Monday, June 28, 2010

Poor ol' Joe

The old saying goes that there are only two things we can be sure of in this life: death and taxes. I would add a third: if you prick Joe Biden, there will be a response - and not likely a pretty one.

Call Joe Biden anything you like, but understand that his public performance likely since the beginning of his public service career has shown that Mr. Biden has a quick wit, maybe a short temper, and a rather sharp tongue. It has nothing to do with his status as a Democrat or as vice president of the nation. It is just a matter of what kind of person he is and how his mind functions. He may enjoy some light banter from time to time and may have a hearty sense of humor (I don't know the man personally), but from my observations from afar he seems to have little patience for what he would deem nonsense, and he virtually grows and shows fangs when he is challenged or confronted. It is who he is, for good or bad.

One element I might add to the volatile mix, however, is the length of his public service that may be indicative of what the nation is seeing spewing forth not only from the nation's capital but from our state capitals as well. Public "servants" lose that sense of humble service after spending too many years in public office. Too many become somewhat detached, bold, and often downright arrogant. How many years is "too many" would be anyone's guess and a matter of perspective, I suppose, but I have duly noted that every politician I've voted for or against at election time has been the meek and humble servant while asking for my vote. After that time passes, however, and the election (or reelection) is secure, they morph back into what they truly are. Again, whether for good or for bad is a matter of perspective AND perception.

I would suggest that folks get off Joe Biden's back about this very insignificant non-issue. There have been suggestions in the past that President Obama might have to put a leash and muzzle on the VP, but I would ask whether others might muzzle the president the next time he feels compelled to talk down the US while on foreign soil or when he tries to take the "high road" and makes lofty, "kumbya" demands when it comes to political rhetoric aimed at him while still feeling free to take cheap shots at the GOP or continue to blame former President Bush rather than "man up" and take the reins as chief of state himself.

I would like to imagine how I may have responded if the VP had said something like that to me, but one would never really know until faced with the same situation under the same circumstances; face-to-face with the vice president of the United States AND with TV cameras recording every word and movement. In the end the custard shop manager came off as somewhat more "presidential" than the VP himself - which says a lot about the state of our nation and what we are willing to tolerate. There is nothing new here, and there is certainly no issue - Biden is who Biden is, and consistently so. We should not feign such "shock". It just indicates once more how clueless most of us really are when it comes to picking politicians.

Testing the spirits

1 John 4:1-6

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is about as confusing a piece of work as any I've ever had to encounter. I easily get that there is the Holy Father, the Holy Son, the Holy Spirit as elements of one another. I get that our human languages have limitations that cannot possibly fully explain the essence of the Holy God but that the Bible - for lack of a better term - "breaks Him down" into manageable pieces. It is sad that one important "piece" of Him caused a division between Judaism and Christianity, but there is another element of His being, His essence that probably causes more confusion - and division - than any other doctrine in existence maybe only because we try to explain what is clearly inexplicable.

Who is the Holy Spirit, and what do we really know about Him? In a nutshell, He is the essence of the Father. He is the Eternal Teacher, the "Advocate", the Giver of Life, the Presence of the Holy God. Without Him, says St. Paul, we cannot "say that Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3), so the Holy Spirit must also be the Eternal Informer, the Imparter of the Everlasting Truth. The Holy Spirit is the essence of the Holy Father, and the Holy Spirit is also the essence of the Body of Christ (or should be), the Holy Church that calls forth all believers to continue the mission of Christ to "go", to "do", to "teach", to "baptize". The Holy Spirit is our reminder of that sure and certain promise that we have not been "forsaken", a fulfillment of the promise of Christ prior to His Ascension that He would be with us "until the end of the age".

One of the earliest Christian confessions is that "Jesus Christ is Lord". If the Spirit is then the Life of the Holy Church, it stands to reason that the "primary mission of the Holy Spirit is to bring home to [us] the real meaning of that confession" (pg 53, Stokes, Major United Methodist Beliefs, revised).

So what does this confession mean? St. John teaches in his epistle that the foundational purpose of this confession is revealed in how we discern for ourselves one spirit from another, how we can be sure we are talking to the Holy Spirit and not some evil spirit (an "antichrist") whose mission in life is to draw us AWAY from the Holy God. The last lesson of our "Restoring Methodism" study this morning explored the Church's relationship to the Holy Spirit and whether we are equipped to discern this Spirit. Whether we are "equipped", however, is not the real issue. The real issue is whether we are WILLING to hear the Spirit of the Lord.

Surely we can agree that the Spirit of the Lord was with Jesus as He begged to be released from what was to become of Him, and surely we can agree that the Spirit told Jesus to keep moving toward Jerusalem and, ultimately, Golgotha and His torturous death.

The significance of the Holy Spirit is confirmed by Jesus in Mark 3:29 when we are told that "the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is subject to eternal condemnation." Traditionally it has been taught to us that this "unpardonable sin" is that of denying Christ as Lord - and there is no indication this is not true - but think about what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit truly entails, especially when we consider that the Holy Spirit is, as stated, the 'essence' of the Holy Father, the nearness of Him in our day-to-day lives. This is the Spirit that affirms Christ as Lord, to be sure, but this Spirit also convicts us of our sin.

The Spirit is where we encounter the very Real Presence of the Holy God. This real presence is profoundly expressed in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation involving the Holy Eucharist. And when Jesus promises us that He will be with us even when only two or three are gathered in His name, to suggest that the Spirit is not present is itself a blasphemous statement because it issues a direct challenge to the promise that comes from Christ Himself - not Rome - who also told us that He does not speak of His own authority but by the authority of the "One who sent [Him]".

But the Holy Spirit is not about Catholic doctrine or Methodist doctrine or Baptist doctrine. The Holy Spirit is all about the Presence of the Holy God, regardless of how humanity tries to define it or even express it. We are aware of certain traditions that proclaim "gibberish" (my own choice of wording - very sorry if anyone is offended) as the language of the Holy Spirit. Now those of these particular traditions may accuse me of blasphemy against the Spirit by my choice of words, but I use that word only to make this point. By the "gibberish" that is not a discernable language, what is being proclaimed? Do we get "Christ is Lord" by the 'humnina-humnina' that comes from these select few, or do we get another message entirely - a message that is entirely too focused on one or two persons, a message that draws attention to those one or two and AWAY from the Holy One?

There is one other significant element of understanding the Presence of the Spirit and blasphemy that may result from our carelessness. We may have difficulties trying to decide whether it is the Spirit actually speaking to us from within OR if we are operating strictly on our own hunches or feelings. Do we use the Holy Spirit as our justification for what we do in a vain effort to give our actions some significance that otherwise does not exist? It is indeed blasphemy and a direct violation of the prohibition against using the Lord's name in vain (Exodus 30:7).

The language of the Holy Spirit is expressed to us in every facet of our daily living. The Spirit speaks to us in our joy, in our loneliness, in sickness and in health, in our doubts and in our certainties. The United Methodist doctrine of the Holy Spirit is expressed in such languages, and many others, when we understand that the "Spirit's aim is to make the living Christ not merely a fleeting object of affection by the master impulse of our entire being" (pg 55, Stokes). The Spirit speaks to us in grace before we are even aware of the grace that is already present (prevenient grace), speaks to us in the certainty of the Father's forgiveness (justifying grace), and leads us in the path of perfect love (sanctifying grace).

In short, we are nothing absent the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Church is not the Holy Church without Him. The Church is directionless without Him. And we are without Christ without Him.

Sabbath: the unwrapped Gift

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Galatians 5:13-17
Mark 2:23-28

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" is probably one of the strangest, if incomprehensible, sayings I've heard, but the meaning is clear. Be aware of all you have and don't take it for granted. By the same token, don't let what you have become the essence of who you are. Stuff or jobs, that is. And I was once there as I know so many were - and still are.

It would be easy to say I should never have allowed myself to become so intertwined with my secular job, but try telling that to 95% of today's workforce. Try telling that to the millions who have lost their jobs and are STILL searching. Try telling that to the thousands who have lost homes and other property for lack of income. Try telling any one of these persons that their jobs are not as important as they may think, and one can imagine the sort of response one may expect.

In this it is easy to see how our lives, the core of who we are, may be defined by the work we do. Some jobs are so demanding that it is hard to separate who we are from what we do. Commerce has become so demanding that our entire nation moves 24/7 such as in transportation, manufacturing, oil and gas production, and farming to name only a few. And may we never forget our nation's military and our community's' first-responders!

These are the things we choose to do, though. In many cases we spend incredible amounts of money, take on enormous debt, and spend years preparing for some careers that may well be the death of us, but we pursue these things because they are important to our nation, to our families, and to ourselves. Commerce is a necessary reality without which many a working class family would have no means. Buying and selling, making and moving all kinds of goods and services are how millions of men and women make, bake, and butter their own bread.

Commerce in and of itself is not evil. There is a good, moral lesson in doing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. There is nothing wrong with earning an honest living, and there is nothing wrong with working long and hard at it. To a certain extent there is nothing wrong with some honest and well-placed ambition but when it all begins to consume a person to the point that personal identity is lost and found in the job, we've gone too far. And this, I think, is a pretty fair assessment of what Sabbath is offered to counteract. The Lord knows we have to work. In fact the Lord demands that we work lest we become a burden to others. The Lord also demands, however, that we carve out a solid 24-hour period in which we can reconnect not only with Him but also with our loved ones, our neighbors, and the community of faith. ALL of these; not just some of them.

The Sabbath is not only the great equalizer in that ALL - rich or poor, ruling class or working class - are commanded to rest, including livestock, but Sabbath continues to be perhaps the greatest "unwrapped" gift of all because we lack a full appreciation for what true Sabbath is all about. It is a holy day, to be sure, sanctified by the Lord God but Jesus reminds His followers that "Sabbath was made for humankind"; truly a "gift" rather than a mere point of law. Sabbath came from the mouth of the Lord God Himself and is clear evidence of the mercy, love, care, and concern that comes from our Holy Father. It is, truly, love - not law.

Given this, then, why have Christians all but surrendered this remarkable gift to the point that it virtually no longer exists? We should not confuse what has come to be known in the Church as "the Lord's Day" with the biblical Sabbath, the Lord's Day being the first day of the week in which the Bible tells us Jesus was resurrected. Nor should we confuse "a" seventh day with "the" seventh day in which the Lord commanded that His people settle down and rest because if it is the "seventh day", then by reason it cannot be "any" day we choose.

Maybe we have a difficult time appreciating the concern and care of this Holy Day because we bristle at the idea of being "handled" like young children who are forced to take afternoon naps. Witness the antiquated "blue laws". I'll grant you that parents need that break as much as toddlers do (!!), but we also know that the bodies of young children need the rest for their physical well-being. So we impose "nap time", the principle of which is not completely inconsistent with our Holy Father imposing "Sabbath".

So if it is truly a "gift", does the gift come with strings attached? In other words, can we not accept this remarkable gift on our own terms and use it how we see fit, according to our own schedules? Does the Lord have a stake in whether we do Saturday or Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday, according to swing shift work schedules, for instance? Is it, as some have said and as Mark seems to imply, that Sabbath is no longer a day of the week (let alone a particular day) but is, instead, Christ Himself who gives us "true rest" (Matthew 11:25-30)?

The short answer is "no". "No", we cannot make things up as we go along to suit our own individual purposes. "No", we cannot accept this gift on our own terms. And a resounding "NO", we cannot accept the Sabbath for ourselves but deny Sabbath for others. Just as Jesus teaches, the Sabbath was made for "humankind", meaning EVERYONE and not just a privileged few, to include servants and the livestock, the responsibility of the privileged. EVERYONE gets to rest. It is not the call, duty, privilege, or "right" to remove Sabbath from others especially to suit ourselves or to accommodate our own personal needs or even recreation. It is unjust to require of one what we would refuse for ourselves.

Many writers and preachers have tried to interpret Sabbath in ways that speak to our busy and hectic lives. In the book, The Sabbath, Abraham Heschel speaks to everyone caught up in a complex life and consciousness that cannot comprehend any other way of being. You see how easily we have been conditioned over a period of years? Heschel advocates for the enduring value of Sabbath because of – and not in spite of – our lives. He writes: "The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. We are called upon to share what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world." In other words, spiritual contemplation; reveling in the knowledge and presence of the Lord.

St. Paul exhorts the Galatians to "stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1b). I wonder that as we are continually blinded by our alleged "freedom" to pursue a contemporary, fast-paced, consumerist, make-hay-while-the-sun-shines culture we have become virtual slaves to, if there may ever return that blessed and holy day when we can actually find that critical time to spend with the Lord and - by our refusal to continue paying homage to such a godless culture by contributing to it - also allow others to do likewise - especially the least among us - to find the rest we all so desperately need; to rest with the Lord, our families, and our neighbors - and not from them.

Sabbath is not strictly about attending worship services though there is that very important element, but careful consideration must be made that others are not prevented from attending that same worship by being forced to attend to our own pleasures. We may feel as though we are being faithful Sabbath "observers" by going to church and then going out to eat rather than "work" to prepare our own meals, but are we not forcing others to accommodate us? Are restaurant owners not exploiting their staff by demanding they be available to work to serve you and me? I remember when Mark Winter, the evangelist, was here. Tricia and I took him out to eat at a local restaurant Saturday evening, and Mark invited the young waitress to join us on Sunday and for the other services? Her response? "I cannot attend worship on Sunday because we're here early Sunday getting ready for the CHURCH crowd." Ouch.

How are we then being faithful even to the "spirit" of the Sabbath when we force others to serve us on what we may consider "our" Sabbath - if we consider it at all? And I think we don't. If Sabbath is the great "unwrapped" gift meant for ALL of "humankind", are we not taking their gift and perhaps dangling it in their faces just beyond their reach and suggesting they can have their Sabbath only after we've had ours?

Such a mindset does not come close to the "spirit" of Sabbath and makes an inconsistent argument for the notion that Sabbath can be any day of the week. It is an inconsistent and shallow argument that there is a Jewish Sabbath and a Christian Sabbath but only one and the same God. This does not compute.

Useless arguments can be made for or against Saturday, Sunday, or whenever, but there is that undeniable element of servitude when we realize that businesses are open on Sunday catering to us. I don't suggest for a moment a return to the "blue laws" because it is not government's place to force us to rest. It is only when we are introspective of certain spiritual knowledge by which we come to understand that the Bible, as the voice of the Holy Father, should not be taken to require of one but excuse another by the same Word. But the choice must be made just as it was commanded by the Lord God at Passover - that other sanctified and Holy Day - as recorded in Numbers: "The person who is clean and is not on a journey but ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people" (9:13).

It is a choice we make, just as other choices are made daily that we are the WHOLE people of the Lord God - or we are not. There will always be those who will choose not to be here or at any house of worship on any given Sunday just because they don't want to be. It is important to remember, however, that the Sabbath came in the midst of a world in which there were the "have's" and the "have-not's" who worked for the "have's". While the rest of the world (man, that is) required that slaves and servants and livestock work without a break, the Lord required that HIS beloved would get that much-needed rest. It would be how the rest of the world would not only identify the people of the Lord; it also helped the people of the Lord know of the benevolence of the Lord our God.

It is how the people of God understand justice when ALL are required to rest, and it is how the people of God understand mercy when they finally "unwrap" that Great Gift of Sabbath and be reminded that He loves us, but He loves our neighbors as well.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Legally Yours

Psalm 119
Galatians 3:23-29
Matthew 22:34-40

Thinking about some of the issues and points of law we continue to struggle with in our Wednesday night OT Survey class, I have been compelled to ask - and try to answer - this particular question for myself: What is the difference between being "legalistic" and being "faithful"? The short - and likely more practical - answer is that "legalism" is defined by those points we disagree with and don't want to observe whereas "faithfulness" is defined by those things we don't mind doing. Yet by faith and in acts of love we make a conscious choice to be obedient to the Lord as Christ was "obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8), but we do this even if we do not fully understand the "why" of a particular point. We do, however, have a difficult time making a distinction between faithful discipleship and simply being "legalistic".

In the Gospel accounts Jesus clearly disputes legalism in response to some of the Pharisees' doctrinal challenges and He just as clearly lifts up faithful obedience in response to earnest questions from genuine seekers, yet there is a clear indication that Christians are not well suited to tell the difference, the primary reason (among many, I think) being that much of what Jesus takes exception to is written in the Talmud rather than Torah; the oral traditions of the fathers rather than the written Law. Christians are not typically familiar with Talmud, which is the rabbinical interpretation of Torah. I must also say that St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians does little to clarify the difference and actually seems to compound the confusion - at least for me - by splitting so many "legal" hairs. Then mix in KJV, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and other Bible translations - and "confusion" will reign supreme!

In Galatians 3:5 Paul asks: "Does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?" In other words, does the Lord offer His blessing because we "believe" Him or because we "obey" Him? And what is the difference? This is where confusion can begin because doing the "works of the law" because we trust the Lawgiver should not be considered "legalism" but is, instead, "faithfulness"; a faithful response to the Word of the Lord. The Lord says "Don't", and so we don't (sometimes). The Lord says "Do", and so we do (sometimes).

And if the Law is in fact the Word of the Eternal God by and through Whom we are given Life, how can one be "imprisoned" (Gal 3:23), to use St. Paul's word, by a willingness to take Him at His word the Holy One whose mighty acts set a nation free from slavery and raised Jesus from death?

To be sure, St. Paul is primarily addressing the problem of the so-called "Judiazers" who continue to insist to the Gentiles that the mark of the Lord's Covenant (namely, circumcision) is a requirement of the Law and that one cannot enter into Covenant with the Holy One until and unless one bears the mark of that Covenant. To be equally sure, there is a fine line between performing some ritual or advancing some practice "just because", or acting in obedience even if we are unsure about the practice or it makes no sense to us. But is this not how we define faith itself - a "belief in things unseen, the substance of things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1)? And isn't it ironic that St. Paul uses Abraham in this particular context in Galatians as an example of faith when it is the Lord's Covenant with Abraham that is marked by circumcision? Is circumcision not considered a point of Law, a command from the Lord God, even if it is not one of the Ten?

I think we sometimes have a hard time defining what it means to be faithful. Jesus Himself said that proof of our love for Him is in our obedience to Him (John 14:15), yet we dismiss what it means to be obedient - faithfully obedient - because of careless - and sometimes Gnostic (when we separate Jesus from the Father) - interpretations of Scripture in which Jesus rightly points out that the "greatest commandment" is to love the Lord God with all we have and with all we are (Matthew 22:36-37). But before this verse, which is quoted from Deuteronomy, can make sense to disciples, we need to know what "love" means and how "love" is properly portrayed. If "love" is an "action verb", as so cleverly stated in so many sermons and on so many church marquees, then "action" is implied - not mere emotion or warm and fuzzy "feelings"; and if "action", then surely these "actions" would necessarily include "works of the law".

Reading something a few weeks ago, a pastor suggested that the NT "narrowed down" the over 300+ laws in OT to just two: to love the Lord and to love our neighbor. But Jesus teaches His disciples that "on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Mt 22:40). The language suggests the Law is "summarized", not "replaced" or "modified" or even "narrowed down" because Jesus teaches that to love the Lord God is the "greatest" - and not the only - commandment; and this includes Sabbath law AND circumcision among the many others Christianity seems to have so casually, if carelessly, dismissed in favor of "grace" - as if to imply that obedience to the Lord is no longer necessary because we are "under grace" and not "under law". Hence we separate the Law from the Law-Giver just as we often separate Jesus from the Father.

I am being a little more sarcastic than necessary only to make and clarify certain points, particularly as it pertains to United Methodist theology. To begin with, "grace" can never be dismissed as inconsequential because "grace" is itself a Divine Act; not a human act. We cannot "earn" grace nor can we expect the Lord God to act contrary to His own nature and good will. But neither can we redefine "grace" in a vain effort to accommodate our excuses or spiritual complacency so that we may continue living and acting contrary to Him and His Word which is the Law, which is the Prophets, ALL of which is Christ, all according to Jesus!

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will BY NO MEANS enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17-20

Obedience is not "legalistic" nor is obedience a catalyst by which anything in particular is accomplished. Being obedient is not a means to a particular end. Rather, obedience is a voluntary response on the part of humanity; more specifically, the community of faith. Obedience is the personal and corporate expression of the faith community's knowledge of the Lord's grace, mercy, and love.
Obedience comes from a grateful heart filled with the certain knowledge that Love always provokes a response. Grace is that which justifies us before the Holy Father - HIS merit, His love rather than our own (justifying grace). Sanctification, or "sanctifying grace", is how we continue growing in faith and in love through perfect obedience to Him and His legitimate claim over our lives.

Obedience does not make us perfect, but our faith is "perfected in love" when we obey the Lord. He has done for us what no human person could - or even would - accomplish, and obedience is our response- even if we don't fully understand; sort of like what we parents expect and demand from OUR own children, yes?

It is why the Exodus preceded the giving of the Law at Sinai. Israel was first set free; THEN Israel was given the opportunity to respond substantially to that Divine Reality through obedience to the Law. It was their "faith" in the Deliverer, the Law-Giver that provoked the faithful response in gratitude for their deliverance, and it was their lack of faith evidenced in disobedience that provoked the Lord's ANGER! It is by perfect obedience and faithfulness that Caleb and Joshua were the only ones of their generation that would finally see AND ENTER into the Promised Land (Numbers 14). All the others died in the wilderness.

It is this obedience, this unquestioned loyalty, which distinguishes the faith community from the secular culture. It is how non-believers come to know and understand who we are and, ultimately, who our Holy Father is: the Redeeming God, the Just God, the Holy and Merciful God. Just as Israel was called to be "set apart" as a holy and priestly nation, so is the Holy Church called to be "set apart" as a holy and priestly movement; the continuing mission of the Lord Christ.

We must not become so encumbered or overwhelmed with the Law that we lose sight of the Lord and His call and legitimate claim to our lives. But we must also be mindful of the totality of obedience as perfected in Christ Jesus when His humanity asked to be excused from what was to come (the Crucifixion), but His perfect obedience took Him straight to the Cross - His whole life, His total self given in perfect response to the Father's call, the Father's purpose, the Father's will - which was AND IS to redeem all of humanity from the bondage of sin and death.
This is our call. This is, indeed, the Mission of Christ's Holy Church. This is who we are because HE is the source of our life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seriously? Art?

Lady Gaga is in the spotlight for what many consider to be an offensive video depicting Catholicism and its icons in a negative, if blasphemous, fashion. Some call Gaga's artistry (and I'm being very generous here) "bold" while others wonder why Catholicism and the Roman Church are continually depicted in such a negative way throughout the media while Islam, Judaism, and Protestantism remain pretty much untouched.

As a United Methodist pastor who was raised in the Catholic Church, I sometimes hear the outcries and think perhaps we take things a little too seriously. Yet I also look at the very cowardly way these alleged "artists" (remember Sinead O'Connor?) claim to be "boldly confronting" the Church on what our "anything goes" culture generally considers to be controversial stands on such things as abortion, euthanasia, priestly celibacy, divorce, etc. I say "cowardly" because these media bullies are relatively sure the Catholic Church is not going to declare jihad on them or cut off their heads on camera while they beg for their lives. I say "bully" because this is the modus operandi of bullies in general; they will not attack anything or anyone that might fight back. They choose the safer targets because they are quite sure they can walk away unscathed. Sadly, our society applauds these so-called "artists" for their courage.

The truth is ALL Christians especially, and perhaps our Muslim and Jewish friends as well, should take such negative imagery very seriously to the point that we hit these "artists" where it will really hurt them: in the pocketbook. When they start going broke, we would then be able to find out exactly how committed they really are to their "art".

I would find it extremely sad and disheartening that Protestant friends from any tradition would revel in these blatant attacks on Christianity in general - and that's what they are - by pulling out 16th-century Reformation politics and their general disdain for the Roman Catholic Church - or worse, remaining silent altogether. I think we're beyond this (or we should be), and I think all Christians should be offended and disturbed about the fallout not from the controversial videos or public statements themselves but from the SILENCE of the Church Universal. Our Catholic friends are not shy in speaking up for themselves and their beloved Church, but they should not be speaking alone.

Turning off the televisions and radios would be a step in the right direction but will do no good alone when what we need to consider are the sponsors that allow these "artists" to spew their filth on the public airwaves. They certainly have a right to access the media as you and I do and I suppose they have a right to express themselves as they feel they must, but there is no justification for our supporting sponsors who make such public filth possible. It is not unlike less-than-ethical politicians who are continually reelected to public office; it is not so much the fault of the politicians themselves (even as they are ultimately responsible for their own actions) as it is the voting public who don't take a stand where it matters - in the voting booth - but instead chooses to give these people a free pass with and tacit approval of their less-than-honorable conduct and behavior, especially during election seasons.

When will ALL Christians stand up as one? When will the Church universal stand firm as witness to the Truth of the Gospel that as the Lord God alone is One, so too is the Body of Christ one in Him? When will disciples of Christ display such boldness? This goes far beyond simple public boycott of what is essentially bile that poisons young minds; this is a public witness to the goodness of faith. The unbelieving public needs to see unity in the Church. Until they do, however, they will continue to mock and ridicule not only our Catholic brothers and sisters but will soon enough turn their attentions to an already weakened Church. It is the "divide-and-conquer" strategy, and it is extremely effective.

Make no mistake; we cannot make these people go away. They will go long and strong until the Day of the Lord - or until their money runs out and/or popularity wanes. Until that Day, however, we can no longer afford to sit idly by and watch our children be taken in and transformed into mindless, nihilistic hedonists. Judgmental? You bet! But judging between behavior that is destructive and judging the soul of another human being is comparing apples to oranges. One requires spiritual discernment; the other is "hands off" to the faithful.

Above all else, Christians must not respond in kind. Rather, we must stand firm and united in the Scripture that is the "Light" of our path to righteousness. "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21 NKJV).