Sunday, April 24, 2011

He Is Risen! He Is Risen, Indeed!

When Tessla (my nanny charge) and I were on a walk earlier this month, we passed by a colorful driveway. And while we often get the free viewing of chalk art by the children and grandchildren in this Cedar Park neighborhood, I couldn't help but pull out my phone and snap a picture of this driveway.

As the chalk drawing admonishes, Happy Easter! And please, pay no mind to the spaceship further up the driveway. I'm sure that was not intended to be a commentary on the validity of Jesus' resurrection or his later ascension. Although since the FBI released information this month regarding the circular disks and alien bodies found in Roswell, NM, who knows?! Maybe after leaving the Milky Way Galaxy, Jesus stopped by the Pinwheel Galaxy. I guess that'll just have to be one of those questions we ask God when we finally meet Her. (It'll be right after I ask Her about mosquitoes and red fire ants. I mean really. What was She thinking?)

Anyway, Happy Easter. He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finally a Post on America's Budget Problems, Or Why Jesus Would Still Get Killed Today

Part of the reason scholars say Jesus died on what is now called "Good Friday" is because of the subversive nature of his message against the empire. This video breaks down the agenda of the majority party in the House, and while you or I may not agree with all of the solutions they offer, it is helpful to see the pictograph of the financial facts about where the government really spends their money...

Particularly troubling to me is not even the attempted de-funding of PBS (though that did piss me off), but the fact that our military budget received no cuts. And yet, currently, we are engaged in three wars and have been in war for the longest time ever in America's history as a nation. Trillions of dollars already spent. (For those who say the problem is Democrats and their spending, I remind them of the wars that Bush 1 & 2 got us in and the TRILLIONS of dollars that cost us. That's a lot of zeros people. $x,xxx,xxx,xxx,xxx) And God only knows how much more (money) that will cost us. As an older, wiser Littlechap notes when addressing the nation in Stop the World I Want To Get Off (the show I'm doing right now), "Too much has been screwed up for too long for too many by two few." Sadly, he's correct.

My grandmother sent me a letter a few months ago in which she wrote, "I am concerned about the world as a whole, and USA especially. I have never complained of taxes. I can’t fix pot holes, keep up highways, provide police and fire protection, help with the homeless and those much less fortunate than I, and I appreciate a government who will do it for me. I remember the first income tax I ever paid, and how proud I was that I was earning enough money to pay taxes. What is with these people who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and are so afraid taxes are going up?"

How proud I was to pay my taxes?! My how the world has changed. She continues, "Worried about the deficit – raise taxes I say. But on those who can afford it. I feel for friends who are living on their social security checks – because everything – everything, is going up. Utilities, gas, milk, bread, everything. I don’t know how they get by. Even those who have two wage earners, if it is small wages must be suffering – and single parents. But to those who are earning many thousands and up, I say divvy up guys!"

You see, huge companies in America aren't paying their taxes. Take General Electric who made over $5 billion of profit (in the US) and paid ZERO taxes. (And that doesn't count the rest of GE's profits made overseas that are not subject to our taxes unless they spend that money in the US). From 9 Things the Rich Don't Want You To Know About Taxes "It's true that the top 1 percent of wage earners paid 38% of the federal income taxes in 2008 (the most recent year for which data is available). But people forget that the income tax is less than half of the federal taxes and only one-fifth of taxes at all levels of government. In Wisconsin, Terrance Wall, who unsuccessfully (shocker) sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010, paid no income taxes on as much as $14 million of recent income, his disclosure forms showed. Asked about his living tax-free while working people pay taxes, he had a simple response: Everyone should pay less." What a jerk.

So, not only are the individual millionaires and billionaires not paying their taxes, but neither are giant corporations. But, instead of taxing these people who have been getting away with ripping off their country (what patriots, huh?), instead of cutting military costs, the House has proposed cuts to many of the programs vital to our country today including Medicare for the elderly and education for our children. And as for wellness exams for women, birth control, HPV prevention? Gotta get rid of that! (Only 2% of what Planned Parenthood does is actual abortions which are currently legal in America and not funded by the government, but privately). In other words, let's continue to privilege the already privileged and make life more challenging for the middle class, poverty-stricken, women, children and elderly.


Want some figures? The budget proposed by the House cuts $8.5 billion from low-income housing, but keeps $8.4 billion for deductions on people's 2nd vacation homes (as in they've already got house #1 that they live in, and their vacation house #2, but this references house #3, their second vacation home). It cuts $2.5 billion for home heating for the poor, but keeps $2.5 billion in offshore drilling subsidies. It cuts funding for 10 million malaria bed nets that keep kids from dying, and not one line item from military spending.

I'm reminded of the popular Facebook post that was going around: Remember when teachers, public employees, Planned Parenthood, NPR and PBS crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401K's, took billions in TARP money, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves millions in bonuses, gave unlimited and undisclosed amounts of money to politicians and paid no taxes? Yeah, me neither.

Our priorities are off as a nation. We will never be the leading nation in the world today with cuts in education and elimination of provisions for our people.

And if you want to play the "Christian" card regarding politics? Never in the gospels does Jesus encourage the rich to keep their money (he says render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and he references Micah's give to God 10% of what you make), never does he say keep the lepers on the outside of town and keep them "unclean," never does Jesus deny women or children the right to be around him or learn just like the men do. Never does Jesus say "don't feed the poor," "blessed are the rich" or "blessed are the war-hungry." And never does he talk about abortion, homosexuality, or abstinence before marriage.

So if you're gonna play the WWJD card, you better not talk to me about abortion or gays in the military or abstinence-only birth control programs in our schools. And you better not talk to me about war or the military or the death penalty. Because, as A.A. Bondy aptly wrote in their song, American Hearts, "If your God makes war then he's no God I know, cause Christ would not send boys to die."

Except his own. Because of Christ's subversive message of upside-down spirituality (drawing on God's long history of beseeching through the prophets)... because he commends those who when he was hungry gave him something to eat, when he was thirsty, gave him something to drink, when he was a stranger, invited him him, when he was naked, clothed him, when he was sick, visited him, when he was in prison, came to him, because whenever we do these things for the least of these, we do them for Christ.... because he did not fight Rome with swords on behalf of the oppressed Jewish people, but rather taught them how not (in turn) to oppress those weaker than them... because he called God (indeed himself) King and taught a way of life completely subversive to the materialistic, chauvinistic, hedonistic worldview of the Romans and even the Jews themselves (remember those money changers in the Temple?)... Christ was sentenced with capital punishment.

And because we as a church do not do an adequate job of taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of the people around us; and indeed because the church does not have the resources to do so even if we committed to this calling, the government has a responsibility to step up. It is the government of the people, elected by the people, who has the calling to protect us from mis-education, under-education, corporate oppression, and provide us with the opportunities to practice and embody our inalienable rights.

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but for some reason, on Good Friday, it seemed appropriate. I do not whittle down everything Christ did in his life and death as political, but I'm sick of people who call themselves Christians mis-using the Bible to propagate their right-wing political (not Christian) agenda. And I'm sick of people only getting their news from Fox. So, here's some of the facts friends. I don't have the expertise to volunteer an adequate solution, but I do write my representatives bi-weekly advocating (among other things, and if you're a follower of my blog you probably already know what most of those are) that they tax the wealthy and cut military spending, in part because of my convictions as a Christian, but also because of my convictions as a patriot of the United States of America.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Reflections

I don't go to church anymore.

This is not a lifetime commitment... to no longer attend church... I intend to attend church again someday. It's just that I currently am not attending church.

"So what?" some of you say, "Sinner!" others may chide. And still some, "Seriously, Ann?" which are the comments that sting the most.

I'm not attending church in part because I exhausted myself attending church, creating church, doing church and being church for the five years I spent at my last job, and the 27 years before that (four days a week in college, three days a week in high school...). The way I figure it, I've gone to more church services than your average church-going sixty-five year old man. And I'm only 32.

So I'm taking a break.

But fatigue from church-going (you'll note I didn't say from church-being, which I try to still do every day to my friends and family and the people whose paths I cross) isn't the only reason I'm not currently attending church.

The other reason is Palm Sunday.

I used to love Palm Sunday. It's the sixth Sunday in Lent, kicking off Holy week. It remembers the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey when the people lined up in the streets waving palms (because it was the Jewish Passover), heralding in who they believed to be the Messiah.

At FBC, the kids always start off this Sunday morning service by running down the center aisle waving Palm branches above their heads. I love that... the joy, the simple faith, the praise symbol, the welcoming of the Messiah.

But the other part about Palm Sunday is that, as I said before, it leads us into Holy Week, a week of betrayal, abandonment and death. A week of missing the point. The irony is that all those waving the palms in exaltation on Sunday turn to waving their fists on Friday demanding the release of Barabbas, and the crucifixion of the innocent man.

And that's the other reason I'm not attending church right now.

It's ironic in more ways than one. Whenever people would argue that they'd be happy to attend church if it weren't for all the Christians, I used to argue that that was the very reason I loved church. It is not for the healthy, Christ says, but the wounded. I loved that church was messy, filled with hypocritical, trying-to-find-their-way-and-missing-it-half-the-time people on a journey to be church and follow Christ.

I don't feel like that any more.

Palm Sunday is painful because right now I want to escape somewhere and feel loved, not beaten up. And the house I want to go to is God's. But God's house isn't always welcoming.

My boyfriend is a music director at a church and tonight he's at a parishioners home building crosses: three of them, for the "Last Words" musical they'll be doing at his church this upcoming Holy Week and Easter Weekend.

Nailing together crosses that will symbolize (for some) God's ultimate sacrifice of himself for the people, an act of the incarnation that says, "Yes, I will even take this so far as to die to help you understand"... Nailing together crosses that serve as a constant reminder of the death of a Messiah at the hands of the empire, the death of a Savior at the hands of evil, the death of a man at the hands of those who loved him...

I called my boyfriend after I got out of rehearsal tonight and heard the crosses being nailed together on the other end of the line. "I have tomorrow off," I said. "I don't have to go to work. I could come up there now if you want. And if you're not done with the crosses, I could come to the house and help out."

"But -----'s here." he replied. That's his ex-girlfriend's mother. And despite the waving of the palms and the confession that Christ is the Messiah, despite the ashes on our heads reminding us that we are not, despite the resurrection of Jesus that will come on Sunday and represent the resurrection we practice every day in our life, my phone conversation with my boyfriend ended with, "Fine, I won't come up there."

Because I'm not welcome at his church.

And that's the second reason I'm not attending church right now.

Not only am I not welcome in the church building, at the church services, but I can't even help build the crosses for the Sunday morning play because his ex-girlfriend's mother will be building crosses too.

And that is the embodiment of the irony of Palm Sunday: that the church often does a really shitty job of being church. And while I used to love that about church - I loved that the genealogy of Jesus included Tamar who slept with her father-in-law and Rahab the prostitute - I don't anymore.

I just don't.

At this point in my journey I can't handle any more paradox. No more irony. No more grotesque beauty. I just want God, and I just want peace. And like the Israelites when they were carted off to Babylon, I too am now learning that God doesn't reside in a Temple (or a church) but in my heart. So I'm finding God there.

And sometimes in a dressing room. And sometimes in a hotub. And sometimes on Facebook. And sometimes on my yoga mat. And sometimes on my couch snuggled up under some blankets with my best friend.

You may judge me for not going to church, or you may applaud me, or you may not give a damn either way (and if so you probably didn't make it this far in the blog), but what I really want is a little compassion. Keep your condemnation, applause or indifference. I want compassion.

And eventually...

I want to be welcomed back to church.