Today’s Scariest Headline

 

Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008; A03

CHICAGO — Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

If you read The First Morning with any regularity at all, you know I endorse and support Barak Obama for president. I do that as an individual who believes with deep conviction that the U.S. will find itself in desperate straits if we do not change our attitudes toward a number of important issues. Those issues include our lack of planning for energy independence, our enslavement by Washington lobbyists and corporations, and our increasing and collective resignation to Fear as the primary reason for so many of our military, political, and cultural decisions.

(FYI: I am still a registered Republican. I voted for George W. Bush for president twice! I personally consider those votes among my greatest mistakes.)

But my opinions are my opinions. I will write about them as an individual, and anyone can ask me (as an individual) at anytime about those political opinions and I will tell them. But don’t ask me about them in church. Don’t expect me to endorse anyone from the pulpit. You’ll hear lots of personal opinions from me in that role, and I will identify them as such. But I have no right- NONE- to formally confuse my voting preferences with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

There is a (huge) strata in Christendom that hears their church’s leadership as if Jesus himself were speaking to them. Each year I receive a package of material from some “Christian Voter’s Education” outfit that attempts to show why voting for the most conservative Republicans on a given ticket will help make America a Christian nation, again (as if it once was, in their fantasies). And for years, even when I was voting in agreement with many of their positions, I would trash the whole pile of to-be-distributed materials.

I would do exactly the same thing if someone wanted me to distribute any “Obama=Jesus” handouts.  

The inherent problem is that many many churches understand their Pastor as “speaking for God.” They truly believe that opposing gay marriage, or laissez-faire healthcare, or more oil drilling, or less oil drilling- if the pastor endorses it- is tantamount to taking another step toward heaven. Many of the pastors who use the blind obedience of their congregants, are the same ones who drive luxury cars, have private jets, and dress in Armani suits because of the gravy-train which tax-exemption makes possible for them.  

And now they want it both ways. I’m sorry that the movement to have it both ways is originating in Arizona, too; that makes me suspicious. But even if the move is being made independently of any political influence, I believe it is a dangerous precedent. Churches are a place where hearts and minds can be changed, and I am very concerned about what a coordinated, intentional movement from within the churches could lead to logically over time.

We must not have anyone forcing their version of Jesus down the throats of anyone! When Jesus said “Follow me” he did not add, “to the downtown Republican or Democratic party offices.” He walked toward lepers, prostitutes, demoniacs, and people who were hungry, lonely, and left out of life’s mainstreams. And then he touched them, loved them, and gave them a model of hope.

I will never be a part of making Jesus any less than that. I will never pretend that he endorsed anything I might think or believe. I will always allow people to see him, to the best of my ability to help them do so, and let them decide the better way for themselves.

On the beach..with a BlackBerry

 

I wrote this last August. It is my favorite post. I bring it to the top here again, because it reflects me much better than some of the things which get so many hits every day..

~~

A banker, on vacation in St. Tropez, quoted in an article this morning at Financial Times:

“Everyone is on a high state of alert, so there are going to be many people like me making sure we keep in touch – and that means keeping your BlackBerry on. Normally in August banks run on half or two-thirds of normal staff, which can make it difficult, so every banker has to remain vigilant, even if you’re on the beach like me.”

There will come that one, last perfect day when such a comment is spoken to others, acknowledged affirmatively by others, and embraced by others, both enviously or in agreement. It will be heard that day uncritically, acceptably, without questioning. The importance of the statement will be unchallenged. The normalcy of the statement will further add to that last perfect day’s harmonious discourse.

Then, somewhere, perhaps on another beach- almost certainly on another beach, a mountainside somewhere, in a field full of wildflowers, or beside a trout stream- someone will ask, “Does it matter?” Does it matter that I have more than I need, less than I want? Does it matter that the markets a world away are defining, even here, my relationship with all that I can see around me? Does it matter that I cannot hear the symphonies of the sunshine and oceans for the the digital clatter that is filling my heart?

And, over days, decades, centuries perhaps, that one last perfect day will be remembered as the day humankind began to turn- away from themselves, and toward the Light. One by one, unnoticed for years, first here then there then there and there and there, the Light will be seen, acknowledged, and begin to shine through the darkness born of religious tradition, economic acquiescence, and national historical perspectives. Light will begin to shine across political borders, across chasms of cultural chauvinism, and through masks of ego-driven motivations.

There will be that one last perfect day, before someone, somewhere looks at their BlackBerry one last time, then drops it. And steps on it. And lifts their eyes to see the blue, crystalline waters of the Mediterranean for the first time ever..

Christmas Presents

You cannot buy happiness. For anyone- not yourself, your spouse, your children, or your boss. You can buy a brief period of satisfaction. How brief? Watch the kids tearing into the next present..and adult attention spans aren’t that much longer.

The GREAT LIE in America is that happiness (as defined by television script writers) is available to anyone whose means and desires coincide. And advertisers keep the sweet carrots dangling just a little bit beyond everyone’s reach, so that no one is ever quite there, where X marks the spot that happiness, true happiness, will finally begin. (Even Lottery winners get the blues: there are many sad stories in that chapter of the New American Dream.)

Last week, I stood in line at the local Fred’s behind a couple who were juggling two credit cards to buy what looked Round One of their Christmas gift orgy. Among the items was a battery operated model of Bill Clinton playing a saxophone. Here’s what it looks like:

Yeah, that’s all it does. How quickly will Uncle Bill tire of that thing? That thing will be in someone’s yard sale by April. Along with probably 25% of December’s Gross National Product, which is quickly becoming China’s Very Gross National Profit. How many gallons of foreign oil were used in this year’s manufacture of those Bill Clinton saxophone toys? And, how much landfill space will they still be occupying 30,000 years from now when the plastic in them finally begins to break down?

So here’s my point: There are alternatives– places where you can spend money and affect the future in positive ways for generations to come. Here are three:

logoLeafy3

Kiva is a micro-lender. You can make loans to small business people in places around the world. Your $25, $50, or $100 is added to similar amounts from other lenders to finance the $500 to $1500 loans being requested. The payback rate is close to 100%, and when your money is paid back, you can either get it back or re-invest in someone else’s business.  Some people on my list this year are getting KIVA gift certificates so they can experience the same fun I’ve had giving six women and three men on four continents a real hand up in their lives.

sevalogo 

The SEVA Foundation is also in the business of fighting poverty and disease through self-help projects. And the array of those projects is fascinating. Last year, my wife received a gift from me, given in her name, which enabled two Mayan women in Mexico to be trained as mid wives.

heifer_logo_tag

The Heifer Project is an elder statesman in the world of really good places to share your resources. Last year, each of my three children received a flock of ducks, going to Cambodia. Others received from me a flock of chickens, a goat, and some trees. All of these things are given to the recipients with the understanding that they will use the gifts for both food and income, and that they will give away some of the new chicks, kids, and saplings that result from their work. They are gifts that keep on giving for real.

Two years ago, I received from friends a llama in Ecuador and part of a community water well in South Africa. I’ve never seen either of those gifts, but they are the ones from that Christmas that I remember best. They are making a continuing difference in the lives of people, as they continue to make a difference in my own.

It’s a pretty cool bandwagon. Jump aboard! We’ll meet there at the X where real happiness is always waiting.

Build a Shelter of Light and Air..

I ran across this phrase, and it fascinates me:

shelter light and air

It is fascinating to me because of its Simplicity and Truth. And that Simplicity and Truth is found not only in the images or recollections which the phrase gives rise to in our imaginations or memories; it is the clean nature of the statement itself.

Build a shelter of light and air

Stated in the imperative, it is like a command that has been waiting to be spoken. It is a place which I am perceived to be ready for now- by whom?- and being invited to enter. But first- the imperative- there is work to be done, assembly to be undertaken.

The first task, for me, is disassociation from those things- things, stuff, material- that I have allowed to define me and, in the process, bend me. Because that is what stuff does, it bends the shape of the Image of God, the humanity in us, into the shape of whatever shiny baubles attract us. I have learned to feel my way in the dark with my wallet. I breathe in the smog of others’ desires for me to have the satisfaction that only they can sell to me. I am vulnerable and I have been injured, over and over, because I have traded too many times the security I was born with- the security of community with others- for the individual and illusory safety of bank account numbers and one more gadget.

I have forgotten so much about sharing. But I have remembered enough to know that holding my hands outward, toward others, is eminently more rewarding than holding them clenched and thrust within my pockets. I want to make room for the Image of God to be growing again, through the presence of others, and not stunted any longer through the weight of all my stuff. So it begins there.

The second task is to “let there be light.” Yes, that Light. The Light that comes not from the sun, and certainly not from any incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs; I want more of the Light the ancient rabbis called First Understanding. I want the Light of more Knowledge, yes, but even more than that, I want the Light of Appreciation and Acceptance of what I already do know. I want to spend less and less time criticizing, evaluating, deciding, and then second-guessing, than I do in feeling passionately about and cultivating the facts, ideas, and opinions that are already in me and that I know to be valuable. I want to continue moving from whatever is dark in me, toward that which is Light, and awaits me.

And then, to breathe. I want to breathe through walls which separate me from the pulse of the world around me. I want the Air, the lightness of being which surrounds us all, to be the only barrier between myself and others. I do not want to fight for air behind musty walls of tradition, or within stale spaces of ancient standards. I no longer want to gasp for air within the stench of dogmatic death.

I want to feel the ruach, the breath of God, always blowing against me, always being drawn into my being. I want to feel led by the Spirit into open spaces, and not pushed by the status quo against the brick walls of fear built by others.

I want to build a structure of Light and Air with others, for others, because of others, and live there, too.

That is the only structure, a structure of Understanding and Freedom, that will withstand the onslaught of those who live, instead, in forts, ready to fight and die for the beliefs they cherish and store within dark, thick, impermeable walls. It is the Structure of Light and of Air in which I will live and toward which I am moving.

I beg you to come along. We will need each other, to help each other disassemble, unpack, and even tear down some of what we thought, by ourselves, was precious. We will need each other to remind the other that the Light is sometimes uncomfortable but always illuminating, and that the Air is often harsh and cold, even as it is life-giving and clean.

We will build a structure of Light and of Air and we will say, “Welcome” to all who come nearby.

Christmas will be on a Tuesday this year..

aluminum xmastree2

It’s always on the same day of the week as my birthday, which was two days ago, a Tuesday. I discovered that “same day” fact at some point in seventh or eighth grade study hall, after I had (no doubt) broken all available pencil leads drawing cartoons of various teachers, gone to the restroom several times, and finished reading whatever James Bond book was in my possession that day.

Be that as it may, and all that is to say, the Christmas spending orgy is about to commence. Jesus will, again, be honored best this year by pushing our Gross National Product through the retail roof! Walmart, Target, and L.L.Bean will again become the hallmarks of American holiness as millions prove their love for baby Jesus by spending, spending, spending themselves into a January nightmare.

But what are a few more 29.9% maxxxed out credit cards compared to the half hour of joy to be experienced by children of all ages as they tear through carefully wrapped gift packages before finally settling down to watch the Christmas Edition of “The Price is Right?” After all, isn’t that exactly what was set in motion by God in that Bethlehem stable 2000 years ago- the right to keep and bear arms full of plastic things molded in China and cloth things sewn in various parts of the Pacific and Caribbean rims?

I notice you can get a jump on Christmas tinsel-spending by jumping on the Halloween lighting bandwagon currently being driven into our collective consciousness by the Chinese-American Plastics Consortium (motto: “Americans Will Buy Anything We Tell Them To!”). There are more orange-colored lights hanging on doorways this year than last year and, barring natural disasters, there are probably less this year than there will be next year. By that time, the Halloween light trend-setters will be needing to replace their antiquated sets from 2006 and this great new niche in the Useless Stuff marketplace will have taken on a full life of its own!

halloween lightset

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and this year he’s wearing a wool/polyester blend with genuine baby seal trim from Abercombie and Fitch. And you can demonstrate your own holiday spirit this year with a matching outfit- only 495.oo! (hat, boots, and other accessories, extra) Self-indulge yourself this Christmas with 2007’s versions of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; you’ll be glad, for all of ten minutes, that you did!

Or….

logoLeafy3

Go to Kiva.org. Find a small business person somewhere in the third world and help them get the amazingly small loan they need to expand their business. Dream for him or her. Hope for their families. Then lend as little as 25 bucks to them in the name of someone on your Christmas list, instead of buying that someone a tie or bauble for their already too-heavy charm bracelet.

Baby Jesus will smile.

 

Televangelist Juanita Bynum prepares to mine the Church’s pockets some more..my take on 2002’s "Cute Christian Couple" of the Year..

Two weeks after her husband, Bishop Thomas Weeks, wrestled her to the ground in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel, beat her, and then was pulled off of her by a hotel bellhop, Televangelist Juanita Bynum has filed for divorce. (Read about it here)

This chapter in the marriage of Christian Nobility comes just five years after the million dollar televised extravaganza of the couple’s wedding ceremony, which featured a wedding party of 80, 1,000 guests, a 12- piece orchestra, and a 7.76-carat diamond ring. The black-tie wedding featured flowers flown in from around the world. “My dress,” Bynum said, “took nine months to make. All of the crystals (Swarovski) on the gown were hand-sewn. The headpiece was sterling silver, hand-designed. (Source)

They are the personification of Bling Bling Christianity and Self-serving Sham Spirituality. The glitz of the world is just stuff to be accumulated by them, shown off by them, flaunted and fought over by them, at the expense of thousands of slavish admirers who they have cowed into believing that the Jesus they preach is the Jesus who wants nothing more than to line YOUR pockets with the kind of cash that Thomas and Juanita have in their pockets (and designer purses).

They are darlings of the Fraternity of Christian Television Truth-benders who have molded the message of Jesus into a message of Prosperity (for themselves), who have turned The Way of Jesus into a driveway filled with Mercedes, leading to the front doors of their palatial estate homes, and who justify themselves by bestowing titles (Prophetess, Bishop, Annointed) on each other.

Now, since her beating, Bynum has said her ministry will focus on Domestic Violence. Well, good, that is always a timely topic. But I suspect these prophetic pimps (and pimpettes); I suspect Bynum of capitalizing (with cash and credit cards) on her recent problems. Yesterday, she appeared in the backseat of the Pimpmobile- Trinity Broadcasting Network– to proclaim her ‘forgiveness’ of her husband and to announce her new ministry to women victims of DV everywhere.

How about some time off from the cash flow machine, Ms. Bynum? How about telling women to do what they need to do to get their abusive spouses behind bars, and THEN cry their crocodile tears of forgiveness? How about showing your sincerity by liquidating some of your massive assets (does anyone really need TWO homes?) and seeding some women’s shelters for women and children who, unlike you, have NO financial or human resources to fall into the arms of? Or maybe take that 7.6 carat wedding band off and sell it to another Pimping Pastor, while you give the blood money assets to the Africans who mined those stones for virtual slave wages?

“Follow me,” Jesus invited the Sons of Thunder, and you, and me. Not to a choice of manors in the country, not to a million dollar orgy of self-appreciation, not to yet another New Pitch for funds, and certainly not for the seeking of ego-swelling sympathy and misdirected compassion. He invited us to sacrifice, and to a cross. For the sake of others, not ourselves.

Can I get a witness???

Can I?