Monday, November 10, 2008


Work is a persistent fellow with no real regard for the needs of a tired soul. For the last thirteen months, I have worked at a computer and taken no days off that were not days spent working or traveling in some capacity. That is until today. As Nashville awoke to find its first frost this morning, I find myself in Portland Brew, a Monday ritual I practiced every week prior to taking my position at Griffin. I have missed this time. Most of my reading and blogging occurred during my Monday coffee (you can read back on the earlier years of this blog and note all the entries posted on Mondays), and it only seems fitting to write a bit this morning.

One of the reasons my soul is tired is the absence of the natural side of creation in my day to day life. The office has my back to our only window and in this post-daylight savings, it is dark more than an hour before I ever leave the office. I experience God in the falling and crunching of leaves, the running of rivers, and the setting of suns, the stench of dirt, and the chill of cold. Autumn is often a spiritual experience for me as God is reminding me that while summer’s fruits die off for a season, the soul awakes, hungers, and grows ever still. I miss this more than I miss my Monday coffee.

About an hour northeast of my parent’s home is a river called the Hiwassee. Winding down out of the Smokey Mountains towards the Tennessee, the Hiwassee has more in common with its western counterparts than most rivers in this state. It is wide and shallow with water so clear you could photograph the river bottom. Amidst the contoured rock, chutes, and tall grass Sandhill Cranes spread their wings and Rainbow Trout hide unless lured out by the chance of a meal. For years, my dad and I have waded these waters in pursuit of the trout, sometimes fruitlessly, but mostly successfully. The river lacks the management a great trout stream requires as the Tennessee Valley Authority has a vested interest in power production, not fishing, but for this part of the country, it is as good as any river gets.

Yesterday I donned my waders and boots and assembled my rod like an infantryman might his rifle. An artificial fly is a work of art, as is the knot that connects it to my line. Fly-fishing as a whole is an art form worthy and demanding of discipline in technique, patience, and love of the water. There is nothing quite like fishing from the middle of a river rather than the bank, pulling your fish in to you, only to release it in the water running between and around your legs. Today the water is shallow, no more than knee deep, and this means the fish are timid. For much of the afternoon, I work my line across the deeper runs in the river to no avail. The light gets ever lower and the hardwood-covered hills burn with the colors of autumn. The sun glares on the water, running wide and winding out of view. I don’t care about catching fish as today is all about remembering the creation I so seldom see. This time is worshipful; I am grateful for it.

Eventually the river yields two small Rainbows from the same hole, and the magic fly I tied on snags and breaks off on the river bottom. I catch no more fish and the sun sets, forcing us off the river in the last traces of light. As my dad and I twist out of the hills towards home, I feel rest in a way I’ve not felt in months. I pray this peace continue through the rest of this week’s vacation, and I thank God for the reminder that no dam can reduce a river’s majesty, and no office can confine nature’s glory. Cheers!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who Would Jesus Vote For?

In the last couple of weeks I have heard a lot of contradicting statements with no less authority on either side. The media does this every day, it’s how they make money, and at this point the media is about as realistic a representation of the ins and outs of life and politics as a pornographic movie is a guide to healthy sexuality between spouses. This is not about the media. This is about Christians. Some Christians, friends and prominent leaders will say that no Christian in good conscience could vote for John McCain, the war mongering, opponent-bashing heir to President Bush. Others will say that no Christian in their right mind could vote for Barak Obama and his deep liberal voting record and support of infanticide. I sit and wonder who Jesus would vote for, and why, and it seems as good a time as any to dwell on this for a while.

The politics of this country are divisive by design. Pundits will tell you that there is no riding the fence, if you are a moderate you are not a Republican/Democrat, as if all the values of a couple hundred million Americans can be split into two categories. Senators Obama and McCain tout unity as major points of their campaigns, but there is no option to vote for the middle of the road as when you cast your vote, you are aligning yourself with everything the candidate stands for. You cannot vote for Obama’s tax cuts without voting for the protection of partial birth abortions, and McCain’s energy policy goes hand in hand with his foreign policy. The concept of a melting pot turns into a dish of oil and water when we give our voice, and our country is the weaker for it.

Christianity, on the other hand, is all about unity. This is in theory, of course, as the politics of the Church, religion, have fractured and splintered the original fellowship so many times over you could earn an advanced degree in the study of it. Christians seem to be proud of their differences too, as can be clearly seen from the street looking in on the building or the sign out front. We are quick to tell other denominations they are doing it wrong, reading the scriptures wrong, presenting themselves to the rest of the world in a way that makes the rest of us look bad. Some Christians will even go as far to say other Christians aren’t actually Christians. This is a daring and dangerously arrogant thing to do. This was never the intention. Before being taken into custody, Jesus prayed over his disciples, “That they may be one as We are one” (John 17:11). Jesus’ desire for us is that we would be united as Christ is to the Father, one in the same. The Church is the earthly presence of God’s dwelling among man, but it often shows little of the character of God, and this leads to discord and disbelief. Freidrich Nietzsche once said, “I will believe in your redeemer when you look more redeemed,” and I don’t need tell you what he believed.

So if Christians are supposed to be unified in thought and action, why are we talking about politics? Why do we engage in the debates and self-righteous arguments over our decision? How can we be content to dehumanize a candidate in the name of our faith, yet turn a blind eye to the equal sins of the one we support? What do our beliefs contribute to the voting process? These are valid questions for Christians to be asking, and important ones to be considering during these times. But there is another question to consider, a question you might hear a lot of different answers to depending on who you ask. Who would Jesus vote for?

The Bible doesn’t say much about politics, and says nothing about anything that looks like voting for public office. Christians are left with no choice but to use their faith to form political opinions, but these are not intended to go together. Jesus lived during the occupation of a hostile government, an era ripe with political controversy yet he did not speak out against the Romans. Jesus chose to speak about spiritual bondage, and pointed people towards freedom through teaching, community, and miracles, but left the bondage imposed by the Romans alone. Pretty interesting, considering Isaiah’s claim, “The Government will be upon his shoulders.”

On one occasion, Jesus is approached by the Jewish elite regarding taxes. You know this story - the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin, then asks the crowd who’s face is on it. “Caesar’s”, they said, to which Jesus replies, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the thing’s that are God’s.” And that’s really about it. Jesus allows the Roman military to crucify him, and then he overcomes death and challenges his followers to sacrifice all, not for God and country as they saying goes, but for God.

Many times I have heard or read that if Jesus was alive today, he would certainly be an activist. I don’t think this is true, at least not in the traditional sense. Jesus would certainly still associate with beggars and homeless, prostitutes, addicts, cheats, friends and family, but he would not be carrying picket signs or speaking out against the war. Jesus’ mission was much more focused on the people around him, the people who would be at these rallies, or even the politicians themselves, but with no aspirations of political influence. He never petitioned the government to give food to the poor, or create programs for the homeless and addicts, and he never instructed anybody on how to vote, just how to live.

I am not entirely certain why we take politics and voting so personally. Perhaps the political process is the highest stake game of I told you so we have available to us, an instance where we place our pride on the line because when it comes down to the “proper” direction of this country, we want to be right. Both political parties have had their fair share of time in power and this country is still moving forward, yet we continue to fight very personal and nasty battles on our way to the polls. That’s pride, not objectivity driving the voices of the most powerful nation in the world. I don’t know about you, but that’s a scary thing to think about.

Christians certainly take politics personally too. It’s very easy to see how our pride affects the church - just ask someone who quit going to church - and it only makes sense that when it comes to a Christian perspective on politics, we want to be just as right about Roe v. Wade as we do predestination. Republican Christians want Jesus for president and Democratic Christians want the government to be the Church. If Jesus were alive today, however, he would retreat from political power and tell the Church to be Church in spite of the government. In other words, Jesus taught a faith and way of life that had nothing to do with the government in power. The Church is designed to flourish in a democracy or a dictatorship. This is an important thing to remember, and I cannot stress this enough. As far as we Christians are concerned, it does not matter who wins this election.

To revisit the question, “Who would Jesus vote for?” Honestly, I don’t think Jesus would vote. If all authority on heaven and earth is his, why in the world would he cast a vote for the authority of a man? Sure, each candidate represents certain things that call upon the teachings of Jesus, but only certain things, plus some other very un-Christlike issues as well. There are far more important and personal concerns for our Savior, things we should be more concerned about than the current political process, because whether we live in the US, China, or Iran, these things would remain and bind us as believers.

Now I’m not saying you should not vote. Paul talked about his Roman citizenship on several occasions, and it afforded Paul certain advantages in his ministry. It did not define him, however, and neither can our American citizenship. I say cast the vote for the candidate who you feel will do the most to preserve and advance the constitutional identity and purpose of this country. That’s probably the closest way to vote in a “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” mentality that I can think of. We live in a country that affords us the freedom to practice our faith without persecution, but even if it didn’t, a government does not have the power to take our faith and values away from us, so please do not vote fearfully as if it does. Live your faith and values, don’t pridefully vote them, because even if the candidate you want to win wins, he will certainly let you down in the end. It’s just like Tammy Wynette once said, “After all, he’s just a man.”