Thursday, November 21, 2013

What about the W*r on Thanksgiving?

(Read Here for why I dislike using the word “war” as an adjective for anything other than war.)

'Happy Thanksgiving 2010' photo (c) 2010, Benn Wolfe - license:
It’s just about that time of year again! No, not when the holiday decorations go up, or the mall Santa’s come out in full-force; rather it’s that time of year when the so-called “War on Christmas” rhetoric gets drummed up again.  Right on cue, Fox News published a handy little website where readers can upload their own battle accounts of where Christmas is “under attack.” The site also features an interactive map where viewers can see places “challenges to religious freedom” are currently taking place.

Call me crazy, but how is challenging the hegemony of the Christian religion and the pre-eminent Christian holiday aka Christmas an attack on religious liberty?! The so-called “War on Christmas” (if there is such a thing) is nothing else but a push FOR more religious liberty! #ExasperatedFacePalm

Well, in case you missed it amongst the holiday (oops! Christmas d├ęcor) (see, I’ve succumb to the battle) decorations up in stores, the commercials about shopping lists, and the ads for stores opening the day before Black Friday (previously known as “Thanksgiving”). This coming Thursday is in fact, Thanksgiving! Yes, the holiday does still exist!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and still has all the values long-since abandoned by Christmas.  You know things like thankfulness, friends and family, and food.  In fact, I’d say Thanksgiving is what Christmas used to be before we allowed it to be completely commercialized.  And poor Thanksgiving, now it’s simply just a day off to “carbo-load” like a marathon runner before the rush of Black Friday. Heck, stores like Wal-Mart are trying to make it just another day to go shopping (and just another work day for their employees).

'Bondi Junction Shopping Mall' photo (c) 2005, Charlie Brewer - license:
Is the mall where you will be this coming Friday?
Forgive me if I find it just a BIT hypocritical that many of the same folks crying about “Christ” being taken out of “Christmas” are all too willing to get up at 3-4-5am to hit the stores for the deals.  These same folks who cry about the “War on Christmas” yet then go shopping on Black Friday—or God forbid Thursday—are complicit (i.e. guilty) for perpetuating that very “war.” There’s nothing more hypocritical than going out and shopping for new stuff the day after expressing thanks for what you already have! Anyone who claims to support “family values” should value families enough to not make them work on a holiday or 4am the day after! (If you go shopping, you’re doing that!)

If you really want to end the “War on Christmas,” truly celebrate Thanksgiving.  For starters, don’t go shopping on Thanksgiving weekend—or if you must—only shop on “Small Business Saturday.” You might try volunteering at a local outreach meal or giving money or food to an organization putting on a meal like the Denver Rescue Mission or (my dad’s church) East Denver BBC. If you wanted to get down-right Biblical, you could even invite over a less-fortunate family if you wanted to really be like Jesus.

 At the very least this Thanksgiving, take some time and value your family, your friends, those you love and love you.  Take stock of how fortunate you are, how much you have been blessed (by God, by circumstance, by friends, by chance—just be thankful). The best thing you can do to combat the “War on Christmas” is to really celebrate Thanksgiving—and that means truly being thankful for all that we have in life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Peace—at the point of a gun?

Perhaps you’ve seen this new version of a “coexist” bumper sticker. If you can’t make it out from the picture, the letters that spell out the word “coexist” are gun manufacturers.  It’s a different “coexist” entirely, and I must say, fairly clever. 
Being that I’m a person who over-thinks things like this, when I first saw this my mind immediately went to the apparent contradiction between gun manufacturers and the word “coexist.”  In fairness, to those sporting the sticker, the two go hand in hand—violence is rebuffed by the threat of violence.  Or, to simplify as NRA executive VP Wayne LaPierre (in)famously said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." If you’re not following, LaPierre, and folks who align with him believe that peace is ultimately achieved through violence—or at least the threat of it.

Coming from a Christian perspective, I find such ideology extremely troubling, for I remember the texts from the Hebrew Scriptures which speak of a vision of peace without violence, where weapons of war are no longer necessary and methods of war no longer need to be taught. Consider the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 
He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

The prophet Micah also repeats this same vision, of a day in time where people follow the ways of God, a way of peace, not violence.

He shall judge between many peoples,
   and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more;

Say what you want, but the biblical vision of peace is not one where we stockpile weapons or rely on the threat of force. A biblical vision of peace is that where our weapons of war are melted down into farming tools—specifically—where humans stop investing into things that destroy life but rather into that which engenders life.
Consider for a moment the United States, where more than half of discretionary spending goes towards “national defense.”  Even considering the entire federal budget, the US spends as much money on harming people as it does on healing people (military vs. Medicaid/care). So For being a “Christian nation” the US is hardly following after the biblical vision.

 America is 12 plus years into a seemingly endless “war on terror;” a war which President Obama has disappointingly continued on through drone strikes and other covert military actions.  The question begs, are we any safer? Or, more specifically, are there less people in the world who want to do harm to America?
The answer to that is clearly “NO,” as reports have details, drone strikes and similar measures only further anger and radicalize. One U.S. official estimated that for every “terrorist” killed by a drone strike, 40-60 new enemies are created.  Even sixteen-year-old Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai told President Obama that drone strikes are doing more harm than good for the cause of “peace.”

Any overview of American foreign policy should reveal that America has seemingly followed after the vision of “Pax Romana” or the “Peace of Rome” which was achieved through violent military defeat and continued subjugation and oppression of all dissidents.    Such peace via the sword was one of the main critiques of the apocalyptic book of Revelation in the Bible (despite what some crazy rapture “theologians” would have you believe).  The problem with an illegitimate and unfaithful interpretation of Revelation as “rapture theology” is that it presents God as righting the world via a giant blood-bath.  Such an interpretation lends credence to the ideal that peace can be achieved through violence. Such an interpretation is wholly inaccurate.
Whether it be on a national level in regards to foreign policy, or on a personal level,  I find it very hard for anyone to square a profession of Christian faith with the belief that peace is achieved through violence—or the threat thereof.   The biblical vision of peace is not achieved through military might or violent divine intervention, but rather faithfully following after the ways of God—which begins by truly loving one’s neighbor as yourself—not threatening them with violence.