Sunday, December 27, 2009

Love and confusion

My most recent book purchase was "Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love" by Laura Smit; I was interested because I'm personally quite acquainted with that extremely painful subject -- mostly on the receiving end. And as I read, I was reminded of some of the horrendous mistakes, not just in commission but in attitude, that I've made over the years in trying (and generally failing) to date.

I haven't read through the entire book, but one thing I see missing: Hope.

As virtually everyone knows, dating is difficult at any age; nearly 30 years ago the then-girlfriend of a fraternity brother nailed it when she called it "depressing." It's not clear to me so far who Smit's target audience is or what she wants it to learn; I hear from her, "When in doubt, don't." That may be fine for persons from their teenage years up to their 30s.

Of course, I'm nearly 50, would like to be married and have peers, including my younger brother, who are grandparents. And part of me today really does feel immature because I don't have the responsibility of a spouse and children, and it's really tough to come to and leave church alone.

But here's the issue: We men are supposed to be the pursuers, the initiators, the leaders; paradoxically, often we don't have much of a clue when a woman is interested or simply naturally kind. And I think that leads to the misunderstandings that often happen when folks get their wires crossed. Such a situation was the catalyst for my leaving my last church (although God was clearly calling me out), and with my last major heartbreak nearly three years ago I was depressed for nearly three weeks!

Going further, I've recently been reminded of God's great love for His children and how we nonetheless often ignore him (and I confess that I'm guilty of such). During that time of admitted self-pity three years ago I got a message from Him, "Now you know how I feel." And the Scripture reminds us that we didn't choose Him; rather, He pursued us. (Indeed, from the time I first heard the Gospel to when I actually received Christ was about eight years.) Now, I realize that the comparison cannot be taken too far because He's divine and we're not; still, we're not supposed to sit on our butts and wait for "her" to show up.

And therein lies the confusion over Smit's thesis. I understand and accept that she has committed herself to singleness. However, building a relationship requires risk; while I think realism is necessary, so is vulnerability. Besides, if your goal is simply "possessing" another person, which is less and less the case with me, you ought not to be in a relationship in the first place.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The final frontier

I have mentioned in other entries that during services on the Sunday after last year's general election, the pastor of my interracial evangelical church had all of us African-Americans stand and then instructed the rest of the congregation lay hands on us, saying that "a spiritual stronghold has been broken."

He did that because he knew he had a politically divided congregation, with most of the whites likely supporting John McCain for president that year, indeed, two weeks previously he preached against such division during the campaign. (This is an evangelical church, after all, and polls indicated that 70 percent of white evangelicals nationally backed the Republican candidate.) By contrast, 95 percent of African-Americans, regardless of faith affiliation, supported Barack Obama.

I've been heartened with the serious efforts that have been made over the past couple of decades toward racial reconciliation among evangelicals -- the Promise Keepers started it all, of course, and some denominations and parachurch groups have made serious strides toward such harmony. However, we have yet to address the ideological differences that still exist, and until that's done we will not achieve it.

Because, bottom line, the issue is one of worldview.

When I became a Christian in 1979, the conservative movement in general and "religious right" in particular was just kicking into gear, with its primary target being government, especially the Feds. The complaint was that it had overstepped its constitutional authority by passing laws and using tax money for purposes it didn't agree with, most notably "Great Society" programs that benefited the poor. More to the point, however, conservatives demonstrated an assumption that authority, whether cultural, social or political, was their right.

African-Americans, on the other hand, historically have had different issues. Most identify with the civil-rights movement, which used the Federal government, including court decisions and legal remedies, to obtain justice (because state and local authorities opposed their efforts). And they -- we -- didn't have the same access to the power structure; thus, it had to be done through moral appeals.

Sadly, in part for that reason, the civil-rights movement eventually pitted one set of Christians against another set of Christians. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1955 was just a local pastor in Montgomery, Ala., was later denounced as a Communist, and the resentment among white conservatives became so strong toward the national Democratic Party for supporting civil rights that in 1966 the Republican Party, practically non-existent in the South then but already leaning to the right nationally, saw an opening and began running candidates there.

That's the reason that you almost never see African-Americans on Christian TV or hear them on Christian radio; when you do it's in support of the "approved" viewpoint that doesn't accurately reflect the overall views of the black community -- which generally aren't right-wing. I find very interesting that conservatives talk about reaching out to the black community but simply to put a "black face" -- and yes, you can take that as a pun -- on policies and attitudes most blacks just don't accept.

Talk-show blowhard Rush Limbaugh said that, after Obama won that high percentage of the black vote, his color was the primary reason that African-Americans voted for him. Nonsense -- had McCain been black and Obama white, blacks (even evangelicals) would still have voted for Obama, overwhelmingly, or turned out for Hillary Clinton in virtually identical numbers had she won the Democratic nomination. And I'm sure you noticed that the anti-Obama "tea party" movement that got started in April is virtually all-white -- think that's a coincidence? African-Americans just don't have the fear of government that white conservatives do.

For there to be true reconciliation between black and white evangelical Christians, whites have to understand the views and histories of their black brothers and sisters and not believe that they have the last word when it comes to social and political involvement. (For what its worth, African-Americans already understand the conservative view and have rejected it; it's up to the conservatives to find out why.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 'S-bomb'

About six years ago I was part of a men's small group, the founder of which whose politics were, to be kind, extreme. During one conversation, he called my economic views "socialist."

That effectively ended the relationship, though it continued for six more months.

You see, what he didn't -- and probably still doesn't -- realize is that using that term to describe people who don't agree with his agenda is a form of bigotry, similar to using the N-word on me as an African-American.

In fact, in decades past the insult of choice was "communist," used on such folks as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, whose only crime was trying to influence government to do right by the poor and/or powerless. Using -- or, more accurately, misusing -- that term only stymies debate, subverts justice and causes resentment.

For that reason I suspect that the people who throw "socialism" around so readily aren't really interested in preserving their "freedoms," despite what they say -- what they really want is to maintain their privileged status. After all, they don't see how, to take a current example, expanded health-care benefits will benefit everyone down the road; they only concern is how much it costs them today. However, these same people never give any practical solution to this particular crisis, save "market solutions" that caused the problem in the first place. Nor are they actively involved in advocating for those who don't have.

This is why conservatives have the reputation of being cruel and insensitive -- they're focused on their orthodoxy even when it hurts people.

During the gasoline crisis a couple of years ago, the man I mentioned above sent a mass e-mail containing an opinion piece, "Avoiding the Socialist Temptation," which argued that, even though gas was approaching $4 per gallon, the "market" should set the pace and government involvement would only make things worse. (I learned later, however, that speculators were manipulating the market.)

Anyway, I replied to all with a simple verse from Scripture: Micah 6:8 -- "[God] has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does he require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Still 'partisan'

With the increasing irrelevance of the "religious right" nationally, I had been hoping that evangelical Christians would begin to leave behind political ideology and focus on Kingdom business.

At least here in Pittsburgh, apparently some folks didn't get that memo.

Last week, I walked into a Family Bookstore and saw, up-front, a high number of copies for sale of former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's new book "Going Rogue."

Last month, one of the local independent mega-churches hosted an appearance by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, perhaps on a speaking tour. While the former Arkansas governor was formerly a pastor, I seriously doubt that his appearance was spiritual in nature -- the pastor of that church subscribed to the Fox News Channel's phony "war on Christmas" five years ago.

Now, this has nothing to do with my personal views on them, who may be positioning themselves to run for president in 2012 on the Republican ticket -- I have always seen Palin as bad for this country, while Huckabee by contrast seems reasonable. My concern is that, again, we evangelicals are perceived as stooges for the GOP and the secular conservative movement that basically runs the party today -- and then have the nerve to complain about that.

Consider this: If you were a homosexual, walked into a church and heard nothing but condemnation of gays, you wouldn't return. Similarly, if you were a registered Democrat and heard about these, you too would feel uncomfortable because they give the impression that following Jesus meant subscribing to a specific ideological agenda and that, really, you had to switch to be true to Him.

The pastor of another local mega-church noted over the summer that the political breakdown of the suburb where it's located was 53 percent Democratic and 47 percent Republican and that the Church was called to reach all of those people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But when churches and other institutions give the impression that you have to choose sides, especially since the Democratic Party does get some things right, they cause the kind of friction we've seen especially since the 1990s. The Sojourners community in Washington, D.C. sells a bumper sticker, which I have on my car, with the following message: "God is NOT a Republican -- or a Democrat."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tiger by the tail

While visiting a local music store a few years ago, I started looking at a used bass clarinet that was for sale. I was checking the brand and price and even considered having a salesperson get it down for me to play it a little bit.

Here's the thing: I already had a bass clarinet, with more range than the one I was eyeing, plus I hadn't paid it off yet. And, get this -- I got it new. Why in the world would I want another one, especially one that was less than what I had? Because -- well, I just wanted it.

I think about in reference to the recent travails of golfer Eldrick "Tiger" Woods, who has been romantically linked to 10 women (not that all of them were legitimately involved with him) but married to a Swedish model who is gorgeous by any standard. Crazy? Perhaps, if you don't understand human nature, which often wants either what it can't have or is inappropriate or superfluous, just because ...

I read today that Woods is taking time from golf to repair his marriage. Good for him. And let's hope that he realizes what he has.