Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Easter. The Scriptures for today are Acts 4: 32 – 35, 1 John 1: 1 – 2: 2, and John 20: 19 – 31. This is also a political piece but the times demand it.
I have edited this piece since it was first published to remove a dead link.
For as long as I can recall, I have considered myself a liberal. It may be that I came to this decision because my father and mother were very much conservative in thought and I was seeking the ultimate act of childhood rebellion.
But there were other factors involved as well. As I have noted many times before, I am a second-generation military brat and I moved around this country more times than I care to admit during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Those were times of change in this country and I could see the change, even if I was not old enough to realize what I was actually observing. But as I looked around at what was happening, I began to see conservatism as a desperate clinging to the past and the ways of old, of holding on to the status quo, and a violent resistance to new and what some would describe as radical ideas.
In 1963 we lived in Montgomery, Alabama. That spring, Colin Chapman and Jim Clark brought the Lotus-Ford car to the Indianapolis 500. Up until that year, the cars that raced in this event were front-engine monsters with Offenhauser engines; they were big and bulky race cars with, of course, no resemblance to the automobiles that we drive today (or even then). What I remember about the “Indy 500” that year was how every so-called expert predicted that the relatively speaking tiny Lotus race car (designed by Chapman and driven by Clark) would be humiliated by the traditional racers of Indianapolis. But, what few people realized was that Jim Clark was a fantastic driver (I think I had seen him on some of ABC television “Wide World of Sports” events) and that his driving skills were on par, or even greater than, most of the drivers that raced in this race.
Were it not for some problems in the pits that year and a misunderstanding of the rules of the race, Clark would have won the race (he finished 2nd in a very close race; he ultimately would win the race in 1965). But I was fascinated by the change in design and how the tradition bound US auto racing establishment wrote off the cars before even seeing what they could do. As two websites (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A827598 and http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/chap_bio.htm) point out, racing in America was technologically stagnant and woefully behind the times. And while American racing began to change following the 1965 Lotus victory and the cars that race at Indianapolis are linear descendants of those first Lotus-Fords, I don’t think that we can say the same thing about the American automotive industry.
Earlier that same year, George Wallace was inaugurated as Governor and defiantly announced that segregation would be a part of Alabama life. Even though I am white, the rules of segregation affected me (perhaps not as much as it did black students) and I began to question the rules of society. We would move from Alabama to Colorado that summer but would be back in the south, living in Tennessee in 1966 but the rules of society had not much changed. I have written before about the nature of segregation and its affect on all the children of the south, so I will not spend much time on that point here.
And, as the Civil Rights drama unfolded around me in Memphis and the shadow of the Viet Nam War passed over my life, I continued to see conservatives speak with the same tired rhetoric and an adherence to the status quo while liberals sought change and equality. While the town where I was an undergraduate was very much a conservative rural part of Missouri, the campus ministers were very much in the forefront of bringing change to the area. It was the campus ministers who gave me hope that there was possibility in life and it further brought about my thoughts about what liberals and conservatives were and should be.
And while I am beginning to question what many liberals are doing in today’s world, I still see conservatives as opposed to anything that disturbs the status quo or suggestive of new ideas. I still see conservatives as longing for the old days, no matter if they were good or bad.
It has been long noted that if you presented someone with a copy of the Declaration of Independence without references to 1776 or King George and asked them to sign it, they probably wouldn’t do so. What would happen if we were to present the first reading for this Sunday (Acts 4: 32 – 35) without any Biblical reference to the people and ask them what they thought it meant.
The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.
And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.
Without a doubt, I think it would strike the reader, especially conservatives, as “socialism” and not a very good idea.
It strikes me that one of the problems with the modern church, and Christianity in this country, is that we have forgotten what the early church did and endured. We confuse the corporate church of today with the real church and the message that it once presented, a message that threatened the very structure of society, not because it was dangerous but because it was radical and went against the status quo.
For many people, the image of the church is one of “old” people who still sing the same hymns from fifty years ago and are aghast at the idea of “modern” music in a worship service and who still use the same format for worship that was used when they were young. The church itself is seen as the monolithic corporate body that found Galileo guilty of heresy and refused to admit that perhaps the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of the Solar System. We see it in the battles to force teaching of “intelligent design” as a viable theory of science in the biology classroom today.
For me, the battles that conservatives fight (be they political or religious) are battles of control, of saying that “I know what’s best for you when it comes to thinking and I am going to tell you what to say and think”. There are those who will tell me that the liberals of today will say that as well and they may be right. But conservatives make it sound as if the world will come to an end if liberal thoughts are allowed to pervade this world or if innovative ideas are allowed to develop.
Now, I am not going to let liberals off the hook that easily either; when you dismiss the beliefs of Christians, even if their beliefs are a little off, then you are as close-minded as those you dismiss.
Keep in mind that during the period that we have come to call the Dark Ages that it was the church that was the repository of knowledge and the keeper of the books that lead to the Renaissance. I find it very disturbing that many liberals dismiss Christianity (and other religions) as superstition. I find it disturbing that many publicly proclaim that there is no God and those who believe in God are fools. It reinforces the idea that they are just as set in their own ways as those they seek to ridicule and dismiss. And while I will accept their desire to not believe in God, I must ask what it is that they do believe in. For you cannot have a life in which everything is empirical and there is no belief. There may be those who have removed emotion from their lives and live only according to pure logic, but it is a life devoid of laughter and crying, of joy and wonder.
And to the point of today’s Scriptures, I find it confusing that someone can call themselves both a Christian and a conservative. No doubt, it is possible that one can be both but when there are people in need and your words speak against helping, for any reason, when you speak of war when Jesus spoke of peace or when you put the blame for a person’s poverty on the person instead of the system, it is hard for me to see you as a Christian.
When Jesus started His mission, He announced that He had come to bring health to the sick and relief to the oppressed. Jesus was a radical from the very beginning of his ministry and I don’t see how you can be a conservative and accept that idea. To bring health to a nation where there was no healthcare, to offer homes to the homeless, and to bring relief are very much liberal ideas in a world where it is everyone for themselves and what I have is mind and no one else’s.
I will be honest and say that when I hear someone tell me that the Gospel message is to make disciples of all mankind I cringe. I do so because they often say it in terms of finality. And the history of civilization is marked by those who felt that if you did not accept this Gospel message willingly, then you would accept it by force. Yet, Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him; the Twelve followed at His invitation and those who saw and heard the words followed but not by force.
As is the case in so many instances, we have come to accept one translation as the true translation. But one translation of the words that Jesus spoke (and I am borrowing from Clarence Jordan, another Southern Rebel in the liberal sense) is that we are to show the world what it is that Jesus did and can do.
The Gospel reading for today speaks of those who believe in Christ, not because they had seen the Risen Christ but because of what others had done and said. John repeats essentially the same message; it is what others see and hear that will lead them to Christ. Unfortunately, when you have a group whose words and actions run counter to the message of the Gospel, it is very difficult to bring them to Christ.
When I was in college I was involved in the Civil Rights movement on campus and the anti-war demonstrations (much to the chagrin and consternation of my parents). I did so because I believed that the causes were right and just. It was through my reading of the Scriptures and my own life that lead me to that view. But somewhere along the line, I came to think that it was those good works that were going to save me from sin and death. But it was pointed out to me by a liberal United Methodist pastor that I could not get into heaven by proclaiming to be a Christian yet not believing in Christ. It is by the Grace of God and our belief in Christ that we are saved, not by the good that we do. But in proclaiming that Christ is our Savior, we must work to bring about what He first proclaimed. Good works are not the admission ticket but the natural and expected thing of one who professes Christ as his personal Savior. Anyone can do good works but that alone is not sufficient to get one into Heaven if they also do not believe in Christ.
When the Baptizer began to prepare the way, he called for repentance; when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee, He called for repentance. Repentance is not just saying one is sorry for what one has done in the past; repentance is the act of changing one’s life and beginning anew.
The people will see you proclaiming to be a Christian but if your life is still focused on the “rat race” and your concern is for yourself and not others, if you hold onto the status quo and deny others the same opportunities that you have, then it will be very difficult for them to see in you what is seen in Christ.
The problem right now is that there are truly no innovative ideas being developed and there are no creative solutions to the problems that this world faces. Everyone, be they liberal or conservative today, seems as stuck in their own old mindset and, just as the Indy cars of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s were quickly outclassed and outperformed by the new cars of the 1960’s, likely to go the way of dinosaurs. And unless better alternatives are offered, this society, this civilization will not continue the progress forward that it has made up until this point in time.
The alternatives will only come through Christ and a new life. I may be a voice in the wilderness but I hope this is a call for others to speak out against injustice and inequality, against the lack of healthcare and educational opportunities in this country, against war.
I encourage you to do what Jesus told Thomas that day in the Upper Room so many years ago, show the people that Christ has risen so that they too will believe. Show the people by working for the same things that Christ worked for and be proud that you are a Christian and a liberal.