Dealing with the Butchery of our Consciences

There is too much going on to allow any of us to feel comfortable or safe for more than a few minutes.

There is this ridiculous fight going on in the federal government over funding for a wall on the southern border of the United States. While the fight feels like nothing more or less than a political stunt, it is troubling on many levels, but one of those levels particularly troubling to me is there is no such passion for working to allocate billions of dollars to help Americans who are living in poverty or near poverty.

It is ironic that so many Christians tout the name of Jesus, claiming him and the religious he spawned, as their own. It is as though they have remade him in their image; that, or what we have all read and studied our whole lives is incorrect. They have made him – and therefore Christianity – into a well-to-do white male, the manger story of his birth notwithstanding. Jesus’ family was homeless; he was born into poverty. He was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, which thus makes the anti-Semitism of so many Christians so difficult to understand. Were Jesus alive today, he and his family would be in danger of being attacked by angry white “Christian” men.

He was poor and was an advocate for the poor, leading and encouraging the poor to speak up for themselves to demand justice. He practiced free speech, so he believed in it which would have set him up for criticism today. He challenged the system – again something which would have drawn criticism today. I don’t really know what “Conservative” means, but from my reading of the Christian Bible, it does not seem that he identified as the same. He was targeted by law enforcement, scorned because he challenged their authority. He was scorned by members of his own family, which means they probably didn’t have peaceful family gatherings during the Jewish holy days.

He was accused of doing wrong, had what amounted to as a mock trial with a biased judge, was sentenced to death and executed – which means that the person whose birth we celebrate was a convicted felon, someone who would not have been eligible to enter the United States under the current immigration laws and policies.

The irony of the fact that, were he alive today, Jesus would most probably be rejected by the very ones who profess to be Christian is not lost to me. He would not be welcomed or respected by the Congress or by many evangelicals. Wrong religion. Wrong ethnicity. Wrong socio-economic class. And wrong political belief system. He might be called a socialist because of his work for the poor. He would be rejected by most of today’s devout Christians, I am fairly certain.

And yet, modern-day Christians, people who believe in and practice racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia and more – brag about their religious affiliation. People who think nothing of ignoring the poor, or of murdering members of the gay community or the Jewish community or the African American community – brag about following one who advocated that we should build community with each other, not walls between us.

Is it possible to proclaim/profess of being a Christian and yet be so unaligned with what the Jesus of the Christian Bible taught? Does it represent a particularly heinous type of hypocrisy to claim a man who taught what many of us are unwilling to do?

In 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was making its way out of the womb of Congress, there was much resistance – by Christians as well as by other religious groups. Christians participated in much of the violence perpetrated against African Americans who wanted to register to vote and then …vote; their hatred was leveled against white allies as well. At one point, as the violence reached a tragic peak in Selma, Alabama as would-be voters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then attorney-general Nicholas Katzenbach tried to get Dr. Martin Luther King to cancel a second planned march. Dr. King responded, “I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than to make a butchery of my own conscience.”

With the blatant hypocrisy that exists between the practice of identity politics and Christianity, I wonder if there are many people who see the chasm between what Jesus taught and what they/we practice, and if so if their consciences are bothered, “butchered,” as Dr. King phrased it? Is anyone sitting in remorse and shame for treating people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, religions as objects and not as human beings worthy of being treated with dignity?

Somehow, I don’t think there is much of that; the religion of the “newborn king” has been bastardized by many – of all ethnicities. That being the case, what is our celebration of Christmas really about?

A candid observation …

What America Values

At first, it didn’t hit me.

It was the holiday season; Christmas was fast approaching, and retailers wanted profits.

So, three or four days before Christmas, some of them announced that they would keep their doors open, extend their hours, to accommodate shoppers. Kohl’s would be open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Macy’s would be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Stores opened on Thanksgiving to give shoppers a head start.

They wanted to be sure to please their patrons. On the surface, if one was a shopper, that seemed like a nice gesture.

But then it hit me. States all over this nation sought to restrict the days and hours during the day that people could vote in the mid-term elections in 2014.

We are important enough, in other words, to accommodate when business wants our money, but we are not important enough to accommodate when we try to exercise the right we have as Americas to vote.

For shopping, there is some understanding that people might find it hard to get to the stores because of their busy schedules.

For voting, no such understanding is given. The sentiment is, or seems to be, “if you want to vote, you will find a way to get there in these proscribed hours and on these proscribed days.”

The movie Selma is released tomorrow. The fight in Selma was about the fight to get the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed …but since then, there has been serious, organized opposition to that law, which has resulted in the slow dismantling of all that that law made possible.

Americans are free to spend their money; this nation will help Americans spend their money, but this nation will NOT help people exercise their right to vote.

Shop until you drop …but go sit down somewhere and don’t complain if you can’t get to the polls on the limited days and times which the government has made possible.

How come some Americans don’t see anything wrong with this picture? How come some …or, I might say, many …Americans scoff at the notion that some people really do need more days and times to vote than others? How come it’s OK to go overboard to get people to spend their money, but not OK to provide more days and times to vote?

All of the voter suppression we have seen is the result of the vast numbers of African-Americans and other marginalized groups having been able to vote in 2008 and 2012. The lives of the marginalized were considered and honored; people who had never voted before finally got the opportunity.

It was glorious. It was democracy, right? It was evidence that “all men are created equal.”  It was about a level playing field. Parity. Equity. Democracy exercised generations after Jefferson et al drew up our Constitution.

But the glory has faded and continues to do so. The powers that be didn’t like marginalized people showing up en masse, causing this country to lean toward true democracy. So, they have worked to dismantle nearly all of the gains made in the Civil Rights movement …while simultaneously making it easier for people to shop using money they do not have so that the rich can get richer and the marginalized can remain marginalized.

At first, it went past me. I missed it. It didn’t hit me.

But I get it now, and it makes me sigh.

Democracy is an ideal and an idea that looks good on paper.

But when the task of making and maintaining democracy is thrown to the people, it might as well be thrown to the wolves.

People don’t want democracy. They want power and money and will do anything they must to obtain it.

I get it now …and I am not impressed. My concept of democracy, where “the least of these” are considered as human and are treated as such, is not real. It never has been.

A candid observation …





America, Christmas, and the Great Commandment

Though I’ve heard a lot of people voice anger and angst over not feeling comfortable saying “Merry Christmas,” being urged to say “Happy Holidays” instead, I find myself thinking that it’s good that America is really living up to its legacy as a pluralistic nation.

When I was a kid, nobody said anything else about any other religion. It was simply, “Merry Christmas,” and it was fine. There was Santa and Christmas Carol, and there was the baby Jesus. We never mentioned Hanukkah, though there were plenty of Jewish children around, our classmates, actually. In fact, some of my Jewish friends said that their families celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah …not the Jesus part …but the tree and gift part.

We Christians didn’t hear much, if anything, about Hanukkah, and if we did, we certainly didn’t know what it was about. That is so …not cool…for a religion, Christianity, which sprang from Judaism. The eight day celebration, commemorating the dedication or rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem seems to be as central to our existence as Christians as it is to the history of Judaism.

In other words, had the Jews not regained control of Jerusalem, there might not have been a Christianity.

That opinion aside, there is something larger here. America is not monolithic. Our motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” or, “out of many, one,” is what America is supposed to be all about; it is what marks us as a unique place, a democracy that is different from every other country in the world.

Instead of celebrating that, though, we have had an environment where everyone has tried to assimilate into the mainline culture, which was white and Protestant. In doing that, we created boundaries between us, something Rev. Dr. James Forbes once called “verusism” in a sermon he did about the woman at the well. We became a nation which was diverse according to the census, but closed according to the reality of how we lived. One had to be “better than” or “truer than” another in order to feel affirmed.

Meanwhile, what happened to all of the other faces in the crowd?

The worst thing about being a pluralistic yet closed society is that such a state creates, increases and incubates ignorance, which leads to hatred, fear, and bullying.

Saying “Happy Holidays” acknowledges that we are appreciative of all of the people who live in America and who have made important contributions; it says that we are secure enough in our own religion to respect another. There is Christmas, the birth of the Christ, surely, but there are also other religions which, to their adherents, are just as important to them as our religion is to us.

Sarah Palin blasted President Obama for sending out a Christmas card that says “From our family to yours, may your holidays shine with the light of the season.” But a card sent out by President Reagan in 1987 says, “The President and Mrs. Reagan extend to you warm wishes for a joyous holiday season and a happy and healthy new year.”

The card is signed by Mr. Reagan.

On a caustic note, every politician knows that he or she cannot govern or expect to win re-election by being exclusivist. They must be diplomatic and use language that does not offend any of their potential supporters.

But on a humanistic note, to use “neutral” or “inclusive” language is just plain …American, not to mention polite. A mentor of mine, the late Rev. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, shared with us that we Christians should never do an invocation at a public event and end the prayer with “in the name of Jesus,” because many people in the audience will not be Christian and will feel left out.

The thing is this: at the heart of every religion is the need for love, and love is inclusive. In the Christian Bible, we are fond of quoting 1 Corinthians 13, where it says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking…it does not delight in evil but rejoices at the truth.” Paul the Roman Jew touched and converted by the Christ, wrote that.

And the truth is, America is a pluralistic nation.  We don’t often embrace that fact.

A candid observation …