the gospel is political

I overheard an interesting conversation while grading papers at a cafe this afternoon.

Two well-dressed businessmen are having coffee, my ears perk up (involuntarily! what is it about people talking about faith in public places that always draws my attention?) when one tells the other that he is Catholic and his wife regularly attends a Catholic church. He says he would too “if there was a good priest. But this one,” he lowers his voice and surreptitiously looks around, “this one is a homosexual, a blatant homosexual. And he’s always going on about how we should be on the side of the immigrants, always so political! He’s always preaching politics, which have no place in the pulpit.”

He sees me looking at him (I can’t help but look!) and lowers his voice further, I look away, pretending not to have heard. Later on I hear him say “You know, a good priest is worth his weight in gold.” I repress my desire to say “The priest you’re talking about sounds like a very good priest to me.”

How interesting that people have such set-in-stone views about the role of church, what it is about, what it means to preach “good news,” the gospel. I wonder sometimes if these people have actually ever read the Bible, have actually ever realized how political the gospels are. There really is no getting around the fact that Jesus’ admonitions that we feed the poor, liberate the oppressed, free the captives, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, aid our neighbour – even if that neighbour is very different from us, are all actions that carry political weight these days. To be on the side of those who most need help is political, no matter how you try to frame it.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we ought to do-away with the separation of church and state or anything like that, what I am saying is that to call oneself Christian is to recognize that there are certain issues one ought to take a very political stance on. I’m also not advocating blindly following every political assertion a minister makes from a pulpit – I say this as a minister who regularly stands behind a pulpit – but I do encourage everyone to think critically about how what you believe relates to how you live your life, in all of it’s aspects, personal, political, and banal included.

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kind stranger sighting

Kind stranger sighting: I think this will be the third time I’ve written about this sort of thing. I can’t help but want to share when I see strangers doing caring things for other strangers, these situations make my heart leap and give me immense hope.

This is short and simple but lovely:

When I was climbing up the stairs from the train platform to the street on my way home last night I saw a man in a business suit helping an elderly women carry her personal grocery cart (one of those tall cloth bags on two wheels) up the stairs. It was so very touching. They parted ways at the top of the stairs, but I can’t help but think there was a taste of the kin-dom, a taste of salvation in that moment, both for them and for me.

eschatological hope

At the end of January I finished-up the bulk of my theology teaching gig (still have plenty of grading to do yet) and closed out my final lecture with the clip above. My final lecture was on, of course, “final things”, the big theological word for this being “eschatology”. This area of theology is a rather interesting one, a bit unwieldy and sometimes frightening even, the ways that it has been used and misused are not always pretty or helpful. Fears of a neo-apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenario are cultivated by bad eschatologies. Paralysis about any influence we might be able to have over the state of our environment is triggered by bad eschatologies. An exclusively “me and Jesus” faith with no accountability to one’s fellow human beings can be perpetuated by bad eschatologies.

Bad eschatology bothers me because it often leaves people hopeless, which is the complete opposite of what a good eschatology should do for people. Eschatology can inspire people to be their best selves, to believe in the value of this earth our home (the only home we have), to see their interrelatedness to all other people, to believe in the inherent worth of others, and to believe in their own inherent worth. Eschatological hope is hope in not just the possibility but the probability of new life available for all of creation (that includes us humans!), throughout creation, all the time. This probability lies even at the heart of apocalypse – which I argue, if you look at the breadth of apocalyptic literature in the Judeo-Christian tradition, has nothing to do with the end of the world and everything to do with the destruction of that which is not life-giving in order to make way for the flourishing of life.

Eschatological hope is not pie-in-the-sky “Polyanna” hope – though I do think poor Polyanna gets an undeservedly bad rap for her hopefulness, if more people had that type of optimism, I think the world would be a better place… but I digress. Not pie-in-the-sky hope but hope with teeth, with muscles, with grit, hope that is willing to sweat a bit, hope that knows that hopefulness can be painful, can be dangerous and even deadly. Yet hope still must live on, for without it, why then should we live?

This gritty eschatological hope is what I think Martin Luther King Jr. is talking about in the clip above. It’s about the hope for a better future that both Moses and King had even as the faced their own impending deaths. This is Christian hope: audacious, unyielding, foolish, and unabashed. It is the kind of hope that comes from truly loving God and neighbour – the ultimate goals of Christian discipleship. It is this hope that overcomes even death to say that life will flourish despite all that would say otherwise. It is hope that defies fear and strengthens us for an uncertain future – which is always how the future stretches out before us, open, uncertain, and therefore full of possibility.

My prayer for us all: that we might be strengthened and strengthen one another in our hope, for it is our surest ally in promoting the flourishing of life for all of us and indeed the whole creation. Dare to be foolish, dare to hope.