Saturday, March 28, 2015

Haven't We Been Here Before?

This is the first in a series of random posts you will see over the next few months that I am calling Things I Believe (and you probably don't)! Some will be goofy. This one is not. So be warned...

This world is a mess. We have known that for a while. But lately it is this nation that concerns me more. Laws have been passed, presidential campaigns begun, verdicts handed down, history rewritten, leaders quoted and social media exploding all with the same message- unless you are like me, I don't want you here. And it doesn't matter where here is, you aren't welcome. This would be disconcerting under any circumstances, but to hear so much of it coming from people who call themselves Christians is especially painful. My heart hurts. My brain hurts. And as a student of history I find myself asking the same question at my prayer time each day- Haven't we been here before?

It seems that many of my brothers and sisters (although some of these folks could care less what my sisters think) in Christ have taken a stance that anyone who does not agree with them is not only wrong, but somehow less a child of God than those who do agree. They come from two primary angles. You must be Christian- their version of Christian- and exclude and fear anyone who is not. In this version of the faith, judgement is a key element, and you worry less about your own soul and more about how to make others more like you. You must also hold to the theory of American Exceptionalism. It is no longer enough to love your country. Now to prove our patriotism we must adhere to the thought that the United States is and always has been superior to the rest of the world. If that means throwing out the facts to make history agree with the point, so be it. This country was not founded on exceptionalism, it was founded on and by the "wretched refuse." Our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world! These two ideologies are being used by the "elite" to exclude anyone who doesn't agree with them. People of color, our LGBT friends, immigrants and people of differing religions are more and more being targeted by people who claim to have a relationship with Jesus and being told that they do not belong. They are not Christian enough and they are not American enough. How is "religious freedom" enhanced by laws that encourage discrimination? 

History has taught us that there are few things more dangerous that religious extremism and radical nationalism. We live in a world where terrorists who fly an Islamic flag have made us afraid of all Muslims. ISIS is a band of extremists (who, by the way, walked into a leadership void WE helped create when we invaded Iraq in 2002) who in no way represent the entire religion. A few weeks back President Obama compared the extremism of ISIS to the Christian Crusades and was taken to task for it by many (As a side note, I read someone attack Obama by saying George W. Bush would have never said anything like that, and I cannot agree more. I have little doubt that W. has no idea what happened in the Crusades...). The truth is, he was right. There have been numerous atrocities committed in the name of Jesus, from the Crusades to standing in support of slavery to blowing up abortion clinics. Extremism is ugly no matter who is carrying the flag. Nazi Germany was all about lifting one nation, one race and one religion above all others and seeking to wipe out anyone who didn't "fit in." It almost worked. And yet even with all of this history to learn from, we find ourselves again posting new versions of "Whites Only" signs, fearing religions we don't understand and hating people we don't know. And doing it in the name of Jesus. We have been here before.

My big issue is this- these Christians who claim religious and cultural superiority often do it by choosing to ignore the teachings of Jesus. They see his teachings about peace, love, justice, mercy, grace and forgiveness as a part of the biblical narrative that can be debated and diluted through filtering and watering down. Then they can use their religion to exclude people, when Jesus clearly preached inclusiveness. His call to love our neighbors means loving our gay neighbors, our black neighbors our Muslim neighbors and our really hard-to-love neighbors. Some would respond with Old Testament scriptures (which Jesus gave a new spin) or twist the teachings of Paul, saying Jesus is only part of the story. Well friends, listen up, because I am about to drop some serious theology on you. Jesus is not a part of the story- Jesus is the POINT of the story! If we are willing to ignore his teachings, then everything else falls apart. Yes, there is a theology of salvation and a standard of morality that Christ-followers seek to embrace. But as Paul wrote in that passage they read at all the weddings, without love none of that other stuff means skubala (Carl translation). When we use our arms to push away rather than embrace, we are ignoring his teachings.

I confess there are days when this all seems hopeless, when it feels like the church is failing badly and there is nothing we can do about it. We are too often part of the problem in this country. But we must not- we CANNOT- give up. We serve an awesome God, a God of light and love, and we must take back our faith from those who seek to pervert it. Back in the early 1980s the band Styx recorded a rock opera called Kilroy Was Here about a morally superior bad guy named Dr. Righteous. He knew all the rules but understood nothing about love, mercy and individual freedoms. The story followed a band of rebels who worked under dangerous conditions to get the truth out- a truth that Dr. Righteous controlled. My favorite song on the album (yes, even better than Mr. Roboto) shares its name with this blog post. The lyrics are below:

Haven't we been here before
Footsteps lead down to the note on the door
That says I can't stay here anymore

And haven't we felt this same way
Sure in our hearts, but afraid just the same
To say I can't stay one minute more

You might think that it's hopeless
Beyond our control
But that's not necessarily so
Can't you see there's a chance
For the daring young soul
Who's finally learned to say no

No, I won't be misused
Ignored or refused
And I won't just give up and let go

So tonight hold me close to you
And don't give up what's important to you
And as time rolls on
Nothing can stand in our way

And I believe if we learn from the past
We'd find keys to unlock every door
Dark would turn into light
We'd be strong
We'd be right

So tonight hold me close to you
And don't give up what's important to you
And as time rolls on
Nothing will stand in our way

And I believe if we learn from the past
We'd say haven't we been here before
Oh, and I believe if we open our hearts
We'd find keys to unlock every door
Hearts could change overnight
We'd be strong...We'd be right
So stay with me now
The future is ours
And we'll be the ones who go on

The time is now for a Jesus Revolution. It is time for us to be the daring souls who say no to this blatant misuse of Christianity. Politics can corrupt the church; they cannot corrupt Jesus. Exclusivity may be championed by our politicians, but it will never be championed by Jesus. It's time to take a stand and Take Back Our Church- #TBOC (It should really be take back HIS church, but TBOC is a much better hashtag). Christianity was never intended to be a religious organization, it was intended to be a movement founded on the life and teachings of a radical Rabbi who was also the Son of God. It's not about moral superiority, or cultural warfare or national exceptionalism. It's all about love. Think of those final words of the song as being a direct order from the Christ. "Stay with me now, the future is ours, and we'll be the ones who go on." More than ever, it has GOTS to be all about Jesus! And that's all I have to say about that...

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous3/28/2015

    Jesus IS the point. Love you, CJ! ~ Chris Cooper

  2. Anonymous3/28/2015

    You are so right. I don't believe this garbage.

    1. It's nice to be right every now and then!

  3. Anonymous3/29/2015

    Preach on, Carl!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm feeling led to step on some toes...


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