He's conservative. I'm liberal. And we are trying to have a civil discussion about the election. My friend Paul Martin and I are talking about the drama of the Republican National Convention, from Melania lifting Michelle's speech to Cruz's non-endorsement to Trump's fear-mongering finale. Hit us up with your comments and questions!
If you live in the greater LA/Orange County area and you are a Christian with a slight bent to the irreverent, there are some upcoming events that might be revelant to your interests. First, in two weeks LA’s Hatchery will be putting on an Adult VBS at their headquarters in Redondo Beach. This is a fun, tongue-in-cheek experience that will also provide some incredibly meaty content, with Walter Brueggemann as the main speaker (and myself leading “craft time” on Thursday and Friday.) You can come for the whole week, or you can buy a two-day pass. AND . . . my readers can use the code RAGE to get 10% off. Register here. More info here.
If your day job keeps you from joining us at Adult VBS, come join us Thursday night, August 4, for a LIVE podcast recording of HomeBrewed Christianity. Walter Brueggemann, Kester Brewin and myself will be joining Barry & Tripp for what I’m sure will be a lively conversation. Tickets here.
And last but not least, join us for Beer and Hymns’ annual Camp Song night. It was a favorite last year and we have no doubt this one will be even better. If you have ever been to Christian summer camp, you know they have a musical culture all their own. We sang songs about springing up oh wells, fountains flowing deep and wide, Abraham's father, not getting to heaven on roller skates, do Lord oh do Lord, Pharaoh's letting people go, fighting in the Lord's army, spelling out bible, basically all kinds of weirdness. But, somehow, ten or twenty or thirty years later, you still know all the words and the hand motions. We will be doing some traditional hymns as well as some silly camp songs. We will gather together to eat at 5:30, and then we will sing together at 7pm. Tickets here.
A couple weeks ago, I was talking politics with my friend Kelley Nikondeha. Kelley is one of those smart and interesting friends who makes me think a little deeper on everything, and when it comes to the bible, she knows her stuff. We were talking about the Make America Great narrative, and Kelley offhandedly illuminated the Old Testament version of this phenomenon in a way that blew my mind, because I'd never made the connection before. I begged her to write it up for me so I could share it with you. Whether or not you are a Christian, I think the historical precedent is fascinating. Here's Kelley:
It’s occurred to me that the call to make America great again is not new. I heard it in the Old Testament and I’ve caught whiff of it in the New Testament as well. Of course, in the Bible they aren’t talking about America but about the greatness of Israel. How can Israel be restored to its former glory? I think we see two very different strategies depicted in Scripture. Let’s take a look!
Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE. The Babylonian forces razed the great city; temple included, and took many Israelites into captivity. For generations they lived as the enslaved underclass in a foreign land. But even the Babylonians were conquered by the Perians.
The Persian emperor decided to allow a small group of Jews to return to Jerusalem. He probably thought a thriving economy could pay him tribute taxes – if they could pull off an urban resurrection. This is the story of Nehemiah and Ezra, the men who returned to a ruined cityscape to reclaim the former glory of their beloved Zion, the high and holy place.
The leaders determined to do three things: rebuild the wall around Jerusalem to ensure it’s future security, teach Torah again so that Jews could reclaim their faith tradition and ban intermarriage to move toward ethnic purity. Security, identity and ethnic purity were pillars in the agenda to make Israel great again.
Building the wall did not come without challenge. The Samaritans, still living in the vicinity, were offended by the project and tried to thwart the construction of the wall. But in the end, their efforts failed and the wall was rebuilt to secure the city.
Ezra, scribe and priest, has been credited with the early construction of the sermon. This was the tool he employed to teach the Torah to the Jews who, generations in another land, forgot their stories and songs. He preached at regular intervals believing Scripture would be the cornerstone to reclaiming the Jewish identity.
But that was not all. Ezra was deeply concerned with the ethnic impurity of the returnees. They lived, loved and married in Babylon. Was there any pure seed among them anymore, with all the intermarriage to Moabites and such? So he instituted a firm policy against intermarriage to re-establish ethnic purity. This echoes the earlier instructions of Moses who wanted Israelites to avoid marriage to Canaanites and, at all costs, Moabites. So there was precedent for this kind of thinking when it came to tribal purity.
I found this cursory reading somewhat resonant with our current political context. We are concerned with security, identity, and even ethnic purity. We think, maybe like Nehemiah and Ezra, addressing these matters with exclusivist policies will restore our former national glory. We talk about controlling borders, limiting refugee resettlement, and religious litmus tests. We water the seeds of suspicion about people not from here or not like us. We decide that excluding them will be the solution.
Matthew’s Gospel begins with a long genealogy meant to demonstrate the pedigree of Jesus. Except it includes anomalies like Rahab (the Canaanite) and Ruth (the Moabite). They are impure, according to Moses and the rebuilders of Jerusalem. How could King David, the ultimate Jew, come from this line? How could these women be the foremothers of Jesus, the Messiah?
I imagine Matthew was taking a page out of his Rabbi’s playbook – “you have heard it said… but I say unto you.” You have heard it said by Moses and Ezra that Canaanites and Moabites cannot be part of Israel, that they will compromise its greatness. But I say unto you… And then Matthew writes about the Anointed One who had a different vision for how to make Israel great again.
Jesus came from contaminated seed. Jesus came from the backwaters of Nazareth where little good ever sprouted. He lived beneath the poverty line and worked a menial labor job. People wondered if Joseph was really his father, if you know what I mean. He spent time with the wrong people, the drinkers and harlots and sinners. So many times the Pharisees pointed to the company he kept, guilt by association. In the end Jesus was crucified as a state terrorist, dying between the kind of people he lived with day in and day out. Not exactly a great record for ethnic purity.
We notice that Jesus let everyone come to him. Street kids flocked to him, the lame and blind called to him, those inflicted with contagious diseases cried out to him and he tended to them. Women felt at ease with Jesus, they were respected and welcomed as followers. Among these women was the first evangelist, the first witness to the resurrection, the first preacher and his primary funders. Jesus interacted with Roman functionaries, Samaritans, and people the temple would not allow in. His policy was radically inclusive – and offensive to some.
The greatness of God’s Kingdom would be determined by who got in, not who was left out. Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures well. He knew what Nehemiah and Ezra feared in their day and why they leaned on the strategy of exclusion. But the life of Jesus testifies to another strategy for greatness, another way to combat fear – welcoming others in your life and into your national story. According to Jesus even our enemies shouldn’t be excluded, but somehow incorporated.
I think that as Matthew writes his Gospel he wants us to see that the entire life of Jesus was a rebuttal of the old ways of exclusion. Jesus incarnated a radical inclusion. It would have confounded Moses and the others, but Jesus was always pushing us to reimagine his Kingdom.
The ultimate picture of a restored Israel is the New Jerusalem. It is a city where everyone parades up to the city and into the temple - a house of worship for all people. It is an audacious and amazing hope – a place where inclusion wins the day and we are together at last. This is when (and how) Israel will be great again. If we say this is only a spiritual dream then we miss the entire earthly example of Jesus who was, himself, a temple for all people.
So while we ought to be careful about making easy parallels between the ancient context of the Scripture and today, this observation gives me pause. Jesus leaned toward inclusion as an agenda for restoration and greatness, not fear or exclusion. As I consider my own preferred agenda I want to try and calibrate it by the witness of Jesus.
Another shooting of another black man. The names and images scroll across my news feed in what has become a much too frequent occurrence. I feel anger, I feel horrified, I feel sadness, I feel fear, but deep down inside I also feel relief. Relief that my boys have inherited most of my Irish genes instead of their father’s African-American ones. As much as I try to instill in them a sense of pride in both their heritages, at times like these I am ashamed to admit that it gives me some security to know that often people do not realize they are bi-racial.
My heart breaks for the mothers who have to worry about their children's safety just because of the color of their skin. Who have to teach them at an early age how to respond to a police officer’s questions. Because they can be stopped at any time simply because of the way they are dressed or because they are in a neighborhood where they do not appear to belong. As much as we don't want to admit it, black men are stereotyped. Call it racial profiling, call it whatever you want, but I want my kids to be able to call me when they get home, and white children have a much better chance of doing that than black ones do.
How do I encourage my children to embrace their ethnicity knowing it could end up causing them harm? Especially when they have the ability to "choose"? It’s easy because in reality there is no choice to be made. They are not defined by their backgrounds any more than I am defined by my hair color. They are each unique individuals who will have to experience what life has in store for them. They cannot put on the “white” suit when it’s convenient and then change into the “black” suit when it’s safe. What they can do is recognize that right now, there are still people and places that prefer one style of suit over another. Having both kinds, they are uniquely positioned to help change that.
So when another shooting of another black man happens – and sadly we know it will – I will not breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not my child. I will instead be filled with outrage that it was SOMEBODY’S child and that one day it could be mine, or my neighbors, or maybe even yours. This is not a black or a white issue. This is a human issue. And until everyone treats it as such it will continue to remain one.
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Playster is a great way to have an online library for your family. We have only scratched the surface of the books they have available. For me, it's a nice alternative to the Kindle, which requires the purchasing of books. We put this app on all of the kids' iPads and it's such an easy way for them to have a huge selection of books no matter where they are.
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If you would like to try Playster for your self, they are offering a 30 day trial with this link. Happy reading!