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Archive for the ‘beliefs’ Category

NASA image of Kiribati

On the way home from work today I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR when a story came on about the island nation of Kiribati.  Kiribati is a nation consisting of a string of islands in the Pacific Ocean that, due to climate change, is sinking and may be rendered uninhabitable within the next century.  This particular story focused on 20-year-old Tiibea Baure who is taking part in a program that seeks to relocate citizens of Kiribati.  Baure is now living in Australia where she studies nursing.  She wants to do well and get a job so she can bring her parents over to Australia with her.  The problem with that, though, is that her parents don’t want to leave because they don’t believe climate change is real.  This particular quote from Tiibea’s mother caught my attention:

“I don’t believe, because it’s something beyond me. It’s something beyond my knowledge, and it’s beyond my capacity to understand it. We just believe that God will look after us, and he will do his own way to save us.”

This reminded me, a bit, of an old story I once heard from comedian Jerry Crowder about a man who’s house is being encroached upon by flood waters.  The man is sitting on the porch with the water up to his feet when a boat pulls up offering to save him.  The man simply responds, “Go on ahead.  God’s gonna take care of me.”  Later on when the water is up to the man’s knees the boat comes back.  Again the man responds, “Don’t worry, God’s gonna take care of me.”  Finally, when the water is covering the house and the man is perched on his chimney a helicopter comes and a rescue worker throws down a rope saying, “Sir, grab a hold of the rope.  This is your last chance.”  Once more the man responds, “Go on, God’s gonna take care of me.”  Well, the man drowned and when he got to Heaven he told God, “I’m disappointed in you.  You said you were going to take care of me.”  God then looks at the man and says, “Ya dummy.  I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

In a way I envy faith like that.  Especially since my own can seem so weak and doubtful at times.  At the same time, though, I wonder if such sentiments of faith can cross over from hope into foolishness.  To be sure, I believe that God takes care of us and that worrying is an utterly pointless and counter productive endeavor.  At the same time, though, I believe that God wants us to be pragmatic.  We are children of God but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to do everything for us.  Much of the time we have to simply dig in and solve our own (and each other’s) problems.  Typically what God does is provide us with the means–a boat, a helicopter, or even a scholarship program.  Most of all, though, He provides us with each other and that is how it should be.

We created our own messes of men so the least that should be expected of us is that we help each other work our way out of them.  God will always be with us and will even help us out in seen and unseen ways but through it all we’re going to have to keep working if we want to see a better world.

Of course we could all just sit around until we get to Heaven but that sounds kind of boring to me.

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To my Church family:

When it comes to the fight over gay rights in Iowa I find myself in a peculiar position.  For my entire life I have been a Christian and for my entire life I have been straight.  Growing up this way in this state that I call my home I have truly never known the sting of persecution.  On top of that I can’t even boast having a single gay family member or close gay friend.  By all standards I have nothing to lose or to gain from the debate over gay and lesbian rights in Iowa.  Why, then, do I even care?

I care because, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  I care because, as a Christian, it is my duty to stand on the side of justice and to protect those to whom justice would be denied.

Many times in the past we Christians have found ourselves standing on the wrong side of history.  So many times we have taken a stand along side prejudice thinly veiled in a cloak of false piety.  We have fought unholy battles only to find ourselves stained and humiliated in the aftermath.  The past lays bare our sins before us.  This time, though, we still have a chance to change that.  We can stand beside the oppressed with faith and with love.  We can be champions of justice and messengers of peace.  Then when we stand before our Lord one day He can truly say to us, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

This time around we can find ourselves on the right side of history.  When our descendants look back on us might they see not a fearful people who hated their neighbor but a people who shown so boldly with the love of God that Love and Justice became synonymous with the title of Christian.

We are once again being presented with a choice and it is a choice we cannot ignore.  Which side will we land on?  That is something only we can tell.

With Love,

Tylor

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I don’t know if this is still done or not but way back when I was in elementary school it was common practice to recite the United States Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day.  Like most students, this was something I repeated daily rather thoughtlessly.  It was just part of the morning routine and by the time I had reached middle school the practice had faded away all together.

The pledge was not gone, though.  It still popped up at sporting events, Boy Scout meetings, and other all-American past-times.  It was during such events that a curious thing started to happen.  Little by little I became increasingly uneasy about these words coming out of my mouth.  Eventually the practice devolved into simply holding my hand over my heart with not a word escaping my lips.

So what was the big deal about the pledge?  Well, it really was a result of a couple things.  First of all, from a very young age I was taught that a man’s word is what most defines his character.  Thus honesty, honor, and maintaining commitments became very important to me.  Eventually I would not even utter a promise unless I was absolutely sure I could keep it.  In other words I literally believed (and still believe) that a man is only as good as his word.

Secondly, there eventually came a time in my life where I started to seriously re-evaluate many of the beliefs I had always taken for granted.  Many a moral point became hotly debated within my head and one of those just happened to be the idea of patriotism.  It’s not that I didn’t love my country or want to serve my community but I began to see a certain conflict between the culture of patriotism and the commitments of faith in God.  All to often I would see how the interests of America were being placed above the moral imperatives of Christian faith.  Even worse, American values were often falsely re-branded as Christian values.

For me this was something that I had to reject and as a result I could no longer pledge any allegiance to anything but God.  I came to understand that there was both good and evil in the nature of America and I could not give my loyalty wholesale.  As a result I came to understand my relationship to my country in subjugation to my allegiance to God.  I would freely praise the good of Americana but the ills would receive no defense from me.  I would not consider my country in any way inherently superior to any other nation.  Finally I would serve my community and neighbors not out of service to country but in service and love towards God.

I am no patriot but perhaps nations could benefit from a little less patriotism.

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Earlier this week I was reading in the paper about a split that occurred in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  It seems that several congregations have chosen to split off into their own denomination citing the controversy of the ELCA’s decision to allow non-celibate homosexuals to become ordained pastors.  While such controversies are not so uncommon these days there was one sentiment from a congregate that caught my attention:

For too many Lutherans today, “it’s the Gospel of acceptance, rather than the Gospel of redemption — love conquers all kind of thing,” he said.

“You don’t have to worry about obedience, or sanctification, or any of those issues – you just love everybody and that’ll be fine,” Winkler said.

I understand such a sentiment since it is one I have felt myself many times before.  It seems that in America Christian culture and Western culture have become intertwined to the point where the spiritual life of the individual is emphasized far above the life of the community.  While such an occurrence has benefited the American church in some ways it has been detrimental in others.  Such laissez faire faith and aimless acceptance are often the by-product of this increased individuality.

However, I do not believe that this is what is happening within the ELCA.  You see, the movement of many churches towards open acceptance of homosexuality is not a result of cultural omni-acceptance. Instead it is part of a greater movement in the modern Church to reevaluate its historical beliefs.  The Church is beginning to understand that an understanding of theology is not static but a fluid endeavorer requiring constant challenge and effort.  In this particular case the reevaluation has caused a split in the church but it is not a split caused by individualism or hyper-acceptance run amok.  Here what we are seeing is the members of each side of the debate seeking the strength of community.  On the side of the ELCA its members are seeking to create a community where homosexuals are welcomed into the fold while on the side of the new denomination its members are seeking to live in a community where where their convictions are upheld.  Each came to a different conclusion but each reacted in the same way by seeking to create an interdependent and God-honoring community.

It is simply a fact of life that different people will come to different conclusions at different times.  Though unfortunate, sometimes church splits like this one are necessary in order to maintain functioning communities.  At the same time these splits in denominations need not be a split in the Church as a whole. As long as dialog remains between the different branches then the community of the Church remains across all theological boundaries.

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There have been a couple political events from the last few weeks that have equally piked my interest and made me weep for humanity.  Upon examination, though, I realized that these two events basically boiled down to the same tired themes.  Let’s take a look at each of them.

"Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain." - Iowa motto

Vander Plaats and the Gay Marriage Hubbub

Politics here in Iowa have been oddly eventful this past year.  After Bob Vander Plaats failed attempt to win the Republican nomination for Iowa governor a while back he essentially disappeared off the scene for a while leaving many to speculate that he was planning a run at governor as an Independent.  Yesterday Vander Plaats finally spoke publicly about his intentions.  Turns out he’s not going to be running in the governor’s race (though he still refuses to endorse anyone else).  Instead he has decided to get back up on the anti-gay bandwagon and campaign to have three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices (who last year unanimously voted to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage) when they come up for retention this November.

Basically what Vander Plaats is advocating is taking revenge on the Supreme Court justices who made a ruling that he and his supporters didn’t like.  Aside from being a tactic that would likely have no effect on the ruling in question (much like the executive order he wanted to make as governor) this move seems to demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding about the purpose of the Supreme Court.

In Iowa I think one of the smartest things we ever did politically is set up a system where our Supreme Court justices are not elected but appointed by the governor.  They are then up for retention election every eight years (which is typically little contested).  The inherent strength in this process is that it removes the justices as much as possible from the sway of political and partisan whims.  As such, they are able to rule fairly and without bias and, most importantly, act as a check for the sometimes overzealous political machinations of the legislative branch.  If, like Vander Plaats has suggested, we punish the justices for doing their jobs or even go further to change to an elected justice system we would be directly undermining the purpose of the courts and trading that asset in exchange for the sway of political rabble rousing and mob rule.

Crying to “refudiate” the Ground Zero mosque

On the nation-wide political scene, apparently many folks are up in arms about the approved plans to build an Islamic center near the area of Ground Zero in New York City.  The main complaint has been that allowing an Islamic building near the site of the 9/11 tragedy would be a desecration to the area.  This line of thinking makes absolutely no sense to me for a few different reasons.  First of all, decrying this Islamic center basically amounts to lumping the entirety of the Islamic religion with the actions of a handful of extremest who do not in any way embody the ideals of Islam as a whole.  Secondly, if the city government were to heed these cries and go back on their decision to allow the mosque to be built it could be very easily seen as an official condemnation of Islam and Islamic people as a whole.  Finally, the call to disallow this center becomes even more apparently illogical when it is learned that one of the primary purposes of the proposed Islamic center is to encourage and promote inter-faith tolerance and acceptance in the city.  Why, exactly is this a bad thing?

The common thread

Both of these cases of public opinion run a muck have two things strikingly in common.  First, both of these events are essentially non-issues (in that they don’t really effect many people going against them)  that have been hijacked by politicians for the purpose of political posturing and rallying the passions of their constituents in the lead up to another election.  Secondly, both of these instances invoke the specter of the “evil they”.  Homosexuals in the first example and Muslims in the second are being made out to be a wicked other threatening the way of life of “real Americans”.  It is a common move to make politically.  After all, nothing unites quite like a common enemy (even if the enemy is an imagined one).  It is also an incredibly dangerous move since it intentionally creates an “us vs. them” mentality  which creates fear and prejudice at its inception and hate and violence when it is carried to its ultimate conclusion.

Can we who call ourselves a people of liberty recognize the evils that are being perpetrated in our midst?  If we can’t we may find ourselves entering into a dark period that has been repeated again and again throughout the history of the world.  It’s really up to us to decide.

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The issue of abortion has always been a bit of an odd one for my Christian-independent-moderate-liberal mind to process.  If I need to be put on the spot about it I can say that I am pro-life but beyond that it gets a little more complicated.  While I personally feel that in most cases abortion shouldn’t be an option and in the remaining cases it should be a last resort sort of option I don’t believe that an outright ban on abortion will solve anything.

I think in the time since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 we have forgotten that one of the primary reasons for legalizing abortion was to put an end to the then common and extremely dangerous practice of “back-ally” abortions.  In other words, abortion was legalized so that it could be closely and safely regulated.  In effect, legalizing abortion did not create the practice but instead served to wrangle it in.

It may be helpful to compare the time before Roe v. Wade to the age of alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s.  During that time we saw a legal banning of something that a large portion of the people wanted and felt they needed.  This led to the explosion of bootlegging, speakeasy’s, and more than one black market empire.  The lesson here is that enough people feel that something is their right to have then the law will be either subverted or disregarded in order to get it.

So if abortion should not be made a crime but we Christians still believe it to be wrong then what approach should we take towards the issue?  In this case the best option for the convicted Christian to take is to step away from the political and legal process and instead find grassroots and community ways of reducing abortions and providing alternatives.  By no means should we demonize those involved in abortion or those considering the treatment.  That itself would be a great evil on our part.  Instead we should be reaching out to these people in love and support.  What would it look like if Christians stopped camping out in front of abortion clinics with pickets and slurs towards already emotional and distraught women and instead offered those women love and care?  What if we offered to pay for their medical bills, house them in our own homes, and welcome the unexpected child into our own families through adoption?  Wouldn’t that be far more Christian than simply telling people they have to have their baby but from there they are on their own?  We are called to love our neighbors and that means we must set aside judgment and care for them in their darkest times.

For they will know we are Christians by our love.

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There has been one thing about American Christian culture that has always concerned me (okay, there are many things but let’s focus on one) and it has come to my attention again with the recent developments in the Middle East.  My concern is with the seemingly unquestioning loyalty the Christian Right has towards the state of Israel.  I was reminded of this while reading this in the Des Moines Register opinion section this morning:

Given all of the facts, which Basu chooses to omit as they do not further her predetermined view, the vast majority of the American Christian population supports Israel’s position – despite the biased media. They see Hamas correctly, as just an extension of al-Qaida.

While the details of the resent raiding of a Gaza bound aid flotilla are certainly debatable there is little doubt that the raid (and perhaps the blockade in general) was handled very poorly.  Why, then, is it still considered taboo for American Christians to be critical of Israel’s actions?

All of my life I have encountered an attitude in conservative Christian circles that treated alliance with the state of Israel as a point of religious duty.  Many go so far as to believe that any act in opposition to Israel will bring on the demise of the opposer.  This has led many to simply turn a blind eye to some of the more questionable practices and aggressions of the state of Israel.  Is this really the Christian thing to do?

Now I am not saying that the United States should not have Israel as an ally.  Instead I am suggesting that the United States as a whole and American Christians in particular should treat Israel by the true principles of friendship: encouraging good behavior and holding them accountable for wrong doings.  How can we ever expect Israelis and Palestinians to achieve any kind of peace if we are only willing to hold one side accountable?

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