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August 22, 2005

Weekend thoughts

• Hey everyone. The weekend is over and all is good. Before we get into the main crux of this entry there are a few things I'd like to weigh in on. First of all, I love it that Terry Ryan is making a play for Soriano. Most likely it is so no other team can claim him, but the possibility is still there. The main question for me is, what would it take? And I'm just throwing this out there, but SBG got me to thinking. What if we gave up Hunter for Soriano? Think about it: Lew Ford can play center field. Heck, Jacque Jones can play center field. Soriano and Hunter have very similar salaries: $7.5 million for Soriano and $8 million for Hunter. And just to show that I'm a good guy, I would even throw in Joe Mays. How could the Rangers turn that down? Mays and Hunter for Soriano? Of course, I have no idea what Soriano will make next year, and I'm pretty sure the Rangers already have a decent center fielder, but Hunter is expendable as is demonstrated by the recent play of the Twins in his absence. Plus, he lives in Texas in the off-season. Ameriquest Field is practically in his backyard. Well, if it happens you heard it here first. And this ends yet another example of why I'll never be Twins general manager...

• I just invented a new word today: "swampled." It is a combination of "swamped" and "trampled" and suggests that a person is being both swamped and trampled at work at the same time. Feel free to use this new word at your own discretion. No need to thank me.

• The Vikings game on Friday was mighty boring. I must admit I watched the Twins more that night. However, it did demonstrate a couple of things to me: 1) the defense is getting better. I know they gave up some yards to the wonder that is Pennington's arm, but I saw some things I liked and 2) Bennett sucks. He is not the answer at running back. Let's get MeMo some reps and let's start trying to convince him he isn't as brittle as he thinks he is. Bummer about Ciatrix, too. He has shown some brilliant running ability if you ask me. Anyway, that is my two cents about the Vikes. Oh, and by the way, they are still Super Bowl bound. Just thought I would clear that up.

• Ah, but the main focus of this entry is not about sports. No, if you are only interested about sports stop reading now. I am about to delve into a topic that usually causes me to lose readers, but truth be told I can't hold it in any longer. I am about to write about religion, specifically Christianity. I am a Christian. I go to church every Sunday (especially since my wife got a job at our church which means no more church holidays for me ... sigh) and honestly I could probably write an entry every Sunday based on the pastor's sermon or something that strikes me as I sit in the church pew. And just for the record, I am what you would call a liberal Christian. I did not vote for Bush. I believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and I strongly favor a national health care system. Not exactly what most people think of as Christian agenda items, and that, for me, is a big problem.

Recently I read a very thought provoking essay called the Christian Paradox by Bill McKibben. Quite frankly it blew me away. It was the most eloquent discussion of my own faith pattern I have ever read. The article focuses on one of the most powerful passages in the Bible, when Jesus was asked by a religious leader of his time what the most important commandment is. Jesus answered:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

McKibben writes in excrutiating detail how our country, a country that overwhelmingly considers itself "Christian" consistently ranks in the bottom concerning measureable ways we help the lesser among us. McKibben writes:

In 2004, as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed countries in government foreign aid. Per capita we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it's not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It's also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose - childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool - we come in nearly last among the rich nations, and often by a wide margin. The point is not just that (as everyone already knows) the American nation trails badly in all these categories; it's that the overwhelmingly Christian American nation trails badly in all these categories, categories to which Jesus paid particular attention.

This is stunning to me. Its not like I didn't have any idea this was going on, but to see it written in such a coherent and unmistakably clear way is a little humbling to say the least.

I've written about this commandment of Jesus before in regards to gay marriage arguing that the distraction of fighting against such a small segment of our society is keeping us away from our core mission of love your neighbor as yourself. McKibben focuses on other distractions that have kept us from this commandment including getting ready for the "rapture" (Jesus's triumphant return), and our society's troubling focus on ourselves rather than others. I would also add distractions like Intelligent Design and the 10 Commandments in front of courthouses as other distractions that really just aren't worth the fight. What has a better chance of demonstrating the love of Christ, displaying the 10 commandments in front of a courthouse where no one will read it, or focusing our energy on issues that Jesus actually cared about, namely feeding the hungry or clothing the naked? To me the answer is clear.

Of course, McKibben has some choice words for the so called Christian Right, an organization supposedly founded on Christian principles. McKibben writes:

A rich man came to Jesus one day and asked what he should do to get into heaven. Jesus did not say he should invest, spend, and let the benefits trickle down; he said sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me. Few plainer words have been spoken. And yet, for some reason, the Christian Coalition of America - founded in 1989 in order to "preserve, protect and defend the Judeo-Christian values that made this the greatest country in history" - proclaimed last year that its top legislative priority would be "making permanent President Bush's 2001 federal tax cuts."

This is sickening. That was the Christian Coalition's main focus last year, making sure Bush's tax cuts remain permanent. I could understand if their main focus was Bush's tax cuts and making sure that Bush's "faith based" initiatives programs were successful, but apparently there is just a focus on tax cuts. This year's focus has changed to "Stopping filibusters on President Bush's judicial nominations including U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judicial nominees." This is the Christian Coalition. Where is the focus on the actual words of Jesus, the actual commandments? Or is that too simplistic?

And before anyone becomes too offended at my words let me make one thing clear. I understand if you think tax cuts and trickle down economics are better for society as a whole. We can't just keep on spending and spending. Gotcha. But don't tie your issues to Jesus. Don't tie these issues to Christianity. They are counter-intuitive to Christianity. Smaller government, lower taxes, health care for only those that can afford it may all be great ideas, but they are not Christian ideas as much as their opposites are not Christian ideas.

That's right. As much as I may want a national health care system, I would be hard pressed to find a Biblical passage that mandates this as the method Jesus would like us to employ to take care of the sick. Personally I think it is a great idea and more in line with Christian principles of taking care of those less fortunate, but can I say for sure that this is what Jesus had in mind? No. So why the "Christian" Coalition can make the bold claims they do, that they are somehow carrying out a mission that Jesus would approve of, is beyond me. McKibben writes:

The power of the Christian right rests largely in the fact that they boldly claim religious authority, and by their very boldness convince the rest of us that they must know what they're talking about. They're like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track. But their theology is appealing for another reason too: it coincides with what we want to believe. How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we had to share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies. Religious conservatives will always have a comparatively easy sell.

I would argue that this selling job is actually hurting the Christian faith in the long run. I work at the University of Minnesota, a bastion of liberal views, so the shaping of my own philosophies concerning these matters shouldn't surprise anyone. However, the angry and condescending sentiments I hear at the U towards Christians because of the agenda of the Christian Coalition is disheartening to say the least. The viewpoint that all Christians follow to the drum beat of the Coalition is overwhelming and simply untrue. How can we take back the centrality of Jesus's message? For me it all focuses on the words of Jesus, the actual words taken at their bare bones: love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, love the Lord God with all your heart. McKibben writes:

Even the first time around, judging by the reaction, the Gospels were pretty unwelcome news to an awful lot of people. There is not going to be a modern-day return to the church of the early believers, holding all things in common - that's not what I'm talking about. Taking seriously the actual message of Jesus, though, should serve at least to moderate the greed and violence that mark this culture. It's hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq. If some modest part of the 85 percent of us who are Christians woke up to that fact, then the world might change.

How can we, as Christians, have the biggest impact on this world? "Love your neighbor" baby. That is where it is at for me.

Posted by snackeru at August 22, 2005 12:30 PM | Sports

Comments

I love you man!! LOL

Shane, I couldn't agree with you more. I'm 29 years old and was raised Lutheran and went to a strict Missouri Synod High School, going to church every Sunday. Because of the Christian coalition, I no longer vote republican and I haven't been to church in over 10 years. They've turned me off THAT much. Of course I haven't taken the time to find a church that doesn't slam this crap down people's throats. If you know of one, I'd like to check it out.

Posted by: kevin at August 22, 2005 4:21 PM

Well done, Shane.

Posted by: SBG at August 22, 2005 5:26 PM

Oh, and Hunter is due to make $10 million next year, about what Soriano would get.

Posted by: SBG at August 22, 2005 5:28 PM

Shane -- great post. I'm not really a religious person anymore, but a number of my close friends and family members proudly call themselves liberal Christians and would agree with every word you wrote. Although I'm not a Christian now, I was raised by old-fashioned Catholic liberals, and I share most liberal Christian ideals. Keep fighting the good fight.

Posted by: stacie at August 22, 2005 9:11 PM

Kevin, I go to a church in Plymouth called Vision of Glory Lutheran Church. It is not LCMS or ELCA, it is a part of the Association of Free Lutheran Churches (I think). Anyway, what I appreciate about it is that it doesn't force conservative beliefs on the congregation even though I know a lot of people who go to the church are conservative. The church leadership seems to avoid politics and instead they focus on Jesus. It is also very Bible centered which is very important to me.

Anyway, Kevin, you should start praying and visiting churches in your area. There is definitely a church out there for you. All you need to do is find it.

And thanks SBG. Glad you liked it.

Stacie, thanks also for your comment. I'm saddened that you no longer consider yourself a Christian. I guess a point I am trying to make in my post is that if the Christian church as a whole returns to some of these core values of Christ we would see a lot of people return to the Church. Hopefully articles like the "Christian Paradox" is only the beginning of a renewed focus for Christians, a focus that will shine a more favorable light on our faith.

Posted by: Shane at August 23, 2005 8:35 AM

First, the Catholic church has a long history of social justice works and I am sure anyone can find a catholic church in St. Paul or Minneapolis where they can pursue many liberal causes (many of these churches downplay such controversial issues as abortion and birth control).

Second, I have always been curious over the right's fixation with the 10 commandments which really are more related to the Judeo part of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Perhaps liberal christians should fight for the Beatitudes to be put up in public places e.g. "blessed are the poor...."

Posted by: freealonzo at August 23, 2005 8:41 AM

It seems to me the self-centering of Christianity is probably based on the market economy. It's all about sales, and the only way to truly engage the individual, to get him in the seats, is to speak to him directly. If you limit the discussion to an individual and his immediate family, you've got 'em. After all, what can one person do to affect change in the world, country, state, region, city, town, or neighborhood.

If I want to feel safer in my home, I'll start a neighborhood watch program. If I want to have a pool, maybe I'll solicit funds from the next-doors to build a community pool. If I want to find the answers to (my) life's questions, I'm going to look toward Christianity (it's what my neighbor does) and the religion sure as hell better have something to give me in return.

The author is right, America is a nation focused on self-improvement. American Christianity has adjusted to keep itself in a power position. Leaders have nudged it in the direction that keeps things status quo, in a day-to-day sense. It is unsurprising then that we have seen a melding of religion and politics.

Since the days of Constantine, emperors and rich men have sought to co-opt the teachings of Jesus. As in so many areas of our increasingly market-tested lives, the co-opters - the TV men, the politicians, the Christian "interest groups" - have found a way to make each of us complicit in that travesty, too. They have invited us to subvert the church of Jesus even as we celebrate it.

Posted by: bjhess at August 23, 2005 9:50 AM

I like your idea, freealonzo! The Beatitudes outside county courthouses! Brilliant!

Also, yes indeed, the Catholic Church has a very impressive track record when it comes to matters of social justice. "Faith without works is dead" as James said and the Catholic church takes that very seriously. I would become Catholic for this reason more than anything.

bjhess, thanks for the comment. You are spot on, as usual. Hopefully, though, articles like these will start to convince all of us Christians, myself included, to start thinking bigger (beyond ourselves!) and, again, start focusing on what the phrase "WWJD" really means.

Posted by: Shane at August 23, 2005 10:20 PM

Shane, you freaking nailed it. The paradox inherent in our nation's morality is directly due to the fact that Christianity evolved in a world in which its devout were persecuted and martyred. Now that self-professed "conservative christians" are in power, the persecution complex is making them seek out and create new enemies.

Posted by: Chapman at August 24, 2005 10:35 AM

Excellent article Shane! The hypocrisy in what seems to be the highly visable groups of Christianity is astounding.

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at August 24, 2005 12:25 PM

I couldn't agree more, Shane. I am also a self professed "liberal Christian," and I found myself shaking my head in agreement more than once. I had no idea, though, that a top goal of the Christian Coalition regarded tax policy! I would imagine that Christ wouldn't care about a raising or lowering of the capital gains tax. My favorite Christian right wing argument, though, is when they claim to be persecuted, even though it can be argued that America has never been as religious (meaning Christian) than it is now. To me, it is just sad that something as insidious and divisive as "politics" manages to infiltrate something as wonderful and graceful as Christ.

My wife also works for our church, so I can testify that the "church holiday" is a thing of the past! I have noticed, though, that it is permissible for us to miss church the Sunday after a big event, such as Vacation Bible School or the Christmas Pageant.

Curt in Grand Forks

Posted by: Curt Hanson at August 24, 2005 5:19 PM

If you look at Jesus as a purely political figure, he was radically left wing. There's nothing "right" about his message: Love your enemies, forgive over and over, let go of this world...
Great discussion, Shane, I slog through the sports blah-blah in this blog to be rewarded with a great topic like this. It's worth it.

Posted by: Cheesehead's wife at August 24, 2005 9:36 PM

"To me, it is just sad that something as insidious and divisive as "politics" manages to infiltrate something as wonderful and graceful as Christ."

That is beautiful, Curt. I think you nailed it with this comment. Jesus himself was apolitical. The Jews during his time wanted their messiah to lead them in overcoming their Roman oppressors. Jesus would have none of it. In fact, when cornered on questions of politics Jesus continually deflected their questions ("Give unto Caeser what is Caeser's").

And good news on the church holidays after big events. I shall look forward to that.

And Rachel, Jesus was indeed a radical! He tore down all the laws of the past and hung them all on "love your neighbor." He was so radical they killed him. I think it is time to get radical again.

I'm glad you liked the topic!

Posted by: Shane at August 25, 2005 4:18 PM

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