Friday, October 31, 2008

Acting Like a Christian in an Election Year, part 5

More anti-Obama messages have come my way via the Internet this week. I wonder why no one ever sends me anti-John McCain information? Most of the things I receive come from people identifying themselves as Christians. I still see things insisting that Mr. Obama is a Muslim (by the way: Regardless of the fact that he claims to be a Christian and has written about his faith in one of his books--prior to the campaign--I wonder if it has occurred to anyone that in the USA it is not illegal to be a Muslim. In fact, a person of any or no faith can run for public office. Just a thought).

People extend great respect to Mr. McCain for his service to his country, and rightfully so. Mr. McCain also says he is a Christian but describes God's relationship to the human race in deistic terms (as the cosmic clockmaker who sets things in motion but disappears, leaving the human race to make the best of things). I guess that doesn't really trouble anyone or I would have received another video or an email with doctored photographs or other incredible pieces of fine journalistic brilliance.

The alignment of evangelical Christian faith with Republican politics is, in my view, wrong. It is just as wrong as aligning our faith with Democratic politics, although that alignment is rarely promoted among evangelicals. American + Republican = Christian, is a very distorted formula.

In his book The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson calls we who follow Jesus to a different economy of life:

"The methods that make the kingdom of America strong--economic, military, technological, informational--are not suited to making the kingdom of God strong. I have had to learn a new methodology: truth-telling and love-making, prayer and parable. These are not methods very well adapted to raising the standard of living in suburbia or massaging the ego into a fashionable shape." (p. 28)

So, before we pass on the information of:

Rumor--let us reflect on our scriptures and how they counsel us regarding false witness (see Exodus 23:1-3 and Matthew 5:33-37 for starters)

Hatred--let us consider how Jesus describes perfection of love (Matthew 5:43-48) and the way he includes both neighbors and enemies in God's perfect circle of love.

Disastrous Expectations--let us consider how Jesus calls us to both love and pray for those we consider to be our opponents (again, Matthew 5:43-48) rather than to predict (and even hope for, perhaps?) their downfall.

So, my fellow followers of Jesus: Let's relearn what it really means to be the people of God for the sake of the world. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Acting Like a Christian in an Election Year, part 4

Today I was talking on the phone with my good friend Princess K of the Milky Way, and our conversation caused me to think about some of the language of fear that continually crops up in our political rhetoric. 

Socialism is a big one right now. Mr. Obama told Joe the Plumber that we need to "spread the wealth around," and Mr. McCain expresses concern that we are headed into socialism

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, socialism refers generally to an economic/social theory that calls for collective or state ownership of the means of national production and the creation of an egalitarian society. In its original conception, it was actually a nifty idea that would provide Karl Marx with free babysitting.

Karl Marx and his wife, Jenny, produced seven children. While only three lived to adulthood, they were apparently a handful when they were little scamps. The Marx's avoided poverty because Karl was making money through his writing, an inheritance, and through the support of his friend Friedrich Engels, whose money came from the profits of his family's business (a vile, capitalist venture, no doubt). The Marx's discovered, too late, the power of Karl's smelly beard to limit the process of conception, but they still had seven little ones to chase. So Marx came up with the idea of the collective, which would require all of his neighbors to watch his kids while he wrote books, talked trash and drank vodka with his hoodlum future-commie friends. Eventually he moved to London, missing the Beatles by 80 years, and died. His distant cousin Groucho failed to carry on Karl's legacy and went on to make a lot of money as an American capitalist entertainer. 

Besides amazingly accurate historical analyses, what occurred to me after my conversation with Princess K, was that we already do various forms of socialism in this country. For example:

Social Security: The first word is a tip off. I pay into the system and it goes to support my retired parents. I'm OK with that. I'm not OK that the punks who follow behind me could be cranky about supporting me. They'd better get busy--I'm not getting any younger.

Medicare: Same as Social Security, only different.

Welfare: It's not about my welfare, it's about someone else's.

These examples are about my money going out of my pocket and into someone else's. We already "spread the wealth." This is nothing new. 

Making a progressive tax is not a substantial change in "spreading the wealth," in my book. Look: If everyone paid a flat 10% tax, then the big dope making $300,000 would pay $30,000 and the poor slob making $50,000 would pay $5,000. Granted, the big dope has more left over than the poor slob. But the big dope's tax buys more highway improvements than does the poor slob's. So does the big dope get to drive on more road than the poor slob? Nope. Again, "spreading the wealth."

OK, so it's obvious that I'm an expert in economics. But don't let that intimidate you. You can think for yourself. In fact, you can go to and buy my book, The Bartender. Spread the wealth.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Acting Like a Christian in an Election Year, part 3

There is a new letter floating through the vast cosmos of the Internet that comes to us from the future. It is written by a Christian leader who tells us what life in USAmerica will be like four years from now if Mr. Obama becomes President. It is a prophecy full of fear and despair. It gives space for Christians to vote for either candidate, but choice is shown to be clear. Vote wrongly and you will incur the consequences of a disastrous choice. 

Here are my thoughts:

1. The most common command in the Bible is "do not fear" (thanks to N. T. Wright for pointing that out). Yet too often we promote fear by warning one another about the obvious error of our electoral decisions. On a national basis we feel we have much to fear, it seems. A vote one way or another will seal the fate of the nation, we are told. But I do not believe that.

I believe that Yahweh is king; that Jesus is Lord. The early church believed that and gave both proclamation and demonstration to that reality in the face of severe persecution. The kingdom of the United States of America is not the kingdom of God. And no President of the US is Lord. 

No matter who wins the election, we are still told, "do not fear." There is much to fear in the world perhaps, but in the shadow of God's wings we need not fear. 

2. Jesus calls us to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5). Why? So that we might be called children of our Father in heaven, he tells us. Yet, in an election year, we seem to think that we have the right to hate. If we decide that our enemy exists in the person of the candidate of the wrong party, then we join in on the hatred. Talk show hosts will help us with this if we let them. The rhetoric of hatred will form us if we give it power. But we are to be formed by the Spirit of God. 

There is a call in our culture--a call for tolerance.  As my friend Craig Hovey points out, tolerance is fine if it keeps us from hatred. But tolerance is insufficient if it keeps us from love. I can tolerate you and not care whether you live or die. But if I love you everything is changed. Tolerance is not our high-water mark and hatred is not our arena.

3. Being a Republican or a Democrat has little to do with being a follower of Jesus. Both parties have a lot to do with the pursuit of power and revel in their own atmospheres of jackassery. The letter I mentioned earlier seems to suggest that the Republican way is the only right way (even though the author denounced Mr. McCain during the primaries. No partisan bias there, of course). Equating our political preferences with our followership of Jesus is a big mistake.

I can find things I agree with within both parties and also things that horrify and disgust me. Let me be honest: I hate abortion and pre-emptive military strikes. Greed is always bad whether regulated or unregulated. Either way, Greed fills the pockets of the powerful, both Republican and Democrat. What I'm saying is that we all have preferences and convictions. But they need to be more informed by the Spirit of God than by the spirit of '76. Our hearts need to be formed by the hand of God rather than by the manipulations of the media and political vomiting. 

Of the three Abrahamic religions, only two have geographic specificity. Judaism faces the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. The devout pray through the wailing wall toward the Temple mount. Islam revers Mecca, and the faithful pray toward that exclusive city. But Christians lack such specificity. We are, in effect, a people without a country. We are a people who live in exile no matter where we are on planet earth. We always live within a dominant culture, even in the USA. Don't get me wrong: This is my country and I'm glad I'm here. But the call to live my life in the economy of the kingdom of God is different and higher than the call to be a faithful citizen of the USA. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Election and Abortion

For many Christians, a candidate's stand on abortion is the single most important issued of the election. I have heard both candidates claim that abortion is a bad deal (but Mr. Obama still supports the upholding of Roe vs Wade).

I agree that this in an important issue (see Scot McKnight's thoughtful blog on this at But I wonder if our belief that a presidential candidate's position on abortion is really going to make a difference is really valid.

True, it will make a difference in the appointing of Supreme Court Justices, although those Justices are free to change their minds along the way. But it isn't likely that either candidate will stop abortions in our country. I think that horse, so to speak, is already out of the barn. Once the courts have decided that removing a woman's right to choose an abortion violates the constitution, it will be very difficult if not impossible to change the law.

I once heard John Wimber say that we shouldn't be surprised at the embracing of abortion in our country. After all, he said, the world has always had an appetite for sacrificing its young.

So what are we to do if our candidates aren't likely to alter the course of these events? One of the early church fathers, in a debate with a non-Christian thinker, offered up an interesting contrast of the Christian community vs the pagan community. He observed that the pagans routinely aborted the unwanted unborn (a horrific thought in the 2nd or 3rd century) and also abandoned unwanted infants outside the city where the wild animals could consume them. Then he said, in essence, "We don't do that. In fact, we find your abandoned children and raise them as our own." Both Jews and Christians were known for taking in these unwanted infants. They couldn't stop the larger culture from disposing of their young, but they could do differently within their own communities.

I think this might speak to us. Regardless of the choices people are making, we don't do that. Perhaps we should first of all seek to reduce the number of abortions in our country by addressing the practice within our Christian communities. If people claiming faith in Jesus in the US refused to get abortions, the numbers would probably drop somewhat. 

Perhaps being the light of the world and the salt of the earth begins with a commitment to do and not do certain things, regardless of the practices of the larger culture. In doing that, we shouldn't cut ourselves off from the world as though we are enclaves of untouchable holiness, but we should rather shine the light of life in the kingdom of God for the sake of a broken world.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Acting Like A Christian in an Election Year, part 2

As we near the end of the campaign trail, accusations and insinuations about the character of the opponents have emerged. No surprise there; they always do. It's the last flail before the snake dies.

I read something recently that attempted to resurface the idea that Mr. Obama's name is descriptive of a foreign and nefarious nature. That continues to interest me, since pretty much everyone living in USAmerica is from someplace other than here, at least two or three generations back.

The accusation is that Mr. Obama's name--Barack Hussein Obama--proves that he is an un-American Islamic Fundamentalist. So I began to wonder: If they got all that out of a name, what would they do with me?

My full name is Hugh Michael McNichols. Let's parse my name:

Hugh - of German origin, although it's popular among handsome British stars like Hugh Grant and Hugh Laurie. It means "bright in mind and spirit." Of course it does.

I am named after my dad, who was named after his uncle Hugh Croft, who drowned while serving in the Navy during World War I (sobriety at the time, unknown). I was also in the Navy, but did not drown. My youngest grandson's first name is Hugh, although he goes by Jack (as one would).

Michael - of Hebrew origin. It is actually a name that asks a question: "Who is like God?" The obvious answer: Not me. In the Bible, Michael was an archangel. Not a run-of-the-mill assistant angel mind you, but right up toward the top of the angel food chain.

McNichols - Probably started in Scotland but then came to Ireland, most likely to pick a fight. The McNichols had vast land holdings in Ireland in the 12th century, but got completely distracted by good ale in the local pubs and failed to remember a certain future McNichols in their will. 

There you have it: Hugh Michael McNichols, by virtue of his name, is clearly a German-Jewish devotee of Kabala and is very likely a druid, or has close associations with someone who is. Or he could be a leprechaun. A drunk leprechaun. Either way, he is trouble and shouldn't be president of the United States. I think we can all agree on that.

By the way: The name Barack is related to the Hebrew name Baruch, which means "blessed." One must be careful about what one mocks.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Acting Like A Christian in an Election Year, part 1

Every election year I hear people declare that Christians should support candidate X. Now that American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have found their political voice, there can be power in those kinds of endorsements. Wise candidates now understand that they must court the Evangelical vote or suffer mightily on voting day. There is a lot of power in that. We might recall that power, it has been said, has a tendency toward corruption.

In Matthew 20, the mother of James and John (very embarrassing for them, I'm sure) asks Jesus to give her sons places of significance and power when he comes to power. He responds by saying, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you."

I think that we American Christians still have trouble with all of this. We tend toward creating parallels between orthodox Christianity and particular political agendas. We put the American flag and the flag of the church side-by-side in many sanctuaries. But I'm pretty sure that the kingdom of God is not the kingdom of America--or any other country, for that matter.

If we honor our country as many of us claim, then perhaps we would serve it better by taking more seriously our call to be God's people for the sake of the world. I'm convinced that the doctrine of election is not about who God picked to go to heaven and those who are destined to be the presto-logs of hell (sorry Augustine, Luther and Calvin). I believe that election is about God electing a people (via Abraham) to be his special people, orienting all that they are around God, and being that people not for themselves, but for the sake of the entire world (see Genesis 12, 22 and John 3 for some good scoop on this. Also, Lesslie Newbigin has a lot to say on this topic). So rather than see our power as being political in nature, perhaps we could see that God's power is manifest as we live out our destiny as God's people.

At this writing, our nation (our world!) is undergoing a huge economic upheaval. Most economists are saying that things will ultimately stabilize, but much will be different in the future. That could be good down the road.

What if all the Americans who claim an affinity to Christian faith would, for example, stop purchasing useless stuff called Christmas presents in December? What if we said, "From now on, we're going to gather together and thank God of the birth of Jesus. We're going to celebrate by serving the poor, caring for the sick and proclaiming the good news. And we're going to do that in August, which is probably when Jesus was born anyway." That would louse up end-of-the-year retail sales for awhile. Christians might take a black eye or two over that, but (like our current crisis), things would probably stabilize after awhile, probably for the better.

I'm just thinking out loud here (after all, there are some CDs I'd like to get for Christmas). 

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Election Time Sorrow

Elections do not make me sorrowful--irritable and outraged, yes--but not sorrowful. I've come to expect that campaigns make a great deal of noise and then someone ultimately has to go to work and do something. 

What does bring me sorrow is watching how too many people in the Christian community use the Internet to pass on questionable and even slanderous information about particular candidates. I've seen doctored videos, scandalous urban legends and contextless photographs suggesting abominable behaviors, many sent by people claiming to follow Jesus.

I do believe that these people love Jesus. But I fear that some have equated faithfulness to the gospel with embracing the agendas of one political party over another. If one sees the political process as kind of war, then perhaps the thinking might be that any explosive device is permissible.

But I claim that it is not. 

Passing on via email some of the things I've seen looks like bearing false witness to me. I wonder how we square these activities with Jesus' call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (although few of us in the US know anything about persecution, and many of our enemies are those of our own making). 

Scott McKnight ( offers some fine ruminations about the election. I appreciate that he affirms our role as Christians to be as ones seeking the kingdom of God first, and not expecting candidates, parties or governments to be what only God and his kingdom can be.

I believe that participation by Christians in the political process is important in the same way that our overall engagement with the world is important. Remember that Israel preferred the politics and military mechanisms of the surrounding nations to leadership under the hand of God, and paid dearly for that choice. We must remind ourselves that our role is to be God's people, not for our own sake or for the sake of a particular national agenda, but rather for the sake of the world.