Monday, February 28, 2005

Prisoners: America's Forgotten

Christians are told by Jesus to visit those in jail. In a time when so much is going on internationally, we may find ourselves forgetting this population.

A few articles worth reading of recent note:

Mistreatment of prisoners at the hands of privately-owned health care companies is documented by the New York Times.

The Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama's website. Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of EJI, will be speaking at Cornerstone Festival 2005 on prisons, race, and rape.

Amnesty International's web site. (Their founder, Peter Benenson, just died Feb 25; he was 83 years old).

Is the Death Penalty really such a good idea? Morally and pragmatically, the Death Penalty Project suggests most strongly the answer is NO.

Possibly I'll add more later.

Unchristian Behavior 101: Torture by Proxy

I'm going to simply post various news items (until the media folk yell at me) which underscore an obvious fact: our government is doing some very unchristian things in our names.

The New York Times
February 28, 2005

It's Called Torture


As a nation, does the United States have a conscience? Or is anything and everything O.K. in post-9/11 America? If torture and the denial of due process are O.K., why not murder? When the government can just make people vanish - which it can, and which it does - where is the line that we, as a nation, dare not cross?

When I interviewed Maher Arar in Ottawa last week, it seemed clear that however thoughtful his comments, I was talking with the frightened, shaky successor of a once robust and fully functioning human being. Torture does that to a person. It's an unspeakable crime, an affront to one's humanity that can rob you of a portion of your being as surely as acid can destroy your flesh.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen with a wife and two young children, had his life flipped upside down in the fall of 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department, acting at least in part on bad information supplied by the Canadian government, decided it would be a good idea to abduct Mr. Arar and ship him off to Syria, an outlaw nation that the Justice Department honchos well knew was addicted to torture.

Mr. Arar was not charged with anything, and yet he was deprived not only of his liberty, but of all legal and human rights. He was handed over in shackles to the Syrian government and, to no one's surprise, promptly brutalized. A year later he emerged, and still no charges were lodged against him. His torturers said they were unable to elicit any link between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was sent back to Canada to face the torment of a life in ruins.

Mr. Arar's is the case we know about. How many other individuals have disappeared at the hands of the Bush administration? How many have been sent, like the victims of a lynch mob, to overseas torture centers? How many people are being held in the C.I.A.'s highly secret offshore prisons? Who are they and how are they being treated? Have any been wrongly accused? If so, what recourse do they have?

President Bush spent much of last week lecturing other nations about freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It was a breathtaking display of chutzpah. He seemed to me like a judge who starves his children and then sits on the bench to hear child abuse cases. In Brussels Mr. Bush said he planned to remind Russian President Vladimir Putin that democracies are based on, among other things, "the rule of law and the respect for human rights and human dignity."

Someone should tell that to Maher Arar and his family.

Mr. Arar was the victim of an American policy that is known as extraordinary rendition. That's a euphemism. What it means is that the United States seizes individuals, presumably terror suspects, and sends them off without even a nod in the direction of due process to countries known to practice torture.

A Massachusetts congressman, Edward Markey, has taken the eminently sensible step of introducing legislation that would ban this utterly reprehensible practice. In a speech on the floor of the House, Mr. Markey, a Democrat, said: "Torture is morally repugnant whether we do it or whether we ask another country to do it for us. It is morally wrong whether it is captured on film or whether it goes on behind closed doors unannounced to the American people."

Unfortunately, the outlook for this legislation is not good. I asked Pete Jeffries, the communications director for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, if the speaker supported Mr. Markey's bill. After checking with the policy experts in his office, Mr. Jeffries called back and said: "The speaker does not support the Markey proposal. He believes that suspected terrorists should be sent back to their home countries."

Surprised, I asked why suspected terrorists should be sent anywhere. Why shouldn't they be held by the United States and prosecuted?

"Because," said Mr. Jeffries, "U.S. taxpayers should not necessarily be on the hook for their judicial and incarceration costs."

It was, perhaps, the most preposterous response to any question I've ever asked as a journalist. It was not by any means an accurate reflection of Bush administration policy. All it indicated was that the speaker's office does not understand this issue, and has not even bothered to take it seriously.

More important, it means that torture by proxy, close kin to contract murder, remains all right. Congressman Markey's bill is going nowhere. Extraordinary rendition lives.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Anglican Split Coming over Homosexuality

It is increasingly evident that the world body of Anglicans is not going to agree with American and Canadian Anglican leaders on homosexuality.

Lasting split looms for Anglicans
The spiritual head of the Anglican Church has warned that sharp divisions over the ordination of gay clergy in North America could become permanent.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams spoke after the Church's US and Canadian branches were asked to leave a key Church council for three years.

"Any lasting solution will require people somewhere along the line to say, 'Yes, we were wrong'," he said.

The head of the US branch has again defended ordaining a gay bishop.

Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the American Church, told the BBC that the ordination of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire had been "right and proper".

"I continue to feel that way about the decision and the action - recognising that it is extremely problematic and difficult in many parts of the world," he said.

At the same time, the Church in the US welcomed the withdrawal as a chance to "move forward together".

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent, Jane Little, says there appears to be little hope for reconciliation and it looks like the world's third-largest Christian body is heading for a permanent split.


Anglican Church primates, or leaders, from all over the world spent a week debating the gay issue when they met in Newry, Northern Ireland.

We as a body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with the utmost seriousness
Anglican Church statement Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The North American branches have been asked to leave from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) until 2008.

Anglicans have been divided since Bishop Robinson's ordination in 2003 while the Anglican Church of Canada upset traditionalists by blessing same-sex unions.

On Thursday, the primates issued a statement saying the "standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality" had been "seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America".

Dr Williams told reporters on Friday that the issue was "not going to go away".

"We still face the possibility of division, of course we do... Any lasting solution will require people somewhere along the line to say, 'Yes, we were wrong'."

However, he noted an "impressive" willingness within the Anglican community to find a way forward without division.

The point of the withdrawal, he said, was to "make some space" for all parties to consider their positions.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the final statement was "not a perfect document" but sought to provide "a way forward in spite of the differences that exist concerning the subject of homosexuality".

'No dilution'

The leader of Australia's Anglican Church, Archbishop of Perth Peter Carnley, insisted Anglican leaders had "no intention" of watering down the worldwide communion.

These days have not been easy for any of us
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold
US Episcopal Church

He ruled out suggestions the 38-nation Anglican Communion might become "a kind of loose-knit federation".

"We are theologically grounded in the communion of God the Holy Trinity and that's what we want to maintain," he said.

The homosexuality debate has pitted traditionalists, notably from the African branches of the Anglican community, against more liberal elements.

The primates have suggested a special hearing in June to allow the US and Canadian branches to explain their views on homosexuality.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/02/25 20:11:33 GMT


Karl Rove Fan Club

Sorry, but when I googled the above title, nothing came up. That had to be changed. So just for fun, I'll offer a few links regarding Mr. Rove and let the "Fan Club" offer more... let's see how long this list can get! I'll start it with merely one entry and see what happens.

Bush's Brain (According to this irreverent site, Rove is that brain; it's a little over the top!)

[Note: I changed the spelling of Rove's first name after being tapped on it by someone who actually double-checks such things. He/she posted 'anonymous' so I can't thank them by name...]

Why the Pope Should Not Resign

One of the past hundred years' strongest Popes, John Paul II, has become a trembling, fragile old man. His Parkinson's disease and just-completed tracheostomy lead many commentators -- even many Catholics -- to suggest he ought to resign.

I'm just a low-church Protestant mutt. But for my two cents, I am deeply moved by what I think this pope is trying to do.

Leaders on this planet are supposed to be strong, dynamic, forceful people. And John Paul II has certainly been that during most of his tenure as leader of the Catholic Church. Sometimes, I've cringed, as with his flirtation with the idea of Mary as Co-Redemptrix, or Rome's continued hard line on celebacy in the priesthood. But I've also found in his example of faith a poetic, deep man who seems very concerned to reflect the image of Jesus to the watching world.

That's where his current refusal to step down seems especially appropriate to this Christian. How humiliating must it be to John Paul II, this wonderful speaker and incredibly articulate man, to be reduced to a public spectacle? I've sensed it even among Catholics, one nun recently voicing her irritation: "He needs to get out of there."

Why is it, I wondered, that I in my protestant faith find this Pope's current example the most potent one ever? If the Catholics want a leader who exemplifies Jesus, cannot they see that he is certainly now identifying with Jesus' passion? It is as if John Paul is walking through the stations of the cross, not by choice, but because he is mortal and his body is failing though his heart remains fixed on completing the race.

No, I don't think he should resign. Rather, I look at him as someone suffering, and in that weakness allowing the Lord's strength to be made manifest. Jesus becomes most transparently obvious -- to me at least -- when I encounter a Christian who suffers for him and in him.

In that, Pope John Paul II moves me most profoundly. He is in my prayers today, and I hope in the prayers of all believers Catholic or not.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Where's the posts?

Hey, what happened to my posts? I moved the love and sex-related posts to another blog, the High Romance (not to be mistaken for my site, which has more of such things). I'll repost the political posts I had here previously very soon, and hopefully add some more.

Just to be transparent in my reasoning here, it seems to me that blogs are best when done in a very "narrowcast" sort of manner. My initial foray was mixing some very unlike topics.

And thank you for visiting!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Yeah, Right! (The Bush Tapes)

I know as a Christian that cynicism is poisonous. Trouble is, cynics are right about 98% of the time. Regarding those tapes of conservative writer Doug Wead that were recently "forced" into the public's hands by Wead's publisher, my cynicism registers far into the red.... er, blue.

First, let's look at results. The tapes were reported by news sources as if they were an expose that was damaging to the President. But in reality they didn't hurt Bush in the slightest, and in fact drew a picture of Bush in private that makes him (in the words of one TV newscaster) "seem pretty much the same guy in private as he is in public." He on the tapes bemoans the idea that publicizing his former drug use, some kid will use drugs because the president used them. And that was the big story?

Second, let's look at image-crafting. Bush's people are geniuses in this regard, all moral quibbles aside. And I am just a bit too skeptical to believe Wead just happened to (a) make these tapes, or (b) release them. It is basically a publicity bonanza for Bush; he looks more upstanding to his supporters than ever, and even gets a few cautious notes in on how to handle gays, thus maybe getting a faint clap or two from those left of the political center.

I know. I'm too cynical. George Bush and his friends such as Carl Rove have never done anything remotely as ingenius as releasing supposed "unauthorized secret tapes" which end up as puff-pieces. My response?

Yeah, right.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Is Democracy Really the Only Option?

Notice how even asking such a question seems heretical? Hang with me a few more sentences before deciding I'm completely subversive.

In this day and age of democracy getting shoved down the throats of nations not enlightened enough to come along peacefully, I can't help recalling evangelical icon C. S. Lewis's opinions about forms of government. He didn't write much on the topic, but it seems clear from the little I've noticed from him that Monarchy rather than Democracy was his favored form of government. Let him say it: "Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison." (From his The Business of Heaven; thanks, Ben Jones for providing the quote I was hunting for.) I am not suggesting we institute a monarchy, by the way, or even saying I agree with Lewis. I don't, as a matter of fact. But neither do I agree with my own government's rather imperialistic (sorry, what other word can I use?) approach to exporting "democracy."

And let's be honest here -- America itself is not a democracy, but a republic. Important difference, that. Remember the Electoral College? The founders were nervous about the common rabble such as you and me running the show.

How about the fact that as originally formulated, some Americans (blacks) were less equal than others -- they counted only as three fifths of a person? The fact they even counted for that much had to do with southern states not wanting to be underrepresented in congress -- the thousands of slaves allowed slave states to have more muscle in the House of Representatives, even though those slaves had no voice or vote of any kind.

It is good to go over and over these facts, especially now.

"Democracy" ends up being one of those fast-food words used to make minds snap shut and salivary glands take over. Why did we invade Iraq? Because of WMDs? Oh, they aren't there. Well, it was all for the best... because now, Iraq will be a democracy. So we're told, and we gulp it down like a McDonald's hamburger.

My personal feeling is that democracy is as democracy does. To quote George Orwell's sinister pigs in Animal Farm, "All animals are equal but some are more equal than others." Perhaps it is odd to quote a parable regarding the sad history of communism to point out the difficulty with our present version of democracy, but I think it proper. The too apparent inequities in our own national version of democracy cause Orwell's phrase to ring in my head like a bell.

All men are equal under God... yes, I believe that. But democracy really is as it does. And what it does in today's America is less than it ought to be doing. A government that is really working ought to be about justice, and (if we take Old and New Testaments as any guide) justice for the prisoner, alien, impoverished, widow, and orphan first.

Give me a government like that, and you can call it whatever name you want to call it.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Evangelicals & Israel: Are We Dumb, Or What?!

Depressing. That's the middle east these days. And when it comes to Palestine, and Palestinians, it is particularly depressing to be an evangelical American believer. Why? Well, for one thing, the highly dubious nexus between evangelicals and Israel's state-sponsored terrorism against Palestinians...

One of my most depressing moments at our yearly Cornerstone Festival occurred when a forum on Palestine turned into a hateful demonizing session against Palestinians. "God gave that land to Israel!" some shouted. And when I went to a mic and suggested that the idea of using the Old Testament to justify a modern secular state of Israel seemed dubious to me, things got terribly ugly. People shouted me down in rage.

If that could happen at a Christian event not normally known for being a haven for "Christian Right" folk, what must be going on elsewhere in the evangelical firmament?

I have a cousin who is Muslim. She converted only months before 9/11 -- "My timing never was very good," she admitted ruefully in an email to me. But as we dialogue about our respective attempts to know God, we found an astonishing rapport regarding the Palestinian situation. She's been there, and worked with non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation. I have not yet been there, though my co-worker Chris Rice has also visited there and has Palestinian friends who send stories of such hair-raising nature one has to either rage or weep.

I don't know how to solve that issue -- who does? But I do know one thing. The idea that evangelicals are so gullible as to uncritically rubber stamp Israel's occupation (and the current wall being built throughout the Palestinian lands that is further isolating the Palestinian people) disgusts me.

Below is an article my cousin forwarded to me. It underscores this unholy nexus. And though I shouldn't have to say this, I will. Opposing Israel's policies is not the equivalent of hating Jews or wishing for the annhiliation of the Jewish people. Quite the contrary. The Jewish / Christian scriptures are filled with condemnations of oppressing the poor and alien peoples among the people of God. Yet this is precisely what Israel is doing, and what we evangelicals through our "rapture" doctrines (sorry, I don't buy 'em) are implicating ourselves in.

Read the below, and ponder it. Then ask yourself if this sounds like your kind of Christianity.

Getting tight with the Bible Belt

By Nathan Guttman
February 16, 2005

WASHINGTON - MK Benny Elon (National Union) invests more time and effort than perhaps any other Israeli in nurturing the relationship with Evangelical Christians in the U.S. As minister of tourism during the intifada, Elon promoted visits by Evangelical churches to Israel, and he continues to attend their conferences and speak out against diplomatic compromise on the Land of Israel.

In Elon's view, it is a productive relationship; Evangelical churches in the United States, with a combined membership of more than 50 million, are the closest thing to the Yesha Council of settlements on the other side of the Atlantic. Church leaders believe the Land of Israel belongs to Jews, and that only after the Jews settle the land will Jesus be able to return. There is a minor argument, of course, over what will happen in the end of days - the Evangelicals believe Jews will either cease to exist or will convert to Christianity - but this argument is on hold for now.

On Monday, at the major annual conference of evangelistic broadcasters in Anaheim, California, Elon introduced his soon-to-be-released book, "God's Covenant with Israel: Establishing Biblical Boundaries in Today's World." The book, which is being published in English, is a first attempt to formulate in writing the points of agreement and cooperation between Israel and Evangelical Christians in the United States. For Elon, it is also a first attempt to join politics and the Bible in the discourse between the two sides.

"I don't play it objective," says Elon, referring to his book. He says that in his numerous encounters with Christian believers around the U.S., he has felt a breach between the cold discussion of political and diplomatic issues, and the spiritual religious experience, as expressed in outbursts of "Hallelujah" and "Amen" by believers. Elon feels that he is now tying together the loose ends and essentially giving religious-biblical underpinnings to his diplomatic doctrine.

The book appraises four way stations in which, Elon says, a covenant was made between God, the People of Israel and the Land of Israel: Shechem, Beit El, Hebron and Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. It describes his life as a resident of Beit El and depicts for readers the territories as a land of the Bible, the same Bible that his readers read and believe in. Elon sees this approach as part of a chain of values that can link Israel with Americans - "If Sharansky is going for democracy and shared values and Netanyahu is going for the war on terror, then I am going for the Bible," he says.

The third side

Aside from emphasizing the Jewish-Christian partnership in the matter of the Bible and the Land of Israel, Elon's book also devotes extensive discussion to the third side - the Muslims. "I try to strengthen the Jewish-Christian common denominator, which has a scathing dispute with Islam," he says. "I'm not proposing to burn down mosques or make provocations, but neither am I suggesting that the common enemy be disregarded."

As Elon sees it, while Christians and Jews agree on a single historical and chronological outlook, Islam rejects it and proposes an alternative. This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of choice. The Muslims, Elon writes in his book, do not accept the historical story according to which at each stage God chose one and rejected the others, and therefore the People of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, are the chosen people.

The National Religious Broadcasters (NBR) association is one of the fastest growing media umbrella groups in the U.S. Although the 1,700 broadcast organizations that belong to the NBR represent a wide range of trends and attitudes, it is the primary working tool of the Evangelical churches in the U.S. The radio and television stations affiliated with the organization broadcast to tens of millions of believing Christians throughout the U.S. - many in the southern U.S.'s Bible Belt.

Member organizations commit to uphold a "statement of faith and code of ethics" that includes the tenets of Evangelical faith, as well as a sort of journalistic ethical code, the components of which are somewhat similar to like-minded documents found elsewhere in the broadcast industry. Except that every section of the NBR code relates to a verse from the holy writings, from which it is derived.

Israel has viewed the American Evangelical community as a significant source of support for more than two decades. What began as a marginal dalliance between groups in the Israeli right and leaders of the Evangelical Church has become one of the primary channels of contact between the official State of Israel and American Christians. Along the way, this alliance has succeeded in overcoming more than a few hurdles - the established Jewish community in the U.S. at first responded coolly to the closer relations while expressing reservations about the rightist approach of the Evangelicals in American politics - an approach that is alien to most of the Jewish community; nor did the previous (Democratic) administration have much fondness for this church.

However, shifts in the American and Israeli political maps, as well as the intifada, which damaged Israel's standing in the international community, removed most of the hurdles that stood in the way of the closer links between Israel and the Evangelicals. They were the only group to support Israel without reservation in the past few years, and one of the only groups to send delegations of tourists - church members - to Jerusalem at a time when the hotels stood empty. In addition, the fact that the Presbyterian Church took an especially critical line toward Israel in the conflict and that other movements considered taking steps against Israel placed the Evangelicals at the forefront of support for Israel.

Liberal Jews are still uncomfortable with the alliance between Israel and the Evangelicals, who represent all that the traditional political and social values of the Jewish community are not. They also warn that in the long term, this closeness will harm Israel's status and image in the American mainstream and among its ruling elites. But the American Jewish establishment has taken the approach that this is not a time to be picky about the choice of friends and allies.

Finding the heartland

The strength and sentimentality of Evangelical support for Israel was evident this week at the NRB gathering in Anaheim, where Glen Plummer, the outgoing chairman of the organization, spoke about the subject. Palmer summed up in a single forceful sentence his political outlook: "There are a few thick-headed people who are saying that Israel is the repressor, that Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David. Listen to me - it's all nonsense."

In Benny Elon's conversations with Evangelicals, he attempts to build a sort of parallel between America and Israel, a parallel that relates to the concept of "heartland." In American politics, the term usually refers to the American south and midwest, the simple America that believes in God, maintains high conservative values and is light years away from the America of New York and Los Angeles. It is the America that sent George W. Bush to the White House. "The Israeli heartland is Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, and just as the Americans suddenly discovered their heartland when they saw the results of the recent elections, I believe that they will now discover our heartland, as well," says Elon.

But his objective is not necessarily the enlistment of millions of Christian believers in a struggle against the disengagement plan. Elon wishes to hold these forces in reserve for the big upcoming struggle over the future of the Land of Israel. "We have to exploit this for the long term," he says, "for another year or two, when they will have 100 or 200 Congressmen who can support the annexation of Judea and Samaria. I am not in favor of last-minute action meant to save a single settlement."

It should be noted that this political prediction is controversial. The political might of the Evangelicals in Congress at present is minimal and even if, as Elon claims, they are joined by Jewish legislators and other supporters of the Greater Land of Israel, it is still hard to envision hundreds of Congressmen voting in favor of annexation of the territories to Israel.

The key question that still remains unanswered relates, then, to the ability of the Evangelical Church to supply the goods and aid its friends in the Israeli right. When the administration formulated its new approach to the Middle East two years ago and devised the road map, an attempt was made to enlist Christian believers in the struggle on behalf of the Land of Israel and against the administration's program. Billboards called on believers to phone the White House and tell the president that they do not agree with the division of the Land of Israel. There were some who amused themselves with the notion of President Bush being afraid to lose the votes of his most devoted supporters in the election and therefore withdrawing the road map. Then again, no such thing happened - Bush promoted the road map and the two-state vision and the Evangelical Christians voted for him anyway.

In the second term, will Bush be more attentive to his constituency and become a supporter of the Greater Land of Israel? Elon believes so. He understands the political needs of the president that prevented him from exhibiting such an approach in his first term, but now he feels that Bush, liberated from the political pressures of reelection, "will go back to himself," as Elon puts it. "There is a good chance that in his second term he will be with us and will not give a darn. I am betting on it. I believe that the legacy he wants to leave behind him will be one of the leaving a biblical mark on the Land of Israel."


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Conversation in Community

Ever hear the word "dialectical"? No, this isn't a discussion of Marx, Engels, Feurebach, or even Hegel. Yikes, this is a blog, not a philosophy seminar. But in community, I over and over have realized how important a "dialectical" approach in conversation can be. Dialectical, by the way, can mean merely that we try to come to an understanding of something by starting off with two or more opposing ideas, then work our way toward a synthesis of those ideas. (And like I said, no, this isn't Hegel! I prefer Soren Kierkegaard's beating heart to that cold bird.)

Picture, for instance, a discussion that starts up between two people about women and the church. The traditional approach to such a conversation (no matter which pole one gravitates toward) is to line up the bible verses, theologians (dead and alive), and one's own logical argumentation, all to batter down one's opponent(s) and their theological / logical constructions. But while this may be fun on a sort of sporting event level (he shoots! he scores!) it is a process designed to create resistance in one's conversational partner. Why listen when conversation becomes a means of assertion, of power?

Living in community, one learns sooner or later that the deeper a conversational conflict becomes, the more important it is to open oneself to the opposing viewpoint in that conversation. Opening the mind and emotions is not the same as accepting the other views. But it is far different than approaching a conversation as though one's own mind has within it a pristine truth that one's conversational partner does not (and maybe by implication cannot) have.

Humility and a dialectical conversational approach go hand in hand. When I truly listen, rather than quietly construct my next salvo while the other speaks, I almost always can and will find truths in what she is saying to me. Further, I find in her struggle to understand a moving testimony to our common struggle to know, to (in the Christian sense) be "right." We want to be right as Christians out of our desire to love God... or at least, that should be our motivation. Such a righteousness, however, ought to be marked by (to drive this point home) a humble, listening spirit. In fact, the more correct we may be on a point, the greater our gentleness and humility ought to be in presenting our understanding of that point.

I think what scares the more fundamentalist believers about this dialectical reality is the possibility that in our charity toward others we may well end up compromising the gospel. I well recall Francis Schaeffer, speaking to the Evangelical Press Association some years ago, repeating with great vigor: "Accommodation leads to accommodation leads to accommodation." Sigh... well, sure. It is entirely possible to be so open that one ends up believing everything is true for somebody, which is the same thing as believing that nothing is true for everybody. At least, that's how I see it (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

But the fundies don't get the human element here, which is why they come off as being control freaks. Their fear seems rooted in the idea that the whole shebang is going to turn into turtle soup unless they socially and politically, as well as theologically, hold our nation and world in thrall to their "Christian" ideas. (Yes, you could also replace that term in some parts of the world with "Muslim" or in India these days "Hindu.") So when the rest of the planet isn't very interested in being dialectical with the fundamentalists, they are offended, not realizing apparently that their refusal to respect others brings disrespect back upon themselves.

Back to my own context, however, here in this immediate community of Christians -- Jesus People USA. I find in myself an intolerant, unlistening side that rivals any fundie many days of the week. And through this communal shared life, where others' ideas are constantly coming into contact and into friction with my own, that inner rigidity of mine is continually taking a whacking. It is times like those that can almost make me hate living this way!

If I can hang in there, though, and let the dialectical process proceed -- I have to open my heart and mind to allow it -- I will discover a stunning reality. It is not only my conversational companions who bring me new ideas, different ways of seeing, but I also may even bring ideas in turn to them. And then comes the ultimate stunner: Jesus begins to appear between and in us. "Wherever two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them." Our ideas begin to seem more and more in alignment with the mind of Christ, and with humble joy we can at last each receive a word from each other which may in fact be the very Word of God.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Community or Ministry?

Jesus People USA is a community... and a ministry. We live together so that we can minister more effectively, yet our lives together are about more than ministry. Sometimes, I'm nervous when people talk about our shared lives as if we do this only for pragmatic reasons. There is more than pragmatism involved for me. I find community to be a romance of sorts. An intentional family, made up of people whose vision of the world and their part in it is shared.

Sure, romance gets tempered by reality. Like the Catholic writer and cofounder of L'Arche Communities, Jean Vanier, says, "Isn't community terrible?" Hehehehe... yes, indeed. The noble motives and grand, emotion-driven inspiration can run a little dry after the third hour of doing communal dishes, or the second day of a fellow communard's personality flaws. Imagine such things after decades! It is no wonder that community life is something many begin and few continue in. Of course, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with leaving Jesus People or any other intentional Christian community. It is all a matter of personal conviction regarding God's calling. Is this my life call?

Some never ask that question. A few Christian books even suggest that it is a foolish question to ask, since the Bible gives us all the basic information about "call" we need. "Just obey the biblical standards and do whatever you feel is right," seems to be the punchline of such pundits.

For me, that feels wrong. Christianity is either about intensely personal relationship to God, or about nothing. Sure, it isn't only about personal relationship. But if I don't believe I'm moment by moment walking with Jesus next to me (fancy theological concept: immanence), then how am I that different from someone who thinks that God, like Elvis, created something and then "left the building"?

No, Jesus called me. I believe that. And he called me to live here, among these people, in inner-city Chicago. I have to put up with them, all their imperfections and darknesses and failures. And worse, I have to let them put up with me and my personal angst, mess, sin, and double-mindedness. It is a terrible thing, this communal shared life. But it is also wonderful. I am called to love and be loved, to encounter Jesus in the faces and voices and words and deeds of my fellow Christians.

Community at the end of things is about transparency. I am called to become vulnerable to my friends in Jesus. And by so doing, I share in them the community life. I also minister and am ministered to, enabled to reach even beyond our community to others. And so community and ministry end up being, like Jesus' garment at the cross, without any seams. They are one, mutually reliant on each other and interwoven with each other. Like my sisters and brothers in Christ, with whom I am interwoven, we are individuals, yet a single body, even one expression of Jesus' Body.