Sunday, November 30, 2008

State of the Union ... not so good

I am continually haunted by the image invoked in my mind whenever I read about Jdimytai Damour of Queens NY who was trampled to death by a crowd at a Wal Mart store on Long Island NY. Mr. Damour was a temp worker who made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: being among a bunch of brutal savages who were determined to beat the person behind them to items that was being marked down for Black Friday’s special sale. “Brutal savages” may seem harsh until one reads further to find that whenever store management was preparing to close the store at the request of the police and had announced over the PA that the store would close because an employee had been killed, shoppers only expressed anger that they had been waiting in line for so long. Absolutely no remorse over the knowledge that some of these angry, “inconvenienced” shoppers might have actually and directly contributed to this innocent man’s death.

There were others who were hurt in the stampede as well, including those who tried to go to the aid of Mr. Damour. One can only imagine the mayhem that must have been so apparent … over a few lousy dollars. If anything, and in light of the sorry state of our economy, one might have been better off just holding on to the money instead of being in such a rush to spend it, in such a rush that the well-being of a fellow human being was not even incidental except that perhaps others could have tripped over him and shared his fate. Or being slowed down so as to miss that special, marked-down item. Pitiful is not adequate to express my feelings toward these “humans” who were reduced to nothing more than animals without emotion.

Those who actually felt the man beneath their feet are absolutely and unequivocally accountable to the law and to this man’s family for their part in his death, and it is extremely unsettling to know that these mindless animals would do the very same thing to your loved ones or mine. These people actually knocked the doors off the hinges once the store opened, so large and unruly and unmanageable was the crowd. Surely stores have to take their part in all this and consider what will be required to make absolutely certain such a thing never happens again.

Still, it is not the first time such things have happened – at Christmas time, no less – and what happened on Long Island will not likely be the last. Each year produces that one special “must have” toy or item that has actually seen adults come to blows over the last item on the shelf. Think of the anarchy of such a situation: it is not matter of who got there first; rather, it becomes a battle over who is stronger and more willing to harm another human being … over a friggin’ toy.

Rest in peace, Mr. Damour. I wish I could say with confidence that your untimely death will not have been in vain, but I am afraid your name will soon enough be forgotten and the only thing those responsible will be sorry about is whether or not the law catches up with them.

A New Reality

Eschatology; aka, “doomsday prophecy”, or “last things”, “last days”, return of Christ, end of the world. Call it what you will, but one day time and life as we currently know it will come to an end. It sounds ominous, but the truth is this is probably the very best news throughout the entire Bible. No one knows exactly what these times or days will look like, and it is actually probably for the best. Mark offers a visual of Christ descending from heaven “in clouds”, but there is not much else besides this.

The several images from The Revelation are not much help as it pertains to what we are looking for or even should be looking for since much of what John offers in The Revelation is heavily dependent on symbols and incomprehensible images. Clearly there is a message in all this imagery, but I sometimes wonder how important that particular message must be if it is so written in such a “code” that most of us cannot figure out.

It may also seem strange that the lectionary will offer such “end times” readings on the first Sunday of Advent as what is offered in Mark, but the reality is we have already experienced the birth of Christ. It is fitting and right that we should remember and celebrate that moment in time when perhaps the earth stood still and silent if but for a brief moment to welcome the Prince of Peace, but it is also appropriate for Christians to look forward with eager anticipation when the reality we have come to know as “normal” will be suddenly and completely changed … forever. This is a GOOD THING!

Thinking about the season we are about to enter into and what it must mean to all of humanity, Moses and the Exodus came to mind. Something incredible is about to take place, but not even Moses knows exactly what it will look like. The Lord clearly has something in mind, but it is not for man to know or even try to overthink such a divine mission. It should be enough for the faithful that it is in the Lord’s hands; sadly, however, this is not always true for us.

What is most astounding about the Exodus is its very essence. It would have been easy enough to make dramatic changes in Egypt itself, but the framework would still have been confined, if not downright restricted, within the borders of what must surely have been an unclean land. Rather than push for social and religious change within an existing society, it was to be that an entire New Reality would be created. So by the mighty hand of the Lord and with the mass of an entire people, Israel was freed from its 400-year bondage. There still lay ahead a 40-year journey before arrival at the destination, but the journey is part of the story – THEN and NOW.

There is a journey ahead for the faithful, and it is not conducive to the journey that we look behind us. We can and should be mindful of the mighty acts of the Lord on this incredible journey of faith, but we must never look back. And if we do not learn to look beyond the end of our noses, Christmas will always be anti-climactic.

Advent is a time of preparation, and we certainly cannot prepare ourselves for something that has already taken place. We must look forward and be prepared to forge ahead toward what will certainly become for the Lord’s faithful a New Reality, a reality in which shoppers will not storm the doors of a store and trample people to death as happened this past week in Long Island NY. A lady will not be punched in the mouth by another over the last Cabbage Patch doll, and no one will ever have to worry again about whether there is enough money to give the kids all the “stuff” their little, innocent hearts would desire to be under the tree.

Who would want to remember all that or prepare and hope for more of the same? These things are certainly in the past, but they are also our currently reality; it is where we are. Yet most of us have fond memories of Christmases past and many of us look forward to our family gatherings and celebrations, but think about how much time and energy is put into preparing for a 21st century Christmas – and how uppity we get when folks try to remove Christ from Christmas – and then give the Lord so little of ourselves. If we were to actually log each moment of each day during the time of Advents past and perhaps even now and then read it on Christmas Eve, I think we would be shocked at how little time was actually devoted to the Lord – especially in light of what we claim to believe about the birth of the Christ.

I think perhaps the birth of Messiah was the beginning of a New Reality but rather than accept it for what it was meant to be for us and for His Glory, we turned it into something else and we sufficiently “secularized” it as something much more pleasing to ourselves and our loved ones. Our “celebration”, as it is, is like what my family experienced over Thanksgiving. My wife spent HOURS preparing the menu and cooking the food. Once we finally got settled at the table, it took all of TEN MINUTES for everyone to say, “I’m full”. Then it was over. Except, of course, for the mess.

If Advent is used by the Church as nothing more than a prepatory time of remembrance, then it will be over almost before it has truly begun. Once the presents and packages have been opened, it’s over. The spirit of Christmas is no more, and we will actually BE GLAD that another busy, sometimes overwhelming Christmas, is past. Poof. Just like that. It will be as if merely getting through it with our sanity intact is destination enough for us.

All of this is solid evidence that we are in desperate NEED for a New Reality; our souls are virtually crying out for this madness to end, but we continue AND DEFEND our secular practices as if our very lives are dependent upon them. And we will call the preacher a kill-joy … my own family does … but deep down inside the very depths of the soul, you know I am speaking nothing but truth. You may not like it … my own family doesn’t … but you cannot deny it.

If there is some such thing as a “Christmas Wish”, mine would be that we would finally and completely have the courage to stand firm in our faith and say, “ENOUGH”. I get it now; I finally get it. CHRISTmas really is about the Christ, not Sears or Wal Mart or Bloomingdale’s. My Dear God in Heaven, it’s not even about my family or friends. It is solely and completely about my Lord; nothing more, nothing less. My wish, you see, is that I will truly and finally come to understand this. My prayer is that you will, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Freedom of Choice: the destruction of a generation

In the midst of an economic crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Americans have already lost jobs and many thousands more are in danger of losing their jobs with no reasonable prospects in the near future, the president-elect of the United States offered to the Planned Parrenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007: "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."

Whether his comment was nothing more than empty campaign rhetoric directed at a particular crowd or a solemn vow made to a nation, it is difficult to believe that in the middle of such a melt-down in which so many are losing so much and face an uncertain future, the soon-to-be-inaugurated president of this nation can only believe that furthering the cause of abortion is a prudent and urgent priority. And if there are those who might suggest that candidate/senator Obama could not have known then how serious the economy would be today, I would suggest that he might have spent more time in the Senate doing his job than being on the road seeking another job.

Back on track, however. The very idea that such a proposal as the so-called Freedom of Choice Act could even be seriously discussed among civilized people is an affront to everything we claim to hold near and dear. The bill effectively stipulates that no state can restrict access to abortion on any level. This means no waiting periods, no questions, no exams, no warnings. By its wording, it could come down to the government obligating itself to actually financing, building, and staffing abortion clinics due to the fact that there are so many counties lacking in such facilities across the nation. The language would further obligate the US government to begin financing abortions through Medicaid. In other words, the government would be obliged to move beyond protecting the “culture of death” and into the actual business of promoting and facilitating death.

Within the wording of this bill, there is even the risk that minor children (not “women” in any sense of the word) who cannot obtain an abortion without parental consent or who cannot be transported across state lines by another adult will, under the guise of this bill, find themselves flush with new opportunities to obtain an abortion (not to mention the possible adult male who made such pregnancy possible in the first place, who can then take the CHILD to another state to eliminate the evidence). The possiblilities which exist under the wording of this proposal are endless, including the deliberate termination of the life of a child who survived the abortion procedure. And we think there are cultures less civilized than our own?

The whole rationale driving this bill to so-to-be President Obama’s desk is faulty, to say the least. Most of the existing restrictions pertain to underaged minor children making such decisions without the knowledge and/or consent of her parents. This is allowing the intercession of courts or other adults with no real stake in such a monumental decision except maybe a misguided concept of what “liberty” really means (or making such damning evidence disappear). These same adults will not be around to help clean up the emotional mess that is sure to follow, as statistics and testimony from countless women will attest to. These adults who would presume to know better than a girl’s own parents what is best for the pregnant child would be no more responsible than to see to it that the child is delivered safely back home.

Parents whose children will have endured such a traumatic event will have no clue why their daughter’s grades have begun to fall or why their child has suddenly withdrawn from life altogether. This child will be without the needed help because her parents will have been clueless as to what took place. If the parents were to find out that their child was taken across the state line, they would have no legal recourse.

If we are going to go this route and if this bill can actually make such things possible, then we may as well end the charade of differentiating between adult and child by such an arbitrary measure as biological age and make adulthood contingent upon puberty. Then the former child can quit school if desired, can get married, can enter into legal contracts, buy booze, or join the military. Such scenarios are not completely outside the realm of reason if we are going to allow minor children to take on such decisions as deciding whether to obtain an abortion without parental consent.

If such a bill actually becomes law, we parents will have relegated to the government our God-given, divinely ordained duties and responsibilties and surrendered our children to strangers, the same strangers we will have taught them to be leary of. By such actions it will not be exclusively the thousands of aborted children who will never see the light of day. The generation that was to be are those whose innocence will have been sacrified … for the sake of “liberty”.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Expectations and Demands

The separation of church and state is an ideal that was expressed by Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote in 1802 in which he offered his interpretation of the First Amendment, the intent of which he believed was to “build a wall of separation between Church and state”. Contrary to certain opinion, that particular phrase is not used in the US Constitution; rather, it is expressed and implied. It is not clear that Mr. Jefferson intended much more than to express his belief that the government must remain absolutely neutral in matters of religious faith and practice, believing, as he wrote, “that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship.”

Also contrary to popular opinion, Thomas Jefferson was a diest rather than a Christian. He believed in the morality of Bible, but he did not seem to embrace Christian doctrines of man. He even actually rewrote his own version of the Bible and removed the “miracles” among other things. Long story short, especially since this is not about Thomas Jefferson, not only did he believe that government must stay out of the religion business completely; he also believed that the Church should not expect to use government to enforce its doctrines.

Believing that this nation was founded solely by those seeking religious freedom is not entirely accurate. Oh, there were some who did flee Europe in search of a place in which to be free from religious persecution, but it was not in Puritan Massachussetts where Governor John Winthrop’s ideal of a “shining city upon a hill” was the very essence of religious Intolerance, meaning that it was the Puritan way across the board or no way at all. Even in religious matters among religious people it had become necessary for preacher Roger Williams to flee from THAT religious eutopia for the sake of his very life because he believed that government and religion are not compatible.

The concept of the separation of Church and state is both comforting and problematic. In one sense, it reminds us that the power of our government is constitutionally restricted in several matters, religion being but one. It is comforting to know that we are free to attend the church of our choice without fear. It is problematic in that our religion is our primary source of moral value. We typically “do” or “don’t” because the Bible says so. Our understanding of ethical behavior stems in no small measure from our understanding of what the Lord requires of us. Christians generally do not concern themselves with what Plato or Socrates may have thought or taught.

How can such understandings be problematic on any level? It is much in the same way that some Christians will deny the legitimacy of infant baptism while others will defend it. One will insist that the other is WRONG, refusing to acknowledge that a difference of opinion and understanding exists. And this is just one particular religious doctrine. Imagine some of our social hot-button issues! If we thought partisan politics was a mess, imagine adding religious doctrine to it! In Puritan Massachussetts such disagreements over religious doctrines as a matter of state policy could become a matter of life or death by the decree of a single person. So much for “religious freedom”; just ask Roger Williams! It would be more accurate to express the ideal that one would be “free” only to agree with the prevailing human authority according to that authority’s understanding.

The separation of Church and state is problematic also in that a religious “litmus” test is expressly prohibited by Article VI of the US Constitution. Such a prohibition suggests that we are not supposed to even consider a person’s religion as we determine his or her fitness for office. Well, good luck with that one. Because we do. Measure. A Person’s Value. According to whether that person’s religious point of view is compatible with our own.

When we do begin to apply or even impose our standards of religion in such ways, it is possible that we blur what should be a distinct line of separation not between Church and state but between that which is holy and that which is not and become downright unreasonable in our demands and expectations. So then it is not a matter of secular constitutional requirements. Instead it becomes a matter of actually taking from the Lord and giving over to “Caesar” rather than merely separating one from the other.

The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into either alienating Himself from the people or from the Roman government, and they mistakenly used the one thing that has absolutely no real value in the kingdom of Heaven. Even still, I don’t think money or taxes were themselves the real issues that the Pharisees were trying to raise with Jesus. The real problem, or the real challenge, for Christians is in making a distinction between that which really does exclusively belong to the secular government and that which is exclusively holy.

The main difference between such separations in what we offer comes down to a difference between that which is given freely and that which is compulsory under threat of law. Would we freely and voluntarily withhold from our income a portion set aside exclusively for the government? The reality is that we must contribute to our society in such a way but the other truth of that reality is that if we DON’T, we could go to prison and/or have our assets and property confiscated. Whether we like it or not, the taxes WILL be paid.

What happens, however, when we withhold from the Lord? And please know that I am not talking exclusively about tithes or money. What happens if we do not go to church? What happens if we do go to church, but we expect to be entertained rather than to come with an open and willing heart, ready to worship? What happens if we withhold our financial support from the Church because we don’t like the music or we don’t like the preacher or we don’t like a particular person or we don’t like the color of the choir robes?

Nothing. In this life and in the moment, absolutely nothing will happen. The world will not stop spinning on its axis, and the stars and moon will remain right where they are. Life will pretty much continue as before. For as long as that life lasts. We will remain wrapped in our own cocoon of self-preservation, and we will live according to our own desires, expectations, and demands. No one will be the richer for our behavior, to be sure, but no one will be any poorer for it.

In that self-sustaining world, however, Love does not exist except the love we might have only toward those things and people who suit us, those things we can actually see and feel or taste and touch. And those things exist solely for the purpose of pleasing us. That is not Love; it is a life sentence.

That which belongs to the Lord God is that which has already been offered and is freely given for no reason other than love. It is that we are consciously aware that such a thing took place some 2000 years ago for no reason other than love. And if any among us are so geared in such a way that the word “love” makes us uncomfortable, then call it a Remarkable Gift. It is a Gift with no strings, no demands, no expecations. Only an offer of Life. There is nothing we have to do before we choose to receive this Remarkable Gift except to believe it possible. After that, the Lord will take care of the rest … IF we are willing.

There is no document that requires the Lord to offer this; there is only His heart. Shall we break that Heart, or shall we fulfill it?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Certain Realities

As I was reading over some previous thoughts I’d written recently, I came across one tidbit that caught my eye and mind even more now than when I wrote it: lotteries never made problems disappear. Now that the lottery initiative has passed in Arkansas, I am left to wonder exactly what is important to Arkansans in the midst of an economic meltdown in which thousands of Americans are losing jobs each month but few new jobs are being created. Many are losing their homes through no fault of their own, and there are no real prospects for recovery until we figure out how to put Americans back to work.

In the midst of this certain reality, Arkansans decided that we need a lottery. Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. There is widespread financial calamity, banks are failing, people have no savings (and subsequently, no money for banks to loan), and Social Security is on the verge of collapse; yet Arkansans decided that a lottery, a game of chance that will benefit the very few (those who might win and those who wanted to go to college but were unable to acquire grants, loans, or scholarships in the past), has been what Arkansas has been lacking all this time. Arkansas has never been a real booming state for employment opportunities yet through due diligence and determination, Conway AR landed a 1200-new-jobs employer … without the benefit of a lottery.

I cannot adequately express my profound disappointment in this lottery initiative being approved, but my disappointment has little to do with my own personal or religious objections. It has more to do with the fact that one of this state’s constitutional officers has devoted his entire political existence to this lottery’s passage; I’m not aware that he has done much else such as using his office and its resources as well as his obvious sales talent to figure out new ways to help Arkansas businesses expand their operations and HIRE MORE PEOPLE. Or figure out what it will take to attract even more new businesses to set up shop in Arkansas.

I will live with it, of course, and I do have a certain level of respect for the process that allowed citizens to vote on the measure. There is little else I can do now beyond hope and pray that we will not be led to burning incense or sacrificing animals at the altar of the gaming gods as if we have finally discovered our true salvation. I think in the end, though, every objection that was raised will soon enough be realized as we come to discover that all we did was to create another state agency whose sole purpose of existence will be to convince Arkansans to spend more of what little money many have on a one-in-several-million chance of maybe hitting “the big one” … as if money ever solved any real problems.

My presidential choice did not win, yet this great republic has endured and come Jan 20, Mr. Obama will become my president and yours. My choices for the US Senate and the US House didn’t do much better (can I pick ‘em, or what?), but this lottery initiative I find to be gravely disappointing. As with any other election, however, we get what we ask for and in the end, we are called, as a civilized people, to respect the choices of the majority.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Right Where We Are

Another election has come and gone, and I cannot say that I am surprised at the outcome especially as we continue to endure the current economic environment. The various results of this election were not as I had hoped, but I understand that people are tired and more than a little fearful as jobs are disappearing by the thousands with no end in sight. Markets have taken such a beating that many among the elderly are afraid that all they have to live on could disappear in one bad decision before they would even realize what happened. And let’s face it: these are the majority of citizens who voted. I do not necessarily believe in the “change” that was the mantra of a successful campaign, but of this I am sure: we cannot continue on the current course.

Capitalism unchecked (that is, without sufficient regulation) is akin to anarchy: only the strong survive. The rest are at the mercy of those who make the rules and call the shots. Falling gasoline prices is solid evidence that a free market will respond to a certain reality, but our economy as it is right now is in a freefall into an abyss. The “experts” are unable to tell us where the bottom is or what that bottom may look like, so it is little wonder that voters chose to go in another direction, hoping to reverse the downward spiral.

Make no mistake. Mr. Obama is not going to be able to wave a magic wand and make all the bad stuff go away. He is only a man; he is not a messiah or Moses or Martin Luther King incarnate. President-elect Obama faces some rather daunting challenges that can be seriously addressed only if the entire Congress, Republicans included, will focus on the matters at hand and not on the mid-term elections of 2010.

There is much to be done in the coming years, but citizens of this republic are going to have to do more than simply show up to vote. We are going to have to become better informed (in an age in which being uninformed is simple complacency or sheer laziness) and more involved in the political process. Our voices in the Congress must know what we expect from them; that they are required to represent us and not attempt to lead us. In this and in many other areas, we must be willing to take responsibility for the future of our nation as well as to prepare to suffer the consequences that will surely come if government is left to its own.

This is where we are. Whether we got what we wanted in this election is not nearly as important as making the most of what we have. Expect debate and disagreement, but demand and offer respect. And know that in the end, we will get exactly what we asked for. Let us continue to hope, for this is the ideal of America herself. All is well if we want it to be.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I Just Do Not Know

I am at a total loss as to how I feel about tomorrow’s election. I expect that in the midst of a recession, such as happened in 1992 when the Republican George H.W. Bush lost the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton, a change of party might be the order of the day. I don’t know that party affiliation will matter much, but the perception that we are making some profound change can be compelling. Right now, Republicans are not the party “du jour”.

I am uncomfortable with what I perceive to be Obama’s socialist leanings, but I am not entirely adverse to this government doing something to protect American jobs although I should think that tax BREAKS instead of tax INCREASES would likely come closer to producing that desired result, but what do I know?
Here are a few things I think I know:

Tax breaks have created jobs in the past
• Just because “the poor” get extra money to spend for groceries and utilities does not mean that the economy will recover as a result.
A recovering and expanding economy will result in much greater opportunites for the poor than simply extra money for the light bill
• Lotteries never made any problems disappear
The national debt did not come about only in the last eight years• The housing crisis is caused by GREED from top to bottom, from inside to out (government and lending officials) … PERIOD. Oh, and also by future and soon-to-be-former homeowners who believed they could afford a $500,000.00 home on a $40,000.00 income (is this greed, stupidity, or just wishful thinking?)
It takes more than a couple of years in the US Senate to prepare one for the presidency
• Being an armed forces veteran does not always or necessarily prepare one to serve as commander-in-chief (witness Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter)
Obama is NOT a messiah nor is he Moses or MLK incarnate, as has been inferred by more than a few. He is just a man, people; just a man
• Obama is not Islam
The Lord Christ Jesus is NOT running for public office and is not manifest in any candidate. He was not a Democrat or a Republican nor would He ever choose an alliance by which He would clearly be seen as favoring anyone. Jesus would not join parties; parties join Him
• I have no idea what might happen if Obama loses the election though I suspect accusations of voter fraud will be in the offing. It could not possibly be that Obama might actually get fewer votes; it would have to be Republican dirty tricks
I have no idea what a “yellow dog” or “blue dog” Democrat is as opposed to a regular Democrat, but I do know it is ironic that those who are BY GOD Democrats will not vote for Obama but will vote for their Democratic congressman and Democratic senator, both of whom will ultimately support a Democratic president after having publicly supported a Democratic candidate for president. To them, party affilation DOES matter … way much
• Social Security will never be “fixed” unless or until all members of Congress are forced to participate in it (not in addition to the awesome retirement benefits they’ve given themselves; rather, INSTEAD OF …)
Industry regulations are good things if they do not hinder capital investment
• Industry chiefs who are paid hundreds of millions of dollars annually are actually very clever to have been able to land such gigs. It is perhaps the hiring and contract authorities who should have their heads examined … if they can get their heads sufficiently removed from their rectums
Colleges and universities that allow private foundations to subsidize an athletic coach’s salary above and far beyond state-mandated salary caps are compromising the very integrity of the institutions of higher education they claim to represent
• State elected officials who allow colleges and universities to allow private foundations to subsidize athletic coach’s salaries should be removed from office, tarred and feathered, and left standing in the public squares for the duration of an athletic season
The “last days” period as referred to in the Bible and by Christians is now some 2,000 years old and counting ….
• Christians are, on many levels, the most superstitious group of persons
• This election will not necessarily hasten the end of these “last days”, regardless of its outcome
The Lord is not subject to the will of man

I would like to believe such a list to be exhaustive but the truth is there is only so much I actually know although there is probably a lot more that I think I know. In the end, the results of this election will have zero effect on one’s relationship with the Lord. If the Lord is going to choose to manipulate this US election and He is the God of all nations, then why did He not intervene when Saddam Hussein was reelected president of Iraq (his last term, incidentally)?

Be very careful in such feeble attempts to invoke the name of the Lord. The commandment which prohibits such is not exclusively referring to one particular word. We will get from this election exactly what we ask for, so there is no need to attempt spiritual incantations or blasphemy.