Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I Did It My Way

a post appeared on the patrolmag blog a few days ago commenting on a post that was written for thefederalist blog.  the patrolmag post stimulated me to think about the american obsession with individualism, a topic that is called to my attention more and more these days.  this type of individualism is an exclusionary individualism that ignores any obligation to society in general, that refuses to respect divergent points-of-view, and insists that one's own beliefs are the only ones that can possibly be true.  an emphasis on the individual is not something new in the american psyche, but i fear that our present interpretation of a sort of exclusionary individualism is a dangerous and destructive force in our society and particularly in our political life.

the type of individualism that is presented to us at present is a me-against-them sort of philosophy.  it is a negative expression that allows those who adopt it to conveniently exclude the messy business of dealing with reality.  if one denies the existence of climate change and the human role in it, one doesn't have to address the problems climate change presents.  if one denies the forces of nature as seen in scientific understanding of the origins of the universe and the evolution of life on earth, then one can adopt the solution to the origin of life that "God spoke, and it was.".  if one denies that sexual orientation is determined before we are born, it is easy to condemn those who are not heterosexual and simply believe that gay people choose to be gay.

for believers in this type of individualism, the government is a convenient enemy, though collectively we are all the "government," a fact that these individualists deny.  once the government is seen as an evil monolithic institution beyond the control of the electorate, then one can cherry-pick which laws should be obeyed and which should be ignored; those laws which conform to what is convenient for each individual then become "just," and those that are inconvenient are "unjust."  since the government is inherently evil, the individual is justified in taking up arms and killing those who represent forces the individual sees as the enemy.  when such individualists band together and feed off each other's fantasies of evil conspiracies that are embodied in the government, small armies are created to defend "individual liberty" against the tyranny of the rest of society.

these victimized individualists see themselves as part of a persecuted class, refusing to admit that diversity is the lifeblood of democracy.  those who are different--minorities, those who hold other political points-of-view, members of other religious groups, secularists and humanists--are seen as a danger that must be opposed at all costs.   the children of the rugged individualists must be kept away from the corrupting influence of different people and ideas that they might encounter in public schools; purity of thought can only be maintained through home schooling.  the individualist's family must band with other right-thinkers in churches that exclude all those who dare to question their narrow beliefs.  the larger society is secular and evil, and this larger society, with its confusing array of philosophies and beliefs, is an enemy that insists that freedom to be diverse is a necessary expression of a democratic society, thus encroaching on the individualist philosophy and thereby persecuting those who subscribe to it.

the thinking of those thus victimized plays into the hands of power brokers like the koch brothers who use this idea that government and society at large is evil to achieve their own ends.  the government-is-evil belief means all regulation is wrong, and business entities should be free to do whatever is needed to reap the rewards to which they are entitled.  laws that rein in the power of business persecute these enterprises, just as "unjust" government laws persecute the individualist.  labor unions are seen as evil because they thwart the ambitions of business leaders and take away the individual's "right to work."

it is in the extension of the individualist philosophy into the sphere of politics and the ability of greedy business leaders, like those who make up the club for growth, to harness the adherents of this way of thinking at the ballot box that is so dangerous for american society.  without the alliance between those who espouse the individualist philosophy and the less scrupulous members of the business community, these sort of individualists would be a group that is largely ignored by the rest of society.

may we return to a healthy respect for the individual that recognizes divergent beliefs and points-of-view.  may we honor the idea that all of us have an obligation to work together for the common good, realizing that all should have an opportunity to realize their full potential regardless of background, ethnicity, or social status.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

we watch in amazement, fear, anger, consternation, disgust, and dread as groups in our region parade around, openly carrying firearms ranging from hunting rifles to assault weapons.  we see pictures of them in restaurants and stores.  we watch videos of them, guns in hand, pursuing those who film their "open carry" demonstrations.  in our community a local group made much of the city council's refusal to permit these "patriots" to stage a parade through the city, a parade intended to demonstrate the group's interpretation of a state law that they believed allowed them to openly carry firearms wherever and whenever they wanted.

as this is going on, we regularly read of senseless killings across the country.  these have become so commonplace that we may view them as part of the routine of life in the united states.  when reasonable measures are proposed that might curb gun violence, various "gun rights" groups protest loudly and at length about attempts to limit their "second ammendment" freedoms.  recently there was a report of a controversy in a nearby southern state regarding that state's new gun law, with some holding that the law gave citizens of the state the right to openly carry firearms into polling places.  when will this madness stop?

imagine going into a fast food restaurant or (even more frigtening) into a bar where one is surrounded by gun-toting diners or drinkers!  imagine shopping with your children for the week's supply of groceries as bearded armed men parade through the store wearing t-shirts with threatening slogans on them!  perhaps we need to watch an old western movie each day so that we can see the heroic sheriff confiscating the guns of cowboys in from the trail ride, as mandated by city ordinance.  if folks in the american west had the sense to realize that guns ought to be checked at the city limits, why can't 21st-century americans see how senseless the proliferation of these weapons is?

may we wake up to the need to refrain from causing needless fear in the hearts of our neighbors.  may we see that there is a connection between the ease of acquiring and carrying lethal weapons and the increase in killings by crazed gun-carrying individuals and groups.  may we realize that it is us, not the government or its laws, that is the root cause of these horrific shooting sprees.  may we promote peace, not killing.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Him No South or North

the branch of christianity to which i belong is wrestling with the church's response to the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage in the united states.  our denomination now permits the ordination of gay clergy but does not recognize the legitimacy of same-sex marriage in our book of order, the official "rules" of the church.  this places our ministers in a difficult position, particularly in states where gay marriage is now legal.  a move is afoot to change the church's policy during our next general assembly, when delegates from across the country will gather.

some of our congregations left the denomination after the policy to ordain gay clergy was adopted, and others are already making plans to leave in anticipation of the acceptance of same-sex marriage within the church.  their departure will make the national church much more liberal in its makeup, and for those of us who are in the less conservative camp that is a good thing.  it places those who feel a deep loyalty to the denomination and yet disagree with its stance on gay rights in a difficult position, though.  this is particularly true of ministers who continue to wrestle with their consciences on this issue.  how ministers who are not yet convinced that acceptance of gay marriage is consistent with christian teaching address the issue with their congregations largely determines the position the individual congregations take with regard to remaining a part of the national church.  those congregations that have withdrawn did so largely because their ministers led them in that direction, and these departures have been painful for many members of the congregations that have chosen this path, forcing the minority that opposed leaving the national church within these congregations to leave congregations of which they had been a part for many years to find a new congregation or to remain and take part in an action they felt was wrong.

my congregation's ministers find themselves in the position of feeling torn about this issue.  on the one hand they disagree with the church's policy and on the other they feel a responsibility to guide our congregation to remain a part of the church as we know it.  exactly what policy change, if any, is put forward for consideration as a proposal from the general assembly is an open question, and i hope that any such policy will allow for individual ministers and congregations to act as they believe right in their interpretation of christian teaching.

yet, when i think of the discrimination gay men and women have suffered over the years, i wonder how a commited gay couple would feel towards our congregation and our ministers if they asked permission to be married in the church and were refused.  we have gay couples in our congregation who have been active in the life of the church and who are beloved by others in the church.   there has never been a problem of accepting them and calling them to positions of leadership in the congregation.  right now, gay marriage is prohibited in our state, though the state supreme court is considering whether the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage should be allowed to stand.  if the ban is struck down, this may be a situation our congregation is forced to face, and i can't predict what position our ministers and lay leaders will take.

i am inclined to say that these leaders should be free to follow their consciences in making this decision.  yet, i keep coming back to the pain that gays have suffered.  how difficult it must be to feel you must refrain from holding the hand of the person you love in public or to resist the urge to kiss your partner at the stroke of midnight at a new year's eve party, to be unable to ask permission to celebrate your anniversary in the church fellowship hall or to have your anniversary announced at the weekly church dinner along with heterosexual couples, to watch as a straight couple walks down the aisle to celebrate their commitment in front of the congregation while you and your partner are unable to celebrate your love with your fellow christians.  can we allow this pain to continue to be inflicted on those we love and who are our brothers and sisters if they are God's creations?

may we embrace all persons as they are, loving them because they are as God made them.  may our positions as individuals and collectively as members of the church be loving and accepting.  may we act towards all as we would act towards jesus.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Some Great Cause, Some Great Decision

the november election that determines the future of the united states for the next two years, and perhaps for much longer, promises to be a bitter one.  the political soothsayers currently give the edge to the "party of no," but there are a few rays of hope for those of us on the other side of the political divide.  a few days ago, i read an editorial by a democratic commentator concerning the food fight being waged in congress.  on the one side are those, including the first lady, who support providing healthy meals for children in public schools; on the other are those who suggest that we should give children what they want to eat, no matter how unhealthy.  what the latter really believe is that the commercial food lobby ought to determine what goes into children's school lunches, so that their bottom line is kept healthy through the sale of processed foods, despite much evidence that such fare leads to increased levels of obesity and diseases like diabetes.

we see such positions being taken over and over between those claiming that regulations that make people safer and healthier impinge on individual freedoms.  for instance, mandating that all citizens have health insurance is decried as the ruination of health care, but no alternative is proposed by the political right to give all our people access to health care.  the governor of texas vetoed legislation outlawing texting while driving as an invasion of personal liberty, despite the clear evidence that this practice is a leading cause of automobile accidents.  republicans are all for the right to choose except when that right is a woman's right to choose what happens to her body; these anti-choice politicos see no irony when proposing legislation that dictates what a doctor must say to a patient or mandating invasive procedures for women considering terminating a pregnancy.  yet, we hear lots of noise about the right to choose to carry instruments of violence without restrictions of any kind.  how two-faced it is to place onerous restrictions on women who are facing difficult decisions about their bodies while refusing to consider requiring background checks for sales of firearms at "private" sales such as gun shows.  were i a tourist considering a trip to the united states, the repeated mass killings and the push for unrestricted access to guns would convince me to find another vacation spot.

if we allow the extreme right to be in the majority in both houses of congress, we can blame no one except ourselves when only the president's veto has the power to block the abolition of social security and medicare as they now exist, to stop further shredding of the social safety net, and to prevent the abolition of regulations that protect workers' rights and safety.  may we americans wake up to the grave danger we are in when our apathy and our failure to stand up to the forces that put profit ahead of compassion allow religious zealots and foes of science to exercise control over our destinies.  may we use the power of the ballot to elect those who support human dignity and reason.  shalom