Sunday, May 7, 2017
Psalms 94:20-21 NLT
“For I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.”
— Walter Brueggeman in A Way Other Than Our Own
The last year has revealed some very interesting things about the institutional church and the theological tribe within Christianity known as evangelicals. Evangelicalism, which was known as a theological distinction within Protestantism, now is known more for the political ideologies in which it has become associated with over the past 30 years. So, those outside of Evangelicalism, understand its affiliation with "conservative" causes such as anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, pro-business, racial isolation, and sexism, than its adherrance to the possibility of a relationship with God, the infallibility of Scripture, or the need to share the good news of Jesus to the world.
There is a saying that says "I can not hear what you saying because your actions are so loud". The Evangelical institution churches have acted upon, affiliated with, and promoted causes, candidates, and campaigns that elevates a political agenda over their theological affirmations. I recognize that I am painting with a very broad brush and their are many Evangelical churches who have refused to be co-opted by a political agenda, however, the vast majority allowed their light for Jesus to be dimmed by the dirt of political agendas.
This past week, President Trump signed an executive order allowing tax-exempt religious organizations such as a church to be able to endorse, contribute, and receive contributions from political candidates. If you follow history, this should alarm you. During the rise of totalitarianism in Nazi Germany, the first voice that was silenced was the church of Germany. It allowed the open support of the church for Nazism in return for its protected existence. Churches in Nazi Germany that were prophetic in its challenge of the political powers of the day, where not given formal status and persecuted. When Churches become tax exempt conduits of political agendas, the co-opt has become complete. We are seeing this happening before our eyes.
The agenda of Jesus is cosmological in scope. The charge that Jesus gives his Church begins with statement "All authority in heaven and Earth has been given to me". In other words, we have the ability to influence all manner of things because we are extensions of the source of authority. Political activity is necessary and not evil in itself. In America, many of the reformations, revolutions, and reforms were movements that stemmed from the authentic church of Jesus Christ. It's time that the church understood that politics are a tool but not a master. We side with Jesus, in his compassion for the sick, the marginalized, and the outsider. We dare not attempt to "conserve" the existing order of injustice, oppression, exploitation, or objectification wherever it exists. We speak truth, in love, seeking to promote the flourishing of all made in the image of God.
I believe that God is calling his Church to arise and be the prophetic voice in which we were created to be. I believe that too many churches have no idea of what the gospel is because they have allowed political agendas to be infused with their understanding of authentic faith. We can either rise to our true calling, or continue to become a tool of political ideologies that weaken and pervert our witness.
“We cannot let narrow religious forces highjack our moral vocabulary, forces who speak loudly about things God says little about while saying so little about issues that are at the heart of all our religious traditions: truth, justice, love, and mercy. The movement we have witnessed—the movement we most need—is a moral movement.”
— The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in The Third Reconstruction
May God bless you
Pastor Michael Traylor
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
"I could no longer sit around in Paris discussing America. I had to come and pay my dues."
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28)
I had the privilege to watch the documentary "I am not your negro" that chronicled the perspective and the works of James Baldwin. James Baldwin was an African American novelist, intellectual, and social critic who wrote and spoke for the African American experience in an nearly unparalleled manner for over 30 years from the 1950's to the 1980's. His writing and speaking style combines the richness of many streams of literature and applied them to the tragedy of the African American experience resulting in work that is as elegant as it is provocative in nature.
In the documentary, it begins with James Baldwin's own narrative regarding the need to come back to America in the late 1960's after the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin had left the United States to live in Paris, where he felt he was free to express himself and live in an environment that was not cursed with the deep seated racism that he experienced throughout his life. It was there in Paris, where he would write and flourish while feeling that it was no longer appropriate to describe the problems of race, sexuality, and inequity in America, without being part of the solution.
He describes his return to America as "paying my dues". His return literally meant visibly aligning himself with the civil rights movement and sharing in the sufferings of those who dared to speak up, march, protest, and give life and limb to demand human dignity and the rights inherent to that dignity.
A couple of convictions regarding social justice were confirmed in his story:
1. Effective participation in protest has a personal and public cost.
It is always tempting to advocate from afar. Baldwin could have been content to lob critiques or launch sophisticated rebuttals to the cultural cruelties of America while in Europe. One could argue that it was his distance from the organized civil right movements that often allowed him to get access to the public media of his age. In other words, he was less intimidating because of his disconnection with the movement of the ages. While he certainly knew Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, he was not officially connected to any of their movements. To become effective, Mr Baldwin had to come and participate, understanding and sharing the real sacrifices and burdens.
2. Community Organizers seek to develop organizations, not just a movement.
One of the fathers of community organizing, Saul Alinsky argued "Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change." The occupy movement was just that. A movement; a collection of people mobilized to seek change. Movements come and go and are often prisoners to an issue. Organizations are centered around a vision and mission and that allows the development structures that builds on success.
3. Injustice against one sector of a society is related to injustice in many other sectors. James Baldwin was an openly gay man. While he certainly experienced discrimination and hatred due to his sexuality, it also kept him from being readily accepted in civil rights circles. He knew Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., but he rarely was spoken of by them. Likewise, there were very few women in leadership in civil rights movements of the 1960's. It wasn't because African American women didn't feel the double stings of racism and sexism, but because they were not given opportunity. Sometimes in our best efforts to advocate against a type of injustice, we must be careful not to perpetuate multiple injustices toward others.
His life and writings are treasures that are as relevant today as they were at the time of their writing. Pulitzer prize winning author Eric Hoffer wrote "the vigor of a mass movement stems from the propensity of its followers for united action and self-sacrifice." I pray that those involved in protesting injustice will have the courage to carry the burden, the wisdom to organize, and compassion to be inclusive.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
--Obrey M Hendrick in "The Universe Bends Towards Justice"
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that should always pray and never give up...Learn a lesson form the unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don't you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the Earth who have faith?
--Luke 18:1, 7-8 (NLT)
The first 6 weeks of 2017 have been remarkable in almost every sense. The election of Donald Trump to President of the United States has literally pulled back the covers on some issues, identities and priorities that were not clear. I think its been particularly polarizing for people of faith, where some have supported Mr. Trump and others have protested against him, his policies, and his character. One of the positive effects of his presidency thus far has been the organization of those concerned with issues of justice to mobilize and advocate collectively for peace.
As a participant in several groups centered around justice, I want to encourage those who are already feeling tired, overwhelmed and frustrated. A couple of thoughts
1. The work of Justice is arduous and require endurance.
Eugene Cho once asked "Is it possible that we all love compassion and justice ... until there's a personal cost to living compassionately, loving mercy, and seeking justice?". The assumption behind the question is that there is always a personal cost to seeking justice. The call of God that is often quoted to walk humbly, love mercy and seek justice requires sacrifice. The agency of Justice is love, and love is clearly built upon the foundation of sacrifice and service. In other words, the work of justice is hard, long, and WILL take a personal toll.
2. Effective advocacy is relationally driven.
I was once asked by a member of a church that I pastored why do I always talk about racism and sexism. (I do not really, but thats a different blog). I responded that for me to not talk about racism is like asking a fish not to talk about water. Since it has been my experience and the experience of those who I identify with, Its natural. Many people have the option to simply opt out of the discussion on issues of injustice because the issues at hand do not affect themselves, or their community. Justice advocacy begins with identifying with the pain and the life of those being victimized. This is the essence of Jesus' challenge in Matthew 25 when he tells his followers that whatever they have done to the most marginalized, they have done towards him. It is imperative that advocacy work begins with the victims of injustice, is done among victims of injustice, and is expressed in their words, shaped by their stories.
3. The work of Justice, like all ministry, flows with a relentless rhythm.
Jesus told his followers to relentlessly seek justice (Luke 18). He encouraged his people not only to pray persistently, but to be the vehicle for justice (think the feeding of the 5000, using a justice or liberation hermeneutic). We need to understand that perseverance is part of the Jesus justice strategy.
In all work, including justice advocacy, there is to be a rhythm. Times of work launched from times of rest and contemplation. This is the creative and the redemptive model. A former martial arts instructor of mine used to sat "Just because you are tired and stopped fighting, doesn't mean that the fight is over". What she was alluding towards, was the idea that the issue that we are facing often overwhelms our energy and tenacity to face it. Justice work is long and it is better described as a former mentor frequently described it as a "relentless stream barreling toward its goal". The movement must be flexible and adaptive but none-the-less, relentless and focused.
All that to say, rest but do not give up. Take time to gather, meditate, contemplate, re-focus, and re-direct, but do not give up. Work from your rest; do not simply rest from you work.
4. The prophetic ministry of shalom-making provokes a response, and too often it is negative.
Protest typically invokes a negative response from others who are happy with the status quo. Sometimes, it is the "good people" whose idleness and indifference makes it possible for injustice to flourish. Prophetic ministry need never apologize for the truth, but you will be misunderstood, persecuted, and marginalized. Jesus also explained that if he was persecuted, misunderstood, and marginalized, that we could expect the same if we truly follow him. While, we never desire to be provocative for the sole purpose of being provocative, we should expect pushback as we "share in the sufferings of Christ". The prince of peace brings a peace that is dangerous and subversive. Brueggeman states that the shalom that Jesus brings "overrides the expectations of our society, which awaits a peacemaker who will ensure our advantages in the world".
So I want to encourage you to keep on sharing! Keep on protesting! Keep on praying! Be the voice out of the wilderness that prepares the way for the prince of peace. Do not be afraid or intimidated to speak the truth. Tell the stories of injustice because "to remember truthfully is to render justice to both the victim and the perpetrator and is the first step towards reconciliation" (Miroslav Volf). Be part of the solution and the change that you want to see.
as one of my favorite artists sang:
God bless you all as you advance the Kingdom
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Saturday, January 3, 2015
Monday, August 18, 2014
“Jesus Christ is God's language.”
– Leonard Sweet And Frank Viola in Jesus: A Theography
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7 NIV)
I am writing this from the deck of the Carnival Dream luxury liner. It is literally a floating luxury hotel. Along with 3000+ other passengers, we are speeding our way to Honduras on the first of 3 stops before returning to New Orleans.
This break has given me the opportunity to just stop. To simply stop. There are no sermons to write, reports to return, people to visit, or projects to work on. It's the gift of rest. With rest, comes reflection. Not the strained disciplined dissection of every action, motive, and thought, but the organic consideration of the meaning of things, the purposes of life, the mysteries of spirituality, and value of relationships.
The week prior to this trip, my world was rocked. One of my favorite people in life died in a tragic accident. He was a member of the congregation in which I serve on pastoral staff, a campus missionary to colleges in the area, a father, husband, and probably one of the most impactful people I have seen. Anyone who ever met Jake liked him. He lived soooo well. At his memorial service, which lasted over 4 hours but had over 1500 people from every spectrum of life there testifying to his impact and influence.
HIs life in essence was a life of love. Not the fluffy, emotive affection that we often regard as love (although, his wife shared that he did have some of that too). No, it was the fierce, sacrificial love that evokes a response. The kind of love that relentlessly pursues the object of its love.
Coincidentally (but not accidentally), I was reading Old Testament Scholar W. Brueggemann's book "An Unsettled God", devotionally. One of the many premises that he reveals in his excellent study of the attributes of God is that due to Israel's misunderstanding of the person of God, that God uses language in his redemption to reveal his character in a way that is unmistakable. The language he uses are "action words" that reveal the true character of God. (Redemption literally means to "buy back", and in the case of Brueggemann's study refers to the return of a conquored, scattered Israel back to his own land in the 6th century BCE). These words are ultimately revealed in Jesus and his body, also called the church. And I am going on record by saying that Jake Baxter exemplified what should be authentic in the church.
1. Gather: God spoke of "gathering Israel". The nature of God is to gather people together and unify them in community. Jesus came to "break down" the dividing wall between people, people groups and even that with God. Jake Baxter was a master community developer. Beginning with his home that housed friends, outsiders, the marginalized, and the opportunistic. All were welcome, all felt like they belonged. He showed hospitality as a lifestyle, not simply an event. Jesus revealed...
2. Love: God talked with Israel in romantic love. In the book of Hosea, God sees himself as husband to an unfaithful Israel that he will woo back through sacrificial acts of love. The Greek Scriptures tell us that God demonstrated his love for us in this: Christ (Jesus) died for sinners. Jake loved people in a way that cost him. He lived frugally and literally, everything he had materally, was open to be used for others in need. Some people stole from him, misunderstood his generosity, and took advantage of him, He understood that and was never angry or bitter because the purpose of the actions was not appreciation, but the demonstration of a God who is sacrificially geneorus to others, regardless of their ability to return the favor. Jesus revealed...
3. Heal: God promised to "heal Israel". There is a commitment to make Israel whole. This is different than making Israel wealthy or preventing affliction, but it's a commitment to make them complete. They would recognize that God has accepted them and that he deems them as both significant and secure. Jake ministered to many with addictions, character flaws (writer included), illnesses, and injuries (physical, mental, and emotional). He stood with so many on their journey toward wholeness. The paths of thousands were guided by Jake at sometime or another. Jesus revealed....
4. Forgive: God promised to "forgive all their sins". This shifts the understanding of God from primarily that of Judge to that of redeemer. This is ultimately revealed in Jesus who dies so that world may experience forgiveness. Jake not only practiced forgiveness but understood his relationship with God as that of a relationship of grace. It was because he was forgiven that he could forgive. Once again, Jesus revealed...
All this to say, upon reflection, I recognize that the reason that I was so impacted by Jake is because he is probably the closest reflection of Jesus that I have ever known. I know that Jake, like everyone else, was not perfect. But I am so thankful for having known him and thankful for his huge impact and influence in my life and outlook.
We worshipped Jesus at Jake's memoral services, and it was totally appropriate in light of his life.
Afterall, when Jesus is revealed, the only appropriate response is worship.
God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor