Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Giuliani, Obama, and What Love Looks Like

President Obama doesn't love America. So said former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani in a speech I assume most everyone has heard about by now. It stirred up something of a political firestorm, and so Mayor Giuliani has further explicated his comments in a number of interviews, explaining why it is he thinks Obama does not love the USA.

People make judgments about whether or not someone loves something or someone all the time. It's not uncommon to hear young children accuse their parents of not loving them. The accusation is rarely true, but no doubt is is believed by many a child who has been punished or denied something she wants.

One of the reasons Giuliani gave for his judgment about the president had to do with Obama not being enough of a cheerleader. The president doesn't say how great America is frequently enough, criticizes the country too often, and even seems to think that other countries are exceptional, too.

What does love say and do? Where is the correct balance between cheerleading and criticizing, between defending and correcting? Look at parents and how they raise their children, and you'll see a lot of different answers.

I thought about such questions as I read the day's lectionary passages, verses filled with criticism, much of it scathing, for the people of God, the chosen people whom God loves. They are a stubborn people with hardened hearts who always go astray, at least according to God. When Jesus cleanses the Temple, accusing its leaders of making it a marketplace, his words are no harsher than those God has used with Israel on numerous occasions. And if you want more, read the gospel of Mark and look at how harshly Jesus speaks to the 12 disciples.

But in our highly partisan culture, harsh criticism is sometimes reserved for the other side. And if WE are good and THEY are bad, then we need to praise us and criticize them. In church congregations, this sort of thinking may contribute to a queasiness about prayers of confession. "They seem so negative," someone said to me. Yet how does one talk about a Savior if THEY need saving?

I've seen church members make much the same judgment as Giuliani, announcing that their pastor doesn't love them because he or she isn't enough a cheerleader and doesn't tell them how great they are. I wonder if this isn't related to partisan styled US and THEM thinking.

I suspect that a lot of pastors struggle with finding the right balance in loving their congregations, much as parents struggle. No doubt we often get it wrong. And I imagine that a lot of congregations struggle with finding the right balance in loving their pastors, much as parents struggle. No doubt they often get it wrong.

That said, all of us probably need to be careful in making judgments about others' love. Mayor Giuliani ended up looking petty and foolish, a bit like an upset toddler in his evaluation of Obama. We'd probably all do better to focus on getting our loving right.

Click to learn more about the lectionary.

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