July 4, 2015: Thoughts Concerning Our Golden Calf

This weekend we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  They weekend is traditionally celebrated by gathering with friends and/or family, cooking out, setting off and watching fireworks, and flying the flag.  But, I do not revere the flag like many do.  That may appear to be unpatriotic, or even blasphemous to some. Allow me to explain.

I have a problem with imbuing any inanimate object with so much symbolism that it becomes more powerful than that which it represents.  All over Facebook and other social media, I see posts exhorting that people will never step on the flag, never burn it, that the flag is what our troops fight to defend, etc.  I support respecting the flag, but I also believe treading upon it and burning it is valid and necessary free speech.  Since when is a symbol more important than the actual freedoms it represents?  You may not like it, but our freedoms come with compromises, one of them being that not everyone feels or acts the same way you do.

There have also been a flood of posts and memes inaccurately bemoaning the myth that the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer recited in schools.  I always thought it odd that we pledged allegiance to a piece of colored cloth, anyway.  Shouldn’t we be pledging our allegiance to the government and the freedoms it represents first and foremost? “I pledge allegiance to the flag… and to the Republic for which it stands.”  Why is the Republic relegated to secondary status behind the flag?  Why do we need the flag as an intermediary? That may seem like quibbling, but I firmly believe it has given us a generation of citizens that places allegiance to the flag over allegiance to the freedoms it represents.

The reality is that the flag is a piece of cloth.  We have chosen to imbue it with significance and symbolism.  I fully understand and accept that it represents the freedoms which we enjoy and that veterans look to it as a symbol of what they fought to protect.  But, since it merely functions as a symbol, I do not revere it.  I respect it, I feel emotion when I see it and sing the National Anthem, but I refuse to revere It, to make it more powerful than a symbol. I DO revere the freedoms we enjoy, I revere the positive values we endorse in both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, but I also revere the opportunity we are given to change and adapt, the opportunity to constantly and openly criticize, improve, and renew our nation.

If the flag represents our country, then it represents everything we are about.  That means it represents 239-plus years of the systematic destruction of indigenous tribes in the name of greed and expansion.  It also represents a sad history of exploiting natural resources to the point of extinction and depletion.  It represents the fact that when this country was founded, slavery was legal and those slaves were counted as only 3/5 of a person.  It represents a country that for it’s first 144 years, refused the basic right of voting to women.  It represents a country that spends more on war and the military than the next 26 countries combined and, for some reason, considers that a good thing.

I know that sounds negative, and it is.  But it is fact.  The flag may represent freedoms and rights that every day are expanded to cover more people, but there is such a long way to go.  And it has taken immense pain and suffering to expand those rights.

So, maybe I need to re-frame my own perspective toward the flag.  Instead of mooring it in the mistakes of the past, maybe I need to see the symbolism of constant change and progress.  Instead of violence and greed, maybe I need to see the sacrifices made during the difficult journey to build a more free society.  Instead of sitting idly by while politicians and hate groups co-opt the symbol of our country, I need to exercise the freedoms given to all of us, and oppose hatred and intolerance.

I will do that.  And I will do it while maintaining respect for the flag, but without turning it into an immutable, infallible idol.

I Don’t Want to be Lukewarm

Churches are burning.

Did you realize that?  Have you heard about it?  Seven historically African-American churches have been burned in recent days.  This is in addition to the nine people brutally murdered by a hateful, ignorant man.  Thankfully, there have been no additional deaths or major injuries, but that’s not the point.  These churches are gathering places, safe places, places where communities come together.  And they are being burned down.

The Church Arson Prevention Act, passed in 1990, makes burning a place of worship a Federal crime.  Yet, have we seen or heard about these outside of social networks?  The media is woefully silent, and certainly cannot be counted upon to give any kind of in-depth coverage to this sudden surge of violence (and it IS violence).

So what?  I’m white, male, and privileged.  Why should I care?  I should care precisely because I happen to be white, male, and privileged – for every moment I refuse to speak up against these crimes is one more moment that I condone them with my silence.  This is unacceptable.  Meanwhile, the bilious talking heads on TV wax eloquent about how systemic racism no longer exists.  It exists as long as we sit idly by and ignore when hate affects our brothers and sisters.  And why it affects them.

This is not an issue that should be ignored, it should not be swept under the media’s rug, and it should not be minimized.  I have absolutely no idea what it must feel like to wake up every day knowing, KNOWING, that you will face hate and discrimination today, tomorrow, and every day,  not because you deserve it, not because of anything you have done, just because.  Hatred is the “anti-grace”, given freely, but only to cause pain, anguish, and despair.

I have seen ignorance splashed across the news, in-depth coverage of protests to keep a symbol of hatred and treason out in the open, where it can continue to do the greatest damage.  Ignorance and hate do not deserve “equal” time.  They deserve no time at all.  Instead, we should focus on the many people gathering to rebuild together. But, like every positive thing that truly makes a difference, it makes much less compelling soundbites than ignorance and hate.  It requires depth, and emotion, and a willingness to connect instead of disconnect.  When we see the ignorant racist on TV, it is easy to distane ourselves and say, “That’s not me.”  But it is.  We allow it to keep happening over and over.  We feel sad, and say, “That’s terrible”, and go on.  Meanwhile, someone in Greeleyville, or Charleston, or Minneapolis, or Chicago, or everywhere, worries what they will have to face today.  What disrespect must they swallow? What violence will they encounter?  They live the struggle everyday.

I am not here to save anyone, I am not a white (literallly) knight come to deliver anyone from anything.  I support those who struggle, even though I will can never truly understand their struggle.  Now, I promise to live my support.   I pledge to speak out when I hear or see anyone disparaged or discriminated against simply based on who they are or how they look.  I pledge to speak out when the media neglects stories because they aren’t about white people.  As a Christian living in an overwhelmingly white community, I pledge to reach out to my neighbors of color, my neighbors who are immigrants, my neighbors who are potential friends, and invite them and include them as a vital part of our city.

It’s a small pledge. I pray I am up to the task.  I pray you join me.

My post was inspired by this post,  especially the following quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

An Open Letter to My Conservative Friends

Dear friends,

This has been a difficult week for many of you.  I understand the challenges you have faced with these changes.  It is difficult when things occur that run counter to your deeply held values.  None of you who I count as friends carries the hate and vitriol I have seen exhibited by others with whom you share political values, and I know your opposition to many of these issues is not anchored in intolerance.   I don’t agree with you, but I respect you.

I understand your frustration.  Here in my own state, I have seen many values which I hold dear opposed by the current administration.  But setting aside my frustration and disappointment, the truth is that we continue on caring about each other.  Some of the politicians who you may support are calling for keeping up the fight against same-sex marriage, against the Affordable Healthcare Act, against reasonable gun regulations.  I ask you for a different favor.  Take your energy, your passion, your commitment, and redirect it as positively as you can.  I don’t mean give up the issues about which you are passionate, but ask yourself which issues you really support benefit all of us and make us better.  I understand that is a very big favor I ask, so let’s start small.  Don’t encourage or support those who wish to hurt the vulnerable in our country merely for their own personal gain.  They want to harness negativity and frustration and fear for political gain.  Resist them.  Encourage them to find ways to rebuild the economy, promote freedom, and find common ground.

Some of you may view the joy and celebration of those with whom you disagree as disrespectful, and in some isolated cases, I agree.  But the truth is that the celebration is not about anyone losing.  No one has lost anything this week.  People who have been struggling for equal protection under the law, who have been struggling to find affordable healthcare, now are able to celebrate.  They have finally received their basic human rights under the law.  This is not about us vs. them, this is about all of us moving forward together.

I love and respect you, my friends, and will fight to the end for your rights to express your opinions and advocate what you believe is right.

 

Here I Stand

There are fellow Christians who have proclaimed a few things of late with which I must take issue.  With the momentous changes occurring in our fair land, there are those who believe those changes equal the slow decay of our moral fabric:  not allowing a Confederate flag to be flown publicly is taking away free speech and the freedom to express pride of heritage,  allowing same sex marriage is turning our back on God and leading our country to ruin.  As a Christian, as a citizen of this country, and as a human being, it is my duty to speak out against these positions, for if I do not, it means my silence endorses them.  I can no longer stay silent and see the compassionate, loving relationship between man and God used to endorse intolerance and hate.

Those who support flying the Confederate flag claim that there is a freedom to fly a flag which represents not only sedition, but racial hatred.  The historical truth is that it initially was the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Would that be it’s only connection, I could understand its use as a symbol of regional history and heritage, even though it symbolically represents those who fought to maintain slavery and unlawfully seceded from the Union.  I could still not condone its use on a public building.  Even after Reconstruction, the sight of a Confederate battle flag was rare, mostly seen at memorials and cemeteries.  In the early 20th Century, the United Daughters of the Confederacy promoted reunions at which the flag was saluted.  With the integration of the US Armed Forces in 1948, the flag became a symbol of opposition to civil rights, and became forever enmeshed with the violence and intolerance of those who opposed Civil Rights.  It was flown at Klan rallies, White Supremacy meetings, and local town halls where it was made plainly known that blacks were second-class citizens… if that.  Some people flew the flags as a symbol of regional pride, or as a general expression of opposition to authority, but there is no separating the violent history behind the flag from individual expressions.  It is tantamount to flying a Nazi flag and claiming it is a symbol of German heritage.  By attempting to imbue a symbol of violent hatred with pride, you are denying and dishonoring the memory of those who suffered under that flag.  The irony of our own US flag representing a violent history of genocide against First Nation peoples is not lost on me, which is why I personally do not display a US flag except on certain memorial holidays and I choose not to wear clothing that utilizes it.  I cannot endorse it as a symbol of freedom when it has flown over the violent subjugation and deaths of so many innocents in the name of greed and hate.  However, I accept it as an historical symbol of our government, and exercise my opposition by speaking out regularly against the government when it has erred.  That freedom alone is worth my allegiance.  As a Christian, I cannot endorse flying a symbol of hatred and intolerance, and I pray that my Christian brothers and sisters turn their hearts to love.  Maybe it is time to adopt a new flag? Something to think on.

Same sex marriage is not a sign of the decay of our moral fabric. In fact, I see it as a strengthening and maturing of our collective values.  You see, I was raised in a very conservative Lutheran church.  I value and cherish the many loving experiences I had with that church and especially with those who helped shaped my life and values.  The one thing I never understood, is why God would condemn love, when He is love.  He created us, this I believe.  Evolution is a fact, but I have no problem reconciling that with the idea of a divine creator.  He also granted us free will.  But, make no mistake, whether we are homosexual or heterosexual is NOT a choice.  It is part of who we are.  If it is a choice, at which age does each person decide they are heterosexual?  Absurd.  No, sexuality is not a choice.  How we practice our sexuality is a choice.  God condemns sexual immorality in general, no matter its form.  When it is separated from love, it is immoral.  God condemns using sex as a tool of power.   That is why we condemn rape and incest.

Jesus never once condemns or even mentions homosexuality.

Many Christians point to the writings of the Apostle Paul, in which he condemns homosexual practices.  But relying on the writings of one man, whether he was writing with inspiration or not, as infallible, seems absurd to me.  Paul had been a terrible man, imperfect in many ways, brutal, everything you would not expect one chosen by God to be.  But then, God has a way of confounding expectations.  Jesus, after all, consorted with the lowest of the low, the untouchable, the unclean, the most hated of society.  He reached out to those who needed love most.  And so, God reached out to Saul, gave Saul a chance to learn how to love.  While Saul/Paul certainly underwent a birth into faithfulness, it would be inconsistent of us to expect that he was suddenly unerring in his views.  I try to use Jesus’ life as my example of love.  Paul wrote many beautiful, thoughtful, faith-filled things, but I disagree vehemently with those who use his writings to condemn homosexuality.  He was a deeply flawed and imperfect human being, which made him an extremely effective apostle.  His acknowledgement of his own failings helped keep his preaching from veering into self-righteous blather.  If God could love him, He could love anyone.  Paul does expressly mention homosexuality in his first letter to Rome.  There is great disagreement and speculation about what context and meaning was intended.  There are those who view it as quite literal.  There are others who see it as a manifestation of Paul’s own struggle with his sexual desires and contend it is an example of self-loathing.  I tend to view it from an historical perspective as a reaction to the sexual immorality of Roman culture.  It is not a condemnation of homosexuality, but of sexual immorality – the use of sex for pleasure and power – an unnatural use for sex.

This is where I get in trouble with many other Christians, especially the church of my youth.  While I believe in the overarching message of the Bible, I do not accept it as unerring literal truth.  I cannot.  It was written by humans, collected by humans, what is in it has been debated by humans, and while I do not doubt it is inspired, anything that is produced by the imperfection of humanity cannot be infallible.

I believe Jesus existed, that He came to offer us the true meaning of why we are here.  You see, I believe that God is love, and Jesus was the ultimate expression of love.  What He offers us is the free will to create a paradise here as well the promise of a paradise when we die.  That is why the two greatest commandments are so central and of prime importance in Christianity, and to me – Love the Lord God, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.  Control the natural impulse of self-centered living, and turn your heart outward.  Give completely of yourself.  Care for the lowest of the low, the untouchable, the unclean.  Give all you have to offer.

But, Christians throughout history have conveniently forgotten those two very central and important commandments, and have instead wallowed in the minutiae.  Do you really believe in a big book that consists of our sins in nice columns and rows?  Do you really believe that we live under the threatening gaze of a wrathful God, when He gave us such an obvious example of His love to follow?  God did not put us here to judge one another, to hate one another, to condemn, to kill, to destroy, to denigrate, to annihilate.  He put us here to love.  Unconditionally.

Homosexuality is an expression of love.  That may sound radical to many of my Christian sisters and brothers, but it is true.  If you cling to the myth that homosexuality is a choice, I can understand why this is a difficult concept for you to reconcile.  I struggled with it, because I never accepted that homosexuality was a sin even though my church told me it was.  I could not accept that something so connected to love was a sin.  I am convinced sex is not a sin.  When sex is an expression of human love, it is not a sin.  When used only as a means of pleasure, or to exert power, or in violence, it is sinful because it is not based in love. It does not matter if it is heterosexual or homosexual.  Incest, rape, bestiality, pedophilia, are examples of sex as sin, because none of them are based in love, but are based in power and pleasure alone.  So, the slippery slope argument of “What next, getting married to pets?” is merely hyperbolic rhetoric and logically fallacious.  God created us as sexual beings not just to reproduce, but to express deep, committed love.  Why would we deny that to someone?

A dear friend of mine came out to me in college.  He was terrified because he knew I was raised a conservative Lutheran.  One of my greatest regrets is that I made him feel unsafe.  Either by my silence, or by my actions concerning other issues, I did not create a safe haven for him.  I’m sorry, and hope he can forgive me.  No one should be made to fear who they are, and no one should have to carry regret.  God is Love. Love is Love. Love does conquer all.

What TV game show/reality show would you like to be on?

I have already appeared on Jeopardy!, so the next logical game show would be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

    1. What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD?

I believe it was Das Boot – subtitled

    1. If you had one million dollars to spend only on yourself, what would you spend it on?

A new home with a fenced yard, big kitchen, and plenty of room for gardening, a good SUV type thing, pay down all the bills, and travel

    1. One place you’ve visited, can’t forget and want to go back to?

Northern Minnesota, near Lake Itasca

    1. Do you trust easily?

Incredibly easily, to a gullible fault

    1. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?

Act before I think, unless it is connected to my job.  I tend to be a bit more deliberate with other people’s money.

    1. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?

It has been a rather emotional couple weeks.  Very busy and the typical ups and downs that come with human interaction.  Today a friend of mine lost his mom, who was a very kind and wonderful person.

    1. Do you have a good body image?

Better than I did before.  I have become a pragmatist about what I am, and looking at areas in which I can improve for my health.

    1. What is your favorite fruit?

Bananas.

    1. I’m always being asked…

If I am still acting.  The sad answer is no.

    1. The last big belly laugh I had was…

Listening to my nephew tell a particularly embarrassing but completely hilarious story concerning the river, a seagull, and the one thing our family ALWAYS talks about when we get together.

    1. What websites do you visit daily?

Facebook, Mail, and a number of news aggregators.

    1. What have you been seriously addicted to lately?

Music.  Particularly “You’re On Fire” by They Might Be Giants.  Listened to it no less that 10 times yesterday.

    1. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?

I only know the person from whom I borrowed this from as a blogger and as a friend of a mutual friend. She seems quite interesting, and I imagine we would get along famously from what I know of her.

    1. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head?

The Fruit of the Spirit, a song I am teaching the Sunday School kids.

    1. Favorite clothing?

Touched on this in last night’s questionnaire.  A torn pair of Carhartt jeans.

    1. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy?

When covered in copious amounts of sugar, or when lumped together in bar shape.

    1. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground?

Something similar to this happened ($20, not $100) just before Christmas and I ended up giving it to someone who needed it more than I did.  I would hope I would exercise that same generosity if it would happen again.

    1. Items you couldn’t go without during the day?

Honestly, aside from food, water, and air, and maybe my C-Pap, I could do without everything else.  It would not be easy, of course, but we could all make do with just the basics.

    1. What should you be doing right now?

Being productive.  Instead I have allowed my mind to meander a bit and focus on writing. Back to work!

Chicken on a Plate?

  1. If you could build a second house anywhere, where would it be?
    I would prefer to have a first house built, but assuming that has occurred, a home on the beach facing a large body of water would be just fine, thankyouverymuch.
  2. What’s your favorite article of clothing?
    A T-shirt and jeans is practically my fashion calling card, so any quality t-shirt and the pair of Carhartt faded jeans that actually look pretty nice on me.
  3. What’s the last CD you bought?
    A CD?  Wow, taking me back in time.  Probably classical music, at least 9 years ago.  
  4. What time do you wake up in the morning?
    6:30 am.  Even when I wish to remain sleeping.
  5. What’s your favorite movie?
    The Princess Bride
  6. If you could play an instrument, what would it be?
    guitar.  For the coolness factor and because it would have come in handy many times.
  7. What’s your favorite color?
    black
  8. Which do you prefer, a sports car or an SUV?
    what, no sensible sedan?  Ok, SUV, because the Gardening Beauty likes to purchase large items via Craigslist.
  9. Do you believe in the afterlife?
    Not in the sense I used to believe in it.  Somehow, I now view it as much more about the spirit having a lasting presence in some way, and the possibility that it is all about a search for love.
  10. What is your favorite children’s book?
    Be Nice to Spiders
  11. What is your favorite season?
    Autumn, crisp cool walks
  12. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
    ambition
  13. If you have a tattoo, what is it?
    nope nope nope, this body has enough little quirks without me adding graffiti to the proceedings
  14. Can you juggle?
    I learned once, but have lost any small ability I might once have possessed.
  15. Who is the one person from your past you wish you could go back and talk to?
    Karen
  16. What’s your favorite day?
    When there were cartoons, it was Saturday morning, specifically.  But Fridays tend to be positive, generally.
  17. What’s in the back of your trunk?
    Isn’t this an oddly worded question?  Not even VW Beetles have the trunk in front anymore, so technically, the back of your trunk is somewhat redundant.  But, there are two blankets, some WD-40, washer fluid, jumper cables, and a tool kit.
  18. Sushi or hamburgers?
    Sushi is pretty amazing when you can get the good stuff, but even a cruddy hamburger tastes pretty good.
  19. From the people you email this to: who’s the most likely to respond first?
    No one, for this will remain un-emailed.  There might be a few friends who would find interest in this, but I don’t know who.
  20. Who’s the least likely to respond?
    Everyone
  21. Who did you receive this from?
    I borrowed this from IBA
  22. What is your favorite flower?
    I have become quite fond of anything that attracts butterflies and bees.  
  23. Do you believe in love at first sight?
    It has occurred, I’m sure, but in my experience, no.
  24. What would be your dream job?
    Researching and critically analyzing… stuff.
  25. What is your favorite meal?
    The Gardening Beauty happens to be an amazing cook, so choosing one is terribly difficult.  Her stew meat and mashed potatoes is probably my favorite comfort food, bar none.

He Never Gave Me A Gavel

There is a vice that is difficult to resist.  We are surrounded by those with whom we do not agree, with those who act differently, look differently, express themselves differently, and believe differently than we each do.  What is your first reaction to people different from you?  Or to those who hold deeply held values that run completely opposite of yours?  Sadly, I almost always judge, and judge harshly.  It is a never-ending struggle to accept them for who they are at their core.

Come As You Are.  We all are different.  No two experiences are the same.  We do tend to drift towards those with whom we hold similar experiences and beliefs, and that’s natural socialization, but we need to have a more sophisticated view of the world.  That is what it means to be human: to encounter the unknown and unfamiliar and find ways to incorporate it into our experience.  Think of all the things we miss because we judge others.  How about the mother with the out-of-control kids at the supermarket?  Imagine the wealth of love she must possess to care for those children.  Look at the abundance of energy that those children possess, and even though they are bouncing off the walls, try and see them curled up on the couch next to their mother while she reads to them.  We are complex, very deep, emotional beings.

Be Who You Are. I know people who hold deeply conservative views that are in direct opposition to mine.  I know people who deal with things in a far different manner than I do. It takes real effort every day to love them, but why wouldn’t I?  They are lovely, caring people whose opinions and skills happen to be different from mine.  Yes, we discuss things, and yes, it gets heated sometimes, but we want the best for each other.  However, it is far too easy for me to lump those who share opinions that differ from mine all together as a non-specific mob and dismiss them as wrong.  That does as much disservice to me as a thinking human being as it does to them.  And yet, I too often fall into that easy habit.  It is very easy to hate, to despise.  But to love?  That takes work.

To take this thought experiment in another direction, consider those we demonize regularly, and who demonize themselves with their actions: the fundamentalists who kill in the name of their twisted view of faith.  These were once children, some still are children.  They have followed their hatred downward into an evil place.  How do we free them from their hatred?  It is not easy to follow the example of love Jesus gave us.  How can we possibly love someone who could commit unspeakable acts?  I don’t know that it is possible within the confines of humanity, but it must be worth trying.  If we do not, if we continue a cycle of hate upon hate, then we are truly doomed.  We are left to be reborn as a species again and again only to consume ourselves.  But how can I love someone who is filled with hate, whose actions are evil?

I imagine Jesus asking those questions as he prayed for His father to take the cup away from Him.  Why did He need to suffer for these spiteful, hateful human beings?  It was to give us hope.  To teach us that love truly is the way.  It is no coincidence that he distilled everything down to love – Love God, and Love Everyone.  That’s it, that’s the answer.  But what an impossibly high standard to achieve!