Pharisees tinkering with time stamps

It's been quite a week for Republicans, both in nationally and in our own dear state of Texas. They waved the banner for the rule of law, which is very important to Republicans. The rule of law is essential to America and to Christianity itself. It’s at the heart of the Old Testament.

This is why the Republicans have been so keen to keep those indiscriminate, wanton fraudulent voters from the polls. You know, the poor blacks without drivers licenses who can't get off work and can't afford to pay for transportation to get to the polls anyway. And in Texas they were most incensed when Democrats skirted the rules of filibuster by trying to help Ft. Worth Senator Wendy Davis adjust her back brace during an abortion bill debate. They were so incensed that they started a ruckus that caused the session to run into overtime and cause their precious abortion bill to expire.

No problem. The Texas Republicans decided to pass the abortion bill and change the time stamp to show it was passed before midnight. Not illegal at all. Just a technicality. After all, they were Republicans and they could make the rules since they were the majority. Even after the game was over and they lost. So they changed the time stamp and declared victory.

It wasn't the first time they changed the rules during the game. The abortion bill had been defeated during the regular session because the Democrats managed to get enough Republicans to vote against the bill to keep it from coming to the floor. It seems the rule required a majority vote within the Senate. So the Republicans brought it up again during the special session, which isn't supposed to happen. The special session is supposed to be limited to bills the Governor calls for consideration. But they added it to the roster anyway.

Then the Republicans changed the rules of the Senate to allow the abortion bill to come to a vote if a majority of Republicans supported it. And it still went down in flames. Only to be resurrected by the miracle of a time stamp. Proving Jesus is on their side.

Except that those sneaky Democrats took photos of the bill with the original time stamp showing that it expired. So now the Republicans are relying on the miracle of Rick Perry who has called another special session, making sure the Republicans have an entire month to pass the abortion legislation that was tacked on as an afterthought and rammed through in violation of every procedural rule of the Texas Senate. And he rubbed it in at a pro-life rally by gleefully telling Senator Davis that she should be glad that her own mother, who struggled financially, didn’t abort her.

I can't help but feel a calculated heartlessness in these moves, no less calculated or cynical than the Roberts court, who cited the fact that the advances in minority access to the polls under the Voting Rights act prove it was never necessary and was unconstitutional. Even as the very states that the Civil Rights Act singled out are openly preparing to limit minority access to polls with voter i.d. challenges, redistricting, gerrymandering and probably changing polling locations, the Roberts court claims that the success of laws to stop these practices proves they will do no harm.

Clearly the Republicans believe the rule of law is for others and not for them. Should the rules prove an inconvenience for their agenda, they simply move them. Should the rules prove inadequate to stop behaviors they disapprove of, they move to make them harsher than ever.

They remind me of the Pharisees in Luke 11, who “make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but (whose) inward part is full of ravening and wickedness,” (39) and the lawyers who “lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (41). No, they don’t remind me. They are no different. This is not acceptable, and whether they wrap themselves in the rhetoric of law or Jesus they should be called for their hypocrisy.

On the other hand, the Roberts Court upheld some of the rights of same sex couples in marriage, probably because those rights involve white men. It was a 5-4 decision. You have to ask, and if you don't, I do. Is someone on the Republican side of the bench just the tiniest bit bicurious?

 

Feturbation and the pro-life movement

I know a good many pro-life advocates and evangelicals are celebrating this week. It seems they have definive proof that fetuses are living conscious beings. According to recent in-womb videos fetuses masturbate bringing smiles to their little faces.

The phenomenon has even given rise to a new term, feturbartion. Okay, I made that up, although I wouldn’t be surprised if other enterprising writers haven't coined the term by now. I’m just too lazy to search the web.

The point is, Republican lawmakers claim fetuses can not only feel pain and pleasure, they can bring pleasure upon themselves. Ipso facto, it’s time to give it up, liberals and pro-choice secular humanist Christians. Stop killing babies in the womb.

Unfortunately, being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK) I've got bad news for the pro-life movement. Now that we know about feturbation, it seems that the pro-life movement has just earned an official frowny face from the most high.

You see, we learned all about the sin of masturbation from Genesis 38:8-10. Masturbation is the sin of Onanism, or having sex without intending to reproduce. We heard sermon after sermon on Onan and lesson after lesson in church camp and Sunday school (always in segregated classes with boys and girls only, of course). And what did God do to that masturbating sinner Onan? He slew him dead.

The lesson of the Old Testament doesn't get much clearer than that. God wants us to kill masturbators.

So contrary to being a pro-life lesson, the new information is just the opposite. Now that we know those little fetuses are committing the sin of Onanism in the womb, then their mothers are doing God's will when they check in to those clinics.

So go home, protestors. Tea Party Republicans, leave NOW out of the debate. Christians, it's okay to vote Republican but abortion is off the table. Those unborn babies are committing the most mortal of sins and if you interfere with their mothers' life decisions, you're interfering with God's judgment.

 

Protecting the Public One Violation at a Time

God bless Rick Perry. He loves Jesus so much that he intends to protect the public from ethics violators by shutting down the ethics investigative unit for the state to stop one drunk driver.

This is the governor who holds regular rallies to hold the state and the nation accountable to Jesus. The governor who calls for prayer and fasting. The governor who finds it intolerable that Rosemary Lehmberg, who pled guilty to and served time for drunken driving, did not resign from her position as Travis County District Attorney.

Having been raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I find his outrage surprising since Texas Politicians have been arrested for drunk driving as long as I can remember and nobody ever expected them to resign before. This includes Speakers of the House and legislators. I worked at the Capitol a few years back and remember watching legislators and governor's aides stumbling to the parking lot drunk during legislative sessions.

Of course, Lehmberg is a Democrat whose Public Integrity Unit has long raised Perry's ire, but this is irrelevent. This has to do with Jesus and morality. A drunk driver shouldn't hold elected office and it shouldn't be up to the voters to decide whether she stays.

So the day after vetoing equal pay for women and signing mandatory drug testing for the unemployed into law, not to mention a session in which he consistently cut back medical care for the poor, Perry decided that if Lehmberg didn't resign, he would veto funding for public integrity investigations altogether.

For a Christian, this is a classic example of pointing out the speck in someone's eye while ignoring the beam in his own. If we truly think the Christian agenda is served by enforcing public morality, we have to ask which is more important, forcing a district attorney to leave office or shutting down hundreds of investigations into insurance fraud, tax invasion and public corruption.

Speaking of public corruption, one of the investigations Perry's veto ended involved CPRIT and quite a few of Perry's cronies. Somehow I get the feeling that if Jesus wandered into the Governor's mansion, he might tell Perry he should be glad they weren't in His father's house or there would be a lot of furniture overturned.

 

Watchful eyes

Americans everywhere are furious that the Obama administration is tracking American texts and emails, as am I. I find is a curious violation of our civil liberties for a democratic administration, regardless of whether they actually read the content of the messages. I am just as upset that Obama would follow this path as I was that Bush did, and am encouraged that many on the far right are being consistent and supporting him as they supported Bush. On this, they will not compromise their values for the convenience of politics.

I would hope that the rest of the Christian Right supports him because keeping an eye on your brother's sins is a cherished Christian tradition. I was raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), and it was considered our Christian duty to make sure that some one knew when a brother or sister in Christ was “straying from the path.”

This was especially true in my case. Members of my church, especially the deacons, ran to my father to let him know when they saw me hanging around with kids who smoked because that meant I smoked, kids who drank because that meant I drank, and browsed the magazine and book rack at the drug store because that meant I was looking through Playboy magazine.

Actually I did smoke, drink and read Playboy but I picked those habits from older BPK relatives, not from friends. Older relatives whose fathers were Baptist preachers like mine. So my associates were entirely innocent. Something the administration should remember when it uses text messages and emails to track connections and associations.

Whether or not our government has the right to track citizens is a Constitutional question. Whether or not Christians should be snooping on the lives of other Christians is a question of conscience and interpretation. Certainly the tradition I was raised in believed that the best way to keep believers on track was to keep a watchful eye on them. I'm not so certain. In my experience, keeping a watchful eye on others was the best way to avoid reflecting on your own shortcomings.

Is there a time to intervene in the lives of other Christians? The scripture makes it clear that their are times when it may be appropriate to do so, but those times are the exception, not the rule. And it should come with great soul searching, something that in my experience rarely happens. We are all aware of intervention syndrome, where the intervention tends to be more self-serving and more damaging than the behavior it is intended to help.

Yes, if you are aware a friend is breaking the law or putting his family in jeopardy you should call it to his attention. I am not sure the scripture obliges you to call it to anyone else's. Once you have made a Christian aware of his responsibility his duty is to himself, God and his family. Not to you. Nor is it to the body of Christ. This may be hard to accept, but it is nonetheless true.

If he is stealing from the church, tell him, then tell the pastor. You don't need to tell the church.

If his or her behavior is harming the church, it will become obvious and the church will work it out. Trust me, there will be somebody else even more eager than you to shine a light on your brother's or sister's shortcomings.

But first, make very sure you are truly acting out of concern for your brother's well being and not avoiding the need to reflect on your own failings. This is one of the central lessons of the Sermons on the Mount and Plain. Jesus was very clear on this, your heart must be pure before God. Everyone else's is irrelevant.

This is a lesson the government should learn as well. When they start focusing on looking for terrorists hidden among ordinary citizens there is a good chance they are missing the miscreants that passed the screening in Washington.

 

Special: Don’t blame God for the weather

Here's an example of Old Testament thinking:

My brother-in-law Jim recently left his congregation in Olathe, Kansas to take a parish in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Clearly he displeased God because God punished Oklahoma with tornados.

God did not unleash the tornados on Oklahoma. It wasn't a punishment, it wasn't God's will, nor were the tornados part of some design plan. I haven't heard anyone seriously blame the tornados on gay marriage, Moslems or evolution in schools yet (perhaps because it was Oklahoma or there were so many children involved), but, sooner or later, it's bound to happen.

This is Old Testament thinking. As a Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I was raised to believe Old Testament thinking is New Testament thinking. After all, the Bible is the Bible and every word is literally true (even when Paul says something is symbolic, by the fact that it's in the Bible, it ceases to be symbolic). And Jesus said he didn't come to replace the law but to fulfill it.

When we fall back on that statement, we overlook the fact that the law is a small part of the Old Testament. Three books, minus the narrative. “The Law” in the Bible was actually a reference to the Torah, which was the first five books of the Old Testament. So when Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, he was only referring to the law itself, not the Old Testament, which Paul said was given to us for example and instruction.

More importantly, when Jesus said he came to fulfill the law he meant he came to change the way we think about the law; how we understand it. In the Torah, the law was an external code. We obeyed it because an authority told us too. Jesus taught us the law is something written in our hearts. We don't need a written code as a literal map for our lives, we follow what we know to be true inside after following Jesus.

God doesn't use nature to target people. He doesn't need to. We're good enough at targeting people ourselves. As Christians, our response to disaster shouldn't be to point the finger but to serve. We can serve the victims of disaster if we can, or, we should find opportunities to serve others every day. We should do this whether or not disaster occurs.

 

Give me a J

Thank The Lord for elected judges in Texas, one of whom recently held that Christian cheerleaders can display Bible verses at school games because such displays don't violate the establishment clause of the US Constitution. It is especially comforting to know that state elected officials can rule on the US Constitution, otherwise our freedoms could be in jeopardy.

The school didn't ask for the right to display the banners. The Kountze High School cheerleaders did, thanks to the help of the Liberty Institute, who sues any institution who dares suggest that some Americans have the right to avoid Jesus' message of love and tolerance by not attending church. After all, just because you don't believe, it doesn't mean you don't have to listen. That's what free speech is about.

Judge Thomas agreed, buying the Liberty lawyer's argument that since the cheerleaders paid for their own equipment and signs, they didn't represent the school. It's not as though they were appearing at a school sponsored event, transported there by school financed buses driven by school employees. Free speech is free speech, and we can never ignore Jesus' injunction to do to others what we would want them to do to us. And we would certainly want others to spread the good news.

Technically, the cheerleaders claimed they weren't actually spreading the good news, they were just expressing their beliefs. This is, of course, an important distinction. Like asking people to bow their heads in silence while we pray isn't asking them to pray with us, even when we say, “Join us in prayer.”

Surely no Christian would object to Cheerleaders displaying a passage from the Bhagavad Gita

Nor can I imagine the cheerleaders, or any of the school's supporters, would be upset if one of the cheerleaders, or a football player, or even a fan displayed banners with passages from the Koran, Bhagavad Gita or Communist Manifesto. Just because someone says it doesn't mean we have to listen. That's what free speech is all about.

And if we want to do unto others as we would have them do, then doesn't asking others to listen to verses from the Bible mean we want to listen to passages from their scriptures as well?

 

Good Samaritans in spite of outrage

In America, we've buried the bodies of mass murderers and serial killers without compunction. We've done so for centuries. We even buried the bodies of spies, such as the Rosenbergs (even though evidence now exists that Ethel may have been innocent) and even traitors like Benedict Arnold. We buried Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacey, Ed Gein, Albert de Salvo and Ted Bundy.

We buried Timothy McVeiigh, who was executed for the murder of eleven civilians and who leveled a federal building. We even buried the Haymarket bombers, without protest, even though their body count included seven policemen. We're even willing to bury radioactive nuclear waste. Suddenly, however, we can't bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whose crimes were heinous but who ranks at the bottom of the list for heinousness.

Except, perhaps, for the fact that he's Muslim. And Chechen. Murder is forgivable. Being foreign and Muslim is not.

Enter Martha Mullen, who volunteered to work with Moslem groups in Virginia to find a cemetery for the body. Her motivation? Jesus. She parallels her actions on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Most people forget, of course, the irony of the parable. It wasn't the believer who was the good guy. The believers were assholes. They were perfectly willing to let a stranger die. The unbeliever was upheld as a model of (what would become) Christian virtues.

The response has not been Christian. The County Board of Supervisors is threatening to investigate any illegality and promising to undo the burial if they find it. My favorite was a local resident who was afraid people would come visit the grave and “you don't know what they'll do while they're here.” Why, they might even leave flowers.

I applaud her. As Jesus said, our love is demonstrated by how we treat our enemies. It is easy to love our friends.