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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Politics

Gordon Cosby


I'm not sure how I missed this (I guess it's been a hectic week), but Gordon Cosby from Washington DC passed away a couple of days ago. [Read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's article on Patheos here.]

I spent a little time with Gordon at the Church of the Savior in the past couple of years, and those few moments were transformative for me. Not only was I introduced to a truly missional church, but was amazed at the power of a small group of people to serve so many through self-sacrifice and deep commitment. From the planting of several churches and several non-profits ranging from a retreat center, a transitional home for women and children, Christ-based Child Care Centers to an innovative art center for inner city kids to a jobs placement center to a hospital for the homeless to a theological school to train servants of the gospel to a hospice for the homeless and those with AIDS and other illnesses to an affordable housing organization to one of my favorite coffeeshop/ bookstore/ diners (you can find a more comprehensive list here). This little band of gospel centered people discipled and shepherded by Gordon have loved the least of these in ways many of us merely talk about, and their impact is incredible. Their commitment to Christ, to each other, to the spiritual disciplines, to prayer, and to service is inspiring.

Gordon taught me many things in our short conversations. I heard him speak passionately about being people formed by the essence of Jesus, about the importance of the inward journey, about doing the gospel and the outward journey, about downward mobility, and about the power of a simple act of love done in the name of Jesus. Gordon talked about our addiction to culture rather than to seeking the essence of Jesus. He spoke of pursuing the questions and pressing into the God who is the answer rather than seeking answers in themselves. I was impressed by his ability to hold the evangelical power of gospel transformation together in practice with a deep commitment to social justice - a marriage so often divorced in the contemporary church. As we talked about that issue, I asked him poignantly about the loss of spiritual fathers and mothers for my generation, and he looked deeply into my eyes and pointed his finger... "You be a spiritual father to the next generation." Quite a challenge, and not what I was looking for. I was comfortable lamenting the lack of spiritual fathers, and he gave a simple call to action. He reminded me to stay focused on Jesus as the center - what he called "the essence" - which so easily gets lost in our doing and our addictions, and we so often don't realize we're losing his essence. I was privileged to have spent a few moments with him, and know that Jesus has said to him, "Well done, Gordon, good and faithful servant."

"We are addicted to knowing and doing, and I wish we were addicted to being."

"Let the artisan shape you."

"If we are going up the rope, and Jesus is going down, then we've missed him."

-Gordon Cosby, March 2009 and April 2010

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Faith and Freedom


This past weekend you may have heard about the Faith and Freedom Coalition - a group seeking to get out more evangelical voters for the upcoming election. Apparently in the last presidential election, some 17 million evangelicals didn't vote (that according to Ralph Reed this past weekend. Remember the Christian Coalition founded by Pat Robertson for which Reed was the Executive Director?) The rally this weekend was hosted in preparation for tomorrow's primary election in Wisconsin.  Romney, Ryan, Gingrich, and Santorum all shared the stage with Reed in a rally cry against President Obama, with Reed making it clear that the reason Obama is in office is because evangelicals didn't show up in the last election, and wanting to make sure that doesn't happen again. So, here's where the political cynic in me comes out. Is it really  the case that evangelicals failed to have the political will or the financial capital to fight the good fight and win the top leadership position in the world? Is Obama really the enemy here? And what, actually, are we rallying for as evangelicals? Is it a Tea Party political platform or is it to rally behind a member of the financial elite who happens to be member of what evangelical Christians have always called an aberrant form of Christianity - or a heresy, or a cult? Is Obama the personal representation of a political evil that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus?

I'm having a hard time swallowing this pill. And here's my issue - and it has been my issue since I was a youth delegate to the 1992 Republican National Convention. (Yes, I was also a member of the college republicans, and part of a conservative coup d'etat on campus that overthrew the reigning elite at the time). In any case, since 1992, I have found that the teachings and sayings of Jesus and the Scriptures settle well with neither the left nor the right, and very rarely line up with the party platforms or policies of either party. The new neo-cons, tea-partiers, or more socialist leaning leftists give me no hope for a solid political future for evangelical Christians.

Here's my question: If we were to do a great job of getting 17 million evangelicals out to vote... for whom would they vote? Is the assumption that the Republican nominee (Romney) lines up with my faith and followership of Jesus, because if so, I'm having a really hard time seeing it.

Here's a second question: Why do evangelicals continue to make the same mistake that the early disciples made of thinking there is a political messiah who will lead us out of our captivity to Rome, or Babylon, or an American consumerist prosperity gospel? On this day after Palm Sunday in which Jesus the Christ who is the true Messiah rode into Jerusalem on a colt to symbolize his humility, and who spurned political involvement through a subversive campaign of death on the cross, why is it that we once again turn our eyes away from Him who leads us into true freedom and release from captivity?

I applaud the effort to involve evangelicals in thinking seriously about politics. I do think seriously about politics, economics, and social movements, and wish more evangelicals would be informed about what's happening not only in the US, but globally. However, I am under no illusion that there is a political messiah to be voted in nor a political anti-christ to be voted out, but a true messiah who works in hearts of people rather than through ivory towers of power.

I would prefer a call to prayer, a call to love, a call to gospel action, a call to live the beatitudes, a call to reach hearts and minds. I would prefer we spend these millions of dollars on the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost, to bind up the broken hearted, to release the captives, and to give sight to the blind and to see the cripple run.

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More Love... What did Jesus say?


Maybe you didn't hear about it, but Ronny Edri posted a picture of he and his daughter - Israelis - on his Facebook page and starting a revolution in Social Media that is in the works as we speak. He did this in response to the pending possible conflict between Israel and Iran and the proverbial saber rattling over Iran's possible nuclear program. Here is what he wrote to the Iranian people:

To all the fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters

For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you. I don t even know you. No Iranian ever did me no harm. I never even met an Iranian…Just one in Paris in a museum. Nice dude.

I see sometime here, on the TV, an Iranian. He is talking about war. I’m sure he does not represent all the people of Iran. If you see someone on your TV talking about bombing you …be sure he does not represent all of us.

I’m not an official representative of my country. I'm a father and a teacher. I know the streets of my town, I talk with my neighbors, my family, my students, my friends and in the name of all these people …we love you. We mean you no harm. On the contrary, we want to meet, have some coffee and talk about sports.

To all those who feel the same, share this message and help it reach the Iranian people.

Ronny, tel aviv

This sparked an online Facebook forum expressing love between the people of the two countries, a true grassroots movement for peace rather than for war. This followed peaceful marches on the streets of Tel Aviv. Now, don't mistake me here. I am totally against the development of nuclear weapons and a new kind of arms race with new players - now North Korea and Iran rather than the Soviet Union. However, I also believe that Jesus was pretty clear about how to deal with our enemies - love them and pray for them, and turn the other cheek. Now, I'm not saying anything about national security or how to deal with just war (those are for another time), but instead think this bears mentioning. What's awesome about this campaign is that it is the public expression of people - not governments or political parties - who are expressing a love for other human beings and  a desire to avoid the kind of wars that have so divided us as a human race. I was watching a documentary on the holocaust just a few weeks ago, and was once again struck by how easily we can demonize our enemies and in our minds make them less than human. This documentary - as difficult as it was to watch - showed the human side of even the most horrendous of war criminals. One has to wonder what breaks down in us that turns us into monsters of violence and perpetrators of death on any scale? How can we feel good about making trained killers out of our youth, even as they defend our important freedoms? These are not easy questions, but the hard realities of life East of Eden that have raged since the violence of Cain against his brother. It is moments like this when the bright side of our humanity shines, and the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[ and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?"

Note that it is an Israeli citizen (probably not a Christian or follower of Jesus... I don't know) who has written these words and begun this campaign. I wonder, where are the Christians who are speaking and spreading love throughout the world and speaking powerfully for peace through the message of Jesus?

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To Change the World or Not, that is the question (sort of)


That's not exactly how he phrases it, but James Davison Hunter in his recent book To Change the World: Irony, Tragedy, and The Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World questions the possibility of Christians really changing the world through intention.   It's not nearly that simple, particularly for this brilliant sociologist, but Hunter argues - among other things - that changing the world is a long, complicated process involving cultural elites and centers of power, particularly in politics, that run contrary to the biblical vision given to us by Jesus.  I've been reading this book over the past couple months and have finally brought it to conclusion, although I think I'll read it again.  In a nutshell, Hunter challenges the assumption that aggregated individuals through grassroots efforts can make any lasting or significant change in culture, particularly without wielding the very power of coercion that Christianity rejects. I think Andy Crouch from the Christian Vision Project sums it up well when he says, "The irony is that there is no phrase more beloved to a certain kind of Christian than 'to change the world.' But in Hunter's persuasive account, the strategies those very same Christians have pursued are, by themselves, woefully incapable of changing the world..."  "...the very idea of 'changing the world' is rooted in a quest for dominance that fundamentally misunderstands the Christian gospel and the way of Jesus."

Hunter goes on to critique the Christian Right (conservatives), The Christian Left (liberals or mainliners), and what he calls the "Neo-Anabaptists" made up of folks like Hauerwas, Yoder, Claiborne, and the New Monastics.  In this critique, Hunter betrays his philosophical (or sociological?) postmodernism in agreement with the likes of Foucault, Nietzsche, and others about language, power, and the coercive nature of culture creation.

There are several people who engage Hunter's work, not the least of which are Andy Crouch and Chuck Colsen (see the posts below) who ask some great questions.  What I found interesting was that nowhere (I'm sure it's out there somewhere) have I yet seen someone challenge the philological, linguistic, postmodern philosophical assumptions of Hunter's work.  Don't get me wrong, I actually agree with Hunter on these points about power and cultural transformation, but he doesn't fully tip his hands about the philosophical foundations of those ideas, choosing instead to shroud them more spiritually in the non-coercive, non-violent leadership of Jesus.  I happen to think these two things are very compatible, but haven't seen much work done to connect the two (which I'd love to do if I had the time).  Hunter does his sociological work as a Christian within a postmodern philosophical framework, but only acknowledges his indebtedness to the likes of Foucault at a cursory level hidden in the endnotes (yes, some of us do read them, cf. endnote 1, Chapter 4, Part I) and to Nietzshe with a short explication ofressentiment from Nietzsche and its relationship to Christianity in Chapter 7 of Part II.  Generally I find most Christians merely lambasting postmodern thought and philosophy without a) really understanding some of the seminal thoughts, b) seeing the ability to be a Christian and acknowledge some of these realities, or c) understanding how deeply these ideas affect issues of hermeneutics, missions, and even contextualization.

Don't get me wrong, there are serious problems with postmodern philosophy, postmodernity as a cultural project, unthoughtful "postmodern churches" and edgy "postmodern pastors".  But some of the more serious questions about our embeddedness in cultures of understanding based on would help us think through contextualization in mission, understanding of  power and language might help us avoid our sometimes coercive tendencies (in marketing, preaching, the use of guilt, etc.), and a greater honesty about our presuppositions and framing stories might help us get closer to real conversation with people about basic beliefs without mere condemnation and help our evangelism.  Recently Tim Keller told a group I was a part of that we need a new approach to apologetics, and I think this is part of it.  Hunter, in my opinion, opens the door to some of these conversations in a different (and potentially less volatile) way than Brian McLaren.

So, here are a couple wrap up thoughts on Hunter's book:

  1. This is a wonderful, scholarly work on how cultural change actually functions.
  2. This work requires additional study on these issues by Christians and non-Christians alike.
  3. There is much more work to be done in helping Christians to wrestle with some of these underlying issues of power, language, and culture (which, honestly, postmodern philosophy is mostly about).
  4. This analysis is extremely helpful in understanding many of the drawbacks of the Christian Right, Christian Left, and the Neo-Anabaptist approaches and their rooting (or not) in ressentiment (which, interestingly enough, was the subject of one of my senior seminar papers in 1994 dealing with Neitzsche and the will to power.)

Enough of that for now.  I have more to say, and if I find the time I'll write more.  Here are some helpful articles that give some more information about the book and Crouch and Colsen's responses.

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City to City part 2


One of the interesting things that Dr. Tim Keller said at the North American Network gathering for City to City was something like the following:

"The reason secularists are afraid of Christians is their belief that if we get in power, we will take everyone else’s freedoms away."

I found this to be an interesting and enlightening comment.  I'm not sure the word "afraid" hits it quite right, but what Keller is getting at is that Christians are often not great "citizens" in the secular society because of our propensity towards creating a government which takes things away from people - rights, civil liberties, freedom of belief, etc.  I'm not sure this has happened in recent history in any way of significance, but the threat is certainly there from the Christian Right.  The sense that, if Christians would be placed into major political positions of power, we would use our power to estrange others of different beliefs is palpable in at least the rhetoric.  The interesting thing about this is that certainly, any political group lobbying for power hopes in someway to use that power to leverage their beliefs for their version of the good of the country.  I'm not so sure that Christians are all that different in this political sense than any other idealogical group.  However, my deeper question (and possibly Keller's) is whether there is another way to approach cities, politics, and the social sphere in general from a Christian perspective or from Christian values and beliefs.

There are lots of questions wrapped in whether and how Christians should be involved in politics.  And historically, there are any number of ways in which Christians have approached the public realm, from ruling and reigning to fomenting revolution to isolation.  Today, Christians can be found on the left, on the right, in the middle, and on the outskirts.   What I appreciated, though, about Keller's comments was that it is disturbing that our neighbors and fellow citizens would be worried about persecution and oppression under a Christian lead government.  That's enlightening when we think about it deeply.  I realized that I'm afraid of many of the Christians I know getting into the political realm for the same reasons.  So, Keller asks, why don't our neighbors think we love them?  Why don't people in the city think we love their city?  If we are truly loving our neighbors as ourselves and seeking the welfare of the city (and country), why would that be threatening?  Is it the confusion in their hearts and minds, or is it in something we have done? (my bias is that it's something we are responsible for more than anything... cf. the wonderful book UnChristian by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman).

I've been reading the book To Change the World by James Davison Hunter, which is a fascinating book on culture, history, power, Christianity, and change.  In that book, I think it's chapter 5, Hunter shares some history of the relationship between Christians and political movements.  One of his arguments (to be really simplistic) is that when the cultural elites are truly converted and lead with humanity in mind through true care for the poor, estranged, and powerless that Christianity has been the most effective in cultural change.  Though I haven't heard enough on Keller, I think this is where he's pointing.  How do you impact the cultures of power and ideas while maintaining a heart for true justice and care for all humanity?

Jesus said this in his inauguration into ministry in Luke 4, quoting from the Isaiah 61 vision:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

One of the questions here is how this message and mission of Jesus - the good news - is being missed by our culture when Christians try to enter into the public realm?

I think Keller's right.  We don't know how to enter the public discourse, and often aren't allowed into the public discourse as Christians because of our reputation.  We do need a new apologetic that arises out of the message and mission of Jesus for a new humanity, rooted in love and redeemed by love, for all people.

Again, we return to love, the gospel of love, the message of love, the heart of love, the approach of love, the words of love, the power of love, the conviction of love, the character of love, the way forward through love.  Love.  Jesus.  Simple.

What would a politics or public discourse of love look like, feel like, and sound like?  What if the world looked to Christians and said instead, "We would love to have you at the table because we know if you were in power, more people would experience the true freedom that love brings."

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