Looking for hope anywhere we can find it

Ever since my days of riding in a little red wagon in small town parades and campaigning for my grandpa's re-election to Randolph County Commissioner (an office he held for 19 years), I can remember being interested in politics. If anyone in the family was going to be a future political leader, it would have been my brother (my Dad still asks about how many years until Matthew will be President). Even so, I have been a political junkie to a degree, following Bill during my years in junior high and then Bush during high school and college.

But, I have never been as glued to the presidential race, or political process, as I have been during the course of the past few years, leading up to the 2008 race. When Bush claimed that we had victory in Iraq and I subsequently embarked on a six month study abroad excursion in South Africa, I had no idea how my views on politics, civil rights, peace, government, warfare and poverty (to name a few) would be challenged. As we unfortunately remember, the war raged on in Iraq and only grew more gruesome as time marched on. Before leaving for South Africa, I remember defending Bush and the Iraq efforts. Before Bush, I remember the Slick Willy scandal. Before Clinton's moral failures, I remember defending Bill and genuinely liking this young Governor from Arkansas. What a diverse, political feast of ideologies and philosophies I have dined at. And I just turned 25.

As the 2008 race heated up already in 2006, I distinctly remember a very real desire to make better choices and stances in the political arena as a man trying to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ (talk about a "politically" controversial figure when he walked the earth - don't numb yourself in the false reality of Pax Romana, the Mighty Roman Empire and compromised religious leaders). I wanted to widen my understanding of how I could be faithful to the just, loving and compassionate way of Jesus in ways other than my views on abortion and gay marriage (I am completely opposed to terminating human life through abortion, but these two issues as a platform alone are a narrow bandwidth for loving God's creation). Having been more and more exposed to life from out under the umbrella of the American dream and the college bubble, I wanted to think more honestly about issues such as poverty, racism, corporate nationalism, militarism, slave trafficking, the environment, taxes, civil liberties...I was starting to be interested in stuff that only "those other guys" seemed to be interested in.

So, now I find myself thinking more like a liberal and sometimes scaring myself because of it. Remember, I grew up in rural, conservative America (although, believe it or not, there are many Democrats down in Southern Illinois and my grandpa was a Democrat, albeit on a local level). I wonder how much of a liberal Jesus looked like in his day...hanging out with Samaritan women and tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes. But, I do not want to make this a conservative or liberal thing. It is this andthat. I am both. I am neither. I am starting to sound like a meta-physical, existentialist or something now...

So, as the race heated up, I became interested in this Obama guy. I started reading his speeches and listening to mp3s of his thoughts on faith and politics that were sometimes discussed by Red Letter Christians. I genuinely liked the guy and have never once doubted his integrity or genuineness or ability to be a change-bringing leader. I like that he cares about the poor and the environment and the marginalized and that he wants to change things up. I liked that he was a community organizer and honestly admits that he is a Christian. But, I also don't want to put my hope in Obama. But, that's his message, right? Hope...Change. That's the Obama ticket. As much as I want to see the tides change in Washington and in our nation's policies, I can't put my hope in Obama or any other presidential candidate. As much as I want to believe that the American government can bring true justice and hope and peace, I have chosen to live in a reality that only Christ and his kingdom will bring true justice, hope and peace...and forgiveness and reconciliation and salvation.

As I have wrestled with these tensions, I have engaged in conversations, digging into other's thoughts and philosophies on the role of the Church and the role of the government and how we can have honest God-centered faith and hope as a political participant.

So, when I read these two blog pieces today, I had to smile. The tension is real.

Oh, and by the way, I'm still voting.


Running To and Not From

I've been thinking about the lyrics of this song by The Avett Brothers the past two days.

The Weight of Lies

Disappear from your hometown
Go and find the people that you know
Show them all you good parts
Leave town when bad ones start to show
Go and wed a woman
A pretty girl that you’ve never met
Make sure she knows you love her well
But don’t make any other promises

The weight of lies will bring you down
And follow you to every town
Cause nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there
So when you run make sure you run
To something and not away from
Cause lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you anywhere

I once heard the worse thing
A man could do is draw a hungry crowd
Tell everyone his name, pride, and confidence
But leaving out his doubt
I’m not sure I bought those words
When I was young I knew most everything
These words have never met so much to anyone
As they now mean to me

The weight of lies will bring you down
And follow you to every town
Cause nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there
So when you run make sure you run
To something and not away from
Cause lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you down

Why We Fight

On Sunday night, I watched the film Why We Fight with my wife and some friends over at the Dawg Haus. It had been a film that I'd wanted to see ever since it was released a couple years ago, but I finally got around to watching it.

I am glad that I did.

Not that the content surprised me to a great extent, but more that it caused me to think more deeply about the ugliness of war and the "military-industrial complex" (coined by Eisenhower) that pervades the American landscape. Over the years, I have fluctuated greatly in my views on the topic of war: pre-emptive strikes, nuclear war, torture, just wars, policing and protecting the world, advancing "democracy", fighting for oil, et al. Largely, this stuff makes me sad and disturbed.

This film is not a documentary, per se; however, I am not sure that I've ever witnessed a true "documentary." Why We Fight is trying to make a point. There are interviews with prominent figures from pro and anti-war camps. It is certainly a more balanced than a film such as Sicko (although, I really liked that one). This film reveals the ease with which we can turn to war, when we have interests in those nations which will better our own economy. When we have thousands of American jobs and corporate cash flows that depend on our production of weapons (read: murders), won't we find it a bit more easy to go to war? My friend, Stacey, brought up a necessary point: don't be too quick to judge the leadership of our country, it is much easier to judge from the outside. That said, we need to keep our elected leaders accountable to standards of integrity when and where we can.

I think that every American should watch this film. You can view it for free here: http://quicksilverscreen.com/watch?video=30172

As one who is trying to follow the way of Jesus, I find it difficult to support war to the extent that many Americans have (That support and patriotism has certainly wained over the past generation. Though, thank God that we stood up against Nazism, for example). Is there evil in the world? Yes. Are there unjust and evil dictators who cause genocide? Yes. Are there WMDs? Yes (just not in Iraq, or at least before we arrived). Is Wahhabism (extremist, fundamental Islam) a real threat to peace and civility? Yes. Are there nations and rebel groups who refuse to dialogue in a diplomatic manner? Yes. Are there nations and leaders who would do the unthinkable to maintain their access to oil and thus a prosperous economy? Yes. Are there political leaders who steal money and subsequently food, medicine, shelter and clean water from their people? Yes.

I do not want to be naive or turn a blind eye to this injustice. I do not want to just pretend that we can ignore bombings and mass murder. There is certainly a time for peace and unfortunately a time for war. We live in a broken world, but it is a world where we as Christians must take a stand along with Christ. Christ stood against self-protection. He said to give rather than take. He said to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. This is not to say that Jesus was a softy. He did not hesitate to rebuke his contemporaries who were leading people astray (it would be better for those leaders to have a millstone tied around their necks). Our allegiances are to God's kingdom, not to the American empire. America is not a theocracy, although many conservatives in American may wish it were. We live in a democratic state with leaders and decision makers who are not Christ-followers, but we are called to pray for and respect them. Somehow, we are to figure out how to respect Caesar and give him his money that he needs to run a government, but when that government takes money from the hungry, poor and uneducated and uses it to build up a weapons cache large enough to destroy 10 planet Earths? Come on.

May God have mercy on us and may we be immersed in his love, justice and peace.

Funny kid

Lately, about all I have posted are videos. Here is another one. It's older, so you may have seen it. My wife just shared it with me...

The Electoral Compass

Here is one site (among many) where you can answer some questions (36, I think) to see where you lie in relation to the Presidential candidates http://www.electoralcompass.com/v/wsj. These things are helpful for seeing how you relate on the issues, but of course personality, character, leadership ability...all of these things are absent from a quiz like this. Fun, nonetheless. If you want to know where I fell, feel free to ask... :)