Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Earth, Peace

His name was Salem Boulos, and he was a Palestinian Christian living in Gaza.  On Nov. 19, Boulos- a father of five and a member of the Baptist church in Gaza- was killed when an Israeli bomb hit a nearby building.  According to an Ethics Daily article about Boulos released this morning, around 2000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip, and as you might imagine, the recent conflict has been brutal for them.  In short, people are dying.  People created in the image of God are dying.  People for whom Christ gave his life are dying.  People who share our communion table are dying.

A lot of the talk I hear surrounding this conflict revolves around Israel as "God's chosen people."  What I don't hear is any discussion of the purpose of Israel's chosenness.  The reason God chose Abraham was so that he might be "a blessing to the nations" (Gen. 12.2-3).  From the beginning, God's election of Israel grew out of his love for ALL the nations.  Lesslie Newbigin, a British theologian, has helped me wrestle with election more than anyone else.  Newbigin argues that God's election always serves a missional purpose.  When our view of election is divorced from our view of God's cosmic mission of redemption and wholeness, then God's choosing becomes little more than an arbitrary game of playing favorites.  In other words, God doesn't choose the particular because God only cares about the particular.  No, God chooses the particular to be his servant for the sake of all creation.  God cares about the world- ALL of it, and God uses particular people to reach the ends of the earth.  God is on the side of all creation, summoning all creation to draw near. 

One also wonders how we could miss so much of the New Testament which argues that in Jesus, Israel's calling and purpose found fulfillment.  Jesus did what Israel could not.  Jesus- who continually stepped over nationalistic boundaries, who called his followers to be peacemakers, who blessed all people through his life, death, and resurrection- epitomizes what it means to be chosen by God. 

Thus, the real issue at hand isn't what side of the conflict we are on, but which side of peace we are on.  The real issue is whether or not we have the courage to follow the One who always chooses peace.  To be clear, I'm not arguing for Israeli control over the Palestinians or Palestinian control of the Israelis (this cycle IS the problem), and I readily confess my shallow knowledge of what is an unimaginably complex conflict.  What I am calling for is a renewed commitment to peace from those who name Christ as Lord.  I am arguing for an allegiance to Christ and the ways of Christ that trumps all other allegiances.  I'm asking Jesus people to wrestle with the hard questions.  Will we continue to flippantly dream of "world peace," or will we begin the hard work of engaging the things which make for peace?  Will we allow national interests to take precedence over human lives?  Will we allow our views of Israel to shape our notions of peace or will we allow our views of peace to shape our notions of Israel?   

As the season of Advent slowly approaches, I'm beginning to hear echoes of the angels' song, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to ALL people."  One wonders if this old song could find a new choir in this season.  One wonders if that child of peace could be born anew in this season.  If he is, I'm betting that he nestles down amongst the peacemakers.     

Today, I pray that this peace might find its way around the whole world, and I hope it begins with the family of Salem Boulos.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Politics as Religion

This weekend, a friend (Brian Warfield) and I were discussing our political climate, namely its vitriolic tone, utter polarization, and totalitarian emphases.  Brian offered a provocative observation, one that has echoed in my mind these last few days.  He said, "It's almost like politics has become a sort of religion in and of itself."

Spring Creek serves as a polling place for our community.  Today, I've been astounded at the number of people who have walked through our facility.  A couple of times, our parking lot has mirrored an Easter crowd.  I began to wonder of today IS Easter for some people, those for whom the political process is of ultimate importance.  Tonight will be the grand conclusion to months of wandering in the campaign wilderness.

In some ways, politics does possess all the trappings of religion.  There are holy days to be sure, including primaries, debates, conventions, and elections.  Tonight, no matter who wins, some people will mourn the end of the world and some people will dance at the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  Each party has its fair share of evangelists, who zealously promote its good news.  These partisan mascots remind me of the old enthusiastic revivalist preachers who were more heat than light.  Party platforms all but confess certain creeds and confessions, deriving from the orthodoxy undergirding them.  Oftentimes, people attach messianic importance to the candidates, elevating them to superhuman status.  The conventions increasingly feel like worship services, with a liturgy comprised of music, testimonies, and speeches (which almost smell like sermons).  Each party has its share of canonized saints (cf. Bill Clinton/ Ronald Reagan).  Furthermore, in a time where religious lines are merging and blurring, political boundaries are hardening and ossifying, producing a society in which political affilitations are more defining than religious commitments.  In some places, one's seat at the communion table is determined more by their candidate of choice than the Lord of their lives.  Maybe Brian is right, politics has become something of a sacred enterprise, filling a void of meaning in a day when religion in its various manifestations is on the decline.  Has politics become a religion unto itself? 
Today, I cast my vote as a grateful citizen of a wonderful country, cognizant of the importance of presidential elections.  At the same time, I was reminded that American politics is at best penultimate when seen in the light of an eternal Kingdom which is already here and also yet to come. 

The world will not change tonight, no matter who is elected.  I'm reminded of this, not just on election day, but every Easter when I show up at an empty tomb to discover something more powerful than a popular vote or even the democratic process.  Every Easter, I behold an act of God, a new world, and a true Messiah who can do more than we can ask or imagine... or elect.