Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tea Didn't Start the Fire (Or: Don't shoot the messenger)

Another Facebook conversation on a different friend's post. This time, the topic was disaster relief bills being held up by Senator Cruz invoking parliamentary procedures. I had pointed out that it was not the disaster relief itself that Cruz is opposing, but rather the pork riders, amendments, and other additions that always seem to get added.

The friend-of-my-friend arguing the other side went on to assert that the bill currently on the table for Flint, Michigan has "only a little bit" of pork attached to it, and expressed his anger at the Tea Party for "trying to break" everything in Washington.

News flash: Washington is already broken. Washington has been broken. And the Tea Party movement didn't cause the problem.

Since I am in the Quality Assurance business, I liken it to the little guy at the company who discovers serious underlying problems, reports them, and pushes to get them fixed. Only in this case, the higher ups already knew that it was broken and have been trying to sweep it all under the rug as long as they can. And when the problem gets to be too big to keep hiding and ignoring, who gets made into the scapegoat? Only the poor sap who tried to do the right thing by reporting and trying to fix it in the first place.

As for how much pork is in the bill: How much is "just a little bit" when it comes to grift, cheating, and lying? How much is just a little bit of spoiling in your milk? How bad is "just one little drink" to an alcoholic, or "just one trip to the mall with a credit card" for a true spending addict?

Washington DC has a spending problem, and more than that, a corruption problem. The addicts need a king size intervention. The addict always sees the interventionist as hateful, evil, mean, the bad guy. Just as my kids think I am being mean when I tell them that no, you can't have sweets right now, dinner is in fifteen minutes and you have to eat your vegetables if you want a cupcake. But someone needs to be the adult in the room.

By the way, from what I understand, Cruz's office has announced that they won't be actually opposing the Flint bill, they just wanted to slow it down long enough to let the people voting on it actually read it. And is that too much to ask? It would be all too easy to throw together a bill with only a token bit of Flint business, a ton of unrelated spending, and push it through on the strength of the public's outrage over this justifiably outrageous situation. But the people in Flint aren't suffering from natural disaster, they are victims of political malpractice that has been going on for decades, and they deserve better than to be used as political pawns by the people who would claim to be their rescuers.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Beware the scare words

Earlier this week I found myself in a Facebook discussion with a friend of a friend. This guy Jim sits on the far opposite side of the political and religious spectrum. I like to try to engage with people who don't see the world as I do, it can be very enlightening.

In this conversation, I had just espoused my preference for Senator Ted Cruz as a presidential candidate, given my perception that his honesty is unwavering and he has a strong understanding of and allegiance to the Constitution. Jim replied with his own opinion that Senator Cruz would be "worse than Trump", and described him as a "Dominionist".

I like to think that I am reasonably aware when it comes to political and theological "isms". In the political world, I know about conservatism, libertarianism, liberalism, progressivism, communism, socialism, and more. In the Christian theological arena, I have heard of dispensationalism, pre- and post-millenial tribulationism, gnosticism, Arianism and modalism, I've even heard once or twice about "isms" attached to the debate over whether or not Adam and Eve had bellybuttons. (Hey, that was actually a very contentious issue just a few centuries ago.) But "Dominionism" was a new one to me. So I asked him to clarify what he meant by the word and tell me why he believes that it applies to Mr. Cruz.

He gave me two links to articles talking about how Ted Cruz is a Scary Christian who says Christian things to groups of other Christians, therefore he must want to make this country into a Christian theocracy. (I'm paraphrasing, but that was the crux of what I got from these articles.)

I've even looked up "Dominionism" on Wikipedia. It is apparently a word that is supposed to describe a type of Christian theology, that was invented by people who are not Christians and not versed in our theology.

I haven't found any cases of anyone who would describe themselves as a Dominionist, and I haven't found any instances of someone advocating in favor of a set of ideas that they refer to as "Dominionism". As far as I can tell, it is a word that is supposed to describe a set of ideas that are actually never held by the people who are accused of being its supporters. I don't know about you, but that sounds to me like a very unhelpful word. It doesn't communicate anything meaningful about the person it is supposed to describe, but rather it shows the fear and misunderstanding of the person who uses it to describe someone else.

If you happen to be worried by Christians who bring religious talk into political discussions, I don't blame you. Christians have a jargon, just like computer professionals or theatre geeks. These specialized vocabularies can make it easier to talk with people who have our same background, but they can be strange and misleading for anyone else.

If you'll give me a few moments of your time, I'd like to try to demystify some of these things we "scary" Christians say to each other. This isn't an attempt to convert you, you have your own views and I respect that.

First thing, some Christians have been reminding their fellow Christians to vote in accordance with their principles. I like it when people vote from principles. It beats voting from anger, or fear, or envy. It's better than voting based on a candidate's looks or popularity. But it demands a lot from the voter. Before you can vote from your principles, you have to sit down and figure out what those principles are. Even more challenging, you have to figure out whether the candidates who are claiming to support those principles are being honest about themselves.

As a Christian, I personally think that my church offers a good set of principles for making decisions, and not just political decisions. If I didn't believe that, it wouldn't make sense for me to call myself a Christian. Christ taught that leaders should be servants of the people they are leading. Christian values include truth, life, freedom, and love for one's fellow human beings. Christians are supposed to defend the innocent, respect lawful civil authority, and stand against corruption. Perhaps most importantly, we are to be always mindful of the fact that we are human, and that even the best of people with the best of intentions can be led down a bad road.

One thing you absolutely have to know: If I set out to force you to follow my religion, then I have betrayed my religion. My God wants me to value truth and freedom. Fake worship is not what He wants. Forced fake worship, doubly so.

Another thing we Christians seem to talk about a lot is fasting and prayers. This may also be greatly misunderstood. Recently, when we have talked about prayers for the victims of great tragedies, I have heard an angry retort, "Don't just pray about it, do something!" But God isn't some genie in a lamp who hands out magic wishes in exchange for prayers. On the other hand, when nothing we do seems to be fixing the problems we all see, political or otherwise, maybe it just might make sense for me to spend some time listening to a God whose perspective is greater than my own. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Or maybe I'm doing it right, but just at the wrong place or time. Or maybe I'm doing it right, in the right place and time, and I just can't see it yet. God knows, I don't.

If you don't believe in divine guidance, that's no skin off my nose. The fact that I do believe in it should be no skin off of yours. Fair enough?

One last thing we Christians seem to get knocked around on is talking about defending our religious liberty. It seems that some people think that we want to club gays or women or black people over the head or something, and use religious liberty as our defense. That's nonsense.

But here's the real problem. You'd think that it would be common sense that if I hold an event that exercises my free speech but offends your religious views (or lack thereof), I would not be able to compel your participation or support, or punish you for deciding to do something else with your time. And if you are the one holding the event, I should be able to decide that I just can't be a part of it without us getting into a fight over it. But we're in a time in this country when business owners' lives and livelihoods are being destroyed over this issue. It's insane. All I want is some protection against the possibility of being sued over a mess that I didn't want to cause in the first place, that should have been just "live and let live". I shouldn't even need a law saying "don't sue the pants off of a person over hurt feelings", but that's the state of things today.

Anyhow, I've rambled on enough for one day. I hope I've disarmed some fear mongers. Or maybe I'll have the chance to learn about a new scare word from someone who will use it to describe me. We will see!