Release the hostages

So here's the bottom line. Paul, in the book of Romans, makes it clear that God appoints government to protect those who do good and punish those who do bad (Romans 13). If we are faithful, we have nothing to fear from government.

According to the Christian Right and their political wing, the Tea Party, government punishes good people and rewards the bad, which is why they have shut it down. And who are the bad? Those in need of health care, those in need of retirement benefits, and the poor.

This is the supreme irony, that the Tea Party would shut down health care and care to widows and poor in spite of scripture's injunctions to heal the sick, feed the poor and care for widows and orphans. But the Christian Right has shown no need to heed the injunctions of scripture, to show compassion, or even to show humility—all of the benchmarks of faith.

If they would take care of the poor and sick in the private sector they praise it might not matter, but, of course, they don't.

They are fortunate that God will forgive them, although I doubt they will ever feel the need.

The rest of us can only pray enough Republicans will come to their senses that the Tea Party block will cease to matter.

 

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.

 

Herman, what would King David do?

It’s not as though politicians haven’t been caught with their pants down before. Nor will this be the first time they’ve tried to cover it up. But Herman Cain seems to think that because he hasn’t made improper gestures to thousands of women, that seems to let him off the hook for four.

At least that’s the number at last counting.

Herman’s also calling this a lynching along the proportions of Clarence Thomas’ lynching on Capitol Hill. There are a couple of differences. Justice Thomas wasn’t exactly lynched since he’s now one of the top nine legal arbiters in the country. Anita Hill, on the other hand, was brutalized. Can you blame these women for getting lawyers?

Justice Thomas’ written opinions haven’t exactly been prolific since his appointment, however. Maybe he finally learned to keep his mouth shut.

Cain, however, seems to be proud of the fact that four women have accused him of sexual impropriety. It’s almost a certain sign, that he, like Jesus, can be crucified.

I think King David may provide a better analogy, however. Israel’s King David made the moves on Bathsheba, the comely bride of one of his soldiers. He didn’t bother to settle the lawsuit, he simply killed the husband. Now, by anyone’s standards King David makes Herman Cain’s peccadilloes look like those of a choir boy.

God forgave David, however. And here’s where the two really differ. When David’s misdeeds became public he didn’t say, “For every woman who claims David hit on her, there are thousands more who haven’t.” This could be because there probably weren’t thousands of women in Jerusalem for David to harass, but also because David may have referred to himself with the royal “we” but he never spoke of himself in the third person.

More importantly, David did public penance. In fact, once he realized the seriousness of what he did, he became genuinely penitent. He wore sackcloth and ashes and publicly confessed. Herman Cain isn’t even making a pretense of penitence. He’s trying to paint himself as victim and good guy.

We might ask, given the reality of sexual behavior by American Presidents, whether or not it matters that they carry on behind closed doors. Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson were reputed philanderers. Clinton was busted and Harding had a child out of wedlock.

My answer to the question is, probably not. I was always more worried when the man who could push the button and launch the missiles wasn’t happy and bursting with unresolved testosterone. The true measure of the man, however, is how he behaves when the facts come out.

By that measure David was a class act. He confessed and found forgiveness. Cain claims he isn’t guilty, blamed both parties for outing him and also makes it clear it wouldn’t matter if he was guilty. His misdeeds are our problem.

After all. He earned everything he has.

Corporate Christian Complex: Eisenhower never saw it coming

Before he left office in 1961, President Eisenhower warned Americans of the rising influence of the Military Industrial Complex. Little did he know that the Military Industrial Complex was only a precursor to the much more insidious Corporate Christian Complex, an unholy alliance between corporate interests and Christian marketing designed to seduce true believers into the unholy heresy that Jesus wants big business to be even bigger.

The Corporate Christian Complex grew out of televangelism and telemarketing, thanks to the well meaning hippies and stoners who dropped out and tuned into Jesus in the seventies, and I count myself one of them. Until the Jesus movement, evangelical Christianity kept itself separate from popular culture. In fact, evangelicals prided themselves on being in the world but not part of it.

Sure, televangelists sold Bibles, blessings and prayer squares over broadcast television, but evangelism was decidedly unhip and determined to remain that way. Christians (at least white bread Christians like my family) didn’t listen to rock and roll, they listened to gospel or Ralph Carmichael, who was to Christian music at the time what Robert Goulet was to pop culture.

Christians didn’t have the New Christy Minstrels, we had Up With People. Sure, they sold a few albums, but it was for inspiration and to keep the work of the Lord going. But when the fans of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones realized that Ralph Carmichael made Neal Diamond sound like Roger Daltry, they did what they always did. Started their own bands.

Those bands made money. Much bigger money than the backup singers for Billy Graham. It went further than that. Jesus Freaks bought Jesus Freak translations of the Bible with leather fringe covers, and even leather belt pouches for their pocket editions. They bought Jesus jewelry and Jesus beads, and in a few short years Big Business discovered a huge market for modern day relics as well.

Hippies and Jesus Freaks were political, too, and that scared the evangelical and charismatic sponsors looking to adopt them. Many of us intended to cast our first eighteen-year-old votes for George McGovern. Our evangelical foster parents tried to convince us that Christians avoided politics, but we marched against the war and went to Woodstock.

The new era of rock festivals for Jesus proved to the evangelical old guard that we could be co-opted, and so the evangelicals harvested the energy to march to form the religious right. They might not convince us to give up politics, but they could convince us to change political alliances. If we could give up pot for coffee and scripture, we could give up McGovern for Reagan.

And the dollars rolled in. And in, and then began to flood. You see, the Corporate Christian Complex wasn’t new, it had been lying dormant since the Renaissance and Reformation. Shrewd businessmen cashed in on Christians with relics, pilgrimages and even mass crusades. If you couldn’t bring your husband to Christ, you could buy his way into heaven once he died. If you wanted to be pure and keep on drinking and whoring, you could buy an indulgence.

Today we have Christian Broadcasting Networks, and more commercials for Christian music CDs than the commercials that used to sell Slim Whitman tapes. Even the BBC will sell air time to songs of praise CDs. Churches sell coffee, and their pastors sell books and tapes. Good Christians can now own (and probably do) at least six different translations of the Bible and two more paraphrased editions.

You can find home-based Christian businesses on the internet. You can worship Jesus with t-shirts, mugs, coozies and coolers. You can sit through worship with your Starbucks coffee and power bars. Michael Jackson may have appalled people with his Jesus Juice, but only because he thought of it first. In a few years we can expect to see Jesus Juice, Jesus Jolt and cans of Red Gospel.

Go online and you can order Nativity stickers, Jesus gliders, birthday stickers for Jesus, and bouncing Jesus balls. Headingtoheaven.com promotes itself as a “Christian superstore” with shirts, jewelry, books, games and even home communion kits. Sounds a lot like Walmart. How about c28 or Christiangear.com?

Nor is it surprising that corporate and Christian interests pour millions of dollars into Republican and Tea Party politics. After all, when you’re raking in cash hand over fist from the rubes, you don’t want to pay taxes to fund a government that might regulate your enterprise.

If you read the Gospels, you know that Jesus forgave a lot. He forgave drunks, adulterers, pagans, hookers, and adulterers. He rarely got mad, but one thing really pissed him off. He lost his cool when he saw the entrepreneurs cashing in on God. He got so pissed off he kicked their tables over and drove them out of the temple.

The businessmen and religious hypocrites he challenged got even. They got in bed with the Roman government and had him killed. In other words, they formed their own version of the Corporate Christian Complex, and there was nothing Christian about it. These were the Bible’s bad guys.

So how did they become the heroes now?

Literal love

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve droned on about literalists, but I want to stress that I’m a literalist myself. At least when it’s clear the literal interpretation makes more sense than twisting the meaning and redefining words with meanings that can’t be found in standard dictionaries.

I first got in trouble for this in my high school freshman English class when I told my teacher that the rose in a poem could simply be a rose. (And this was before I read Gertrude Stein). Even in college poetry workshops, I felt that a poem that couldn’t be read literally first probably couldn’t support a meaningful symbolic structure.

So when I question the belief that every word in the Bible is to be taken literally, it’s not because I don’t feel literal interpretations aren’t important. In fact, I think it could be dangerous to ignore the literal meaning of passages. I simply believe that snipping verses and passing them off as “God’s literal word” can lead to as many problems as refusing to accept any basis of truth in the scripture.

Take the phrase “it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” There is a metaphor involved but the metaphor isn’t the point. It doesn’t really matter what the eye of the needle is or how hard it is for the camel to get through it. The point is the literal meaning, which is that rich people will have a hard time getting into heaven.

Even if we don’t understand the metaphor of “eye of the needle” at all, the context of the saying makes it clear. It follows a literal declaration making the exact same point with no metaphor whatever. “…I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” It doesn’t get more literal than that.

The syntax of the sentence (It is easier for A than B) makes the meaning clear as well. Take other examples: “It would be easier to split a rock with your head than separate something glued with epoxy,” or “It would be easier to survive water torture and electrocution than to sit through another Republican primary debate with Rick Perry involved.” When anyone encounters that structure in ordinary language, we don’t stop to reinterpret it to mean “this will be easy” (or in the case of Christian Republican theology, essential).

And yet I have sat through any number of sermons explaining why Jesus didn’t really mean it was hard for rich people to get into heaven. I’m not just pointing my finger at Baptists here (although most of the sermons I heard came during Baptist revival when giving was at its highest), but Episcopalians and Presbyterians as well.

I write this because I remember a long night spent arguing with a family member about Matthew 22. This family member, whom I won’t name, argued that homosexuals couldn’t be Christians because they didn’t obey God. In fact, she argued, no one could really be Christian if they weren’t in complete obedience. People who weren’t in complete obedience didn’t deserve God’s love or forgiveness.

So I quoted (or paraphrased) Matthew 22: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (This is the NIV version, but it isn’t too much different than the others).

She claimed that verse wasn’t talking about agape love, so we looked it up on the Internet and it was. Then she said, “but love means ‘obey.’ So the commandment is really saying that if we love god we will obey every commandment.”

Sadly, this kind of tunnel vision drives too much of Christian thinking. When the time comes to read a verse literally, we can’t accept it.

I’ve looked up every definition of love and agape on the web (and that includes a number of cranky sites) and couldn’t find one that defined agape as obedience. I’m sure, however, that this meaning has popped up in more than one discussion. It’s easier to redefine words when the dictionary isn’t in front of us.

Here’s my thinking. If the definition of love is to obey, then Jesus was really saying the the most important way in which we can obey God is to obey God. I don’t think Jesus was given to that kind of circularity. If anything, he was too much of an out of the box thinker for most Christians.

But if this is what he really meant, then we are left interpreting the second commandment to mean, “Obey your neighbor as you obey yourself.” I don’t want to discuss the linguistic twists that follow from this thinking.

More accurately, this is a case where we need to think literally. If we really want to obey God we will love him and love each other. Love, in essence, is a commandment, and that doesn’t mean tough love or doing what’s best for someone in spite of their desires, or denying them the love of God because we think they’re disobeying God themselves.

It’s tempting to walk away from such clear injunctions because they seem so trite and obvious. The Beatles said, “All you need is love,” so it must be more difficult than that. Who wants their most important imperative to be reduced to a jingle?

But in the case of Jesus’ followers, it’s an order. If you want to obey God, you will love him and everyone else. Homosexual or not. Unwed parent or not. Had an abortion and still believing it was the right thing to do or not. Planning on having an abortion or not. Or, in my case (and that’s what makes it so hard to love them) whether or not they believe in creationism (as opposed to creation), support the Tea Party, and think Obama is the antiChrist.

It’s their fault. Always.

Blame, blame, blame, blame, blame.

We’ve become a culture of blame. It’s the fault of the liberals, Obama, illegal immigrants (excuse me, aliens), secular humanists, bad teachers, taxes , corporate executives, bankers, the tea party, Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Never ourselves.

In this supposedly Christian society we no longer hear, “How can I serve you?” We no longer hear “ask what you can do for your country.” We no longer even hear, “the devil made me do it.” Instead we hear, “the devil made them do it and they ruined it for everybody.”1

Jesus said, “Go your way and sin no more.” That means, at least in part, that we should take responsibility for our own lives and quit bitching about what everybody else is doing wrong. You can’t answer for others, you can only answer for yourself.

Politicians will never be accountable until we hold ourselves accountable first.


1For instance, John Boehner cackled that he got 98 percent of what he wanted from Obama on the debt ceiling deal, and then turned around and blamed Obama when S&P downgrades our credit rating (even though it was his deal). I reduced this to a footnote because even though I see it as an example of the very problem I am addressing, others will accuse me of using the example to blame all Republicans myself. back