Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Red Sox in September

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks."
Luke 6:43-45

Yesterday afternoon, in my car, I was listening to sports talk on the radio. It was all about the collapse of the Red Sox this September.

The question, of course, is how this team, which entered the season with an embarrassment of talent, could possibly play this badly. Going into last night’s game, their September record was something like 1 and 19 in games where they scored less than 12 runs. And their pitching was the worst in all of Major League Baseball. It is epic stuff.

The program hosts repeated endless lists of statistical improbabilities and then narrowed the problem down to two causes: their “ace” pitchers, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, “have not done the job,” and the team “has no ----- [crude reference to male body parts].” One host made the observation and then each of them repeated it. “That’s their problem! They have no -----!”

Yikes! Have we lost all ability for civil discourse? How have we come to the point where a radio host does not even pretend to maintain a polite tone? At that time of day there must have been some kids listening. Is this what we want to teach them? It’s not just about the language; it’s about respect for human beings.

(And can you imagine one of those guys saying that to Dustin Pedroia?)

To use an over-used phrase, I don’t get it.

Major League ball players are remarkable athletes. They are at the top of their profession. They reach that level because they have great talent and because they are incredibly disciplined.

Last summer, when Jacoby Ellsbury was hurt and couldn’t play, all of the talk show guys (and many ordinary fans) would have been glad to send him packing. The problem, they said, was that he lacked character. This year, he’s not hurt, and he is an American League MVP candidate.

Talk radio only works with negative energy. Sometimes the energy is all negative, from the callers and the hosts. Other times there is some tension. But there is always negative energy.

All of this left me wondering, “Is it possible to be a fan and not be a jerk?”

Is it healthy to believe, as most fans seem to believe, that success is only measured in championships? There is only one winner. Everyone else is a loser. I love sports, but I don’t love that attitude.

On WGBH this morning (I don’t always listen to sports shows) they had a story about the epic collapse of the Red Sox. And the basic explanation for their losing was that they lacked character.

Fans know that athletes have great ability, skill and talent. And fans know that they could never match the athletes at a skill level. But what they (we) want to believe is that if they had the same skill as John Lackey, their character and discipline would make them twenty game winners.

But the truth is that a baseball game is not a morality play. The winners and the losers both play hard. The margin between success and failure is razor thin. Through the month of August, the Red Sox had the best record in the American League. Take away their miserable April and this horrible September, and in the middle they were the best team in baseball.

They could still make the playoffs. And the boys of summer could suddenly reappear.

This September has been painful to watch. But if they do lose and the season ends, “not with a bang, but a whimper,” it won’t be because they lack character. It will be because the other team scored more runs.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How Many More?

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Matthew 5:21-22

The Greek word translated as “hell” is “Gehenna.” It refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, a place where literally, the fires never went out. And those walking by could hear wild dogs gnashing their teeth as they fought over the scraps. If you insult a brother or sister, says Jesus, you deserve to be thrown into the garbage dump outside of the city.

He is speaking metaphorically, of course. He doesn’t really want people thrown into the garbage dump. But the point is that words matter and attitudes matter. We should not commit physical violence, and we should not commit verbal violence.

Some scholars argue that the obscure Greek word “raca,” typically translated as insult, is actually an ancient epithet equivallent to the “f” word as a derogatory reference to homosexuals.

Last May a young teen named Jamey Rodemeyer posted a video as part of the “It Gets Better” project, appealing to younger kids to recognize that life will get better. You will accept yourself and others will accept you, and life will get better. The project was launched by Dan Savage, in an attempt to convince GLBT youth, that suicide is not the answer. Though they may feel like outcasts now, life really will get better.

Somehow, between last May and last week, something went terribly wrong and Jamey Rodemeyer, who had spoken so eloquently of hope for the future, took his own life.

He had gone to his parents and he had spoken to teachers, and he was being helped by a therapist. But it wasn’t enough. The bullying which had seemed under control in the spring, increased over the summer through an internet outlet called Formspring. Among the messages he received, were these:


And, “I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!”

We should be cautious in linking Jamey’s suicide directly to the bullying he received. Bullying, by itself, is usually not enough to “cause” a suicide. Ninety percent of all suicides are connected to mental health or substance issues, and those percentages are true for youth as well as adults.

But that does not change the fact that bullying is a major problem. And the bullying of young people thought to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is a significant part of that larger problem. And it has to stop.

Last winter, when I testified in favor of marriage equality at the State House, it was painful to listen to the testimony of other professed Christians who talked about how they really loved everyone, but the lives of the gay and lesbian people in the room were “an abomination.” Some went on to say that they were sick. As I listened to those adults, I wondered what their children were saying. Isn’t that precisely the message that the cyber-bullies sent to Jamey Rodemeyer?

This summer I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, “I BELIEVE IN THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND HATE.” So do I. But how sad it is that such a bumper sticker could be necessary.

How many deaths will it take 'till we know
That too many people have died?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Troy Davis and the Death Penalty in America

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not use violence to resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
Matthew 5:38-42

Tomorrow evening Troy Davis will be executed in Georgia, for killing an off duty police officer over twenty years ago in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah. There is considerable doubt that he actually committed the crime. Witnesses have said that they were pressured by the police to implicate Davis, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime.

There is a huge world-wide movement for clemency. As the campaign says, there is “Too Much Doubt” to take his life. But honestly, I would be against the execution even if I were certain of his guilt.

In the late 19th century a mid-western preacher, educated at Brown University, preached a Sunday evening sermon series about a young man in tattered clothes coming into a church and confronting parishioners as Jesus confronted his listeners. Henry Sheldon's sermon series became a best-selling book called, “In His Steps,” and it launched the classic question, “What Would Jesus Do?”

As an ethical system, that question may often seem naïve and simplistic. But as a starting point, it is hard to improve on it. When it comes to the death penalty, we know the answer before we have even asked the question.

It is ironic that the United States, which claims to be a “Christian” nation, is one of the last countries still allowing executions. The undisputed world champion in executions is China. The statistics are a closely guarded secret, but they execute thousands per year. Over the past four years, Saudi Arabia is second in executions, followed by Iraq. We come in fourth, just ahead of Pakistan.

It’s hard to feel good about our place on that list.

In case you are wondering, we are number one in the rate of incarceration. We have 743 people in jail for every 100,000 in our population. Russia is number two, but at 577 they trail us by over 22%. In fairness, I don’t think the Chinese are on the list because, as with executions, they don’t make the data public. One of the reasons we have so many people in jail is that we keep them there longer than other countries do for the same offenses. Another reason is that we have more murders (mostly with guns) than other “civilized” nations.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus specifically rejected “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but the next verse frequently leaves modern readers confused. It is often translated as, “Do not resist an evildoer,” which gives the impression that in the face of evil Christians should either passively accept the evil or run away. But the more correct translation is, “Do not use violence to resist an evildoer.” Disciples are called to reject passivity and indifference as well as violence. Instead, we are called to non-violent resistance. In his life, Jesus gave witness to the power of non-violence to confound the powerful and restore dignity to the poor and oppressed.

We need a system of justice that aims at restoration rather than retribution. In the meantime, there is "Too much doubt" to execute Troy Davis.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You Will Always Have the Poor

Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”Deuteronomy 15:10-11
Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish.” (Mark 14:7.)

Shortly before his crucifixion, as he was enjoying a meal with friends, a woman came to Jesus and anointed him with a jar of costly ointment. When some at the table were appalled at the apparent waste and said that it would have been better if the ointment had been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus responded by praising the woman’s generosity and told the group that they would always have the poor, but they would not always have him.

The episode has often been recounted as evidence that we should focus on worshiping Jesus rather than on helping poor people. Of course, that interpretation turns the commandment from Deuteronomy upside down and totally misses the point. In the Gospel stories, Jesus is quoting the commandment from the Torah. He is praising the woman for her generosity and reminding his listeners that they have not yet eliminated poverty and they need to keep working. They (and we) need to “be ungrudging” because there will always be people in need.

The latest figures from the census bureau remind us of the truth of the biblical observation. Unfortunately, those figures also show that we are not doing very well at fulfilling the commandment to help move people out of poverty. Between 2009 and 2010, the number of Americans living in poverty grew by 2.6 million, to 46.2 million. Over 15% of all Americans are living in poverty, the highest percentage in two decades.

This will not be another blog on the gap between rich and poor, but it is worth noting that the median income fell by 2.3%, to $49,455. In constant dollars, that is $3,800 less than the peak achieved in 1999. So the Middle Class is also hurting.

The poverty level is even worse if we go back to the original formula for what we call “poor.” By the standards we used in the 1960’s, about 22% of Americans are now poor.

The good news is that Social Security lifts many elderly out of poverty, and the rate of poverty among seniors did not increase. The bad news is that numbers are skewed toward more childhood poverty. Without unemployment benefits and food stamps, the numbers would be much worse.

Our short term economic need is for job creation. Long term, we will need to deal with the deficit, but short term we need jobs. We can argue about how to get that done. And we should argue about how to get that done. But the census numbers remind us that we need to face the issue and we need to work together to find solutions.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”Luke 21:20-28
(This is the sermon I preached on September 16, 2001, the Sunday after 9/11.)

"When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near."

The Scripture reading this morning is actually an advent text in our lectionary. It is also a Holy Week text, since it comes from the last week of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. He is talking about the second coming. I chose it for today because it speaks of disaster and catastrophe, and I believe it is useful to remind ourselves that this is not the first time that people of faith have faced such things. It is useful to remind ourselves that such catastrophe was not unknown or unanticipated in biblical times.

The events of this week have been tragic and catastrophic. The pain endured has been immense. Our lives have been shaken. there is a real sense in which this kind of war in our global village has changed our world forever. What Jesus tells his disciples is that in times such as these, precisely in this kind of situation, we are called to respond with faith and courage. In the last verse, he tells them, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Stand Up
This is a time for people to stand up; to stand up and think; to stand up and question; to stand up and pray. People have a lot of questions. Obviously, there are a host of questions. There are questions of security and politics, but I am thinking about theological questions. I hear people asking, “How could this happen?”

That question has been asked of many religious leaders in television interviews this week, and most of the answers have been awful. I understand that Billy Graham did a great job at the service in Washington, and I thought the Roman Catholic Bishop of New York was wonderful, but most of the responses were poor. The low point for me came when a woman preacher was asked how God could let this happen, and she said, “You have to understand, we have spent years driving God out of our lives,” and she went on to talk about taking prayer out of our schools. Apparently, she believes that God killed more than five thousand innocent people to teach us that we ought to make kids pray in school. I don’t know what kind of barbarian god she worships, but that is not the God that I know.

Some of us wish that God would work the way King Kong did in the old movie. Do you remember King Kong on the Empire State Building, grabbing the planes out of the air and smashing them on the ground? Some of us wish that God had done something like that last Tuesday, perhaps snatching the planes out of the air and then setting them gently on the ground. But God simply does not work that way.

As I contemplated the events of last Tuesday and began to think about coming together on Sunday morning, I asked myself, “What can I possibly say? And what difference does it make anyway? After something like this, what’s the point?” And then I remembered that this is not the first time that something like this has happened. Twenty-six hundred years ago, when Jerusalem fell and many of the people were carried into captivity in Babylon, the people of Israel still gathered to sing and pray and worship. The faithful gathered for worship after Gettysburg and during the London Blitz. We can think of dozens of examples. People of faith have gathered for prayer and worship in crises large and small all across the centuries.

For many years, we Americans have enjoyed an unprecedented sense of personal and national security. For more than twenty-five years we have been almost untouched by the threat of war. Desert Storm happened far away and with few American casualties. The threat of nuclear war has been almost non-existent for more than a decade. This week we have suffered a huge loss in that sense of security. And some of us have been tempted to equate that loss of personal and national security with a loss of God’s presence. But that is not the security that God provides. At the end of his life, Moses blessed the people of Israel with the promise that “underneath are the everlasting arms.” The promise is not that God will protect us from every evil deed, but that God will always be there.

The reality is that God gives freedom to human beings, and we can use that in a variety of ways. Today I wore my “Palm Sunday” tie. You can see the handprints or palm prints of children. I wore it in part because it feels to me like Palm Sunday. I feel that somber sense that I experience in Holy Week. I also wore it because I have been thinking about what hands do. God gave us hands, and we can use them to do good things or evil things. We have seen both this week.

And Raise Your Heads

"When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads . . . ." This week we have seen human beings at their best and at their worst. Obviously, what the terrorists did on Tuesday was beyond the scope of what most people had contemplated. When I heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, I immediately assumed it was a tragic accident. Even after the second plane, my mind was searching for an explanation. It was literally incomprehensible.

We have also seen people at their best. What amazing courage it must have taken for people to crash that plane near Pittsburgh, rather than let it go on toward a major population center. The heroism of the rescue workers was magnificent. And was it not a minor miracle that the evacuation of the towers was as orderly as it was. In the face of imminent danger, reports say that people were polite and brave. If even a small number had panicked, the death toll might have been doubled or tripled. One man fell and broke his ankle, and four strangers picked him up and carried him down fifteen flights to safety. Seldom have we seen so many individual acts of caring and kindness in such a small space and time.

We have seen people at their best in our nation, but we have also seen them at their worst. There have been hundreds of attacks on Arab-Americans and on people who looked like Arabs. Molotov cocktails have been thrown into business, guns have been fired, threats and epithets have been shouted.

That is not who we are and that can never be who we are. To put it crudely, we are not them. (To be grammatically correct, I should say, “We are not they,” but it doesn’t sound right.) We are not terrorists and we must not let this tragedy turn us into something less than what we are called to be, as Christians and as Americans. We have an obligation to raise our heads, to lift our vision, and to raise our standards.

The Apostle Paul said that we must “hate what is evil and love what is good.” And he’s right. If we only love the good and do not hate the evil, we become merely sentimental. But William Sloan Coffin was also right when he said that we must love the good more than we hate the evil. If we do not love the good more than we hate the evil, we will simply become good haters. We must not become good haters. We must love the good more than we hate the evil.

Because Your Redemption Is Drawing Near.
"When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." After describing a great crisis in the most vivid language, Jesus then tells them that the time of crisis will also be a time of redemption. He can speak with confidence about the future because he knows this has happened in the past.

When Jerusalem fell and the people of Israel were taken into captivity, the prophets and great religious thinkers asked themselves, “How could this happen? How can it be that the holiest city of the very people God has chosen to bring his message to the world has fallen? If this can happen, then how can we trust God?” This was the greatest challenge that Israel had ever faced.

Israel responded to this theological crisis with some of the most brilliant and beautiful literature that human beings have ever produced. The wisdom and depth of thought were amazing. Israel responded, in the words of Professor Walter Brueggemann, “precisely against the data.” It was out of this crisis, says Brueggemann, that Israel gave birth to the concept of hope. It was in these great reflections on the crisis of exile that the concept of hope was first introduced to the world. Hope was Israel’s gift to the world.

Hope is always “against the data.” It is not an analysis which says that things will get better. It is not the cheerful assertion that every cloud has a silver lining. Hope says we trust in God, regardless of the data; regardless of the presence or absence of a silver lining.

You and I are called to reaffirm our hope: our hope in human beings, our hope in our nation, and underneath it all, our hope in God. One of the many posters placed near the destruction at ground zero quoted Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.”
This is a time for people of faith to stand up and raise our heads. This is a time for people of faith to raise our standards higher than they have ever been. This is a time for us to reaffirm the gift of hope and this is a time for us to love the good.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Truth, Sacrifice and Collective Action

Then Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32

The truth may set you free, but it will not make you popular.

My colleague Stacey Lanier writes a blog called, “The Truth Shall Make You Odd,” which she takes from Flannery O’Connor’s revision of the Gospel line: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

The Gospel will make you odd. At least it will put you at odds with the popular culture. You could, for example, discover that you are the only person in the room who isn’t clapping after a governor tells the audience how many people his state has executed during his tenure.

Knowing the truth (and let’s admit that there is a certain amount of arrogance in believing that one really does know the truth) will make you feel odd. Speaking the truth (as best one can) is never popular.

To quote Colonel Jessup (take a minute to imagine the scene and picture Jack Nicholson), “The truth? You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Thomas Friedman’s recent column in the New York Times is titled, “The Whole Truth and Nothing But.” In it he writes about an essay by Kishore Mahbubani, which asserts that dictators are falling and democracies are failing for the same reason, they have not been telling truth.

Moral equivalence is always a slippery slope. In this case, it’s a cliff. Do we really want to equate the big lies of Gaddafi and Mubarak with the failure of the European Union to fully disclose the possible drawbacks to monetary union and fiscal independence? And to be fair, Friedman acknowledges the differences.

Focusing specifically on the United States, Friedman quotes Mahbubani’s observation: “No U.S. leaders dare to tell the truth to the people. All their pronouncements rest on a mythical assumption that ‘recovery’ is around the corner. Implicitly, they say this is a normal recession. But this is no normal recession. There will be no painless solution. ‘Sacrifice’ will be needed, and the American people know this. But no American politician dares utter the word ‘sacrifice.’ Painful truths cannot be told.”

That’s actually not true. Several politicians have called for sacrifice. What they mean is that they want someone else to sacrifice. The most common conclusion is that we can no longer afford programs that benefit our most vulnerable citizens and those programs must be cut back.

But Friedman and Mahbubani are right in saying that no one has really called for shared sacrifice. And my guess is that no one really will. Not really.

For a case study is why that is not a likely political strategy we can go back to Jimmy Carter’s famous energy speech on July 15, 1979. He told the truth about the energy crisis and he called for shared sacrifice. And the initial response was very positive. But it was not long before the call for sacrifice had been re-named “The Malaise Speech,” though he never used that word. Carter was accused of “blaming the American people.” If you read the speech, you will be amazed at how wise and measured and totally non-political it sounds. And if you review the history of the political fallout it precipitated, you will know why no one is likely to go that way again.

Friedman concludes by focusing on President Obama’s jobs speech, which is scheduled for this evening: “My fervent hope is that on Thursday Mr. Obama will set an example and tell the cold, hard truth — to parents and kids. I know. Honesty, we are told, is suicidal in politics. But as long as every solution that is hard is off the table, then our slow national decline will remain on the table. . . . For once, Mr. President, let’s start a debate with the truth. Tell us what you really think will be required to get us out of this stagnation, what kind of collective action and shared sacrifice will be needed and why that can lead not just to muddling through, not just to being O.K., but to restoring American greatness.”

That would be great. Our infrastructure is crumbling and millions of people are out of work. And that might give us a clue about what we need to be doing. But I am not expecting the Hoover Dam, or the Interstate Highway System. Maybe we could fix the I-95 bridge in Pawtucket.

Monday, September 5, 2011

And It Was Good: A Theology for Facebook

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Genesis 1:1-5

There is a tradition which says that when the ancient rabbis were asked, “Why did God give us this mighty poem of creation?” the rabbis answered, “to teach you to keep the Sabbath.”

One could argue that the whole Bible is organized around the Sabbath. But the concept of Sabbath points to something else that is also central to the creation poem which invites us into the scriptures: Creation is good.

The universe is not evil. It is not neutral. It is good.

The poem sings a constant refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” Recognizing this goodness is the beginning of faith. And it is this goodness which makes Sabbath possible. We can trust in the goodness of the universe. We can trust in the goodness of life. The details can be messy. And there is more than enough suffering. But when we see the whole, it is good. And we can rest in this goodness.

Which brings me to facebook. I was not an early adopter. But I am an unapologetic fan.

Of course, it can be annoying and trivial and repetitive. There are times when it can seem like we are reading through an endless stream of smug mini-Christmas letters, with each writer bragging about perfect families or vacations, and telling us how much they have accomplished. And then there is that annoying guy who keeps posting links to a blog you don’t want to read . . . No, wait, that’s me . . .

But mostly, I want to know what my friends are doing. I want to know who climbed on the rocks at Beavertail, or hiked up a mountain, or visited some distant land. I’m glad to know you went to Hilltop for ice cream. I want to see your baby pictures and I want to know when the kids go to college.

When I read these things, the refrain that comes to mind is, “and God saw that it was good.”

And I am grateful to the friends who post links that take me to places near and far where there is suffering and hurt. It is good to be reminded where UMCOR is at work and what we can do to help. It is good to be reminded that we have work to do; that there is a world beyond our trips to get ice cream or the baseball game. And it is good to know that there are those among us who fight the good fight and keep the faith.

“And God saw that it was good.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Things First

Once Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Luke 17:20-21

Last Sunday was the First Sunday in Kingdomtide; at least that’s what it was when I was growing up. In the old United Methodist liturgical calendar the Sundays from the end of August to the beginning of Advent were known as the season of “Kingdomtide.” It was a time to reflect on the biblical promise of the Kingdom of God and to ask ourselves what the world would look like if we were serious about building the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus preached the “good news of the Kingdom of God.” For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was the Gospel. He announced that God was already at work in the world, and we were invited to live in the new reality that God was creating.

The idea of Kingdomtide as a liturgical season began in 1937 and lasted for barely half a century. Kingdomtide just never caught on. Initially, it seemed to have a lot going for it, not the least of which is that stretching out Pentecost, and counting the Sundays after Pentecost, is pretty boring. It also made sense because the fall lectionary texts emphasize building up the Kingdom of God. And after all, Jesus’ whole message was about the Kingdom of God. That was what he called “the good news.” But the season of Kingdomtide was doomed by the combined weight of liturgical purity and the concern (which I share) for looking beyond exclusively masculine terms for God. God is not a King.

When the “new” United Methodist Hymnal was published in 1989, Kingdomtide was gone. I didn’t notice the change for several years. When I saw my error, I briefly surrendered to liturgical conformity and abandoned the season. But it was not long before I changed my mind.

How can we abandon the only liturgical season that is focused on what Jesus actually taught?

Whatever we call it, we need to do it.

Some time in the middle of the last century one of the great preachers said that our greatest task is keeping the idea of the Kingdom of God alive in the human spirit. In the hyper-competitive winner-take-all culture of the twenty-first century, that task is even more urgent. Notions of economic justice, concern for the poor, non-violence, and simplicity are often seen as naïve or un-American. We need to reclaim the language of Jesus.

The Kingdom of God is a profoundly political idea. But it does not translate directly into what we popularly associate with “politics.” It is not about political parties or political labels. As Robert Bellah wrote, "Politics are never ultimate, never absolute. We can and must fight the good fight for a better republic and a better world. But our hope does not depend on any political outcome. Our faith and our hope derive from Jesus Christ, who survives all nations and all politics."

When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he told them to pray first for the Kingdom of God to come on earth. Two thousand years later, that should still be our first concern.