Friday, February 19, 2016

Trump vs. Pope, 2016

A few days ago, in the midst of a contentious Presidential election year, candidate Donald Trump decided to voice opinion about comments that were made by Pope Francis. The Pope commented on Trump's campaign promise to build a wall to slow the movement of illegal/undocumented persons into the United States through the Mexico/U.S. border. In the course of those comments, the Pope stated that anyone who builds walls instead of bridges is not a Christian.

Trump fired back at the Pope. Trump called the comments disgraceful. Specifically, Trump felt that as a religious leader, the Pope had no grounds for claiming that Trump is not a Christian.

Since that time, Trump has backed away from the heat of an argument. He responded to Anderson Cooper about the remarks by saying that the comments may have been softer than the news media had reported. He even made the claims that he liked the Pope and complimented the Pope's work.

Here is where I need to step in.

As I read it, Donald Trump feels that as long as a religious leader is doing good work and being charismatic and very full of energy, then a religious leader can remain on his good side. But when a religious leader is calling a person to account for their behavior or intervening into a private issue, such as religious faith, then it is disgraceful.

I think Donald Trump may be the ideal American religious person.

He does not feel that any person has a right to judge another in areas that are privately held. And he is not alone. There is a huge sentiment within our culture that says, "I have a right to believe whatever I want and you don't have the right to judge me or hold me accountable." The privatization of faith is well entrenched even in our churches.

Who has the right to hold Christians accountable for their actions or deeds or behavior?
Who has the right to determine what defines a "good Christian"?
Who has the right to establish the boundaries for what it means to be a person of faith or a person outside of faith?

All of these questions have become personalized over the course of the last 400 years. One consequence of the European Reformation was that faith became a personal issue. Stepping out of the authority of the Pope began to localize authority. The Orthodox Church functioned that way from the beginning. But within the rest of European Christian experience until the Reformation, Christians were bound to the authority of the Pope and Church. After the Reformation, authority began to be localized in protestant groups. Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and so on, grew up around an authority based within the group.

But after the Enlightenment, when "all" persons were established to have rights and freedoms, then the localized authority became privatized. This was not an immediate reaction. It has taken time to become fully enmeshed in Christian culture. But it is clearly visible within the life of Christians.

Or are they Christians?

There are plenty of surveys and polls taken on how religious Americans are. And the numbers have been consistently higher than the middle. The most recent trends put the number of "christians" in the 60-70% range. And there is a lot of hand wringing over how those numbers are dropping. But when you compare those numbers to markers of how Christians live out their faith, you begin to see the discrepancies. Church attendance and participation, prayer, reading the Bible, participating in service or mission outside of church all show significantly lower percentage numbers.

Maybe I can be accused of using statistics and numbers to justify. But I also look at how often "christians" take to social media and betray a lack of love and justice and kindness and mercy within their souls. I can hear people talk about how they will not forgive someone or they deserve to be treated better or another person is less valued  and I know that is not coming from a heart like Christ.

I am not perfect. I make mistakes. And at times I wonder how "christian" I am. But in the midst of that falling short, and being honest about it, I can become better. I can improve. I can become more like Christ. And everyone can, too.

But I cannot do anything in another person's life if they do not believe or accept that I have the authority to do so.

God has placed a call on my life to be an apostle - sent under the Holy Spirit's power and guidance to be a voice of authority regarding life, revelation, and Scripture - to guide others in becoming mature in their faith and following of Christ. The United Methodist Church has seen (graciously) fit to ordain me under the authority of a leader (the Bishop) to be a religious leader among a community of believers. If I am to be faithful to my calling, then the authority granted to me is to evaluate another believers life (check the membership vows of the United Methodist Church) and hold them accountable to the life they claim.

We all are called as followers of the Christ to live by a different set of boundaries. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a different kind of life. And God has joined us together in community to lead and guide each other in following those boundaries and leading that life. Religious leaders have the authority to call another person's belief into question if it does not fall within the boundaries or if their life has taken a different path.

Executive Order 9066

It sounds like a sinister plot device from an action movie. But it was a very real declaration within United States history. But it was not a sinister plot device. It did, however, represent a decidedly unjust reaction by the Federal Government toward an entire race of people. And it justified widespread racism, fear, and hatred toward people who were natural-born and legal citizens of this nation.

On December 7, 1941, the day that President Franklin Roosevelt called a "day that would live in infamy", the Empire of Japan launched an attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Station and the various air fields across the island of Oahu. The response to that attack was to declare war on the Empire of Japan. It brought the United States into World War II. Two months later, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The declared purpose of that order was to provide for the security of certain regions along the west coast of the United States.

Following the events at Pearl Harbor, the level of fear for imminent attack on the mainland increased. The most obvious target was the west coast region. California, Oregon, and Washington state were the most accessible regions if the Empire of Japan decided to make a thrust at the United States (Hawaii and Alaska were not states at that time). According to Executive Order 8972, signed by President Roosevelt on Dec. 12, and EO9066, there was an active effort to investigate and protect against espionage and sabotage within the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was tasked with identifying potential spies or saboteurs. According to a letter from J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the F.B.I., to the President, the Bureau identified over 1,200 potential Japanese spies. Within 48 hours of the Pearl Harbor attack, all of those identified were taken into custody.

The west coast was a significant region vital to the growing war effort. The west coast was also home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants or direct descendants of immigrants from Japan. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, they became the targets of a growing hysteria against the Japanese. Businesses began to exclude customers who even looked Asian. There was increased pressure on government officials to do something to "protect" the people who lived there.

It was the decision of the President to issue an order to create "exclusion" zones. Within these areas, military officials had the authority to determine to exclude "any or all persons" and to restrict the rights of those persons to "enter, remain in, or leave". Furthermore, military forces were authorized to enforce compliance with these restrictions. EO9066 gave the military the right to declare any area deemed appropriate as a military area. They could then decide who could enter, remain, or leave that area. This order, while not specifically designating people of Japanese heritage, effectively was used to order any person of Japanese heritage to vacate that area, be transported to a holding location, and then relocated to another part of the country.

What happened from the experience of those impacted by the order was much more personal. They were given hours, or days, to liquidate their properties or secure their holdings. Land and homes that they owned, they were now forced to sell, lease, or entrust to another. They were allowed to pack two suitcases. They were loaded, under guard, onto trains. They were sent to a holding camp for days or weeks. Then they were sent by trains to camps that were established, under military control, for their internment. These camps stretched from the inland regions of the west coast all the way to Arkansas. There were approximately 122,000 people removed their homes and sent to these new camps.

The painful number in this is 70,000. It is estimated that about 70,000 of the people who were forced to surrender their homes and their lives were United States citizens. These people had all of the same rights and liberties and freedoms that every other person within the United States possesses. They shared the same right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". And with the swipe of a pen, those rights and freedoms and liberty were disregarded. The "and justice for all" pledge that we all declare was completely ignored. There was no due process. There were no trials. There was no crime.

The Japanese Americans were selected because of hysteria and fear. They were living a normal, American life. They had jobs and went to school. They were business owners and professionals. They were laborers and farmers. They were young and teen age. They were married couples with children. They were singles looking for a bright future. And their lives were interrupted because it was decided that they were a threat just for living in the wrong place.

For more information (and a listing of my sources for this post):

George Takei: Why I love a country that once betrayed me - YouTube
Colorado Experience: Amache (full length) - YouTube
Amache internment camp survivors remember tough times - The Denver Post
Amache (Granada) | Densho Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | AMACHE INTERNMENT CAMP
Amache - Japanese-American Relocation Center
Amache | Archives
Granada War Relocation Center - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Amache.org | Remembering the wrongful imprisonment of Japanese Americans
Amache Japanese-American Relocation Center - Google Maps
Photos: 3 Very Different Views Of Japanese Internment : Code Switch : NPR
Our Documents - Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of Japanese (1942)
Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 - Feb 19, 1942 - HISTORY.com
History - Suffering Under a Great Injustice: Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar - Collection Connections | Teacher Resources - Library of Congress
Executive Order 9066 | United States history | Britannica.com

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Meditation on John 1:3

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a meditation on the opening verses of the Gospel According to John. The lectio divina is a Christian meditative practice that is quite ancient. The process of meditation involves a focus on a portion of Scripture. The invitation to focus on the 4th Gospel was timely: I was beginning a sermon series on that book that next Sunday.

The preparation for the series had already taken me over the opening verses. And the verses are so familiar, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God," "the Word took flesh and tabernacled among us...". As I confessed in the opening sermon of that series, I am sometimes guilty of skimming over the familiar. But the invitation to meditate on those so familiar words, to slow down and truly let them soak into my mind, heart, and spirit, brought me to a moment where a clear thought floated to the surface.

John 1:3 - All things came into being through him. Without him not one thing came into being of all things that have come into being.

When we got to that verse, the lectio divina method asks you to let words or phrases come to the surface of your thoughts. And for me, hearing that verse, one word erupted onto my conscious thought: without.

This verse is complicated to read. It isn't smooth in its structure. It is repetitive in the use of "come into being". When the word "without" popped out in my meditation, it was attention grabbing. It drew me like iron filings to a magnet. It oriented my thoughts on what is so important about being without. Of course, the verse is referring to the role Jesus played, and plays, in creation. The author is drawing intentional bonds between Jesus and the creation story of Genesis. And in the context of the one God who said, "Let there be...", the author is saying, "Jesus was conveying the words into reality."

But to be without Jesus, the Word, is not just as simple as saying, "There would be nothing."

Jesus is life - without Jesus, there is no life.
Jesus is light - without Jesus, all would be darkness.
Jesus is enlightenment - without Jesus, all would be ignorance and futility.
Jesus is the beginning - without Jesus, creation never happens.
Jesus is the Word - without Jesus, understanding is not possible.

But honestly, those were not the things that exploded into my thoughts. What I heard in the depths of my contemplation on being without Jesus was the absence of glory, grace, and truth.

Without Jesus, the glory of God is still hidden away; allowed only to the chosen. In the Old Testament, the glory of God was revealed only to certain people, at certain times, in certain situations. "The Word was God..., and the Word took flesh and tabernacled among us." The glory of God descended on the tabernacle in the wilderness. That moment was the climax of the exodus led by Moses. It was the beginning of the fulfillment of the law among the people. That glory led the people by day and by night through the literal darkness and the spiritual darkness the people experienced.

When the temple was completed, the glory descended again. But that moment is the only time God's glory appears until Ezekiel departs. And the promised return is completed with the 4th Gospel's declaration that the Word descended and dwelt among humanity once again..

Without Jesus, the glory can depart again. Without Jesus, we have to complete a prescribed set of conditions for the glory to appear. And even then, there was a need to be a certain type of person to experience it in an intimate way. Without Jesus, there is no direct approach to God.

Without Jesus, the grace that defines God's relationship with humanity is hidden. Here is one of the great confusions about the Bible. God is a god of grace all the way through the Bible not just the New Testament. Grace winds a ribbon through the stories of the Genesis through the prophets and ties the story together with one common bond. God shows grace. When the person or people fail God moves the story forward. There are so many opportunities of failure described that it is easy to believe that God is one of wrath and judgment.

The story is not complete. We only read the low points. We read of the moments when God is faced with a choice of judgment or grace. We don't see all of the grace is measured out day after day. New Testament belief is that grace is measured out continuously because of Jesus. But the author of the 4th Gospel tells us "He was in the beginning with God."

How can God be only a god of judgment when Jesus in the fullness of grace was there all along?

The oneness of God the Father and God the Son would not allow all of the fullness of grace in Jesus to be ignored so completely by the Father. Without Jesus, we would continue to be lost by our blindness to the reality that God is grace.

Without Jesus, truth becomes vague, personalized, biased. If Jesus is the truth personified then we have a clear example, a benchmark, of what is true. His life becomes the boundary markers to live a full life. The law Moses brought to the people set the boundary markers first.

Do not mistake the law. It was not a set of limitations. It was the declaration of freedom, within certain boundaries. The law says that within the boundaries, the relationship with God is full of life and hope and promise. Outside of the boundaries, life is not guaranteed, hope is easily disappointed, and promises have no fulfillment.

Jesus offers life, hope, and promise. He is the fulfillment of the law, the truth. When he lives and moves, we know what life looks like. We know what is possible within the boundaries of relationship. The truth of his life becomes the definition of how his people, his followers, are to live. To define our life by our own boundaries is to deny truth. It is to deny Jesus.

Jesus is the switch. That was the image that came to mind in my meditation. A switch is a component that can interrupt current in a circuit or divert the current to another circuit. As someone who likes to play with electronics, switches can be a lot of fun. When there is a power source, the switch allows the user to manage where the power can go or how the power can be used.

To understand this image, allow me to define the parts:
The power source is God (Father, Son, Spirit working together in unity and glory) and is always being poured out.
Jesus as the switch allows that power to flow into the conduits to the devices that use that power.
The conduit is the Holy Spirit.
The devices are us.

The implication of this image is that:
First, being without Jesus is not the fault of Jesus. It is the choice to turn the switch off.
Second, being in contact with the switch doesn't mean that you complete contact with the power source. Resistance cuts down the amount of power that we can use to complete our purpose.
Third, our purpose, as devices attached to the power source through the switch, is to display the glory, grace, and truth that is Jesus.

This was the final image that came to mind. If Jesus came into the world to display the glory, grace, and truth of God the Father as God the Son, then we are to continue to display those same qualities. We are living the life Jesus defines when we are displaying the glory of God, the grace of God, and the truth of God.