Category Archives: Politics

Post-US election thoughts

This is an old post now, written mostly a couple of days after the US election, with some edits today. My thoughts are still the same. Since then, however, I’ve seen numerous videos online of people uttering hateful things at ethnic minorities and just this morning I saw a video of portions of an “alt-right” leader giving a speech of filled overtly white-supremacist rhetoric—in fact, it sounded not unlike a speech Hitler may have given earlier in his ascendancy and individuals in the audience were giving the Nazi salute, saying “Hail, Trump!” This gives me pause. Trump may not personally endorse this stuff and may not be personally responsible, but it seems that the election of Trump has empowered individuals and groups with these tendencies and from what I hear, Trump has appointed some far-right men with white-supremacist associations. It remains to be seen if this stuff is coming to light because people are aware of those tendencies in Trump’s campaign platform and are highlighting what’s out there anyway, whoever is in the White House. It’s not time to panic (I’m not sure it ever is, given what I say below), but awareness, a willingness to speak out for the poor and oppressed, and prayer are fitting responses.

Yesterday was a weird day. The previous day had begun at 5:30am, ran through a long but productive board meeting that was over at 11:00pm, and then at home some tossing and turning in bed until 2:00am while my wife and son watched the US election results come in. To be honest, I didn’t have much vested interest in the election. Trump wouldn’t have been my choice, but mostly from a character and lack of experience perspective, as I don’t know much about his policies (or Hillary’s, for that matter). My mind was not active because of the election, but because of the business of the day and because what I anticipated happening online the next day as a result of the election. My Facebook feed would be filled with friends and acquaintances celebrating Trump as God’s gift to the world and with other friends and acquaintances weeping over the worst possible election result imaginable, and the two were not likely to speak kindly of each other. I spent some time wrestling with what, if anything, I could speak into that divisive cacophony.

So yesterday I was exhausted and felt a great heaviness. I also felt a bit lost. I couldn’t figure out why. I can understand why people are surprised and upset at Trump’s election. I don’t understand why others think Trump is God’s gift to the US and the world, but I can understand the fact that many people for whatever reason voted for him and so were happy that he won. But neither of those things were weighing me down.

By the end of the day, it became more clear to me. I am generally speaking an even-keeled person. Not much ruffles my feathers, not much gets me either upset or excited. Life is good and it goes on. All shall be well, one way or another. But—possibly as a result of my even-keeledness—I also don’t do drama. I don’t like the wailing and gnashing of teeth over election results; neither do I like the rejoicing and triumphant glee of the religious far-right in response to this particular election. Both sides, it seems to me, overdo the response. The world hasn’t come to an end because of this and it likely won’t; they have not elected the Chosen One, the Saviour, and they never will.

But there is a lot of that kind of drama going on and I find myself caught in the middle and struggling with whether to keep silent or speak up. In the morning I did speak up a bit and it got me more frustrated, mostly because it caused more drama, but also because later I realized that what I should really do is turn it all off and pray, contemplate, be with God.

Late on election night I posted these words from Scot McKnight’s blog:

“I went to bed last night with Jesus as Lord. I go to bed tonight with Jesus as Lord. And every day from now into eternity Jesus is Lord.

Participation in our election dare not be seen as the lever that turns the eschatological designs God has for this world. Where is our hope? November 8 may tell us.” (link)

This is true. But I also realized that Christians on both sides may say or hear similar things but interpret them very differently. Other people have said things like, “God is in control,” but that can mean vastly different things, too.

When I say “Jesus is Lord” and when I agree that “God is in control,” I don’t mean that God wills the election results (whatever they are) or that people and nations cannot make wrong, even devastating, choices. That we can seriously mess up and that God is at the same time in control is abundantly clear from the biblical narrative.

To say, “Jesus is Lord” or “God is in control” is not to say, “It’s okay, don’t worry, this is the way it’s meant to be.” It is to say, “Fear not, Jesus is Lord, God is in control beyond and above this election.” God can and will redeem, fix, justify, restore what needs those things, and even the stupid things we do cannot thwart God’s plans.

To say “Jesus is Lord” is also to remind us that as Christians we are called to allegiance to someone who stands far above whoever the president—or prime minister or premiere—elect may be. To say that “Jesus is Lord” is a reminder that we are called to live lives that reflect Jesus’ lordship over us, which means we must seek after the protection and care of the most vulnerable, the young, the poor, and oppressed, and call our governments to their responsibilities in that regard.**

This is where it tends to get tricky for Christians on the political right (at least the far right). I’ve seen a number of comments on Facebook where Christians suggest Clinton would have been a better choice. In response, inevitably other Christians say, “Well, the unborn that are being murdered wouldn’t think so!” or “Not if you value the life of the unborn!” For some this election is once again a one-(or maybe two-)issue decision. Unfortunately, these kinds of comments don’t reflect the reality of how political (and legal) systems work, nor complexity of the issues themselves. And the fact that we live in a world shot through with sin makes these kinds of issues especially tricky.

But that’s a post for another day. For now I’ll just say that if we are going to vote based on “Christian values,” there are more than one or two issues that should be considered and other issues that need to be reconsidered, and some some issues with which we have to struggle with and remain in deep tension.

________________

**Patrick Franklin and N.T. Wright both made similar comments on their Facebook pages (I’m sure Wright, at least, as previously influenced me on this):

“God is sovereign. Is this comforting? On one level, yes. But let’s remember that God has sovereignly given human beings freedom and calls upon us to exercise that freedom in ways that honour what God cares about. When we fail to do that, people suffer. And God has special care for “the least of these” – the poor, the suffering, the marginalized, the ‘alien’, the hungry, the outcast, the homeless, the sick, . . . as Jesus and all the prophets passionately insist. To those who are in despair over the Trump win, have hope. To those celebrating: remember that our job is to hold government accountable to be just, fair, benevolent, peacable, and dedicated to the flourishing of all human beings (all of whom bear the divine image).” (Patrick Franklin)

“Whenever the question of national leadership comes up, my mind goes to Psalm 72. It provides a stunning vision of what God wants all leaders and rulers to be like, especially in prioritizing the needs of the poor. Christians believe three things about this: first, that the vision was fulfilled in Jesus himself; second, that with Jesus already enthroned, all rulers are called to imitate this model; third, that those who faithfully follow Jesus have the responsibility to share his rule by reminding those who exercise worldly power of their calling.” (N.T. Wright)

Post-election thoughts: I’m disappointed.

My disappointment is not really in who was elected. We live in a democracy and the people have spoken. Now we can live with it for the next four years or so, just as we have done for all previous elections. We still live in an amazing country and most of us, when we boil it down, have little to complain about. I’m confident that it will stay that way. Sure, we may not like some of the changes that come our way, but do we need to fear? No. And yet that’s exactly what I see and hear.

I’ve been shocked with some of the stuff I’ve seen and heard in the course of this election campaign, both before and after the election. If there’s anything that brings fear to my heart (even though we shouldn’t fear!), it’s what I saw on social media during this election (yes, this is mostly about Facebook).

Two things in particular concern me. They have to do with the possibility civil dialogue and theological grounding.

1. Civil dialogue. I’m worried that we are losing (or have lost) our ability to have civil dialogue. Dialogue requires not just listening but also the effort to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. It seems to me we did very little of either listening or empathizing during this election, at least if Facebook is any indication (it might be that it isn’t, but I doubt it).

When we engage in civil dialogue, we will discover that the “other” is rather a lot like we are, with similar foundational goals and fears and perceptions and weaknesses as we have, even if on the “issues” we disagree. And when we discover this, we discover that we are dealing with fellow human beings. With neighbours.

Instead, what I saw was a lot of plugged ears while screaming out personal points of view mixed with prejudice, mockery, and hatred.

2. Theological grounding. What didn’t come across my Facebook feed was anything that remotely suggested that what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ has any bearing on what we think are important election policies. (And I don’t think that the only faith-based issues are abortion—which none of the major parties are interested in addressing—or marriage.

Based on my feed the election was all about the economy, taxes,  and what is best for me personally, irrespective of my neighbours’ needs. (And also half-truths and lies about the politicians we didn’t like).

But where did Jesus’ teachings come into play? Where did God’s heart and character (love, grace, mercy, justice, forgiveness) come into play, not only in policy but in the conversation?

Christians are called to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, MIND, and strength. I feel like politics has a knack for turning all of those things off, not least the God-loving mind.

Rex Murphy talks some sense

I was thinking about writing a post about my thoughts on the recent Canadian election. But what do I know of politics.  So here’s a clip of Rex Murphy talking sense about Stephen Harper and the Conservatives (other than the unnecessary jab at intellects). I don’t know Murphy’s political bent. For the record, I didn’t vote Conservative, so this isn’t about my political proclivities. I just don’t like the fear-mongering that goes on.

The Lord helps those…

I’ve dived (dove? doven?) right into my reading for this semester.  The first book I started is Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (a mouthful with the subtitle).  It’s written from a sociological perspective and one of the chapters deals with the fact that, among other things, Christianity was able to mobilize a human response to epidemics in a way that pagan religion was not able to.

What was new and different about Christianity was the “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural” and that “because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please  God unless they love one another” (86).  Emperor Julian–not a fan of Christianity–noted the benevolence of Christians and wanted pagans to at least match this activity, “but for all that he urged pagan priests to match these Christian practices, there was little or no response because there were no doctrinal bases or traditional practices for them to build upon.  It was not that Romans knew nothing of charity, but that it was not based on service to the gods” (88). The pagans mostly fled the cities to save themselves from epidemics; Christians stayed in the cities and cared not only for their own but also for those sick pagans who had been left behind.

There were, in Stark’s view, a number of implications to this Christian charity which contributed to the rapid rise of the faith, but that’s another matter (though an interesting one).  However, this particular passage struck me:

I suggest reading the following passage from Matthew (25:35-40) as if for the very first time, in order to gain insight into the power of this new morality when it was new, not centuries later in more cynical and worldly times:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

When the New Testament was new, these were the norms of the Christian communities. Tertullian [one of the church “fathers”] claimed: “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!'” (87)

This immediately put in mind of the relatively recent brouhaha over universal medicare in the U.S. Run from your church if they talk about social gospel!, says Glenn Beck (inexplicably the new spokesperson for what appears to be much of the Christian right).  What is the social gospel?  As far as I can tell, these words of Jesus in Matthew are the essence of the social gospel. And it comes from the mouth of Jesus!

How it is that the “Christian right” came to oppose the notion of universal healthcare is beyond me.  It seems to me that they ought to be the ones who most strongly support it.  I’m not suggesting that state sponsored medicare is a biblical mandate.  What is a biblical mandate is care for those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and what have you.  The state steps in because Christians are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Somebody needs to heed Jesus’ words.

It would be one thing if the Christian right opposed universal healthcare on the grounds that they wanted to provide it instead of the Joe and Jane Taxpayer, but from what I can gather those within the church who opposed universal healthcare are not afraid of the government shuffling into their territory.  At least, not the territory of taking care of orphans and widows in their distress.  But the territory of tax dollars and the American dream?  Yes.  After all, God helps those who help themselves, it says somewhere in Hezekiah.

It scares me to think that many Christians seems to be drifting away from this “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural”.

Ground Zero Mosque

I haven’t been following this Mosque on Ground Zero business very closely (is it actually on ground zero or near ground zero? It seems to depend on who you ask), but theologian John Stackhouse has some good things to say about it, if you’re at all interested.

From his first post on the subject:

If we don’t think all Muslims are implicated in the attack, then of course they should be allowed to build a mosque or community centre or whatever the heck they want to build wherever the zoning and funding will allow—just like any other citizens.

I’m a Christian. In fact, I’m an evangelical Christian. Am I implicated in the shooting of abortion doctors? Am I implicated in the policies of the Harper government here or the Bush administration recently gone? Am I implicated in whatever James Dobson or Pat Robertson or Franklin Graham or Benny Hinn says? If so, then I’m a pretty dangerous guy. If not, then you’ll have to treat me like anyone else you hardly know: as a neighbour, a fellow citizen, who must be allowed the full exercise of his rights and liberties until I have manifestly proven myself unworthy of them.

I think this is the strongest argument–American rights and freedoms.  I’m not sure how it could be seen otherwise.

In his second post he deals with the question of Islam and violence, pointing out that humans are prone to violence and will use whatever they can to legitimize it–whether it is Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or some other ethos:

We cannot, therefore, oppose the Ground Zero mosque on the grounds that even mainstream Islam legitimizes some violence sometimes–as if Christianity (or secular humanism, or what have you) doesn’t. It all depends on what violence is legitimized in what circumstances. And so the key point here is that the particular violence in question, the violence of 9/11, has been explicitly and repeatedly condemned by the Muslim leaders who want the mosque and community center to be built.

That’s *A*moral (coupla things…)

I read a remarkable essay by William T. Cavanaugh for my Ethics class: “Discerning: Politics and Reconciliation“.  As it happens, that entire essay is available for preview at Google Books (it’s found in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics).  That’s not the best format for reading the essay, but it’s the only online version I could find.  I’d like to cover it in depth here, but I don’t have time.

In a nutshell, Cavanaugh briefly traces the rise of liberal (small-l) political theory (the foundation of our representative governments) and how it is based the autonomy of the individual and the inevitable conflict that rises between autonomous individuals.  Some form of political authority (ultimately representative government) is necessary as an enforced reconciler or peace-keeper.  Liberal political theory is based on the inevitability of conflict (and possibly the necessity of war with other nati0ns) and the continual suppression of this conflict–a forced peace, if you will.  Violence, in other words, is the norm in liberal political theory.  It is a tragic theory and true reconciliation is never realized.

The Biblical story on the other hand argues that conflict and violence is not “the state of nature”, it is not natural or foundational to being human.  The Biblical story, particularly in the first couple of chapters of Genesis, shows that the way things are now is not the way they’ve always been.  Our current plight is not the norm, not the way things ought to be. The Christian story, in other words, allows for true reconciliation to be realized.

He then goes on to argue that the Church’s liturgy (that is, its gathering to worship) is a way of enacting this reconciliation.

I haven’t done justice to Cavanaugh’s essay, so I urge you to read it for yourself.  It’s quite something.

(I see that there is a Christian Century interview with Cavanaugh available online: “Liturgy as Politics: An Interview with William Cavanaugh“.  I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it might cover similar ground.)

* * *

Also watch the IdeasExchange podcast page at Aqua Books for last Saturday’s talk by Dr. Chris Holmes, my ethics and theology professor.  The title of his presentation is “‘Christianity is Basically Amoral:’ Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Principle-free Christianity”.  I’m not sure how long it will be before it’s posted (it’s not up yet), but look for ‘Christopher Holmes 10.24.2009’.

In the meantime, here’s a Bonhoeffer quote from his talk and from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, which we are working through in Christian Ethics:

Behold God become human, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world.  God loves human beings.  God loves the world. Not an ideal world, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world.  What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love. God establishes a most intimate unity with this. God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. (Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 84)

Illegal alien?

Took my passport application to the local Passport Canada service centre.  They said it would take 4 weeks plus mailing time to get my passport if I submitted it through them.  That’s cutting it too close.  They told me the application process would go significantly faster if I took my application directly to the processing centre in Saskatoon.  So Madeline and I made an unscheduled trip to Saskatoon this afternoon.

Things at the Passport Office went relatively quickly.  Ran into my high school physics teacher there, too, of all places. Small world.  I was at the Passport Office for about half an hour.  It would have taken less time than that, except the girl looking after me had to confer with her boss a couple times.

You see, I had to fill in an extra page for my application because I am not a naturalized Canadian and neither of my parents were born in Canada.  I explained how I acquired my citizenship (it was a legitimate acquisition, folks) and then she told me that the reason I had to fill out the extra page was that my citizenship may have expired.  I was already a little nervous about arriving in Saskatoon and discovering that I was missing a page from my application or had dropped one of my passport pictures in downtown Prince Albert.  The possibility of not actually being a citizen, and therefore ineligible for a passport, wasn’t helpful information.

I explained my citizenship process again: I received my Canadian citizenship at birth, even though I was born in the Netherlands, because my father, who was also born in the Netherlands, had acquired his Canadian citizenship by immigration in the late 40s or early 50s.  She went back to her boss again and returned with better news.  She had spoken too soon and citizenship probably wasn’t going to be an issue.

So I should have a passport in about 3 weeks, including mailing time.

My destination this afternoon was the federal building in Saskatoon.  I spent 30 minutes or less there.  The rest of the time: about 75 minutes drive to Saskatoon; 30 minutes driving through downtown Saskatoon trying to find a bloody parking spot; at least 60 minutes of driving (mostly idling, actually) between the federal building and the Cirle Drive/Idylwyld bridge to get out of the city (would have taken a more direct route, but there is construction on Idyldyld, so I got to that intersection by way of 22nd and Circle Drive, which in the end was probably no faster); 75 minutes from Saskatoon back home.  So, to sum up: 240 minutes of driving/idling for less than 30 minutes of actual business.  Saskatoon is a great city, but I hate it.  At least, I hate in it.

But that’s one less thing to worry about.

Stress Level: Midnight

My ongoing responsibilities:

  1. Family/Home
  2. Legal assistanting
  3. Church work
  4. Seminary course

I’m not a multi-tasker, so these have been interesting times.  The seminary work has been the biggest stress.  I just can’t seem to find the time or discipline to read when I’m awake enough to be fully aware of the text I’m reading.  I have quite a bit of time left, but with December mostly a write-off I’m feeling a bit of pressure.

Last Sunday I planned the worship.  It’s not one of my strengths.  Believe it or not, I find putting an order of service together much more stressful than writing a sermon.  So I came down from a fairly high-stress week after last Sunday’s service.  I preach this coming Sunday, but that’s not stressing me out so much.  Not yet, anyway.

I got a call at work this afternoon advising me that I’ll probably be heading to Chicago the first week of February for a conference.  This was all fine and dandy, until I told Dixie about it and she reminded me that I need a passport to get into the U.S.  That’s when my stress level shot up.  If I get my application in before Christmas, I should get my passport juuuuuuuuust in time to fly to the Windy City.

So I sat at the computer for an hour and a half trying to complete a 3-page online application form.  The site kept timing out on me, so I’d lose some information and have to sign in again.  (And it would have been nice to be able to renew the passport that expired in ’87.)  But I finally got that done.  Then off I went to Shopper’s Drug Mart to get my passport photo taken.  I sat there for 20 minutes while the poor guy there tried to get the flash behind me to sync with the camera-mounted flash.  He finally got it working and took the most dreadful picture of bewhiskered me.  Dixie says the picture is cute.  I think I look about 15 years older than I am.  You should see the bags under my eyes!  It doesn’t help that you’re not allowed to smile in passport pictures.  (Dixie says I never smile in pictures anyway, but my face looks particularly long in this picture.  The beard doesn’t help.)

Hopefully the application will be dealt with tomorrow.

Now I’ve finished everything I planned to do today.  Except study, work on my sermon, fill out the conference registration form and seal the air leaks around the door frame, but tomorrow is another day.

I don’t begrudge this stress.  It’s thrilling in some respects and “good” stress, as far as that is possible.  But it’s tiring.

Fair Trade fair?

There is an interesting discussion going on at Scot McKnight’s blog about whether or not Fair Trade is a good thing.  Naturally, there are good (non-self-interested) arguments for both sides in the comment (Scot is now blogging at beliefnet.com and I haven’t quite figured out how to get both the full text of the post and all the comments at the same time).

One comment (by a Joey) stood out for me:

Live local, buy local. I don’t claim to know tons about how the world market works or even the Fair Trade industry but it seems that the only sustainable and responsible way to do agriculture is to do it locally and to encourage others to do the same. We have plenty of farm land in the US to supply our nutritional needs. So do countries in South America. It is our attitude of entitlement that makes us think we deserve strawberries in January not our responsible stewardship.

(No comment linkage possible.)

Not about the Fair Trade issue per se, but a good point nonetheless.  I keep thinking that I should, to begin with, buy more stuff at the local farmer’s market.

My Economics 101 professor in university told me that I should think about pursuing an economics major.  Economics 200 proved within the first two weeks of class to be disasterous for me, so that didn’t pan out.  So, I don’t have a clue about the ins and outs of international trade, economics and politics, but I’ve always wondered why we import grain and oil (for instance) from other countries when it’s my understanding that we’re quite capable of meeting our own demand for those products.

Incidentally, the other day I got to thinking that I should just start buying Tim Hortons’ beans, because, quite frankly, it’s the coffee I enjoy most (I don’t care what the rest of you snobs think).  Judging by their website (their website, mind you), Tim Hortons appears to be involved in fair trade practices (without, apparently, a stamp of approval from an arbitrary fair trade approver and stamper) and even addressing some of the concerns of some of the commenters on Scot McKnight’s blog.

They offer

direct financial assistance for technical training to improve the quantity and quality of coffee produced and assist farmers in getting their coffee to market at the best time and for the best price. Assistance is also provided on environmental management, in both proper farming techniques and reforestation projects, led by Tim Hortons.

Tim Hortons also recognizes the need for direct involvement with coffee growing communities for their social programs – providing assistance primarily in education and medical care.

The Tim Hortons approach is different from other world wide sustainable coffee initiatives. While admirable, some programs may require certification on behalf of the farmers which is an expense they cannot afford, plus the price provided may be less than what it should be and may have no relation to the quality of the coffee produced. In addition, the programs can have little or no involvement on the part of the coffee retailer. The Tim Hortons program ensures that the money spent actually reaches or benefits the coffee grower and the surrounding community. (link)

Am I just gullible or can I buy Tim Hortons coffee in good conscience?  (And if you think I’m gullible—how many of you have looked up the organizations that allow other FT coffees to put their stamp of approval on their packaging—how do we ever know if it’s really fair trade without going down to the plantations ourselves?)