If you want to talk about plunging into dangerous waters, talking about the anonymous editorial in the NY Times from a couple of days ago is about as dangerous as it comes. It has all the ingredients necessary to be something that pastors want to run far away from — politics, loyalty issues, back stabbing, assessments of mental health of the president, constitutional crisis, etc.
Yet, here I am, touching this issue — practically diving in to shark infested waters.
So why am I doing this? Because I believe the church should talk about the things that people in the pews are talking about, stressing over, dealing with. Yesterday I touched the Nike ad, as it was the topic all over the place. Today it’s op-ed piece that was heard around the world.
I’m not going to deal with this in a typical way. I’m not going to tell you why you should or shouldn’t agree with it, be scared by it, think it’s treasonous or not, etc. You can make up your own mind on that, as I’m sure many of you have. And besides, there’s not anything I would say that would be original or all that persuasive to change anyone’s mind.
This issue and the larger issue at hand goes much deeper. I touched on this yesterday when wrote about the Nike ad. The purpose for the ad was simply this:
To get people to have an emotional reaction to the product they are selling.
This op-ed serves the same purpose — to draw an emotional response. And it is apparently working really well — across the political and geographical spectrum.
We live in an age that is driven by emotional reaction. Everything that is said and done is meant to get an emotional reaction. We claim that our politics is about policy debate, yet I don’t think it really is. I hear more irrational flip-flopping arguments for policies that are really based on which party or politician proposed them than I do hearing data driven policy debate. Here’s a few examples — Are we friendly with Russia or in opposition to Russia. Depends on when you are talking and with who. Health care? Depends on when and who proposed it. Free trade? Depends on when and who is talking about it. There’s plenty of other examples.
Can we be honest about politics for just a few minutes? If we learn nothing else from this anonymous op-ed, let it be this:
- Politics is about power, when it comes down to it — who’s got it, who’s trying to get it, how it’s being used, and who is trying to keep others from getting it. The op-ed reveals this culture of politics to its core. Americans especially have this faulty notion, a myth even, that because average Americans are sitting down and trying to figure out answers to the problems we face, we assume our politicians are doing the same exact thing. They aren’t. Just watch any judicial confirmation hearing and you’ll see this on full display. Every member of the Judicial committee already had their minds made up about any given appointee before the hearing started.
- We have a problem. Healthy organizations, governments, churches, etc. don’t have people writing anonymous letters like this or people leaving administrations quicker than you can blink an eye. We have a problem in this country that goes far deeper than just the occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — Using him as the sole problem is a cop-out. More importantly, we don’t want to talk about the problems that we face. We’re too busy yelling at each other, calling names, scapegoating, trying to prove how smart and right we are, etc. I’m going to venture to say that we don’t really know how to talk about this either. We know how to identify when someone is in our tribe and someone is not. We do the same thing when the topic is race, gender, religion, immigration, military, etc. But we don’t know how to really talk and listen.
- Fear. There is a high level of fear and anxiety that is rippling through the nation, reaching even those in high levels of government. Fear of many things. Fear is not a positive forward-looking thing. It is crippling. It is something that enemies of the country try to inflict on their enemies. And it not healthy.
- The fruits of the ends justify the means are blossoming — and they are rotten to the core. When you have people in leadership that live by the idea that the ends justify the means, then we shouldn’t be surprised when there are op-eds and books like the ones that have been released in the last week. When the ends justify the means is the standard operating procedure, then decency, respect, civility, and order are thrown out. Selfishness, self-preservation, and the attitude of kill others before being killed will reign. We see it in the books and op-ed and in the way the administration treats “friends” and enemies, staffers, and colleagues. Should we be surprised that someone decided to throw the president under the bus when he has done this countless times to others? The ends justify the means doesn’t end well when it is the foundational operating belief. You’ll get to the ends, you just won’t like them. Is it worth it? No. It never is.
So where does this leave us? Adrift. That’s the best way to describe how I feel right now. We are a nation adrift — waiting to bump into a shore line, hoping we don’t hit a major storm or an iceberg that could sink us. We are adrift.
While we may not be able to do much nationally about this for now. We can do a few things personally. Do some self-examination. What is it that you really believe? What are the ideas and beliefs that are the foundation of your life? Are you living them out? If not, why not? When are the exceptions? Why are their exceptions?
What do you really value? What is your identity attached to? Is it to some political party or politician? Why?
Are you a follower of Jesus? Or of the Torah? Or the Quran? Or some other religious tradition? Are you really a follower, or are you pretending? If you were charged with the crime of being a follower of Jesus — could you prove it by your life and actions? The same goes for other religious traditions.
These are times when we need to have a firm grasp of our foundations. We need to really understand why we believe what we believe. To the point that it guides our decisions and our lives. Talk is cheap. Or as the book of James states — faith without works is dead. Are you willing to suffer the consequences of our beliefs? Are we willing to be uncomfortable because of those beliefs?
This op-ed isn’t just about the man in the White House. It’s about you and I and the decisions that we make each day. It’s about where we place our hope for salvation. It’s about what we believe about the country. It’s about the values that we claim to have and live out.
Regardless if you agree with the author or not, this is an opportunity to look inward. To examine ourselves and to ask these questions — what would someone close to me write if they could do it anonymously? What would they write that would be unflattering? What would their op-ed be about you? About me?
The author claims to be a part of the resistance. How would someone be resisting us? How do we resist against the things we claim to stand for and are about?
What would our op-ed be? What op-ed would we write about Jesus or another religious tradition that we follow? What would it show about us and what we truly believe? What would it really say about the person we claim to follow?
Here’s what I know. This isn’t going to get better. It is going to get worse, far worse, before it gets better. The divisions are getting deeper. Rhetoric is ratcheting up. Fear and anxiety are at an all time high in the nation. Claims of treason and removal of people from office are talked about openly. This is not the discussion of a nation that is well. It is the cry of help of a nation that is tearing itself apart.
We have a choice to make. We can add our voices to the fearful and anxious masses, the politicians and protestors. We can add to the fear and anxiety, division and separation. We can yell and scream at opponents. We can scapegoat and lay blame. We can do all these things and more. And eventually we can pick up arms if we persist on this path. We wouldn’t be the first people in history to do that, nor will we be the last. Humanity doesn’t learn lessons very easily.
Or we can see how broken we are. This past week I did something unusual during worship. I took time to talk about the confession and forgiveness of sins. It was uncomfortable for many people. And during the corporate confession where we all say the same thing together — I asked everyone to pause at the end of each sentence in order to let the words sink in. That was difficult for people to do. There were some who plain and simple didn’t wait, didn’t pause. Confessing is not comfortable. We don’t like to think about our own sinfulness. We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners. We want to move past that and hear good news that we are forgiven. It brings a sigh of relief. But there are times when we need to be uncomfortable and sit in confession.
This is one of those times. I don’t know how else we go forward as a nation and a people except in confessing our sins against God, ourselves, each other, and the rest of creation.
Let us confess our sin, calling on God’s transforming power.
And so I ask you to take a moment and confess — where is your life broken? What relationships are broken? How have you rebelled against God? Turned away from God or others? How have you hurt others, yourself, or creation? Be uncomfortably honest with yourself and with God.
Once you have taken a few moments to collect your uncomfortable thoughts, I ask you say the following with me — Say the words slowly, pausing at the end of each sentence to really let the words sink in:
Source of all life, we confess that we have not allowed your grace to set us free.
We fear that we are not good enough.
We hear your word of love freely given to us, yet we expect others to earn it.
We turn the church inward, rather than moving it outward.
Make us uncomfortable.
Radically reorient us to be a church powered by love, willing to speak for what is right, act for what is just, and seek healing of your whole creation.
Thank you for confessing with me. God hears our cry. God forgives our sins. God’s love is unconditional. God raises us up from the death of sin to new life.
And that’s exactly what we need right now — forgiveness. New life. That’s the op-ed about God and God’s kingdom. Let us live this out. Amen.
Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on September 7, 2018.