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Not since the Reformation has the choice been so clear.
On one side, Christians who read the red letters of the Bible and find in the teachings of Jesus a call to help the poor, support widows, orphans and aliens, and to respond with love, above all else.
And on the other side, Christians who make excuses in their faith to justify beliefs.
These Republican Christians invest their faith in “but” theology.
“I agree Jesus says that,” Republican Christians say, “but our country has to protect jobs, fear immigrants, take care of our citizens first, and also pass laws limiting equal access to marriage, health benefits and even restrooms.”
“Yes,” they say, “Jesus is about love, but abortion, capital punishment, military, capitalism and free market economics.”
Jesus tells his followers to love others. No ifs or buts.
Love God, love others. You can’t love others when there are ‘buts.‘ (You can be bad at loving others, most of us are. We fall short of the Glory of God. So we keep trying.)
If Jesus isn’t the beginning and ending of your theology, then you’re not a Christian.
Calling yourself a Christian doesn’t make you one. Any more than calling yourself a member of the Gemini Program makes you an astronaut.
Without love, you may call yourself a Christian but you’re not. Over and over, Jesus tells us to love others. Not judge, not condemn, not do anything other than love others.
How are we loving God and loving others when we support programs and laws that break up families or prevent access to health services, education and even food?
Republican Christians have gone down the wrong road for so long that they don’t arrive at Jesus. More than anything, nationalism has overpowered their version of Christianity (God bless America isn’t Biblical).
They value tax cuts more than people.
They seem to care more about abortion, than about living people. (By the way, if you want the government to make abortion illegal, then you surrender to the government the right to make abortion mandatory in the future. Think about that for a while.)
The choice is clear, between those who value people over profits.
Those who care about others, more than a country.
Those who see strangers and see the face of God, rather than the face of an enemy.
The choice is clear — those who love God and love others, and those who don’t.
The choice is clear — Christianity that follows the teaching of Jesus and Republican Christianity that doesn’t.
The choice is clear.
Note: This isn’t the sort of thing I usually write on this site. But, here it is.
A day on Walton’s Mountain
Thousands traveled to remote Schuyler, Virginia this weekend for the Waltons 45th Anniversary Reunion.
From more than a dozen states fans made the pilgrimage to the hometown of Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Jr. to remember the hear-warming drama set during the Great Depression and WW II. The family program about life in a small Virginia town aired from 1972 to 1981.
After the beloved program ended, an additional six special TV movies aired on NBC and CBS. Actor Eric Scott, who played Ben Walton, told me that thanks to the Waltons on cable TV, the cast makes more today than they did when the program first aired.
In addition to several co-stars and minor cast members, all of the surviving original cast members attended, save Richard Thomas who was in a Broadway play.
I lived in Virginia for most of my life and was in Richmond my senior year of college where I could watch the program from 9 to 10 a.m. and walk to school for my 10 a.m. class. After graduation I moved to Iowa and watching the Waltons helped assuage my homesickness.
I enjoyed mentions of Monument Avenue, Richmond, Charlottesville, Norfolk and other places I’ve known for much of my life.
Many still love the show, as is demonstrated by the thousands who attended the reunion, far exceeding the organizer’s expectations.
As I waited in lines for hours, I was struck by the lack of diversity of the attendees.
I counted 11 African Americans; one man in his mid-60s was by himself, all others appeared coupled with a white person. The program had more black people on it in the late 1970s, than attended the event.
The 98 percent white crowd had more smokers than a bingo hall.
Many people looked like carnival employees visiting unemployed relatives. These were people with wrinkled skin cured by sun and smoke, decorated with faded, cheap tattoos. They eschewed warnings about smoking, skin cancer and good dental hygiene.
They didn’t appear to be concerned with obesity, diabetes or the whims of fashion.
I saw a lot of mullets, teased hair, and I kid you not, a woman storing her cigarettes in her bra.
“He’s making knives out of railroad spikes,” said one person as we waited in line. “This’ll be the first time you can ride the rides at the carnival,” said another, “’cause you’re not pregnant this year.”
After I’d been standing in line in a gravel parking lot for three hours, the two youngest of the Walton clan came out to cheerfully thank people for coming and waiting.
Once inside, I waited another hour and half, but enjoyed several actors answering questions, including Mary McDonough saying that in the first episodes the children weren’t used to being barefoot outside, so we can notice them gingerly walking through scenes.
After five hours, I recognized the exact moment my deodorant gave out, and realized that some others had never had any at all.
I finally entered the room after six hours.I told Ms. Michael Learned that I’ve met a lot of celebrities, but she was the one who had me most starstruck. She said she was flattered and honored and I thought, “Mamma Walton’s talking to me.” In the novels, the patriarch of the family references his “red headed babies.” Kami Colter’s long red hair reminded me of the daddy’s line.
As I waited to meet Judy Norton, for the first time I realized I had a crush on her when I was younger.Earl Hamner Jr. first autographed it around a dozen years ago. When Earl signed it, one of his sisters told me that everyone in their family got a game when it was first released. Mary McDonough said that Earl probably bought one for each of his brothers and sisters, because that’s how generous he was. Mary McDonough mentioned me selling the game on e-Bay. I said that my three year-old daughter would sell it for the 100th anniversary of the show. This was my investment account for her. She said that her father collected every memento of her on the show, until he died when she was 16. She took the time to share with me she’d been selling off those mementos, giving others the opportunity to enjoy them. She said the mementos paid for her daughter’s college education. Eric Scott had boundless energy, seemingly happy to meet everyone. Jon Walmsley told the waiting crowd he has an album coming out soon. I was astonished when he mentioned his website wasn’t yet complete. He plays every instrument on his album. I asked him if his musical ability was a natural born gift. He said he also has worked very hard to develop his talent. I said it was funny how all the hard working people seem to be the most talented. And so ended my nearly seven hours on Walton’s Mountain.
I asked Judy Norton how it felt to be part of something that was so beloved by so many people. She mentioned that in the trying times of the current political climate, the message of the Waltons still resonated with people.
“To see this interest and outpouring of emotion for the show, for Earl, for all he created, was heartwarming,” she said. “The Waltons represented love, compassion and understanding. Sometimes they got taken advantage of because of their trust and compassion. But in the end, we should try to treat other people the way the Waltons treated other people, with trust and compassion.”
I met Will Willlimon recently.
(His preaching technique was exactly what I was taught in seminary. But that’s another story.)
In my first semester of seminary I read Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, written by Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas.
According to Amazon: “Only when the Church enacts its scandalous Jesus-centered tradition will it truly be the body of Christ and transform the world. … Resident Aliens discusses the nature of the church and its relationship to surrounding culture. It argues that churches should focus on developing Christian life and community rather than attempting to reform secular culture. Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon reject the idea that America is a Christian nation; instead, Christians should see themselves as “resident aliens” in a foreign land. According to Hauerwas and Willimon, the role of Christians is not to transform government but to live lives that model the love of Christ. Rather than try to convince others to change their ethics, Christians should model a new set of ethics that are grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.”
Their view is that Christians are not citizens of the United States, or Great Britain, or Canada, or the countries where we reside. We are resident aliens because we follow Jesus, whose Kingdom is not of this world.
Christianity began a significant change with the merger of the Jesus followers and the Roman Empire of Constantine.
Willimon and Hauerwas suggest that because so much focus is placed on individualism in our culture, rather than community, individual sacrifice must be found in some other way then helping others in the community. So the sacrifice of a soldier in combat is celebrated greater than the sacrifice of a pacifist who refuses to participate in the war. Another example is when professional sporting events start with salutes to the military, rather than tributes to the teachers who sacrifice financial gain to help children become better people.
Flags, uniforms and military flyovers are all symbols of the Empire, not the message of Jesus.
I had been a Christian only a few years before I began seminary. (I officiated the third Christmas Eve service I attended.) I read Resident Aliens in my first semester, and it deeply influenced my thinking and my understanding of the message of Jesus.
The ideas in Resident Aliens inform my theology and often surface in what I write.
I was pleased to shared with Willlimon how much his book meant to me.
He shared a story of a minister who led a book discussion at his church.
“How did it go?” Willimon asked.
“Not good,” was the response.
It can be a challenge to tell Christians their understanding of faith is built on false ideas.
The ideas in Resident Aliens are radical, but so is the message of Jesus. Empire Christians think that the ‘radical’ nature of Jesus means they should protest abortion or be concerned with the so-called ‘sins’ of others. The actual radical message of Jesus is that love is more important than politics, policies, national boarders or governments.
Empire Christians support the government when it oppresses.
Jesus followers support the oppressed.
The difference really is that simple.
Recently I wrote:
The Bible is clear.
Jesus is with the losers, not the leaders. Jesus was an unemployed Palestinian.
A Syrian refugee child. A Honduran roofer.
Jesus is the dark-skinned woman cleaning your table, your hotel room, your office.
Jesus was the poor child of an unmarried mother, not the child of a millionaire or a celebrity.
Jesus inherited his family’s poverty, not millions of dollars or a position of power and privilege.
Jesus was dark-skinned, dirty, and a victim of the government.
The message of Jesus was counter to the religious establishment and he was opposed by the religious leaders.
Where would Jesus be, today?
Someone responded that Jesus wasn’t poor, he was middle class.
Let’s ignore the fact that the “middle class” is a post-industrial creation and if anything, Jesus might have been in the artisan class because of his stepfather’s work as a carpenter.
In the Gospels, for three years Jesus has no job, no home, no money, no visible means of support beyond handouts from others.
Jesus isn’t middle class.
Jesus is homeless.
A homeless man with no place to lay his head. At one point, he’s so exhausted he falls asleep in a boat and sleeps through a storm.
The real issue behind the middle class Messiah is the implication that “Jesus is middle class, just like me.”
Jesus wasn’t just like you if you’re a white, middle class, American Christian.
Jesus was nothing like you if you are paid almost $1 million a year from two charities.
Jesus didn’t have board meetings or hold membership votes.
Modern Pharisees and Sadducees dominate mainstream Christianity and stroll the halls of political power. You can’t be like Jesus and side with his oppressors.
When Jesus is just like you, your biases become his biases. If you think Jesus is like you, then it’s easy to believe God wants walls and governments because you want walls and governments. It’s easy to convince yourself that your wishes are God’s wishes.
Too many of us create god in our image rather than recreate ourselves in God’s image.
With Jesus, extreme vetting is, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
Jesus’ idea of retribution is forgiveness, 70 times seven.
Following the Way of Jesus is inconvenient and counter to the lessons of the world.
Jesus demands our attention and guides us to a new way of being. You can allow yourself to be transformed, to live the teachings of a homeless man. Or you can create Jesus in your own image, and worship a god who’s just like you.
The Shack, the book and movie, is another stark example of the differences among modern Christians.
Some Christians are quick to discredit and criticize a movie they’ve never seen about a book they’ve never read.
They casually toss around words like “blasphemy” and “heresy,” while they proudly declare they won’t be exposed to neither book nor movie.
They celebrate remaining ignorant of what The Shack may contain, rather than be exposed to new or different ideas.
In the same way, they accept a theology from a Bible they’ve never read, basing judgements on what others tell them it says.
We know they have no idea of what the Bible teaches, because by words and actions they demonstrate ignorance of the basic message of Jesus. Too often, they embrace views and support leaders who encompass the antithesis of Jesus.
They celebrate narrow mindedness with no hope of growing spiritually or intellectually.
It’s nearly impossible for some Christians to imagine any other type of Christianity but their own. Their faith development traps them in a way of thinking that is difficult to escape and easy to self-regulate — as long as no new information is introduced into their thinking. Thus the need to reject outright any idea that might challenge deeply held beliefs.
So instead of celebrating a popular book and mainstream feature film with Jesus as a prominent character, they declare heresy without any facts. Rather than risk learning something new, they brand a book and movie blasphemous.
As for me, I doubt I’ll see the film. The first third of the novel was so emotionally heart-breaking, that I don’t think I can intentionally stand to see such sorrow on the big screen.
The novel was recommended by my seminary dean, “Shack up this summer,” he said, “and read the book.”
The theology was interesting, informative and not remotely able to shake my understanding of God in my life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
(If your faith can be shaken by The Shack, was your faith much good in the first place?)
The fact is, Jesus and God are major figures in a popular book and movie. If this can help introduce people to who Jesus and God are, then that’s good. If the movie helps people understand that the boycotting Christians have no idea who Jesus is, then that’s good, too.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector….
God I thank thee that I am not like other men–liars, serial adulterers, crude locker-room misogynists, tax assessors and collectors.
I have never committed adultery with anyone, naturalized or otherwise,
I have never declared bankruptcy and left my creditors holding the bag, and I do not own a luxury resort in Florida,
I shall file my tax return on April 15 (which I’m glad to make public if anybody wants to see it) and shall, once again pay my federal tax–which is more than some people can say, even though they are paid by federal funds,
I have never created a bogus foundation. In fact, I give half of all my taxable…
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