Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jesus of Nazareth: The Original Shock Jock

I am a political liberal, a student of the Bible and a person with at least half a brain so there are many reasons for me to despise Glen Beck and the raving TV and radio commentators of his ilk. But unlike many of my colleagues and peers, it isn't how insulting it is that bothers me. No, to be clear, it is not the method that makes me mad, after all, Jesus of Nazareth was a shock jock. No, it is the message: Jesus modeled response while Beck models reaction; Jesus was the Prince of Peace; Glen Beck pantomimes immolating a colleague on camera. And this is the critical point for me: Jesus preached living intentionally while the broadcast bullies of the modern era preach living irrationally.

Yes, Jesus was a Shock Jock, and a really good one at that. Jesus entered Galilee when it was in a period of tremendous cultural and economic upheaval. People were attracted to Jesus, he was charismatic, his message was thrilling and terrifying. Everywhere he went people crowded around him. Some shouted him down and some lauded him, but you have to admit, he got plenty of air time for his century. He pushed the cultural and political envelope of his era to its very limits and he encouraged his followers to buck the trend in their lives. Now, obviously Jesus never preached an "us and them" mentality for the kingdom of Heaven, but he did call his opponents bad names, and incite his followers to defy authority.

But here is where Jesus is different: Once, famously, he turned to his followers and said, "Does what I am saying offend you?" He told the crowd, in essence, "look down this path. If you follow me, that is the direction in which you will be going. Ask yourself, is that a world you want to live in? And are you willing to do the work to get there?"

Jesus asked his followers to think. Look at where you are headed and make an intentional choice, take a proactive step into a future you know you can live with. Beck and his buddies are not about thinking, they are not consciously moving toward a goal. They are tearing their hair out and screaming into the camera to tear down, to destroy. They never ask their followers "and then where will you be?" There is no promised land in their philosophy, only ashes.

To return to the question of comportment. I said above that unlike my colleagues, the brutality and boorishness of these media monsters was not the issue, and it is not. But, as was recently very coherently pointed out to me, it is still a very dangerous part and it places a significant burden on people like me. A registered voter, a graduate student at seminary, a mother and a writer, I am the target of the vituperous vitriol spewed out by the right in our media. The inflamed rhetoric and irrational behavior is designed to disgust and disillusion me. The objective is to revolt me so completely that I remove myself from the debate.

But you see, my favorite talking head tells me I can't. I must live not irrationally, but intentionally. I must walk on the path toward the future I want. And so must you, and every thinking breathing, articulate and reasonable person who would much rather turn away in disgust. Wen you are tempted to give up the fight to the revolting voices of the right, ask yourself, "Do you also wish to go away?" (John 6:67).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fishers of Certain Men: A Teachable Moment for Atty General Holder

The issue here is obviously one of “separation of church state” but it is perhaps not the one we arrive at first. The Federal government cannot in good conscience fund discriminatory practices. Period. Eric Holder should renounce any memo or policy endorsing such a policy. However, as clear as that conclusion seems to me, I can imagine Mr. Holder, head in hands, sitting at his desk wondering why he has to do it in the first place. It should not fall to the Federal government to police the ethics of the Christian faith.

I sympathize, Mr. Holder, I have teenagers, too.

Once, in the urgency of school shopping, I handed my teenager some money and released her into the Mall. “Nothing inappropriate,” I advised her. “Nothing too short or too baggy, I don’t want to see your navel or be able to read the maker of any of your undergarments.” These are words I feel I should not have to say; after fourteen years she should know what is acceptable and what will be thrown out while she is at school.

An hour later she was standing in front of me wearing a cute pink tee shirt that covered all necessary parts admirably, bore the caricature of a cute little bunny, and, in big block letters, expressed a profoundly insulting sentiment. “It’s rude,” I said. “But not inappropriate,” she smiled back. I hissed, “You knew what I meant.”

The Washington Post tells us that World Vision, a faith based group receiving government funds, feels that requiring fair hiring practices “damages its identity and mission.” Any group whose “identity” originates in the Torah, the Gospels or the Qur’an is charged with the original non-discriminatory “mission”: to love one’s neighbor as oneself. If I was that irritated with my daughter over a tee shirt, imagine how Jesus feels when organizations formed in his name adhere to the letter of the law and ignore the spirit of his teaching entirely. Doubtless he did not clench his teeth and hiss his frustration as I did, but he did explicitly say, he had come “not to abolish the law but to fulfill” it. (Matt 5:17)

Federal money should not knowingly be used to fund discriminatory practices, regardless of how far downstream they are practiced. And institutions desiring to fulfill their faithful mandate must examine their practices to be sure that they honor its spirit in order to achieve its goals.