taking the words of Jesus seriously
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Short answer: there is none.

I recently stumbled upon a Les Miserables inspired video parody  in support of a Barack Obama’s second term. I have obvously shared my support of President Obama in the past, but a lesser-known thing about me is that I loves me some Broadway Musicals: In the Heights, Rent, The Book of Morman and Les Miserables being some of my favorites. President Obama AND Jean Valjean together,  yes sir, may I have some more. So not only did I click on over and watch it, but soon found out that I am one-degree of separation from one of the performers.

Anyhoo, here is a sample from One Term More, a video parody of One Day More from Les Miserables

One Term More!

With laws that let ‘em stand their ground,
Republicans are locked & loaded.

Contraception’s now a sin,
Screwing G.M. in the clutch.
Incivility’s a virtue,
Homophobic. Out of touch.
Filibusters. Budget scrums.
Ultrasounds & speculums.
To the Dark Side they’ve succumbed.

After I watched One Term More, even though I thought the lyrics were witty, the satire right on and I generally supported the politics behind the creation of it, I was left with more than a little discomfort. It was the same kind of discomfort that I get when friends of mine in the religious community post pictures, quotes and updates that – to those with whom we find agreement – may be powerful, prophetic and or giggle-inducing, do little to build up community across the chasms of theology,  ideology or politics.

Yeah, I know the smart-ass photo captions are funny and I’m a Debbie Downer.

Now before anyone accuses me of dismissing the power of satire on culture, I do not disagree. Thoughtful satire, witty snark and timely sarcasm can be powerful forces, but it seems that in today’s uber-connected and politically charged climate these tactics serve mostly to galvanizing communities already in agreement in order to be a force against the enemy and they do very little to help build bridges of reconciliation, relationships and commonality. I am willing to be pushed on this, but I simply do not believe bridges are built with snark, satire and sarcasm and I would bet that most satirist are not really interested in reconciliation with those whom they are satirizing.

But it feels so good and makes me happy . . . cue Sheryl Crow.

In no way am I above this, as I too have leaned on what I think is funny in order to take a swipe at someone with whom I disagree. It can be cathartic and, truthfully, when you hit a snark-homer, it feels awesome . . . and when friends retweet, share, comment, etc affirming said awesomeness, all the better. But here is where I experience the tension: as a person of faith, a pastor, one who is committed to the building up of community, I am held to a different standard than the rest of the world. I can be all up in the political battles, but I can choose to engage with a different posture and see the landscape through a different lens. Sure, I want to “win the day” but more importantly, I want human relationships, all human relationships, not just my ideological kindred, to be built up and not further torn apart.

I am not calling on a widespread boycott of all the ironic images with witty political quips ripping the politics of the other party, but I would say that if you choose to post them while also calling for people to reach over and beyond aisles of disagreement, that second part will be harder to believe. Some of you out there have no interest in building bridges and will have a legitimate case for calling me out on the privilege that I have to urge bridge-building, but I stand firm in by belief that those of us in the church can and must model a different way of  living in conflict and disagreement with one another.

This is not a call to weakness, but to graciousness. We can speak truth to power without tearing one another down, we can challenge the beliefs of another without resorting to violent rhetoric and we can stand for human dignity without stripping human dignity from those who may not stand along side of us. Jesus did it all the time, others have done it since then and I refuse to believe that we cannot do it still.

So . . . while I do get a chuckle out of some of what you all post and the serious creativity that politics can inspire, when it comes to choosing how to engage during this political season, I’m going to try my darnedest to muzzle my smart-ass awesomeness in exchange for words of hope-filled idealism.

If you’re up for it, you’re welcome to join me.

And for your viewing and listening pleasure, here is the real One Day More, the 10th Anniversary performance.

Bruce is a native Northern Californian and third generation Chinese/Filipino who has been living in San Francisco since 1998.  Until May, 2011 he was the founding pastor of Mission Bay Community Church, a church of 20/30-somethings in San Francisco, CA and from 2008-2010 was Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He is currently one of those “consultant” types who makes his way, writing, speaking, teaching and drinking coffee. His social networks of choice are  Twitter,  Facebook and his Blog

This article originally appeared on Bruce’s blog at Patheos.com

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About The Author


A 3rd Generation Chinese/Filipino, armchair sociologist, and technology enthusiast Bruce speaks and teaches on faith, race, parenting, and technology in a variety contexts from seminaries to conferences to congregations to pre-schools. While he speaks to both religious and secular audiences, he is committed to living and expressing a Christian faith that is beautifully complex, unimaginably just, and excruciatingly gracious. Bruce is the part-time Transitional Pastor at Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley, CA, and is a Coach and Senior Consultant with the Center of Progressive Renewal. He is the author of four books: "The Definitive-ish Guide for Using Social Media in the Church" (Shookfoil Books, 2012); "But I Don't See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race" (2013); "40 Days, 40, Prayers, 40 Words: Lenten Reflections for Everyday Life" (WJK Press, 2016); and "Rule #2: Don't be an Asshat: An Official Handbook for Raising Parents and Children" (Bacosa Books, 2016). He currently blogs for The Huffington Post, The Working Preacher, and Red Letter Christians. Bruce has been a Presbyterian pastor for nearly 20 years and founded Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco, a church of young, multicultural and progressive Presbyterians. In 2008 he was the youngest person ever elected as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the highest elected office of the 1.8 million member denomination. Bruce received his B.A. in Asian American Studies, Philosophy and Sociology from San Francisco State University (1991), M.A. from San Francisco Theological Seminary (1995), and an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Austin College (2010). Bruce currently lives in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters, and two canines.

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