Category Archives: elections

Letter 43: A Prayer for Election Day

Almighty God-

We acknowledge that you alone are sovereign, that all power and authority are yours.  You have established governments here on earth to better order our public lives by upholding justice.

You have blessed us with the opportunity to choose our governors.  Guide us to choose wisely, seeking to do justice, not just to ourselves, but also to others.  May we consider our neighbors, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and those yet unborn.

Help us to see past the claims, to discern the truth about our circumstances and those who would see to lead us.  May we not be swayed by honeyed lips and silver tongues, speaking words we want to hear.

For our land struggles, the abundant riches You have given us.  Too often, we yearn for a King, a man on horseback to lead us, to solve our problems, to make us great.  We forsake You.

We pray, too, for those would will govern us.  Endow them with wisdom and courage to do justly, and to love mercy.  May they be humble, knowing the limits of their power.  May they seek to unite, for the public good.

Finally, we pray for each other, that we would see our fellow citizens as our fellows, and men and women made in your image, and dearly loved by you.  May we work together for the shalom of our city an our world, until such time as You come again and claim the kingdoms of the earth for thine own, that peace would reign in our streets, and want shall be no more.

Amen.

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Letter 39: A Fourth of July Oration

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“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20 (NRSV)

On August 24, 410 A.D., an army of Visigoths under Alaric I, sacked Rome.  Few events have portended so much.  Rome’s citizens were left with only their lives with the Visigoths were through.  Rome had sat inviolate for over a thousand years.  Her armies had brought stability, order and security throughout the Mediterranean world.  Now all that was gone.  Writing from Bethlehem, the translator St. Jerome declared “The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”  In his wake, Alaric left a new world of fear and uncertainty.

Many questioned the Empire’s switch to Christianity.  Could the old gods be angry?  Still others saw the collapsing world around them, and looked for someone, anyone really, who could offer them the old security.  From across the Mediterranean came a firm voice that offered a final coda from the ancient world to stand as a bulwark against the rising tide of barbarism.  Addressing the crisis of his time, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, gave the world his magnum opus, De Civitate Dei, The City of God.

Now the great crisis of the Fifth Century will seem far removed from our own day, and a subject entirely inappropriate for a commemoration of Independence Day.  Yet, its lessons stand as an important reminder to us of our obligations as citizens, and concerning the nature and role of government.  On this day we celebrate our freedom.  Let us remember what a frail things freedom is, that we would use it well.

As Augustine saw it, the world was a dangerous place.  As Christians, Augustine reminded his readers that they were first and foremost, the people of God, and ultimately the citizens of His City.  He was quite aware, however, that we had yet to possess this city.  For now, he wrote, we live in the City of Man, which is at war with the City of God.  As such, we are by nature aliens and strangers in this world.  Our hope lies elsewhere.

Jeremiah 29 records a letter the prophet sent to the Jews taken into exile by the Babylonians.  Israel had linked its religious identity with their political identity.  To be a revived people of God, they must then become a revived nation.  But here they were in exile, in a strange land, with strange customs, subject to other authority.

Jeremiah disabuses them of these hopes.  They will remain in exile for seventy years.  Instead of pining for a lost nation, and hoping for what cannot be, he urges them to settle in to their new surroundings, lay down roots, raise families, and flourish where they are.  Jeremiah goes further, urging the exiles to pray for the welfare of the cities where they now reside, and intercede with the Lord on its behalf. (Jer. 29:7)

He makes the point that their identity as God’s people is not dependent on whether there is a Jewish nation.  They can be God’s people where they are, if they embrace the tension this creates.  He urges us to engage our neighbors, from a position of exile.  Here furthermore grounds these efforts in the hope and knowledge that God remains in control, and that He has a plan that is unfolding. (v. 10-11)

The tension should inform our lives as citizens.  Too often, we head to one extreme of another.  We can withdraw, deciding that the world is too evil, and await the coming Kingdom.  Or we can wrap the Cross with an American flag, and confuse our home with our salvation.

God does use purely secular authorities.  Isaiah 45 sings of the Persian emperor Cyrus as God’s instrument.  Similarly, God explains how he used the Babylonians to carry out His work.  Indeed, it is Caesar’s need for more taxes that brings the pregnant virgin to Bethlehem to fulfil prophecy.  As the Psalmist says, even man’s wrath praises Him.  (Ps. 76:10)

So how are we to live our lives here?  We live here, but the ground of our being lies elsewhere.

At least we should follow Jeremiah’s instructions, to build a life here, to not hold back, but we should also hold up a mirror, shining God’s light on this darkened world.  We should be prophetic voices, reminding the world of God’s justice, and seeking to bring our world as close to that vision as we can, even while realizing that we shall always fall short.

But we do not despair, in this, the country of our exile. For all the celebrations and gnashing of teeth, we too often lose sight of this tremendous truth, that we are citizens of heaven, and from thence comes our salvation.

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Letter 31: Will You Be My Neighbor?

Good Samaritan

We are knee-deep in another Presidential election cycle. What has been interesting to me is the symbiotic division within the country. The one common denominator has been a sense of fear and anger. We are apparently looking for bogeymen on whom to blame our troubles, and to whom to send our bills. Candidates right and left are more than willing to offer such solutions, and they have the fore.

The Right makes all sorts of angry statements looking to shut our borders, restrict trade, and roll back some social developments of the past twenty years. The Left pooh-poohs this, and derides the Right as ignorant and bigoted and a menace to society, unlike their virtuous selves. This fuels the fear and anger on the right, and the cycle goes on, and on, and on, and on, ad nausam.

What disturbs me most about this rhetoric is the demonization of the “other.” They are stupid, and unworthy of attention or regard. We need not give them any attention or consideration, as their opinions and beliefs are unreasonable, and in fact, pose a threat to our well-being. So we demonize.

Such dismissal of anything contrary to our views promotes stridency, and it also relieves us of the obligation to ask questions. Why does someone believe what they do? Can we even attempt to understand them? Do we realize that these men and women are our neighbors?

That is one of the challenges of following Christ, coming to see others as our neighbors, even if we can agree on nothing.

Kantian ethics, of all things, offers some useful questions to ask ourselves. First, are the rights we are requesting ones we would afford our enemies? Conversely, are the rights of others we wish to restrict ones we would be willing to give up, too? These aren’t perfect questions, but they make a good start.

Will you be my neighbor?

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