Mourning

Yesterday was the Boston Marathon. Yesterday, two bombs killed at least three and injured over a hundred. My heart is so heavy from this.

Yesterday a series of bomb blasts in Iraq killed at least 42 and wounded more than 250. My heart grieves.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I believe you are angry, God, when your children treat each other this way. You are angry, God, because you love, and you are grieved to see your children hurt one another.

Bring justice, bring shalom, bring your kingdom.

And bring comfort to those who mourn.

In your name, Jesus, amen.

[Images from The Boston Globe & The New York Times.]

Whose side is God on? A outsider’s perspective on American Christianity

Original post: October 22, 2008; repost: March 30, 2010.

I don’t tend to react very well when a person claims God for their agenda or their side or their country. As an American citizen, born and raised in Hong Kong, and educated in London, I have somewhat of an outsider’s perspective on the role of faith and American politics, notably in how many view America’s affiliation with the Christian faith with caution and even outright hostility. I remember following the effects of 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq War with my English friends, Christian and non-Christian, wondering—and at times, cringing—at the ease with which President Bush claimed God for the American ‘side.’

In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne describes what he saw in America after the events of September 11th, 2001:

Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets. The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound. A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God. (2006:199)

The Christian faith became too easily subsumed into American patriotism, and there were many in the American Church too easily persuaded to support the war in Iraq. Yet Obery Hendricks Jr. argues that this is not an isolated incident but a cultural phenomenon: “in the strange calculus of American political culture patriotism has come to be virtually equated with Christianity. Love of country is extolled in the same breath as love of God” (The Politics of Jesus, 2006:324).

Such an attitude is not only unbiblical, but it undermines the global and universal nature of God’s invitation and salvation. As Jim Wallis comments, “Nationalism doesn’t go well with the kingdom of God. The church is the international body of Christ, and “God bless America” is not found in the Bible” (The Great Awakening, 2008:74). In Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in 1865, he acknowledged the tragic irony of asking God to be on one’s side:

Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we not be judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully. (quoted in E.J. Dionne, Souled Out, 2008:186)

His advice: “Do not say that God is on our side. Let us hope that we are on God’s side” (quoted in Hendricks 2006:193).

It would be easy, especially in a country where Christianity—or some semblance thereof—is so ingrained into the cultural identity and where national pride is so encouraged, for Christians to allow their faith and their love of country to become intertwined, for God to be seen as promoting their agenda—whether conservative, evangelical, liberal. When this does happen, as has happened in part already, the American church’s mission to the world—to demonstrate the love of Christ and the power of the gospel—is hampered by her association with all other things American: “For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ” (Greg Boyd, The Myth of an American Nation, 2005:14).

The Obama Budget 2011

Jim Wallis says that budgets are moral documents, and that how we spend our money shows what our values are. Introduced today, President Obama’s $3.83 trillion budget treads a delicate balance between trying to get the economy going again and trying to bring down the massive inherited budget deficit.*

Anyway, the budget for FY 2011 is fairly pessimistic one in that it presumes a gloomier economic outlook for the near future and budgets more for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, it actually expands the deficit in the short-term in order to bring it down in the long-term. As David Rogers at POLITICO writes,

In fact, it’s not until 2014 and 2015— when Obama hopes to be in his second term— that he has any hope of deficits approaching a sustainable level. Even then he is banking heavily on a new bipartisan fiscal commission to really finish the job.

It shouldn’t need to be said (but it clearly does) that comprehensive reform of the health care system–not just piecemeal and insubstantial legislative change–would help curb exploding costs. Tom Friedman reports from Davos that we’re making the rest of world a little nervous, due to the state of our economy, the political logjam in which we find ourselves, and notably the fact that we still can’t push through something as remedial as curative as health care reform.

And while we’re at it, reforming the financial system would help create a more stable and sound economy, less blown by the winds of bubbles and busts. Paul Volcker, chairman of the President’s Economic Advisory Board, says:

I’ve been there — as regulator, as central banker, as commercial bank official and director — for almost 60 years. I have observed how memories dim. Individuals change. Institutional and political pressures to “lay off” tough regulation will remain — most notably in the fair weather that inevitably precedes the storm.

The implication is clear. We need to face up to needed structural changes, and place them into law. To do less will simply mean ultimate failure — failure to accept responsibility for learning from the lessons of the past and anticipating the needs of the future.

* The NY Times evaluates the history of our country’s red ink, concluding that “President Obama’s agenda, ambitious as it may be, is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits, despite what many of his Republican critics are saying.”

Links of the Day, December 8

For those of you who missed the last couple Links, apologies–I was in New York City for the weekend. Pics to come soon.

News

Green

Miscellaneous

Sobering numbers from Afghanistan and Iraq

Courtesy of Jen over at DISGRASIAN, a sobering look at some numbers.

911
The number of U.S. soldiers who have died in the war in Afghanistan.

2,266
The number of veterans under the age of 65 who died in 2008 because they were uninsured.

4,365
The number of U.S. soldiers who have died in the Iraq war.

4,434
The number of U.S. soldiers wounded in action in the war in Afghanistan.

31,557
The number of U.S. soldiers wounded in action in the Iraq war.

131,000
The number of homeless veterans in America.

425,000
The number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans treated by the VA since 9/11.

3,300,000 (3.3 million)
The number of U.S. veterans who receive disability.

24,000,000 (24 million)
The number of veterans in America.

3,700,000,000 (3.7 billion)
The cost of the Veterans Health Care Bill seeking to expand mental health coverage for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans that has been blocked by one senator, Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn (R), since May because Coburn believes the funding doesn’t exist.

930,000,000,000 (930 billion)
The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far.