Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why Laura and I voted AGAINST (and why we think you should too).

When we were reading the biblical Book of Esther this fall, Laura and I were both struck by the same detail:

In Esther 8, the official pronouncement from the hostile Persian government--the pronouncement that was effected by Queen Esther’s bold support of God’s people, this godly but governmental pronouncement of deliverance --was to be written to

“the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. These orders were written in the script of each province and the language of each people and also to the Jews in their own script and language.”

Hundreds of years later on the day of Pentecost, which many Christians call the birthday of the Church, people from multiple nations gathered to worship in Jerusalem. On that day the Holy Spirit Himself chose to speak in multiple languages in order to accomplish godly purposes:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! Acts 2:5-11

So there’s this amendment to the city charter proposed in Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. Laura and I voted early, but the official voting day is tomorrow, Thursday, January 22.The primary amendment states:

Official actions which bind or commit the government shall be taken only in the English language, and all official government communications and publications shall be in English. No person shall have a right to government services in any other language. All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the Metropolitan Government shall be conducted in English. The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety. Nothing in this measure shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law.

I’ve listened to the arguments on both sides of the issue, and both sides agree on a staggering number of points.

1. Both sides agree that official business in Nashville should be conducted in English.

2. Both sides agree that official business IS and always has been conducted only in English.

3. Neither side can point to any past or present (or future) legal challenges to the conducting of official business in English.

4. Both sides agree that, should this amendment pass, it would change very little in actual conduct in Nashville/Davidson County government.

So with all this agreement, why do we even have this vote? It comes down to two more points of agreement!

First, both sides say that the devil is in the details. And they both try to make the point that their side will save money for the city and county. One side might be right, but truthfully neither side really knows the details. No-one knows what detail-ly things will happen if the amendments pass or if they don’t.

So that leads to the final point of agreement:

Both sides agree that if this amendment passes it will discourage people who don’t already speak English from locating to Nashville.

Let’s pause a moment to savor that prospect.

Proponents of the amendment believe this prospect would be good for Nashville. Opponents consider that attitude inhospitable. And some of us opponents consider it downright unChristian.

In fact, I challenge any Christian in Nashville to offer biblical or theological justification for support of this amendment. Laura and I stand with the Esther edict and the heart of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Christian Church.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What It Means to Me

I was 5 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. I came home from kindergarten and watched the news on our black and white TV. I remember going outside, climbing the dumpster at our Fort Riley, Kansas, Army quarters. There I pondered the significance. To my little mind, you might as well have said, “God has been killed.”

I was 9 years old, living in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Though I am African American, I was not really aware of who he was until he was killed. Dad tried to explain it to my innocent mind, “Martin Luther King was like the President of the Negro people.”

When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated only months later, I was much more alert. In my naive mind I still intertwined patriotism with religious devotion with general decency and strangely with academic excellence. That year my family took at least two trips to Washington DC. One was to see the national sites and structures. I cherish the pictures of the four of us kids standing obediently against the backdrop of the Washington Monument and facing the Lincoln Memorial. The other trip took us to 14th and U to see the devastation of the riots after the MLK assassination.

Two patriotic tracks began to emerge in my mind: one of continued pride and one of continued criticism. I insist that both were patriotism. In those days our family holidays were times to gather friends, often servicemen and women whose families were far away. We would, of course, feast; we’d watch sports; we’d listen to music; and we’d talk about issues. On the issues I was allowed to disagree even with my own Army officer father.

In high school I had the rare opportunity to continue those issue discussions with a couple other Black guys. During the 1975-76 school year at Punahou Academy in Honolulu, Hawaii, Rik Smith, a junior; “Barry” Obama, a freshman; and I, a senior had a standing date roughly once a week to talk. We discussed the social climate on our cosmopolitan campus (whether any of the non-black girls would date us black guys). We talked about sports and religion (I was a Christian; Rik and Barry were agnostics). We talked about our classes and the charges that a black person with a book was “acting white.” We talked about the social issues of the day and whether we would see a black U.S. President in our lifetime.

In my 1976 high school yearbook, I was given 1/3 of a page to express whatever I wanted to, to accompany my senior picture. I included this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I have a dream that one day…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” The quote has been a part of my life ever since.

Despite my hopes, by the time I was old enough to vote, my political cynicism was beginning to grow. Few Presidential candidates got my attention. Republican/Independent John Anderson got my attention in 1980. Democrat Jesse Jackson got my attention in 1984. Neither one prevailed, but they both interested me because their platforms were decidedly Christian and not particularly partisan. By 1988 Jesse Jackson had become a partisan Democrat, Anderson had faded from the picture, and my cynicism was completed. I continued to vote for Presidents, but today I can’t remember with assurance who I voted for each time. There was no excitement, no conviction; and as the culture wars ratcheted up, my Christian convictions were torn between party platforms.

When I read the memoir Dreams From My Father, which my brother Keith discovered in a remainder bin of a Boulder, Colorado, bookstore in the late 90’s, I was pleased by Barack’s transformation from an agnostic to a Christian. Despite my surprise, his account of coming to faith rang true to his thoughtful, fair-minded nature and his ability to continually grow.

Then I, like most of the country was taken aback by the soaring rhetoric first displayed nationally at the 2004 Democratic Convention. For me the voice sounded very familiar, like the conversations we had in high school. Still I was astounded by the audacious courage of saying in the Democratic keynote speech, “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America!”

Then I heard the speech about the place of his Christian faith and politics at the Call to Renewal event in July 2006. After that speech, I began hoping that my high school friend would audaciously dare to run to be President of the United States. Over Christmas 2006, I heard that he was pondering such a run. I actually prayed for his decision during those days.

He announced, and then he ran a campaign that continued to stretch my pride. And my political cynicism began to melt. Barack Obama's Christian values showed through the nature of the campaign. He demonstrated how we can “disagree without being disagreeable.” Again I felt echoes of our days together. Barry and I have had in common a lifetime of learning to navigate different worlds. In our culturally rich state at a particularly cosmopolitan school and from each of our uniquely multicultural backgrounds, we were used to bridging communities.

And as he spoke with hope and inspiration, I never asked whether he had the “stuff” to back it up. I knew. I wasn’t saying, like most of America (some people for WAY too long), “Well, we don’t really know anything about him.” I knew. In Barack Obama I see a man who puts his God-inspired judgment above politics. He puts America above party.

That message of hope resonated with everyone in my family, and none of us had paid much attention to politics before. I was privileged to watch the debates with my white wife, white children, and white grandsons (ages 9, 13 and 17!). We met together to early vote, taking the younger grandbabies with us. On election night we all gathered around anticipating and cheering the inevitable.

So these days are partial fulfillment of many of my dreams. I am certainly proud at this moment because Barack Obama is a black man, like me. I am proud because he is “Hawaiian,” like me. I am proud because he was shaped by Punahou, like me. I am proud because he is a Jesus Follower, like me. And I am proud that long ago we actually discussed the possibility of a day like this.

I don’t believe this is a messianic new age. I don’t believe the new President will be a Savior or even a king. I stopped believing a long time ago that the President is God. But I do believe that character, intelligence, and ability matter. And I believe we will all reap the benefits and blessings of those values.

For the first time since I was 5, I can find excitement about the possibilities of the political process. And I am thrilled that when my almost 5 year old white grandson, Damon, hears "President," he pictures someone who looks like Peepaw and he knows it's Barack Obama. And when my granddaughter, Chelsea, is 5 years old (and Damon is 9), her only Presidential memory will be someone with the character of Barack Obama.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prayer for National Leaders (For national elections, inspired by Jeremiah 23:1 & 4)

Lord we believe you when you say you will lead us. But we have suffered at the hands of those who would destroy and scatter your sheep. You promised that you would raise up shepherds who will gather us together so that no one will have to live in fear. So we look for those shepherds, Lord.

We ask for and pray blessings on those who will do good and do right, for those who will protect the children, who will school the children, who will give the children hope.

We ask for and pray blessings on those shepherds who will pursue peace, who will walk humbly, who will reconcile nations.

We ask for and pray blessings on shepherds who will fight injustice, who stand on the side of justice.

We ask for and pray blessings on shepherds who will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and set at liberty the captives.

We ask for and pray blessings on shepherds who will spread love, show mercy, and practice hospitality.

Lord We ask for and pray blessings on our shepherds, We ask for and pray blessings on our people, We ask for and pray blessings on our country, We ask for and pray blessings on the nations. Amen.

Litany for Our Leaders #1 (Based on Psalm 72)

Leader: O God, give our leaders your justice.

People: Give your righteousness to our leaders, our mamas and daddies, our local, regional and national officials, our aunts and uncles, our educators and legislators, our grandmas and grandpas.

Leader: May they judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

People: Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Leader: May they judge the doctors and the drug dealers, the addicted and the educated, the confident and conflicted, the comfortable and the afflicted, the wealthy and those struggling with justice.

People: May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

Leader: May our cites, our suburbs, rural areas teem with prosperity for all people.

People: Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Leader: May our law makers, law enforcers, and law defenders champion the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

People: May our just and righteous leaders be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

Leader: In their days may righteousness flourish and peace abound. May our peace officers offer peace.

People: Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Leader: May our leaders deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

People: May they have pity on the weak and the needy, and save the lives of the needy.

Leader: May they redeem their lives from oppression and violence.

People: Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Leader: Blessed be the LORD, the God of all people, who alone does wondrous things.

All: Blessed be God's glorious name forever; may God's glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

Affirmation: God Is Our Refuge and Strength (Based on Psalm 46)

One: O Lord we know you are our refugee and strength. You are a very present help in times of trouble. And we know trouble Lord, but we believe.

We believe God is our refuge and strength.
We believe God is a very present help in times of trouble.

We believe and we will not fear.
We believe and we will not fear!

We believe God, though the earth should change.
We believe God, though the mountains tremble.

We believe there is a river that makes glad the people of God.

We believe there is a river.
We believe there is a river!

One: When our world seems dried up, we believe there is a river.

We believe God is in the midst of the city, in the midst of the people.
We believe God will help when the morning dawns.

We believe God though nations are in uproar.
We believe God though kingdoms teeter and totter.

We believe God utters a voice and the earth melts.
We believe Almighty God is with us.

We believe and will not fear.
We believe there is a river.

God is our refuge and strength.
God is our refuge and strength.
God is our refuge and strength!

Prayer for Our Leaders

The Upper Room is using my Litany on its home page this weekend!

Litany for Our Leaders #2
(Based on Psalm 72)

Give our leaders your judgments, O God,
and Your righteousness to the all the people.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

May they judge your people with righteousness
And Your afflicted with justice.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Let the mountains bring peace to the people,
And the hills, in righteousness.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

May they vindicate the afflicted of the people,
Save the children of the needy
And crush the oppressor.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Let them fear you while the sun endures,
And as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

In these days may the righteous flourish,
And abundance of peace till the moon is no more.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

May they also rule from sea to sea
And from the River to the ends of the earth.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Let the nomads of the desert bow before them,
And his enemies lick the dust.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Let those nations we oppose bring presents;
The leaders of nations offer gifts.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

And let all leaders bow down before God,
All nations serve God.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

For God will deliver the needy when he cries for help,
The afflicted also, and anyone who has no helper.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

God will have compassion on the poor and needy,
And the lives of the needy God will save.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

God will rescue their life from oppression and violence,
And their blood will be precious in God's sight;

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

So may he live, and may the gold of Sheba be given to him;
And let them pray for him continually;
Let them bless him all day long.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

May there be abundance of grain in the earth on top of the mountains;
Its fruit will wave like the cedars of Lebanon;
And may those from the city flourish like vegetation of the earth.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

May his name endure forever;
May his name increase as long as the sun shines;
And let men bless themselves by him;
Let all nations call him blessed.

Blessed be the LORD God, who alone works wonders.

Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel,
Who alone works wonders.

And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Christian Resources for the Inauguration

The U-Methodists are collecting resources to celebrate their Human Relations Sunday, Martin Luther King Monday, and Inauguration Tuesday. I've written some worship resources that are featured on the UM Worship page. I'll post pieces in the next few days. Today:

Litany: God Is Our Refuge
(Based on Psalm 46)
One: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Left Side: God is our refuge.
Right Side: God is our strength.
Left Side: God is our help.
Right Side: God is there in times of trouble.

One: Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

Left Side: We will not fear.
Right Side: Though the earth should change,
Left Side: We will not fear.
Right Side: Though the mountains shake;

One: We will not fear though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Right Side: We will not fear.
Left Side: Though the waters roar and foam,
Right Side: We will not fear.
Left Side: Though the mountains tremble.

One: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

Right Side: There is a river.
Left Side: There is a river.

All: Thank God there is a river.