Sunday, December 28, 2008

Religiously Informed Values

It used to be that everyone knew what the various denominations believed & stood for. The local papers published the sermons each week & everyone read them. Most folks knew the distinctions in doctrine between the various churches & most certainly the theological variations among the denominations. All knew, for example, the Methodists stood for social action & personal piety; the Baptists held tenaciously to "Soul Freedom" & the Separation of Church & State; the Presbyterians were big on the idea of Covenant & predestination; the Catholics proclaimed the rich history of tradition, the church universal, & the various orders; the Pentecostals delved into experiential theology, etc.

Sadly, today, folks don't even know their own theological distinctives, much less what other groups believe.

Thus, bringing us to the topic title: how can folks vote their "religiously informed values" if they don't even know what those values are, the history behind them, or the theological truths that give rise to the value?

I raise this question for two reasons. First, we need to realize that voting "religiously informed values" must never mean voting into law our religious dogma. Second, without an understanding of the theology, it is easy to be manipulated by religious leaders who rely on that ignorance to keep control of their power.

Let's think back to the early Colonists, many of whom came here to escape religious persecution. But what did they do when they got here? They set up the very sort of theocratic rule from whence they came. The majority's "religiously informed values" became the law. Dissenters were persecuted, whipped, shunned, or hanged. Is that the sort of society we want again?

The Founding Fathers intentionally drew a line of demarcation between the church & state. The gov't they established expressly forbade religious law from entering the civil code, even going as far to set up an entirely secular gov't with no place given for religious leaders.

Those theocracies were banned. And they should stay that way.

The difficulty people have is that they see their religious ideas as =the= truth for everyone. Now it may very well be that your religious ideas are 100% correct, but they may very well not be either. And even if those religious values you hold are entirely what God wants, God doesn't work through the legal code to carry out his plan. That is done via the spiritual establishment, not the gov't. Moreover, not everyone holds those same religious opinions & thus it is morally wrong to impose religious dogma onto others.

If there is no compelling =secular= reason for a law, the religious rational is simply not enough. Otherwise, the gov't is following the majority faith's religious dogma & establishing it with a Most Favored Status.

But the most ardent reason we don't vote our "religiously informed values" into law is the simple history of religious leaders in the past. History is replete with corrupt churchmen who rely on the theological ignorance of the people to manipulate policy. Just think of the charlatans past & present who misused Scripture to gain power for themselves.

And you're kidding yourself if you think there aren't charlatans out there who use faith as a means of gain. Tell the people what "God" wants them to do, rewrite the history, & suddenly the masses will do anything. With God on their side & a charismatic leader, there is no sin the people won't commit.

The danger of these "religiously informed values" become clear when applied to other faiths. What if the judge in Douglas County, GA, were Muslim & he insisted on the community's majority Muslim standards? What if "his courtroom, his rules" meant that every woman had to come in =with= a veil? What if women were not allowed to speak in his courtroom? What if he insisted on everyone swearing on the Koran & to Allah to tell the truth? What if Sharia Law was applied instead of the secular Constitution?

We've come too far & fought too hard for too long to let those sort of theocratic ideals have even a smidgen of a foothold. Not again. We've seen what happens in when faith & gov't become intertwined.

Not again. Not here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Amish Boy to Have Surgery Thanks to Very Smart Judge

Sometimes judges do the most foolish things, e.g., the judge in Douglasville who demanded a Muslim lady remove her headscarf in order to remain in the courtroom. Goofy. And unconstitutional. That judge has been referred to an ethics board by the GA attorney general for his egregious misconduct. (Click here for link to that story.)

But every once-in-a-while, a judge does something that is so amazingly brilliant that I stand in awe. Such is the case with Barbara R. Potter, a Family Court judge in St. Lawrence County, NY. That lady is so intelligent that she =must= be Baptist.

Here's the dilemma that came before her. An Amish boy, Eli Hershberger, was born in April 2007 with a hole in his heart. The only way to save the boy's life was to have surgery. The parents' faith, however, demanded they not seek the surgery.

So what do we do? The parents' religion won't allow the surgery lest their version of faith say they sinned against God. The county social workers have to look out for the welfare of Eli. The judge has to follow the law that protects the religious freedom of the parents while also serving the best interest of the child. Eli has no say, despite it being a life or death matter --- so that is why the judge has to rule.

And what a brilliant ruling she made.

The judge ruled that it is obvious the parents cared for the child & were in every regard good parents. The issue was the parents' faith. So while protecting the child's life & the parents' religious beliefs, the judge issued a very narrow ruling, saying the child had only been 'medically neglected." That means the parents may retain custody of the child but are not required to sign the consent form for the surgery. Thus the ruling took the parents out of the decision making process regarding the surgery but retained all other parental rights & responsibilities.

Think of the challenge this was for the Amish community. Think of the challenge it was for the social workers. But the judge --- wow. What a lady. I'm certain she =must= be Baptist. Must be. A genius ruling like this =must= be Baptistic ... She just has to be ...

A narrow ruling like that is a win-win-win for everyone.

Here's a snippet from the Watertown Daily Times.

"I don't think it was a compromise as much as it was a way for them to avoid giving their consent," said William J. Galvin, the county's conflict public defender representing Mr. Hershberger. "Their religion doesn't allow them to consent to the surgery, so what we asked today is that the court make a decision such that they would essentially be taken out of it."
The neglect case could be dismissed, providing the Hershbergers comply with the conditions of the judge's ruling. Those conditions include taking Eli to all medical checkups and providing doctors with his medical information.

Thanks to Howard Friedman for this info. Religion Clause: Court Issues Finely-Tuned Ruling In Ordering Surgery For Amish Boy

Christmas Celebrated in Iraq for 1st Time


The AP has reported that Christmas is a legal holiday in Iraq, an act that is a first for the Iraqi gov't. According to the Orlando Christianity Examiner Iraq's Interior Ministry hosted the country's first-ever legal public Christmas celebration in a small Baghdad park. Even though most of those who came to the celebration weren't Christian, Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf said warmly: "All Iraqis are Christian today!"

Iraq has now allowed Christmas celebration. Now we know how the 1st Americans felt being able to celebrate Christmas after the "Christian Theocracy" was disestablished after the passing of the Constitution. Isn't it strange that Christian Theocrats & Muslim Extremists both have hard times allowing people to chose how to worship? Both force one belief & demand everyone worship a certain way while also banning choice & dissent. Amazing.

Religion Clause: Christmas Is Legal Holiday For First Time This Year In Iraq
(Thanks to Howard Friedman for the info. He does a great job on his blog. Well worth reading everyday.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Can a Real Christian Ever Deny Christ?

I came across an article in Christianity Today a while ago & have been mulling the question over in my head: can a person who denies Christ still be a genuine believer?

There are several Bible verses that shed some light on this. Matthew 10:28-33 relates Christ saying that persecution will come & the context says if we deny Christ, he will deny us. 1 John has several references, e.g. 1JN 4:15, about denying Christ, but it looks more like a Christological confession than anything else, i.e., denying the unique Incarnation of the God-Man. Demas forsook Paul & Christ (2TIM 4:10). And there are some references about Christian martyrs, e.g., REV 2:13.

Now on the surface, it's an easy question. I'm sure we've all heard the pious proclamations of
I'll never deny Christ. And the trite I'm gonna do what God tells me to do no matter what. And the ever pious & clear I'm not gonna bow to any other god unless it is to offer my head for Jesus. Wow. Bet you've heard all those, right?

OK. I'm sure those folk mean well. And I'm sure they know Christ.

I'm just not so sure they know themselves all that well.

It is an old question, one even Peter struggled with. You know the story. Peter promised to never deny Jesus but did so not just once, but 3 times before breakfast (JN 18).

Now I'm not talking about casual stuff here. I'm talking the really big stuff. Life, limb & death ... or worse.

The early church struggled with the question as Christians were, off & on, persecuted. Pliny of Bithynia even wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan & detailed how he would threaten Christians to denounce their faith & offer sacrifice to other gods in order to spare their life, whereby Pliny said real Christians wouldn't make the sacrifice but would sacrifice themselves instead.

Really? Pliny knew what every one's breaking point is? We all know that the overwhelming majority of people will say anything to stop torture: does that include renouncing Christ?

The Middle Ages was a cruel time. Crusaders invaded the Middle East to reclaim the "Holy Land" & forcibly converted the Muslim to Christianity. The Muslims would then capture some Christians & force their conversion to Islam. All through the Middle Ages various wars were fought & persecutions raged on who was a
real Christian. Forced denouncements of faith were made all the time.

How about a modern example: Indian Hindus. The gov't gives assistance to Hindus but not Christians. So radical Hindu groups are giving the Christians an offer they can't refuse: sign the paper, go through the Hindu conversion ritual, & you & your family can live, even get gov't assistance. Don't convert, & you lose it all, maybe even have your family killed while you get to live. Some choice, eh?

The radical Hindu groups see the Christian missionary groups as a revitalized East India Company trying to recolonize the nation --- this time, they fear, the West comes with a religion instead of guns, something just as powerful. These radical Hindu groups want to change India from a secular nation to a theocratic one. Ridding the nation of Christians is, of course, the first step.

While it is easy to make such bold --- reckless & pious? --- statements about one's devotion to Christ, I have to wonder how strong that confession would be in light of torture. Or watching your family killed. Or knowing your kids will starve to death.

Or really coming face to face with one's own self.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

God of the Small Things

I think maybe our Gospel is too big. Yeah, that's right: too big.

I think God likes small. And I think he likes the inner, hidden things instead of the stuff everyone has to see.

Ever noticed the small things in the Bible? The mustard seed. The leaven. A small pearl, tucked away in a creature in the sea. A lost sheep or a lost coin. A worm to get the attention of a prodigal prophet. Children. The non-flashy, non-neon, non-anything that wouldn't seem to be "Biggie Things."

Instead, God uses the ordinary & the subtle. Of course, God can use the fire & lightening bolts & the earthquake. He certainly does at times, I think mainly to remind us of the small things.

Wanna bet on some ordinary things? How about a donkey speaking to Baalam. A basket-case of a baby floating down the Nile to be found by just the right daughter of Pharaoh, so that he could accomplish great things 40 years later. Or a shepherd boy & a slingshot up against the mighty giant with armor & a sword. One thrown stone; one fallen giant. David smiled. The people gasped. And God said, "Told ya."

Other subtle things. The still, small voice. The deep stirring of the heart.

And God has a way of favoring the small beginnings. The socially unimportant for whom he seeks justice. The widow whose mite was worth more than all the exalted & announced giving of the Pharisees. Eleven disciples that turned the world upside down. An old, childless couple with nothing but a promise of a nation from a yet unseen kid. A manger with 2 young teenagers, & an insignificant town was blessed with the Invasion of God into human history.

In fact, I don't think God likes the Big & Showy. Every time there is Big & Showy, people get involved, show themselves off with the 2x4 in their eyes, & just get in the way of God. The Pharisee on the street corner announcing his prayers & his work for God --- he has his reward, says Jesus. And all those rules those Big & Showy Godslingers like to force on everyone to make sure the small, inner attitude is forgotten --- typical of man; unheard of with God. When Christ spent time with the Down-&-Out instead of the Up-&-In, the Godslingers cried foul. How can anything good come out of partying with those people? They are not believers; don't' wash their hands; don't keep the rules; don't attend church; don't do the right things; don't ... the list just keeps going.

But God looks not at the Big & Showy Rule Book. In fact, I don't think God likes rules. God said he doesn't want Rule Keepers but Heart Followers who love justice & mercy & actually help folks. It's too small a matter to keep rules; that is what Pharisees do --- make the rules so everyone knows what to do & that makes everyone think they are righteous. But that is not what Jesus said: Unless your righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees ... (MATT 5:20).

It is far too easy to keep rules than to live the attitude.

It is too easy to compel behavior than to change lives. Come to think of it, Christ never tried to do the Big Thing & make any laws; change gov't; become a policy advisor to a political leader. In fact, Jesus didn't get involved with the Big Thing of politics at all. None of the disciples did either. No, it was the small things that changed lives --- feeding the poor; helping the homeless; demanding justice for everyone regardless of status or affiliation; laying down his life because the Pharisees didn't like it when the Rule Book Theology was challenged.

When we try to make it too big, we mess it up.

Yeah. Small things. Big results. What a concept. What a God.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Faith, Politics, & the Corruption of Both

Peter Suderman brings out the tired, contorted argument about faith, saying that if one is a real Christian, then he/she should be trying to implement Christian dogma into personal life & in the legal code.’s always struck as strange when people argue that Christians have every right to their beliefs, and that those beliefs ought to be firmly respected — but that in politics, those beliefs ought to be kept to oneself. For many Christians, it’s integral to their faith that every part of their life, including their work, be comported in accordance with their religious beliefs. The idea that one ought to turn off or conveniently ignore his or her faith when participating in public life is anathema to many devout believers, and when proponents of a purely secular politics suggest that believers should be able to do that without compromising their faith, they misunderstand the entire nature of religious belief. What the most ardent secularists end up saying is, "I’ll respect your beliefs — provided you never act upon them around me."

Peter, I think you're missing the point like an F22 Raptor going right over your head. You can do whatever you want in regards to your faith in your life. But when you want to compel others to conform to your beliefs & use the legal code to force that behavior, you have become a Godslinger: a modern day Pharisee with pious sounding words but is nothing more than a revisiting of the Pharisees.

The issue here is that some folks just can't stand it when others don't hold the same religious view. I'm not talking about evangelism or discipleship. No, those are things that change people internally. But when that religious conviction is forced upon others, the democratic process becomes another avenue of religious wars & theological wranglings, the very thing our Founders saw in Europe & in the colonies --- & they decided to stop it.

This is not a question of "is there a God;" or "is Jesus the only way;" or whatever theological question one wants to raise. No, this is a question about whether gov't should give favoritism to any faith & that faith's teachings.

Now I could go into the way our Baptist forefathers handled this, even talking about how John Leland dropped out of the election against James Madison on the promise that Madison would initiate the Baptistic principle of "separation of church & state" as a political reality. I could. But I won't. Most folks don't know about it, but they really don't care either, from what I've learned.

Godslingers --- modern day Pharisees who are more concerned about making & keeping rules than in impacting lives. Fundamentalism has shown it is no respecter of religion or nation. It has one goal & that is control. Add God to their side & there is nothing they won't do in the name of faith to coerce righteous behavior.

We need to realize the importance of why we hold the separation of church & state as a =political= reality. Try these:

1) It protects the church from the state. --- Corrupt politicians love to use the power of faith to manipulate the church to do its political Will, even an evil one. History is replete with those examples.

2) It protects the state from the church. --- Corrupt churchmen love to use the power of faith to manipulate the state to do the churchmen's Will, even an evil one. History is replete with those examples.

3) It protects the liberty of conscience from church & state collusion. --- The danger is a faith or political minority that is out of favor with both the church & the state can be doubly persecuted when they act in concert to wipe out an religious minority.

4) It protects the individual states from the Federal Gov't. --- Without the separation of church & state, no individual state can be compelled to act on the religious dictates of anyone politician in Washington. At the very least, the 1st Amendment refuses any national church.

5) It protects society from the requirement to support a faith via the Sword. --- The power to tax is the power to control. As long as there is separation of church & state, gov't is not allowed to use tax money to give special treatment to any religion. Madison's Remonstrance was very clear on this matter, for if 3 pence can support a general faith today, tomorrow it will be a particular church, & before long, a certain pastor or religious idea.

6) We've been down the road of melding church & state before --- Without exception, every nation/civilization that has melded faith & gov't, has ended up persecuting everyone, conscience is violated, & both faith & gov't become unbearable.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kid's Clothes & Women's Smiles

I saw this today. In fact, I've seen it a gazillion times but it never dawned on me until this afternoon.

Why is it that when 2 or more women are together & they see baby clothes, they just get all giddy & start smiling & laughing &
gooing & gahing. I mean they can't help but smile. They gush smiles all over the place.

Today I worked the Rotary Club Overstock Clothing Sale. It's a neat idea. We take clothing from a charity clothing warehouse & sell it in our area, splitting the proceeds with the clothing charity.

Any who
... the women that came in had themselves a Good Ol' Time at the table with the baby-to-toddler sized stuff. You would have thought they were looking at a new transmission for a '67 Mustang. All those smiles --- & not a camera anywhere around.


Guys see the same outfit. Think of the same kid. Guys don't start a flowing river of smiles. Guys think of the necessity of clothes & the cost to our wallet. Women --- they just smile. And the bigger the smile the more they are willing to pay for the outfit.

I just don't get it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

History of American Christmas

For some reason, people have some really strange ideas about Christmas. Some folks think it is a Pagan holiday. Others believe it to be a uniquely Christian event. Neither are true & both are correct. Fact is, Christmas is a relatively new event in the US, with the secular celebrations not beginning until just after the close of the Civil War & the religious celebrations not until the late 19th century. In other words, when someone says we've "always celebrated Christmas in America," they really don't know what they are talking about.

The religious underpinnings of Christmas go back to Pagan origins with all sorts of festivities & emblems, many eventually incorporated into the modern celebration. (Click here for a link that discusses some of the Christmas emblems we have today. Click here for a brief history on the religious aspects that have blended together to comprise our modern celebration.) When someone passes along the God spam that talks about all the representations of Christ that are in the Christmas tree .... uh, no. Not true. Someone just made that up & passed it along. (Here's a reference that attempts to relate the seasonal emblems to Christianity, most of which are just bunk, since those emblems originated not with Christianity at all.)

We've all heard that the Roman festivals were eventually adapted into Christian celebrations under Constantine. True, Constantine needed the rising Christian population to fight his battles & the struggling Christians readily accepted the power that came from official endorsement. So the Pagan aspects became Christianized.

Through the middle ages, the Catholic Church expanded the Christmas celebration & other Pagan celebrations were assimilated.

Then came the Presbyterians. And the Puritans.

Finally, there came Cromwell.

The Presbyterians in Scotland & the Puritans (the same ones that came to America) completely rejected the celebration of Christmas. They called it a sinful & heretical idea that was nothing more than idolatry. In fact, Presbyterians in Scotland banned Christmas celebrations & those who observed the day were met with swift & severe punishment for their sins against God.
(Link.) It wasn't until the 1950s that Scottish Presbyterians removed the ban.

Cromwell became Lord Protector of England & with his Puritan forces banned the festival of Christmas in 1645.

Those same Puritans came the New World to escape the persecution of the Anglican & Catholic church, both of which celebrated Christmas. So when they came to America, Christmas was made illegal, with penalties imposed by the judge & the church, usually one in the same. The nativity, in particular, was believed to be the gross sin of idolatry. (Link)

So for most of the Colonies, Christmas was spent in work, not worship. (Link.)

Christmas was celebrated in a few areas of Colonial America, mainly where the Catholics & Anglicans had strongholds. Still, those were small & only religious in nature & were kept to the church, never spilling over into the community at large. In fact, George Washington even attacked a group of Hessians on Christmas day since he knew they would still be hung over from their celebration & the Patriot troops didn't regard Christmas as anything special, rejecting both Papist & English tradition. Even Congress was in session on Christmas Day doing the day-to-day work as normal. To the Colonists, Christmas was just another day.(Link.)

Like the rest of the colonies, Christmas in GA wasn't a big deal. The Congregationalist missionaries among the Cherokees at New Echota didn't regard Christmas with any significance, though the Moravians did make quite the party. (Link.)

In 1819, Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon,
gent., a collection of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house, that were based on "ancient customs." It was all made up, of course. But the idea began to take hold & gradually people began to have parties & give gifts to the kids. Even then, there was no relating the birth of Christ with the secular event. It as just a few parties & a few kids' gifts "like they do in England."(Link.)

Mostly Christmas was just a sparse religious event among the few Episcopalians & Catholics. There would be a few nativity scenes in the Catholic churches & a special mass, but that was it. Until the Civil War, the overwhelming majority of Americans didn't do anything special with Christmas, not even exchanging gifts or going to church.

The Civil War changed a lot of things & Christmas was no exception. More people in contact with each other meant learning new ideas. The idea of a winter party gained some acceptance & soon the thought of taking a winter break from the long hours in industrial plants swept the nation. In 1870, President US Grant made Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July & New Year's Day official Federal holidays to accommodate family time, all completely secular & all without pay. (Link.)
By 1893, all states & territories had followed suit & made Xmas a secular holiday. (Link.)

As Christmas became more practiced, the religious connotations emerged & by the 1890s, Christmas took on a uniquely Christian overtone in America. Still, there were two distinct celebrations: one religious & one secular, with all faiths & no faiths getting in on the parties.

It is interesting to note that prior to 1945, there are no Supreme Court cases regarding Christmas. None. It is not until after WW II ended & the erosion of Xian hegemony that people began to have disputes. After all, until the 1890s, Christmas wasn't even celebrated. During the next 50 years, the majority Christian faith adopted & adapted the Christmas season. Before long, those majority religious ideas were clashing with the secular ideas, other religious ideas & legal principles And that meant lawsuits. (Link to some legal info on Christmas.)

Today, Santa is the premier secular Christmas symbol, first appearing in 1821 & widely accepted by 1897 with the classic, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. That did it. When kids expect presents, they get them & the modern secular Christmas was born. Today, Christmas begins a few days before Thanksgiving & lasts until the final college bowl game sometime after New Years. Of course, Christmas is celebrated all over the world in its secular form, in all nations & of all faiths. Yes, even in Muslim nations, the secular Christmas is celebrated.

The religious aspects of Christmas have certainly changed over the years. Christmas used to be viewed as sinful & something unholy by most Americans. Nativity scenes even 150 years ago -- would get you thrown in jail & kicked out of the church. Today, things are much different ... well, maybe not in some parts of the nation. Say anything about separation of church & state & ... whew.

No matter how one worships or chooses not to worship, it is entirely a matter of conscience & conviction, a right protected by the Constitution. Yet, we would be greatly amiss to say that our nation has always celebrated Christmas. That is false. Christmas celebration is a relatively new phenomenon, only having been around for roughly 110 years or so, & even then with many different meanings than what we ascribe today.
For some more info on Xmas traditions & their history, here's another link.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Baseball Logo Caskets?

I am not sure if this delves into the tacky, the funny, or the plain weird. Somewhere on the scale of "Lemme think about this" is the story I found in the Boston Globe for the serious baseball fan --- I mean the to die for fan.

A Boston Red Sox logo on casket.

For the serious fan only, of course.

My first thought was this is about the tackiest thing I've ever seen. It is just not appropriate.

But I thought about it. Thought some more. For some folks, it would be exactly what the person would want. Maybe there was a serious fan. Ever been in a restaurant after a University of GA football victory? Those people are beyond serious about their love for their college football. Granted, some folks would get this sort of casket out of devotion to their beloved team. Others would get it because it is the Redneck thing to do & they wouldn't give it a second thought.

Then there are those few folks who ... well ... they just have a sense of humor. These are the folks that are always thinking of ways to get folks to laughing or dreaming up some mischief. Not mean. Sometimes annoying. Can even get obnoxious. But everyone knows they just have a love for life & a passion for the human experience of fun.

To be honest, I can think of a lot of folks who would want a casket like this just to make sure the crowd had a good time at the funeral. Wouldn't even put it past 'em to have in their Will that there be an open bar, a DJ, & all sorts of finger foods --- to lighten the mood.

I remember one funeral I did in South Carolina. The lady had worked in a mill her whole life & she told me that when she passed, she wanted the funeral at night. 7PM. She insisted that it wasn't fair to make people choose between taking time off for a funeral & paying respects to the family. She went on to say that she didn't like to make those choices & she wasn't going to put that choice on others.

Actually, it was a packed house. I see the wisdom in her thinking. The next morning was the burial service with just the immediate family. Really a "good" funeral, if that is permissible to say.

I've officiated funerals where there were funny stories related about the deceased. Those, I think, are usually the better funerals as it is a celebration of life, not a grieving of death.

So I am not so sure what to make of the Official Major League Baseball's casket. It's weird. It's tacky. Certainly different.

But really. Who cares? Life is too short to not enjoy it. Maybe death should be a bit of fun too. Your mileage may vary.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Annual Christmas Decoration Rant

Don't get me started on Christmas! Bring the boxes up. Unpack the boxes. Untangle the lights (that takes a couple of hours). Plug 'em up. They don't work. Spend another hour trying the find the screwed up bulb. Give up trying to find it. Go to the store & start cussing because they don't have the same type of lights this year. Of course my wife wants the lights on the tree to all be the same so I spend $25 on new lights. Go home & one of the kids will step on the string, breaking some of the bulbs. Not enough replacements. Go back to the store & they don't have any replacement bulbs. Buy another string plus one string for spare. Go home & get the ladder out. Cuss again because my hands are turning blue in the cold. Plug 'em up. Blow a fuse. Can't find the flash light because the kids/wife have used it & didn't put it back. Get the power back on. Start putting up the millions of things wife has collected over the last 20 years. Watch her cry when she breaks a couple of 'em. Fusses at me 'cause she is in a bad mood over taking so long & broken ornaments. Kids are starving. Run & get some fast food & spend another $20. Get home & finish the decorating. Put on the Christmas music & wife wants to take pictures for "memories." No film or batteries. Go back to the store for both. Store doesn't have either. End up buying 2 disposable cameras. Fume some more. Get home & everyone has eaten everything, including my dinner. Take enough pictures to compile a National Geographic pictorial for a year. Wife fusses at me for being grumpy --- spent the entire Christmas budget in one day, starving, & smoke coming out my ears. Dog & cats get in the tree. Tree falls over. More broken ornaments. Use bungee cords attached to the stair railing to secure the tree. Wife cries some more over more broken ornaments. I retreat to my desk to get away from the very tired but wound up kids. Wifey yells because I have to put up the now-empty boxes. I put up the boxes. Family sits around & admire the decorations. I'm still fuming. Take Pepto. Sleep on the couch.

Don't get me started on Christmas!!!!!!!!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kentucky has God in Charge of Homeland Security

This is about the strangest thing I've seen in a while. For some reason & in some way, the legislation that Kentucky passed to establish their Homeland Security department had a strange requirement: the state had to acknowledge God & place a plaque on the wall at the department's headquarters.

Today's Lexington Herald-Leader reports that law requires the state to depend on God as vital in the protection of the people, & in the Homeland Security agency's training and educational materials. It goes further to mandate a plaque be prominently displayed at the entrance to the state's Emergency Operations Center & have the inscription of the 88-word statement that begins: "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.’”

The language was inserted into the homeland security bill by a Southern Baptist minister who is also a state legislator.

Current Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear's office was not aware of the provision until reporters asked about it. The required plaque is still up, but the statutory language is not in the Homeland Security office's current mission statement, nor is it on its website.

First, how in the world did this sort of language get into a bill that actually passed? If it said that the citizens of Kentucky were relying on the power of Allah or Buddha or the Great Spirit in the Sky or the Big Oak Tree Out Back, there would have been an outcry to impeach every legislator that voted for the bill.

Second, I'm quite embarrassed that a Baptist would insert such language. Has the gentlemen not ever read the Baptist Faith & Message that specifically says it is not Biblical to use the state's money to advocate faith causes? Has he ever taken a Baptist history class, or any American history class, for that matter?

Third, I do hope Kentucky corrects such an egregious breach of the Wall of Separation between church & state.

Lastly, this shows the reason why we have free press. Without a free press that asks the hard questions & digs up the information, we would never have known about this.

Let's remember the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sensitive Eyes & Devo Shades

I bet some of you remember the 70s/early 80s band "Devo" (click here for the Wiki link). They are best known for their song Whip It (click here to watch the You Tube video).

Well, that's not all that important except .. well, just keep reading.

About 5 years ago I realized that my eyes hurt. I mean really hurt. And they tired easily with a lot of twitching around the eye & such. But the worst part was the light sensitivity that made it well nigh impossible to enjoy the outdoors. Since I wear prescription glasses & am terrified to have the Lasik surgery done, I have a hard time finding sunglasses that will keep out enough sunlight. Even with a good pair of clip on shades, the light coming in from the top & sides made it very difficult to see outside. Mrs. TBAR finally told me that if I was planning on driving, I needed to do something or she was no longer going to let me have the keys. Ok, Ok. She didn't really say it like that. But she did say a few things over a few years that made me realize I needed to see a doc about it.

So after the eye exam, I get the news: I'm getting older.

Well, duh!

And that means my eyes aren't like they used to be.

Oh, great. What is the kicker line?

So the doc says I need the progressive lenses & I need to get some sunshades that cover my entire pair of glasses ... you know, like those ginormous shades old men wear after cataract surgery.

Great doc. Why not just tell me I need to start taking Metimucial, too?

To make sure I understand what he is talking about, he shows me a pic. What do they remind me of? Devo. The kind of glasses Devo wore. Those goofy, really goofy, humongous, old man-looking glasses that I swore I wouldn't be caught dead looking =at= much less looking =through.=

After a few days of piecing my pride back together, I decided that it was a good thing to be able to drive & as long as I just wore them while driving, it couldn't be that bad. So I bought a pair of BluBlockers that fit over my glasses (the Starshield BluBlocker).

Man, I can see.

It is amazing. I can see. I mean really see. No glare. No pain. It's like ... wow.

Now I get a few laughs out of 'em. My teen daughter begs me to not go out in public with her. By youngest prays every night that God will fix my eyes so I won't look like the Parent Dork on the sideline at the soccer games.

But I can see.

After several months I finally had a realization: who cares. It is my eyesight, not theirs. I am not so vain as to worry about it. It is more important to be able to see well & not have eye pain than to worry about how I may fair in the latest issue of GQ.

I highly recommend these shades. Yes, everything looks amber in color but I love 'em. You can order the regular sunglasses if you don't need 'em to fit over a prescription pair. (Click here for the link to BluBlocker, non paid endosement.) If I ever have the Lasik, I'll get one of those styles.

Here's a pic of 'em. Dorky, yes, but I really don't care what anyone thinks of 'em.

I can see!


Cardboard Testimonies

I'm just gonna post this video of what we did at West Ridge Church last Sunday. Wow. It's about 10 minutes but worth every second of it. You can't hear it on the video so much, but the applause after each sign was turned was incredible. Not a lot of dry eyes in the house.

God bless & Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Godslingers & School Prayer

Last Sunday, Dr Bruce Prescott interviewed Joann Bell as she spoke of her experience with the Little Axe School District. Joann summarizes her experiences as a complainant against practices and policies associated with before school prayer meetings at the Little Axe school in 1981.

Kids were not allowed into the school while the religious instruction was going on. If the students wanted to get warm, they had to participate in the prayer meeting. And it wasn't just a prayer meeting: it was a very conservative prayer meeting, where kids were told rock & roll was the Devil's music & anyone who disagreed with the sponsoring church's theology was going to hell.

So, she tried talking to the school board where she was met with hostility. Bell recalled that board members told her “they did things the way they wanted to. If I didn’t like it, that was my problem.” Those at the meeting chanted “atheists, go home!” and one school board member handed out homemade placards to the crowd that said “Commies Go Home.” She was called those names despite the fact that she is a Christian & attended church in the community.

Here's a quote from Dr. Prescott's blog:

I got my own obituary in the mail. My kids were threatened constantly -- their lives. I was told my kids were not going to survive. They said my house would be burned. The threats to burn my home was the one that I probably should have taken the most seriously. I just couldn't see in an civilized area -- I considered that these people would not ever do that. But my home was firebombed. Unless you've ever had a fire -- the devastation is something you cannot even begin to describe. To lose everything you've ever had. And with four children you really accumulate a lot of things -- the trophies. Everything that you saved, your baby pictures, the little things -- your marriage license. You lose everything. There's nothing hardly that can be saved. One of the things, the very few things that survived the fire was the christening dress of my daughter. We have three sons and we have a daughter that we're very proud of and this was her christening dress and that little hat was melted. It's one, it's one of the things that you'd like to pass on and let them use it for their children. This is just an example of things that were ruined and what our family lost in the fire. Because we essentially lost everything we had.
While all this was going on, then-Superintendent Paul Pettigrew told the National Catholic Reporter (click here for article), “The only people who have been hurt by this thing are the Bells and McCords. The school goes on. They chose to create their own hell on earth.”

Hmmm. "Atheist." "Commie." "Go away if you don't like it." "We'll run you out of town." "It hurts your family & reputation." "This is the way we do it around here." "Don't be surprised if you suffer consequences."

Houses burned down. Physically & verbally assaulted.

That sort of stuff doesn't bode well for our witness, does it church?

Though Ms Bell eventually won in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals years later, the battle just shifted to other school systems, other city councils, other areas of Godslinger control. Fundamentalism doesn't care about the
witness but about the notches on the Spiritual Evangelism Belt. And the more notches the Godslingers can make, the more control & power they will have.

Godslingers are modern day Pharisees --- & they still complain about taking Jesus to the "sinners & tax collectors." Some things never change.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Troy Davis Deserves Some Justice

There is something very, very wrong here.

I noticed today that President Bush granted 14 pardons & commuted 2 sentences. (See MSNBC news link.) That's fine. He has the
prerogative. And he doesn't have to answer to anyone for it, either.

Here is the list:

_Leslie Owen Collier of Charleston, Mo. She was convicted for unauthorized use of a pesticide and violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

_Milton Kirk
Cordes of Rapid City, S.D. Cordes was convicted of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits importation into the country of wildlife taken in violation of conservation laws.

_Richard Micheal
Culpepper of Mahomet, Ill., who was convicted of making false statements to the federal government.

_Brenda Jean
Dolenz-Helmer of Fort Worth, Texas, for reporting or helping cover up a crime.

_Andrew Foster Harley of Falls Church, Va. Harley was convicted of wrongful use and distribution of marijuana and cocaine.

_Obie Gene
Helton of Rossville, Ga., whose offense was unauthorized acquisition of food stamps.

_Carey C.
Hice Sr. of Travelers Rest, S.C., who was convicted of income tax evasion.

_Geneva Yvonne
Hogg of Jacksonville, Fla., convicted of bank embezzlement.

_William Hoyle
McCright Jr. of Midland, Texas, who was sentenced for making false entries, books, reports or statements to a bank.

_Paul Julian
McCurdy of Sulphur, Okla., who was sentenced for misapplication of bank funds.

_Robert Earl
Mohon Jr. of Grant, Ala., who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

_Ronald Alan
Mohrhoff of Los Angeles, who was convicted for unlawful use of a telephone in a narcotics felony.

Figh Pue III of Conroe, Texas, convicted of illegal treatment, storage and disposal of a hazardous waste without a permit.

_Orion Lynn Vick of White Hall, Ark., who was convicted of aiding and abetting the theft of government property.

Bush also commuted the prison sentences of John Edward Forte of North Brunswick, N.J., and James Russell Harris of Detroit, Mich. Both were convicted of cocaine offenses.


But then there is the case of Troy Davis.

The guy was convicted of killing a policeman in 1989 but there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime & no murder weapon was found. There were 9 witnesses who said Davis did it, but 7 of them have since recanted claiming police intimidation. They also contend that another man did it, who is, ironically, one of the other 2 witnesses against Davis.

Davis admits he was there & was basically a thug. But he denies killing the cop.

If the guy were put on trial today with the current slate of witnesses, he would be acquitted. Yet, he is still on death row now?

This is why we don't execute people immediately: we need to give time to exhaust every possible chance to save a life. We value liberty that much.

But in Davis' case, the system seems to be out for revenge instead of justice.

Presidential pardons are usually done out of connections or politics or both. I really don't care how they are done or why. I do care about justice. If anyone deserves to at least have the death sentence commuted, it is Troy Davis.

Wonder if Troy Davis had any heavy duty election campaign donors in his family? I'm just sayin'.

Here's a NY Times article on Davis.

Here's the Wiki link.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Honesty of Golfer J.P. Hayes

"Honesty is not something you flirt with — you should be married to it."
--- Table Top at Joe's Crab House, Aurora, CO.

Actually, it should be on a t-shirt that golfer J.P Hayes wears.

Hayes was playing in the Q School. Big deal. More than a day =after= he finishes playing the round, he realizes he made a mistake. What does he do? He calls his own foul & disqualifies himself. No one would have ever known. Yet, he does the honorable thing. And then he says that it is no big deal & that any other golfer would have done the same thing.

I would hope there are still some honest folks left in the world who would do that. I know there are many who wouldn't.

The guy deserves the accolades for being not only honest, buy having honor.

Here's the Yahoo news link, if you wanna read it for yourself.

While that is certainly a story in & of itself, the reader comments brought me back from the lofty ideals I had so hoped humanity could still display. One reader actually made the claim that Hayes only called the foul on himself to bring attention to his act & thereby get better endorsement deals next year. After all, Hayes is not a top tier player & this is a way for him to make some cash.

Here's the quote from chase07470, whomever that is:

With $7 million in career prize money, probably more in endorsements, what would the fall out be of getting caught cheating? Not worth considering for a professional golfer. Look at all of the positive media he's getting now. I bet the sponsor exemptions will be easier next year with this story all over the media. Not to be critical of J.P. Hayes but just not sure the writer considered how easy a choice this was compared to say a Tillman who leaves the NFL to fight the war. This isn't an act of heroism. It's a smart move by someone with a lot to lose.

Two things wrong with that. First, that sort of thinking shows a cynical attitude. Second, that sort of charge can really harm a person's character should it become a common belief. Without such evidence to make the suggestion, it should never be said. It is assigning motive, something that we have no way of knowing. And if we assign the wrong motive, it is called character assassination. That's why we don't do it. That's why we are commanded to not "judge others" by assigning motive, especially when we may guilty of the same thing.

Kudos to J.P. Hayes. May his tribe increase.

But to the cynics who somehow find glory in tearing down the good deeds of others, chill out while the rest of us make life worth living.

Note: The Yahoo! News link will be gone after a few weeks so I'm including another link. Won't have the snide comment, but folks can still read the story about an honest man.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Political Hacks

I'm getting quite perturbed. Both sides have shown they are more concerned about power than principles, politics than purpose, financial gain than future generations.

Quite disgusting.

I remember it was only a few years ago that many were extolling the glorious virtues of George W & his superb handling of the economy. Inflation was nearly zero. Interest rates at historic lows. Unemployment near 4%. Everything was booming. He & the GOP got all the glory. Now, those people are no longer heard from when things go south. If you give him praise in the good times, you've gotta give him the boos in the bad times.

Then there was Clinton & all the "great" economic times during the 90s. Never mind he inherited the office as the recession was ending & there was no place to go but up. Never mind the President has zero control of the economy. It was good good & everything was boom booming. Then, those people were no longer heard from when things went south the year before he left office. If you give him praise in the good times, you've gotta give him the credit for the busts as well.

So many folks were complaining to high heaven about the gas prices in the summer. They were making cuts in driving. Gotta conserve energy. Need smaller cars. Cut out unnecessary expenses. Be resourceful. And now? Back to driving in the old ways. Conservation was a fad. Buy those gas guzzlers again when petrol is only $2. Not doing much to help conserve anymore, are we?

Don't forget Ol' Sonny Perdue, Governor of GA! Yes sir. He decided that 3 cents per gallon tax that was to pay for DOT projects across the state didn't need to be implemented on July 1, 2008. The people of GA just couldn't handle it. Everyone just lauded him as a hero. Never mind some of us said it was short sighted; that gas would go back down to $2 a gallon again; that those DOT projects can't be funded without that money; that this was a bad, bad move. So what do we say about Sonny's move now? There are all those DOT projects that have no funding --- & people are driving =more= now than when gas was at $4 a gallon. Short sighted. Playing politics.

Ever noticed those bills that get passed just in time for an election to pander to as many voters as possible? There is that infamous mandatory-elective Bible class in GA high schools. (Never have figured out what it means to mandate an elective class, but only offer the class if the Board of Education approves it. Goofy all by itself.) All those politicians came back & got to say how they put God back in schools --- but very few schools in GA even made the attempt to offer the class, knowing the legal wranglings it would cause. Even the Paulding County, GA Board of Education refused to even consider the class or even have public discussions on it --- & it is the Speaker of the GA House own district. But it played well with the voters, didn't it?

Let's go back to Gov. Sonny Perdue. GA has been in a two year drought & Sonny decided to hold a prayer meeting on the steps of the GA Capital. A prayer meeting. That's what I said: a prayer meeting. Of course, he announces the prayer meeting the day =after= the weather forecast called for major storms. And it just so happened that Sonny decided to have the prayer meeting the day =before= the storms were due. Imagine how the glory did roll when the prayers were answered. Oh, & let's make sure we mention that only one faith participated in the prayer meeting on the steps of GA's Gold Dome. The majority faith of GA, naturally, got center stage --- & all the political grandstanding too.

Ever noticed those "hot button" issues that the politicians take a stand on --- but never do anything to institute that stance? Hmmm. Who got played?

Really, I'm just getting sick of it. Been sick of it.

I resent my faith being used as a ploy for votes. I resent my non-negotiables being a tool to garner a political base. I resent the politicians using special interest money to get issues passed that only polarize the electorate. Instead of doing the things to consolidate power, how about those politicians just do what we elected them to do --- lead like statesmen?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Church Jesus Creates

What kind of church should we be? I think Tony Campolo has it right. Too often our view is a glorified civic club. God help us.

Muhammad Never Existed?

(By Howard M. Friedman at Religion Clause.)

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reports on Prof. Muhammad Sven Kalisch, head of the Center for Religious Studies at Germany's Munster University. A convert to Islam, Kalisch is Germany's first professor of Islamic theology. Hired to apply Western scholarship to Islamic studies, he has now concluded that the Prophet Muhammad probably never existed. He says this does not mean he is no longer a Muslim. Officials, alarmed at the implications of his scholarship, have removed him as head of a program to train teachers to teach religion to their Muslim students in public schools. Police have told Kalisch to move his Center to a more secure area. The Center has removed a sign identifying its location and has eliminated its address from its website.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Georgia Baptists Get Rid of Women Pastors

There is only 1 church in GA that is both associated with the Southern Baptist Convention & has a female pastor. The church has been in the SBC since 1862 & has given literally millions to the Cooperative Program.

Now the Georgia Baptist Convention has decided that churches with female pastors are no longer in good standing.

So the
GBC has decided to no longer accept money from the First Baptist Church of Decatur where Julie Pennington-Russell is senior pastor. There were no conversations with her or the church from anyone in the GBC. Just a shut down.

Of course, the
GBC says its new "policy" would allow refusal of money from other "questionable" sources, like alcohol distributors. Guess Jesus would have been kicked out of the GBC with his turning water into wine miracle, but what's the Bible got to do with a good, righteous cause, eh? Female pastors & that Devil's Brew are all lumped in the same Basket of Evil. Gimme a break.

It is obvious the
GBC adopted this policy to attack one church & one pastor. Shame on the GBC.

Here's the Atlanta Journal Constitution news article.

Roger Williams

There is a great article at this link about Roger Williams, one of our nation's forgotten founding fathers. Dr. Davis has done us all a great service by reminding us how important Williams was & the impact he had on our understanding of religious liberty.

Few Baptists even understand their own history. Let's hope articles like this remind the current SBC leaders what our spiritual & political heritage is all about.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Madison's Remonstrance, Remix Version

That Jimmy Madison. What a guy. He really knew how to tell it like it needs to be said. Guess that's why he was the guy who had the most influence on the Bill of Rights, especially in regard to our religious liberties. Those Enlightenment ideas of Jimmy's that the church shouldn't influence the state came face to face with that Baptist name John Leland, who approached it from another angle: the state shouldn't have any control over the conscience either.

So when the VA General Assembly was to consider a bill that would allow tax payer funding of religious instruction, Jimmy took that Baptistic doctrine & the secular Enlightenment ideals, forged them into a defense, & the result was what Jimmy Madison termed his Remonstrance.

The remix is how I think a 2008 version would be played. So below is the remix. I've included the original cut as well.


Remonstrance Remix 2008

We have to be ready to fight against those theocrats as soon as they raise their ugly head. We did that with the Revolution, didn't we? The patriots didn't wait until some things were already set in place to raise a stink. No way. We didn't want those sort of things to get any foothold. We saw what it would do if we let it grow & so we nipped it in the bud. We fought too hard to forget that lesson. Anyone should be able to see that if we let Christianity get special treatment, the next step would be to let one denomination become the leader of all of it. Before long, it is a certain group in that denomination who calls the shots & their interpretation gets to be the Rule; everyone else gets left out in the cold & has to conform. If gov't can let 3 pennies of tax payer money --- just 3 cents --- go to give special treatment to one religion, tomorrow it may be a different religion. Allowing one means allowing others to do the same to us & we won't like it when the tables are turned. Isn't that just obvious?

Remonstrance 1785 Original Version

Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cross in the Dirt

John McCain has told the story of how, when he was a POW in Vietnam, one of the guards loosed the bounds a little after one of the torture sessions. Then the guard drew a cross in dirt to represent he was a Christian. Many reports of this sort of identifying of faith have been recorded in history, though Andrew Sullivan doubts McCain's story, since it is very similar to Solzhenitsyn's story while in a Communist prison. Still, both accounts could just as easily be real. And let's add that one of McCain's fellow prisoners remembers McCain mentioning it while still over there. OK.

But let's back up a minute. Let's supposed McCain's story =is= real (or Solzhenitsyn's story, for that matter). Does no one see the bigger question behind that
guard's act? The question would be this: can a genuine Christian torture an American prisoner like that? Could a real Christian torture Solzhenitsyn simply because of political views that Solzhenitsyn had =against= the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union? Could a real Christian torture anyone at all for political beliefs?

It does raise quite an ethical question, doesn't it? Is the act of torture even an option for a Xian?

How about this question ... many of the Religious Right make the claim that our nation was founded on "
Judeo-Christian" values. OK. So does that mean that those British soldiers that fought for the Crown were not Christian? Or just not Christian enough?

Then we can move into a very thorny question ... what of the German troops that followed Hitler to battle? Could a true Christian follow after the ideals of Fascism? Could a Christian be a Communist as well?

Hmmmm. This could be a thorny topic.

Granted I do see how someone can be so committed to the politics that the ethics of their faith get left out in the cold --- just look around for plenty of evidence on that one. However, on a smaller scale, how does one reconcile things like acts of torture & Christian practice? Killing for a political ideal? War for a mad man? Following orders that intentionally harm people?

I'm gonna have to think on this one some more.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Politics of the Religious Divide

There is an interesting article by Eric Gorski (click here) that says religion & politics come to a head in 2008 --- & religion lost. Big time lost.

Here are some highlights from his article:

Analysis: Religion used divide, mock in ‘08

With a few exceptions, whatever seemed odd or fringe trumped serious discussion about how candidates’ religious beliefs shape their approach to governance.
. . .
As the race nears its end, scholars and religious leaders are using terms like “new low” and “embarrassing” to describe how religious beliefs were distorted and picked over, while candidates were asked to mount theological defenses for their respective faiths or be held accountable for the views of others. . . . “This year we invaded churches with cell phones and started putting sermons up on YouTube,” said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown political science professor. “That’s been troubling, because you would like to think a candidate would have a little privacy in church.” David Gushee
, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Georgia, said that more so than in past elections, religion became “a marker of identity” for candidates this year.
. . .
But Martin Marty, one of the nation’s
pre-eminent religion scholars, already has reached one conclusion: the rancorous campaign has been bad for religion. The retired University of Chicago professor wrote in a commentary this week that the exploitation and exhibition of religion in the race is “bad for the name of religion itself, for religious institutions, for a fair reading of sacred texts, for sundered religious communities, for swaggering religious communities which are too sure of themselves, for the pursuit of virtue, for extending the reach of religion too far.”

When religion --- any religion --- allows itself to be a political tool, it is nothing more than prostitution. Religious leaders have allowed their followers to become a voting bloc instead of focusing on the sacred mission to change lives. We don't change lives by compelling people via laws & the ballot, but by the Power of the Spirit to voluntarily worship. In exchange for political prestige, religious leaders have sold their prophetic voice & led the sheep to the cliff of despair. The Hope of Christians is replaced with the
earthly promise of political power, but the end thereof has always been corruption, persecution & cold, dead orthodoxy.

The GOP is driving away people by claiming themselves to be "God's Party" of "family values." They have effectively said that non-Christians (& even Christians who aren't of a particular theological bent) are not welcomed in the GOP. The Religious Right wants the GOP to be their PAC: but Caesar is much better at the political game than religious leaders. The result is the Religious Right gets played.

The DEMs are driving away people by effectively saying they don't want to hear the "values" of Right-leaning-to-moderate Christians. That forces many Christians into a political vacuum where they feel they have no voice at all on moral issues.

We've been down this road many times in history. Each time religion & politics meld, the result is that both become unbearable. It is time we kept that road walled up, lest we miss the sign that says the bridge is out.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

1st Pick

My youngest had to go to a new elementary school this year. Never mind his old school is 1/10th of a mile away & his "new" school is 2 miles away. Not important.

But what is important is what something means to a 10 year old. And this is a Biggie.

His first day of "new" school. Didn't know a soul. Recess. Boys play football. He was the =last= pick. That is a killer. Dead last pick. The kid with narcolepsy & 12 lb cowboys boots holding up a 175 lb frame, who barely runs the 40 yard dash in 4.4. hours =&= had the flu was picked ahead of my son. First day. Knows no one. Last pick for playground football. Devastating. Heartbreaking.

After week two of "new" school, he comes home beaming. Grinning from ear to ear. What does he say? Well, a different tune.

Dad, guess what?

What, son?

You ain't gonna believe this!

What is it, son?

At recess I'm now 1st pick every day in football, soccer, kickball =&= in PE class dodge ball.


Yep. I'm the 1st Pick in the 1st Round in every sport. It's kinda like winning the Heisman every day.

I guess looking at things through a kid's eyes puts life in a whole new perspective. Not a big deal to me or you or to anyone else in the world. It won't change the economy or make life better for anyone, anywhere on the planet. But for one 10 year old kid at "new" school, he thinks he's won the Heisman.

And that's a big deal.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Edmond, OK & the Jesus Statue

Edmond, OK --- a city with a history of church/state legal woes (click here for article) --- yesterday authorized taxpayer money to purchase a statue of Christ to be placed downtown.

That was yesterday.

Many supporters claimed the statue wasn't religious at all saying it was generic & could be anything/anyone, not necessarily Jesus. The statue is of a man with kids around & arms outstretched, & looks conspicuously like the Americanized version of what Jesus would look like. Oh, yeah, & there is a Bible verse on it that says "Come Unto Me." Don't forget the statue is being placed in front of a Catholic Gift Shop. Sure looks like $3900 of tax payer money was supporting a certain religion. Somebody please tell me if the pic doesn't look amazingly like the All American Jesus we promulgate here in the US of A?

Amazing, really.

[AU's Barry] Lynn said using public funds on the project is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.

"You cannot promote what is obviously a very specific religious image using tax dollars," Lynn said. "The city lawyers should have stopped this. This isn't even close to the line. This is way over it."

Edmond's city attorney, Stephen Murdock, said, "I think there are differences of opinions regarding that issue." He declined to say what his recommendations were to the commission.

A few years ago, the city faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees after losing a case involving a cross in the government seal, according to the AP report quoted above. Oddly enough, the same stunt was almost done a few years ago when public outcry finally halted a $17,500 taxpayer outlay of a statue of Moses.

But, today, cooler heads have prevailed. The mayor has decided (click here for article) that the tax payer shouldn't be on the hook for anyone's religious iconography. Of course, I'm sure the lawyers had something to do with this --- painfully obvious that a lawsuit would be an expensive loss.

Here's the American's United blog by Sandhya Bathija on the subject.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How Should the Christian Vote?

I don't agree with Chuck Colson too often but, aside from a few hint-hint comments here & there, he wrote a great article for Christianity Today.

Colson said that it is morally & Biblically wrong to simply vote for the most "Christian" candidate, or for the party. Instead, Colson argues we should vote for the candidate who is most honest & just, & is the most qualified for the job. And Colson reminds us we should honor that candidate who seeks to do the right thing for the poor, the hungry, the unborn, the handicapped, the prisoner—those with the least access to political power.

I do find it incongruous that many "Values Voters" forget the Biblical command to do justly & act mercifully towards the poor, the minorities, the prisoner, the whatever-group-it-is-that-costs-us-money. Yes, that is something we have to weigh, isn't it?

Here is an excerpt:

That's why not voting or rejecting candidates because they are not perfect on some biblical or political score sheet is a dereliction of our trust.

So is voting for a candidate simply because he is a Christian—startling as this may sound. Rather than checking on the candidates' denomination, we should look for the ablest candidate. Martin Luther famously said he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk—that is, a Muslim—than an incompetent Christian.

In casting a vote, judgment should ultimately be guided by what we perceive to be the common good, a term not often heard in today's special interest–charged political debates. .. But if we look at politics from God's perspective, we see that he has a deep and abiding interest in all people being treated fairly. If God favors any "special interest group," it is the poor, the hungry, the unborn, the handicapped, the prisoner—those with the least access to political power.

This is why we Christians should never allow ourselves to be, as the press has often characterized us, just another special interest group pleading for our agendas only. But if we were a special interest group, we would be lobbying for the dignity of all, especially those who can't always speak for themselves.

So maybe a particular candidate isn't going to cut your taxes or vote for your favorite program, but the real question is, will he serve all the people, or only the loudest?

To me, the Christian vote is a matter of principles, not politics. On one hand the ethic of Jesus demands I value people ahead of money; justice ahead of greed;
compassion ahead of doubt. But the other side of that ethical stewardship reminds me that the US is not a money tree to do anything & everything for everyone.

And there is the problem.

I used to follow
Colson & the rest of the Religious Right like a Lemming after three Mtn. Dews. I spouted the line; captured the mantra; cited the "Biblical Principles" that were nothing more than political talking points designed to manipulate my faith to garner my vote. No more. I now think.

I'm undecided how I will vote but I know I will --- not missed a vote since 1982. Even local elections. What I do know is there are certain principles that are non-
negotiables with me & neither candidate adheres to all those non-negotiables. My oldest said that he plans on writing my name in for several local office seats. Of course, he laughed about it but he is serious.

Don't doubt him for a minute.

Me thinks I may write his name in as a Presidential candidate. He is a fine
young man of whom I am very proud. Third year at Berry College. Top grades. Great soccer player. Faithful. Ethical. Honest. A man of character.

Whatever happens, equating faith & politics is a dangerous game. Voting is about choosing the most qualified candidate, regardless of faith. Keep faith & politics separate. They both become
unbearable when melded together.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Airbag Fraud

If you've bought a used car, you need to do some checking. According to this NPR article, many folks around the nation have been ripped off by unscrupulous auto dealers/mechanics with air bags that are not functional.

Several instances have been reported where a vehicle had been in an accident, but the air bag was never repaired. In some cases paper, cans, packing peanuts & even garbage bags were stuffed back into the airbag compartment. Oftentimes, the old airbag was just stuff back in the compartment. The result is an inoperable safety component.

Some deaths have been reported where air bags were simply not reinstalled.

But in January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report that reviewed 1,446 fatal crashes and found that in 255 of those cases, the air bags had not been replaced after a previous accident. An agency spokesman said that although NHTSA didn't look into why they were missing, officials believe that at least some of those cases involved air bag fraud.

"We have a life-and-death scam on our hands ... just waiting to be discovered," says Jim Quiggle, director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a nonprofit alliance of insurance companies and consumer groups. He is frustrated because it is so hard to pin down the number of air bag fraud cases.

"Unfortunately, until the dat a bubble to the surface and give us a quantitative sense of what this is about, it's always going to be the hidden, silent killer," Quiggle says.

This sort of stuff shouldn't surprise us: there have been cheaters & liars since Genesis chapter 4 --- people willing to kill someone over jealousy, money, power, or whatever else you wanna name. Just check out your vehicle. Better to be safe than sorry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

James Dobson's Flip Flop

Back in the Spring when the GOP primaries where running strong, James Dobson said that McCain is a Liberal & a potty mouth. Then Dobson went so far as to say that he would not vote for McCain & would just stay home on election day (click here for Frank Lockwood's link).

That's right. Dobson's statement is that he cannot, in good conscience, vote for McCain. Here's the YouTube link to listen to the statement being read.

Well, it looks like Dobson either doesn't have a conscience; misread his conscience; has a new conscience; or maybe he just looked around & saw that political power is more important than his conscience. It is well nigh possible he was bearing false witness in light of Dobson's statement a few days ago (click here to listen to Dobson's statement.)

Either way, it's official. James Dobson has officially flip flopped. Perhaps Dobson & John Kerry will be able to pal around, fish a bit, & discuss what it feels like to say anything & everything for the sake of political gain & the money that comes along with it.

Dobson said his rational is his "Biblical World View" but somehow his "Biblical World View" doesn't include "yea meaning yea" & his "no meaning no."

Using verbal gymnastics, Dobson attempted to argue that he’s not really endorsing the Arizona senator: “While I will not endorse either candidate this year… I can say I’m now supportive of Sen. John McCain in his bid for the presidency.” Then Dobson goes on to rehash the talking points of the GOP. Dobson can spilt hairs all day long but it is painfully obvious that his statement was an endorsement of McCain. It shows once again how top leaders of the Religious Right long ago became a collection of partisan operatives who make the necessary political compromises to keep their hold on power.

Dobson's group acts in the capacity of a tax exempt organization, i.e., church/religious/charity. Speaking to the issues is fine, yes, even encouraged. But endorsing a candidate makes Focus on the Family another political action committee --- one that is run by a guy who will say anything since conscience takes a back seat to politics.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Politics of a Good Samaritan

I hope no one takes this as a political statement for it is not. It is just a neat story --- a Good Samaritan story --- that happens to be relevant because it involves a political candidate. It is just neat to read about things like this regardless of the politics.

Here's the link to Leisha's Blog.

Mary lacked money to fly home to Norway – he saved her love

ÅSGÅRDSTRAND (VG): Mary was a newlywed and ready to move to Norway, but was stopped at the airport because she didn’t have enough money for the trip. Then a stranger turned up and paid for her.

Mary Menth Andersen was 31 years old at the time and had just married Norwegian Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to starting a new life in Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold with him. But first she had to get all of her belongings across to Norway. The date was November 2nd, 1988.
At the airport in Miami things were hectic as usual, with long lines at the check-in counters. When it was finally Mary’s turn and she had placed her luggage on the baggage line, she got the message that would crush her bubbling feeling of happiness.
-You’ll have to pay a 103 dollar surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway, the man behind the counter said.
Mary had no money. Her new husband had travelled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call.
-I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions, says Mary.

Although she explained the situation to the man behind the counter, he showed no signs of mercy.
-I started to cry, tears were pouring down my face and I had no idea what to do. Then I heard a gentle and friendly voice behind me saying, That’s OK, I’ll pay for her.
Mary turned around to see a tall man whom she had never seen before.
-He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, Who is this man?
Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man.
-He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants, says Mary.
She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

The piece of paper said ‘Barack Obama’ and his address in Kansas, which is the state where his mother comes from. Mary carried the slip of paper around in her wallet for years, before it was thrown out.
-He was my knight in shining armor, says Mary, smiling.
She paid the 103 dollars back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly paid community worker* in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard university.
In the spring of 2006 Mary’s parents had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier.
In a letter to Mary’s parents dated May 4th, 2006 and stamped ‘United States Senate, Washington DC’, Barack Obama writes**:
‘I want to thank you for the lovely things you wrote about me and for reminding me of what happened at Miami airport. I’m happy I could help back then, and I’m delighted to hear that your daughter is happy in Norway. Please send her my best wishes. Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States senator’.
The parents sent the letter on to Mary.

This week VG met her and her husband in the café that she runs with her friend Lisbeth Tollefsrud in Åsgårdstrand.
-It’s amazing to think that the man who helped me 20 years ago may now become the next US president, says Mary delightedly.
She has already voted for Obama. She recently donated 100 dollars to his campaign.
She often tells the story from Miami airport, both when race issues are raised and when the conversation turns to the presidential elections.
-I sincerely hope the Americans will see reason and understand that Obama means change, says Mary.

*Not at all sure about this part of the translation. The Norwegian word used is 'miljøarbeider', I don't know what the exact English word for that is or even if there is one, and I don't know enough about Obama to say what job of his they're talking about.
**This is my translation of the reporter's translation of the letter. From English to Norwegian and back to English. So obviously it is not correct word for word.