Archive for May, 2007

Humility Memorial

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5

This particular Bible verse is a favorite of mine.

I leaned on it heavily during one of the more difficult times in my life.

As a country, we’re going through a difficult patch right now too and could benefit from remembering our need for humility.

As we honor those who have served our country in the past, we also have to cherish those who are serving today. We’ve put almost 200.000 brave men and women in harms way in a foreign country. We’ve asked them to fight a war which we started under what we now know to be false pretenses. They have engaged what they thought were the enemy, but in the process we have radicalized a country, weakened ourselves, and strengthened the real enemy (bin ladist Islam).

Those who support this path of action claim that victory is just a matter of will. With more patience and commitment, they claim, we will achieve our goals in Iraq. I don’t think that it is a question of will. I think it is a question of understanding.

I just heard an interesting comment on NPR by a Chaplain Major John Morris who has served in Iraq.

“In this fight, which we call the global war on terrorism, we say that we understand that the people we’re fighting are motivated by an ideology that’s rooted in an aberrant view of a religion. It’s a great line. But I’ve often had to really be forceful with commanders that, ‘You don’t understand. These people are tapping into something in a spiritual realm. And if you fail to take it seriously, it doesn’t matter how long we fight, we will not defeat them.’”

“We’re in a war. But this is a war where you can’t kill enough people to win because this has a spiritual motivation to it. You’ve got to have more tools than kinetic energy. And that’s how I talk to commanders because they understand kinetic energy as firing of a weapon system.

That means we have to take seriously religious leaders. We have to take seriously the religious worldview of people. We have to think that when we fire that weapon and we miss, that round goes somewhere. And when it hits somebody else that’s innocent, it has a ripple effect on a culture that takes seriously life and death, clan and family. That when we search mosques, it has an impact, whether the mosque was used as an armory, which I often saw that it was, or not. There is an impact.”

I don’t think that the American people have as clear a view as Major Morris, but what they do grasp is that the current strategy is fatally flawed. I’m not sure that the American people understand what we should do next, but they do understand that we have to change what we are doing now.

As Major Morris said, this is not a war that we are going to win with bullets and soldiers and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we will be able to starting doing what we as a country do best. We are the best at giving those with good ideas an opportunity to be successful. We are the best at providing families an opportunity to build a better life for their children. We are the best at assimilating immigrant cultures into our own.

We will win the war against fundamentalist Islam by figuring out how to solve the fundamentalist strife in our own country. That is going to come from prayer and the realization that what we have in common is far more important that what we have in difference. Then we have to take those lessons of loving our neighbor as ourselves and apply them globally. When we accomplish that, we will wake one morning to find that our enemies have disappeared because they have become us and we them.

“Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.” Isa. 41:11-12

Happy Memorial Day

Hate Speech

Monday, May 21st, 2007

“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” I John 3:15

Some conservative Christians have recently publicly opposed legislation which extends the definition of hate crimes to include crimes committed because of the victim’s disabilities, gender, or sexual preference.

Though I’m sure it was not intended, these folks prove why there is a need for the law. The protesters feel that unfettered ability to publicly label homosexuals as sinners is more important than protecting them from hate crimes.

We’ve already decided as a society that it is unacceptable to commit crimes out of animosity because race, religion, or ethnicity. The current proposals extend that to gender, sexual orientation, or those with disabilities. Whether you view sexual orientation as a genetic (as is race or ethnicity) or a life-style choice (as is religion) doesn’t matter. Whether you view a particular sexual orientation as moral or immoral also doesn’t matter. What does matter is that some people think it acceptable to terrorize, assault, and kill gay, lesbian, and transgender people. Some of those that carry out these acts cite the Bible in the same way as those objecting to the legislation. Eric Rudolph, for example, felt he was doing God’s will when he bombed abortion clinics and a gay and lesbian nightclub. But even the motivation of those who attack isn’t really the issue.

This is the issue.

Hate is hate whether it comes wrapped in a Bible verse or swastika and should have no place in a free and democratic society. All US citizens regardless of their creed should be able to agree on that.

Closet prayer

Friday, May 11th, 2007

“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Matt. 6:6

There is a popular notion among conservative Christians that this country took a wrong turn when the supreme court ruled against prayer in schools. The thought is that if we could just get prayer back in schools we could recapture a previous golden age.

There are a couple of implied assumptions in that claim. They include the following:

  1. Things are worse now then when prayer in schools was legal.
  2. If prayer were legal, it would be a conservative Christian prayer.
  3. There is no prayer in schools today.

You don’t have to look at much history to see how silly this whole argument is.

Group prayer was effectively outlawed in public schools by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions starting in 1962. What is important to understand, is that these ruling did not outlaw individual prayer, as long as it wasn’t disruptive. They just prohibited mandatory group prayer that was in any way non-secular. In 1962, African Americans were still widely and legally discriminated against. Mob lynching continued until 1968. Jim Crow laws disenfranchised Blacks and segregated schools were the norm. School children routinely practiced nuclear attack duck-and-cover drills. People were building private bomb shelters in their back yards and late that year the United States and Russia came to the brink of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. If you were a white middle class family living the suburbs it may have been a golden age, but if you were a poor person of color living in the south, it was still very tough.

As someone who believes in the power of prayer, I don’t have a problem with prayer in public schools, but which prayer? Muslims and Jews have rich prayer traditions. Catholics and Protestants can’t even agree on the Lord’s prayer. Monotheists are going to object to animist and Wiccan prayer. You cans see where this is going. There is no one prayer that is going to satisfy all of the communities willing to pray. So in the public school setting, the most loving choice is to simply set aside time for those who would like to pray and let them exercise that right in whatever way they chose while not disturbing others. That’s pretty much what the Supreme Court has said.

Finally, prayer is already legal and practiced in many private schools and private school enrollment is exploding (up over 10% now). That probably isn’t going to be sufficient, at least in the minds of some conservative Christians, to save the country.

The real problem in schools is not that there isn’t enough prayer. The real problem is that there aren’t enough high school graduates (only 70%) and too few of those are going to college. Prayer can help that situation, but it is the prayer that all of us engage in to know that God is the source of all knowledge and that His creation man reflects that knowledge in wise choices.


Monday, May 7th, 2007

“For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.”
Romans 3:3-4

What happens if you don’t believe in God?

In this country, you end up on the receiving end of a lot of abuse. According to a University of Minnesota study, atheists are America’s least trusted group. Atheists rank below Muslims, recent immigrants, homosexuals and other groups as “sharing their vision of American society.” Americans are also least willing to let their children marry atheists. One participant in the survey summarized it well when he said, “atheists are one of the last groups remaining that it’s still socially acceptable to hate.”

I saw this played out in the responses to an opinion piece published by a local atheist. All of the responses except one were negative. The only one that even hinted at coming to the defense of the original author, responded to one of the critics more directly than actually defending the original article.

Christians aren’t alone in their knee-jerk reactions to atheists. Muslims threatened violence last year when a Danish magazine published a series of editorial cartoons they found offensive. Yet it is this very reaction that supports the atheist claim that those who believe in God are deluded hypocrites.

I am concerned that many Christians appear to be lazy spiritual thinkers. Many prefer dogma and “like-minded” congregations to controversy. They seem more willing to accept direction and ignore contradiction rather than ask hard questions. The result is a world that divides very neatly into believers and non-believers. Non-believers are viewed as threats to harmony rather than opportunities to hear from a different point of view. Instead of curious and respectful dialogs, unproductive self-serving monologs are the norm.

That’s why we see published claims that try to blame everything from increased violence in schools, to hard times in the auto industry, to foreign policy failures on increased secularism. This is the same sort of sloppy thinking that Hitler took advantage of during the rise of the Third Reich. Yes, they claimed to be Christians too. Rather than atheists, however, they chose Jews as the scapegoat.

When you boil it all down, it ends up being a plea for simple solutions. The thought is, if everyone shared my beliefs, we would be a more spiritual and moral nation. The reality is that we wouldn’t be better. You don’t have to spend much time in history books to prove this. When we had state sponsored religions in the colonies, we legally persecuted Wiccans, Quakers, and Catholics. When only white men had the vote, we conducted a genocidal war against native Americans and created a set of laws which institutionalized slavery. When we all moved to the suburbs and built new schools for our kids, African Americans couldn’t go to those schools. Tell me again why returning to these times of shared values is a good thing?

The real strength of this country is that we DON’T all share the same beliefs and can still figure out how to work together. The real strength is that you don’t have to believe in God, be white, speak English, or live in the suburbs in order to be a good citizen or a good neighbor.

At the end of the day, it isn’t whether we have God on our money or prayer in our schools. The Nazi’s had “God with us” on their uniforms, for goodness sake. The contribution of Christians to the future success of this country will depend on having God in our hearts. If God is in your heart, you will strive to see others as God sees them, with infinite love and inexhaustible patience. He did give us the opportunity to choose because He wanted us to enter His embrace under our own free will. If we want others to respect our choices, we are obligated to respect theirs. Those that reject Him will learn soon enough whether or not they have made a wise choice. God doesn’t need our help sorting that out for Him.