Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pre-Debate Thoughts

I'm getting ready to watch the second presidential debate tonight. I watched the first, but wasn't able to watch the Vice-Presidential candidates debate, and am glad to live in a place where we have the opportunity to freely express our ideas, whether or not we agree with our neighbor or our government.

During the debate, I expect to see a few things. I expect to see the candidates not really answering the questions they're asked.

I expect to see the candidates highlighting their opponent's weaknesses more than they highlight their own strengths.

I expect to see the candidates act cordial to one another while their political machines work overtime to exploit any shortcomings they see in their opponent's performance.

I expect to see, in the aftermath of the debate, each candidate villainized by the other by way of advertising (we don't really believe that the so-called independent political advertisers and organizations are actually independent, do we?).

That's what I expect to see, but it's not what I want to see. Here's what I'd love to see in tonight's debate.

I'd love to see the candidates actually answer the questions they're asked.

I'd love to see the candidates respectfully disagree, even to the point of acknowledging the strengths of their opponent's position.

I'd love to see the candidates articulate the strengths of their own position rather than the weaknesses of their opponent's position (or character, or anything else).

And I'd love to see, in the aftermath of the debate, political advertising that points to strengths rather than sensationalizing weaknesses. And most especially, I'd love to see advertising that doesn't demonize any candidate or the supporters of that candidate.

What we seem to forget in our political discourse is that the person who holds a different position from mine is still a person ~ no better or worse than any other person.

In the language of my own tradition, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican … whether you're a Conservative or a Liberal … whether you're a Socialist or a Libertarian … no matter who you are, you're a beloved Child of G-d, and so is your opponent. We'd do well, I think, to remember that during the debate.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

We Are Not A Chrisitan Nation

Ok, let's just get this out of the way right now. The United States of America is not a Christian nation.

We all know that there are lots of folks who think it is, and we all know that there are lots of folks who wish it was. But it's not.

Feel free to argue, but let me articulate (probably poorly) why this is true.

Sure, we might have the decalogue printed on plaques and pillars which adorn public spaces. Arguably, though, that makes us a Jewish nation, since Christians don't have exclusive (or primary) rights to the Ten Commandments.

So, what would make us a specifically Christian nation? The first place I'd go would be the Gospels … you know, the accounts of the life of Christ. Let's take a look at the Beatitudes (Matthew's Gospel, chapter 5; Luke's Gospel, chapter 6). Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.

In our nation, the poor and hungry are more often reviled, looked down on, and dismissed than they are blessed. In our nation, the meek don't get squat – a person has to be aggressive if they want to get anywhere in life.

Further, after some religious extremists attacked the financial and military centers of this country on September 11, 2001, we were most certainly in mourning. What was our response? Did we consider ourselves blessed in our mourning?

We most certainly did not. In fact, our response not been to show mercy; our response has not been to create peace. We pursued, aggressively, individuals and groups who are enemies of our state … and we pursued them whether they had anything to do with the attacks on 9/11 or not.

In the years since that horrendous attack, we did not turn the other cheek. Rather, we poured more and more dollars into the military, killing many more people than would be appropriate even if we followed “an eye for an eye, a life for a life”.

Our foreign and domestic policies are designed to place us in the best position relative to the rest of the world; they are not designed with the best interests of our neighbor in mind, as Luther instructed in the small catechism (now my roots are showing).

There are, I'm sure, many more examples of how we are not a Christian nation. However, there's just one more I want to point out from this coming Sunday's Gospel text. If we were a Christian nation, we would take seriously Christ's instruction to place the little children first and at the center. When social services that help children and their families are cut; when education funding is being cut left and right; when huge percentages of the homeless and hungry are under the age of 18, we cannot say we are placing children first.

We as a nation most certainly do not follow the example of a G-d who allows the death of the divine rather than exert power over the creation.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to argue that we, as a nation, have done or are doing anything wrong. Whether we're wrong or right is perhaps a topic for another post.

All I'm saying is that if we're going to be a Christian nation, our national policies should reflect the teachings of Christ – and right now they don't. So let's either change our policies, or admit we're not a Christian nation.