Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Dose of Reality for the Republicans

Nothing like a dose of reality to change one's mind and create the possibility of kindness toward others in similar straits.

Gov. Mark Sandford's extramarital affair knocks one more contender out of the ring.

But this is no time for cheering; this is a time for grieving - for his family, for the man, and for the State of South Carolina.

But it's also a time for the Republicans to take stock, those who love to scramble to the top of the moral high ground, throwing their caustic remarks at “lesser human beings.”

The GOP - the Greedy Old Party, has become the party of smoke and mirrors, guided by the religious right, which seems to lack in the body-politic what we used to call an "honest bone."

Jesus has been turned into a scam for success, popularity, white teeth, winning beauty pageants and body-building championships, not to mention wealth, health and power, and, even heaven, for heaven’s sake - what a deal.

But as Peter DeVries once observed, down deep, it's shallow - very shallow, indeed.

Sin happens! For Republicans and for Democrats (see Monica Conyers in Detroit) alike, the flesh is weak - and so shall it remain.

So I hope, likely against the current in the GOP right now, that a new humility and a new compassion might emerge:
* For the GLBT community and their quest for marriage equality.
For the right of the mother to make basic decisions about her own body.
* And a fresh awareness that “family values” are all about education, work-place safety and benefits, environment, the reduction of global warfare, a single-payer health care system to rid us of a $400 billion industry bent on profits and not health.

It’s not likely to happen.

But I can hope.

I feel for Mr. Sanford.
He’s just a human being after all.
But as a member of the GOP, he has to pretend, as they all do.

Too bad!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

GOP Foolishiness Persists!

Are the Repugs incapable of working with the Prez? Has their right-wing DNA been irreparably damaged by the last 40 years of Reagan economics and military drumbeating?

And what DOES McPain want for Iran?




The Repugs did it to Carter, they did it to Clinton, and now the same old strategy with Obama - charge the Prez with timidity and weakness on foreign policy.

It worked with Carter, sad to say.

It worked partially with Clinton.

But it won't work at all with Obama.

Times have changed. It's a brand new world, with a new normal. Though some still love to wave the flag and get goosebumpy with thoughts of war, the vast majority of Americans realize that diplomacy is the only reasonable way.

We simply don't have the military might to do much more than we're presently doing in Iraq and Afghanistan; we have to work with our allies and rely on the international community.

And with the limits of American military power having been reached, it's a God-send for us - to learn how to take our place in the family of nations and how to talk responsibly to the world.

Thankfully, we have a Prez who can do this.

For those who thrill with tough talk and muscle flexing, it'll never be enough.

But for those who want America to be genuinely strong and truly great, it will be more than enough.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

McCain Shows Real Colors

For a long time, I've considered John McCain a decent man.

But his recent rant about the President and Iran is shameful.

McCain and the Repugs are using the people of Iran to further their own perverted ideology of power and domination, an ideology that has proved utterly bankrupt.

On the other hand, Obama's restrained and patient approach bodes well for the future. We can't and we don't control the world. We are but one nation among all the others. Though larger than most, and surely one of the most powerful, we're not the king of the hill, though such a thought utterly galls a poor man like McCain who is, and this I've contended for years, still fighting Vietnam, trying to reclaim a glory he perceives us to  have lost in Vietnam.

That the Repugs have sunk this low is hard to imagine.

The party of Lincoln, not to mention Eisenhower, has sunk very low, indeed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Has Gingrich Slipped A Cog?

Has Gingrich slipped a cog or two?

He now has religion, something he’s been working on for some time now, trying to rehabilitate his relationship with the far right so that he can use it as a campaign base for the next presidential gig in 2012? I think so!

Converting in May, 2009, from his Southern Baptism heritage to his wife’s Roman Catholicism, Gingrich recently said: "I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States, because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator."

Echoing the nonsense of a group of so-called Christian “scholars” who claim our Founding Fathers to be “evangelical” Christians in the late 20th Century mold (they were, in fact, mostly Deists; several would hardly qualify as believers) seeking to create a “Christian” nation.

Not so. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers all knew the horrors of a “Christian” Europe, and here in this land, they sought to create a nation free of such politicized religion, so that religion might be freely chosen and politics be secular. The separation of church and state remains one of America’s greatest contributions to the world of ideas, but it’s being threatened now by the far right who would like to see an American theocracy.

Gingrich is savvy – he’s learned his lessons well. For the last 40 years, the road to the Republican presidential nomination began with far right Christians who, in the last two presidential runs, propelled Dubya into the White House.

The following quote from the Washington Post says it well:

Gingrich seems to have learned what George W. Bush showed John McCain in 2000, and what James Dobson helped McCain understand in 2008: The path to the Republican Party presidential nomination begins at the church -- in this case, Rock Church in Virginia Beach.

"Lord," Engle [the pastor] prayed as Gingrich bowed his head and opened his hands, "extend his influence for righteousness in this nation, lay your supernatural hand of God upon him and deliver him from the evil schemes of the enemy."

Not quite the "every form of witchcraft" from which Palin's pastor sought to protect her, but then positioning for 2012 has just begun.

Yet sun has set on this kind of “Christian” thinking. With the killing of Dr. George Tiller, we see where the road ends in a dark and dangerous place for this kind of self-righteous, fascist-like, theological gobbledygook. Though many such Christians “decry” the killing, I get an uneasy feeling that it’s mostly rhetoric rather than a responsible distancing from such violence. And I’ve yet to hear a anyone in that camp admit the possibility that fiery pulpit rhetoric might contribute to the further unsettling of an already unstable mind.

Indeed, violence has a special place in these congregations – their bloody end-of-the-world scenarios (see their Halloween haunted houses and their lurid images of hell), revival services with plenty of threats, ”Jesus Camps” for their children, the lionizing of athletic violence, the easy division of the world into good and evil, the love of guns and warfare images, and a violent god who kills his enemies with gusto (everyone cheer now).

Playing upon all sorts of half-truths, god and country are fused together into some sort of anguished creature (see “The Fly” – “Something went wrong in the lab today...something very wrong...”).

Something has gone very wrong in the far-right lab – as we see paralleled in the worst examples of Islamic extremism and in the terrors of the Middle Ages where religion and state are fused together into some hideous alliance, with the state punishing those who violate the established religion, and the church establishing and crowning the head of state.

Is this the kind of world we wish to have?

But this is exactly the kind of world proposed by the far right and regularly preached from the pulpits of its churches.

If you really want to know what’s cooking under the counter in such places, do a Google on “Christian Reconstructionism” – begin with the Wikipedia article. I can promise you this: Gingrich reads and knows well this bizarre world of twisted ideas.

As much as this form of Christianity has dominated the news in recent years, it’s a hybrid born in America.

Like hybrid grains and fruits, it’s highly productive, needs enormous amounts of water, fertilizer and endless tending, with a long shelf-life, but with none of the flavor you remember from childhood. If a strain of mold should evolve, or some new bug emerge, it will quickly succumb. This hybrid religion has none of the genetic heartiness of historic Christianity (see Diana Butler Bass’s fine books, “Christianity for the Rest of Us” and “A People’s History of Christianity”) or any real saving power.

The greatest impediment to the future is ignorance of the past, and to listen to far-right preaching and to read their books is to hear a vast restless army of ignorance ready for “the next war” – whatever that war might be as determined by James Dobson or Rush Limbaugh or a host of other extremist voices ready to “slay their enemies and conquer the world for Christ.”

How I yearn for the mainline church in America to recapture the power of faithful thinking, to love God with the mind as much as some folks claim to love God with the heart. To love God with the historical perspective – knowing well how folks in other times and places sought to love God – where and how they succeeded and where and how they failed, and working well (read intelligently) with Scripture. We have to know our faith thoroughly; we have to know our Bible better than they do. We have to be equipped with logic and conviction; clear thoughts and our own version of a passionate Christian rhetoric, but grounded in the command to love and the welcoming vision of Jesus.

It’s a tall order for thoughtful, progressive folks of faith, but it can be done. And more than that, it must be done.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This Is Not My Christianity

This is not my Christianity!

Though this expression of the faith has found favor with the media in recent years, and for many who have other faith-traditions, it's the only expression of faith associated with the word "christian," it's not my Christianity, nor that of millions of good and decent folk who take Jesus seriously and want to live their lives constructively in a difficult world.

The picture says it all:

These groups have fallen victim to something Emerson noted years ago: a truth, even a big truth, when held in isolation from others truths, becomes a lie.

Their narrow focus blinds them to the larger world around them. Filled a highly dangerous form of self-confidence, the kind of confidence that comes from talking to one's self endlessly, and with those who hold the same views - reinforcing the point, until, like feedback, all we have is a hideous screeching.

They are relentless and cruel, and share with extremists all around the world the same pattern of utter confidence in their own take on things and an complete disdain for others, if not an outright hostility that strangely turns the christian world upside down - that in the defense of life, as they so claim, the life of the opponent has no value.

In this church sign, we see everything that's wrong with this form of Christianity, and though some of generous nature might want to defend them as merely wayward brothers and sisters, this expression of the faith has to be exposed for what it is - a vicious contradiction of everything upon which Jesus stood, picking out of the tradition the very worst examples of power and violence (and there are plenty from which to choose) and twisting and distorting the Bible to suit their own agenda.

This is not my Christianity, and it's time for women and men of faith who follow Jesus and seek justice, who strive for peace and walk humbly with God, to stand up and be counted.

This is not our Christianity.

There is a Christianity rich and good - just as strong, but not violent. Focused on God and seeking justice, but without disdain for the other.

Read Marcus Borg or Bishop Tom Wright, Diana Butler Bass or Dominic Crossan, Barbara Brown Taylor or John Ortberg, Rob Bell or John Buchanan - all of these pastors and writers represent a coherent and loving expression of the faith, a faith devoted to lifting up the name of Jesus and lifting up the world with it.

There are many varieties of the faith, but the expression of faith represented in the cold and careless sign above is on the boundary at the farthest reaches of thought and behavior.

Has it crossed the boundary?

Into some sort of dark never-never land filled with pain and anger?

Has it gone too far into it's self-congratulating cave?

That it would dance on Dr. Tiller's grave?

Whatever it is, it's not my Christianity, and for that I give thanks to God every day!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Wealthy Scam & American Christians

For much of my ministry (39 year's worth), I've battled a misconception deeply rooted in millions of Americans, including millions of church members - that folks on the bottom of the heap are not to be trusted and, if on welfare of any kind, are likely scamming the system.

From the Welfare Mom with the Cadillac, and so on, we've told terrible stories about a huge segment of our society, with one purpose in mind - that we might dismiss them and their needs and get on with our lives.

But in recent years, we have witnessed the rest of the story, a story so large that it boggles the mind.

It's not the poor who are scamming us, it's the wealthy, and they're scamming us by the hundreds of billions.

From Enron a few yeas ago to Madoff and now to the former head of Countrywide, Angelo Mozilo - and how many more small fish wearing expensive suits and flashy ties are involved in this massive transfer of wealth from the many to the few?

But as long as the myth of the welfare mom exists, we continue to scold and punish the working poor while ignoring, if not celebrating, the crimes of the wealthy. The powerful of this nation lack for nothing when it comes to medical insurance, job security (so what if they're fired; they have hundreds of millions in compensation) and personal comfort, and from their citadels of comfort, they fight national healthcare, they stubbornly refuse the minimal rights of the American worker, they continue to shift jobs out of America, they spend millions to bust the unions, all the while blaming the little guy for the ills of the nation.

That so-called Christians should espouse such nonsense is all the more saddening, given everything said about the plight of the poor in the Prophets and everything Jesus said about our values.

But drive by "successful" churches around the country on a Sunday morning, and the more conservative they are, the more Jesusey they are, the more likely we're to see ostentation in buildings, cars, hairdos and dress, with shallow, fill-in-the-blank sermons that inspire a "stand up for Jesus" mentality without any clear sense of why - why would we stand up for a man adjudged by the religiously powerful of his time as dangerous and killed by the Roman authorities?

We do well to remember Gandhi's Seven Deadly Sins:

  • Wealth without Work
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Science without Humanity
  • Knowledge without Character
  • Politics without Principle
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Worship without Sacrifice
It's deadly sins 3 & 7 that go to the heart of so much American Christianity.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Letter to Senator Feinstein re EFCA

June 4, 2009

Senator Dianne Feinstein
11111 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 915
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I am writing on behalf of EFCA, to encourage your favorable vote on this piece of important legislation.

I’m sure corporate interests are busy lobbying your office and using a variety of pressure-tactics to vote no, but I encourage you to vote yes on behalf of the people who punch a time-clock and build this nation every day.

As you can tell by my letterhead, I’m a pastor, the Presbyterian kind, and I’ve been a pastor for 39 years.

The EFCA legislation, which our President has vowed to sign, is vital to our financial recovery (as was the Wagner Act, 1935), the rebuilding of the middle class, the restoration of dignity for millions of American workers and a fundamental mid-course correction, to bring a healthier balance to the conversation between labor and management, a balance that has swung, in the last 40 years, too far in favor of management.

Without EFCA, huge injustices will continue to demoralize millions of American workers, casting them into near-poverty, putting them and their families at risk and further crippling American productivity.

EFCA is needed now.

I know that you were a sponsor of this legislation in 2007, and I salute you for that work in the face of a President who wouldn’t sign it into law.

Now, we have a President who is prepared to sign it, and I encourage you to stand by your earlier work and help restore the dignity and security of the American worker.

Thank you for your good work.


Thomas P. Eggebeen