The Controversial New Post
September 13, 2011

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This is the part where I write an apparently shocking statement, preferably about God or religion. And this is the part where I try to explain how it’s really not all that shocking unless you’re really narrow-minded.

At about this time, I begin to experience a bit of writer’s remorse about what I just wrote, or the image I posted at the top of the page, and start to back-peddle so as not to totally alienate any or all potential audiences. And then I wrestle with thoughts of how one must risk alienating one audience in order to appeal to another, because that’s just how writing goes.

And here, well, this is where I get honest. I really try to do that, but I have a habit of endlessly questioning my motives, and want to make sure I’m not just being “honest” just so you’ll perceive me as more “authentic” than someone else you could be reading. You may think a habit of examining motives is honorable, but for me it borders on compulsion. So maybe that sort of trumps the whole honorable thing. Not sure who determines that.

Anyway, I was going to complete a post I started months ago about the origins of the pledge of allegiance to the Bible, which I grew up reciting in my Christian school, along with the pledge of allegiance to both the American and Christian flags.

I was going to call out how the guy who wrote the Bible pledge  included it in his creation of the original manual for Vacation Bible Schools for the Southern Baptists, back  in the 1920s. I would point out how he dedicated his words specifically to the “…white children of the South,” and mentioned how proud Southern Baptists are of their pure “Anglo-Saxon blood.” And that he explained in his preface how white children’s souls were going downhill, but that the spiritual conditions are “far worse among the negro children.”

I would say how I was shocked but not surprised to see for my own eyes actual proof of how racism mingled with religion, proving yet again the pattern of hypocrisy in Christendom. And I could state how some little children may have been, through no choice of their own, indoctrinated into that hypocrisy. Left to carry on the “honorable” traditions of those forebears who protected the purity of the Chosen culture that pledged allegiance to God’s Holy Word.

While all that may be true, of course, it makes no difference.

It makes no difference if I can regularly display proof after proof of the problems with religion. It makes no difference if the religious can provide proof after proof of the problems with doubt and disbelief. It makes no difference if any of us can justify our angst toward the other.

It makes no difference because it does not make us different.

Religious scholar Dallas Willard — a Southern Baptist, by the way — once wrote that, “We talk about leading a different kind of life, but we also have ready explanations for not being really different.” I’ll take inspiration from wherever I can get it, and that rings true for me.

Through the last several years, I’ve been learning that, for me, “being really different” does not happen through me trying to change others. Like I’ve repeated before, in the words of St. Michael, it starts with the Man in the Mirror. While we can inspire others toward positive change, we cannot change others. We can only change ourselves.

I don’t think I always need to be changing. Often, we interpret the need for change as saying that we are not good enough as we are. I am, as a person, good just as I am, but I think I can be better in certain situations, in my interactions with others, for example. Or trying to be less selfish as a husband. Or not wringing my dog’s neck when he pees on the carpet. That does not mean I must perpetually see myself as “almost there.” It just means that growth is usually good.

At this point in time, growth, for me, is in learning to be more true to myself. Learning who I really am, deep inside. Learning what I really want out of life, not what I think I should want. And for me that means making my own pledge of allegiance. Not to just another philosophy or system, and not even to some goal. Rather, it means constantly being honest with myself and others. Because when I’m not honest, I’m not at peace. With that in mind, I think my pledge could be best summed up in the words of the Temper Trap song, “Fader,” which mentions in one line:

“…I pledge myself allegiance to a better night’s sleep at home.”

So in the midst of all the provocative writing or imagery, the “authenticity,” the personality, the branding, the voice…whatever… in between the lines, my aim in the words I offer to you here — at least in this post — is to simply help me sleep better. To be more at peace. And that’s my wish for you.

Not attention-getting controversy. Not point-proving. Not trying to change others. Not fashionable philosophy. But honesty, and peace.

* Original image credit/link here.

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The Bride and Prejudice
January 19, 2010

A relative was telling me how, years ago, she went to the KKK rally to sell puppies. She’s a good Christian, mind you. It’s just that, until about the time I was born, the area of Texas we’re from was, shall we say, not very well known for its racial tolerance. Just up the road was one of America’s last “sundown towns.” So prejudice infiltrated our blood in some ways, or at least our minds, so much so that I didn’t realize I looked down on others unlike me until I had lived out of the state for years.

So when I visited family, it shouldn’t have surprised me when another relative, an ordained minister, called someone a nigger. (I know I shouldn’t use that word, but I’ve got to remind myself that it still exists in the minds and mouths of millions.) Here’s the interesting part: This person has always been a very loving man. My model of Christ-like charity. He has given so much of his life and finances to the underprivileged and the rejected among society. For instance, he has given undocumented immigrant workers a roof to sleep under and a job and money for food …but he will call others wetbacks. This person has a Bible school and supported a black man through the school, graduated him, ordained him, and to this day they are close friends and my relative heavily supports this man’s ministry in Central America…but then refers to another black gentleman and says, “There goes the neighborhood.” How does this happen? Every time I visit I hear this talk. And the worst part is that these people are Christians, if that means anything. Maybe that’s one reason “Christian” really doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. It’s just another relative, arbitrary category.

My good friend Jimi recently wrote a wonderful book about the still-existing phenomenon of racial prejudice among Christians. I highly recommend it. Jimi was a musician in the 60s, in San Francisco, playing with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, and Sly and the Family Stone. He says that Christians can learn a lot from the rock n’ roll scene about acceptance. Jimi has seen a lot. He’s experienced racism personally…a lot. He’s a wise man and I’m grateful that he shares his experience with me. He has helped me become more aware of myself. And this may be stating the obvious, but I think Christians should learn more about acceptance…I think we all should. Not to guilt ourselves, but to make ourselves aware so we can adjust where we need to adjust.

But it’s not just racial prejudice that I see among Christians. There’s prejudice involved with categories in general. When I was deeply involved with conservative Christianity, I thought our little group had the true insight. We had a special revelation that people like those liberals out in San Francisco didn’t. And then my life took a few turns and I switched teams. I started thinking of people like those in my old home town as narrow-minded, redneck bigots. Damn conservatives screwing everything up. And then my outlook adjusted a bit more, at least religiously speaking, and I considered myself an adherent of a “third way,” a way that tries to eschew both the right and the left. But then I soon found myself turning my nose up at “modernists” who just couldn’t get over the concept of categories. …Okay, maybe I’m still there a bit, but hopefully you get the point.

The fact is that we all have our own lenses through which we see others around us. Some lenses are the ones our parents handed down to us, which we’ve maintained and kept polished all these years. Some have been custom-made for us by the ones we admire. Some are the new ones we’ve created for ourselves just recently. That’s just a fact of life. And I think the trick is to make sure we clean our glasses off occasionally to be sure we’re looking at the world clearly. My metaphor breaks down a little here, so I’ll drop it for now and mix in another one.

What I’m trying to say is that (1) of course racism is terrible. It still happens in “the Church,” which for centuries Christians have called “the Bride of Christ.” But (2) even if we don’t look down on our different-pigment brothers and sisters, we look down on our different-lensed brothers and sisters. I still sometimes think I’m smarter than some of my conservative loved ones…hell, sometimes I even blame it one their genetics. …And to clarify…I’ve been wrong for that. Another example, is that many of us still look down on those of different religions. And although I may not technically call myself a Christian, I still feel I’m somehow part of that body called the Bride of Christ. Maybe I’m just the black stain on her veil. Regardless, I think all of us are part of that body…the Bride of God, I’ll call her…regardless of our religion, regardless of our way of seeing things. We all make up this entity.

And whatever our perspective, I think we should at least try to be more aware of our thoughts and attitudes toward others different from us. We shouldn’t waste energy feeling guilty about the times we’ve turned our nose up (even in our minds) at those we think just don’t get it…but we should take a moment to become aware of those thoughts and adjust them. Maybe we can think of ourselves as that bride…and try to be a nice bride instead of an overprotective bitch… You know, the kind who won’t let her husband go out with the guys..ever. I think God wants to have fun with everyone…we don’t all own him. Now, my metaphor is breaking down again, but can you see it? I don’t know if God is a polygamist (although I wouldn’t put it past him…He’s got “big love” ;)) but I think God wants to love us all, regardless not just of our skin tone, but even if we’re conservative or liberal, or somewhere in between, or agnostic, or whatever.

So, one thing that this MLKJ Day helped me remember is to try to just be aware of how I see others who are not quite like me. How about we just let God love everyone….and here’s the hard part…Let God love them through us. It’s easy to love the helpless in Haiti…they’re not condemning about us…But it’s a little trickier, when for instance, my relatives start talking about how the government is going to steal their money. It’s hard for me to sit quietly, calm down, breathe, listen, and maybe ask them why they feel that way…and just listen. Because when I do that I find that I hear my own head screaming out even more mean-spirited thoughts than what that person is telling me, or at least I find that I’m not really listening…I’m trying to form my argument against them because they are not like me and I must “defend my values.” Wait…I think I’ve heard that phrase somewhere. Oh, right…from them. Anyway, after listening, I might soon realize that maybe, for instance, they’re just scared about their finances because they got hit really hard by hurricane Ike and they’re still terribly stressed and I’m not making things easier with my smarter-than-you, more-tolerant-than-thou attitude. …And I’ve been wrong with that sort of thinking.

I never marched with Martin Luther King Jr., but I can follow in his footsteps in my own little way. So I’m trying to become more self-aware concerning my own prejudices, one step at a time. Will you march beside me?