Archive for April, 2008

Raca

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

 I think it is always dangerous ground to attempt to speak for God.

Those of us who are Christians have the Bible as a sufficient guide to our salvation, but even here there are many paths. Jesus, the most perfect man to ever walk the earth, encountered devout people in his own town that he couldn’t heal of their bigotry and hardheartedness.

There are those in our community today who seem to have succumbed to the same temptation to turn Jesus message of love, humility, and tolerance into narrow-minded self-righteousness. The paper that sponsors this blog published a letter from one on April 26th.

The author, Mr. Abraham, felt that Reverend Timothy McDonald, founder of the First Iconium Baptist Church in east Atlanta, was in error when he claimed that Jesus was crucified for political reasons. Mr. Abraham went on to quote scripture extensively to prove his point that Jesus death had a much more profound spiritual purpose. On that point, it is likely that he and Rev McDonald would agree. But in Rev. McDonald’s defense, those who killed Jesus did so because they viewed him as a political threat, not a spiritual one. In fact, it took Jesus resurrection and the Holy Spirit to open his own disciples eyes to him as more than a political Messiah.

This minor theological spat, however, was just the thin veneer that Mr. Abraham chose to dress up an ugly screed directed at African Americans, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witness, and any minister in Monroe who disagreed with him.

The author appears to have forgotten the example of another Abraham who became the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, “And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.” Gen 13:8

Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection was for all mankind through all time. It was for African Americans, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians, Mr. Abraham and me. We are all brothers.

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matt 5:21-24

Bitter

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

 

“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.  Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” James 3: 8-11

 

Paul had a lot to say to the early church.  He was helping them understand what it meant to be a good Christian.  These early church members came from entirely different traditions.  The Jews held the Samaritans and Gentiles in very low esteem and generally didn’t associate with them  The Greeks felt the Jews were country bumpkins.  The Romans looked down on everyone.  Yet here was this new teaching that asked everyone to give up their bias and love everyone else as a child of God.

 

We are still struggling with this concept 2000 years later.

 

One of the key elements in the current Democratic race is the question of how Senator Obama is going to react when attacked by the Republican party if he wins the Democratic nomination.  In an effort to demonstrate that she is better prepared to defend herself, Senator Clinton appears to be taking it on herself to demonstrate that Senator Obama isn’t up to the challenge.

 

What seems to be lost in all of this is the larger question.  Why do we, as those whom these candidates are seeking to serve, tolerate this sort of behavior?

 

Do we really want to continue this sort of scorched-earth power politics where victory is a function of counting coup?

 

In my opinion, this policy has failed the people for the past sixteen years. 

 

The only group it IS working for is the politicians.  That’s because it allows them to raise money and deal with the simple issues of good and evil rather than the complicated issues of doing the business of the people.  Politicians have been able to choose a side, dig in, and fire away.  We cheer on the sidelines after every volley because it is good entertainment.  We fail to recognize that they are spending our money entertaining us rather than providing good government. 

 

In the last eight years the gap between the rich and the poor has increased dramatically.  It is now the widest that it has been since the depression.  Those those who were already rich and had an opportunity to influence the process, are getting richer.  Everyone else is getting poorer.  Us poor folk haven’t complained because we were told that the cause of our condition was deterioration of social values (abortion, gay marriage, legislating judiciary, and past liberal sins), and not unethical government.  We were told that if we only returned to some idealized vision of the past, we would all have a shot at the same brass ring that the rich had managed to grasp.  Unfortunately enough of us believed it that we kept voting for these folks.  Well it isn’t true.  It’s not happening.  Worse, it’s not going to happen.

 

Things need to change.

 

We need to elect representatives who are going to tell us the truth including the fact that they are human, frail, and imperfect. 

 

The truth is that all of those high paying manufacturing jobs are gone and are not coming back.  The truth is that future employment is going to be a function of skills and education.  As a result, if we want our people working in good jobs, we have to offer them meaningful training and education.  The truth is that rather than investing in our education and training, we have been raping the treasury to invade other countries and give financial advantage to those who already have the means at the expense of those who need it most.

 

If the poor and working poor aren’t bitter, they should be.  They are being taken advantage of by those who should know better and don’t need the money. 

 

As a country we are also being taken advantage of by the suggestion that politics should be a blood sport and those willing to conduct it on that level should be the ones that we elect.    

 

We don’t need a gladiator or a cowboy idealog. 

 

That wasn’t how Jesus or Paul described being a Christian, why should we endorse any other behavior today? 

 

In my opinion, Paul wrote a pretty good description of the sort of leader we need.  Think about this as you consider who to vote for.

  

“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.  But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”  James 3: 14-18

Truth, Justice, and the American Way Part II

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Matt 15:11

 

Human nature hasn’t changed much in 2000 years.  In the time of Jesus, those in political power maintained their position through strict interpretation of the old testament rules on what it meant to be a good jew including what people could and couldn’t eat.  Jesus cut right to the core of the issue and reminded all who would listen that honesty, integrity, and brotherly love are far more important than keeping kosher.

 

One of my favorite Internet sites tracking those qualities in our presidential contendors is the Truth-o-Meter at Politifact.com.

 

You don’t have to spend much time at this site before you realize that all of the political candidates are having difficulty with the truth.  When you dig into it deeper, however, the nature of their deceptions speaks volumes for the type of leader they may turn out to be.

 

Let’s look at a couple just for fun.

 

Senator Obama said that the Kennedy’s contributed money to a program that airlifted his Kenyan father to the United States to go to school.  Turns out that the Kennedy’s did contribute to this program, but the contribution was made a year after Obama’s father was flown here. 

 

Both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have made a big deal out of Senator McCain’s statement that troops could be in Iraq for 100 years.  What Senator McCain was aluding to in his comment is a force similar to what we have in Germany, Japan, and South Korea and not a front line force in a shooting war. 

 

Senator Clinton has been promoting her experience in foreign affairs at the expense of the truth.  These include her description of coming under fire in Boznia with her daughter, negotiating open boarders for Kosovo refugees, and going places that were “too small, too poor, or too dangerous” for the President.  She has also distorted Senator Obama’s record regarding votes for “tax subsidies and giveaways” for oil companies when in fact the bill encourages the development of alternative energy sources (as Obama has said). 

 

Senator McCain’s straight talk has been having a tough time with the facts too.  He claimed that Senator Obama “has no experience or background at all in national security affairs”, and that Obama “suggested bombing Pakistan”.  Both are false.  He also has claimed that it’s “common knowledge” that al-Qaida is receiving training from Iran.  For someone who claims to be the most experienced foreign policy candidate, this is a big gaff.  The Iranians are Shiite and al-Qaida are Sunni.  As we’ve seen in Iraq, they don’t get along and certainly wouldn’t support each other regardless of any political goals that they might share.  Yet even after being corrected on the campaign trail, he brought it up again in his questions to General Petraeus.

 

So what are we to gain from this ongoing exercise?

 

Here’s what this says to me. 

 

First, if you assume that any of these candidates misspoke, you are mistaken.  Everything they say is vetted and scripted by their consultants and staff.  When they are distorting the record of another, telling a story that never happened, or claiming a relationship that never existed, you can bet that this position was the result of a careful political calculation.

 

So, second, what does that say about us?

 

It says we are doing a very poor job of holding our elected representatives accountable for telling the truth.  We all seem to have developed a truth bias.  When our candidate tells a lie, we rationalize it.  When their candidate tells a lie, we condemn it and question why anyone would support them.  When we hear something that we like, we are more likely to accept it as the truth even after others may question it.  We we hear something that questions one of our views, we discount it rather than re-evaluate our position.

 

I guess what it says about us is that we’re human, lazy, and vain.  Just as it is hard work to be a Christian, it is also hard work to be a productive member of a democracy.  What it says about those seeking our votes is that they all to one degree or another attempt to take advantage of these weaknesses, and as a result are all themselves flawed.

 

So, finally, how do you choose?

 

My recommendation is to look for leaders who at the end of the day are seeking to rise above their own flaws by challenging themselves and us to become more than we currently are, just as Jesus did.