I return to Lakeland the first week of December. During Sabbatical I went through five “tours.” Here they are in short chronological order:  1 Politics 2 Fallen Empires 3 Calvinism 4 Pasadena 5 Writer. I will just handle one per blog entry. Here’s the first one.

First (1), I took a political journey in my soul. I remodeled my home office after 22 years, and while I did the carpentry work I thought about politics. It is so easy to be washed over and rolled in the political surf these days. Everyone’s tired of it, and yet can’t stop thinking about it. The liberal/conservative divide has widened as measured by a recent Pew Research article. This is nothing new to anyone. But here’s a sabbatical journey thought of mine: I am not convinced both sides want to FORCE the other side to believe like them as much as both sides want to be one united nation. Deep within the American idea is that we want to be ONE. And we are upset with each other and ourselves because we can’t seem to be ONE. We may say we value the right to free speech and that we may “fight for your right to say it” (Thomas Paine), but human nature wants the tribe to be unified. And we are upset because our divide is greater these days.

Here is what you may not know about me: Jesus ruined my conservative core values. (“You’re conservative?”) Lakelanders, if you want to discuss it with me then let’s get together. I’ve preached it and taught this over the years. I’ve gotten in trouble from both of you, conservative and liberal political adherents. Blame Jesus, here’s my primary change in my conservative core (and by conservative I really do not mean politics; I mean worldview). I no longer believer in the primacy of the autonomous private individual. Sounds fancy, huh? This means I don’t think salvation, church, heaven, politics, family, marriage, money, property, and morals are private matters. Help me out with a bit of ad hoc research if you can: Tweet me a bumpersticker that includes CHURCH in its list of values. I see plenty of “God-Family-Fishing,” “God-Family-Guns,” “Faith-Family-Friends,” “Jesus-Family-My Dog…” bumperstickers. But I have yet to find one that includes Church.

I have heard it over the decades, and I do not know who first stated it, but the conservative mind considers the individual primary; and the liberal mind considers the group primary. Both MINDS shaped the founders of America. Jefferson and Adams were well-versed in the opposing philosophical views of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which BOTH heavily influenced the shaping of America. Google them.

Anyway, my political tour did not change my mind, but just amplified what Jesus taught me: Matthew 4:4 “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” As a conservative I thought it was all about the individual – me and my bread, my salvation, my money, my kids, my house, my car… We even read the words of Jesus as though it was written to private single individuals. Everything I see in scripture is about the community, the church, the communion of saints. Here’s the ONENESS deal-sealer from Paul:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4 

One everybody. Not you. Not me. Us. You ain’t no autonomous private individual Christian! Thomas Merton said, “No man goes to heaven all by himself.” Can you buy into that? The Lord’s Table is a single loaf and single cup shared by an entire community of believers, gathered under the Faith Creed of the church. I used to think church was optional. Then decades ago I read about the man who won his US Supreme Court case, deciding that he was a church all until himself (he didn’t want to work on Sundays, so he sued his employer on the grounds that he is a church of one – he didn’t go to church however). Maybe I began to change my mind way back then.

But I really began to change my opinion after I started Lakeland and people just left the church, like they had decided it wasn’t right for them. Either I ticked them off, or I didn’t grab their attention, or I didn’t care enough – any of a dozen perceived failures on my part or someone else at Lakeland. I began to ask, “Well if anyone can just leave whenever they feel like it, then what’s the point of Church?” Bumperstickers tell all. Church doesn’t make the short list – and it sure won’t make it on a liberal automobile’s bumper as well. But this “private faith/private church” thing goes all the way back 500 years to the Reformation and the Renaissance. And I will explain that on “tour #2, Fallen Empires.”

To wrap this up, take this quiz. The quiz question is this: “What parts of life does Jesus have say-so over?”

Money? Family? Gun ownership? How I vote? Faith? Prayer? Sex? Food? Tattoos? Household possessions (sofas, style of car/truck, shoes, lawnmower, haircare…)? eating out? charitable giving? cell phone conversation? Comments-I-choose-to-respond-to-blogs? 

Now, same quiz but simply change the Question to “What parts of life does Church have say-so over?” That’s your bumpersticker.