Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Eve

What a wonderful surprise, people came! Kate and I were ready to have the service with just us two but a couple dozen folk braved the snow and ice to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Hopefully the weather will improve by Sunday. In any case, we'll be here 10:30 a.m.

Hope to see you then.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve

Yes, indeed we will be holding our usual Christmas Eve celebration at Keystone at 7 p.m. If you can come safely, please do.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunday Service 2

Peg is staying home. Chris was asked to do so as well. I don't want anyone taking a risk. The roads around the church were bad before and they have been getting worse all night. I will be there on Sunday but it will be a very sparse worship service, certainly nothing to risk injury over. Stay safe and perhaps take some time to remember those sleeping outside.

Things may improve by Christmas Eve.


Sunday Service

Keystone will have its usual Sunday service on the 21st. The Taiwanese Congregation has cancelled its worship and so, rather than heat up the sanctuary just for us, we will be worshipping in the fellowship hall downstairs.

Please do not risk your safety to come but if you can get here safely, we look forward to seeing you at 10:30.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holden Prayer Cancelled

Due to the snow and ice we have cancelled the Holden Evening Prayer this evening.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday Sermon

Advent 3 Year B 12\14\08
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
By Rich Gamble

Imagine how the world would be if you were queen or king. How would you order it? Most of us flawed humans would order the world in such a way that we would prosper and the people we liked would prosper and we would be able to keep our hands on the throne. Now that is exactly what we are taught to do with power. Use it to prosper and help those connected with us prosper and make sure that we retain the power so that things continue to go our way. In the world of the Domination System which we are taught is ultimate reality, this is called success.

If we really let it, the alternative reality of this poem shatters the hold of the Domination System on our way of understanding the measure of meaning of success in our lives. God here takes the side of losers.

Now if you are one of the losers mentioned in the poem: the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the prisoners, this is good news; but if you are not one of those folks, then this poem constantly reminds you that no matter where the wheel of fortune takes you it’s the losers who have God’s ear, and it makes you think differently about success.

Ultimately success is found in aligning yourself with the values you think are most important. So success in the world of the God of this poem (and this poem reflects much of the sentiment of the Bible) is aligning yourself with the losers; who, with God on their side and all of those who honor this God as well, means that the losers really aren’t the losers after all. The losers are the winners and the winners are the losers.

That is what the reference to “the year of the Lord's favor,” is all about. It is a reference to the Jubilee that event that is supposed to occur once every fifty years when debts are forgiven and land goes back to the original owners. One day you are a loser in life’s game, poor, in debt, with no work, and no assets and then comes the year of the Lord’s favor and bingo bango you are out of debt, you have a job as a farmer, and you own the land you farm free and clear. You are a big winner. Now if you have all sorts of people who owe you money and you have greatly expanded your land holdings then the year of the Lord’s favor is no favor to you. One day you are leading a life of opulent leisure and the next day you are sweating behind a plow on a piece of land that is no bigger than anyone else’s. You are a big loser.

This poem and one of two primary trajectories of the Bible turns the Domination System on its head and calls us to live in that reality today and not wait for those with all the power and wealth to decide one day to give it all away.

The poem doesn’t describe the reality found within the Domination System which the world sees as the only real alternative for civilization. The poem describes an alternative reality which comes to pass as we live in it. We make the path by walking it.

My natural inclination is to talk about this in terms of economics because in America in the 21st Century the dollar is a primary source of meaning for our social order. But it is important to understand that there are other ways that this alternative reality is experienced.

One way was the way this church chose to go before I was pastor. At some point the church went through a process and declared itself Open and Affirming to people who were Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered. In most churches, to go through the process means to study, pray, and then a vote. The vote is to be open to the presence of members of the GLBT community in our community, but more than that it is a vote to be affirming of them as they are and not expect that they will have to hide who they are to conform to the majority.

Often the process creates divisions among those who are supportive of the GLBT community and those who believe that such persons are living contrary to the will of God. Generally when a church goes through this process some folks leave. It can be painful to take such a stand for a church and often people wonder why do it, why pursue a process which is going to cause hurt feelings and division.

Well you see the people who say such things are the winners. They like the way things are and don’t want to shake up the world. But just as this poems says, God is all about shaking up the world and taking the side of those who are oppressed and imprisoned. Sometime that prison is the prison of being forced to hide who you are.

It is good to restate and confirm that stand taken by this church years ago. And it is important to state that it is the belief that this church is open to and affirming of our gay lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sister and brothers. And we do this because of our faith in God revealed in scripture like that today.

In general our faith calls on us to stand on the side of those that the Domination System oppresses.

The Domination System supports belief in God and also uses the Bible. They would say that God is in control of everything and God wants each individual person to conform to the majority expression of the gender they were given and if they fail to do so, they are standing in contradiction to God. But the God they refer to is the God of Domination, who wants to force people to conform to way things are rather than transform the way thing are to a more just and loving world.

In terns of economics that means to transform our economic system to accommodate those who are poor. In terms of political systems it means to transform our politics to accommodate those who lack influence. In terms of our social systems it means to transform those systems to accommodate those who are oppressed because of who they are.

This poem calls us to be on the side of a revolutionary God whose love is manifested by dramatic transformations of the systems which shape our world.

The ways we participate in that revolution of compassion and justice are many and varied but it begins by our commitment to treat each person who finds themselves among us with support and love.

Then all we have to do help the world do the same.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Holden Evening Prayer

We had the first of our Thursday night Advent celebrations. For several years now we have been using the Holden Evening Prayer in Advent. It is short, simple, and a joy. 7 p.m. Bring a friend.

Hope Beyond Hope

Advent 1 Year B 2008
Isaiah 64:1-9
Hope Beyond Hope
By Rich Gamble

Scholars generally believe that Isaiah can be divided into three parts. The first is thought to occur before the Exile, the second during the Exile and the third after the Exile. The Exile being that profound time in the history of the Jewish people in which the leadership of Israel is carried off by the Babylonian army back to Babylon, to be settled there as a servant class to the empire.

Before the Exile, Isaiah warns the people that they need to change. During the Exile, Isaiah provides the exiles with hope for the future. After the Exile, Isaiah speaks about the hoped for nature of the reforming community of returning exiles.

This passage is from the last stage of Isaiah. We get a sense from this poem that things are not going so well for the people who have come back from exile. Isaiah alludes to a problem with the surrounding governments. The poet calls out for God to intervene directly, to come in and scare those other nations so badly that they will no longer bother Israel.

But the poet notices that God isn’t intervening and then reflects that there is a reason, Israel are impure. God has good reason for being aloof and unhelpful. Israel has not lived according to the will of God.

The last stage of the poem goes against the preceding thought. The people of Israel are God’s people. No matter how rotten they may act, God still has a responsibility to them. They are God’s creation. They are God’s children. Even God can’t choose God’s family.

The poem then, moves from hope, to hopelessness, to deepening hope. The hope of Israel is not something that can be damaged by their own lack of faithfulness. The hope of Israel is securely held in the constancy of God. The poem then strives to nudge God to get on with the business of rescuing Israel.

This is a nice poetic movement but it doesn’t address the primary issue that causes the poet to cry out. Things are bad and God’s not intervening.

The work required rebuilding the city and temple to even a shabby semblance of its former glory was exceedingly stressful. On top of that there was the fact that though they were back in their homeland, they were still second class citizens within the Persian Empire.

You can see why they felt the way they did. They were trying as hard as they could but the results were far from their hopes. They felt overwhelmed and turned to a vision of God as superhero to come and save them.

Most folks still think of God in that way. If you think of God as the ultimate dominator, who is supposedly on your side but doesn’t intervene when you are in trouble, it is natural to blame yourself and others for the absence of such a God. It is hard to blame an omniscient, omnipotent God, so who can you blame when such a God does not deliver on a request for intervention? The line between seeing God who uses the power of domination, and seeing yourself and others as being impure seems clear.

But we have been talking about God in a different way, thinking about God using a different power, and that leads us to thinking differently about ourselves.

If God is not a potentate in the sky but the spirit of agape love flowing through the heart of humanity, then everything changes. The God of love won’t come in with the power to punish but instead will inspire with power to empathize. The fact that God has not come to beat up those who have been mean to us isn’t a comment about our unworthiness or God’s non-existence but is about the fact that this God doesn’t do the macho superhero thing.

The God of love does not call on us to look around and find out whose been impure, so that they can be the scapegoat for our suffering in a world ruled by an emperor god. The God of love is not absent or the source of punishment. The God of love is ever active in powerful ways but not in ways which often show up on the radar of those of us trained to see power as domination.

Hope is an important manifestation of the power of the God of agape love. As seen through the lens of the Domination System, hope is a manifestation of weakness. Those with domination power don’t hope, they simply take what they want. For them, hope is for the weak.

The God of agape love is most active among the weak and the vulnerable and hope among such people is a real force for change. Without hope, people don’t try to change things. They assume that the way things are is the way they will always be and that resistance is futile. People without hope follow the logic of violence and greed even when they can see all around them the damage that such forms of power cause.

But hope is a tricky thing. It has power in and of itself, but that power can be misdirected depending on the source and direction of the hope.

This is where some of Isaiah’s ideas of God miss the mark. Isaiah sees God as ultimate dominator, so his hope is that God will swoop in and smash his enemies. He has hope, and that hope will help him resist going along with the way things are, but the source and direction of that hope may not inspire him to take action. Isaiah’s action is to encourage God to swoop in.

Many folks on this planet have hope that God will eventually swoop in and smash their enemies. This hope may help them resist being co-opted by the world they perceive of as hostile but it doesn’t help them change their response. It doesn’t help them move in a hopeful direction to resolve the problem. Instead the hope of divine dominator intervention helps keep the pot of hate bubbling. Indeed this kind of hope can lead to acts of suicidal destruction and anticipation of Armageddon.

That is where the final two images of Isaiah’s poem come in: God as potter, God as parent.

A potter makes pottery. Pottery is the creation of the potter. It is rigid, inflexible, unchanging unless it is damaged.

A parent doesn’t make a person. A parent can take a role in forming a person for good or ill but the person themselves have a role. They can choose whether to be formed in the parent’s image, or not. A person is flexible and capable of change and injuries don’t necessarily make for a damaged person, sometimes injuries highlight an inner strength and beauty.

The potter has the unquestioned right to destroy her pottery.

The parent has no right to destroy her child.

God as potter, is an image of control. God as parent is an image of relationship.

Isaiah gives both images but they are radically different images of the nature of God, and hence our nature as human beings and the nature of human endeavors.

The God as parent imagery provides a particular form of hope. It is a hope that we are not alone. We may still have to deal with the bully at school ourselves but we can turn to the wisdom, and the concern of a loving parent.

When we are dealing with a problem that is beyond our ability to overcome, hope is an essential tool. But the hope that truly transforms is not the hope that a superhero God will swoop in but the hope that comes from a relationship with a God who will never abandon our side even at death. This God can inspire us to do what we thought was impossible, this God will transform us to deal with the problems rather than transform the problems.

This God doesn’t have us hope for the intervention of a militarized Jesus part 2 (the revenge of Jesus) in a post Armageddon world.
This God doesn’t have us hope for a miraculous intervention but rather to take hope from a wondrous relationship that not even death can alter.

This God comes to the meek of the world and inspires them to claim and lovingly gain their inheritance. This God is no macho super hero but the Spirit which transforms victims into their own heroes.

Advent is about Hope. Not the hope of a helpless pot to be rescued by the potter. But the hope of a child who someday hopes to be like their parent.

With this hope the world can truly transform.

And that is good news.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Community Center

There is some talk in this neighborhood about building a community center. I like the idea but here at Keystone we are not waiting, we are a center for community. I just counted and right now eleven different groups use space at Keystone Church, twelve counting Keystone’s congregation.

Though working in different ways and on different issues, each of these groups is dedicated to making the world a better place. Two choral groups rehearse at Keystone one promotes peace the other justice, two meditation groups come to meditate, two groups work on issues of peace in the Middle East, one parent support group, one pre-school, one social justice movie gathering, The Heifer Project's office and two church groups gather here.

On top of these groups which regularly gather here, Keystone has hosted many events promoting peace and justice, like the advocacy training session that happened a couple of weeks ago for people seeking to end homelessness.

Though we have much more to offer the world, and even more that we can do with our building and grounds, this openness with our space is a good thing.


Proper 27 Year A
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
By Rich Gamble

It has been an eventful week in the nation. A new president elected and an election filled with emotion and hope. The nation has made a choice. It was a choice for change and away from fear. It was gratifying to see how often the old tactics of smear and scare did not work. It was good to see so many young people so invested in a political outcome.

And it makes for a good time to reflect on what our faith brings to the celebration of the week.

Joshua in this passage has led the Hebrew people in a successful campaign to claim the Promised Land from its inhabitants. The way the story is written it sounds like a conquering horde flowed out of the desert to battle, defeated and claimed land from those who lived there. I like to think of this in a different way. One theologian has posed the idea that what happened wasn’t that an outside group pushed people of a different ethnic background off the land. His theory is that the escaped slaves were few in number but mighty in their faith. They entered the Promised Land with a belief that God was on the side of the lowly folk like slaves. With this God these people gathered up supporters among the oppressed and outcast members of Canaanite society and together they toppled the power of the kings who ruled Canaan. Not conquest but revolution.

In either case those who identified themselves as Hebrews carved out a place in Canaan for themselves. But before they settled down, Joshua wanted to make something very clear: Before they settle, they first need to clearly and openly make a choice about which God they will follow.

I admit that Joshua doesn’t make this God sound all that appealing, a “jealous” God who “will not forgive transgressions” does not sound like Jesus’ understanding of God. The understanding of God seems to have evolved from Joshua’s time to Jesus’.

The important point here though is that a choice needs to be made. Not a choice of which person will lead them but which God they will serve.

This all sounds like superstitious mummery to modern readers. We all talk about God as if there is really only one and the choice is whether you believe in that God or believe in no God at all. Joshua’s choice is between Gods and it is just as real a choice for the world today as it was in his day.

A god is the dynamism of ultimate meaning or to say it another way. What Joshua calls gods are for us the active center of how we understand the nature of life and meaning. We may not call such things god any more, in fact we rarely if ever sit back and examine our ultimate meaning. We rarely if ever are forced to hold these beliefs out at arms length, examine them, compare them to others, and then choose. We just have such ideas affixed to us as children in a culture and never take such lenses off, much less look at other ones and choose. And since we don’t go through the process of examination and discernment and choice we walk through life thinking that our notion of reality and meaning are universal. Many of us believe that everyone understands things the way we do or else they are odd or heretical.

Joshua was right, at that important time it was vital that the people choose their God and understand that such a choice has vast implications.

For some time now we have been trying to get our minds around just how much the lens of the Domination System molds our view of ourselves, the world and God. The God of the Domination System is called by the names of every religion including Christianity because we humans have harmonized the perspective of domination to our understanding of God.

Ultimately the choice of gods is down to two: the god of domination, or the God of ultimate liberation. And what Joshua is doing here is forcing the people to hold those beliefs out at arms length, and choose. If we don’t do that then we just float along on the current of the beliefs and practices of the world around us, and that, within the cultural, political, economic, social and religious systems inside what we call civilization is Domination. Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Moslem they all can be co-opted by the god of domination.

That is what I find troubling about the election this week. We didn’t pull out our core beliefs, examine them and choose the path of liberating agape love. We were not given that choice and none of the candidates represented that choice. What we chose was a president. One who will rule a political, social, religious, and economic system of domination and that system will do more to determine the direction of the leader than the leader will determine the direction of the system.

As followers of the God who embodies love as power and not greed or violence or other forms of domination we can see that though a president has the power to make the world a worse or better place for millions of people, ultimately they are a tool of the god of domination.

President Obama is a moderate who will probably govern in a moderate way. Moderation these days sounds like radical change but we are the people of a truly radical alternative. The word radical comes from the Latin for root. The root of our civilization is domination. True change would be to change the root, to embrace agape love as the power upon which we build communities.

When we grow a world from that root, everything really changes.

I was moved by the joy of our African American sisters and brothers in the election of President Obama. I am glad for them. Many in the media have been waxing eloquently about that as being the fulfillment of the dream of Martin Luther King.

The dream that humans be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character was realized in part by President Obama’s election but there was a bigger dream of Dr. King that this election has not touched.

I want to read to you a passage in the middle of a speech Dr. King gave one year before his assassination. As you hear it, substitute the word terrorist for communist.

“In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy [applause], realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.
It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I'm not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. “

I didn’t hear this sort of vision during the long political season. This vision of the radical shift to the power of love, undermines our popular ideas of national power and pride. This vision doesn’t get someone elected president. It gets them murdered in Memphis and hung on a cross in Jerusalem.

This vision of Dr, King remains untouched by Tuesday’s election. We chose a president but we did not face the choice of power and ultimate meaning.

The passage today calls on us to bigger choice.

The good news is that in choosing our God we are standing at the crossroads where real change, real hope resides.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Proper 25 Year A 10/26/08
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46
Love is Power
By Rich Gamble

I recently saw a short news story from 1968. It showed a group of children in Chicago. The kids were playing a new game called “cops and protesters.” In the game, one group of kids marched around saying things like “peace”, these were the protesters and then another group of kids playing the police would come out with pretend nightsticks and beat the protesters to the ground.

The children were re-enacting the police riots during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in which many protesters did get beaten and kicked and arrested for the crime of demanding peace from a nation at war.

It is easy to see from the children’s point of view that it would be better to be the policeman than the protester in the game or in real life, better to be the man wielding the club than the one being beaten. And for the whole of our civilization that has been the primary perspective. It is better to be on the side of the ones victorious in violence than on the side of the ones bleeding in the dirt. On the whole we are drawn to identify with what we have come to call the winners.

So Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment and instead of giving the top one, he answers with two: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself.

This question about the greatest commandment is not how we would phrase the question. We would say, what is the most important thing that a believer in God should do? Love God and love neighbor.

It is important that Jesus doesn’t just give the “love God” answer alone, because that leaves a big hole. We humans, given the opportunity can create for ourselves an image of God that will justify any action we are willing to take. Many of those policemen beating those Civil Rights or Peace protesters undoubtedly believed that they were being true to their God.

To say that our obligation is to love God is to say nothing. It needs the second part, the particular way in which one loves this particular God. And the God that Jesus is talking about is loved by loving ones neighbors as ourselves. It is especially important that we understand that the concept of “neighbor” was not a person in our group but rather a person outside of our group.

The first commandment and the second cannot be severed. The way we love God is by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Ok, I think y’all get that.

So let’s go back to underlying understanding that goes with this, love is the heart of our calling. Love of God, love of neighbor these are more than the top things on a laundry list of activities. This is the power of God made manifest in the world.

Love is power real power, the power of God. And this love that is the real power of God is reflected in the way we relate to those around us.

We say this stuff all the time without really thinking about the world changing revolutionary nature of this belief.

Love is power.

Our civilization is built on the belief and practice that domination is power and behind domination are the tools of greed and violence.

Those policemen were doing their jobs, following orders, maintaining order. And to do that job, they are issued clubs and guns and the power to deny people their safety and freedom. This is what the world sees as power, the power to make laws, arrest and club people, and throw them into jail. Power is seen as the ability to force others to do our will.

Now imagine a system built on the power of love. Would we issue guns and clubs to people called on to establish a loving environment? What tools would the love police have at their disposal? Perhaps there would be tools to help protect people from those who are violent but clubs and guns would not be used by the love police.

Would we create systems to punish people for their crimes? We might have a place of segregation for those who would repeat incidents of violence. But such places would not be places of punishment. They would be places to help violent people overcome their particular form of mental illness.

Would we have a standing army? Perhaps but not an army of people trained to do violence. We might have a standing peace army of people trained to do conflict mediation and trained to help build schools and bridges. We might have a better funded version of the Peace Corps.

If we turned to the power of love, would we have an economy that was based on profit, which is a system of placing ourselves over our neighbors? What if we took profit out of the equation. Economists of the world cannot envision such a thing. But the authors of the Bible strove to guide us to such a world.

What would entertainment look like in a world powered by this love? Would we be entertained by seeing one person victorious over other people in some “reality” show or one team victorious over another in some sports contest?

Why would need to worry about guarding national borders if we strove to make sure that our nation had nothing more than other nations?

A love based economy may not so easily turn forests into cash, or mountains into cars. Instead there would be an effort to create a sustainable balance between all peoples and between humanity and nature. Americans would have less stuff. The third world would have enough stuff to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

One of the things that some folk complain about when talking about taxes is that it redistributes wealth. Well of course, taxes always redistribute wealth. When pure domination is working the distribution goes from vulnerable people to powerful people and corporations. When love is working it goes from people who have more than they need to people who have less than they need.

A movement based on the power of love will not look like one in a domination based society. Look at Paul in this letter from Thessalonians, Paul is speaking as a leader manifesting the power of love. Does Paul sound like the leader of a nation? He talks about being abused not of striking back. He talks of speaking the truth, without flattery, without appealing to greed, without striving to be popular. Does that sound like any politician these days? In our faith Paul is an image of leadership in the power of love. Jesus was even more such a model and no where more directly than when he hung on the cross.

Love is a power which undermines the foundations of our civilization. Those who prosper from domination will see it as a threat, as well they should, and they will strive to subdue it. Not just by clubs, that is the least effective way. The most effective way is make the love of God something that does not extend into political, social or economic systems. Let people love God as long as all that loving God entails is faith in certain dogmas and practicing certain rituals. Those things don’t get in the way of domination. If people strive to bring love into the center of how we live our lives then the proponents of power will first try to smear the promoters of love as being out of touch, dreamers, ivory tower dwellers, unable to proved security and order.

Since adults and children would often rather side with policemen than protesters; since many would rather be wealthy than just; we may not see the victory of love as the universal notion of power for some time yet. Since love moves from the bottom up, since it rarely owns things like publishing companies or television stations, since it is a threat to the Powers that Be, it moves in ways often unnoticed. It gathers in out of the way places like this.

It is important to understand what we are about here. We gather to know our power and practice using it. We gather to celebrate the example of those who bled in the dirt for peace and justice which are expressions of love. We gather to denounce those who stand victorious in a world of greed and power. We gather to soak up the love of God in a world which proclaims the love of domination.

The good news is, that since Love is the power that holds the universe together, that the power of love will never be defeated. Armies may shatter; nations may fall; economies may crash, but the power of love lives on in us and beyond us.

Clean Up

Environments can mirror our outlook. Keystone has, for some time now been a cluttered repository of things that once were important to someone but now its just stuff we trip over. I did not feel empowered to throw what might be someone’s sacred artifacts away, and neither did anyone else.

This is especially tricky when you share your building with so many groups. Finally, driven by the need to store even more stuff, we decided to gather and decide which were the things we needed and which we did not.

Erv’s oft repeated line was in regards to some thing or another “It is not who we are now.”

Throwing out the semi-sacred artifacts of a bygone era became a bit like a exorcism. We were casting out the remnants of the church that was, to make way for the community that is. The more we rid ourselves of the remnants of the never-to-be-used stuff of the past, the more we open ourselves up to the possibilities of the future.

In that way it could be seen as a metaphor for the clutter in our lives.

That said, there are still a pasture full of sacred cows to remove.

I’m looking forward to it.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

All Church Clean Up

Don't forget, this Saturday is the day we clean the church. We start at 10 a.m. Bring your cleaning supplies.

Sermon Sermon Oct. 19, 2008

Pentecost 24 Year A
Isaiah 45:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22
Always Ready
By Rich Gamble

In the reading from Isaiah this morning we find the residents of the former nation of Israel, captive in Babylon. Their nation has been stomped six ways to Sunday, their armies defeated, their fortifications destroyed, their temple and their capital turned into a charred rubble heap. They are the servants of their Babylonian masters forcibly herded away from their homeland.

In those days, gods were seen as rulers of territory and people. The Hebrew people had believed that their God was the real deal. That is why many of their religious leaders had told the people that they had nothing to fear from other nations. Those nations worshiped the wrong gods Their gods were wimps of wood and stone. So it was a real test of faith when Israel was wiped out. How could God be the real deal and yet God’s people get stomped by worshippers of other gods? How could the people of Israel worship the God of Israel when Israel no longer existed and the people were now residents of Babylon? How could a faith system that was built around making offerings at a Temple exist when there was no Temple?

The people of Israel came up with a remarkable response to the disaster. Instead of abandoning their God for the god’s of Babylon they re-examined their faith to understand how it could be that the people of the first rate God could be conquered second class citizens. Instead of abandoning their faith, they incorporated their disaster into their notion of God and faithfulness.

Do they formulate an escape? No. Do they plan a rebellion? No. This isn’t Egypt. In Egypt when their ancestors had been slaves, the fault was on the Egyptian empire. But this time the people of Israel realized that their situation was their fault. They had aspired to be a top down, domination based political economy. They had been warned that the subsequent injustice would bring doom to their nation. They ignored the warnings. So one day the mighty king of what was left of David’s realm found out that he wasn’t so mighty after all. Those who wanted to be the masters of their neighbors become the slaves of strangers. Poetic justice.

So this time there is no promised land to flee to. There is no safe wilderness to wander in. There is no Moses to lead them. This time they have to make the best of the situation that they believed they brought on themselves. They had gone against God and God had put their nation in time-out.

Instead of a Temple based faith, they formed a literature based faith. You don’t need a fancy Temple for this faith, just a scroll to study, just a poem to ponder, just a tale to tell. Though undoubtedly many chose to become like their Babylonian masters, many chose to remain a people apart, resident aliens. Faithful to a God that did not, by all outward appearances, seem to be in charge. The poets of faith told the people that their exile was part of God’s plan and that there was another chapter in their story.

Then the empire that had swallowed them was swallowed by an even bigger empire. The Persian Empire of Cyrus smashed the armies of Babylon inspiring the poet using the name Isaiah to write this poem about Cyrus. In the poem, the God of Israel tells the King of Persia that the defeat of the Babylonians was part of God’s plan. That’s good propaganda for a weak people caught in turmoil of an empire’s collapse. Those invading Persians are really acting out the will of the God of Israel.

So what are we to learn from all of this? Well let’s acknowledge that the idea the people had about God changed over time. Last week we heard Moses talk God down from genocide. “Just put the lightening bolt down and back away there, big guy. No nation needs to die today.” Well Moses didn’t use those words but that was the gist. God had genocidal intent but changed God’s mind because Moses persuaded God that genocide would give God a bad reputation with the Egyptians. Our notion of God has changed since then.

Over time we have been able to see past our projections onto the divine to see a God that is wholly other. This God operates out of the power of self-giving love. We are still trying to understand how power and self-giving love can be the same, since from the dawn of civilization we have known power in terms of domination and destruction.

This changed concept of God opens up the possibility that God isn’t sitting up on high pulling the strings of fate, controlling who wins the lottery and who gets hemorrhoids. Indeed, if Jesus is right, there are no outward signs of God’s power in the traditional sense. Jesus as the embodiment of God’s love stands on the side of meek, the poor, the oppressed, the sick. Now if God were pulling the strings of fate why wouldn’t the ones for which God has special affinity be wealthy and healthy? Certainly some folks have twisted the faith of Jesus to say just that. They say that the blessings of God are made manifest in the world.

God is………agape…… love. And the will of God is that we create a society which manifests that particular type of love. God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.

Here we are a small community which proclaims a belief that the divine will is love. We look around and we see that behind all the spin of politicians in need of votes, love is not the model for our nation. Agape love, self-giving does not allow some people to revel in riches while others suffer from lack of necessities. Love does not dump hundreds of billions of dollars into militarism and a small percentage of that for care of those in need. Our nation stands in contradiction to the power of love. And for the most part our Christian churches stand in support of our nation.

Like the children of Israel we have awakened to the reality that we are aliens in this empire. And it is worth examining our options.

One path is that of the exiles of Israel. We accept our status as outsiders. In fact we clearly articulate our differences with the concepts of power and success held by the culture which surrounds us. We live as close as we can in the light of the love of God. We stand with the victims of the false faith in the power of domination. We strive where we can to change the world around us but we recognize that it will take greater forces than we possess to make the huge changes needed.

And when some titanic force jars the assumptions of those who trust the power of domination, we see in that a divinely inspired opportunity. God doesn’t have to be cause of the real estate bubble or a stock market crash or a recession or global warming or… but like the people in the exile in Babylon such a disaster can be an opportunity to change our fundamental beliefs about the direction of our lives and society.

Isaiah saw in the catastrophic collapse of Israel the hand of God. Isaiah saw in the collapse of Babylon, the hand of God. And by helping the community see the opportunity within the seeming disaster, an essential transformation occurred within the life of the people of Israel.

Those communities of faith which have actively or passively aligned themselves to the surrounding systems of domination based politics and economics will fall as surely as the Temple in Jerusalem when those surrounding systems collapse. What will survive will be those of us who have a radically alternative vision.

The change that McCain and Obama offer is largely veneer. They moderate between the liberal and conservative sides of the same fundamentally flawed system of domination based power.

Real change is something very different.

And when the old system wavers there is opportunity for the world to really see at least some of that alternative.

Love is not pulling the strings up in heaven. Love is with those who dare to dream. Love is building a new world on the fragile hopes of hungry people.

But when systems of domination weaken or fall, the articulation of the love based alternative is the power of God. It is not inevitable. Indeed it is more likely that a threatened people will resort to more oppression, more violence. Only an active articulation of the vision can change that. Like the poets of the exile, we are called to diligently put forward that alternative vision, lest the world in fear and despair turn to another Stalin or Hitler.

The good news is that the power of love is real power. The good news is that love of God can change hearts and communities. The Good news is that these fretful times can be times of life giving transformation.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Golden Calf, sermon 10/12/08

Proper 23 Year A 101208
Exodus 32:1-14, Matthew 22:1-14
God is Gold?
By Rich Gamble

Often it seems that the lectionary scriptures perfectly fit what is happening in the world. This week’s scriptures certainly do seem to be especially chosen for this week’s news.

First the story:
Our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrew slaves, have followed Moses away from the murderous grip of the Egyptian Empire. They have several moments of panic when they feared what would happen to them in the wilderness, away the predictability of their lives inside the Domination System. Now Moses has left them to climb a mountain and have a heart to heart with the Almighty. Predictably, in his absence they panic.

Moses for them is the voice of God. Without the big Mo they quickly begin to question the direction of their lives. The Domination System in Egypt was all they knew. Out in the wilderness, they were not sure of the rules, were not sure of where food and water and security were going to come from. The manna based economy of God did not allow them to horde up resources to calm their fears. Their lives were based on the trust that tomorrow’s needs would find tomorrow’s answers. Given the choice between a sack full of food and heart full of trust most of us, when we are worried about tomorrow’s breakfast, will opt for the sack.

With Moses off on some monastic retreat, the people were left to their fears and to quell those fears they turned to what they knew, and that was gold.

Gold is a commodity in the Domination System. It is something that holds excess value in an easily transportable way. Otherwise it’s a shiny piece of metal just a different color and a little more bendable than brass or copper. But when people decide that it has great value then it can be an expression of excess value. The Domination System runs on excess value. And something like gold or diamonds or those pretty little pieces of paper we call money represent that value.

You see in the manna economy of the wilderness there was no excess value. When you needed food you went out and gathered manna, if you gathered more than you needed, it would rot; and anyway, no one was going to buy something that anyone could get for free. If you were too young or old or sick and couldn’t gather the manna someone would get it for you. No charge required, no money required.

Ah but in the Domination System it’s all about excess value. I take advantage of others so that I get more value out of my time, or skills than they get. Then I get a profit. The more vulnerable they are and the more powerful I am, the more profit I get out of any exchange. And that profit is more readily usable if it is in something portable, like gold or numbers in a bank account.

The slaves remember the significance of gold. They took the gold off the Egyptians as they fled Egypt. So they have these baubles, gold rings and earrings and naturally when they lose sight of the God of the alternative order, they turn back to that which provided security in the old order. Surplus value in the Domination System is the source of security. These people felt that they needed security and what better place to find it than the gold on their fingers.

So they panicked and Aaron (the kind of religious leader who would rather be popular than faithful) organized them into manufacturing a god of gold. We all want our god(s) to be a source of security and we also want our god(s) to be readily accessible. We want them to love us and hate the people we hate. We want God to give us what we want and on our schedule. The God of Gold can do all of that. Idols don’t ask us to go through the difficult process of transformation. They just rubber stamp our prejudices and desires. A good idol will always be on the side of our nation, our race, our religion, our culture, our economic system. A good idol will bless us with wealth and health and security or at the very least eternal life and never ask us to make a fundamental change. In the Golden Calf, our spiritual ancestors got the security of gold along with the divine malleability of an idol. The Golden Calf was never going to ask them to do what they didn’t want to do. The Golden Calf was never going lead them where they didn’t want to go. The Golden Calf would only go where they carried it. Now that’s a convenient God.

This sounds so much like today. Suddenly the American people are panicked. We have no spiritual leader guiding us away from the tyranny of our own desires. Long ago we as a people traded our faith in the real God of Jesus for a golden cross that we can wear around our necks. But our God of gold seems to be failing us. And so the high priests come and say that we have to turn throw future generations in debt so that we can appease the mystical god of the market. (The modern day equivalent to sacrificing babies) We common mortals don’t understand how heaving money at banks is going to help us but we do it because we don’t know how this thing called an economy works. We are told that the market lost 1.2 Trillion dollars of value in a single day. Lost? Where did it go? When I lose my glasses I have a fair idea where to look. Where do we look for the 1.2 trillion? All of a sudden this idea of excess value doesn’t seem so normal and easy to understand. Basically in a single day 1.2 trillion dollars of value was lost because a group of people lost faith.

Suddenly our economy isn’t about real values like food for hungry people. It’s about faith. Our whole economic system could collapse because people have lost faith in that system. Suddenly the curtain is pulled away and we see the awful truth. The system which pays a CEO 275 times the salary of average worker functions only because we have faith in it. A system which allows billions of people to go hungry, keeps running only because we have faith in it. It has never been about faith in God and the common sense world of business. It has always been about competing faith systems. One built on excess value gained through taking advantage of our neighbors. One based on having only enough and making sure the same is true for everyone else. What we call faith has tangible economic, social and political implications. What they call economics and politics is built on a mystical faith in excess value and domination. It is all about choosing which faith system to live in.

That’s why the people didn’t want to go to the party in Matthew’s parable; they didn’t want to put on the party clothes. God’s party is for everyone but everyone is called on to put on the right clothes, which is a metaphor for changed lives. That transformation is costly for those who have accrued a great deal of excess value or status in the old system. In the realm of God, they are called to part with the excess acquired in the world of false gods. That’s why “successful” people don’t want to come to God’s party. And that is why we are called to cease thinking of successful people as successful.

In God’s economy we all have what we need and we share any excess. Those of us willing to put on those clothes are ready for God’s party.

In terms of the world, we may be seeing a hiccup or a collapse or the beginning of a dreary downward spiral. Whatever it becomes, undoubtedly it will be the vulnerable who will suffer most. Our work to aid the afflicted will increase but our opportunities will increase as well. We have been given an opportunity to see past the curtain of lies and to see the fracturing faith that holds up the Powers. A faith that we once thought were as solid as a bank.

We have an opportunity when there is a crisis of faith in the Golden God. We have the opportunity point out that, as appealing as such gods seem, they only lead us to slavery, dissolution and disaster. The Golden Calf is not a benign bauble, it is a malignant repository of our faith in greed and violence, the age-old ideas that built our civilization. As old certainties disintegrate an opportunity arises for the world to see things differently. A hurting and fearful world may yet turn to the God of love and justice.

Most of all, we have the kind of value that can’t be given away by Congress, or frittered away on Wall Street. Our excess value is given over to God in the form of acts of charity and justice for our neighbors. And because God holds that value it can never dissipate. The recipient doesn’t have prosper or to be thankful for our efforts to have meaning. For the meaning is in held in God.

Ours is not a god of gold. Our God does not measure us by the size of our salary or the value of our investments. Our God does not erode when we lose faith. If we have faith in the God of Moses and Jesus then we need not fear what comes. For the source of real value for our lives will never abandon us.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sunday Sermons

Below is the written form of the Sunday sermon. I rarely follow the written script exactly. In the preaching I talked a bit more about the bailout.

Today, I met with some other housing advocates. Such conversations cover how much we will have to do try to stave off cuts from programs that are already insufficient. Government revenue is down on the State and County level. At the same time politicians in Washington are burning the midnight oil, not to find the money to end homelessness but to protect the profits of the wizards of Wall Street. Somebody needs to start turning over the tables of the moneychangers and the System that protects them.

Sunday Sermon

Proper 21 Year A
Exodus 17:1-7, Matthew 21:23-32
In God We Trust
By Rich Gamble

We have two texts today. We start with the second, the story in the Gospel of Matthew. In this story Jesus is confronted by the elders. They want to know who gave Jesus the authority to do and say what he’s been doing and saying. Authority is a big thing for the Domination System. Since those in power generally control the lines of authority they want everyone to adhere to them. The elders gained their position to say what they say and do what they do through well known and official means. They, in fact, are the ones who confer authority onto others. So who can speak with authority against them?

By asking about authority they are trying to get Jesus onto their home field advantage. In debates, in sports and in war choosing the field where the struggle will take place decisively impacts the outcome. The Elders wanted to get Jesus to argue with them on the ground of who is officially supposed to speak about God and who is not.

But Jesus is no dummy; he sees this play a mile off and is ready. Was John authorized by God or not? Jesus asks, as the crowd leans in to hear the answer. The elders huddle, well if we say that John was not endorsed by God, the people, who love John, especially after he had become a martyr, will be against us. But if we say he was authorized by God then Jesus will ask us why we didn’t become followers of John’s path of faith. Jesus had set the perfect trap, two answers and neither one would make the elders look good, so the elders choked and said that they didn’t know.

Well if you won’t answer my question I won’t answer yours, Jesus says.

Note that Jesus here has opened up the idea that authority from God does not have to be controlled by a religious structure. If John can speak with God’s authority then any yayhoo can, even Jesus. Also note that in this story, we see that all of the carefully crafted processes and procedures and rituals that convey the authority the elders claim, is only as powerful as the support of the people. If the people don’t buy it it’s not worth a hoot. People in position of power in the Domination System are only in power because people give them that power. If we don’t give it, they don’t have it. They elders knew this, that’s why they didn’t answer Jesus’ question.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus then drags the elders into another question. Jesus starts off with a story about two children. The parent asks the oldest to go work in the yard. The oldest says sure Dad I’ll get right on it but as soon as his father leaves the room he goes back to his video game. Then the parent goes to youngest and asks the same thing. This one says, “Not right now Dad, I’m in the middle of something.” But then he feels guilty and goes off and does what his parent asks him to do. Ok Jesus says, now which one was obedient? The elders say the second child. Right you are, says Jesus and that means that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going to get to the Realm of God before you. They heard John and changed their lives in response to what they heard. You did not.

Note that a second step has been taken in this struggle against the elders. First Jesus gets them to concede the possibility that someone could be authorized by God though not authorized by the authorities. Now in the second step he is saying that it was the one who was outside the control of the officials who truly represented the will of God and not the religious authorities. John the outsider, the prophet was right, the wealthy and powerful religious leaders were wrong. Jesus leads the crowd to two short steps to a revolutionary frame of mind.

Ah but what happens if you follow John or Jesus or Amos or Moses? Does that mean its all sunshine and lollipops?

That’s what today’s story in Exodus explores.

In Exodus the people are thirsty. The Sinai Peninsula is not known for its abundance of water. The people were running out of water and they were afraid. Why did you bring us out here Moses? they asked. Did we come all this way to die of thirst?

The people are afraid. They complain to Moses. Moses complains to God about the people’s complaints to him and God then solves the problem and shuts the people up until the next time that they begin to fear something. It is a cycle that is repeated several times in the Exodus story. After a while we ask ourselves, don’t those complaining Hebrews remember all the times before when God took care of them?

Here’s the thing: the Domination System offers us predictability. Things under the system stink but we know where we stand, at least until the whole system falls apart. The slaves knew where they stood. Their lives were miserable and becoming intolerable but at least they knew the score. They worked for people in power and food came from the people in power. Sure the people in power sometimes beat them or even killed some of them but for the rest, life went on. You knew the score.

God and Moses took them out to the wilderness and instead of the predictability that comes from participation in the Domination System there was only trust in God.

We know the people in power. They are like us or at least like some part of us. They take advantage of weaker people for their own gain: and because of the evil of the system, many of us do the same. We may not like it but we do it. We would prefer the person who makes our shoes or sews or clothes or picks our bananas would get a decent wage but are we willing to pay more to make that happen? The slave knows the master because the slave identifies with the master. The slave knows that given the right set of circumstances they would be the master and someone would be their slave. That is the power of the Domination System, it controls us because we identify with it. We see in it an internalized top down world view and that means predictability.

God calls us to a whole new way of living on the planet which is unlike what have come to call civilization. What will this new way look like? How can it possibly work?

Yes the stock market has little to do with most of the people on this planet. Only about half of people in this country own stock. We know that the people who run our economy through the stock market are doing great harm to planet and are running a system that is hugely unjust leading to ever greater disparities between the rich and the poor. But we are told that if those people lose their wealth we will all suffer. We have to mortgage our nation’s future so that we can free the wealthy from the downside effects of their greed. Any of us who are against a bailout of fatcats are called naive.

What authority do we have to speak so? We need to honor the elders of our society who run the nation, who run the banks, who run Wall Street. They have money. They have power. They have authority to decide how God’s creation should be managed.

The scriptures today call on us to question authority and withdraw our consent from those who are not doing the will of God. And if enough of us withdraw our cooperation, we will find that the power these guys think they have will disappear in an instant. They get their power from us after all. Gandhi and Martin Luther King both spoke about how non-cooperation with evil was just as important as cooperation with the good.

If we go in a different direction from that of the Powers that Be, we loose the comforting complacency of getting along and going along. We don’t know what the world would look like if we did not bail out the rich but used our resources to help out the poor. They speak of the horrors of the Great Depression to scare us into throwing ourselves into deeper national debt. But remember how we have talked here in the past, how debt was viewed by the authors of the Bible as as a tool to enslave. Remember how our nation took advantage of people in the Third World by having their leaders sell their people into debt. Once a nation was in our debt then they could no longer afford public health care or education. They could no longer refuse to hand over their labor and their natural resources to us for the pittance we were willing to pay. Our nation used debt to control/enslave other nations and now we are the target for those who want to place an even greater burden of debt upon us.

Is it a coincidence that the administration which has thrown us into deep debt with the war that came from the fear of terrorism is now wanting to throw us into much deeper debt with the fear of the Great Depression? Naomi Kline calls this “Disaster Capitalism.”

As followers of Christ we are called out of the Domination System and into the Realm of God. In that journey we will find that we will more likely be joined by what the Powers that Be call “losers.” We will be joined by the homeless and hungry, the prostitutes and the tax collectors. They will be our allies. Don’t expect any Senators to lead the way to the Realm of God.

As people who yearn for a world of peace and justice we are called to understand that as much as we are called to challenge the System, just as Jesus did in the story today, we are not called to see our salvation from within the System. Our hope comes from outside the values and ideas about power and success that we have always known. If we are to change to world we must free ourselves and if we are to free ourselves we must first stop identifying with Domination System. I would be willing to go so far as to say that if the authorities tell us the direction to go north then we should assume that the real direction is south. If they tell us the solution is to bail out the people who own banks then most likely the faithful solution is to bail out the people who have no money to put into banks.

How do we run an economic system that doesn’t use debt to enslave and control? How do we participate in an economy that is built on compassion and not greed? How do we have a nation that sends out armies of doctors and engineers and not armies of people trained to kill? How do we live without all the comforts injustice buys? Like the Hebrews the journey away from the comfort of the Domination System is fearful. The dollar says “In God We Trust” but in general we place our trust in the dollar and not God’s call to create a domination-free system.

The good news is that whenever the time comes for us as individuals or communities to turn away from giving authority to the authorities, God will be ready with a direction of hope. It will require a great amount of trust but the promise is that if we follow, we will be truly free.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Other Christianity

Last Sunday I reflected back to that central moment in the history of the Judeo-Christian Faith when Moses led the fleeing slaves away from Pharaoh’s control. The fleeing slaves ran to the edge of the sea and there waited. Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them from behind and the sea was in front of them.

We talked about how the sea was for Hebrew people the very embodiment of chaos. For them the sea was utter unpredictability which leads to death.

In that moment, there on the seashore, the Hebrew people faced humanity’s fundamental choice: participate in a system of domination, a system of economics and politics and social order which places one group over another, and which uses the tools of violence, fear and greed to maintain order; or enter into chaos and certain death.

This has been propaganda of the Domination System from its inception; and since its inception is the beginning of what we refer to as civilization, it has been the primary myth of humanity for many thousands of years.

The wondrous thing about that moment in the life of the Hebrew people is that a third choice became clear. A path through the chaos to a land outside of the control of the Domination System was offered as a gift of a God who took the side of slaves over slave owners.

In that new land no one like Pharaoh ruled, indeed no human could rule with the power of Pharaoh because God was deemed to be the ruler and having God in charge meant that all the rules of the Domination System were rendered void and a new way of living in human community had to be learned.

After a few generations the Hebrew people abandoned the life of a radically alternative community and got themselves a king (a little Pharaoh). Even though they were warned that to go down the path of instituting a Domination System would lead them back to slavery, the Hebrew People chose a king for themselves.

This posed a bit of a problem, because if you have a religion built on the identity of God as being in opposition to domination and then you get yourself a king, you face the difficulty of offering the people the choice between king and God. The solution the religious leaders of the day came up with was to proclaim that God was quite willing step aside and embrace that which God had opposed. But when do that you basically have to create a new religion. Rather than lose the support of the faithful, the creators of the new religion kept all the stories and names and rituals from the old. They just added a spin to the old faith so that it would then endorse everything that it had opposed.

So the Bible really contains not one but two faiths. One says that God embraces the Domination System. As long as the religious leaders keep doing the rituals properly and the people strive to stay ritually pure, God will be on their side. The other says that if the people practice Domination based economic and social policies then God will be against them.

One religion happily accommodated itself to Domination System and the inevitable injustice that would occur because of that system. The other religion was always at odds with the System and denounced injustice and the society which allowed injustice to flourish. Traditionally we have seen these two sides as poles within one faith but in truth they are two faiths claiming the same tradition.

Flash forward to Christianity. That same split which occurred in biblical Judaism exists in Christianity. There are two distinctly different Christian Faiths, and each one refers back to the Bible and each practices similar rituals.

One Christian tradition has been so thoroughly dominant that it has become what most of the world thinks of as Christianity. This dominant form has accommodated itself to the Domination System by ceding this world to the System and instead focusing on a ritual life meant to gain believers a place in an otherworldly destination: Heaven. That faith seeks to get the otherworldly part of the individual human (the soul), up to the otherworldly destination of Heaven. Jesus is seen as the link between this world and that other world. He comes to earth to establish the link between God and humanity through his death. Humans can gain the desired access to the divine by believing in the divine nature of Jesus and the soul saving act of his sacrifice and by participating in the ritual life of the church. This faith sees violence, greed, and fear as tragic but necessary tools to maintain order in this world and order as important as it allows the ritual life of the faithful community to function smoothly.

There is another form of Christianity. This form sees the Gospel stories as having a primary focus not on the person of Jesus as conduit to heaven but as the prophet of God calling humanity into that alternative realm which stands in contradiction to the rule of Pharaoh or the latest local incarnation of Pharaoh (Caesar, the Temple Theocracy, Herod, Bill Clinton, George Bush, The Military Industrial Complex, etc…)

Where the dominant form of Christianity seeks adherence to the rituals properly administered and the purity (often focusing on sex) of the faithful, the alternative form seeks the implementation of social, political and economic justice in the wider community. Where one side focuses in on the person of Jesus as supernatural being, the other focuses on the building the Realm of God, and sees Jesus as the model for how to do that work. Jesus is the new Moses who leads the people once again on an exodus from Domination. This time though, there is no geographic destination. This time, the destination is an alternative perspective on reality, and a subsequent alteration in values and behavior.

Traditionally we have seen these two faiths as two sides of the same faith. And many have sought to find the moderate middle between the two. Unfortunately, such a view leads nowhere. When we understand that these are two religions which represent polar opposites then we can see that the middle ground between the two is a void. This middle void is where much of moderate Christianity finds itself and the reason why it is hard for such communities to be passionate. Instead of focusing on saving souls from Hell or saving the planet from Domination, the moderate middle seeks make the Domination System less violent while passively supporting violent political, social and economic structures. Rather than striving for an equitable distribution of the good things God has given this planet, the moderate middle strives to provide charity to those hardest hit by the violence of our economic system. Rather than talking about ending violence as a tool to be used by the state, the moderate middle seeks to limit the use of violence through things like “Just War Theory.” Rather than seeing themselves as an alternative to the values of the world around them, the moderate/liberal church sees themselves as the kinder, gentler side of dominant values.

Last Sunday, we talked about the story of Jesus walking on the water. The traditional reading of the Jesus walking on the water story highlights the miraculous power of Jesus, thus “proving” that he is a supernatural person (a central necessity if his death is to have metaphysical meaning). The alternative reading highlights the metaphorical connection between the Exodus and the sea crossings in the Gospels and from there points to the third choice which is neither cooption by the Domination System or consummation by deadly Chaos.

As a reflection on the Exodus story, there is an insight to be found. There are no charging armies, no wondrous split in the sea, the special effects budget for this story is much smaller than the Exodus but there are essential similarities: the sea that seems to thwart the desire of the faithful to cross it, and the ease by which the leader deals with the seemingly deadly problem of the sea (chaos). Jesus doesn’t part the sea, he walks on top of it but the sea is crossed. The difference in the two stories is that for the escaped slaves of Egypt, the land on the other side of the sea is the where God’s realm is found. For the disciples in the boat, God’s realm is found right there in the boat, once they realize that the sea is no obstacle to fear. The realm of God is not a particular piece of geography it is found where ever the community awakens to the alternative path.

The Domination System today tells us that if we don’t torture people, we will have the chaos of terrorism in our land. If we don’t give tax dollars to wealthy individuals and corporations, we will face the chaos of rising unemployment. If we don’t have an army, we will face the chaos of invasion. If we don’t have a wall we will have to face the chaos of unchecked immigration. If we don’t allow polluting technologies, we will have the chaos of societal collapse. You get the picture. Side with the elite or invite deadly chaos into your world.

One form of Christianity says that there is a third way. God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. There is the possibility of building a human community that is not dependent upon violence, fear and greed. And the building that radical alternative to the System which rules our world, is the work of faith.

Ok, that’s enough for now. For those of you who don’t know what to expect from Keystone Church this gives you an idea of where we are coming from. If you would like to hear more come by at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, to 5019 Keystone Place North, Seattle.