Categories
Current Affairs

The Leadership Vacuum

We are in the midst of the weirdest and most leaderless season of public life in modern U.S. history. And I’m left wondering: “Where are our leaders?”

Categories
Christian Living

Hobby Lobby, The Music Man, We Got Trouble

Like everyone else I was shocked by the news that Hobby Lobby, a privately owned company whose owners successfully challenged the Affordable Care Act mandate that their health insurance cover birth control on grounds that they are a closely held owned company driven by Christian morality, got caught smuggling Iraqi antiquities into the United States.

Categories
Church Leadership Social Action

3 Mini-Rants for a Wednesday

Mmmm... nothing like hormone-induced gigantic turkey for your families pre-Black Friday festivities.
Mmmm… nothing like hormone-induced gigantic turkey for your families pre-Black Friday festivities.

  1. Don’t shop on Thanksgiving! – This year, in a sign of pure greed, many retailers will open up their stores for pre-Black Friday sales. Target stores nationwide will open at 9:00 PM on Thanksgiving, basically destroying the holiday for their employees. Their employees started a petition to keep Black Friday on Friday. Last week I got several emails inviting me to “secret sales” where I could get Black Friday deals right now. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Making low-level employees work on a holiday so you can make extra money is wrong.
  2. We all pay taxes! It is true that lots and lots of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes directly. But I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with people saying that most people don’t pay taxes. We all pay taxes, lots and lots of them. And while most of the readers of this blog won’t write a check for federal income taxes we pay taxes in lots of seen and unseen places that our more affluent neighbors don’t. We all pay sales tax, property tax, payroll tax, state income tax, tariffs we don’t see, taxes added into the goods we buy like gasoline. Then there are the taxes we pay not in money, but in situations beyond our control. Can someone in the working poor pay to send their kids to an elite school? Nope… so that’s a tax on them. Can the working poor afford the best access to healthcare? Nope… so that’s a tax on them. What about the best nutrition? Or social access to powerful people. On and on and on. My point is simply that we all pay taxes!
  3. There’s more to church leadership than preaching! No, really. The more I get to know folks in a lot of contexts the more I realize that what you do off the platform is what makes you a leader in the church. And if you look away from the org chart and walk around seeing who is actually leading, almost all leadership (People leading others where they wouldn’t go by themselves) is happening outside of the preaching person and outside of the paid staff. I’m not talking about redefining what leadership is in the church… I’m talking about recognizing who are the leaders in your church. How can you go to a church, see all that goes on, and say… “Oh, this is ____’s church.” Gimme a break.

OK, I got those off my chest. Time for a second cup of coffee.

Categories
parenting Politics

So here’s the deal

In the dog days of summer, Washington D.C. is in the hottest place on earth.

This morning the Supreme Court issued their ruling upholding the major points of the Affordable Healthcare Act. (read the ruling, keep up with the New York Times live blog if your heart can handle it.)

By the end of the day both sides will claim victory. Both presidential candidates will make statements. Polls will be taken. Extremists will parade in front of cameras.

God bless America. (Said in a cynical tone.)

Here’s the deal. This isn’t the America I want to live in. This isn’t the America I want my kids dreaming about. This isn’t the America I read about in history books and biographies. United we stand, divided we fall.

Until we decide to unite, we are falling. It’s not the economies fault. It our fault. When we decide we, the people, will move forward. But right now we are stuck in inward-focused circles of bandaid application.

That said, I’m thankful that the courts are stepping in, pulling away from the politics far enough to help us move forward. I actually see today as an amazing day for those with aspirational goals in the legal field. (With the Jerry Sandusky decision last week it’s been a very big 7 days for the courts.) I am intrigued that Bush’s choice for Chief Justice sided with more liberal appointees. I think it shows the strength of Bush’s choice.

I’m tired of the divisions. I’ve got no pride or allegiance to a party. It’s not that I’m unwilling. It’s that I’m bored of it. Division doesn’t get me nearly as excited as forward progress.

I’m not naive. I know politics are brutal. But I don’t think our future as a nation lies in having elected officials stand opposed on everything just for the sake of standing opposed to every view. In this case the irony is really delicious. Obama passed a version of Romney’s law. So Republicans loved it when the conservative governor passed the law in a liberal state. But when the President passed Romney’s law at the federal level it became a liberal against conservative thing. Romney, the original author of the bill, had to stand opposed to his own idea for the sake of winning his parties nomination.

Republicans were for the Affordable Healthcare Act until Democrats were for it. Then they stumbled all over themselves throughout the primaries trying to convince everyone they were against it, and were always against it, even when they were for it in Massachusetts.

That’s what I mean. We need to stop disagreeing simply  for the sake of disagreement. We, the people, aren’t stupid. We hold this truth to be self-evident: Politicians will say whatever it takes to get lobbyists to write them checks. 

But this check of disagreement is being cashed by people like you and me. Both parties are guilty for the game is no longer Republicans vs. Democrats, but rich vs. poor. National politics has become the rich man’s WWE where both parties put on a show for the sake of getting the redneck’s inside the belt to write them checks.

Again, this isn’t my dream for our country. This isn’t the dream I want my children to aspire to.

I want my kids to see that two people who disagree can come together and make a joint decision for the good of others. Just like mom and dad make compromise after compromise for the sake of our family, I want them to know that compromise is a virtue.

This carries over directly to our faith, doesn’t it? I love that my kids are growing up in a home where mom and dad try to hold loosely to their personal convictions for the sake of the body of Christ. How pathetic would the Gospel be if we only worshipped with people we got along with? How pathetic would it be to only hang out with, be influenced by, and study things from a single perspective. Yes, we are conservative evangelicals. That’s who we are. But we make the conscious, hopeful choice to identify ourselves with Christ more than we identify ourselves with a theological heritage.

For the record: I’m in favor of a nationalized health care system. I’d like to see it illegal for drug companies to market to the public. And I  think all insurance companies should be not-for-profit, like the BlueCross system started as in the 1960s. So I’m not pumped about the decision today because I feel like it’s not the reform that is  truly needed.

Photo credit: Tosh at SCOTUS by Mark Trimble via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Categories
Politics

The $6 Billion Election

It’s 2004 all over again.

In 2004, a ho hum group of democrats did their best to make the primaries interesting. John Edwards had the million dollar smile. Howard Dean looked like a contender. And John Kerry sat in the wings.

The democrats knew they had little chance of beating Bush. His popularity was reaching its pinnacle. The American people loved how he handled the months immediately following the terrorist attacks and we were just getting into 2 wars in retaliation. (Though most seem to have forgotten that.)

There was a 3 way race of pretty viable-looking “plan B” candidates. (Who were just good enough to be believable but not quite the party’s best.) The media made a good story out of Edwards vs. Kerry, Kerry won out. In the end it was a boring lead-up to a relatively easy win for Bush.

But the democrats played along and everyone was happy.

2012 has a problem.

The republicans haven’t played along. Their pool of 4-5 people in the primaries aren’t believable enough for the general population to become interested. We all know it’s Romney. He just has to keep his mouth shut and keep smiling while the rest of the “plan C” and a couple of “plan D” folks take turns lining up and falling apart.

The primaries aren’t interesting to the general public. Only 5.4% of eligible Iowa voters showed up to last week’s Iowa caucuses.

So what’s the problem? There are 6 billion of them.

Way back in August 2011 Reuters published a story which shows just why the media is trying so hard to make this year’s field of republicans look interesting.

The U.S. elections will be the most expensive ever, with a total price tag of $6 billion or even more, fueled by millions of dollars in unrestricted donations as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the White House, Congress and state governments.

“It’s safe to say that, given that we had a $5 billion cycle in 2008, it will certainly be more than that and very likely over $6 billion, which is just an astonishing growth rate,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.

The cost of the election is surprising given that only the Republican Party is holding presidential primaries, unlike in 2008 when both parties had expensive contests to find a candidate.

Source

For a struggling news industry that’s a whole lot of ad buys. Newspaper ads, television ads, magazine ads, online ads… everyone needs a slice of that $6 billion pie to make their budget and make Wall Street happy. Not to mention that’s a lot of money for staff, travel, hotels, greasing palms, etc.

But they won’t spend that much money if Americans get bored. 

This is why the news organizations are so desperate to find a story. Because if you get bored with this primary season they stop getting paid.

My take? I’ll vote for the party who takes their slice of that Super-PAC pie and donates it to a charity. 

Categories
Manifesto

The weird side of Christians and politics

Preamble: Understand in reading this post that I’m a swing voter and my #1 criteria for voting is, “Can this person lead in the role they are running for?” Side issues mean almost nothing to me in light of that one framing question.

I cringe when I hear evangelical Christians being grouped together as a block of voters for two reasons.

First, it’s a self-indicting judgement in how we view ourselves that we would only identify people with a certain political ideology when Jesus has commanded that we reach all people, all neighbors, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Second, many of the solutions to issues Christian seem to care about from established political parties have been proven to both not work in society; the people who are elected because of their viewpoints on single issues often come with baggage that is distinctly against Christian values.

Some examples: 

  • Gay marriage is no more an attack on my marriage than the billboard for no fault divorce I pass on my way to work. Actually, the guy with the handgun next door is far more dangerous to my marriage than the gay couple across the street. Violent crimes in America are way, way down versus 2 decades ago. But handgun sales are way, way up.
  • There are millions of children in this country brought here as children who went to school with our kids, who have said the pledge of allegiance every morning next to our kids, and who have dreams just like our kids. But because there is no pathway to becoming a legal resident they are stuck. I can think of no fathomable reason Christians don’t advocate for them. Those kids aren’t dangerous– their homeland, the United States of America, doesn’t love them back. It’s heart-breaking. We are all immigrants to this country. We should be advocates for the Dream Act.
  • Health care costs are killing people. Literally. People are dying because they can’t afford basic health care. And yet, doctors are reimbursed less now than 20 years ago. Privatized, for-profit health care coverage and agressive pharmaceutical companies built on 19th century patent laws are bankrupting our society while getting tax breaks on their profits from the government and distributing tiny dividends into your 401k. You can’t argue for both a balanced budget and decreases in corporate taxation. The same companies that caused this current economic crisis are continuing to profit from it while trying to shirk their most basic responsibilities as corporate citizens. That’s what happens when you let the wolves run the chicken coup. They think about eating meat tomorrow with no source for tomorrow’s eggs.

What’s the point? 
The point is this, you can’t be a single issue voter and think you’re part of the political process. These are complex problems and deserve our attention. We can’t walk into a voting booth, in good conscious, and cast a vote over abortion or gun control or tax reform or the economy and think that we’ve done our part.

Doing our part means getting involved at the local level. It means advocating for the sick and oppressed on your block. It means standing up for the powerless in your life.

When you get to know the people these things effect your perspective will change. When you get to know the gay couple across the street you’ll see that they love each other just like you love your spouse. When you get to know the crazy guy with the guns you’ll see that he has guns because he has deep-seeded fears that a gun can’t fix, a counselor can. When your kids best friend can’t get into college because he has no way to get a green card, it won’t be an issue it will be Joseph’s story. When your next door neighbor dies because she couldn’t afford the medicine anymore it won’t be a matter of corporate rights, it’ll be an injustice.

Doing our part and doing the right thing might mean not getting what we want or doing what we’re comfortable with all the time. When we take things out of the rhetoric of issues and get to know the people they effect, we’ll see our perspectives shaped by a deep desire to help.

Friends, we weren’t called into ministry just to love the people who show up at our church or whose kids show up to youth group.

We were called to a messy ministry of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Categories
Politics

Can political conservatives re-emerge?

Photo by John Lund

I spent some time this week reading political news and listening to political news from the conservative perspective. (Not much else to do when living in a hospital room other than catch up on news!)

While many of my views could be characterized as conservative, I struggle because the language of conservative politics is almost always backwards looking. The line of thinking seems to be, “If we could just get back to how it used to be, our country would be back on track.

That line has a lot of derivatives:

  • We need to roll back spending to pre-Obama spending levels.
  • We are a historically Christian country, our country will be better if we go back to the original authors intents.
  • The civil war wasn’t about slavery, it was about individual states rights. We need to re-embrace federalism.
  • We need to close our borders because “Americans” don’t have jobs.

My problem is that as a forward-thinking person there isn’t anything worth listening too but a bunch of cry-babies.

I could identify myself better with conservatives if they spoke in a forward-thinking, innovative, and solution-based language. Voting against things without having a solution to replace what you’ve voted down is playing checkers when politics is a game of chess. Then getting on the news and talking about a great win for conservatives when, in fact, it was neutral or a loss, isn’t helping me. I’m not going to identify with people who are losing and don’t see it!

All I hear/read is fear-mongering and stoking the flames of yesteryear. It’s as if they forgot that the primary reason Ronald Reagan was the most popular Republican president in the last half century was because he helped move our country forward– not backwards.

Conservatives need to start dealing with reality. The stock market has been on a 12 month bender. Job growth is taking hold. Consumer confidence is soaring. Even the housing market is springing to life again. Obama kept his promise to cease military operations in Iraq. The strategies in Afghanistan seem to be working. In other words… Obama took the hand that a helpless Bush administration dealt and are turning it into a full house.

Politically, the Democrats will regain everything in the next round of elections if Republicans continue to look and sound like the crabby old white men. Clearly, based on what you hear on conservative leaning talk radio and read in conservative leaning news is that they think that they need to appeal to an older, white, extremely conservative audience.

Back to politics 101:

  • Tell me what you want to do.
  • Stop whining.
  • Forget the Tea Party concept, it is back-firing.
  • Tell me your vision for our country.
  • Help us envision what America will look like when we embrace the forward-thinking, innovative changes you foresee.
  • Disassociate yourself with one-dimensional ideologues/radio heads.
  • Distance yourself from “the religious right.”
  • Come up with a new approach to the abortion issue– put the nail in the coffin on abstinence-only education.
  • Come up with a more centrist view on gay marriage.
  • Find some intelligent women that my daughter can idealize. (And get rid of “pitbulls with lipstick.” That’s gross.)
  • Give me something, anything, I can identify with.

In other words, look at the country you hope to govern, see what our strengths for tomorrow ought to be, and then build your agenda. Move to the middle.

Because at this point– it seems like Republicans have given up on capturing younger conservatives.

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership Politics

L’agenda

The longer I walk with Jesus the more complicated my life seems to get.

Kids, ministry, job, dreams, bills, skills, personality flaws, responsibilities… the list is endless. Life is complicated. Scary. Confusing. Worrysome.

At the same time, the longer I live the more simple the application of God’s Word gets.

When things seem really complex and over my head I am reminded of how Jesus spoke into the complexities of a “religious life.

One day Jesus was talking with a group of religious people. And, as religious people are known to do, they all carried a specific agendas. They wanted to know if Jesus was on their team. As they sat around testing Jesus on his belief on the issues of the day they were flustered by his ability to respond with Option C on an Option A or B test time and time again.

They were upset with him because he had taken the things that divided people… agendas with teams, financing, factions, and power… and given simple answers with a new agenda.

So they put their heads together and nominated the biggest religious expert in the room to trap Jesus. This question was the 1st Century equivalent of, “If God is a good God, why do bad things happen in the world to good people?”

Here’s the agenda-laden trap:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Baffling simplicity.

L’agenda

Jesus’ agenda for your life is quite simple. As we see above, all of a God-pleasing life flows from those two bullet points:

  1. Love God with everything.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

A popular phrase in Evangelical circles, full of agenda, has repackaged Jesus’ words and simplified it too far by saying we are called to “Love God, Love People.” But I think Jesus is smarter than they are. And his agenda rings clear enough for me.

Jesus’ agenda for my life is to love him with everything I’ve got. (From my skills, to my personality, to my family, to my vocation… everything) And the action of that agenda is to love my neighbors as myself. (You know, the people I live near, see in my daily life. Neighbors implies really close to me, and is specific to a group of people I’m to have regular casual contact with. It’s the people on my block, not the people in the pews or in my youth group.)

All of God’s word is to be applied through that lens. Jesus sets the agenda.

When I study Scripture I’m left to ask myself, “How is God calling me to love him?” and “How can I love my neighbors as myself because of this teaching?

It’s personal and communal– but not religious

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep love for the church. In the same passage of Matthew 22 and other places in the Gospels, Jesus refers to his relationship with the church as his bride. To disrespect the church is de facto disrespecting Jesus. (If you said you loved me but disrespected my wife… I’d punch you in the face. What kind of husband wouldn’t?)

I’d prefer not to get punched by Jesus for disrespecting his bride.

At the same time, I wonder if many churches have made the agenda about them? There’s nothing more annoying than a selfish bride. Sure, there is love there… but there are a lot of strings attached to that love.

Other churches are defined by their size… hardly a respectful description for a bride. We’d politely say things like, “She must be a good cook.” Right?

Other Christians are defined by the political bedfellows they keep. Their agenda is confused with the issues of the day. Their leaders espouse vocal support of things like a right to own a gun while all the world desperately needs of them is to embrace their right to love their neighbor.

Still others are defined by their application of Revelation 2-3. They look at Jesus’ proclamations of judgement and they say… “Wait a minute. Jesus isn’t judging First Baptist of San Diego any different that he is judging San Diego Church of the Nazarene or even the Diocese of San Diego… Jesus loves and judges us by where we live in community, not where we individually gather to worship.” And those churches are defined by the agenda of neighbors loving neighbors, churches loving churches, and sharing in the great love of their Savior in the L’agenda.

My prayer today for the bride of Christ is that we would be a people defined by our world-changing L’agenda for our neighbors and not the trappings of a religious life.

Categories
Funny Stuff Politics Video Clip

Jimmy McMillan for Governor

First, the clips from the New York debate.

Then, the song from his website. Again, he’s for real.

Then, this brilliant remix.

I don’t know. He’s got a point. I hope he gets some votes.

p.s. Sorry about the curse word. But the rent is just too high.

Categories
hmm... thoughts

When adults tell the truth

I’m glad I took the time this morning to watch this video. A couple of my friends shared it, and I didn’t know what it’d be about, but I want to encourage readers of my blog to make the 12 minutes to hear Joel Burns story.

Bullying really is a big deal in the lives of teenagers. And, as Joel documents, it’s especially difficult for LGBT teenagers.

It really doesn’t matter what you think about “the issue. At the end of the day, if you are anything like me, I know that my calling to youth ministry is tied to a desire to advocate for teenagers of all varieties. And, at the heart of Joel’s talk, there is a simple and powerful truth which has helped prevent suicide for generations…. “This too shall pass. Life gets better.

This video was a good reminder to me. There is great power in the words of caring adults in moments of vulnerability. When we dare to tell the truth in love, now matter how painful it is to share or to hear, we help students.