Facing up to Facebook Jesus

I can’t spend more than ten minutes on Facebook without running past a post challenging me to share my faith by also sharing a heartwarming message about Jesus. Usually the post comes from a friend who is also

  • a Tea Party member
  • posts messages about how they rode in the back of pickups or in cars without seatbelts as children with no damage, and
  • a registered gun-owner and member of the NRA

How can any good Christian
resist reposting this image?

Quite of the post implies that I will be blessed in a very special way by reposting this picture of Jesus, or, on the other hand, will incur God’s wrath or disappointment. And, in spite of the tug on my heartstrings, because the post inevitably invokes the Baptist guilt it was intended to invoke, I skip right past.

Readers might ask why a faithful Christian wouldn’t share these posts and the blessings of God, but my feelings are that faithful Christians should avoid the endless proliferation of these shallow digital samplers, and they are fairly shallow. In the image above we are asked to share if Jesus spoke the truth to the verse “I am the way, the truth and the life….” In essence, to repeat our declaration of faith.

But such a declaration is essentially meaningless, lost in the hundreds of Facebook posts that scroll by evey five minutes. They become little more than white noise. In fact, they have far less impact on other readers than the political screeds ranting about the rights of gun owners and how Obama has betrayed the middle class, or conversely how WalMart has betrayed their employees and the Tea Party is selling American down the river.

The question believers have to ask themselves is whether they need to rise to the challenge of the Facebook faithful or they need to rise to the challenge of Jesus himself, which is to show their faith by giving to the poor and needy, by doing his work in public and not behind a keyboard. Jesus told his followers their tests would not be simple, but difficult. Sometimes, Facebook followers should pay attention to the more subtle messages.

 

 

Pope or Anti-Pope?

How can I top Pope Francis, who this week stunned liberals and the religious right by claiming that the Catholic hierarchy had to sop being “locked up” in “small things, in small-minded rules?” Those small minded rules included abortion, homosexuality and contraception.

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK) I was always taught the pope was the anti-Christ, and I'm sure many Baptists have had their worst fears confirmed.

Mercy isn’t so bad after all.

Mind you, Francis wasn’t saying abortion, homosexuality and contraception have the Jesus seal of approval. Yesterday, he went out of his way to make that clear. But he stressed that these were but a small part of a larger gospel and needed to be tempered with mercy.

As for me, I’m going to shut up and give him a thumbs up. He’s going to come under a lot of heat now, and I’m sure the bishops will be looking for every little clause to repeal the Popehood or maybe rethink the Papacy for life. But for now, we’re stuck with him, so God bless Pope Francis and God bless us all.

 

Slap the other cheek, too

Hand it to the Republicans, they know how to turn Christian values on their head. This week the self-proclaimed party of Jesus, the party that intends to restore Christian values to America (even to those Americans who chose not to embrace them) celebrated those values with the Slap Face Hillary web site.

That's right. After making it clear that Republicans would not share the airwaves on CNN with Hillary Clinton by threatening to withhold debates from coverage if they aired a docudrama of Clinton's life, they have given us a web site inviting viewers to log in and slap Hillary Clinton in the face. You can slap Hillary as many times as you want.

Hillary's other cheek.

This site falls in the category of “If you don't get what's wrong, there's no way to explain it to you.” It would be like explaining the irony of beating up a beggar saying, “God's peace be with you,” to keep the streets safe for decent Christians.

This Republican mentality would laugh at Jesus' injunction to turn the other cheek because they would simply strike that cheek too. In fact, they would call you stupid for doing so. That's one of the reasons the site encourages visitors to slap Hillary as often as possible.

They could never comprehend that Jesus fully grasped the reality of that mentality and the cruelty that lay behind it. To them he was a naive liberal who never had a clue what would happen until they drove the nails in, and then it was too damn late to get down. But Jesus understood the act of turning a cheek was not intended to transform the heart of the striker, so much as those who watched the transaction.

When others saw the cruelty of the Romans and the generosity of the Christians, hearts would be transformed. And, over the centuries, that happened. Unfortunately, those in power simply disguised themselves as Christians as they continue to do today, and people lost faith.

When Republicans whine that Americans have lost faith in Christian and family values, a complaint they utter over and over again, maybe they should log onto their own site, sites like Slap Hillary. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out why.

 

Tweeting out of purgatory

Martin Luther would be rolling over in his grave if he wasn't already in heaven laughing with St. Peter about all those Catholics who missed the boat. At least that's what I was raised to believe as a Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK). See BPKs, and all Baptists in general were taught that God passed Catholics over when he anointed ML to nail his 95 points on the door and declare God's wrath on the evil Catholic empire.

One of the practices that cut the Catholics out of heaven? Indulgences. Indulgences are a release from punishment for sin, which could be purchased by the right payment (read greasing someone's palm). Usually it meant time out from purgatory. Nothing pissed Martin off more than buying your way out of time in purgatory. Or God, for that matter, because all of us Baptists knew indulgences got the Catholics cut off from Jesus' gravy train.

Until Roe v. Wade.

Once Roe v. Wade was passed, God forgave the Catholics all their sins and now they're back on board with Jesus. But they better watch out, because Pope Francis, who I thought was a pretty cool guy, may be about to rock the gravy boat. A couple of weeks ago he announced he will be swapping indulgences for tweets.

A very congenial Pope Francis (image courtesy of guardian.co.uk)

That's a pretty gutsy move. After all, it's only been about thirty years since the Catholics have been allowed to cuddle up with Baptists again. He's taking a big chance. Or maybe not. In the grand scheme of things it sounds like Baptists are probably willing to give up purgatory for unborn babies.

And his heart's in the right place. Pope Francis seems to be looking for ways to make the church more attractive to former Catholics. The church has gotten a pretty bad rap what with birth control and priests with wandering hands. And Baptists have to admit they've wandered off the reservation themselves. Starbucks and HDTV in the sanctuary? Rock and roll revivals without the rock and roll? I could live with Jesus meets the Stones, but their version sounds like really loud renditions of the Carpenters.

So as long as we're looking for creative indulgences, I have a few suggestions for the Pope. The How about indulgences for:

  • Forward the Pope's tweets for double indulgence points
  • Poke the Pope on Facebook
  • Post pics of you and your favorite Pope on Instagram (Photoshopping acceptable)
  • Pin your favorite Pope quotes
  • Have a hangout party with your friends to watch videos of Pope Frances online
  • Propagate Pope videos on YouTube

I'm sure you noticed, the medium seems to be the message. In this case social media is the Jesus message and the Pope wants you to spread it. God with God. Indulgently.

 

Fools for Christ or just plain fools?

This week the Texas Senate struck the ultimate blow for Jesus. They banned tampons.

You can’t get more Christian than that. Except in my opinion, they didn't take it far enough.

For those of you who don't follow the defense of faith in Texas, you may need a little explanation. Texas wants to step to the forefront of the pro-life movement. As we all know, the newest commandment in the Bible is: “Thou shalt not have, or facilitate a woman's ability to have an abortion.” It is now at the top of the Eleven Commandments.1 With our governor Perry at the helm, Texas is declaring that all life is sacred, at least until it emerges from the womb. (In our defense, we have to execute someone.)

As a result, Texas has foregone federal health care funding to make sure women don't have access to family planning since that includes Planned Parenthood, an organization that supports abortion. But that wasn't enough. The Texas Legislature was so determined to ram through some of the most restrictive abortion legislation that they kicked aside their own legislative rules and even scheduled a second special session.

Jesus was the first issue on the agenda. They had to protect the unborn, and they railroaded through the legislation, squashing amendments and suppressing even the precious Republican filibuster. But somehow they feared one thing, protest. Not just protest, but protest by tampon. And so the senate banned the tampon.

As of Friday the tampon is banned in the Texas Senate.

That's right. Visitors can carry guns into the capitol, but not tampons. Women will be strip searched for tampons. I suppose they will erect tampon detectors at the entrances. They will have to remove tampon machines from the bathrooms. What next? Sanitary napkins? Will women will be allowed to bring their own rags?

Of course, if they really want to honor the scripture, the Senate didn't go far enough. The Law doesn't ban tampons, it doesn't even permit them. Women are supposed to quarantine themselves for seven days for the purposes of purification.

So I think the Senate should set up purification quarantines at the edge of town for menstruating women. Including legislators. They could call them cramp camps. I mean, who knows what a woman is likely to do when she gets it into her head to protest and she's menstruating. Do we really think relieving her of her tampon is enough? I'm trying to think like a fundamentalist Republican for Jesus here.

Oh, that's right. We wouldn't have women in the legislature because they should stay at home and obey their husbands. If they did, we wouldn't have these problems, like crazed pro-choice women running around throwing tampons in the Senate chambers. We wouldn't need to worry about abortions because all women would be at home and pregnant like they're supposed to be.

The issue may be moot. The Senate passed the abortion bill late Friday night, although I don't have news as to whether or not they repealed the tampon ban with the passage of the bill. I don't know why they should tie the ban to this one bill. I wouldn't be surprised if it remains in place, and if it doesn't, I'm sure someone will decide to reinstate it, It's just too good to lose.

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I know there's always at least one verse in scripture to justify ignoring the broad strokes of the Bible. It didn’t matter how dubious their point, my relatives could drag out one isolated dependent clause and slam it on the dinner table to prove their point only to be countered by a contrary dangling participle to prove the opposite.

And I can imagine even now the pro-life legislators defending their behavior with the verse in Corinthians about being “made a spectacle unto the world,” and “fools for Christ’s sake.” Of course Paul is referring to apostles and he juxtaposes the paradox of wisdom in Christ as well. I'm not sure even scripture gives a pass to making a total embarrassment of the faith. And this week, the Texas Senate came pretty close to doing just that.


1There had been an attempt to remove “Thou shalt not covet” from the list since the advertising industry depends on people coveting, including Christian advertisers such as Christian Mingle and all those religious music producers. The fact that eleven was more difficult to manage than ten made the covet removal lobby even stronger. But the fundamentalists toed the line and covet remained.back

 

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.

 

Do unto others

It's hard to be Christian when discussing the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). I keep wanting to say something and I find myself being reminded of how much it pisses me off when I hear other Christians justify their judgmental behavior with “We hate the sin, not the sinner.”

Think about it. If we decry WBC's behavior, we are judging them, and Jesus said not to judge lest we be judged ourselves. And to suggest that picketing family funerals because they represent the governments who support same sex marriage is unChristian is to, in essence, call them unChristian. After all, when we make such comments, we are, in essence, equating the believer with the behavior.

Nor did Jesus refrain from publicly calling hypocrites out, as he did with the money changers in the temple, and intransigent religious zealots. What could be more intransigent, or hypocritical than serving in the military for a country that doesn't execute homosexuals, or running in a marathon in a state that allows same sex marriage.

After all (as WBC pointed out) God did punish Massachusetts by sending two Chechen Muslims to bomb runners. And there's nothing more comforting than knowing that God will send Muslims so that decent Christians won't have blood on their hands.

This was the tweet announcing God's wrath on Massachusetts sinners.

So I pondered how to respond to WBC's ongoing open protests as families grieve their loved ones, and it dawned on me that Jesus pointed the way. Didn't he say that we should do unto others as they would have them do to us? 1

So if WBC protestors are Christian, then clearly they are doing to grieving families as they want grieving families to do to them. After all, they insist they are doing the will of Jesus. So I would suggest they want us to protest what we believe to be ungodly behavior.

So the next time you're in Topeka with friends, check and see if any WBC family members are having a funeral. If they are, take as many friends as you can and protest their shameful practice of protesting people for others' policies. Be loud and vocal. Be obnoxious. This is what they would want you to do to them. This is what Jesus would want you to do.


1The question is purely rhetorical. He did.back


 

So help me

There was a story flying about the Internet about a Republican sponsored bill in the Arizona House that would require high school students to take an oath of education to graduate. Students would swear to support and defend the Constitution with “true faith and allegiance…so help me God.”

When I started tracking this story down the sources seemed to exclusively be progressive (which Republicans consider to be a code word for “liberal, left wing”) sites. For a while I was beginning to suspect the story was the same kind of unverifiable detritus that haunts Republican blogs and websites. But I did finally track down the link I shared, which was to the text of the bill itself. The bill reads:

BEGINNING IN THE 2013‑2014 SCHOOL YEAR, IN ADDITION TO FULFILLING THE COURSE OF STUDY AND ASSESSMENT REQUIREMENTS PRESCRIBED IN THIS CHAPTER, BEFORE A PUPIL IS ALLOWED TO GRADUATE FROM A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL IN THIS STATE, THE PRINCIPAL OR HEAD TEACHER OF THE SCHOOL SHALL VERIFY IN WRITING THAT THE PUPIL HAS RECITED THE FOLLOWING OATH:I, _________, DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME; THAT I TAKE THIS OBLIGATION FREELY, WITHOUT ANY MENTAL RESERVATION OR PURPOSE OF EVASION; AND THAT I WILL WELL AND FAITHFULLY DISCHARGE THESE DUTIES; SO HELP ME GOD.

I don't know why it's all caps. Maybe legislation in Arizona is more officious than elsewhere. It's certainly harder to read.

The notion that a high school diploma requires a test of patriotism is bizarre enough. But that would be a Constitutional question. Requiring a student to bundle their support of the Constitution with an affirmation of belief in God goes against the spirit of the Constitution and certainly against Christianity. Jesus believed that faith should be freely given. In fact, all gifts should be freely given.

It also seems to attempt an end run around the Constitution in the name of the Constitution. A pledge of allegiance should not be coerced, but to require it as a condition of receiving a diploma is nothing more than coercion. It is to demand that the sate of Arizona require an affirmation in defiance of the First Amendment.

No doubt the bill's sponsors justify this to stop the erosion of religious and family values they perceive to be endemic in our society. How ironic that their actions threaten the Constitution and Christianity more than those who deny the existence of God altogether.

Tebow Teberty

If you missed last week's post, that's because it wasn't published even though it appeared to be published on my computer. I apologize.

Tim Tebow, never one to shy away from controversy for the Lord, is back in the headlines again for his scheduled appearance at the notorious (or beacon of righteousness) Liberty University. The name is somewhat disingenuous because it was more recognizable under its former name, Liberty Bible College. So what's the problem, some might ask. Isn't he the kind of guy who would appear at a Bible college?

The problem is, according to many progressive watchdogs, LU is run by the Falwell family who have historically attacked gay people, gay couples and the rights of gay couples to marry (among other right wing views). This appearance comes not long after he cancelled on Dallas First Baptist and pastor Robert Jefress for espousing similar views.

To many this speaks of hypocrisy, to others it means Tebow is willing to join a right wing, anti-gay agenda. To the young Christians gathering at LU's national convocation, Tebow is a hero who scores for Jesus and the Jets.

I think it's pretty clear that Tebow has taken a stand against the far-right Christian gay bashing of Christians like Jefress and the Falwells. The question is whether or not his decision to appear at a convocation of young people who consider him a role model is appropriate. Or, more importantly, does Tebow have the right to chose the people with whom he associates?

Jesus ran into the same problems, as I recall. He liked to hang out with hookers and drunks. And he was accised of hypocrisy as well, not to mention giving prostitution and drunkenness his seal of approval. And the more I think about it, he continued to choose his associates, including low life fishermen (the Jewish version of trailer trash) and political activists.

Every once in a while Carol and I let my family drag us to their mega church. It doesn't mean with give them our seal of approval. Christians are not Scientologists. We aren't forbidden to associate with those who disagree with us, in fact, it's a sign of our love that we're willing to do so.

So until Tim says, “You know, I agree with Jefress and the Falwells. I'm so down on gay people and other suspicious leftists and sinners,” I say we let him choose his associates and not hold him accountable for their hatred.

Government is not the enemy of charity

Consider the following passage from Mark 10:

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

We are currently in the middle of a debate about the best way to make government solvent. According to many in the Christian Right, the best way is by sacrifice. Not self-sacrifice, in which, we pay more taxes, but the sacrifice of others we don't care about who receive benefits from government.

I'm including the sacrifice of money to educate other people's children, money to take care of veterans, money to support the families of soldiers, money to insure the health care of those most in need. The message of the Republican Right, and that includes the Christian Right, is of the preservation of wealth. And those who are willing to pay more in taxes to make sure that the needs of others are more adequately met are considered to be anti-Christian and even anti-American.

I find this message ironic coming from the mouths of those who profess that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Nowhere do we hear the rich and powerful consider sacrificing their wealth. Not even offering the sacrifice in the manner of Isaac and his son. They are not even willing to put their wealth on the altar with faith that God will return it to them.

No, they insist wealth is their god given right. Which it may be, but according to Jesus that wealth was given in order to take care of the poor.

It is easy to claim that care of the poor should come at the hands of private charities, not bloated government bureaucracies. Yet private charities are also bureaucratically top heavy (I know, having worked for them) and often depend on government funding as much as private support.

I am all for a balanced budget, but I am willing to pay my fair share rather than carve it out of the backs of the poor. And I think I am following the path set out in the Gospels to suggest as much.