politics

Exit 107. Not alone.

Eight months ago, I left my church of almost 10 years, as I have mentioned several times on this blog.  There were a variety of reasons for this, but the last straw was a major change that they seemed intent on implementing, looking only for approval from the congregation as required by the church constitution, rather than debating publicly whether or not it was a good idea.  At least, I always felt like no one was listening to me when I told them that this was a bad idea.  (Ask me privately if you want to know exactly what that change was.  That isn’t the point I’m making today.)

I haven’t cut all ties.  There are still a few people from that church who I see semi-regularly.  I am still in Facebook contact with many people from that church, and I still follow the church’s Facebook page itself.  Recently, the church Facebook page posted two pictures showing a big step that has been taken in regards to the changes I mentioned in the last paragraph.  I replied with a snarky comment.  I also liked every post made by others who seemed to prefer things before the change, and replied to a few of them.  In one of them, someone replied to my comment, asking if I was done yet or if I was looking for points for every comment I made.  I tried to stay calm and civil, because, well, everyone knows what arguing online is like.  But I explained that, when the church was presenting their new vision to the congregation, I would have appreciated knowing that there were others out there who felt the same way as me about what they proposed, and I was commenting to make sure that those who do not agree with what has happened to that church know that they are not alone.

After reading his comment, though, I decided I probably was being a little mean-spirited in my comments, and I said nothing further on those posts.  He replied something about how he had gone to that church for most of his life, and he would pray that I find a church.  His response, incidentally, highlighted another questionable aspect of this church, in that he acted like he had no idea who I was, and he was interacting with me for the first time.  This is not true.  I don’t know this guy well, but I can remember meeting him on at least three distinct occasions, and if I were to see him out and about in public, I would recognize him well enough to put a name to the face.  But he didn’t remember me, which tends to be typical at a very large church, particularly when I have been feeling more and more disconnected over the years.

Shortly after this exchange occurred, someone else I know, not connected to any of this, reposted by coincidence something that said, “I don’t share my opinions on the Internet because I want to change people’s minds.  I do it to let like-minded people know that they are not alone.”  (That’s a paraphrase, not necessarily word for word.)  I thought this was interesting, because I had never thought of this in this way before, and here it came up twice within a few days.

I often feel alone in this way.  My views, my beliefs, and my lifestyle are different from those of many people around me.  I know that this need not be a barrier preventing me from having friendships, but sometimes it matters.  Someone recently asked me if I would still believe in Jesus even if I were the only one on Earth who did.  I replied that I ask myself the same question fairly often.  But I know that I’m not as alone as I tend to think.  I have more in common with people than I tend to believe.  And I can still encourage other like-minded individuals in their beliefs.  I just need to do so without hostility toward others.

Exit 96. I’m scared.

I’m scared.

I’m scared of what the world is coming to.  The Presidential election here in the USA is just eight months away, and all of the leading candidates scare me.  In one party, a crooked and dishonest career lawyer and politician is sparring with another career politician who, although he seems to be a decent man, has extremely radical views that go against much of what I believe this country stands for.  On the other side, a demagogue with a long history of baggage is telling angry people what they want to hear, even though it goes against his previous actions and positions, and his conduct is completely unbecoming of someone fit to lead a nation.  A few of the other candidates running I find somewhat tolerable, but splitting the vote among these minor candidates just seems to be helping said demagogue pull away in the race.  I fear for the future of this country if this many people really support candidates like this.

I’m scared of what passes for entertainment these days.  I’m scared at how desensitized some of us have become to depictions of adult situations and violence.  I’m scared at how shows that were considered horribly trashy just a quarter-century ago are so tame by today’s standards.  I’m scared that kids grow up thinking that the way violence and sex are portrayed on TV is normal.  I’m scared that my values seem laughably quaint to the rest of the world.

I’m scared of the way we treat each other.  I’m scared of how so few people are honest and straightforward anymore.  I’m scared of the way that so many of my friends seem to keep me out of the loop on purpose.  (To my friend who saw fit to keep me in the loop, recently, thank you.  You know who you are, and you know what this is about.  I appreciate it.)   And I’m scared that some people would throw away years of friendship and stab their loved ones in the back for totally selfish reasons.

Perhaps the scariest thing is that none of this should surprise me.  It’s all in the Bible.  Jesus said over and over again that difficult times were coming.  We will be persecuted for our beliefs.  There will be wars, and brother will rise up against brother (Matthew 24).  Paul writes that a man of lawlessness will come and make people believe the lies of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2).  (Note: I’m not saying I honestly think that Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton is the Antichrist.  But the concept of deceitful demagoguery is in the Bible.)

I don’t know who or what I can trust anymore.  All I have left to hold on to is Jesus.  Maybe that’s where I need to be right now, so I can tear down everything holding me back and build something new.

Exit 62. Happy 239th birthday, United States of America.

Yesterday, July 4, was Independence Day here in the United States of America.  The British began settling the Atlantic coast of what is now the USA in the 1600s and 1700s.  By the 1760s and 1770s, the relationship between the Crown and the colonies had deteriorated as the government raised taxes and exerted greater control in the colonies.  After full-blown war broke out, a group of representatives met in Philadelphia and signed the Declaration of Independence (full text).  The Declaration, dated July 4, 1776 and primarily written by Thomas Jefferson, began by asserting that all are created equally with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that government is derived by the consent of the governed; and that when a government becomes abusive, the people have the right to abolish it and replace it with another government.  The Declaration then continues with a list of reasons that the British government under King George III had abused its power in the American colonies.  Fighting between the colonists and the British would continue for several years, and in 1783, after the British had suffered a number of defeats, they formally ended fighting and recognized the new nation.  Thomas Jefferson would later become the third President of the new United States of America, serving from 1801 to 1809, and as one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, his image can be seen on both the five-cent coin and the two-dollar bill.

I have friends in other countries now, and I occasionally get views on this blog from outside the USA, so one reason I included this brief history lesson is because I don’t know how much of this is taught in other countries.  The sad thing, however, is that many people right here in this country don’t seem to know what we are celebrating on July 4.  All of this is still taught in schools, but so many these days have the attitude that what they learn in school is not worth remembering once they have taken a test on it.

This is certainly not the only reason for our changing sense of national identity, of course.  I grew up in the context of the waning years of the Cold War and the brash consumerism of the 1980s, with a clear sense that we were the “good guys” and the Russians were the “bad guys” long before I understood the causes of the Cold War or the political and economic differences between the two nations.  Today’s youth spent their childhoods in the era of the United States being the world’s only superpower, and being widely criticized for that role  They live in the era of increasing globalization and exposure to other cultures, and the era of increased public concern over environmental destruction and its consequences.  This is just my opinion and observation, not intended to be a scientifically drawn conclusion, but it seems like this has created a generation that does not value representative government or free market economics as much as previous generations.  An increasing segment of the population associates representative government with injustice and free market economics with the destruction of the environment, and their views are entirely justifiable in light of recent history.

To me, this context can make the celebration of independence a little awkward.  Does this country still stand for the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?  There is no doubt that the world has changed a great deal since Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues wrote the Declaration 239 years ago, and that our nation and the world are facing a very uncertain and potentially unsettling future.

I want to have hope and optimism that our nation will survive.  Those who wrote the Constitution knew that the world would change in ways that they could not foresee, so they included a provision by which the Constitution could be amended.  It is difficult to amend the Constitution; an amendment must be proposed by a 2/3 vote of Congress, and then the state governments of 3/4 of the states must pass a bill in favor of the amendment.*  But it is important that Constitutional amendments be difficult to pass, so that the foundations of our national government do not change based on whims and fads, and this is why only twenty-seven Constitutional amendments have been approved.  (*Yes, I know there are a few other options involved, but I’m trying to keep it simple.)

One key phrase from the Declaration of Independence that tends to get forgotten these days is “consent of the governed.”  Government exists because the people allow it to exist, and in a representative government like ours, the government only has power because the people allow it to.  Some complain, justifiably, that our government is under the control of big money and big corporations, but the only reason for this is that enough voters have become complacent and cynical enough to continue voting for people who are beholden to big money and big corporations.  This could easily change if enough voters could agree on something better.  Also–and I know that this next part is not true of all countries–the United States federal government exists because the states allow it to exist.  The United States is not one country that was formed first and then divided into states; it is a group of states that created a centralized authority to strengthen their union.  We tend to forget that each state has its own culture and its own way of life, and that, for the most part, the states should not all be the same in the first place.

So, Americans, learn about the issues facing your community, your state, and the nation.  After learning about the issues, vote in the next election.  Remember, you will probably have to make some compromise votes, because no one’s views will follow yours exactly, but some candidates are definitely better equipped to be leaders than others.  I hope we as a nation can continue to do the best we can, and that we will find a solution to the divisiveness and ignorance that seem to have dominated recent elections, on both sides.  Happy 239th birthday, United States of America.

Exit 61. You can’t legislate a viewpoint.

I have a lot of friends on both extremes of the political spectrum, and thus it has been no surprise to me that a lot of them have had a lot to say in the last couple weeks, given the controversies that have been brewing here in the USA.  I’m not here to share my views on the subject; given the specific subjects at hand, my views don’t line up neatly on the liberal or conservative side, and both sides would probably disagree with me.  I don’t like writing specific political views, because those kinds of arguments tend to be based on premises not accepted by those who don’t agree, and thus no minds are changed.  But I do have some interesting thoughts on the matters at hand, particularly regarding people’s responses to them.

Several years ago, the topic of abortion came up in church, and at one point, the pastor said, “You can’t legislate morality.”  His point was that if abortion were to be outlawed all of a sudden, people’s views on the topic would not change.  Those who want to end abortion should start by teaching people about God’s love, and the sanctity of life, and God’s purpose for sexual intercourse, and by practicing what they preach.  I found this interesting, because this is probably one of the most conservative pastors I’ve ever had, and yet this is an argument typically made by liberals, in the context that making abortion illegal won’t stop people from having abortions.  But he’s right.  A law, or a binding court decision, will not change the beliefs or behavior of a deeply divided populace.  In the context of recent events, the US Supreme Court’s decision that states cannot prohibit homosexual marriage does not suddenly make religious beliefs about homosexuality wrong, because those who hold those beliefs see their God as a higher authority than the US Supreme Court.  Conversely, if the United States were to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, that would not stop homosexuals from being attracted to the same sex and acting on those attractions.  Banning the Confederate battle flag will not change the views of racists, and removing the stigma that comes with the Confederate battle flag is unlikely to make anyone a racist if they don’t already hold those views to some extent.  You can’t legislate a viewpoint.

So if you can’t force your views down people’s throats through the law or the courts, what can you do?  You can start by understanding the people who disagree with you; find out why they think the way they do.  Be respectful.  Spend time around people with different views from yours.  The people I know (both liberals and conservatives) who say disrespectful things about those they disagree with are most often not people who have spent a lot of time out of their cultural bubble.  You might find your own views changing in a positive way, or you might find a compromise.

I know, it isn’t easy to do this.  It’s easier to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and call names.  As my group of friends has diversified, there have been many times I’ve longed to go back to my right wing conservative roots.  I’ve considered leaving the liberal progressive partner dance communities that I have become so involved with in the last several years, and spending more time around people who aren’t going to make fun of Christians and share profanity-laced blog posts attacking and belittling those who don’t share their radical views.  (I should add the disclaimer that not all of the links that my liberal friends share are this negative, of course.)  But the problem with this is that my views don’t fit in neatly among right wing conservatives either, at least not anymore.  Their rants have much less profanity than the rants of some liberals, but conservatives can be at times just as disrespectful toward me regarding, for example, my refusal to accept young earth creationism, or my view that conservatives are severely misguided in their belief that the Common Core State Standards Initiative is a conspiracy by the federal government to indoctrinate schoolchildren into Godless liberalism.

I had plans in San Francisco tonight before the court ruling regarding same-sex marriage.  Given San Francisco’s extreme liberal reputation, as well as recent events in the city, I considered canceling my plans, just to stay away from any situations that might get controversial.  But I didn’t, I’m still going, because I realized that backing out would be doing exactly the opposite of everything I just said (not to mention, as I said above, I don’t currently claim allegiance to either side in the debate over same-sex marriage).  Jesus spent time around people outside of the mainstream of the culture he was raised in, and he loved them for who they were, and he told his followers to do the same.  And that is my job, to be like Jesus before those who don’t know him.  It’s up to God to change their heart, or to change my heart.  Or both.

Exit 49. Learning is the first step to understanding.

Last night I was at a friend’s housewarming party.  I got into a long and intense conversation about religion and politics with one of her college friends whom I hadn’t met before.  At first, going by some comments I had overheard her make earlier in a different conversation, I had a feeling this would be someone I disagreed with, but she turned out to be really cool.  (Note: Before you get any ideas, she’s married.  That isn’t where this story is going.)  While there were things we did not agree about, she said that it is a good thing to hear other people’s perspectives on issues.  I completely agree with this.  But that’s not where I’m going here.

At one point, she was asking about my faith background.  She is Episcopal.  For me, though, that is not an easy question to answer.  I consider myself a Christian, but I don’t consider myself tied to any one denomination.  I attended Catholic Mass until I was 20, but have mostly attended evangelical churches since then.  I am currently a member of a Baptist church.  She went on to talk about some things she likes about the Episcopal Church, and some of the differences with Catholicism.  She said that anyone can take communion in an Episcopal church, but only Catholics can take communion in a Catholic church.  I said that I still attend Catholic Mass once a year, on Christmas Day at the church of my childhood because I’m always back home visiting my parents and brother and grandmother for Christmas.  I don’t take communion at Christmas Mass, though, or any other time I have occasion to be at my parents’ house on a Sunday and go to church with Mom, out of respect for the Catholic beliefs about communion which I don’t agree with.  I took a class in college on Christian theology, from the late Dr. Lincoln Hurst, and I wrote my term paper on transubstantiation vs. memorialism and took the memorialist view.

At this point, she gave me a look and asked a question which suggested that she wasn’t following what I was talking about.  So I explained.  I explained transubstantiation, how Catholics interpret the Last Supper passages in the Bible, where Jesus breaks the bread and pours the wine and says “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” to mean that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine during mass, they miraculously become the actual body and blood of Christ somehow.  Most Baptists and Pentecostals, on the other hand, believe that communion is a memorial act, strictly symbolic of what happened on Jesus’ last night on Earth with no actual change in the nature of the bread and wine.  In researching that term paper, I rejected transubstantiation because of the wording in Mark’s version of the story.  Mark clearly writes (14:23-24) that Jesus did not say “This is my blood” until after the disciples had drank the wine.  If one is to accept that the Bible is divinely inspired, then God would have not have allowed this wording in a divinely inspired manuscript, and those who compiled the Bible would not have considered this wording to be canonical, unless transubstantiation was never intended to be an essential doctrine.  Again, this is merely the opinion I put forth in a term paper I wrote at age 21, so if you disagree, I’m not going to try to change your mind.  These differences, I explained, were one of the first points of dissension between Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans in the early days of the Protestant Reformation.

Anyway, the girl I was talking to last night, she said, “I never knew that.  I always just thought Catholics were being mean.”

I’ve found over the years that many things that confuse and frustrate people, causing them to complain, have rational explanations behind them.  While not all of the explanations are good excuses for why things are the way they are, it helps to understand the history behind something before you complain about it or try to change it.  You think that the President of the United States should be chosen by a direct popular vote instead of the Electoral College?  Learn about the history of the Electoral College and the Connecticut Compromise, and about the difference between a democracy and a republic, a federation and a confederation, and which ones apply to the United States.  You find the US system of measurement confusing and wonder why it takes 12 inches to make a foot, instead of 10 like the metric system, since calculating with 10s is so much easier (in base 10)?  Learn about the Romans and their system of numbers, beyond I and V and X, and how they wrote all fractions in twelfths, because twelfths can be grouped evenly into halves, thirds, or fourths, whereas tenths cannot.  You live in Sacramento and wonder why there are two Highway 80s?  Learn about the Interstate Highway system, and what a business route is, and why the route numbers of these two routes were changed in 1983.  Now learning about these things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll change your mind; I could probably tell you more about the reason there are two Highway 80s in Sacramento than 99% of Sacramento County residents, yet I still think that the numbers should be changed.  But, no matter what the issue, learning is the first step to understanding, which is crucial if any meaningful changes are to be made.