Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Way Forward?

Paul Harvey told a Christmas story once on his radio program. My father uses it quite often in his Christmas Eve services; I've read it for him at least once. It's called "The Man and the Birds." The basic gist of the story is that a man stays home from Christmas Eve service because he just can't bring himself to believe in the incarnation - that God actually became human. While at home, a storm kicks up and he notices a flock of birds lost and weary in his front yard. The man has compassion on them and tries mightily to shoo them into the warm barn. Exasperated, the man wishes he could become a bird to lead the flock to safety - and the realization ignites within him this spark of faith.

I've been thinking about that story this morning, because I resonate with the desperation of the man. I'm not sure how to say this without coming off holier than thou (anyone who's read my twitter feed in the last 24 hours knows that's certainly not true), but part of claiming the title "evangelical" means one cares an awful lot about proclaimed truth. Instead of trying to herd a flock of birds into a barn, picture a man trying to guide trapped birds out of the barn to safety and freedom.

I believe with all my heart that the Kingdom of God is bigger, bolder, freer, more beautiful, and more expansive than any candidate, country, or campaign. I believe the good news of Jesus is that we don't have to get caught up in the machinations of power, choosing between flawed rulers and making due the best we can. When we're caught in this system is feels like birds bouncing back and forth between the walls of a barn they think encompasses the whole world, but is really a cage. Whatever floundering I do, waving my proverbial hands with exasperated one-liners, sub-par attempts at critique and satire, or wildly irresponsible mock presidential campaigns, is a desperate attempt to get the attention of my people who seem lost and unaware of it.

I know it makes me extreme and radical, but I do truly believe we shouldn't vote - not as Christians and at least not for President. As much as we try to hem and hedge and make excuses (and I'm just as guilty as anyone, see aforementioned twitter feed) our participation in that system is idolatry. It is a statement that the Kingdom of God is not enough for us, we must also have the kingdoms of this world.

When Dietrich Bonheoffer joined the plot to kill Adolf Hitler, he wrote, essentially, that he believed his actions were sinful and that they might earn him an eternity in hell, yet he willingly committed them anyway because he could stomach no other option. I try to take this perspective to heart when dealing with difficult issues (especially the taking of life), recognizing that we do not always possess the "right" solution in every instance. Similarly I recognize my tendency to do nothing over an imperfect something has not and does not always prove beneficial to me, my faith, or those around me.

At the same time, it feels as though Bonhoeffer's position is the only one that makes sense for Christian voters. If you're there, I might disagree, but I can understand. I just think we shouldn't be voting if we can, at all, help ourselves. There's nothing good in our preoccupation with power. It's dirty and messy and wreaks of lack of faith. We can't play pretend, saying we believe in a Kingdom ushered in by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then invest ourselves and our future in kingdoms that operate on an entirely different foundation.

I've written this before, but I know it gets trickier on a local level - since we have to get along with our neighbors. If there weren't a town council, we'd have to invent one, right? Or maybe we really could just live sacrificially for the good of the other? Maybe I'm just as trapped in the barn as everyone else, none of us really believing the door exists, or, if we do, not really believing we can ever find it.

I don't mean not voting for one person or another, but exempting ourselves from the conversation of us vs them (or even them vs them, with some obligation to choose sides). There is just us. As much as we'd like to say we can be loyal to our first allegiance and also take sides as Republicans or Democrats, we're fooling ourselves. Those identities in some way hinder us from being who we were created to be. The same is true for our identities as American or Arabian, Ugandan or Dutch. They seem convenient, but they just get in the way. Paul said neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (boy, is it hard to let go of that one!), and I'm even starting to wonder if even our identity as "Christians" gets in the way of our identity in Christ.

I don't think I've handled myself well in this flailing attempt to point our attention towards the door. I sure hope I've not come off as demonizing "them" who might think differently than me. My genuine desire is to caution "us" about the dangers we have embarked upon - and they are quite likely the exact same dangers we'd've encountered if 80% of us had voted the other direction.

I think it's an emotional over-reaction to say last night's vote was similar to the ancient Church's embrace of Constantine, but that's how it feels. In the US, people who most overtly name themselves the people of God have sided with amoral people in an amoral system we are desperate to sanctify. No, I don't think the other outcome would have produced a different result. Hence my reluctant call to give up voting.

I recognize the great sacrifices that have been paid to secure voting rights for people - and I admonish us to continue that work. Every person deserves the right to voice their opinion through the ballot box, but, as people following in the wake of Christ Jesus, I suggest we give up those rights in favor of living out an alternative.

That same Bonhoeffer proposed the idea of religionless Christianity, but died before he could flesh out his vision. I believe the most promising path forward, for the Church and for the world, is to explore together what that means: namely a life free of dogma and power and being "right;" a life of love in imitation of Christ, trying, as hard as the Holy Spirit will empower us, to avoid sacrificing our vision of the Kingdom to the kingdoms of the world.

I can't say I've done this well in recent days. Certainly many of you have felt less than loved. I don't know what to say. I'm sorry. I'll try to be better. But I have to keep trying. Somehow, we've got to get out of the barn.

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