Friday, December 31, 2010

Here Goes Nothing 2011

So another year is coming to a close and another year approaches with lightning speed. It is hard to believe that Christmas has come and gone and tomorrow will be another year. This time of year New Year's resolutions become as common as Auld Lang Syne and stupid hats. The diet and quit smoking industry are bombarding us with their wears and trying to make their money. But I always make resolutions and I usually fail miserably. So this year instead of making the obligatory lose weight or read more resolution I am making a change that hopefully will be a lasting effort.

I want to live healthier and not just in the physical, but mentally and spiritually as well. So I am going to unpack these goals and set smaller goals to meet by my birthday which is March 13.


Those of you who know me personally know that I have struggle with my weight literally my whole life. I cannot remember a time when I was not chubby, plump, overweight, or pudgy. Now I weigh more than I have in my entire life and it is starting to affect my health, my life, and my work. You see I have been told that I will not be ordained until a lose a significant amount of weight. I am not going to argue whether this is fair or unfair, but in any case I need to lose for me and my family above and beyond any other reason. So in addition to going to the gym and moving more, I am going to try and eat healthier, not in a diet sense, but in a lifestyle change. I am going to at more fruits and vegetables and less fast food. I am also going to work on portion control which is something I also struggle with. My goal is to lose 25 pounds by March 13. I think that is an achievable goal and I am going to keep you posted on how it is going.


I want to read more and not just in theology and church related matters, but also I want to read some of the classics of literature that I *ah-hem* skipped over in high school and college. I would love to engage in a book club, but I don't know if there is one available in Pulaski. I also want to being my ordination papers in the hopes that the physical goal comes through. My goal is to read 5 classic novels by March 13.


I must confess that I have slack off on my daily devotionals. Often the only Bible verses I read are the ones I preach on Sunday morning. I want to get back to journaling and prayer, which I have also slacked on. My goal is to do these things daily and keep doing them.

Why I am sharing these personal things with the world? I am sharing them because I want and need your help. I want you to pray for me. Pray that I can remain disciplined and focused to meet my goals. I am going to hold myself accountable on this blog and I will need all the help I can get.

Last, but not least, I want to wish you and yours a safe and blessed 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Response to Judson Phillips Founder of the Tea Party Nation

A blog post by Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation and Nashville DUI attorney, is stirring some controversy amongst United Methodists. Assumedly, Mr. Phillips walked by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society building in Washington DC and saw a sign that read "Pass the DREAM Act." The DREAM Act would give the children of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship through college or military service and is opposed by conservatives. Mr. Phillips's response was "I have a DREAM. That is, no more United Methodist Church." He goes on to say that the UMC is the "church of Karl Marx," which is funny because Marx was an avowed atheist, and that the Methodist church is "little more than the 'religious' arm of socialism." It seems whenever a conservatives sees something they don't like it is automatically socialist. He also decries the UMC because Hillary Clinton is a member in good standing. Mr. Phillips obviously forgot that George W and Laura Bush as well as Dick Cheney are good members in standing of the UMC.

I am not going engage Mr.Phillips on his ignorance of the United Methodist Church or his blatant over-generalization of all the members of the UMC as people who hate American. As an aside, I dare you sir to step into my church on Sunday morning and tell our veterans they hate America. Nor will I debate Mr. Phillips's stance on the DREAM Act or any other legislation. I will only ask Mr. Phillips why HE hates America and democracy? I only make that assumption because Mr. Phillips seems to dislike the way a democratic government works, that is debating and discussing the issues of the day instead of condemning an entire denomination because of one sign outside one building. Also, he obviously does not care for the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of religion and expression. I think Mr. Phillips would much prefer a theocratic dictatorship where only his views on government and God are allowed. His vast over-generalization of the UMC as a whole would be laughable if it were not so sad and pathetic. Mr. Phillips wants to hate 8 million Americans who belong to a denomination because of one sign outside one building in that denomination.

Mr. Phillips is exactly what is wrong with America, not because he is a Conservative or a TEA Party member, but because his first reaction to a sign with a differing opinion than is own is condemnation and hatred. He does not want to enter into a discussion or debate. In his blog, he does not even attempt to explain why he is right. He just condemns those who disagree with his extreme point of view. This sort of attitude is not limited to conservatives or Tea Partiers, but has become more prevalent in political and theological debate and discussion with both conservatives and liberals. We can all learn a lesson from Mr. Phillips. His reaction will not cause people to leave the United Methodist Church, but it will damage his own credibility, what little they had to begin with, as a political figure and the credibility of his group.

The United Methodist Church in the United States is a cross-section of America. We have liberals and conservatives and we disagree on a lot of things and there are many within the denomination who disagree with the stances taken by the General Board of Church and Society. However, we also feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide nets that stop the spread of malaria, we dig clean water wells in Africa, we educate children, we save lives, and we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Judson Phillips to condemn the United Methodist Church wholesale for one sign on one building is not only unChristian, but unAmerican.

But I will pray for you Mr. Phillips. I will pray that the love and grace of God, who I and the UMC serve, will touch your heart and that you see the error of your ways not because I disagree with you, but because you persecute me because of that disagreement.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

Dear President Obama,

Two years ago, I cheered you historic election and the prospects for some real change in the United States. Although I voted for President Bush twice, I became disillusioned with the failed policies of his presidency including but not limited to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and other black cites around the world, and corruption within the White House. I felt that we, as a country, were better than this. So I voted for change. I voted in the hope that those who were especially vulnerable, the poor, the disabled, the sick, would once again have a voice with those in power.

I was not so naive as to believe that your presidency would be without naysayers and opponents. I did not expect the potency of the vitriol and venom from the political Right. While I believed the Republican campaign slogan of "Country First" was a farce, I was not prepared for the extent to which those on the Right would try to damage not only your presidency, but also this nation. I truly question whether these people have any love for country left in them. Their lies become the false reality for so many people in this country and now a large percentage of the public will believe any story told in any medium, up to and including the Easter Bunny, as long as it sheds you in a negative light. 1 in 5 of my fellow Americans believe that you are a Muslim and about the same amount believe that you work for the destruction of this country. Many of them do not believe that you are even an American. They not only oppose your policies Mr. President, they hate you sir. The loathe you with every ounce within them. The Republicans have stated, publicly, that their main goal in the next two years is not bringing this country out of a recession, not ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not protecting the United States against another terrorist attack, but to make your presidency one term.

Mr. President,as much as you might try, there is no bipartisanship. There can be no cooperation with the Republicans and they have stated this publicly. For every inch you give them, they will take a mile and then ridicule you for giving an inch in the first place. You refused to pursue an investigation of the previous administration's mishandling of intelligence and lying that led us to war in Iraq. Now billions of dollars are wasted and more importantly thousands of lives are lost. You refused to investigate the previous administration's role in the torture of detainees and possible war crimes. You did this in the hopes of bipartisanship. They called you a Kenyan and demanded you prove your citizenship, something unheard of previously. You gave up on a public option or a single payer health care system in the hopes of bipartisanship. They spread lies about what was in the bill. They told the people that you wanted to kill babies and grandmothers. Now, you have extended the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy for another two years. You extended tax cuts for people who do not need them and who will not create jobs with the money they save. What will they call you now? God only knows.

The Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, not because the Republicans had a better platform. They have no platform except to critic and lie about every move you make. You lost because you refused to stand by your principles. You lost because the people lost confidence in you. You cannot win these people over. Even if you give in the every Republican whim in the next two years they will still hate you. They will still spend billions of dollars and even second trying to send you home in 2012. What we need is leadership. What we want is leadership. We want a President to stand firm and say that enough is enough. Are you that leader? I thought you were two years ago, but today I am not so sure. The people need you. Those who are going hungry need you. Those who cannot feed their kids need you. Those who scrape by with scraps and then see the exorbitant amount of wealth controlled by 2% of the people. We need a voice. We need someone who will stand on their principles. Will you be that person Mr. President? I hope so, but time is running out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Judgment House Phenomenon

It is that time of year again. The leaves are turning red, yellow, and orange. The temperatures are falling and pumpkins are appearing on front porches across America. And now teenagers are dressing in costumes and makeup in order to strike fear into the hearts of the public. This is not, however, your run of the mill trick or treating or haunted house. The latest manifestation of fundamentalist evangelism is the judgment house. Judgment house is the name brand of a group providing scripts and directions for these "walk through dramas" that are billed as "alternatives to haunted houses." While the plots of these judgment houses change from year to year and church to church the basic premise remains the same. There is a depiction of hell and a depiction of heaven and which one do you want to end up for eternity?

These judgment houses are geared toward tweens and teens with bus after bus of youth groups coming in and out. I went through one of these judgment houses a couple of years ago. While the cheesiness of these skits was palpable, so was the manipulation of these young people. Some kids were laughing, but some were also in tears, scared literally for their souls. After going through the house, "counselors" (who knows what their qualifications were) talked with kids who "accepted Jesus." The rest of us were sent out the door and into the cold.

Having gone through one of these "dramas" I feel that I can offer a fair shakedown of these events. These judgment houses engage in the worst kind of scare tactic evangelism possible. The only thing worse would be to literally hold a gun to their heads. I have read this and heard it time and time again, fear based conversion is not true conversion. You cannot coerce people into a relationship with God by fear. A relationship by its definition is based on trust and love. I would compare these judgment house conversions to a woman who stays in marriage because she is afraid to leave. You resent the one you fear. These young people are not told that God loves then, except that he will save you only after dangling you over the fires of hell.

Jesus never used that kind of evangelism. Jesus instead chose to help people, heal them, touch them, feed them, and then give them the good news of the Gospel. It takes a lot of money, time, and energy to create and put on one of these judgment houses. Why not use that same time, money, and energy to build a Habitat for Humanity house? What would be a better example of the gospel of Christ? A judgment house or a house for one of the least of these. What is more likely to bring someone to Christ? A fear based manipulation or an act of love and grace.

I hope someone from one of these judgment house churches reads this and I hope they get offended. I hope that offense causes them to think and perhaps reconsider.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Something Must Be Done

I must confess. I was both bullied and a bully in school. I was always the fat kid which made me a prime target for bullying and teasing. In response to that, I bullied other kids mostly to prevent myself from being the target. Even as a child I remember knowing that what I was doing was wrong and I not liking myself when I bullied others. I just felt it was what I had to do to fit in and save myself. I do not say this to justify my actions or to absolve myself from responsibility. I wish I could go back an talk to myself as a child and show him that there is a better way.

For as long as there have been humans there have been those who push others around. There are few who escape school without being bullied in some form or fashion. Kids can be very cruel and despite the old rhyme words do hurt and they do leave scars. With the advent of the Internet kids are coming up with new and inventive ways of torturing their classmates. Now teasing is not only instantaneous, but it also goes viral. A victim is not only humiliated locally in a class or a school, but also worldwide.

Adolescence is tough for any kid, but it can be especially brutal for those struggling with sexual orientation and gender identity. In the last three weeks, six kids have taken their own lives because of homophobic bullying, three in the last week. This is a situation where one death is too many. The sad truth is that while these six have made national headlines there are dozens if not hundreds more kids who are hurting because of bullying. How many more have to die before we understand? Suicide is a statement. It is a final cry for help that goes unheard or unnoticed. Listen to the cries from these kids and let's do something about it.

Why is sexual orientation a means of discrimination? Is this bullying based on certain Biblical views on homosexuality? The very Scripture that teaches us to love one another as Christ loved us is being used as a reason to hate and bully LGBTQ people. Despite what your views on homosexuality are the Bible is crystal clear that we are to love each other. There are those from the American Family Association and other groups who claim that hate crime and anti-bullying legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity is part of some "homosexual agenda." They claim that all bullies should be punished no matter what the reason. But if we do not look at the reason and examine the motives behind the bullying then we will never solved the problem.

If you are a pastor or a youth director, talk to the parents in the church and then talk to your kids. Let them know that every person is a sacred child of God created in God's image. There is no reason for bullying and there are no excuses not to take a stand against it. We need to talk about this in the Church. If we claim to have "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." then this is a subject we must face. Something must be done. And if you are a kid who is being bullied remember that tomorrow will be better and there are those who love you very much. Suicide is not the answer and there is no coming back.

And for those kids that I picked on in school, I am truly sorry. I wish I had the strength back then to do what I knew was right.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are You Smarter Than an Atheist?

The religious blogosphere is humming today about a survey done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that shows that atheists are more religiously literate than many people of faith. White evangelicals scored higher than white mainline protestants and these groups scored higher than minority groups. Also, those of us in the Bible Belt scored lower on questions about religious traditions other than Christianity.

This really does not surprise me. I have experienced many examples of religious ignorance. I was in a young adult Sunday School class when Pope John Paul II died and one lady in the class asked if Catholics worshiped God or the pope. It really stunned me that someone who regularly attended church and Sunday school would not understand a basic premise of the Catholic church. Unfortunately, this is not a unique instance. The survey showed that while 82 percent knew that Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic, 53% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation. It would be comical if it wasn't so sad and dangerous.

This lack of education creates a breeding ground for misinformation which leads to hatred and violence. We see clear examples of this in the recent "mosque" controversies in New York, Murfreesboro, and other places around the country. People claim that Muslims want to bring Sharia Law to the United States and force women to wear burqas and veils. This claim is of course ludicrous, but ignorance of the basic premises of Islam creates the opportunity for this kind of nonsense to flourish. Another example is Congressional Tea Party candidate Renee Ellmers claiming that Muslims are terrorists and want to build a victory mosque at Ground Zero. Watch her get skewered by Anderson Cooper. It is vital for people of faith to understand the basic ideas of other religious traditions, if nothing else to prevent this kind of ignorance and hate from spreading. In addition, learning from other traditions help us to be better Christians.

It would help if we began by knowing more about our own traditions. It is a shame how many United Methodists do not understand basic Wesleyan theological ideas and traditions. Christ calls us to worship God with our minds as well as our spirits. Worshiping God with our minds means to devote ourselves to better understanding our own traditions as well as those of other people. God gave us brains to use not to roll around in our skulls.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

We Will Be Known By Our Response

The latest American/Christian/Islamic controversy is the plans of Florida "pastor" Terry Jones and his "church" Dove Outreach Center to burn copies of the Islamic holy book the Qur'an on September 11. Most people know the details as this story has saturated the news cycle for a few days. The question before us now is how do we as people of faith respond to this proposed action? By the way, these same options are there anytime there are those who promote hate and violence. Here are four options.

Option A) We can continue the tit for tat, eye for an eye cycle. It is easy to hate Terry Jones and it is easy to lash out at him. People have already lashed out in different ways. In fact, he has received death threats and now carries a pistol for defense. His church's mortgage has been called due by the bank and his church's insurance was revoked. I do not know how much of that is a negative response to his plans, but it does seem plausible. I will freely admit this solution feels good. It offers immediate satisfaction. I have heard, usually anonymously, people who want to burn this church down and do bodily harm to the pastor. The problem with this solution is that there is no end, one side retaliates and the other side follow suit. As the quote notably associated with Gandhi goes "An eye for an eye leave the whole world blind." This kind of response only perpetuates the cycle of violence and pain. Most importantly, it is antithetical to the teachings of Christ. Jesus and later Paul teach to love our enemies and even pray for those who do us harm.

Option B) We can use this proposed event to advance our own agenda. Several people are using this event to bolster their opposition to the Park 51 project, popularly yes misguidedly known as the "Ground Zero Mosque." House Republican leader and Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin have stated that while this group has the Constitutional right to burn the Qur'an it is bad taste which is the same argument they use against the Park 51 project. It is both unfair and unrealistic to compare these two events. The Qur'an burning is an act of hatred and ignorance and the Park 51 center will work to fight against that very same hatred and ignorance. Using this despicable act to further a political or financial agenda makes one an accomplice. You would share in the culpability.

Option C) We can use this proposed event to reignite the blame game domestically and internationally. Another set of arguments that I have heard more and once is "Well they burn American flags in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. So they should deal with it" Another argument that Terry Jones used himself is that "we will burn Qur'ans until they let us build churches in Saudi Arabia." Well the last time I checked this is America and we do things differently. I cannot and will not defend the burning of an American flag except to say that people in this country have the right to burn it. I think it is a deplorable act just like burning Qur'ans. But are we as Christians not called to a higher standard? Do two wrongs make a right? No. Those Muslims who burn American flags are a small percentage of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. We can no more condemn Islam for the acts of their extremists any more than we can condemn Christianity for its extremists like Fred Phelps or Terry Jones.

Option D) We can respond in love. This is the most difficult of the four options because it requires us to respond to something we despise with kindness, gentleness, and love. However, this is the option taught by our Savior. Respond to this hate with love because only love can conquer hate for good. Only love can change the hardened hearts of this group. Only love can show the world who we really are as people of Christ. We need to pray for Terry Jones and his followers. We need to pray that the love and grace of God touches their hearts and heals the hate within them. We also need to turn this negative in to a positive. I propose that we raise $1 for Pakistan flood relief for every Qur'an burned by this group. Not only will this be an act of love to the church, but it will be an act of love to the predominantly Muslim country of Pakistan. They need our help and if we do not help them then the Taliban and Al Qaeda will help them. This is the only option for people of faith. It is the most difficult, but no one said that following Christ was easy.

We will be known by our response. Will we do what feels good or what makes us money? Will we perpetuate the hate in the world or will we conquer it with our love? What will you do?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hate Sells

Let's pretend I am the pastor of a fundamentalist, non-denominational church in Florida. We average about 50 people each Sunday, which is good, but not good enough. I follow the fundamentalist guidelines of hating gays and lesbians and abortion clinics, but I want to take it to the next level. So, I write a book about how Islam is from the Devil. Now, I know that everyone in my church will buy a copy, it is almost mandatory. But that's only 50 people. I realize that there are other wackos in other places that I need to reach so they can buy my book. I can go on the Internet, but I really need something explosive to really galvanize the wacko, fundamentalist base around the country. I know that another fundamentalist wacko burned some Bibles and Christian books last Halloween so I can't do that. Hmm, since I already hate Muslims I can burn their holy book and on top of that I will do it on 9/11 because that will heighten the tension between Americans and Islam. But I need to publicize this so I will call the local news outlet and tell them what I am planning to so and eventually it will go viral on the Internet.

Success! My wacko views and YouTube videos are a hit. People love to hate me. I am on CNN and Fox News almost every day. I get to spew my fundamentalist hatred on a global scale. Shoot, they are burning me in effigy in Kabul, Afghanistan, wherever that is. I don't care that people might die because of these actions because I am on TV. I am the new Fred Phelps baby! People love to hate me and so I tell my church that we are being persecuted by the world and now they think I am a friggin' prophet. This has work out better than I thought. I've got Anderson Cooper on speed dial. They love me because I give them ratings. I've got invitations from Oprah. My wife loves Oprah even if she is black.

This thing is bigger than I have ever dreamed and it's all because hate sells. Why do you think Fred Phelps is still in business? They get a news crew everywhere they go. So take it from me, if you want to get famous as a fundy pastor don't feed the hungry or clothe the naked that won't get you ratings. You need to hate people and do something outrageous. Then you'll rake in the fame.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Talking Without Saying Anything

Today, 8/28-10, Glenn Beck sponsored and hosted a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he called "Restoring Honor". As the CNN story commented it was more a revival than a political rally. Beck looked and sounded more like a televangelist than a TV pundit. I listened to some of it this morning and read about some of it online and so I will fully admit that I am commenting without seeing the whole thing.

Beck made an interesting statement during his speech, "America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness." Also, Sarah Palin stated "We must restore America and restore her honor." I have heard similar statements over the last few months from a lot of conservative minded people, statements like "we need to take back America for God," or "we need to restore America," or something to that affect. Now there are a lot of theological unpacking that should be done from those statements, but what I would like to discuss here is the intentional vagueness of these statements. And don't worry my conservative friends, those on the Left are guilty of same kind of vagueness, but for this post I will focus on these statements from the Beck Rally. You hear a lot of that kind of talk during an election year. I am wondering, what do they mean by these statements? Where or when are we taking America back to? What are we restoring American to and for what purpose? You never get answers to these questions. But people eat that kind of talk up. Politicians and preachers have made careers on very energetic and yet completely vague rhetoric.

Both of these statements, "restoring America" and "bringing America back to God" indicate a return to the past or in other words, bringing back the good ol' days. What are the good ol' days? When were the good ol' days? One video that I did see at the Beck rally was a clip from the 1950s, think Leave It to Beaver. Is this the example of America we should return to? It seems good on the surface. Families sitting down to dinner. Dad with his pipe and Mom in her apron working to put dinner on the table. Sounds good, unless of course you are a single mom or a person who believes that women belong in places other than the kitchen. And you might notice that there aren't any black families in those 1950s clips. That might be because Jim Crow laws were still on the books and segregation was the norm, not only in the South but all over America. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say they do not mean that we should return to our segregationist past. But the vagueness of these statements leaves a lot of room for the imagination. Do they mean that American should return to Republican rule, like we had from 2000-2006? Where is the point of restoration?

The answer is they don't know. Because when details of reality come in, those kind of vague statements lose their luster. Those kind of statements become harder to swallow. People begin to hear things they don't like. People like pie in the sky and Pollyanna America, but they don't like the harshness of reality. The truth is that we cannot and we should not go back to any point in American history. We can and should only go forward. Reminiscing on the past is fine and good, but lingering on some false memory of when times were perfect is not only pointless, but also dangerous. This false sense of a perfect past can become an idol to be worshiped.

Returning to my original point, we should demand more from our leaders than just vague "red meat" statements. We can no longer afford for both political parties to simply exist by spouting vague statements and accusations at one another.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

They Don't Know They're Being Used

A new poll from Pew Research Center states the 18% of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. A poll from Time Magazine puts the number at 24%. Less than half, believe that he is a Christian. For the record, President Obama and his family are members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He was baptized there. It is a fact. Indisputable.

So why do less than half of Americans believe he is a Christian and almost 1 in 4 believe he is a Muslim? It is not because they are uninformed. There has never been more, better, and fast access to information before in human history. Information is literally at our fingertips. The problem is that these people willfully refuse to accept the reality of the facts. They believe the Obama is a Muslim because they WANT to believe he is a Muslim. They want to live in an illusionary mindset either of their or someone else's creation.

Since the presidential campaign of 2008 the Right in this country have propagated an alternative reality. A reality where the President of the United States is not really an American, is a socialist, hates white people, and is a Muslim. It is a reality where President Obama deliberately engages in policies that will destroy this country and to a point Christianity. It is a false reality. It is a reality where someone will get hurt because many of these people also own firearms and they bring them to their rallies. We have seen many TEA partiers armed with automatic weapons at their rallies.

The Republican base believes whatever Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, etc tells them to believe. Opinion becomes fact and the subjective becomes objective. The Right does this to solidify their base into lockstep. The Right says "jump" and the base says "how high." Why? One reason is power. This is an election year and the Republicans want to regain and maintain their power in Washington. They have no platform. There are no Republican solutions to the problems facing this nation. Instead they present an illusion of fear to maintain the loyalty of their base and maybe snag some weak-minded independents with them. Second, they do it for the money. Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, etc need ratings and they need to sell books, videos, and other products. Some have even admitted to being "entertainers" rather than sources of information. They do it for the money and the glory, not for the country and certainly not for the people.

The Right call the people they fool "great Americans" and "true patriots." The people think that those on the Right really care about them. But the sad truth is that the people don't know they're being used and they are being used. The Right will toss them aside like a used tissue when they get what they want. What will happen when that false reality comes shattering down around them? What will happen when someone acts out on these false threats propagated by the Right and someone gets killed? When that happens the Right will have blood on their hands.

How can one break free of this false reality or keep from being suck into it? Do not accept one source's version of any story. If all you watch is Fox News you will have a false and biased view of reality. The same is true for MSNBC or CNN. Never take a blog, even mine, as hard fact. These are my opinions. I try not to have an agenda, but sometimes my own biases come through. The more news sources you use, they better chance you have to not be fooled by an illusion.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Park 51 Must be Built in Lower Manhattan

What do you get when the US government is on recess, there is still a 24 hour news cycle and deadlines to be met, and the cable news networks and radio talk show hosts need ratings? You get one issue blown completely out of proportion and so much misinformation and lies that truth and reality dissolve away to fear and panic. Last year, it was healthcare reform and the "death panels" that did not exist. This year's silly season topic is the proposed building of Park 51. You might not recognize the name "Park 51" it is better known as the "Ground Zero Mosque." The term "Ground Zero Mosque" is a misnomer because it is neither a mosque, it is a community center with a prayer space, think YMCA, nor is it at Ground Zero, it is several blocks away at an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory.

The big controversy is the building of an Islamic community center so close to the site of the attack on the World Trade Center (WTC). Many in New York and around the country have stated that this is an attempt to disrespect the dead of 9/11. Phrases like "pouring salt in the wounds", "spitting on the graves of the dead", and others have been used. Even the most moderate of opinions conclude that although they have the Constitutional right to build a center there it is in bad taste to do so. The reaction to the proposal of this Islamic center demonstrates that even 9 years later the wounds from 9/11 are still as raw as they were in 2001. We have not healed as a nation or as individuals. In fact, the wounds are now infected with the disease of prejudice and fear. Just like an untreated flesh wound can become gangrenous without treatment, a emotional and spiritual wound can fester and spread without forgiveness. The wounds of 9/11 cannot heal because certain persons, politicians and TV news people, rip away the scab and drive a proverbial finger in the wound when it becomes profitable for them. How many political campaigns have been run on the fear of 9/11? (Let us not forget this is an election year.) How much money has been made publicly and privately on the fear of 9/11? The narrative that they disseminate is that all of Islam is responsible for 9/11 not a select group of radicals and heretics. They want to do distrust all Muslims, even those who have lived and loved this country for generations.

This is why Park 51 must be built in its proposed location. To move it now would be to accept the fear mongering and lies as truth and those who propagate such bile will win. They will win not only in New York City, but also in Murfreesboro, TN and in other cities around the country. This place must be built because to bow to these lies will shred the Constitution just a little bit more. It will only serve to embolden the mob and those who control it. Who will be next? The Jews? The United Church of Christ? I hear they're pretty liberal. The Unitarian Universalists? The United Methodists? If the Muslims proposing Park 51 are denied their right to worship in a building they own, we are traveling down a very slippery slope.

Maybe this place can be a center not only for Muslims, but for all persons of faith. Perhaps this can be a catalyst for dialogue and mutual learning. There are many things we can learn from each other if we just try. One of Osama Bin Laden's goals was to create division between Islam and the West. He wants to isolate Muslims within the West because the become easier targets for recruitment. Are we too blind to see this? This place can promote healing with we are willing to give these people a chance.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Heart Aches for My Nation.

One of the bigger controversies of 2010 is the proposed building of a Islamic community center, including a mosque, two blocks from the World Trade Center site also known as Ground Zero. The anger from victim's families and others show that 9/11 is still an open wound in the American psyche. One of the disgusting aspects of this controversy is that politicians are using that hurt and anger for their own political agenda. I read comment after comment on message boards and see nothing but pure hatred for Muslims, not just the radical Islamic terrorists who perpetrated the attacks on 9/11, but for all Muslims and those of Middle Asian descent, including Sikhs, Hindus, and Indians, because they "look" Muslim.

In the days following 9/11, President Bush stated unequivocally that "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war." To his credit, President Bush made a sharp distinction between radical, terrorist, false Islam and the true nature of the faith. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush's fellow conservatives have erased that separation and now lump all Muslims together as terrorists who hate America. One reason for their erasure is pure political gain during an election year.

The argument that the only problem with this community center is its proximity to Ground Zero is a red herring. If this were the case, then no one would have a problem with mosques or community centers anywhere else. However, the battle over mosques and community centers is not limited to Lower Manhattan. Controversy and hate have sprung up in Brentwood and Antioch, Tennessee and other communities where plans are made for an Islamic community center. So the fact that the Cordova Center is two blocks from Ground Zero is really irrelevant. The fact that Muslims want to build a place of fellowship and worship is enough to stir up a hornet's nest of hate.

My heart aches for my nation because the hate in these people's hearts is the same hate Osama Bin Laden and those 19 men carried in their hearts. Why do we hate so? Are we no better than the terrorist who committed the atrocity of 9/11. This nation was founded on religious freedom and tolerance and when we begin to pick and choose what religion can and cannot be where we begin down a dangerous road. My fear is that this controversy will not end peaceable and without bloodshed. Even if and when this center is built there will be violence surrounding it. My heart aches because somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan Bin Laden is smiling because this kind of hate is exactly what he wants. 9/11 was not just about murdering 3,000 people, it was about kindling hatred among Americans and it seems Bin Laden was successful.

Hear us O God, we are foolish and yet you are wise. Our hearts are filled with hate and yet your very existence is love. Teach us Lord that love is the more excellent way. Break our hearts of stone and give us hearts for you alone. Give us hearts for love and remind us that every person is created in your image and that you are the God of us all. Amen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Joys of Being a Victim

I watched a segment from the Rachel Maddow Show last night that really congealed some thoughts that have been floating around my head. Those thoughts are summarized as this, if you want to unite a group of people make them believe they are the victims of another group of people. Why? Because victimization unites a group of people against a supposed oppressor. As the Maddow clop shows, if you want to unite white people then make then afraid of black people. Make white people believe that THEY are the victim and that black people want to take something, or everything, from them. This strategy has come back into play, as it seems to do every election year, in recent months, especially after the election of a black President. If you want to unite the white vote make them afraid of the big, black President. If Obama gets angry then he is the stereotypical "angry black man." If Obama wants to pass Healthcare reform, then he wants to kill your grandma in a government run death panel. The specifics change, but the narrative remains the same. If you want to unite a group of people make them afraid of another group of people.

This is the same strategy used against gays and lesbians. We saw it in the Prop 8 vote in California. If you want to unite heterosexual people, especially Christians, make them believe they are the victims of homosexual people. Gays want the right to marry or at least be joined in civil unions? Well, that means that heterosexual marriage will be destroyed. People will started getting divorced. Oops, that already happens. Well, then married people will started having extra-martial affairs. Oops. Well, if we let gays and lesbians get married that means people will want to start marrying their cats, dogs, or farm animals. Because we all know that gay marriage is a gateway to bestiality. You want unite straight men then make them think that all gay men want is sex and if they cannot get it willingly, they will TAKE it by force. If you want to unite a group of people make them believe they are the victims of another group of people.

The same strategy is used in the immigration debate. If you want to unite Americans then make them believe they are the victims of undocumented immigrants. They want your jobs. They want your money. They want to destroy your family and your livelihood. They increase the crime rate. They lower property values. They cause dandruff. The list goes on and on.

The strategy is not limited to conservatives and their agenda. Those on the left continue to play the victim against those on the Right, although they have had a majority in House and Senate for 4 years. If you want to unite liberals, then make them believe that they are the victims of Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. If you want to unite a group of people make them believe they are the victims of another group of people.

Victimization motivates people to go to the polls and vote. Victimization makes people open up their wallets and donate. Look at how much money the Prop 8 campaign brought in.

Even the Church, one the most powerful entities in human history, uses this same strategy. If you want to unite fundamentalist Christians, they make them believe they are the victims of liberal so-called Christians. Liberals want to take your KJV 1611 Bible. Liberals want to close your church. Liberals are infiltrating our Church. If you think some elements of evolution are valid then you might as well burn your Bible. The liberals have stolen our country away from us. They took prayer out of school. They took our 1 ton granite Ten Commandments statue. They want to destroy Christianity.
This is truly sad because there are real victims in the world. There are those without a voice. There are those who are oppressed. One half of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day and we complain if gas goes up a nickel a gallon.
If you want to unite a group of people make them believe they are the victims of another group of people. It works every time.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What is Biblical Justice?

The term "social justice" has come under heavy scrutiny over the last few months, especially from Glenn Beck and others on the Conservative political Right. Beck even went as far as to say
I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!
Some Christians simply dismiss Beck as a lunatic or shill for the Republican Party. But there are other well meaning Christians who hang on this man's every word like it was Gospel. I am writing to those Christians, not in anger or judgment or with an air of intellectual superiority, but honest and earnestly in love.

Beck and others, both on the Right and on the Left, define social justice, and I also think Biblical justice, as redistribution of wealth with a government as the means of that redistribution. I reject that definition outright. First, no Biblical sense of justice would use the United States government or ANY government as its sole means of action. Jesus rejected the idea of a worldly government doing the work of God. He told his disciples to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. He also told Pontius Pilate that HIS Kingdom was NOT of this world. At no point do Jesus, Peter, Paul, or any apostles endorse a government doing the work of the Kingdom. The work of the Kingdom of God, part of which is working toward justice (Micah 6:8), is the exclusive responsibility of the followers of Jesus Christ, the Church.

Second, I do not believe that Biblical justice is about taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Jesus was not Robin Hood. Instead, I take my view of Biblical justice again from Micah 4:3-4
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

The first difference is clear, the means of this justice is Almighty God. No government can do the work of the Almighty, it has tried and failed with terrible and violent results. Secondly, this view of justice is based on work, but it is not work in order to acquire wealth or property, but work in order to live with one other in peace. The weapons of war are turned into the tools of agriculture. The people are not reliant on a government, but on God alone. That is the only true way of justice. When we rely on human strength we get greed, corruption, and injustice. There is no government in the history of humanity, including the United States, that has not suffered these things. We cannot rely on government to provide justice. But when we rely upon God we get true and lasting peace and justice.

The Micah 6 idea of justice provides everyone gets an equal chance to do for themselves. Everyone has their own vines and their own fig trees to tend. But it is not about who has the biggest vines or the most fig trees, Biblical justice is always about full-inclusion. Biblical justice means no one gets left behind and no one falls through the cracks. Everyone gets enough, not too much and not too little, but enough. The idea of competition and hoarding, "I got mine and I don't care about yours" is not of God. Instead, Biblical justice means we share willingly and without pretense. When you start talking about how much should you tithe and give and whether the 10% is before or after taxes, you have miss the entire point. You do not have to give all your belongs to the poor to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but if you are a follower of Jesus Christ you would not really care either way. You would give everything you own because you know that it is not about how much you own, but about where your heart is.

What does this all mean for us in 2010? The good news is this, we will see this justice come into fullness and fruition one day. We have that promise. We will all sit on the banks of the River of Life and we will eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life and we will worship Almighty God forever. The bad news is that in this life we only catch glimpses of this justice. Those glimpse come in people like Mother Teresa who gave her life to helping those thrown away by Society. We see justice when a single mother gets help with day care and food while she works her way up or goes to school to make a better life. We see justice when a church helps unemployed people find work with a living wage. We see justice those who are differently-abled are integrated into Society not as objects of pity, but in full inclusion.

But now we find ourselves in a catch-22 because we cannot dissolve the very government that is so corrupt and filled with greed. The bad news is that in this life we have to work with the faulty, corrupt system. I feel that we need the government to make those glimpses of justice. The Church has delegated its responsibility to the government and now the government is the only entity equipped to help those who need it. There are too many people for the Church to help them all. But it does not mean that we stand idly by while corruption and greed, on BOTH sides of the aisle, reign freely. Greed and corruption are not limited to those in Congress, but also with all of us. There are those who abuse the system that is meant to help them. There are those who become unjustly reliant on the government for their complete existence. This is not justice, but an abuse of justice. So we must work as imperfect people with an imperfect system to try and help those who need it. This is the reality of our situation, but we continue to hope and pray for the day when "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

False Patriotism

With Independence Day coming up I think this is a good time to explore the new wave of post-9/11, conservative, Right wing patriotism sweeping the nation. In the days after 9/11 you could not find an American flag in any store in the Tennessee/North Alabama area. There were none to be found. Flags could be found on cars, houses, businesses, churches, schools, and anywhere else you could think. President Bush had a 80+ approval rating and for a few weeks at least we were as united as we had been in a long time, especially after the Bush/Gore election fiasco. A few months after the attacks, the United States entered into a "War on Terrorism" in Afghanistan. Most people supported this action because it was believed that Al-Qadea based in Afghanistan, which included the most wanted man Osama Bin Laden, was responsible for 9/11. America was caught up in a sweep of patriotism, a unquestioning love for country, that could be summed up in the Toby Keith song, Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)

Two years later, based on what was discovered later as false intelligence, we expanded the "War on Terrorism" into the nation of Iraq and its leader Saddam Hussein. This war caused much more conflict and criticism, especially from the left. The reaction from the pro-war Right was that in a time of war citizens should not criticize the President because it would harm the morale of the troops, embolden our enemies, and cause harm to the country. This was the main argument from pro-war pundits and politicians. Do not criticize President Bush because it will harm the troops. Those who did offer criticism, to what we found out later was an unjust war, were condemned as unpatriotic, unAmerican, and in some cases traitorous. Patriotism, according to the pro-war crowd, required a unwavering, unquestioning dedication to President Bush, the Commander in Chief. Anything less would be detrimental to the nation.

Move ahead to 2009. President Bush is gone and a new Democrat President has taken office and from day 1 there has been nothing but criticism from the same people who condemned such rhetoric only a few years before. What changed? Why is it all of a sudden more patriotic to criticize the current administration? Practically overnight the Right in America, including Fox News, went from the biggest supporter of the Oval Office to its biggest critic. Criticism of the Democratic President is now the ultimate act of patriotism. The Tea Party, established in the wake of President Obama's election, considers itself to be the epitome of patriotism, incorporating such patriotic symbols as the Founding Fathers and the Gadsden flag and including a visceral criticism of the Obama Administration.

Why has the definition of patriotism changed with the election of a new President? We are still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan with well over 100,000 troops in harm's way. The threat of terrorism is still very real and American still has many enemies. What has changed? Nothing, excepted this President is from the Democratic Party. This change has given the opposing party free reign to criticize every...single...move President Obama makes without remorse or excuse.

This demonstrates that the patriotism of many on the Right is not based on love of country, but love of party. Their mentality is "We love America as long as we are in charge" but with the free election and change of political party in the White House and Congress now America is a cesspool of "socialism, Marxism, and even Nazism." The patriotism offered by the Right is a false patriotism, a pseudo-patriotism. The Right's 2008 slogan of "Country First" is nothing more than pomp and propaganda, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but political ambition.

This is not to say that true patriotism is dead, but I believe that it is on life support. Patriotism requires criticism, but not for one's own political or monetary ambitions, but to make this nation a more perfect union and secure the establishment of justice. It requires one to question the actions of the government, no matter what party is in charge. It requires one to respect those duly elected by the voters. It requires respectful, productive, political dialogue, when was the last time we had that. It means that one holds dear the basic ideals that America was founded on. (I know I sound like the Tea Partiers.) These include life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. It requires sacrifice, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice. I do agree with on tenant of the Right's pseudo-patriotism, freedom is not free. This list is not exhaustive, but simply a starting point. So, as you unfurl the Stars and Stripes this 4th of July, remember what it really means to be patriotic and let us celebrate the blessings of living in the United States.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

We are Tennessee

I will forewarn you that this post is filled with frustration and anger. This is not a pleasant topic. Some of you have heard, maybe a little bit, about the flooding in Middle Tennessee. Nashville and the surrounding area received record amounts of rainfall last weekend and now a lot of Metro Nashville is underwater. Close to 30 people have died and billions of dollars in damage has occurred. Many Nashville landmarks like the Grand Ole Opryhouse, the Opryland Hotel, and the Country Music Hall of Fame are flooded. But with a botched terrorist attack in Times Square and a oil slick inching its way to the Gulf Coast the Nashville flooding as taken a backseat to other news stories. Where is Brian Williams? Where is Al Roker? Do the flooded waters of the Cumberland not merit your attention?

I do not complain because I want to see Nashville and Tennessee on TV, certainly not under these circumstances. But money comes with attention and Nashville needs donations. People need water. People need shelter. People need the basics of life. Without national attention, the amount of money coming in to the Nashville Red Cross and other organizations decreases. I know, as blogger Patten Fuqua put it, that "It may not be as terror-sexy as a failed car bomb or as eco-sexy as an oil spill, but that’s no reason to be ignored." America, we need your help.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there have been floods in Iowa, North Dakota, Georgia, and other places. Thousands of people have lost their jobs and billions of dollars of damage was done. Where were the telethons? Where was Oprah? Where was Brad Pitt? You know another thing you didn't hear about in those areas was looting and crime. People did not take advantage of the situation, but they reached out to their neighbors.

Make no mistake, we can take care of ourselves and we can pick ourselves up if need be. But we helped New Orleans after Katrina and we helped Southeast Asia after the tsunami and we helped Haiti after the earthquake and now we are asking for help. Please donate to the Red Cross or to Hands On Nashville. Also, pass the word along via Facebook, Twitter, and the Blogosphere. Tennessee needs your help and we will not forget.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Three Types of Atheists

Nothing gets the blood pumping like discussing, more like arguing, religion with atheists especially in the anonymity of the Internet. In my experience, I believe there are three kinds of atheists out there. There may be more, but I really think that most atheists fit into one of these three categories. This is not an assault on atheism, but just some general observations.

The first category of atheist is the intellectual atheist. This includes people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and other members of the "new atheism." These people see and judge everything in life solely on the basis of logic and empirical evidence and if you cannot offer proof they want nothing to do with you. In fact, they will call you an intellectual weakling and kick copies of Stephen Hawking's work in your face. These are the people who truly believe there cannot be anything higher or greater than their own intellect and so God cannot exist. These include many college professors and scientists.

Second are the hedonistic atheists. These are the folks who live by the mantra of "if it feels good, do it." They do not want to believe in a higher power or the ethics that belief entails. They see that this life is the only one we have and so let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. A dangerous question surrounding these atheists is whether or not the lack of a theistic ethic affects their decision making? If there is no belief of God holding them accountable in the after-life, what prevents them from engaging in dangerous behavior, aside from legal ramifications?

The final category of atheist is what I call the wounded atheist. These people were so hurt, physically, mentally, or spiritually, by the church or by someone representing God that they reject the idea of God altogether. I have seen those abused by priests, pastors, and church members turn away from the faith because of the pain cause by people of God. I have seen the Church turn its back on people because of past sins. In any case, this kind of atheism is the fault of the Church. We as the Church must be cautious and careful with God's children because when atheism is cause by our carelessness we are guilty of the greater evil.

I do not present these categories as condemnations. But simply as my own observations and experiences. Of the three categories I believe that only the third can be brought back into the faith, but it would take years of counseling, a great move on the Church's part, and the forgiving power of God's love.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A World Gone Crazy

Last night, March 25th, a man was rammed by another car while driving with his daughter down Blair Blvd in west Nashville near Belmont University all because he had an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on his car. A man and his 10 year old daughter could have died because of a bumper sticker and another man's ignorant rage. While random acts of violence have increased because of the new health care reform bill, these acts are nothing new. Other people have been hit in their cars or hate tires slashed and windows broken because of Bush/Cheney or similar bumper stickers. The intensity of the political atmosphere in this country is getting worse and worse and more and more visceral. People have died because of politics. Two years ago a Knoxville man walked into a Unitarian Universalist Church and murdered 6 people. He did this in part because of a book written by Bernard Goldberg called 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Since he could not attack those 100 people personally he decided to attack a church that represented what he saw as a "liberal" mindset. This is not an isolated incident perpetrated by a single wacko. Instead, this kind of violence is become more and more prevalent.

I read an Op/ed in the NY Times that stated that

Studies have shown that people tend to seek out information that is consistent with their views; think of liberal fans of MSNBC and conservative devotees of Fox News. Liberals and conservatives also tend to process the information that they receive with a bias toward their pre-existing opinions, accepting claims that are consistent with their point of view and rejecting those that are not. As a result, information that contradicts their prior attitudes or beliefs is often disregarded, especially if those beliefs are strongly held.

I know that I have been biased against Fox News, but it does seem that both Fox News and MSNBC purposefully provide news and commentary that lean right or left respectfully. There is no such thing as "fair and balanced", non-biased reporting. You have to dig through the spin to get the real facts if there are any real facts. A perfect example of this is the health care reform. The reason that people believe that this law will create "death panels" is because Fox News reported it. For some people, Fox News is gospel. The same for some people and MSNBC. We cannot allow our presuppositions and prejudices supersede our generosity and willingness to compromise. Our nation was built on compromise and peaceful debate.

I listen to both liberal and conservative talk radio on my Sirius. One conservative radio host, Mike Church, describes Democrats and liberals as "domestic enemies" of the Constitution and his fellow conservatives as "patriots". The Tea Party people have taken as their symbol the Gadsden flag and now have planned a Second Amendment rally on April 19 they say because of the anniversary of the opening battle of the American Revolutionary War, it also coincides with the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. I am not trying to be a conspiracy theorist, but the Tea Partiers take a revolutionary themed flag as their symbol, they rally with guns on the anniversary of the American Revolutionary War, and they describe those they disagree with as domestic enemies of the United States. This sounds like a recipe for something bad. I hope I'm wrong, but it concerns me.

Now I am all in favor of freedom of speech and I am the first one to say that the First Amendment protects speech we hate as well as that we agree with, but when the people, who are not exactly mentally stable, take these words as marching orders to go and attack the "enemy" like good "patriots" those who speak those words are also culpable. I hear a lot of "well they [the liberals] do it, just look at eco-terrorism and anti-capitalist protesters" from conservatives. My response to that is two wrongs do not make it right. Someone must stand up and say ENOUGH!! The political atmosphere we are now engaged in is not sustainable. More people are going to die if we don't say enough is enough. I am reminded of the words from the greatest American president to hold the office.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stupid is as Stupid Does

*Note: I am using some information I read online earlier this week in this blog post. I searched for the original to no avail. If any of this information or opinion seems familiar then let me know and I will give proper credit.

I turned 30 a few weeks ago and so I missed the intensity of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements of the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. In my limited experience, the recent health care reform debate has been the more contentious, fear-filled, hate-filled, and intense political debate in recent memory. It seems that since the election of President Obama the anger over "government" is boiling over. How much of that anger is genuine and how much is redirected racism is yet to be seen. A new poll released today shows that 67% of Republicans and 40% of Americans believe that President Obama is a socialist. Also, 57% of Republicans and 32% of Americans believe that he is a Muslim. I do not know the reliability of this poll, but in my experience over the last 14 months I would agree with the statistics.

I live in a small town in rural Tennessee. I overhear people at the cafe, at the grocery store, and at church and for the most part their opinions seem to match those in this poll. On Election Day 2008 I overheard a conversation at a local diner that went something to the effect of "He(Obama) won't make it to January." and "There will be killings." At the time I blew these words off as racist rednecks running their mouths, but as Obama's presidency moves on I am genuinely concerned for his well being. I pray for him and his family. This new anger is not limited to coffee shops and hardware stores. I had a good friend from school block me on his Facebook because of my political views. I have lost friends because of the way I think and believe. I have many friends who have differing political viewpoints and I would never consider not being their friend because of it. There is no open-mindedness anymore. There is no compromise anymore. The political and sometimes theological mentality if today is "if you do not agree with me then you are my enemy."

This brings me to the breadth of my post. I truly see this new political atmosphere as a form of ignorance. *There is where that other bog post comes in.* There are two kinds of ignorance. One kind is simply a lack of knowledge. Imagine a child touching a hot stove and burning her/his hand. She/he did not have the knowledge that a hot stove causes a burn and pain along with it. I confess that I lack knowledge about a lot of things. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, but I am always willing to learn what I don't know. I try to be open minded to new and different viewpoints.

The second kind of ignorance is defined by its UNwillingness to learn and engage new and differing viewpoints. Some might call it stupidity or idiocy and it takes many guises; racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice. This form of ignorance can be defined by the phrases "I don't care what you think, I'm not going to change no matter what you say." The majority of this anger towards Obama comes from this kind of ignorance. You can tell people time and time again that Obama is Christian and belongs to the United Church of Christ, but they refuse to believe it. You show them Obama's birth certificate from Hawaii and they call it a fake. You ask people to define socialism, fascism, and Marxism and they call you a socialist, fascist, and Marxist. Many of these people go to church once a week, but listen to Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh 5 times a week.

How then do we liberate people from this kind of ignorance? I truly believe that only the grace and love of God can break this wall of ignorance. The writer of 1 John says that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love." I don't want to sound too cliché, but love is the answer. We love these people in spite of their ignorant hatefulness. We show them love when they say hateful things. Most importantly we show the young people the fullness of God's love so that we can break the cycle of ignorance. I have witnessed the redemptive power of God's love. It does not always happen overnight, but love will win in the end. I am reminded of the famous words of the Apostle Paul read at many weddings including my own. "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

License to Shrill: The Bible Says So

Once again there is controversy in the California Miss USA pageant. Coming off the heels of the Carrie Prejean "opposite marriage" comments last year, the self-proclaimed Miss Beverly Hill USA Lauren Ashley states that the Bible is "pretty black and white" on the whole gay issue. She refers to Leviticus 20:13 "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." This verse is commonly used not only to denouse gay marriage, but also recently in Uganda it was used to create a law that would execute gay persons.

I am about to make some assumptions about Miss Ashley. I could be wrong, but if I was a betting man I would be I'm going to be right. I assume that Miss Ashley hasn't been trained in Biblical exegesis. I assume that she probably has never read the Bible completely or even reads it on a regular basis. I am also going to assume that she does not attend church regularly. Here is a person, with no qualifications to exegete any part of the Bible, proof-texting that old stand-by from Leviticus. Those of us who understand basic Biblical scholarship see this statement for what it is, stupidity and homophobia. We could allow this kind of garbage go unnoticed and unchallenged. However, there are those with limited biblical understanding and hate embedded in their hearts who see words like this as a holy mandate to kill or hurt GBLT people. There are also those people who long to hear another voice from the Church. One not of hate, but of the love and grace demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

Why do people automatically assume they are biblical scholars just because they've read the Bible front to back? I could read a textbook on quantum physics. I would understand the language. I know what the words mean, but I most assuredly would not comprehend what I was reading. Just because you or I have read the Bible front to back does not mean that we have comprehended every jot and tittle. There are scholars who spent their entire careers studying and scrutinizing the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek and they STILL do not comprehend every jot and tittle. We show great arrogance when we claim that we know the exact will and word of God.

Perhaps there needs to be a licensing system put into place. One would need a license before randomly proof-texting verses to suit one's own agenda. A crazy idea? One needs to demonstrate proficiency before driving a car or handling explosives. Misusing holy Scriptures, the self-professed Word of God, is equally dangerous. People have and continue to die because of it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just Like Everyone Else

There is a new controversy, new controversies seem to come with the regularity of the rising Sun, between Sarah Palin and her family and the writers and producers of the adult cartoon Family Guy. The controversy stems from an episode of Family Guy that aired last Sunday, February 14th where one of the teen character's, Chris, dates a teen girl with Downs's Syndrome. During their first date the girl tells Chris that her mother was the "former governor of Alaska." This is of course a jab at Sarah Palin and some would say her infant son Trig who has Down's. Ms. Palin, and her daughter Bristol, have responded via Ms. Pailn's Facebook account.

First, let me say that I am a fan of Family Guy. The writers take jabs at every perceivable group without prejudice. I watched the episode in question and when Chris was dating a girl with Down's I knew a Palin joke was coming, especially with Ms. Palin calling for the firing of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for using the term "retarded" in a recent metting. I thought the joke in question was pretty lame. It was simply a cheap shot for the sake of a cheap shot. Family Guy creator Seth McFarlene usually writes with more creativity and intelligence. Is Sarah Palin's response another attempt to garner favor with special needs parents? Throughout the 2008 election, Ms. Palin received criticism for parading her children in public and perhaps using her special needs son to garner votes. I don't know if this is the case here. Her reaction might match the initial reaction of any other mother with a special needs child. I would, however, offer a differing view, not on the joke itself, but the episode as a whole.

The girl in the show with Down's Syndrome acted like any other teenage girl with an attitude. She acts like a diva and Chris gives it to her straight. "You know, I used to hear that people with Down syndrome were different than the rest of us. But you're not! You're not different at all! You're just a bunch of [BLEEPS!] like everyone else!" I give that sentiment resounding AMEN!

Why? As a husband of person with special needs, one of the most frustrating things for my me and my wife is when people treat her differently because she is in a wheelchair. They talk to my 29 year old wife like they would a 6 year old just because she cannot walk. It makes me livid especially when it is people who should know better. I cannot count how many times people at Church functions or at Vanderbilt Divinity School, a place that prides itself on diversity, spoke to my wife as though she were a child. People with disabilities want to be treated like everyone else that includes crakcing jokes at their expense. But in order for that to happen people need to see them like everyone else. People see the chair before they see Angie. People see the physical characteristics of Down's Syndrome before they see the person. People see the drool and uncontrollable arm and head movement of Cerebral Palsy and not the person. Our initial reaction to a person with special needs is to either look the other way or pity them. People with special needs need to be seen and they damn sure don't need your pity.

You can make jokes about everyone, just not people with special needs, that's just cruel. It would be cruel to make fun of the disability itself, which is what happens behind closed doors, but to joke around with a person with disability is the ultimate way of treating them like everyone else. There is a guy I went to school with who has CP. I was hanging out with him and group of other guys and they were all joking around like guys do. They gave him as much hell as they gave each other. At first I thought it was cruel, but then one of the group said "What is crueler joking around with him or leaving him out because he is different?"

Family Guy did not make fun of this girl's Down's Syndrome. They just included a girl who happened to have Down's Syndrome. They treated her like any other teenage girl. The real shame is that their real treatment of a girl with special needs will be overshadowed by the Palin controversy. People are people and to treat people with dignity is not to treat them entirely differently because they happen to have a special need. This only serves to alienate them from the community.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Super Bowl Ads: Sexism or Satire?

This week there is a lot of talk about the ads broadcast on the Super Bowl. Most of the complaints are that the ads were sexist and racy. I watched the Super Bowl and re-watched the commercials online and a really did not see the blatant sexism that everyone else seems to see. Yes, the GoDaddy! commercials were somewhat racy, but they were mostly just really stupid and very poorly made. (To the GoDaddy! folks, I think that niche has run it's course.) Other complaints were for the Bud Light commercial with the book club. They seem to think that it makes men seem stupid because a man would rather play softball than attend a book club unless...there's Bud Light. Another commerical from a company called FloTV depicted a man being led around the mall by his wife/girlfriend instead of watching "the big game." Still another commerical for Dodge insists that a man will perform all the duties require by his wife/girlfriend as long as he drives his muscle car.

Are these commercials sexist or even worse misogynist? In my humble opinion, no. This was the Super Bowl, the biggest manTV moment all year. Naturally, the commercials are going to be geared toward a male audience. Secondly, most of the commercials were satirical in nature. They began with a premise that mot men, at least married men, can identify with and then purposefully went over the top for the sake of humor. Granted that some commercials achieved this better than others. It is still satire. Thirdly, I think that this was a reaction against the political correctness of the last 15-20 years.

Do these commercials take us back "to the Dark Ages" of the pre-feminist 1950's? Are women "the new targets" of advertising wrath? I really don't think so. I am sure that I will get some flak from my more liberal colleagues, but just because I did not think these particular set of commercials were sexist doesn't make me a chauvinist or misogynist. But if you know me you already knew that.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Enemy of the State

On the news tonight I heard a story about how the Lt. Governor of South Carolina Andre Bauer compared children on free and reduced lunches and other entitlement programs to "stray animals" who do nothing but reproduce. This statement in and of itself is abhorrent to the point of nausea, but what truly disturbs me is some of the comments I read on these news websites and Mr. Bauer's Facebook page that are in complete agreement.

I am the first one to agree that there is a lot of corruption and fraud in entitlement programs. I have experienced first hand people who receive numerous benefits, but find the money to drive nice cars and have big screen TVs. It makes me angry because I struggle to make ends meet and usually there is more month than there is money. But I am also blessed to have family who support me and my wife while the money is tight. I don't have any problem with people getting help who need it. These programs come from a good idea that no person should go hungry in this country, but they still do. I also understand the frustration as a pastor in trying to help those who really need it while not getting defrauded by those seeking money for nothing. Here again, it makes me angry.

All that being said, there is nothing that justifies comparing any human being to a stray animal. This only serves to dehumanize these children. What does the Lt. Governor suggest we do? Allow these people to starve. As revolting as this statement and the ensuing comments are, I think this line of thinking is a symptom of a bigger problem. There are those politicians and pundits who wish to make an enemy of the poor, especially for the middle class. All the problems facing the middle class is caused by poor persons and their entitlement programs. Most of these politicians are neither poor or middle class and never have been and yet they claim to understand the plight of the average American. They are the ones filling the heads of the middle class with images of the welfare queen drawing a check. While there are cases of entitlement fraud, let me be clear, THE POOR ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY. The poor are not the ones oppressing you, they are not the ones wasting your tax money on frivolous earmarks, i.e. the bridge to nowhere. In fact, you could be safe in assuming that the real enemy are the ones trying to convince you that the poor are the enemy. It is the wealthy who downsize and lay off to gain year end bonuses or make their stocks go up a few points. It is the banks who asked for grace in the form of a government bailout, that kind of sounds like entitlement to me, and yet offer no grace to those being foreclosed or to the small businesses struggle to keep their heads above water. However, the rich are not the enemy. The real enemy is that sense of entitlement within ourselves that cause us to see ourselves as better and higher than our neighbor. It is that monster within us that causes us to agree with such egregious statements as the one from Lt. Governor Bauer.

For those of us who call ourselves persons of faith this is of great importance. We are called by God to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Does this mean we should just throw money at the problem? No, part of helping the poor is offering a means for those persons to gain financial independence. However, we do need to remember what Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps." There is a balance to be formed and care to be taken. These are human beings created in the image of God and not stray animals to be shooed off the porch.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Devil in Us All

More people than not have heard the comments made by Pat Robertson that Haiti was receiving Divine retribution for a Satanic covenant made centuries ago. This is not the first time Robertson has attributed natural or man-made disasters to God's wrath. He and Jerry Falwell agreed that 9/11 was due to "abortionists" and the "gays". He claimed that the tsunami in 2004 was due to the Muslim influence in the area. Finally, he claimed that the suffering of Hurricane Katrina was due to the sinful nature of New Orleans, although the "sinful" French Quarter was mostly untouched and it was the poverty stricken 9th Ward that received the brunt of the devastation.

This pseudo-theodicy is nothing new. It seems that every time a major disaster hits someone is there blaming it on God's wrath or a curse by Satan. (It is funny that their god and their Satan do the same work.) Is extreme poverty, starvation, and death a result of God's anger or Satanic involvement? No, of course not. It was a perfect storm of natural phenomenon, population density, and extreme poverty. It is not the Devil himself, but in a lot of ways it is the devil within us all. It is the demon of selfishness and greed. It is the demon of oppression first by nations seeking riches and colonies and no by corporations seeking cheap labor and resources. It is the demon of looking the other way until it is on every news channel, newspaper, and website. We have ignored, for a large part, the extreme poverty that is 600 miles from our front door. We have ignored the people who are forced to buy cakes made with salt and mud in order to fill their distended bellies.

My prayer is that our new-found concern for Haiti does not end when CNN finds a new lead story. I hope that we realize that this could happen multiple times over in many other places. There are powder kegs of poverty all over the world just waiting for a spark. What is the solution? I really don't know. For know the best thing we can do is pray and send some money to those who can best use it to help the people in need. The United Methodist Committee on Relief was on the ground before this hit (several of those workers are still unaccounted for) and will be there for years after. Please pray for these people, donate what you can, and when you hear someone trying to blame God for this mess, give them a loving correction and let's work together to make sure this never happens again.