28 September 2006

"The Jesus Camp" and Allegiance (?)

There is a movie/documentary coming out soon entitled "The Jesus Camp". See http://www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/jesuscamp/trailer/ or simply do a "Google" with the title to read some awfully disturbing theology.

My friend, Katy Allison and I, presented some thoughts on this recently. Below is our dialogue. The following will only make sense if you watch the clips/trailers.


There is a new movie/ documentary coming out called “Jesus Camp”. It is about a camp called “Kids on Fire” for kids as young as 6 years old. The film will follow 3 children as they speak about their gifts and what it means for them to be Christians. It also teaches kids how to be political activist for their Christian faith and you hear them several times refer to themselves as “God’s Army”.

A woman named Becky Fischer runs the camp. She has been a children’s minister since 1991 and before that she was a business woman managing a motel and a radio station. She is also lead pastor for the F.I.R.E. Center in Bismarck, N.D.

You will see a flash of a young girl, 10 at the oldest, who is wearing a piece of duct tape across her mouth that says, “life” on it. What you don’t see is that she is outside an abortion clinic protesting abortion. There is a point in the film where the kids are chanting “righteous judges” over and over again.

Did you hear some of the sound-bytes coming from these people who are representing conservative Christianity to this country?

• “There are two kinds of people—those who love Jesus and those who don’t”. I guess they have not heard of the time Jesus said that anyone can love their friends…the real test being the ones who have nothing to offer you in return.

• “The evangelicals decide who will be in the White House” (Andrew Card on Meet The Press) I guess that have not heard of the time when Jesus said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”—meaning God and Caesar are two completely different realities.

• “Righteous Judges, Righteous Judges, Righteous Judges” I guess they have not heard of the time when Jesus taught very clearly that judging is not something the Christ Community should be known for.

• “We’ve got to train our young people in the same fashion they’re training they’re young people” I guess they have not heard of the time when Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword will also perish by the sword.”

The saddest thing to me about the trailers(and I have not seen the entire film yet)— when the people in the movie say “we” and “us” and “our” they are not referring to the church, they are referring to their blind nationalism. Nationalism is different than patriotism. Patriotism is honoring what is good about a given nation be it Uganda, Poland, or the U.S. Nationalism, blind loyalty and complete allegiance, is something all together different. There is a word for it in Scripture: sin…idolatry…spiritual fornication (Thanks to my friend Randy Harris for that bit of distinction).

Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a battle being waged among Christians in America. The battle is being fought over defining rather elementary terms like “Jesus” “salvation” “church” and “gospel”.

Some want to lift up an American Jesus who wants his disciples to pray for “God to bless America” and for our “territories to be increased”. Others are reminding us that Jesus told us to pray for “the kingdom to come” and that our clearest promise from Jesus, from his own mouth, “you will have trouble in this world”.

Some want to reduce salvation to “avoiding hell” while others point out the eternal life starts right now. There is battle waging if you have the ears to hear.

Some want the church, though they would not admit this, to be an extension of the American Government, a lackey for American interest, economics and “democratic values”. Others point out that the church should always stand at odds with any tribe claiming to control the world. Only God sits on that throne.

What I am trying to say is that Jesus is political but the politics he instructed us to practice are often ignored by Contemporary Christians. It might sound silly or even downright demonstrative—have we been reading our bibles very closely? When I say Jesus is political I don’t mean he’s a Republican or a Democrat—I think we’re all mature enough to know that neither party has a foothold on the God of Scripture. When I say Jesus is political I mean he cares very much how we arrange our communities, determine our values—the way we treat one another; how we treat people whom we never met. That is the definition of “politics” in its oldest meaning. A way that is much bigger than elephants or donkeys.

I want the life of Jesus to pervade every compartment of my life. I don’t want to relegate him to an hour on Sunday, I want Jesus to be completely free to move and push me out of my own perceptions, biases and allegiances. I want the central teachings of Jesus to be engrained into my heart, soul, mind and quick reflexes. Teachings like:

1. The proclamation of the gospel should compel me to live in relationship with the poor (Lk 4).

2. That I should pray for my enemies. I wonder what would’ve have become of the Apostle Paul (formerly a terrorist by the name of Saul) had he been alive today? We might not have half of our New Testament. When is the last time our churches prayed for Sadaam Hussein or for Osama Bin Laden? That might sound foolish…but it might sound foolish because we’re more invested in our country than we are in the actual demands of Jesus.

3. Our allegiance flows in this order: kingdom, humanity, nation.

4. That the way of discipleship is found in death. “If anyone should come after me let him take up his cross.” Or, as Bonhoeffer stated, “Christ bids us to come and die.”

Katy and I have been wrestling with a familiar Gospel text these past few weeks. She has some very challenging things to share.

There is a point in the gospels when Jesus rides into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which was known as the final battle place against Jerusalem’s enemies. The people in Jerusalem were cheering and laying down their garments and palms leave becoming excited because in their eyes Jesus was coming to take down the Romans and put the Jews back in charge. But Jesus was really performing a type of play called “street theatre”. The Jews think that worldly power and glory follow Jesus but in fact the opposite is true. In the words of Chuck Campbell Jesus comes riding,

“not as one who lords his authority over others, but as one who rejects domination and comes as a servant;

He comes not as a mighty warrior, but as one who refuses to rely on violence;

He comes not with pomp and wealth, but as one identified with the poor.”

Jesus’ coming is explained in Zechariah 9:9-10
Rejoice greatly. O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
Righteous and having salvation is He,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the war horse from Jerusalem;
And the battle bow shall be cut off,
And He shall speak peace to the nations;

Jesus himself explains why he has come in John 12:23-26:

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to receive glory. What I'm about to tell you is true. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves his life will lose it. But anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it and have eternal life. Anyone who serves me must follow me. And where I am, my servant will also be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
What my point is in telling you this is that the people in this documentary and many people in the U.S. see Jesus as the Jews saw Jesus when he was riding into Jerusalem. People still don’t seem to want a crucified messiah but rather one that will give them worldly wealth and power. But our Lord didn’t come to offer us worldly possessions and worldly power but rather he came to teach us how to be servants to the world, how to humble ourselves before the world, not conquer it.


Admittedly, it is easy to point out the flawed thinking of others. The one’s who walk closest with Jesus recognize that we all have a long way to go in our lives of discipleship. Some of us will continue to be Pharisees thinking the answer is to clean up the streets and society, moving the poor and the sinners out of sight. Some of us will continue to be Zealots grabbing our guns, tanks and war planes every time we feel the impulse. Some of us will continue to be the Essenes, hiding and isolating ourselves from the pain and mess we’ve made of the world. Some will continue to be Sadducees perfectly ok that you are “sleeping with the enemy”. Perhaps the story Katy has shared this morning will call of us to more in our lives.

Maybe Republicans will see that you cannot determine values only by what happens below someone’s waste (abortion and gay marriage).

Maybe Democrats will see that just because you talk about helping the poor doesn’t mean you truly know the poor.

Maybe the cynics like me (that’s my official political party) will be resurrected out of our slumber and actually do something about the plight of the world. Something that is true to the way that Jesus did something about the plight of the world.

FYI. If you are looking for practical ways to lay down your life for the sake of the world, come up and talk to Katy and I at the end of assembly. In a few weeks I will be traveling to Washington D.C. to find out how much the Global Night Commute (Invisible Children) has affected the bloody wars of Northern Uganda. There are some students who are contemplating making the trip. Then, On October 15th IMAGE and some people from the Rochester Church will be throwing a love feast for the poor and marginalized of Detroit. Last, This March, I’ll be leading a group of you to the Bronx to practice what Gustavo Gutierrez calls “solidarity with the poor by knowing them.” The real tragedy in the US is not that Rich Christians don’t care for the poor; it’s that most of us don’t really know any truly poor people (Thanks to Shane Claiborne for that gospel wisdom).

Christians should never be afraid to lay down our lives for those we love OR for our enemies because we know that God alone holds the power to raise the dead. And if death visits a disciple, the Spirit will one day raise us from the dead.

20 September 2006

A Good Word from Anderson, Indiana

My good friend Adam Hill is doing some serious reflection for North American Churches of Christ (or churches period). Here is a quote used without permission (take that Adam). His blog is weird (www.thehighcheese.blogspot.com) but he's brilliant. Must be the seminary he went to :)

“...And if all we have to offer this community racked with homes broken by adultery and abuse, teens deceived by our culture about sexual promiscuity and their lives subsequently shattered by teenage pregnancy and a merciless system of honor and shame grinding them to pieces, countless addicts fighting tooth and nail to regain anything close to real life again, countless people battling depression over the loss of a job, their homes, their families, a mountain of consumer debt that is crushing an entire generation…if all we have to offer this world and this community is a definitive answer to centuries of debate regarding the necessity of water baptism, the weekly observance of the symbolic (not literal) lord’s supper, the impropriety of the use of instruments in corporate worship, and the proper role of women in church polity, it is no wonder that they see no connection between what the church is about and their own struggles. It is no wonder they believe that we have truly lost the point a long long time ago.

It is not that doctrine is unimportant—indeed I value greatly the doctrinal commitments of my heritage of faith, even when I find them in need of further thought—but if our discussion of doctrine loses touch with our mission and our purpose, then we become more of a distraction than anything else. Our purpose is to be the person and work of Christ” --Adam Hill.

11 September 2006

Like He Taught Us

Today, I am trying to pray according to the way of Christ.

I am praying for all of those left broken from the events of 9-11. For those rescue workers, nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters--for the families who have an empty spot at the dinner table where a loved one used to sit. I've been to ground zero twice in the last ten months and it is one of the most numbing places on the planet.

I am also trying to pray as Jesus teaches me to pray: for my "enemies" and for the ones who might (wish) persecute me. So, as hard as it is, I'm praying for Hussein, Bin Laden, et al--that they might know the justice and mercy of God; the pain they've caused and the redemption that is still possible by living according to the kingdom of God and not the kingom of darkness.

I'm not only praying for Christians and Jews in the Middle East, I am praying for Muslims too.

Jesus said that it's easy to show love to a friend. But can we love those who wish us harm or who have nothing to offer us? I don't know if I can answer that question. But the question is still there begging to be acknowledged.

Some might call me soft, liberal, socialist...I honestly am trying to allow the Gospels to dictate the way I think and the practices I'm a part of. I fall short of that goal...but I'm on the journey.