When you can’t even read the Constitution

I clearly hesitate to wade into arguments and battles that just can’t have any resolution in a public forum. They are also discussions I thoroughly like having in small groups or with individuals.

But when an argument is so poor that it causes me to almost throw my computer across a room, I need to say at least SOMETHING on the matter.

Gay marriage.

I will not say anything about it.

Except this.

This column gets something right… and wrong.

What it gets right: There is an obvious clash that has finally come to a head where “freedom of religion” clashes with “human rights” or “civil rights” and that just simply doesn’t end well, in my opinion.

What it gets wrong: A very dumb reading of the first amendment.

The column quotes a legal center from Harvard on the first amendment:

“While the First Amendment was intended to protect individual freedom of religion, speech and assembly, as well as a free press, corporations have begun to displace individuals as its direct beneficiaries. This ‘shift from individual to business First Amendment cases is recent but accelerating.’”

The First Amendment actually says this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The amendment itself does NOT delineate between “individual freedom of religion” and simple “freedom of religion.” It is a dissection by a think tank to get the amendment to shrink freedom of religion to the smallest possible point.

The clash between “freedom of religion” and “human rights” is at full boiling point right now.

Let’s just read the constitution fairly. That’s all I’m sayin’.

The Jewish (and Christian) Question

Today is pull the pin and roll the grenade into the room day.

Let’s start with an article detailing the genius marketing ploy of evangelical Christians to say America is a Christian nation. Have fun.

Then the chilling one. Over the weekend I watched an older movie on Amazon Prime called “The Conspiracy.” It was a film dedicated entirely to the meeting among the Nazi regime in WWII that set in motion the plan for the full extermination of the Jews from Europe. Monday I listened to an interview with an author about his piece in the Atlantic Monthly asking the question, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?”

Read. Think. Pray.

Gettysburg — Why They Fought

Another excellent piece by David Brooks in The New York Times today. It is a reflection on the difference in soldiers from the Civil War to today. The language, the letters, the thoughts, are so completely different. We look so small today in comparison.

In our current era, as the saying goes, we take that which is lower to be more real. We generally believe that soldiers under the gritty harshness of war are not thinking about high ideals like gallantry. They are just trying to get through the day or protect their buddies. Since World War I, as Hemingway famously put it, abstract words like “honor” and “glory” and “courage” often seem obscene and pretentious. Studies of letters sent home by soldiers in World War II suggest that grand ideas were remote from their daily concerns.

But Civil War soldiers were different. In his 1997 book “For Cause and Comrades,” James M. McPherson looked at the private letters Civil War soldiers sent to their loved ones. As McPherson noted, they ring with “patriotism, ideology, concepts of duty, honor, manhood and community.”

The mentality of the soldier in the Civil War era was not only different, but their language was different. Nothing was short. No “text” language. And they were not afraid of their feelings.

One of the most famous letters was written not at Gettysburg but on July 14, 1861, on the eve of the First Battle of Bull Run. It was written by Sullivan Ballou, an officer from Rhode Island. Ballou had lost his own parents when he was young and, having known “the bitter fruit of orphanage myself,” he declared himself loath to die in battle and leave his small children fatherless.

“My love for you is deathless,” he wrote to his wife. “It seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; yet my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.”

It’s not just love of country that impels him, but a feeling of indebtedness to the past: “I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.”

Truly a different era. Our era of special interest politics looks pathetically small to the thoughts of these young men in these letters.

Your Government is Listening to You!

In a revelation that shocks even the New York Timesit was somehow disconcerting to us that our government is listening to our phone calls. I am a Verizon customer, so the government has been monitoring my subversive conversations.

I just don’t know how this should shock ANY of us.

For those who championed George Bush and didn’t have very many worries about the Patriot Act because Bush was doing the right thing… welcome to the next administration.

For those who championed Barack Obama and thought Bush was the devil incarnate… welcome to Act II of that scenario.

The one thing I always warn about when we give far too much authority to centralized leadership is this: You say you “trust” the leadership that is doing something that is more powerful, but I say you aren’t thinking ahead to the leadership that follows. So, for Bush supporters, this is what you get. You can’t blame Obama alone.

For Obama supporters, this SHOULD shock you because this was the president who promised “transparency.” But, yet, think about “transparency.” He is just demanding transparency of us… without our permission. But here is the deal: you can rail at power and talk about how you will do things differently, but when YOU get the power… it has the ability to intoxicate you.

It just shouldn’t shock us that our government is listening in because we have elected the government we deserve. 

We have been a people who for decades have failed to even read the Constitution and then we spout things like we know the Constitution. We have failed to take an active part in our government, then get upset when people who count on us ignoring government actually do things that take advantage of us.

We get the government we deserve. This “revelation” is no shock to me at all.

Language Shifts Indicate Cultural Shifts

David Brooks has a column today reflecting on language shifts over the last 50 years. His observations are interesting. 

Usage of humility words like “modesty” and “humbleness” dropped by 52 percent. Usage of compassion words like “kindness” and “helpfulness” dropped by 56 percent. Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. 
And this:
On the general subject of demoralization, he finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “subjectivity,” “normative,” “psychology” and “information.” 
Brooks has some interesting conclusions on this matter:
Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.
Those are his observations, and certainly can be argued. True or not in the culture, those are things that should be of concern in the Church. Cultures shift and moral awareness does shift and even fade. This is a place where the Church should be different. The sad news to me is that we are often as unaware as the culture.  We too often seem to be drifting along. 
Brooks makes some conclusions as to what this means for conservatives and liberals in politics. That may all be well and good as well, but the conclusions for the Church need to be considered as well. In my opinion, we SHOULD be doing better.  

The Oppressed and Spree Killers

The shootings in Aurora, CO, shock us once again. It is absolutely horrifying that someone plans that much detail just to kill as many people as possible. We will keep asking “Why” and the “why” may never come.

We will have conversations about gun control and violence and so many more things. Well, we won’t actually have any real conversations on those things… but we’ll fake it for a few weeks.

David Brooks in his column today tackles these types of conversations. Then, he aims deeper. He’s good at that. There are things I don’t agree with him on in this column (which is rare for me), but his main point is very… um… convicting. The need is for every one of us to pay attention to people around us. Not only pay attention, but respond to other people.

I think of Aurora, CO, and other spree killings. The response of people who knew the killer is almost always the same: They were quiet. They kept to themselves. They seemed pleasant.

We are reading the Gospel of Mark this week in our church as part of our “Eat This Book” project. There are two episodes that stand out as I think about the Aurora shootings and how we react. Both of them deal with men who were demon possessed. One was in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28) and the other was the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). These stories always intrigue me… and they always convict me.

In the synagogue is a man who had been tormented by demons for who knows how long and no one had done anything about it until Jesus showed up. They had tolerated the man. He probably wasn’t as demonstrative as the Gadarene demoniac. You know… he was quiet. He kept to himself. He was pretty introverted. He was quirky.

Something like that.

The Gadarene demoniac was another story altogether. Yet, the people were more afraid after Jesus healed him. They wanted Jesus out of their territory. They recognized something more powerful was in their presence and they preferred the crazy man they could contain somewhat to the Savior who was not going to be controlled by them at all.

The conviction in my own heart out of these stories, especially in the first story is that someone who was tormented was among “the people of God” and they did nothing. It was only when Jesus walked in that things “got out of hand,” but then the man was healed.

Brooks’ point at the end of his column is something we need to hear as the Church today. Pay attention to people. That means it’s not about us! That means we find out what is going on in the lives of others and respond to their presence in our lives.

In other words… we ARE our brothers’ keeper.

And that makes us uncomfortable.

I will bet money everyone who knew of James Holmes was just fine with him being quiet, keeping to himself, and being a little quirky. It meant it required nothing of them. It meant they could go on with their lives while he went on with his life.

I know that’s how I feel too much of the time. I have to confess my own laziness here. There are times when I need to be stretched. I need to reach out to someone. I need to have them tell me their story. But I want to be alone, or I want to keep moving on in my own life. I am too content to simply pray for them quickly as  I think of them while I’m driving. The answer may be that I need to pick up the phone and call them. I may need to spend a few minutes listening to their story.

It’s not to stop a spree killer. It’s to let someone know that Someone is watching over them. Someone knows they are there. They matter.

If we will just pay attention, we may save someone from the silent torment they face every day. It won’t make headlines. It won’t be a great Facebook posting. It will simply matter in the Kingdom of God.

Journalism as a Dying Trade

I grew up thinking I would be a journalist. Lou Grant, the TV series after Mary Tyler Moore, was a favorite of mine.

Print media is dying, dead, beyond dead… whatever. However, does that mean we have to kill journalism as well?

The internet is a wonderful tool for me because I can access all kinds of viewpoints, but I can also access excellent writing and good journalism.

In my current hometown we have the Startribune. I haven’t read a print edition in years, but even when I did, I much preferred The New York Times. The Startribune doesn’t do journalism very well. Their writers don’t write. They repeat facts. And the facts aren’t always facts.

A great example is today’s news.

I still check up on the Kansas City paper online because I have to see how bad my old KC Royals are doing… but I will occasionally read their news articles because those folks can write. Consider two stories.

THIS ONE is about a Minneapolis cop accused of assault and the assault is caught on video tape. The piece online is incredibly short, though this assault happened about a month ago. Very little detail.

THIS ONE is a tragic story in rural Missouri about a guy high on meth who killed two sisters. It happened just this weekend and the story reads like a crime novel.

Good writing should still be a standard, even if it’s online. We shouldn’t give up on good journalism, but we, as a public, have quit demanding it. We do care for quality. We don’t care for facts. We care about our viewpoints and gathering sources that share our viewpoints.

And good writing is hard to find.