A war against Christmas?

If anything represents the spirit of Christmas these days it’s plastic. Plastic toys, plastic blenders and coffee makers. Some people will no doubt find a real gun made of plastic under their plastic tree. Of course plastic credit cards will pay for it all.

Sarah Palin, speaking recently at Liberty University, said, “Revisionists want to secularize Christmas by creating a winter solstice season.” As if a secular Christmas is a new strategy perpetuated by liberal atheistic socialists.

No one knows exactly when Jesus was born, but most historians think that the early Western church designated his birthday to coincide with Saturnalia, a Roman pagan celebration centered around—yes, Mrs. Palin, the winter solstice. The likelihood of pagan origins led many Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, to denounce the celebration of Christmas altogether.

The holiday went generally unnoticed by most Americans through the first half of the nineteenth century. In fact it was banned in parts of colonial America. Later, except for the wealthy, it was celebrated with simple gifts. A typical present for my mother during the 1920s was an orange and a pencil. Even as I was growing up, Santa’s generosity was marked by two or three modest presents. My memories of Christmas relate more to family gatherings.

If Western Christians appropriated a pagan festival when they established Christmas Day, modern capitalists have increased the extravagances. In the 1950s, with TV their prime instrument, they were able to inform us of all the stuff out there. Our Christmas Want List grew longer. Then wants became needs. Today we hear on the news about a successful or unsuccessful holiday season. It’s measured by dollars spent. Now HOPE comes with a Scaremester doll; JOY with an iPad; PEACE with a George Foreman grill.

I have an idea: Let’s keep December 25th secular. Keep the vestiges of paganism: the tree, the partying. Rename the holiday after Santa or Rudolph or Frosty. Welcome everyone to spend a lot of money. Wish each other a Happy Holiday.

Then Christians can select a new date on the calendar (after football season, of course), call it Christmas. Like other world religions we’ll use our special holiday to repent and fast. We’ll make it a day of worship and quiet meditation. Families will spend it together.

If a war is being waged against today’s capitalist, secular Christmas, count me in.

Politics—who cares?

I’ve been trying not to care. It just makes me worry, deprives me of sleep, interferes with writing fiction. Reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV make things worse.

In my stop-caring campaign, I remind myself that retirement benefits, while not allowing luxury, do provide my shelter, food, and clothing. So it doesn’t matter to me when funds are cut to food stamps and programs that feed the indigent. My older neighbors who lack basic necessities should go live with their kids. If young enough to work let them get a job like I did. (Forget that my parents sacrificed for my college education so I could earn an adequate income.)

I no longer need a job, so why should I care if minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and a single mother would have to work 15 hours a day/7 days a week to earn $40,000? It’s probably her fault she’s single anyway.

I have health insurance that supplements Medicare. If my back aches I call for a doctor’s appointment. Others in the country have no health insurance at all. Not my problem.

I’m white, registered to vote, and have a drivers license. The older lady down the street—her friend regularly drives her to the library, which does not require a birth certificate for a card. In fact she long ago misplaced hers. What do I care? She’d probably vote for candidates I don’t like anyway.

The planet’s getting warmer, bringing draught to farmlands, flooding to shorelines. By the time things get really bad I’ll be long gone.

So what if a woman at age 45, who already has three young adult children, gets pregnant and isn’t allowed, even upon her doctor’s recommendation, to have an abortion? I’m past child-bearing years. Her crisis has nothing to do with me.

Yes, I’ve been trying not to care about these things.

But in my Bible I read, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:24-5).

And my grandchildren say “I love you” as they hug me. I want fresh air and water to be in their future. Adequate shelter, food, clothing. Freedom from debilitating illness and financial ruin. As I want for all children.

I dare not quit caring.

A Future with Hope (for survivors of domestic violence)

(In cleaning my computer files, I found the following essay. I don’t recall if/where it was published but thought these words might be of help to someone right now.)

It seemed natural for Linda to take her personal problems to her pastor. He listened kindly as she described her husband’s quick temper, the way he sometimes got so mad he hit her and bruised her body. Linda needed to hear someone say, “This is wrong. God intends that the relationship between husband and wife be one of mutual respect.”
Instead, the pastor said, “Go home and try not to anger him. Jesus set an example for us: that we are to suffer for his sake. God will not give you any more to bear than you can handle.” Then Linda and her pastor knelt and prayed.

Our faith should be a source of empowerment and healing. Yet churches have more often than not failed women who live with domestic violence. Some ministers preach that divorce is a sin, or that a woman is to obey her husband. Sometimes members, refusing to accept the truth that abuse occurs in Christian homes, ignore signs that women or children in the congregation are being abused, physically or emotionally. “What happens in a family is that family’s business,” church people may say.

In Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse, Et Al says of her childhood, “People knew of my father’s drinking and physically abusive behavior, but no one intervened or said his actions were wrong….Mama tolerated his verbal and physical abuse. She coped by trying to ignore it and sought comfort in reading Scripture or listening to the radio evangelist extol the redemptive power of suffering.”

It might seem that the church, the entire Christian tradition itself, is not to be trusted with victims’ pain. But that is not necessarily true. Within many religious bodies, attitudes about the abuse of women and children have begun to change. Clergy are being trained to respond with compassion and to assist in finding safety. People of faith are sponsoring hotlines and shelters for women and children living with domestic violence. Christian groups are bringing new eyes and open minds to passages that have traditionally been used to suppress women. At the same time they are lifting up scriptures that empower victims and help them find healing.

Denominations (Jewish and Islam organizations, as well) have been speaking out against violence in the home, forming task forces, writing official statements, training leaders on how to respond. I am most familiar with what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been doing. In 2001 its General Assembly approved a policy statement on domestic violence, bringing to the denomination’s attention the causes of domestic violence, efforts the church can take to prevent it, and suggestions for ministering to victims. The statement is accompanied by a study guide for individuals and groups (available through http://www.pcusa.org/phewa/resources/resources-padvn.htm).

Because abusers within the Christian tradition have often hidden behind scripture, such as “Wives, be obedient to your husbands,” groups are challenging traditional interpretations. Christians for Biblical Equality deals with abuse issues on its website: (http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/abuse).

FaithTrust Institute (formerly Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence) has for many years provided leadership and materials to the various faith communities: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians. On its website (http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org), FaithTrust says of its mission: “We believe that the teachings of our religious traditions have been a source of pain and confusion as well as a source of strength and healing for those facing sexual and domestic violence.”

These three groups are only a small sample of the many religious bodies speaking to the issue of domestic violence.
What recommendations do I have for victims who are also people of faith? First, don’t think for a minute that God is testing you or has placed you in that situation for a reason. Affirmation can be found in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” I believe that God’s intention for us all is that we be part of loving, respectful relationships.

Second, you may want to question your own understanding of scripture. If you’ve been taught that a woman is to obey her husband or that it is her lot to suffer as Jesus suffered, read what Christians for Biblical Equality are saying. Open your mind to alternate interpretations of scripture.

Third, find a spiritual guide. Before you turn to your pastor, consider what clues he/she has provided in sermons about marriage and the relationship between a husband and wife. If the pastor has spoken of the authority of the male and against divorce in general, turn to someone else. My own pastor tells of how often women, seeing a woman’s name on the board in front of the church, come in to seek her counsel because their male pastors have only added to their pain.

My mother once told me that fifty years ago a small circle of women in her church knew that Alice was regularly raped by her husband. They knew that Martha’s husband verbally abused her. From the pulpit the pastor preached that wives were to obey their husbands and that Jesus taught us to forgive seventy times seven. This circle of women, while they felt powerless to take actions that would free Alice and Martha, listened to and offered sympathy to their victimized sisters. Fifty years ago women were helping each other the best they could. Today many communities have faith-based agencies that can direct you to local resources, such as a shelter, and offer emotional support.

Yes, it is possible to find empowerment and healing in your faith tradition. The Psalmist speaks to your pain; Jesus suffers with you. Somewhere a pastor, perhaps not the one in your own congregation, has the training and will to accompany you. Somewhere there is a circle of support, women who have walked in your shoes or compassionate people of faith who want to share God’s love.

Nancy Werking Poling
http://www.nancypoling.com
Author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell
and
Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman
Editor of Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse

If Jesus Had a Gun

(I can’t resist the urge to keep tweaking the previous blog. Thanks for being forbearing.)

How incredible that during this Christmas season we’ve been arguing about guns. This season when we send cards and sing songs about the Prince of Peace. “What would Jesus do?” some people ask when trying to make a moral decision. Apparently many think Jesus would arm himself to the hilt.

I’ve been trying to imagine that kind of Jesus.

Joseph was so determined to protect the vulnerable infant that he kept a gun right there beside the manger. As the shepherds, the Wise Men, the angels approached, he said, “Don’t come any closer,” successfully keeping them at bay. As Jesus got a little older Joseph taught him to fire a weapon at a target in the shape of a Roman soldier.

Later, when he recruited disciples, the Jesus I’m imagining made sure they were armed. After all, we know from the Good Samaritan story that robbers preyed on travelers. And there were all those dangerous Romans soldier occupying the land, denying the Jews of all liberties. Surely Jesus and the twelve spent hours by Lake Galilee practicing their shooting skills.

One day Judas said, “I hear the Romans have new guns, more powerful than an ordinary rifle. Their guns can shoot bullets in rapid succession.”

“Then we must have them too,” Jesus replied. When Judas returned with thirteen AK-47s, Jesus and the twelve had confidence that these weapons would provide the protection they needed. Besides, firing these guns made them feel like real men.

When crowds began to gather around him, a gun-toting Jesus told this parable: “One time there was a wealthy merchant. A robber came to his place of business, but the merchant had a gun and was able to kill the robber. Behold, we live in dangerous times when we must protect our families and ourselves. Only with powerful weapons are we safe.” And the crowds believed him.

What about the night Jesus was arrested? While some of the disciples napped, others played cards. Jesus, though, was engrossed in prayer. So he was taken completely by surprise when Roman soldiers burst on the scene. Still, he was able to reach for his AK-47 fast enough. The disciples too. They mowed those soldiers down—like the good guys do in movies.

No, that’s not the Jesus I know either.

God and Campaign 2012

 

Cover of "God and Politics"

Cover of God and Politics

 

 

 

10-0: the number of times Republicans mentioned God in their platform versus Democrats’ references to the Deity—until Fox News noticed the discrepancy. Which means Republicans are faithful to God, while the Democrats are guided by—Satan, I guess. Republicans, of course, know who God is and exactly what God wants us all to believe: that stewardship of the environment is unrelated to faith, that women lack the moral fiber to make decisions about their own bodies, that homosexuality is a sin. Since Republicans know with certainty what God wants, they’d surely govern according to God’s rules. Therefore, God-fearing people should vote Republican.

 

It’s name dropping, so many references to God, not all that different from my trying to gain your confidence by frequently mentioning my close friendship with Laura Bush or Oprah (neither of whom I, in fact, have ever met).

 

Nowadays people with money contribute a lot to political campaigns. Anonymously. Of course their wealth is the result of having worked hard, very hard. (Apparently the mechanic who’s been fixing cars for decades, older waitresses in our local restaurants, and nurses’ aides in their fifties haven’t worked hard enough. Or they’d be rich too.)

 

We admire the wealthy. On TV we look enviously at their houses. We want the kinds of cars they drive, the clothes they wear. Trying to be like them we give them power to influence us. We come to believe their words that what’s good for them is also good for us and that they know what’s best for the country.

 

To gain our confidence they rely heavily on name dropping: God this and God that. TV commercials costing PACS millions of dollars affirm our core values, tying God to patriotism and freedom. Wealthy supporters pay consultants big bucks to manipulate us into liking what they want us to like, hating what they want us to hate. We’re against welfare queens though we have no first-hand knowledge of them. Though few cases have been documented, we’re upset about voter fraud and support a candidate favoring rules to make voting more difficult. We don’t pause to ask who really benefits from such positions. Who is harmed?

 

May we not someday wake up to discover we’ve been hoodwinked and that our country has paid a great price. Because we believed them when powerful people said God this and God that.

 

God and the right to marry

People of faith have a history of denying certain groups of people the right to marry.

Mildred and Richard Loving

Mildred and Richard Loving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not all that long ago, in 1958, Virginia authorities arrested Mildred and Richard Loving and banished them from the state. Their crime: she was black; he was white. “Almighty God,” the judge said, “created races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents….The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The first law preventing marriage between races was established in 1664 by the Maryland colony, which was concerned about the number of white servant women marrying slave men. Would their offspring be slave or free? Over time forty states banned some form of interracial marriage. Lower courts upheld these antimiscegenation decrees on grounds that making laws about marriage is a prerogative of the state; natural law dictates that the races not intermarry; non-whites are physically and mentally inferior; and marriage between people of different races threatens the order and peace of the community.

Not until 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, did the Supreme Court strike down (unanimously) these statutes. “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” the court opinion stated.

Today few Americans oppose interracial marriage on the basis of God’s disapproval. Did we decide that God is more tolerant than we thought? Or did we misunderstand God’s intent?

Now the target is gays and lesbians. Scriptures against homosexuality are not as clear as many claim. I’ll let theologians argue that point and hope they cite other scriptures, such as ones saying we are to stone rebellious sons to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

For those of us who are straight, our lives daily intersect with gay women and men. They are our sons, our daughters, our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends. We know them to be active citizens, hard workers, conscientious parents, devout Christians. Many in long-term loving relationships want not just the legitimacy of their relationship to be recognized by the state but also the same legal protections heterosexuals take for granted. These include property rights, inheritance, insurance coverage, parenting rights, and life and death decisions.

It is time to grant our fellow citizens full legal rights. Including the right to marry.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman. Currently she is seeking a publisher for Before it was Legal: a black-white marriage, 1945-1986.

Who’s a Real Christian, Who’s Not

Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he i...

Image via Wikipedia

With a scripture to support each belief, Daddy denounced just about every form of fun there is: dancing, drinking alcoholic beverages, playing cards. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants or lipstick or nail polish, and when the time came for me to marry I was to be submissive to my husband. African-Americans, Daddy believed, were inferior because they were descendants of Ham, who’d been cursed by God. Homosexuals were headed for Hell.

An adult now, I play cards every chance I get; I wear jeans, lipstick, and nail polish, have an occasional glass of wine. No one who knows me would say I’m submissive to my husband. I consider African-Americans, gays, and lesbians children of God and worthy of every right that I have (including marriage).

If he were alive, Daddy would denounce me as a non-Christian.  And he’d be wrong. Oh, I don’t use salvation language, but I try to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus: loving my neighbor as myself, caring for the poor, the imprisoned. I am opposed to war and honor the beautiful world God created. I respect the beliefs of Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. For sure I don’t measure up to Jesus’ teachings, but I consider myself a Christian nonetheless.

So when I hear voices in the Republican Party question whether President Obama or Mitt Romney is a Christian, I take it personally. Sure, Franklin Graham said in Tuesday morning’s interview on MSNBC that he cannot judge what’s in a person’s heart, and if Obama says he’s a Christian… But then Graham went on to manipulate the audience to do the judging for him—by saying  Muslims consider Obama one of them, and that Obama only started going to church because someone said he’d be more effective as a community organizer if he did. (Though Obama has said that by going to church he became a man of faith.) Santorum has accused the President’s environmental policies of being the result of a phony theology.

Republicans throw around the word elite a lot these days, accusing the President and Democrats of thinking they know best what’s good for the country. More frightening to me is the religious elite who are convinced they are qualified to decide what the rest of us should believe. Everything else is heresy.

So here we are: Inquisition 2012.

And yes, Daddy, I am a Christian.