Monthly Archives: August 2017

On Christian hurricane hypocrisy and fairness

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, megarich, megachurch prosperity-gospel pastor Joel Osteen made news because his church–a building that used to be the Houston Summit, home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets–wasn’t opened to house hurricane refugees. In my opinion, it was a fair criticism and Osteen eventually opened his NBA aren–err, church.

Then this meme showed up, calling out not just Osteen, but the massive hypocrisy of almost all Christian churches in Houston and, probably, by extension, across the country.

More than 19 of every 20 churches, out of greed, callousness, and hypocrisy, left their church doors shut while their neighbors lost everything including, in may cases, their lives. Damn them all to hell!!!!! Except…

Except most churches don’t meet in former NBA arenas. Most aren’t megachurches. Many have very few, if any, paid staff. Many pastors have full-time day jobs. Some churches don’t even have a physical presence, instead renting space in high school gyms or even other churches.

The Catholic parish I used to attend, a pretty well-to-do parish, has a paid staff of maybe a dozen. And it’s a big church. Were a similar storm to hit the Tampa area, it’s a decent bet that even in a church that big and well-to-do, that most, even all, of the staff would have significant issues that would prevent them from rushing down to the church to open the doors to the needy–just like their neighbors’ issues.

The people at most of the churches in Houston don’t live in Joel Osteen’s house. They don’t have paid staff who can fix the house while they attend to other things. They don’t drive $80,000 cars. They’re a lot like you and me materially. Some aren’t even at that level.

I try to be what Jesus would have me be. Far too often, I suck at it. I’m selfish, egotistical, greedy, and like leggings far more than I should. Based on Jesus’ rules about things like anger and lust, I have broken every one of the Big Ten. ┬áSo whatever slings and arrows you cast at me are deserved.

Whatever my hypocrisies, were I to take care of my house and family first after a hurricane–then turn my attention to my friends or neighbors, then think about what I could do at the church to help…if I did these things, I think Jesus would be happy with my efforts. I don’t think he would Gibbs slap me and say I need to also get down to the church.

That’s not a fair burden to place on most of the people referenced by this meme.

Not all Christians make atheists

I’ve done some shitty things in my life. I’m not guilty of any of the things required by Hedy Lamarr to be in his posse (except being a Methodist), but I’ve had my moments.

But, I’ve done some bad things. I am, in many ways, what some Christians would say makes a person unworthy for heaven. And that condemnation’s a big turnoff. According to this article from a guy named John Pavlovitz, the reason the Christian church is declining in the West is because of, well, Christians.

I’ve done it. If you’re Christian, you’ve probably done it, too. Hell, Jesus even did it. He made a whip and drove the dirty pagan bastards out of the Temple. But Jesus wasn’t typically angry and judgemental.

When it came to people we would consider sinners (the condemned woman, the woman at the well, even a dirty stinking tax collector), Jesus was remarkably approachable.

In reality, my journey to real redemption started when I realized that I was, in my own special way, just as bad as the people I thought were bad.

The truth is, if I want to condemn the gays, I condemn myself, too. Sexual sin included looking at a woman and watching her yoga-pants sheathed legs or wonder at some length what it’s like to be with her.

The truth is, and it’s right in the Big Book of Myths, that when I call someone a fool, I’m subjecting myself to the same risk of wrath as them. When I gossip or backstab or get irrationally angry at someone, I’m Biblically qualified to be damned.

Just like the dirty God-less heathens.

In truth, because I’ve done the same thing, if I damn them, I damn myself to be in the line to eternal toastiness directly in front of them.

It’s right in the Bible.

But God loved me. He said that stuff doesn’t matter. He said his love conquers my self-focused stupid stuff.

Yeah so you can do whatever you want and it’s okay with God–you’ve got a license to be an asshole.

Actually, I’ve got a license to try to be to my brothers and sisters what God is to me. There’s no one on earth who has acted against me the way I’ve acted against God. The Bible is clear that I’m to forgive them because I’ve been forgiven much more.

The good news is that for every loud-mouthed televangelist with a diamond ring, there are two people living the life, serving as missionaries to the poor, hurting, and imprisoned. The good news is that there’s a growing movement toward love and away from judgement in a lot of churches.

The good news is that Pope Francis sees what Jerry Falwell didn’t, that mystics like Richard Rohr and Mirabai Starr are spreading a very different Gospel. (Rohr is fond of saying that he believes hell exists, and it’s empty.)

The point of this article isn’t to reduce the harm done by those who use the Bible as a bludgeon. It’s to say that they aren’t Christianity. A lot of us understand that we fall just as far short–and then do their best to extend the overwhelming love we’ve gotten to others.

Are we perfect at it? Oh, hell, no. But we’re trying and we really want to do our best to love our brothers and sisters.

Wrong is wrong. Period. End of Story.

When you drive a car into a group of people who are exercising their First Amendment right to political self-expression, that’s terrorism. Period. End of story.

James Alex Fields, Jr., political terrorist.

When you show up at a Congressional baseball practice, ask what party the players are, then open fire on them (only to be repelled because one of them was in leadership and had a security detail), that’s terrorism. Period. End of story.

When you try to make a manure bomb to blow up a bank in Oklahoma City (Oklahoma City!) because you don’t like the government (only to fail because of your own incompetence and the FBI), that’s terrorism. Period. End of story.

And when you try to minimize one of these events because another one was done by your political opponents (more or less), you are supporting terrorists. Period. End of story.

This isn’t time for Yankees-Red Sox politics. Wrong is wrong. We aren’t progressives or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. We’re Americans–Americans who happen to be progressive or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

This isn’t the time to worry about your side or their side. It’s a time to worry about what we’re becoming.

Period. End of story.

The small religion

This week at the Papists, the Gospel reading is the transfiguration. If you aren’t familiar with it, this story happens about a week before Jesus died. In it, he took Peter, James, and John–his inner circle–up the mountain with him for some quality time with each other and God. So that’s happening and all of a sudden, bam!, there are Moses and Elijah, looking like Anakin, Yoda, and Obi-Wan at the end of Return of the Jedi.

This is pretty freaky stuff to people who have never seen a movie before, let alone one with CGI. So they go nuts. Peter, dope that he is, says, “Hey, we should build houses for you guys!” Then God says to listen to Jesus and they freaked out and hit the deck. It’s a cool story, right?

Except for one thing: I left out some important points.

First, Peter isn’t being dopey here. He’s reacting the way any Jew at the time would. Moses and Elijah are the greatest two men in the history of the Jewish faith at that point. Moses was brought them out of Egypt and oversaw the institution of the Law and Elijah was the greatest of the profits.

Anyone would say something foolish, then freak out and hit the dirt.

But the biggest part is what happens next: Jesus touches them and tells them not to be afraid. And when they get up, there’s just Jesus there. And he tells them not to be afraid.

For the first (cough, cough) years of my life, I’ve paid attention to the beginning of that reading–the pyrotechnics. Ghosts of great men and God’s voice, and I’ve forgotten the end.

But the end is the key. It’s where the payoff is.

Jesus sees these guys freaked out–which is what they should be. And he does the most intimate, small thing possible. He touches them. And when they look up, it’s just Jesus–no Moses, no Elijah, no light show. It’s just him, telling them, I would imagine in a calm, quiet, comfortable voice, not to be afraid.

I’m no scholar, but in my opinion, Christianity done right isn’t a religion of addition and magnificence. It’s a small religion. It’s a religion of touching and quiet and finding yourself with just Jesus.

A friend of mine says that this is a statement from God to listen to Jesus–that he’s greater than Moses and the Elijah. That this is rightsizing the Law and the Prophets. And at the end it’s very small and intimate–just Jesus and them.

We don’t need to add to ourselves. We just need to be and accept just Jesus. We don’t have to earn his love and we sure as hell don’t need to use the Law as we imagine it to make sure others earn it. When we manage that, the magic happens.

For most people, the magic will be small and mundane. Not snapping at the person you have every right to snap at. Being patient with the slow person learning a job at the supermarket checkout. Smiling at someone because it will help, even if you don’t feel like it.

In a sense, those things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you get inconvenienced by someone. If you stand an extra couple of minutes at the checkout. If you’ve had a long, difficult day. At the end of that day, God will be there and you will be welcome and all will be right.

That’s what matters.

I’m not good at this, but to the extent that I get better, I make a positive statement.

We maybe need to think smaller and not bigger.