The Common Good

God's Politics

Not This Time -- A Reflection on the Resurrection of Lazarus

Editor's Note: This post is adapted from a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Nixon.

Some of us have stood at a tomb, faced an open grave, scattered the ashes of one beloved. We know what it’s like to be confronted with the stark reality of death and the flood of conflicting emotions that comes with it. I’ve stood at different sites at Dry Creek Cemetery in Boise, Idaho, and the Veteran’s Cemetery next to it, to bury my father, my brother, my nephew, my step-father and-step sister, my brother-in-law, not to mention my beloved piano teacher, and a dear high school friend. Not so long ago I stood by the open grave of Patrice Heath as her casket was lowered into the ground. We prayed and wept and celebrated her life, but it is not an easy thing, under any circumstances, to lay a loved one to rest.  

The ancient story of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11:1-45 is just such a situation. It’s also another occasion to encounter Jesus in his divinity and his humanity. It’s a long, complicated story. You have heard it read. I will not attempt to unpack it all.

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COMMENTARY: Deliberate Distortion of Reality Won’t Work for Long

I was dismayed when I learned that Mozilla Foundation, maker of the Firefox Web browser, had named an anti-gay activist as its new chief executive officer.

Brendan Eich wasn’t a hard-core activist. He had donated $1,000 in 2008 to a California campaign to ban same-sex marriage.

Even so, his ethical stance struck me as unfortunate. Mozilla’s naming him CEO struck me as tone-deaf. And his refusal to discuss his views seemed too aloof for a high-visibility enterprise like Mozilla.

I didn’t join the crowd demanding his resignation. I did the one thing I could do: I stopped using the Firefox browser.

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He Doesn’t Just Listen to the Sunday Sermon; He Draws It

On the second Sunday of Lent, John Hendrix sits in one of the pews near the back of Grace and Peace Fellowship, a Presbyterian church with stained glass in green and orange, and a giant, organ pipe front and center.

Casually decked in a striped, button-down shirt and jeans, he looks like any other member of the hip and young crowd. With his wife, Andrea, and his two children, Jack, 8, and Annie, 5, Hendrix stands and sings and partakes of gluten-free communion.

But as soon as the sermon starts, Hendrix sets himself apart, whipping out his sketchbook and pens to draw the pastor’s sermon.

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A Crash Course: Australia, Refugees, and the Politics of Jesus

Here’s a crash course to understand what’s happening in Australia with refugees and the politics of Jesus.

Imagine for a moment that in the lead up to the next U.S. elections, a political party changed immigration policies and took the relatively small number of people seeking safety on boats from, let’s say Cuba, and locked these persecuted people up on Guantanamo like criminals — elderly, men, women, and over 1,000 children. You would expect outcry from people across the political spectrum. Indeed there was. Only the fear campaign was so effective, the blame game so seductive and the election win so decisive, that the majority of politicians on all sides sacrificed their principles on the altar of popularity. Not to mention these desperate people — tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free — … these now homeless who were literally tempest-tossed on boats sacrificed on this bloody idol of false security. Of course behind closed doors, elected officials will confess to you, as a Christian, that they personally find it abhorrent but for the sake of the party and all the good they could do when they get into power they rationalize with the logic of Caiaphas and get the same results: the sacrifice of the innocent.

Sound too far-fetched? This is the recent history of Australia. Thanks, Paul Dyson, for the Cuba analogy.

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Folding Up Our Tents

Last May, a family in our church offered the use of their garage and driveway for a weekend yard sale. Their entire suburb holds a three-day sale, and our youth group participated to raise some money.

Rain and heat were in the weekend forecast, so church members offered to let us use their collapsible tents as shelter for the clothing and glassware, bicycles, and bobbleheads that had been donated for sale. You’ve probably seen such tents. They somehow fit into small carrying pouches — thank God for engineers! — and unfold into spacious tents.

It took six of us to stretch each tent all the way open. Each of us grabbed a leg and started pulling until the metal frame finally snapped into place and locked. The toughest part was getting the frame to expand that last inch or so to make it lock.

By the time we had all of the tents assembled, we were soaked with sweat. Stretching a tent to its limit is hard work!

It’s also a popular metaphor these days.

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Voting With Their Feet

On March 28 at about 4 p.m., the Afghan Peace Volunteers heard a loud explosion nearby. For the rest of the evening and night, they anxiously waited for the sound of rocket fire and firing to stop. It was reported that a 10-year-old girl, and the four assailants, were killed.

Four days later, they circulated a video, poem and photos prefaced by this note:

“We had been thinking about an appropriate response to the violence perpetrated by the Taliban, other militia, the Afghan government, and the U.S./NATO coalition of 50 countries.

So, on the 31st of March 2014, in building alternatives and saying ‘no’ to all violence and all forms of war-making, a few of us went to an area near the place which was attacked, and there, we planted some trees. -- Love and thanks, The Afghan Peace Volunteers"

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Palm-Powered Protest

Have you ever noticed that society allows fans to do things that, short of fandom, we would deem absolutely crazy? When do grown adults have permission to paint their faces with logos except on the day of the big game? When is hugging perfect strangers acceptable? After a 3-point shot of your favorite team beats the buzzer, it’s expected. Screaming at the top of our lungs is perfectly acceptable when we’re in a crowd of thousands doing the same.

March Madness wraps up this week and a tournament champion will be crowned. Whatever the outcome of Monday’s championship game, we can guarantee that there will be screaming crowds at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (The final may break the record of largest crowd ever to attend a NCAA basketball game with 75,421 attendees.)

Crowds change social norms. Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.

Next Sunday, April 13, 2014, is known as Palm Sunday. Around the world Christians will gather to wave palm branches.

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Pastor of Florida Megachurch Resigns Over 'Moral Failure'

Florida megachurch pastor Bob Coy has resigned from his 20,000-member Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale congregation over a “moral failing.”

A statement on the church’s website reported the news: "On April 3, 2014, Bob Coy resigned as Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, effective immediately, after confessing to a moral failing in his life which disqualifies him from continuing his leadership role at the church he has led since its founding in 1985."

A call to Coy on Sunday was not returned. But it appears extra-marital affairs may have been one reason.

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Immigration Advocacy Update: Nearing Two Million Deportations

With Easter recess around the corner, immigration supporters are in full force with their advocacy plans. Efforts have taken a two-tier approach: some groups focus on Congressional action for meaningful and broad reform this year, while others are focusing on administration fixes to reduce deportations.

Recently, pressure has mounted on the Obama Administration, as groups attempt to stop the unjust deportations of non-criminal immigrants who have roots in the U.S. The Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) will soon reach its 2 millionth deportation under the Obama Administration. The rising volume of deportations has caused uproar amongst the immigrants’ rights community, as advocates highlight the moral crisis in communities with families facing separation from loved ones. Advocates are urging the president to use his executive powers to ease unjust deportations that cause needless pain and suffering.

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Christianity's Most Common and Subtle Sin

Christianity’s most common and subtle sin is … rationalization.

‘Rationalization’ is defined as: an attempt to explain or justify (one's own or another's behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate (Wikipedia).

Essentially, rationalizing is a way of making excuses.

Ever since Adam tried to blame Eve (Gen. 3:12), Moses tried to downplay his ability to lead God’s people out of Israel (Exodus 3), Aaron tried to deflect blame for the Golden Calf onto others (Exodus 32:22), Gideon’s self-deprecation (Judges 6), and Jeremiah’s excuse of being too young (Jer. 1:6), people have rationalized their rebellion to God.

Creating logical, plausible, and valid explanations to justify our sinful actions — or inactions — is easy. We do it all the time because instead of being obviously and visibly wrong, it’s covert, motivated by fear, doubt, shame, and guilt, and mixed with what we assume is intellect and reason — in reality it’s a form of spiritual escapism.

Rationalization is a type of invisible rebellion. It’s hidden not just from us but from everyone. Therefore, it’s rarely noticeable and hardly ever called out. People aren’t held accountable for being reasonable.

But being a follower of Christ often demands being unreasonable.

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