News and Blues and Candles Against the Darkness

For several days now, I have just felt depressed when I open my news page: recently, there have been a number of very troubling murders, including some allegedly perpetrated by children.  A pastor’s pregnant wife was murdered in her home, there have been sexual assaults, including teens assaulting toddlers, and now a coordinated terrorist attack killing more than 120 across the city of Paris.

But it isn’t just the violence: it’s the clash of ideologies that wearies me to the very bone.  One group sues to have a nativity scene banned from display on public property because religion offends them, while another bunch of religious crazies gets bent out of shape because Starbucks goes with a red holiday cup.

We have politicians and would-be presidents that gleefully toss around threats of deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants including children who would be uprooted from the only home they have known and sent back to a greater uncertainty, well except for the near certainty of poverty and misery.

We allow ourselves to be blinded by the counterproductive values of those who are driven by greed.  We turn our faces from the uncomfortable reality of suffering and seek our security if not our happiness in a warm gun.  And when violence erupts in a school or church, the immediate call is not for controlling access to guns but rather arming more people to deter (read “preemptively kill”) would-be mass killers.  And we can do all that while quoting scriptures and patting the cover of a dog-eared King James Bible.

We worry so much about rights and not bruising the delicate sensibilities of this special interest group or that special interest group that we forget about responsibilities, and I’m talking about the ones that predate the Constitution and the assembled code of laws accreted since the founding of this country. 

The most fundamental directive of humankind is to love one another.  That love could be manifested in many ways, but none more genuine and foundational than seeing to the needs of the poor, weak, sick and vulnerable. 

I know there is evil in the world.  I’ve been alive since the dark days of the 1960’s.  I remember the body counts from Vietnam on the evening news.  I remember the saber-rattling that preceded the fall of the Soviet Empire.  I remember the first and second Gulf Wars.  And I have watched the rise of radical religious zealots who are bent on establishing an oppressive, blood-soaked global theocracy.

The news disturbs me daily, and far more than it ever lifts me up.  I need good news. I need to know that there is still goodness in this world.  I need to know that there are those who have not given up the fight against darkness, against inhumanity, against suffering.  I need something to rekindle my faith in the goodness of humanity.

Whatever happens in the world, the evil without must not be an excuse for the growth of a malignant evil within.  We must never dim the divine light loaned to humanity in deference to the darkness of hate, greed, selfishness and the shadowy passions that degrade our innate nobility.  We were made for better than what we see in the news.  Like a tiny candle flickering against the night, every small act of kindness strikes a blow against evil.  Never be afraid to join the light and make a difference.  The alternative is darkness. Those are the only two choices.

I choose light.

The Curious Case of Christians and Coffee Cups

The annual festival of offenses has begun.

Every year, someone decides that society has waged a war on Christmas.  It is true that people have moved to a more generic greeting in many cases, from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays.

None of that really bothers me.  What does bother me is that people are giving Jesus a black eye by violating the very principles he taught.  If someone offends you, turn the other cheek.  He would have agreed with the wise man who spoke of gentle answers that turn away wrath.  He would have agreed with his apostle who said as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

When people are spoiling for a fight about something as ridiculous as Starbucks’ choice of holiday paper cups, we have a problem.  One meme I saw said something about people wanting to put Christ back in Christmas, but that they should first pay attention to putting Christ back in Christians.  I usually despise memes.  But that one has a kernel of truth.

A larger issue than disposable drink-ware is a study that came out that, whether accurate or not, has painted children from religious families as less empathetic, less altruistic and more likely to suggest harsher punishments for rule-breaking.  How did we get to a point where cups are more important than teaching our children the most elementary principles of a life of faith?

Why are those who are nominally Christians the ones who are most likely to fight for lower taxes even though it means cutting programs that help the poor?  Why are Christians at the center of the fight for gun rights ostensibly to defend their own lives and the lives of their families and who lead the charge against abortion, but support reducing or eliminating programs that feed children who would otherwise have nothing to eat and put them at risk of dying?

Have we become so legalistic, so fearful of an angry God that we fail to comprehend the true fundamental principle of grace, that as we have received from him, we should share with others?  Have we let the fear of punishment distort the joy in service to the Prince of Peace we can have by serving others?

The Jesus I know had compassion on crowds of hungry people.  He comforted those who were hurting.  He wept with those who mourned.  He even prayed for the forgiveness of the men who nailed him to an undeserved cross.

“But Jesus made a scourge of cords and drove money changers from the Temple.”  He did indeed do that.  But those people had made the courtyard of the holiest house of worship into a profit-seeking market, likely taking advantage of people in the process.

Sometimes, I wonder if Christ ever really was in some people who call themselves Christians.  If we are Christians only because we fear hell, we have missed the point entirely.  To be a follower of Jesus is more than filling a pew and feeding the collection plate and being opposed to practically everything.  It is reflecting his light and his love to a hurting world.  If all people see from us is scorn and outrage and selfish actions, it is no wonder that religion is fading in America.

Until we see Jesus as he truly was—as I believe that he still truly is—we will make little headway in expanding the borders of the Kingdom.  Jesus showed us the way.  He changed hearts one at a time with honesty and kindness and love.  The Prince of Peace stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet.  He reached out with open arms in humble service, not clinched fists lifted in outrage.  Mobilizing a mob—even one on social media—with the fervor of a religious militancy is as far from honoring Jesus as one can go.

So if Starbucks offends you, drink your coffee somewhere else.  Or better yet, have a glass of water and give the price of a latte to someone who has no food.  I’m pretty sure Jesus would be OK with that.