Is it “Faith”… or “Politics”?

There is a controversy infecting churches these days, and mine is among the many who are experiencing this.

The controversy revolves around whether beliefs that are expressed are reflections of faith or political positions.

This controversy has been gnawing away at me for the past 19 months, beginning a mere 3 months after arriving in my new parish. The first bites came after I preached a sermon about the injustices and poor treatment experienced by victims of our criminal justice system. I use the word “victim” because once an individual is incarcerated, they no longer have any control over their daily lives. They live within a regimented system that tells them how and when to do just about everything, and are at the mercy- or the lack thereof- of whatever prison system they land in.

Let me be perfectly clear about something. I believe that there are sometimes good reasons for removing people from interaction with the community. What I DON’T believe is that once they are removed they deserve to be treated with any less respect and dignity as any other child of God.

And here is my primary point. My belief about how they should be treated is primarily informed by my faith. I start with the teachings of Jesus, and use his teachings to shape and mold my convictions. It is inevitable that what I believe will shape the way I interact with the world, which is what “politics” means.

So, is it “faith” or is it “politics?” It’s BOTH. The important distinction is, which one is primary, and thus informs the other. For me, faith is primary. My political views may be obvious to people, but only because I try to be very clear about my faith. To assume that there is a way to separate the two is naïve, and we can only begin to have respectful and civil conversations if we recognize that they are irrevocably intertwined.

As a pastor, I have a deep responsibility to preach and teach from the grounding of scripture as it is understood in my church’s interpretation. We understand Jesus as having been very radical in the eyes of the religious and political establishment of his day, which put him in a position of controversy. Following the way of Jesus puts us in that same path. So I suspect that I will continue to be attacked for what I believe. I know that I will continue to love and care for all the people of the parish that has been entrusted to my care, and to pray for wisdom and the courage to preach and teach the faith as it has been taught to me.

A beginning…

When I was young, and even more foolish than I am now, I thought that the older people got, the narrower their minds became. And while I certainly know people in the later stages of their life who find comfort in having things stay the same and who prefer to not be challenged to change anything, I have found that for myself, being unwilling to change or have my comfort challenged is a trap.

As I have prayed for insight into God’s wisdom, I have discovered that my way of living and thinking has usually not been affirmed, but challenged. God persistently refuses to allow me to define God’s will in my own way, but constantly challenges me to recognize the many ways I choose what will make me most comfortable rather than what will serve the will of God. So, I am learning, in my older years, that I need to be open to constant challenges and changes if I truly want to be a follower of Jesus.

I titled this blog “Dust of the Rabbi” because I had heard a legend that the phrase was used as an image of the students of rabbis, who always walked behind their masters as they journeyed and learned and thus became covered in the fine dust that was raised on the dirt roads they travelled.

In searching for confirmation of this legend, I discovered the blog of Lois Tverberg “Our Rabbi Jesus”. In one of her posts she speaks of this legend (http://ourrabbijesus.com/2012/01/27/covered-in-the-dust-of-your-rabbi-an-urban-legend/), and shares the root source in the Misnah, Avot 1:4. “Let your house be a meeting-house for the wise; and powder yourself in the dust of their feet; and drink their words with thirstiness.”

Perhaps I am stretching the legend, but the image is a meaningful one for me as I journey. I wish to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to learn from his teaching and his life; to be “covered in his dust” as it were, a reminder of humility and my place as a follower.

I am a second-career (or third, counting my stint as a Navy corpsman as career #1 and nursing as career #2), ordained Lutheran pastor, mother of 3 grown children. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who is sharing the journey, the challenges, and the changes (God’s divine gift of blessing and grace after 10 years alone following the disintegration of a 20 year marriage!)

For those of you who find their way to my pages, I look forward to having companions on the journey. I hope you find value in what is shared and that you will share your reflections, wisdom and stories.

Having become more and more dismayed at what much of the world envisions when they hear the word “Christian”, I have come to prefer calling myself a