Saturday, December 20, 2008

Barack Obama -- truly 'Wild at Heart'?

Over the last couple of years I've become a fan of John Eldredge, author of the runaway best-seller "Wild at Heart," whose subject is Christian masculinity. Eldredge's primary premise is that men need to be "initiated" -- trained, tested and readied for battle -- in order to become real men. Having done so, the truly Godly man, in his view, takes the reins of power not primarily for his own benefit but for others'.

After rereading the sequel "The Way of the Wild Heart," and especially the chapter referring to the "King" -- that sequel actually discusses the numerous specific phases of a man's development -- I think I now have a better idea of how and why now-president-elect Barack Obama was able to win the 2008 election. It's not simply that he ran a near-flawless campaign or that he simply wasn't George W. Bush -- in comparing the two men, I notice very different life stories.

Obama, the namesake son of a Kenyan economist and whose mother was a free-spirited white woman, certainly had his challenges, but even with his globetrotting -- his mother eventually remarried and moved them to Indonesia -- I think he was forced to find a sense of his own identity (one of these days I'll read his books, then I'll know for sure). Of course, we all know he graduated from Columbia University and, later, Harvard Law School; but instead of going to a posh law firm he moved back to Chicago to become a community organizer, eventually also teaching Contitutional law at the University of Chicago before entering politics.

While in Chicago he began laying that foundation by cultivating allies, first in the city's South Side and including Marquette Park, the scene of race riots 30 years ago (which I found impressive). All the while, by many accounts, in every instance he took the the time to listen to people, even those he didn't agree with. I see a maturity and security in that approach simply because life is that way, and he built that career while avoiding much of the notoriously seamier side of Chicago politics. That maturity connected with much of the public, which was convinced that he "has what it takes" to run a country -- and that cool will serve him well next month when he's inaugurated. I also see his foreign policy as progressive and even-handed, eventually regaining the trust of allies on virtually every continent. In short, with apologies to the campaign of John McCain, he is ready to lead.

On the other hand, when I consider George W. Bush, the current president, I see just the opposite -- an "unitiated" man who became president to try to prove himself as a man but eventually failed. And in fact, he's been pretty much a failure at whatever he's done -- a mediocre record at Phillips Academy, Yale University and Harvard Business School; part-owner of the Texas Rangers; governor of Texas (which has little real responsibility or power). Today we know that his priority No. 1 was to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in part because of a failed assassination attempt on his father when he was president, in my book an abuse of his office, and we are now witnessing the fruit of that flawed decision.

His advisers, furthermore, were little more than "yes-men" who uncritically subscribed to their common right-wing ideology and refused to consider other ideas. Eventually he was done in by his botched response to Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf of Mexico region, specifically New Orleans. All in all, Bush wanted the power and perks of the office but wasn't fit to take on the responsibility that came with it -- and, in the process, he has taken down the Republican Party and the conservative apparatus that runs it, not to mention besmirched the name of Christ (because he identifies himself as an evangelical Christian).

None of this, of course, is to say that Eldredge endorsed Obama -- I'm certainly not aware of Eldredge's political leanings or even whom he voted for (if he even voted at all). But I do see Obama as having gone through the necessary process of growth, which means admitting mistakes and correcting course when needed, that Eldredge has spelled out. I can't say the same for Bush, who seems to have everything handed to him and, at least during the first six years of his presidency, refused to admit he made errors.

In short, it could be that Barack Obama is truly "wild at heart."

Monday, December 15, 2008

The imminence of spiritual revival

I was attending a Bible study on Friday, and the leader -- who I didn't know until that night was a staunch conservative Republican -- said that, while he believed in the sovereignty of God, he couldn't see how God would use the Democratic Party's victory in last month's national election for His purposes. But I believe, at some point, it will be obvious.

For this reason: In God's time, spiritual revival within the Church of Jesus Christ will eventually break out.

Now, how can I make such an audacious claim, considering that the vast majority of white evangelicals supported John McCain and the Republican Party, who lost badly? But that's precisely why I do. Because you have to understand what "revival" is all about -- not that our nation will be purified because once again our laws and culture reflect a "Christian consensus" but that His Body will be. And that purification is taking place as I write.

You see, the rise of Barack Obama to the presidency has had the effect of unmasking considerable anger and bitterness toward him -- on the part of Christians. That attitude, of course, is unacceptable for followers of the Savior, who eventually will have to purge it from their souls.

That speaks to a deeper issue: Idolatry.

Since 1980 many Christians have made a god out of the political process, believing that electing the "right" people to office will turn this nation around morally and bring it back to what they consider its former splendor, similar to what Israel was hoping for when Jesus came. However, from the start doing so was contaminated by secular interests, many of which made alliances with nascent "Christian" organizations, the late Moral Majority probably the best known. Do you think that the issues of abortion and gay rights were chosen because they're "biblical?" Please -- they simply raised the most money for the cause, which didn't in the least bother the secular conservatives who couldn't care less about those two issues just as long as they got into office. And conservative Christians ended up being left behind -- because the secularists knew full well they couldn't get the evangelicals' program enacted as it was and thus never really tried.

More to the point, however, the rash of political activity in the 1980s spoke of, really, these same Christians' unwillingness to engage in spiritual warfare. Part of that is connected to the lack of self-examination to determine what, if any, wickedness -- such as arrogance, selfishness, resentment and racism -- was lodged in their own hearts. But that's what happens when you put labels on sin and specifically point out those of the "other guys" without dealing with your own because it's simpler to discern an enemy and try to defeat him.

At some point the "enemy" was bound to triumph -- witness Bill Clinton's presidency. The only thing that conservative attacks on him did in the long run was to expose the seaminess of the conservative apparatus, which Christians couldn't counteract because we were such a part of it. We were also not prepared to address the corruption of conservative Republican politicians -- the most obvious being former Rep. Tom DeLay of suburban Houston who reportedly was converted at a Billy Graham crusade -- that cost the GOP its majority in Congress two years ago. We said virtually nothing about the plight of the poor or immoral foreign policy, even though we are commanded to "walk in all of God's ways."

And that's why we're today on the outside looking in. Remember that our God does not allow His people to trade on His name to ignore good and countenance evil for very long, which explains the TV evangelist scandals of 1987-88. Think that resulted from the "liberal" news media attacking Christians? Not for a second -- God Himself arranged that to make a point.

So, what needs to happen? Well, coming to prayer and worship with an attitude of humility would start. But it also means digesting the whole of Scripture, not just the parts we use as prooftexts for what has been exposed as a bogus ideological agenda. It also means not being yoked with non-believers and taking secular money to do "ministry," which means withdrawing from the so-called culture war, now permanently lost.

This is not to say that Christians shouldn't be involved in politics; however, we need to get away from assuming that "God is on our side" and using Him for the sake of our own power. After all, doing so tells the world that God is interested only in being the Boss, thus sabotaging the Gospel of grace.

Because that, more than anything else, is what the world needs. There can and will be no revival unless and until we recognize that we are, have and can do nothing other than by the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, more and more believers are coming to that conclusion; as a result, I think that long-awaited revival is coming. Very soon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas wrapping

Some of my thoughts on the Christmas season: