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“Christian” America and Baby Jesus Rambo

January 15, 2011

I fully intended for my first blog post of 2011 to be about “Time.”  I had researched what I wanted to say and even started to write… but, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

It turned out that I was not done with my last blog post: “Jesus vs. The Founding Fathers.”  I opened that can of worms and the worms were not done.  In the real world, earthworms do amazing things to improve the soil where we plant our crops.  They aerate the soil, they enrich it, and they help mix things up.  So, once I loosed the worms on this topic, I found they were still busy and I had to respond.

Last time, I wrote of how the American Revolution was anything but a Christian movement, built on Biblical principles. (If you have not read that blog post, I encourage you to do so before reading this.)  Well, if you follow the logic and principles Jesus taught, then there is an even bigger picture.

The Bible was written by God-inspired men millenia before any man imagined the United States.  Only God knew what was to come.  Yet we act as though the Bible is only ours.  Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure most of us have not read it, much less studied it, except to pull out a verse here and there when needed to back our latest (or perpetual) cause.  Context doesn’t matter.

We’ve become pros at making an American God in our own image.

So, let’s talk about The United States in general.  What makes us “American?”  What are our beliefs? What do we value and hold dear?  What traits do we admire?  And what do they have to do with Jesus? (Because we keep claiming we are a “Christian nation.”)

The Self-Made Man and the American Dream

Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass both spoke and wrote about the “self-made” man. Franklin made him an iconic, “American” figure. The rags to riches story we still crave.  Look at American Idol, or any of the big money game shows.  We love the idea that all our hard work will be paid off in the end with fame and fortune.  If we’re totally honest, we love even more the idea of getting fame and fortune without all the work. (Play the Mega lottery numbers lately?)

We worship the beautful, the rich, the powerful. We watch their every move.   And, if their skin color is correct, we praise the “hard-working man” who puts in 80 hours a week at work. (If the skin color is wrong, we criticize the person for neglecting their children and not helping them with their homework and not being around to keep their children out of gangs.)

The idea isn’t even original to the U.S. The Romans had the “Novus homo” when the lowly born were able to rise in politics.  And the Roman philospher Seneca wrote of “Homo novus,” or  “how the lowly-born but inherently worthy man may properly rise to eminence in the world.”

Let’s compare the ideals of our Self-Made Man with Jesus.

Jesus had the best geneaolgy of any man ever born. He was the Son of God, for cryin’ out loud.  And yet, even with this pedigree, God placed Him in Nazareth. As Nathaniel said in John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  He was born in a stable.  His earthly father was a carpenter.  And, when He began His mission, instead of entering in glory and sitting on a throne with a golden crown upon His head,  He walked among the poor and demanded that those who would follow Him would leave all of their belongings behind.

He had no interest in money or in prestige.  Instead, He taught:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

He taught humility. He did not seek fame.  He shocked His disciples when He knelt before them to wash their feet.

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

I have to shake my head when skeptics complain that more contemporaries of Jesus (i.e. – non-Christians or Jews) did not write about Jesus in their diaries and histories.  Aside from the fact that very few of those documents survive, why in the world would they have written about some poor carpenter from Nazareth?  He wasn’t in politics, He spent his time with the poor and despised, and he wasn’t the latest contestant on “Roman Empire Idol.”

As Christians, the purpose of our lives is not to work hard and earn respect, fame, or fortune. Our purpose is one thing: to serve Him. God made us. He knows more about us than we know ourselves. He knows how many hairs we have on our heads. He even knows how many white hairs I have on mine.

So, where does this leave the American Dream?  The idea that anyone can come here, work hard, buy a house with a white picket fence, have 2.5 children, 2 cars, a dog and a cat, and happiness?  (I keep searching the Bible for that unalienable, God-given right of the “pursuit of happiness.”)

James Truslow Adams, an historian, coined the term in his book, “Epic of America,” in 1931.

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, also too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

The American Dream sounds great on paper. Freedom for everyone and everyone is supposed to be equal.  Getting due recognition. Many call it a noble experiment.  And I’m sure it is, by man’s standards.  But, as Christians, we cannot justify any of this dream with Christ.  He didn’t promise us any of this and He certainly did not suggest we strive for this dream.  In fact, He told us that we would be persecuted for His sake. We would be called “fools.”

I know, we suffer from a terminal disconnection.  We compartmentalize everything in our lives. Work, school, home, church, politics, God.  And we seem to be okay with that.  As long as we go to church on Sunday, pray over meals, tithe, go feed the poor at the homeless shelter once a month, and generally try to be good, we think God’s okay with that.

God demands more from us.  When we set goals for ourselves, we limit God.  We keep focusing on our own sainthood, our own journey, instead of simply letting God take control of everything we are, all of our expectations.  How many self-help Christian books are out there now?  Discover your spiritual gifts, find your passion, heal your marriage, be a deacon.  I am sure most of them are well-intentioned, but they all keep our focus on ourselves. Me. Me. Me. How can “I” serve? How can “I” find God’s plan for my life?

How much time do I waste worrying about whether I am using my talents and gifts for God when I should just “be” and “do” whenever He gives me the opportunity (which happens on a daily basis)?  I find that God speaks to me loudest when I am focused on others. My eyes and ears are open when I’m not locked in my little “me world.”  We’ll never use our true gifts if we never go out and do because we’re too busy studying some “gifts” book to identify said gifts.  It’s like all those surveys on Facebook these days: “Which Lord of the Rings Character are You?”  We simply cannot resist finding a new label for ourselves.  (I’m Legolas, by the way.)

Trust in this: GOD knows how He wants to use you.  You don’t always have to know. You just have to be obedient and show up.

We spend hours driving our kids to and from sports practice to dancing lessons, all to teach them things like “teamwork.” Don’t get me wrong, there are very healthy aspects to playing soccer and dancing.  But maybe we need to see it a little differently.  Look at the teamwork of the early church. That was a team! Everyone pooled together for the glory of God, giving whatever was needed, when it was needed, so that no one went hungry and the news about Christ went out!  When we teach our kids about competition and winning and losing, we are teaching them about the world. Not what God intends for us.

I can hear it now (because I’ve said it myself): “But that’s not realistic.  We have to earn a living and it’s a dog eat dog world out there!”  My response now:  “Well, we’ll never know if we never have the faith in God to step out and let Him provide all the things He wants to provide us.”  We’re too scared. And if we’re too scared, then we will never have the freedom we Americans say we cherish.

In your American Dream climb to the top of the world (or your job, etc…), what sacrifices have you made that God would never want you to make?

The Constitution and the Second Amendment

In the United States, many Christians seem to worship the Constitution.  We’ve become obsessed recently with this document.  We treat it a lot like we treat the Bible. We pick and choose what we want and interpret it as we want, with little regard to context or history.

I could choose many aspects to discuss, but I’ll stick with one.  The Second Amendment and the Christian response.

I was dumbfounded when I saw a photo of a t-shirt worn at one particular politician’s rally. (And it really doesn’t matter who the politician was.)  The shirt announced: “Babies. Jesus. Guns.”  Does anyone else get a picture in their heads of the baby Jesus as Rambo?

I’m going to skip the whole “well-regulated militia” part of the discussion since most everyone else does, too.  Instead, I want to focus on what I hear “Christians” saying.

I hear Christians saying they need their guns in order to defy a tyrannical government.  They need the guns to revolt, if necessary.  In light of my last blog post, I don’t know that I need to rehash everything right here.  Suffice it to say, anyone who argues for revolt does not have a Biblical leg to stand upon.

Again, I give you:

Romans 13:1

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

 

If we don’t have the whole “revolt” thing on our side, then how about “self-defense?”  (And I mean as an individual Christian, not necessarily what the government role is.)

I’ll be honest. This is a hard one for me, given my background. But every example of Jesus, Paul, and the disciples says, “No.”  Oh, I know that people will pull out their Old Testaments and find a dozen verses (all pulled out of context) about killing thieves and such.  And there is one (count it, one) verse in the New Testament they will pull out of context (more on that later).  But every action of Christ and his followers in the New Testament speaks pacifism in the face of a threat.  And Jesus actually confronts the harsh laws of the Old Testament in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Mt 5:38-39)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Look at the times Paul and the disciples were arrested, beaten, killed.  Never did they fight back.  They merely responded with words. Even the words were not abusive.

There was only one occasion: going with the aforementioned verse in Luke.  And now, I’m going to quote an article that explains my thoughts much better than I can on this matter of “Jesus and the Two Swords.”

Luke 22:35-38:
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell our cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied.”

“This is part of a larger conversation about power at the last supper. Jesus’ disciples had apparently been unable to understand the meaning of his discussions on suffering and nonviolence. Over the course of this dinner conversation, Jesus had been trying to tell them that the kingdoms of this world wield power and demand service, but his kingdom was about serving others and self-sacrifice. As in many cases where Jesus would draw out props to make a point (e.g. the coin in the fish’s mouth), Jesus here needs to draw out a dangerous prop: the sword.

“To prove his point, Jesus helps his disciples remember that they don’t need anything—which they acknowledge. With that in mind, he will help them understand that they also do not need a sword.

“Very explicitly, Jesus equates the carrying of a sword with being a “transgressor.” This phrase references the beautiful passage of Isaiah 53 on how God’s glory is best known through humiliation and suffering and not apparent strength or majesty. To teach one of his most radical lessons on nonviolence, Jesus will incur the embarrassing reputation of going down with terrorists and insurgents, and not the potentially meaningful status of a blameless martyr. “He will be numbered with the transgressors.” Jesus even stripped his self of the ennobling innocent appearance of nonviolence. While he could go down with his unblemished personal character intact, to teach a lesson he will risk the misguided and violent wills of his disciples marring his reputation. (His final healing miracle will then be to clean up after the mess of his disciples’ violence by healing an arrestor’s ear.) This makes radical, counter-intuitive claims about the very nature of God and even what we mean by the word “God.” Is not humiliation and suffering the very opposite of God? Now he will appear before court as being one of the insurgent terrorists who cut people’s ears off*.

If calling the sword the transgressor’s tool is not obvious enough, the outcome of the lesson is unequivocally clear. The very next scene is in Gethsemane where the disciple will use those swords. His disciples ask, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” As one disciple strikes an arrestor, Jesus yells, “No more of this!” and heals the wound. This is the commonly known time when Jesus also states, (in other gospels) “put your sword away,” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” After healing his arrestor, Luke’s gospel shows Jesus punctuating this lesson of nonviolence with a question, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

“Nowhere in all of the New Testament is a disciple of Jesus found carrying a sword again.

“*When the disciples find the swords that will mark their very sinfulness, Jesus says “enough.” John Yoder comments: “ ‘Enough,’ cannot mean that two swords would be enough for the legitimate self-defense against bandits of twelve missionaries traveling two by two. He is (in direct parallel to Deut. 3:26, where YHWH tells Moses to change the subject, LXX hikanon estin) breaking off the conversation because they don’t understand anyway” (The Politics of Jesus, p. 45).”

(from Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s book, Jesus for President–from their online “Appendix 3: Subordination and Revolution: What about Romans 13?”)

If people want to discuss/argue the Second Amendment on Constitutional grounds, so be it.  But, I don’t believe Christians have any business using the same arguments and injecting Jesus as a proud gun owner.

Since this is getting rather long, I’ll refrain from some other topics, like capitalism.  I leave you to do honest Biblical research on that.  I just pray that Christians can open their eyes to man made myth and seek Him first.

 

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