Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Caution: May be controversial and unpatriotic

For those of you who know me, you may know that I struggle with the relationship between the church and politics, specifically American politics. I wonder if it is the church's role to speak out about things like the war or gay rights (either for or against) or if we are called to speak more generally about the Kingdom of God and let people fill in the gaps. This is getting stirred up in me again this summer in light of an event the church I'm working at is having. We're hosting author, Shane Claiborne, in a few weeks to talk about his book, Jesus for President. I've read some of the book, but even if you haven't you can gain a lot from the title.

So then this happens. Today I got yet another e-mail forward of the "look at how hard the troops are fighting to protect your right to drink Starbucks, you unpatriotic hippie" variety. While I totally feel like people have a right, and should fight for the right, to be excited about our troops and the war on whatever, the fact remains that I have a right not to. More than that, I wonder how being patriotic has gotten boiled down to supporting a war or not.

So I looked up "patriotic" on dictionary.com. This is what came up:

inspired by love for your country [ant: disloyal]
patriotic [pӕtriˈotik, (especially American) pei-] adjective
(negative unpatriotic) having or showing great love for one's country Example: He is so patriotic that he refuses to buy anything made abroad.

Two interesting things came out of that for me. The first being the antonym, which is "disloyal", and the second being the use of the word in a sentence.

These are interesting to me because firstly, my views are often called unpatriotic and, yet, I don't feel disloyal. Because if I am disloyal to America, who am I loyal to? And secondly, apparently buying things here makes one patriotic, which is funny considering so many of our clothes, toys, etc are made in sweat shops abroad.

Ok, then, in a very loose train of thought, I'm mixing around these ideas of God and country.

- Who am I loyal to? I should first and foremost be loyal to God in the way that Jesus was more loyal to God than to the Romans or Pharisees. The irony in that is that so many who are "patriotic" would also claim they are very loyal to God. Why then is there such a breakdown in ideologies and viewpoints?

- Many people who only buy "American", like in a real and true sense, are the same people who are called unpatriotic. You know who i mean -- people who do food through co-ops, make their own clothes, and use bio-diesel in their cars. Often though they also have some sort of bumper sticker on their car that talks about ending the war. Hmmm...

- I always thought that patriotic meant to help your country in some way be the best it can be, and for me that has meant speaking out against things I don't agree with or living with 5 other crazy people in a trailer in Mississippi fixing homes and lives, or eating the same meal with someone who has lived on the streets for 20 years. I do this firstly because God challenges us to love God by loving each other, but also on some level because this country has bestowed all kinds of amazing rights and privileges on me that I feel need to be realized by all in this country, and if the government can't do that for its own people than its our duty to do it for each other.

And so I think my point is not to pat myself on the back, but to really grapple with how to build bridges between two vastly different groups of people who both call themselves Christian and who both proudly call themselves American. Where and how does that conversation start?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Blog in Two Parts

Part 1 in which I learn something new

Something I didn't realize until recently, which maybe you can relate to, is how informed people living on the streets are about politics and issues of social justice. They often hear things before the public, have witnessed both the pros and cons of service providers, and have a lot of time to discuss policies. The irony I caught on to this week, as I was telling my friend Irwin he should run for mayor since he knows a ton about Philly after 18 years on the street, is that many can't vote because they don't have permanent addresses or an ID to get them into the shelter (yes shelters in Philly require an ID) that might provide a mailing address or the $20 it costs to get an ID. Essentially, then, the people who are more informed about politics than most liberal college kids and who would benefit most from radical changes in government have no voice in that system. Huh.

Part 2 Its not all about you.

In talking with the youth this summer about different issues, the one topic that frequently comes up is why a lot of our homeless friends tend to be unsocial or resistant to conversation with them at our church meals. Many times the guesses from the teenagers about why this might be the case are something like, "They're jealous of us" or "They're intimidated by us". We gently explain that while there is a chance of this possibility, because our friends are battling larger systems of oppression than just who has the better iPod, "jealous" is probably not the word and because many of them have been beat up, robbed, or sexually assaulted in their time on the street, they're probably not intimidated by a bunch of rich, white kids.

The point is they make it about them without realizing our friends carry so much baggage with them into this place, both physical -- bags, duffels, backpacks -- but more importantly emotional -- shame, rejection, anger and fear. With all that, they may not want to talk about the weather with some kids they've never met before.

*I should sidebar here and mention that many in our congregation love to talk for hours and to meet new people, but there are a few who stick to themselves.

But in this misunderstanding I begin to reevaluate my own frustrations with this job and calling. I'm constantly frustrated about time off, how my work is received, who's doing what, how moving chairs fits into my job description. In other words its often all about me. Huh.