Give us this day

Our father who art in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, because the Tea Party is having none of either.

I planned on not writing about the debt crisis, but the issue doesn’t seem to go away and we can lay the blame on the modern day pharisees and saducees , the House Republicans and the Tea Party (the Republican zealot wing). And make no mistake about it, holding the nation hostage to a political agenda and then claiming they are just trying to stop Obama from capitalizing on an election issue, is not WJWD.

Jesus was not, contrary to current belief, committed to extreme positions. If anything, he would always listen to those in need and find a way to help them. When a non-Jewish woman asked him to cast out demons and he said the law forbid it, she reminded him of the responsibility to at least feed scraps, and he gave her everything.

When the Centurion asked him to turn his attention from the needs of his own people to heal his own sick, non-Jewish daughter, Jesus did it. When the family of a sick man interrupted him by lowering a sick man through the roof, he didn’t get indignant or refuse. He healed him.

When he was accused of breaking the law to heal the sick on the sabbath, Jesus basically said, sometimes we have to ignore the law to serve those in need. He reminded us that the meek were blessed, and we should turn the other cheek when someone asked us to carry what we perceived to be an unfair burden.

The one time he truly lost it was when he discovered that the temple had been turned over to the service of greed (read K Street and wealthy lobbyists).

Jesus had two positions, treat others with love and your faith will make you whole. I’m no longer sure our faith in the political system will make us whole.

Jesus never ever held anyone hostage to his ideology. I would ask that House Republicans do the same.

One last request

And I would also suggest that Obama simply lift the debt ceiling with an executive order and kick it back to the Congress to overturn it.

Congress can overturn executive orders by passing legislation replacing the debt ceiling at its current levels, or by refusing to authorize money for payment to debts in excess of the ceiling. But of course, that would require House Republicans to actually agree on something, which they no longer seem to be able to do.


Cows, car bingo and catolicism

I find it amazing how technology has reduced families to collections of people living under a single roof. Between HD TV in every room, cable boxes that stream four different shows to four different TVs, desktop computers, laptop computers, iPads, iPhones and iPods we never need to talk to each other.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. Carol and I hardly ever argue anymore because we’re too busy online to talk. Even when we’re driving, when Carol used to tell me everything I’m doing wrong, she now spends all her time on her iPhone talking to her Siamese Rescue
buddies. She never notices when I speed through a yellow anymore, drive too close to the curb or slow down to piss off tailgaters.

Gary and my sister Aimee have a DVD player in the back of their minivan and each of my nephews has his own Nintendo DS. You would think that would keep them from interacting with Gary and Aimee when they drive.

It doesn’t work, of course. As soon as they pop a DVD in, the kids argue about which DVD they should really be watching. Hopefully that will be solved when savvy car dealers decide to offer a separate DVD player for every kid in the back seat. Give each of the kids his own iPad too, and they should be able to make it from Dallas to Waco before the fighting starts.

Or maybe, at least, from North Dallas to the center of town.

I thought of this because I had been looking at car bingo apps for my column

Car bingo involved spotting objects on a list. If you saw one you could cross if off your bingo card. Just like bingo. You held your bingo card in your lap (think cheap piece of paper with cars, stop signs, planes, gas stations and mailboxes printed in different places on a five-by-five grid) and the cheapest possible pencil in your hand.

Only we didn’t play actually car bingo. My family played “cows” instead. Bingo was Catholic and gambling and Baptist Preacher’s Kids (BPKs) were’t allowed to associate with either. By extension, car bingo was just as shade below dancing on a very long list of sins.

In “Cows” the first passenger who spotted 25 cows won, but black cows wiped your count back to zero. You could only count the cows on your side of the car and you couldn’t make them up because you had to announce right away so mother could check (even BPKs cheat).

The other advantage of cows over car bingo was that you didn’t need bingo cards or pencils, which meant Dad wouldn’t get pissed when we lost yet another (and here his voice would lower so we couldn’t hear the adjectives) pencil under the back seat. You could start a game of cows with no preparation at all.

Of course, once Beth and I turned ten, we were on to their trick. The whole game was a ruse to shut us up. And even when we were younger, the game ended as soon as one of us decided the other was cheating or had the better side of the car and leaped across the cooler with a fistful of hair already firmly grasped.

Most games lasted fifteen minutes and ended, not with a win but with one of us (okay, me) climbing across the barrier. But even fifteen minutes rest between bouts must have seemed like heaven.

If my dad had been smart he would have let me pile all my books in the back of the car and read. But dad didn’t believe in reading on vacation. He would rhapsodize on the purism of vacationing in the car. “Just take in this vast panorama of nature,” he would say. “God’s beauty on display everywhere you look.” (He didn’t say this when we drove through cities.) “Just relax and enjoy the view.”

So we would sit back and enjoy the view, which meant that within five minutes I was climbing over the ice chest barrier to defend my honor over something Beth said under her breath, she would be punching back, I would have a fistful of hair in my hand and mother would have to start another game of cows.

It’s a shame my sister Aimee was too young to travel with us. She came along when I was in high school. And her husband Gary was an only child, so neither of them were prepared for life with two children in the back of the car. That’s why they installed a DVD player and gave my nephews Nintendo games.

I’m sure mother still tells them how much more fun it is to play cows whenever she takes long trips with them. And even though Aimee is her third child, I imagine she still hasn’t figured out that her children are no more likely to take her advice about childrearing than she was.

My version of cows for children was the quiet game. It was much more effective than cows. In the quiet game children had to stay quiet as long as possible and the first one to speak was the shameful loser. As soon as I heard a peep coming from the back of the car, I would remind Bryan and his cousins, “We’re still playing the quiet game. Do you really mean to tell me you can’t win a simple game like that?”

Of course there was a token reward for the winner and the game started over as soon as someone lost. And it usually worked for half an hour or more.

It should be no surprise to readers that when my first Catholic girlfriend (who my parents didn’t know about) took me to mass I was astounded to learn that Catholics had footrests and ash trays right there in the sanctuary. She knuckled my arm as soon as I propped my heels on that prayer pew. I figured out right away that the ash trays must serve another purpose.

Ironically, it’s okay for BPKs to play car bingo now because conservative Baptists have made up with conservative Catholics. The ice chest between them—a big box of indigestible theological cocktails that included Papal infallibility, transubstantiation, birth control, purgatory, limbo and thousands of Catholic and Protestant martyrs killed in hundreds of years of war (and gambling/Bingo)—has been set aside to protect unborn babies.

This is the modern political version of cows. Conservative Christians pretend to get along in order to play the game. The problem is, neither group has really made the effort to resolve hundreds of years of theological divide. The issues are still there.

While liberal churches (read “secular heathen churches”) tried to create true ecumenicalism, they were forced to tackle some really important questions. They are building bridges that will allow them to worship in peace even though some worship Christ, some pray to Allah, some still believe the only God is the God of Israel and some practice in the belief that the the eightfold path (and others) requires no God at all.

These are tough obstacles to overcome, but the objective has always been to overcome them. The tenuous alliance between conservative evangelicals and Catholics, however, is not forged with a desire to bring the two closer to God, but to pursue a political agenda. The upside of this alliance is that both may come to soften their stance on other issues and embrace a broader vision of God after all.

There is, however, a real possibility that when they’ve driven the last liberal from office, they will have to face the fact that they never resolved the far more important questions that divided them for all but a decade or two. And when they do, the holy catholic church of the Apostle’s Creed will become as fragmented as before.

So my advice to both conservative evangelicals and Catholics is to stop dwelling on politics and start addressing the many Christian beliefs you have in common. Try to build bridges past the issues that still divide you. I say this in the hope that once you resolve those questions among yourselves, it will become easier to accept that Jesus embraced a larger church than you previously recognized.

Render unto God and to US

For a nation of Christians, we sure are cheapskates.

I’m not going to get into the details of how we thirty years of politics have pushed us the debt ceiling crisis because nobody cares anyway. They’ve drawn their lines in the sand and they only care about today’s posture.

The Democrats will give up some aspects of entitlements, but not the programs themselves. They will settle for tax loophole reform if they can’t get tax increases, but they want to bring more money in. They’ve retreated to their line. In fact they’ve retreated past their original line and drawn this new one and I’m not sure they’re willing to go much further.

The Tea Party Republican line is total capitulation by the Democrats. They haven’t budged, and I can’t imagine they will.

More moderate Republicans are trying to resolve the crisis by removing the vote from Congress altogether and leaving it to the President (who will, of course, raise the debt ceiling). Then they can pretend they had nothing to do with raising the debt ceiling.

This is like those arguments where my wife or I say to the other, “Okay, you make the decision, but it’s your fault when it backfires.” Well, no, it’s my fault too because by allowing her to make the decision, I made the decision with her.

But the Tea Party members claim to be Jesus’ representative in politics, so I get to address this question to them. Why isn’t anyone asking WWJD?

In this entire debate I haven’t heard anyone ask WWJD? We can’t blame the Democrats for this because we all know they’re godless atheists, Moslem sympathizers and eagerly wait the second coming of Karl Marx. But how about those Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans who only want what Jesus wants? Why haven’t we heard WWJDATDC on Fox News, when Republicans appear on CNN and MSNBC to explain their position?

Probably because Jesus would answer, “Give God his due, and give the government theirs.” Oh, wait, he did say it. It’s Matthew 22. And readers who know the historical context know that the question was posed to get Jesus to come down one one side of the other on the issue of tax resistance. In other words, they were asking him if he supported the Jewish equivalent of the Tea Party.

Here’s the amazing part about how this verse applies in America. In America, we are the government. The US is us. When we give to the government, we give to ourselves.

Modern Republicanism, at it’s heart, is based on a modern spin of Adam Smith capitalism. It’s called “the profit motive.” It argues that people should be allowed to pursue wealth as their primary objective, and the most important role of government is to protect the pursuit of wealth.

And why should we not pay taxes? Because taxes interfere with the pursuit of wealth. And the subtext for less wealthy Republicans is “taxes make you poor.” Somehow, if you didn’t contribute a small portion of your check to defense, schools, roads, police and education, you would suddenly be as rich as Donald Trump.

Jesus made it clear that the pursuit of wealth was a destructive distraction from the pursuit of God’s realm. The writer of Timothy says, without equivocation, “the love of money is the root of evil.”

When we pay taxes we are paying for the country’s (our) defense, our education, our roads which we need to get to work and (more importantly in America) shopping, the police who keep us safe from the increasing numbers of the poor who will be stealing from us now that we’ve taken their welfare away.

To say, “I will pay no taxes,” is not only to slap Jesus in the face, but to steal from yourself. Jesus said, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” or, in essence, pay your taxes. He doesn’t equivocate. If you’re a Christian, you should pay your taxes.

But you’re also stealing from yourself. Let’s face it, you cannot afford to install roads and utilities to support your home. Not even if you’re rich. You may be able to afford to install the wiring, plumbing and driveway, but you can’t afford to build the road to work, the road to church and the road to school. You can’t afford to sink a well, purify the water and dispose of it. You can’t afford to raise an army to defend your home against terrorists.

Not if you want to maintain your standard of living.

Right now in the Oak Hill to Dripping Springs area new subdivisions are advertising themselves as free from county water taxes. This sounds like a good thing to Tea Party members. But people who move into those subdivisions will have to get their water from somewhere.

Where will they get their water? From private contractors who charge upwards of $200 a month. We pay county taxes and our water bill is far less, closer to $30 a month (a bargain even with the $75 annual tax added on). If the Tea Party managed to eliminate county water taxes we would be paying a lot more, and so would our tenants, who already have a hard enough time feeding their four kids.

So we help each other by paying taxes to do collectively the things we can’t do by ourselves. Now this may sound unAmerican and unChristian, but it’s not. Our founders didn’t fight the revolution to end taxes, but taxes “without representation.” In other words, taxes imposed by representatives we didn’t elect. They were never stupid enough to believe that governance, even self-governance, is free.

Early Christians turned over everything they owned to their local church to make sure every one was fed. Read the book of Acts. They even sent money to other churches where it couldn’t possibly be used to benefit them. They turned over their money to take care of widows (read social security) and the poor.

Here’s the WWJD wrinkle. Jesus would not only have us give, he would have us give gladly. This lies at the heart of the faith. Christians should want to support those less fortunate. To give to the poor is to give to the angels. We should not only give to Caesar (or in our case US), we should rejoice that God has given us a means of supporting the best government on earth-ourselves.

But Americans are so cheap we don’t even want to give to ourselves. We want to hold onto every penny even if it starves us. Jesus taught us to be of service to others. Americans want to give to themselves, not ourselves. Mine, mine, mine.

The truth is, if we stopped paying taxes altogether we wouldn’t be rich, we would just be less poor.

Or would we even be that? If we got rid of taxes, got rid of government, would we even have the standard of living we have today?

Imagine the country with no government at all, or one devoted only to allowing businesses to pursue profit without restraint. Do we really believe companies would start hiring more Americans? At least before we agreed to work for the same wages as laborers in the Philippines? (The same companies who are now shipping jobs from India to even cheaper labor in Indonesia?)

Do we believe the corporations would build roads for everybody, and provide the same policing for everybody? Do we believe the large corporations would encourage small businesses with potentially competitive products and services?

Many Americans and Christians don’t know that before the US government, at the request of the voters, established reforms and legalized labor unions, companies often forced their employees to live in company towns, buy from company stores and pay company doctors. After working twelve hours a day, six days a week (and sometimes six hours on Sunday) workers ended up in debt to their own employers.

I’m all for reducing the deficit, but to me reducing the deficit means paying our bills. And if you asked Jesus WWYD, he would also say, “pay your bills.” Oh, wait, he pretty much already did. It’s easy to say, we can’t incur any more debt, but we still have to pay the debt we owe. And don’t blame the politicians either because we elected them.

But you see, we’re cheapskates. We don’t want to pay. We don’t want to give to God, or US, just clutch on to every penny until it buys us nothing. And there’s nothing Christian about that.

Judge not. Even if it’s Casey Anthony

Casey Anthony will be released from prison soon and, judging from the news, more than half of America is furious that she got away scott free for murder. Of course she didn’t get away scott free. She spent three years in prison and just about everybody hates her. And, I suspect, she will be viewed with suspicion for the rest of her life. 1

She now rates below OJ Simpson and Dick Cheney as the lowest of the low. People probably hate her worse than Pontius Pilate. After all, he didn’t kill an innocent baby.

Christians who feel that righteous indigestion boiling from the gut when they think how Casey walked and Caylee ended up duct taped in a trunk will say this is perfectly okay. You can love the sinner and hate the sin.

Of course the Bible doesn’t say that. Anywhere. That’s something somebody made up, and not even somebody as smart as Ben Franklin (he’s the one who wrote “God helps those who help themselves”). Here are two things the Bible does say:

  • Love sinners.
  • Don’t judge anybody.

In fact, on the judgment thing, the Bible makes it pretty clear that God will judge most harshly Christians who pass judgment on others. That includes those who judge liberals, women who have abortions, doctors who perform abortions and Casey Anthony.

Twelve of her peers found her not guilty on any count of murder. None. Nada.

These weren’t elitist bleeding heart Hollywood lawyers, these were jurors from Florida, jurors who could afford to take several weeks up from work—which means they’re probably God-fearing, mostly Republican, jurors. This means that, Nancy Grace aside, the most a conservative prosecutor in a conservative state could convince 12 jurors (odds are more than half of them conservatives as well) that Casey Anthony was guilty of was, well, something.

No one doubts that Casey Anthony is guilty of something, possibly even gross negligence. But she was only charged with murder and lying. So what’s the Christian thing to do?

Forgive her.

That’s right. It doesn’t matter what she did, or whether she wants to be forgiven herself. Our responsibility is to forgive her and move on with our lives, and let her move on with hers and pray she doesn’t become a mother again for a long, long time (if ever). But if she does, it’s still none of our business.

It’s okay for Bill Maher to be upset about the verdict and to say she’s guilty, guilty, guilty. He’s not a Christian. In fact, he thinks Christians are morons. This should be reason enough for Christians whose faith jerks with their knees to forgive her. But it’s actually the Christian thing to do. Well, the Biblical thing anyway.

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I’m well aware of the doctrine of preemptive strikes to sin. Keep an eye on that sinner and keep them out of trouble. This is the same thinking that drove Bush to invade Iraq. But you can’t keep anyone out of trouble, and you’re only likely to cross a line yourself if you insist on trying.

Cain asked God, “Am I my brothers keeper?” Too many Christians answer that question “yes,” and that answer is just as wrong as the decision to kill.

Christians I know often justify their preemptive guardianship by quoting the passage in Corinthians where Paul says to cast out the members of the church who flagrantly and continuously offend other members. They conveniently overlook the fact this letter was written to Corinthians. Corinth made Las Vegas look like Norman Rockwell’s America. For someone to do something so offensive even Christians would take note, it must have been pretty bad.

He never said Christians could set themselves up as arbiters of right and wrong. Nor did Jesus. For Jesus, believers should be like the Prodigal who let his son take off and drive himself to the brink of destruction. He didn’t condemn his son, he didn’t disown his son, he didn’t put his son in rehab or rat him out to the cops. No tough love for the Prodigal’s son. He simply let his son go his own way. And then, when his son reached rock bottom and asked forgiveness, he welcomed him with open arms.

Like it or not, the law has said Casey Anthony is not guilty of the murder of her child. As Americans, and especially Christians, we have to accept that legally she is not guilty. This means any guilt she does have is between her, her family and God.

But, and here’s the hard part, should she come to any Christian and ask for help—for food or even shelter—it is our responsibility to offer her not only the help she requests, but whatever additional help we can afford.

1Unless, of course, she goes on Pat Robertson and declares herself a born again Christian and Republican, writes a book that will earn big money for a Christian book publisher, and goes on tour to raise money for Jesus.back

How to send the wrong message

One of the things I loved most about growing up Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) was that I learned so many things I wasn’t supposed to learn.

Lots of kids learn things they aren’t supposed to learn. For instance, I learned things in fifth grade from Delbert Thrash that fifth grade boys shouldn’t learn. I learned why dogs sometimes climb onto the backs of other dogs, and I learned deaf signs for words I wasn’t supposed to know.

Of course, I also learned a lot of things from my uncle Phil, who, I now realize, learned them exactly the same way I did. He learned them because his BPF members told him he really shouldn’t know these things.

For instance, one time we were playing with cars and trucks and pretending to build a road. I said, “Let’s put a dam here.”

Phil, who was four years older than me, and who knew damn well “dam” was a perfectly good word, said, “You can’t say ‘damn.’ It’s a bad word.”

I said, “No, it isn’t. It’s a perfectly good word.” And I proceeded to say it over and over again. “Dam, dam, dam, dam, dam.” Phil, warned me that he was going to tell on me, but I just kept right on damning myself. “Dam. Dam. Dam. Dam. Dam.”

He warned me that I was going to get the switch. The switch, I should point out, was a huge branch cut from a mesquite tree which my grandfather kept hanging over the closet door as a reminder of what would happen if errant children crossed one line too many.

Let me segue at this moment, because many of my liberal friends and readers (and liberalism, I should point out, is far too conservative for my tastes) would be horrified by the image of my grandfather switching children with a mesquite branch—which can have thorns as long as two inches.

Those readers clearly don’t understand the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) which was prevalent in American politics in the fifties when I grew up (as, I might point out, were TLAs or Three Letter Acronyms). The grandfather variation of MAD was that a child threatened with a mesquite switch would immediately cease to misbehave once warned that a switching was imminent.

And, for the most part, this was true. But I should point out that, when pushed to the test, my grandfather was very good at sleight of hand. He would replace the mesquite switch with a normal one which, since we couldn’t see behind us, still felt as though we had been switched with thorns.

Even this image would horrify some readers, but I survived. And while I would never advocate switching myself, and certainly would never advocate indiscriminate punishment, sometimes time outs and kinder/gentler punishment simply doesn’t work with children determined to push the limits.

Ask my mother.

I should also point out to conservative readers, who feel vindicated that I just gave what they perceive to be a blanket endorsement to corporal punishment, that in my experience to children who believe the rewards of misdeeds outweigh any possible punishment, no punishment is effective.

Ask my mother.

And now back to the story.

Thinking he had me dead to rights, Phil went to my parents and grandparents to tell them about my cursing spree. I knew he was ratting me out, but I had nothing to hide. So I picked up a truck and drove it back and forth across my new building block dam while still saying proudly “dam, dam, dam, dam.”

To my surprise, both parents and grandparents were horrified when they entered the room and heard me saying “dam, dam, dam….” And that’s when I discovered that I was not as immune to judgement as I had believed.

“Phillip,” my mother cried, “what are you saying? At your grandparents’ house?”

So I asked what was wrong with the word “dam.” Didn’t we, in fact, travel to Hoover Dam on one summer vacation?1

That was when I learned there was a bad word, “damn,” spelled with a silent “n.” But were it not for everyone’s overreaction, I would never have known about the word and I would never have spent the rest of our trip silently practicing the ways I could say “damn” when I was out of hearing range. (Damn it, damn you, damn, damn, damn.)

At least not until I met Delbert in the fifth grade. But that’s an altogether different story.

You see, BPFs have to make sure to bring to children’s attention every inappropriate thing that would otherwise pass right over their heads. Sometimes they tell you outright. Some stranger will let a word slip in conversation, or make an inappropriate gesture and they will tell you that, under no circumstances, should you ever do that.

Soon, however, body language is all you need to tip you off that something deliciously forbidden is transpiring. Parents tense up, cast each other meaningful glances, and sometimes even steer you quickly out of the room.

My mother continued these practices with my own son and nieces. If we watched a movie where something inappropriate occurred, she would be sure to rush to the VCR and turn it off, or put her hands over their ears. As a consequence, as soon as she left the room they would rewind to the exact spot to see what had disturbed her.

In this way I learned from my family that “a bun in the oven” is not being served for dinner, that 69 is not just a number, “playing doctor” was not about thermometers, and that there was something bad about looking at girl’s bodies (especially girls in shorts or swim suits). As a consequence, I began to examine girls’ bodies long before I would have otherwise because I needed to see what I shouldn’t be seeing.

I would have discovered this all on my own, mind you. But I did learn them well in advance of peers whose parents simply went about their business without calling these things to their children’s attention.

I also learned things that were completely false. For instance my parents assured me, as I approached my teens, that I should’t hang out with Catholic girls because they were “fast” or “loose.”2 Needless to say, once I understood why that was important, I dated every Catholic girl who would go out with me.

And, you know what? Mom and Dad were wrong. The Jesuits could put the fear of God into Catholic girls in ways that Baptist preachers never dreamed of.

Try as hard as we can, we can’t lock morality onto our families like chastity belts, as hard as we may wish to. And often, pointing out the sources of temptation, will actually show the paths to temptation that the innocent might never have seen before. This is something the Christian Right misses in their determination to bring everyone’s sins into the light but their own.

When Christian groups protested The Last Temptation of Christ, they drummed up audiences who would not have gone otherwise. Banning books makes people want to read them to find out why they’re banned.

Then, when people discovered the terrible evil isn’t so terrible, those same Christians are perceived as children crying wolf. They end up preaching to the saved, who don’t need their warnings.

We even end up burying ourselves in triviality and contradiction. I was told that the phrase “god damn it” when stubbing your toe was evil because it took the Lord’s name in vain. And, yes, it does. But doesn’t saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes also take the Lord’s name in vain? Both invoke the name of God with no real thought or intent to damn or bless.

Maybe we need to remind ourselves, as Paul did, that many things are sinful only because we perceive them to be so. This means we should not do them, not that we should correct others when they do. Or tempt people to try them out by telling them over and over again how deliciously evil they are.

1This last detail is pure fabrication. My family never visited Hoover Dam, or any other dam that I can recall, although we may well have driven over Mansfield Dam or Canyon Dam (if they had, in fact, been built by then). But I certainly wouldn’t have known their names.
This fabrication is merely included as a poetic device to truncate a needlessly complex explanation of what I really said (and cannot actually recall) in an already complex story. I am, however, making full disclosure here.back

2Notice that I didn’t make a big deal explaining “fast” or “loose.” I simply tossed them off casually so that you’re child, should they be reading this blog when you aren’t looking, won’t even be aware the words have double meanings.back