Monday, June 21, 2010

Blessed Evangelicals

Four turning points in USAmerican history have shaped the evangelical movement according to professor Randall Balmer. These include revivals of the Great Awakenings, pessimism of the Dispensationalism, Fundamentalist ghettos of the Post-Darwin era, and the emergence of the Religious Right in the Regan era. Balmer never labels himself a Democrat (indeed, it is not his point), but he professes no allegiance to the Religious Right.

Balmer's The Making of Evangelicalism is overly simplistic and heavy on criticism. Revival, retreat, and politics have polluted our witness gospel. Our politics are inconsistent, our retreat is non-compassionate, and our revivals are theologically flawed and selfish.

Fortunately, Balmer notes the 'pliable' nature of evangelicalism. "Evangelicals are willing, even eager, to experiment with new ideas, especially in the realm of communications, and they are not afraid to discard ideas that do not work. This ability to discern and speak to the cultural idiom lends an unmistakably populist cast to evangelicalism in America" (4).

So much for the book review and history lesson, here's the irony.

A week before I read this book, the NRA called me and asked if I knew about the Second Amendment. Word-for-word, I could not quote it, but I was certain it said something about guns and sleeveless shirts. They asked if I agreed with the Second Amendment. I did, I assured them, but I wasn't ready to buy a pick up truck and start listening to country music. Other amendments allotted me that freedom. They asked if I would join. I declined.

Two days before reading the book, I read an editorial about Silent No More, a political group in our county committed to returning virtue to the Capitol. They are encouraging pastors to bring politics back to the pulpit. They said we should preach with guts and guns. They also say on their website that America is Good. I disagree.

For the past two weeks I've been preaching the Beatitudes. Jesus has no interest in power and less in our prosperity. He critics our legalism and inverts our values. He speaks in"the cultural idiom" by upsetting the cultural mores. And yet, even in opposition, He pronounces blessing. I accept.

Blessed are the NRA members, for they will have guns.
Blessed are the Tea Parties, for they will have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Blessed are the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blessed and Burdened

It was a blessed Sunday. One of the pillar couples of our church was lamenting their final Sunday in a four-decade journey with our church. The worship leader at our church noted their stress level was overflowing.

He shared the sentiment; his family was one month and a few dollars into starting a new business.

Another couple was dealing with a recent disability, complicated by allergic reactions.

Another couple was learning to live separated by several states; another was recently widowed.

Several people were suffering from economic uncertainty, vocational demands, and relational strains.

And I had to preach a sermon.

Blessed were we--the poor, the pained, the puny, the pitiful--because we prayed. Our worship transitioned from singing in seats to interceding in the round. We stormed the stage, circled the hurting, and voiced petitions. A sermon ensued, resolving in the sacred practice of communion.

The rest of the day, I was exhausted. My head ached. My eyes burned. My throat itched. And a merciless critique of my sermon looped through my mind. I couldn't help but attribute these symptoms to the prayer time earlier in the day. It was as if I had absorbed some of the stress/pain/heartbreak/anxiety/suffering of those hurting in our church.

I suspect I was not alone in this. In the family of God, both burdens and blessings are shared.