Oh boy here we go. Nick...why are we doing this? This is a "political" one coming up. Do with that what you will.
Last night I was driving home listening to a podcast as I often do and this particular episode was on climate change. The host and the guest both commersirated on how large corporations can lobby congress to look past basic moral principles in favor of a sizable payout or influence. For example, how oil companies lobby and claim that recycling is useless. (Plastic recycling is useless - yes - but metal, glass, and precious metals are critically effective.) Or how the NRA lobbies against gun control policies or how screwed our healthcare system is because the top insurance and Pharma companies have paid 5 billion in the last 20 years in lobbying. Further, 2021 set the highest record in annual lobbying reaching $3.7 billion over the previous high of $3.5 billion in 2020 and $3.1 billion in 2008 during the housing market crisis. This hits close to home for me as well in two instances regarding some Mexican families that I've gotten to know pretty well through previous work and over many margaritas.
Let's start with personal: McKinsie and I LOVE Mexican food. We eat Mexican at least once a week and usually make some type of Mexican inspired dish 2-3 times a week at home. When we lived in Streetsboro there was a Mexican restaurant that we loved because of how friendly the staff were, the prices were reasonable, and Margs were *chefs kiss.* One particular staff person was our favorite as he would always say "see you tomorrow" whenever we left. He was also very open about his life, the circumstances he came from, and shared pictures of his nephew, David, whom he shares 1/3 of his US income with to provide a means for him to one day come to the US as a full citizen. McKinsie and I decided that instead of Christmas gifts for each other that we would provide this staff person with a plane ticket to go back home and see David for Christmas without compromising his necessary and finite US income before he would have to return to Mexico and reapply for his work visa to come back and work. The week before we were going to buy the tickets we visited our favorite place and didn't see our favorite staff person anymore. We asked the owners where he was and they poured us a shot of tequila and said "He's back home - his name didn't get drawn for the lottery." No more American Dream for our friend....no more secured future for David.
Alright work story time: One of my best friends in high school started a landscaping business that has grown to wild places at this point. (pun kind of intended?) Super proud of him. A few years back he began to apply for Mexican immigrant employees through the government system. At first he did so thinking it would maximize profits only to realize that it actually costs him almost twice as much to hire an immigrant over an American. (He has to house them and pay them equal to lowest wage employee. $30k~ a season.) The problem lies in the literal gamble of this system as there is a limited pool on how immigrants can come for work related reasons despite the undebatable fact they are exceptional for the US economy as they pay taxes but cannot reap the benefits of it. So, my friend has to base his annual budget on a *chance* that he will get his employees year over year with no guarantee that he will. This is frustrating at best and devastating at worst. Therefore, he frequently goes to DC to try and lobby for changes to the system. He shared with me how the process goes and just try to not get angry with me.
Pay $200k to get a seat at a dinner table with a congressperson
Share your ideas and promise to pay another $200k by end of year (oh, and pay for dinner and unlimited top shelf drinks)
They add it to the thousand page bill that gets voted on at the end of the year.
Bill probably fails cause congress is too divided.
Schedule another dinner table with congressperson first of next year for $250k.
This is insanity that our so called and heavily marketed "Christian Nation" can be so influenced by money and it's an absolute spit in the face to Jesus who walked into God's house and overthrew the tables damning the people for turning "a house of prayer into a den of robbers." We cannot worship two masters and I believe that our country has chosen its true master a long time ago.
But this is a church blog....so where am I going with this? Well, stay with me.
As I turn to scripture I want to preface this a little: I'm wading into heavy opinion about theology and the role that *I* believe God intends pastors, prophets, and disciples to play. You might heavily disagree with this and that's awesome, no prob, this is just my take. Hate it? No worries - I'm peacing out in less than a month.
Alright quick Bible recap: God creates the world and us, we live in unity in heaven, we introduce sin and separate heaven and earth. God gets mad and floods the world killing us all (almost). God decides to not do that again and promises to be our God if we be God's people. God delivers us from a sin induced slavery to a promised land. Once we arrive we set up some rules and establish the earliest form of government. (Genesis - Deuteronomy) Prior to having a King like the other people of the time we had judges who represented their tribes. Those judges were the earliest "pastors" of the people. When a King was first appointed after the people demanded it (and Samuel warned them they didn't really want one) the judges/prophets/pastors took on a different position. They were advisors to the King and acted as the moral compass and as an accountability partner for when their power got out of hand. This was a "state appointed position" so to speak. Kings had a huge amount of respect for the prophets who stood next to them. Much like in climbing you have a belayer to give you slack when you need it and keep the rope tight to protect you from a fall, the prophet was crucial to the moral safety of the king and helping him 'climb' higher and higher. There are numerous examples of prophets advising the kings from 2 Samuel - 2 Kings and I encourage you to Google those examples. However, one of my favorites is after David sleeps with Bathsheba and kills her husband Uriah that the prophet Nathan challenges David with a riddle with a wonderful twist. Read for yourself and enjoy:
12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle,3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
I LOVE this story. I LOVE it so much. Nathan holds up a mirror to David and in that moment David not only realizes his wrongs but confesses his sins and desires to be better. David goes through hell the next chapter of his life with his children and family suffering because of his errors. You can see the anguish he goes through in his many psalms.
When I think about this story I naively hope and wonder if pastors and churches were not so isolated from the politics of our country and we, like Nathan, stood before congress and shouted "you are that person" whether or not they would make policies from a confessional place rather than from the coin purse of 30 silver. (see what I did there?)
I admit that I'm just as guilty as a political minded evangelical who claims that "God is under attack" and that we must stand up for our "God given freedoms" by engaging in these types of conversations and weaponizing my faith against a political system that I think conservatives, centrists, and liberals alike are frustrated by. I also understand that a theocracy isn't ideal either as we've seen the inequality that existed between the priestly class in the Bible and the average person and even the awful things we did when the Pope was the highest source of power in the world. Further, a theocracy would be complicated by the fact that we are a religiously diverse country...whose theocracy would govern? Christian? Even so, which of the 45,000 denominations would have ultimate power? So yes, I agree that we cannot use the Bible as the template for policies in our country however we absolutely should be using holy books as informed sources of influence. But, I admit that I get extremely frustrated by this half in/half out approach when it comes to what is acceptable for the church to commentate on. The same person to criticize the church for being "political" when defending climate change will utter in the same breath about so called "God given freedoms." Our politicians will invoke the Bible in speeches, hold up the Bible in photo ops, swear on the Bible for leadership, call us to prayer to bless our warfare, and end every speech in "May God Bless America" while at the same time accepting bribes from lobbyists like Judas. I mean....what? How do we all just look at this and go "yeah this fine."
Lent for me isn't just a journey to reaffirm my commitment to Jesus and God's callings while repenting of the ways *I* have failed to accomplish those things or harms that I have caused. Lent is also a chance for me to evaluate our community, our nation, and our world and see how it measures against the Kingdom of God. Presently, our congress is divided (and horribly corrupt) and the largest war since Hitler is raging in Europe. Is this the kingdom of God? No. Are we getting closer? Eh...I think so - slowly. On Sunday, Rev. Joyce shared a great message about the cup that we choose challenging us to choose Jesus daily and not just during Lent or the Holy Days. If David had chosen God daily Uriah might still be there. But thank God he had Nathan there to catch him before he fell too far down. Who is your Nathan this time of year? Who is our congress' Nathan? How might policy making change when Uriah gets to advise the King rather than suffer on the front lines of his decisions. When Jesus triumphantly enters in our "Jerusalems" in a few weeks on Palm Sunday will he have to overturn our tables or will be satisfied with the lives we are leading? Will we be upset by his mandates and drive him and his followers to the cross or lay down our palms, our passions, and our other gods for the one true King? These are the questions I rest with today and I invite your considerations.
Thanks for reading. We'll hear more from our missionaries tomorrow!