KOH2RVA: Day 70

I’ve been thinking about prejudice and Greek.

Back when I was in seminary everybody told me I was going to hate Greek. They told me that if I wasn’t good at Math I wouldn’t be good at Greek, and I wasn’t good at Math, not at all. But in those days you had to take Greek, like it or not, so I decided I was going to take it and like it. In fact, I decided I was going to love it.

And I did.

I ended up taking five semesters of Greek, and one semester I translated the entire Book of Revelation. But I’m almost sure that wouldn’t have happened if I had approached the class in fear and trembling, certain that I was going to hate Greek.

So, what if I do the same thing with people?

What if, instead of avoiding people who are different from me, I seek them out? What if I realize how much I could learn from someone who has grown up in a different country or culture, someone who speaks a foreign language or looks at things in the opposite way? In other words, instead of hating people who are different from me, what if I made up my mind to love them, just as I made up my mind to love Greek? Would that help to bring heaven to earth in Richmond or anywhere else?

I’m still thinking about the lecture I heard on Thursday night, where Ben Campbell speculated that many of the problems we face in Richmond today are a direct result of racism, that instead of loving and respecting people whose skin is a different color we have tended to avoid them or, worse, hate them and hurt them. How much of that is a state of mind? And how much of that did we get from someone who told us, “You’re going to hate those people”? What if we said, “No, we’re not,” and simply made up our minds to love people who are different from us, no matter what?

Try this simple exercise: next time you see someone who is different from you–and I mean in any way: race, class, gender, orientation, political party–think, “I love those people,” and see what happens.  No, seriously: try it.  Make up your mind and see if your heart will follow.  I’ve tried it myself and I have felt the difference.  I’ve felt the learned fear and suspicion turn into warmth and acceptance.  It’s as if someone flipped a switch.

You may say that’s simplistic, impossible, idealistic, but I say this:

I got an “A” in Greek.

KOH2RVA: Day 59

How do you bring heaven to earth on Election Day?  You start by voting.

I got in line at 6:00 this morning, a long line, where I stood shivering in the cold with my neighbors. It was good to see them, actually. We often talk about loving our neighbors but on Election Day there they were, all standing in line with me. I could see who they were and what they looked like.

The one standing right in front of me lived a block away from the polling place. He had left his wife and children sleeping when he walked over to vote. He was wearing a VCU sweatshirt and holding a VCU travel mug which gave me an easy “in”: I asked, “Did you go to VCU or do you just advertise their products?”

That got the ball rolling.

He asked me where I went to school and I told him that I had graduated from Georgetown College in Kentucky. “Oh!” he said. “My dad went to UK” (the University of Kentucky, that is, in Lexington, just twelve miles away from Georgetown). That helped to establish some common ground, which was something I was thinking about just yesterday.

This campaign season has been so bitter and divisive; Democrats and Republicans growl at each other openly and threaten to tear down each other’s campaign signs. But we are all Americans, aren’t we? And at some level we all want the same thing—to live in a great nation. We just have very different ideas about how to get there.

So I was thinking about how we could build “islands” of common ground with our neighbors by talking about all the things we have in common. This guy who was in line with me, for instance: He lives in Richmond’s Museum District. So do I. He’s married. So am I. He’s the father of two children. So am I. He has to go to work today. So do I. Now, he doesn’t look like I do; it turns out he was born in Nepal.  But by the time we parted ways to cast our votes we had almost become friends. I was this close to inviting him over for dinner sometime. And all of this without asking him who he was voting for, because, the truth is, if I had asked him, and if he had said he was voting for the other guy, that might have ended our conversation right there.

Isn’t that a shame? That we would let something like our political differences keep us from being friends? On this Election Day maybe we could bring heaven to earth by remembering how much we have in common even with those people who are voting for “the other guy,” and not let partisan politics come between us.

I’m not sure about this but I believe that when you look at Earth from Heaven you can’t even see the lines of division between countries, much less people. All you see is this beautiful, blue-green planet, and on it all the beautiful children who make up the family of God.

My neighbor, for instance.

Are Christians “Too Political”?

religion_politics_articleI’m almost finished with the book Unchristian (some of you will be glad), but I wanted to share a quote from the chapter called “Too Political.”  According to co-authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons 75% of young adults outside the faith think that Christians are “overly motivated by a political agenda, that we pomote and represent politically conservative interests and issues, [and that] Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers” (p. 30).  Again, this may not be true of you or your church, but it’s the way 75% of young adults outside the faith perceive us. 

Do perceptions matter?  You bet they do.  And so, at the close of each chapter in the book, Kinnaman and Lyons have asked some well-known Christians to offer suggestions for how we might change the perceptions of young adults.  I was shocked by what Jim Wallis had to say:

Christians should be involved in politics.  The question isn’t “should we engage?” but “how?”  The conservative religious movement in America today has been corrupted.  Evangelicalism has been hijacked and usurped by partisan political forces.  Conservative religion is now being driven and dictated by secular, right-wing political forces.  So basically the conservative religious movement—or at least parts of it, the politicized part of it—has sold its soul to partisan politics (p. 179).

These are strong words, something Wallis (founder and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal) has never shied away from.  But I have found myself thinking about them over the last 24 hours and wondering if he is right.  Did some political strategist do the math and realize that if he could get all the Christians in America to vote for his candidate he would win?  And then did he sit around wondering which issue would have the most potential for bringing Christians over to his side?  And then did he start telling us that his candidate was against abortion, which made us sympathetic (because, really, what Christian is going to be for abortion?).  And have politicians been using Christians to win elections ever since, by finding out what we are for or against and convincing us that their candidates are for or against the same things?  Wallis goes on to say:

Many young evangelicals see that this is just Republican politics masquerading as conservative religion.  When they observe this, they don’t like it.  And they are concerned that it could happen on the Left too—exactly what happened on the Right—the politiczing and corrupting of religion for the sake of political power.  That’s not what they want.

The young people I meet don’t want to go Left or Right.  They reject these narrow political orthodoxies.  They’re not happy with Christianity being either a list of things you shouldn’t do, or just about being nice.  They want to go deeper.  Young evangelicals really want their faith and lives to count for something.  They want their faith to somehow connect with changing the world…

“They want to go deeper,” Wallis says, which is what I would want for them and what I think Jesus would want, too.  When he taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven he invited his disciples to join him in changing the world from what it was to what God had always dreamed it could be.  He is still inviting his disciples to do that.  How tragic would it be to confuse that vision of heaven on earth with only what can be achieved through the political processes of a fallen society?

These young people may be on to something…

How Would Jesus Vote?

I’ve put it off as long as I can, but with the election just a few hours away I guess I should take a stab at the question every Christian has been asking from the beginning: How would Jesus vote?  The answer is, of course…


I don’t know.


I have a hunch he would side with the widows and the orphans, as his Father always has (a lot of us vote the way our daddies do).  His vote would probably favor the tax collectors and sinners (which is both bad news and good news for us).  But it’s possible he would skip Election Day altogether (which seems downright un-American).


I keep thinking about how his disciples wanted him to be a political leader with political solutions.  They kept hoping that he was the long-awaited Messiah—the one who would drive out the Romans, sit on the throne of his ancestor David, and restore the nation of Israel to its former glory.  When he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the crowd went wild.  They must have expected Jesus to go to the governor’s palace, throw Pontius Pilate into the street, and declare the independence of Israel.  Instead he went to the temple, turned over the tables of the moneychangers, and said, “My Father’s house is supposed to be a house of prayer but you’ve turned it into a den of robbers!”


Do you see what I mean? We want Jesus to care about this election just as much as we do.  We want him to think it’s the most important thing in the world.  We lean in close, asking him who we should vote for, but he seems to have a different agenda.  Instead of talking about the United States of America he’s likely to start in on one of those silly parables about the Kingdom of God.  


I hate it when he does that.


Doesn’t he know that we Christians are waiting for our leader to tell us how to vote?  Doesn’t he know that if we vote for the wrong person it could mean political disaster?  Or does he know what we often forget in the heat of an election, that some things are proximate while other things are ultimate?  


I’m going to vote on Tuesday.  I’ve read the newspapers and watched the debates.  I’ve read the Bible and said my prayers.  I feel prepared to make an informed choice.  But when I get to the voting booth I’m going to close the curtain and vote my conscience and then move on to other, more important, things.

Let’s (Don’t) Talk Politics

When I was being interviewed by the search committee of my church in Washington, they asked me about my political views.  I was a little embarrassed.  “I’m almost apolitical,” I said.  “I really don’t pay that much attention to politics.”  “Good!” they said, in unison.  “That’s the perfect answer!”  Because in Washington, as you might guess, politics is a big deal.  People spend a good part of every day in an atmosphere that is polluted by rhetoric: Democrats fuming at Republicans and Republicans fussing at Democrats.  Like the exhaust from a million cars, politics is in the air they breathe.  But in church, the members of that congregation hoped for a different atmosphere.  They wanted to walk into a place where they could breathe the fresh, forgiving air of God’s grace.  And so they had agreed, long before my arrival, to check their partisan politics at the door.  And to their great credit they did. 


It’s not that you can’t be a Christian and have strong political views (in fact, the longer I lived in Washington, the stronger my views became), it’s just that politics tend to divide people along party lines, and in the church we don’t need that kind of division.  We don’t need to say in Sunday school, “I can’t believe what those Democrats are up to!” or in the hallway, “Those Republicans make me ill!”  We don’t need to assume that any one party is the “Christian” party, or that if you are a “real” Christian you will vote a certain way.  In my experience there are people of sincere faith on both sides of the aisle, and perhaps the most Christian thing we can do is respect their differing views. 


Don’t get me wrong: I want you to vote in November.  I want you to consider the issues carefully and make a thoughtful, well-informed decision. This is an important election. But in these next few weeks, as the weather gets cooler and the rhetoric gets hotter, let’s do what the members of my last church did: let’s check our partisan politics at the door.  When we come together, instead of talking about what the Democrats are doing or what the Republicans are doing, let’s talk about what God is doing.  And above our allegiance to any earthly nation, power, or party, let’s pledge our allegiance to Him.