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“Christian” America and Baby Jesus Rambo

I fully intended for my first blog post of 2011 to be about “Time.”  I had researched what I wanted to say and even started to write… but, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

It turned out that I was not done with my last blog post: “Jesus vs. The Founding Fathers.”  I opened that can of worms and the worms were not done.  In the real world, earthworms do amazing things to improve the soil where we plant our crops.  They aerate the soil, they enrich it, and they help mix things up.  So, once I loosed the worms on this topic, I found they were still busy and I had to respond.

Last time, I wrote of how the American Revolution was anything but a Christian movement, built on Biblical principles. (If you have not read that blog post, I encourage you to do so before reading this.)  Well, if you follow the logic and principles Jesus taught, then there is an even bigger picture.

The Bible was written by God-inspired men millenia before any man imagined the United States.  Only God knew what was to come.  Yet we act as though the Bible is only ours.  Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure most of us have not read it, much less studied it, except to pull out a verse here and there when needed to back our latest (or perpetual) cause.  Context doesn’t matter.

We’ve become pros at making an American God in our own image.

So, let’s talk about The United States in general.  What makes us “American?”  What are our beliefs? What do we value and hold dear?  What traits do we admire?  And what do they have to do with Jesus? (Because we keep claiming we are a “Christian nation.”)

The Self-Made Man and the American Dream

Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass both spoke and wrote about the “self-made” man. Franklin made him an iconic, “American” figure. The rags to riches story we still crave.  Look at American Idol, or any of the big money game shows.  We love the idea that all our hard work will be paid off in the end with fame and fortune.  If we’re totally honest, we love even more the idea of getting fame and fortune without all the work. (Play the Mega lottery numbers lately?)

We worship the beautful, the rich, the powerful. We watch their every move.   And, if their skin color is correct, we praise the “hard-working man” who puts in 80 hours a week at work. (If the skin color is wrong, we criticize the person for neglecting their children and not helping them with their homework and not being around to keep their children out of gangs.)

The idea isn’t even original to the U.S. The Romans had the “Novus homo” when the lowly born were able to rise in politics.  And the Roman philospher Seneca wrote of “Homo novus,” or  “how the lowly-born but inherently worthy man may properly rise to eminence in the world.”

Let’s compare the ideals of our Self-Made Man with Jesus.

Jesus had the best geneaolgy of any man ever born. He was the Son of God, for cryin’ out loud.  And yet, even with this pedigree, God placed Him in Nazareth. As Nathaniel said in John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  He was born in a stable.  His earthly father was a carpenter.  And, when He began His mission, instead of entering in glory and sitting on a throne with a golden crown upon His head,  He walked among the poor and demanded that those who would follow Him would leave all of their belongings behind.

He had no interest in money or in prestige.  Instead, He taught:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

He taught humility. He did not seek fame.  He shocked His disciples when He knelt before them to wash their feet.

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

I have to shake my head when skeptics complain that more contemporaries of Jesus (i.e. – non-Christians or Jews) did not write about Jesus in their diaries and histories.  Aside from the fact that very few of those documents survive, why in the world would they have written about some poor carpenter from Nazareth?  He wasn’t in politics, He spent his time with the poor and despised, and he wasn’t the latest contestant on “Roman Empire Idol.”

As Christians, the purpose of our lives is not to work hard and earn respect, fame, or fortune. Our purpose is one thing: to serve Him. God made us. He knows more about us than we know ourselves. He knows how many hairs we have on our heads. He even knows how many white hairs I have on mine.

So, where does this leave the American Dream?  The idea that anyone can come here, work hard, buy a house with a white picket fence, have 2.5 children, 2 cars, a dog and a cat, and happiness?  (I keep searching the Bible for that unalienable, God-given right of the “pursuit of happiness.”)

James Truslow Adams, an historian, coined the term in his book, “Epic of America,” in 1931.

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, also too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

The American Dream sounds great on paper. Freedom for everyone and everyone is supposed to be equal.  Getting due recognition. Many call it a noble experiment.  And I’m sure it is, by man’s standards.  But, as Christians, we cannot justify any of this dream with Christ.  He didn’t promise us any of this and He certainly did not suggest we strive for this dream.  In fact, He told us that we would be persecuted for His sake. We would be called “fools.”

I know, we suffer from a terminal disconnection.  We compartmentalize everything in our lives. Work, school, home, church, politics, God.  And we seem to be okay with that.  As long as we go to church on Sunday, pray over meals, tithe, go feed the poor at the homeless shelter once a month, and generally try to be good, we think God’s okay with that.

God demands more from us.  When we set goals for ourselves, we limit God.  We keep focusing on our own sainthood, our own journey, instead of simply letting God take control of everything we are, all of our expectations.  How many self-help Christian books are out there now?  Discover your spiritual gifts, find your passion, heal your marriage, be a deacon.  I am sure most of them are well-intentioned, but they all keep our focus on ourselves. Me. Me. Me. How can “I” serve? How can “I” find God’s plan for my life?

How much time do I waste worrying about whether I am using my talents and gifts for God when I should just “be” and “do” whenever He gives me the opportunity (which happens on a daily basis)?  I find that God speaks to me loudest when I am focused on others. My eyes and ears are open when I’m not locked in my little “me world.”  We’ll never use our true gifts if we never go out and do because we’re too busy studying some “gifts” book to identify said gifts.  It’s like all those surveys on Facebook these days: “Which Lord of the Rings Character are You?”  We simply cannot resist finding a new label for ourselves.  (I’m Legolas, by the way.)

Trust in this: GOD knows how He wants to use you.  You don’t always have to know. You just have to be obedient and show up.

We spend hours driving our kids to and from sports practice to dancing lessons, all to teach them things like “teamwork.” Don’t get me wrong, there are very healthy aspects to playing soccer and dancing.  But maybe we need to see it a little differently.  Look at the teamwork of the early church. That was a team! Everyone pooled together for the glory of God, giving whatever was needed, when it was needed, so that no one went hungry and the news about Christ went out!  When we teach our kids about competition and winning and losing, we are teaching them about the world. Not what God intends for us.

I can hear it now (because I’ve said it myself): “But that’s not realistic.  We have to earn a living and it’s a dog eat dog world out there!”  My response now:  “Well, we’ll never know if we never have the faith in God to step out and let Him provide all the things He wants to provide us.”  We’re too scared. And if we’re too scared, then we will never have the freedom we Americans say we cherish.

In your American Dream climb to the top of the world (or your job, etc…), what sacrifices have you made that God would never want you to make?

The Constitution and the Second Amendment

In the United States, many Christians seem to worship the Constitution.  We’ve become obsessed recently with this document.  We treat it a lot like we treat the Bible. We pick and choose what we want and interpret it as we want, with little regard to context or history.

I could choose many aspects to discuss, but I’ll stick with one.  The Second Amendment and the Christian response.

I was dumbfounded when I saw a photo of a t-shirt worn at one particular politician’s rally. (And it really doesn’t matter who the politician was.)  The shirt announced: “Babies. Jesus. Guns.”  Does anyone else get a picture in their heads of the baby Jesus as Rambo?

I’m going to skip the whole “well-regulated militia” part of the discussion since most everyone else does, too.  Instead, I want to focus on what I hear “Christians” saying.

I hear Christians saying they need their guns in order to defy a tyrannical government.  They need the guns to revolt, if necessary.  In light of my last blog post, I don’t know that I need to rehash everything right here.  Suffice it to say, anyone who argues for revolt does not have a Biblical leg to stand upon.

Again, I give you:

Romans 13:1

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

 

If we don’t have the whole “revolt” thing on our side, then how about “self-defense?”  (And I mean as an individual Christian, not necessarily what the government role is.)

I’ll be honest. This is a hard one for me, given my background. But every example of Jesus, Paul, and the disciples says, “No.”  Oh, I know that people will pull out their Old Testaments and find a dozen verses (all pulled out of context) about killing thieves and such.  And there is one (count it, one) verse in the New Testament they will pull out of context (more on that later).  But every action of Christ and his followers in the New Testament speaks pacifism in the face of a threat.  And Jesus actually confronts the harsh laws of the Old Testament in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Mt 5:38-39)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Look at the times Paul and the disciples were arrested, beaten, killed.  Never did they fight back.  They merely responded with words. Even the words were not abusive.

There was only one occasion: going with the aforementioned verse in Luke.  And now, I’m going to quote an article that explains my thoughts much better than I can on this matter of “Jesus and the Two Swords.”

Luke 22:35-38:
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell our cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied.”

“This is part of a larger conversation about power at the last supper. Jesus’ disciples had apparently been unable to understand the meaning of his discussions on suffering and nonviolence. Over the course of this dinner conversation, Jesus had been trying to tell them that the kingdoms of this world wield power and demand service, but his kingdom was about serving others and self-sacrifice. As in many cases where Jesus would draw out props to make a point (e.g. the coin in the fish’s mouth), Jesus here needs to draw out a dangerous prop: the sword.

“To prove his point, Jesus helps his disciples remember that they don’t need anything—which they acknowledge. With that in mind, he will help them understand that they also do not need a sword.

“Very explicitly, Jesus equates the carrying of a sword with being a “transgressor.” This phrase references the beautiful passage of Isaiah 53 on how God’s glory is best known through humiliation and suffering and not apparent strength or majesty. To teach one of his most radical lessons on nonviolence, Jesus will incur the embarrassing reputation of going down with terrorists and insurgents, and not the potentially meaningful status of a blameless martyr. “He will be numbered with the transgressors.” Jesus even stripped his self of the ennobling innocent appearance of nonviolence. While he could go down with his unblemished personal character intact, to teach a lesson he will risk the misguided and violent wills of his disciples marring his reputation. (His final healing miracle will then be to clean up after the mess of his disciples’ violence by healing an arrestor’s ear.) This makes radical, counter-intuitive claims about the very nature of God and even what we mean by the word “God.” Is not humiliation and suffering the very opposite of God? Now he will appear before court as being one of the insurgent terrorists who cut people’s ears off*.

If calling the sword the transgressor’s tool is not obvious enough, the outcome of the lesson is unequivocally clear. The very next scene is in Gethsemane where the disciple will use those swords. His disciples ask, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” As one disciple strikes an arrestor, Jesus yells, “No more of this!” and heals the wound. This is the commonly known time when Jesus also states, (in other gospels) “put your sword away,” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” After healing his arrestor, Luke’s gospel shows Jesus punctuating this lesson of nonviolence with a question, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

“Nowhere in all of the New Testament is a disciple of Jesus found carrying a sword again.

“*When the disciples find the swords that will mark their very sinfulness, Jesus says “enough.” John Yoder comments: “ ‘Enough,’ cannot mean that two swords would be enough for the legitimate self-defense against bandits of twelve missionaries traveling two by two. He is (in direct parallel to Deut. 3:26, where YHWH tells Moses to change the subject, LXX hikanon estin) breaking off the conversation because they don’t understand anyway” (The Politics of Jesus, p. 45).”

(from Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s book, Jesus for President–from their online “Appendix 3: Subordination and Revolution: What about Romans 13?”)

If people want to discuss/argue the Second Amendment on Constitutional grounds, so be it.  But, I don’t believe Christians have any business using the same arguments and injecting Jesus as a proud gun owner.

Since this is getting rather long, I’ll refrain from some other topics, like capitalism.  I leave you to do honest Biblical research on that.  I just pray that Christians can open their eyes to man made myth and seek Him first.

 

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Jesus vs. The Founding Fathers

Every once in a great while, I read something that changes the little paradigm I have constructed for my world. It’s like getting a new pair of glasses or a really cool microscope. Everything is clearer, including some things that, perhaps, I really did not want to see.

This week, the new glasses arrived unexpectedly.

I don’t think it’s any secret to those who know me that I have issues with certain politically active persons who identify themselves as evangelical, fundamentalist Christians. Now, by definition, I am an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. I believe in the “Great Commission” that commanded us to share our faith:

Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded …

1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

And, on the fundamentalism side, I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Of course, today, “fundamentalism” has come to mean something different outside of traditional Christian circles.

In recent years, I have been deeply disturbed by the equation of Christianity with love of country and “patriotism.” I hear of churches using the Pledge of Allegiance in their services. I hear Christians on television saying that the United States is a “Christian nation,” founded by Christians and based on Christian ideals. And I hear Christians supporting the idea of revolution if the President doesn’t do what they want.

While researching what the Bible says about patriotism and such, I found something more. An article that simply and plainly explains that the American Revolution itself was not Christian, and was actually a rebellion against biblical principles.

Can. Of. Worms. But, I couldn’t simply close my browser because it was controversial. The truth is usually controversial.

Let’s look at what the Bible says, what Christ said, about government and see where we are:

1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. 13 Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme 14 or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. 15 For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

I can hear the arguments now. “But Jesus surely couldn’t mean we should follow people like President Hussein Obama (or that W. guy). They are so evil and un-Christian!”

Hmmm. Who was the government when Jesus was living His ministry? Were they Christian? Were they democratic? Did they persecute followers of Christ? Didn’t they crucify Christ?

Where was Paul when he wrote many of his letters? Oh yeah. Prison.

Who were the rulers that men like Joseph and Daniel served? Weren’t they despots?

Many of Jesus’ followers were angry with him for NOT overthrowing the government and taking control. He certainly had the power to do it. Many expected the Messiah to come with a sword in His hand to do physical battle with the rulers.

Instead, He spoke little of politics and told His listeners that they must obey their rulers because they are placed in power by God. God will deal with them. we are to obey and pay our taxes and set an example of good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we blindly obey when the rulers command us to do something against the laws of God. But, then we must submit to the worldly consequences and set an example by our good behavior. This is what Paul did. This is what many conscientious objectors have done during times of war. It is what many Christians did by hiding their Jewish brothers and sisters from Nazis. Christians like Corrie Ten Boom and her family.

And look at the case of King David. He had been hand picked by King Saul as his successor, but as Saul grew older and committed more evil deeds, David’s men encouraged him to kill Saul and take the throne. David wasn’t falling for it…

1 Samuel 24:1 When Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, they told him, “Look, David is in the desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand select men from all Israel and went to find David and his men in the region of the rocks of the mountain goats. 3 He came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave. Saul went into it to relieve himself.

Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave. 4 David’s men said to him, “This is the day about which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you can do to him whatever seems appropriate to you.’” So David got up and quietly cut off an edge of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off an edge of Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “May the Lord keep me far away from doing such a thing to my lord, who is the Lord’s chosen one, by extending my hand against him. After all, he is the Lord’s chosen one.” 7 David restrained his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul.

Then Saul left the cave and started down the road. 8 Afterward David got up and went out of the cave. He called out after Saul, “My lord, O king!” When Saul looked behind him, David kneeled down and bowed with his face to the ground. 9 David said to Saul, “Why do you pay attention when men say, ‘David is seeking to do you harm’? 10 Today your own eyes see how the Lord delivered you – this very day – into my hands in the cave. Some told me to kill you, but I had pity on you and said, ‘I will not extend my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s chosen one.’ 11 Look, my father, and see the edge of your robe in my hand! When I cut off the edge of your robe, I didn’t kill you. So realize and understand that I am not planning evil or rebellion. Even though I have not sinned against you, you are waiting in ambush to take my life. 12 May the Lord judge between the two of us, and may the Lord vindicate me over you, but my hand will not be against you. 13 It’s like the old proverb says: ‘From evil people evil proceeds.’ But my hand will not be against you. 14 Who has the king of Israel come out after? Who is it that you are pursuing? A dead dog? A single flea? 15 May the Lord be our judge and arbiter. May he see and arbitrate my case and deliver me from your hands!”

16 When David finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is that your voice, my son David?” Then Saul wept loudly. 17 He said to David, “You are more innocent than I, for you have treated me well, even though I have tried to harm you! 18 You have explained today how you have treated me well. The Lord delivered me into your hand, but you did not kill me. 19 Now if a man finds his enemy, does he send him on his way in good shape? May the Lord repay you with good this day for what you have done to me. 20 Now look, I realize that you will in fact be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. 21 So now swear to me in the Lord’s name that you will not kill my descendants after me or destroy my name from the house of my father.” 22 David promised Saul this on oath.

How in the world have we, as Christians, strayed so far from the truth that is plainly written in the Bible? No matter how you paint it, you cannot justify the American Revolution with the Bible or with Christ or God. Therefore, you cannot say that the United States was founded by Christians on Christian principles.

And, considering that other countries (Canada, Australia…) separated from England through non-violent means and are strong countries today, buries the notion that it was the only way. In fact, having studied the history of slavery, I am convinced that we paid a heavy price for our revolution. Slavery remained in the U.S. much longer than it would if we had stayed under English rule, triggering an horrific conflict that we still feel today. A conflict that is ever present in our politics of fear.

Can God do good through the results of the Revolution? Of course, He can. There are countless times in the Bible where He has used actions done for the wrong reasons for His purpose. (i.e. – Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, or Judas’ betrayal of Jesus)

I am very grateful that I was born in the United States. Our Declaration of Independence notes that our Creator gave us certain unalienable rights (note, they are given to us by God, NOT by the U.S.). Our freedom to worship is given by God, enforced by the U.S. government.

But, no matter how much I love and appreciate this country, it is of the world and I am not. I am God’s, first and only. I am no better than any of his other children, whether they are from Haiti or China or Iraq.

This brings me to the idea of Christians being politically active. Groups like the “Moral Majority.” Aside from the VERY dubious beginnings of these groups (which always seem to coincide with the success of Civil Rights Acts…seriously, do the research yourself), Paul specifically warned us against this:

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 And what agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 Therefore “come out from their midst, and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the All-Powerful Lord.

Be very careful before you “support” anyone for political office. One thing I know about human nature (since I am human), once we support something/someone, it is almost impossible for us to ever admit we were wrong. We end up supporting ludicrous and very unbiblical things.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, we need to stop claiming that “God is on our side,” and start asking “Are we on God’s side?”

I believe history shows (and will show) that the involvement of “Christians” in politics as PACs has done more damage for the cause of Christ than having non-Christians in political office. We have completely forgotten 1 Peter 2:11-17.

Wake up, brothers and sisters, and let’s remember that we are all in God’s hands. Let’s drop the arrogance that says we know better than He and that we are going to create God’s kingdom on earth. We have enough to do in just loving and honoring God and loving our neighbors.

Homework

As I was doing a little research for my next overly long post, I stumbled across this. Best article I have ever read about the true history of evangelicals and the separation of church and state. Take a gander. This is the Baptist heritage I was taught.

“The Framers and the Faithful” by Steven Waldman.

The “Dirtiest” word in America?

[From November 5, 2010.]

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I am about to use a dirty word. It is one of those words that has many meanings in the dictionary, but has evolved to mean only one thing. And, if you subscribe to what seemingly every politician and media outlet wants you to think, it is a nasty, dangerous, pejorative that conjures up one carefully crafted image.

Welfare.

It does not matter if you are liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian, or mdoerate. I can guess what came to your mind when you read that word. And it isn’t the image from the Preamble. (Or the song from Schoolhouse Rock.)

It was designed to be that way. Politicians and media crafted that script. Even films like “Precious” have followed it.

As “The Welfare Queen Experiment” by Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. says:

“Social psychologists developed the notion of scripts to refer to ‘a coherent sequence of events expected by the individual, involving him either as a participant or as an observer.’ The utility of scripts lies in their ability to distill information, thus aiding in quicker comprehension. Scripts set up predictable roles and actions that, in tune, offer clear indicators of what is most likely to follow from them.”

And, when it comes to “welfare,” we are scripted to see the “welfare queen.” Here’s a little history, a timeline of how that got enshrined in our heads. Gilliam goes on:

“The narrative (or storytelling) script for the welfare queen has two central features. First, it tells us that the majority of welfare recipients are women. Of course, the data shows otherwise. The largest single group ‘on welfare’ is children, about one in every four kids under the age of 18 receives welfare benefits. Nonetheless, given this script, most of the public connects welfare to gender. For instance, the ‘feminization of poverty’ is a common explanation of American poverty rates.

“This script then leads people to the next step in this association, what could be called ‘a gender narrative.’ Poor women choose to be on welfare because they fail to adhere to a set of core American values. From this perspective, single motherhood, divorce, desertion and a failure to hold the family unit together become the causes of their impoverished condition. In short, welfare dependency is a function of the moral failings of poor women. Their unwillingness to adhere to the principles of hard work, family values and sexual control thus deem them as undeserving.

“The second key image that emerges from the welfare queen script is that most women on welfare are Afircan-American. While African-American women do represent more than one-third of the women on welfare, in census data released in 1998 they accounted for only a bit more than 10 percent of the total number of welfare recipients.

“This narrative script skillfully locating the ‘intersection’ of race and gender was given its most public voice by then-candidate Reagan on the 1976 campaign trail. During that election Reagan often recited the story of a woman from Chicago’s South Side who was arrested for welfare fraud. ‘She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.’ David Zucchino, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, spent a year with two welfare mothers in Philadephia and wrote “The Myth of the Welfare Queen.” According to Zucchino ‘The image of the big-spending, lavish living, Cadillac-driving welfare queen was by then thoroughly embedded in American folklore.’

“The implicit racial coding is readily apprent. The woman Reagan was talking about was African-American. Veiled references to African-American women, and African-Americans in general, were equally transparent. In other words, while poor women of all races get blamed for their impoverished condition, African-American women commit the most egregious violations of American values. This story line taps into stereotypes about both women (uncontrolled sexuality) and African-Americans (laziness).

“It does appear fair to conclude that the welfare queen narrative script has suceeded in imprinting stereotypic racial and gender images in the minds of many Americans.”

How did the media cooperate?

In a study that covered the media from the 1960s through 1992:

62% of poverty stories that appeared in TIME, Newsweek, and U.S. New and World Report featured African-Americans.

65% of network television news stories about welfare featured African-Americans.

Newsmagazines depict almost 100% of the “underclass” as African-Americans.

There is some history. But, look at what we see now in the media and what we hear from “pundits” and other media “experts.” Do you see where the script is going now? It’s expanding to include immigrants. And, in many people’s minds, “immigrants” only means “illegal immigrants.” Any immigrant with non-white skin color is considered “illegal.”

We are being programmed to believe these people are “stealing” something from us. Ignoring all real economic figures, ignoring companies that actually go to these countries and recruit workers (who can then be dumped and deported before they think they deserve higher pay), ignoring what legal and illegal immigrants pay in taxes, sales tax, the money they infuse in local economies by spending on housing, food, and other goods.

The people who write the script know we won’t look at real facts. They’re too good at smoke and mirrors and obfuscation. Get us all riled up about a problem that really has a small impact and then we won’t notice the really obvious theft and malfeasance that is happening right in front of our noses.

Fact: Of all industrialized nations, the United States rates LAST in the percentage of money we invest in the welfare of our children.

We have been programmed to see spending money on our kids as “charity,” not as an investment in our country. And certainly not as the ethical, moral, and “Christian” thing to do for our country.

Why don’t we ever talk about the truly huge amounts of money the United States spends each year on welfare for corporations and businesses? Money that, unlike cash given to individuals on welfare, does not get spent in the local economy. Large amounts of this money goes overseas.

Let’s look at some subsidies. Welfare for corporations. Subsidies redistribute wealth and access. (Socialism much?) These are just a few examples:

Between 2001 and 2006, at least $1.3 billion in farm subsidies was paid to landowners who had planted nothing since 2000. Among the beneficiaries were homeowners in new developments whose backyards USED to be rice fields. (washingtonpost.com 7/2/06)

For the 2005 corn crop, the federal government spent about $4.8 billion to compensate farmers for low corn prices. That was $3.8 billion more than needed to give them the government-guaranteed price. The program has cost taxpayers $29 billion since 1998. “Most smart farmers are cashing in on it,” says one expert. (washingtonpost.com 7/3/06)

A 2002 program aimed at helping those facing a serious drought gave $635 million to ranchers and dairy farmers who had moderate or no drought. Some ranchers got money because they lived in counties declared disaster areas after debris fell from the space shuttle Columbia. The program was created to help a Republican candidate for the Senate. (John Thune. $50 million went to his home state of South Dakota.) It included $34 million for catfish farmers. (washingtonpost.com 7/18/06)

Tens of millions of pounds of surplus powdered milk that was intended for livestock owners in drought-stricken states ended up on the secondary market, generating millions of dollars in profits for middlemen. (washingtonpost.com 7/19/06)

The government spent billions to expand crop insurance coverage and eliminate the need for annual disaster payments. But taxpayers spent about $9 billion for disaster payments anyway — often to the same farmers. Big beneficiaries of the program were 16 private insurance companies. (washingtonpost.com 10/16/06)

Rice is a heavily subsidized business in the U.S. Rice subsidies in the U.S. totaled $11 billion from 1995 to 2006. One producer alone, Riceland Foods Inc. of Stuttgart, Arkansas, received over $500 million dollars in rice subsidies between 1995 and 2006. Former President Clinton now admits that subsidizing the rice producers was “a mistake” and that he has to live with the consequences his actions caused. These subsidies were designed to force Haitian rice producers out of business, making Haitians dependent upon U.S. produced rice. We in the U.S. spend more each year on rice subsidies than we have spent aiding the Haitians after the earthquake.

The president of an anti-spending, third-party political group targeting a West Virginia congressional candidate along with her family have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies, a West Coast newspaper reported.
Sandra Greiner, president of the American Future Fund, a group that supports conservative Republican candidates, and her family have received $935,000 in federal subsidies for their farm near Keota in Eastern Iowa, The Seattle Times said. The fund, a not-for-profit organization exempt from disclosing its campaign contributors, is spending about $325,000 in West Virginia’s 1st District against Democrat Michael Oliverio, who is running against Republican David McKinley of Wheeling.

The federal government provided substantially larger subsidies to fossil fuels than to renewables. Subsidies to fossil fuels—a mature, developed industry that has enjoyed government support for many years—totaled approximately $72 billion over the study period, representing a direct cost to taxpayers.

Anyone remember the giant Savings and Loan Bailout of 1989-1990 under President Bush I? The one that cost us some $160.1 billion?

In 2009, the U.S. spent $60.8 Billion on the Bush Prescription Drug Program.

And what about children and families? “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.”

The 2010FY budget for Aid to Children and Families (ACF) and TANF (i.e. what we call “Welfare”) is $34.3 billion. This includes all the programs for children and families in need.

I think this shows just how (un)important our neighbors are. A tiny fraction of our budget. But always the first to be targetted when we talk about “cuts.”

When will we all, no matter our party affiliation, stop being scripted and start demanding answers from the obscenely wealthy corporations that receive welfare? The same corporations who pay the politicians and media to perform the script.

What script is being fed to us now?

A Spider Stare Down

[A story from last year…that almost re-enacted itself yesterday…]

Let me state this up front. I have nothing personal against spiders. As far as I’m concerned, they can go on about their merry spidery way and I’ll wish them well. As long as they keep clear that “this” is my space. They can have the grand outdoors. I think this is a fair deal.

At 3 o’clock this morning, the truce was broken. Last night, I was too lazy to fold and sort all of the clean laundry I had piled upon my bed. Being single, I can do things like this. I did. This is why I have a futon sofa/bed in my living room. I reclined there with a good book and soon fell asleep. At 3 a.m., I woke up. One of those “I’m so not getting back to sleep anytime soon” moments. So, I picked up my good book and turned on the light. Mistake.

Across the great divide of my living room, I spied an intruder where plain wall meets craggy textured ceiling. A huge honkin’ spider. I contemplated getting up and killing it with my latest issue of the William & Mary alumni magazine (which is very substantial and good for smacking bugs). But I reconsidered. The spider was near the balcony door. He could let himself out. (Okay, so really, I just didn’t want to swing and miss, only to have the spider fall on me.) Besides, I figured there was no way that spider could navigate the treacherous canyons of my textured ceiling and make it anywhere near me. And, I hadn’t finished reading my W&M mag yet. I decided to ignore it and it would go away.

At 5 a.m., I woke up again, having fallen asleep once more with my good book. I opened my eyes only to behold: The huge honkin’ spider HAD navigated the treacherous canyons and was on the ceiling directly over my head, taunting me.

I am an adult. I have faced men with knives and guns and even machetes. So, after I danced around the living room in full blown panic, I grabbed my old walking cane.

Has anyone else ever tried to do combat with a spider who has taken the high ground? It was brutal. First strike seemed to be a killing blow, but apparently the spider had flattened himself just as the cane landed. It scurried. Strikes 2 and 3 were no better. The fourth blow was glancing. What I dreaded happened. Spider came tumbling down on me. Spider dance ensued. Tennis shoe brought about his demise.

No more sleep for MAB. Visions of spidery relatives seeking revenge abound.

It’s a mab, mab, mab, mab world…

Welcome to my world!   

I have decided that, perhaps, Facebook is not the place to vent and discuss every opinion on things like navel lint and Iraq. At least, not if you want to actually maintain those friendships you have rekindled after 30 years…

This is where I get to vent, hopefully, in a rational manner.  You can, too.  But, there are some boundaries.

1) No one gets to be called a “Nazi,” a “socialist,” or a “communist,” unless they really were one and it is relevant to an historical event we are discussing. So, no matter how tempting, Rush Limbaugh isn’t a nazi and President Obama is not a socialist.

2) Profanity is boring, shows a definite lack of imagination, and it insinuates a weak argument.  It also ticks me off because I have family members who may read this.  And, sadly, because I am the ruler of this non-democratic dominion, I get to decide what “profanity” means.

3) Please feel free to disagree with me, but I would like to see a why and how explained, with some facts or rationale to back it up.  That makes it possible for a real “discussion” to take place, instead of a simple argument.

4) I welcome all recipes, as long as they result in really good food! (Bonus points for crockpot recipes.)

Onward!