Category Archives: Kingdom of Heaven

Am I Still A Christian?

Doubt TillichOver the years, I’ve had people ask me, “How can you call yourself a Christian with some of the things you believe?” It’s a fair question, seeing as I don’t put much stock in a lot of orthodox beliefs anymore. The short (smartass) answer comes in two parts: 1) I’m a progressive Christian, which means I’m not hung up on a lot the stuff Christians have traditionally worried about: sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc. 2) I’m not really that good of a Christian.

But, a better question is “Why do I still call myself a Christian?” I think the answer to that will make more sense if I tell what I do and don’t believe these days.

  • The Biblical creation story _ I don’t believe the story told in Genesis is a historical, factual account of the world’s creation. The evidence presented by science about the Big Bang and evolution is overwhelming and to believe otherwise is to be willfully ignorant. That is not to say that I think the Genesis story should be tossed out. For me, it exists as myth or allegory and has to do with why we’re here, not how we got here.
  • That the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God _ I gave this one up a long time ago, if I ever really believed in the first place. That was only reinforced by the fact that, for me, learning the history of the Bible was a lot like watching sausage being made: it wasn’t pretty. The Bible has a place in my life, to be sure. But, it’s not the be all, end all of things.
  • The Virgin Birth _  I no longer believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. That’s just not how biology works. Besides, the whole thing is based on a mistranslation of one word. In my opinion, the virgin birth story was a literary device that, like several other historically questionable events in the birth narratives, was meant to show that Jesus was special. Personally, I prefer to spend my time working on living the way he taught than how he was conceived.
  • An actual physical resurrection _ A few years ago, there was a bit of a dust-up between Tony Jones and Marcus Borg about whether the resurrection was physical or spiritual, with Jones arguing for physical. As I followed this discussion (between Jones and his detractors. Marcus was smart enough not to get down in the mud with them), I began to realize I had trouble accepting that Jesus’ body was reanimated and he walked around in it. The best I can do with this one is to believe that something happened in that tomb that inspired his followers to carry on, even in the face of persecution, oppression and death at the hands of the state.
  • The Trinity _ Actually, saying I don’t believe in the Trinity isn’t accurate. A better way to put it would be that I don’t really give a shit. Like the preceding items on this list, I don’t see how spending any time on it makes me a better follower of Jesus, so why bother?
  • Whether God even exists _ I suppose this makes me more of agnostic than anything else. I say this because I’ve never had that moment that some people talk about where God knocked me to my knees. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt the presence of God at any point in my life. At least, not in the way others have spoken of.

So, in light of all this, why do I still call myself a Christian? Because the way Jesus taught us to live is a pretty damn decent one. It  definitely makes makes me a better person. And, understand when I say “the way Jesus taught us to live”, I’m not talking about the perversion that is American Christianity, I mean what he actually said: love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, forgive those who treat you badly, don’t hoard your wealth, share with those who have less…, you get the picture.

Remembering History: The Greensboro Sit-ins

I wrote the first version of this post three years ago. Since this is the anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-ins, I thought this would a good time to dust it off and give you an updated version. Enjoy.

The Greensboro Sit-ins at their height: 63 of 66 seats taken by African-American students waiting to be served. It only took 6 months for them to get a bite to eat.

57 years ago today, four college students walked in and sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N. C. Now, a group of people sitting down at the lunch counter wasn’t a big deal; it happened every day. But, this? This was different.

You see, these four young men, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair (now Jibreel Khazan) and David Richmond, were African-American and African-Americans were not served at this particular lunch counter. If a black person wanted to eat at Woolworth’s, they went to the counter in the basement. But, under no circumstances did they sit down at the main counter upstairs, a custom that prevailed in Woolworth stores across the south in those days.

But, these four 17-year-old freshmen did just that, politely asking to be served. Eventually, the manager asked them to leave, but they didn’t; they stayed on those stools until closing time. The next morning, the four, later known as the Greensboro Four, were back along with 20 of their peers, including students from Bennett College (a historically black women’s college in Greensboro). On the third day, 60 students showed up. By the fourth day, the crowd had grown to more than 300 people and 63 of the 66 seats at the lunch counter occupied by young African-Americans with final three seats taken by waitresses. That must have been a sight to see.

At first, Woolworth’s stood by their policy, stating they would abide by local custom and keep the counter segregated. But, after 6 months of bad sales and worse publicity, they relented and opened it anyone. The story doesn’t end there, however.

The actions of these four young men started a chain reaction, with sit-ins happening all over the south which led to the desegregation of not just lunch counters, but other places as well. In May of 1960, a group of Nashville students led by John Lewis, the Georgia congressman our president recently accused of all talk and no action, achieved citywide desegregation. The genie was out of the bottle and there was no going back.

The sit-ins also led the SCLC to fund a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh N. C. for delegates from the sit-in centers, 19 northern colleges and groups like CORE, and the SDS . Out of this conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed. To say the sit-ins changed the face of the civil rights movement is an understatement. Sometimes, I wonder if it would have nearly as successful if those four young men hadn’t walked into Woolworth’s that day.

I grew up in Greensboro and, for North Carolina, it’s a pretty progressive town. I’m not sure why, Maybe, it’s because this area was originally settled by Quakers, a group known for being progressive. Guilford County was a stop on the Underground Railroad and Levi Coffin, one of the most well-known conductors, grew up here. And, of course, there are the Sit-ins.

But Greensboro has a split personality when it comes to race and civil rights. Yes, it was here that sit-ins brought new attention to the civil rights movement. But, it was also here that, in 1979, a group of Nazis and Klansmen shot and killed 5 protesters in what is known as the Greensboro Massacre. Go figure.

Here in the United States, we’ve come a long way regarding equality. Jim Crow laws are pretty much a thing of the past (the overt ones, at least). Black people are welcome in any establishment in the city and their employment opportunities have increased. Sounds good, huh?

On the surface, maybe. But, according to the latest data, almost 1 in 5 people in this city live below the poverty line and most of them are black. And, in the last few years, North Carolina has enacted new voting laws that purposely make it harder for African-Americans to vote. To top it all off, the President of the United States is a black man and has been subjected to more vitriol than any president in recent memory. The intransigence that seems to be a part of American (especially southern) DNA, can be discouraging. When it is, reading about what happened in 1960 lifts my spirits. If we could make those changes, the ones facing us today aren’t so bad. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

Who’s It Hurting?

Larry the Cable Guy
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve had about all I can stand of Dan Whitney’s faux southern redneck pose.

On Dan Whitney, Political Correctness and Trans Issues

For reasons unbeknownst to me now, there was a time when I found Dan Whitney’s faux southern redneck pose (aka Larry The Cable Guy) funny. I shouldn’t have; even if you leave out all the racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ crap he spews, it’s still offensive to southerners because it paints us as semi-literate bumpkins who glory in their ignorance. And, isn’t that a lovely stereotype?

Whitney defends his schtick by saying it gets laughs. Once, to illustrate this point, he told one of his jokes as Dan Whitney, sans accent and ignorance and it fell flat. Then, he told it again as “Larry” and the audience ate it up. Basically, he’s taking the easy way out. Instead of writing better material, he chooses to pander to his audience’s baser instincts. When you have the kind of voice Whitney does, using it this way is deplorable.

What Whitney is doing is playing on working class white folks’ fear of change, and railing against “political correctness” is one of the best ways of doing so. Political correctness, of course, is the term certain people like to use when they demonize others for, basically, not being a dick. And, by “not being a dick”, I mean “not using language that offends others”. It never ceases to amaze me that some folks think this is a bad thing.

Unfortunately, being “politically incorrect” isn’t just a part of his “Larry, the Cable Guy” persona; it’s a part of being Dan Whitney. Last month, on his Sirius XM “Weekly Roundup” program, he went off on a political rant which included his disgust with people who are transgender, saying “Look, if you have a penis, you’re a boy. If you have a vagina, you’re a girl, That’s how it is.” Seriously? The fact that this guy gets standing ovations when he performs just makes me sad.

Now, I could list all sorts of valid research to counter Whitney’s claim; god knows there’s plenty of it out there. But, most likely, I would be wasting my breath because a lot of the people who agree with this sort of thing aren’t swayed by research or science, or pretty much anything else. So, instead, I’ll ask this question: Who’s it hurting?

The answer, of course, is no one. What is does is upset the straight, cisgender apple cart and some people have a problem with that. And, if I’m being honest, I can relate. As a straight, cisgender man, I have no problems whatsoever with people who are gay or bisexual and trans men and women don’t bother me in the least. But, effeminate men are a different story. Especially one who’s genderqueer and intentionally blurs the line between male and female. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but lipstick and a five o’clock shadow freak me the hell out.

But, but freaked out as I may be, I still don’t tell these guys to “BE A DAMN MAN!!!” I think it, sometimes, but I never say it. Why? Because I’ve seen what happens to someone when they’re not allowed to be the person they truly are and, believe me, it is deadly. So, if you’re one of those folks who agree with Whitney on this, I want you to remember what I just said the next time you want to spew some bullshit about your genitalia defining who you are. What they’re doing isn’t hurting you in the least, but what you’re doing? It’s killing them.

No One Leaves Home…

Refugees
3:30 in the morning is entirely too damn early to get up, even if you only have to pee. When that’s the case, you can stagger to the bathroom and handle your business without turning on any lights or anything else that will wake you up enough to prevent going back to sleep. Getting up at 3:30 because you have to be somewhere is a different story and that’s the case for me today. I write this, sitting at the hospital in Mt. Airy while my mom has knee replacement. With that in mind, I’ll ask you to forgive me if I take the easy way out and give you a post mostly composed of words from other people.

Yesterday, during the early service at church, one of the pastors read a poem from Somali-British author/editor/poet/teacher, Warshan Shire, titled “Home”.

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying
leave,
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

In 1934, a little less than a year after the Nazi’s passed their “Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring”,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke at the Fanø Ecumenical Conference and said:

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security… To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying down the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”

 

The Real Christian Candidate?

Vote Jesus Christ

In country whose founding fathers swore wasn’t based on any religion, Christianity plays a humongous role in American political life. To get any traction in a political campaign, it’s pretty much a given that a candidate has to lay out their faith credentials for all to see. And, it’s also pretty much a given that those credentials had better be of the Christian variety if said candidate wants to get elected to anything, down to and including dog catcher (or whatever the lowest possible elected office is these days). There are, of course, exceptions like Keith Ellison, who’s a Muslim, or Pete Stark and Barney Frank, both atheists. Interestingly, Frank didn’t mention his non-believer status until after he retired, but had no problem coming out as gay while still in office, 25 years ago. If that doesn’t speak to America’s obsession with Christianity, I don’t know what does.

This religious fetish is…, let’s say problematic, for most progressives (not to mention infuriating for atheists), but it does exist. However, since this is the way things are, why don’t we see who the real Christian candidate is in the race for president? Now, don’t get bent out of shape when I say “the real Christian candidate”; I’m not talking about who adheres to the twisted evangelical/fundamentalist version that prevails in this country today. I mean which candidate’s policies most closely follow the words and teachings of Jesus. You know, the guy we Christians claim to follow? Since we have to have a way to determine this, I’ll use following scriptures: Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 5-7, Mark 10:17-27,  Matthew 25:31-42 and John 13:34, as they capture what I believe is the essence of Jesus’ message.

So, weighed against these passages, who is the most Christian of all the candidates running for the highest office in the land? Strangely enough, it’s a non-religious Jewish guy named Bernie Sanders. Even a cursory look at his campaign’s website shows that Sanders’ policies (especially those concerning economic and justice issues) hit more of the points addressed in these scriptures than anyone else in the race, Republican or Democrat. Oh sure, there are places where other candidates may come closer, but taken as a whole, Sanders is most Christian of all the people running for president this time out. Well, except for that whole “not being a Christian” thing.

But wait, you say, Bernie’s a socialist! How can a socialist be a Christian? While we can’t say that Jesus was actually a socialist (mostly because that label didn’t exist in the 1st century), I’d have to say he was closer to that than a capitalist. And, the early church (as described in Acts 2:42-47) was the quintessential commune. And, that’s “commune” in the communist sense, not just a bunch of people living together. The truth is, the actual Kingdom of Heaven as described by Jesus sounds a lot more like a Israeli kibbutz than anything you’ll find in Atlas Shrugged (a book that holds at least as much sway in conservative circles as the Bible these days). I know that’s hard on the American ear, what with our mania for individualism, but it’s the truth.

Now, some of you might accuse me of stumping for Bernie and maybe I am. But, the fact is, I won’t be voting for any candidate until the general election because I’m an independent (North Carolina doesn’t allow us indies to vote in primaries).That means I’m about as close to a disinterested party as you’re going to find these days. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that if i could vote, I’d probably pull the lever for Bernie (at least in part because I really don’t like Hillary). So, what was the point of all this? Basically, I find it interesting that a) the candidate whose platform most closely follows Christian tenets isn’t even a member of that religion and b) that man’s platform is considered by most Christians as “socialist”, as if that’s a bad thing. Only in America, my friends. Only in America.

An Open Letter To Parents Of Transgender Kids

openletter

Dear Conservative Christian Parents of kids who are transgender;

You probably don’t know me, but I know you. I’ve been where you are and I know what you’re going through, right now. Well, not exactly; while I have been a Christian most of my life, I’ve never really been a conservative one. But, I am the father of a transgender child. I say that so you’ll know I’m not some expert sitting in my ivory tower, telling you how to parent or live your faith; I’m a down-in-the-trenches dad who’s going through the same stuff you are.

You see, I know it’s hard to be the parent of someone whose identity doesn’t match their assigned sex. Heck, it’s hard enough to be a parent when everything goes “right”; throw in a hitch like this “trans” thing and it’s even gets really hard. And, a lot of the messages coming from certain pulpits just add to that difficulty. They aren’t good and most of them aren’t biblical. At best, they have a nodding acquaintance with scripture, but are twisted and taken out of context to further an agenda that is harmful to your child. Let me break a few of them down for you.

  • “God doesn’t make mistakes”
    True, God doesn’t make mistakes. Your child is a beautiful gift from God and was born they way they were for a reason. I don’t know what that reason might be, but it’s out there and it’s up to all of us to work together and find it.
  • “Why would a loving God create someone who would have endure the persecution that trans people deal with?” 
    Okay, this one isn’t one I’ve seen a lot, but it is a question that I spent a lot of time wrestling with. And, here’s what I came up with: God isn’t the problem here, we are. The last commandment Jesus gave his followers was to love one another and the way we treat people who are trans falls so far short of that, it’s pathetic. Last year, 21 people who are transgender have been murdered and as much 40% of the homeless youth population is either gay or trans. Statistics like these make me want to cry. I hope they do the same to you.
  • “It’s okay to reject your kids”
    Not only is it “okay” to reject your kids, in some circles, it’s required. This is one of those ideas that isn’t biblical. 1 Timothy 5:8 says “But if someone doesn’t provide for their own family, and especially for a member of their household, they have denied the faith. They are worse than those who have no faith.” Understand this isn’t just about kicking your kid out because you feel that they’ve rejected God by their lifestyle choice; “providing” for your family goes beyond the mere physical (housing, food, etc.), it includes the love and support that only a parent can supply.
  • “The Bible is clear about transgenderism: it’s a sin.”
    Actually, the Bible is anything but clear on this subject because it doesn’t really talk about it. There are a few passages in the Old Testament that can be twisted, cherry-picked or tortured into sounding like they do, but when you look at them in context, it all falls apart. Jesus never mentioned anything about it and, while Paul gets trotted out when this comes up…, well, Paul’s a little problematic on the issue. The ending of Romans 1 (a common passage when any LGBT issues are discussed) isn’t about trans people, he’s talking about what, today, we would call pedophiles. 1 Corinthians 6:9 is another bit of text that is often used to condemn people who are trans. But, here’s the thing: the word that’s responsible for all that, malakoi, is a slang term and no one really knows what Paul meant by it. The best scholars have come up with is “soft men”. What the heck is a “soft man”? When I asked my pastor that question, he said “Me, after visiting Donut World” (FYI, Donut World is the most awesome donut shop in the world and is located in Greensboro, NC). Like I said, the Bible is anything but clear on this.

Now, let’s talk about a few realities parenting a transgender child.

  • Being a parent to a transgender child can be scary.
    As I said in an earlier point, people who are transgender are much more susceptible to violence than people who are cisgender (i.e. what most folks consider “normal”). They are also more likely to suffer discrimination. I know these are frightening things for a parent to contemplate. But, they are real and you need to know about them in order to help your child survive to become the person God create them to be.
  • “One way or another, you’re going to lose your child unless you learn to accept them for who they are.”
    This one comes from a counselor I spoke to recently and it’s right on the money. What it means is that, if you don’t accept the fact that your child’s identity and their biologically assigned sex don’t match up, one of two things is going to happen: 1) they will walk out of your life and have little or nothing to do with you or 2) the strain of being forced to deny their true selves will drive them to suicide or other self-destructive behaviors. I know that’s harsh, but it’s true and you need to hear it.
  • Your reluctance is to accept your child’s identity is selfish.
    Think about it for a minute: if you gave birth to a girl who later realizes that (s)he is actually a boy, what damage does it do to you to accept that and love them for who they are? On the other hand, denying their identity can cause terrible damage (see previous point). Which option should a good parent choose?

I’ll end this with a personal story. A couple of years ago, my son came  out as transgender and began to transition in the past year. Prior to that, he suffered from anxiety and depression so crippling that, many days, he couldn’t function. Counseling and medication helped a little, but I worried that he would be confined to some terrible half life and never reach his full potential. In the months since he began transition, he is a new person. He has job, he’s working on getting his driver’s license and the counseling and meds for his other conditions are finally having the desired effect. I credit this to having the weight of living a false life lifted off his shoulders. If that’s a sin, I’ll take a boatload.

 

It’s (Not) The End Of The World

End of the world

I have to admit I was a little bummed last week, when I missed the opportunity to write about yet another End Times “prediction”; aka, the blood moon. Well, as bummed as one can be while on vacation in the (sub)tropical paradise that is Florida’s Tampa Bay area. Early in the week, when this story was actually relevant, I was having some computer problems after “upgrading” to Windows 10 and by the time I got it all sorted out (which cost me $100. Thanks a lot, Microsoft), the iron really wasn’t hot enough to strike anymore. With more than a little sadness, I let it go; figuring I could use it for background sometime in the future. Imagine my elation when I read that someone else claims the world is going to end today, a little more than a week from the earlier prediction.

In a series of podcasts, online Christian broadcaster Chris McCann informed us that, “According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away.” McCann is basing his theory on an earlier prediction by Harold “Save the Date” Camping, who said The Rapture™ would occur on May 21, 2011. And, when that didn’t pan out, changed his prediction to say that the world would end 5 months later, on October 21. McCann, using what has to be some of the most impressive mental gymnastics ever, has decided that A) on May 21, 2011, God stopped saving people and B) October 7th marks the 1600th day since that happened, so it’s all going down today…, maybe. You see, McCann did learn something from Camping’s little boo-boo. Not “better understanding of the text” or anything else so mundane, of course. No, what Brother Chris seems to have gathered from the shitstorm that surrounded Camping’s failed attempt at prophecy is “hedge your bets”.

Everything I’m reading from this latest “the world is gonna end!” hysteria is filled with phrases such as “strong likelihood” and “it does appear that”. McCann even goes so far as to say that there is “an unlikely possibility” that we won’t have a hot time of it today (because God will burn all this shit up, per 2 Peter 3:10). Is it just me or is that some weak tea when it comes to an end-of-the-world prediction? I don’t know about you, but I prefer my End Times prophets to have a little more conviction than McCann is showing. I mean, shit, if you’re not sure you believe it, why should I?

As have others in the past, McCann’s divination has me wondering where all this…, “stuff”, came from. Because, after engaging in some bible study, I know that most of what they go on about isn’t even in the Bible. Of course, that brings up the question of why do people believe it if it’s not in there?  I think it’s because that nutjob Darby came up with a cracker jack story. You’ve got to admit that while futurism might be sucky theology, it does makes one hell of a science fiction/fantasy tale. In fact, it already has. I’m speaking of the Left Behind series, of course. And, maybe I’m reaching here, but an amazing story is the only way I can think of that explains the popularity of books whose writing makes “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Gray” come off like classical literature.

I know this is a bitter pill to swallow, but we must face facts: the historical interpretation of Revelation (e.g., it’s “the declaration that Jesus will return, justice will be granted to the oppressed, and all things will be made new“) is nowhere near as interesting as the craziness version that occurs in “Left Behind”. While we’re at it, we should also admit that, unless you’ve spent a lot of time studying it, the book of Revelation makes about as much sense as the space opera back story of Scientology. I mean, seriously, is there really that much difference between Lord Xenu loading several billion of his citizens onto Douglas DC-8’s and sending them to Earth, only to be killed by h-bombs exploding inside volcanoes (to steal a line from South Park, “This is what Scientologists actually believe”) and the fifth angel’s trumpet unleashing hordes of scorpion-locusts whose sting inflicts such terrible pain that people try to kill themselves, but can’t die or a skanky chick riding on 7-headed beast that’s covered in blasphemous names? They both sound like mushroom dreams; but only one of them is about “what happened when God got religion.”

Do you honestly think an appeal to reason is going to stand up against that kind of thing? Hell, we can’t even get conservatives to understand that the Planned Parenthood videos are full of shit when the evidence is right under their noses, so what makes anyone think  boring explanations about what Revelation actually means won’t fall flat? Part of me says we need to come up with a story that can compete with dispensationalism, but another part says that reinterpreting scripture to counter a reinterpretation of scripture makes about as much sense as saying the Beast of Revelation 13 is the Anti-Christ when that term doesn’t even appear in Revelation. (See what I did there?) But, right now, we’re pretty much fiddling while Rome burns (A Nero reference. Get it?) and we all know how that ended up.

What The Hell, People?

Today, more than ever, I want this shirt.
Today, more than ever, I want this shirt.

In the past 24 hours, it has come to my attention that:

  1. A majority of Republicans believe the President is actually a Muslim.
  2. That just as many think he wasn’t born in the U. S., while 40% of that same group believe that Ted Cruz was.
  3. More than 60% want to amend the Constitution to end birthright citizenship.

After seeing all this, I have to ask: What the hell, people?

Lest you think I’m making any of this up, allow me to cite my source. These items come from a report released yesterday by Public Policy Polling. According to PPP, 54% of the GOP electorate believes that Barak Obama is a Muslim. Now, I’m not really sure what difference that makes, since Article 6 of the U. S. Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”, but we’re so far down the fucking rabbit hole here that applying logic and reason doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So,  what the hell, let’s talk about this crazy-ass idea. The man has stated multiple times that he is a Christian, has told of his conversion experience and lives a life that I would consider very Christian. At a town hall meeting in 2010, he said he “came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead — being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.” Now, I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like he’s got a better grasp of what being a Christian is about than any of his detractors.

Next up is the idea the President was not born in the United States, but Ted Cruz was. This despite releasing both the short (in 2008) and long forms (in 2011) of his birth certificate which show his place of birth as Hawaii, the repeated debunking of multiple false claims about his citizenship and the fact that Cruz has never concealed the fact that he was born in Canada. In fact, last year Cruz renounced the Canadian citizenship that was his because, like the U. S., Canada automatically grants citizenship to anyone born there. Okay, then.

While we’re on the subject of citizenship, let’s talk about this 14th Amendment idea. Again, we look to the PPP report, which tells us that 63% of Republicans want to repeal at least a portion of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution; specifically, the part that grants birthright citizenship. That’s interesting coming from people who claim to revere the document so much that many of them carry a pocket-sized version of it everywhere they go. It appears, however, that reverence exists only so long as it doesn’t contradict their beliefs. But, what’s even more interesting is the list of politicians backing this change, a list that includes one Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio, both second-generation Americans who benefitted from that clause in the 14th Amendment. To quote George Takei:

What the fuck is in the water Republicans are drinking these days? You know, for a party that embraces Christianity the way the GOP does, most of their positions don’t seem to reflect a damn thing the man actually taught. Jesus, a Jew, included Samaritans and Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven that he spoke of on many occasions. And, Paul said in Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, even from an overtly religious viewpoint, the President’s faith shouldn’t make difference. And, the Bible tells us in many places that we are to welcome immigrants and treat them with respect and kindness, not kick them out with extreme prejudice. So, what’s up with all the bullshit? Come on, Republicans, and join us in the real world. Sure, it’s a little scary, but it’s still better than that Fox News fantasy land you’re living in now.

NC’s Own Westboro Baptist Church?

Yesterday, after a great worship service and breakfast with my friends, I walked out of church to this:20150823_104834

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, beloved, these people are protesting my church. Why? I’m not really sure; I wanted to ask, but they wouldn’t stop preaching at me long enough for me to get a word in. So, I just took the picture, laughed and went on my way.

You might think that this would end there and it probably should. But I’ve never been the object of a protest before and I’ll admit, it left me a little rattled. I mean, it’s one thing to see these jokers on television, or even to drive by them while they spew their bile at whoever they happen to hate at any given moment. But, it’s a little different when it’s you they’re calling “filth” and a “stench in God’s nostrils”. I spent most of yesterday trying to process this before I remembered something Chris Hardwick said: “Comedians make jokes about horrible things because, as humans, this our defense mechanism for trying to process those horrible things and gain power over them.” Now, calling me a comedian might be stretching things a bit and I don’t have a show like Hardwick to work this stuff out.  On the other hand, I am a smart ass with a blog. So, let’s get processing!

A little earlier, I said I didn’t know why these douche canoes decided to picket our church, but that’s not exactly true. Sure, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise when I first saw them, but one look at their sign told me exactly what their problem might be: We’re a welcoming and affirming Baptist church. Really? That’s the best you’ve got? Hell, it’s no secret that we’re cool with folks who are LGBT+; it’s plastered all over our website and we held an anti-Amendment 1 rally a few years ago. Seriously, if you going to go to all the trouble protest someone, do your homework. There are so many other things we do and/or believe that would drive these guys crazy. Like the fact that we don’t use the KJV exclusively, teach from books other than Bible now and then, “encourage” doubt by allowing members to ask questions, occasionally have secular music during service and, perhaps worst of all, allow women in positions of leadership. I’m sorry, fellows, but this was just lazy activism.

I’m not sure exactly who they are or where they’re from because, when I finally got a chance to talk to them, they wouldn’t say. All they’d cop to was that they weren’t local. Whether that’s because they’ve been threatened with violence or are afraid someone might show up and protest at their church (as so many people have done to those trolls at Westboro Baptist Church), I couldn’t say. But, it seems to me that if this is the case, you might want to reconsider your message.

Interestingly, these folks staged their “protest” right beside a sign that reads, “Where loving God means loving people.” And, when I say “right beside”, I mean that literally: they were like 10 feet away from it. So, let me get this straight, you’re spewing hate in God’s name while standing next to a sign that references a passage from the Bible? Sadly, the irony of it all seemed to be lost on them. Of course, that reference wasn’t taken directly from the Authorized King James Version of 1611, so maybe they were confused.

Their sign lists Hebrews 12:8 as a reference for their claim that people who are LGBT+ are nothing but bastards. But, let’s look at that passage and see what it says:But if you don’t experience discipline, which happens to all children, then you are illegitimate and not real sons and daughters.” Hmm, nothing about gay folks in there at all. To be fair, though, when I finally got a chance to have a bit of conversation with our visitors, one of them said that they weren’t just talking about homosexuality, but “all sin”: fornicators, liars, thieves, porn watchers like he “used to be”(that’s what he said, I’m not questioning his honesty there), etc. In other words, we’re all bastards. And, while this does seem to echo Will Campbell’s “Gospel in 7 words“, he forgets the most important part: yes, we are all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

I have to say, however, that just talking to these guys was exhausting because they couldn’t say three words in row without it turning into a sermon. And, the hostility? It came off of them in waves. But, I’m proud of my church family, because they didn’t let those ugly signs and the toxic theology get to them. Our pastor invited them in for breakfast and offered them some water (for a heathenous false teacher leading us all straight to hell, he’s not a bad guy).  And, one of the ladies who prepared breakfast took some food and water out to them; they wouldn’t touch it, though. Maybe they were afraid some “gay” might’ve gotten on it, I don’t know. Of course, it probably didn’t help that when she took out to them, she tipped her head at one of them and sweetly asked the other, “Is he your partner?”

I find it interesting that these people were quoting the Bible and “calling out sin”, but seemed to be completely ignorant of Matthew 7:1-2. You  know the one that says, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you.” Or, James 4:12, who said “There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you?” Funny how that works, huh?

I’m not sure what their endgame was, but I suspect that, on some level, they hoped that all their preaching, sign-holding and Bible-waving would cause us all to see the error of our ways and we’d fall to our knees and ask God’s forgiveness. Or, failing that, maybe some college student would hear their “message” and turn from the life of depravity that they had been living. Yes, because nothing brings a person to God quicker than the knowledge that God “hates” them and wants them to burn in Hell for living the life God created them to live in the first place. That is such a compelling argument.

Okay, this thing is getting a little out of hand, so I’ll close with something my son, Parker, had to say about the whole thing: “If you have protesters outside your church, completely unprovoked, you must be doing something right.” That’s the way I’m looking at it, anyway.

First Church of Tax Exemption

satire def

After his tour de force as interim host on The Daily Show in 2013, John Oliver moved over to HBO to host his own program, “Last Week Tonight“. There, he takes a more in-depth look at various subjects like Sex Ed, prison sentences, transgender rights, the tobacco industry and nutritional supplements. If you haven’t watched any of those, I highly recommend that you do. Oliver’s satire is bitingly funny and incredibly informative. Sunday night, he turned that satire on this question: Should churches be tax exempt?

Oliver’s latest episode actually concentrated on televangelists who preach prosperity gospel. I thought I knew the depths to which these shysters would sink, but I was oh, so wrong; as bad as I thought it was, it’s worse. Watching these people brag about how God has “blessed” them and then beg for more money from people who can’t afford it made my skin crawl. But, the worst was when Gloria Copeland claimed that watching her god-damned TV show was a better way to be “healed” of cancer than actually seeking treatment. As a cancer survivor (who has been through the hell of chemotherapy not once, but twice), I almost became physically ill. I cannot believe that shit is legal.

What’s even more unbelievable is that these assholes take in tons of money and much of it tax exempt. Mega-mansions, jets that cost millions of dollars, garages full of expensive luxury cars and just about every bit is tax-free. Why? Why are these assholes able to live in a manner that would make Pharoah blush and pay no taxes while the people who fund their lifestyle aren’t much better off than the Israelites enslaved by Pharoah go broke taking up their slack with the IRS? It’s that pesky “separation of church and state” thing, of course. Sounds to me like some changes to the Constitution might be in order.

This is a real problem, people. And, isn’t just televangelists and mega-churches, it’s all churches. I mean, let’s face it, for every big, flashy house of worship pushing prosperity gospel on the public dime, there are thousands more small community-based churches out there getting over on us by feeding people, helping them find housing and clothing, assisting with employment related activities (resumes, applications, internet access, etc.), affordable pre/after-school care for working families and generally providing a support system for their communities. Even worse, some of them have the nerve to complain that removing their tax-exempt status would have a serious negative impact on their ability to continue providing those services. What? Can you believe the chutzpah of these moochers?

Look, it’s high time that churches and other religious organizations paid their fair share when it comes to taxes. Will that mean some small, local organizations that do the good work Oliver mentions in the beginning of his show go out of business? Yes, it does. Will removing churches tax exempt status mean that some people lose their job because their organization can’t afford to keep them or maybe even stay open? Yes, it does. And, if those organizations go out of business, does that mean that the people they help will be left high and dry since many of them fall between the cracks that are inevitable with government programs like TANF and SNAP? Yes, it does. Yeah, I know it sucks and I’m sorry about that, but you know what they say: You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Is my fault that I’m not one of those eggs?