Dinner with Glenn Beck


On August 28th, in Washington DC Glenn Beck held a rally in DC.    At that rally, he stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and gave a speech to anywhere between 300,000 and 600,000 like minded individuals.    In a passion that is both commendable and rare, he called those gathered to recognize the true problem and issue with this country;  a collective divergence from Faith and honor, in our own lives and in the lives of our leaders.   

For those of you who have had the opportunity to listen to or watch his speech from the steps of the monument on that Saturday, you witnessed a clarion call for a new and different society:  a society built upon God…or at least Glenn Beck’s God.

I will not hide the fact, that I am not a huge fan of Glenn Beck.    When I see him, I often see a level of stubbornness and arrogance that is at times unsettling, even from one who is known to be as stubborn as they come.    In the case of Glenn Beck, I perceive an all too often refusal to see the world and this country as anything but black and white.  

A huge portion of my personal faith journey has been spent in the reconciliation of the grays around me.  As a result of that time spent, I find those who refuse to acknowledge their presence unsettling.   These things that I see in Glenn Beck’s character are the very things I have worked hard to overcome in my own.  Maybe that is part of my dislike for him;  I have spent a good deal of time cautious of looking at things as black and white, and he seems to refuse to see anything but.

But having said that,  I feel that there is a need to clarify two things.   First, I respect both his right to have an opinion, and the passion by which he works to convince others.  You must respect both.

Beck believes that it is a lack of faith that is the primary reason for all discord in this country.   I do believe faith is part of the problem.  Yet, I also believe it is less an issue of faith or lack thereof, than it is the epidemic level of apathy or the lack of caring or passion around us.   For me, it’s the reality that many of us don’t care one way or the other.   In that regard, Glenn Beck is anything but apathetic, and the world could be a better place if everyone had a true passion, and acted upon it (in responsible ways).  Maybe this is our shared, common ground.

Secondly, although my personal politics, being firmly rooted in my faith, are part of who I am, I don’t believe that I possess any corner of the market on truth.     Although my politics, may come across in my sermons, blog postings, or in the occasional and impromptu conversation, I believe it is my responsibility as a pastor not to convince you into buying my political ideology, but rather to convince you of the need to reconcile what you believe with how you live.  It is my responsibility to encourage you to have your faith demonstrated in all aspects of your life, including your politics.  I also believe it is my responsibility, to this community at the least, to been deliberate in demonstrating and clarifying what faith is and what it is not.

Although I do so reluctantly, this message is about calling Glenn Beck out.    This seems imperative because I sensed a shift on that Saturday.   On Saturday he shifted his rhetoric and became less of an entertainer or talk show host.   On Saturday, he took the role of minister and prophet.    There was a not so subtle shift in his message this past week, and it scares me.

It is a scary shift because somewhere over the past few months, he has decided that he will become the filter for what is correct and what is not from a Christian perspective.   At the same time that I am disturbed by the implications of a disc jockey determine what is and isn’t orthodox, I feel that a large chunk of my faith is under a full frontal  attack by Beck and his army of followers.  As my personal theology is strongly Wesleyan, I get the sense that I would be exactly the type of person that Glenn Beck has issues with.

To understand that concern, one must understand what it means to be Wesleyan.  Wesleyans believe that God’s primary attribute is love, and that love acts in every moment to offer salvation, and a return to communion with God.   The Wesleyan believes that God does not determine ahead of time those that go to heaven and those who go to hell, but instead believes that each of us has the opportunity to experience eternal life both now and in the future.  

Wesleyans also have a strong practical bent.   We believe that we become holier as we respond to the empowering, life changing, and radical love of God.   Wesleyans believe that expressing that blessing of love is best done through community and the loving of others God’s creation.   Because of this last statement, we as Wesleyans and Methodists are what Glenn Beck refers to as Social Justice Christians.

Do not be confused, it is precisely the Wesleyan and in turn the Methodist, that he directs the following comment at.  “If you have a priest [or pastor – sic] that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop….And if they say, “yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing”—[realize] I’m in the wrong place”

He has stated that social justice is merely a rallying cry for communism and fascism.    Social justice is, according to Beck, a “perversion of the Gospel”.   Although I acknowledge that there are many different faces of Christianity in our culture and many different ways theology is lived out, I am not sure how anyone could honestly approach this faith and not walk away embracing a strong social component to what we believe.    It is central to our belief, and not code words for “communism” or “Marxism”.  

Mr. Beck:  If you come to Asbury Church in Chesterfield, NH and I am preaching from it’s pulpit;   you will most certainly believe that you have found yourself in that proverbial “wrong place”  

Too often, Beck strikes me as one who uses faith to divide, rather than unite.  When recently asked if Beck regretted calling the president a racist over the airwaves, Beck said he was; instead he should have called him an adherent of liberation theology.  Liberation theology is probably something many have never heard of, and as such it probably is something that is easy to be afraid of.    Beck called out liberation theology as “Marxism disguised as religion”.   

Again, Beck hits close to home.    Although I am not one who completely embraces this particular theology, I am and have been strongly influenced by it.  You could say that I am strongly Wesleyan with hints of liberation theology thrown in for good measure.  Apparently, you need to be cautious about who you tell that too, in fear that you might reveal my deeply hidden revolutionary side.  I can assure you, there are no underground meetings of anarchists and communists meeting in the church fellowship hall or downstairs in my basement.

Before you start looking around for my communist pamphlets or start to worry that I might be one of those Nazi’s that Beck warns you about, we need to be clear on what liberation theology is and what it is not.  Liberation theology at its most basic is a critique of the world through the eyes of the poor.    Contrary to what Beck would have you believe, the liberation theologian doesn’t see themselves as a victim but rather feels called to be an advocate for the poor or oppressed.  

Liberation theology sees Christ as ultimate liberator, or the one who will free us from all types of slavery and bondage whatever form it takes:   personal, communal, or societal.   The liberation theologian see the stories of Christ turning the economic, political, and religious systems on its ear, and attempts to live out their faith in the same model.   

Mr. Beck, I want also want to know how helping, advocating for, or standing along the side of the oppressed or impoverished is anything other than purely Christian.   How is working in a food pantry, or ministering to the homeless, or visiting prisons not 100% in line with our faith?    How does actively standing up against those things that oppress our neighbor, whatever they may be, not acting and being just like Jesus?

He said on his radio station the following in regards to the Gospel: “You want to help out? You help out. It changes you. That’s what the gospel is all about: You.”   

Mr. Beck that is not what our Gospel is about.      

If I could meet, or speak with Glenn Beck, perhaps at an Olive Garden over the never ending pasta dinner, I would in a heartbeat.   I believe that there is some chemical reaction that happens in pasta sauce, which allows for barriers and inhibitions to come down.   I believe it’s that chemical that explains why eating at a table full of Italians is never dull, and often is not safe.   I would love the opportunity to share a pan of lasagna with Glenn Beck.

One of the greatest tools in my faith journey has been to talk with people who hold contrary beliefs to mine, but are not afraid to have a respectful discussion of our differences.    When I attended Asbury Seminary, known for being one of the most conservative institutions in the country, my beliefs were consistently challenged, and as such I grew. I have even sensed a shift in some of my beliefs as part of those debates and discussions.

Over pasta, I would have a lot of questions for Beck, not least of which would involve asking him about his feelings on some of the statements of those that follow him.    Since the rally of this past Saturday, I have watched several videos and interviews of the people who attended, and I think that in the end some of the sentiments relayed through them are exponentially scarier than anything that Beck could say from the pulpit.  Let me offer you a small snippet:

  • “This is a Christian country, and if you want to take my faith, I will give it to the president, one bullet at a time”
  • “This is a Christian country, we don’t need Muslims here, Let them build their mosques in Pakistan.   We should lock arms, grab our guns, and walk them out of our country”
  •  “Obama isn’t Christian, he is Muslim, and that means he isn’t even American”
  • “Illegal immigrants are destroying the last great Christian nation on earth, why aren’t Christians using force to stop that?”
  • “My faith requires me to stand up, and fight to the death to keep what is mine”

 

I am forever saddened regarding this one truth;  that we have lost a generation of Americans from the church, and the loudest impression of our faith is made by the crackpot and the misinformed.   What they see, and what they learn about our faith, doesn’t come from watching us working in the food pantry, spending countless hours volunteering so that there is a future for our faith and church, or standing beside a fellow parishioner as they struggle through dark times.    The message that is loudest is so often from this subset of our faith.  If the only impression of Christianity I had was from them, I wouldn’t just not believe, I would run from our faith.

Another reason for this message is simply because there is a reality that clergy have to shoulder an enormous portion of the blame for the existence of this subset of people.   We ignored, and we continue to ignore, the hijacking of our faith.   I have heard some clergy even espouse such non-Christian garbage.  At the same time, we have left the people without the fullness of our faith, so as a result they left our churches, looking to embrace anyone who can provide easy answers.   We forgot to tell them that there are no easy answers.  We need reminding that spreading the truth of our faith, starts at the pulpit…moves to the pew…and ends at the dinner tables and conference rooms of our community.  We need to take back our faith.   We need to learn to be and to do this faithful living thing better.

Recently, I cam across a great illustration, which another pastor used to make a very similar point.

I am sure many of us remember the popular 1991, movie Hook, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams.   The movie answers the question of what happened to Peter Pan long after the original story ends.    It turns out that Peter decides to leave Never-Neverland, and step into the real world, because he wants to experience the joy of fatherhood.     Over time, Peter loses his way.   He becomes a corporate lawyer, and is glued to his cell phone.  He quickly builds this gap between him and his kids, and the family starts to struggle.  In a real sense, he gets trapped in the treasures and riches of his new life, and forgets his dreams and his true identity.  He moves from being a lost boy into full fledged pirate.

While attending a ceremony to mark the expansion of the orphanage, that an old friend named Wendy Darling is running, Captain Hook kidnaps his children in revenge.    Tinkerbell, played by Julia Roberts, in turn kidnaps Peter, and shuttles him back to Never-Neverland.  Once there he is called to save a place and a people he doesn’t understand.   Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, grows and becomes lost along the way.

The movie shows his comedic struggle to remember, and to reclaim his happy thoughts, which once re-found would give him not only the ability to fly again, but to defeat Hook for good.   In the end he remembers, he defeats Hook, and realizes the happiness of being a father and how close he was to losing it all.    In the end, Wendy says to Peter: “It looks like your adventure days are over”.    To which he replies:  “To live would be a great adventure, too”

When I think of the form of Christianity that is being broadcasted so frequently, when I hear broken theology, or when I hear the comments of the ignorant or misinformed, I see people of faith, who have forgotten how to fly.  They have become too wrapped up in perceptions and rhetoric, that they have lost their imaginations and they have lost the ability to dream.   The have lost out on becoming something better, and something infinitely more wonderful.  There were countless, flightless Peter Pans in Washington last weekend.  There are countless flightless Peter Pans all around us.

It is not hard to understand why.   Faith costs.  We are constantly reminded by Jesus that there is a cost to our faith.    The cost is not the money that we stick in the offering plate, or the cost of time and energy spent volunteering or serving the church.    The cost of following Jesus, the true cost of discipleship, is seen in the things that Jesus asks us to put aside, for his name sake.

It is certainly hard to walk through the day to day of this world and at times not to be afraid.   Our economy is precarious at best, and we have threats at every turn.   If it’s not the danger of the random criminal or terrorist, it’s cancer, unemployment, arthritis, or loneliness.

In fear, those that live outside of the faith scramble and build fences.   They build fences to keep what is currently out, out and what is currently in, in.   Their mantra becomes “good fences build good neighbors”.      They become focused on keeping the kingdom they have built safe and protected.    Too often they see that stranger on the horizon as a threat, and start fighting with all their might to keep them from entering their world.

On a side, and oddly appropriate note, did you know that this quote has nothing to do with building barriers between us and our neighbors?    Good fences make good neighbors because it was once tradition and common practice that neighbors build property dividers and stone walls together, as an act of friendship and community.   

So the building  of good fences builds bonds between strangers.    Building good fences builds good conversations.   The cost of discipleship today is measured in the risk that is realized when you tear down fences. The truth is, just like those missed conversations at the fence, we are building walls that keep  out both the true treasures of world and our faith.  Today, we need to be about tearing down fences.  

To do so, we need to fully understand that our faith is costly.   Faith is risky.   Faith makes us uncomfortable.   Faith shakes up the status quo.   Faith calls us to a different life with different priorities.    Faith makes us think.  It makes us think twice.  Faith makes us face the questions from a different perspective.    Faith makes us uneasy.   Faith makes us question what is important.  Faith makes us start looking at the person on the other side of the pew, wall, or fence with the same love, hope, and respect that we find when we look in the mirror.   Faith is costly. 

There is a famous quote; “the opposite of love is not hate, its apathy.”  Faith is the antidote to apathy, and what returns us back to love.

Today, I pray for those that stubbornly put a stake in the ground, and refuse to release their grip from it.    I pray for those who might be like that subset of Becks’ followers that might be the type to throw out the quotes that I just mentioned.

My prayers do not end there.  I also pray for those in the Methodist Church who are guilty of it too.   I pray for all those who cannot see beyond their own end of the political or theological spectrum.  I pray for those who chase after an “ology” or an “ism”, blindly and without regard to who they step on or roll over.

I pray for those who sit among us at church functions, whether in Chesterfield or across the state, who profess faith, but chase after anyone or anything that might provide a quick or easy answer.  I pray for those among us who are just as lost as those whose comments were caught on video last Saturday.

In the end, there is enough common ground that a conversation can be had.  There is enough pasta to provide the catalyst for a peaceful debate.   There was once an organization of Christians dedicated to encouraging personal prayer in school called “Meet You at the Flagpole”.    Maybe a “Meet you at the Fence” group would be more valuable.  

There is one quote that sums up that common ground and perhaps this message perfectly: 

 

” Only those afraid of the truth seek to silence the debate, intimidate those with whom they disagree, or slander their ideological counterparts”.  

 

Glenn Beck said this over the radio, just a few months back.

  • Today, I pray that the conversation will happen, and I pray that fences will come down.   
  • Today, I pray that one day hope, faith, and civility return to our country, riding on the back of tolerance, love and respect.
  • Today, I pray that each of us once again, can learn to fly.

  

Thanks be to God, Amen.

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