Saturday, April 19, 2008

Standing on the corner of Church and State

so...i've had a long bus ride and a few days to let my day in Springfield roll around in my brain. it's been no small task. it's not like there was just a few hours of governance to think about. the process i watched cranks up the deconstruction/reconstruction machine in me. it causes me to look at what my parents thought about government (a book in itself), what i heard from the Church about government (probably more of a set of never defined guidelines that i still was somehow supposed to adopt into life), what i've learned over the past 3 years about our country's history of government, particularly around social/justice issues, and what i've done...or not done...over the sum of my voting years.

i've only had the slightest interest in our government for the past 5 years or so. prior to that i voted, but avoided discussion or debate around voting, planks, baby-kissing, candidates, etc., at all costs. in my mind, government was a necessary thing. we couldn't do without it. we could barely live with it. but i had no real thoughts about it as a social construct. it did not affect me, for the most part, and i did not affect it. i knew that "of the people, by the people, and for the people" was an antiquated idea and that government in the 20th/21st centuries was more like "government of the government, by the government, and for the government". i paid and didn't cheat on my taxes, i joined the army after high school (something i'd actively resist at this point), and voted. i had a run-in or three with local governmental officers due to a rather heavy right foot, but i'm pretty sure they've forgotten about me by now.

i did once write a letter to the Sun-Times rebutting an editorial that bashed a christian candidate for something or other. i told the writer he did not seem to harangue other candidates for the planks they had chosen...that he should, as a fair-minded reporter (there's no picture in the dictionary for that one) not bring his personal thoughts on God into a political discussion. however, i then went on to admonish christians for trying to "legislate morality". i said it wasn't our place, and that we were supposed to change this world through our amazing inter-personal relationships. you know, those ones that are like "they'll know we are christians by our love"? yeah... anyway, someone over at the S-T liked it. it was their "letter of the day", and boy was i proud to get that message out there. i imagine a few evil people smiled happily, too.

so, i've pretty much hung my hat on that position for a number of years. then came this move back to the city. then came this move from the lucrative world of computer consulting to the...what's the opposite of lucrative??? of social justice...race, economics, education, justice. and as much of my life over the past 5 years is nearly the complete opposite of life 10 years ago, now this whole "Church stay out of government" thing is changing.

i could, and may someday, write a whole lot on the current relationship between Church and State. democrat/republican, liberal/conservative...there's already a strong tie. but it's more on the systemic level than on a low level involvement. most of us aren't actively calling, writing, and visiting our elected officials (unless the words prayer in schools, abortion, or gay rights come up) and that's what i'm having to add into the reconstruction. i know the answer to the world's problems isn't government. but it sure ain't staying out of government, either.

there's always someone talking into these people's ears. there's a voice...of reason, of greed, of compassion, of power. and each ear is attached to people moved by all those things. what i learned is that something i've been saying to the people CURE (my NFP job) for a couple of years really applices to this. and the place i wouldn't want to be found dead isn't too very far from where i was. these numbers are arbitrary, simply designed to show the situation. in truth the middle ground number is probably even greater. but it goes like this. 5% of people are actively trying to take advantage of anyone and anything in order to get what they want. 5% are actively the checks and balances to those people. and 90% are either informed and too busy or lazy to do anything, or are completely ignorant of the state of things.

we have to be in that second group. it's our mission. it's true. i know we have a hard enough time with feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the orphan, widow, and prisoner, and protecting the oppressed. but for each one of those groups is a group of people who have no problem putting and keeping them in that place. it's head out of the hole time. there are people who are unwilling to give up what they have or can get to do any of those things. that is the opposite mission of ours. we are supposed to give up what we cannot keep anyway, to gain what we cannot lose.

this is not "not doing injustice" anymore. this is doing justice. this is actively participating within the confines of our government to influence how our laws are made, and how and whom they benefit. if we are silent, if we are few, then those who are loud and many will drive how it works. this will take less American Idol (The Office for me) and more study on what legislation is coming up for voting. it will take more calling, more writing, more activism. it might mean taking a vacation day to work the rail or attend a rally.

it will mean talking about these issues within the Church. ok...this might make a few people mad. i pretty much don't care at this point. there is a part of the Church that is particularly disconnected from all this. it's me. and where i come from. it's white evangelicals. we don't talk about politics in the church. and do we ever look down our noses at anyone that would make the church a political place. well, there's got to be room for this. we've got to get over ourselves. i'm not saying to tell people how to vote (though we do seem to get our subtle, or not, ideas across on that, right?). but why can't we say educatedly "people, there's a plan by the state or city or county to do X. these groups are pushing hard to see it happen. here's how the whole idea of that is in contradition to the bible and the life of Jesus, and we've got to speak out, and stand alongside those who are affected."

it's like were the Sleeping Beauty bride. we're out cold and waiting for the Prince to come wake us and take us. this body, this Church is supposed to be fighting....not just to keep the 10 Commandments on a plaque in some courthouse. it's ironic, isn't it? we fight harder for that right than for the rights of the people who God says are His heart. seriously, people. we are...i am disconnected from how to fight these systems of injustice. sure, there are lots of things for us to do in our communities (might as well check ourselves on that, we KNOW any Matthew 25 people?). but giving a dollar to a homeless guy, or even teaching them english has a personal effect. if we want to affect systems, broken systems, intentionally destructive systems, evil systems...anywhere on the spectrum, we need to be intelligent, loud, and wise. and they'll probably come in that order, too.

it's time to get busy. we have work to do. it's not all at the rail. but it's out there. it's not singing in the choir or teaching sunday school. those are important. but they do not generally include the Matthew 25, Isaiah 58, Micah 6 people. and it doesn't to a damn thing to oppose those who are bent on making this all go their way. the Kingdom will never be complete here on earth. but we say we follow Jesus, just like the people that asked Him how to pray. part of what He told them was to pray "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done...ON EARTH, as it is in heaven." guess what part makes it our work? Your will be done. here's the text from Isaiah 58, a commonly repeated text of His will. the highlights are mine just as they relate to this blog.

"Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

3-5"Well, here's why:

"The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places
9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again. 13-14"If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don't use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God's holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing 'business as usual,'
making money, running here and there—
Then you'll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I'll make you ride high and soar above it all.

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