a return to discipleship...

For the past few months I have written precious little about the political mess my beloved USA continues to experience. Under the current regime, the world feels less safe to me, my deepest values as a public citizen have been denigrated and discarded, and out nation's 50 year commitment of caring for the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers has been reversed and ended. The recent rolling out of the Republican health care plan in the US Senate is but the most toxic example of warped priorities driven by greed.

Not that the individual Senators are universally mean-spirited or corrupt. I do not believe that for a second. Like all public officials, most are committed to the common good in their heart of hearts. The party leadership, on the other hand, has sold its soul to corporate interests and demands loyalty and obeisance. So it takes a strong moral center - and a vibrant support community - to call out Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan for their cruel albeit authentically held ideology. Few politicians are able to muster the resolve to oppose so much organized cash. And given the numerical super majority of both the House and the Senate, not much is going to change for at least the next year. (NOTE: for two insightful analysis of the recent affront, please see

1) Eugene Robinson's recent WaPO article @ https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/senate-republicans-ready-themselves-for-a-massive-theft-from-the-poor/2017/06/22/902a1a96-5777-11e7-a204-ad706461fa4f_story.html?utm_term=.f6058404e800 

@)NPR's clear chart comparing the proposed health care changes @ http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/22/533942041/who-wins-who-loses-with-senate-health-care-bill?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170622

The old Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, used to say: reality is the will of God, it can always be better, but we must begin with what is real. Those in the 12 Step movement tell us much the same thing when they pray the Serenity Prayer for acceptance of what cannot be changed and courage to change what can be altered. And let's not forget the wisdom to discern the one from the other! So much of the carping that I read and hear from the Left has no grounding in what is real: pipedreams about impeachment, fantasies of electoral revolt in historically Republican voting districts, the rise of a moral revolution among Republican moderates. What a self-absorbed and self-satisfied waste of time. More liberal magical thinking that fills a sound byte but signifies nothing.

As a person committed to the way of Jesus in my heart and my community, I have come to see that reality demands a dramatically different response: discipleship. Right living rather than an obsession with right thinking. Personal practices and group commitments that lead us away from the status quo of busyness and business into the realm of sharing and compassion. The old preacher and teacher, Walter Brueggemann, puts it like this:

We who are now the richest nation are todays main coveters. We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us. Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God's abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity - a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity.

Brueggemann makes his case from both the Hebrew and Greeks texts of Scripture. In Joshua 24 the choice is articulated as: "I don't know about you, but me and my house will choose the way of the Lord trusting God's generosity over human selfishness."

Jesus said it more succinctly: You cannot serve God and Mammon. You cannot serve God and do what you please with your money or your sex or you land. And then he says, "Don't be anxious, because everything you need will be given to you." But you must decide. Christians have a long history of trying to squeeze Jesus out of public life and reduce him to a private little savior. But to do this is to ignore what the Bible really says. Jesus talks a great deal about the kingdom of God - and what he means by that is a public life reorganized toward neighborliness.

From my perspective of 35 years doing ministry, it looks like the time has come to train our congregations in the way of neighborliness. We have forgotten what that looks and feels like. We have been consumed by market place values, language and goals and exchanged our love of God for an addiction for more. "We now have a love affair with more - and we will never have enough. Consumerism is not simply a marketing strategy (for 21st century America). It has become a demonic spiritual force among us, and the question facing us is whether the gospel has the power to help us with stand it?"

It seems counterintuitive in the midst of our crisis to revisit a call to discipleship. Shouldn't we be out in the streets? Well, of course, and much more, too. And there will be times to stand shoulder to shoulder with sisters and brothers of all faiths and call out the demonic greed that has captured our nation's spirit. But an inner moral revolution is necessary, too - not another pious self-help program - but training in spiritual resistance so that compassion drives our hearts and neighborliness informs our actions. To use another Brueggemann term, Christians must learn again how to live as "odd people" within our culture. This has been all but forgotten. In an essay entitled, "Preaching as Sub-Version," Brother Walter writes:

It occurs to me that the Jewish imagination of the Old Testament is so peculiar and so particular because Jews are always the odd men and women out, always at odds, always at risk, always in the presence of an empire with its insistent version of reality, always telling their boys and girls that we are different, different because we have been in the demanding presence of the Holy One, and now we must keep re-deciding for a life propelled by that presence. The Jews, over time, devised signals of oddity - Sabbath, kosher, circumcision.

In parallel fashion, for like reasons, the baptismal imagination of the New Testament is so peculiar and so particular because Christians are always (to be) odd men and women come together in odd communities and congregations, who are always at odds, always at risk, always in the presence of large cultural empires that want to dissolve our oddity for reasons of state, always telling our girls and boys that we are different because we have been with Jesus. We are forever reimagining and retelling and reliving our lives through the scandal of Friday and the rumor of Sunday. We, like Jesus, devise signals of our oddity: the notice of new life, the bread of brokenness, the wine of blessedness, and the neighbor - always the neighbor - who for us is a signal of the love of God.

Like the close of Matthew's gospel that returns the frightened disciples to Nazareth to start the ministry of Jesus again - or the story of Siddhartha, the emerging Buddha, who keeps finding himself at the same place before the River Ganges at different stages of life - training disciples and equipping the saints for the demands of ministry is where I find myself - and what I'll be addressing for the next nine weeks as summer unfolds in the Berkshires.



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