Saturday, January 29, 2011

Presidential Humor

What can I add to this?

The one person in the world who can order the death of thousands of innocent people through the mediation of Predator drones jokes about killing his own subjects if they step out of line.

President Obama jokes about killing the Jonas Brothers

This man has indeed ordered the killing of American citizens without trial. But now we can joke about it. Ha, ha, ha.

And now this knee-slapper about airport patdowns during the State of the Union address:

President Obama jokes about airport patdowns

If this man were the president of any country where the inner power circle was people of color or speakers of a language unrelated to English, he would be called a monster. But because his backdrop is Old Glory, only the lunatic fringe howls at his barbarism.

I work in an office populated by two dozen people as hostile to evangelical Christianity as any two dozen randomly chosen people in our nation (though I should hasten to add that they treat Christians and all persons with respect), yet the first comment I heard the first time the subject of airport patdowns was raised was, "What will this do to people who have been abused?" But the conversation died soon thereafter. Hey, if the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize can joke about patdowns, they must be funny, right? People who have been abused be damned!

Have Christians in the US gotten offended at the idea of women and children being "felt up" (as stated in my office) before they can fly? If they have, I haven't heard anything. I know at least one of the guys who started, and they're not evangelicals, but they do stand "for basic human dignity" and back up that stance with their time, their money, and their willingness to have Whoopi Goldberg castigate them on worldwide TV. But the evangelical church stands by President Obama, whom they had a boatload of biblical reasons to deny their vote, and, I would say, against the basic dignity of those they say are created in the image of the God they worship.

Worse, they merrily send their children off to kill and die for this monster. If my church is typical, their prayers are, "Dear Lord, bless your missionaries, many of whom serve under difficult circumstances. And for those who have answered your call to serve in the armed forces, we ask that you will bring them home safely. May they serve with honor. We pray that you would put a hedge of protection around Abel Baker, Charlie Daniels, Edward Foss, and George Hardy." Do you see the difference? The prayers for the missionaries are cryptic and general; for the soldiers they are lengthy and specific. "Where your treasure [including time] is, there will your heart be also."

Yet no matter whom I mention this to, the reaction is that I am attacking those who do the praying. "How dare you criticize the prayers of a brother?" But it seems to me that when this has been an almost-weekly occurrence (well, many weeks there are no prayers for the missionaries at all) for almost eight years, we're not talking about personal foibles here; we're talking about the official policy of the church: an official, unverbalized claim that Jesus stands behind or goes ahead of Uncle Sam's army and that the death of innocent people by the thousands is simply collateral damage—in the words of Madeleine Albright, "a tough choice, but . . . worth it."

So Jesus is saying through his church that it's OK to kill innocent people and let God sort them out. (As one with more than my share of foibles, I have to note that it seems that perverts go skinny dipping with women and children; good Christians drop bombs on them.)

Jesus, we hardly knew ye.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Green Shoot

I can't remember the last time I wasn't tired. Part of it is age; nothing works as well as it used to, and the system that performs maintenance on my body while I sleep is going downhill along with my skin, muscle tone, digestion, vision, hearing, short-term memory, and everything else. The idea of living forever doesn't have any appeal to me whatever, and I'd even bypass drinking from the fountain of eternal youth, given the sins of mine.

And, to tell the truth, the promise of heaven doesn't thrill me much, either. Though Jesus says that those who are faithful to him will hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your lord," meaning that his happiness will guarantee mine, the Bible doesn't really give us any glimpses of heaven that make me feel like I'd belong there or even want to.

So we're left with looking at life on earth, or some aspects of it, as a foretaste of what God has in store for those who love him. I write this blog because I see much room for improvement in that earthly picture, at least the part involving the church in the US. And I find myself wondering if there really is a Holy Spirit: if God is a thinking, speaking, feeling, acting being, why is the church in the US, with all its Bibles, sermons online, and prayer meetings, on the wrong side of so many issues? Or if the church is right, why won't he tell me what I'm doing wrong so I can repent? Has he given up on me and sent me lies because I don't want to believe the truth?

Well, I think I've seen a green shoot in the desert.

This morning we sent off our contribution to Samaritan Ministries, a Christian health-care co-op we've been a part of for more than a decade. Actually, we sent the money to a fellow "subscriber," someone who made their financial need brought on by medical treatment. They told Samaritan of their need, and Samaritan passed their name on to us so we could send them a predetermined amount of money and pray for them. We do this every month, and the understanding is that if we have medical needs we'd like prayer and help paying for, we can make our needs known. I had a hernia repaired last month, and depending on what I owe after my employment-based insurance pays, I may submit a request.

Samaritan started out when health-care costs were merely unreasonable. Now that government coercion has made health care almost unaffordable,voluntary organizations like Samaritan are more important than ever in enabling us to have somewhere to turn when medical costs overwhelm us.

During the runup to ObamaCare, Senator Christopher Dodd put out a call for those interested in commenting on the subject to contribute to an online forum. Samaritan told us about it, and so I put in my two cents' worth a couple of times. One contributor referred to us "subscribers" as "minions" and huffed that he would never qualify as a member, hence Samaritan was somehow immoral, and if ObamaCare destroyed it, so much the better. I suggested to him that if he wanted to set up a similar organization for atheists Samaritan would be happy to help him get it running. I later asked someone at Samaritan if I'd gone overboard and was assured that I hadn't.

If being part of the church means being part of Samaritan Ministries, a group that helps people every day and would willingly help more, all in the name of Christ, count me in, my doubts be damned.

If that weren't enough of a green shoot, the people we sent money to today are in Mexico. Perhaps they are US citizens down there as missionaries or retirees, but the names are thoroughly Spanish. I'd prefer to believe that they are simply José y María Paquete de Seis (not their real names!), a brother and sister in Christ, who heard about Samaritan and wanted to get in on a good thing.

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away (and so will democracies and republics), but there's something about the name of Jesus.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Red, White, and Blue at the Rose Bowl

I only caught parts of a few bowl games this season. Though I say "only," I consider watching any sports unless under duress proof that I am not totally sanctified. This year's intake was more than in the past, and like any addict, I find that the more I take in the less I enjoy. On the other hand, having an excuse (if not, alas, this time, the opportunity) to rub my wife's feet during the game goes a long way to making the experience worthwhile, even if I find my inability not to watch the third replay of an incomplete pass and the fourth showing of a commercial I didn't like the first time reprehensible.

If you really hate me, buy me a wide-screen TV and a hundred channels of cable to go with it. You'll never hear from me again. I will literally amuse myself to death, and sports will likely be the most healthy part of my suicide diet.

But just as the best action is not without sin, neither is a serious waste of time without some gain.

Did you catch the Rose Bowl? I don't mean the game, I mean the stadium. You had to be looking for it, because the cameras never focused on it, and I can't find any pictures online to back this up, but if you can find a recording of the game, look for shots of the front entrance to the stadium and the facade on the press box. You'll see a red, white, and blue theme, not really a flag, but certainly reminiscent of it, and four words, which I think included strength and integrity, maybe duty, honor, and justice. As I say, it was backdrop, and I didn't think to write the words down. While these words can apply to football, I don't think that was the point. I think it was about the military.

My guess is prompted by something else I noticed. The referee, and probably all the officials, were wearing prominent American* flags on their chests (to the left, under the heart). Now there have been nickel-sized American flags on the backs of college and professional football helmets for years, and Major League Baseball jerseys all have on one sleeve American flags the size of those worn by the astronauts, and referees' shirts probably did also. These are somewhat unobtrusive, and if their purpose is ungodly, they are effective by being insidious; the equivalent in the sexual realm would be, oh I don't know, the beginnings of a cleavage or butt crack. But there was nothing insidious about the flag on the Rose Bowl referee's shirt; it was meant to be prominent, like a "cleavage" that includes everything above the nipples.

So what's wrong with displaying the flag? you ask.

I reply, Flags are political. What do sports have to do with politics? Isn't this supposed to be a fun time when we gather as a community to celebrate young men who have been training for years as individuals and as teams as they get together to enjoy the pleasure of competition and sportsmanship?

At which you guffaw, and rightly so.

Bowl games, and really all intercollegiate sports, are where we have tax-supported institutions (and even the "private" ones are tax supported through government loans to students) fielding teams to play games in tax-financed facilities that are broadcast over government-controlled media. But the purpose is indeed to build community. What kind of community are these events intended to build?

Here's where the flag comes in, because it is the symbol of that community. This is why all sporting events begin with a salute to the flag: this is the time for those in attendance to state the purpose of the gathering. The flag stands for what the gathering is all about, a symbol for the cement that holds the community together.

What does the American flag stand for? Not what did it stand for ten, a hundred, or two hundred years ago, but what does it stand for now? If nothing else, the flag at a sporting event stands for the government's right to take money from people under threat ultimately of death to finance sporting events. You got a problem with that?

But that's not all. When the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds fly over the stadium, the message is that the government has the right to send soldiers where it wills so they can do what soldiers do best, and that's creating a demand for orphanages and hospitals, not filling it. And when there is a moment of silence for "those who have made the ultimate sacrifice," the message is that real heroes go where the ruling class tells them to go, and they fight, kill, and sometimes, tragically, die.

Are these people the real heroes?

Years ago documents were declassified that showed that Uncle Sam lied to the public to build support for the war in Vietnam. The architect of that war, Robert McNamara, said the same thing before he died within the last year. Yet this is never mentioned during the solemn moments at athletic events.

During the war years, there were at least three men who suffered greatly because their overt opposition to the war was not well received by the public: Daniel Ellsburg, and Fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan. And, of course, many young men had to choose between leaving their native land for Canada or either serving in a war that they considered immoral or going to prison. Why are these men are never honored? Is it more heroic to march off unquestioningly to participate in a "theater" that involves the killing of innocent people, or is it more heroic to call a lie a lie and suffer rather than go along with it?

I've written about last year's Super Bowl halftime show, how intentionally or otherwise it looked to me like a deliberate poke in the eye of the warfare state. Poke or no poke, that state has become more intrusive and abusive over the last year, but the same company that sponsored last year's show is sponsoring this year's and their featured artists, the Black Eyed Peas, have a song out that pulls no punches in its opposition to Uncle Sam's wars.

Will they dare perform it? If they do, will anyone whose mind might be changed be listening? The song for which I know the Peas is downright crude, and if they perform that song before they perform "Where Is the Love," the Sarah Palin crowd will have turned off, if they had even begun to watch out of curiosity. (What we're known for definitely affects how our message is received.) But the main stream of viewers, for whom "My Humps" is frivolous at worst and the wars are far away, might well be paying attention, and some might even change their minds.

How ironic that a music group that makes its money mocking godly sexuality joins the distinguished ranks of the Berrigans, Daniel Ellsburg, and Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, while the bride of the creator of the universe stands with those who lie to bring on death and destruction. When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

UPDATE: On second examination, "Where Is the Love" is not as anti-Uncle Sam's wars as I'd first thought. That should make some people happy.

*I use the word "American" here simply because I expect people to know what I mean, not because I think that Old Glory represents America in any meaningful sense. For what a truly American flag would represent, see my post on America.