Christians and politics

I have floated the idea to our Wineskins editors about doing a segment of our Wineskins site–from now running up to the election–on “Christians and politics.”

I’m not sure how I’m going to do this, but if there seems to be enough interest in some essays from some of you, I will be happy to place a special standing box on the site for interaction from now till the election. Rubel Shelly and Lynn Anderson were adamant that we not produce a “voting guide,” which is certainly not what we’ll set out to do.

Instead, we would provide a forum for discussion on the topic of “Christians and politics” and even delve into the notion of non-participation altogether, as one has commented yesterday. The idea of non-participation in government can go much deeper than a principled decision not to vote, and I’d like to examine the range of views and help one another make a principled decision on how to participate or not to participate.

This Ellen Goodman piece (Boston Globe columnist) is thought-provoking: Maybe Father Does Know Best?

If you want to look more deeply into the issue of Romans 13 and cooperation or non-cooperation with government, please learn more about Voice of the Martyrs (VOA), an incredible ministry begun by two men who were imprisoned, one in Cuba and one under the Nazis and Communists for fourteen years. I’ll likely write more on VOA later.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

The Sports-tine Chapel

One reason I enjoy Sports Illustrated so much is embodied in the most recent issue that came to my house yesterday: The Sports-tine Chapel! I love it. A four-fold rendition of The Sistine Chapel ceiling done as if Michelangelo were a modern sports fan.

SI takes their work seriously but doesn’t take themselves or sports too seriously. It’s not intended to be profane in the sense that sports is more important than what’s represented in the actual panels of creation but to show the story of sports in a unique way that shows the humanity of sports. That’s what I like about SI: it tells the human story and often speaks of the search for meaning in those who compete in the race or the games.

Sistine Panels

Sports Illustrated

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Is the presidential election another war of good and evil?

I received a “voting guide” that claimed the election, the choice between President Bush and Senator Kerry, is a Christian war between good and evil. Among the many reasons I think this is damaging to the Christian church and cause, here is one:

Christians have allowed the Republican party to successfully capitalize on and co-opt the church as a voting block. We are made to believe this is serving our country and God and children’s future well. I’m not sure this is true but I’m certain that these ideas serve the Republican party well.

A friend of mine asked me, “Would you consider voting for John Kerry?”

“Consider–in a democracy–is the key word, isn’t it?” I replied. I’ve had various political conversations with both Republicans and Democrats. Democrats don’t believe Bush is fit to lead. Republicans don’t believe Kerry is fit to lead. As often is the case, for many it’s one of those “voting against” someone or their party campaigns. I don’t want my choice of a particular party nominee to be a foregone conclusion without “considering” and weighing the options.

One friend is voting purely on economics and feels Republican economics make more sense. Lower taxes appropriately, increase GDP, bottom line is you actually collect more taxes. Another Christian I know is voting Kerry. She doesn’t believe Bush has discernment to lead the country. Some are held up from voting Democrat because of moral issues, believing overall the Republican party “more moral” than Democrats.

Whose set of morals are the benchmark for this?

On the one hand, Republicans advocate “family values” and say Democrats don’t. Democrats scoff and say they are for the poor, also a “biblical value” and middle class families in every way. Democrats generally don’t support harsh forms of punishment such as capital punishment and advocate social programs to stave off these criminal problems before they happen. Republicans advocate pro-life related to abortion, and many Christians are convinced any vote otherwise is a sin. I’ll have to scan and print sometime in my blog the photo I took during the 1992 election of a couple at a Democratic rally for Clinton who were walking around with a poster, “A vote for Clinton is a sin against God.”

I don’t agree with the sign or the notion that a vote for a particular candidate is a sin against God. This oversimplifies the issues and demonizes those who have thoughtfully differed with the prevailing version of Christianity that would align itself with a political party. While everyone must vote their consciences, we ought to be aware of the possibility that politics might have more influence on us than we on politics. I want Christians to turn that around. To be a Christian in the first place is a political act: we are proclaiming that our allegiance is not to the state but to the kingdom of God.

Is the presidential election another war of good and evil, a battle for Christianity, as the voting guide suggests? What do you think?

Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Spoken of in Leviticus 16, this is the traditional day for the Jews where atonement is made for sins of Israel that have caused a ritual impurity or separation from God or their own people or sins committed in ignorance. Nadab and Abihu are mentioned here, perhaps because the presence of their rebellion and death brought a ritual impurity that required ritual renewal.

In ancient Judaism, two goats, a bull, and a ram were to be brought to the tabernacle (or later Temple) courts. The bull would be for a sin offering of the priest and blood would be sprinkled on the “mercy seat” of the ark of the covenant. The ram would be completely burned as a “whole or burnt offering.” The two goats were brought, hands were laid upon them, and one was released into the wilderness as the scapegoat. The Chicago Cubs did not make up this concept, though they continue to practice it! The scapegoat is a misnomer, developed out of the idea of “the goat who escapes” but the word, Azazel, is not that easy to translate. Another example of how it’s been translated is something like “spirit of the wilderness or the edge” The idea is that one goat is for the Lord and the sins of the people and the other carries the sins of the people to the edge, outside the camp.

Jews in America do not sacrifice goats and bulls but practice Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins a period of reflection and repentance and giving of forgiveness for sins against one another, even those committed in ignorance. Yom Kippur is the end of ten days of repentance and various forms of fasting. Honey cakes are baked, candles are lit the night before Yom Kippur to symbolize the hope of the human soul being light in the world. Often, white garments are worn to symbolize forgiveness, purity, atonement. A ram’s horn, or Shofar (same thing blown before Jericho walls fell), is blown to end Yom Kippur and Saturday will be a special Shabbat and feast.

I do not practice these Holy Days but study them and observe them, so if you know of a mistake I’ve made, please point it out, because I want it to be accurate and I’d like to learn more about the Jewish faith and practice that has been the foundation for our Christian faith, the tree into which we are graphed (Rom 9).

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Teresa Heinz Kerry – “Let them go naked”

I read in Newsweek yesterday the quote from Teresa Heinz Kerry, speaking to relief workers in New York who were packing supplies for the hard-hit by hurricane Ivan in the Caribbean.

When I showed the quote to Jill she said, “She was probably just trying to show the priority of clean water and power for hospitals.”

Jill was right: Heinz Kerry was speaking to relief workers and also spoke French to Haitian Americans who were there. What she said is not as bizzare as some have claimed, considering her intent.

Here is the fuller story:
USA Today: Heinz Kerry visits hurricane relief efforts by U.S. Caribbeans

While I’m at it, here’s another perspective on the “shove it” incident with “reporter” Colin McNickle. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/print_friendly.php?id=7792. In both of these incidents, media and we the audience must–but often don’t–put quotes in context.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

The Jesus Creed – Scot McKnight

Recently I interviewed Scot McKnight, author of the newly released, The Jesus Creed. McKnight is a fascinating person with much to offer the Christian community.

“For a loving relationship to exist between a human and God there must be truth-telling . . . If we can’t tell the truth to one another, we are not revealing one another. Truth-telling to God is the sole foundation for a relationship. If we have not told the truth, we have not revealed ourselves back to God. Until Adam tells God what he’s done, he’s hiding from God. This is simple as it gets, if we’re living a life of sin, we’re not facing [God] eye to eye, we’re facing God with our heads cocked.” –from an interview in August 2004

Blogging, preaching, writing, eating together, looking eye to eye, holding one another accountable, bowing and revealing our hearts to God and one another are all modes of truth-telling, one of the means to a transforming relationship with God.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Sunday one of the lady’s in my Bible class said, “You need to move on and quit talking about slitting throats of animals–I’m getting sick.”

OK, well, we were talking about the time when I slaughtered a goat and hit my own shin with the sledgehammer. I was able to recover, and groaning, finished the task.

This led to an incredulous question from one lady about why I had used a hammer and not slit the goat’s throat. One elder popped up and said the next door neighbor of the church had two goats roaming on our parking lot and would I shepherd them. Hey, man, I’m not the shepherd. Did I not just tell you a story about what happens when I handle goats?

We had been talking about the atonement out of Leviticus 16 and cross-referencing Hebrews 9. Those are bloody chapters. The most striking are these two verses in parallel universes of Israel’s temple rituals and the altar of the cross of Christ:

Leviticus 17:11
I have provided the blood for you to make atonement for your lives on the Altar; it is the blood, the life, that makes atonement.*

Hebrews 9:14
Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.*

*Peterson, E. H. (2003). The Message : The Bible in contemporary language. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Big Churches Need Small Groups

I believe any large church needs small groups of fellowship, accountability, and prayer. One of the vital elements of the life of a large church like Woodmont Hills in Nashville is small groups. No fancy name, no big program, just small groups of people in one another’s homes. Terry Smith, mentor and friend to me, prays for and helps connect people but largely he lets groups form naturally around relationships not zip codes.

Right now my group gathers at 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm at a different house each Sunday night, and we are studying an IVP 2:7 group study series called Growing Strong in God’s Family. The study involves bringing our personal Bible study to bear on our lives together. We talk about what Scriptures we’ve been meditating on during the week and there are five key verses to memorize as well as some workbook material to go through. Some in the group have done this kind of study before and say themes develop out of the choices of Scriptures various members read from over the week. The study encourages everyone picking out passages themselves to read and meditate on. Interestingly, I’m writing a book right now on Leviticus and the study specifically mentions Leviticus and Revelation as books young Christians ought to avoid.

After two of the sessions, I’ve enjoyed the interaction and Spiritual growth and community maturity that it nurtures. I’d recommend this particular 2:7 series highly.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Soccer & Foreign Policy

Three soccer games today. Jill and I coach our three kids’ teams. Soccer’s a great sport.

Perhaps in the future soccer will help foreign policy. Nearly everywhere in the world people goes bonkers for “football.” Part of the ugly American in me didn’t understand that for many years, but after living in foreign countries I realized how exciting soccer can be.

Maybe someday we’ll have a president who played soccer growing up, took a foreign language in school and can begin to fathom the beauty of a simple diversion of most of the rest of the world.

We are powerful and our sports and traditions do catch on somewhat around the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should be arrogant and believe what we do is “best.” I’m amazed at President Bush’s incredulous question, “Why do they hate us?” and differ strongly with his answer.

President Bush claims other nations hate us because they hate freedom and they are evil-doers. “They hate what we stand for,” says Bush. “Our enemies are thugs and evil-doers…” Right now there are people in Iraq who hate us because they hate foreign occupation.

I spoke to Richard T. Hughes the other day in an interview and he said others may believe we’re more interested in commerce, they hate us for much same reason the rest of the world does: because we’ve divided the world into good and evil and we always come out innocent and the bully. This doesn’t help the cause of peace.

The myth of American innocence, says Hughes, is a claim that runs counter good biblical theology. We all are sinners and stand in God’s judgment, and we are not perfectly executing a godly plan for our nation. God is the ruler of the universe, not American versions of freedom and justice.

I’m glad I’m not the president. The toughest job in the world, but we need someone who can discern and be wise about foreign policy in these days of international business and the shrinking and ever-interacting world.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Amazed

Read the Gospel of Mark. Many times the crowds were amazed at what Jesus was doing. When he healed the blind man, they were amazed. When he cast out a demon, they were amazed. When he taught with authority, they were amazed.

When we saw the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ, we were amazed. Some, as in Mark’s account, were offended. There is a great turning point in Mark 8 where Jesus turns toward Jerusalem and says, “Anyone who would follow me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Amazement turns into decision. Peter pushes Jesus aside and says, “NO, LORD!” and Jesus does something that amazes Peter. He says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Wouldn’t want to be called Satan by Jesus. Perhaps in that moment Jesus was so resolute that anything standing in his way would have been Satanic.

The question for us anytime we are faced with the amazement of Jesus and the offense of the cross, the way of the cross, is Will we go with him? The way we answer that is in our faith, our walking that road of carrying the cross. It takes a lifetime, I believe, to figure out what that means. Carrying crosses is a mystery to me. I don’t claim to fully understand it, and certainly religious folks have confused it with self-punishment and guilt. Yet there is something in the heart of Jesus’ message and story that leads me to believe somehow the mystery will be revealed to us while we are carrying the cross of Christ, not simply while we are amazed.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Lines of fellowship

Some members of the church that nurtured my faith as a young boy believe my own parents ought not come to church with me at Woodmont Hills Church of Christ. Because of what people think of Rubel Shelly, the Woodmont Church, my book on baptism, they believe somehow Dad, who has been an elder for more than 30 years, is going to import the same kind of thinking into the Dewey Church of Christ.

I don’t believe Dewey needs to become Woodmont, nor do I believe any church needs to rise in the image of anyone or any other church–we only seek the image of Christ. What disturbs me is that people are very willing to make judgments based on third, fourth, fifth-hand information. What can we do?

  1. Go to the source. We need to stop relying on ninth-hand information. One brother who practices this is Ray Myers, who taught me at Dewey when I was in junior high. He has dialogued with me about my views on baptism.
  2. Stop bearing false witness to things we haven’t seen. Spreading falsehood or sketchy information about things is slanderous and wrong.
  3. Pray for churches worldwide, that we might bear the image of Christ, not the image of the church of Christ as a denomination but as the true body of Christ that reflects his love. I appreciate churches that get involved in hurricane victim relief and other service and mission, rather than being concerned about how churches in another state sing or organize themselves.
  4. Be vocal. We cannot sit idly while divisive voices ring out loudly. The gospel is at stake, and we must interact and talk and dialogue about what we believe. Dad, Mom, and I have had more good visits about life in Christ since I became involved in controversial ministries such as Wineskins, ZOE, and Woodmont, than ever before. These conversations have been difficult but needed and helpful, though at times I feel it stresses Mom and Dad out more than it does me.
  5. Keep paddling where you are. We ought to pay attention to the time and place where we are, rather than worry about what everyone else is doing or not doing. This is a simple lesson my children learn about obeying what they’ve been told rather than taddling on their siblings.

What else can we do? Thoughts?

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Go Dog Go

This morning Jill asked my oldest daughter and me if we knew that last night Jacob read Go Dog Go, Hop on Pop, and part of Green Eggs and Ham . . .

I had heard him reading but should have savored the moment and watched, but I was preoccupied with thoughts and searching internet for an aerator rental for the backyard and how I wanted grass for a football field this winter and not a mud pit, and I missed that milestone.

I’ll be there for the full Green Eggs and Ham.

******

The other day Jacob said, “I wish I had a brother.”

“I’m your brother,” I said.

“You’re my dad.”

“Yes, but I’m your brother too. When you get bigger, the same size as me, we’ll be like brothers and play and you can pin me down in wrestling.”

“I can already pin you down, dad. And when I get bigger, I’ll really beat you in football.”

I better get that aerator and get the football field ready.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

The Question of God

I taped the PBS special The Question of God last night but have only been able to watch the introductions to Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. This is a moving look at Freud’s journey to became a skeptic, atheist, facscinated with and highly influencial to human self-understanding and Lewis’s journey of skeptic, atheist turned Christian, writer and one of the most widely respected advocate of faith in Christ in the modern era.

Simultaneously in the show a panel of skeptics and believers in God dialogue on questions such as “Why do humans suffer?” and “Where do we find ultimate meaning?” and “What is our destiny?” This flows along the storylines of Freud and Lewis.

I’ll write more about after I see it. Anyone else already see the whole thing? What do you think? There is a part 2 that airs next week.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

Tennessee State Fair

Took my five-year-old son, Jacob, and eight-year-old daughter, Anna, to the Tennessee State Fair last night. My ten-year-old, Ashley, didn’t want to go, so went to piano and out with Jill.

We had one free admission ticket Jacob had gotten from school, so here’s what it cost us for two hours one evening at the fair with our FREE ticket:

  • Parking, $3 (not bad)
  • Admission for Anna and me, $12
  • Just inside admission you buy ride tickets, $20
  • Immediately the kids want to pay $5 a pop to throw basketballs through hoops the size of a wedding ring – I resist both the children’s pleas and every ball barker saying, “Hey dad! Let the kids throw, they get somethin’ even if de miss . . .” $0
  • Ice cream, $5

So, that free ticket cost $40 . . . and, would it be too trite to say that seeing my children smile would be worth it? Well, I can see my children smile when I tickle them or say something kind to them, so yes, it would be too trite. It was fun and we saw and experienced some bizarre things you see at fairs: a huge turtle, a kangaroo, six guys eating hamburgers to see who could eat the most, fun house, burlap sack slide, bumper cars.

What an interesting, if not half-off-its-rocker, society I’m a part of.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General