Category Archives: Faith

How can we have a ‘War on Christmas’ when it’s not even Advent for three more weeks?

Central Park detail

Detail from a family picture taken on Black Friday 2007 in a frigid Central Park.

When I met Howard Duvall at Starbucks the other day, I was delighted to see that they’d started using the red holiday cups. I have a lot of pleasant associations with that annual sign of the season, such as the time three of my kids and I stayed warm with such cups on a Black Friday visit to a bitterly cold New York (see above).

Some people, however, see the cups’ arrival as an opportunity to increase the amount of division in the world:

Starbucks has come under fire from some Christians who say the company isn’t repping hard enough for Jesus on its recent understated holiday cups. The problem? Political correctness, according to one evangelical.

“I think in the age of political correctness we become so open-minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head,” Joshua Feuerstein said in a widely viewed anti-Starbucks rant on Facebook titled “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus.” “Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red.”…

Everyone has his or her peeves. Here’s one of mine…

Why on Earth would I expect to see “Christmas” on a coffee cup on Guy Fawkes Day? That’s more than three weeks before Advent even starts, much less Christmas. You want to complain about Christmas being underplayed, get back to me sometime between Dec. 25 and the Feast of the Epiphany.ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

When I get a red cup on Nov. 5, it really is a holiday cup, since it will span the period that includes our first experiences of cold weather, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. It’s about celebrating a season — you know, the holiday season, and yeah, that includes Hanukkah. Maybe New Year’s, too (I’m not clear on when they stop using the cups).

If your excuse for protesting is that you are a Christian, how about checking out a liturgical calendar sometime? Yeah, I know, not every Christian is in a liturgical church, but come on — just how early do you want the Merry Christmases to start?

McCartney’s enthusiasm for Guy Fawkes Day creeps me out a bit

I say that on account of my being Catholic and all.

I reTweeted this from Paul McCartney yesterday, which included a picture of him that appears to be from his “Maybe I’m Amazed” period:

But this was a classic case of a reTweet not constituting an endorsement.

Now, y’all know that I’m an Anglophile from way back. I generally love English traditions, including some of those involving fire.

But I’m a bit squeamish about the one that involves burning in effigy a Catholic-rights activist who in reality was tortured by English authorities before being drawn, hung and quartered.

OK, granted, we’re not talking Pope Francis here: Guy Fawkes was a terrorist who intended to blow up the king and Parliament and had the explosives to do it.

But still. The English had already been oppressing Catholics for Fawkes’ entire life and then some, and they used the Gunpowder Plot as an excuse to step that persecution up and continue it for most of the next 400 years. The celebration, unless I mistake, was of a victory over the Pope and papists as much as over a terrorist cell.

Which I kind of resent, because, you know, we’re not all terrorists.

So excuse me if I’m not too thrilled about your bonfire there, Paul…

 

Come hear ‘nun on the bus’ Simone Campbell Tuesday

Remember Sister Simone Campbell, the representative of the “Nuns on the Bus” who spoke so eloquently at the Democratic National Convention in 2012?

Well, tomorrow night — Tuesday, Oct. 27 — she will deliver this year’s Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Lecture at USC’s Capstone at 6 p.m.

The title of her speech is “Bridge the Divides, Transform Politics: A View from the Bus.” From the flyer:

Campbell flyer

Come on out and listen. I expect it to be inspiring.

Face it: The Pope is an equal-opportunity meeter

And now today, folks are making a fuss over this story:

Pope Francis met with a friend who is gay, and his partner, while in D.C.

A longtime friend of Pope Francis who is openly gay said Friday that he and his partner met with the pontiff during his recent trip to Washington, adding a new layer of fodder for Americans who are riveted by this pope and are scrutinizing his words and actions for affirmation of their own views….

Earlier, everyone was going on about the Pope meeting with the Kentucky clerk who didn’t want to sign off on same-sex marriages. Like that meant something. Even though the Vatican says it didn’t:

While conservative opponents of same-sex marriage have hailed the Francis-Davis meeting as validation of their cause, the Vatican said Friday that the encounter was not meant as an endorsement of all of Davis’s actions and views.

“The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” a Vatican statement said….

Face it, the guy likes people. He meets with them. From old friends to fallen-away Catholics such as Kim Davis.

That said, while I fully understand why the pontiff wanted to hug his gay friend, I don’t know why he met with Kim Davis as opposed to the millions of other people he could have had short private meetings with. Perhaps, as some conspiracy theorists have it, he was duped into it. Although I doubt that. This pope doesn’t do what he doesn’t want to do.

And he likes people. Including people you, or I, would rather he not meet with.

Personally, I was a little disappointed that he met with Ms. Davis, and not exactly for the same reasons that those who think people who oppose same-sex marriage are “haters” were. Every gesture makes a point (and this Pope is a genius of gestures and what they communicate), and any useful point to have been made by meeting with the clerk — re religious freedom — was made far more effectively and appropriately in his meeting with the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Little Sisters are clearly in the right in their assertion of religious freedom — speaking from a Catholic perspective. And you know, while a lot of people who want him to be something else tend to forget it, the Pope is Catholic. They are a private, religious entity that the government is trying to force to do something against their beliefs.

Kim Davis, by contrast, is an elected public employee, with an obligation to perform her duties in complete accordance with the law as it exists, not as she would wish it to be. If she wishes to avoid conflict with her conscience, she can resign her public office. Big difference between that and being a private actor, like night and day.

Although it occurs to me that the difference between public and private, so obvious to those of us who live with and embrace the 1st Amendment, may not seem quite as stark to an Argentine of Italian abstraction. I don’t know. In any case, if he did meet with Ms. Davis to make a point, it likely would have been more about standing up for your principles than about same-sex unions or even contraception.

(Although, that said, his willingness to meet with dissidents here, in a free country, makes it seem even worse that he didn’t meet with Cuban dissidents in that oppressive country. I have a theory about that: He’s trying hard to open up Cuba to the Gospel, and doesn’t want to push too hard while the Castros are being so welcoming. The stakes are higher there, and gestures can have more severe consequences, especially upon those very dissidents, once the Pope leaves. He was, after all, a guest in both countries — and this country is infinitely more tolerant of in-your-face political gestures than Cuba is.)

Anyway, people shouldn’t overreact to these things. We get these extremes. The Pope meets with Kim Davis, and they’re all like, “He hates gay people!” Instead of concluding that, unlike a lot of people, he just doesn’t hate Kim Davis.

Then he meets with his gay friend, and they’re like, “He loves gay people!”

Well, of course he does. He always has, and always will. He’s that kind of guy. He loves everybody…

The Little Sisters of the Poor are all about love, too.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are all about love, too.

The political points made by Pope Francis to Congress

Yeah, it’s kinda uncool and even tacky to interpret the Holy Father’s words in political terms, but this is a political blog, so I thought I’d share this NPR piece, “The 10 Most Political Moments In Pope Francis’ Address To Congress.” Here are the 10 moments, with my comments appended.

  1. Embracing John Kerry — Significant because of Kerry’s position on abortion, which got him in trouble with the hierarchy several years back.
  2. A call to rise above polarization — See, I knew it! Both the Democrats and Republicans may want to claim him, but this Pope is UnParty all the way!
  3. A call for the country to open its arms to immigrants and refugees — Because you know, America, you are a nation of immigrants.
  4. A reminder on abortion — Hugs or not, don’t forget that you’re still wrong on this one, Secretary Kerry.
  5. Strongly advocating for abolishing the death penalty — Another aspect of the Consistent Ethic of Life.
  6. Poverty and the necessity of ‘distribution of wealth’ — Not a big applause line with the GOP members, I imagine (I didn’t actually see the speech).
  7. Business should be about ‘service to the common good’ — Which means, don’t be like VW.
  8. Calling on Congress to act on climate change — God, who made the Earth loves it, and we are its stewards.
  9. Anti-war message and a call to stop arms trade — OK, so he had some admonitions to throw my way, too. And I don’t disagree, much as that might surprise you.
  10. The importance of family and marriage — As y’all know, I’m definitely totally with him there. As my grandchildren grow, I’m more and more about it all the time.

NPR said:

There were political messages that challenged the orthodoxy of both American political parties, but, in this 51-minute address, there were a lot more points of emphasis Democrats are happy about — and that put some pressure on Republicans.

But here’s the thing: If you’re Catholic — meaning that the you believe the things that Catholics believe, rather than just being culturally a mackerel-snapper — you can’t be comfortable in either of the two major parties.

Occasionally over the years, when people have asked me where I am on the political spectrum, I have said I’m not on the spectrum; I’m Catholic.

Today, the Pope reminded me why…

What do Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis have in common?

The answer: Dorothy Day, the Catholic social activist and anathema of the Right.

The pope mentioned her as an extraordinary American along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King (no, not Martin Luther, Martin Luther King) and Thomas Merton.

Bernie Sanders was thrilled that the pontiff mentioned Ms. Day:

“The name Dorothy Day has not been used in the United States Congress terribly often,” said Sanders in a short interview. “She was a valiant fighter for workers, was very strong in her belief for social justice, and I think it was extraordinary that he cited her as one of the most important people in recent American history. This would be one of the very, very few times that somebody as radical as Dorothy Day was mentioned.”…

Whoa! When Bernie Sanders calls you a radical, even though he means it in a good way, watch out!

By the way, when I saw the Reuters picture on the page linked above, I once again had that disconnect I have every time I see Al Franken — I immediately think this must be an SNL spoof, not the actual U.S. Congress. Sitting there in his suit, he looks like he’s mocking Senators, not being one.

But maybe that’s just me…

 

‘Blue Bloods,’ a show that stands up for traditional values, such as… respecting each other

reagans

The Reagans, having another civil debate over Sunday dinner.

For years, my parents would ask me if I’d ever seen the cop drama “Blue Bloods,” and when I said I hadn’t, they urged me to check it out. They love it.

Eventually, in casting about this year for a new series to get hooked on after running out of “The West Wing,” I tried it. And I loved it, too, probably for a lot of the same reasons they do. And I’m kind of sad that this morning during my workout, I ran out, watching the last episode that is available so far on Netflix.

Maybe I had to get to be old enough to become a fan. At least back in 2010, “Blue Bloods” had the oldest audience on traditional broadcast television. And when you consider that traditional broadcast TV skews older anyway, that’s really saying something.

Part of it is probably that it bucks the trend, set by shows as varied as “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” — all of which lack so much as a single admirable character to root for. While every recurring character on “Blue Bloods” is human and fallible, each of them has enough to like and respect and even admire that you just want to spend more time with them. I mean, I loved “Breaking Bad,” but sometimes you want to see some people who might inspire you to break good for a change.

Another likely reason for the older audience is that everything about the show, from the central characters to the plots to the dialogue, fosters and celebrates traditional values such as family, loyalty, honor and duty. To some extent, these are the kinds of things I was talking about in 2008 in a column headlined “Give me that old-time conservatism” (as opposed to the kind that people like Mark Sanford and Rand Paul promote).

Oh, and there’s another traditional value the show celebrates: Respect for others, including those who don’t necessarily look at things the way you do.

That observation may be jarring to a lot of the people whose teeth are set on edge when you say “traditional values,” people who would define that as meaning some throwback to the bad old days (many seem to regard old days as bad by definition) when people who didn’t adhere to some norm were despised and put down.

But I don’t see it that way. I see a political environment today that has almost zero tolerance for varying opinions. Today, if you don’t agree with me, you are beyond the pale, a person without value, or worse, a person with negative value, one to be despised and condemned and reviled.

And I can remember when our politics weren’t quite that bad, when Democrats and Republicans were committed opponents, but more in the way fans of different football teams are, rather than as participants in a morality play in which there are only Good People and Bad People.

(Those earlier times had their own problems, of course. As I said on a previous post today, I don’t believe any previous generation was any better, or worse, than this one. People are always people, and each individual has his or her capacities for good and evil. We don’t have a moral advantage based on the time in which we are born.)

One of the ways “Blue Bloods” promotes this value is through the trope of the Sunday family dinner, as traditional an institution as one might find.

To back off and explain briefly — the show centers around the Reagan family. Not Ronald’s, but Frank’s. Frank Reagan, played by Tom Selleck, is the New York city police commissioner. His father, who lives with him (both of their wives are deceased), is the former police commissioner. Frank’s two sons are both cops — Danny a veteran detective, younger Jamie a graduate of Harvard Law School who gave it up to become a beat cop. Another brother was also a cop, but was killed in the line of duty before the show began. Sister Erin is an assistant district attorney.

So, when this clan gathers for Sunday dinner at Frank’s house, with Erin’s daughter and Danny’s wife and two sons, there’s a lot of shop talk, and it tends to center around some ripped-from-the-headlines issues such as police use of force and the like. And there is always a fairly wide array of perspectives, from the cops and Erin, and from Erin’s daughter and Danny’s wife. Danny is the hard case; Jamie is more the bleeding heart and rights-of-the-accused guy and so forth.

And while it gets contentious — in fact, there are dinners when one or another member of the family is giving one or all the cold shoulder over some current issue (say, Erin is at odds with the cops on whether a certain suspect should be prosecuted) — ultimately everyone loves and respects everybody else, and at least gives them the benefit of the doubt enough to listen. Even Danny, the hothead — usually.

But the respect-other-views thing runs through the whole show. Paterfamilias Frank, the commissioner who models himself on predecessor Teddy Roosevelt (right down to the mustache) might have one firm opinion, but the views of others are fairly represented.

I’m far from the only person to notice this. I like the way Mark Blankenship, a blogger at HuffPost, wrote about it when the series was young in 2010. I found this by searching on “Blue Bloods conservative,” to see how others reacted to the series’ traditionalism:

And although it’s never been stated, I’d wager that Danny would identify himself as a political and social conservative. Almost every episode of the show features a dinner table debate among the extended Reagan clan, and Danny always comes down on the ostensibly Republican side. He gets heated when someone suggests that drugs should be legal or that criminals should have inclusive rights, and he often chastises his brother Jamie, who left Harvard Law School to become a beat cop, for being an elite, Ivy League softie who doesn’t know how the real world works. In moments like this, I almost expect Danny to quote Sarah Palin.

But here’s the thing: Unlike the people who bloviate on cable news about their so-called conservative values, I’m actually willing to listen to Danny. His character is written and played with nuance, with flaws, and with admirable traits… so even though I might disagree with some of the things he says or does, I can’t dismiss him as a jerk, a lunatic, or a man who would like to see my rights as a gay man obliterated in the name of what’s good for America.

Meanwhile, that’s almost always how I see conservative candidates and pundits. They play to their base by underlining their most radical views, and their opponents play to me by underlining them, too. I’m left inside a system that boils everyone down, asking me to make quick decisions about right, wrong, good, evil.

And the truth is, it works. I try my damndest to live a thoughtful life, but after years of exposure to Tea Party vitriol, Red State vitriol, and Evangelist vitriol, I almost always assume that Tea Partiers, Red Staters, and Evangelicals wish me harm.

I know this is unfair. I also know that other people jump the same unfair conclusions about me. But I’m a person, you know? I can be influenced.

That’s why I find it almost spiritually refreshing to be presented with a character like Danny Regan, who is so different from me, but who still seems human. I see Danny sit at dinner with his family — some of whom are his political opposites — and I see him, I see all of them, talk to each other and listen to each other. Thus far, no one has changed anyone’s mind, but no one has been shamed away from the table, either.

Blue Bloods, then, has created a world where different points of view can coexist in the same family. How nice to imagine that metaphor spun outward, to imagine different Americans allowing each other space at the table. How nice to imagine people with wildly different views still finding ways to care for each other….

Yes, it is a nice thing to imagine, and I thank “Blue Bloods” for helping us imagine it. I’m sorry I’m out of episodes, and look forward to the most recent season being posted on Netflix as well…

Traditional values: The Reagans, in keeping with the cop stereotype, are Irish Catholic. Interestingly, in early episodes they got the words to the Catholic grace wrong. It was corrected in later episodes.

Traditional values: The Reagans, in keeping with the cop stereotype, are Irish Catholic. Oddly, in early episodes they got the words to the Catholic grace slightly wrong. It was corrected in later episodes.

Why would anyone expect the Pope (or the Church) to be ‘in sync’ with the world?

pope background

In the days leading up to the Pope’s present trip, I’ve seen a number of things like this story from The Washington Post over the weekend:

Poll: Americans widely admire Pope Francis, but his church less so

Pope Francis is adored by American Catholics and non-Catholics, who have embraced his optimism, humility and more inclusive tone. But as the 78-year-old pontiff arrives in the United States for his first visit, the public’s view of the Catholic Church is not nearly as favorable, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

That gap will be masked by the huge throngs of Catholics greeting Francis in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Many of them see him as an agent of change, with a majority of Catholics saying that the church is in touch with them — a reversal from two years ago, when 6 in 10 said the church was out of sync….

Things like this puzzle me.

Do people really think that the church, or the pope, is supposed to be “in touch” with views that are popularly held in the wider world? Why? (And if people don’t expect that, why am I always reading stories about whether the pope and the church are in touch and in sync? Why would it matter otherwise? And the implication is that it does matter. Otherwise, why keep bringing it up?)

Oh, I can list the reasons why — ours is a democratic country, where institutions are expected to reflect the views of a majority, or they lack legitimacy. A country where it would occur to someone to do a poll on what people think of the pope is a country that will talk about whether the pope or the church is “in sync” or “in touch” with prevailing views.

But it seems to me that anyone who is familiar with Christianity, or with the Judaism out of which it grew — and I’m talking basic cultural literacy here; I’m not expecting people to have doctorates in theology — would understand that there is a basic expectation that God’s will and the ways of the world are not the same thing, and are as often as not at odds.

I’m not arguing here, to a diverse audience, that you should accept that the church is right about everything. I’m saying that, if you understand what the church is supposed to be — an expression of God’s will in the world — you would not for a moment expect its teachings to line up with the results of polls.

That’s just not in any way a reasonable expectation.

And it was never thus. This isn’t about the church or the pope being at odds with modernity. Despite what many may think, this generation is no worse than those that went before it. Nor — and this is an important point that still others fail to understand — is it any better. I could quote from Ecclesiastes here, but I’ve always found that book confusing, so never mind.

The church, and the Temple before it, were always supposed to be at odds with the wicked world out there, as I was reminded by the first reading from this past Sunday, from the book of Wisdom (which, regrettably, some of my Protestant friends don’t have in their Bible):

The wicked say:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him…

There are other passages, I’m sure (and some of my more evangelical friends out there probably know them by heart) that speak even more clearly to the divide that should exist between the church and what is popular, whether in the 1st century B.C., or in the present day.

Again, I’m not asking you, my nonCatholic friends, to believe that when the church is at odds with what is popular, the church is always right. You’re not going to believe that, so why waste my breath? I’m just saying that no sensible person should have an expectation that the church, when it is right, would be “in sync” or “in touch” with what is popular according to polls.

In fact, if the church were thus wedded to current views, that should make us suspicious.

So I guess I should be suspicious that at the moment, more people do say the pope and the church are in touch with them. But I chalk that up to the awesome job this pope is doing as a messenger. The church hasn’t changed any of its teachings under him; but he is much, much better than his predecessors at selling the more appealing things that the church is about (and supposed to be about).

A hypothetical church that was indeed completely “in sync” with God’s will would have a lot of “yes” in it, as well as a lot of “no.” Francis is way, way better than, say, Benedict, at expressing the “yes” so that people hear it.

And I honor him for that…

These are some bad guys. Some really, truly bad guys

A couple of nights back, feeling nostalgic, I rewatched “Three Days of the Condor.” A fun, well-made flick, even though paranoia films can often be tiresome. In it, John Houseman, as a world-weary CIA man, is asked whether he missed the kind of action he saw in WWII fighting in “Wild Bill” Donovan’s O.S.S.

No, he says: He missed that kind of clarity.

Well, with the so-called Islamic State, there is plenty of clarity, at least on the point of who the bad guys are.

This evening, The Wall Street Journal is leading with this: U.S. Believes ISIS Used Chemical Weapon on Kurds.

Yesterday, we had the report that the group claimed to have beheaded another helpless hostage.

But the thing that is really moving the needle, the news that takes us to new levels of depravity in our understanding of these monsters, is the lede story in The New York Times at this hour:

Escaped ISIS Captives Detail a Vast System of Sex Slavery

or, as the headline on the page that link takes you to says, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape:”

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets….

A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.

A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.

“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said F, a 15-year-old girl who was captured on the shoulder of Mount Sinjar one year ago and was sold to an Iraqi fighter in his 20s….

There have been in history lots of bad guys who treat women as booty, as things to reward their troops with. Such men are the scum of the Earth, and it is the duty of civilized people everywhere to stop them.

But making a religion of it? Not being satisfied to degrade and brutalize women unless you defile God as well? Seriously? Raping women — and on a massive scale — just isn’t evil enough for you?

It depends on what the meaning of ‘Christian’ is…

I'm using this photo from Scott Walker's website not because it particularly goes with this post, but to be helpful: If I were to write a post headlined, "Top Five GOP Presidential Candidates I'd Have Trouble Picking Out of a Police Lineup," he'd make the list.

I’m using this photo from Scott Walker’s website not because it particularly goes with this post, but to help y’all get used to seeing him: If I were to write a post headlined, “Top Five GOP Presidential Candidates I’d Have Trouble Picking Out of a Police Lineup,” he’d make the list. And it occurs to me that maybe some of y’all would have the same problem. Or maybe not. Other people watch more TV than I do…

Scott Walker is in hot water again — with Democrats, anyway, which probably isn’t keeping him up nights — for expressing something short of 100 percent certainty on whether POTUS is a Christian:

“You’re not going to get a different answer than I said before,” the Wisconsin governor said. “I don’t know. I presume he is. … But I’ve never asked him about that. As someone who is a believer myself, I don’t presume to know someone’s beliefs about whether they follow Christ or not unless I’ve actually talked with them.”…

Walker wrapped up his answer by saying, “He’s said he is, and I take him at his word.”…

OK, yeah, I get it. Obama is a special case. Expressing anything short of total acceptance of his avowed Christianity hints at birtherism. Dog whistles and all that.

But… suppose for a moment that Walker said that about any one of the other 7 billion and something people on the planet. In those cases, I would say his caution was entirely defensible.

This interests me for reasons totally unrelated to Barack Obama and the paranoid fantasies about him to which some fringe folk subscribe. It has to do with the proper use of the word “Christian.”

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable myself answering the question, “Are you a Christian?” Not because of the denotative meaning of the word — one who professes belief in Jesus Christ and his teachings — but because of the connotations that attach to it.

Once, it was used among English speakers to mean something like “normal,” or civilized. For instance, the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian would put it in the mouths of his Regency Period characters when they were talking about the normal, proper way of doing a thing. The physician Stephen Maturin, despite years at sea, remains such a landsman that he can’t climb the rigging the way seamen do and must ascend to the top through the “lubber’s hole.” So his friend Jack Aubrey might speak of his inability to get up there “like a Christian.” Aubrey, who is just as incompetent on land as his friend is at sea, is a terrible gardener, so his rose bushes do not resemble “anything planted by a Christian for his pleasure.”

That sense has gone out of favor. Most people would find it confusing today, and like as not take offense at it.

Nevertheless, many English speakers today seem to use the word as a sort of honorific, as something describing a person who has arrived spiritually. This is most common among those who are in the habit of describing Christians as people who are “saved,” as opposed to people who are merely striving to follow the teachings of the carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth.

If I was sure everyone understood it in that striving sense — as describing someone who believes, and wants to live up to the standards set by the teachings of Jesus, and tries to do so — then I’d be perfectly comfortable telling one and all that I am a Christian. Or at least, attempting to be. (After all, I must ask myself always, am I even a Christian in the sense of striving? Am I really trying hard enough to qualify?)

But I fear they may take it the other way, as some sort of self-congratulation on my part — which to me would be contradictory to the whole belief system. In other words, if I said “yes” without mixed feelings, would I be disqualifying myself?

Anyway, if Scott Walker or anyone else says he can’t know whether I am truly a Christian, I’ll congratulate him on his humility in admitting he doesn’t know something he lacks the power to truly know, since it’s a point upon which I can even confuse myself.

But then, I’m not Barack Obama.

Charlie Hebdo grows up, just a little bit — maybe

Bryan brings this to my attention:

The top editor and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper that suffered a deadly terrorist attack in January, said the publication would no longer draw the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have garnered it worldwide notoriety.

“We have drawn Muhammad to defend the principle that one can draw whatever one wants,” said Laurent Sourisseau, in an interview this week with Stern, a German magazine.

But Sourisseau, who goes by the cartoonist nickname “Riss,” said that it was not Charlie Hebdo’s intent to be “possessed” by its critique of Islam. “The mistakes you could blame Islam for can be found in other religions,” he said….

Interesting. I’d like to say that Charlie Hebdo has grown up, and is no longer interested in offending just for the sake of offending. But that crack about “other religions” suggests we’ll still see trashy scribbles about the Pope, et al.

Or maybe not. Or maybe — and this would be wonderful — Charlie will satirize Islam and Christianity only when they have a point to make, rather than just being offensive for the hell of it.

As you know, I have never been Charlie. I would be happy to say that now Charlie is trying to be me, but that remains to be seen. I see no particular indication that they’re making this move for the right reasons.

The Dalai Lama on the Charleston massacre

I read a short item about this in The State this morning, so I was interested when I saw that publicists had sent me the embed codes for clips from Larry King’s interview with the Dalai Lama.

So I share it with you. From the release:

Larry leans in to ask the heartfelt question “When you see terrible events. When you see a man shoot up a church in South Carolina don’t you question your faith?”

“We need to make more effort to bring awareness regarding the value of compassion. Compassion means, it’s the sense of concern for others well being and the respect of others’ lives. When you have that sort of conviction it’s impossible to bully others, to cheat another, to kill another,” His Holiness answered.

The message isn’t failing. The Dalai Lama explains that obsession with worldly possessions & a lack of teaching children about inner values contributes to tragedies such as the shooting inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina “The message is not properly channelized. The message of love is just inside the church and not daily life.” He continues, “The existing modern education is very much oriented about material value.  Not much is talked about regarding inner value.”…

I’m sure he is right that we all, including Dylann Roof, could use better “values.” The answer seems a bit oblique, though — somewhat lacking in specifics, possibly because His Holiness comes from such a different cultural perspective that the killer’s particular brand of deadly animosity is far more bewildering to him than it is to us. Or perhaps I’m just failing to completely understand the role of materialism in this case. (I mean, I can draw such a line: A high school dropout feels so oppressed by his low economic expectations that he constructs a worldview in which “others” are to blame for his plight. I’m just not sure that is central to what happened.)

Nevertheless, when he calls for more compassion, I am sure he is in the right of it.

‘Amazing Grace at the Statehouse’

My good friend Hal Stevenson emailed me asking that I share this flyer with my contacts, which I choose to do via the blog:

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Amazing Grace at the Statehouse!

Honoring the Emanuel AME Nine and Their Families

Monday, July 6, 2015

9:00 AM – until

Rotunda of the South Carolina Statehouse

(between the Governor’s and Lt. Governor’s Offices)

When the South Carolina General Assembly convenes on Monday, July 6, a diverse group of Christians will be there to meet them. Amazing Grace at the Statehouse! is composed of individual Christians from many denominations who will gather in the Statehouse for the simple purpose of celebrating the grace of Jesus and gospel witness demonstrated by the families of the victims of the Emanuel shooting.

Amazing Grace at the Statehouse! has no political agenda. Those who join the effort are strongly encouraged not to discuss political issues. We are simply dedicated to joining together as fellow South Carolinians to serve as a reminder of the purpose and reconciliation found in the love of Jesus that was so wonderfully demonstrated by our brothers and sisters in Charleston. We will bear witness to their Amazing Grace at the Statehouse! has no official denominational sponsorship. So far, this ad hoc “effort of the willing” includes members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Church of God in Christ, the Church of God in Christ Jesus, the United Methodist Church, Independent Bible Churches, the Church of God, Assemblies of God… and we hope many more to come.

On Monday, our goal will be to distribute 1,000 Amazing Grace! lapel stickers (pictured above).

Questions?

Bob (Columbia Race Reconciliation Group) at (803) 315-1278 or bobj6461@gmail.com

Hal (IBelieveSC.net) at (803) 319-7750 or hal@graceoutdoor.com

Coordinated by the ad hoc Racial Reconciliation lunch group of Columbia, SC

Amazing Grace! Share It!

No official sponsorship. This is an alliance of the willing: join us!

A monster is on the loose in South Carolina

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UPDATE: Suspect has been captured.

Again, South Carolina is leading national news for a horrible reason, and this time it’s even worse than the Walter Scott shooting. In fact, it’s nine times as bad.

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Dylann Storm Roof

Police are giving the monster a name: Dylann Storm Roof. They say he sat with people engaged in prayer for an hour before announcing that people like them had to go, and opened fire.

This time, one of the dead had a familiar name: Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor. And the church where the shooting occurred, Emanuel AME, looms large in our history, both proudly and tragically.

There is so much that we have yet to learn about what happened exactly, but I thought I’d best go ahead and put up this post for your comments as we await more…

Now THIS is courage in the cause of free speech

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A lot of people have had trouble understanding my point that there is nothing noble about holding contests to see who can mock Mohammed the most, It’s just stupid, immature and offensive.

Many imagine that those who participate in such pointless insults to Islam are courageous defenders of freedom of expression.

No. In case you’re still having trouble telling the difference, this is the kind of cartoonist that we have a First Amendment to protect:

Iran’s thin-skinned mullahs have jailed an artist who drew a cartoon disparaging members of parliament over their decision to restrict birth control for women.

Atena Farghadani, 28, had what Iran considers a trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on May 19 and is now awaiting a verdict. She was charged with “insulting members of parliament through paintings” for drawing  the officials as animals, according to Amnesty International. It is not clear what kind of maximum sentence she could face.

“She’s truly an angel,” a relative of Farghadani told FoxNews.com on condition of anonymity. “She just loves people and animals, and besides for all her artistic talent, she is such a strong supporter of human rights.”…

See the difference? Standing up and criticizing the powers that be in your own oppressive country is courageous, and has a point. We have a First Amendment to protect people who do that in this country. That is essential to being a free country.

Being intentionally offensive to millions of innocent Muslims who have done you no harm is just being a jerk, not a hero. You’re free to do it, but don’t expect me to pat you on the back for it.

There is no ‘wall’ between church and state

First, I agree with Unitarian Rev. Neal Jones that if our governor is going to invite us to a day of prayer, she ought to invite everybody, and not just Christians.

And in the video above from the website of the upcoming event, she does seem to invite everybody. Unfortunately, Rev. Jones received a letter from the governor that seemed to imply a more restricted invitation, in that it said “this is a time for Christians to come together to call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”

Rev. Jones felt left out because Unitarian-Universalists are not what you would call Christians. Instead, they firmly believe that… um… ah…. Well, they’re not, strictly speaking, what you would call Christians.

So if the governor meant to stiff-arm his congregation, and Jews, and the Sikhs in her own family, then that’s not good. If she really meant to do that.

But… I have to object to the fact that in making the argument that Nikki Haley should not have done such a thing, Rev. Jones repeated a popular misconception, and I feel the need to correct him:

So I will not be attending the governor’s day of prayer, because she didn’t actually mean to invite me, as I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. But even if she had, I would not attend. I am not against prayer, but I am for the Constitution, the First Amendment of which establishes a “wall of separation between church and state,” to use Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase. That wall protects the integrity of both government and religion. It prevents religious zealots from using the power and purse of the government to force their beliefs and practices on the rest of us, and it prevents overreaching politicians from intruding into religious affairs. Each institution does better when it minds its own business — when ministers pray and politicians pave roads….

You see the error, right?

The First Amendment does not establish a “wall of separation between church and state.” That oft-repeated quote was Thomas Jefferson — who was not involved in drafting the Constitution or the Bill of Rights — expressing his opinion regarding the effect of the actual amendment. It was in a letter he wrote as president to the Danbury Baptist Association explaining why he, unlike his predecessors and some who followed him, refused to proclaim days of fasting and thanksgiving. The operative passage:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state…

Jefferson was on solid ground when he said the amendment provided that the Congress “should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But he ventured into opinion, and for his part wishful thinking, when he added “thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

(Interestingly, after rhetorically erecting this wall and standing firmly on the secular side of it, he closed his letter with these pious words: “I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man…”)

By the way, I place more store on the opinion of James Madison that there should be a “total separation of the church from the state.” But it must be noted that Madison did not insert such language into the amendment itself, and no amendment with that wording was ever ratified or adopted.

Too many folks continue to believe that what Jefferson chose to believe the amendment said is actually what the amendment says.

When it isn’t.

We are not to have an established church, and the government may not interfere with anyone’s particular religious beliefs or practices. This is not the same as having a wall of separation; it’s not even close.

In Jefferson’s day, a lot of folks wanted there to be such a wall, and he was among them. A lot of folks want there to be such a wall today, and furthermore sincerely believe the Constitution provides for one.

But, again, it does not.

Rev. Jones concludes:

I realize that in South Carolina, indeed across the South, it is tempting for politicians to overstep their civil authority and meddle in religious matters. Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety. The next time Gov. Haley prays, she might consider praying for the strength to resist that temptation … for her own spiritual health and for the health of our constitutional democracy….

Rev. Jones may find it distasteful when “Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety.” I might, too, depending on the circumstances and the nature of that display. Not because the civic realm is damaged by mentions of God, but because God is blasphemed by having His name yoked to an individual politician’s aims.

Many of my readers might be offended in far more instances than I would. But when politicians thus offend, they generally do not “overstep their civil authority.”

A short debate regarding cartoonists and terrorists

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Bryan Caskey wrote this over on his blog:

“You’re just not going to convince me that the right and true and courageous’ way to stand up to terrorism is to go out of your way to offend hundreds of millions of Muslims who are NOT terrorists, and mean you no harm.”

A couple of things. First, I think that Brad is more concerned about the tone and style than he should be. Now, that probably has to do with the fact that Brad is a really nice guy. He’s a very polite person.
If you met him in person and said something that he seriously disagreed with, he probably would just give you a polite smile and let the pitch go by. He wouldn’t start big argument with you in a social setting, because it’s considered impolite to start political arguments in social settings. He’s right about that, too. For the most part, it’s a good idea to try and get along with other people. I have that instinct, too, but probably not to the same extent.
For instance, it’s probably not the most agreeable thing for a practicing lawyer to have a blog like this and take various positions that I take. I’m sure it makes some people around me (including my wife) uncomfortable at times.
I kind of vacillate between trying to the the go-along, get-along guy and the guy who doesn’t care what you think of me. Part of me wants to be the Conventional Guy, with all the conventional thoughts, because that’s what advances you in life – especially when you’re a lawyer. People want their lawyers to be Buttoned Down People for the most part. They don’t want bomb-throwers.
But the other part of me is the bomb-thrower that doesn’t care what people think because that part of me isn’t seeking the Blessing of Other People. Partly, I think that’s me trying to stand independently, and partly, it’s me not having respect for some of those Other People because I don’t think they’ve earned the respect.
This go-along, get along mentality is certainly fine, and it has it’s place. No one wants to be a social outcast. I don’t argue politics at my son’s friends three-year-old birthday parties. But there’s also a point at which you have to actually stand up for something. If you live in fear of social stigma your entire life, you’re going to be easily pushed around. This is why political correctness is actually a powerful force.
There are so many people who are afraid of being thought of as “the wrong class of people” that the Perpetually Offended Army can push them around by telling them things like If you say the word “thug” you’re a racist. Someone who’s a Conventional Guy doesn’t want to be labeled a racist, because that’s about the worst thing you can be in the year 2015. Accordingly, the Conventional Guy alters his behavior because he doesn’t want to be thought of like that.
Note, it doesn’t matter if he’s actually a racist or not, and it doesn’t matter if the use of the word is appropriate or not. All that matters is that the Perpetually Offended Army can push Conventional Guy around.
So now we have Pamela Gellar and her group who push the envelope of free speech beyond what is tasteful and beyond what ispolite into a region that is….uncomfortable for Conventional Guy to support. So when the Perpetually Offended Army says thatYou can’t support this kind of….hate speech! It’s just not respectful of other people’s religion, Conventional Guys like Brad don’t want to be thought of as “the wrong class of people”, so they focus on the impolite tone and style of Ms. Gellar’s speech as offensive.
And that’s the wrong place to focus. Here are the facts.
1. Ms. Gellar and her group of people drew cartoons and publicly displayed them.
 
2. Men shot at her for this public displaying of cartoons.
 
3. There is no third fact. That’s it. There are no other facts. 
Do we really need to say that drawing cartoon is “inexcusable”? Nope! Because they don’t need an excuse to draw cartoons. That’s allowed. It may not be the way that Brad chooses to express himself, but Ms. Gellar doesn’t need to apologize, explain herself, or have an excuse for anything. She’s an American, on American soil, expressing her opinion about someone’s religious beliefs and conduct.
And people shot at her for doing so. Shot. At. Her.
It’s not hard to figure out which side you should be on. And spare me the “but”. You’re either for free speech or you’re only for speech that doesn’t make you uncomfortable. The latter makes you an unprincipled hack.
Do I like it when people burn the American flag to make a statement? No. I find burning the American flag to be distasteful and somewhat un-American. However, I think that attempting to ban flag burning is even more un-American than burning the flag. That’s how America works.
Respectability is all fine and good, but at some point you have to decide that you are in favor of certain ideals and principles. If other people don’t like your ideals and principles, then screw them. I’m reminded of a quote:

Do you have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” -Winston Churchill

Maybe we should all be a little less afraid of making enemies these days.

And I replied…

A couple of quick points…

First, mine is not the conventional position. Mine is the harder position to take. On the left and on the right, and certainly in the streets of Paris, the overwhelmingly popular position is Je suis Charlie.

I go against that grain, and say I am most certainly not Charlie.

I’m the guy whose position makes everyone indignant.

Another point: This is one of those situations in which someone like me gets hit with the “blaming the victim” accusation. You know, like when you say the beautiful young woman shouldn’t be jogging through a bad part of town in a skimpy outfit late at night. At that point, you’re accused of defending potential rapists and blaming the victim. No, I think rapists are candidates for suspending the “cruel and unusual” prohibition in the Constitution. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you don’t want to be a victim, don’t put yourself in that vulnerable situation. (People get a little less indignant at you if you say, “Don’t walk with a bag full of money with dollar signs printed on it through a high-crime area late at night.” I used the example most likely to stir objection, because the point still applies, but it’s a point that a lot of people miss because the emotional content throws them. As with cartoonists and terrorists. I think like a Dad, or like Buck Compton in the 7th episode of “Band of Brothers,” telling his men: Don’t do anything stupid.)

In this case, there’s an additional factor — you’re not just waving a flag at a bull, you’re going out of your way to insult that which is sacred to millions of people who don’t intend ever to do anything wrong. You really have to be a jerk to do that.

This is made worse by the fact that you have no point to make. It’s all about being offensive, period.

Another point: Go ahead and flatter yourself that you’re being brave, daring the terrorists to come on and get you for being such a jerk. This completely ignores the fact that you are putting other people’s lives at risk. From the security guard who had to defend these jerks in Texas to innocent bystanders at riots in Pakistan, your actions can have completely unpredictable consequences on other people — people who did not choose to be a jerk along with you.

Finally, I have nothing but contempt for this whole “bravery” pose. Imagine it the other way: Say terrorists say they’ll kill you if you don’t draw pictures of Mohammed. In other words, they’re trying to make you do a bad thing. Refusing to do so would be proper courage in the service of a worthwhile cause. Being a big, fat jerk because some lunatic threatens to kill you if you act like a big, fat jerk does not make you a hero. It just makes you a big, fat, stupid jerk.

See what I mean?

Not you, of course. I mean the cartoonists.

Because I don’t think for a minute that you would ever do what they do…

Another way to put it…

Just because someone threatens to kill you if you do a really rotten, stupid, pointless thing does not ennoble the rotten, stupid, pointless thing. You still shouldn’t do it.

The threat of violence just confuses everybody….

My favorite Leonard Nimoy tribute item

I really enjoyed learning about the Jewish roots of Mr. Spock’s “live long and prosper” gesture.

Nimoy was a guy who deserved to be known for more than that one rather cheesy (no, really, I’ve been watching it on Netflix) TV show. But at least he was loved for it, and I’m glad he became reconciled to that later in life….

Oh, and my second favorite Nimoy tribute was the one below, by Astronaut Terry Virts:

I was SUCH a good boy this morning

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I resisted temptation, but I DID take a picture. So does this qualify as food porn?

 

So here it is the second Friday in Lent, and this morning, for the first time in a couple of weeks, the breakfast buffet at the club had those lovely, juicy, fat sausages that I like so much.

But… I… did… not… indulge!

So I expect you all to be terribly impressed at my virtue and self-discipline…