Friday, November 17, 2006

None is not a choice...

Pick a party.

It's pretty obvious that my view of the world mirrors Thomas Sowell (see earlier post). I believe deeply that we are in a fallen world.

That man's heart never changes.

That left to his own devices, man will inevitably be selfish, self-serving, self-seeking.

That we are not getting better and better.

That we are in a constrained spiral.

That sometimes we are spiralling up to a point.

That sometimes we are spiralling down.

That the dregs of the Roman Empire and the depths of Nazi Germany and the horrors of Stalin's Gulag are the natural outcomes of one-sided rule.

That's why I believe in our parties.

I desperately believe we need the Conservatives (today that's the GOP mostly) to remind us that we are individuals and that collectivism batters incentive, trashes the economy, lowers a yoke of bondage to the group.

I desperately believe (though I don't want to) that we need the Liberals (mostly the Democratic party) to remind us that the group must work as a whole to lay out a safety net, that individualism can leave many in the dust.

As believers we must have BOTH parts to us... we are a body... we are one in Christ... we are individually saved and stand alone before our Judge.

But I believe if we do not choose one party or the other to be involved with we are saying that Christ does not belong in the Public Square. That we abandon the ideas of the parties to the godless who will run them both into the ground and attempt to gain absolute precedence.

Christians ARE the middle.. but only if we are engaged.

But still...

Which party?


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Party Animals...

What about party affiliation? Can an avid disciple of Jesus be active in a party? Is it right, or should they remain actively independent??

First, it is my belief that the CHURCH of Jesus should NEVER attach themselves to a party. I believe the American Evangelical church has done that too much today. Say Evangelical, and you hear Republican.

The problem is that Jesus is superior to politics. The church can be the handmaiden only of Jesus, and not of a party as well.

Power-politics, also, is not the way that Jesus' Kingdom is realized.

My Kingdom is not of this world.


That said, the American system IS a party system. As individuals, if we are activist (SHOULD we be activist??) the only adequate mechanism to work within is the party.

To say we should NOT be party members strikes me as saying we should not belong to any corporation or organization outside the Church of Jesus.

Not very practical.

Yet party membership is often delusional. IT's so easy to forget that it IS Jesus' Kingdom we seek. That we are working for a Kingdom and Master not of this world. That we will NOT make His Kingdom come by any means save His power.

And Jesus' power is usually at cross-purposes with the World.

But if we absent ourselves from parties (retreating back to the Evangelical/Fundamentalist model of pre-1976) we cede the ground. We are to be IN the world and not OF the world.

But which party???


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

Just a quick one today... Emerging church "father" Brian McLaren has said that Christians should not be Red or Blue, but should be Purple.

Meaning? We need to stay away from party affiliations. The whole of the gospel is not containable in either.

More on that tomorrow...


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Compare and Contrast...

Thomas Sowell is an incredible thinker and writer. Occupying the Ruth and Milton Friedman Chair at the Hoover Institute at Stanford (an amazing common-sense think-tank ... alright ... CONSERVATIVE think-tank) Sowell is an economist with breadth.

His book Conflict of Vision lays out the roots of this political divide we find ourselves in. In 1900 the discussion was of monopolies and monetary standards. But there was actually a pretty common ground from which these individuals fought.

Even in the Civil War, there was a common ground. It didn't stop bloodshed. But it made talking possible.

Sowell points out the vast difference between the American and the French revolutions. And in so doing he points out the divide we now face in this country.

The American revolution took a view of man that was limited. Man is constrained by his own sin and fallenness. Whether that view is held as a religious view, or simply a common-sense one, those holding that view crafted a country of checks and balances.

The American Revolution had an end. It did not seek to destroy what came before, only to put in its place something superior.

The French Revolution adoped the glorious progress of Man... if unchecked, Man could and would advance and perfect and throw off all bondage and emerge ... clean, pure, renewed.

For a modern mythology, check out the Star Trek universe... Man would overcome an Earth of conflict to reach for the stars and found the best hope for the universe.

So the French Revolution cast off all morals of the past, all ties. The Revolutionaries believed that Equality, Liberty and Fraternity would be enough to craft a society ever moving to perfection.

It did not move to perfection. It moved to a horrific scourge of purgings and brutality.

Meanwhile, the American Revolution checked its own impulses to spin out of control (and it almost DID spin out of control the very same way... the Revolutionary soldiers, unpaid, almost ran amok, the Whiskey Rebellion almost tore apart the fragile federation of States).

But the recognition that man is constrained by his own fallenness began a ferment that became, a decade later, the Constitution. Checks and balances.

Fast forward. The true conflict today is not Democrat/Republican. It's not even, in a way, liberal/conservative. After all, there are liberals and Democrats who are closer in action and belief to conservative Republicans than some other Republicans. And there are some conservatives who espouse a world more suited to the French Revolution.

The base of our political life today is the conflict of vision.

There are those who believe that man is fallen and society can be good but never perfect... that all actions have a cost. That the prevailing rule is the Law of Unintended Consequences. That cleaning the air rubs the economy. That letting the economy flow unfettered dirties the water... and on and on...

There are those who believe that Man can become perfected... evolve... become ever better. All that's needed is the right legislators, judges and leaders. All that's needed is for the obstructionists to get out of the way ... or be forced aside. Unfettered, man's best instincts will drive us out of darkness, poverty and sin.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Why Does 1900 Matter???

Something happened around the turn of the last century. Christianity was profoundly changed.

Modernism happened.

The scientific method permeated Christianity and split it in two.

Splitting to one side were those who embraced fully the modern secular life. God was about ethics and morals. Good and kind living.

To the other side went those (who may actually have been equally modern and scientific) who embraced fully the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. Who embraced man's fallen nature and necessity for salvation completely apart from himself.

The group that hold tightly to the Biblical realm of Christianity retreated. They had enough internal battles to keep themselves busy.

Recognizing that man was inherently sinful and inherently unable to save himself, recognizing that the mission of Jesus to save was in danger of being overshadowed by modernism, this more conservative church concentrated on salvation and fought it's battles for doctrinal purity.

There was a lot to fight. At times it seemed as if Biblical salvation would disappear. As if Biblical confession and doctrine would be wiped away.

The Professing church became known as Fundamentalist... concentrating on the Fundamentals of faith. They adoped that label as a badge of honor.

Slowly, though, this church's withdrawal marked it as out of touch and irrelevant. By the late 60s, the church was the only place that still looked like Ozzie and Harrie.

American social issues mattered little. Those concerned with social concerns were suspicious. Social concerns marked the churches who no longer held to any Biblical authority.

The Fundamentalist church was very concerned with social concerns outside America. they poured immense amounts of time and energy into misison work, establishing hospitals, working on plans for better farming and procedures in villages.

After all, a man with an empty stomach couldn't hear the gospel! And it was better to teach a man to fish than to simply give him fish.

Abroad, the Fundamentalists worked so much social work that their orgnizations like World Vision and others created problems we associate here with American welfare.

There are whole areas of Africa that will not allow such organizations to operate because their barrage of food and aid decimate what little local economy there is.

The Fundamentalists became spiritual at home and ignored politics.

Until the revolutionary 60s. The 60s and 70s woke them up. They did not recognize America. They had to act and act fast.

But their culture was alien to the social problems that the revolutionaries saw. They saw an entirely different set of social problems. Permissiveness. Immorality.

And so was born the Christian Right.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Consideration Break...

This blog has been silent for a few days. It's taken me a while to digest Tuesday's election. I'm still digesting.

This headline is what I'm currently chewing on... it's worth registering with the New York Times to read this article:

Incoming Democrats Put Populism Before Ideology

Populism lives.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Life of Bryan...

The years around 1900 were fascinating ones for European Christianity. The confluence of science, technology, Christian saturation, missions and world exploration had led to an amazing thoery.

It was taken pretty much as gospel that European (and hence American) Christians had done such a good job of living Christianity that the world was just about ready to turn a corner. Poverty would be a thing of the past. Disease was just about over. The earth was bending to the will of man.

Why, Christian society had done it... We had brought about the millenium... Lions were about ready to lay down with lambs. All it would take was a little more work. A little more effort... Christian effort.

A magazine was launched at this time which is still around today. It was called, "Christian Century." After all, would not the 20th century truly be the Christian Century?

All this was before WWI... that war to end all wars which ironically was the precipitating cause of almost every war we've fought since then, particularly our trauma today in the Middle East.

This was the Christianity that William Jennings Bryan embraced. It seemed thoroughly Biblical. He even warred against Darwinism and modernism in Biblical interpretation.

But a careful reading of his Christian writings show that his was a pretty secular Christianity. Jesus was commended for His example more than His Salvation. Standing at the crossroads of a dominant Evangelical Christianity and a dominant secular Christianity, Bryan spoke as an Evangelical but his message was secular.

One only needs to look at the results of that time. The vibrant Christian movements of the Salvation Army, the YMCA and other similar organizations were what characterized the age.

And yet, within 20 years, the centrality of Jesus was eliminated in favor of social work. The Gospel was about helping people, not realizing the helplessness outside of Christ.

When Bryan is viewed in this light, that particular Christian politic is more evident. That we now have such a hard split between adherance to real faith and adnerance to helping others becomes more obvious. It's a factor of what happened in those days.

Somerset Maugham puts words in his hero's mouth in Of Human Bondage. The hero speaks of how the time at the turn of the century broke society free of their religious and spiritual roots. Yet there was no ethic to replace the Christian ethic, so they held on to it.

And bit by bit, that ethic has grown and hardened into a religion of its own... but bereft of the correction and centrality of Jesus and HIS own ethic. Picking and choosing, our society today chooses tolerance and inclusion (certainly a message of Christ) without the balance of justice and right living.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Christian Politics...

Is this the future of Jesus' Church??

Why William Jennings Bryan?

You will not crucify humanity on a cross of gold!

And the crowd in the Kansas City convention hall went absolutely beserk.

It's hard to believe that monetary policy was the monstrous issue of the 1896 presidential race.

Maybe it was a different time. Maybe people studied politics more, knew economics better. Maybe, for all the cries of "country bumpkin" the East Coast elite dished out, maybe those bumpkins knew more than all but a few economists do today.

And they probably did.

Because it affected them so profoundly.

The vast middle of the US, the breadbasket, was small farmers at the turn of the century. Farmers are surprisingly like any other small business man... they desperately need capital. They invented, after all, the term "seed money".

The banking elite wanted only gold as the backer of currency. Gold provided more stability, it was thought. Big business very much loved that currency was limited to gold reserves on hand.

But for small farmers, the limited supply of gold meant a limited supply of money, and most of that in the hands of the bankers and big business.

Limited money supply meant limited money available for loans every spring to put seed in the ground. Expensive money.

As the US pushed a single-metal currency, farmers' access to capital was starved off.

It was this issue that drove young Congressman William Jennings Bryan. He was from a farm state, born in another farm state.

Very quickly he made his name as an orator. It had always been his goal, as he had seen what God had given him in talent, to use the spoken word to effect change for the good of the common man.

He arrived in Chicago a relatively inexperienced Congressman. His Democratic party wasn't that different from the Republican. They were backed by old money and didn't listen to the cries of the little man.

It was the time of the Populist party. When Communism seemed better than Capitalism.

And Bryan was the immense underdog arriving at the 1896 Democratic convention. The Populist party and several others were threatening to tear the Western/Southern 2/3s of the Democratic party and render the Democrats even more marginalized than they currently were.

Bryan had the ability to fill a 15,000 seat auditorium with his voice alone... and he had words that mattered and words that held together. He was an ORATOR.

His passion for the people brought the house down. The "Cross of Gold" speech is still the standard for American political oratory.

Politics and religion met in Bryan... And he left Kansas City the upstart surpise, the nominee of his party.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

... And What About Morality?

Rev. Ted Haggard's troubles shine a bright spotlight on the disucssion of Christians in politics. Haggard's story would be huge without the gay marriage debate. With it, it just underlines that Christianity is just a powerplay for moral hammering.

Evangelical Christians look little different than the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. Loud, strident ... and hypocritical.

Should believers back down from moral politics, or politics as a whole? Is taking moral stands something that hurts rather than hinders the cause of Christ and the communication of the Gospel?

We end up looking like rigid nasty spiteful buffoons.

Yet a fall like this is nothing new. Mankind is inherently sinful and we will often turn away from Jesus' power and love. Our culture sees it most with sex, but we quietly do it with money and with many other areas.

Perhaps in this search for a real Christian political expression this needs to be kept in mind, that what people should see first is Jesus. And I don't think that's where we're headed right now.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

In Times of War...

I was planning on a logical progression of these thoughts, but ran across something as I read this morning that was too good not to post now...

My current read is a history by Victor Davis Hanson. I highly recommend his Ripples of Battle. Hanson is a classicist whose books continually answer the question, "Why should I care?". Why should I care about history and what went before?

A Christian High School teacher of mine was known for her phrase: "Man's Heart Never Changes". That could be the subtitle of this post, and perhaps the first tenent of a Christian political understanding.

My current read is about the Peloponnesian War. That famous conflict between the Greeks that we studied in school. And it's full of application. The title of this Hanson book is A War Like No Others.

From this morning's chapter about political turmoil at home while the troops were out fighting... turmoil both in Athens and in Sparta:

When the war appeared to be stalemated and the eventual victor uncertain, internal revolution was less likely. Yet after a particular side or the other grew emboldened that change at home might reflect the course of the larger war. If proof were needed that many people lack an ideology but instead prefer to look first to their own self-interests, no better examples exist than the first Peloponnesian War... the ebb and flow of Greek opinion that followed each particular Sparan or Athenian reverse. War ... when combined with political tension, turned what would have otherwise been heated, but mostly restrained, civil disputes into unchecked bloodletting. ... Thucydides (the War's notable historian) thought civil unrest and coups were central to his story of the war itself and that soon after hostilities broke out the "entire Hellenic world, so to speak, was so convulsed."

Oligarchs usually sought to parade their cause under the misleading rubric of wishing for "a temperate aristocracy". Democrats countered by professing loyalty to the idea of "equality under the law". Once the struggle began, the former were rarely temperate and the latter seldom lawful.

We are not shedding blood over our current war. But we did during the Viet Nam era. Any biography of a Nixon insider shows how much the mental instability of that administration was tinged by the horror of violent overthrow of our very government. Of machine gun emplacements wrapped by mounds of sandbags in the basement corridors of the White House and Congress.

I hadn't thought about it, but there truly is blood in the streets at home when there is war abroad. Generally the war is longer in duration than the tidal wave of patriotism upon the start of conflict. As the war drags, the political opponents begin to use the war as leverage.

What does that mean for the disciple of Christ who engages in politics?

Our position on issues must be carefully separated out from the current sweep of emotion. Who and what we are as redeemed men and women is easily pulled or pushed along by either side of the war's aftermath at home. But we serve a King not of this world.

This, then, might be my first pillar... Our politics must move heavenward just as all areas of our lives do, as we are weaned from the flesh and more and more recognize our new creation in Christ.

Of course, what that means then must be answered.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Political musings

I'm hijacking my own blog for a time. It's silly season, mid-term elections. I've always been fascinated--held captive really--by politics. So for a time this will be a political commentary blog.

I'm in the midst of reading a second political book in a row... Just recently finished a book I recommend to any interested in political history.

That book was A Godly Hero. It's a biography of William Jennings Bryan. He was a 3-time Democratic presidential candidate. An Illinois boy who found fame and fortune by his mellifluous voice and passionate stands.

The history is fascinating because it covers a time when what we now take to be leftist politics was highly Christian in nature. It covers a time when Western populism was nearly socialist, when Communism was considered a viable option. When Christianity and the causes of the left marched in lockstep.

Those days are past, but I want to use this space to seek out what is a Christian political manifesto.

I'm not happy that the Evangelical church has made a tight alliance with the GOP. I'm not comfortable that the social causes of Jesus are now owned by the rabid secularists.

I'm not happy that I squirm when the word Christian and Democrat are linked.

So ... hold on... here we go.