Tag Archives: Obama

Where is the Love?

I am not a conservative or a liberal – as they are portrayed by the other side.  Most people aren’t.  I know that good, loving people can consider the same issue, read the same Bible, pray to the same God, worship in the same pew, and come to very different conclusions.  Some of the most valuable lessons about God and Christ have been taught to me by people that would consider themselves liberal and conservative.  I’ve been taught about grace, and shown unconditional love by people from across the spectrum.  Differing political opinions do not have to be the end of a loving relationship.  If they are, then we’re all in more trouble than I thought.

The current political climate is a difficult one to manage.  I have some strong feelings, and I’m sure you do to.  I have come to my conclusions through prayer, Bible study, reading other sources, examining the current culture, talking to friends, listening to speeches, and a variety of other ways.  I try to listen to those with whom I disagree, but like most people I probably go to my tried-and-true comfortable sources more often than not.  I have changed my mind over the years.  I have cast ballots that I now regret.  My faith informs everything I do, including how I vote.  It must also include how I engage with those with whom I disagree.

I try to focus not on the areas in which I disagree with others, but seek to strengthen the places of contact.  I try to focus on those things which we can agree, and see where it goes from there.  I think an important starting point is here: Acknowledge that the world is broken and in need of healing, so let’s love each other and leave room for disagreement.

I guess that is the question with which I struggle.  Can we love each other and leave room for disagreement?  And a second question that seems to be of particular importance to our churches.  Can we disagree and still work together for the Kingdom?

My answer to these questions is “Yes, and Yes.”  But it’s not easy.  How do we go about loving each other in the midst of disagreement?

Remember that all people are created in the image of God.  Every person is of sacred worth, and is loved by God.  Even if they are driving you nuts.  Even if you think that person is a conceited, ignorant, know-it-all.  That person is loved by God.

Remember that all people are flawed.  And so am I.  I am not the final authority.  I’m just a guy with a wordpress account.

Consider the last time you  changed your mind.  Someone in one of my Bible studies brought this point up.  When was the last time you changed your mind?  If it has been awhile, then ask yourself why that is.  I’m also guessing that you didn’t change your mind because of a well constructed 140 character tweet, or a bitingly funny picture with words on it.

Be willing to concede that the Bible says a lot of things, and also very little.  The Bible should be the primary guide to discernment for Christians.  According to the United Methodist Church, “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”  In other words, it is our greatest source of divine truth, but it is not the only source of truth in the world.  For most modern issues that are so divisive, it has little to say directly, but much to say indirectly.  I try to take it as a whole, living Word.  This means Bible verse wars are probably not very productive.  In depth analysis, reading, prayer, and conversation over the Scriptures can be extremely productive.

Keep your eye on the mission.  Instead of getting bogged down in particulars and pet projects, see the grander scope of what’s being done.  Part of the political disconnect is that it seems like the mission has turned into winning, when the mission should be working to make our nation stronger, more stable, and safer.  If we can start with a common interest, e.g., helping the poor, then a conversation can begin.  What is the nature of charity?  What does the Bible say about how a government should care for its people?  If we start with a common value, then the particulars of how to go about that become ways to grow, learn, and expand.

-Acknowledge that there are fundamental differences sometimes, but this can be a good thing.  In other words, we need each other.  Liberals and Conservatives and everyone in-between needs each other. We need each other to act as checks and balances.  We need conflict to generate creativity, but sometimes the conflict can rise to levels that are destructive.  Media, pundits, memes, TV commercials,and tweets like caricatures.  They like broad sweeping statements and biting sound bites.  They love gaffes – as if Mitt Romney actually believes that corporations are people, or that Barack Obama actually believes he built your small business for you.  Candidates are not sound bites.  People are not caricatures.  Values, beliefs, and principles cannot be wrapped into packages and labeled.

Can we disagree and still work for the Kingdom?  If the answer is no, then I am deeply saddened.  I pray that the answer is yes, we can work together in the midst of disagreement.

We need each other.  The body of Christ is meant to be a complex, working body.  There is room at the table for everyone.  I may be more liberal than you.  I may be more conservative than you, but I will do my best to love you.  I believe together, with the Holy Spirit, we can make a difference in this broken world.  I believe that together, in the midst of turmoil, political bantering, name-calling, and fear, we can bring people to know the good news of Jesus Christ.  We can work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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10 years later in a 9/12 world

Photo taken by my good friend Rev. Scott Elliott. This is part of a mural in a Sunday school room. The original art is by Steve Selpal and the gifted artists who painted it were Steve, Anita Knapp Kidney, Lizzy Knapp and Emily Knapp.

I’m wondering.  Did our world change, or just our perspective of it?  In many ways, the answer is obvious, and it runs deeper than longer lines at the airport and more flags flying from front porches. Two wars have been fought.  Thousands have died.  The lives of the families of those that were lost were changed in ways I cannot even fathom.  Billions have been spent.  Countless tears have been shed.  There are many ways the world has changed.  We live in a more fearful era.  There is less trust.  There is more resentment.

Yet at the same time I can’t help but wonder if the world really changed, or just the way we see it.  There was terror on September 10, 2001.  There were people that hated America.  There were people that feared Muslims.  There was injustice.  Innocents died.  People mourned.  We have a tendency to look back at our country before 9-11 and glamorize it.  Listening to the accounts of the day makes me wonder if people think that economic turmoil, political upheaval, and fearful lashing out with violence are new to the world.

We live in a September 12 world, and we are keenly aware of this world’s problems, but they were not invented on that terrible day.  We continue to struggle with the events of September 11 and wonder when we may get past it.  We wonder how long we will live in fear?  How long will we live with resentment?  How long will we live in suspicion?  When will September 13 come?  When will healing come?  When will peace come?  Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! (Psalm 130).

As Christians, none of this should come as a surprise.  We live most of our lives in a Saturday world.  Saturday is the day of waiting.  It is after the terror of Friday and before the joy of Sunday.  It lies in the midst of fear and speculation.  Most of the disciples responded to Jesus’ death as most humans would.  They ran.  They hid.  They locked themselves in a room and wondered, “When are they coming for us? How long will we live in fear?  How long will we live with resentment?  How long will we live in suspicion?”  They might have remembered the promises of Jesus while he walked with them, but all they could see were the lashes on his back and the crown of thorns on his head.  All they could hear were his cries of pain.  All they could taste were their own tears.  All they could touch was the cold and lifeless body of their teacher, their friend, their Messiah.

How long must we live in Saturday?  How long must we live in September 12? 

I’m not sure I can answer that question.  I know this: The disciples didn’t come out of that locked room on their own.  It took the resurrected Jesus to break through the barriers that men built.  It took the risen Lord to overcome their fear and their doubt.  It took the loving arms of the Son of God to set them free and send them into the world to set others free.

In the few days that followed the attacks on 9/11, none of us really had a choice.  We were deep in the shock of sadness and fear.  I remember being glued to the TV for hours on end with tears dried on my face.  I remember coming to grips with the fact that my freedom and safety was in jeopardy.  My world changed that day, or was it just my perspective?  Did I finally awaken to the reality of the world that had so long been easy to ignore?

Ten years later, we all have a choice.  The shock has long worn off, so now we have the ability to choose.  With what perspective are we going to look at the world?  I have lived through the pain of Good Friday.  I have waited through the despair of Saturday, and I have risen with Jesus in glorious resurrection on Sunday.  I know there is much to do.  I know we are not there yet, but I have been shown the way.

So now, in the midst of our September 12 world, we must choose.  In your own September 12 world, which do you choose? Hope or despair?  Understanding or ignorance?  Mercy or vengeance?  Reconciliation or bitterness?  Grace or judgment?  Justice or oppression?

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Is that what I’m supposed to be chanting right now?  Should I be waving my flag and shaking my fist.  Should I pop some champaign, honk my car horn and shoot off some fireworks?  I just heard (on ESPN of all places) that Osama Bin Laden is dead.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to react.

Should I be excited?  Should I be proud?  Should I feel safer? Should I feel sorrow?

At this point, I’m not really sure what I feel.  I still remember the numbing sadness of September 11.  I remember running out of tears on that horrible morning as I was glued to the television for hours on end.  I remember the anger, the sadness and the confusion.

Now that Bin Laden is dead, should I be happy?  Does the death of this sick and twisted man take away any of that pain?

I’m thinking of the last ten years as the United States has responded to that awful day with two wars, trillions spent, an economy in shambles, and thousands dead.  Will the death of Bin Laden bring our troops home?  Will it make any of them safer tonight as they sleep on foreign soil?

The President is about to speak.  Should I feel proud that I voted for him?  Should I think more of his presidency?  I’m not sure how much he had to do with this.  I am sure in the next few days Republicans and Democrats will tell me about how I should feel about this night.  And I have a feeling that they will tell me very different things.

On September 12, 2001 I bought an US flag and hung it outside my balcony window.  I called a Muslim friend of mine, hoping that he was safe, afraid that he might face violence because of the church at which he chose to worship.  Will he face violence again tonight?

All I can know for sure tonight is that I am thankful for the American soldiers that have dedicated their lives to my protection.  I am thankful that someone else was able to do the work that I could not imagine doing.  I pray for our American soldiers everywhere as they continue their efforts to protect us.  I pray for those that are now in increased danger because of bin Laden’s death.

Above all I pray for peace.  Osama bin Laden died tonight.  It’s not often that I feel that the cause of peace can be advanced with weapons of war, but surely that has happened tonight.  Surely we have taken a step toward peace, right?  It is difficult to know how big of a step.  A man who dedicated his life to evil – to killing innocents and framing it as the will of God – is dead.

I pray that no one else has to die in order to defend liberty.

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The Great Disconnect, Part II

President Obama announced yesterday that he has struck a deal with Republicans.  On the surface, this sounds great.  I’m all for getting a little governing done – compromise; make deals; cross the aisle.  It sounds good.  But then I read a little bit more about what the general facts of this compromise, and I’m so let down.  Again.  To me, this compromise epitomizes what is wrong with our political system – no one is willing to do anything that might be unpopular.

I don’t know all the details of what is going on.  I am only a casual oberver of politics.  I’ve made it clear before that I voted for Obama, and would consider myself more of a Democrat than a Republican, but I’ve never been a strict party-line follower.  I’ve voted several times in important elections for third-party candidates just because I don’t think either party gets it.  And this compromise is a perfect example.

Everyone seems to recognize the problem with a huge national debt.  It reached an alarming level generations ago, and it has only gotten worse (with a brief respit in the 90s when the federal government actually had a budget surplus).  Today, the national debt is beyond what a person can even fathom.

To paint with an extremely wide brush, I can sum things up by saying that Republicans want to lower taxes and lower spending to get the budget under control.  This would allow the free market and capitalism to “do its thing,” so that people can work and buy and own and sell without impediment.  Without government interference, investors can do more investing, which then creates jobs, which creates income for all people – including the working poor.  In short, lower taxes and lower spending benefits all and balances the budget.

On the other hand, Democrats are generally okay with higher taxes and more government programs to create a safety net for people.  They believe that the free market, left unimpeded, simply creates a wider disparity between rich and poor.  They are in favor of a progressive tax, meaning that higher incomes are taxed at higher rates because people with higher incomes have presumably reaped the benefits of society, and should therefore pay for it. In short, higher taxes and social programs benefit all and balances the budget.

I do not believe that either stance is inherently more moral, or even more correct.  I think there are problems with both.  I think there is room for both as well.  I think the values of either side have merit, and either side expressed without checks would be dangerous.  The problem is, in our political system, neither side has the courage to do the unpopular part of their system.

In other words, Democrats want to spend on important programs, but they do not have the courage to push for higher taxes.  Republicans want to lower taxes, but do not have the courage to actually cut any programs.  The recent compromise was a perfect example of this.

The Democratic President wanted to raise taxes and extend unemployment benefits.  The Republicans in Congress wanted to keep taxes at the lower level, and end unemployment benefits.  This is perfectly in line with the basic values of each party.  But when they came to a compromise, they picked the two popular, more expensive, and thus defecit-inducing solutions.  The compromise was to extend the unemployment benefits, which will raise government spending; and keep taxes lower, which will keep revenue lower.   So what do we get: More spending and less revenue.  In other words: defecit.

Instead of two parties that hold onto their values, and come to tough compromises, we have two parties that are concerned only with holding onto their jobs.  The Democrats keep spending on programs, but don’t have the will to actually raise taxes to pay for them.  The Republicans keep lowering taxes, but don’t have the will to actually cut programs.  I realize that this is an oversimplification, but the end result is clear.  What we have is a great disconnect – a cycle of creating programs we don’t have money for and cutting taxes because its popular.

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Inaugural thoughts

This post appeared last Thursday in the Chenoa Town Crier:

As I write this I am watching the inauguration of Barrack Hussein Obama as the President of the United States of America. This is a remarkable day in the history of this country. Inauguration Day is always a day of looking forward.

It is natural to think about what will happen in the next four years. At this inauguration, it is difficult not to think about the last forty years as well. We are at a unique place in our history – a place future historians may use to mark the change of an era.

We look back on a troubled past. We look back on three hundred years of slavery, another hundred years of segregation and Jim Crow. We look back at race riots in our cities. We look back on fire hoses spraying and dogs attacking young people in the streets. We look back at white hoods, burning crosses, and ropes hanging from trees.

On a day such as this it is difficult not to think of the road that has led to an African American man being sworn in as the President of the United States. It is a road marked with tragedies and triumphs, of villains and heroes.

As we look at Barack Obama laying his hand on the Bible that was last used to swear in Abraham Lincoln, it is easy to feel good about the journey we have made. Yes, there have been some mistakes along the way, but today we see that the ideals on which this country stands – that all men are created equal – are more than words.

We also have to know that the road has not ended. An African American in the White House does not mean that racism in America is over.

This is a lesson I learned a little over a year ago.

I received a letter with no return address, addressed in barely legible handwriting. It was a newsletter and recruitment letter into the Ku Klux Klan. This group, which has the audacity to call itself a Christian group, sent this letter to me in hopes that as a Pastor, I might be interested in joining.

It made me physically ill. I believe I was targeted in their recruitment because I am a pastor. They obviously did not know that I was a student member of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP. I don’t remember the details of their newsletter. I didn’t keep it. But it served as a stark reminder that our journey is not over.

Even as we look at our road and feel good for the distance which we have traveled, we are reminded by gestures, both large and small, that we have a long way to go. In recent months I have had conversations with people that believe we will never be one people. That race problems will always divide us.

Every day I live, every sermon I preach, every page of the Bible I read tells me that is not how God wants us to live. In the core of who I am is the belief that we as a people are created by God in God’s image, and that what unites us is stronger than the forces that try to divide us. I know the journey is not over, and it will probably not be over in my lifetime, but the struggle continues.

We may not make it to the Promised Land, but we continue to struggle. One person at a time, one relationship at a time, we move toward the day when the love of God overcomes all. As Christians we are called to do no less than work for the Kingdom of God.

So today I pray for Barrack Hussein Obama, and I pray for those that sent me that recruitment letter. I pray for our country, that we may overcome the challenges we face. And I pray for our world, that as children of God we may move together one step at a time toward the Kingdom of God.


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Obama and Hank Aaron.

I have yet to get political on this blog, but I have also not been shy about letting people know who I would vote for in the weeks and months leading up to last night’s election.  We have had Obama ’08 bumper stickers on both our cars since the primary.  My wife and I went to Lafayette, Ind., during the primary to hang signs on doors. 

We went to Springfield to see Obama introduce Joe Biden.  I was quoted on the front page of the newspaper the next day and was identified as “An Obama supporter from Chenoa.”  I also shook Obama’s hand that day and was giddy for a week as I told the story to anyone that would listen.  On facebook I have made a point to let everyone there know that I am an Obamamaniac. I have refrained from making any political statements from the pulpit, and I did not go so far as to put a lawn sign in front of the parsonage, but I think everyone that knows me knows who I voted for yesterday.

While pondering his extraordinary road to victory, I am reminded of Hank Aaron.  You might know Aaron as the second-leading home run hitter in baseball history.  He broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs in 1974. Aaron hit his 713th home run on the second to last day of the 1973 season, and spent the offseason just one home run shy of the most renowned record of all of sports – owned by the greatest figure of American sports history, Babe Ruth.

After the last game of the 1973 season, Aaron wondered if he would make it to the 1974 season, and he had good reason to wonder.  No one knew about it at the time, but Aaron was receiving threatening letters as he approached Ruth’s record.  During the offseason the death threats poured in.  Some of the most hateful, vitriolic things ever written were directed at this quiet and peaceful man.  “Hammerin” Hank was the most consistent hitter baseball has ever known, but because of the color of his skin, he became a target.  Recent accounts of this time have revealed that Aaron had a full squad of body guards, that he lost weight and sleep.   One reporter covering the chase at the time wrote Aaron’s obituary, with the foreboding knowledge of what could come.  After Aaron’s 715th home run, two teenagers ran out on the field to congratulate him, many feared for a moment they were there to harm him.  In recent interviews Aaron admits that he did not enjoy the chase, and that the ugliness that came with it made him bitter for many years.

Last night Barack Obama became the first African-American President-Elect.  As I watched him give his speech, which brought me to tears twice, a nagging feeling lingered.  I believe that one day we will find out that Obama experienced much of the same hatred that encountered Aaron.  I am sure that he has been bombarded with ugliness that most of us have never experienced.  As much as yesterday was about hope, I am realistic enough to know that even though 54% of Americans voted for Barack Obama to be the President of the United States, there are some that hate him with an unyielding passion.

I am full of hope for America.  I believe that we have come a long way, but I also know that we have a long way to go.  Electing a black man to be President is a signal to us all that America is truly the Land of Opportunity.  Electing a man to be President who has a grandmother living in Kenya is a sign to the world that the American Dream is still alive.

Yet I can’t help but think of Hammerin’ Hank, and all those people that threatened to take his life for hitting too many home runs.  I fear for President-Elect Obama and his beautiful family. 

I am hopeful for the future of America.  I believe we are striving toward a better future, one where demonizing those that are different is not accepted, one where diversity is lifted up as a triumph, one where the melting pot looks more like a stew.  I also know that we are not there.  Until that day, I will continue to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven.  God Bless America.  God Bless all nations, and may God bless Barack Obama.

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