followers of what?

As I scanned her Facebook account, I was stunned. We grew up together in South Dakota. A pastor’s kid, it appeared she had graduated from a Christian high school and received a religious studies degree at a state university. I hadn’t talked with her for over 15 years. In that time, I had weathered my parents’ divorce, thyroid cancer, a Bachelor’s degree in global political economies, studying and volunteering in Tanzania, South Africa, Switzerland, Mexico and Alaska, a year of disaster recovery work with FEMA and a few random jobs in corporate America. These life experiences developed a deep passion for social justice, cultural understanding and wholestic health within me. It seemed, although we had begun in the same church background, eating meals together around the same table, this childhood friend and I had grown in drastically different directions.

As I read her Facebook profile, I discovered she’s a member of several groups: ‘Stop Barack Obama.’ ‘Sara Palin should not be vice president…she should be president!’ I chuckled at the misspelling and capitalization errors. ‘Governor Sarah Palin for VP.’ ‘Pro-Life.’ To top it all off, she had written as her status (20 hours earlier): “I’m losing hope! We may have to suffer under Obama as president! Lord please save us!”

My first two presidential votes were in favor of George W. Bush. As I look back, I believe I had been swayed by the rhetoric and agendas the Christian conservatives fed me during my early years. This year, I proudly stood outside in sleet and rain with a record turnout of primary voters to stand for Barack Obama.

I was bewildered by my friend’s comments about the politician who inspires hope in my soul. I wrote her and asked why we’d suffer. Her response was even more mindboggling. *“ I love political dialogue! My political views begin first of all with what the bible says about ethics and morality. That is where I begin whenever I make a decision about things in our country. My love for america takes a very close second. I was seriously thinking about voting for Obama about 6 months ago. But that all changed for good when Barack Obama refused to salute our flag during the National Anthem. He does not love this country and I want someone leading our country who loves it, believes in it and will stand up for it. I would have a really hard time voting for McCain too but he chose a kick ass running mate and I think that Palin balances out the negatives!”*I read no specifics on what kind of suffering we’d face or any real voting rationale with substance. And I never knew saluting the flag was the duty of an American. Maybe saluting an officer if you’re in the military. Probably McCain got these two things confused when his team created the stir.
Instead of following Jesus, it seems evangelical, mainstream churched folks have become followers of Republicans guised as conservative family values. Followers of creatively crafted lies, mass-marketing, drama-ridden media and consumption patterns driven by corporate greed and shame. The choice of Palin leads me to believe Republicans’ only hope is to cater to the “47% of American adults who attend church in a given weekend.” (The Barna Research Group, 2005, http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm) A large percent of this half of the U.S. population holds judgments, critical thinking abilities and beliefs similar to my Facebook friend. The doctrines of the mainstream churched and Republican conservatives smell awfully similar.

We’ve boiled down ethics and morality to a dysfunctional relationship with sex. Sex is the only sacred thing left to get involved in…as long as it’s not before or outside of marriage. Sex comes up again in the pro-life (at least concerning abortion) and pro-marriage between one man and one woman outcries. Why did conservative Republicans want Clinton impeached? Sex. The Bush Administration has acted without a conscience countless times. Average people who act as if they don’t have a conscience are clinically diagnosed as sociopaths and are locked up in rehab. Yet, I’m assuming since he didn’t get a little under the table (greenbacks don’t count) that’s not part of our narrow sphere of moral concern.

We’ve become a club of fear and control and taking care of our own. We won’t reach across the pew, across generation or race, across the street and ocean to love the ‘them’. Unless a few projects under the mission tab on our websites which fund some feel good Americanization salvation vacations count. McCain seems to follow suit — because he just takes care of those like him. In the first debate he states, *“I know the veterans. I know them well. And I know that they know that I’ll take care of them. And I love them. And I’ll take care of them. And they know that I’ll take care of them. And that’s going to be my job.” * I wonder if he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (and a need to find some kind of honorable victory to recreate after Vietnam’s defeat) and he needs some help too. We must stop using war to secure resources to fuel the overconsumption in the Western world. We can’t call this peacekeeping and peacemaking. McCain also claims he’ll freeze all non-defense and veteran affairs spending. War, baby, war goes right along with drill, baby, drill! But it’s okay. Deuteronomy, somewhere in that book, it says it’s okay. And those Muslims are evil anyways. It goes back to Abraham, remember? We must have difficulty seeing reality because in churches today we’ve put a freeze on all spending not related to the spiritual war on all the wrong things that will damn us to hell.

Oh, and don’t cut our bigger buildings which consume more utilities while we use our spaces less often. We create programs that look more like franchised goods rather than authentic community. Influential families act as lobbyists for self-interests. Instead of Hybrids, bike racks, bus stops and car pooling, we fill our parking lots with SUVs and seem to agree with Palin that global warming isn’t caused by human activity. We have overweight people eating potlucks filled with processed, chemical ridden, unfair traded food instead of locally grown, organic, fair trade nutrition. We add an additional tax (a tithe) in order to fund it all. And the only people benefitting — the Chinese who make all the stuff and big business. It’s not the marginalized, the hurt, the broken, those who have companies that desire social justice and do responsible entrepreneurship. Yet, somehow I believe, we don’t want to create life-giving, freedom for people. We believe we have to keep average Joe six packs feeling guilty, shamed and broken so they’ll need us. Or entertained with dumbed down teaching. One way or another, we must keep them coming back because we need their money to fund our operations. I’m surprised we haven’t created “calculate your return on investment per square foot” salvation software yet. It would continue our vision of profiting off people by reacting to the latest trends. Since we can’t join the world, we just copy it and label it our own.

And heaven forbid we can’t have any grassroots activity. That’s dangerous. Palin said it herself in her RNC speech. “ I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.” It’s all top down. The trickle down approach. No handouts. Everything is earned (unless you’re a crony of mine). Healthcare (and salvation) is a responsibility not a right. No shaking up things too much or we’ll kick you out. We rule by control and fear. No wonder the Republicans win our votes. Through the war on terror, they like pretending to keep America safe too.

I see great potential and energy in faith communities throughout the country. Yet, it more often than not is either asleep or misdirected. We need less “Lord, please save us” — an apathetic excuse born out of a distorted worldview about heaven starting later and just being for a few who deserve it — and more creativity and dreams being valued. We ought to be the leading proponents of social change, environmental care and economic responsibility. What an amazing reason for church growth! Our Biblical narrative has the depth to deliver this, to motivate the change needed in our belief structures and lifestyle choices. We can no longer give blind approval to cronyism, fear, greed, war, genocide, torture, prisons, cancer, divorce, hunger, homelessness, the unregulated consumption of the earth, unethical business practices, unfair trade policies, the cycles of addiction, neglect and abuse…We cannot afford more of the same. Our planet can’t. Humans can’t. I can’t. Yet, if we tie up our resources on buildings and take care of us programs, we won’t have the time, money and energy to invest in the endless possibilities of following Jesus — of participating in the life of God — within our closest neighborhoods and the farthest reaches of the earth. We are given voices and freedom to pursue transformation in the political, economic, environmental, social and relational realms of life. We’re offered the privilege of becoming a presence of courage, hope, compassion, peace, acceptance, gratitude, love and justice. What beautiful realities to receive and be!

Can we begin giving priority to conservation, renewable energy, sharing space and green building? We must start using our resources wisely. We ought to mandate a trip to the garbage dump every time we renew our car tags. Let’s start turning off our TVs, Blackberries and IPods for a while and start reading the labels on our products (not to mention books and independent media sources). We need to start researching the companies we support through the dollars we spend. Let’s plant a garden and stop consuming stuff we buy for $9.99 on sale and throw away in bags and piles. Can we heal the sacred/secular divisions in the world so ethics and morality stretch beyond sex? It would enable us to change our core focus from an escapist salvation to a redeeming one — one which heals the deep trauma, loss and pain in our lives while celebrating our gifts, joys and dreams. We’d begin investing in honest relationships with ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our leaders, the poor and rich in our communities, those ethnically and culturally different than us… It is time our energies be awakened and redirected to discovering the possibilities of creating a renewed world. May we to find room for these relationships and conversations to be fostered without preconditions around a common table– a table made from recycled wood by laborers paid a living wage.