Sunday, October 28, 2012

Obama, Romney, and Apostle Paul: A Reflection on Galatians 3:23-29

Who is tired of all the political commercials on TV? They remind me of a quote from Stephen Colbert.

"Our identities have become wholly dependent upon rejecting each other. After all, who am I if not, not you?"

This quote is funny because it’s true. Listen to the attack ads. And cable news shows. And partisan commentators like Sean Hannity and Michael Moore. They would have us believe that we’re all enemies.

We’re all-too-often told that there are only two sides to everything. Democrat vs. Republican. Liberal vs. Conservative. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. And the list goes on and on. It’s all about “us” versus “them.”

Partisan, polemic rhetoric is destroying civil discourse in our nation. And it seems to get uglier with every election.

Thankfully, we have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to help us out. Their “Rally to Restore Sanity” was an event to say, “Let’s ignore the 20% of Americans who are loud and extremist, and honor the 80% of Americans who hold common values.” So let’s honor the spirit of the 80%! Especially at this time of division.

Divisiveness is not new. Apostle Paul was facing major divisiveness in Galacia. That’s the background of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Basically, there were two “sides” that were fighting against one another: Pagan Greeks and circumcised Jews. And you didn’t cross the tracks…unless it was to kill someone.

So, in the Galatians letter, Paul used a baptismal liturgy that the Galatians heard when they were first baptized – as a way to help remind them of their baptism – and their unity in Christ. Paul said: “There is no longer Greek or Jew; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female. For all are one in Christ Jesus.” That was their baptismal liturgy. It would have been radical for the time. He dared to say that Greeks and Jews were united! Wild stuff!

With this liturgy, Paul reminded the Galatians that the cultural dichotomies, which only served to estrange and divide the community, were annulled. Especially, in that town, it was important to bridges the Greek-Jew divide. All the dichotomies were abolished through their baptism in Christ. Paul declared that all people were already "heirs according to the promise." One people. One future.

I envision Paul stressed-out because in his mind, Jesus was going to return at any second. So, the important thing was not the rules and regulations of the law – or the cultural divides. Instead the truly important thing was understanding God’s welcome and love for all people. And, for Paul, he drives this home through their unity in baptism.

The good news that Paul shares in Galatia is that God’s propensity to include, transcends humanity’s propensity to exclude. The divisions don’t ultimately matter. God matters. And God has already embraced them – and embraced all people. So, through God, both "sides" already have unity-in-diversity.

How might the baptismal liturgy of this text be addressing us?

When we watch TV commercials, it seems like our culture is just as divided as Galatia. It seems that we’re all forced to join one of two sides on everything, and then subsequently rally around our common disdain for "the other." Those people. Over there. They would dare to vote for Obama! Or others might say: they would dare to vote for Romney!

So what would it mean to live out Paul’s a vision of unity in our town and around our nation over the next few weeks?

I think it would mean moving towards unity-in-diversity, but not forcing false uniformity. Our particularities – our differences – will still be present. I will always be a white male. At least, I think so! And you’ll always be whatever you are. And we’ll be different. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be united. We may all vote and live in slightly different ways, but we can still honor our differences and celebrate our commonalities.

In Paul’s letter to Galatia, he reminds people that they have oneness in Christ. Baptism obliterates the divisiveness of our differences, and calls us into harmony. In music and in life, different notes are needed to make harmony work. Diversity is required. It’s not the enemy. And we’re certainly not the enemy of one another – despite what we’re told on TV.

Unity and civility isn’t an idealist dream. It is possible. I have seen it happen time and time again.

At Peace UCC in Saint Louis, I worshiped God with Jews and Christians of all ages as we sought to tear down the walls of separation between us. Jewish singer Rick Recht has led these unifying events all over the nation. Unity works!

At a Christian lobbying event in Washington DC, I joined Catholics, Evangelicals, Unitarians, and Progressives as we talked our senators into supporting a minimum wage increase. And it passed. Unity works!

At height of the anti-Muslim rhetoric surrounding the Cordoba House (“Mosque at Ground Zero”), Jewish and Christian leaders in Iowa City came together to publically show our support for our Muslim neighbors. It usually takes a lot of time for clergy to release a joint statement. But in this case it was in the newspaper in two days. Unity works!

At the National Mall, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert gathered over 200,000 diverse people together to rally to restore sanity – to restore civil discourse in our nation. Plus there were millions of people watching on TV. Unity works!

At a time of deep division in Galatia, Apostle Paul helped to bring Greeks and Jews together. Unity works!

Unity really is possible. Good and faithful people call us back to it every time we stray too far.

So what if instead of bemoaning our differences, we decided to appreciate them. It seems as though it’s the tension, balance, and diversity that makes our nation great. And it’s the thing that makes the Church operate as God intends. We each have our part to play for the common good.

Jewish theologian Jonathan Sacks says it like this: "Difference does not diminish; it enlarges. Only when we realize the danger of wishing everyone should be the same…will prevent the clash of civilizations…We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference." That was Paul’s main message to Galacia, too.

So, perhaps, the liturgical reminder that Apostle Paul would give us today would be: There is no longer Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice – for we are all one in God. We are all one global family. One people. One future.

Through Paul and Jesus, we know that God welcomes and loves all people.

Through Stewart and Colbert, we know that we can disagree without thinking the other person is Hitler.

We can be united right now. In fact, by the grace of God, we already are.

From Galacia to our town, the journey of unity moves on! On this day, on Election Day, and on every other day, we are traveling toward unity together. One people. One future.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Place Where Advent Starts

Sara Kay and David Weiss are working together to record new hymns that celebrate God's love, justice, and welcome. The album is almost done and will be out soon. Here is a taste of one of the songs, "The Place Where Advent Starts":

The Place Where Advent Starts

As the darkness stretches over / all the daylight, all our lives
In the depths of expectation / where the heart sees, You reside.
Dare we beckon to the hunger / fill our frame and feed our soul
In this dim-lit struggling world / that our feasting be made full.

As we wait with restless longing / for your kin-dom fully come
Rise the cries of warring nations / beats the pulse of terror’s drum.
“Comfort now, my people, comfort,” / spoke the prophet long ago.
“Still my peace comes to this world / midst its bombs, its spears and bows.”

As the earth cries out in anguish / less for birth than bitter toil;
As the poor, their fortunes falter / as the ill, their spirits spoil.
Steel our vision, so that we see / full the depth of broken hearts;
For in this place—hungry, hopeless / yes, in this place, advent starts.

Hasten now, come quickly to us / ’fore our spirits faint with fear.
Be the light in deepest darkness / be the hope that draws us near.
In your advent, may we waken / live the life you call us to:
Every deed a Christmas manger / ready now to welcome you.

Text: David R. Weiss, b. 1959 (text, © 2011 David R. Weiss)
Tune: Marty Haugen, b. 1950, JOYOUS LIGHT, (Joyous Light of Heavenly Glory – © GIA Publication)
Alternate Tune: BEACH SPRING (The Sacred Harp, Philadelphia, Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service, Lutheran Book of Worship 423 – public domain)

Permission is given to photocopy The Place Where Advent Starts for use in worship.