Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Political Assumptions

I've been reading this great little book lately - Kings and Presidents (there will be a review in this space on Thursday). It's surprisingly deep and challenging for a book meant to be accessible and about politics for a largely evangelical audience. It came at a good time for me. I've been involved in a couple of discussions about politics with people who don't always agree with me. It's pretty clear we're coming at this from different places and it always feels like their assumptions and not the same as my assumptions, but I've lacked a real language for expressing this difference (especially a language to do so without condescension, which is easy for me to do).

So they have a little section addressing something similar that's helped to form my understanding of these assumptions and why we differ sometimes. These are the words of Tim and Shawna Gaines highlighting an idea they got from the great William Cavanaugh.

Each of the influential political philosophers understood humans as completely autonomous individuals first, linked only loosely by the idea that we must be fair to one another, usually by making contracts with one another. As they understood it, humans were not closely knit creatures of relationality but those for whom violence against one another is only a few short steps away, making contracts (such as governmental constitutions) necessary to maintain the rights of these unrelated individuals.

Yes, this is a pretty basic summary of western political theory, but it's framed in a way that's helpful for Christians mostly because it sets up an easy dichotomy between conservative and liberal approaches.

You can see then how conservatives tend to be conservative with these relationships, only engaging in contracts with others as much as they have to, with the expectation that more contracts equals more harm - mostly because they recognize people are selfish. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to be more liberal with these relationships because they see outside forces as most responsible for engendering selfishness in human beings.

I have to be reductionistic, but it's essentially "people are basically good" vs "people are basically evil." It's essentially political philosophy as a battle between optimism and pessimism. Liberals tend to say, "if we can only align these outside forces properly, everything will run smoothly;" while conservatives tend to say, "interactions between people are inherently messy, so let me have as few as possible and things will run smoothly."

There's no real mystery why these philosophies are at odds.

I think I get into trouble in my political discussions because my friends are trying to put me in one box or the other, when I don't really see myself in either. I try to take a specifically Christian approach to politics (and politics in the broader sense: every interaction people have with one another, not simply the machinations of government). As I see it, this Christian approach is not an either/or proposition, where I'm choosing one of the above options. It's a both/and situation, where I am affirming the correctness of both.

People are inherently selfish, and even if our most sincere desire is to be otherwise, we're still going to act in our own interest a lot of the time. But people are also inherently interconnected - you can no more isolate yourself and remain human than a caterpillar can refuse to become a butterfly. You can refuse to build the cocoon, but you're going to end up dead.

So a conservative might say "X is not the place of gov't," and liberal might say, "X is the responsibility of gov't." I say, "who cares?" It really feels like arguing over how to get peas from the plate to your mouth. You like a spoon; he likes a fork; that other guy prefers chopsticks. I'm far more concerned that the person gets to eat.

Yes, that still means we have to figure out how to do it - but that discussion (at least with me) will be based around practicality and not some preconceived notion of what government is or should be. I don't have a political philosophy (at least not in the traditional sense of the term).

I'd just ask that we talk about the merits of some issue or problem, rather than how it lines up with some overarching political ideal. I don't believe in political ideals, so it'll be hard to have that conversation with me. I'd never thought about assumptions in quite the way the Gaines' and Cavanaugh put it above - perhaps others haven't either. Maybe this will help all of us talk together more civilly in the future?

One can hope anyway.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Cynicism Keeps Hope Alive

So, last night I took a few minutes to listen to my college roommate preach at our alma mater. His introduction talked a lot about cynicism and hope. He used the example of Debbie Downer, a Rachel Dratch SNL character he's been known to enjoy. He's also been known to associate her with me, enough that I was legitimately worried I'd come up in the sermon (I didn't). It did start hitting a bit close to home, though, especially as he defined cynicism (he might have quoted the dictionary) as something like "the belief that all human actions are fueled by selfishness."

At first I wanted to be upset (even though, it should be pointed out, there was no direct or indirect condemnation of me, that was all in my head), but I just couldn't muster it. I'm not embarrassed by my cynicism. Maybe I should be (at least my brain thinks that might be true), but I'm not. I don't have a heavy conscience over it and I could (and will - keep reading) defend it.*

That whole process took a very short amount of time to work its way through my nervous system and psyche, mostly shaped by his explanation of cynicism and hope as opposites. If cynicism sees the world shaped by selfishness, hope is the belief that things don't (and won't) always have to be this way. Hope sees the truly selfless moments that do exist as speaking to some greater truth about the world, while cynicism sees these moments as anomalies.

I am certainly a cynic, absolutely. I think it's a realistic was of looking at the world around us. People are, in fact, pretty selfish, myself included, most of the time.

I am also (or at least try to be) a person of hope. I have a strong belief in the ultimate consummation of the world - that this world, birthed and nurtured in love, will eventually find the fulfillment of that love in the end. I've dedicated my life to that notion. So even if (and I do agree) cynicism and hope are opposites (a really great way of juxtaposing those things, by the way) - they are not mutually exclusive. It's part of the fun in living among the intersection of two worlds.

Christians profess that Jesus Christ changed things - that the world before his life, death, and resurrection was different than the world after. In my view, this doesn't mean there was a total sea change, but rather that the influences dominant in the world have shifted. Selfishness has been overcome by the selfless love of God. Not that it has been defeated, but that it has begun to die. So we live in a world, yes, birthed and nurtured in love, but also sewn with selfishness - and while that love is purging the selfishness from the world, it's power and affect** remains.

We need both, of course. We need hope to sustain us in the midst of despair. We're pretty good about doing that, though. You can google all the pictures of flowers growing up out of sidewalks to get the intimate human connection to hope. But we need the cynicism, too - especially in culture of denial. My comfortable, white, American existence insulates me from a whole lot of the effects of selfishness in the world. I rarely have to see poverty, homelessness, mental illness, or violence (outside of maybe tv), I don't generally have to deal with addiction or hunger or true anguish. My society has constructed itself specifically so I'll forget the ills of the world and be content to consume and be entertained.

That atmosphere kills off hope, but it also kills of the effect of hope. Without real examples of pain hope is less of a motivator. It becomes denuded, inert - at least it can feel like that to me.

That's why I need cynicism. It keeps the emotional receptors alive. Cynicism and hope together build compassion. Too often it seems, our insulated world of complacency removed the ability to feel. When people are confronted with starving children on some unwise commercial appeal, their gut reaction is horror, but their actual reaction is ignorance - we pretend the pain doesn't exist because we're incapable of either cynicism or hope.

Apathy. That might be the real enemy.

It certainly seems to be what I'm afraid of. I've not ever thought about it this way until right now, but it makes sense. I want to keep feeling. I need to feel deeply to maintain hope. It's so easy in this world to give up the notion that things can be better (especially because they're already pretty good for me and most of the people I see everyday). It would be very easy for me to lose hope. So I remain cynical. It's my way of reminding myself that the world in which I culturally occupy isn't the world I physically occupy.

This might not be the best way to accomplish this task, but it is effective. I'm not saying it's right or recommending it to you, but this means does, in fact, serve a very important end. Regardless of what means you pursue it, the end is vitally important. We have to keep feeling - and feeling deeply.^

I appreciate my cynicism. Not all the time, of course. I don't really enjoy being Debbie Downer (although there's something deeply comforting to me in those sketches, which is itself probably worth three years of therapy), but at the same time, I think this healthy*** dose of cynicism, I think, is what helps me see terrorists and child molesters as human beings. Cynicism is, in large part, contrarian. Yes, it's a bit of a downer to see pain in what everyone else sees as joy - but it's kind of a blessing to see love in the midst of communal anger, to see hope when others see selfishness and cynicism.

Of course there are total cynics - people who see despair and greed and selfishness even when everyone else sees those things - but those people are straight nihilists - they might even be insulted by the label "cynic." That's much deeper than Debbie Downer and her ruining of birthday parties and Disney World. That's something completely devoid of hope - although, the cynic in me has managed to keep alive a robust understanding that nothing - no person, no situation, not even that depressing nihilist - is truly devoid of hope.

*It should also be noted that Jeremy took this sermon in a slightly different direction than this post. There's nothing he said that would directly contradict what I'm saying here and this isn't at all a rebuttal. I just got thinking about this because of that. Nothing more.#

**I know "effect" makes more grammatical sense there, but I wanted to emphasize that both the result and influence remains and I wasn't exactly sure how to best communicate that without making the sentence ungainly long - thus a reference only the best theologically trained grammarians might hope to understand.

***Healthy as in robust, not necessarily as life-affirming.

^Incidentally, this is why Lent and Advent are so important - they help us wallow in the reality of our situation, so we can better appreciate the joy and hope of Easter and Christmas.

#That being said, he very well may disagree with what I wrote here, so don't construe the last statement as somehow expecting an endorsement of this post from him.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A New Explanation

A week or so ago I watched Ragamuffin, a movie about Rich Mullins, a Christian singer-songwriter who died in a car crash in the mid-90's. I am not generally a fan of the Christian music industry, and I knew very little about Mullins going in - other than that he was an outsider. He broke the rules and did things his own way (especially eschewing wealth) not worrying about who he might offend.

It's not a typical "Christian" movie - which is a very good thing. There were some clunky acting moments, but the guy they got to play Mullins was phenomenal, and he's in every scene, so that helps. It's also a movie that doesn't wrap things up in a nice bow. There's no soft sell for belief, but a real, honest depiction of someone struggling to make sense of faith in the world. Heck, it ends with a car crash and no resolution!

I found it to be honest and ring true, especially the quote that begins the film,

In the 48 years since I was first ambushed by Jesus, in literally thousands of hours of prayers, meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on Judgment Day the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question, “Did you believe that I loved you?

It sort of perfectly encapsulated a post I've been working on for most of the summer.

I grew up in the midst of evangelicalism, so it's been a bit of a lifelong pursuit to figure out exactly how to define Christianity, salvation - to discover a way to define the basics of life following Christ in ways that people will understand and will also satisfy my own conscience. I guess it's been a struggle because we so often confuse things, complicate things, overburdening the gospel in ways that make it unattractive and inaccessible.

I think many of us have now easily moved beyond the old tropes of "say a prayer you really mean and you can go to heaven when you die." We're well beyond the dominance of a logical, orderly system of belief that will be content to live there. At the same time, we've not really hit on something else so simple. We can talk about "living like Jesus" all we want, but that's not an easily definable, understandable, or even agreeable notion across the board.

We're never going to find something everyone agrees on (that's why we've got 3,000 separate Christian denominations out there), but I think we can do better. That quote above goes a long way.

Salvation is an important concept for Christians, because it was important to Jesus, to his Hebrew ancestors, and to his Christian followers. Salvation - being saved - was the center of faith practice. We can go through all the permutations of being saved from what, to what, by whom, how, but in the end, I think just leaving the concept sort of vague makes sense. People might not understand or care to parse all the technical language, but most people recognize (even if they won't admit) there's something in their life they wish wasn't there. Most all of us (and I'd argue "all of us," but we'll save that argument for another day) recognize something in our lives bigger and more powerful than us. We need help.

I think the best way to talk about salvation is to say it comes when you internalize the reality that you are really and truly loved, that you're lovable and worthy of love outside any thing you do or say or are. Salvation comes in knowing love.

That's easier said than done, of course. Knowing and knowing are two different things, right? To really feel that sense of love, acceptance, peace inside is sort of like an impossible fantasy. I can't say I can provide the road map or even great advice - I think most of the time I'm just as much on the journey as anyone else. I do believe with my whole heart, though, that salvation is real and it's possible. I know in my head that I am loved, that all of us is loved, even if I'm never quite sure I know it in my heart.

The quote from the movie comes from a preacher and author, Brennan Manning. He's a great writer to read. He talks about this stuff all the time (the same people who did Ragamuffin are doing a movie about his life, too). He gets at this in the longer version of the quote above:

In the 48 years since I was first ambushed by Jesus, in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania, and in literally thousands of hours of prayers, meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on Judgment Day the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question,

“Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?”

The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus, I believed in your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it.”

But many of us who are so faithful in our ministry, in our practice, in our churchgoing, are gonna have to reply, “Well frankly, no, sir. I mean I never really believed it. I mean I heard a lot of wonderful sermons and teachings about it. In fact, I gave quite a few myself. But I always thought that was just a way of speaking, a kindly lie, some Christian’s pious pat on the back to cheer me on.”

And there’s the difference between the real believers and the nominal Christians that are found in our churches across the land.

No one can measure like a believer the depth and the intensity of God’s love, but at the same time no one can measure like a believer the effectiveness of our gloom, pessimism, low self-esteem, self-hatred and despair that block God’s way to us.

Do you see why it is so important to lay hold of this basic truth of our faith? Because you’re only going to be as big as your own concept of God.

Remember the famous line of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal? “God made man in His own image, and man returned the compliment.” We often make God in our own image and he winds up to be as fussy, rude, narrow-minded, legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, and unloving as we are.

In the past couple three years I’ve preached the Gospel… (all over the world) … and honest to God, the God of so many Christians I meet is a God who is too small for me, because he is not the God of the Word, he is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ who this moment comes right to your seat and says,

“I have a word for you.

I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past. Right now, I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship.

And my word is this:

I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never gonna be as you should be.”

Now that sits a little hard for people in my holiness tradition, because we do talk about becoming what we're intended to be. The whole point of sanctification is that we're made whole in Christ through the power of God's Holy Spirit. We've gotten in a lot of trouble in the past talking about sanctification as perfection - because John Wesley, the guy who sort of founded this theological movement, called it "Christian perfection," but even that was a misleading name.

He talked about it as perfection of love - not that we get everything right, but that we make everything right. We're going to screw up and make bad choices, but it's how we respond to those choices - do we double down and keep right on stubbornly hurting ourselves and others, or do we come with humility to fix what we've put wrong. It's a complicated concept, too, one that we continue to argue about hundreds of years later (and one that only seems to get more difficult).

But I do believe in transformation - that somehow, the love of God can make us different. I don't know if it fits all the criteria and academic longings of the theologians, but I do know love changes things. That's precisely how I'd like to define it: if salvation means understanding our inherent loveableness, then sanctification means seeing and understanding the same thing in absolutely everyone else.

We've often talked about it as an orderly process, at the very least one that happens simultaneously. Certainly you must be impacted by love to be changed, but I think the relationship may be less tangible and far more amorphous.

We are constantly doubting our worthiness for love, through our actions, the response we get from others, the mess going on inside our heads, and just the mixed up science of brain chemistry. Life in this world is complicated and it's tough to live in a state of confidence, even if that confidence is in the love of God. At the same time, I hope, we're at least occasionally, if not frequently, exposed to moments of genuine love - times and experiences where we get it, we know we're loved unconditionally - whether it comes from someone else, an emotion, or just the benevolent grace of the universe (that some people might call the working of God).

Those moments can breed compassion - they can help us see even the most vile, offensive, hateful other as a human being not unlike ourselves. Those moments, too, may be fleeting. This isn't the dull weight you feel in your stomach when those horrible guilt-inducing starving child commercials come on the TV - you're supposed to feel that way then - but those moments of total understanding when you should be angry. I'm talking about at least patience, grace when you have every right to be upset. It's feeling a love for someone who doesn't deserve it simply because they're alive.

Now those second experiences may be rare, I don't know. What I do know is they come directly from our own experiences of love. We can relate to others because we relate to being wrong, the enemy, the unworthy, the villain. That's the easy part. Recognizing and expressing that such a villain can and should be loved, even doing the loving, is far more difficult. That's the kind of calling, life that we holiness nutsos are determined to pursue.

I've come to realize, though, these states of being where salvation and sanctification make sense - those times when we really internalize our lovableness and, in turn, those moments where we can truly love the unlovable, well, they come and go. We don't always exist in those states. That's semi-blasphemous for a Nazarene minister to say, but it's definitely what I've observed.

I guess what I'm saying in all this is, so what?

Who's told us we have to be perfect? We might have told ourselves this, of course, but no one else did. I get that we should be growing - we should certainly be more like Jesus today than we were two years ago, but we don't actually have to be Jesus. In faith we believe that's down the line somewhere, but not until after some serious divine intervention. Holiness people believe we can be in right relationship with God here and now - we can be the kind of people we'll be in "heaven" (whatever that means to you) here and now - but what if that relationship, that sanctified state of being, is simply someone who's learning? What if it just means we're working to accept and live into our status as beloved and working to treat others the same way. What if this moving back and forth between success and seeming failure is really all success?

Because if we beat ourselves up about not being good enough, not acting out the sanctified life we're supposed to have, we're just going to wind up back at the beginning of Brennan Manning's quote - where we don't really, deep down, believe God loves us. Trying too hard to be sanctified might just keep us from living in the joy of salvation.

So when people ask what it means to be a Christian, I think I'm just gonna say: "learning to believe you're worth loving," and let God take care of the rest.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Art and the World of Direct Connect

So, last week I had a few experiences with the new economy. I signed up for an online course from Philosopher Peter Rollins. It takes place in November, so I'm not sure all the specifics as yet, but for $25 I'm getting (along with 100 others or so) 7.5 hours of interactive time with a pretty fascinating thinker. It's going to be a mixture of lecture and Q & A on his latest book, which is sort of the conclusion of a five book project that's covered the better part of the last decade and really helped to reinforce my own thinking in a lot of ways. Rollins is constantly challenging just about everyone who claims faith of any kind of dig deeper and examine what we believe and what it means for life in new and unique ways.

Then, on Friday night, for just $10, I (and about 100 others) were treated to 90 minutes of musician Derek Webb, playing and talking from his living room via the interwebs. He took requests and interacted with the relatively small audience and is going to start doing similar broadcasts regularly. Derek Webb is a fantastic songwriter and one who inspires my own writing with his creativity and skill. He's an evolving spiritual thinker who provided and important soundtrack to much of my own growth and maturation during college years and after.

Both of these things are quite mundane for the world we live in now, but they're pretty revolutionary ways for artists and thinkers to not only have their work engaged and critiqued, but to make a living. Concerts are really starting to price out a lot of people (myself included) with their associated costs and expenses - this is a great evolution, allowing someone like Derek Webb to interact more directly with listeners.

For Rollins, who can only speak so often and in so many places, but perhaps has a widespread, eclectic audience, he can bring people together in ways that are mutually beneficial and cost effective for both parties. I'm not sure exactly what all these possibilities hold for the future, but it's exciting to know and experience the new possibilities.

It's gotten me thinking more about art and it's place in society. For a while now we've (the collective, societal 'we've') really only valued art for what it fetches in the open market. Someone may be very talented, but they're a good artist if they can sustain themselves with their art. It's led to this crazy market for fine art and, as mentioned, crazy expensive concerts. Even those artist who tour constantly or sustain themselves with niche communities of support, it's often a day-to-day, week-to-week existence often supplemented with something else they do.

We've lost the real, intangible value of art in society.

Artists help us put expression to emotions and thoughts we can't, on our own, express. They give us pause to imagine things differently. They inspire us to live different stories in the world. Most importantly, they present reality in such a way that we can move beyond the intellectual to some deeper, visceral understanding. Artists put a mirror in front of our lives, challenging us to see ourselves in new and different ways.

It doesn't always pay off. Sometimes good art isn't worth a dime because it's not entirely comfortable or welcomed. This means art is rarely appreciated for its own sake - for its contribution to society. When politicians talk about budget cuts, the Arts are often the first to go. Symphonies and museums are working hard to build self-sustaining endowments, expecting an inevitable end of public support.

The fact those endowments are, in places, succeeding is testament to the reality that some people still value art for more than it's monetary worth - and are willing to put some monetary value on the intangible benefit it provides to all of us, individually and as a collective. Hopefully this new direct connect-ability will provide a better way for our society to recognize and support the artists among us - that it becomes not just a benefit to me, sitting on my couch, but to the artists themselves and the larger world.

*I include Rollins in this conversation about art, because as much as he's incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable, he is ultimately a storyteller. His best work is framed narratively, using his extensive background to inform the larger art with which he teaches and attempts to live.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

God and History: My Journey Through Christian Patriotism

I know sometimes I can get a bit testy when it comes to Christians and politics. I view politics in general as mostly a spectator sport - I want people to be represented fairly, but I try to call out BS from whoever spouts it. Things get a little different when it comes to attaching faith, especially Christian faith to our politics and patriotism. I wanted to share a personal story about why it matter so much to me.

I've always been a hound for facts. I consume knowledge for its own sake - with all the good and bad that comes with it. I've always been this way. My parents, until they sold it, had a set of encyclopedias with a bookmark in it marking how much I'd read. The book mark was a library pass from 7th grade. Yeah. That's me.

I did the Geography Bee as a kid in school (and did very well), I still love maps far too much. I like dates and timelines and any display of any kind with even remotely interesting facts on it. You do not want to play me in Trivial Pursuit (and you really wouldn't have wanted to play 22 year old me, before the ravages of age took hold on my memory). Needless to say, I became a history major in college. I've got a degree in it. I find the past fascinating, mostly for what it tells us about who we are and what's going on today.

In high school I geeked out over this guy, David Barton (I feel like I've written about this on the blog before, but I can't find it, so we'll go again). He was a Christian historian who traveled around telling people how Christian the founding fathers were and making a really strong case for Christian patriotism. Being the uber-evangelical kid I was, I latched on to this pretty heavily. I read his books and touted his information all over the place. At one point, he even came to our church and spoke. It was really, really cool. I'm guessing he was a big reason I became a history major in the first place.

I was a pretty good history student, I like to think, maybe a bit lazy at times, but good. When I was introduced to real historical research and set loose on primary sources, I ate it up. That part of the gig is a lot of fun.* Being in college in Boston, revolution-era stuff was everywhere. I began reading a lot of writings from the founding fathers. A lot. I've read the collected writings of most everyone who gets more than a mention in your junior high civics book - private papers and published work.

As I began this process, though, I had a rather unsettling discovery. A lot of those quotes David Barton used to prove his points, the ones that he put on the personalized checks you could buy and posters for hanging on your wall, a lot of those quotes were taken way, way out of context. Some of them were even mis-attributed - words that, say, a biographer had written about one of the founders. I had been told, by Barton, that all but two of the singers of Declaration of Independence were Christians, which is mostly true - but the implication was that they were Christians the way an evangelical Christian is a Christian in modern times. It was like a whole room full of Billy Graham's creating this country. I found in actually checking up on this historian, that he was doing pretty much everything wrong.

Then I started checking up on Barton. Turns out he's not even a historian at all. In fact he's got less training in history than I did after my first semester of college. He's written a lot of best-selling books on "history," but in 2012 (long after I'd peeked behind the curtain), his book on Thomas Jefferson had to be removed from publication - a number of Conservative Christian historians examined his claims and found them outright false. He continues to tour and speak and spread what are actual lies about the founding of the country for the purpose of equating US Patriotism with evangelical faith.

That revelation was a little bit shocking.

So I went back to square one. I started reading the primary sources for myself, asking just what does Christian faith and the US government have to do with one another. It turns out, most of the founders were indeed Christians - but sort of in the same way Ted Cruz is Canadian. Outside perhaps the Quakers, there was no equivalent to modern evangelicalism in that time (at least not on any scale in the US). These guys went to services most Sundays because that's what prominent citizens did. George Washington bought the best pew in his local parish (because you bought pews back then, rather than just claiming them like we do now), but refused to receive communion or bow his head in prayer.**

These guys were men of the times - a time when science was explaining so much that was previously chalked up to the supernatural. There was an unprecedented human confidence that we could figure out and master the world. Combined with the cultural acceptance of rich white men doing pretty much whatever they wanted in private, there was very little impetus for faith to impact life - that sort of thing was for monks in cloisters and the odd fringe group, like the Amish.

The history of Christian intersection with government has been one of convenience on both sides. Constantine got unity for the empire and Christians stopped getting killed. Charlemagne got his rule and conquest legitimized and the Popes got some say in government. The United States drove out the French, then the English, enslaved Africans, and took genocidal sweep at Native Americans under this banner of manifest destiny, that God somehow blessed the country and gifted its leaders with unrivaled primacy in the world - and that was backed with faith. You tell someone God wants to do something great for them and they'll generally believe you - it's how prosperity gospel survives.

It's also the stuff of false prophets. Throughout the Old Testament, the false prophets were those voices in the ears of the kings telling them to keep on, conquer, oppress, God wanted them to be strong and powerful. The prophets recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures were those calling for humility and repentance. In the New Testament the false prophets were those calling the people of God to a way of life contrary to the gospel - those calling for entitlement and self gratification.

I don't think I've used the term for anyone else in my life (maybe those prosperity preachers as a group), but David Barton and his ilk are false prophets. I believe that strongly. The words they say and the message they impart aren't even accurate historically, let alone in line with the life of a homeless, wandering rabbi. Our nation's leaders cloak their words and actions in Christian language precisely for same way politicians have done so for 1700 years: it works to motivate the people. You're never going to die so the rich guy can get richer, but you're probably going to sign up if it's a call from God to defend your faith and way of life.

That's not really the story of our history and it's certainly not the story of our faith.

So if I go a little overboard on Facebook or speak too cringe-worthily in my critiques sometimes, just know this is pretty personal for me. Much of my life has been shaped by this false battle raging in my country, and in my faith. The God of scripture is never on the side of the politicians and the power - whether they be Hebrew kings in the Old Testament or Pharisees and Romans in the New... or even Popes and Presidents in the historical age that followed. God is always on the side of the poor, the broken, the outcast, the forgotten. If our political efforts are not on their behalf, then while they may be "American" to the core, they're not of Christ.

Every nation on Earth has, at one time or another, believed God chose their nation... and they've all been wrong. God does not choose nations; God chooses people - we need to live like it.

*I had much less fun in the "writing about what you learn" phase of history, which is also the phase that earns you a living: thus I am not a professional historian today.

**This is awkward news for the cottage industry that exists depicting Washington kneeling next to his horse in full uniform on coffee mugs and paintings and commemorative plates.

***Just sort of an extra credit history lesson for those brave souls who made it all the way down here - Washington was never against oligarchy and rule by the rich and powerful (Adams and some of the New England guys were, but they got overruled in the Constitution, which is why it took 100 years for direct election of Senators). Washington was opposed to that oligarchy being hereditary. He wanted people to be able to earn their way into the elite, which sounds sort of American on the cover, but ultimately is very elitist - the rich prosper and poor melt away. I'm generally a fan of Libertarian ideas, but not the social darwinism aspect of it. Those who "win" have an obligation to those who don't. There's no indication George Washington much believed this.****

****Now the caveat being, there was little evidence in their world, or history at the time, that this was possible. The idea that the poor could be given some semblance of basic human rights was still 150 years away - so there is some excuse built in for these guys - just not any excuse for the rest of us, especially Christians.