Remembering Well on Memorial Day

While browsing through Facebook this morning, I spotted a couple of posts that, well, took me by surprise once my feelings calmed down. One was from a high school friend regarding respect not given to a political leader of our country; the other was from a leader within the mission I serve within, asserting a split between preaching content and responsible concern for justice issues. And, today is in the USA, of course, Memorial Day; it’s the day in which remembering those women and men who died while in serving in the US military. It just now occurs to me, that such a day could be also be in effect for other nations. Those from the so-called West might be more familiar with Armistice Day (France; Nov 11) and with ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand; April 25). South Korea honors their military dead on June 6; Nigeria gives honor to theirs on January 25, to coincide with the conclusion of the civil war.

Returning to my friend, I was captivated by the kind of remembering taking place in the post. First, it was a recollection that graduating students from Notre Dame walked out when Vice President Mike Pence began his speech. My friend found this act from a year ago highly disrespectful. Much to my surprise, several other high school friends chimed in, although taking a more diplomatic resistance to the intent of the post. My initial thoughts were two-fold. One, while Pence shares a faith in Jesus Christ that most of the audience at the Notre Dame commencement holds, his enactment of his faith runs counter to Pope Francis and the historic corpus of Catholic social teaching. The refusal of the VP to welcome Syrian refugees is but one item of strong conflict with the church. The list of problems really could occupy this entire post. So, when my friend and others claim the graduates disrespected the VP, and that they hadn’t considered the consequences of their actions—and would likely do so in hindsight with remorse—I couldn’t help but wonder if my friend understood higher education and how our consciences often work. Two, I know faculty at Notre Dame. They saw the walkout coming before Pence was announced to the public; I suspect some privately rejoiced to see their former students both demonstrate independent thinking and embody their Catholic tradition with regard to the Gospel and justice.

Which brings me to the leader’s post. There was a weird split in the post, one that hearkens memory of how Pence both embraces the evangelical tradition but holds on to practices that sustain the power and privilege of whiteness. In brief, the post proposed the split between politics and preaching content. While affirming participation in efforts to confront and address injustice, the post claimed such would also ruin the testimony of Christians, merely in the taking of political sides. This kind of claim informs so much of the kind of preaching that omits anything thought of as political, so as to remain clear about “the message.”

A few of you reading this will recall that I have already conducted research on absence in preaching, and the kinds of causal efficacy these omissions in sermons exert upon a congregation. My initial study involved sermons in Southern California the Sunday immediately following the Charleston massacre at Mother Emanuel AME in 2015. What can be disclosed follows: It is as if a mass shooting in a church in North America never happened. This research is on a hiatus for now—still finishing my dissertation—but, since that horrific event, there have been other assassinations in churches, most notably the sad event in Sutherland Springs, TX.

As I mentioned above, the impulse of so much evangelical preaching involves a selective memory, so as to avoid any confusion of politics and the Gospel. This impulse has a social reflex within North American evangelicalism, and it routinely gets exercised so as to sustain whiteness. Thus, the preaching of “the message” becomes reduced to “receiving Christ”, assenting to his execution at Calvary, and, based upon an exclusive interpretation of the atonement, receiving the forgiveness of sins so as to secure entry into heaven. In large part, the preceding constitutes the bulk of evangelicalism.

Consequently, the rhetoric does not leave room for ethics, beyond “making a decision.” Which is weird, right? For example, it’s not as though Jesus ran to the front of the line, and pleaded with the centurions: “Hey, nail me up first!” Indeed, just a small moment of pause has lead more than one non-theologically trained reader to conclude: the religious authorities of the day conspired with the occupying military force colonizing the nation to execute the Nazarene for an imagined religious offense that failed to present as a capital crime. The Gospel message has always been intwined in politics: even before we have the New Testament. The real question, beyond “receiving Christ”, is: “What do you now do about this state of affairs in the world, now that you belong to Christ?” Surely, the 2017 graduating class of Notre Dame offer a partial and memorable answer to that question.

On a day in which memory is intended to renew our respect for those who died to secure our political freedoms: even Google has failed me. I cannot recall who said it, and so I paraphrase: “The Old Testament can be summarized by one word: ‘Remember’.” It occurs to me, that for those of us who place our faith in Jesus Christ, we do well to remember how Jesus and the prophets attempted to hold in tension the grace of God with allowing the logic of that same grace to penetrate our entire world. The risk of being misunderstood or confused will doggedly exist and cannot be reduced or minimized while actively living into this memory that pushes us into the future with God. Demands for respect and proposals for clarity are not inadmissible, insofar as such explicitly offer submission to the God of Israel, disclosed in Jesus, who gives us our salvation and invites us to remember that. Otherwise, these kinds of posts offer a politic that attempts to place itself in parallel to the reign of God, a politic that aims to generate a memory that is respectful and respectable. That is a version of remembering that we would all do well to reject.

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Fuller Plans Move: A Letter to Mark Labberton

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Dear Mark,

Thanks for the announcement of the plan to move Fuller to Pomona. I am grateful for your leadership. In what follows, I hope to summon some of your memory here, and to make a couple of requests of you and the Board regarding the move to Pomona. I realize that many hallmarks of the proposed move may seem very large, and thus unavailable for editing or revision, or lack plasticity. Nevertheless, I put these two requests forward as brief ideas and proposals that attempt to summarize conversations I have been part of with other students and alumni.

First, our memory. Many years ago (!), when we were both in Berkeley, I asked you about learning and life at Fuller. It was clear to me now and in retrospect, that Jesus would lead, inform, and empower my theological education. More than that, life and learning at Fuller would also set me on a path of personal formation and Christian transformation.

I mentioned the latter path, as the conversation we shared occurred shortly before Annette, John, and I would travel to Hong Kong. You suggested to me that I meet and listen to Fuller alumni during our sojourn in East Asia. I met alumni from all three schools during that summer. This was before 1997, and the level of discourse reminds me of what we routinely observe now in North America, viz., how do we follow Jesus in this political setting? Besides this, I sensed that all of the alumni were on a path of suffering with Jesus and while they did not perceive this as desirable, they welcomed it as an authentic participation with Christ. In short, your conversation with me was already becoming evident: If you come to Fuller, you follow Jesus in ways unanticipated but that will prepare you for mission later as well. But, I’ve become aware of an omission on my part.

I have attempted to make this memory about Fuller: and not about Pasadena. True: the joyful and painful memories of an MDiv education have a geography. But, what was clear then is now: The people sent into the institution contributed to generating those memories. To my disappointing recall, I can’t think of a time in which my life as an MDiv student contributed to the well-being, the shalom, of Pasadena. How I missed this crucial element bothers me. I’m sure the opportunities were there through Fuller, but I won’t make excuses for how I missed those occasions for service. So, yes to personal formation and Christian transformation. But, I can’t help but perceive that I missed a great setting to follow Jesus, and that miss may have been assisted by how Fuller was then structured for the MDiv. In the end, though, that absence falls on my shoulders.

Next, as I read your letter (and the FAQ’s), I noticed the implicit declaration: “We will be debt-free.” Here, I begin on the above-mentioned couple of thoughts/requests with regard to solvency and an improved endowment.

For one, I was reminded of statements you made early as President that evangelicals have “aspirational culture.” The context, of course, regarded the indebtedness of the seminary. My memory is hazy here: but, your statement observed how evangelicals become animated or excited about a particular context or crisis or historical moment, generate a lot of activity—prayer, funding, human resources—and get to work, without much consideration of sustainability. And—I compress here—this often leads to many undesirable outcomes, including indebtedness. Forgive me: I know I haven’t done justice to your thought here. But, many at the seminary all looked at each other and knew what you labeled as “aspirational culture” to be all-too-true. We’d seen it and heard it, initiated it, and received it.

My initial sense, then, upon reading the intent of the letter from yesterday, “We will be debt-free,” was to wonder how that statement will resist the power of aspirational culture. Naming it helped; we all benefited from you making that identification. Having said this, I will be plausibly understood as impertinent in the request that follows:

Can the liquidation of the debt become completely transparent? All aspects, including when and how and why debt becomes re-negotiated, all payments, and any unexpected liabilities that become generated through all processes of becoming debt-free: deserve open and clear communication. Why?

Part of this answer involves personal formation and Christian transformation. Part of this answer involves demonstrating that the people who constitute the institution trust in Jesus. Part of this involves admitting that you and the Board will faithfully attempt to resist the powers of the aspirational culture that are endemic to evangelicalism. Part of this answer includes the profound trust that God intends for the seminary to conduct its ministry in a sustainable fashion. This last element leads to my second thought: Pomona.

It wasn’t until a couple of colleagues confronted me that I realized that I had merely “passed through Pasadena.” I had not considered the people, nor the land, nor its politics and history, as a site for mission. Apart from feeding those who walked through the campus, I don’t think of myself—to my shame—as one who loved the City of Pasadena. It wasn’t until my colleagues addressed me that something like scales fell from my eyes. And, now, Fuller intends to move to Pomona.

I will make my second request, and here I write again with some awareness that I may be perceived as rude and untoward: Can Fuller (yet again) revise the curriculum to integrate life in Pomona for all three schools?  What was missing in Pasadena should not become imported, and, thus, imposed upon Pomona: the tacit consent of the seminary (i.e., permission for the people who constitute the institution) to absent service, witness, and care for the people, the history, and the politics of Pomona.

Of course, in contrast to my absence in Pasadena, there are women and men who have long-suffered as part of Fuller in their care for Pasadena: we would do well to honor them and learn their stories, and give thanks to God for their lives. I fear too much of their faithful witness flies under the radar. The recall of their narratives—from faculty, staff, students, and alumni—impress me as crucial to how we depart from Pasadena. The fruitful stories of service and witness in Pasadena would do us all well to catalyze imagination for loving our neighbors in Pomona. In more ways than one, these women and men present to us an embodied theology of the land.

Thus, all energies from you and the Board that point toward a future east of the 57 should take up the central question: How do we follow Jesus in the City of Pomona as we: prepare ministers, therapists, and missionaries, and develop scholarship in intercultural studies, psychology, and theology, and routinely do this following of Jesus in sustainable ways that both keep the seminary solvent and benefit those residing in Pomona? A curriculum revision could plausibly contribute to answering that question, a reappraisal that specifically accounts for engaging with the Gospel in Pomona.

A new, embodied theology of the land for Fuller is irrevocably on the horizon, even if we do not explicitly take up that task by reaching down with our hands to place them into the soil. Better that we make this construction in theology clear: that we partially understand how we have and have not served Pasadena, and that, so encouraged and chastened by our past, we aim to serve and announce the crucified and risen Jesus among those living in Pomona in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, some version of the theology of the land will be imposed upon Fuller, although we may not become aware of it until so confronted. Surely, this matter deserves urgent, parallel consideration with all the vision and planning for solvency, endowment depth, and material construction of the new campus.

Having reviewed the above, it occurred to me that some reading this letter to you might surmise I believe that any lack of service and love toward Pasadena caused the indebtedness of the seminary. No: that speculative conclusion is not mine. I believe it to be wrong; to make that judgment is a bridge too far.

In many ways, Mark, you’ve already framed and filled my version of the central question in your many announcements. I won’t presume upon you, but nevertheless trust that I’ve represented you and others well, and I would welcome your feedback. To be sure, I’ve omitted elements that you and the Board no doubt observe and would correct me on. Feel free to do that. I’m hardly free of fallibility or invulnerable to criticism. I know we keep talking about coffee together, and I’ve got that “little writing project” I’m working on: I won’t make that excuse anymore. I’ll be in touch.

Mike

A partial fulfillment of a response to early questions on “What is a University?”

GFM H2O BottleIn my earlier post, I received a couple of comments, as well as some off-line responses that I will initiate a reply to here. As some of the readers know, I posted a link for my colleagues in IFES to read and respond to. Thanks to the nifty statistical apps embedded in WordPress, I learned that the post has been read throughout the globe, presumably by those in IFES. The post proper, regarded the question of “What is the University?”, and to be sure, I only intend to start a series that will respond to that question, and I observed some of the severe problems existing within the university.

Towards the end of the post, I raised some questions for Christian ministries. I serve within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a Christian ministry in the USA that serves on college campuses among students and faculty. I raised questions at the end of the post that asked why InterVarsity would have an exclusive focus upon developing ministries of evangelism and chapter planting in light of the pervasiveness of the many problems that are both unique, intertwined, and interlocking on the largest of the R1’s down to the smallest of the community college campuses.

I suggested—missed by some readers, I hasten to add—that all of those involved in university life, including Christian ministries, would do well to “hit the pause button”, take a deep breath, and ask more penetrating questions. In the case of InterVarsity and its allies, I am of the mind that we are well equipped to perform such tasks: of reflection, of listening, and of self-critique. I must add here: It turns out we are well-prepared and well-equipped for such tasks, and I would posit our range of influence possesses a greater radius among administrators, faculty, and students than we understand: or risk to understand.

If you scroll down to the comments on the post, you’ll observe Bob and Vinoth’s comments; the latter’s questions take on a much more focused appraisal of the dedication to evangelism and chapter planting made by the senior leadership of InterVarsity. However, both Bob and Vinoth have questions that overlap with each other. I’m going to risk here a conflation of their questions, and then, with future posts, disentangle that merging.

To wit: The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes enormous claims upon our lives while simultaneously offering the human person a remarkable breadth of freedom to respond to such claims. What outcomes might follow from acting on those claims in the kind of initiatives and responses in the university that promote human flourishing, interrogate and develop disciplines, and construct academic, student, and faculty structures?

Well… If you’re on InterVarsity Staff or you’re a faculty member, or students, or even an alumnae/alumnus, one might expect some signal in the ministry that makes reference to the Statement of Faith, and you’ll find a couple of items that are worth your attention. First, a linking statement gets made: “our beliefs lead us to these core values”, and second, a statement of context:

CONTEXT
College and University
We are called to be a redeeming influence
among its people, ideas, and structures.

So, if you’re a missiologist like myself, or a missionary like myself, or merely one who pays close attention to statements like these and watches what follow, you likely have some questions. Such as: What is this movement from “beliefs” to “core values”? The core values, as you no doubt have observed, are inventoried below the context statement. But, how is that movement made from beliefs to core values? And, why is the “context” inserted?

As almost an afterthought, the statement of faith realizes: “Oops! No faith is ever falling from the sky! Our faithfulness to the Gospel always takes place in some socio-cultural community, and ours overlaps with the university.” OK. Good. Perhaps, the context statement serves as a bridge to the core values. Let’s assume that to be true for the moment. And, let me insert something that the authors could not have known, although possibly anticipated: Their notion in the year 2000 of the answer to the question, “What is the University?”, can hardly serve in 2018. If pressed, I trust the authors would assent to more of a dynamic, living version of the answer. Let’s return to the bridge proposal.

The calling presents as vital, and from my social location: exciting! Such is my evangelical heritage: The winsome, non-oppressive, proclamation of the Gospel flows from an initial, now-enduring, encounter with the risen Jesus, who has given us the Holy Spirit. Without diverting too far from the post, let me suggest that the calling could plausibly contribute to energizing the most flaccid of evangelical communities. But, here is where Bob and Vinoth’s questions return to us.

As of now, in conversations with senior leadership of InterVarsity, one hears two distinct messages. One message recently declared a new sense of calling for the fellowship is to reach every corner of every campus. This “reaching” will be empowered by ministries of evangelism and chapter planting. A variety of resources, from cultivating prayer that both transforms people and intercedes for the campus, to increasing funding and to fund in more equitable ways, to developing training resources for staff, students, and faculty, to establishing new and renewed partnerships with other campus ministries: will be cultivated, grown, and deepened for the fulfillment of the calling. All of this sense of calling and the manifest resources has its origins in the senior leadership. All of the executives and management have oriented themselves toward interpreting and establishing plans to fulfill this calling.

The other message, though, fascinates me. When asked about “who” in the senior leadership has assumed responsibility for developing the redeeming influence for the ideas and structures on campus, the reply has continued to present remarkably and uniformly: “It is best if this development comes from the field staff.”

Many, many affirmations and critiques can—and should—be made of both messages. If we take up the conflation question I posed earlier, what we can mildly state is the following: Responding to Jesus Christ as Lord presents as a form of human flourishing. Recognition of the fallenness in a human person that occurs in the movement towards the healing, deliverance, liberation, and forgiveness offered exclusively in Jesus can surely receive affirmation as a form of human flourishing. Insofar as InterVarsity participates in a joyful and crisp declaration of the Gospel and such responses continue: Amen. One can hardly deny the enduring importance of such transformation. Indeed, such proclamation remains as an on-going imperative for Christians of all cultures and traditions.

But, what of the ideas and structures? Both Bob and Vinoth, coming from different angles, wonder about this. Vinoth makes the historical observation of campus outcomes, of which have power exerted throughout the globe; Bob asks about a long-term influence and (sorry Bob to put words in your mouth) the massive “what if” InterVarsity staff took on a longer emphasis to their respective campus context that would move the disciplinary content and university structures toward increasing human flourishing. Vinoth wonders if the senior leadership even has this concern for ideas and structures in their purview, the publication of the contextual statement notwithstanding.

It will come as no surprise: I wonder about this daily.

I fear the relative silence about ideas and structures runs in parallel to the lack of conversation and consultation between senior leaders across InterVarsity with their IFES colleagues. Let me identify or make transparent here a commitment and its attendant idea that dwells in an exclusive focus upon becoming a redeeming influence among people in a North American, evangelical context: When you commit to evangelizing and planting among a specific people, you can both inventory and identify who fulfills the commitment and responds to the efforts.

Of course, such has biblical sources for the commitment: that goes uncontested here. But, what frequently remains involved includes the tacit overlay of enlightenment and positivist ideologies that animate the commitment and the idea. Here, we find that the “decisions” can be counted; the timing of such can be made relative to specific ministry events; narratives assist in identifying the movements of persons toward life in the reign of God. Such efforts represent valuable synthesis: but, have their priorities aligned with positivist tendencies.

Of which, tend to flatten out context. Such an overlay (1) drapes expectations that may not fit with the university in its present historical context, (2) empowers urgency, and (3) diminishes thoughtful engagement with the university context. In strong contrast: Time, open-ended and undemanding, needed for careful, prayerful listening to the university; conversations and reading about ideas; observations of historical judgments, policy decisions and regulations that form the university structures: all of these and much more will raise expectations for learning about how a university lives and breathes.

In contrast to an enlightenment overlay, the above approach has remarkable history, traction, and credibility among contemporary mission partnerships. Those partnerships with local congregations allow the missionary the leisure to watch, listen, learn language, develop relationships, and discover the vitality of the existing institutions, as well as observe the remarkable and sordid breadth of the human condition in another culture. Suffice it to say: no rush is made to make the missionary competent in the culture, even if the agency and the local congregation agree that, of the many goals, the evangelization and establishment of witnessing communities rests in that partnership.

That kind of approach, while coherent to most modern missiology and mission education, fails to gain a hearing and traction in many campus mission agencies in North America. Thus, it should come as no surprise that: any dialogue about strategic ministry within the USA with those from outside does not have any mutual commitment; InterVarsity staff and students, once returned to campus from mission partnerships with IFES movements across the globe, have little-to-no challenge to demonstrate learning or advocacy for those who host them; and, thus: we have no commitment from senior leadership to developing a redeeming influence for the ideas and structures of the university that parallels the one to influencing people.

To face some possible objections, let me take some of those here. First, what about an alleged influence, or even dominance, of enlightenment upon our leadership? It does none of us any good to deny or ignore the social and cultural influences upon us. That such exist and have indeterminate power upon us cannot be contested. That we can resist such influence is also uncontested: which is why I bring the matter up to begin with. Lesslie Newbigin often observed that we have a conflicted relationship with the enlightenment: we’re products of it, and for that we can be glad (consider the alternatives); we’re also aware of how it has power upon us, and sometimes we feel helpless in the face of it; we’re also unaware of how the enlightenment exercises power upon us. When we make discoveries of how that tradition has contoured our thinking or expectations, we can recoil, and sometimes quite strongly.

And that leads to another objection: One doesn’t ordinarily repent of the influence of an idea or a structure. To which I reply: Thank you. So much of our contemporary reading of the word, “repentance” or the verb “to repent” (Gk., metanoia and metanoiete) involves one well-bounded meaning: turn from your personal sin. Conversely, when one reads such usage in the NT, say, the Second Gospel, we find a far-greater scope called upon by Jesus: “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” Such a call does not merely confront unbelief, as though that were the problem of his largely Jewish audience: surely they were a people with a long history of belief in YHWH.

No, the call to repent involved a much deeper confrontation with their ideas, how they operated upon those ideas, and the kinds of social forms generated from those people holding those ideas. Note well: Ideas and the people who hold/use the ideas are distinct from each other, but often conflated. To continue, the point made by Jesus here and elsewhere involved the investigation of what the people thought, and how they used such thoughts: and his invitation to reconsider both given his presence and his proclamation. Everything they knew was about to be called into question with the one person who could be trusted. Suffice it to say, his influence was and remains remarkable and trustworthy.

I’ll conclude on a couple of notes. The objects of InterVarsity’s redeeming influence,  “people, ideas, and structure” have a remarkable counterpart in sociology. The primary question of the entire discipline, according to Margaret Archer, involves the analytic discernment of the interplay of “structure, agency, and culture.” Let that one sink in for a moment.

Finally, let’s face it: it’s hard to count influence upon ideas and structures. But, once you’re living through an enlightenment perspective, it’s hard to even imagine what could constitute reporting on changes in ideas and structures, let alone empowering staff to exercise Gospel influence upon such ideas and structures in the University.

Happy 125th Birthday, Martin Niemöller!

 

Today is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Martin Niemöller, Lutheran pastor and theologian who resisted the Nazis. You can Wikipedia his bio. What I continue to find fascinating about Niemöller regards his development as a disciple of Jesus. When the Nazis came to power, initially Niemöller was some what neutral, even quiet, about their presence, power, and agenda. As time developed, and he observed the growing incarceration of Jews, followed by those who dissented from the arrests, Niemöller’s conscience pushed him to preach against the Nazis. He originally, on the basis of a meeting with Hitler, articulated strong anti-Semitic views, believing that both Jews and the German church would not be harmed. Soon after his preaching opposed the Third Reich, he was arrested and imprisoned. Once in prison, with a Jewish cellmate, he admitted routinely that he was duped and completely wrong-headed in his thinking. Although on the threshold of a death sentence, he was liberated, having been imprisoned for nearly 7 years, including a stay in Dachau.

What Niemöller is most remembered for involves a saying that has only intensified in its hortatory and prudential power. Confession: I used to believe that we needed to pay attention intensively during Obama’s presidency, and I would encourage people to reflect upon Niemöller. Obviously, that was merely a warm-up to the present.

Clearly, we need to revisit Niemöller’s saying—and as I write “we”, I imagine all Christians and other people of faith, and especially any of my immigrant friends, no matter what your status is in the USA— as Niemöller has this sense of how easy it is for people like ourselves to: dismiss the rhetoric of the White House, trust promises made and emerging from that executive office, and assume that we will not be harmed or betrayed by the current president. Here is a link to the source

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The voice of a fallible, growing disciple speaks to us across the years: Pay attention, and do not be quiet, my family and friends. We need each other’s voices in this season of life.

The 24-hour rule: An early-2018 practice

 

When my son played hockey, he had several really good coaches along the way. One of which spoke to the players, and he followed by addressing the parents after a really bad loss. “When a game like this one is lost, I have a rule, and I encourage you as parents to abide by it with your sons. Don’t talk about the game for 24 hours. Let your emotions settled down, then listen to your son. No need for fake encouragement, and by waiting a day, you’ll be less likely to scream and shout after a loss like this one.”

When the news broke on 45’s description of Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries“, my heart broke as well. To be clear, that DJT is a racist— as well as a liar, sexual predator, 3-times divorced, certifiable nut-case— is not anything new to me or anyone else.

As some of you know, my grandfather is from Afghanistan: where Trump thinks they are all terrorists. My grandmother is from Mexico: where Trump thinks all Mexicans are rapists and running drugs across the border. (By the way, except those in my family reading this, how many Afghan-Latino-White people do you know? Please raise your hands: higher!) So, my family and I come from shithole countries.

As some of you know, most of my work and service within InterVarsity has been with international student ministry: and many of these students were born, raised, educated in the Caribbean and in African nations like Egypt, Madagascar, Kenya, and Senegal: North, South, East, and West. And: according to Trump, all shithole countries sending their best and brightest for education in the USA.

And, my wife’s family comes from southern China: And not just there but throughout Asia, as do the families of my friends, neighbors, colleagues, and the faculty I serve. Because none of these beloved and beautiful people look like white people, they must also originate from shithole countries.

I will add parenthetically, that, DJT’s use of the N-word (“Norway”) notwithstanding, Norwegians have little incentive to migrate to the USA. Indeed, the contrasts between the two nations make Norway far more palatable as a destination to live.

Returning to the topic at hand, these are me and my people: and the executive of the United States deems us all as refuse for the toilet. The level of insult and disrespect caused me to boil internally with anger. While I have cautiously stewed for the last 24+ hours, others have immediately come hard after DJT: especially in the media. I was a little surprised, I must admit. The reporting and the analysis seemed a little late to the party: It was like they couldn’t say he was a racist before but they are now? Nonetheless, I was glad to see and hear this accurate description of the president out in the open. Remarkably, there hasn’t been a substantive denial of his racist vulgarity.

What I need to say next has been said by others, likely with more forceful rhetoric and far more felicity. I don’t need to prove my humanity to Trump and other white supremacists. I really don’t. Let’s not let the terms of this discourse get set by debates about immigration, although, to be sure, matters of immigration, policing, economics, education, and voting rights will most certainly follow the starting point I will endorse.

I am proposing we start with the reality that if you’re a human, you’re a human. It’s not about your skin color, or your family, or the geographic origins of your family. It’s not. There is a lot of theological anthropology going on out there, but some of it is getting hijacked by discussions of whether we can allow, for example, Haitians who are physicians to legally immigrate but those who do not possess “skills” will remain unqualified for migration to the US. Let’s not commodify people. Let’s not use bodies to advance the well-being and economic prosperity of—let’s face it— white people, of those with whiteness (available to anyone, regardless of ethnicity), and of those who already possess economic power to insulate themselves from the debate about who can label who and thus determine who can be a resident in the US. If you make someone’s humanity about how it inevitably fits into a business model of any kind, your theological proposal has already been hijacked by other powers, other agendas, and other missions.

So, in case there was any doubt: I had to practice the 24-hour rule, because I was ready to scream and shout. The erasure of human dignity could not have gone any lower by the president. It will be interesting to see how those in Congress act next: not just with statements of feeling (further) appalled, but with the kind action that has teeth in it that restores and asserts human dignity throughout the globe. It will be especially interesting to listen to sermons this Sunday, especially in those evangelical congregations where the word of God is preached. Does God have a word—from within a sermon—for his people during this season of life? Or is a prior commitment to “a preaching series” remain inviolable, no matter what the current events may present and social exigencies may manifest? One wonders if any evangelical preacher can effectively remain credible by “keeping the world outside” without naming what every single member of the congregation knows before they enter and what they inevitably face when they exit the sanctuary? What does the preached word of God have to say about human dignity?

I’m glad I practiced the 24 hour rule, but I’m still angry, and I would commend to preachers everywhere the Lord Jesus Christ. God help you with power and wisdom as you preach the Gospel that includes the Lord Jesus restoring the human person to her/his God-endowed-and-designed human dignity: and naming persons and their sources of power that would deny God, Jesus, and his mission.

Revisiting Hope via Jeremiah

No need to rehearse all of the calamities, natural disasters, protests, tweets, counter-tweets, job-suspensions, failures to care for the humanity of our own citizens living in distress, and the proverbial “drumbeats of war.” Just scroll through the news or turn on your TV: any of those can be found, often in located in the same geography. It’s really impressive in many respects, and I do not mean that as though there is a splendor, or beauty to all of it. I can hardly step back and callously disregard how these persons and events have literally extinguished lives.

Typically, I can look out my window to the south and look across a small valley, and see the sunrise cast early morning light on the homes of thousands of residents in the Inland Empire. Today, I see a thick, white haze of smoke, the sign and faint smell of the Anaheim Hills fire, and it covers the valley. People have lost homes and memories, and lives are now displaced. This fires in No. California amplified this experience in ways that simply do not make sense: entire neighborhoods scorched. Gone.

In September, back-to-back hurricanes devastated the Texas Gulf Coast and Florida. Family and friends in Houston were displaced from either flooding or storm damage to their homes; the toll on lives continues to demand payment in human misery in so many ways. Puerto Rico was hammered in succession by hurricanes: friends there tell of a nightmarish situation, one that is easily confirmed by the media. Meanwhile, the Tweeter-In-Chief assures that he’s great when it comes to alleviating the problems of these natural disasters. His lack of empathy for the humanity of the citizens he purporting serves stares back at the world as a black hole.

So, I’ve wondered, “What’s our future, Lord? Will this get any better anytime soon?” I let this question come to surface often these days in my morning office. Last week, my BCP app, in the midst of the horror of Las Vegas, does what it often does: just presents the reading for meditation and prayer, with apparent disregard for the context that we find ourselves.

Jeremiah 38 narrates the political backlash that lead to dumping Jeremiah into muddy cistern, the subsequent rescue initiated by Zedekiah, and the private conversation between the king and the prophet. I’ll leave it to you to read the text, but what becomes apparent in the second half of the chapter involves the two men negotiating through distrust of each other, a breathtaking assessment of the current political season and the treacherous relations with Jerusalem officials, and a robust affirmation by the prophet: obedience to YHWH will unexpectedly lead to life while everything else, literally, burns down.

And this is our hope: That God calls us, in and through Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, raised to life, ascendant, exalted: to a faithfulness that produces life. All this is promised, but not upward social mobility, not suburbia, not contentment, not freedom from natural disaster: certainly not prosperity, as though that were the Kingdom of God. No, hope, on-the-ground hope in Jesus Christ gets received through this matter of obedience. And, here’s where such gets unfamiliar.

We’re in a season of weirdness, politically speaking. Any veneer of civility has been shed, and this cannot be limited to 45. Just take a look anywhere, throughout the many levels of government, and our elected officials have simply lost it. Far easier for them to play the blame game, and, thus, execute the “look-away” from their transgressions and avarice, both of which only add to the misery of those suffering (see Puerto Rico), than to obey the Lord (for those officials who think themselves Christian and others from the Judeo-Christian tradition) and take what follows. It’s weird, and most of that weirdness has its catalysis from the November 2016 election. But, I digress.

What Jeremiah and other biblical prophets summon Christians into—not only politicians— involves new terrain: an obedience that involves unvarnished truth-telling and a resonant clarity regarding the human condition. This obedience recognizes that our hearts are in big trouble—sin is the best noun here—and that only a two-fold response of confession of Jesus as the crucified Lord and to walk in his ways offers a life-giving path. For some Christians, historically and in a contemporary practice, this way has always acknowledged the both-and: our hearts are in trouble—our very lives—and creative faithfulness for the context demands speaking up—resisting—the political powers that would exacerbate our mutual troubles for all human persons.

Yes, this is an unfamiliar obedience: for many of my evangelical group (in using “evangelical,” I feel like when I first heard the new name of “the artist formerly known as Prince”: awkward), the preferred division of labor involves: preach to the heart problem, then, address matters of the world: if at all. This splitting leaves one with a version of the “sweet-by-and-by”, a theological call to distant-after-you-die “heaven”, and no genuine responsibility to the Lord or to others who share our humanity to participate in a mission which is in continuity with the crossing of the Red Sea and Calvary.

So, there is an unfamiliar obedience in Jeremiah: “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared.” One should assume—and test while in progress—that the reprieve aims for inclusion and participation in God’s mission. It is not a leniency that sections us off from harm, maladies, and injustice: suffering is still part and parcel of the human experience. Yet, this obedience proposes that God’s mission is one of life, of justice, and of flourishing: for all of creation. That is what we hope for, and, in Jesus Christ, God calls us by his Word and Holy Spirit into that very hope.

Howard Thurman quote; #DACA

“In the year 6 Judea was annexed to Syria; in the year 70 Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed. Between these two dates Jesus preached and was crucified on Golgotha. During all that time the life of the little nation was a terrific drama; its patriotic emotions were aroused to the highest pitch and then still more inflamed by the identification of national politics with a national religion. Is it reasonable to assume that what was going on before Jesus’ eyes was a closed book, that the agonizing problems of his people were a matter of indifference to him, that he had given them no consideration, that he was not taking a definite attitude toward the great and all-absorbing problem of the very people whom he taught?”

Howard Thurman, quoting Vladimir Simkhovitch (1921)

Jesus and the Disinherited