Jesus

10 POLITICAL Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus

Jesus at church across from the Alfred P Murrah Memorial by tonystl / Flickr.com
Jesus at church across from the Alfred P Murrah Memorial by tonystl / Flickr.com

In response to my last article, “ 10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus,” I was accused multiple times of being political. All I was trying to do was follow Jesus. So, I thought it'd be interesting (and generate tons more hate mail) to show what a list would actually look like if I were being political intentionally. Like the first list, this is not a complete list, but it's a pretty good place to start.

There will be those who comment and send me messages berating me for “making Jesus political.” It's OK. Fire away. Jesus didn't worry much about stepping on political toes, and the Bible insists that governments be just toward the least of these (the books of the prophets alone make this point very clear). Frequently, people who are the most vocal about not making Jesus political are the same people who want prayer in school and laws based on their own religious perspectives. By a happy little circumstance that brings us to my list:

10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus

Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign / Shutterstock.com
Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign / Shutterstock.com

Lots of people claim to be “following Jesus” and then they do stuff like this. Sure, people who follow Jesus do these things all the time, but you can't say you are doing them because you are trying to follow Jesus' example.

(Clearly, this is not a complete list but it's a good place to start).

10) Exclude people because they practice another religion.

Jesus was constantly including people, and he did it with a radical disregard for their religion. We do not have a single recorded incident of Jesus asking for a person's religious affiliation before being willing to speak with them or break bread with them. We do have several records of Jesus seeking out those who happen to practice faith differently from him. There was even this one time when he used a hated Samaritan as an example of how we are supposed to take care of each other.

Wounding and Welcome in the Church

TWO YEARS AGO, Jeff Chu found himself at a crossroads. Like many gay Christians, he felt disconnected—condemned by a wide swath of his fellow believers because of his sexual orientation, questioned because of his faith by some in the LGBTQ community who have been pushed out of the church by the words and actions of many Christians. To top it off, there was that lingering doubt, so common among those raised in evangelical households: Does Jesus really love me?

To answer that question, Chu—an award-winning writer for Time, The Wall Street Journal, andCondé Nast Portfolio and the grandson of a Southern Baptist preacher—took off on a yearlong cross-country pilgrimage, “asking the questions that have long frightened me.” What he encountered was a divided church, “led in large part by cowardly clergy who are called to be shepherds yet behave like sheep.”

Many of the pastors Chu contacted for the book refused to speak with him, citing their suspicion of him as a member of the so-called “‘liberal media elite’” or stating bluntly that engaging on such a controversial issue might jeopardize funding for a pet project. After speaking with Richard Land, then-president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and David Shelley, a Baptist minister from Tennessee affiliated with the Family Research Council, Chu concludes that they “devote much more time talking about legislation than about love.”

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Waiting on God

WHEN I FIRST started attending the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Va., we had no church building and met in the cafeteria of an elementary school. There were about 50 of us and a brand new priest, Rev. H. Lawrence Scott (“Call me Renny”). It was an Episcopal church in Fairfax County in the 1970s. Really, how much trouble could I get into?

What I didn’t know was that it was a charismatic, Bible-believing, tongues-speaking church. The praise band led us in worship. We sang and raised our hands. There was speaking in tongues and interpretation.

When I committed my life to Jesus in October 1977, I was sitting in the living room with Renny and his wife, Margaret. We had lunch. We talked. I disagreed with them about this Jesus stuff. We talked some more, and I was shocked to find myself saying “yes” when Renny asked if I was ready to commit my life to Jesus. I just said sure—then Renny made me pray. I remember walking to the car and having a brief conversation with God, the culmination of which was that I said I would never be a missionary to Africa. It’s funny what I thought were the key questions then.

Because I am an all-or-nothing person, I threw myself entirely into this new life. Within a few weeks I was baptized in the Spirit. I went to a Bible study every week. When I heard you were supposed to have a quiet time, I did that religiously. Every morning I sat and waited on God: Bible reading and prayer, other spiritual reading, and index cards to help me remember. Every morning for years I got up very early and met with Jesus in the quiet before dawn. Between my study and the praise songs we sang at church, I learned hundreds of scriptures by heart.

For 20 years I sat in the quiet and waited on God.

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Pentecost and the Crucifixion of Privilege

Social disparity, durantelallera / Shutterstock.com
Social disparity, durantelallera / Shutterstock.com

While the consequences of social privilege are alarming for numerous reasons, we are reminded that such systematic inequalities are by no means unique to the current day and age. For example, during Jesus’ ministry he encountered a predominant culture that distributed a wide variety of elite benefits based upon gender, class, ethnicity, and other forms of false favoritism. However, one of the primary distinctions of Jesus’ life, which he continually modeled for his disciples, was a prophetic confrontation with unjust structures of social privilege. 

As Jesus accompanied women, tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, and others firmly placed on the underprivileged margins of society, he repeatedly sought the reversal of embedded discrimination and disadvantage. In doing so, not only did Jesus promote Good News of eternal life for after death, but he sought to “let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18) for the fullness of life after birth.

While Jesus continually endorsed the revolution of unjust social privilege, and although he taught his followers to do likewise in his name, the harsh reality is that privilege based on prejudice is profitable, which makes it difficult – if not impossible – for those in power to surrender voluntarily

The Violence of Peacemaking

Blessed are the peacemakers Bible passage, Wellford Tiller / Shutterstock.com
Blessed are the peacemakers Bible passage, Wellford Tiller / Shutterstock.com

Jesus says some stuff in the inaugural speech of his ministry that really upsets the status quo of both the religious and non-religious. In essence, he says, "If you are to follow me as King of this newly inaugurated Kingdom of God, you will need to start loving your enemies as much as yourself. You will need to start getting creative in how you deal with your oppressors in order to choose the way of love and reconciliation rather than the way of revenge and contempt. In fact, when you live as peacemakers, you best reflect what it looks like to be children of God. Those of you that choose this way of life will be blessed."

A few years later — after Jesus has been announcing the good news of the Kingdom through both word and deed — he looks over Jerusalem and begins to weep. Here is the people and the city that is to symbolize right relationship with God and humanity. It is to be a place of shalom where salvation flows through all aspects of life. It is to be the city of peace. Instead, Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city and laments, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!" 

Finally, Jesus, as king, messiah, and deliverer models this way of life to the point of death on a cross. Refusing to accept the lure of power through military might or pursuing peace through violence, Jesus embodies the life of suffering and self-sacrifice that he is calling his followers to emulate. Jesus, as the ultimate peacemaker, shows us that the life and work of peacemaking isn't some fairy tale euphoria, but the gritty, subversive and sacrificial life of faithfulness to a God and kingdom that lives by a different standard than the systems and powers of the world.

Mother Jesus

“HAVE YOU BEEN born again?” The image of a second birth to illustrate conversion is often used by fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians. Yet in my experience such folks also tend to resist thinking of God as other than male. How can they overlook this very maternal activity of God’s Spirit?

Even Nicodemus gets it, at least at the physical level. In John 3, this high-ranking Jewish leader privately approaches Jesus to ask him where his charism comes from. In most familiar translations of the New Testament (such as King James and NIV), Jesus tells Nicodemus that he would understand if he were “born again” (3:3). But the Greek word anōthen is deliberately ambiguous. Jesus’ intended meaning is “born from above” (NRSV). “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” says Jesus in verse 6. The Holy One is our birthing mother.

When the literal-minded Nicodemus asks how a person can go back into his mother’s womb and be born again, we cannot be sure (in 3:9-10) whether Jesus gently chides or sarcastically puts him down: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

Sadly, many “teachers” throughout Christian history have not understood these things. It is now 50 years since Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique opened the floodgates of second-wave feminist cultural analysis, thus preparing the ground for biblical scholars and theologians such as Letty Russell, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, and many more. Some of us began to see that orthodox, “objective” methods of interpretation were instead often subjectively male-oriented. We began to ask, “Where is the feminine in our sacred texts? Were women there?”

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What Jesus Didn't Say

photo by Lawrence OP / Flickr.com
Jesus and a woman at the well, painting in museum of the Dominican priory of Santa Sabina in Rome, photo by Lawrence OP / Flickr

In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus speaks with a woman when they find themselves alone at a well at midday. We can learn a lot from what he says to her, and from what he chooses not to say.

Jesus tells the woman, “Go, get your husband, and bring him here.” She replies, “I have no husband.” Jesus tells her “That’s right. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re now with isn’t your husband.”

These could have been shaming words. In her culture, to be without a husband is to risk economic ruin, and to have been divorced by your husband is to be shamed.   

Had he wanted to, Jesus could have scored some serious points here: I’m a prophet, and you’re a sinner. I’m celibate, and you’re promiscuous. You are living in sin by living with a man who is not your husband.

Evidently, he didn’t want to say those things.

Homeless Jesus Sculpture Searches for a Home

Photo courtesy Timothy Schmalz
Peter Larisey seated alongside the Jesus sculpture. Photo courtesy Timothy Schmalz

TORONTO — This homeless Jesus can barely find a home.

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz notes the ironies in his latest creation, “Jesus the Homeless,” a bronze sculpture depicting the Christian savior huddled beneath a blanket on an actual-size park bench. Only the feet are visible, and their gaping nail wounds reveal the subject.

“If Jesus was watching the streets today,” Schmalz says from his home in St. Jacobs, Ontario, “I think he would want himself represented as one of the most marginalized. That’s what he said in the Gospel.”

Indeed, as Schmalz notes, Jesus calls on his followers to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and tend to the lame. Possibly referring to himself, Jesus says, in the book of Matthew, that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Heartbreak Beyond Heartbreak (Hill)

Silhouette of runner, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com
Silhouette of runner, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com

The Boston Marathon bombing is so shocking because it was obviously done by someone(s) who wanted to prove something not to themselves, but to others. Could they display to the world his repressed rage enough? Could they divert attention to their cause enough? Could they maim and kill the innocent for some misguided agenda enough? That is what makes this act of terrorism so terrifying: a sick person or people trying to prove something to others by targeting those who are simply proving something to themselves, or trying to do something for others. It is jarring.

Ninety minutes before the bombs detonated, I was concluding a presentation on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. That recent immersion into Luke’s narrative shaped my video viewing of the bombing’s aftermath. The one who “fell into the hands of robbers” was everywhere. The assaulted and bloodied were scattered by the side of the road, in this case, Boylston Street. Instead of people passing by on the other side, however, it was quite the opposite. Spectators and emergency medical personnel waded into the grisly scene and treated the wounded with exquisite care.

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