He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted’ (Luke 18:9-14).
It has been sometime since I have written anything in this space about Hip Hop. But I am an avid Hip Hop fan and one of my favorite rappers is a guy by the name of Lupe Fiasco. Lupe’s music is full of political and religious commentary. He is a socially progressive Muslim who has been an outspoken critic of the radical fringes of conservative Islam, rapping in one song, “Jihad is not a holy war, wheres that in the worship? Murdering is not Islam! And you are not observant. And you are not a muslim.” He has also been an out spoken critic of President Obama and the conservative press and news media and the American political process in general. In the same song in fact he says, “Limbaugh is a racist. Glenn Beck is a racist. Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit. That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either I’ma part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful.” I find myself sometimes in sharp disagreement with Lupe and other times applauding what I believe is brave social commentary. This little anti-war song has always found me conflicted. I find myself agreeing with so much of his stance against violence and racism but having some serious reservations with his declaration that his contribution to the world’s problems is that he is peaceful, something that most of his fans – myself included – would admire. Perhaps more so, if he were not so brazen in declaring it about himself.
I have never written anything in this space about writer, blogger and hyper-conservative Christian pastor, Mark Driscoll. If you have ever read Donald Miller’s hit book from a few years back Driscoll is mentioned in there as Miller’s friend “Mark the Cussing Pastor.” Since then Driscoll has garnered a lot of attention for using what some call bold and others call brash language to defend his understanding of Christian orthodoxy which includes: a harsh, Canons of Dort turned up a notch style of Calvinism where Mark feels free to say about those who may not be in ‘right relationship’ with God, “God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you.” Driscoll has made some rather provocative comments in sermons and in an online instruction manuel about sex for Christian couples. He raised a lot of eyebrows when he filmed a church planting video in a military cemetery and referred to men only as eligible to be church leaders and planters. And several years ago he got a lot of backlash in the wake of the Ted Haggard scandal when Mark used the news as an occasion to comment,”It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.” In a different place in a different time, when I was much more concerned with publicly questioning the orthodoxy (“right” beliefs) or orthopraxy (“right” practices) of others, I used to blog a lot about Mark Driscoll.
So what do my favorite liberal Muslim rapper and one of my least favorite conservative Christian leaders have in common? Well besides being outspoken about their respective (and very conflicting beliefs) and often receiving public backlash on blogs, twitter and Facebook, both men made news yesterday for their very public commentary on the Inauguration of President Obama. As a gesture in the administration’s endorsement of free speech and in acknowledgement of Lupe Fiasco’s relevant social commentary, the rapper was invited to perform his music at the Inaugural festivities on Sunday. Fiasco had plenty of options. He could have declined the offer out of moral protest. He could have accepted the offer as a chance to show some solidarity (and perhaps graduated) with an administration he disagrees with, performed his song criticizing Obama as an act of bravery and performed some of his other material as an act of graciousness. Instead he chose to use the occasion for a very public – and very annoying - act of moral grandstanding. For more than thirty minutes Lupe performed his one war protest song where he criticizes Obama, playing it over and over again.
Yesterday, minutes before Obama was sworn in, Mark Driscoll took to his twitter and Facebook accounts to post, “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.” Once again he found himself receiving a lot of public backlash. Once the backlash started and the inevitable “judge not lest ye be judged” began, Driscoll took to social media again: “The two most important people in the history of the world: Jesus and ____. Your answer reveals a lot about how you see history.” He then filled in the blank with “Adam” and posted a sermon sermon called “I am in Christ.” Considering the context of the day and his comments three hours earlier that president Obama does not know God or believe in the Bible, the implication was clear: There are two kinds of people in this world. Mark Driscoll finds himself in the preferred “in Christ” category and the curent Commander and Chief probably does not, leaving hime in the “dead in Adam” category of Mark’s theology.
As a progressive Muslim, Lupe Fiasco claims Jesus to be a prophet and moral teacher. As a conservative Christian, Mark Driscoll believes Jesus to be God and savior. But I think both men in their recent moral grandstanding have shown that at the very least they misunderstand some of Jesus’ essential teachings. First in defense of both men, there is a time and a place to speak up and speak boldly about what you believe is right. Yes there are even occasions that warrant making public pronouncements of moral judgement. Jesus did after all call the Scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and a brood of vipers. He also went into the temple, tipped over tables, drove out money changers and proclaimed the temple had become a den of robbers. Jesus obviously made pronouncements of moral judgements. And while Christian theology does teach that Jesus alone reserves the right to the role of final judge of each person’s life, I do not believe Jesus taught his followers to never make moral judgements of their own, perhaps even public ones.
So what did Jesus mean then with that whole “Judge not lest ye be judged” spiel anyway? A close look at the context of Matthew 7 shows that Jesus was concerned that people should be about the buisnes of taking their own self inventory before they hypocritically point out the flaws or sins of others. Judge not is quickly followed by, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
What Jesus was absolutely and unequivocally opposed to was a posture of moral grandstanding: a smug and often public moral judgement of another, coupled with a declaration of ones own perceived sense of righteousness. Jesus told a parable once of a Pharisee who stood thanking God that he was so unlike so many other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers and a tax-collector, that the Pharisee seems all too happy to point out. He then offers God a list of his good deeds, evidence of his orthodoxy and orthopraxy or right moral standing: I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income. In stark juxtaposition, Jesus then tells his followers that the tax collector beat his chest and cried out: God, be merciful to me, a sinner!?! He then drives home the stark contrast by commenting on the tax collector’s humble posture. Jesus exclaims, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In the last two days Lupe Fiasco and Mark Driscoll – two men with radically different religious beliefs and social visions – have stood publicly and in effect said thank God I am not like this man, this President. In today’s political climate where suspicions of political leaders runs rife (with some good reason) on the right and the left, it is the modern day equivalent of saying ‘thank God I am not like this tax colector.’ Thank God I am not like this chief of all politicians. Driscoll’s implicit list of Obama’ sins: the Presidents stance on gay marriage, abortion and possibly contraception. On the other hand Lupe Fiasco criticizes Obama for taking a weak stance on Israel-Palestine relations, drones and the war machine. For Driscoll Obama is too liberal to be an orthodox believing Christian. For the socially progressive Lupe Fiasco, Obama is much too politics as usual, or dare I say “conservative.” They both took to public moral grand standing. Driscoll offered a pious sounding, ‘I’ll pray for this man I don’t think is a real Christian ’ And shortly after followed it up with a discussion of those who are dead in Adam and those who are alive in Christ. Lupe played the same beat for 30 minutes and kept repeating he didn’t vote for Obama, at Obama’s inaugural event.
The good and the bad news of it all is that we have all done it. As we have seen in the last two days, pride in painful excess knows no religious or sociopolitical bounds. And each day is a new opportunity to be the tax collector rather than the Pharisee. I happen to agree with Mark Driscoll that Jesus is the true revelation of God, savior and judge of humanity (though we draw some starkly different implications of what that might mean). I happen to sympathize with Lupe Fiasco on a lot of social positions and political policies, with his outspokenness against the ongoing war efforts and with his subtle but brave (especially in the world of Hip Hop) stance against homophobia in his lyrics and public comments. But the posture of both men in the last two days has angered and saddened me.
It has also caused me to look within. I do so in contrition and find my greatest sadness and anger is with myself. Yes, I once flippantly and easily made the “who is in and who is out” style judgements Driscoll seems so prone to make. But these days, finding myself more of a social progressive my sins look more like Lupe’s. I make no apology for making moral judgements and sticking up for things I believe in: things like ending the war efforts, discontinuing the use of drones and advocating for women in ministry or full inclusion of LGBTQ brothers and sisters in church and society. But there is a difference between advocating for these positions and possibly speaking out against specific comments or actions of Politicians or pastors I disagree with and being glibly dismissive in broad strokes of individuals or whole groups of people while implicitly declaring my own righteousness.
Sadly, I have done the latter far too often. I have in the past publicly taken to a blog or Facebook to disagree with Mark Driscoll (or in more recent times pastors such as James Dobson, Ken Hamm and Louie Giglio or politicians and political pundits like Rick santorum or Mike Huckabee) on issues such as marriage equality, science, historical accuracy. Whether right or wrong in these discussions I believe at times I have entered them with the right posture and a boldness I hope emulates Jesus. However, other time words like fundamentalist, literalist or fundagelical have slipped out of my mouth, without much explanation of what I mean, with a presumed correctness on my part and posture of “watch out” for folks that agree with these “clowns.”
I beat my chest. I call out, God forgive me, a sinner. Today I offer Mark and Lupe not as object lessons of “what not to be,” but rather as what they are, two broken men from very different backgrounds and belief systems that more often than I would like to admit, I find myself identifying with, not in their theological or political positions but in their public moral grandstanding.
These are two men We are three men, who like everyone every other child of God are in desperate need of the grace and love of God. How quickly we lapse (whatever our views are) from the brave and respectable, Christ like action of taking a public stance to moral grandstanding: name calling, publicly listing the sins of others along with implicit or explicit declarations of our own riotousness.
Lord have mercy.
Perhaps there are two types of people in this world: Those who believe there are two types of people in this world and those of us who think that life is just a bit more complicated than that. It seems to me that the former group have a tight reign on most religious, political, scientific and social discourse in this country. Us/them dichotomies abound. Such dichotomies so saturate the air we breathe that perhaps we no longer recognize the stench.
I know that my people, Christians of all stripes – conservative, liberal, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestants with all of are sectarian extravagance – have often led the way in this game, sometimes with violent pronouncements of who is in and who is out. But it is a guilt we all share. Read the thread on almost any facebook status or blog about any controversial issue to see that there are people – both men and women, in a kaleidoscope of skin colors, Christians as well as people of other faith commitments and rational empiricists united in their suspicions of faith commitments – who seem all too comfortable to proclaim (whether explicitly or implicitly) that the world would be a better place if we could just be rid of the “other.”
Sometimes this even becomes part of our sacred stories: ‘My God will get you’ instead of ‘Lord have mercy and compassion on us all.’ Sometimes our sickness of heart is allowed to grow so uncontrollably out of bounds we have the audacity to call our hatred hope.
But the hope of my people – and I truly believe the hope of the world – has been expressed so succinctly by a Hebrew prophet named Isaiah:
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
This week – this Holy Week – Christians of all stripes – conservative, liberal, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestants with all of are sectarian extravagance – remember, mourn and celebrate the events of this climactic week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We declare our belief that that the restorative work Isaiah so longed for – the restorative work we all so long for – has been and is being done in and through him. This week we declare our belief that to him – not us – belongs the judgment of the nations for the sake of this worlds restoration: swords into plowshares, spears into pruning-hooks, tanks and f15′s into Combine harvesters. Our job until then is to live as he lived, beckoning all to the table that is a foretaste of the feast he establishes on that mountain.
So let us put down our us/them language of culture wars, even if we are outnumbered on all sides by people who refuse to put down the tools and language of war: On the blogs, the facebook status and even in the pews. Our job, our call, our gift is to love. While there is a spectrum of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation as well as a multiplicity of beliefs in this world, there is only one type of person, one type of humanity: the humanity that God loves so much that it has become inextricably intertwined with the divine in the person of Jesus. In him all things were made and it is in him – not in the divisive language of war – that we live and move and have our being.
Lord I believe. Only help my unbelief. And please let the hope of resurrection be renewed again in my heart – in all of our hearts – this Holy Week.
It is Good Friday. And it is Earth Day.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22,23).
The world we live in is good. It can be a place of wild and mesmerizing beauty that enchants the day dreamer, acts as muse for the painter or songstress and causes the heartbeats of children to increase pace at the first signs of spring. Golden yellow dandelion florets dance in the wind and glisten in the summer sun. The stars give light by night as the moon plays with the ocean causing its waves to rise and fall. Roses and lilies bloom with intoxicating aroma and inspire the poetry of lovers. And human beings at times act with amazing care and benevolence towards each other and the world we live in.
But the world we live in can also be a brutal and desolate place. Those same dandelions that dance in the wind are an aggressive weed that take over the farmer’s crop and increase his toil. The sun that glistens on them does not let up but beats down and contributes to drought and famine as rains recede. The stars fall from the sky. The moon is thought to have adverse affects on the human psyche, while the ocean waves rise to a colossal crescendo in the tsunami and crush tens of thousands of human lives. Roses bear thorns and lilies fade away. Human beings let love die while hurt, ignorance and hatred fester. We use words, swords and F-15’s to terrorize the lives of others. And time has also shown that no other force in nature has wreaked as much havoc upon the rest of creation as humanity.
A lot of religious people, especially Christians tend to talk about the world as if it were indubitably going to become a ball of fire. We treat our bodies as if they are temporary homes or worse prisons we will one day escape. But none of this sounds anything like Good News.
God made animals and trees and vegetation and said all of these are good. God made people and said this is very good. Our world and our bodies are good! Broken sure; but not disposable. In need of some restoration; but indispensable.
The Son of God does not come to free us from the physicality of this world, broken as it may be. Instead he steps through the door between Haven and Earth and remains permanently bound up with the stuff of creation for the sake of its transformation and ours.
A good response is to start today with taking better care of both our bodies and our planet.