Pulpit Freedom Sunday: They Preached. They Endorsed. Did They Break the Law?

Despite 60,000 letters from Americans United for Separation of church and State, some 1,500 pastors of various denominations took to the pulpit to endorse political candidates last Sunday.

This action is not only controversial in the nation as a whole, clergy are divided about it, as well.

At the very least, Pulpit Freedom Sunday raises the question of whether or not the government can limit critics from having their say from the pulpit. A Baptist Press article about Pulpit Freedom Sunday says in part:

Charlotte, USA – Baptist Pastor Mark Harris stood before his flock in North Carolina on Sunday and joined hundreds of other U.S. religious leaders in deliberately breaking the law in an election-year campaign that tests the role of churches in politics.

By publicly backing candidates for political office from the pulpit, Harris and nearly 1,500 other preachers at services across the United States were flouting a law they see as an incursion on freedom of religion and speech.

Under the U.S. tax code, non-profit organizations such as churches may express views on any issue, but they jeopardize their favorable tax-exempt status if they speak for or against any political candidate.

“Pulpit Freedom Sunday” has been staged annually since 2008 by a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom. Its aim is to provoke a challenge from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in order to file a lawsuit and have its argument out in court.

The event has grown steadily in size, but the IRS has yet to respond – even though the pastors tape their sermons and mail them to the agency.

Now in an election year, where a few swing states – including North Carolina – will be crucial, political analysts say pastors campaigning from the pulpit could have an impact.

Critics say the movement threatens the U.S. constitutional principle of separation of church and state and makes pastors look like political operatives rather than neutral spiritual leaders.

“When the church further divides the country, where’s the win in that?” asked Reverend C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, and an opponent of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

In his sermon at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, Harris endorsed a Republican candidate for the state’s Supreme Court, but did not specifically takes sides in the Nov. 6 contest for the White House between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

“I don’t feel I’m breaking the law,” Harris said before addressing a congregation of almost 1,000. “I am speaking as a pastor and as a citizen of the United States where we have that freedom of speech.” (Read more here.)

Voter Guide: Obama vs Romney on Religious Freedom

The Catholic Association has issued the Voter Guide on Religious Freedom you see below. Have a look and see if it will help you in your considerations as to who will get your vote in the upcoming election.

First Day of the Year of Faith and I’ve Swiped My Mother’s Wheel Chair

Today is the first day of the Year of Faith.

I began this auspicious year by swiping my 87-year-old mother’s wheel chair.

It all started when I ran out of Diet Coke. I was eating lunch. I drained my glass of Diet Coke. So, I picked up the empty Coke can and a bag of chips I wanted to put away and a glass I wanted to fill with more ice and a couple of other things I can’t remember now. I planned to get another can of Coke and come back to finish my lunch.

I stepped out onto the perilous carpet of my house. And my foot slid. I turned one ankle, tried to right myself, turned the other ankle and went down. Hard. I went down hard.

Chips were everywhere. It looked like a chip snowfall. But my major problem was my left foot. The top of it was all dented in and looking weird … and it hurt. It hurt enough that for the first time I kind of understood those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials.

I crawled — literally — to the refrigerator, opened the freezer door (we have a side-by-side fridge) and pulled out some of those freezer dealies you put in your lunch bag to keep your food cold. I put those on the foot and the pain moved back a bit.

Then, I called my husband. “I broke my foot,” I said. “You’ve got to come home and drive me to the hospital.”

And that is how I came to swipe my mother’s wheel chair.

I have two broken bones in my foot that are split and moved all over from where they should be. The hospital put me in a sort of cast and scheduled me for surgery for next Monday. Then they sent me home with pain pills and a dire warning not to stand on, bang or even jar my foot for fear of moving the bones further out of place and making my injuries worse.

Neato.

I’m sleeping on the sofa (Two-story house; can’t get upstairs) and paddling around with my mother’s wheelchair. It’s not all that bad, unless I move the foot the wrong way, which I’ve learned NOT to do. Me and the ice pack? We’re best buds.

So what does this have to do with the Year of Faith?

Just this: I went to a Catholic hospital built by nuns in the last century to provide health care for anyone who needed it. This hospital has the distinction of not turning people away because they can’t pay for care. I’ve counseled women who were abortion-minded, and part of the reason was a fear of the costs of the medical care involved in having the baby. This hospital provided them with free care.

I remember a few years ago, doing an intake for a woman who had come in, wanting free medical care for her pregnancy. This woman had a rough past and was a confirmed, out-spoken, Catholic hater. The whole time I was filling out the forms and setting her up for free medical care from a Catholic hospital, she was railing at me about the Church. She threw off insults with every breath.

I didn’t rail back at her. I just filled out the forms and sent her along to have her baby with the care and love of a Church that she despises.

I’m talking about my Church; the Catholic Church. The Church that has built hospitals, schools, runs charities and helps people all over the world. In my work as a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, I help a lot of desperate people. Oftentimes, the government has no agency or program that can help them. They just fall through the cracks. These are often the most needy people I see.

My first call when that happens is to the Catholic Church, to one of the many programs, agencies, charities the Church runs for people like these.

If I need shelter for a homeless woman, the Church will take her in. If I need to find medical care for the working poor, the Church is there. If some destitute soul needs free legal help, the Church can help. Counseling? Go to the Church.

That, my friends, is faith with legs. (No pun intended.)  It is faith that talks louder than words, that means more than good wishes. Look around you. Look at the universities, hospitals, charities; all built by the hands of Catholics, living their faith.

This is the first day of the Year of Faith. I got a good lesson in living faith yesterday by way of excellent medical care that was given to me by people who also took the time to explain, be gentle and go the extra mile to make things easier for me.

For that I thank them and the many generations of Catholics who went before them and made these things possible.

I am sitting here in my living room, propped up like the Lady of the Manor on my recliner with my ice packs, my laptop, ipad, cell phone, Kindle, pain pills and a thermos of ice water.  I have a remote on the chair arm and a big screen tv awaits my signal to start entertaining me. If you’ve gotta have a broken foot, this is how to do it.

I’m also relaxed. I know I have good doctors. But more importantly, I know that I am, as always, in God’s hands. There’s nothing to fear when you’re on the Jesus, Joseph and Mary team. Whatever happens, be it good or bad, I am safe in His plan.

Make the most of this Year of Faith, my friends. Grow in grace.

Religious Freedom Caucuses Form in Oklahoma and Eight Other States

I am part of a newly-formed Religious Freedom Caucus here in Oklahoma.There are caucuses in eight states, as well. This group has been in formation for several months, at the initiative of the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I first heard about it when they contacted me last spring.

I am honored to be part of this and grateful to the American Religious Freedom Program of putting it together.

A CNA article about these caucuses says in part:

Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2012 / 12:02 am (CNA).- A group of more than 120 bipartisan state legislators have created caucuses in nine states to address threats to religious liberty and learn from the experiences of other lawmakers.

“These are the first state caucuses ever to focus exclusively on religious freedom,” said Tim Schulz, state legislative policy director at the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“There’s a renewed interest in religious freedom in the country,” he explained, “and this growing attention is bringing together people of all religious faiths and political ideologies.”

The American Religious Freedom Program organized a national teleconference on Oct. 9 to announce the nation’s first state religious freedom caucuses, formed by legislators in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

The caucuses are designed to unite state lawmakers who share an interest in protecting religious liberty. They will facilitate discussion, cooperation and leadership as each group of legislators works to tailor particular laws to strengthen religious freedom amid the specific circumstances faced by their state. (Read more here.)

Check it Out! Patheos’ News and Politics Channel on Facebook

Romney, Evangelicals and the Pluralism Problem

Caesar is Not Lord

Atheists Are Paying (Yes, Literally) for Increased Media Coverage — But Is This Ethical?

If these articles interest you, take a gander at the new Patheos News and Politics page on Facebook. I just looked it over and found several interesting reads for myself.

What Would Happen if Corporations Opposed China’s One-Child Policy?

We live in a morally truncated world. We’ve been very carefully taught that economics, business and just about everything involved with the multi-national corporations who are controlling our government are morality-free zones.

It’s as if the Gospels stop at the doorways of corporate board rooms. 

We have no trouble laying the heavy hand of our moral judgements on things like how some little old lady casts her vote, but we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the idea that corporate policies that kill, maim and enslave millions of innocent people might be subject to moral demands as well.

This laxity of moral teaching leads to terrible things. When the churches, as so many of them do, twist the Scriptures to provide dishonest and morally bankrupt moral cover for multi-national corporations, then it makes saner people question if the Scriptures actually mean anything.

I want to ask a simple question: What would happen if the American corporations who have exported America’s industrial base to China made a stand against China’s vicious one-child policy?

That’s the challenge Chen Guangcheng, the blind anti-one-child policy activist who recently came to America gave to Apple Corporation.

A September 14 Baptist Press article quotes him as saying, “Apple in China should take a very active role,” said Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who brought a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Chinese women forced to have abortions or sterilizations, according to Bloomberg News. “There’s a huge social responsibility for these international corporations like Apple.”

Well. Duh. Multi-national corporations have moral responsibilities. I think it’s interesting that it took a heroic Christian who had suffered persecution in China to finally say this. But I thank God that somebody finally did.

The article says in part:

WASHINGTON (BP) — Apple, creator of the iPhone and iPad, could help bring an end to China’s coercive population control program, a leading Chinese opponent of the policy is contending.

“Apple in China should take a very active role,” said Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who brought a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Chinese women forced to have abortions or sterilizations, according to Bloomberg News. “There’s a huge social responsibility for these international corporations like Apple.”

Chen and other human rights advocates sent a letter to Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, asking for a meeting and urging the firm to halt coercive population control polices in its plants. Among other recommendations, they urged Apple to bar Chinese family planning authorities from access to its factories and to decline to report to the government pregnant women who do not have birth permits, Bloomberg reported Sept. 6.

“Apple is in a unique position to take a leadership role in standing up against coercive family planning in China,” Chen and the others said in the letter.

Apple’s latest yearly corporate responsibility report showed 24 of its factories it inspected performed pregnancy tests on female employees and 56 of its plants had no protocols to prevent discriminatory practices against pregnant women. The suppliers had halted screenings, Apple said, and it will terminate its relationship with facilities that are discriminatory, according to Bloomberg.

The human rights advocates also are asking other corporations, including Cisco Systems Inc., to call on China to end its coercive policy. They are targeting Apple first because it is the world’s leading technology firm and the largest corporation by market value, a spokesman told Bloomberg.

China’s population control program — known as the one-child policy and instituted officially in 1980 — generally limits couples in urban areas to one child and those in rural areas to two, if the first is a girl. Parents in cities may have second babies if the husband and wife are both only children. (Read more here.)

China: Angry Protests Follow Brutal Seven-Month Forced Abortion | LifeNews.com

China: Angry Protests Follow Brutal Seven-Month Forced Abortion | LifeNews.com.

I hear that this terrible crime has increased pressure on President Obama to condemn forced abortion. That would be a good first step.

I have passed legislation against forced abortion here in Oklahoma. I also debated and voted in favor of other legislation on the same issue by my colleague, Representative Paul Wesselhoft. Without exception, the “pro choice” people were highly critical and even profane in some of their comments concerning these efforts.

I believe that there are people who advocate for legal abortion actually are pro choice, so, even though I do not agree with them at all, I also don’t do things like put the label in quotes or call them “pro death” or any other unkind name. I refuse to lower a debate concerning something as noble as the sanctity of human life to a name-calling contest.

However, these people vehemently opposed legislation which would help stop forced abortion. I feel that their actions in this matter indicate that, whatever else they may be, they are NOT “pro choice” but rather blatantly and cruelly pro abortion.

I apologize for putting up two such grim posts back to back. I only do it because these crimes against women, children and, indeed, against all of humankind must not be hidden and allowed to continue.

Romney Code to Pro-Choicers: You Have Nothing to Fear From Me

“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” 

I know the Romney apologists out there are going to take me to task for saying this, but I interpret this comment as the Governor, playing both sides again. “No new legislation” sounds like a sop to get the votes of the on-the-fence pro-choice Republicans.

Yes. There are pro-choice Republicans. The wealthier areas of Oklahoma City vote heavily Republican, but when you talk to them one-on-one, they are, as a group, strongly pro choice. I know because I have campaigned those areas in depth, going from voter to voter and listening to what they have to say. They are pro choice.

This parallels the less affluent areas which are pro life but vote Democratic. Both areas are voting economics, not life issues.

To get back to the discussion at hand, I think Governor Romney is saying in a not-so-coded way that he will reinstate the Mexico City policy but do nothing else about pro-life issues.

Do you understand what that means? It means more of what we’ve been getting for the past 40 years.

I am not arguing that President Obama is the most pro abortion president in history. That’s obvious. What I AM saying is that Governor Romney is not going to do anything at all about pro life issues unless we MAKE him, and once he’s elected, making him is going to be tough. I think both candidates are pro choice. It’s a matter of degree.

Mark Shea says that the Republican Party treats pro life people the way that a batterer treats a battered wife. He’s right. There is a HUGE difference between the way the Republicans treat us and the way that the Democrats treat Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion lobbies. Huge.

Whoever wins this election, we are in for a fight. That’s what I’m trying to get across. The article I’m referring to begins below.

Ok now. Lay into me.

Romney promises no abortion legislation
By STEVE PEOPLES | Associated Press – 56 mins ago

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Wading into an explosive social issue, Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday said he would not pursue any abortion-related legislation if elected president.
“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” he told the Des Moines Register in an interview posted on the newspaper’s website.
The former Massachusetts governor said he would instead use an executive order to reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy that bans American aid from funding abortions. President Barack Obama waived the order soon after taking office.
Still unclear is what Romney would do if a Republican-controlled Congress passed abortion legislation and presented it to him to sign into law.
The Romney campaign sought to walk back the comments soon after they were posted on the Register’s website. “Gov. Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said, declining to elaborate. (Read more here.)

Number of Unchurched in USA Increases to One in Five

According to a recent Pew Forum poll, one in five American adults say they do not have a religious affiliation. This is up from 15% of those polled five years ago and reflects a strong trend in religious affiliation in the United States.

I think this trend is at least in part a result of the increasingly aggressive evangelism by secularists and atheists in our society.

This secularist/atheist evangelism is probably most effective in the enclosed environments of  our college campuses.

Late adolescents who yearn to hear their professors say they are brilliant are easy marks for lecture hall propaganda. The atheist pose becomes even more wish-fulfilling when the other students adopt it, giving them the chance to use it to fit in. It also fits neatly with the late adolescent’s need to find to stage a cost-free rebellion. In short, going atheist gives them the cachet of brilliance they want, the acceptance from their peers they need and the pose of being a rebel in a trendy and safe way. It’s a social win-win-win for them.

Evidently, insulting Christians and verbally harassing them and then bragging about it to one another is part of the social culture of their newfound unbelief. I read a lot of blogs, including a few atheist blogs. One thing that impresses me is the derivative quality of the thinking on the atheist blogs.

They quote from very popular books as if the thought was their own and advance arguments that are at least a hundred years old and then high-five one another for their cleverness. There is such a lot of bragging on these blogs, including obvious lying, about verbal jousts they claim to have had with “faith heads”

This might be funny. It is funny. But when this adolescent boorishness is multiplied by thousands of individuals, all trying to outdo one another in insulting and verbally assaulting a group of people, it becomes verbal harassment, hate speech and the fuel that can run the engine of legal and social discrimination.

Verbal attacks on people of faith are ubiquitous in our society. You see them very time you turn on the tv or listen to the radio. I’ve had to delete and ban to keep this blog from being overrun by them.

It doesn’t surprise me that the number of people who do not chose to identify themselves as part of any particular church is climbing at a time when verbal attacks on people of faith and faith itself are so rampant in our society. People are running away from religious affiliation to keep from being labeled and harassed. They are avoiding any consideration of faith so that they can appear cool and trendy.

I’ve been aware of this trend for some time. My work as an elected official has made me the target of the verbal harassment and hate speech unbelievers feel free to dump on people of faith. I not only saw the harbingers of what was coming, I lived through some of them.

I knew there was a constant agitation through the courts to limit the freedom of speech and expression of religious people, as well as remove any vestiges of Christianity from our public monuments and art. But the HHS Mandate took even me by surprise. I did not expect legal discrimination against people of faith to move so far, so fast.

These things are why I began Public Catholic. Christians must take their blinders off and allow themselves to see this. We need to stop running away from these bullies and begin standing up for Jesus.

The Pew Report underlines that we also need to do a much better job of talking about the wonderful things that Christianity has given and continues to give civilization. The attacks on Christianity that I’ve seen and read are based on biased, bogus scholarship that is basically propaganda used to justify hate speech. All we have to do to counter that is stop letting them badger us into silence and begin telling the truth.

As Bob Dylan said, the times, they are achangin’. It’s up to us to decide what part we’ll play in shaping those changes.

The Pew Forum article describing their report says in part:

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).3

No religious affiliation in America has grown to 19.6%

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

nones-exec-2

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones.4 A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.

nones-exec-3

These generational differences are consistent with other signs of a gradual softening of religious commitment among some (though by no means all) Americans in recent decades. Pew Research Center surveys conducted over the last 10 years, for example, find modest growth in the number of people who say they seldom or never attend religious services, as well as a declining number who say they never doubt the existence of God. (Read more here.)

I Have a Photo of the Cause of America’s Deficit (See Below)

This is a 2011 photo of me, standing front of the primary cause of America’s budget deficit.

It is also a photo of our stagnant economy, declining wages and lack of good jobs.

I was standing on Kinmen Island off the coast of Taiwan. The skyscrapers in the background are mainland China.

We built those skyscrapers. We also built the skyscrapers in a lot of places around the world. We built them with our jobs, our industry, our economic base. America has been exporting our industrial base for at least 30 years. Notice, I did not say we’ve been exporting our jobs. We certainly have been sending American jobs away, but unfortunately we sent our industrial base along with them.

60 Minutes ran a story Sunday, October 7, about a Chinese corporation named Huawei. The situation it describes is something of the canary in the mine shaft in terms of warning us about some of the potential consequences of these disastrous policies. You can find it here.

America’s industrial might is being bled out by corporate greed and a government that toadies to the corporations rather than taking care of the American people and the best interests of this country.

All the blather I heard in the first presidential debate on the economy never really addressed this. In my humble opinion, that means they never really talked about our real economic problems. No matter who wins the upcoming election, if he doesn’t do something about this problem, the overall trend of our economy (as opposed to temporary fluctuations) is headed down.

Reps Hamilton, Peterson File Amicus Brief in Abortion Drug Supreme Court Case

I thought you might enjoy seeing this. The only public statements I will make about this are the press release below and the brief itself. Feel free to discuss it yourselves, though.

 

Oklahoma House of Representatives

Media Division

October 9, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Authored: State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton

Authored: State Rep. Pam Peterson

Contact: Jason Sutton

Capitol: (405) 557-7421

Reps. Hamilton, Peterson File Amicus Brief in Abortion Drug Supreme Court Case

OKLAHOMA CITY – Today, Oklahoma State Representatives Pam Peterson, Republican from Tulsa, and Rebecca Hamilton, Democrat from Oklahoma City, are filing a “friend-of-the-court” brief in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, in defense of House Bill 1970, which regulates the use of drugs that are prescribed to cause an abortion.

“H.B. 1970 is a reasonable legislative measure that is intended to ensure the health and safety of women seeking chemical abortions,” Rep. Hamilton explained.

The law was challenged by Oklahoma abortion providers and was struck down by a state district court judge on state constitutional grounds.

“The district court’s determination that the Oklahoma Constitution confers a right to abortion cannot be reconciled with the text, history or interpretation of the state constitution,” Rep. Peterson said. “From territorial days to the present, the State of Oklahoma has recognized and protected the rights of unborn children in criminal law, tort law, health care law and property law,” she added.

Although, because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), abortion is legal in Oklahoma, the practice of abortion is subject to reasonable regulation like that provided by H.B. 1970. No federal constitutional claims were raised in the state court challenge. The case is Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, et al., vs. Terry L. Cline, Oklahoma Commissioner of Health, et al., Docket No. 110765.

The legislators’ brief was drafted by Paul Benjamin Linton, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm.

-30-

Our “Trading Partners”

China to reform 1950s labour camp system,

but won’t abolish

POSTED BY CHINA DAILY MAIL ⋅ 

Tang Hui, the mother of a rape victim, was sent to a labour camp last month for contesting the perpetrators’ sentences

China’s system of imprisoning people in labour camps without trial is problematic, and the government is working on reforms, a senior judicial official said on Tuesday.

Jiang Wei, the head of a government committee on judicial reform, said the government has found widespread agreement among legal scholars and lawmakers on the need to reform the labour camp detention system, and an overhaul is being devised based on that consensus.

Jiang’s comments were the latest indication by the government that after much debate it is ready to revise the system – known as “re-education through labour” – that critics say ignores civil rights and is prone to abuse.

Introduced in the 1950s, the system was originally meant for opponents of the communist regime. Today, the system authorises police to jail people for three years without trial; a fourth year can be added for bad behaviour. While often used for drug abusers, prostitutes and others accused of minor offences, it has also been used to silence government critics and punish practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. (Read more here.)

Book Review: In Need of a Re-Write

For a link to buy Ghost Brother Angel, or to join in the discussion about it, go here

Don’t read Ghost Brother Angel if you’re looking for a spine-tingling tale of the supernatural that will keep you up at night. You can read this book just before bed and miss not a wink.

Ghost Brother Angel was written by Grant Schnarr, a Pastor in the Swedenborg tradition of Christianity. It has all the narrative points of a riveting tale. But it is boring. I had trouble making myself finish it. I think the reason why is that the subject matter is too close to the author.

The underlying story is a simple tale of a family so wracked by grief over the death of their first child that they snap the lid shut on their emotions and refuse to talk about him or what happened. This silence locks everyone involved in their separate trauma rooms for decades.

That’s dramatic stuff, but in this book it’s tepid. I think the problem with the writing is that the child that died was Grant Schnarr’s older brother. He himself spent much of his life living with the silent trauma of his grief-stricken parents. He alludes to the fact that his father was an alcoholic, which was certainly another traumatic thing he had to deal with as a child. As a young adult, Schnarr evidently fell into alcoholism himself. Some stories cut too close to the bone to tell.

The book gives the impression that nobody in this family talked about any of this before Pastor Schnarr forced the issue decades later. What led him to do this was a personal breaking point precipitated by two back-to-back brushes with death. 

The first brush with death was a near-crash of a transcontinental airliner Schnarr and his wife were on. They were beginning a flight from America to South Africa when the hydraulic system on the plane began to fail. After a terrifying flight back to the airport and a bumpy landing, they had to spend the night in a hotel then get up the next day and get back on the same plane and fly across the ocean to Africa. 

Schnarr relates all this in a detail-laden narrative that, despite the powerful events he is describing, keeps the reader away from the action. What’s left is a sort of I-see-the-words-but-I don’t-feel-the-pain kind of reading experience. 

After the couple arrives in South Africa, they learn that one of their sons has been hit by a bus. He has a concussion and scrapes and bruises, but is not seriously injured. Schnarr’s wife goes home to the child while he continues his work in Africa. I’ll stop here to say that this is something I don’t understand. Who would not go back to their child under circumstances like these? The action of staying on in Africa seemed as distant as the narrative itself.  

Schnarr relates all this in the same lackadaisical way he does everything else. The whole book is about his thoughts and feelings. The drama of even the most dramatic events gets filtered through his almost clinical fixation on his own reactions. What we read is not what happened, but what he thought about what happened, how he reacted to what happened, and then, his ruminations about his thoughts and reactions. 

The main storyline isn’t focused on ghosts or dead brothers or even a family in need of healing. It’s a numbing recitation of Grant Schnarr’s every little thought and reaction to every little thing. The book is the narrative of the author, taking his own emotional pulse and then reporting his findings to everyone around him, 24/7. After a while, the reading gets about as interesting as watching a cow chew her cud. 

By the end of the book, Schnarr has wandered through the woods of endless mystical explanations of everyday experiences and self-absorbed self-examination to come to the conclusion that his brother is not dead, but probably his guardian angel. He also realizes that the family needs to take the memory of this lost child out of the closet and talk about him. 

I think Ghost Brother Angel needed an editor. I’m not talking about a grammar-checking copy editor. I mean a red-pencil-wielding editor with the ability to cut the story loose from the dead weight. The story in Ghost Brother Angel is hidden behind useless detail and long-winded descriptions of things that do nothing to move the book along. This book needed an editor to hand the manuscript back to the author and say “Write the story.” 

Ghost Brother Angel could have been a fine book. The subject matter is compelling for all of us mortals and the events have enough drama to hold anyone’s attention. But at least for me, what it is instead is one boring read. 

Miracle Story: Sometimes You Don’t Have to Ask

I almost decided not to post this particular miracle story. It is so incredible that just by sharing it I open myself up to charges of being naive and soft-headed.

I finally decided to go ahead because I don’t think God intended for it to be kept a secret. It is the story of God’s direct intervention in the life of one of the least of these. I wish I could tell the whole story; of the rescue and tremendous experience the girl who tells this has gone through. But I can’t.

When you spend time with those who were the most completely lost, you find the most intense faith.

This miracle happened to a victim of sex trafficking from India.

The young woman who tells it was taken as she was walking to school when she was around 7 and put in a brothel. She suffered terrible things which I will not go into here. She was confined in a tiny room and forced to have sex with many men each day. Her life was mostly that room and her tormentors. She had never heard of Jesus Christ in her young life.

She was alone in the room at one point, and she said that she saw a spot of glowing light in front of her. Then, she saw a man in the light who told her “I am Jesus and I will take care of you.” She did not know who this Jesus was, but she did understand that she was in the presence of God. In the face of every objective criteria to the contrary she believed Him when He said “I will take care of you.” Through a series of incredible events, she ended up here in Oklahoma, free from her captors, and living a new life.

When she talks about this experience, her face glows. Her life, even more than her words, are a testimony to the redemptive power of God’s love. She is going to school, and plans to be a missionary to the trafficked girls in her native India.

Jesus went into a brothel, into the pit of one of our worst man-made hells, and reached out to this young girl. She didn’t pray. She didn’t ask for Him to come to her. She didn’t know Who He was.

It’s an incredible story and I offer you no proof. Believe it or don’t. All I can say is that those who know this young woman believe it. They see the proof in her life and rock-solid faith; in her unwavering purpose to bring Jesus to everyone she meets. She was rescued to be a rescuer.

Less of Me: The Diet, Week Two

So much for great plans and good intentions. 

One of the good people who offered advice about my impending diet last Saturday told me to be gentle with myself when I failed to do what I had planned. That was excellent advice, especially since I didn’t succeed consistently on anything  I planned.

First the good news. When I weighed this morning, I found to my surprise that I had actually lost 2.3 pounds. Why? I dunno. I made no effort to eat less or even to eat differently. I was more aware of what I ate just because I had weighed and then written about it here.

Now, to the long list of failures. My objectives and the results were:

1. Start getting 8 hours sleep every night. It turns out that the only easy thing about this was writing the sentence. I managed to make myself go to bed by 1 am almost every night. I did not pull an all-nighter all week. But I couldn’t sleep once I got there. I tossed. Turned. Tossed some more. To top it off, my elderly mother got me up at 4 a couple of mornings; not because she was sick, but just … well … because. So the first objective gets 14 for effort and zero for success. I will keep trying and would appreciate any and all ideas as to how to succeed. I. Am. So. Tired. I need the sleep!

2. Exercise every day. I managed to do this 3 times rather than the 7 I hoped for. I rode my recumbent bike for 30 minutes instead of the planned 15 simply because it was easy to peddle and read. The challenge here is making myself go do it. I’m going to run at it again this week. I think that three times is a big improvement over none, btw. My score for this is 7 for effort and 7 for success. Halfway there.

3. Don’t do so much. I was a TOTAL flop at this! In fact, instead of clearing the decks, I took on two additional projects; one for a volunteer position I hold and another for my family. The score here is zip and zip; the big zero.

4. Drink more water. I drank more water, but not what I had planned. I’ll work on it. I would score this 10 for effort and 7 for success.

5. Weigh. Every Saturday. I am 14 for 14 on this! I finally have something where I accomplished what I planned, even if it is just stepping on a scale and looking down. Yeah!

6. Blog about it here every Saturday. I am doing that now. So again, 14 for effort and 14 for success.

7. Pray about it. I (blush) didn’t do this at all. It is so hard for me to pray about this. I have no idea why.

So there you have it. The bottom line is that I need a lot of work just to get to the beginning of living a healthy life. The odd thing is the weight loss. I think it is most likely a result of the self-awareness I gained from talking about all this here. I think that may actually be the most helpful thing I’ve tried.

I hope you guys have some ideas about sleep. I think that’s the single most important thing I need to do for myself right now. Please feel free to chime in with any ideas, thoughts, prayers you have for me. I need all of it.

Thank you again for all the help you’ve given me so far. As I said, it seems to be doing me good, almost without my knowing it.

Now, I’m off to put a roast in the oven and then go to mass.

 

 

 

The Gate of Hell: Prescription Drug Addiction

Through me you go to the grief wracked city;

Through me you go to everlasting pain;

Through me you go to pass among lost souls.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno: The Gate of Hell

 Timothy Dalrymple, who blogs at Philosophical Fragments, wrote a  compelling account of prescription drug addiction in a post titled (oddly enough) Overcoming Sex Addiction.

Tim says that “it would be hypocritical” for him to talk about addiction of any sort without also discussing his own addiction to prescription drugs. At that point, he veers away from the subject of sex addiction into a retelling of his own spiral into physical addiction to painkilling drugs as a result of the lifelong pain he must endure because of a broken neck.

I have family members who are drug addicts. I can sympathize easily with someone who is dealing with prescription drug addiction (or any other drug addiction) from the outside. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love destroy themselves with drugs and be helpless to stop them. I also know how it feels to watch the destruction of their once delightful personalities under the influence of drugs.

I can sympathize with family and friends of drug addicts. The drug addicts themselves, not so much.

Tim’s honest account of how the prospect of a lifetime of pain demoralizes while the steady infusion of addicting drugs into a person’s body and life grows an addiction that won’t be assuaged gave me a new and necessary perspective on my own family members who have lost the battle with addiction to prescription drugs. I sometimes almost forget that a lot of physical pain fueled the original drug-taking that led to the addiction. All I see is the ruined personality, the vacant shell of the individual I once talked to, laughed with and turned to for companionship.

Grief for the loss of the person you knew and loved is part of life for those who must live with the addicted living dead. It is even more acute when the drug addiction is a response to emotional rather than physical pain.

I think Tim’s article is well worth reading for anyone who loves someone who suffers from addiction. In truth, the addicted person is just the center of an ever-expanding circle of suffering that ripples out to parents, siblings, children, friends, and on into future generations.

I admire Timothy Dalrymple. Not many people have the grit to face their own addictions and do something about them. I respect the courage it took to write about it so honestly in this post. I encourage you to read it.

Timothy Dalrymple’s post says in part:

… It was not happenstance that I decided to teach a class on sin and addiction.  I became intensely interested in the topic for a very specific reason.

I have taken pain medications more or less constantly ever since I broke my neck in 1996.  Every day, I leave my house with a packet of pills in my pocket.  For the last six years, I’ve been on a medication that relieves my pain without causing any euphoria or craving — but that was not always the case.

To be clear, my medications have always been prescribed and supervised by a physician.  But that does not mean — does not mean at all — that I have not been addicted.  One of my doctors, in fact, was very clear with me: if I put you on this medicine for a long time, you will become addicted.  There’s no question about it.  We will just hope to control the addiction.

As though addictions can be controlled.  But what choice did I have?  If I did not take the pain medications, then I was in pain constantly.  Every hour of every day.  Around my two fused vertebrae, I have nerve damage, bulging discs, pinched nerves, traumatic arthritis.  What some people don’t appreciate about chronic pain is that the physical pain is one thing, but the psychological burden can be almost unbearable.  It’s a terrible thing to stare down the barrel of the rest of your life and know that it will rifled through with agony to the end.

So I went from Vicodin and Percocet to Methadone and Oxycontin.  I would be on a certain medicine for a while, my body would build a tolerance, I would need to raise the dosage, eventually the side effects would grow too significant, and we would switch to another medicine.  And the most dangerous of the drugs I utilized was, without a doubt, Oxycontin.

I took Oxycontin — and usually felt a “high” — three times a day, for years.  While I never ground and injected or snorted it, I learned that there were other ways to get it into your system more quickly, or ways to experience its effects more profoundly. (Read more here.)

Rendering Unto Caesar: Pulpit Politics and Christian Witness

Tomorrow, October 7, has been labeled Pulpit Freedom Sunday. It is a day when participating pastors will take a stand against threats against their freedom of speech by giving sermons that “preach Biblical truth about political candidates.”

The fact that ministers of the Gospels feel sufficiently pressured and harassed to self-censure their sermons to organize such a day says quite a lot. My great hope is that they will give America an astringent dose of genuine Gospel preaching without falling into the trap of indulging in personal attacks against any person or group of people. If they do that, tomorrow will be a great day.

It’s interesting to me that things have gotten this far. I can tell you for sure that the pastors in the house district that I’ve represented for going on 17 years have never been shy about speaking out. Back in the day when I was pro choice, they denounced me roundly and loudly from the pulpit, including saying a whole host of things that were untrue and extravagantly malicious.

I  never questioned their right to preach about me from the pulpit and I never made any attempt to force them to stop doing it. I think that America needs a free and untrammeled church for its health and well being as a society and a culture. I also think that the right of Americans of all walks of life to criticize their politicians and elected officials is a core freedom. I didn’t like being the target of all this hate from the pulpit, but I never wanted to curtail the freedom of speech on which it was based.

I’ve written before about the threats many pastors have faced from non-governmental groups and their vague, chain-rattling allusions to possible legal actions against those who fail to comply. I find this behavior disgusting.

The idea that the government would use or threaten to use the tax codes to silence potential critics is appalling. However, while I heartily support the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit, that does not mean that I support everything that gets said there. All civilized people are called to exercise personal responsibility in what they say, and Christians, especially Christian leaders, should adhere to an even higher level of personal responsibility.

I know from my own experience that when pastors regard their pulpits and the respect people hold for their position as an entitlement to attack and harm people, they damage the Body of Christ.

It is past time for clergy to stand up against the oft-proclaimed notion that the pulpit should be a free-speech-free zone where government censorship can run riot. But I do hope that whatever truth they decide to proclaim is, in fact, the truth, and not just an amalgam of oft-repeated slanders.

That’s what happened when pastors attacked me. They said outlandish, slanderous things. They said things that were personal, sexual, and verifiably untrue. They were cruel, vicious and, I realize now, an embarrassment to Christ and genuine Christianity.

What these preachers said didn’t convert me at all. In fact, they hardened me in my thinking. I experienced a profound religious conversion a few years later. But most of my friends of that time remain hardened in their dislike and contempt for Christianity and, by default, Jesus Himself. What these preachers said about me isn’t the only reason for this, but it is a contributing factor.

I will be praying for these pastors who plan to “speak truth” this Sunday, but probably not exactly as they would expect. I pray that they will tell the truth and not go off into some hellacious slander fest. I also hope that they remember that they are most likely not Jeremiah and John the Baptist all rolled up into one person, so maybe they should behave with a bit of judicious thoughtfulness before engaging in wild denunciations of individuals and whole groups of people.

America needs the cleansing fire of strong Christian preaching. Say a prayer with me that this is what happens tomorrow.

For more about Pulpit Freedom Sunday, go here.

 

 

Co-Dependent Nation: Living in I Can’t Say No Land

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Raise your hand if you have a family member or friend with drug or alcohol problems.

Are your hands at your side? If they are, think carefully.

What about that cousin no one talks about? You know the one; the family embarrassment that you haven’t seen for years but that you know is out there somewhere, tippling, shooting up, snorting or pill-popping their way to an early grave. What about your high school friend who started missing classes and ended up missing in action for life?

Now. I’ll ask again. Raise your hand if you have a family member or friend with drug or alcohol problems.

Ok. Has everybody got a hand in the air? Good. Now we can talk.

If everybody was honest, there were a lot of raised hands. There is a whole lot of drinking and drugging going on. That leads to the conclusion that there is probably an equal or even greater amount of codependence going on alongside it.

My untutored, unprofessional, entirely observational definition of codendence is that it is the fine art of making excuses for and buying into the lies of miscreants in such a way that you help them continue misbehaving. Meanwhile, you sacrifice yourself for them and their lies.

Codependence creates miserable people with no self-esteem. Codependents feel guilty about things other people do, look for happiness in all the wrong places and constantly try to rescue people who don’t want to be rescued. It doesn’t just apply to drinking, or even to drugs. You can be co-dependent about any kind of bad behavior out there.

Codependence has insinuated itself into the fabric of our society. Co-dependent standards have become our society’s measure for judging human behavior and even public policy. They determine our way of thinking, reacting, and interacting.

Codependence is not only allowed and encouraged, it is actually enforced through the unwritten rules of political correctness, phony tolerance and a self-conscious refusal to “judge,” which has become a block to using our higher thinking faculties when dealing with other people.

This ubiquitous societal codependence adds the burden of willful intellectual blindness to anyone who tries to help or heal the fallen people of this world. We become so confused that we don’t know and can’t react when people are using us and our kindness in a callous manner with no intention of reforming. We are prisoners of our own good intentions, unable to judge, discern, or react in intelligent ways. We can’t set limits, have been shorn of the language to express our concerns, and feel guilty about protecting ourselves from abuse and mistreatment. We are co-dependent.

Our whole society is co-dependent. It is so co-dependent that the only crime we consider really wrong is child molesting. All other crimes, including the most hideous rapes and murders, become, in our twisted reasoning, something we need to “understand” and which we say the victim themselves probably helped cause. We are so co-dependent that the only actions we are willing to condemn are failures to be co-dependent.

Pity the poor soul with the temerity to say that violations of moral law, of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, are sins, and that sin is the root cause of our social ills. The public shaming meted out to “intolerant religious fanatics” and “theists” who dare say things like this is equal to none other.

That’s why people who run helping ministries find themselves in a guilty conundrum over the resentment they rightfully feel about being used by the using users of our society. The moral half of their ministry has been taken from them by political correctness and our universal societal sickness of co-dependence. We need to help people who are caught in the consequences of their bad behavior, and we need to do it with love. There is no place in a Christian ministry for the condemnation of persons.

At the same time, we need to give ourselves the freedom to know and say that there was bad behavior and that sin is its root cause. Part of helping a person who is trapped in out of control behavior lies in helping them heal from the immediate physical and emotional damage they have inflicted on themselves. They’re down and they need help standing back up. 

The other part of helping them is to help them not do it again. That means telling them that what they did was wrong and, if they want a better life, they have to change. It means working with and not against the Holy Spirit in convicting them of their sins. It means not making excuses for them or letting them believe that sin plays no part in their actions. It means never explaining away the harm they’ve done or the debt they owe to try to make it right again.

Codependence enforcers are fond of quoting the words of Jesus to the woman taken in adultery, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They use this verse as a club to guilt Christians into joining them on the co-dependent band wagon that masquerades as love and tolerance. What they leave out is that Jesus also said, “Go, and sin no more.” He didn’t stone the woman caught in adultery. He didn’t condemn her. In fact He expressly said that He didn’t condemn her. But He didn’t pretend that she hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t cite her poverty or even the rank misogyny of the men who were trying to stone her as excuses for what she had done. “Go. And sin no more.” he said. “Sin no more.”

People who want to misuse scripture to justify themselves often pull a verse out of context. The irony here is that many of the people who quote this particular verse in this particular fashion aren’t even Christians. They’re secularists, trying to bully Christians into accepting the rules of this world instead of the teachings of the Gospel. What they are asking Christians to do is to lie to people; to tell them that sin is not sin, wrong is ok, and that the harm they do to others is in some mysterious way the fault of the ones they have harmed. This is not love. It is also not ministry. It is societally enforced codependence.

If codependence is a sickness, then we are a very sick society. Forcing our minds to shear lose from our ability to see and discern, to evaluate and decide in this way does great damage to our ability to think coherently. It has, over time, left us at the mercy of the most obvious propaganda and lies. It makes us easy marks for demagogues and corrupt politics that would defraud us of all we have. 

“In an insane society, a sane man must appear insane.” That’s a quote from Mr Spock of Star Trek fame. Unfortunately for us, this is one time when science fiction speaks truth. Going against the co-dependent flow will make you the target of those who have an interest in the way things are. This is nothing new for true followers of Christ. We live in this world, but we do not follow it. We are part of this time and of this world. But we are not just that. We are also part of the Kingdom of God and while we live in this time, this epoch, we also live in eternity. Even though we live and work in the here and now, our membership in the Kingdom coming, our life in eternity, has and will always have, prior claim on us.

We are called to be the sane citizens in our insane society. Our yardstick for evaluating ourselves and other people must never be the fashionably codependent measure of relativism. We must live by the Gospels, which means that we obey the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

We do it because God Himself told us to.


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