Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Why Should They Listen to Me?

I’ve often been troubled by Bible-thumpers and religious tract-pushers of all kinds. This is, as I’ve alluded to before, one of the many reasons that I’m an ELCA Lutheran. We’ll let you know that we exist, and if you want to know more about us, feel free to ask, and then we’ll tell you all you want to know…but only if you insist.

But getting back to the point I’m trying to work up to, I’ve often been troubled by proselytizers of all kinds. I mean, with so many different people claiming to have the absolute truth about, and inside track to, God, who am I supposed to believe? 

With all the different opinions out there, I sometimes like to apply what I call the “Martian Standard.” That is, if a person from Mars arrived tomorrow, with no cultural baggage…at least no cultural baggage from this planet, what religion would they pick? After listening to everyone’s spiel, who would they decide made the most sense? Would they decide that anyone made sense, or would they just say that it was all nonsense?

And this brings me to me.

Christianity has the concept of “evangelism”, which literally means “to spread the good news.” Let’s ignore for the moment that many so-called “evangelists” are anything but good news, and take the term for what it’s supposed to mean.

I, as a Christian, yes, even as a Lutheran, am supposed to be about spreading the good news. I figure I spread it most effectively by quietly doing good, and letting people be surprised to find out that I’m religious. But let’s take a look at the idea of me actually going out and talking to people about my beliefs. In which case the Martian Standard has me asking:

Why should anyone listen to me?

Really. Why me and not Shoshana? Or Ahmed? Or Yoshi? Or Sanjit? Or any of tons of other people. Why should anyone listen to me, and think that I speak authoritatively for God?

More to the point, if God really wants to get his message to people, if God really wants people to listen, and to know that this isn’t just another Bozo claiming to speak for him, why doesn’t he just do it himself, in a voice that we’ll all know is his?

Many years ago, I read a reprint of a short story that appeared in the August 1948 issue of Cosmopolitan called The Next Voice You Hear. It was about how in the years not too far after the end of World War II, God decided to take over all the radio stations in the world for a short broadcast at the same time every night for a week, to let people know that he was there, and to encourage them to get along with each other and do right by each other.

And this brings me back to my original question: Why should anyone listen to me…a person full of his own biases and misconceptions, who is bound to get things wrong, even with the best of intentions? For that matter, why should anyone listen to Shoshana, Ahmed, Yoshi, or Sanjit?

What I’d really like is to turn on the radio for a week…

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Steel Idol

Another school shooting.

Another damned school shooting.

And the lieutenant governor of Texas had the nerve (but not the courage) to say that the problem is that we have devalued life.

This is partially true…some have devalued life, and placed too much value on the right to own any damn gun they please, and take it anywhere they want.

He bemoaned the lack of religion in schools and our lives. I bemoan the lack of religion that tells us it’s important to protect our children, and trading it for the mess of pottage that is, again, the right to own any damn gun we please, and take it anywhere we want.

You want to talk about the role of religion in the wake of this latest shooting? Fine. I can do that. Aaron and the ancient Hebrews had their idol made of gold in the shape of a calf. We have ours made of steel, in the shape of a gun. And we are sacrificing our children to it.

I thought at first when the usual suspects talked about more armed guards, fewer entrances and exits to schools (a fire hazard), and armed teachers, that they had a failure of imagination, because they couldn’t think of other ways that a shooter with a powerful enough weapon could create massive carnage. I didn’t want to mention how easily that could happen lest I give anyone some horrible ideas. But it turns out that what these people have is a failure of memory…because you might remember that the Las Vegas shooting took place in a way that no security guard could’ve stopped, that decreasing the number of entrances and exits wouldn’t have prevented, and no “good guy” with a gun could’ve ended sooner.

In short, you can make every school in the country an armed camp in order to protect your right to own guns that no one has a chance against, and someone perched up on a hill can still pick people off from a distance.

Then what will you say? Then what solution will you give that involves everything except dealing with the gun problem?

Yes, I admit that there are other issues involved here too. We have a serious anger problem in this country. A serious problem with people thinking that if they don’t get what they want when they want it, someone has to pay for it. And when you combine that anger problem with our gun culture, it’s like combining a lit candle with gasoline. We’re no longer content to just punch someone out, we want to kill them…and we can.

Fortunately, the governor of Texas is a wiser man than his second in command, and wants to put everything on the table in order to prevent this from happening again. Some people doubt that anything will come of this because he’s been known as a strong pro-gun person, but sometimes, as Spock said in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “Only Nixon can go to China.”

Let’s hope that he’s able to successfully go to China…and is able to come back with enough imagination to destroy this idol made of steel.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mother's Day from a Different Angle

The second Sunday in May is hard on two distinct groups of people. The first is childless women who feel that they were denied something that they always wanted, and hate having that denial thrown in their faces. The second is those who have lost their own mothers in the past year, and hate having that thrown in their faces. As a result, many women decide to stay home that day, and many churches wrestle with observing this day, which grew out of the Sunday school movement of the late 19th century.

Mother’s Day, the creation of Anna Jarvis, as a memorial to her own mother, is that 900-pound gorilla that many churches no longer make a big deal about out of fear of pouring salt in the very raw wounds of some of the women in their congregations. And many of them get out of this by saying “It’s not even a church holiday anyway. It’s not Biblical, so why should we do it?” Well…All Saints Day isn’t Biblical either; and there was some point in the past when it wasn’t on any church calendar…until it was. And despite what many people erroneously think about it because of what it has become, Mother’s Day is not a “Hallmark Holiday”; Hallmark wasn’t even founded until two years after the first official Mother’s Day celebration at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in 1908. They simply made a mint off of the way that most people wanted to observe it.

But let’s talk about the church roots of Mother’s Day, and then I’ll talk about a different way of looking at it.

As I stated earlier, it was created as part of the Sunday School movement of the late 19thcentury that gave us such long-forgotten church observances as Children’s DayRoll Call DayTemperance Sunday, and others. The fact that Mother’s Day took off as quickly as it did, and has lasted as long as it has, is a testament to the letter-writing power of Anna Jarvis, and to her many well-heeled backers.

But the most important thing here is that for Jarvis, who never had children of her own, it was never about celebrating herself as a mother, but of remembering her own mother.

Knowing, and understanding, that takes care of the two biggest issues that many women have with the day. It was never about you, and the mother you either are or never got to be; it was supposed to be about your mother. And if she’s no longer with us…well then, that’s why Mother’s Day was created in the first place.

Observed in the way that Anna Jarvis intended, it should be a burden neither to the childless nor the motherless, but a day to reflect upon your mother, whether or not you still have her with you.

Observed in the way that Anna Jarvis intended, the only people Mother’s Day should be hard on are those whose mothers unfortunately or tragically just didn’t measure up to the job. And yet, even then, it’s possible that those women have someone in their lives who acted as the mother they should’ve had, and they can be reflected upon and honored.

Observed in the way that Anna Jarvis intended, Mother’s Day should no more be a case of rubbing salt in an open wound than observing All Saints Day, when many congregations make a point of recognizing all those who have died within the past year.

Mother’s Day is a day that everyone should be able to observe. Let’s try to remember that this coming Sunday.