Category Archives: Culture/Politics

One of Them

Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another. – Jean Paul

“I got a way out, I got an idea — I figured out a way to get ridda all the lesbians ‘n’ queers. Ya build an electric fence…”

You’ve probably heard this quote in the last few weeks, or perhaps you’ve seen a video of a sermon posted to YouTube. It’s a bit old by now… ancient, really, by modern standards. But this topic has been bouncing around in my head and on my computer screen for a while now.

A North Carolina pastor decided to “solve” the “problem” of homosexuals through what amounts to concentration camps. In the firestorm of protest and controversy, he is (as of this writing) holding to his guns about what he has said on the subject of homosexuality. From the sermon video, “The Bible’s agin’ it, God’s agin’ it, I’m agin’ it, and if ya got any sense, you’re agin’ it too.”

A noted theologian and leader in arguably the most dominant Christian denomination in America expressed his concerns on this pastor’s frightening “solution,” yet also felt the need to state that homosexuality is the key moral issue facing America at this time.

Notable media attention has shown us kids who commit suicide rather than deal with the bullying and mockery they face when their sexual preference is made public. We read about school districts whose vague policies on bullying and sexual preference instill fear in the teachers and staff instead of providing healthy avenues of correction and discipline. We see that even though homosexuals are now permitted to serve openly, part of the “deal” that enabled that policy change was a less-publicized agreement to prevent these servicemembers, once married, from enjoying the housing benefits that heterosexual couples (and even single military members) are afforded without a second thought. And a few weeks prior to the “electric fence solution” grabbing the spotlight, we had another pastor talking about physically knocking sense into a child that acts outside normal cultural and societal standards, gay or straight.

And if that all wasn’t enough, we have Westboro Baptist Church running around letting everyone know that “God hates fags.” Even though we might try to distance ourselves from Westboro, or claim that they’re not really “true Christians,” the rmajority of the world will see their signs and hear “Baptist Church” instead of “fringe element.” Clearly homosexuality is the bright blip on the Christian moral radar lately.

Like anything else, there are debates about the Bible and more importantly the New Testament being against homosexuality and to what degree. That’s not my point here.

My point is that when the Christian community focuses so strongly on one particular issue, we make a tremendous tactical blunder. We try to win one battle, and risk losing the war.

In fact, we forget exactly what war we’re supposed to be fighting.

In the movie, “We Were Soldiers,” a young lieutenant is leading his patrol through a patch of jungle in Vietnam, when his men come under fire from the enemy. Brash and hungry for glory, he tells his men to charge the enemy position. Then suddenly, his men realize that they are cut off from their allies and surrounded on all sides. Memory fails me, but I believe in the end only a couple of members of the lieutenant’s unit survive the difficult night.

It seems to me that the Church often charges hills, ready to “really impact society for Christ.” If we don’t anticipate some triumphant “victory” over the cultural “evil” in our crosshairs, we at least seem convinced we can snatch a few souls from the jaws of hell if only we tell everyone how horrible ________ (fill in the blank) is.

Years ago, it was heavy metal, and Dungeons and Dragons, and MTV. Then it was Harry Potter and Pokemon and video games. Somewhere in there, I remember ouija boards and Magic the Gathering cards. All along the way, abortion has been a key issue. And for almost as long as I can recall, anything to do with homosexuals was on or near the top of the list of spiritual dangers.

Every time, the Christian community (at least what I was familiar with) would get up in arms over the wicked nature and powerful influence of these various subjects. We would talk about how evil they were, and how misguided or intentionally evil those were who got involved in these different activities.

Look back over the list; how many of these controversies were dramatically affected by Christian protests and warnings to anyone willing to listen?

It’s wasted effort that misses the point of the Gospel.

I get the point many of my fellow believers are making: we cannot simply ignore sin. Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t say to the woman caught in adultery, “Hey, no big deal, I know your heart, go on, keep living this way, I love you.”

He said, “Go and sin no more.” We can’t ignore that.

But I think some of my fellow believers forget where we came from. Growing up in church or in a “Christian” environment, growing up without doing any of the “really bad” sins, maybe it’s easy to look at other people and say, “Wow, you are LOST.” Maybe it seems right to look at them as dirty rotten sinners or something.

It’s not right. We can’t look at others that way. Or at least, we can’t look at the rest of the world as anything other than what we ourselves were before Christ changed us.

All of us are in the same category, according to the Bible. Nobody gets by on their good deeds and winning personality. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All can be justified freely by grace through faith in Christ.

It doesn’t really matter what I did or who I was.

The focus is on who God is and what He’s done.

And when I become a Christian, it still isn’t about who I am now and what I’m doing now. It’s still about who He is and what He’s doing.

So instead of seeing me and mine as “us” in a battle against “them,” whoever “they” may be this year…

How about starting to see myself as “one of them” instead?

Because even though the pastor in North Carolina forgets this, when we start building electric fences for sinners, he and I are going to belong inside one too.

Seven is Right Out

Yum!

“How many shots are we allowed to put in the cup?” the Starbucks barista asked her manager. “Six, right?”

I wasn’t sure whether this question really did have the legal and liability overtones I thought I was picking up, but then the manager confirmed it.

“Yes, six is the limit. But really, someone could just buy another cup with six shots if they wanted more. But at that point, it’s on them, not us.”

Clearly, there’s a line Starbucks draws so that they don’t get blamed for your heart exploding.

I almost hear Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. “Six shall be the number of the count, and the number of the count shall be six. SEVEN IS RIGHT OUT.”

NO.

I’m reminded of New York City’s plan for the 16-ounce limit on sugared pop (or soda, or soft drinks, or Coke, depending on where you’re from). I’m also reminded of a blog post by one of my friends from work, and since he has a lot of strong opinions on a variety of subjects, I’m going to throw his link in here.

The fact is, stupid people are going to keep being stupid, even if we legislate the wear of rubber helmets and the installation of padding on all sharp corners. I’m not interested in a nanny state holding my hand everywhere I go.

Politics and cultural observation aside, I’m thinking instead of my love affair with coffee.

My wife says I’m an addict, and I hold to the adage that “you’re only an addict if you want to stop but cannot do so.” I have no desire to stop drinking coffee, so by default it cannot be proven that I have a lack of willpower regarding coffee. So there.

We’ll leave the “addict vs. afficionado” argument aside for now too.

“Everything in moderation,” my wife would say. Indeed.

Given the six shot conversation, maybe I’m the wrong one to bring up this subject.

Coffee at one point had such a hold on me that I would need to make a pot of it when I got home from work–this after drinking a pot or more at the office. If I didn’t, I would fall asleep on the couch at 5 PM. This condition made me quit for a while, until I could get to a relatively normal response and desire for caffeine (as opposed to a driving need).

“Everything is permissible,” the Apostle Paul wrote, quoting prevailing wisdom. Then he countered by adding, “but not everything is beneficial, and I will not be mastered by anything.”

We have freedom that permits us to do all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean we should do everything we’re permitted to do. Just because something is legal or possible, that doesn’t mean it’s right.

And yet, righteousness can be its own destructive influence:

What came to mind in this experience is a verse in Ecclesiastes that has always interested me, in the realm of “too much of a good thing.”

15-17I’ve seen it all in my brief and pointless life—here a good person cut down in the middle of doing good, there a bad person living a long life of sheer evil. So don’t knock yourself out being good, and don’t go overboard being wise. Believe me, you won’t get anything out of it. But don’t press your luck by being bad, either. And don’t be reckless. Why die needlessly?

18 It’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it.

Of course the Bible tells you that being wicked is going to get you trouble. I find it interesting that the Bible also tells you being overly good can also lead to trouble. More formal translations suggest that you will “ruin yourself” by being overly righteous.

The very thing I want to do is put at risk from trying too hard to make it happen.

I come across “affected” (thanks, Simon Cowell) rather than “authentic.” Most of us can probably think of that acquaintance who tries too hard to be accepted, and never really is–not because they’re a bad person, but because they’re frustrating in this respect.

Back when I had to quit caffeine, the coffee I relied on to give me energy became a crutch–without it, I had no energy.

Likewise, in the Christian community, surrounding ourselves with “good” things and staying away from “worldly” influences makes sense, to a point. We’re called to be “in the world but not of it,” so we can’t let our actions and decisions mirror the culture around us.

However, we also need to make sure we’re “in the world, and not out of it.” Just like I can order another cup with more espresso, I can also fill every minute of every day and every conversation or interaction with other people with Christian this and Christian that.  But that becomes far too much of an arguably good thing.

We’re not Amway… we shouldn’t need to act like a pyramid scheme.

We can’t let our church walls become a fortress to keep the big, bad, eeeeevil World out. Otherwise we risk failing at the very purpose behind the lifestyle we’re called to live out.

Live “out” like out in the open, where other people are, the ones that don’t already agree with everything I believe.

Here’s hoping for authentic living and honest interaction with the world around us.

Pride

PRIDE

Disclaimer: This is a *fictional* story, not an actual personal experience. I hope to do something like this some day, and to live out love like this every day. But this is just a short story.

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” – James 4:6 MSG

I step out of the van and ignore the immediate hostility of passers-by.

Two cross-dressers glare at me as they head toward the parade route. A man is crawling on the pavement in leather chaps; he has a leash around his neck, and another man is ‘walking’ him. He barks at me.

These are among the more tame participants. It strikes me as odd that in such a crowd, I am the one who gets strange looks.

If I am embarrassed at all now, well… it’s going to get a lot worse.

I make my way to the edge of the crowd and try to squeeze through to the front. I need to be visible if this is going to be of any value. When people turn and see me, they assume they know what I’m here to do. I get jostled and shoved a few times as I gently push my way through. “Bigot,” one person says. “Homophobe! Go home!”

“Get out of the closet already, Bible-thumper.”

The police are out in force. Pride parades often get a lot of attention, not all of it good. That one church from Kansas is lined up farther down the street. Some local churches have put up their own signs, not willing to be outdone by these famous out-of-towners with the “God hates fags” posters.

The cops are busy keeping people marching in the parade from getting into fights with the various protest groups. None of them notice when I finally reach the rope that marks the edge of the parade route.

I stand at the edge and lean out, a Jesus in Teva sandals, a wig, and a polyester white robe with a red sash I borrowed from our church drama team. The beard is mine, scraggly but full enough after two months of growth.

The first few people to see me react in anger, swearing, shaking fists. “You don’t belong here,” they yell, along with some other choice words. People in the crowd throw half-empty Starbucks cups and large sodas and McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Ketchup and mustard splatter across my white sleeve.

No one throws rotten fruit any more. It’s not readily available, and it’s too expensive.

The folks marching in the parade are not happy to see me, either. Rainbow signs with witty slogans are shoved in my face. I don’t know if they’re meant to block my view with their message, or block the view of the other marchers so that no one else has to see another religious jerk condemning everyone in sight.

“What’s another name for the Crucifixion?” one guy asks the girl next to him, loud enough for me to overhear. She shrugs.

“A good start,” he says.

She laughs, and glances my way, her smile turning into a sneer.

I reach out a hand to those marching, and someone spits at it. The next person ignores me, stepping away.

“I am sorry,” I say, and he looks back, brow furrowed. But he’s too far past me now.

Mostly all I get from the faces in the crowd is the strong sense that I am unwelcome–a defensive posture and wounded expression that demands to know, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. This is ours… go away.”

I catch another guy’s hand, someone in a leather jacket, boots, and briefs. He recoils in disgust, but then I say, “I am sorry for how we have hurt you,” and he pauses.

Someone else spits on me. “Go back to the tomb, Jeebus.” His partner winks at me and says, “Hey, baby, I’ll nail ya.” They walk away laughing.

The man in the leather jacket, whose hand I grabbed–he simply nods to me, and I think I see his eyes glisten as he turns and continues in the parade.

A thin guy explodes into a rant with more f-bombs than actual words, arms waving, fists clenched. “What the f’ing f are you f’ing trying to do, f’er? You f’ing f’s think you’re f’ing doing any good with your f’ing ‘God hates fags’ signs and your f’ed up little white dress? Do you really f’ing think I give one good f’ing G-D what the f you f’ing have to say to me? F!!! I f’ing hate you, I f’ing hate your f’ing book that does f-all to teach love and tolerance, and I f’ing hate the f out of the f’ing God you represent! What now?”

He gets in my face.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and a tear runs down my cheek. “I’m sorry for how we have hurt you.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

I think of the recent news stories I’ve heard, the angry sermons on the Internet, the callous defenses of indefensible statements.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve let people say we should ‘smack the gay out of children,’ or put them behind electric fences.”

He says nothing now, but he continues staring at me.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve pointed the finger at all of you, instead of preaching against our own arrogance, our own pride, our own prejudice and hatred. I’m sorry for how we act like you are less than human.”

“I came to say I’m sorry for my people and what we have done.”

His friend grabs his arm and pulls him away. “Come on, man.” But he keeps looking back, and I see him mouth the words, “Thank you.”

Another person spits on me, and a big guy just happens to hit me with his elbow. “Bigot,” he mutters.

This pattern repeats itself for an hour and a half, some people accepting my hand in friendship, many slapping it aside at first, some of them turning back to acknowledge the apologies I offer.

One of the people in the crowd behind me tugs at my shoulder. He’s holding a black leather Bible, with the gold edges on the pages and a little fish over a monogram in the corner of the cover. “You’re in the wrong place, brother. We’re all protesting at the other end of this block.” He points to where the angry people are waving their signs and shouting Scripture like a battle cry.

I nod and remain in my spot on the street.

Two women walk by, arm-in-arm. The blonde says, “You want us to confess our sins, pervert? We’ve been verrry naughty.”

They giggle as they approach. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bible Guy watching.

“I would like to confess my sins to you,” I say.

“Ooooh,” the other coos. “Kinky. Yeah, do it.”

“I am sorry for the double standards we use to judge you,” I begin, and the smiles disappear.

“I am sorry for acting like one sin is worse than any other, for acting like our sins don’t matter to God as much as yours. I’m sorry for behaving like we’re better than you.”

They are quiet, holding hands, waiting as I continue. Bible Guy storms off to rejoin his protest.

“I am sorry for treating you like you don’t deserve our love–like you don’t deserve God’s love.”

The parade marches on behind them. I look at them through tear-clouded vision.

“I love you. We love you. I am sorry for how often we fail to show it. We shouldn’t see you as what you do, but I know we also do that. Please accept my apology on behalf of my people.””

I extend a hand after wiping it off on a clean spot of my robe. They hug me instead, ignoring the chopped onions and ketchup and diet Dr. Pepper.

We stand there, hugging, for about a minute before they thank me and move on.

Bible Guy is back with friends, and they’re not happy. “Don’t you know Leviticus says homosexuals are an abomination and the Bible says it’s a sin?”

“I know,” I reply.

“Yeah, well, maybe you need to get your Gospel straight before you come out here supporting all these queers.”

“I know what the Bible says about homosexuality, and so does the rest of the world,” I fire back. “What they don’t know, what they aren’t seeing, is what the Bible says about loving others!”

“Hey Jimmy,” Bible Guy says to one of his friends, “What do you think we should do with false Christs?”

It takes a couple minutes for the police to respond to the situation and break up the fight. I’m the freak in an offensive costume, so I end up in the handcuffs. “For your protection, bud,” one of the cops tells me as he drags me away from the parade.

Sitting in the back of the paddy wagon, I pull off the wig and rub a bloody jaw.

“Not the smartest move ever for the Son of God, eh, bud?”

“Yeah, I guess not.” I answer. I don’t believe that, though. I felt the hugs, I spotted tears, I saw the faces change from rage to respect. “Then again, things didn’t go so well for Him either, so it’s nothing new.”

The cop laughs. “I thought I saw those punks head back over to the protest after we grabbed you. You sure got them riled.”

“They’re mad because I used to be one of the ones holding signs.”

“Oh… yeah, I used to hate dealing with this parade each year, too. And then my son started marching in them.”

He offers me a cup of water. “Take it you get beat up by Christians a lot?”

“You’d be surprised.” I take a drink. “It was the religious leaders that wanted Jesus dead, not the so-called sinners.”

“Feh.” The cop looks back out to the crowd. “I just wish those guys would go back to their caves sometimes.”

“They can’t help it,” I reply. “They kind of belong here. The event is all about celebrating pride. They’re just full of a different kind.”

A Christian nation?

I have a lot of friends who have discussed the topic of a “Christian nation” — saying that America is a Christian nation, or maybe it once was but is not now, or maybe it never really was at all, or maybe it should be. I’m blessed in that I have a lot of good friends who are Christian and generally share the same views as me, many good friends who are Christian but with whom I tend to disagree, and many who are not Christian but are still awesome friends. So I get a lot of different viewpoints on this subject.

One of the first issues with this topic is “What do we mean when we talk about a Christian nation?”

I offer a few possible definitions and my thoughts on whether the U.S. fits these terms:

1. You could see it as a nation that is explicitly founded to advance the cause of Christianity. Laws and policies would be governed by the Bible, or more accurately by interpretation and application of biblical principles. The leaders of the nation would be chosen through a religious process or for a religious reason. An example of what this might look like would be the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, governed by the Law and with a King appointed by God through the prophet Samuel. Another example might be the various theocracies in the Middle East.

The US is NOT a Christian nation by this definition. We aren’t a theocracy, we’re not governed by the Bible, our national leaders aren’t religious officials, etc. I *think* it’s safe to say no one is really arguing for this to change in America. But I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth.

2. You could see it as a nation with an established state religion. Some examples were brought up, like the European nations that many of the colonists fled, where THE religion, or the only accepted religion, was what the state said. The religious leaders in this system are appointed and controlled by the head of State (unless my memory of history is mistaken). I suppose there were a number of places where the Church influenced the State as well.

It seems clear that this is what the Founding Fathers specifically tried to avoid. They did not give America a state religion, and they made provision for freedom of religious belief. I am pretty sure no one is arguing for America to become a “Christian nation” in the sense of selecting a state-approved denomination or establishing The Church of America or any such thing. Again, please let me know if I’m wrong.

3. You could see the nation’s policies and laws as being based on many Christian principles and ideals, looking at the beliefs of many of the Founding Fathers and their cultural background, coming to the conclusion that they made the most “Christian” nation possible, in all but name. Informed by their knowledge of the Bible and of the human condition, these leaders set up a system of government that would not constrain anyone in an official way, but would allow for Christianity to flourish. It could be argued (and I believe some of the Founding Fathers expressed this) that this system depends on, or presumes, the Christian virtue and lifestyle of the governed. Therefore, the definition might also contain the thought that the great majority of the people of the nation adhere to Christian values and morality.

I imagine this is the way most people think of America at its founding, and this is the Christian nation most people are talking about when they seem to long for a return to our “Christian roots” in America. Let me know if I’m wrong or if there’s that much more to it that I’m forgetting.

4. One could make the case, perhaps, that much of the social and cultural religious practice in America has been only that, despite all the Christian terms and symbolism. Actual relationship with God through Jesus Christ might not have been as common as we all would hope. America may have been steeped in Christianity the religion, with very little of Christ at work in the people. From this point of view, a person might say that “Christian nation” means the vast majority of the people are God-fearing and fervent in their faith, doing their best to live up to God’s will. Regardless of what state we feel the nation is in, I’d wager all of us want America to be a Christian nation in this sense more than any other.

It’s possible that much of the religious content of speeches and documents in the past falls into the category of following social or cultural norms instead of truly following Christ, though I would hope that is not the case. It may be that a good deal of the “religious” roots of America come from political posturing similar to what we see in campaigns and politics today. It’s impossible to prove and difficult to judge; the fact is we’ll never know this side of heaven how fervently any of these men believed in God. From this perspective, the religious references in American history don’t prove that God was influencing the nation. A good comparison might be the Jews in Jesus’ time, who certainly felt like they enjoyed special spiritual privilege. Jesus showed them that they missed the point. I suspect that some here are arguing from this position, saying that America might be very much like Israel was, “Christian” in name but not so much in practice. I could be wrong or I could be misunderstanding the view; if so, please clarify.

—————–

Once we identify what we mean when we say Christian nation, then we can talk more about how that impacts us. A good question at this point is, “Are we really called to go create a Christian nation? Is that what Jesus commanded of His disciples?” My honest opinion is “no, it’s not.” But I know that there are many who may disagree with me, or who think that it’s important for America to remain a “Christian nation.”

A good question for those who advocate America becoming or remaining a Christian nation is, “What would have to change, and what steps would have to be taken, to get there from where we are now?”

That’s where much of the fear and confusion comes from, I think. When an atheist hears talk about a Christian nation and returning our Christian roots, they might think we’re all looking at option #1, wanting to appoint Billy Graham (or whoever) as Minister-in-Chief or whatever. I won’t waste much time with this option, because I personally know not one Christian who wants this.  But it’s good to recognize that some people really expect this from us.

Or perhaps they think of option #2, and look at the Religious Right, assuming that “we” are trying to develop a Church and State relationship, sharing power between the two. I know no Christian conservatives who really want to establish a state religion, but again, people honestly fear this is our intent.

More likely, if they are willing to think well enough of us as to consider we mean option #3, then they’re going to wonder what sort of laws and policies we might put in place in order to bring about that “Christian” nation. And that’s where my question above comes in. If option 3 sounds right to you, what do you see as the necessary steps to get there?

And I suppose if they consider option #4, that for some of us the hope is that the nation will become more of a Christian nation as more individuals freely choose to accept and follow Christ, they might fear that down the road, the collective Christian community will think options 1-3 are a good idea. The same question applies, though; for those who think of option 4 as the ideal (whether option 3 appeals to you or not), what do you see as the way to get there?

It’s really hard to discuss a topic like this without first ensuring we’re all talking about the same thing. So I’ll stop here for now and follow up later (if needed) about why I feel we’re not meant to be a Christian nation, never really were in the first place, and shouldn’t be pursuing that as a goal.