The Most Durable Power

Another treat for the anniversary of ‘I Have A Dream’. This is one of my favorite preachers, Rev. Tamara Lebak, Associate Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you only listen to one sermon today, make it Dr. King’s, but if you listen to two, make this the next one.

‘Religiously Unaffiliated’

Like many of you, I’m sick and tired of news sources hashing and rehashing last month’s presidential election.  I don’t want to hear about “Mitt Rominey and Bronco Bama” anymore either.  However, this particular NPR post caught my attention and was worth the reading.

This passage was particularly interesting to me:

“Young people just now entering adulthood are not only significantly more religiously unaffiliated compared with their elders today,” [Gregory Smith of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life] says, but they are also more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people.

He cautions, however, against conflating the “nones” with nonbelievers.

“Those two things are not the same,” Smith says. The “nones’ are certainly less religious than those who say they belong to a religious group, but many are also believers.

“The absence of a connection to an organized religion is not the same as the absence of a religious belief or practice,” he says.

Click here to read the full article

Martin Luther King on Endorsing a Candidate

Image is in the public domain. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

The link below connects you to a document preserved electronically by the King Center.  It is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. responding to multiple requests that he endorse candidates in the 1960 election.  Dr. King refused all such requests.

He writes:

The role that is mine in the emerging social order of the south and America demands that I remain non-partisan.  This devoid of partisan political attachments, I am free to be critical of both parties when necessary.

He continues:

The best antidote to degeneration of conflict of opinion into maliciousness and violence is statesmanlike, firm, expressions of the moral issues giving active support to proper resolution.

This is not the time to look back, but to look forward.  I am full of hope for the future because of the goodwill and concern shown by so many people in Georgia and all over the country.

Now let us use this period for genuine negotiations so that Atlanta can take a step forward toward the society of “wisdom, justice and moderation” which the seal of the state of Georgia and the Constitution of the United States promised.

Click here to read the entire document.  Click and drag to move the page.

Passing the ‘Beck’

The article linked below reminds me that it was just about a year ago that Glenn Beck issued a call for people to leave churches that espouse “social justice” as part of their faith.  He not-so-subtly implied that we’re all a bunch of Commies and Nazis (he’s only half-right).

Looking back, it occurs to me that if any of my congregants were predisposed to accept whatever Glenn Beck says as gospel truth, then they would probably be happier in a different church anyway.  Go with God, but go.

As for me and my house, we hope to continue with Jesus’ 2,000 year old “experiment with socialism”.

So long, Mr. Beck.  Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.   And may I ask: “How insane do you have to be for Fox News to tell you to shut up and get out?”

Here’s the article:

Introducing: Jesus Returns to Washington

Stringfellow on Doublespeak

Erudite criticism from William Stringfellow in An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land:

The preemption of truth with prefabricated, fictionalized versions of facts and events and the usurpation of truth by propaganda and official lies are stratagems of the demonic powers much facilitated by other language contortions or abuses that the principalities and authorities foster. These include heavy euphemism and coded phrases, the inversion of definitions, jargon, hyperbole, misnomer, slogan, argot, shibboleth, cliché. The powers enthrall, delude, and enslave human beings by stopping comprehension with doublespeak as Orwell named it…

Doublespeak has been solemnly pronounced to deceive citizens, not to mention the Congress, about every escalation, every corruption, every wasted appropriation, every casualty report, every abdication of command responsibility and every insubordination, every atrocity of the war. For example, the cliché “winding down the war” has concealed the most deadly acceleration of firepower and destructive capability in the entire history of warfare on this planet…

Sometimes doublespeak is overtalk, in which the media themselves so accentuate volume, speed, and redundance that communication is incapacitated (even where the data transmitted may not be false or deceptive). The auditor’s mind is so insulated, inundated, or transfixed by verbal and visual technology that it is crippled or immobilized.

Political Songwriting Revival

Driving to church last Sunday, I heard a new song on the radio called ‘I Get By’.  The artist is Everlast.  Here’s the video:

What struck me about this song is how similar the feel and content is to the old folk tunes by people like Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie.  Their work was edgy and controversial.  It spoke directly from and to the experience of marginalization.  Compare the Everlast song to these:

The only place where consciously political songwriting has maintained any kind of presence is in hip hop.  Nas is my favorite.  Check it out:

Finally, just because I can’t resist getting theological, here’s one last comparison.  The language is rough and offensive, but there are some pertinent insights, if you have ears to hear:

We Are All Ordained

William Wilberforce, as portrayed by Ioan Gruffudd in Amazing Grace (2006)

This week’s sermon from First Presbyterian, Boonville.

The text is Acts 2:1-21.

William Wilberforce had a problem.  He was trying to figure out what to do with his life.  Most youth and adults know what that’s like.  However, what makes this case different is that Wilberforce was already a successful member of the British Parliament.  In American terms, he would be called a Congressman.  To be where he was (especially in 18th century England), one would assume that he had already climbed the ladder of success!

The thing that had Wilberforce all worked up about his future is that he had recently experienced a profound and life-altering spiritual awakening.  His personal relationship with God had suddenly taken over his life to such a degree that Wilberforce was thinking of quitting politics for good and entering ordained ministry in the Anglican Church.  He was at a loss over what to do.

While he was in this state of mind, Wilberforce was introduced to a group of Christian activists who were campaigning heavily for the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain.  The beginning of Wilberforce’s involvement with this group (later known as ‘the Clapham sect’) is depicted beautifully in the 2006 film Amazing Grace.  Seated around his dining room table, they showed him examples of the irons used to restrain captured slaves during their journey across the Atlantic.  Conditions were so brutal that no one was guaranteed to survive.  They introduced him to Olaudah Equiano, a liberated slave who became an active abolitionist.  Equiano showed him the scars on his body.  While Wilberforce’s mouth was still hanging open in shock, Thomas Clarkson and Hannah More delivered what I believe to be the best line in the film:

Thomas Clarkson: Mr. Wilberforce, we understand you are having problems choosing whether to do the work of God or the work of a political activist.

Hannah More: We humbly suggest that you can do both.

And I think they were right.

The members of this group understood one very important truth that most Christians tend to forget.  It’s a truth that we celebrate every year on the feast of Pentecost.  And here it is: The Holy Spirit ordains all people to preach good news to the world.

Not just some, but all.  Have you ever noticed something strange about the early church in the book of Acts?  Most other radical movements in history emerge with a chain of successors once the initial founder is out of the picture.  There was even biblical precedent for this.  After the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire, people everywhere recognized his apprentice Elisha as his chosen successor.  They said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.”

But that didn’t happen in the early days of Christianity.  Jesus Christ had no heir or replacement.  The title ‘Messiah’ did not pass to a predetermined chosen one after his departure into heaven.  Instead, the Holy Spirit, the very power and presence of God, came to dwell within the entire community of faith.

We read, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

This kind of thing was totally unprecedented, although the ancient prophets had prayed for something like it to happen.  One time, when people complained to Moses about unauthorized prophets in the Israelite camp, Moses said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”  Later on, God spoke through the prophet Joel saying, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”

And that’s exactly what happened.  The entire community of believers on Pentecost was filled with the Holy Spirit and each one started “speaking about God’s deeds of power” to people from “every nation under heaven”.  There was no seminary course or board-approved examination.  They simply opened their mouths and started to speak “as the Spirit gave them ability.”

There was no single successor to Jesus’ ministry.  There was no special order of priests or prophets.  The only qualification for speaking forth good news in the power of the Holy Spirit is that you had to believe.  “Out of the believer’s heart,” Jesus said, the Holy Spirit would flow, like “rivers of living water”.  He never said, “Out of the apostle’s heart” or “Out of the pastor’s heart”.  No, Jesus said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Anyone with an open heart and an open mind about Jesus is a vessel for the Holy Spirit.  This is an important piece of good news for us to hear, on this day of all days.  Later today, a new pastor will be ordained in this church.  But, if we take the message of Pentecost seriously, then we must admit that there is a very real sense in which all of us are already ordained as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, each of us has a responsibility to answer God’s call on our lives and preach good news to the world around us as the Holy Spirit gives us ability and opportunity.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we all need to become experts at delivering sermons.  That’s only one way to preach the good news.  A single act of kindness can be a sermon unto itself.  You can even preach by listening while people tell you about their problems.  You might not have fancy theological answers to questions about Christianity, but the simple fact that you’re letting someone ask a tough question is sometimes enough to speak to that person’s heart.

William Wilberforce found his way to do the work of God and the work of politics at the same time.  He devoted the rest of his life to fighting slavery.  He sent petitions, lobbied Members of Parliament, spoke out in the House of Commons, and wrote legislation.  Finally, in 1807, he succeeded in ending the British slave trade once and for all.  He never became a member of the clergy, but this was his life’s work as an ordained minister of the good news.

In the same way, each one of you is an ordained minister of the good news.  You will leave this church today and go back to your neighborhood, your family, your school, your shop, or your office.  As you go, let this reality sink into your heart.  Let this mentality take over your brain:  You are a missionary.  The place where you stand is your mission field.  Be open to whatever ministry opportunities the Holy Spirit may bring into your life today.  Be faithful in your calling as an ordained minister of the good news of Jesus Christ.