Fat Middle-Aged Wannabe

This is an occasional blog exploring spiritual matters.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pastor sees the light

Halleluja! For those of you who can't access the NYT, a conservative minister has decided to try and stop talking about politics and endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Of course it's costing him dearly, since Jesus said to render unto God what is Caesar's, or something like that....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A little joke

Here's a joke that somebody sent me. I don't normally go in for such things, but this one is funny. Also, it was clearly written by somebody from Texas, which makes it even better. Is it highly partisan? You bet. But hey, as my buddy Guillermo says, funny's funny.

Heaven or Hell

Walking down the street one day, George Dubya Bush is shot by a disgruntled NRA member. His soul arrives in Heaven and he is met by St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. "Welcome to Heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem: We seldom see a Republican around these parts, so we're not sure what to do with you." "No problem, just let me in; I'm a believer," says Dubya. "I'd like to, but I have orders from the Man Himself," says St. Peter. "He says you have to spend one day in Hell and one day in Heaven. Then you must choose where you'll live for eternity." "But, I've already made up my mind; I want to be in Heaven," Dubya answers. St. Peter shakes his head. "I'm sorry, but we have our rules."

And with that, St. Peter escorts him to an elevator and Dubya goes down, down, down, all the way to Hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a lush golf course; the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, the temperature a perfect 72 degrees. In the distance is a beautiful clubhouse. Standing in front of it his dad and thousands of other Republicans who had helped him out over the years: Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Jerry Falwell. The whole of the "Right" is here, everyone laughing, happy; casually but expensively dressed. They run to greet him, hug him, and reminisce about the good times they had getting rich at expense of the "suckers and peasants." They play a friendly game of golf, then dine on lobster and caviar.
The Devil himself comes up to Dubya with a frosty drink. "Have a margarita and relax, Dubya!" he grins. "Uh, I can't drink no more, I took a pledge," says Dubya dejectedly. "Aw, this is Hell, son! You can drink and eat all you want and not worry," says the Devil. "It just gets better from here!" Dubya takes the drink and finds himself liking the Devil, who is a very friendly guy who tells funny jokes and pulls hilarious nasty pranks, kind of like a Yale Skull and Bones brother with real horns. They are having such a great time that, before he realizes it, it's time to go. Everyone gives him a big hug and waves as Dubya steps on the elevator and heads upward.

The elevator door reopens on Heaven and St. Peter is waiting for him. "Now it's time to visit Heaven," the old man says, opening the gate. So for 24 hours Dubya is made to hang out with a bunch of honest, good-natured people who enjoy each other's company, talk about things other than money, and treat each other decently. Not a nasty prank or frat-boy joke among them; no fancy country clubs and, while the food tastes great, it's not caviar or lobster. And these people are all poor; he doesn't see anybody he knows, and he isn't even treated like someone special! Worst of all, to Dubya, Jesus turns out to be some kind of Jewish hippie with his endless 'peace' and 'do unto others' jive. "Whoa," he says uncomfortably to himself, "Pat Robertson never prepared me for this!"

The day done, St. Peter returns. "Well, then," he says, "you've spent a day in Hell and a day in Heaven. Now choose where you want to live for eternity." With the 'Jeopardy' theme playing softly in the background, Dubya reflects for a minute, then answers, "Well, I would never have thought I'd say this -- I mean, Heaven has been delightful and all -- but I really think I belong in Hell with my friends."

So Saint Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down, all the way to Hell. The doors of the elevator open, and Dubya finds himself in the middle of barren, scorched earth covered with garbage and toxic industrial waste...kind of like Houston. He is horrified to see all of his friends dressed in rags and chained together, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags. They are groaning and moaning in pain, faces and hands black with grime. The Devil comes over to Dubya and puts an arm around his shoulder. "I don't understand," stammers a shocked Dubya. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a clubhouse and we ate lobster and caviar and drank booze. We screwed around and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and everybody looks miserable!"
The Devil looks at him and smiles slyly. "Yesterday we were campaigning," he purrs, "Today you voted for us."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I found this article in the NYT pretty interesting. For those of you that can't log in, it's about a megachurch in Memphis that built a replica of the statue of liberty. The replica (including pedastal) is 72 feet tall (compared to 305 feet for the original). There are a few other modifications:

1. In place of torch, she holds a cross
2. In place of a tablet inscribed with "July IV, MDCCLXXVI," she holds the ten commandments

I think that it is a pretty succinct statement about the vision that many "Christians" have for the United States. In case you don't get it, the article contains the following quotes from the pastor of the church:

The statue, inspired by a Memphis church that has three giant crosses, strikes him as "a creative means of just really letting people know that God is the foundation of our nation," he said.

In "The Meaning of the Statue of Liberation Through Christ: Reconnecting Patriotism With Christianity," he explains that the teardrop on his Lady is God's response to what he calls the nation's ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools and the country's "promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism and humanism."

"I decree the spirit of conviction on this intersection," Mr. Williams boomed from a podium decorated with red, white and blue bunting. "This statue proves that Jesus Christ is Lord over America, he is Lord over Tennessee, he is Lord over Memphis."

I kind of like this. First, it is such a beautiful illustration of the way in which many Americans merge nationalism with religion. They invest religious symbols with nationalist meaning and nationalist symbols with religious meaning. For these folks, God is definitely on our side and not on those other people's side.

Second, I admire Mr. Williams honesty. To heck with the founding fathers, to heck with the constitution - what he wants is a theocracy that makes his particular picture of God the official picture for the nation. I wonder what it's like to be that sure of one's picture of God?

Third, I just love that last quote: "This statue proves that Jesus Christ is Lord over America."
How is that, exactly?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's the end of the world as we know it....

This article set me off this morning. The good news is that eschatological idiocy is not limited to Christianity. The bad news is that eschatological idiocy is not limited to Christianity. I view virtually all eschatology as yet another way in which we humans attempt to impose our smallness and limitedness on God's very large creation. Basically, eschatology is the belief that God operates on a human time scale. That all of history will occur in a few hundred generations of mankind. Thankfully, it is becomming ever more apparent to those who care to look that God operates on a very different time scale, like billions of years (at least). But I suppose that's kind of scary to people who like to feel that they are nearly as big and important as God, so they choose to ignore the evidence that God has so liberally sprinkled about the creation. They rely instead of the world/God view of a small tribe living in and around Israel 2000-3000 years ago (the Christians and Jews, anyway). Stikes me as an odd position to fall back to, but I suppose that's just me.

But let me critique this from closer to home. When God finished the creation (including people), Genisis 1:31 tells us God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. Got that boys? God likes God's creation, and is probably not in any great hurry to get rid of it. The fact that many of us find it so terrible is our problem, not God's. And in any event, God has given us the tools that we need to make things better for ourselves. The fact that we generally fail to take advantage of these tools is again our problem and not God's.

It is certainly nice for us to think that rather than requiring us to toil away for a few billion years, working towards the realization of the kingdom of God, that God will just step in, snap God's fingers, and take care of the whole thing for us. (Well, to be fair, these end-of-the-world types don't think that God will do everything. God will, you know, requires us to send out a few emails with our favorite scripture verses enclosed. That God, what a taskmaster!). But isn't it maybe time, a million or so years into our history as sentient creatures, to accept as quite probable the notion that that's just not how God works?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Funny, but sad

Wow. While reading this article on CNN I saw this and had to laugh:
"What would cause a godly woman to do such a thing?" asked neighbor Sharon Everitt, echoing the question that has hung over the rural town since late March. "Christians don't shoot Christians."

Excuse me? I think that quite a number of them shot each other during WWII. And then of course there is the unspoken part of that statement: No problem christians shooting non-christians.

Not to bash christians! I am a christian. But I believe we were instructed to know thyself, and we are all of us potential murderers.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

BWCA

Well, I haven't posted in forever, so I probably should. I spent two weeks on a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in northern Minnesota with our church's youth group. It was six days driving and six days canoing with six teenagers (including my number one daughter). Just a coincidence that that is "666"? Hmmm.

Actually, the trip was a lot of fun. I don't normally interact much with the kids at church, and this trip turned out to be a very nice way to get to know some of them better. I have enormous respect for those kids after this trip - they worked hard, pitched in, and stayed cheerful under some pretty trying circumstances (principally 4 days of rain).

The drive up and back was greatly enhanced by the fact that we spent the nights both on the way up and on the way back at host churches. Two of our church's previous vicars are now pastors at churches strategically placed on the route from Texas to Minnesota, and they were kind enough to let us sleep in their churches. We enjoyed visiting and sharing fellowship with them, and we got a wonderful home-cooked meal on the way back - just the thing after all of the dehydrated trail food. It's suprising sometimes to discover connections where you didn't really know that they existed.

The time on the water was challenging, but we learned fast. My crowning triumph was the recollection that birch bark is very good for starting fires. I learned this as a child growing up in Wisconsin - probably in my fourth grade Wisconsin history lessons. Who would have thought it would ever be so useful? But after spending about 45 minutes trying to light a fire using wood that had been rained on for two days, it turned out that birch bark was just the thing. We learned how to set up camp in the rain. We learned how to manuver our canoes in strong winds and driving rain. We learned how to get everything dry whenever the sun came out. We learned how to efficiently portage our canoes and gear. We learned how to rely on each other, and to appreciate each other's talents. We learned that black flies can bite through two layers of clothing.

I stayed up late one night and saw the milky way for the first time in probably 20 or 30 years. I saw three bald eagles, up close and personal. I saw beavers and beaver dams for the first time in my life. I spent one glorious morning, from about 4:30 AM until about 6:30 AM, completely alone watching the wildlife on the lake where we were camped go about their morning business. When I first got up, there was not hint of a breeze, and not a ripple on the lake. The trees around the shore of the lake and the clouds above were perfectly mirrored in the lake, and there was mist rising from the water. The sun, shining between an island in the lake and the near shore, illuminated one long, narrow strip of the water, as though someone had opened a door at one end of the lake and the light was streaming in.

Oddly, we never really did any "church" stuff while we were out on the water, although we had planned to. There was just too much going on, too much to do. The one "religious" moment for us adults was when we noticed on the fifth day that the kids, who had started out in two very distinct groups, were all together talking and playing around in one big group. We (the adults) cooked and cleaned up that night, and let the kids be.

It was a blast, and I am thankful thankful thankful that we made the trip with no car trouble, no wrong turns, and no broken bones. Sometimes things work out, and that is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Don't talk to strangers - NOT

I found this lovely quote on CNN today, concerning the 11-year-old cub scout who was lost in the woods of Utah for 4 days: "...Brennan was taught ... not to talk to strangers, so "when an ATV or horse came by [searching for him] he got off the trail ... when they left, he got back on the trail."

When I was a kid, I was taught that people are good. If you are lost, go up to the nearest adult and tell them you are lost. If you need help, ask an adult. It really didn't matter which adult - it was simply assumed by my parents that most people were good, and that we were all part and parcel of a larger society with which we interacted.

That view seems so out of vogue these days. As the father of two daughters, I am accutely away of how over-protective most parents have become of their children. When I was a child I was walking to and from school on my own for sure by third grade, and probably earlier. When as parents we (my wife and I) began letting our daughters find their own way home from school in fourth grade (about 6 blocks through a residential neighborhood) virtually all of the other parents with whom we interacted thought we were crazy. "What if somebody snatches them?" they would ask. Well, here's the deal. I would rather run the risk of my daughter being snatched than raise a daughter who is inherently fearful of her fellow human beings. Life is full of risk. My daughters are far more likely to die in an auto accident with me driving than to be murdered by a kidnapper, but I'm not going to stop driving them around, either. And while most people recognize the problem with not driving because of the risk, few seem to recognize the problem with teaching there children that "strangers" are fundamentally bad. Well, here's an obvious drawback: it just might get your kid killed, as it very nearly did with Brennen. More fundamentally (for me) Christ taught us to love others. That's hard to do when you are busy teaching your children to fear them.