Resurrecting Easter

I originally intended to post this on Easter, but realized too many people would react negatively. So I waited a week, which, in America, means everyone will have forgotten the event for another year.

Christians around the world celebrated Easter last weekend, although the official holiday wasn’t until Monday. It wasn’t even a real “official” holiday. The Federal Government didn’t close down, most banks didn’t close, schools may or may not have closed for half-a-day.

In short, Easter is a “holy day,” not a holiday.

Why does Christmas make the cut and not Easter?

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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?”