Jesus for President Afterthoughts

I blogged earlier in the week on going to see Shane Claiborne speak in Raleigh (Jesus for President: Shane Claiborne in Raleigh) on his new book Jesus for President. I knew that it was going to be unlike anything I’d seen or heard and that it was going to be strongly politically charged (e.g., “It’s not a matter of whether you’re political but how you’re political” said Shane), a subject which I normally shy away from for lack of knowledge, understanding and want-to. And though, since reading Scot McKnight’s post on how not to blog and the follow-up comments by readers, I’ve felt fearful of falling into a similar error, I still, because of the impression that evening in Raleigh has had on me, I’ve really wanted to share some thoughts, and so I’ll attempt, despite a slight reserve, to do just that in what I hope will be fair-minded reflection.

[1] The evening was unlike any other Christian speaking event just simply by the presence of Psalter. These guys are really unique, powerful, moving, raw and quite fun to watch and listen to. Their music interspersed in Haw (co-author of Jesus for President) and Claiborne’s dramatic presentation gave the evening a less informal lecture with question and answer feel as I prior to imagined and a more choreographed, rehearsed, presentation or performance feel as I had unexpected, all of course which was fine and led to the evening becoming one massive build up to find an answer to the question “Who should I vote for (‘if at all’)?”

[2] What I reckon anyone can appreciate about the evening is that the speakers started with laying a (biblical) foundation from the ground up for their political views/positions instead of hitting the ground running with their views and leaving everyone without prior knowledge of the book’s contents in the dust. For instance, the presentation started from creation and progressed to roughly the time of Christ (I can’t remember exactly whither) in the first half and then really picked up speed and political charge in the second half by highlighting the church’s rise from 1st century Jewish sect to a 21st century commercial culture by way of Constantine. Each half was roughly an hour and a bit. This was helpful: seeing their case built from the ground up.

[3] The evening had a strong emphasis on what you might call pacificism or anti-war sentiment. (I want to be careful not to mischaracterize the position on war presented by pinning a label on it with which the proponents may not be comfortable; so, forgive me if what they were describing goes by another name. Nonetheless, I think pacificism communicates what I’m trying to describe and is helpful here. Anyways…) The sponsorship of the event by the Triangle Mennonite churches, a body reknowned in its kinship with pacifism, may have had an effect on this, or the present “war” (or, war) in Iraq may also likely be foregrounding the issue. This though is an issue on which I’m not yet willing to be dogmatic and for this reason found myself a bit uncomfortable with the strength of the speaker’s commitment to what I perceived as blanket, over-arching pacificism. I shy away from the extremes and over-simplication on issues like war and pacificism, though it should be noted that a position being an “extreme” or simplified does not necessarily falsify it. I am therefore willing to grant that pacifism may be in the end a biblically tenable position though I’ve not arrived at that conviction at this present hour. Moreover, I found it interesting that in the presentation of the human story from creation to fall to redemption, which had many stops along the way, especially in the OT narrative, (conveniently) by-passed the conquest, a decidedly divine-sanctioned war time in the Bible. A treatment of this material from the pacificistic position would have been, in my opinion, helpful to say the least and worthy of additional respect to the position at most. I had been anticipating a treatment of the conquest as soon as I recognized how the evening’s presentation was progressing through the biblical narrative. It just seems all too convenient to the position to skip it that’s all. I think that much can be admitted.

[4] The presentation of Jesus was interesting. To me, the presentation of him seemed lop-sided and simplistic. While much attention was paid to non-violent, passive Jesus in the Gospels, no mention was made of the returning Christ clothed in a rope dipped in blood with a sword in his mouth supplanting the powers of Satan. This too seemed all to convenient when I reckon the speaker’s thoughts on this topic would have been insightful. One could easily have left assuming God is never violent or forceful.

[5] Repeated “empire” rhetoric was tiring. America is lumped together with Babylon and Rome, all three of which are “the empire.” Unfortunately, I didn’t find this terminology helpful for careful thinking on politics from a Christian perspective. Nebulous.

[6] I was unsure how to think of being an American after the presentation. What I took away from the evening, however, was not to place my faith in a political party or candidate to enact the change which I as a Christian am bound to incarnate as one of YHWH’s people. My first allegiance, as foremost a Christian, is to God, not American. My faithfulness in modeling the life of Jesus will help bring the social change pursued incorrectly by political parties.

[7] At one point we were told to think of saints of the church. Is it telling and/or pitiful that my mind was first taken to Augustine of Hippo who did not find a home in the collage projected on the screen when Desmond Tutu and Dorothy Day did?

Overall, the evening was extremely helpful and I hope my seven afterthoughts above will not in any way disparage the speakers, Chris Haw and Shane Claiborne. Their message is provoking, insightful and fresh. Their emphases on community, radical love, unity, social justice, and radical living are much needed today. So much more could be said, this is just that which comes to mind at the moment.

Respond

Were you there? What did you think? Have you read anyone elses’ afterthoughts on the event? Have I mischaracterized or been unfair or lop-sided myself with mostly uncomfortable afterthoughts?

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