Monday, June 30, 2014

And don't call me a Christian.....

I'm really opening up a can o' worms here.  After all, I was raised in "the church", spent all my youth singing around campfires during the summer, and attending Bible studies.  I sang in church choirs for decades, and still do.  My family and I are involved in a good church right now, and have found great pleasure in the fact that all three of our kids like being involved in the youth group and their activities.  But to paraphrase a line from "Airplane", don't call me a Christian.

Now, I have to be careful here, because I am about to say something about those Christians who I see as being self-righteous almost to the point of arrogance, and yet, my diatribe here might seem equally self-righteous.  

But when I saw some of my Christian friends on Facebook this morning gleefully announcing how much they were pleased at the Supreme Court's "correct" decision on the Hobby Lobby verdict, and that it was a momentous decision for "freedom of religion", I just about barfed.  Add to that the USA Today article which had a running Twitter feed, most of which was "yay for #SCOTUS!" or "freedom of religion has triumphed" or some insipid statements similar to that.  And all I could do was be angry.  And here's where my self-righteousness comes in, so please forgive me in advance.

First of all, do any of these people actually read and understand the 1st Amendment to the Constitution?  Let me 'splain, no, lemme sum up.  

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"
That's the first line of the amendment.  It is not freedom OF religion: it is freedom FROM religion.  These people must have slept through their history classes, or really decided only to pay attention to the 2nd amendment and the right to bear arms.  I can hear it now "I'm sorry, Mr. Tanner.  I skipped the 1st amendment and went right on to the 2nd, since I am a hunter who thinks teenage boys should have AR-15's to hunt".  Sorry, I digressed there.  But the 1st amendment was written with the recent history of the colonial United States in mind.  Many of the original colonists left England during the English Civil War, when a specific religion was being forced upon them.  The Puritans were the ones who settled what is now Massachusetts.  Eventually the Quakers settled Pennsylvania, the Dutch Reformed settled what is now Manhattan and New York, and the Presbyterians settled New Jersey.  At that time, each colony was separate and even had it's own sovereignty, so the freedom to worship as the culture of that colony chose was important.  The Colonies, and what became the first United States, determined to avoid a hint of being a theocracy controlled by a specific church (the Church of England, or what we now call Anglican or Episcopal, was the official church of England then, and the Monarch was the head of the Church).  They chose to avoid that with this 1st amendment.  That allowed for a tolerance that we have today: The Mormon church, Buddhist temples, even churches that seem to have odd "theology" like Christian Scientist or Scientology, would not be able to flourish without the protection of an established religion.  What is disturbing is these Christians who interpret today's decision as a "victory" for Freedom of Religion.  Again, the decision has NOTHING to do with religious freedom.  But they choose to make the ruling about just that.  

The second thing that upsets me and makes me hesitant to call myself Christian is all those who are seeking more and more to make certain social advances "illegal" through legislation.  As more and more states are granting the civil rights for same-sex couples to marry, many of these Christians are vehemently opposed to that based on their so-called Biblical beliefs.  But the very vocal minority is doing all they can to denounce the states that allow this, or even criticize other religious institutions (such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches) that have allowed for gay clergy or even gay marriage ceremonies.  They place this "sin" as one that is so abhorrent, that they get themselves all in a tizzy.  What I find is odd is how selective they are in their rhetoric.  For example, divorce is just as much of a sin in the Bible.  In fact, Our Lord spoke several times in the Gospel accounts about divorce, and never ONCE about homosexuality.  Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; Matthew 19:6-9.  In Leviticus 18, verses 6-23, the Bible gives a whole laundry list of sexual sins, and homosexuality is the least among them.  Divorce is seen as a more heinous sin.  So these Christians choose to ignore a common "sin" that Biblically requires punishment, and in what Leviticus considered certain areas of divorce, stoning was called for.

Finally, and this is where the self-righteousness on my part might show through, I find that so many so-called Christians spend SO MUCH time working on these areas that have nothing to do with what Christ commands us to do.  This really hit me hard 6 years ago during the big Proposition 8 fight here in California. I was aware that one of the larger evangelical churches was mobilizing both capital and personnel to go door-to-door in various neighborhoods to make sure people got out to vote "yes" on Proposition 8.  Even the pastor of the church we were attending at the time, while not telling the congregation how to vote, said during a sermon that "good Christians will know how to vote on that one", essentially telling us the congregation that in order to be good Christians, we MUST vote "yes" on 8.  Then, one evening during that heated campaign as I drove through the Plaza in downtown Orange, I saw a homeless woman pushing all her belongings in a Target shopping cart.  And then it hit me: all of these people spending so much time and money on this "Yes on 8" campaign are totally ignoring what Christ said: feed the poor; heal the sick; visit those in prison; and when you've done it to THESE, the LEAST of my brothers and sisters, you have done it to ME!  

There is a vast disconnect between what the Lord said in the Gospels, and what Christians say and do. Unfortunately, there are those who actually have the balls to say that the letters of Paul predate the gospel accounts, which is true.  As if THAT means they are more valid that the Words attributed to Christ himself. To justify their self-righteousness by saying "well, Paul wrote his letters first" is unbelievable.  For myself, I have great difficulty with the Pauline Epistles, and take them with a grain of salt.  After all, Paul was a Jewish Lawyer, and when you read the letters, there are a great deal of "don't do this, do that" in them.  I know that I am a minority in this viewpoint.  But sometimes, I wonder if the enemy, in his desire to focus us away from the Love of God, makes many Christians cite and follow Pauline teachings, rather than Christ's teachings, as a way to distract us.  Yet we feel good.  We're preventing the spread of homoexuality.  We're standing up for "traditional marriage", we're keeping America safe from the spread of Islam and their terrorist goals.  

And so that's why I don't call myself Christian anymore, and I would respectfully ask that you don't call me one either.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Let's not talk politics.....

I don't like to talk politics.  Simple as that.  Sports, yeah. Even though I don't know a fullback from a tailback, or a point guard from a forward, I'll talk sports before I talk politics.  Of course, the reason is simple: many, MANY people are passionate about their political views, and here in Orange County, the bastion of conservatism in a liberal California, you find many that are vehemently anti-Obama, and even to an extent, anti-government.  They view Fox News as reliable and factual, whereas any other media source - be it the Libertarian-bent Orange County Register, or the moderate public radio station out of Pasadena, KPCC - are actually leftist. And God-forbid the liberal rag, the L.A. Times! Subsequently, you find a vocal minority who will not discuss politics with you as much as preach that they're right and you're wrong.  I am not saying ALL of the right-leaning people are this way.  The irony is that the ones you could hold a civil discussion with, or at least a healthy, respectful argument, are usually the ones that don't wish to discuss it, because they may feel that they'll be facing someone that is too far left and too solidly entrenched in their viewpoints.  And I'm sure that if I were living on the west side of L.A., like Santa Monica or West Hollywood, I'd find the other extreme.  There, people would watch Bill Maher and MSNBC and feel that those sources are reliable and accurate.

Frankly, what I don't like about political viewpoints is the extremism.  I cannot stand comments from people who think that Obama should be impeached, yet will not listen to an opposing extreme viewpoint of having Bush and Cheney brought up as war criminals for the deception that lead to the war in Iraq.  On the flip side, I cannot tolerate the hateful rhetoric that paints Republicans as idiots, or war mongerers, or something else derogatory, and yet refuse to listen to fiscal conservative arguments.  They lump all Republicans in the same model as Bible- and gun-toting Creationists, without realizing that the media highlights this visible minority as a means to gain viewership in either the print media or online media.

It seems that with the advent of social media, even more than just the internet itself, there are those who now vocalize their extreme viewpoints (on either side of the spectrum) freely, but without thinking of what they are really saying, or without realizing that sometimes what they write might be agreed upon by their friends or followers, but that others might view them as extremists (and extremists don't care if you like what they post or not).  It is so easy to go to Facebook at write something without checking facts, without really analyzing who the source is, be it Fox News or Mother Jones, and then share that as "truth".  Yes, Facebook is "social" media, and there is an encouragement to express one's viewpoints.  But I think we all need to impose a sense of self-censorship or even tact, and avoid putting up incendiary comments that could actually make us look like, well, idiots. 

The media - be it online or televised, print or radio, has always been a way to get the populace incited into action, or to elicit a strong and extreme emotion.  Unbiased media coverage is extremely difficult to find.  But they are playing a numbers game: Fox and MSNBC are not covering these extreme viewpoints in order to educate: they are doing it to gain listenership and therefore, increase advertising revenue.  For all I know, the head of Fox News might be a Bill Maher fan, and his or her counterpart at MSNBC might give money to Ted Cruz's campaign.  There is no altruism in media: it's about advertising revenue.

So, I take everything I read with a grain of salt.  I examine the source, and then often check for its validity. And, on occasion, I might find another moderate who is not affected by extreme viewpoints, and can, with clarity and lucidity, without passion, and I can have a discussion with them, but that is rare.  

So, I just won't talk politics.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The expected phone call.....

It was a little after 2 AM, 10 years ago today, that I was awakened by the phone ringing.  I reached over to nightstand, picked up the handset, and heard the voice of the attending physician at Mission Hospital ICU tell me that my dad was gone.  

I had anticipated this.  After all, just a few hours before my two brothers, my mom, and my sisters-in-law were all at my dad's bedside when we made the decision to remove life support.  But we'd also been anticipating this day for two years, ever since the debilitating stroke had taken a part of our dad away from us.  We knew that this call would eventually come.

I returned to sleep, held in the arms of my wife.  I was at peace.  Yes, dad was gone. But I knew where he was going.  The ravages of the stroke that had made it impossible for him to draw were no longer affecting him.  And even as I lay there in bed, I was grateful that this was over.

My dad and I at my wedding, October, 1999
Ten years later I do not mourn my dad's passing.  I actually never mourned his passing.  I'm funny about death that way: I do not mourn.  I feel an emptiness at someone's passing, even if they're someone I never met.  And today, a decade later, I still feel an emptiness about him being gone. I wish he'd been around as his grandkids grew up.  I wish he'd been around for me to talk to about things - nothing in particular, but just things.  I realize now that my dad had a very analytical approach to things, and his decisions were often made based upon what was best, not what was the most convenient or easiest.  He was a loving husband to my mom, and even though he confessed to me once he felt he'd not been a good dad, in his last few years as we became closer, he became not just a dad, but a close friend.  

I know that there are many people who share in their admiration for my dad as I did and still do.  Many of them are on Facebook, and respond lovingly whenever I post a photograph of him.  And when we had the Celebration of Life service for him, the sanctuary at San Clemente Presbyterian Church was fairly full.  I never counted, but I knew the seating capacity of that sanctuary, and I would guess there were nearly 400 people there.  Many of them were not only his friends and our family, but they were MY friends and my two brother's friends, who had counted our dad as a friend of theirs as well.

Ten years later my dad still touches lives, and I can find no better tribute than that.  

Friday, June 06, 2014

What they did.....

As I've read various books lately that recount the battles and heroes of WWII, I have discovered that the term "D-Day" was applied to all invasions, whether it was the Marines landing on the soft volcanic sand of Iwo Jima, or other Marines landing on the hard coral of Peleliu, any major landing was called "D-Day".  But today, we remember the D-Day that comes to everyone's mind when they hear that term: the landing of the Allied Expeditionary Forces on the beaches of Normandy, which took place 70 years ago today.

Movies have been made about that event, from the star-studded 60's classic "The Longest Day", which recounts the events with a romanticised view, to the realistic and shocking film "Saving Private Ryan", that spends its first 15 minutes making the viewer FEEL like they were on that beach.  If you read Stephen Ambrose's book "D-Day", you find out how badly the Allied forces (primarily the American forces) botched it, by landing on the wrong beaches, or how they missed their drop zones.  But due to the incredible field leadership of the American officers, along with the training the soldiers received, they were able to adapt, and still accomplish the goal: a beachhead landing on French soil.  It was tough.  It was bloody.  But 70 years ago, thousands of men moved onto those beaches, knowing they could face certain death.  Many made it all the way through to the end.  Many didn't.

Today, on his 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion by the Allied Forces, let us not forget what those brave men did, and that their supreme sacrifice did eventually save Europe and the Mediterranean from domination by such a terrible and hateful regime.