Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is Ignorance Bliss?

Is it better just not to know?  To live in ignorance of basic facts?  To naively let others make decisions for you? 

As I continue to let the surprisingly paralyzing grief of my mother's death work its way through my soul, I sit and wait and read and think and pray. I also ponder the latest religious scandal to hit the news:  An Atlanta pastor who has given himself the title of Bishop, Eddie Long, has been accused of participating in the very acts he has frequently preached against, i.e., male-on-male sexual activity.  Four young men whom he had mentored have filed lawsuits against him now, claiming he engaged in such activities with them.  

This man has built a huge church.  He lives in significant luxury, driving a $350,000 car. He's invited into the highest places of political power. According to a National Public Radio article, Long preaches that Jesus was not poor, and that riches show God's blessing. He was quoted as saying this: 

"We're not just a church; we're an international corporation," he said. "We're not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can't talk and all we're doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around the world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation."

Yeah. Wow. The seduction of riches and power wins again. What an eloquent putdown of pastoral work!  In the act of baptizing a baby, we bumbling bunches of preachers, lacking Long's silver-plated tongue, stand before our often poverty-hit parishioners and remind them that God's covenant extends even to the most humble, helpless babies.  We speak of our commitment to each other to help raise those children in such a way that they grow up knowing they are surrounded by the love of God.  We make these promises so that when these children do grow up, they have the kingdom of God so integrated into their hearts and minds and habits and personalities that they will at some point be able to confirm for themselves the faith that had been handed down to them by their parents and their faith community.  

That's the work of the church.  The church is not called to be an "international corporation."  The church has one mission:  to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  A disciple is one who models his or her life on the the life of the Sent One, the one coming from God to show us the way.  And I dare you to show me anywhere in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus that such a way is one of self-absorbed riches, comfort, political power, and disdain for the least, the littlest, the lost and the last.  

This is where I come back to the question of ignorance.  Without knowing the basics about the life and teachings of Jesus, people are easily seduced by the false promise of riches that power-hungry leaders offer.  So they pour money into the bloated pockets of predatory preachers in the vain hope that they themselves might get a share of the money train.  

Jesus was not rich.  He died in poverty.  He reminded people that foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but he himself didn't have a place to lay his head.  Knowing the trap of riches, he told a rich young man that he needed to sell everything he had in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And the life, death and resurrection of this obscure, poor itinerant preacher changed the world.  

You really want to follow Jesus?  Start reading the Bible for yourself.  Quit expecting some magical charismatic person to wave the magic wand and stuff your pockets with money so you can stuff your backside into a luxury car.  There are real, everlasting riches to be had:  riches of redeemed souls, being set free to live, forgiven by God, and forgiving of others.  That is wealth.

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