Truce for now, the Christmas Police are Gone

In some ways it’s a relief that the holidays are over. I grew weary of the ceaseless Facebook posts reminding me that when people wished me seasons greeting and happy holidays it was an affront to Jesus. Yet another year of the war on Christmas. For eleven months I don’t have to listen to it.

It seems that any seasonal greeting has to include the name of Christ in it because Christmas is, after all, Christ’s birthday (it’s not, of course, Jesus was born in the spring, but that’s another topic). Anything less was an affront to God. No doubt you’re used to this; many of you probably insist on it. But it seems to me that while the Christian Right is complaining about the PC police, they’re turning into the Christmas police, determined to tell everyone in America—Christian, Jew, Muslim, or plain old freethinking couch potato on Sunday slob—how they have to celebrate their holidays.

And that’s about as unAmerican as it gets.

Now I grew up a Baptist Preacher’s Kid, so I was used to complaints about XMas (which I never understood because I thought that was putting the Cross in Christmas, even if it was a little lopsided). And nitpicking faith was a particular Baptist pasttime. If your sister wore her hair too long she was offending God, if you sneaked a peak at the Revised Standard you were recrucifying Christ, if you held hands with a girl you were committing adultery in your heart, and there wasn’t a well meaning sentence you could utter that couldn’t be challenged by some verse in the Bible.

But at Christmas, even Baptists would let stuff slide. Those feelings started at Thanksgiving, and ran until the last bowl game on New Year’s Day (that’s right, the bowls used to end with the Orange Bowl on New Year’s). That meant there was a whole season of God’s blessings to celebrate. So from my childhood on I remember people not just saying, “Merry Christmas,” but “Happy Holidays,” and “Seasons Greetings.”

And no one got mad. Not even Christians.

Image courtest of gatesfd.org

But then, a few years ago, someone on the Christian Right learned that the song “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin to be a purely secular Christmas song. Uh oh. And then the Christian Right learned that stores would post ”Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” to be inclusive seasonal banners for all of their customers, including those who weren’t Christians.

That’s right, “Happy Holidays” and ”Seasons Greetings” arent intended to piss Christians off, they’re meant to include Christians and non-Christians. It’s called sharing. They’re meant in the spirit of Christmas, which is to share the love and joy of family (Thanksgiving), New Years and Jesus.

For some reason, however, the Christian Right wants to play the Grinch and police how the rest of us celebrate (even when some of the rest of us are Christian). For some reason, when a festive celebrater says to a Christian, “Happy Holidays,” they say, “You’re stealing Christ from Christmas.”

What a way to deflate the joy of the season. You’d think they could at least turn the other cheek.

Here’s the bottom line: There are two Christmas celebrations in America. The Christmas Christians celebrate, and the Federal holiday created by law. Sorry, Christian Right, that holiday has nothing to do with Jesus. That holiday is for all Americans, Christian or not, and it’s theirs to celebrate as they please. It would not just be wrong for you to ruin their Christmas to be a buzzkill by telling them what they can and cannot say to you in their attempts to share the joy of celebration.

It would be unAmerican. And it would be a sin.

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PS. After a years hiatus, I’m back. I took time off because of health problems and to finish my novel Cigerets, Guns & Beer on iBooks, Kindle and Nook. I won’t be posting as regularly because I’m also working on a new novel, Seeing Jesus, and posting a blog on Goodreads.

 

Not just tax shelters, but tithe shelters too

A Wisconsin Federal Judge recently ruled that it was perfectly legal for churches to shield church funds from laws suits. In this particular cast, the funds were more than 50 million dollars transferred to shield a Catholic diocese from victims of sex abuse lawsuits and resulting bankruptcy.

The case is complicated, but as I understand it, former Archbishop Timothy Dolan, facing millions in legal settlements, transferred the money to a trust for maintaining cemeteries. He has since been promoted to Cardinal and elected President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which means the other bishops like his thinking (although not necessarily on the money dump).

Dolan now denies that he made the transfer to shield the money from lawsuits, but he wrote a letter to the Vatican in 2007 explaing that he transferred the money for precisely that purpose. Federal Judge Rudolph Randa has now ruled that churches' Constitutional rights shield them from bankruptcy laws to such an extent that the money is also shielded.

His reasoning? What would happen to those poor cemeteries if the money was removed from trust and given to the victims who won the suits? There won't be enough money left. He seems to forget that there was plenty of money there before the transfer was made and the Catholics will no doubt continue to use cemeteries to drum up money in future fundraisers.

Randa, a papa Bush appointee, has been overturned so many times that few experts expect this decision to stand. I'm more concerned that a member of the clergy would feel God's call to shield money from victims of their moral indifference and ineptitude.

I have no doubt that Dolan (sorry if I find myself unable to rise to acknowledging his status as Cardinal) felt he was being a steward of God's money, as did his superiors. I'm not sure Jesus would see it that way, nor would many of the faith. This is yet one more example of the symbolic wedge of wealth the Catholic and many evangelical churches have driven between God and the perceptions of many who might otherwise embrace the faith.

In Matthew, Jesus is quite emphatic about the responsibility of the faithful in a court of law. If anyone (Christian or not) sues you, give him more than he asks in damages. (5:40) Jesus doesn't even bother to distinguish whether the claim is legitimate. If someone perceives you wronged them, give them more than they ask.

In the case of victims of sexual abuse, many of the claims are legitimate even if some may not be. For the church to try to shield the money under a bogus excuse such as a cemetery trust is not only the worst kind of sophistry, it is outright hypocrisy. To then ask the US courts to protect them with a Constitutional argument as well is shameless.

Cardinal Dolan, if you want the church to shine its line upon the world, don't try to hide your sins, or your money, behind the Constitution. Christians confess their sins before God and man and then move ahead to set the example they failed to set in the past. But when the church behaves like lawyers and politicians, don't be surprised when so many lose their faith.

 

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.

 

Jesus Loves Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

(like it or not)

Jesus also loves Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush. And Barack Obama.

I find it disturbing that so much air time is being given to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the Boston bombings. He seems to be getting more air time, and more prime time shows cancelled than Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Christopher Dorner, 911, or even Anna Nichole Smith.

His arrest has led to endless discussions on circumventing Massachusetts' lack of death penalty and whether or not he was read his Miranda rights too soon. Several talk shows discussing the bombings were pre-empted by networks to air the same discussions. Every prime time show was cancelled last Friday to cover news that had already been covered earlier in the day.

What he did was terrible, but I fear that this much air play will encourage other attention seeking terrorists to seek out their two weeks of fame. The threshold has been lowered significantly.

More importantly, Christians need to remember that the government has the right to prosecute and even execute him. Christians have the responsibility to forgive and even embrace him.

We can't excuse our condemnation because he was a terrorist. Early Christians were terrorized every day, as were Jews by the Romans when Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek. Jews were crucified routinely as a practice of state sanctioned terrorism and some of Jesus' followers came from a violent resistance movement (the Iscari, hence the title Judas Iscariot).

Jesus made no terrorist exception. He told his followers to love and forgive without exception. It's painful and uncomfortable and counterintuitive. But it's what he demands of us.

 

Love is not “not hating”

A couple of weeks ago, CNN commentator Don Lemon did a day of hot topics, filled with so many guests I couldn't keep track of them, and, to be truthful I was only watching because Carol loves CNN, and I hate college hoops. I use the word “hate” for a reason.

The topic turned to gay marriage, most likely because Lemon is openly gay, and the most vocal opponent to same-sex marriage kept insisting he didn't hate, or even discriminate, against gays. Gay marriage isn't marriage because (we all know the line) marriage is between a man and a woman.

Let's be up front. Marriage as an institution between two sexes is a Christian concept, not a Constitutional one. When called upon to justify the claim, opponents of same-sex marriage, inevitably invoke the Christian scriptures, most frequently Matthew 5:31-32. Granted the Jewish and Moslem scriptures condemn homosexual behavior, but they don't say that same-sex can't marry any more than witches, adulterers and infidels. The Matthew verse seems to seal the deal for marriage. This makes the opposition to gay marriage uniquely Christian.

It's important to make this distinction because that makes laws preventing same-sex marriage uniquely discriminatory. They deny couples a civil right (and civil marriage is a civil right) based on the views of a religious minority. It would be okay for churches to decline to marry gay couples on religious grounds, but couples would still be able to seek civil approval. So to argue against same-sex marriage based on the Bible is to sidestep the issue. The New Testament holds no authority over the Congress or the Constitution.

So much for not discriminating. How about the not hating part?

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I know from long experience that “hate” is a code word for denying responsibility. I've heard it since childhood. “We don't hate the sinner, we just hate the sin.” It's as if “not hating” excuses a multitude of sins.

It also misses the point. Jesus does not command his followers to “not hate,” he commands us to love. In fact those are really the only two commandments. So when Christians try to let themselves off the hook for discriminatory and hateful behavior by saying they don't hate personally, they're not off the hook.

If we truly love someone we want what is in their best interest, not our own. We do not hold them subject to the standards we hold ourselves to, should they choose a different path. And we do not use the government to impose a Christian morality on those who aren't Christians. Rather, we embrace them, invite them into the light and give them time to grow in the love of God.

If they choose not to follow, it is not our job to punish them, or even judge them. And if you haven't figured that out by now, you need to reread the New Testament. Not one verse or six. All of it.

Sidebar:

Did Jesus affirm a gay couple?

I ran across an interesting article on the web. Evidently the original Aramaic lends room to suggest that Jesus held a gay Centurion and his lover to be an example of faith. Since, I'm no Aramaic scholar, I can't attest to this validity of the conclusion, but the original Greek was used to justify so much bad theology when I was growing up, I thought it would be fun to give you the link.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Recently a Minnesota teen was told he couldn't finish his confirmation class at Assumption Church in Barnesville, Minnesota. Not just that, his family has been denied communion as well.

Their priest insists they were not denied communion, but the Cihak family didn't get that message. They have since decided to move on to another church.

What was the sin that was so heinous, the church wouldn't let him be confirmed? Was he having sex with the bishop's niece? Selling weed from the confessional? Use condoms? Is he marrying his same sex boyfriend? No, even worse. He posted a photo on Facebook mocking Minnesota's ballot initiative to ban same sex marriage.

I suppose the church has added an eighth cardinal sin. We now have lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride and dissent. In today's world, dissent is the worst sin of all. I assume this, because I haven't heard of anyone being denied communion for any of the other seven lately.

At church camp we used to sing a song that went, “They'll know we are Christians by our love.” Of course we would then try to short sheet the kid we didn't like, put burrs between their sheets or throw water on them while they were sleeping. But we understood that love was the single most important sign of our faith.

Today, I think, it is fair to say they'll know we are Christians by our posturing, bickering, contentiousness, rigidity, obstinance and ability to yell louder than anyone else. In fact, if you were to ask someone who wasn't Christian to describe Christians, “love” is probably the last word they would use.

In fact, when I think of the Christian persona today, I can only think of Tina Turner. “What does love have to do with it?”

Goodbye bitches and/or belles

This week ABC announced they were canceling the TV series GCB after ten episodes. You may wonder why I’m bothering to blog about a TV comedy when the President is about to declare a war on faith and marry homosexuals during a prime time press conference, but the show stirred up quite a controversy after its release. This controversy may have caused it to be cancelled when other shows with lower ratings made the cut.

Okay, it was only two shows, and one of them Body of Proof only cratered after following a Tuesday night series with even worse ratings. But crater it did.

The series was originally titled Good Christian Bitches after the book it was based on. Then, wisely sensing that the title might inflame the Christian right far more than it did when the book of the same title languished in the publisher’s mid lists where fewer people would notice it, ABC renamed it Good Christian Belles. But that name sounded sexist, so they settled for GCB.

Once they realized that no one would get the title “GCB” ABC started an ad campaign hinting that the “B” word rhymed with “witches” and “riches.” Finally they launched another b-word series called Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 to make sure we would make the connection.

GCB and the book are the story of Amanda Vaughn, a young Christian mother who divorced her husband after years of infidelity and fraudulent business and moved back with her mother in the wealthy Highland Park area of Dallas. After the move, however, she discovers that the members of her church aren’t quite as forgiving as Jesus. Quite the contrary, they launch a campaign to belittle and humiliate her.

The author, Kim Gatlin, ends the book with Amanda realizing she can be just as judgmental as the women who persecute her. But she can console herself with the fact that she never treated the other girls as badly as they treated her. The Christian bitches in this book live up to their names in every sense of the word.

Not so, the bitches in the television show. In fact even the worst of the lot, Kristin Chenoweth’s character, Carlene Cockburn, is remarkably sympathetic. Crazy as a loon, but still sympathetic. Unfortunately for ABC, the characters also include a closeted gay businessman and adulteress and a would be adulterer. We all now that no such characters would exist among real Christians in real Christian churches.

From the beginning, however, GCB became a target of the Christian right, and I can’t help but thinking this outrage (or posturing) had a lot to do with the show’s cancellation. One Million Moms boycotted the show and, together with groups such as the National Prayer Network, they successfully persuaded major advertisers such as Kraft, Pepsi, Huggies, Progressive and BareEscentuals to drop the show.

The invective was a hateful as it gets. Truthseekers.com called it a Jewish hate crime against Christians . The evidence being the fact that GCB was a “Jewish Disney/ABC” production. I guess the Jewish label belongs to Michael Eisner, and Roy and Walt Disney were famous Jewish conspirators whom we all know plotted to subvert the minds of American youth and convince them to undergo circumcisions and mitzvahs.1

It gets better. Legalize Jesus called GCB “Christophobia” and demanded that readers “BOYCOTT ABC over their new blasphemous TV show CGB…. (and) the liberal secular progressive Christ-hating mob.” Okay, maybe that’s not better.

I hate to say it, but it seems that the only real nastiness is coming from the critics. Sure, the show portrays the Christians in Highland Park’s churches as vain, gossiping and back stabbing. Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK), I didn’t see anything that sounded out of character with churches where my Dad worked. Or the churches I joined as an adult.

The characters may have been over the top, but by the last episode viewers realized just about every character was well meaning, if not flawed and vain. Did they compete for recognition in their church? Yes. Did they conspire to get one up on each other? Yes. Did they pack guns? Absolutely, but in Texas you can’t love Jesus if you don’t join the NRA.

Personally, I think a lot of Christians jumped the gun on judgment. Had they waited the season out they might have discovered the series didn’t portray Christians in a negative light. Certainly not as negative as many Christians manage to portray themselves.

But I really don’t get the bellyaching. Aren’t Christians supposed to be mocked and criticized? If they aren’t, doesn’t that mean they aren’t doing a good job for Jesus? Let’s take a paragraph to recall the Sermon on the mount:

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
-Matthew 5:11-13 (KJV)”

That sounds to me like Christians who aren’t being persecuted aren’t doing their job. The religious right is whining about perceived persecution when they should be embracing it. Jesus said Christians are blessed when they’re persecuted. GCB should be one of God’s blessings by their own thinking.

But can’t we turn this back on the producers of GCB? The fact that so many Americans want to revile, persecute and falsely accuse them of Jewish hate speech and Christophobia, suggests to me that their salt that hasn’t lost its savor. It really stirred things up.

Personally, I’d be happy to see the show back. I even signed a petition at Save GCB.

And how does Jesus feel about all this? I doubt it’s a blip on his radar. And there will be other shows, and better shows. The world is not about TV. Especially when no one’s forcing us or even our children to watch it.


1If you check the links you will notice how all of these groups have “truth” in their domain names. back

He is risen but how

It was Friday before Mitt Romney’s staff finally informed him that “He is risen” did not refer to his lead in the race.

I wanted to avoid a political discussion on Easter but then the Republicans had to do something like passing the Women as Livestock act in Georgia. Think of it as Georgia’s gift to Jesus on the anniversary of the resurrection to remind us that in him there is neither man nor woman, slave nor master, nor even pig nor cow nor woman.

But today is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This was the day Mary Magdeline came to his tomb and the Republicans told them that, following the tradition of the Augusta Club, women were no longer allowed. In fact, they would have to pay for their own contraception even if it was a medical necessity. The women left in great sorrow and when Jesus came from the tomb and saw them walking away, he asked, “What did they want? Why did you send them away?”

And yeah, the Republican guard answered, “Don’t worry. Ann Romney’s going to tell them all the reasons why they should feel good about us.”

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I believed that you couldn’t be Christian if you didn’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead. Then my first wife Robin decided we should become Presbyterian and my best wife, Carol, decided we should be Episcopalian. Between marriages I took Catholic lessons because after our divorce Robin became Catholic and wanted me to follow suit. It seems my becoming Catholic had something to do with whether or not she was really married her first time and would our son Bryan be a bastard in the eyes of the church.

(Reading this again I know it sounds like I may be whipped when it comes to faith, but I can assure you I wasn’t. I just figured that wherever you worshipped, Jesus would hang out. I know this doesn’t sound very BPK, but two wives and a kid can knock the Baptist shellac off fairly quickly. Two wives, a kid and just about every deacon, preacher and evangelist I ever met.)

Unfortunately for Jesus, or me, I discovered that some Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Unitarian/Universalists among others don’t really believe Jesus showed up on the first Easter Sunday. And not just because the sabbath was really Saturday. They think that Jesus stayed dead and the resurrection is a metaphor, or myth. Or, in a compromise, that his resurrection was spiritual.

I’d heard such people existed when I was a budding young Baptist, but meeting them and reading their books was an eye opener. They believe the spirit of Christ was raised from the dead, but not his body. Bishop John Spong, for instance, had no problem admitting he’s uncomfortable with the resurrection thing. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been accused of rejecting the resurrection, although I’m not sure he ever admitted it. The problem was that, except for the resurrection thing, guys like Spong and Bonhoeffer seemed pretty Christian to me.

Oh, sure, a lot of those guys think its okay for women to be bishops and that gays should not only be married, they can worship and take the Eucharist. The problem is, I agree with them. And those guys don’t seem quite so determined to deny others access to heaven, or charity or a semblance of respect the way people who insist on a physical resurrection do.

Jesus said you will know his followers by their fruit, not their words. In the famous John 3:16 he said that those who believe in him will have everlasting life. He never broke down what it meant to follow him into a specific creed and that includes the belief that he was physically raised from the dead.

Peter denied him three times on the evening before his death, but he was still allowed into the kingdom. Thomas had to touch Jesus before he would believe (a luxury none of us would have). Nor is it clear to me that every one who was a follower of the Way believed in the resurrection.

Paul says to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12) I could discuss the entire defense of the resurrection but I don’t intend to persuade anyone as to whether Jesus’ resurrection was physical or spiritual.

What I find most interesting is that Paul isn’t writing to unbelievers, he’s writing to the church. These are people who profess to believe in Christ and who take communion. And yet some of them do not accept the resurrection of the dead. Nor is Paul suggesting they be thrown out of the church or that they aren’t really Christian. He merely reminds them that the resurrection is a central tenet of the faith.

When I was a BPK, Baptists would tolerate drunks, addicts and smokers, the three worst kinds of sinners. Baptists gave them time to work through their problems. But you couldn’t be Baptist if you didn’t buy into Easter. You couldn’t even be Christian. We would put up with sin but we wouldn’t tolerate doctrinal impurity. Baptists seemed to think your beliefs must follow the checklist but sin could take its time.

Many Christians assume you have to accept the whole package before you’re bona fide but I don’t see it. There are simply too many whole packages. Paul and Peter argued frequently over the requirements for faith. If we give believers time to bring their actions in line with expectations, why not give them time to work out the elements of faith as well?

When we talk of a personal relationship with Jesus we can’t forget the key word “personal.” The relationship is about you and no one else. Your responsibility is for your growth and to make sure you don’t interfere with anyone else’s.

When someone professes the faith then, we should give them the benefit of the doubt rather than demanding they pass a JQ test.1 It isn’t for us to decide who truly has faith, regardless of whether they were baptized or believe in a spiritual resurrection, vote Republican or welcome Obama as a member of the faith. That is a question that can only be answered by the believer and Jesus.

Whether your JQ is 1 or 18o, if you seriously want to follow Jesus, I believe he will give you time to find your way.


1Do I really need to explain something as simple as a believer’s Jesus Quotient?back