Friday, January 27, 2012

The UNITED States of America: What it means to live in community

I’ve been hearing a lot, and I mean a lot about individual freedom; everywhere I turn, whether it is TV, radio, or print—it’s all the same.  I’m told that a fundamental principle of America is individual freedom and liberty.  I heard it in Mitch Daniel’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech and I read it in Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible; Grudem even asserts that individual liberty is a biblical principle (I’ll leave that for another blog). All this talk about individual liberty got me thinking, how does that coincide with the fact that we live in the United States of America, that the motto of this country at one time was E Pluribus Unum; out of many, one.  Ultimately, the question is, what does it mean to live as a community?

Currently, I live in a small townhome which is part of a four-plex. The walls seem paper thin at times and I can hear far more than I’d like to. As an American with individual freedom I should have to the right to stay up as late as I want, with my music as loud as I want, with as many people over as I want; yet I don’t—because I understand that living in a community—or in this instance a four-plex with thin walls, means being respectful of my neighbors even if it means a loss of my own “rights.”

Something else that reminds me of community? Marriage.  I’ve been married over 7 years, and on the day I was married, I gave up many of my “rights” in order to live in “community” with my wife.  As a young adult male, I should have the right to hit the bars and party it up with my friends whenever I want for as long as I want, I should have the right to sleep with whoever I want, and I should have the right to do whatever I want—life is about individual liberty after all.  Yet, strangely enough, because I have agreed to live in community with my wife, I sacrifice all these “rights.”

Ok, so if you’re not catching my drift, I’ll explain it right out; living in the United States of America is living in a community.  As Americans, we sacrifice many individual rights in order to live together as a part of this nation; after all, that’s what being a community is about—not the one, but the many.  In case you haven’t figured it out by now, being an American, being part of the United States should be about sacrificing one’s own rights for the good of the many.  That means sacrificing some of my money to help others who need it (taxes), that means buying light bulbs that use less energy (a conservative pet peeve) so energy will be more available for all, it means (gasp!) restructuring an economic system so that not just one benefits but rather all benefit. 

If I may pull some biblical support into this, I’d like to suggest the story of the Good Samaritan.  Just before Jesus actually tells this story he is talking with some religious folks of his time about what were the most important religious principles to live by. The answer given first was loving God, and second, loving your neighbor as yourself.   Jesus said this answer was spot on, but seeking to find a loophole, the religious person asked, but who is my neighbor?  This is when Jesus brings in the story of the Good Samaritan.   Jesus understood what it meant to live as part of a community; it meant sacrificing your own “rights” in order to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

So do I have a problem with people asserting their own “individual liberty?” Not necessarily, but I would recommend they go buy an island in the Pacific were they can use whatever kind of light bulbs they want, dump into the ground whatever they want, and use however much energy they want.   Or perhaps we could just go back to the way it was in the Middle Ages, build our own castles and do as we please.  Heck, corporations these days are essentially kingdoms; the CEO is king, the shareholders are the knights, and the employees are just their serfs.  That saying, “freedom isn’t free” is right on, it takes boat loads of money to buy freedom; corporations spend billions each year fighting for their “individual liberty.” Oh, have you forgotten? “Corporations are people my friend” (Mitt Romney) and as such deserve all the rights and freedoms of an individual. These days, freedom isn’t free, and whoever has the most money gets the most freedom.

So for those who constantly want to beat their drum of “individual liberty,” I’d like to ask them what it means to be a part of a community and what it means to be a part of the United States of America. And for Christians who share that same mantra (I’m talking to you Mr. Grudem); I’d like to ask them what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.  

So what does it mean to live in the community of the United States of America? It means sacrificing individual rights for the greater good of all—this is loving your neighbor as yourself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Love/Hate relationship with Tim Tebow Part 1: Why I hate Tim Tebow

I’m a fan of the religious magazine Religion Dispatches and in a recent article author Carter Turner writes that in regards to all the Tim Tebow-mania, “there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s not wearing a football jersey.”  Turner tells that the driving issue behind all the Tebow curiosity goes beyond his public displays of religion, “people are watching because for many, his games are about whether or not a God exists who intervenes in human history—even in the mundane, like football.” Turner is definitely onto something here, and goes on to say that  “people are watching The Tebow Show because he’s a second-rate quarterback… and winning games, often against great odds while playing his best at the most opportune times.” Turner points out that a recent poll has found that 43% of those polled thought that God was intervening to help Tebow and the Broncos win. What Turner sees then, is that this elephant in the room is a theological question of whether God intervenes in history and rewards people who have faith.  

While Turner is certainly smarter than me, I don’t think he goes far enough in his critique of conservative Christians and their love affair with Tebow.  As a former conservative and current liberal Christian I see what’s going on; amongst conservative, Evangelical Christians, it’s not a question that God intervenes in history and rewards faith—it’s an indisputable truth.  This Tim Tebow thing is a real-life example of their theological assumption that God rewards faith. It’s similar to the “Prosperity Gospel” way of thinking—if you believe, God will bless you.

Can’t get a job? It’s because you don’t have enough faith God will get you one. Things didn’t work out the way you wanted? It’s because you didn’t spend enough time in prayer.  Lacking the money to pay the bills this month?  If you trusted God, he would have provided.  Tim Tebow is exhibit A for this line of thinking, the “miraculous” wins by Tebow and the Broncos are due to God rewarding Tim’s great faith, just ask Tebow’s dad. 

This is my real problem with Tim Tebow, or rather, the Evangelical Christian takeover of Tim Tebow is that rather than just appreciating his genuine personality and authentic spirituality, Tebow has been made into an example of why we’re not good enough—if we had enough faith, all these good things would be happening to us.  It’s like the convenience of every self-help book; if the program doesn’t work for you it’s because you didn’t follow it/commit to it/ dedicate yourself to it enough.  Just like every self-help guru, God conveniently gets off easy—it’s not God’s fault you don’t have a job, you should have had more faith God would provide, because then he would have.

I’m a Broncos fan, I’m a Tim Tebow fan, and I’m a Christian and I want to enjoy the spectacle of the unexpected happening, admire a guy who isn’t ashamed of who he is, and respect a guy who actually practices what he preaches (whether I agree with it or not).  What I don’t want is for some Christian personality to cram their theology down my throat while also trying to guilt me into thinking that my life would be better if I had the faith of Tim Tebow. Do I hate Tim Tebow, I guess not, what I hate is Christians constructing a Tim Tebow systematic theology. You can believe what you want to believe, but keep your theology off my quarterback.

Oh, and for the record, Tebow himself has blown off the idea that God is “miraculously intervening” on his 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Religious Social Conservatives: Pay up or Shut up.

So there’s this guy I work with, “Brian” I’ll call him, who said something to me the other day that was quite interesting.  Brian’s wife has a pretty serious illness which obviously leads to some ridiculously large medical bills.  In our conversation that day I suggested that since I was likely to be cutting back my hours perhaps he could pick up those hours.   Funny thing, he said that he was actually trying to not work too much (to not make too much money) because if he made too much money his wife would no longer be eligible for Medicare.

Needless to say, that caught me off guard; I’ve heard so much of people “mooching” off the government, “dependent” on the system, and living off “entitlements” and just like so many Republicans have been saying, here right in front of me was someone disregarding his own “personal responsibility” and instead expecting the government to take care of him.  What a lazy bum right?

Brian has several problems which are clearly his fault, and he shouldn’t be expecting Uncle Sam to bail him out. First of all, his full-time job is working for a religious, non-profit organization which pays him basically nothing.  Forget that he totally loves what he does (he talks about it constantly!), that he seems to find fulfillment and meaning in doing it, and that it seems to fit him perfectly.  Brian should have gotten a worthwhile degree and gone out and gotten a private sector job that actually makes money instead of being a drag on society.  Brian’s second problem is that he chose to marry someone with a serious illness; talk about stupid.  Why would anyone want to marry someone who will inevitably rack up huge medical bills? Love, no, that’s not a good enough reason—and don’t tell me they go great together or that she’s a wonderful person—she’s an unproductive member of society who’s taking our tax dollars rather than being responsible enough to pay for her own medical issues.  Sure enough, she’s also dumb enough to work for that same religious non-profit organization.   It should be just like what has been suggested at Republican presidential debates—if someone gets sick and doesn’t have insurance, let them die.

There’s an even bigger problem here, that non-profit religious organization.  What the heck are they doing? Making a difference in kids lives—how much money does that make? Nothing!  Instead of wasting time and resources “ministering” to kids, trying to help them become better people, they should just rent out their facilities to the highest bidder and make some money.   Really, ultimate blame for Bran and his wife should fall on this organization; if it was a legit, productive, money-making business they could pay a good wage so Brian and his wife could pay for their own bills.  What kind of country is this where we allow non-profit, religious organizations like this to exist?

…Now back to the real world…

In reality people do devote their lives to causes that don’t pay well but provide invaluable worth to the people these causes help and also to the lives of the people themselves who work for the cause.  In reality people get sick, through no fault of their own, and often don’t have the money to pay for it.  In reality, people fall in love regardless of “pre-existing conditions” and commit to be there for one another “in sickness and in health.” 
In reality Brian and his wife are fantastic people and I’d be thrilled to be counted by them as a friend.   In reality Brian is a wonderful, loving husband who emits unbelievable faith and courage in spite of the health of his wife.   In reality Brian would do anything he could to take care of his wife.  Far from a “lazy entitlement moocher,” Brian is a great person.

So we have to ask ourselves, what kind of country do we live in?  Or better, what kind of country do we want to live in? Do we want America to be about helping the less fortunate like Brian and his wife? Do we want America to a place where people are cared for and receive the medical attention they need? 

Or do we want America to be a place where it’s everyone for their own interests and no one else?

Yes, there are lazy people in our country, people who do want to simply mooch off the hard work of others, and there are people who receive government assistance who are lazy; but there all also lazy people who are middle-class, lazy people who are upper-class, lazy people who are rich—and all of these lazy people benefit from the government as well.  We must remember, for every “lazy” welfare recipient, there are many, many more people like Brian and his wife who really need the help. 

Oddly enough, I’d bet that nearly everyone involved in Brian’s religious organization will vote Republican—they will vote for an agenda that wants to reduce government assistance that goes to people like Brian and his wife.   So while so many conservative Christians vote Republican because it’s the party of “morals” and “family values,” I have to wonder how anyone who would want to take away funding for the medical care that Brian’s wife so desperately needs could ever consider themselves to be moral.

So if you’re a religious person reading this and you support politicians and policies aimed at ending social programs that truly serve the less fortunate you basically have two options:

      Create a charity to pay for people’s medical expenses (all expenses, not just a token amount)


      Quit whining and pay your taxes so Brian’s wife can get the care she needs thanks to the government

So, it comes down to this, you can pay up (through significant charitable giving or via taxes to support government programs), or you can shut up, but it has to be one or the other, because if you’re going to tell me you support “family values” and a “Judeo-Christian” ethic—you better pay up, or else I’m going to tell you to shut up.