The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

BAKED IN THE CAKE

Under the heading of Fire Prevention and Safety, Clark County, NV has an ordinance which requires a business owner to post the following sign above their entrance:

“THIS DOOR TO REMAIN UNLOCKED DURING BUSINESS HOURS”

Obviously, the business is not required merely to post the sign but to comply with its meaning.  That seems somewhat laughable since, if you own a business, locking out the public from access would tend to discourage people from entering your premises and buying your product.  And I have never had an experience where I walked into a business and a guard locked the door behind me refusing to allow me to leave until I had purchased something.  Nonetheless, I’m sure that the rule, if not thought through completely, was enacted with the best of intentions.

Of course, we have many laws on the books which were enacted with the best of intentions but whose unintended consequences were so problematic that they had to be amended or repealed entirely.  The Constitutional amendment beginning Prohibition is one example which comes to mind.

Oregon has a law which prohibits a business from discriminating against a wide array of protected “classes,” one of which is homosexuals.  An administrative law judge found bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein guilty of violating that law and infringing on the rights of two lesbian women who wanted to place an order with them to bake a wedding cake to celebrate their nuptials.  The Kleins declined to do so because they have religious beliefs that they believe would be compromised by participating in a gay wedding.  The two women brought suit and were awarded $135,000 under their claim of having experienced 88 different forms of “mental-rape” as a result of the Kleins’ refusal to provide their cake.

As might be expected, the ALJ’s decision was trumpeted both by the left and the members of the BGLQT community (I’ve re-ordered LGBTQ alphabetically so that there is no implication that one subcomponent is more important than any other) as a triumph for fairness, and on the right was predictably denounced as an attack on Christian faith.  In the final analysis, I suspect that both sides on this issue may prove to be wrong.  What may be at risk in decisions like this is the ability, for whatever reason, for people to hold an opinion and to act on it which is in contradiction to that held by the vocal minority.  What is in jeopardy is not freedom of thought or freedom of speech but freedom itself, at its most essential level.

I respect the Kleins standing on their principles.  Personally, as a Christian, I do not feel that their providing a cake for a gay wedding would have been a tacit endorsement of gay marriage.   But in any “anything goes” world it is unusual to find people who still try to conduct their lives based on principle.

Every business owner has to balance morality with profitability.  The left portrays business people as being greedy,  only mindful of profits at the expense of their employees who are generally categorized by them as being overworked and underpaid.  The fact that the Kleins would decline to bake a wedding cake for this lesbian wedding undermines that theory.  If business owners are strictly and solely motivated by profit then turning down a profitable order makes absolutely no sense.  It is for that reason that we should give weight to their stated belief that in their view, participating in the ceremony by baking a wedding cake was something that they could not do in conscience.

But there is another reason the Kleins, their views on homosexuality being openly known, might have made a wise business decision, one not based on their religious faith.

Let’s take the case of a family restaurant owned by a Mormon family.  One evening, a man staggers through the door.  His breath reeks of alcohol and he clings to the hostess station near the door to try to stabilize himself.  By anyone’s standards he is obviously drunk.

The owner of the restaurant comes over to him but before he can say anything, the drunken patron starts yelling that he wants coffee and he wants to eat.

The owner explains that he is a Mormon and based on his religious beliefs does not serve coffee in his establishment.  The man again shouts out that he wants coffee and food.  By now, the families in the restaurant have stopped eating and everyone is watching this encounter near the front door.

The owner politely suggests that the patron does not appear to be sober and out of concern for him offers to call him a taxi so that he can get home safely.  But instead of following this kindly advice, he sees an empty seat at a table where a husband and wife and three children are eating and he staggers over to the table and flops into the vacant chair, reiterating his demand for coffee and food.  In frustration, the owner calls the police who arrive swiftly and arrest the patron for being drunk and disorderly and remove him from the restaurant in handcuffs.

Now if most people were empaneled on a jury and these facts were presented in evidence as the state’s case why this man should be punished for his disruptive behavior, I suspect they would vote to convict.  The fact that Mormons don’t consume alcohol or coffee would have played no factor in the evidentiary presentation.

But let’s replay that same scenario with only one change.  The drunk patron comes into the restaurant and he is wearing a T-shirt that has a Rainbow Flag on it and above and below are written the words GAY PRIDE.

Several weeks go by and suddenly a man shows up at the restaurant with a summons which he delivers to the owner.  The patron who was removed from the restaurant has filed suit because he claims that he was refused service for the sole reason that he was a gay male.

In some respect, filing a law suit to “bring about social change” is the ultimate and easily accessed methodology for those whose lives are otherwise too mundane to warrant their very own “reality TV show”.  And the potential to score a big payday while having to pay nothing out of pocket for your contingency case – well, that’s just icing on the cake.

It costs just as much to defend yourself if you’re innocent or guilty.  Filing a law suit is, in the view of many, the path to riches more than it is a path to justice.  Given the current mania of juries awarding ridiculous punitive damages, perhaps hoping they will set a precedent if one day they should be the plaintiff in a similar case, it’s hard to know how a jury would decide the case.

Returning to the Kleins who were and are candid on their view of homosexuality, I would think that one of the things that should concern them in the future is, that even if they were to modify their view that providing a wedding cake for a gay wedding is an endorsement of gay marriage, they should take caution.  Returning to my premise that people sue other people whether or not there is a basis in fact, let’s consider the following scenario.

Another gay couple asks the Kleins to bake them a cake for their nuptials.  The Kleins have decided to be guided by the synoptic Gospel advice to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”.  So they agree to prepare the cake the couple selects.

On the appointed day they deliver a beautiful cake.  The ceremony ends and the guests retire to the banquet.  But the couple is dissatisfied with the cake they ordered.  So they file suit, claiming that the cake didn’t meet their expectations and that the Kleins purposely sabotaged their happy day because despite recanting on their views, they found a way to ruin the happy couple’s celebration by preparing a cake that was not up to standards.

Is this an unlikely scenario – a right wing conspiracy theory?  Well, possibly so.  Or perhaps, given today’s PC climate and verdicts that emanate from jury nullification, maybe it’s the kind of case whose outcome is already baked in the cake.

THE ATHEIST CASE FOR NIXMAS

Have you ever noticed that in the season prior to Christmas, people seem to be just a little bit nicer to each other than usual?  It’s something I’ve observed year after year – and I wistfully hope that the spirit of the season would continue throughout the entire year.  Sadly, it seems to evaporate as soon as the party noisemakers are blown and the last glass of champagne is consumed.

On a fundamental level, the story of Jesus’ birth should stir at least a twinge of emotion in all of us, whether or not you believe that He was born as Savior to redeem mankind from the sins with which we bind ourselves.  After all, here is a humble family who find refuge for the Nativity in a barn, surrounded by farm animals.  Nothing fancy, nothing splashy, nothing that would portend any great events yet to come.  Perhaps that, if nothing more, is the reason that many of us take the time to reflect on the beauty and mystery that is life – and causes us to be a little more generous, a bit more compassionate and just a smidgen more caring for our fellow men – at least for a few weeks.

Then, of course, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head can enjoy the camaraderie of sharing meals with family and friends.  The smells of the season, whether those come from the cookies baking in the oven or the incense of the Midnight Vigil and celebration of the Liturgy of the Nativity, appeal to our sense of smell and the decorations and light displays excite our vision.  At least that is the case for some of us.

Then there are those who profess atheism as their religion of choice, while denying that they have any religious convictions.  Not to engage in a debate on the subject which might embroil us in little more than a semantic conversation, let’s stipulate that an atheist, at least in America, is entitled to hold and express her convictions just as are Jews, Muslims, Baha’i’s, Buddhists, Christians or anyone of any other religious conviction.  If an atheist wants her position to be respected, it seems natural that they would respect the positions of others whose views might differ from their own.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the following billboards demonstrate:

 

 

 

American atheists generally direct their anti-religious message towards those of the their fellow citizens who are Christians, reserving their antipathy to members of other faiths with generalized derision in the belief in any God.  So why do those who believe that Jesus is Lord deserve their special attention?  This has puzzled me for many years so I thought that I would do a little research into the subject.

Samaritans Purse is a name with which you might have recently become familiar because of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  They have sent and paid for the cost of providing medical practitioners to the area to help those who were ravaged by the disease – all because of the contributions they received from those who support their work.  Perhaps our atheist friends believe that they have simply not done enough.

We are all familiar with the bell ringer volunteers that the Salvation Army puts in front of our stores during the Christmas season.  During the Great Depression, the Salvation Army was the only charitable organization that freely gave out food to those in need.  In 2013, the Salvation Army provided assistance to 30 million Americans with services that ranged from providing food to individuals and families in need, veterans services, half-way houses, prison ministries and services to the elderly and shut ins.  Although my atheist friends must think I’m crazy, I never hesitate to drop a few dollars in those red kettles every time I pass by one.

I grew up with “Make Room For Daddy” and adored Danny Thomas who founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Thomas loved kids and showed this by establishing this incredible hospital which is totally dependent on donations for its continued works as it does not charge any family for any of the services it provides to the children who come there to be treated for their complex and costly medical conditions.  Although Danny Thomas was a Maronite Catholic, St. Jude does not restrict its practice of free treatment to Catholic children in need but accepts all children as patients irrespective or religion or race.

Catholic Charities is probably the largest and best funded of all Christian charitable services.  It provides assistance by operating shelters for the homeless and abused women, services to immigrants including teaching English, nutrition through the Meals on Wheels program, companion programs for the elderly, just to name some of their activities.  Catholic Charities provides assistance to over 40 million Americans per year.

Despite these obvious good works, the atheists in American society continue their campaign to turn Christmas into Nixmas and spend their money putting up billboards and filing lawsuits, demanding that symbols of Christianity be removed from public display.  Personally, I think the money could be better spent – but that’s just one person’s opinion.

As I try to keep an open mind, should any of my readers who holds an atheist view of life be kind enough to provide me with the name of an atheist organization that actually spends its donations helping children, providing housing for the homeless, feeds the hungry or offers free medical treatment for those in need, I will be happy to make a contribution to their good work.  But irrespective of whether I hear from anyone with that information, let me take a moment to wish all readers, religious or otherwise, a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and a heart filled with charity.

Easter, 2014

“There are those who have a religious faith and those that don’t, and that has pretty much been the way it’s been throughout mankind’s history.  It’s unfortunate that people who fall into either camp disparage those who believe differently from themselves.  I think of it as philosophical racism.”

“Whether or not we have a religious orientation, I suspect that most of us, if we were to read the Pope’s remarks without knowing who the author was, would applaud his statement.  It seems foolish, if not reprehensible, to discard or demean his comments simply because they come from a religious figure while, if the same speech were given by Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, we would applaud it as an outstanding piece of oratory.”

The above two paragraphs were a comment that I left for someone on the Huffington Post who had thoroughly denounced Pope Francis’ Easter “Urbi et Orbi” proclamation.  While I presume from the tone of the statement this person left that he or she is an atheist, the same sort of intolerance unfortunately can be found within the ranks of the religious – both towards members of other belief systems as to those who profess to having none.

If there is one thing that we who claim to be Christians (in whatever form that may take) should most remember at Easter particularly, but throughout the year as well, it is that if you look at the three year ministry of Jesus, he drew everyone to Himself without regard to their physical condition, their status in society or their financial situation.  Much of that message appeared in Francis’ speech at the Vatican.

Easter is a time for renewal and optimism.  So let’s hope before we celebrate it again next year, each of us will be filled with the message of tolerance and love for one’s neighbors that Jesus taught and that we may find that next year the people of the earth are more at peace with one another and with God.

HUMILITY

foot washing

 

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  – Matthew 25: 40 (KJV)

 

 

As we prepare to celebrate the most holy period of the Christian calendar I wanted to take the time to wish all my readers a blessed Easter and the hope that all of us will focus on those things that are truly important, remembering that all else will eventually “pass away.”

KISSING FROGS

About thirty years ago in Texas, the oil boom that had powered the state’s economy since the turn of the last century came to an unexpected end.  The decline in the price of oil through over-production made drilling for new wells uneconomical and many of the old wells were produced in only limited capacity.  This naturally affected those who had jobs on the drilling rigs and those who provided services to them.  Mary Jane and Bobbie Jo were two such women, holding down jobs as waitresses in one of the many diners that catered to those in the oil industry.

The two were out walking one Sunday after church when suddenly they heard a tiny voice cry out, “Ladies, please help me.”

The women looked around but didn’t see anyone and were about to continue on their way when again the voice cried, “Ladies, please help me.”

Mary Jane looked down and on the ground was a bullfrog.  The two friends walked over to him to see if he could be the one who had asked for their help.

As the two neared the frog, he opened his mouth and said, “Ladies, I’m not really a bullfrog but a west Texas oilman.  An evil witch cast a spell on me that can only be broken if a beautiful woman kisses me.  Won’t one of you help me?”

Without hesitation, Bobbie Jo swooped down, grabbed the frog and put him in her purse, zipping the bag shut.  Her friend was astonished.

“Bobbie Jo.  Why didn’t you kiss that frog, break the evil witch’s spell and turn him back into a west Texas oilman?”

Bobbie Jo replied, “Honey, at the price of oil these days, a talking frog is worth a helluva lot more than a west Texas oilman.”

Westboro Baptist Church founder, Fred Phelps died last week at the age of 84.  God rest his soul.  His church of about thirty congregants, mostly family members, was well known for taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ and transforming it into a litany of hatred and intolerance.  Well known for his protests of gay marriages and military funerals, Phelps directed his followers to picket, disrupt and shout the most vile epithets at those who attended these rites.  There will be few who miss him or his dogma of alienation and self-righteousness.

That last sentence speaks to a common failing for those of us who call ourselves Christians.  It is easy to love and care for those who are loveable but quite difficult to hold those who offend us through their words or actions in the same way.  Yet we are called upon to do just that.

If the world were composed of people all of whom were saint-like, we would most likely all become saints, living out our life in charity, assisting those who were in need and being in the best sense of the Christian gospel, godly in our manner as we dealt with our fellow men and women.  In a deep sense, this is the argument against living a monastic life, only exposing ourselves to other like minded people and living out our lives without being exposed to the real challenges of a real world.  It has been argued that cloistered virtue is no virtue at all.

Most of us have not chosen that path and we must deal with the realities of the base, the vulgar and the depraved acts of many of our fellows.  While those who fit within those categories may not represent the majority of the world’s populace, they are certainly sufficient in number that they call themselves to our attention in our nightly newscasts.

Their actions, which we find shocking and reprehensible, command far more of our attention than the acts of kindness which are bestowed by members of the world’s human community.  Perhaps it is our attraction to the deviant and the lurid that fascinates us in the same way that we are absorbed by stories of werewolves, vampires and the occult.

There may be those who consider themselves Christians who rejoice in the death of Fred Phelps.  His manipulation of the Gospel was as far from the Christianity in which I was raised as I can imagine.  But if we rejoice in anyone’s demise, no matter how offensive his speech or actions, have we not adopted the exact same mindset as the late Mr. Phelps?  Are we any better in making our judgments than the judgment he and his followers heaped on those whom they defined as sinful?

We would all like to believe that somehow we can influence people, either in word, deed or both to be better people.  Very often despite our best efforts we see that our advice, counsel or example seem to have little effect.  Perhaps the most we can do is continue to do the right thing realizing that it is the right thing – whether or not it provides guidance or change for those with whom we come into contact.

A friend invited me to join him for a two day outing to an area in California where there are lakes and fresh water.  Perhaps there will be some frogs there.  I haven’t seen any since I moved from the Midwest.  If so, I’m going to try to capture one briefly and kiss it – and we’ll see what happens.

CHRISTMAS CONTROVERSY

Perhaps you’ve heard about various communities which have determined that Christmas displays in public places are not acceptable.  Some of the impetus for these decisions has come from atheist groups who are offended and cite the fact that the Constitution does not allow for government to establish any religion.  They equate the displays as equivalent to violating this provision of our governing document.

Personally, I’ve never felt offended when I’ve seen public displays of Menorahs.  I do have a lot of Jewish friends and I think that their Holiday is a wonderful one, signifying the indomitable nature of the human spirit.  And my Jewish friends have never told me that they object to seeing Nativity scenes.  If they were offended they certainly never aired that opinion.  Nor would I be offended if I were to see a display advocating atheism, such as the recent display that was put up in Times Square.

It shouldn’t surprise us that there have been local protests aimed at individual homeowners who have put up extensive Christmas lighting displays and portray other aspects of the Holy Day.  Some of those are, in my opinion, a bit over the top and garish.  And if I lived next door I might have thought that a little less might have been more artistic.  But knowing myself, I would have lived with it and kept my tongue.

The Christmas season will soon be over for another year, the decorations will be stored away and we can put this conversation back in the closet.  No – wait, I misspoke.  You see Christmas is not a seasonal event – it’s a Forever event – at least according to the United States Postal Service.

This year the USPS printed a new forever stamp – a Christmas stamp.

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Following is the USPS’ description of this philatelic issue, taken directly from its website:

The Holy Family stamp, first issued in 2012, celebrates Christmas with a scene from the Nativity story that reminds us of the joys of the season: family, togetherness, and the birth of the baby Jesus. It continues the U.S. Postal Service’s tradition of issuing beautiful and timeless Christmas stamps and will be a treasured addition to cards and letters sent during this season of goodwill and sharing.
Working together, art director William J. Gicker, designer Greg Breeding, and artist Nancy Stahl created an evocative image of the Holy Family. The stamp illustration shows Joseph leading a donkey that carries Mary and Jesus, guided by a star shining in the twilight of a desert sky.
The Holy Family stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.

While it is hardly part of my agenda to offer suggestions which further undermine the religious celebration of Christmas, it seems to me that if these people are so offended at viewing Christmas that way, they ought to be in front of Post Offices all over the country protesting the issuance of stamps such as these.  And when they finish their morning activities, they can march to our Public Libraries, demanding that they remove all copies of the Bible on hand and throw them into the fire that they’ve built outside the front door.

THE CHALLENGES OF A MODERN CHRISTMAS

In our small apartment in New York there was very little room for extraneous things like Christmas trees – but somehow we managed to have one every year.  It was certainly nothing like the mammoth that appeared in Rockefeller Center, but it was fresh and new and smelled piney.

Mom had embroidered a beautiful tree skirt replete with cherubs and Wise Men and candles and there were several boxes which I presumed contained the gifts that the Magi had brought to the baby Jesus.  In addition to being decorative it was very functional.  It collected the pine needles which began dropping from the tree due to the low humidity in the apartment.

Of course, one of the great traditions was trimming the tree.  We had a small supply of ornaments which had been used for years.  And then there were some wonderful lights.  My favorite were the ones that contained oil and which  bubbled when the contents had been heated by the electric current.  They were probably dangerous and have no doubt been outlawed by some government agency in the interest of the public good.

The best part of our tree’s decorations were the Christmas cards which were strung with red or green yarn and placed strategically to fill in the gaps where there were no ornaments or lights.  There were a lot of cards as people seemed to enjoy sending them just as much as we enjoyed receiving them.  And the cards were beautiful and mostly religious in their theme.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the number of cards I have received has declined substantially.  I don’t think that this is attributable either to the demise of some of those who included me on their Christmas card list or that I’ve managed to irritate a lot of people.  No, I still get a lot of cards – but most of them are sent electronically and reside on my computer.  Most of these contain the ever so banal wish, “Season’s Greetings,” and a number are animated.  One person whose mental health I have questioned sent one last year that included fornicating reindeer.  Well, I guess it’s the thought that counts.

So as I looked at my tree, I couldn’t help feel that it was a little bit bare – devoid of the usual Christmas cards that I had enjoyed in years past.  And I tried to find a way to correct this deficiency.  Then it occurred to me.  Since I had a lot of electronic cards on my hard drive, all I needed to do was pull the laptop from my office and put it on my tree.  So I removed the star from the top of the tree and attempted to replace it with the computer.  This created a few problems.

Even a small laptop is weighty and was more than the top branches could support, so I tried to prop it up by supporting it with several brooms.  While this worked, it didn’t have quite the aesthetic look I was trying to achieve.  Furthermore, I found that even with this makeshift solution it was very difficult for me to do any work on the laptop while standing on a stool.  The pressure of my fingers typing tended to cause the laptop to shift and I was concerned that the laptop and perhaps the tree itself might topple over.  So I came up with a solution to this conundrum.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has wonderful Christmas cards.  They always put together a collection of various images from years past and box them for sale.  And as it is close to the end of the season for Christmas cards, I was able to order four boxes of wonderful religious cards at a discount which I should be receiving next week.

What I intend to do is send myself one from each of the people who sent me an electronic card and write a wonderful and warm Christmas greeting from each of them.  When they’re delivered, I’ll pull out the needle and the yarn and place them on the tree, just as my family did when I was a child.

And now that I’ve resolved this challenge to the outward displays of Christmas, I can turn my attention back to its essence.  That there was a child born who changed the world and who gave us a message which each of us is expected to observe.  That we are to conduct our lives in Peace and with Love for our fellow men and women.

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