” And you know what Jesus did – he changed the rules.  As Christians, we are called to change the rules, to live by a different set values and beliefs that guide us.

What is your foundation?

Oldest High School in Reykjavik

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Right near the pond sits the oldest high school in Reykjavik – Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík.

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Here’s I’m offering a different view of the building, because, well, I thought it was a neat angle.

This is a really old school – dating back to 1056.  You know what was going on at that time?  In 1054, the Orthodox churches split off from Rome.  That’s how far back we are talking.

Maybe that’s another reason for the alternative view of the building.  It’s seen a great deal of change and history over time.  Yet it continues to stand.

Where are the thinkers?

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Last week I wrote about the need for prophets of different varieties. I focused on political prophets – those wise individuals who can see past party loyalty to tell others where things are headed.

Over the weekend I found others calling for something similar.  E.J.Dionne, Jr, wrote a great piece asking where the faith leaders are.

What has happened to the religious intellectuals, the thinkers taken seriously by nonbelievers as well as believers?

It’s a good question.  It’s also a bit limited in nature.

Where are the thinkers in society overall?  They seem to be missing in our current age of rage, raw emotion, anger, and short attention spans.

Or maybe the thinkers are there, just as they have always been in society.  Maybe it’s just that there is so much noise and distractions that we have a hard time hearing them through all the noise.  Maybe it has to do with these voices no longer being being turned to because they provide no entertainment value or grab ratings for the moderation they offer.  Maybe because thinking takes more than 30 seconds to accomplish.

We don’t live in an age in which thinking is valued.  We value data and information, but rarely do we actually value processing of that information, patience in seeing things through to the end, contemplation, discernment.  I don’t think this is a radical statement though.  We live in the age of the instant – the instant communication, instant gratification, instant response, instant coverage, etc.

Thinking takes time.  Some of the best thinkers took years to contemplate a problem before they came out with a solution or response.  Taking time allows one to see past the immediate and instant to something much larger and long term.  Sometimes an immediate action is required, but I’m willing to bet that this is not the majority of times.  Often a much better solution can be found by sitting on the situation for a short time or longer.

So where are the thinkers?  I think they are all around us actually.  They are busy thinking, contemplating, and discerning situations in life.  They know they can’t think and respond continuously.  They are there.  We just need to stop and listen to what they are saying instead of jumping to the next crisis or finding out what candidate x said about candidate y.

This week I challenge you – take some time to think, contemplate, and discern for a bit about something going on in life.  Put your phone and computer down and just sit and think.  Wonder what could be different.  Then go and try some things out.

Pond with a view

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In the middle of Reykjavik there is a pond.  On one side is the city hall and on the other is more of the city.

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Actually, City Hall sits in the pond.  It’s a pretty neat building.  The outside has neat architectural design, even with the gray slab look.  The inside is pretty cool too.

The bridge is a nice feature.  When you are on it, it offers some nice views of the city in all directions.

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And some great cityscape too..

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Oh how we need prophets these days

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There’s a lot of chatter out there.  If you aren’t careful, you can easily get caught up in who said what to who and when.

Here’s the secret, in about a week, it won’t matter because the chattering class will be chattering about something new that someone said.

We have a short attention span.  The question is which came first – our attention spans or the focus on reporting something that is supposedly news, even though it isn’t?

I do a good deal of reading.  Some out of necessity – I’m a seminary student.  But I read other stuff for pleasure.  I usually don’t read much about current events and I don’t like to read fiction.  There’s too much good non-fiction out there to get through, in my opinion.  I prefer to read about ideas and historical events and figures – you know theology, philosophy, and political philosophy.  I love to think and write and talk about ideas.  There’s nothing wrong with other subjects, they just don’t interest me as much.  It’s good that other people like them.

I’m finding myself reading less and less political commentary lately.  I find most of the political pundits who write are nothing more than opportunists who change their beliefs as needed to meet the candidate they support.  There are few that I can rely on for good commentary – people like David Brooks, Reed Galen, Rich Galen, etc.  They are appear to me to be a bit more objective.  I also realize everyone has a bias, so maybe I match their biases.  Regardless, they are able to do something that is rare in these days – they criticize their own political party in thought provoking ways – not just lobbing rhetorical bombs.  In a way, I see them as political prophets.

Let me explain the word prophet though. I’m not using the word in the way it is misused today – predicting the future.  No, rather, an older definition.  A prophet is someone who takes notice of what is going on.  They see what is going on, name it, and tell everyone else where they are headed if they continue on the journey – the logical conclusion.  A prophet isn’t someone who makes wild predictions about death and destruction or the end of the world.  They talk about what’s going on right now and tell everyone – “If you keep this up, this is where it ends up.  This is where the road ends.  And it isn’t a good thing.”

Most prophets I know of aren’t happy about being prophets.  They would rather be wrong in their assessments.  They pray to God they would be wrong.  Yet, they can’t help but tell the truth.  They can’t help but offer a warning – something that might open the eyes of the blinded masses, something that might open the ears of the deafened mob.  Or at the very least might cause a few willing individuals to take notice and make appropriate changes in preparation for the coming chaos.  Prophets aren’t happy about being prophets.

And the mob, the mass crowds don’t like the prophets.  So often in the bible, prophets were killed for what they said.  We kill our prophets in other ways – usually rhetorical ways.  The crowd doesn’t want to hear the truth.  They don’t want to be woken up or have their eyes open.  They are too busy in their moment.  For now the universe swirls around them.  A crowd doesn’t allow for individual thought and analysis – it only acts as a herd.

Being a prophet can be awfully lonely.  It can be costly too.  But I pray to God that God would continue to send prophets to us for various parts of life and society.  They are so needed.  I also pray that people would listen to these prophets.  Open our ears and eyes.  Open my ears and eyes to hear and to see.

 

Icelandic tribute to…

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The unnamed bureaucrat.

 

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That’s what this statue is called.  I’m not sure what to make of it really.  It think it’s neat that they pay tribute to all the unnamed people who do stuff behind the scenes.  They are the ones who carry out all the rules and regulations and orders of the elected officials.

And again, it’s nice to see a statue to someone other than a military figure riding his stead after killing off the enemy in a pose that the person never actually was in.

The statue makes me think about all the other unnamed individuals who go to work each day and never receive any accolades for their efforts.  And not just government employees.  Think about that in every other industry – they are all there.  Now expand that list to include the entire world, throughout all of human working history.  Now go further back to all the humans who existed before we came up with the concept of doing something in exchange for money or other goods.  That’s a lot of people.

 

Why do people submit themselves to things they know they don’t like?

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Who do people who despise, can’t stand, and wouldn’t vote a political party candidate watch video and read articles about that candidate when they know they are going to just get upset?

This is not the same as reading an article from an opposing viewpoint with an open mind or a desire to understand how someone could come to support the other candidate.  Are they looking for something to find to confirm that they are right about the candidate?  But one piece of info is never enough – we need a daily hit of it apparently.  Or so it seems if you follow what people post on social media.

I wonder, it is because in a society in which there is only the dichotomy of left/right, right/wrong, what else could there be?  Christians carry a false belief that they have to change the government – where did that idea come from?  When did we mix up Jesus’ call to be Christians and serve our neighbors with our false belief that we had to change the culture to fit our beliefs?  It’s as if we have traded in the Good News with some idea of what good government is.  Have we traded the belief that salvation comes from Jesus in for a different faith – one that claims that our salvation comes from politicians and government?  That’s idolatry.

We spend so much time focused on fighting over partisan politics – at least here in the US we do anyway.  We spend great amounts of energy, effort, money, time, and attention over who’s in charge of the government and complaining about what the government is doing and not doing as if it is the government that is called by Jesus to carry out Christian discipleship.  Maybe we’ve forgotten something essential about Jesus and Christianity.  Jesus didn’t go and petition government.  Jesus went out and did stuff for his neighbors – in spite of government and long established cultural divides.  And he calls on us to go and do some important things too – like feed the hungry, visit those in prison, clothe the naked, visit the sick, journey with the outcasts of society.

Why are we so damn focused on government as if it is the most important thing in life?  What if we took just one hour from all the fighting over government and went out and did something that Jesus called us to do instead?  Just one hour.  Can we put our fighting aside?  Can we actually live like Christians for a just a short while?  Or are we only interested in having the label Christian so we can sit at our smart phones and computers so smugly pointing out how the other side is wrong.  That’s not what being a Christian is – that’s more like a modern-day Pharisee.

I find myself reading fewer and fewer partisan political posts and articles.  They are just more of the same rhetoric of a partisan political dogma that I reject.  My faith isn’t in government and politicians and political parties.  It’s in God.  Where is your faith and trust?

God, government, and country…Iceland style

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In many ways Iceland is so unique.  They are extremely progressive on many issues, small in number, on top of ways to use safe energy, etc.

Yet in other ways, Iceland is just like many “older” nations – the link between God and country has been there for so very long.  Not in a American way.  No, more European in mindset.

First is the Parliament building.

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The building itself isn’t much to look at.  But look at the top.

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There’s the Icelandic flag and a crown – a hat tip to the Danish monarchy that ruled Iceland for so many centuries.

The garden in the back of the building is actually much nicer.

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The great thing about Iceland is that you can go pretty much anywhere and you won’t see any security guards.  I have no doubt that they are watching your every step, but at the same time, not having security present all the time gives a different feel – that there is a different level of trust between the governing and the governed.

Across the street from parliament is the cathedral.

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Being Scandinavian in outlook, the Lutheran church is the state church.  Pastors are paid by the state and the church serves an important symbolic function in Iceland.  There are positives and negatives to this, too many to go through in this post.  The point is this – there is no separation between church and state here.  The church serves the needs of the state.  That’s the price you pay when you accept money from the state.

Lastly, there is the tribute to great people of the past in Iceland.

First there is the founder of the capitol.

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Looks like a pleasant man, huh?

And across the street in the park opposite the parliament there is another statue.

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The biggest difference regarding statues between Iceland and the rest of Europe is this – they don’t have guys on horses here for the most part.  That may be because they generally don’t celebrate military figures here.  They are more concerned with culture.  Not a bad thing.

Another day, another fight over who is right

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This time it was in a Facebook group.  It was a fight picked by some people who wanted to say they are right about who can and can’t receive communion in church.  It’s a heady theological argument that has been going on for centuries and will probably go on for centuries more.

Their argument was…well, it really doesn’t matter.  They were using a tactic that slammed those who disagree by claiming that opening up communion to non-baptized people was making church have less meaning.  You know, claim your opposition is the cause of the downfall of the organization.  Nice.  Great Christian example to follow.

A great way to create conversation with differing sides right?

How many different things can we possibly fight about?  Seriously.  When will we learn that being right is not as important as so many other things in life.  Maybe I should clarify.  Having the right theology is important.  Theology is supposed to guide our lives and dictate how we live.  So having a good theology is important.  It’s like having a solid foundation for a house.  A foundation though is only good for one house.  The point of a foundation is not to convince everyone else to have the same foundation.  It’s to make your home more solid and firm so that you can live your life.  Isn’t theology supposed to act the same way?

What’s the deal with the focus on being right anyway?  Why do we make other people who disagree with us feel like crap or lay guilt at their feet?  What are we trying to accomplish anyway?  Are you trying to “save” everyone else?  They maybe we should check our theology – it might need a little tune up.  The last time I checked Christian theology, it claimed that Jesus was the Savior, not each of us.  Our job isn’t to save other people.  Rather it’s to proclaim the Good News, serve our neighbors joyfully, and live out our faith.  How others respond is between God and them.

Maybe the point of being right is because we’re all so scared inside – afraid that what we believe is just a bunch of BS.  So if we can get others to buy in, well, then there is strength in numbers – we must be right if others buy in right?  It’s a form of self-validation.  But really, it’s just us admitting that we have trust issues with God.

Here’s what I know – not much.  The people I have met that are most confident in their faith don’t spend time trying to correct everyone else or shove their theology down others’ throats.  They live their theology out each day – it’s their guiding principle.  And they manage to do that without picking fights about religion and faith.  They are too busy living our their calling to be bothered with fighting about it.

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