Well in the first post of this 2 part series on the book "Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals" by Shane Claibourne and Chris Haw I wrote that I expected the next post in about a week. Well that makes this post over a month late!
During the past month I have been chided by my son for taking so long to read it. "I can't believe how slow you read!", he would tell me. Then there was the day I was telling him why I was having a difficult time with the book. He was so disillusioned by what he thought I was saying. He said, "Not you too!" You see Bene has taken a lot of the underlying thoughts of this book and ran with them. Being 17, it is easy for him to grasp a radical thought like, "We must obey God, rather than man." It is right up his alley. Believe me, it is right up his alley.
But I really didn't have a hard time with the book in the way my son thought. No, actually the book was refreshing, albeit exceptionally challenging. It was, in many ways what I have always wanted to preach, but could not bring myself to do it.
Like Shane and Chris, I believe that there is an inherent conflict between the gospel and nationalism, politics and power. I believe that at it's core I can not reconcile a capitalism of greed and self interest with a gospel "economy" of love. I believe that through Christ I have become a part of a family that is trans-national and has no boarders. I believe that Christ and the family he has brought me into is the absolute key to my identity. I am a kingdom of God man first, foremost and only ... or at least that is what I believe. I believe that pursuit and acquisition of political power has corrupted the message of the church. I believe I have but one life to be lived and that life is hidden with Christ in God.
My problem was that reading the book struck a chord of dissonance between what I believe and how I live my life. I, in my faith, am an ordinary radical going way back. I gave up a 4 year full paid Air Force ROTC scholarship, because the first day I stepped into class written on the chalk board were these two sentences. "Do not kill." And, "Love your enemies." The instructor did not speak about these two Bible quotes, until the next class. But by then, I had already meditated on the conflict between the call to follow my savior who "while we were still enemies died for us" and the call of "Uncle Sam" who told me to kill his enemies. Next session when the instructor used these two quotes to introduce a discussion of "Just War" theology, I was already concerned about how I can possibly follow Jesus and the US (or any nation) at the same time.
Since that time I have timidly skirted around a direct confrontation of what I believe about patriotism, nationalism, war, power and wealth on the one hand, and following the King of Kings with uncompromising allegiance to following his manifesto of peace proclaimed in the gospels. It was the undercurrent of much of what I taught, gently confronting the dual allegiance to the American Dream and the Kingdom of God, but rarely would it come out in full form.
So what was my conflict with a book Jesus for President. While I have been believing many of these things, I have been pursuing the "American Dream" . And I haven't done a very successful job at that, since at the same time I have been pursuing a "Kingdom Vision". No matter what I believe, the reality is that I can not serve two different dreams/visions, just as I can not serve two masters. A better way to express this conflict with the book would be to say the book Jesus for President exacerbated a conflict in me.
I find my self wishing I were 17 again. I could stand at the crossroads and chose to follow Jesus ONLY. Gone would be the baggage I have accumulated during the past 30 years of dividing my energies between multiple conflicting paths. But I can not go back.
As I was finishing the book I began to think: I need to just work hard to extricate myself from my unsustainable lifestyle so my family and I can live more simply. Then we would be able to fully engage in intentionally living a life of loving my Lord and my neighbor. I said, "Yes, that is now my goal, I am going to strive to work my way out of the rat race." I went back to work after making my lunch time commitment, and descended quickly from anxiety to depression as I felt the weight of how difficut this would be. (Well, that's a bit of an overstatement, suffice it to say I had that queezy feeling in my stomach, couldn't see my way clear, and continued into at least deep remorse.)
I guess I can say the same thing as Paul in Romans 7:21 - 25a, for I feel the tension between the good I want to do and the reality of my day to day life.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death. Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (New Living Translation)
I am not sure how this conflict will be resolved exactly, but I know that Jesus is the one I follow and he is the one who is still at work transforming my life. I believe as Paul says later in his life in his letter to the Philippians (1:6), " I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."
Shane says the point of this book was to "provoke the Christian Political imagination." Let me give you a few quotes that did this for me. (By the way, this book is full of great quotes from Christians through out the ages and from many others as well. Too cool for a history buff like me!)
From the book ... "But it seems that John (in Revelation) has brought his reader so see the greatest sin of political imagination: thinking there is no other way except the filthy rotten system we have today. Is it possible we can't see the destructiveness of our economy, not because we don't know it's terrible, but because deep down, we feel that it's necessary and that therefore it's hopeless to criticize it?" (pg 153)
A nation that continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Dr. Martin Luther King (pg. 156)
"Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed ... This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron." Dwight D. Eisenhower (pg. 215)
"The divine banner and the human banner do not go together nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the Devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: the Lord has abolished the sword." Terulian , a 3rd century church father (pg 197)
On the same page the book asks, "HAS CAESAR COLONIZED YOUR IMAGINATION?"
This book is about taking seriously the call of Christ and translating the stories and the words we believe into action with great imagination.
The last section is called "A Peculiar Party". In it they tell stories of how ordinary people following Christ are living out faith in mustard seed fashion. Headings such as The Third Way of Jesus" speak of how without political power we through love and intentional living change the world. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King "To our most bitter opponents we say: " Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."
Shane and Chris share the need for Christians to practice revolutionary subordination and political imagination as in when a community of Christian challenged an unjust law targeting the homeless in Philadelphia. They had communion, ate pizza, and slept in the park in solidarity with the homeless after the city made it illegal for people to eat or sleep in the park . (pg. 294-295) The results were handcuffs with apologies from the police, jail, and the case and the law being tossed by a judge who's heart was challenged by love.
Other parts of this section speak of our need for new celebrations, language, heroes, holidays, rituals, liturgies, and new eyes to see. Examples are given of how ordinary followers of Jesus are living out their allegiance to Jesus as President.
As I conclude these thoughts let me summarize, this book is about the mixture of national politics (empire) and religion (the faith of Jesus Christ). Usually when the whole topic of Church and State comes up, people seem very concerned that mixing religion and politics will somehow hurt politics. The opposite is actually true. When politics, nationalism, state, empire, power mixes with Christianity, it is the faith that is worse off for it. Tony Campolo is quoted in this book and elsewhere as saying that "mixing politics and religion is like mixing horse manure and ice cream. You don’t hurt the manure, but the ice cream gets pretty messed up. " This is the danger. because when the empire gets religion it is religion that gets baptized by the state. Instead we need to exercise the power of the cross (self sacrifice. love, forgiveness, revolutionary subordination) and follow our commander in chief, Jesus.
For Part 1 of my thoughts click here ---> Jesus For President Blog Tour
This post is part of the Jesus For President Blog Tour. For other blogs on the tour see Jesus For President Blog Tour. At this site you will also find videos by Shane and other information about the upcoming book Tour. Shane and Chris are to be in Raleigh on July 22.