Sunday, September 8, 2013

10 Political Things: A Response

I recently ran across an article by a Presbyterian minister on 10 political things one supposedly cannot do while following Jesus. While I respect the author's viewpoints and even praise some of his motivations, I did personally find the article to be very heavily weighted towards one side of the political aisle. In order to offer a counterbalance, I thought I might offer my own list of 10 more political things, as seen from a different perspective. This will get long, but I'll ask you to bear with me. I feel it's very important to be clear not only with what I am saying, but also with what I am very specifically not saying.

10) Allow public expressions of faith to be silenced

If you have good news, the best news in the world, do you not want to share it? If the news you have may save countless lives, are you not obligated to share it? The Gospel is Good News. Indeed, we have a Great Commission from our Lord himself to spread his News to every tribe, every tongue, every nation. This does not mean that we are to count our salvation as a point of pride. We are saved, but we did not save ourselves. But, we are to share Christ's love, that the world may know of it.

Final point here: I believe that the author of the original article placed a strong emphasis on Christ's "meekness", and I fear that his understanding of this word may be incomplete. He is not alone, most of us have heard of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild", and "Blessed are the meek", without knowing what "meek" really means. Jesus was not some timid pansy. Just check back to that story of the corrupt money-changers in the temple, if you don't believe me. The original Greek word that we have translated as "meek" in our modern English renditions of the Beatitudes was originally used to describe well-trained war horses: Incredible strength, checked by discipline and training.

9) Be silent in the face of evil on the world stage, or ally yourself with it

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." Radical Islam is a religion which enslaves women, slaughters innocents, and turns children into weapons. President Obama wants to put us into a war now where both sides want to destroy us, and he wants us on the side of Al Qaeda. Why are you not protesting this?

At the other end, I just want to point out, legitimate military actions in defense of innocent Israeli citizens is not "genocide". Not that Israel's military has always acted rightly in every circumstance, in every way, but they are trying to prevent a genocide, not create it. Boycotts and protests against Israel only serve to give the air of moral legitimacy to the real murderers.

8) Create policies based on jealousy for the wealth of others

Any law which gives disproportionate service to those who can afford it is a travesty, and a miscarriage of justice. But the same can be said of any law which punishes people for being wise stewards of God's gifts. Some people are wealthy because they have lied and cheated, and they will get what they deserve. But others are wealthy because they have done well, and God has rewarded them. Do not muzzle the ox that treads the grain. Justice is not served by blindly playing Robin Hood.

7) Condone or exercise fiscal irresponsibility

In addition to being a message of salvation, the Bible is also full of good advice on money. Use your gifts wisely. Save for hard times. Pay your debts quickly, because debt is slavery. Being fiscally conservative isn't about hoarding money, it's about being wise and responsible with God's gifts so that we have the freedom to be generous.

6) Feed corruption and laziness

It's not in the Bible, but it is very true that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Many of the programs which have been intended to serve "the least of these" are in fact mostly serving "the most fraudulent of these". According to one source:
Remarkably the GAO analysis of SSA and federal salary data found that 1,500 federal civilian employees are receiving funds improperly to the tune of $1.7 million monthly or $20.4 million annually. This is approximately two percent of SSA fraud cases which demonstrates the magnitude of the problem. In fact, there are literally hundreds of SSI recipients who receive their checks in Mexico City, to cite one example, who haven’t resided in the United States in years and who never contributed a dime to the Social Security agency.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. That same article goes on to describe identity theft and Medicare and Medicaid fraud. I have personal friends who have been recipients of Medicaid and Food Stamps, who have described to me how those programs push honest people to become dishonest by their very design. But every time someone gets the bold idea to reform these programs, they are accused of "attacking the poor". No, I am not attacking the poor, I am attacking the criminals who are using the poor.

Yes, I do want to help the poor and hungry. But even the Bible says, if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. You do not help people by serving as an enabler.

5) Be a healthcare hypocrite

I get it. You want to help the poor and heal the sick, and so do I. But you don't help the poor by forcing them to buy a product that may not fit with their personal priorities and needs. You don't heal the sick by adding layers of red tape to charitable healthcare practices.  One-size-fits-all healthcare does not work for a human race that is composed of many-sized people.

I think maybe the most telling point I have read on Obamacare is the fact that everyone who worked to pass it is trying to get themselves out of it. Congress has exempted themselves and their staffs, and even the unions who worked so hard to lobby and rally to support it are now realizing the damage it will cause. All in the name of "healthcare" that will not heal.

4) Punish people for drawing a line

There are behaviors which are acceptable for society, but not for Christians. Paul does quite a good job listing these out, but I'll just name a few: Public drunkenness, lewdness, adultery, lawlessness, dishonesty, and yes, homosexual behavior. It is important to remember here that attraction to sin is not the same as sinful behavior; We are all attracted to sin, but we are also all to avoid sinful behavior.

As Christians, we are not supposed to impose our disciplines on others, but we are to call our fellow Christians out, in love and brotherhood. We are expected to be forgiving, yes, but we are not supposed to forget that there is a difference between right and wrong behavior. We are called to love our sinful brothers as we love ourselves, for we are not free from sin ourselves. But in many mainline churches now, we are told that not only supposed to love our brother, we are to bless and celebrate his sin, and that is a surefire recipe to losing God in that church.

Some people say that gay marriage will have no impact on the religious freedom of traditionalists, but that rings hollow when we look at the facts. If we won't participate willingly, we will be compelled. In New Mexico and Oregon, bakers are being told by the courts that a gay couple's rights to the wedding they want trump the bakers' own rights -not- to bake a cake. When you are told that freedom of religion only applies to your church, and not your business, you have lost your religious freedom.

3) Forget the distinction between lawful and unlawful immigration

The Bible instructs us to be kind to the sojourner, the traveler, the immigrant. But, the immigrant is still expected to respect the law of the land, and the first laws we expect immigrants to respect in any land are the laws which define proper procedures for entry. I wouldn't enter your home by sneaking in the back door, it's not too much to ask for you to have the same respect. "Strive to enter by the narrow door" is good advice for working out our salvation, and it also works for immigrants as well. For those who have failed this first test, I hold no ill will. I only ask that you go back, try to do it right the second time.

2) Enslave the next generation with debt

   This goes back to numbers six and seven, and I can't emphasize it enough. Yes, I want young people to get an education. But I don't want the fruits of that education to be spoiled by perpetual debt service. We are told that we cannot serve both God and money, and being stuck with a loan to service for the rest of your life sure sounds to me like slavery to money.

1) Support abortion

I realize this may be where I lose my friends on the Christian Left, and I am sorry for it. I don't know of any way to temper this.

The author of the original article stated his view that every year, people are put to death who have committed no crime. Let's look at some numbers. In 2008, there were 37 executions for criminal convictions in this country. In the same year, there were an estimated 1.21 million abortions. If you're talking about innocent lives destroyed, it doesn't get much more innocent in this world than "not yet born". And when I watch supporters of abortion, I see events where "Christians" are praying in thanks for this death, and in supplication for more death. Then I turn to the protests in Texas, where "Amazing Grace" was drowned out with "Hail Satan".

Referring to abortion as "women's reproductive health" strikes me as a disingenuous euphemism. Of course I want women to be healthy. No, I do not want to enslave women or control their bodies. But I am not going to be silent when you tell me that my tax money has to go to subsidize abortion practices which have been found to be heavily complicit not only in Medicare fraud but also in enabling abusers of women and teens.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A crazy idea, for my theatre friends

This is for all my theatre friends in the Atlanta/Fulton County area.

Now if you know me, you know that I love theatre. I have been onstage, backstage, in the box office, on a theatre board, and many, many times just in the audience. I married a beautiful actress that I met while doing Shakespeare, and many of my dearest friends are theatre folk. I've been excited to support community theatre, professional theatre, educational theatre, puppetry, dance, and more.

This is about the news that the Fulton County Arts Council almost lost their funding from the county recently. At the recent County Commission meeting, it came down to a decision between supporting the actors or new beds for the women's prison, and it looks like some of those ladies are just going to have to sleep on the floor for a bit. So, if you're a woman in Fulton County, try not to go to jail, okay?

You know that I love and support the arts. At the same time, my wife and I have been listening to a lot of Dave Ramsey, and he's good for that tough love, telling people about the hard things they need to do in order to get to the place where they can do what they really want. "What they really want" may not be self-serving, it may be serving others. He's a big proponent of the idea that you can't help your neighbor out of the sinking sand unless you first get yourself on solid ground.

Let's be honest: Fulton County, Atlanta, and a lot of municipalities around the country are not exactly on solid ground lately. I won't get into the political ins and outs, but the bottom line is, tax revenues have dropped as home values have fallen and citizens have been struggling to keep their own heads above water, many of them unemployed or underemployed. Many of us have heard about Atlanta's recent "Drama-geddon", the crisis of all of the local theatres who just couldn't afford to keep the doors open and lights on. Blame Bush, blame Obama, blame the Easter Bunny, I don't care. It is what it is, and we have to live in the times that we are given and do great things. As my Avenger-fan friends might say, we are burdened with glorious purpose.

So, here's my question: What can my friends in the theatre world do to help their communities financially? Is there any way you can use your skills and gifts to help your neighbors, so that they might be better able to support the arts? Many of us have seen that the communities that get the most out of educational theatre have the least means to support it. What more can be done to help them?

Here's one idea that came to mind, just off the top of my head. We've got some great theatre programs out there for teaching children and adults about physical health, mental health and well-being, and even sexual health. But what about financial health? I know it sounds like a boring topic, but I have faith in anyone who can make "eat more veggies" into a cool topic. Besides, financial crisis can destroy a life and a family as surely as drugs and stress.

Can we work to put both predatory payday lenders and drug dealers out of business in bad neighborhoods, by attacking the demand for their services? Can we maybe get a community bank or credit union to sponsor a Financial Health Educational Theatre Program? This would be good for the banks, good for the people, and more work opportunities for the actors.

I'm just trying to put out an idea here. If anyone knows of someone that's already doing this, I'd be excited to hear about it. And if someone wants to take this idea and run with it, good luck!