A Christian Nation?

December 29, 2010

Almost two weeks ago, when Congress was arguing about taxes and extended unemployment benefits, Steven Colbert ran the following segment on his show:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/368914/december-16-2010/jesus-is-a-liberal-democrat?xrs=share_copy  (I wish I could embed this, but WordPress doesn’t support Comedy Central’s video player)

There were a lot of things I liked the about this clip, but the statement “If this is going to be a Christian Nation that doesn’t help the poor, then we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are or we’ve got acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit…, we just don’t want to do it” rated a fist pump and a “YES!”  Why did I like this so much?  Because I hear conservatives constantly going on about how the United States is a Christian Nation and then advocating some very unChristian things.  Like, cutting taxes for the rich and blocking social programs that help the poor.  Quoting Colbert again, “Jesus was always flappin’ gums about the poor, but not once did he call for tax cuts for the richest two percent of Romans”.   In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus tells the wealthy man to sell all his possessions and follow Him.  So, if you’re really a Christian, asking you to pay more in taxes is actually less than what Jesus was asking for.  I don’t see the problem here.

The trouble with saying that we’re a Christian nation isn’t so much about history or rights or any of the other things that get brought when this is mentioned.  The trouble is that we don’t act like a Christian nation.  We never have.  In our history, we’ve enslaved people, persecuted them because of their race, creed, sexual preference or any number of other reasons, fought wars that were anything but just, created a permanent underclass and worked very hard to keep them there…, I could go on, but I think you get the point.   I’m drawn to portions of the quote I mentioned in the first paragraph, “If this is going to be a Christian Nation…we’ve got acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition…”  Yeah, I just picked certain parts of that quote; I picked the parts that gave me hope.  Hope that maybe someday, we’ll live up to the title of “Christian Nation” and do the things in that out-of-context quote.  Hope that one day, as a nation, we’ll love the poor and serve the needy…, without condition.


So, This is Christmas

December 28, 2010

I know Christmas day has already passed, but this message of this song goes beyond that one particular day. 

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (War is Over, if you want it, war is over now)repeat with verse
For weak and for strong
The rich and the poor ones
The road is so long
So happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (War is over, if you want it, war is over now) repeat with verse
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
And we hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now

Merry Christmas

Here’s hoping that one Christmas soon, no one’s sons or daughters will be in harm’s way.  Until then, why don’t we remember everyone in all war zones everywhere in our prayers, that they all remain safe and whole and find some peace.  If only for a little while.

It’s a Calling

December 24, 2010

Yesterday, in the city of Chicago, two men lost their lives.  That may not sound like much, considering that 458 people were murdered there last year, which averages out to 1.25478 people a day.  That’s just the murders, it doesn’t take into account accidental deaths, deaths from natural causes and all the other things that happen to mortal human beings.  But, these two particular men were doing something out of the ordinary.  They were Chicago firefighters and they lost their lives trying to save others.  Joel Hood, Anne Sweeney and Stacy St. Clair, reporters for the Chicago Tribune said it best:

“It would have been safer for Chicago firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum to battle the burning building from a distance Wednesday morning, to shrug it off as a long-abandoned South Shore laundry business where no one worked or lived.

But that’s not who they were.

Concerned that homeless people may have been taking refuge from the cold, Stringer and Ankum were among the firefighters searching the burning building around daybreak when a roof came crashing down on them.”

This story has special significance for me because I’m a firefighter.  I know, big surprise considering the address of this blog.  I’ve been one for almost 21 years and, throughout that time, “life safety” has been pounded into me.  And, the main life I should be concerned with is my own, because if I get hurt, how am I supposed to help anyone else?  There’s a reason training staffs in fire departments across the country make that point over and over.  It’s because of what happened yesterday in Chicago.  Logically, no one should have been in that building.  It was old, it was abandoned and, in 2007, had been declared unsafe by city building inspectors.  There were no positive reports of people trapped in the building, just someone saying that homeless people sometimes sheltered there in bad weather.  The smart play would’ve been to set up master streams and ladder trucks and fight this fire with big hoses and big water, dumping water in until it ran out in the street.  But, if anyone had been inside, they’d have never survived.  So, 17 men were on a roof when they probably shouldn’t have been, working to find people who may (or may not) have been inside when it collapsed, injuring 12 and killing 2.  If you’re not a firefighter, you’re probably wondering what kind of people do that?  Short answer?  People who are called to it.

When I hear the  term “calling”, I tend think of it in a religious context.  And, anyone who’s spent some time in a firehouse knows that it’s not exactly a “churchy” kind of place.  Although women are making inroads, firefighting is still a predominantly male career and anytime you get a bunch of guys together, it can get raunchy.  Yet, at the same time, some of the most deeply religious and devoted family men I know hitch up their suspenders and get on the truck when the buzzer hits.  And, in looking at what these Chicago boys did, I began to realize that being a firefighter follows the way of Christ pretty closely.  We help those who need help without regard to race, creed, color, nationality or status.  This help is without condition, fire departments don’t bill you for coming when you call (well, some do and I find that despicable), no matter how often you call.  And, believe me, some people call A LOT.  But, that’s okay, it’s what we’re here for.  We may not sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor, but sometimes it feels that way.  Believe me when I say no one ever became a firefighter to get rich and, if they did, they were very quickly disabused of that notion.  Usually with their first paycheck.  Yes, we get paid, but, it’s still a life of sacrifice.  In 21 years, I’ve spent Christmas day with family so few times I can count the number on one hand.  And, if I was off Christmas Day, I worked Christmas Eve.  When I say “worked”, I mean a 24 hour shift.  Same for most other holidays, too.  It’s also hard on marriages and families.  It seems like every crisis at home occurs while you’re at work and you’re never off when “normal” people are, so you miss a lot of your kids’ activities.  Then, there’s the part we don’t we really talk about very much.  Every shift, there’s always the lurking possibility that you won’t be going home, that you’ll be asked to give everything.  Yet, somehow, all over the world people get up, put on the uniform and do the job.  There’s not enough money in the world to make anyone do that.  You have to be called.  And, those of us that are wouldn’t have it any other way.

I found this video on Christian Nightmares today.  In the caption, the poster said “I don’t like Bill Maher, but I love his Christmas message”  Watch and see what you think.

I don’t particularly like Maher either, I think he’s a smarmy, condescending know-it-all.  This time, he’s also right.  We’re crazy about stuff in the this country.  Stuff, and the pursuit of it, is really what most of us worship.  If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be arguing over providing very basic (almost minimal) health care for all our citizens or whether the people who need it the least should get a break on their taxes.  Everybody wants to keep the stuff they have and then go out and get more stuff.  And, nothing brings out this drive to accumulate more than Christmas.  Every year, the store’s are filled with shoppers buying crap that they don’t need and really can’t afford.  We infect our children with this disease, too.  One Christmas afternoon, when my nephew was about 2 or 3, his father (my brother) wanted to look at one of his toys.  This normally sweet, good-natured kid pulled all the things he’d gotten that day into a pile, lay on it and yelled “MINE, MINE, MINE!!!”  Unfortunately, that’s an all too frequent reaction and not just among kids.  Contrast that story with one my grandmother used to tell about her favorite Christmas when she was a little girl.  Grandma was born in 1905 in Volunteer, a little community in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains.  She lived on a small tobacco farm and like most mountain farm families in those days, money was scarce.  Today, we’d call them poor and enact all sorts of social programs; back around 1910, no such programs existed.  Any help that folks got came from church groups and private citizens.  The Christmas I’m talking about, one of those groups got together and gathered some resources so the children in the poor families would get something for Christmas.  Grandma and her brothers and sisters didn’t know all that.  What they knew was, not long after dark, they heard sleigh bells coming up the road to their house.  Then, after the bells stopped, they heard a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho” and, when Grandpa Chandler opened the door, who stood there but Santa Claus.  He came in, partook of what hospitality the family could offer (to do otherwise would’ve been an insult) and, finally, started passing out presents.  Grandma got an apple, an orange, a little bucket full of hard candy and baby doll.  And, she was elated.  She remembered that Christmas Eve until the day she died at the age 95.  How do you think kids today would react to such a meager haul at Christmas? 

A lot of Christians go around this time of year, saying to anyone that will listen “Jesus is the reason for the season”.  Okay, I’ll buy that, it is “Christ”mas after all.  So, why don’t we start acting like it?  Why don’t we do the things Jesus did, like help the needy, the poor, and the marginalized.  Find someone who’s trying to do that and give them a hand.  Find a family in need and throw them a lifeline.  Hell, just quit thinking the guy panhandling is lazy and should get a job and give him a dollar.  Better yet, give him a dollar or something to eat and talk to him like an actual human being.  That would be a helluva lot better way to celebrate Jesus’ birth than crying over a sweater you don’t need.


December 21, 2010

Today, while I was looking for some muck to rake, I saw Kimberly Knight posted an interesting link.  Before I get to that, I want to tell you a little about Kimberly.  I met her a the Big Tent Xtianity conference here in Raleigh, where she spoke about sexuality and Christianity.  Actually, she spoke about homosexuality and Christianity, something she’s intimately familiar with, since she herself is gay and works in the UCC with the LGBT community.  She’s smart, funny, compelling and while I don’t know her well enough to call her “friend”, I’m certainly glad to know her.  That said, the link she posted was from TPMmuckraker about a blog post from Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation.  From there, I went to the Phillips’ blog post that the TPM article was based on.  I thought the stuff from TPM was bad, but Phillips own blog was really something.  Phillips said he recently walked past a Methodist Church whose sign read “Pass the DREAM Act”.  Then, he said “I have a DREAM.  That is, no more United Methodist Church.”  Phillips went on to say he grew up in the UMC, but left as a teen “because the Methodist Church is little more than the first Church of Karl Marx”.  I, too, grew up in the UMC and even at my most hardcore, conservative, cold-warrior days, I never saw any church as  being related to anything Marxist.  Mostly, because I took the time to learn a bit about communism; something Phillips should’ve done before making such an asinine statement.  Here are a few of Mr. Phillips criticisms of the UMC:

  • It’s pro-illegal immigration.  I suppose that’s because the church is in favor of the DREAM Act, as stated above.  In case you don’t know the DREAM Act allows illegal alien students (who meet certain requirements) to earn citizenship if they complete 2 years in the military or 4 years at an institute of higher learning.  Heaven forbid a church be in favor of treating people decently.
  • It’s “in the bag for socialist health care”.  Evidently, Mr. Phillips hasn’t been the recipient of our wonderful health care system’s largesse (said with a heavy dose of sarcasm).  If he had, he might feel differently about the situation.  But, again, he seems to think it’s a bad thing for a church to be concerned about the welfare of others.  He’s also upset that the UMC sent out “emails to their membership ‘debunking’ the myths of Obamacare.”  Guess he’s not a fan of folks getting enough information to make an informed decision.
  • “The Methodists joined the Socialists, Communists and Marxists for the “One Nation” March”.  Uh, no they didn’t.  They were going to, but the General Board on Church and Society backed out saying “The ‘One Nation Working Together’ rally began with a clean, clear message consistent with the social teachings of The United Methodist Church”, then  “devolved into nothing more than a gathering organized in opposition to the Restoring Honor rally. It also denounced the “un-Christ-like tone” of discourse in the country, including within the church itself.” (latter quote from Wikipedia) 
  • “Say, where are the liberal complaints on the separation of church and state?  I guess their outrage is selective.”  No, it’s not.  The subjects listed above are basic social justice issues and social justice has always been a major part of Methodist theology.  We’re merely carrying on a tradition set by our founding fathers (of Methodism) of working to improve the lives of all God’s children.  That, to me, seems to be a laudable goal for any church.

Personally, I don’t think the UMC goes far enough.  I’ve made no secret of my disdain for their policy on homosexuality .  If I had my way, sexual preference would play no part in anything the UMC did.  Of course, Phillips would say we’ve strayed even further from American values and patriotism.  Funny thing, though.  I don’t recall Jesus mentioning either one of those.  What I do recall is the injunction to love God and love my neighbor as myself.  If that makes me a socialist, color me red.

“He’s a loser”.

I’m loving this!!!

Credit where credit is due to Christian Nightmares.

It’s not just for Christians, it’s for all the boys and girls!

Is it just me, or she way to white to be singing Cameo?

Thanks to Christian Nightmares.

Merry CHRIST-mas

December 16, 2010


Recently, I saw what must be the most absolutely awesome Christmas tree ever.  Thanks to Matt Turner of Jesus Needs New PR who posted this:

But it’s bare.  In one of the comments to Matt’s post, someone said it needed Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh ornaments and great big Sarah Palin on top.  I tried, but I couldn’t find any of those.  But I did find these:

I mean seriously, what’s more patriotic than a red, white and blue elephant?

Look, you can celebrate Christmas and make a statement about the sanctity of human life!

I know it’s not a tree topper, but give them time.  Next year, they’ll have a bunch.

I can think of no better way to top off a CHRIST-mas tree than with a patriotic messenger of the Lord.  Maybe it’s the same one that came to Mary and Joseph!

Remember, “It’s not just a tree, it’s a movement!”


Fetus ornament courtesy of  weburbanist

Are We “Exceptional”?

December 15, 2010

There’s a lot of talk going on about American Exceptionalism these days.  But, it’s not the version that caused de Tocqueville to coin that phrase.  He referred to us as exceptional because the United States was a society and a nation founded on principles of equality and individualism, one that was of, for and by the people (de Tocqueville didn’t say it that way but it sounds good).  No, what I’m hearing today is that America has been granted a special role in history by no less than God himself.  It’s become quite the battle cry among the conservative set.  Strangely, I don’t hear them say what that role is.   What you will hear folks say that America is a “Christian Nation”, that we were founded on Christian principles and that the First Amendment has nothing to do with the separation of church and state.  Like more than a few others of a more liberal bent, I’m more than a little uncomfortable with this.  Why?  Well, for starters, let’s take a look at some of the things our conservative brethren are saying about the founding of this great nation. 

  1. “America is a Christian Nation”_ No, it’s not.  I say that with all certainty because the United States government said it wasn’t way back in 1797.  In the Treaty of Tripoli, it specifically states “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;”.  It doesn’t get much plainer than that.
  2. “The United States was founded on Christian Principles”_ Not exactly.  The United States was founded on Enlightenment principles, some of which happened to be Christian.  But, to say that the foundations of our system of government are Christian is disingenuous at best and an out-and-out lie at worst. 
  3. “The First Amendment has nothing to do with the separation of church and state.”_ While it is true that the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in anywhere in the Constitution, that is certainly what the author meant.  How do I know that, you ask?  Simple; he said so after he wrote it.  James Madison, said author, wrote “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States”.  Again, seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.  The actual phrase was first used by Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, who were worried about the lack of protection in their state constitution against government intervention into religion.  Jefferson assured them that the First Amendment’s proscription against state-sponsored religion built a “wall of separation” between the church and the state. 

Okay, I’ve listed my opposition to some arguments about our founding, but how does that relate to the topic at hand?  Well, some folks believe (erroneously) that because we were founded on Christian principles, we are specially favored by God; even to the point of being a new “chosen people”.  Evidently, they also believe that this special status allows us to justify all manner of what can only be called evil behavior.  Behavior we have never tolerated from other nations, such as torture, rendition, the suspension of habeas corpus, invasion of privacy…, I could go on, but you get the point.  These are the actions of a Christian Nation?

I think the whole idea of our “special place in history” stems from a desire to feel good about ourselves as a people and a  nation.  I’m old enough to remember the malaise that infected this country in the 70’s.  We’d gotten out of an unpopular war and the regime we backed eventually crumbled; the government was revealed as corrupt; our main intelligence gathering service had been found to be involved in all manner of things they shouldn’t be and we’d been humiliated by a little Podunk country who captured our embassy and held our people hostage.  It wasn’t a good time to be an American.  Enter Ronald Reagan in 1980.  As my brother once said the best thing about Reagan was the way he made you feel about your country again.  The thing is, he didn’t really do anything to accomplish that, outside of a few speeches and the like; it wasn’t real.  That’s what the idea of American Exceptionalism does.  Instead of doing things that we can be proud of, like feeding the hungry and protecting the weak, it creates a “feel-good” sensation that’s ultimately hollow.  And, what’s the point of that?

In closing, I say that America, while it isn’t exceptional in and of itself, has exceptional potential.  It’s about time we started living up to it.

Compromise vs Idealism

December 10, 2010

This week, President Obama announced that he’d reached a compromise with Republicans on the Bush tax cuts.  The current tax rate will remain the same for at least 2 more years.  In return, the Republicans agreed to a 13 month extension of emergency unemployment benefits.  As far as compromises go, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either.  I mean, as my father said today as we discussed it, unemployment benefits should be extended for 2 years if the tax cuts are going to last that long.  But, you take what you can get.  Personally, I’m surprised the Republicans gave as much as they did.  I fully expect them, once ensconced in power to tell the President to “suck it” on almost everything he tries to do until the elections in 2012.  But, the lack of cooperation in Washington isn’t on my list tonight.  What is, is the response of some of the President’s “supporters”.

The far left, which has an inordinate amount of power in the Democratic Party, has been unhappy with President Obama for a while.  The basic problem is that they feel he’s not done enough.  One group, and one man in particular, have been on my mind for quite a while and their response to this compromise has pushed them to the forefront once again.  The man is Jim Wallis and the group is the folks at Soujourners magazine.  On Tuesday, the day after the President announced the deal, Wallis wrote on his God’s Politics blog that Obama should have fought harder and Jennifer Kottler weighed in the estate tax (or lack of it).  Both of them say that this is class warfare against everyone but the wealthy and these tax breaks need to go away whatever the cost.  Tell you what, why don’t you guys ask those folks who are out of work and don’t see that changing any time soon if they’d rather the President held the line on the tax cuts or if they like the current deal.  You know, the one that’s going to help them keep their families going a little longer.  Maybe even long enough for them to find work.  Where do you think they come down on this one?

Don’t get me wrong, I admire Wallis and the people at Sojourners.  I love their dedication to social justice and the fact that they’re living out their faith the best way they know how.  The only problem I have is that they’re too political.  And, this episode is an example of why religion and politics don’t mix well.  Politics is, perhaps, one the most cynical and pragmatic exercises on the planet.  It’s also one of the nastiest, dirtiest, corrupting things a person can be involved in.  Christianity (when practiced correctly) is just the opposite.  It’s all about taking the high road and doing what’s right regardless of the cost, while politics is about doing what’s necessary to get things done.  Both are needed aspects of our society, they’re just not compatible ones.

Should Obama have fought harder and possibly gotten a deal that would have extended unemployment benefits and rescinded the tax cuts for the ultra-rich?  Maybe; and, in a perfect world he might have.  Was that ever in the cards in this imperfect, broken world we live in?  I seriously doubt it.