Of mice and men...
I discovered last Thursday evening that we had a mouse in our garage. I went out to grab a screwdriver and I saw the cutest little mouse sitting on top of a bag of birdseed. We've had cat food and birdseed in the garage for almost a year, but it took almost that long for the critters to find us. Being the humane person I am, I picked up a couple of live traps from Home Depot and so far I've nabbed two of the critters. But this reminds me of our house back in Salem.
Our house in Salem was built in 1916 and the neighborhood was full of wildlife - mice, rats, nutria, felons, etc. Anyway, one day I discovered a gigantic rat on our deck. The rat was living in our basement and traveling through a crack in the foundation. My quest to rid ourselves of the rat evolved into a very Homer Simpson-esque episode. I started by hiding and trying to hit the rat with rocks as it ate our birdseed. No luck. I got bigger rocks. Still no luck. I rigged a contraption that involved a 4" x 6" post, bait, and a rope. My plan was to lure the rat under the post, pull the rope, and splat. No luck. Then I tried an old-fashioned trap. I managed to get my fingers a bunch of times, but no rat. Then I tried poison - the rat just wasn't interested. We finally just moved...
What I've concluded from this is that most rodents are smarter than I am. Bummer for me.
I listened to a great program on NPR tonight - it was "Godless America" from This American Life. Julie Sweeney, who apparently was on SNL, does a bit from her one-woman play called "Letting Go of God." It was great. It felt exactly like where I've been over the last year. Anyway, I highly recommend it.
I found out last week that I've been accepted into a Ph.D. program in Public Administration and Policy. I'm pretty excited about going back to school in the fall, but nervous also. A professor in my master's program gave me some advice about how to approach a Ph.D. program. He said that you need to know exactly what you want to do before you start. That's a problem for me - I have about a million ideas bouncing around in my head. I might try to work through some of them here...
I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but the most exciting thing that happened to me this week was that the world now knows who Deep Throat was! In case you missed it, it was Mark Felt, the number 2 man at the FBI during the Watergate years. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time – when I was a junior in high school we had to pick a book and write a report on it. Being one of the geekiest kids in the world, I picked “All the President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. In my paper, my guess was that L. Patrick Gray was Deep Throat. Gray was the number 1 man at the FBI at the time. Not a bad guess, if I do say so myself.
Where I’m going with this is that you can probably tell that I’m a pretty political person. So when I read the lectionary readings for today I immediately jumped to the political ramifications. Then the part of my brain that reminded me that I’d like to be invited to speak again said, “you can’t talk about that at church.” But then I decided to ignore that part of my brain and so here we are.
The second text that Sarah read this morning refers to God’s promise to Abraham. The beginning of that reading starts “For the promise that he would inherit the world…” Paul here is referring to Genesis 12 – I’m going to read verses 1 – 3.
“Now the Lord said to Abram (later called Abraham), ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Now if you really unpack the text both here and in Romans, there’s some great stuff. Paul is laying out his argument that our salvation is based on faith, not law. The basis of our relationship with God is grace. Great stuff, really. But when I read that passage from Genesis and I hear “I will make of you a great nation” and “make your name great, so that you will be a blessing,” all I can think is this must be in the Republican Party platform somewhere.
And you know, I could talk all about this stuff all day. I could tell you how Bush used Christian imagery in his speeches after 9/11 and how the much of the world sees the war in Iraq as a 21st century crusade. I could tell you about Republicans in West Virginia who sent out campaign flyers telling supporters that Democrats wanted to ban the Bible. I could tell you about evangelical Christian leaders who believe God’s man is in the White House.
But then I’d calm down a little and remember the sticker we have on our refrigerator that says, “God is not a Republican or a Democrat.”
But when I’m honest with myself, I know that most of us who proclaim the loudest that God isn’t a Republican or a Democrat, really secretly believe that God actually is a Democrat. Surely any true God of justice and mercy would align himself with the Democrats who serendipitously happen to be the party of justice and mercy. God couldn’t be on the side of people who care more about tax breaks for the rich than they do for poor, or so at least we tell ourselves.
And I think that’s really the crux of the issue – that we all want to believe on some level that God is on our side and that he will bless us and curse our enemies. When we think about building the kingdom of heaven on earth we spend a lot of time looking in the mirror – we want to see ourselves and what we want reflected in that heaven.
Those of us with strong political opinions want to see our leaders use our faith for justice and mercy – and unfortunately that means wildly different things to Democrats, Republicans, socialists, greens, and libertarians. We all want to think that our vision is what the world needs. Our personal Jesus (who happens to feel the same way about most issues as we do) will truly bring peace on earth. This all makes me think that most of us aren’t very good at knowing what we need.
Jesus is a great example. Jesus was certainly not what many Jews had in mind when they were looking for the savior promised to them. In their messiah they wanted a warrior who would drive the Romans from the Holy Land and make them the great nation as promised to Abraham. Instead they get this guy who bums around in sandals, lives by the grace of others, and tells them that revenge is a bad thing. And really, if anyone deserved the right to bring down some good, old-fashioned revenge, it was probably the Jews at that time.
But Jesus preached a message of peace, compassion and contrition. We see this message in the Hebrew Bible as well – this is from Psalm 51, versus 10-17.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
As much as we hope for a leader who looks like us to come and lead the world to righteousness, I think our homes, our churches, and our political system could benefit from some compassion and contrition. Our call and God’s promise is to follow a radical Jesus that shocks, challenges, and above all loves us as much he loved those Jews and Gentiles in ancient Israel.
But getting back to the scripture that we started with today, we can’t ignore the fact that God promised Abraham that he would make them a great nation. So what does that mean? I think we have to revisit the notion of what it means to be a great nation in light of the New Testament. Jesus was certainly a political figure, but he was counter-cultural or even revolutionary. He was a peacemaker and a prophet – someone who spoke the truth.
I think what this means is that being a great nation and being blessed doesn’t necessarily manifest itself as political power. Our greatness comes not from seeing in how places we can hang the 10 Commandments (which are actually 11, but that’s another story), but rather in how we answer God’s call through Jesus Christ. How are we bringing peace, loving our neighbors, caring for the least of those among us?
But again, I think God’s given us a pretty simple answer. This is from Micah, chapter 6, verse 8:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
It's been a long time. I've been reading blogs selectively, working a lot, and being a dad and a husband. This might not be a good thing, but I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing my life. I'm still in a spiritual funk, but my home life and professional life are very good. Though there may be some good signs on the spiritual front.
I preached in church on Sunday and got a lot of great complimens. I don't like to admit it, but I really like/need that kind of positive feedback (both personally and professionally). I'll post my sermon later. It probably would have been pretty risky for a full time pastor to say some of the things I did, but since I don't depend on preaching to keep food on the table I did it anyway.
As I was preparing my sermon I got out a book I read about six years ago. It is "Jesus: A New Vision" by Marcus Borg. It was kind of Borg's academic companion to "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time." It was the first theological book I had ever read for my own edification and it had a huge impact on how I thought about Christianity and my own faith. It opened some doors for me in terms of reconciling what it means to have faith but also acknowledge that the Bible may not be literal/factual.
It was a joy to crack it open, and I may just have to read it again. I'm also going to try to post on a more regular basis.