Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We All want a Leader

Observing the present political climate in the United States is a very interesting show. There is a cultural phenomenon on display that was present in during the previous presidential administration, but (in my opinion) has grown even more. People can disagree whether the respective presidents welcomed this trend, but it seems more defensible that this trend existed during the 43rd president's terms and has not abated so far during the 44th. What is this cultural trend? The human gravitation to "Messianism" (the belief that a saving figure will fix that which is airy in the world).

Before people automatically believe I am viewing the country through a partisan lens, consider that Evangelical Christians were no better following the 2001 Presidential inauguration. Phrases such as, "finally we'll see needed change now that we have a 'godly' President in office," were not infrequently heard at Bible studies. The fact that George W. Bush had frequently spoke of his faith only added fuel to the fire. Many evangelicals expected cultural "rescue" from him, forgetting that the Constitution prohibits him from meddling in the affairs of the citizenry as much as they hoped. In addition, many often spoke of having "hope" in Bush that one should only have in Christ. Misplaced Messianism was rampant among evangelical Republicans, unwilling to stomach any critique of his policies - be they foreign or domestic. So vested in this "messianic" view of Bush were many on "the right," that to critique his policy or (God forbid!) vote for someone else could generate rifts in fellowship at church. I witnessed this shameful trend first hand.

Having said that, it does appear to me that the trend which began during the Bush terms among "the right" is growing now to new levels among "the left." It does not appear enough to simply vote for Barak Obama during the 2008 presidential election, and enjoy his January inauguration. Rejoicing over the election of Obama now rises to the level of "messianic" laud and praise. By now we have all seen the YouTube videos of children singing for his election or praising his present administration. In addition, among his supporters there appears an expectation that he will influence more about culture, economy and communities than is constitutionally appropriate for an American President. The "messianism" has far from ebbed, but instead seems to have grown (only from the other side of the political spectrum).

While "Messianism" most often has a religious connotation, it speaks also to the broader human instinct for rescue by means of a powerful leader. The world is not working the way that you want it to, so hope is maintained for a central figure, a Savior, to wave his hand and make it all better. Christianity maintains that this instinct is only well placed when directed at Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, consider the plea of Israelites in 1 Samuel 8:5b, "So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have.” While they had a perfect theocracy under YHWH, mediated through prophets and taught through the Law of Moses, they still wanted a human figure to lead them. Instead of frying them for their insolence though (which would have been His right), YHWH used that human flaw to bring about the reign of King David, who would foreshadow the One that was to come later (Jesus Christ).

The messianic instinct is resident in the human condition. That instinct can be directed productively at the Messiah of God (Jesus of Nazareth), or it can be directed misguidedly at a human figure whose motives cannot help but be mixed with good and bad intentions. If armbands suddenly come into vogue featuring Obama's symbol, it likely will not be his doing. It is the nature of people to place their hope in the wrong thing. If children sing "Red and yellow; black and white; all are equal in his sight," they're likely not consciously rewriting an Sunday School song about Jesus to sing Obama's praises. They're just placing hope in Obama that should be sorely directed at Jesus. We all do this. Evangelicals may not have sung such songs about George Bush, but were often over the top in their "hopes" regarding him too.

We all want a leader with a human face. In our depravity, Jesus' human face is often just not enough. We all want a leader with temporal power, but Jesus statement that "all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me," is not enough either. One can "hope" that the messianism will eventually simmer down, before something really crazy emerges out of it. Among the great lessons of the twentieth century is what can happen to a society that develops a collective "messianic" adoration for its leader. Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia and China have all experienced this (to name just a few). Hopefully, America will tap the brakes a little on its "Messianism" before our country resembles the plight of those others.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Beauty of Communal Worship

Participating this morning in worship for Church of the Holy Trinity was a real privilege. Serving as an acolyte in the liturgical service creates a praxi fide of being intensely Christian. One of the great benefits of serving as an acolyte is the opportunity to, in essence, have a "front row seat" to all that takes place at the altar. When prayers are read, sacraments consecrated or distributed, your right there - in the thick of the experience. I enjoy it very much.

Today was especially meaningful because I witnessed something so wonderful as to deserve mention here. One man in the church has a son with a severe disability, the name of which I do not know. Nevertheless, at the time for distribution of the elements of the Table, the disabled son needed assistance to be brought forward in his wheelchair to receive the Eucharist. His name is "Rutherford." As I stood before the altar, holding oil and a napkin nearby for the priest to bless many who came to the rail, I observed Rutherford's father wheeling him down the center isle. When he came to the steps, he and an usher grabbed both sides of the wheelchair and lifted him up to the raised platform. Rutherford's chair was pushed forward to the rail to receive Communion and the priest blessed him using the oil I held. When the priest dismissed everyone at the rail, the same procedure was executed to take him back.

In this moment I witnessed a microcosm of the Church at work. Rutherford is disabled - quite severely. He cannot approach the altar on his own. The result was that there was need for the Church to assist him. Those knowing his need, and his inabilities, offered their help for him to participate in the worship of Jesus Christ. It was not left to him to simply conjure up his own ability to "come boldly to the throne of grace." Instead he was aided in his approach by those provided by God for his assistance.

This living picture was very poignant, and will stick with me for quite some time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Commute Meditation

"Make good use of your down time."

I've heard that wisdom from many sources all my life. However, commuting in Houston has presented opportunities to put it to practice. Not sense Seattle have I rode the bus this much; therefore, it's been a while since I discovered the serenity available when someone else is driving. Because I live in the same neighborhood of my co-workers, we carpool often. The conversations that ensue can be stimulating and enjoyable. Nevertheless, time spent using public transit can be rewarding as well.

The lost art of meditation can be quite foreign to Americans. It should not be lost on Christians, but American Christians do struggle with this: non-busy time spent thinking on those things that the normal pace does not allow for. I have found that bus commute time is well spent on morning or evening prayer, reading, or simply slowing my breathing to prepare for either the work day or coming home. When I consider how many of my peers struggle with high blood pressure, hypertension or stress, I recommend that they fit mass transit into their schedule in some way. It's unlikely they'll take my advice, for so many are addicted to the freedom of private transportation. I argue that the freedom is only taken away if you don't have it as an option. Just because you take the bus to and from work does not mean that you've relinquished your freedom. On the contrary, it is empowering to make decisions about the pace of one's life such that meditation time can be scheduled in through a metro bus ride.