Monday, October 30, 2006

Faith and Politics?

So much news lately has contained our Midwestern senator from Illinois Barack Obama. It seems since he's mentioned the possibility of running for the highest position in the land he seems to be everywhere. But my personal favorite is the article in this months issue of sojourners Magazine written by this man in question.

It's an excellent articulation of faith and politics. It's a really interesting speech/article about how the progressive Christian voice can have good conversation with the Christian right.

So if you haven't read it. Go over to Sojourners or pick a copy up at Borders or wherever and check this article out.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Valley of Dry Bones

Ezekiel 37:1-10 - The Valley of Dry Bones

1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”3 I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord."

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'" 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.


If we are honest with ourselves, we live amongst a valley of bones. It is not hard for us to see the downward spiraling direction of our world. Each day as we turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper we am bombarded with each new outrageous event, yesterday I opened and the lead story was this bombing in a holiday market in Iraq. Did you see it? This attack was 5 bomb-rigged motorcycles and mortar rounds exploding in a crowded holiday market killing between 18-20 people and injuring many more. These civilians were out in the market buying chocolate, candy, and new clothes to celebrate the end of Ramadan (the holy month of fasting). Imagine that one moment you are shopping, the next moment you are standing next to an exploding motorcycle? I don’t quite know what to make of things. It’s sometimes hard to imagine that we, as humanity, are capable of such wickedness and evil. Ever since this most recent war in the Middle East has erupted it has become increasingly hard to see the end of this conflict, it has been hard to see the good amongst the bad. Each day seems to take us further into the darkness of the night.

But we don’t have to go half way around the world to find messy justice or suffering. What are you supposed to do, when what is happening can’t be explained or rationalized, and the old rules no longer apply?

When I was in high school my grandfather came to live with us because he was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s. You see my dad and his siblings took turns taking care of their father, who had progressed so far into Alzheimer’s that on certain days didn’t even recognize them. Alzheimer’s is bad and then some; and all you can do is watch as someone you love becomes a shadow and fades away.

As a teenager (and even now) I didn’t really understand how and why things like Alzheimer’s happen. It’s really heart wrenching and painful to look your grandpa in the face, and see your grandpa staring back at you, and he doesn’t remember you; or that he used to take me to the swimming pool where he taught me how to do handstands in the water.

Sometimes my brother and I used to laugh about it. We used to laugh at ourselves and at him, about the seemingly hopelessness of it all. There was an afternoon when I came home from school and my grandpa chased me out of my house ‘cause he thought I was the gardener who was stealing from him. Ironically, he never had a gardener.

We sought all sorts of help for my grandpa, we took him to doctors, and we dealt with lawyers, and we prayed about his condition. I remember one night where I prayed that he would die in his sleep. The next morning I was sitting at the kitchen table talking to my mother about all of it. I asked her if we knew what we were doing with grandpa was right. I asked her if she thought we were doing the best thing for him. That’s when my mom said something I will never forget, “We don’t know what’s best anymore, how could we know?” How are we supposed to know what to do about suffering? How are we supposed to know what is true amongst all this violence and pain that is in this world?

So if we are honest, we are like Ezekiel looking over this valley of dry bones, we see the devastation and destruction lying before us. We see conflicts breaking out in more places than we see peace. Instead of countries putting down their weapons, we have added another country to the nuclear family. Instead of learning to mix with those different around us, we see ourselves creating more gated communities. Instead of seeing fewer people living in extreme poverty, we are seeing more. Instead of finding alternatives fuel sources, we are driving bigger SUV’s. Instead of feeding the children in Africa, we buy more Starbucks. Instead of our justice system rehabilitating prisoners, we see more repeat offenders. Instead of learning how to share our resources, we are teaching people to stockpile. Instead of revitalizing inner cities, we move to the suburbs. Instead of extending civil liberties, we are beginning to legislate them out of existence. Instead of helping those who come to this country seeking a new life, we build a $1.2 billion dollar 700 mile long fence! I think it’s pretty clear that when we look around and tell the truth, that we (like Ezekiel) are standing in a valley of dry bones.

God asks Ezekiel a question “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel responses “Lord, You alone know.” I think it’s like my mom telling me how could we know what was best for your grandpa? This is us asking for God’s answer. This is a tipping point. This is the moment when we can pack it in and say that we don’t think things are going to work out in the end; that there is just too much evil in this world. Or this can be the moment when we stand up and proclaim life.

This is where people have a critique of Christian hope, Christian eschatology, the doctrine of the ‘end times’ or ‘last things,’ has often been reduced to escapism, fire insurance, and/or justice in the future. It has been reduced to a heaven away from here, and the Christian’s job is to take as many people along to this good place as possible. We can’t let our hope be reduced to this; we can’t leave hope to deal only with the future. If we leave hope in the future, we lose the impact of hope on the present. God doesn’t call Ezekiel to leave hope in the future; God calls him to speak out now!

God said prophecy to these bones and Ezekiel prophesied. God said tell these bones that there will be life; Ezekiel does and then there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As Ezekiel stood in this valley of death he watched as tendons and flesh appeared on the skeletons and skin covered them. God is calling us to prophecy today on his behalf to yell out to this valley of dry bones that they too will live and that God will give them the breath of life.

I was reading a book around the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa the other day. The author, John De Gruchy, talked about a symposium that he went to in 1994 about whether or not the first democratic elections in South Africa could be ‘free and fair.’ Virtually all the participants were social and political scientists, except him (he’s a theologian). Hard nosed statistics and political realism drove the discussion throughout the day, and as the day progressed the mood became more somber and pessimistic. There was so much intimidation and violence in certain parts of the country that everything pointed away from the elections fulfilling the necessary criteria. Having agree with a great deal of what was being said, he began to share the mood, yet there was always something nagging in his consciousness that prevented him from succumbing to the prevailing pessimism. Finally in an act of desperation, he blurted out that no matter what statistics and the wisdom of political science might tell us, they could never have the last word. From a faith perspective nothing could happen to bring about change in South Africa unless people lived and acted in hope. Politics might be the art of the possible, but theology is the art of the impossible and unexpected.

We acting together can participate in developing a common vision for the future and in seeking to make that vision a reality. Judgment day is every day, just as every day can be the day of salvation. How we respond to this possibility and offer determines whether the future opens up in a way that restores justice or not.

“Hope becomes the only realistic way to live because it takes seriously ‘the possibilities with which all reality is fraught’ (Theology of hope - Jurgen Moltmann).” Those who trust in God’s promises will never be prepared to give evil the last word. We the church must be a ‘constant disturbance in human society’ because we refuse to allow things as they are to remain set in concrete. Hope must lead to creative action, for new thinking, new planning. Hope should be distinct from wishful thinking or utopian longing, it should precisely be that which makes us creatively alive to possibilities in the present as well as the future.

Not only does God raise the valley of bones into flesh once more, but God also breaths his spirit into them. “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” You see the problem with hope only in the future is that it leaves little room to imagine alternatives; if we look at things only in a rational modern framework we take away the element of surprise. One of the best things about humanity is that even in the darkest of times, even in the most selfish nooks on the planet, we get surprises. We must live in hope. Hope remains powerful and the necessary antidote to despair – despair about crime, violence, illness, and the ongoing struggles of this world. Hope is all about the vision of what God believes our world can be and should be. Hope is a valley of bones becoming an army that knows God’s love.

Hope must be our obsession of life! What else is the Christian gospel of reconciliation about than life lived within Christ’s call to enter the Kingdom of God, the promise of new life, new worlds, and new possibilities breaking down the old?

Let us Pray.

I want to show you a video during our reflection time, which is a prime example of hope as an obsession for life. I want to show you want it looks like to tell the truth and move towards a new relationship. I want you to see what it looks like to live into the vision of hope.

Check out for more info on the video and donations made.