Staying out of Politics

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THE UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH
To all who read this diploma
Greetings in the Lord,
Steven John Pankey
a very worthy young man, an alumnus of this University who
has conducted himself uprightly and who has duly and lawfully
completed the course of study leading to the degree of
Doctor of Ministry
We the faculty and Senate have by unanimous consent advanced to this degree
and have given and granted to him all rights, privileges, and honors which in
any way pertain to it.

One of the great privileges that comes with being a highly educated, white, middle-class, Christian in 21st century America is the ability to ignore, by and large, what is happening “out there.”  Several years ago, I gave up watching the news for Lent, and it was freeing.  No longer did I have to carry the stress of the 24 hour news cycle.  No longer would I be addicted to the adrenaline rush of a breaking news alert.  No longer would the vitriol of talking heads impact my life.  It was as delightful as it was sinful.

The reality is, my life isn’t much impacted by what happens in the news.  My retirement is far off, so the daily fluctuations of the stock market aren’t my concern.  My health insurance is really good and it is mandated that my employer pay for it.  My children go to an affluent school with plenty of resources and have never known what it means to be in want.  It doesn’t much matter what happens in the world around me, and increasingly, I’m realizing how privileged a way this is to live.

The same is true for my preaching as well.  Ever since I listened to a Convocation sermon at VTS that blamed George Bush for Hurricane Katrina – not the aftermath, but the very storm itself, at least that’s how I hear it – I have subscribed to the school of thought that says politics have little, if any, place in the pulpit.  My congregations have been mostly white, mostly middle class, mostly educated folks.  They have run the political spectrum from Tea Party Republican to Bleeding Heart Democrat.  They have, with few exceptions, been quite content for me to not get into those topics which make us uncomfortable.  Additionally, I take seriously my call to minister alike to young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor, and so I work hard to teach people how to think theologically and come to their own discerned conclusions.  I preach the text first, and only with great caution consult the newspaper.  In light of current events, however, I’m beginning to see just how privileged a posture this is as well.

As a preacher, I don’t need to make direct claims about the President of the United States, that’s beyond my constitutionally protected (OK, IRS statute protected) status.  I do, however, realize that I can’t stay out of the political system in which we live and move and have our being.  I have to be willing to name sin, no matter where I see it, and right now, that sin that needs to be named is racism, a topic which some see as political.  I need to name it, not for my congregation, for my blog readers, or so I can look good on social media, but rather, I need to name it for myself so that I can bring it to the cross, repent from my silence that perpetuates it, and begin to be transformed so that I can be a part of the transformation that God has begun in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As I wrote on Monday, if ever there was a week to deal with this, to venture into that which some will consider politics, this is the week to start.  I continue to pray for you, dear reader, as I hope you will for me.

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The 7 Experiment – Reflections on Food

In case I haven’t said it enough, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foley is a cool place to hang out.  From our oldest members to the nursery-aged kids, there is just a lot going on in the lives of the saints that call Saint Paul’s their spiritual home.  One of the coolest things that has happened here recently is the growing interest in lay-led Christian Education.  We currently have two groups that have started, on their own, based on the interests of a few people.

The one that is impacting me the most is a book study on “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” by Jen Hatmaker, mostly because of my wife’s direct involvement in it.  Let me tell you, these young adults are crazy.  Each week, they (and by extension I) will engage in a discipline aimed at extricating ourselves from the rat race that is “work more to buy more.”  I’ll reflect here each week on the experience.

Food.  Why on earth did she start with food?  Here’s this week’s deal, eat only 7 foods.  Thanks to the scheduling gods, SHW and I had a big house blessing/warming party on Sunday afternoon before this started, and it didn’t seem to be within the spirit of the experiment to let a bunch of perishable foods go to waste in the name of simplifying our lives.  So, aside from the left over veggie tray (and the chocolate cake at SHW devoured in 2 days and the open bottle of white wine that I tried to ration over the week), my list of 7 items was: oatmeal, honey, whole wheat bread, peanut butter, apples, chicken, and zucchini.

We’ve all had the experience of taking a mission trip and seeing these people who have next to nothing: one change of clothes, beans and rice once a day, fetid water, and a tin shack; and they are joyful people, eager to share what they do have and love without reservation.  My week of 7 foods made me realize that they are able to live like that because they haven’t been made evil by the demon of privilege.  What eating only simple foods did to me was make me grouchy, with absolutely no patience for my children.  I was hungry, mostly because by Wednesday, I couldn’t imagine shoving another apple down my throat, but that’s not an excuse.  I’m used to eating and drinking what I want, when I want, and I’ve gotten nice and fat because of it.  I lost 10 pounds this week, and could stand to lose 20 more, but the real take home for me was to realize that entitlement ain’t just a government program.  Instead, it lives deep within me as I expect to be satisfied at all times.  I could probably do with less satisfaction.  This week has helped me realize that, and hopefully, it will produce fruit in the weeks, months, and years to come.

This week’s experiment is clothing – 7 articles.  How hard can that be?