Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Krispy Kreme Kristmas: Sermon for Advent 1

Text: Isaiah 64:1-9
When I was in high school, our youth group and various clubs at high school had fund raisers. We did lots of things: washed cars, sold cookies, held dances. The most successful fundraiser was always selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Now, this was before Krispy Kreme went public and showed up in every grocery store: before they became the Starbucks of doughnuts. Back then, back in the day, you had to persuade a parent to get up really, really early on a Saturday morning and drive an hour to Charlotte, to the Krispy Kreme bakery there. The lucky parent would fill up the back of the station wagon with boxes of doughnuts. Most of the time it was just the plain glazed ones, but some times, not often enough, the doughnuts included my favorites, the chocolate ones. I’m not sure whether it’s just nostalgia, but the doughnuts just tasted better then.
But, I remember biting into that wonderful doughnut. It was light, so light that picking it up would dent it. The glaze would melt with the heat of your fingertips. The first bite would dissolve in a cloud of sweetness and fat. Hmmmm. I’d eat one and another. They were so good. I’d sneak a third a few minutes later. After all, by tomorrow morning, they wouldn’t be nearly so good. After about the third, though, I’d get a little nauseated. A bit too much sugar, too much fat. And, though I’d consumed 750 calories, I’d still be hungry. I’d eaten three of the most wonderful, light, fluffy doughnuts, filled with calories and though I was a bit sick to my stomach, I was still hungry.
Christmas has become a Krsipy Kreme doughnut. It is a light, airy, fluffy thing. It is sweetness, sometimes a syrupy sweetness. Christmas has expanded and exploded. I was in Cokesbury, a Christian bookstore before Halloween, before Halloween, and I noticed a clerk beginning to string fake evergreen boughs on the stairway railing. Lit snowflakes appeared on Poplar the week before Thanksgiving, at least that’s when I saw them first. In the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, we will fill ourselves with enough sugar to give the entire world diabetes. There will be parties and gatherings, special television shows and theater presentations, not to mention all the musical productions. By the time Christmas Day comes, we will be filled with sugar, people and more than ready to say, “Enough! Enough!” And sometime in January, we’ll open the bills and wonder what on earth were we thinking. I was listening to interviews of shoppers on Black Friday and heard that most of the shoppers were buying for themselves. Even in this time of economic crisis and downturn, we’ll turn to shopping. We deserve a new whatever the toy we most want is just for living through this crisis. Sugar, sugar and more sugar. Whether the sugar be actual sugar, the sugar of shopping or the sugar of busy-ness and parties, we want that sweetness that hides for a moment our real lives.
William Willamon, the Methodist bishop, recounts a the story of a friend who had been invited to preach at a large church whose services were televised. The person who picked Willamon’s friend up at the airport told the friend, “People worship with us in order to feel good about themselves. Therefore, don’t mention the cross in your sermon. And don’t dwell too much on sin. And don’t mention [politics].” Willimon suggests that television limits preachers, but the spirit of our age does too. People come to church to be inspired, to be comforted, to feel better about themselves. People don’t want to be weighed down by their own sin, by what’s wrong with their lives, by the awfulness of the world. Willamon suggests that the preacher should be pitied this Advent. “Sunday after Sunday, it’s Isaiah and John the Baptist. Not the Isaiah who sings so well in Handel’s Messiah, but the Isaiah of chapters 63 to 64, who laments the fate of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. It is the raging plaint of a homeless people in a Babylonian death camp. They cry:
Thy holy people possessed thy sanctuary a little while;
our adversaries have trodden it down.
We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous
deeds are like a polluted garment.
thou hast hid thy face from us,
and hast delivered us into the
hand of our iniquities [Isa. 63:18, 64:6-7].”
It’s not a jolly old man with whiskers, ready to grant our every wish, who peeks from the pages of scripture. It’s a people who have been downtrodden, who were stripped of their homes, their possessions, their lives and taken to Babylon and who now, returned to their homeland a couple of generations later find the fabled Temple in ruin, nothing but ruin surrounds them. And they wonder where God is.
If we are honest, this Sunday morning, we must also wonder where God is. Over a hundred and seventy people murdered in Mumbai this week. A young store clerk trampled to death in the rush to buy, buy, buy something, anything at a bargain price. A fist fight in a children’s toy store. Cholera in Zimbabwe, that country already devastated by a selfish ruler who refuses to put the people of his country first, instead focusing on enriching himself and his cronies. Darfur, Chad, people starving. All over Africa and South America, a lack of clean drinking water. A planet we are destroying. Ice packs north and south melting at furious paces. Here in Memphis, children grow up without their parents. They are desperate to be loved and have been abandoned.
And in our individual lives, don’t we wonder where God is, if we are honest with ourselves? Thanksgiving is a family holiday and a time of happiness and yet, we remember our family members who are not with us. Daughters, husbands, wives, gone from our lives. We look around at our children, our friends, those close to us who have made horrific choices and devastated their lives. We face old age and sometimes feel abandoned. Our savings that would cushion our retirements have evaporated and the people who caused this mess retire with millions and millions. Where is God? Where is God?
A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon on joy. I talked about how we could choose our attitudes. And that it true, but it is also true, that sometimes, we are faced with incredible sadness and loneliness. We yearn for God and yet God seems far away. Paradoxically, the road to joy comes through our sadness and loneliness. As with our tendency to choose negativity and not joy, we choose to cover over our feelings of sadness and loneliness. We choose to put a band-aid on our wounds, put on a happy face, and pretend that all is well. We reach for another doughnut, filled with sugar and fat to cover over our emptiness. Unless we can experience all the real emotions in our lives, the ones we want to avoid, as well as the ones that are pleasant, we can not really experience the joy in our lives, either.
Several of you have commented on the joy you hear each Sunday from the [African American] worship services. Many African American churches embody that paradox of sadness and joy. The African American experience is one of immense sadness. Like the Jews ripped from their homeland and sent off to exile, African Americans were ripped from their homeland in Ghana, in Benin, in other west African countries and sold in to slavery. Worse though, families were torn asunder, children sold away from their mothers. The spirituals sang of their hope of liberation, their hope for freedom. The spirituals cried of their loneliness. After slavery ended, African Americans remained segregated, their options limited. The blues reflected their sadness. And yet, church services remained places of joy and yearning for the Promised Land. C.S. Lewis has noted” The Christian faith is a thing of unspeakable joy, but it does not begin with joy, but rather in despair. And it is no good trying to reach the joy without first going through the despair.”
Isaiah cries out for God and then admits the sin of the people. Part of our despair must be a recognition of our sin, our brokenness, our need for God. Like Isaiah, we must submit ourselves to God so that God will mold us into God’s people.
Bishop Willamon reminds us: “That’s why the church generally refrains from singing Christmas carols during Advent. That’s why purple, the color of penitence, adorns our altar and the neck of your preacher. We dare not rush to greet the Redeemer prematurely until we pause here, in a darkened church, to admit that we do need redemption. Nothing within us can save us. No thing can save us. We’ve tried that before. No president, no bomb, no new car, no bottle, no white Christmas can save. No! to all false consolation, we say. No! to the empty, contrived merriment of a terminal world. Our hope must be in someone out there who comes to us. We find our way only because One comes, takes our hand and leads us home. No thank you, we shall wait here, in yearning and silence, in darkness and penitence, for that One. “In our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?” (64:5). Wait. Wait and see what is to be born among us. God grant us the honesty and the patience to wait long enough to find some real salvation.” Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sermons in the Movies

I like to use illustrations from the movies in my sermons. On the other hand, I stopped reading "good" literature and seeing "good" movies. That is, heavy with themes of depression, dysfunction, etc. I have too much of that in my own life right now, thank you very much. I don't need Marianne Robinson writing about an alcoholic son returning home with the sins of the father visited upon the sons even until the second and third (or was it third and fourth ?) generations. Sorry have that in my congregation, in my life. So, there have been a paucity of movie illustrations in my sermons. (Sunday will have to do with Krispy Kreme doughnuts)

I'm not sure that this movie will make it into my sermon, but there was food for thought in an unimaginable place. At least for me it was surprising. Quantum of Solace (does anyone else think Daniel Craig resembles Steve McQueen, especially in those tight chinos he seems to favor which I think are out of style, but if it gets women into the movie theater, why question wardrobe choices?)

In an early scene, the villain is talking with a potential client in Haiti. He mentions how Aristide was planning to raise the minimum wage from 30 cents a day to a dollar a day and how the villain's associates took him out. The people who elected Aristide were punished because the companies making tee shirts and running shoes went elsewhere.

Then, of course, a very real villain is the CIA (not Felix, he remains a good guy, maybe). The CIA is being pragmatic, working with people whether they are good or bad. This is old news. The CIA has managed to take out democratically elected officials (usually by assassination or sometimes just a coup) when the people's choice didn't suit the US (Iran, Chile, to name only two). It's well documented. Of course, the Brits don't come off much better, either. One Secretary (I think or perhaps just an assistant to the PM) tells M that if the Brits didn't work with villains, there'd not be a lot of people to work with.

And I love Judi Densch as M. It is so great to see an old, powerful woman.

Food for thought behind the boom-booms.

Got home and watched Wall-E. With Isaiah coming up in the lectionary, I thought this movie might be relevant to the Jews returning home from exile. Earth has been ruined and people have escaped on space ships. Plant life is found to have returned and so people who have been away 700 years return. The earth is a mess, full of trash, utterly destroyed. I thought about how the Jewish people must have felt returning to Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. Unfortunately, Wall-E is a kids movie with a happy ending and people return and the earth blooms. I would have liked to have seen some disappointment about what the world was like, but there was none.

Also in my quest to watch trashy movies as I read trashy novel, watched Tropic Thunder. Funny movie. Yes, I know it's not PC.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blogging the same old thing: life and death

I had an email yesterday from a friend who said the husband of a mutual friend had died of pancreatic cancer Sunday night. He is a couple of years younger than I am. I think I have survivor's guilt when I hear of people who have died from cancer. Why them?

I came across a longevity calculator. I took the test and found that I should live to be 97. I can increase my longevity by one year by cutting my LDL. There were a couple of other ways I could increase my longevity by six months or a year. At that point, is it worth it? What was interesting, was the test didn't ask about occurence of cancer. It asked if any first or second degree relatives had cancer. I think it asked about heart disease and not just familiar occurence of heart disease. I'm not sure why I take those tests, but they are interesting. And irrelevant.

It seems to me that I will always have the spector of cancer hanging over my head like the dust cloud that hangs over Pigpen. Because it did happen. Because I can't say "it won't ever happen to me." On the other hand, my first check up was clear. I have my second in a little more than two weeks. I'll have my blood checked (not a great marker for ovarian cancer, but the only one there is).

I think I'm going to do Thanksgiving today. My son is here and we eat out a lot because we both love food, really good food. But I think we are both tired of eating out. I may get another veggie. We have spinach and sweet potatoes. I had wanted to do a road trip to New Orleans (because I love food, did I mention that?) but I am too tired for that. So, I made beignettes yesterday. I'm still woozy from the sugar. Lemon tarts are on the menu for Thanksgiving, but those may wait a day or two.

I did walk 1.5 miles yesterday (sounds more impressive than I walked for half an hour). We're going to try for 2 today. I'm going to start with weights next week after I check with the surgeon. He said I could go back to whatever I was doing before after two weeks, but I'm still sore and have difficulty bending. Hope to start jogging again next week too and swimming.

It will be a beautiful day today. Sunny and warm, high 50s. Maybe even up into the 60s.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blogging towards Christmas

I was grumpy the other day and a friend told me I was the grumpy care bear. I hadn't realized there was a grumpy care bear. How wonderful.

And I am grumpy as we look towards Christmas. I checked the calendar, Thanksgiving did not sneak up on me and pass me by as I slept. It is still not yet Thanksgiving and, yet, last night, the snowflakes were lit on their poles along Poplar; huge wreaths adorned one mall. I was at Cokesbury before HALLOWEEN and they were decorating, wrapping fake evergreen around the stair railing.

We have lost all sense of proportion. And time. Christmastide is expanding. Soon, it will begin after July 4. It is no wonder people in their Christmas fatigue rip down the decorations on the day after Christmas or even Christmas afternoon heaving a sigh of relief that the season is now over. They are ready to get on with their lives, get back to the real world, be rid of the incessant round of shopping, decorating, partying, sending Christmas cards.

Where have we gone wrong? How did all this happen? Our pilgrim forebearers didn't even celebrate Christmas. It was simply another day of the week.

While some Christians argue that we need to take back Christmas by aggressively greeting everyone, Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist with "Merry Christmas" at this time of the year, I suggest we need to take back Christmas by avoiding the secular madness and perhaps adopting our puritan ancestors approach. How about some peace and quiet and reflection about what this time really means.

But then, I'm the grumpy care bear.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Five

From Songbird at RevGalBlogPals

1) Do you have a food processor? Can you recommend it? Which is to say, do you actually use it?
Nope. But I have a processor attachment for my blender. I bought it on a lark when I bought the blender.
2) And if so, do you use the fancy things on it? (Mine came with a mini-blender (used a lot and long ago broken) and these scary disks you used to julienne things (used once).)
I have used it to try to cut up veggies, but it doesn't work well. But it makes the greatest shortbread crust for my lemon tarts which I love and which I should avoid.
3) Do you use a standing mixer? Or one of the hand-held varieties?
Hand held. My mom had a standing mixer. I suppose it's more powerful, but I don't bake or cook that often.
(And isn't that color delightfully retro?)

4) How about a blender? Do you have one? Use it much?
I have one. Used it a lot during seminary for margaritas. I learned three things in seminary: to drink good wine (San Anselmo is a great location for that), to make really good margaritas and I've forgotten the third.
5) Finally, what old-fashioned, non-electric kitchen tool do you enjoy using the most?
A wine glass? As you may have gathered, I'm not much of a cook. I love the idea, but cooking for one is uninspiring and for more is too much trouble. I love good food and love to eat out. My duty in this economic crisis, at least while I have a job is to keep my favorite restaurants open by patronizing them as much as possible.
Bonus: Is there a kitchen appliance or utensil you ONLY use at Thanksgiving or some other holiday? If so, what is it?
As someone said, my oven? That's probably it for me too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Phil Gramm and Calvin

I've been thinking a lot about this lately: Phil Gramm and others that worship at the altar (or drank the Kool-Aid, depending on your metaphor) of free markets. Gramm is unrepentent that no regulation of markets, especially derivative markets is the way we should live. Of course, Gramm famously said that we are a nation of whiners as the depth and breadth of the recession became apparent.

So, the piece of me that remains a Calvinist is Calvin's insight that we are all depraved. At our core, we are selfish, greedy self-centered people. The founders of this country understood this and created a government of checks and balances.

I suppose free marketeers believed that markets are somehow not human institutions and subject to human sin. That's the only way I can figure out the stance of these free marketeers.

We need free markets; markets are too complex for us to manage perfectly. We need regulation; humans and human institutions too easily manipulate and make bad decisions.

I don't know if Gramm is a religious or philosophical man, but I wonder where his idea of free markets fits with his ideas of humanity. Does he think that markets are divorced from the humans who create and operate them? That they exist independently of humans?

When I was in law school there was an "efficient market" theory. Basically, the price of any stock has already included all available information. Therefore, the role of the regulators is to make sure that all relelvant information about a stock is available to investors so that the stock is fairly priced. I tended to be a bit amused about this because it seemed to assume that all investors were unemotional automatons: that there were no psychological influences over the price of a stock. We're seeing how fear influences the price of a stock. Humans, it seems to me, are an integral part of markets. Because we are selfish and greedy markets must be regulated. Markets need rules and boundaries as much as people do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Miscellaneous Musings

Well, I am out of bed and not in too much pain. I had laproscopic surgery on Tuesday to repair a hernia from my abdominal surgery. Silly me, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I have five holes in my tummy and multiple bruises surrounding those holes. I also have a huge piece of mesh trying to hold my insides in. The swelling has gone down substantially and I actually walked around the block yesterday. I had hoped/planned to go home after surgery on Tuesday. The docs wanted me to go home on Wednesday. I made it home on Thursday. Lots of time to think at first in the fog of pain killers, then amid the fog of pain.

I understand why people give up. Sometime on Tuesday afternoon, I felt so awful, I just wanted to die. Had I not been convinced that it would get better and had someone given me the choice I would have chosen to die, right there and then. Too much pain.

I never quite get it that I am not superwoman. I assume I can breeze through surgery and get up and jog the next day. (Not that I'm a great jogger, but still. . .) This despite the fact that I am only four months past my last chemo. Generally everything I read says it takes six months to get back to normal in terms of energy, stamina, ability to recover and so forth. Oh, I understand and there are times when I realize that there is a difference and that I understand my mortality and weakness, but the superwoman is so ingrained in who I am that it is so hard to let go of. It is an unconscious understanding of who I am.

During this enforced time of rest, I've been reading mysteries. Mostly Elizabeth Peters (Vicky Bliss who I have just begun reading and Amelia Peabody). I came up with a plot for a murder mystery with the protagonist being a female minister. I wrote about four pages. Then last night I realized that the protagonist was simply boring and I wasn't interested in her. Since, of course, she is my alter ego, I began to wonder what that meant about me. Not that I think I'm boring, but the public persona seems to me has to be boring.

I have to work today. I need to put together a sermon for next Sunday. I am fairly sure I know what I am going to preach on--the story of Paul Farmer. Tracy Kidder wrote about him.

I also need to put together my Advent liturgy. I think I'm pretty sure what I'll be using for the basics. My music director assures me she has an advent wreath lighting hymn if she can find it. (I'm not sure I like advent wreaths, but I shouldn't think about that) and I'll reuse last year's communion liturgy, so it's mostly a matter of hymns, etc.

I'll be preaching on Isaiah during Advent. My first sermon is Krispy Kreme Christmas (do I dare use Kristmas?). I've preached on pimento cheese sandwiches, so preaching on Kripsy Kreme doughnuts isn't too bad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A veil

Last night, it came to me. A separateness I feel from most people, from the way I used to be. There is a filmy veil that separates me from others. I know that I am not invincible. I know that I am vulnerable. I know that I am mortal. I like to deny it, but underneath it all, I know that difference between me and others who don't know that.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I don't like to admit there are any positive side effects of having cancer. Everytime I hear that good comes of this disease I want to punch the bearer of those particular tidings (and I want to punch the parishioner who keeps reminding me that attitude is the most important thing). But, one thing that has changed is that I'm more sympathetic (or is it empathetic--I can never remember the distinction between those two words) than I was before. I read about people who are dying of cancer and weep. I read about people who have debilitating diseases that will never go away and weep. Life is short and most often just not fair.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Has anyone read Kathleen Norris' new book, Acedia? I checked it out from the library and am having a tough go of it. It is boring. Oh, wait a minute it is about being boring. It is boring.

Should I keep at it, or should I just assume I am bored reading a book about boredom?

Friday Five

From Presbyterian Gal at RevGalBlogPals

1. What was your favorite comic strip as a child?
I can't remember! It's been so long. I think probably Beetle Bailey.
2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?
An unfortunate consequence of getting my news from the net instead of hard copy is that I don't read the comics. I used to get a few but I think when I moved got out of the habit. I used to read Doonesbury (but it didn't always tickle my funny bone; it made me sad with the truth). I liked For Better or Worse and Dilbert and Cathy.
3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?
I suppose Lucy. I am mean, nasty, judgmental and will snatch your football away if you let me.
4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?
Since I read neither philosophy or comic strips I can't really say. ;-)
5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?
Again, I can't really say because I don't like those strips. It seems to me they appeal more to my parents' generation than to younger folks (and bear in mind that I'm in my 60s) Since my parents' generation may be the last generation to buy newspapers, then that's probably the reason.
Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?
Calvin and Hobbes: the greatest strip ever. And the Far Side.

I seem to be a little snarky this morning. Not sure why. Probably because I have more to do than I can get done (memorial service tomorrow; preaching Sunday, messy house I want to clean before my sister comes Monday and of course, not to forget surgery on Tuesday. And the preschool director wants internet and no one else seems to be able to mess around with the routers and I get that job. But I've just said no to any more messing around than I have already done.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Remember

I remember my Dad's colored waiting room.

I remember the colored waiting room at the bus station.

I remember the colored drinking fountains.

I remember the colored section floor at the hospital and the colored nursery for new borns.

I remember my father saying that our "nigras" would be OK if it weren't for outside agitators.

I remember hearing about the sit ins in neighboring Greensboro.

I remember sitting outside Duke Chapel listing to Dr. King.

I remember when JFK was killed and classmates shouted with glee.

I remember living in one of the first successfully integrated neighborhoods in America.

I remember the years I spent working for integration in the suburb I lived in.

I remember saying on the 25th anniversary of integration in our neighborhood saying that I was concerned that 25 years from then, we would still be working to make sure the neighborhood was integrated (and they were).

I will remember last night.

I will remember that the state I grew up in, the state of the first sit ins, the state of Jesse Helms, apparently voted for Obama by a slender 15,000 votes.

Praise Jesus!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Community Reinvestment Act is NOT the cause of the economic crisis

There is a video making the rounds that accuses the Democrats and Obama of causing the subprime lending crisis through the Community Reinvestment Act. I haven't watched the entire video (I simply don't have the patience to sit through ten minutes of nonsense), but I did hear someone make the same argument on NPR the other night.

Please, this is total and complete BULLSHIT.

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is an act to encourage banks to make loans in low income and minority areas, areas that these banks had redlined, refused to make loans in, not because of credit considerations but because they were bad neighborhoods. "The only enforcement mechanism in the CRA was when the banks decided to merge or acquire another institution. Folks could go in and say, this bank has not been making loans in these areas. In my experience, most of the time CRA compliance didn't matter one bit. There is nothing in CRA that encourages making loans to people with low credit ratings. There is noting that encourages banks to make loans toloans to people with no income.

Here's what caused the mortgage meltdown. Lenders no longer service the loans they make. They slice and dice the mortgages and sell them to investors. The lender gets an immediate return and so doesn't care whether the borrower sinks or swims (this makes renegotiating bad loans really difficult). The sliced and diced mortgages become opaque so that they are impossible to value. Credit agencies stopped caring about whether their ratings were accurate because if they rated an offering of a sliced and diced mortgage poorly, they wouldn't be hired again. Lenders didn't care about the borrowers credit because they could make money with no risk--the risk went with the sold mortgage. It's pretty clear from what I have read that brokers (sellers of sliced and diced mortgages) didn't want to hear about risk. House prices would continue to rise so even if the mortgage went bad, the house price would have risen enough that they would make a bigger profit.

My background? A number of years as a corporate lawyer where I represented banks; a year volunteering for a fair housing agency where I monitored banks compliance with CRA and filed complaints when the banks wanted to merge.

And the video blames the Dems for stopping Republican sponsored legislation during the Bush administration (when the Republicans were in control of congress, the last year cited was 2005; the Dems didn't get control until 2006).

This American Life did a great radio program on the mortgage meltdown. If you want real answers, go

Don't let misinformation keep you or your friends from voting for Obama.

Sermon for this time

Psalm 107

How many of you plan to vote on Tuesday? How many of you have already voted? I have. I voted last Tuesday. I waited in line with lots of other people who were doing their civic duty. We live in a democracy and we have been given the power to elect our representatives: those who will govern us here in Memphis or in your suburb, those who will make laws for the state of Tennessee and those who will enforce those laws, those who will make laws for our country and the man responsible for leading our country for the next four years. It’s been a heated election. The last few elections have been heated. They have been full of vitrol and emotion. John Oliver of the Daily Show did interviews with people attending a McCain rally. Everyone he interviewed, at least those that they showed on television said that they were afraid for our country if Obama were elected. The Apocalypse would be upon us. It would be dreadful. They were trembling in fear. Then Oliver went to an Obama rally. There the people were full of fear: that McCain would be elected. It would be, they said, the end of the world. They could not imagine a more dreadful event in our country than for McCain to be elected. I read that in West Hollywood, California, someone had an effigy of Sarah Palin hanging from a noose. Here in Memphis, I have heard Barack Obama referred to as the AntiChrist.
These are not Christian responses to an election. No one should use a candidate for vice president as a Halloween decoration. No one should suggest that the candidate should be hung. No one should suggest that a candidate is the AntiChrist. No Christian should be encouraging hatred and fear. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. How much more should we be doing for those who are not our enemies, those who are fellow citizens, fellow lovers of our country.
Just before I sat down to write the sermon, I read a book review of a book Electing Not to Vote: Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. I have never considered not voting. In fact, when I went to vote last week, I felt sad that I was not out there working the polls as I did every election day when I lived in Ohio. I was there, holding a sign for one candidate or another, or for one ballot issue or another, or driving a candidate around, or serving coffee and doughnuts to workers, or even gladhanding voters myself when I ran for city council. Not vote? The only greater sin I can think of is to kill someone. I haven’t read the book and I have little more than two reviews to go on, but why might a Christian choose not to vote?
One reviewer summarized the arguments: “But for the Christian committed to Jesus's radical message of nonviolence, there are other reasons for abstention, and the authors in this volume explore them with grace and insight. Voting in federal elections is a gesture that can implicitly acquiesce to the powers and principalities of the world, violate Christ's counter-cultural resistance to Caesar, and promote a most unChristian adversarial spirit among those who get swept up in partisan wrangling. . . . Voting can also be a secular analog of cheap grace, providing voters with the comfortable impression that they've done their bit simply by pulling a polling booth lever, and thereby discouraging imaginative alternatives to social change.” (
The psalmist who penned today’s scripture might be more concerned about voting than I am. He writes about four situations: a people wandering in the desert, lost, hungry and thirsty; prisoners who have rebelled against God and who sit in their cells; people who have been made sick by their choices in life; sailors who have seen God’s power in the storms at sea. In each case, the people have tried to make it on their own: they have tried to live by their own power. They have tried to live without God. And they have not succeeded.
How much are we like people who wander in the desert? We look for saviors. Obama will make the right decisions, get the country back on the right track. No, McCain has more experience. He can get us through this mess we are in right now. We become so sure that we have aligned with the right savior that we call the other candidate names, utter death threats, assume that if we lose then the world will end. Literally end.
We are like people who have made foolish choices and have made ourselves sick. We watched in glee as the values of our houses skyrocketed. We watched in glee as our retirement plans grew in value. Oh, we might be concerned that the very rich were getting more and more wealthy while the poor among us just got poorer, bridges collapsed, schools got worse and worse. We may not have made foolish choices by ourselves, but as a country we have made foolish choices. We have made ourselves sick.
We have seen the deeds of the Lord, God’s mighty works in the sea and yet, we have destroyed the sea. We have used it as a dump and as a place where we could fish forever, removing important parts of the food chain with what we thought was impunity. Scientists are more and more alarmed about the damage being done to ocean stocks of fish. In many parts of the world, the fish populations have declined percipitously.
We have rebelled against God. Over and over again, we have. And we find ourselves imprisoned in chains of our own making. We do not look to God first. We deceive ourselves. We have other priorities.
God loves us. God cares for us. God expects that we will love and care for each other. We must understand that God’s priorities for the world are based in love for all God’s children. Every Single One of them. Neither candidate running for president is a saint.
I believe there is a place for Christians in a democracy. It is to put God and God’s kingdom first. It is to use our power as citizens to vote not for saviors but for those we believe will choose actions that are more consistent with God’s desire for the world God created and the children God loves. No one is perfect. No secular ruler can bring the kingdom. No secular ruler will make the right choices all the time. No secular ruler can save us.
A Christian who has influenced my life is Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero is often protrayed as a liberal, but the reality is far different. Romero put God first. Romero was not a partisan, but a Christian. He was a quiet, scholarly, rather conservative priest when he was tapped by the Pope to become Archbishop in El Salvador. He accepted the role reluctantly. As he saw the murders in his country, the murders of innocents, he began to speak out against both the Marxist rebels and the conservatives military factions governing El Salvador. Romero emphasized that Christ calls us to love one another, not in a self-righteous hate-the-sin, love-the-sinner mode, but in a true love and compassion for the other. He said “I don’t want to be an anti, against anyone. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.” As we think about voting, let’s remember these words of Romero:
“We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.
And :
“[T]this is the hope that inspires us Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”