Absorbing

Just when things appear to calm down in Gaza it looks like problems are growing in Egypt. Ending Hosni Mubarak’s reign two years ago has plunged the country into turmoil that always straightens out temporarily before falling into strife again. Now it looks like they might be headed for Sharia law in sweeping reforms planned for the constitution. I have friends in the Middle East and they have not been affected by the violence in either of these troubled countries but they are certainly aware of the precarious position they hold: as foreigners, as women, as Christians. As I’ve been thinking about the various situations, I keep coming back to something a professor said rather recently.

About a month ago Ethan and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture at a DU (a university in Denver) where a partnership between their seminary and undergraduate program hosted Hector Avalos, a professor and philosopher (if one can use that term rather broadly). Avalos spoke regarding his book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. I do not have the time to give a summary of his book/discussion except to say that he suggests religion creates scarce resources by designating who is “in” or “out” and who can interpret the word of God or lay claim to authority. While the book is, apparently, about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Professor Avalos made a more specific attack against Christianity as he gave a sweeping overview of Biblical texts and persons, ending by calling Jesus Christ the most hateful person who has ever lived.

Dr. Richard Hess was on a panel of two speakers who were given about ten minutes to respond to Prof Avalos. The first speaker, whose name I do not recall, posed a few questions and ambiguities in Avalos’ argument. Dr. Hess, on the other hand, had a fully outlined response that included explanations of those texts which Avalos had reinterpreted outside context (both linguistically, culturally and canonically) as well as an alternative view.

Hess admitted that often in her history the church has responded to various things through violence, just as Avalos claimed. This, however, is perhaps what Jesus called his people to, according to Hess. Instead, he shared two stories of Christians that he believed exemplified the call of Jesus. The first was of a man during WW2 in a concentration camp who was but into a barracks with ten other men and left to starve. He led the men in mass each day, prayers and singing as they died off, one by one. Instead of the usual fighting among those imprisoned, Fr Martin brought them to their eventual end with peace and hope. In the end, he was the last to die and willingly accepted death at the hands of the Nazis. The second story was of two Amish girls in Lancaster, PA. When their school was invaded by an armed gunman, two young Amish girls asked to be killed first in an attempt to delay the man from executing the others and provide a chance for them to escape. Dr. Hess choked up during this story as Lancaster is his hometown and the story was close to his heart.

This, he said, was the alternative to religious violence: absorbing evil.

Jesus, on the cross did not condemn his killers or promise retribution. Instead, he looked down, begged the Father to forgive them and then died for the sins of those inflicting his death. Instead of causing violence and evil, Dr. Hess pointed to this ultimate example of accepting and absorbing evil into ourselves.

As we watch the Middle East in turmoil, I wonder what our part is in the midst of this? I think we stand for the oppressed, the ones who cannot stand for themselves. I think we do that by forgiving those who hurt us, by speaking out on behalf of the broken, and then instead of reacting in like manner, we take in the violence, the evil, the sin and we put it to death by refusing to return an eye for an eye.

I don’t live in Gaza or Egypt, and it may seem easy for me to say that behind the walls of my apartment, where Christmas lights glow merrily and Ethan’s iPod plays banjo music at my side. But I don’t think my distance makes it any less true.

WHY: leaning left

I mentioned yesterday that I am in the final crunch before exam week and Christmas break. For that reason, I have not been able to research the Supreme Court’s decision on the Sebellius case and the health care laws. While I’m cautious about a number of things on both sides of the health care plan, I have certainly benefited from the system thus far and have some tentative hopes for it. That being said, I also have a number of concerns for not only religious reasons but economics as well.

I read an interesting article recently* and appreciated the moderate stance taken by the author, David Opderbeck. I also appreciated something he said which finally put to words the conviction I’ve been feeling regarding my theology about the health care system…

 

I wonder when “individual freedom” became the sine qua non for Christian social ethics about health care? It seems to me that Christians of all people should be willing to sacrifice some of their “individual freedom” in order to ensure that everyone, particularly “the least of these,” has access to health care.  In scriptural and Christian theological terms, true “freedom” is not libertarian license, but rather is the full participation of a person in God’s self-giving love.  And true “freedom” is never about isolated individuals – as God is a Triune community, so we as human beings can only be truly “free” in community.

Of course, even if we agree that Christians should be willing to give up some “individual freedom” to facilitate health care for others – or, perhaps better, that Christian freedom means moving beyond selfishness —  the question remains whether such care should be provided through government, through private associations, through Churches, through families, and so on.  There is a long and tangled tradition of Christian political theology on all of these questions – and, at least in my opinion, there is no simple right answer.

Finally! Someone was able to express much more eloquently than I can my concern with how many politically conservative Christians approach this issue. My struggle over the past few months has been discerning what Jesus calls us to in serving selflessly and giving to those among us who are in need–and how that plays into allowing the government to take control of health care to provide more access to care and medicine.

But I also wonder what the role is of the church–why have we not done more to help those among us find medical care, why do we so easily abdicate responsibility to the government (or why do we allow the need for government to play that role) instead of demonstrating the love of Christ by caring for people ourselves? The food pantry I attend has medical services during the evening session. I think that’s fantastic–while I’ve not taken the church up on that free service–I’ve watched many other individuals and families utilize that. Should there be other churches offering similar things? Could we use our benevolence funds for that? Perhaps if we did more we wouldn’t need the government to take such a large role in the health care system?

Or, as we watch the government take on that role, how should we react about our money being redirected? Especially as Christians, shouldn’t we remember that the money was never “ours” in the first place rather than grumbling as it’s taken away in taxes that provide medical care for the neighbours down the street? I don’t have a clear answer on this. I’m still processing all of it (and I of course have several reservations on what those dollars pay for in medical care–a la abortions). There are a lot of considerations here, and the Bible doesn’t speak very clearly on this issue…so we have to do a lot of formulating on our own based on some Biblical texts and based on our knowledge of the character of God (who we are to emulate) and the call or mission of the church…That’s a lot of thinking and theological development on this massive issue that is going to consume the country over the next several months and years.

What do you think?

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*I know I’ve recently been citing Scot McKnight quite often as well as those who guest-post on his blog. He’s just had a plethora of worthy things to consider lately.

Gaza

There’s trouble brewing in Gaza. Well, it’s a bit more than trouble. I haven’t researched the current situation enough to give an informed opinion but all of my reading over the past several years has led to the following conclusion:

Israel and Palestinian leaders are both at fault. Innocent people (by western, non-religious standards) have been killed on both sides in this extremely complex issue. I am often astounded by the way that American Christians uphold Israel as though it is a nation of pure motives, who can do no wrong and is always acting in self defense. While it appears that Palestinian militants started this one, I think it is unwise for believers to stand behind Israel so emphatically without care or concern for those on the other side–some of those are our brothers and sisters in the faith, let’s not forget them! I think that instead of taking sides, instead of pointing fingers, etc we are called to pray. There are hurt people, defenseless people, frightened children, desperate mothers on bothsides of those walls and in what is shaping up to be a legitimate ground war, we should not forget one group as we vehemently support another.

This photo is of graffiti on the wall surrounding Bethlehem that divides Palestinians and Israeli’s. The text is Ephesians 2.14. (See the picture in context at Aaron Niequist’s blog)

I think the most important thing to do is not to pray for Israel’s success, for further estrangement between the two peoples, or some apocalyptic end of the world on December 20th by means of an Israeli/Palestinian ground war that goes viral. I think we should be praying for peace. Peace in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Golan Heights, Gaza and the entire region. It has long been a volatile place in the world. As people of peace, we should be on our knees, asking God to work reconciliation in the heart of his creation and we should be about the business of serving those afflicted whether they speak Hebrew or Arabic.

This, I think, is our calling as believers and followers of the Nazarene who told us to be shalom-makers (Matt 5.9) and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5.18).

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News Sources: BBC, Washington Post

Militarism and American Christians

Scot McKnight is hosting an interesting post on his blog over at Patheos. It’s written by Preston Sprinkle and is the second* of a three part series on the subject of Militarism and American Christians–it’s preemptive to his book coming out in a few months where he makes a case for non-violence among Christians (and even broader, perhaps?).

The post is here and it’s well worth the read. I appreciated Sprinkle’s position that the Old Testament seems to condemn violence more than ever supporting it. I recently attended a debate on religious violence where one of my OT professors responded as part of a panel. The atheist professor giving the initial lecture claimed, essentially, that all religion has the proclivity to generate violence (especially Christianity).  The professor from Denver Seminary noted that the Noahic covenant (and those that follow) is founded on the concept of non-violence. No man is to take blood or life because that life belongs to YHWH alone. Given that premise, Sprinkle’s explanation of various Old Testament texts makes a lot of sense.

What I struggled to follow was his jump to American politics. I agree that in the Old Testament, Israel was called to see YHWH as the warrior who fought for her and thus they entered battles with fewer men and weapons–it proved that their God had won the battle and not their own military prowess. I’m not sure that can be applied to a pluralistic society such as the United States, especially given that we no longer see battle/war/etc in the same way as the Ancient Near East. In that time everyone saw their god as leading them into battle, so war was not only among humans but also among the gods in their realm. Without that world view today, I’m not sure that Sprinkle made an appropriate leap from Hebrew military standards (or lack there of) to American military. There are also wider problems of theocracy versus secularism in terms of government structure and the questionable suggestion that God would protect the US if we were attacked in the same way He promised to protect Israel (as if the US is somehow equitable in status to chosen Israel).

That being said, as I’m processing my own thoughts on violence and war, Sprinkle’s post was quite helpful and thought provoking and I’m looking forward to the upcoming book.

__________________________________________________
Links for those posts by Preston Sprinkle are here (1) and here (2). The third in the series is yet to come.

The Dreaded Day [Politics]

By now, most of you reading will have voted. If not, you’re leaving work early to drop off the ballot or make it to the polls to stand in line for a little secretive booth where you fill in the blank who you want to lead the country.

I’ve dreading this post for over a year. E has been on me to write it, but I kept putting it off. But today is Election Day and so, in a melodramatic way, it’s now or never.

I don’t vote.

Phew! There, I said it aloud. I. Don’t. Vote.

First things first, I don’t need a lecture about responsibility or about duty. This is especially true given that my brother is currently deployed in the Air Force, I am well aware of the argument that he is “fighting to protect my right to vote” and the argument hasn’t yet convinced me. I would also prefer to not have a lecture about taking my right to vote for granted. I’ve lived in other countries. I know, okay? I know.

The reason I don’t vote is pretty simple: I can’t vote for Jesus. Now, I promise I’m not going to be Shane Claiborne-esque because I think his political opinions are quite obvious despite his consistent write in vote for Jesus. I also promise I’m not a lazy escapist who uses Jesus as a cop-out answer. So, some explanation is in order.

I don’t vote for any candidate because none represents where I stand as a Christian. An example might be made of abortion or healthcare. Someone recently summed it up neatly when he pointed out that neither party is fully pro-life. As Christians, this individual said, we should be pro-life from the womb to the grave. Neither party stands for that scope of care, but Jesus does. Since I feel torn between both parties on a number of issues, I cannot bring myself to vote for one candidate at the expense of the other party’s issues. For years, issues like these have been a battle for me and I finally resolved that I could not vote for the “lesser of two evils” because that still involved voting for evil.

I don’t vote because the political arena lacks truth. I told someone at church recently that I wish we could sit them (the candidates) down and ask them to actually be honest on one topic, just one! Please, don’t distort your opponent’s view and please just speak your plan with clarity and integrity. Impossible you say? Then why would I vote for you? Why would I participate in that?

I don’t vote because we, as believers, have started to identify our religiosity and relationship with Christ as being related to political affiliations. Politics causes a huge divide not only in the country (which does not terribly concern me) but even in the body of Christ! We might restate Paul’s words for our own time: “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…” could easily read today that “there is neither Republican nor Democrat, Liberal nor Conservative, Independent nor Green, et al” for you are all one in Christ. We’ve become so embroiled in politics that we attack believers who are our brothers and sisters because we disagree about economics, foreign policy, etc. This, my dear ones, is incredibly discouraging.

Finally, I don’t vote because of several political experiences during college in Seattle. I lived in the NW during the previous presidential election and there was a lot of tension, a lot of animosity. There was also a decent amount of misplaced emphasis. I found this to be true among friends at school and family far away. People had pictures of Obama with the word “hope” underneath—but I don’t recall the Bible or the Fathers ever telling us to put our hope in any man (or woman). There was an email I received that equated Sarah Palin with a new Esther…I don’t even know where to start with that one… You see, it is easy to be caught up, swept away and want to see our hopes for the future come to pass here and now. But we have to hold our hope for the future in tension with the fact that we live today, here, in the midst of sin and corruption.

I do not vote because too many of my friends and family have begun to put their hope in candidates. But this is not to be. Over and again, Scripture calls us to put our hope in God and God alone. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” For me, not voting is an active way of trusting God to bring about His plans for my state, the nation and the world. It is a way of saying that I will not trust men to lead us because they will always fail. I will, however, trust in the sovereignty of God and pray for those he puts in authority over me (Romans 13.1).

I do, however, think you should probably vote. With humility and grace and sorrow for the knowledge that no matter who is elected some things will go wrong despite all that may go right. So go on and vote, and be humble in the face of the One who controls all things, and gracious to those with whom you do not agree.

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For some further (and more intelligent) thoughts on the subject I would suggest two things which can be found here. Scroll down to Oct 25th to find “Thinking Biblically at the Polls” a presentation by four professors of varying backgrounds at my seminary. Also, Oct 29th is the Seminary President’s talk on the “Politics of the Gospel.”

Relevant Magazine has also provided some good thoughts: here, here and here

TheoMag has four great articles on this page.

Finally, Michael Bird’s blogging mate Joel Willitts has some brilliant thoughts and reading suggestions here.

No, I do not agree with every jot and tittle on these various articles or lectures.   They are useful for generating thought and discussion.

WHY: Reformation Day

Today, most of America will dress up in fun or scary costumes and parade through streets of decorated houses where they can collect candy and show off their outfits. Others–the older crowd which has not yet put childhood behind them but can no longer Trick or Treat door to door –will make their way through parties and bars in an escapade of costumed identity: their chance to be someone else and not be looked down on for engaging in escapism.

I, on the other hand, and several others will not be celebrating Halloween. I’ve never actually gone trick-or-treating though my family did attend “Harvest” Festivals growing up. And while this is not a polemic against Halloween and the celebration that I still can’t wrap my head around, it is an interesting juxtaposition to what my friends and I will be celebrating:

Reformation Day.

October 31st is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel. The 95 Theses were a challenge to various practices in the church of his day and were a plea for change and restoration. Luther hoped the church would find her way back to apostolic practices and greater devotion to the gospel of grace. He challenged the church and that is what we will celebrate tonight at a pub called the Cheeky Monk. We’ll lift imported Belgian Beers created by Trappist Monks and cheer his bravery as he stood against the status quo to defend the faith and the true church.  Knowing he faced excommunication and even death, Martin Luther stood firm: Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. I can hear his voice, shouting across the centuries: hold on to God. Hold firm, hold fast.

But that is not the end of Reformation Day and tonight, as we toast a great hero, we will also mourn the disaster that began nearly 500 years ago. While he may not have meant to start a revolution within the church, that is essentially what Luther helped to cause. We have around 30,000 denominations today and an incredible divide among East, West, Protestant and Catholic. Though it was not the first division within Christianity, the Reformation was perhaps the greatest rift in the history of the church. We have not been united since and the bitterness on each side can be overwhelming. I have Protestant friends who believe Catholics are an unsaved and even I myself am uncomfortable when my Romish friends refer to me as an “anonymous catholic.” The animosity on both sides can be astounding.

In a year when the country faces greater division than usual, I’m reminded of the destruction that our arguments, our pride and our preferences may cause within the church—and by extension the world. Believers hurl insults across the voting booths, towards their own brothers and sisters. But how would we know any different? If you’ve read the works of the Reformers, you know the name-calling, the belittling, the refusing to compromise and extend grace. Division is everywhere.

I’m thankful for Martin Luther and I’m glad he nailed the indicting Theses to the door of that great old church. Rome stood in error and needed correction. But the destruction that has resulted from those years of “reform” has been widespread. Today is an important day to remember the greatest commandments: love God and love one another. My prayer, as we toast the great Luther tonight, is that we will work towards unity within the church for the sake of our witness to a broken and needy world. Change must begin with us, and the place to start is our bruised and battered divided churches.

WHY: The Hunger Games

[there are spoilers regarding the plot. beware]
[this is also ridiculously long. no apologies.]

I don’t read much teen fiction. To be honest, I don’t lately read much fiction at all. I’m working through an ancient copy of Robin Hood in Old English, but other than that the last novel I read was actually for class–I just turned in the paper yesterday. I wanted to read The Hunger Games because the movie previews looked intriguing and I have this need to read the book before seeing the movie based on it. The timing for such a plan didn’t work out this time as I saw the movie on Spring Break before I was able to access the book. So I did the reverse of my normal and I saw the movie last Tuesday, but finished the book this morning over breakfast.

It was decent. I mean, let’s be honest, I don’t think Suzanne Collins’ strength is in her writing ability… it’s fairly simplistic. What is motivating is her plot line and the dialogue. The characters aren’t poorly developed, but you don’t get to see as much as you might want since it’s written in first person. Collins’ use of present tense was a good one. I’ve done some experimenting with present tense and it’s always fun to write in. I enjoyed reading it because it forces you to be a part of the novel, to experience what is going on just as the characters do. In a sense, it draws you  in and makes the story more real, more tangible, as you fly through the pages of simple writing and intensely fractured view of reality.

There’s been this storm of opinions about The Hunger Games. It’s ranked #5 on the list of banned books for 2010 thanks to violence and sexual content. You know what else made the list that year? Brave New World by Huxley was  #3 while Nickeled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenriech was #8. I’ve read them both. I can’t lie, Huxley’s book was a little disturbing as a sheltered high schooler and I didn’t like it. In college, Ehrenreich’s book changed my life, my view on poverty in America. She might be one of many reasons I live in the inner city on less than $1000 a month.

But the Hunger Games… People are angry about the violence, the situational ethics, the sexual material, the brutish and flawed government presented, as well as a thousand other tiny details. Here’s where I’m going to get myself into trouble and not support my more typical conservative opinion on the media we put in our heads. Usually, I don’t like graphic media. I don’t think that we should overly engage violence in our entertainment, and I’m all about keeping certain aspects of sexuality in the bedroom, between husband and wife. I want to follow the mandate to only focus on that which is good, pure, lovely, righteous. I think that’s why Christians have flipped a lid over The Hunger Games. A game of 24 teenagers thrown into a massive arena and told to kill or be killed while the entire event is nationally televised and the nation is required to tune in? It doesn’t sound like anything pure, lovely, or righteous. But wait before you stone me when I say this:

Kids should read this book. And I mean kids: high schoolers. middle schoolers. the whole lot of them.

Just like I had to read 1984 and Brave New World.

Collins paints a realistic and sobering picture of a dystopia. It’s a world where the districts outside the capital scrape by with very little while those inside the great city wait anxiously for each year’s new edition of The Games. It’s a reality borne of previous war and strife, a rebellion which the Capital put down and constantly reminds the districts of when they reap children (tributes) for their games. I think there are a few major reasons kids should read this, and parents or adults without kids should read it alongside them–not only to help talk through things with their children, but also for their own benefit.

Situational Ethics
It’s true, there are situational ethics in the book/movie which lends itself to a problematic view of absolute moral truth. When you’re thrown into the arena, told to kill or be killed, it doesn’t leave much room for negotiation. There simply isn’t time to consider right and wrong. Not when you are being hunted by a teenager twice your size who’s been training for this event for years (even though that’s technically illegal). It makes sense that parents and others are unnerved by the perverse lack of rules governing the games. In a post-modern world where anything that makes you happy is accepted (so long as it doesn’t infringe on my rights), people want to cling to some absolute, ethical standards.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stand up. Christians themselves accept a certain amount of situational ethics. Do I lie to the Nazis about the Jews hidden in the basement? Or do I tell the truth and get them all killed? Hm. That’s situational. That’s not a clear ethical choice, if you consider that both options are technically “wrong,” or engaging in some amount of “sin.” So you take the least of evils and you lie about the Jews and breathe a sigh of relief when you’ve saved not only your life but those who have been placed in your care.

In the Games, Katniss (the main character) says finally at the end that she doesn’t want any other tributes to die. She, by volunteering to go in her sister’s place, broke the norm of those in her district who consider the Games to be a death sentence. While in the arena, she puts on a good show for the watching world, often struggling not to openly mourn the loss of those around her. In the last few chapters, she mercifully ends Cato’s life as he is slowly being eaten alive by mutated dogs. When the end comes down to her and Peeta, the other tribute from her district, Katniss makes a choice not to kill though he is volunteering to die for her. The pair break free of the situation and the ethics found in the arena as they decide to commit suicide and end the Games without a winner. So, you see, the argument about situational ethics doesn’t hold up. This is one reason kids should read the book: to be reminded that when all the pressure of the world tells you to do something you know is wrong, you don’t have to do it. Some things aren’t worth living for.

Humanity
There are several instances of nudity in the book. These are not perverse, they are carefully crafted. During the week before the Games, Katniss and the other tributes spend time in the Capital, training and interviewing on television. They are scored on their abilities, they are the consideration of gamblers, they vie for sponsors, etc. In all this, Katniss is repeatedly dressed in various costumes, her hair is done, her face disappears under makeup, she is instructed how to act and talk, and somewhere in the mess of costumes and acting, she loses her humanity. It is not as though Katniss herself forgets humanity, but rather she becomes an object to the people around her. Those in the Capital do not see a young woman who provides for her family at home. They see only a subject to be manipulated and wagered on. When they are in the arena, it is sometimes as though the tributes forget themselves and forget that the others around them are also humans. Instead, they are only prey–as Peeta will refer to himself and Katniss when Cato hunts them. They are objects of slaughter by their fellow man, for the entertainment of those who in the Capital, who are entirely devoid of reality.

It’s important to read things like this and be reminded that “they” are always humans too. We’re in the midst of two wars. Our men, our women are still overseas–or have you forgotten? We’re facing another deployment in my family. Maybe this time the military will actually tell us where he is sent. But the thing I come back to, time and again, are the people who are already over “there.” The Afghanis, the Iraqis, and the thousand of others whose lives we are involved in without ever claiming responsibility. They are human too, they have value and worth in the eyes of God. Do we remember that? Or do we simply dehumanize them so they are easier to kill? So that they are simply objects to bet on? It’s easy to do that when there is distance, when we look at them as something to be modified, molded into our cultural likeness. It’s what the people in the Capital do. They hold Katniss and the others at arms length–able to engage them and their stories enough to make the Games interesting and entertaining; always pushing them far enough away so their deaths don’t quite matter. Our children should know better. You don’t do this with other humans, no matter the past rebellions, or the class divisions. Because people do not become animals when you throw them into the arena, no matter how they act. The imago die may be distorted but it is not erased.

Entertainment
The book and movie both acknowledge that the main point of the Hunger Games is to keep the various districts under control. But those in the Capital do not always remember the war in the same way the Districts do. For them, the Hunger Games are cause for celebration. There are parades and parties that last late into the nights. Do you see what is wrong with this? These people are celebrating the entertainment that they find in watching teenagers kill each other. I’ve started to read Amusing Ourselves to Death . It’s a brilliant expose of what is going wrong in America when we only want to be entertained, rather than required to think. The first chapter compares 1984 where we are overcome by something outside of us (i.e.: Big Brother) and A Brave New World where we are overcome by that which is inside us. His argument is that we are being destroyed by the second.

I think that the Hunger Games is a simplistic version of this argument for my generation (or the generation behind me). Collins’ shows how wrong it is to watch people kill each other as though it’s only a show. It’s a startling discourse on our obsession with entertainment without thought. For the educated, it harkens back to the battle of the Minatour when 7 boys and 7 girls were sacrificed for the city of Athens; more historically it is a science fiction version of The Games in ancient Rome when we reveled in the blood of the gladiators and slaves eaten by half starved lions. You see, this isn’t a new thing. It’s just reinvented, cleaned up with more technology and brighter colours (and noticeably less sand). It’s a question for us:

will we become the Capital?
Thirsty for entertainment to the point of throwing children to their deaths for our amusement?

or will we stand and fight when such a time comes?
Will we remember to think for ourselves and remember the value of human life?
Will we stand up to the government, as Christians,

as humans?

 

or crumble into oblivion? stupefied by our own refusal to engage?

things to read

A convicting read on the importance of being educated about a crisis rather than simply following what’s going viral on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or other social media sites.
Stop Trending and Educate Yourself 

 

A great reminder of the pressure that individuals in places of prominence find themselves under. Perhaps before jumping the gun and judging, one ought to consider the back story, the emotional stress and the way it would feel if our names were in the story instead of the person over whom we stand in condemnation.
Response to Jason Russell 

 

This article describes life at our apartment incredibly well. The author is brilliant, funny and poignant.
Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz

WHY: Politics Matter for Religious People (or, why I love the Catholic Church)

Recently, Obama went head to head with the Catholic Church. Unless you’re Martin Luther or want burned at the stake as a heretic, that’s almost never a good idea. In early February Obama announced that every employer who provides health insurance would also be required to pay for such things as contraceptives and abortion causing contraceptives. Almost immediately, the Catholic Church rose up as an institution and gave Obama  a rather emphatic “NO.”  The Catholic Church, especially in America, is often a sleeping giant. But when that giant wakes, the great institution is quite a force to be reckoned with, as Obama will be reminded through this and the continued ramifications of his healthcare plans.

Heres a bit more on the story:

When Obama announced this, a letter was written by the Archbishop for Military Services, Fr Timothy Broglio. The letter was to be read by Catholic Chaplains regarding Obama’s edict. The church, within her exercise of religious rights, denounced Obama’s proposal and explained why they and their charities would not be willing or compelled to provide care that went against religious convictions. Functioning from the church structure of top-down theology, the message was intend to alert believers under her umbrella to how the political regime had begun to interfere with religious affairs.

And the story gets better. The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains sent out an email to chaplains in the military, to inform them that the letter was not coordinated with their office and then asked that it not be read from the pulpit. The office was afraid that it might cause civil unrest. No one wants unrest. Especially not within the armed forces of a nation founded on civil unrest.

It may not seem like this is important. After all, Evangelicals gripe about policy all the time. Why is it different in this instance, except that it’s being done by Catholics? Why is it such an issue that the Army didn’t want Catholics disrupting the way things were with this letter? It makes sense, on some level, to keep religious fervor from infiltrating the military.

But it is quite a problem for believers, especially those who vote. Obama, for all his merits, championed a policy that violated the right to exercise religious freedom in their health and use of finances. The policy required Catholics and other religious groups to go against conscience. Catholics, in their institution, are rigidly pro-life and entirely against contraceptives. To force them (and others) to comply with such legislation is an attack on first amendment rights.

Not only so, but the Office of Chaplains censored free speech. If it isn’t rectified, this action could set a precedent  for future governmental actions regarding free speech. Archbishop Broglio had a right to put his pent to paper and his chaplains had a right to follow his leading and read that letter at their masses.

This thing violated rights all over the place in the First Amendment. But the Catholic Church stood up and told Obama he couldn’t do this and thus, some things have changed. Not as much as they should, but there’s been a bit of progress. Primarily, the police has taken the responsibility from the shoulders of the charities/hopsitals/etc that are run by the Catholic Church and other religious organizations. Instead, it now requires health insurance companies to cover the controversial issues, like contraceptives and those that can cause abortions. It’s a bit of a difference, but not a big enough one. It just puts the glove on the other hand since the Church is still paying for those health insurance companies….

This is why people of religious conviction should pay attention to politics and to intricate details of political power plays. If the government can censor free speech now, what might it lead to later? If they can dictate the way that a religious institution spends its money and provides for those who work within it, then what might they try to do in the future? It’s a problem of precedents, you see. It’s a matter of, if we start with this now, where will it lead?

But it’s okay, because the Catholic Church wouldn’t take it. And you don’t mess with that, especially as a politician–it’s too many votes to risk losing. Which is why, even though they do things wrong occasionally, sometimes when that ancient institution throws her weight around, it’s a really good thing. While Evangelicals are sorting out controversy over the new Calvinists, the Catholic Church is taking care of business and protecting our rights to argue: did he die only for the elect? or did he really die for everyone?

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*I do not hate Obama. I said he has merits. I think he’s done some decent things. And I’ll give him the credit he’s due for being an incredibly charismatic person. He made me hopeful when I heard him speak, standing in the cold outside Key Arena. Me, hopeful, and I’m a cynic. But this was not okay.