Posts

640px-John_8-32_IMG_1285

Religion As A Drug And The Authenticity Of Jesus

Introduction

About a month and a half ago, Raven friend Michael Hardin, author of The Jesus Driven Life and director of Preaching Peace, asked me, among others, to contribute to a volume he is editing about religion and addiction. As an icebreaker, he shared with us essays in which he critiques destructive elements that he finds within particular Christian denominations, particularly Charismatic Christianity. Although I agreed, I was a little hesitant. While it is exciting to be invited to contribute, I am not especially familiar with the Charismatic Christianity that Michael critiques, nor have I been trained to help people cope with addiction from either a medical or a pastoral point of view. However, I have dealt with addictive tendencies of my own. What I write, therefore, is observation and analysis from my own experience, filtered through an understanding of human behavior guided by mimetic theory.

There may be certain denominations or practices of Christianity that encourage and nurture addictive behavior more than others. However, I wish to focus on another angle and discuss the ways in which anyone can be vulnerable to using a religious belief, practice, or community in an unhealthy or addictive manner. I look back on my life and recognize ways in which I have done this. When I am honest with myself, I also recognize a continuing vulnerability to the temptation to “use” faith in a way that falls short of God’s intention for this amazing gift. The gift of faith should help us to magnify the love of God and recognize that love in others, to form relationships in the image of God whose Triune essence is the ultimate relationship of Love. However, all good gifts can be abused, and sometimes faith can be twisted in our minds to assert ourselves above others, providing us with temporary gratification that ultimately leaves us hollow. “Corruptio optimi pessima;” the corruption of the best is the worst, and when faith becomes an instrument of self-gratification and ultimately scapegoating, one of God’s greatest gifts operates against its intended purpose. I think if we are all honest with ourselves, our faith is at best on a continuing journey toward the ideal, with the pitfalls of temptation to use it as a drug or a weapon continually before us. This is my story of stumbling into those pitfalls, climbing (or being lifted) out, and keeping my eyes open, that I may avoid stumbling again.

My Story

Addiction could be seen as a misplaced search for wholeness. I can look back on my adolescence and see times when I have used certain religious groups to fill what I perceived as voids in my life, to feel a sense of belonging and boost a shaky self-esteem.

I cannot attribute these voids to any tragedy or trauma; my childhood was pleasant and I am close to my family. Yet from my childhood I had a complicated relationship with “the Church,” both in the sense of the Body of Christ as a whole, and in the more immediate sense of my place of worship. My home church was a place where I felt safe and loved, among true friends. It was also, however, a place of anxiety, where I would wrestle with doubts and fears I didn’t dare fully articulate. I attribute my experience of the church as a source of comfort and confusion to being the daughter of a faithful Christian and a stark atheist.

I mimetically desired the conviction of faith I perceived in the people I knew from church, including my mother and grandmother and their friends. But my desire was mixed with more than a little fear. It wasn’t my church, much less my family, that taught me to fear a “wrathful God.” The myths I came to believe about a God who dispensed punishment on his own Son and a hell of eternal torment were not my church’s teachings, but they are so embedded in our culture that unless they are directly refuted, they may become internalized anyway. For me, living with a doubting daddy “outside” the boundaries of the Christian faith, absorbing his intellectual disconnects with stories of floating zoos and parting seas, men walking on water and divine mathematical equations that didn’t add up (1+1+1 = 1), I couldn’t help but be doubtful. And my doubt terrified me, and kept my heart as well as my mind from embracing the God who, on the one hand was Love, but on the other hand, was ready to cast my father, me, and countless others into a pit of eternal fire if we didn’t believe.

I think the commingling of deep-seeded fear with the palpable aching for genuine faith kept me from walking away from God. Yes, part of me was afraid to make a real break from religion, because of what I perceived God might do to me if God existed! But another part of me deeply yearned to fully embrace and be embraced by the love that I knew was there, because I saw it in my mother and my church. This is the context of my faith journey, and it is in this context that I can say that there were times when religion could, at times, be like a drug to me.

Looking back, I can see that I was always looking for belonging, for validation, and ultimately for a sense of unconditional love. I found that love from my family, but I questioned it in God, and my doubt was reflected in all kinds of anxieties. I struggled with my self-esteem, sometimes wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t believe, and sometimes wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just embrace unbelief. I don’t know how many of my social or emotional insecurities could be traced back to this self-doubt, but certainly some of them could. The various faith communities I tried to embrace in turn embraced as much of me as they could – as much as I would let them. But rather than express my full self, I tried to suffocate my doubts under obsessive behavior, behavior that might have been harmless, had I not been using it to try to hide my doubt from myself. I threw myself into Christian music, decorated my walls with Bible verses and hymn lyrics, and made a grand and futile effort to redefine myself to myself as well as hide my weakness (as I perceived my doubt to be) from the world. I must stress that it was not the faith communities that fueled my addictive behavior. Rather, my addictive behavior was fueled by fears that I absorbed and pieced together, in spite of the love that I now realize ultimately saved me.

I repressed my doubts and fears in order to feel a sense of belonging. I wondered, if I tried hard enough, would I find God? Would God find me worthy enough to bless me with faith? I developed my identity around being faithful, hoping to live into it someday. “Faking” would be the wrong word. The longing for God was very real, and everything I learned and thought and said came from a place of truth. But repressing my doubts and fears, from myself at times and also from my friends, stunted my relationships. Even so, in spite of doubts that hindered me, I made genuine connections. Looking back, I now understand that the God I was so desperately seeking was in those connections – with Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, everyone – the whole time.

When I finally found the courage to express my doubts and fears honestly, I was able to open myself to the love that had been waiting for me the whole time. I was blessed in my college years to find friends with whom I finally dared to be fully honest about joys and qualms I had within my meandering faith journey. The acceptance I received as I gradually let down my guard was a grace I slowly came to perceive. I found my anxiety fading as I relaxed into the love of my friends, and the theological questions that swam through my mind lost the baggage of fear that had long clung to them like a parasite. It was in finding myself loved that I began to understand the meaning of “God is Love,” and gradually trust that Love was holding onto me and surrounding me. My trust continues to grow and mature, and my love for Jesus is ever deepening, a reflection of his own love, magnified to me in the people who make me who I am.

The Authenticity of Jesus

 “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” Jesus tells us. The truth is that we are all deeply, truly, unconditionally loved, and understanding that truth is essential to being healthy and whole. Because love is a relational quality, we cannot be “whole” as isolated individuals. We are made in the image of the divine relationship of Love, the Trinity, designed to live in authentic relationship with one another. Addictions and addictive behaviors, I believe, are false paths to fulfillment that collapse us into ourselves and preclude authentic relationships in all of their messy, vulnerable complexity.

A faith community at its best can be a wonderful place to nurture authentic relationship, magnifying the love of God. But to repress fears and doubts to fit into such a community is to be disingenuous to one’s self and others, and stifle true relationship. If we truly seek to serve God and one-another in our faith communities, we must make sure we are contributing to an environment in which we are encouraging genuineness, accepting faults, listening to doubts, providing safe space for fears, and welcoming honesty. There is room for even the best churches to grow in this respect, helping those who go to church in search of belonging to recognize that such a search is joyfully unnecessary, because we already belong with God.

Of course, there are many faith communities that fall short of this vocation. There are churches that, whether unconsciously or deliberately, prey on the human desire for validation rather than preach that God’s unconditional grace is sufficient and universal. Churches that teach that God’s love is limited, erect boundaries between who is in and who is out, and effectively preach sacrifice over mercy, will inevitably mold some parishioners who either cling to a veneer of faith out of fear, or use faith as a source of pride over and against others. Both of these extremes are mirror-images of one-another, because both fear and self-righteousness inhibit intimate connection with God and neighbor. As in any other addiction, any sense of fulfillment in such an environment would be false.

When Paul instructs us to imitate the humility of Christ in his great hymn to the Philippians (ch 2, vs. 5 – 11), he is not giving us a formula for earning God’s approval. He is inviting us to consider Jesus Christ as a model not only of humility, but of confidence in the unconditional love of God that makes such humility possible. It was assurance of the love of God and a mission to share that love with the whole world that drove Jesus to “empty himself” and “become obedient unto death.” What drove Jesus to death was pushing the boundaries of what was considered to be God’s favor. Authorities and powers that thought God’s grace was bound to certain rules, certain people, and ultimately a certain sacrificial system, condemned Jesus for going beyond such boundaries. He embraced lepers and sinners and taught a love of enemies, drawing those on the margins into the circle of grace that some had thought to reserve for themselves. That is how Jesus emptied himself, forsaking the temptation to cling to human measurements of piety or prestige to embrace the marginalized. That is how he obeyed unto death the voice of Love. The consequence of such obedience was incurring the wrath of a humanity that had operated on exclusion and sacrifice. To defy a world order based on sacrifice, Jesus took a risk on the love of God. The resurrection was not only Jesus’ vindication, but the revelation of God’s love embracing the whole world, including those whom we would exclude.

Jesus’s assurance of God’s love allowed him to live authentically, free from searching for the validation of others. Rather than seeking identity in people or objects of obsession, Jesus knew himself in the love of his Father, in the love of the heavenly Father of all. To know ourselves to be in that love and to live it out in giving to others is to fulfill our vocations as image-bearers of God.

Jesus, indeed, is not a drug. Jesus is the true human and the perfect model of authenticity. Following Jesus is not “using” him; it is not seeking a euphoric experience to wash away loneliness. Following Jesus is about embracing the vulnerability necessary to be fully honest and fully open to others, embracing those who think themselves beyond the bounds of love, and receiving such an embrace when you feel beyond love yourself. Jesus is not a quick fix for our ailments but the Way of abundant life, because he models for us the freedom to embrace the love in which we are created. To follow him is not to “become high” but to undergo metanoia, to gradually relinquish the mythology of a world that compels us to seek our identities in objects and the approval of others, and compete for a limited share of prosperity. As we serve others and allow ourselves to be served, letting fear and pride fall away, the grip of such lies loosens its hold on us. The truth of Jesus, made known to us in our imitation of him, shows us that in relinquishing our fruitless searches – our addictions and obsessions – to the love of God, we find ourselves already found.

Image: Photo by Billy Hathorn. Available via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Venrun

Unbridled Mercy

My heart breaks for a world scourged by violence.

Duped and deceived by the satan inside us.[1]

Accuse![2] Convict! Point fingers at “them.”

It’s us who are just! and they are condemned.

 

Our violence is good—it’s righteous and true.

God’s on our side and “they’ll” know that soon too.[3]

With power and might we lord over others,[4]

Accusing the prophets of being false brothers.[5]

 

Woe to those who confuse Christ for religion,

Who speak devilish things about those already forgiven.

Woe to those who demand blood in Christ’s name,

Who spit venom and poison[6], curse others, and blame.

 

The grace you demand is abundant and infinite

Yet the grace you give seems rather impotent.[7]

The grace of God is unfathomable[8] and yet,

You contend Love offers an eternal threat.[9]

 

A gospel with violence is unfounded and false.

It’s the opposite of Christ—a religious farce.

The way of the Christ is the way of the cross,

But in knowing the Christ, all else is loss.[10]

 

The way of Christ is preemptive grace.

Grace in the midst of a spit to the face.[11]

This model of forgiveness is what sets us free,

Free to love all with unbridled mercy.

 

[1] For a detailed expose on what/who is “the satan,” see Michael Hardin’s eBook aptly entitled, “The Satan.” It can be found at http://www.preachingpeace.org/images/FB-Posts-on-The-Satan-e-Book1.pdf
[2] The satan, or “ha satan” in Hebrew, translates to “the accuser.”
[3] I am referring to the three major Abrahamic religions, which have many within the respective faiths who claim they are the chosen people and thus, that they have God on their side.
[4] See Matthew 20:25 – 27, where Jesus tells his followers they are not to lord over others, as the Gentiles do, but they are to become great by becoming as a servant.
[5] See Luke 11:50 – 51.
[6] See Matthew 23.
[7] Matthew 7:1 – 2.
[8] See Romans 11:32 – 33.
[9] I contend that since God is love (1 John 4:8), eternal conscious torment as a final fate for some humans is incompatible.
[10] See Philippians 3:8.
[11] See Matthew 26:67

Image: Created by Venrun. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

pregnant-woman-1

Why God is Your Mother

Beware!

People like me are out to get you with our radical feminist agenda! What’s that agenda? I call God Mother.

As Father Dwight Longnecker warns, people like me “will continue with this radical feminist agenda until they are actually holding hands with witchcraft and worshipping devils.”

What?!? I guess calling God Mother is a slippery slope, right? First it’s “Hi Mom! You sure are swell.” Then it’s off to the House of Satan for a little devil worship!

Father Longnecker is critiquing an Anglican movement that wants to call God Mother. He claims the “feminists” in the movement are mean because “their tactics are clearly not of the Holy Spirit…They started pressure groups, ran publicity campaigns, bullied their way into political positions, used tactics of playing the victim combined with emotional blackmail to get their way.” According to Father Longnecker, “This is the way progressives work everywhere, and [you should] never appease these people.”

But apparently the Holy Spirit is totally okay with creating fear among your audience by claiming that those who disagree with you practice witchcraft and worship devils because they call God Mother.

Right.

Here’s the thing. God is your Father and your Mother and God transcends those categories because God is neither literally male nor female. But Father Longnecker thinks calling God Father and Mother is just too confusing for people. Apparently, the fact that God is One, yet Three, but really One…that isn’t confusing at all. But to call God Father and Mother…we can’t wrap our minds around that.

Father Longnecker is right that when his disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, he responded that they should pray to the Father. Father Longnecker claims this is his slam dunk against calling God Mother. Jesus didn’t teach us to pray to our Mother, but to our Father.

But it’s not a slam dunk against praying to God our Mother. After all, Jesus never said, “You can’t call God Mother. That would make you devil worshippers!”

In fact, Jesus referred to God as a Mother-like figure, just as he referred to God as a Father-like figure. He refers to himself, who Christians believe to be the second person of the Trinity, as a mother hen. He also claims God is like a woman in search of her lost coin.

Of course, we could take Jesus literally when he calls God Father. But he was speaking metaphorically. When Jesus spoke of God as Father, He didn’t mean that God is a male. He meant that God is Father-like in His love for His children.

But Jesus also claimed that God is Mother-like in Her desire to find and care for Her children.

And then there’s the Old Testament. Take Job, for example. God asked him a series of rhetorical questions, “Where were you…when the sea burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment, the dense clouds its wrap?…From whose belly does ice come; who gave birth to heaven’s frost?”

Whose womb is God talking about? Not Job’s. Every biblical scholar will tell you that God was referring to Himself, err, in this case, Herself.

And then there’s Isaiah where God refers to Herself as being “like a woman in labor.” And, in one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture, Isaiah continues to declare God’s Motherhood. While in Exile, Isaiah’s people thought God had forgotten them. But God responded that She hadn’t forgotten them. In fact, God comforted them by telling them about Her motherly compassion, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

If you need the words attributed to Moses, then a little Motherly reprimanding from Deuteronomy will suffice, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Did you know that the Old Testament uses the word “spirit” 84 times in ways that Christian tradition assumes to refer to the Holy Spirit? From those 84 times, the context refers to the spirit in masculine form nine times. The other 75 times the context refers to the Holy Spirit as “explicitly feminine or indeterminable (due to lack of a verb or adjective.)” In Judges, for example, the spirit is always feminine. In Genesis 1:2 where the term “Spirit of God” first appears, it is in feminine form. And in Proverbs, the Wisdom of God, which Christian tradition understands to be the Holy Spirit, is personified as a woman.

To refer to God as Mother isn’t part of some modern feminist agenda. It’s the Bible’s agenda. And Christian tradition isn’t afraid to continue this biblical agenda.

Julian of Norwhich, whom the Catholic Church calls a Doctor of the Church, claimed in her book, Revelations of Divine Love, that God is our Mother. She even claimed that Jesus is our true Mother!

It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good.

Jesus Christ, therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts. And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never cease to surround us.

Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.

If calling God your Mother confuses you like it confuses Father Longnecker, then please feel free to continue just calling God Father. It is a great way to approach our Heavenly Father.

But, if you can hold together the metaphorical paradox that God is our Father and Mother, then go ahead and call God your Mother.

It doesn’t mean that you’re a devil worshipper. In fact, She who gave birth to you will appreciate it.

Stay in the loop! Like the Raven Foundation on Facebook!

Image copyright: tanaonte / 123RF Stock Photo

ramadan kareem

Happy Ramadan! Encountering God’s Care through Islam

Happy Ramadan!

Ramadan Kareem means “Generous Ramadan” and points to the generosity of God in Islam. God’s generosity encourages Muslims to be generous people.

In the video below I discuss the importance of Ramadan. Ramadan critiques the popular misunderstanding that the God of Islam is a God of power, might, and conquest. Rather, Ramadan claims that the God of Islam is the God who cares about the poor, hungry, and marginalized of culture. Muhammad critiqued the pre-Islamic Arabian view that Fate was in control of life. The Jahaliyya, or Age of Ignorance, believed fate controlled who was rich and powerful and who was poor and marginalized. There was little incentive for the rich to care for the poor. Muhammad challenged this view, and fasting during the month of Ramadan forces Muslims to identify with and care for the poor, weak, and hungry by living in a generous way towards them.

I created this video during Ramadan a few years when Ramadan began in August, which is why I stated that Ramadan starts in August. This year it begins in June. The beginning of Ramadan changes each year because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar phases, not on solar phases.

Screen capture from Caitlyn Jenner's Twitter page.

A Transgender God: Reflections on God and Caitlyn Jenner

Screen capture from Caitlyn Jenner's Twitter page.

Screen capture from Caitlyn Jenner’s Twitter page.

 

 

The Internet is in an uproar about Caitlyn Jenner. And, if you’re like me, you have some Caitlyn Jenner fatigue. You may be thinking, “Not another Caitlyn Jenner story.” So, let me tell you, this isn’t another post about Caitlyn’s transgenderism. This post is about God’s transgenderism. God is transgender.

Why God is Transgender

Some may be offended by the idea that God is transgender, but it’s actually a theologically orthodox statement. “Trans” is a prefix that simply means “across,” “beyond,” or “through.”

God is neither male nor female. God transcends gender. God goes “beyond” the binaries of male and female gender. Thus, God is transgender and if we are created in God’s image, as we read in Genesis 1, then we are transgender, too. Remember the creation story:

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

The God who transcends gender created humanity in God’s gender-transcending image, male and female, not male or female.

God goes across the human binaries of male and female gender to include both genders and every gender identity in between. Gender identity is fluid and much of gender identity is dependent upon cultural norms to tell us who we are and who we are not.

We often use the dualities of “male and female” gender to create a distinction of who is included and who is excluded from certain roles in society. For example, I was born a male, but what does it mean to be a man? For many people, to be a man means that you must fight and protect yourself and your family. When danger comes, men must “man up” and defend themselves, their family, or their country. The manliest of men aren’t afraid of anything. According to many in our culture, that is the universal truth of what it means to be a man.

A Transgender Jesus

If that’s the truth of what it means to be a man, then Jesus wasn’t manly. He didn’t “man up” by protecting himself. Jesus was transgender in the fact that he transcended cultural standards of gender. Jesus’ culture had diverse messianic expectations, but many in his culture, including his disciples, expected the Messiah to be a manly warrior king who would free Jerusalem from their Roman oppressors. No one expected the Messiah to be killed. That just wouldn’t be manly.

If Jesus were manly by cultural standards, he would have led an army against the Roman occupiers. He would have defended his homeland, his family, his friends, even his Manly God against the Romans. But Jesus transcended any manly expectation that would have him lead a violent army against his enemies. Rather, he lived out his teaching to “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek.” He didn’t fight back with violence. Rather, when this King was high and lifted up on his throne of glory, he decreed his final judgment upon those who killed. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus said from the cross, “for they know not what they do.”

Jesus Is Not the King We Were Looking For

Jesus confuses my expectations of gender roles. I don’t want Jesus as my King. I want a King who will man up. I want a King who will fall into the gender norm of being a man and defend his people against evil oppressors. I want a King who will reinforce gender norms and my desire to kill the bad guys.

But that’s not the King that Christians get. Christians get a King who nonviolently nurtures humanity into a future of love and compassion.

Does that mean Jesus had feminine qualities? Yes. And did he have masculine qualities? Yes. Jesus took upon himself the fullness of humanity. With a literal reading of Genesis 1, we can say that Jesus was the truly human one, whom God created to be male and female.

What about Caitlyn Jenner?

What does this mean for Caitlyn Jenner? God is transgender, which means that God crosses over our dualities of male and female to include those binaries and everything in between and beyond. That means that Caitlyn Jenner is part of the human and divine experience. But really, I’m not concerned about Caitlyn Jenner. I’m more concerned about our cultural responses.

Why are so many scandalized by her story? Some say it’s a publicity stunt that she hopes to get paid for. Others claim she is deliberately sinning against God’s will. Others claim she is just confused.

As Benjamin Corey states, none of us is in a position to judge Caitlyn Jenner. We don’t know her whole story; only God does. So we shouldn’t be judging her.

Rather, we should embrace her and all transgender people. Why? Because God already has. It is we humans who use categories such as gender to exclude and include others in loving community, but God doesn’t work that way. God seeks to include everyone, no matter anyone’s gender identity. In fact, God revealed at creation and through Jesus that to be truly human means to transcend cultural norms of gender. To be truly human means to be transgender.

I don’t know whether Caitlyn believes in God or not. But I do know this, the God who transcends gender embraces everyone, especially those who, just like God, are transgender.

For more, read my article Bruce Jenner and God’s Response to Transgender People.

adam bc 1

My Baccalaureate Address: A Life Worth Living: On Tragedy, Revenge, and Love

I was invited by Linfield College, my alma mater, to deliver the Baccalaureate Address to the graduating class of 2015. The text was based on Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 5:43-48. This was a great honor for me and I wanted to share the text with you –

My soon to be fellow Linfield graduates, it’s an honor to be with you tonight. It feels great to be back on this beautiful campus. I’m biased, but I deliver lectures on campuses throughout the country and I think this is the most beautiful campus in the US. The buildings, the grass, the trees, the flowers…The ground keepers do an amazing job keeping Linfield beautiful. I want to thank Chaplain David Massey and President Hellie for inviting me to talk with you tonight.

Tomorrow you will be a Linfield College graduate. And I want us to take a deep breath, step back, and acknowledge this accomplishment in your life. Your family, friends, and loved ones have come to help you celebrate. Professors, staff, and administrators who have walked with you through your Linfield experience are here to continue the journey with you.

Here’s an important stat for you – Do you realize that only 7 percent of people in the world have a college degree?

Let that sink in for a moment. 7 percent. Congratulate yourself. And give your neighbor a high five. Say to your neighbor, “You are the 7 percent.”

I recently had a conversation with a Linfield graduate’s father. This man’s daughter didn’t actually want to go to Linfield. She was enticed by some other schools. He said something that rang true with my Linfield experience. He said that when he met with the administration at those other schools, they boasted about how great their school was. They each claimed to be well respected colleges and they bragged about the famous people on their Board of Trustees.

But when he met with the administration at Linfield, they didn’t talk about how great Linfield was. Rather, they talked about how great their students were and how much Linfield cared about them. The Dean of Students gave concrete details about how Linfield cares about its students and wants them to succeed in college and in life. This man was sold by a sense that Linfield genuinely cares about its students and with some persuading, his daughter attended Linfield. And I’m glad she did because during my junior year I asked her if she’d like to go to Taco Bell and then do some shopping at Walmart with me – because that’s how I show people a good time. Surprisingly, she said yes. I knew then that she was the one. Three years later I asked her to marry me. Surprisingly, she said yes again. I’ve been married to my Linfield sweetheart for 13 years. We still love Taco Bell, but now Carrie and I do most of our shopping at Costco.

But my father-in-law’s statement that Linfield cares about its students was proved true by my experience. I first walked onto Linfield’s campus as a student 18 years ago. If you are like me, the four years I spent at Linfield went by so fast. My freshman year I moved into Campbell Hall – did anyone here live in Campbell? – yeah, give it up for Campbell Hall everyone…My sophomore year I became a Resident Advisor. Any RA’s here? If you were an RA give yourselves a round of applause. Okay, the rest of you can boo. Please know that we RAs hated writing you up. It hurt us much more than it hurt you…

God, Suffering, and Answers that Matter

I began Linfield as a history major. I enjoyed history, but at the end of my sophomore year I experienced a personal tragedy. My mother died after a 10 year battle with cancer. I began to ask questions about God, suffering, and death. If God is good, then why is there so much evil in the world? Does God even care? Why is there cancer? Why do people suffer? And what, if anything, am I supposed to do about it?

Linfield didn’t so much offer me intellectual answers to those questions about my mother’s death. It offered me something so much more important. It offered me care. It offered me love.

I remember telling my friends at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when she died. There must have been 80 of us in that small living room. People gasped as I reported her death from earlier in the day. Then there were hugs. I needed those hugs.

My junior year I switched my major to religious studies. My professors Bill Apel, Bill Millar, David Massey, and Stephen Snyder were much more than professors. They were caring guides who offered a compassionate presence. They walked with me as I struggled through the emotions of processing my mother’s death. They allowed space for me to ask my questions, but they didn’t force answers on me. They cared. And that was the most important answer that they could have given.

My professors taught me how to care for others during our classes, too. For example, I took World Religions with Bill Apel. We got to the section on Buddhism and Bill said to the class, “Here’s what Buddhism is like.” He then stood up, left our classroom, and shut the door. That, in and of itself is very Buddhist, but after a few seconds, he reentered, looked at us, and said, “Hi. How are you doing today?”

I remember thinking in that moment, “Oh, that’s cool. Buddhism is awesome. I want to become a Buddhist. I think I’ll convert…” But I was too lazy.

My professors were very important to me, and staff members were just as important in being a compassionate presence during this time. Delaine Hein, Dan Fergueson, Dan Preston, Jeff Mackay, and so many others offered caring words and a shoulder to cry on. Even the president at the time, Vivian Bull, spent extra time with me as I grieved.

As I continued struggling through my personal tragedy, a national tragedy struck our nation. At the beginning of my senior year, on 9/11/2001, a group of religious fanatics flew a plane into the World Trade Center. I remember waking up on that horrific morning in our HP apartment and walking to the living room. My three roommates were already there with their eyes glued to the television screen as the tragedy unfolded.

Once again, in the face of tragedy, I witnessed Linfield’s care for students. David Massey performed a memorial service on the Oak Grove. Many students, faculty, and professors came to mourn. During the ceremony, David asked if anyone would like to make any comments. A commuter student from Newberg stepped forward. She was visibly shaken and in tears as she told us about a family member who moved to New York to work in the towers. He was killed as the towers fell. I remember her weeping in front of us. Her pain was so real and there was nothing we could do to take her pain away. And so we tried to care for her the best way we knew how – we listened to her story and tried to offer her a compassionate presence.

A few days later there was an all campus meeting in the basement of Melrose Hall to talk about religion and reconciliation. There were Muslim students there. They expressed deep sorrow that people hijacked their religion and caused such destruction and death. The grief on their faces was palpable. They were in pain. And in the midst of their pain my Muslim classmates didn’t need any condemnation or hostility. They needed care. They needed love. They needed acceptance. They needed a compassionate presence. And that’s what we tried to give them.

Life’s Most Important Lessons

It was at Linfield where I learned my most important lessons in life. It’s where I learned how to care about myself and others. It’s where I learned how to deal with tragedy. And you have learned that, too. You have gone through personal tragedies and tragedies that have struck this community. And in the face of that tragedy, Linfield has taught you one of its most important life lessons: how to care for yourself and others by offering a compassionate presence.

Since graduating from Linfield, I’ve learned that it’s not a matter of *if* tragedy will strike again. It’s a matter of *when.* For example, during the last year, I have worked as a hospital chaplain in Eugene. My first call to our Emergency Department was for a 23 year old patient who had a massive heart attack during a Ducks football game.

Unfortunately, he died. At age 23. My job in that moment, was to put into action what Linfield taught me – my job was not to come up with answers, but to be a compassionate presence and journey with his girlfriend, his family, and his friends as they grieved his death.

Listen, I don’t tell you that story to scare you. I’m telling you that story because life is fragile. Life is a precious gift.

As far as I know, we only have this one precious life. Your mission is to make this one precious life you have a life worth living. This is the wisdom I’ve learned from my elderly patients at the hospital who are nearing death. They don’t fear death. Instead, many of them fear that they haven’t lived a life worth living. By the phrase “life worth living,” none of these elderly patients mean such things as: Did I make enough money? Could I have bought a bigger house? Could I have exerted more political influences? Could I have won more arguments during my life?

No, what they mean by a “life worth living” is did they care enough for people. Did they love others enough? Have they reconciled with family and friends?

Because, you see, a life worth living isn’t based on worldly standards of success. I know many rich people who are consumed with their money. They’re unhappy people. They are isolated and lonely because they have alienated themselves from family and friends. They are bitter and angry because they live in fear of losing their worldly success.

And I know a lot of rich people who aren’t consumed with their money. They are generous people. They don’t live in fear of losing anything. Rather, they give their time, money, and talent to help make their community a better place.

A Life Worth Living

So, please hear this: The world doesn’t need any more bitter, fearful, and angry people in it. The world doesn’t need any more people who define themselves by their money, cars, houses or other material goods. Rather, the world needs more people to live a life worth living by being what Linfield has taught us to be: a compassionate presence as we care for ourselves and others.

Our Hebrew Scripture text this evening puts it like this: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We tend to rush to the second part of the verse that commands us to love your neighbor as you love yourself. That’s a crucial statement, but notice the first part of the verse – “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.” That’s so important because seeking revenge and bearing a grudge is what we humans tend to do. It is our natural default position. It’s often hard to be a compassionate presence because we tend to be reactionary when we feel someone has done us wrong. When someone insults us, we want to return the insult. When someone hits us, we want to hit back. Just look at the news. We see this reaction of revenge on a personal, national, and international scale every day.

Now, I don’t know from personal experience, but I’ve heard that even married couples get into bitter cycles of revenge. At least, I’ve seen it on television. One person might say something in the morning that the other person finds insulting. Then for the rest of the day, the person who felt insulted will think of ways to get revenge, usually by bringing up old wounds. She might bring up his ex-girlfriend. Or he might bring up how she got fired from her previous job. This cycle of revenge can consume any relationship, but especially a marriage, with a spirit of bitterness and hostility, as opposed to a spirit of love and compassion.

We know from human history that this cycle of revenge easily escalates on a personal, communal, national, and international level until real damage is done resulting in horrific violence and tragedy. But it doesn’t have to escalate. Someone can be courageous enough to stop the cycle of revenge.

And the world needs you to stop the cycle. The world needs you to live out the phrase, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.” We’ve been seeking revenge and bearing grudges since the beginning of human history. The human reactionary position is to blame someone else for our problems. We scapegoat others thinking that if we get rid of them our problems will be solved. Unfortunately, when we defeat one enemy, another one emerges to take its place.

That’s the nature of revenge and the wisdom behind our scriptural passage. Revenge never solves our problems; it only creates more problems and tragedies in the world. A life of revenge and grudges is not a life worth living.

Which is why the second part of our passage is so important. Instead of seeking revenge and bearing a grudge, the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus even extends this message by saying, “Love your enemies.” I’m convinced that the world would be a much better place if a group of people actually decided that they would stop seeking revenge and instead seek to be a compassionate presence in the world as they love others as they love themselves. Whether your next step in life is a job, graduate school, travel the world, or move back in with your parents, to love your neighbor as you love yourself is your basic life mission.

Now, I’m not trying to tell you to solve the world’s problems. God knows we have some serious and complicated problems. If we try to solve the world’s problems we can begin to feel overwhelmed and hopeless about them.

Don’t begin by trying to solve the world’s problems. A life worth living begins by managing your own problems. You can’t control how others will react to you. The only person you can control is yourself. So, when you find yourself reacting by seeking revenge or bearing a grudge, stop. Don’t project your own problems onto others. Don’t scapegoat. Don’t blame someone else. Instead, remember what Linfield and our scriptural passages have taught you. Put down your verbal bullets and bombs. There are enough bullets and bombs in the world. We don’t need any more.

What we need are people who care. The world needs the 7 percent of people with college degrees to use our brains to find creative ways to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s what the world needs from you because the world’s transformation starts with each of us managing our own impulse to revenge and learning how to respond to tragedy and violence with love and care.

So, may you take your Linfield experience with you knowing that you have a mission. May you move forward with your life, refusing to participate in the ugly cycle of revenge and scapegoating. And in the face of tragedy and violence that you will experience, may you live a life worth living as you participate in the spiritual tradition that calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Amen

The Theology of a Biker Gang

 

Five rival biker gangs descended upon a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday. Hundreds of gang members began stabbing, beating, and shooting each other. Weapons included chains, knives, clubs, and guns. When the fight ended, 9 people were dead, 18 were sent to the hospital, and more than 170 people were arrested.

Waco police Sargent W. Patrick Swanton stated, “In my nearly 35 years of law enforcement experience, this is the most violent and gruesome scene that I have dealt with.”

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the US.

And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:

God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

We can easily dismiss that slogan as a biker gangs attempt to intimidate, but do not dismiss it. That pithy statement tells a profound truth about both God and humanity.

Anthropology of a Biker Gang: Bandidos Don’t Forgive

Let’s start with the anthropology. When it comes to forgiveness, we are all much more like a biker gang than we’d like to admit. Take what happened in Waco, for example. A group of rival gangs come together to fight because they have a relationship based on hostility. They refuse to forgive because biker gangs respond to violence with violence. That’s the pattern that they have developed.

It’s not just biker gangs who have that violent pattern. We all do. Violence is a human problem. For example, our political and judicial systems are based on that pattern. The same principle of retaliation that consumes biker gangs also consumes our culture.

Biker gangs such as the Bandidos are a violent and evil menace to society precisely because they refuse to forgive. And whenever we refuse to forgive, we become just like a violent and evil biker gang that is a menace to society.

Bandidos don’t forgive because we don’t forgive. Whenever someone insults us, we tend to insult back. When someone hits us, we tend to hit back. When someone attacks our country, we attack back. That’s the reciprocal pattern we tend to fall into when it comes to violence. For example, will our society respond to Sunday’s biker gang violence with forgiveness? No, we will respond with violent punishment of our own – maybe even the death penalty. Which leads me to ask some question:

How would the biker gang situation be different if one of the gangs decided to respond with forgiveness?

How would my life be different if I responded to insults with forgiveness?

How would the world situation be different if on 9/11 the United States decided to respond with forgiveness?

We will never know the answer to that last question. But what we do know is that our violent response didn’t solve the problem of violence that we face; in fact, it may only have perpetuated it.

Theology of a Biker Gang: God Forgives

And here’s the good news: God forgives. The theological truth of the Bandidos slogan is that God isn’t like us. God doesn’t hold on to grudges. God forgives.

But please understand that God’s forgiveness doesn’t make violence okay. Rather, it stops the cycle of violence by refusing to play the game. The best example of God’s radical forgiveness is on the cross. Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

God forgives.

That’s true. But the truth that the Bandidos biker gang doesn’t understand, and what we so often fail to understand as well, is that God calls us to participate in a culture of divine forgiveness, as opposed to a culture of human violence. The first step is to realize that we all have a tendency toward violence in thought, word, and deed; and so we are all in need of receiving God’s forgiveness. Then, as we receive from God’s well of abundant forgiveness, we are able to share that forgiveness with others.

There is an urgency in our current situation. What happened between 5 biker gangs in Waco is a microcosm of our world situation. Our hope in the face of violence is in following the God of radical forgiveness. As René Girard prophetically says in his book The Scapegoat, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be enough time.”

Bruce Jenner and God’s Response to Transgendered People

jennerCaryn Riswold wrote a moving article about Bruce Jenner’s interview last night with Dianne Sawyer. In the interview, Bruce states, “For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman. People look at me differently. They see you as this macho male, but my heart and my soul and everything I do in life – it is part of me. That female side of me. That’s who I am.”

Caryn’s article is titled “How Should People of Faith Respond to Bruce Jenner?” It is a compassionate response to Jenner and all people who identify as transgendered. She states that all people are created in the image of God and so deserve our love and compassion. Sadly, many religious people disagree with Caryn, insisting that Jenner is confused, crazy, or just out for attention.

Caryn worries that Jenner will be mocked and ridiculed. She states that people of faith should not respond with ridicule, but rather with acceptance and compassion. Caryn writes

Pay attention to the one who isn’t laughing. The one who looks upset. The one who is desperately trying to escape the gaze and the mockery.

Pay attention to the ones on the margins. Whose image are they created in?

As I read Caryn’s article, my thoughts went to someone I met last year. A friend of mine asked me to visit his friend – a woman in her 50s. My friend described her as being depressed and questioning if her existence mattered to anyone. “Oh, and she’s transgendered,” my friend explained. “Her parents are conservative Christians and have rejected her. I don’t know how she will respond to a pastor, but she needs to talk with someone.”

My heart broke for this woman before I even met her. A lifetime of being rejected, mocked, and “on the margins” of her Christian family.

This was my first conscious experience with a transgendered person. Before I met her at our local coffee house, I said a brief prayer and I reminded myself of my job – to be a nonjudgmental presence as I “pay attention to the ones on the margins.”

Surprisingly, she opened up right away about her parents and siblings. She experienced rejection from her family and church, yet she had friends who introduced her to God’s unconditional love. She knew, deep in her bones, that while her family and church had rejected her, God hadn’t. God responded to her as a transgendered woman by accepting her and loving her for who she was.

Sometimes I take my role in ministry too seriously. I start to think that it’s my job to minister and heal people. But it’s in moments when I sit across from a transgendered woman who tells me about God’s unconditional love that I discover that I am the one who is being ministered to. Here was a transgendered woman who had been scapegoated, despised, and rejected. Yet she pointed beyond that hatred to the unconditional, unmerited, gracious love of God.

I found myself holding her hand. Man. Woman. Transgendered. Whatever. In the face of God’s holy love that this woman was mediating to me, those constructs didn’t matter.

What mattered was the truth that transcends our social constructs that divides the world into us and them – that God loves us as we are and for who we are. Period.

But it’s hard to live this way, isn’t it? After all, there are those people who continue to be judgmental, who do divide the world into us “good, normally gendered people” and those “bad, abnormally confused people like Bruce Jenner.”

And so, the question Caryn asks about how we should respond to Bruce Jenner is crucially important. Another crucially important question is “How should people of faith respond to those we think are judgmental?”

Here’s what I learned from the transgendered woman I met: You don’t respond by mimicking harsh judgment. You don’t mock the mockers, marginalize the marginalizers, or scapegoat the scapegoaters. Rather, you respond by mediating God’s unconditional love to them.

That doesn’t mean we ignore the pain of being marginalized. No, we talk about our pain because that’s the way we move toward healing. And as we talk and move toward healing, we begin to discover that those who judge us have their own pain and their own wounds that they project on us. What they need isn’t for us to mimic their judgment, but for us to be vessels of the love of God.

It’s in that love, the love modeled by a transgendered woman, that we are healed from our pain, our wounds, and our judgmentalism.

Repent For Lent: Renewing Our Minds With Mimetic Theory – Holy Week (Poem)

Palm Cross. Image from 123rf.com

Palm Cross. Image from 123rf.com

Dear Friends,

For a final “Repent For Lent” post, I offer a Palm/Passion Sunday Meditation that I delivered two years ago in the form of poem. These are some Girardian reflections on how Christ “takes away the sin of the world” by his death. The resurrection is crucial, but during Holy Week, I want to leave us in the dark and terrible recognition of our sin as we “look upon the one we’ve pierced.” Still there is the promise of forgiveness and redemption, and also the recognition that God is Love, which can only be recognized by looking back upon all of this from the perspective of Easter. I have enjoyed every step of this Lenten walk with you, my friends, and though this is the end of the series, it is not the end of the journey. During the Easter season, I am considering some posts on what it means to live into the Resurrection, although what form that will take is still undecided. In the meantime, I offer for your reflection this

Passion Sunday Meditation: 

In the beginning, there was Love.
And Love was joyful, and Love was playful.
Lover and Beloved and the Love between them danced in Triune Communion,
and where they danced, they left stars and planets in their path.
Their gentle footsteps made ripples on waters;
Their exuberant flourishes made waves upon the oceans.
Love made all things in the beginning, and the end for which all things were made was Love.

Love is the Alpha and Omega.
Love is God.

God molded humanity in the image of perfect Love;
Male and Female, God created them, breathed into them Love’s own Spirit
And taught them to live in the harmony of the Dance.
God gave to us humans in our infancy the world for a playground,
To be cared for and enjoyed in perfect Love.

The first image-bearers of God lacked nothing,
Perfectly trusting the Love that brought them into being.
That trust sustained their lives.

God warned them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil
But to keep their trust in God’s judgment.
For once we seek to judge for ourselves
Between evil and good
And bring that judgment upon others
Threads of trust loosen,
And the cord of love begins to unravel.

Envy slithered into the human heart
Tempting it with lies
Maligning God as a withholder and making of Him a rival.
“Take, eat,” it hissed, “for then you will be like God”
As if being Love’s embodied image
Were not enough.

And once we lost trust in the perfect Love of God
And presumed to judge for ourselves
A wedge was drawn between us and God,
And that wedge was death.

Death infected all the world
Throwing out of harmony
Our dance with God and each other.
Insecurity, envy, rivalry, scorn
Hatred and strife and malice were born.

For our judgment of others is born from deceit;
A failure to recognize God’s image of Love
In every human being
And a failure to recognize Love itself
As the ground of our being.

So we set ourselves up against one-another
Forming unions that exclude
Always an outcast; always an “other”
Never the perfect harmony as it was in the beginning.

Wars rage across lands and generations
People are taken by force or for granted
Land is laid to waste, blood poisons the ground
As we strive to survive and thrive in a world founded on death
Ever since our hearts expelled the Living God.

Into this broken world
Love emptied himself,
Poured himself out into flesh
To reconcile us back to Himself
To invite us back into the Dance.

By his very humility he shook our faulty foundation of one-upmanship;
By his very nonviolence he threatened to overturn our violent world.
He broke bread with sinners we had thought under judgment
And healed untouchables we had thought condemned.

Refusing to be caught up in the rivalry that kills,
He lowered himself, becoming a servant,
Stooping beneath our feet to wash them clean,
Putting himself entirely in our hands.

And in the blindness of our false judgments,
We put Love on trial;
In the name of the God we thought we knew,
We condemned God to death.

Yet he went to his death without protest,
Bearing all the pain of the broken world on his mortal shoulders,
He occupied the rift between God and humanity.
The space of death we created when we separated ourselves from God
He filled willingly, to rob death of its power,
Putting his body on the gears of violence to stop them from turning
Once and for all.

Redemption starts with the centurion and the dying thief
Who recognized Jesus’ innocence.
Guilty as they were of violence themselves,
They were not blinded by self-righteousness,
And false, finger-pointing judgment.

They looked upon him and saw his humanity
And in this Truly Human One they saw the perfect image of God.
“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
The dying thief saw that,
by filling the space of the accused with his innocence,
Jesus was going to his glory,
And was not accursed by God
As he hung dying from the cross.

Redemption starts when we recognize our violence,
The log of arrogance removed from our eyes,
The fog of prejudice lifted.
When we see the mess of injustice in which we are immersed,
And know that we are not immune,
That we all play into the system,
When we recognize our violence for what it is,
And refuse to shift the blame.

We practice violence in the dark of self-deception
In this fragile world built on the faulty foundation of deceit…
We practice violence when we think we must rely on ourselves to climb social and economic ladders,
At the expense of others, every man for himself…

We practice violence when we fail to trust in the foundational Love of God
Who will fulfill our needs as he clothes the lillies and guides the sparrows.

That Love was on display for the world to see upon the cross.
For the day we tried Jesus, our false judgments also stood on trial
And the day we mocked our Prince of Peace, the Prince of Violence was exposed as a Liar and Murderer.
God became our victim to expose the violence within us
And show Himself to have no part in it.

Reconcilation takes place at the foot of the cross,
For it is there that the blinders fall away
When we look on the one whom we have pierced
And recognize in him the God who endured our violence and answered it with forgiveness.
Our hearts break open,
We unite in repentance,
And turn ourselves around.

Were you there when we crucified our Lord?
Were you there when we nailed him to the tree?
He still cries through the voices of our victims,
Saying, “My Child, My Child, why do you persecute me?”

Ted Cruz and God’s Political Subversion

Ted Cruz at Liberty University (Photo: screen shot from YouTube.)

Ted Cruz at Liberty University (Photo: screen shot from YouTube.)

Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to declare a presidential run for 2016. His formal announcement came this morning at Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.

Cruz’s announcement at Liberty University was an important political strategy. Cruz is the poster child of the Tea Party movement. He wants to spread his influence by appealing to evangelicals. There is no better place to garner the evangelical vote than the largest Christian university on the planet.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post says that Cruz’s message at Liberty was essentially this, “I am one of you; I will put my religious faith at the center of this campaign.”

Cruz put his religious faith at the center of his campaign by invoking God and American exceptionalism, while at the same time critiquing Democrats and Obamacare. Liberty students cheered as Cruz passionately claimed, “God bless Liberty University…God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet. I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to re-ignite the promise of America.”

Cruz is the first serious candidate to officially throw his hat in the presidential ring. Because he quickly invoked God, it’s a safe bet that future Republican and Democratic candidates will also invoke the blessings of God the Almighty.

So, let’s talk God and politics.

There is a good reason that we aren’t supposed to talk about those two topics at the dinner table. It’s because of the human tendency to claim that God is on our side of the religious and political divide. And, if God is on our side, that means that God is against our enemies. In this sense, the term “God” is merely a social projection of group identity that pits us over-and-against a wicked “other.”

A God who stands with us over-and-against our religious and political enemies is no God at all. It’s an idol; a mere function of human social projection. I would rather be an atheist than believe in that God.

Fortunately, that’s not the God of the Bible. The human understanding of God in the Bible moves from being a tribal god to becoming God of the universe. This God is infinitely bigger than our rivalries of group identity; in fact, the God of the Bible is on a completely different plane than our rivalries over-and-against one another. As such, God subverts our tendency to form group identity over-and-against a wicked other. As James Alison points out in his book Undergoing God, the great Hebrew insight, made first with the prophet Isaiah, is that of monotheism. Alison claims this is important because,

…if there is a God who is not one of the gods, who is not on the same level as anything else at all, then of course it is true to say that there can be no “as opposed to” in God. Or in other words, there is no rivalry at all between God and anything that is.

That insight begins with the prophet Isaiah and culminates in the teaching of Jesus to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Jesus calls his followers to be like the one true God, who subverts the violent human inclination to form group identity in opposition to a scapegoat by modeling God’s love that embraces all people, including those we call our enemies.

But faith in God goes a step further. The Bible never, ever talks about national exceptionalism. Any politician or Christian who invokes American exceptionalism doesn’t do so from biblical faith. As opposed to national exceptionalism, biblical faith is based on national self-critique. Far from God being the one who shores up our exceptionalism, God is the one who comes in our midst and leads us to self-critique. Amos is the earliest prophetic voice in the Bible and other prophets follow his lead of critiquing the nation. Sure, as Alison states,

The first two chapters of Amos consist of a series of quick prophecies against the nations…But this is the build-up to the real criticism, which is of Israel. Where each of the nations gets a couple of verses of criticism, Israel gets ten, and then, from chapter 3 onward, the blast is entirely directed at the ‘we’ (Israel).

The prophets critiqued political institutions when they formed identity over-and-against a convenient other who functioned as the political a scapegoat. That scapegoat might have been a political opponent, another nation, immigrants, or the poor, weak, and marginalized within their society.

I do not want to scapegoat Ted Cruz for invoking the name of God, American exceptionalism, or for critiquing his political opponents. After all, Democrats will likely do the same. In fact, they are already uniting against Ted Cruz.

That’s because uniting over-and-against a wicked other has become the default mechanism of human identity formation. Fortunately, God has nothing to do with that kind of formation because God is not over-and-against anything at all. Rather, God is for us, all of us, finding new ways to develop social cohesion through the spirit of love, forgiveness, and self-criticism.