Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Number 16

Tea Party Double Feature

A.  You will have to ask the Tea Party to answer this question, 'cause I don't have the answer myself; but, what's the difference between an 'activist' judge and a 'patriotic' judge?

I'm very bemused about the reaction of my friends camped out over in right-wing land.  They are celebrating with much ecstasy the fact that a federal judge in Texas put a halt to the President's immigration plan.  To these people he is a 'red-blooded, American hero' standing up to the tyranny of the executive branch.  It is a "real Texas-sized smack down".  (That's an actual quote)

These are, of course, the same folks who decry 'judicial activism' when a judge somewhere delivers a ruling that they don't agree with.  Then it's all about how this one person is 'subverting the will of the majority'.  (Never minding the fact that our fore-fathers clearly gave the judiciary this power to ensure that majority-approved laws were also Constitutional.  Remember, slavery and "separate but equal" both enjoyed approval by majorities once upon a time.)

Look:  There's plenty to discuss and/or argue about when it comes to the Constitution. A person can believe that judges may legally block laws, or not (whether a law is popular or not).  (And if you don't think so, you need to retake a basic Civics class).  Just try to be consistent in your opinions or your hypocrisy might show.

B.  Do you remember Victoria Jackson?  She was on Saturday Night Live once upon a time, and her specialty was the "ditzy blonde".  These days she's a tea party advocate.  She recently posted a video entitled "There's a Muslim in the White House".  (click on the link below, if you would like).


I'll not debate the quality , or content of the video, but for one point.  Either you think she's hopelessly deluded, or a brave patriot trying to alert the masses.  I'm certain that my opinion won't change anyone's mind.

Here's the one point I'd like to make.  At one point in the video,  Ms. Jackson informs us that the President is allowed to lie about the fact that he's really a muslim.  What a wonderful way for Ms. Jackson to have her cake and eat it too!  In her scenario the President is either a Muslim lying about being a Christian or he's a Muslim lying about being a Christian.

The essence of this believe system (beyond the President's religious affiliation), is to disregard anything that doesn't support your opinions as being lies and untruths, and this strikes me as a tremendously dangerous way to construct your reality.  How can your thinking evolve if you always regard a differing opinion as a lie?

Unfortunately, it seems to me that Ms. Jackson is not alone among the tea party denizens who share this philosophy.  They believe what they believe, and any information that runs counter to those opinions are lies designed to destroy this great nation.


what a miserable way to live.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Number 15

I didn't write this (but wish I had).

I'm tired of right wing religious conservatives (i.e.:  At least three of our Supreme Court justices), claiming that Christianity has hegemony over all other expressions of faith to the point that it is legal to take into account Christian beliefs to settle legal disputes.  (Which begs the fallacy that there are not a large number of contradictory Christian beliefs).

If Our Founding Fathers Were All Christians, Why Did They Say This?

Nobody can deny the fact that Christianity has played a huge role in our history. From the first Thanksgiving to the ideas of Jesus Christ that are embroidered in our culture today, Christianity and the Bible is responsible a big part of our heritage.
However, many conservatives will take this fact way out of context. They'll think that you have to be a Christian to be patriotic, which is simply not true. Following the more secular teachings of Jesus Christ (being charitable, loving one another, treating strangers with kindness) is what the men who founded this country were for.
I don't want to waste my time listing all these obscurant far-right arguments, so instead I'll list the facts straight from our forefathers.
“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”
- George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia (1789)
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.”
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr (1787)
"In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced, and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind.”
- Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists (1771)
“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.”
- Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791)
“Congress has no power to make any religious establishments.”
- Roger Sherman, Congress (1789)
"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack (1758)
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people build a wall of separation between Church & State."
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Danbury Baptists (1802)
"To argue with a man who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead."
- Thomas Paine, The American Crisis No. V (1776)
Note: You can read Paine's whole pamphlet, where he expresses his atheistic beliefs, here.
“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”
- Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779)
"Christian establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects."
- James Madison, letter to William Bradford, Jr. (1774)
"There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
- George Washington, address to Congress (1790)
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
- James Madison, General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia (1785)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Number 14

The Mission Trip

(The following was written for the newsletter of the First Presbyterian Church of Mankato)

The Red Lake (Chippewa) Reservation is located in northwestern Minnesota.  The lake is the largest  in Minnesota (other than Lake Superior), and, as it turns out, is quite stunning to look out upon.  The reservation was the destination for our just completed mission trip.  Eleven of us (nine children and two adults) left church on Sunday morning (July 13), with only a vague notion of what was in store for us over the next week.  Ostensibly, the idea was to help out the residents of the reservation, but it became much more than that.

To review briefly, we were able to go on this trip only because of the extreme generosity of the membership at the First Presbyterian Church of Mankato.  Without your help, the trip would not have happened.

The first lesson occurred when Pam (the other chaperone) and I both discovered we could drive 15 foot vans.  The second lesson we learned was that everyone needed to keep their shoes on their feet while we traveled.  When we stopped for lunch, the kids all surrendered their electronic devices for the week.  This was accompanied by shocked faces and bewildered expressions of protest.  One would have thought they hadn't been told MANY times that this was going to happen.  I believe that 'unplugging' for the week was the first, of many, significant events for the children.

We arrived at the Red Lake Middle School at 4:45 pm, and what do you know - it looked like a school!  (which, I believe, was reassuring to the kids).  We were the first of three different church groups to arrive, so we had first choice of sleeping quarters.  Soon, however, the other two groups arrived.  One group was from a Methodist church in Omaha.  They consisted of 28 kids and eight adults.  The second group of 12 kids and 2 adults came from a Lutheran church in central Wisconsin. All in all, we were quite ecumenical, and by the end of the week, a transition had occurred that changed the kids from three smaller groups into one large group.  It is difficult to explain the significance of this transition, but it was emotionally powerful to watch the youth from our church embrace this change.

As to the work itself, we were kept plenty busy.  The first two days, we did what are called 'work projects'.  Among the tasks we accomplished were helping get the elementary school ready for the Fall, preparing a house for painting, applying a final coat of paint to another home.  We also did a lot of weeding and window washing at the local assisted living and women's centers.  The other two days we spent time with the local children at the reservation's Boys and Girls Club.  We facilitated "Water Day" on Wednesday (where it will not surprise you to learn that everyone ended up wet!).  On Thursday we organized reading, arts & crafts, and games for the children.  Every task our youth were given was completed with good spirits (and only a minimal amount of whining - they are teenagers, after all!).

It's an interesting juxtaposition that the local children loved having our youth there to play with them, but also exhibited many challenging behaviors at the same time.  This point, of course, serves to highlight many if the unique struggles of live on the Reservation.  There are extreme levels of poverty and unemployment.  There are also high levels of drug abuse, alcoholism, obesity, gang activity, teen pregnancy, and violence against women.  There are also significant numbers of suicides and murders.  The Reservation high school has an 8% graduation rate.  The parish priest, Father Jerry, also describes a sense of lethargy and entitlement that exists among the people.  He attributes this to the learned helplessness that accompanies the poverty that continues from one generation to the next.

But we also witnessed small glimpses of hope.  I watched one twelve year-old boy, standing tall and proud, as he drummed and sang along with his uncle.  It was easy to imagine him as a future leader.  We had many conversations with the local folks, and they couldn't be more kind or generous.  One of my favorite moments came when we were washing windows at the extended care center.  A few of the residents were watching "The Price is Right" in the common room.  We stopped working for the moment to watch if a woman was going to win a car.  As silly as it sounds, it pointed out the many similarities that we share - we were all interested in how it would turn out.   (She lost, and all of us derided her efforts - another commonality!).  When a young child would climb in your lap with a book that he or she wanted read, it was hard for your heart to not melt a little bit.

Many of the problems that the people of Red Lake face can only be fixed from within.  There is still a tangible sense of pride and a subtle suspicion of the 'outside' world.  Whatever it is that will help fix things, it needs to come from the people themselves.  However that does not mean there is nothing we can do.  Our church alone supplied enough materials to stock one elementary school classroom for the entire year.  Assistance like this allows the Red Lake District to focus on other important issues that face the children of the Reservation.  It is also important for our own spiritual growth that we reach out to support these people.  This is the type of work that Jesus Christ commanded us to do.

We arrived back home at 4:15 pm on Friday, July 18.  We were tired, but pleasantly so.  It is the fatigue that accompanies a job well done.  The electronic devices had already been returned to the youth and they were already assimilating back into their 'normal' lives.  If you ask them about the mission trip, many of them will probably say it was "OK" or "yeah, I had a good time" without a great deal of enthusiasm.  I understand that - it is a teenager's defense against appearing 'uncool'  (God forbid).  But I was there, and I saw the positive changes that occurred in all of them.  Some of these things are privileged, so I'll just ask for you to trust me.  Please remember that experiences like this go a long way in developing an active spiritual life in our youth, the future of the church.  It was a privilege to be with them in Red Lake.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Number 13

What's Good Customer Service?

I went into a convenience store for a soda pop today (Diet Pepsi, if you're interested).  It's one of those places where they scan a little card and you earn points.  I've cared very little about these points until today, when my curiosity got the better of me, so I asked the woman behind the counter about the program.

I imagine most folks, if they're really honest, would think about a job in a convenience store somewhat disdainfully.  If we're even more honest, we've probably allowed ourselves to feel just a little bit superior to the folks that work in these establishments.  We probably don't even mean to,  but sometimes it hard to stop those thoughts from popping into our heads.  (Or, maybe it's just me, and my pathetic attempt to generalize my awfulness demonstrates a weak character.)

In any event, I asked about the points program, and the woman behind the counter couldn't have been more helpful or pleasant.  I was embarrassed by the fact that I was surprised by her kindness.  But more than that, she made me realize what real customer service is.  It's all about making the effort to connect with the person being helped, and I thank her for opening my eyes to that fact.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Number 12

My Gift to Mark and Greg (for what it's worth)

     I'm not a brave person.  I know right from wrong, and I do my best to live up to that standard.  But if it comes to making a public declaration, I'm often silent.  I don't really know why - maybe I'm afraid of disappointing a friend.  This blog not withstanding, I'm reluctant to give my opinion on many important issues.  (And even on the blog, I usually bend over backward to ensure that both sides of the story are presented).  Now, it's time for me to walk to the edge, peer over the side, and jump.

     There is no reason, other than prejudice, fear, and ignorance, to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage.

     Don't talk to me about the "historical" definition of marriage.  Don't talk to me about Biblical imperatives.  Don't talk to me about "slippery slopes".  Those are all hollow arguments and they are easily exposed.  What has constituted a marriage has changed over the eons many, many times.  Heck, the Christian Bible doesn't have a single definition itself.

     "But, Hugh", you say, "If we allow same-sex marriage, we'll have to allow for polygamists, pedophiles, and folks involved in incestuous relationships to get married."  No, no, and no.  Polygamists make the choice to involve themselves in that type of relationship, and homosexuals do not - at least in terms of the sex of the person they are attracted to.  (We bring you this parenthetical announcement to state:  "C'mon people, do you really still think that somebody 'chooses' to be homosexual or lesbian?  I know I never chose to be heterosexual:  I just always liked girls/women in 'that way'.  If you still feel, in your heart of hearts, that people choose to be gay, stop reading now.  Just remember that denial is not just a river in Egypt.")  Pedophilia is morally reprehensible and justifiably illegal.  It has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with exploiting the less powerful.  With incest, there exist compelling health issues which allows the state to legally ban the practice.  Also, none of those situations center around two adults, both on an equal footing, consenting to the relationship.

     In every state where it has not yet been legalized, there is a group of people who are being denied a basic right that others are able to take for granted.  That is unconstitutional.  This doesn't mean you have to like it:  It's okay to think it's "icky" if you want to.  But that's not a reason to legally codify discrimination. As I said above, there is no compelling reason, other than those based on prejudice, fear, and ignorance, to deny the right of marriage to two consenting adults.

      If nothing else, let me leave you with this.  My former church, Hammond Street Congregational Church, called an openly gay pastor about ten years ago.  I supported this, but I remember thinking at the time:  "I hope this means we won't become 'the gay church'"  Well, to a certain degree, we did.  A number of gays and lesbians (many in committed relationships), began attending.  And I began to hear stories of being ostracized and denied by former churches and family members.  Stories of searching for a place where they could be loved and accepted for who they were.  Being a part of a place that would do that, I found I didn't care about being the 'gay' church.  Though I'd always been an ally, it wasn't until these folks put a human face on it, that I understood how utterly unfair (and illegal), the denial of the basic right of marriage was.

    I met Greg and Mark at Hammond Street Church years ago.  I want to thank them for their part in my evolution.   They are getting married on Sunday.  I wish I could be there to help them celebrate, for I know there will be much love in that building.  Congratulations you two.  It has been a long road, but I know the reward will be sweet.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Number 11


The few thoughts on this emotional subject from a man who's had a vasectomy.

1.  Facetiousness aside, I say to the folks who believe that men should not be participating in this debate: "You're wrong."  I understand that it is the woman who becomes pregnant, but it still requires two ingredients to make the baby.

2.  Life starts at conception.  People who wish to protect abortion rights only tie themselves in knots when they challenge this.  I understand the baby cannot survive outside of the mother's womb for much of the pregnancy, but to deny that the "fetus" is a living, growing entity is just silly.

3.  The labels make me nuts.  "Pro-choice", "anti-choice", "pro-life", and worst of all "pro-abortion."  As far as I know, nobody is pro-abortion.  I believe this should be the starting point for the entire discussion:  "Nobody likes abortion, so what can we do to lower their numbers".  Bumper sticker debates are tenuous at best, but a recent one from folks who would outlaw the procedure says: "Pray to end abortion".  I may not support the way they would enforce this sentiment, but a goal of no abortions is a noble one.

4.  I've been a little belligerent towards people that support keeping abortion legal thus far.  Now it's time for me to focus on those who would make abortion illegal.  Sex happens, folks.  Stick your fingers in your ears, and shout "nah, nah, nah, nah" all you want, this fact will not go away.  Abstinence education is a farce at best and dangerous at worst.  The best way to prevent unplanned pregnancy is sex education that includes information about birth control.  In fact, this is the crux of the entire issue.  Abortion is the ultimate "closing the barn door after the horse has escaped" debate.

5.   Social conservatives can't have it both ways.  The demand for abortions will always be high as long as folks continue to deny the efficacy of realistic sexual education.  It's time for the ostriches to take their heads out of the sand.

6.  To all those people who would make abortion illegal, there's more to being "pro-life" than just mandating that a woman must carry a child to term.  I've noticed that many of these same people are in favor of limiting access to healthcare, limiting access to public assistance, dismantling public education, and limiting funds for social service agencies that would assist a mother and her newborn.  There's a difference between "pro-birth" and "pro-life".  Which one are you?

7.  Putting a child from an unplanned pregnancy up for adoption is worthy of praise and support.

8.  For many women (and men), dealing with an unplanned pregnancy there are no "right" answers.  For many of them, an abortion is the "least wrong" answer.

9.  It would be wonderful to live in a world where every baby is healthy and planned for.  As I said above, that's a noble goal.  It's also (sadly) unrealistic.

10.  As I've gotten older, any "wisdom" I've achieved can be traced back to the development of empathy.  Instead of continuing to vilify one another, I believe we'd do better if we tried to understand one another.  I think we'd realize we have more in common than we think we do.

I hate apologies that start with "if", but...  if I've upset or angered you, I'm sorry.  That was not my intent.  It was, rather, to start a more honest dialogue between the various points of view.

P.S.  I was about to publish this when I realized I hadn't stated my position on whether access to abortions should be legal or not.  I think I'll leave it like that.