Monday, February 21, 2011

Separating Church, State, and Hate

(The following is the text of an email I recently sent to the Kansas State judicial committee urging them to reject proposed HB 2260, which protects the right to actively discriminate against [anyone you want to] in hiring, housing, etc., if the discrimination is based on a religious belief. Ridiculous? Yes. But then, we ARE the state that outlawed evolution. I stay here because leaving would just tip the balance towards more unreasonableness.

Some of my friends, and even family, may not have heard me speak "Christian" like this before...don't worry, I still speak "world" most of the time...but sometimes it's nice to be bi-lingual. When in Rome....

I am happy to report that the bill was tabled today by a wide margin without any debate. Doubtless it or a successor will rear its ugly head again. But in light of other recent political activity across the nation, it's a little bit of a bright spot: good sense prevailed today in this vote.

I am posting this far and wide because perhaps some of the ideas may be helpful to my readers who may find themselves in dialogue with intolerant "Christians" over some or another aspect of legal rights: LGBT rights, women's reproductive rights, immigrant rights, etc.

These thoughts are much, much broader than just LGBT issues. In fact, for those of you who are not particularly pro-LGBT legal rights or pro-LGBT church inclusion, I urge you to reconsider, and perhaps to move towards a position just slightly to the supportive side of neutrality--a detached solidarity with any who struggle to avoid officially sanctioned marginalization/discrimination. If an arm of our government is successful in codifying the right to discriminate against one group, who knows what other groups might be targeted in the future?)

Dear Representative,

I am a modern conservative Anabaptist Christian. I spend hours a week studying the scriptures through the Light of the Holy Spirit, both independently and in the company of other Christians--radical, conservative, liberal, progressive, and fundamental members of a number of different denominations. I also value the time I spend discussing things of the spirit with atheists, pagans, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Jews, and others.

For those of us who accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the New Testament abolishes "The Law" of the Old Testament by fulfilling the OT prophecies. The old commandments of Moses are replaced by Jesus' new commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself".

In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul exhort Christians to humble submit to the laws of the State and its rulers. The New Testament does NOT tell Christians to seek to establish a State religion, nor to write State laws to support "Christian" beliefs and practices. It does not even tell Christians to campaign for the right to freely practice their religion! True Christians, now as in Jesus' time, live "in the world but not of the world." We deal with the world on the world's terms, even if it requires compromise and even if it results in suffering, knowing that our only real home and freedom will be in the company of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, after we have left this broken and sinful world. True Christians EXPECT and ACCEPT that "the world" will not support, encourage, or agree with our beliefs. Being human, we must necessarily stumble and fail in this effort at times...but we must never believe that our freedom and home is anywhere but Heaven.

As a part of a nation founded on the bedrock of religious freedom for ALL citizens, of any religious faith or of none, the State of Kansas has a constitutional duty to establish equitable and just laws to protect and support the well-being of its citizens--ALL of them--and to foster an orderly system of business, services, education, infrastructure, etc. without either favoring or discriminating against any particular group of citizens. The separation of church and state demands that such laws NOT be based on any religious considerations. Religion--any religion--is simply not supposed to be a consideration in the laws, enforcement or administration of our government.

After considering these simple truths about the purpose of Christianity and of our American system of government, I trust you will see that you have no choice but to reject HB 2260. It is as destructive to the faithful practice of true Christianity as it is to our constitutional rights as American citizens.

While your decision to dismiss HB 2260 must be entirely blind to the considerations of any particular faith, you will doubtless need to convey your decision to your constituents in terms that make sense to them. For those who are promoting this bill because they erroneously believe it supports Christian faith, you might remind them of the following Biblical truths:

  • Jesus himself did not discriminate against those who were marginalized by his culture; he hung out with and ministered to poor people, foreigners, outcasts, people with disabilities, slaves, women (who were considered "property" at that time) and sinners in preference to the middle and upper classes of his culture.
  • Jesus admonishes us to love our enemies, not to discriminate against them.
  • Jesus warns us not to judge (discriminate against) others; instead, we are to focus on the "log" in our own eye rather than the "mote" in someone else's.
  • Jesus tells his followers to "go the second mile" and thus obey Roman law which gave soldiers the legal right to order civilians to carry their loads. He not only tells them to obey the law however onerous, he tells them to MORE than give extra service without being ordered, even if doing so is personally distasteful.
  • Jesus instructs his followers to pay the taxes that are due to the government, even though the taxes are used in support of "worldly" activities and lifestyles that he asks his followers to forego.
  • Jesus instructs the rich to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.
  • If your "Christian" constituents supporting HB 2260 are not practicing these Biblical principles in their lives...if they have many possessions, are unloving towards particular individuals or groups of people; avoid socializing with the poor, different, and marginalized people; and are unwilling to obey State laws that they feel don't support their faith; then I think you can plainly see that these people are at best confused in their practice of the Christian faith. Probably it is not in the best interest of the broadly diverse citizenry of Kansas to establish laws demanded by those who are confused or misleading as to their true beliefs and purposes.

    I personally wish the best for all Kansans (and everyone else), regardless of their race, nationality, gender, creed, religion, handicap, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other individual characteristic. I am content that the Bill of Rights gives me the right to believe as I choose, and that Christ gives me the strength and humility to obey the laws of the world whether they suit me or not. I have utmost compassion for those who call themselves "Christian" yet give in to the evil of hatred, and I hope that it is not through personal tragedy that they discover their errors and repent. We all have fallen short and sinned in the sight of God. Thankfully, He is merciful.

    Blessings from

    Your obedient citizen,

    /s/ NL

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    A Chat with Adam

    Hi. Adam here. You know, from Genesis. The one they always blame it all on.

    What you read in Genesis isn't the whole story. It's the Cliff Notes version, written by God, and of course He wrote it with His own agenda in mind.

    And trust me: I got framed.

    So, yeah, there I am in the Garden of Eden, and I take a nice long nap, and wake up, and my side hurts like crazy, and suddenly there's this dame Eve there with me.

    So she's supposed to be my helper? Let me ask you, just what did I need help WITH? Naming the animals? Like she was a big help with that! Instead of just being able to say, "You--DOG!" and "You--CAT!", I had to argue with her over every single one. "Ooooh, look, doesn't "feline" just purrrrfectly describe the way it moves?"

    Yeah, I have to say it was a little less lonely having someone out with. The birds and the bees all had their own kind, you know, I saw how everything went. But really, I mean, I was in the Garden of Eden, for heaven's sake, free food at my fingertips, perfect weather all the time, all my needs were met (well, mostly...), I didn't have to do anything but make up a sound for everything I saw there. What's to complain about?

    But, there she was. So God had to get a little more specific about the rules of the place, because Eve was pretty nosy. I could just while away the hours naming things and trying to remember the names and trying to remember did I already name that thing there, and if I did, what did I name it? But she had to poke and pry and understand everything.

    So there's this one tree. God says "don't touch"...I don't touch. I mean, there are just plenty of other trees around to keep me occupied. Not a big deal. He's the boss, I do what He says, I don't ask questions. That's just how it works, you know?

    Me, I'm happy picking a banana and munching it down when I'm hungry. Eve, she has to fuss with stuff. "Here, try this banana stuffed with pecans drizzled in honey with crunchy dried locusts." I try to act impressed with whatever she gives me, but really, she just has to make everything so complicated. Everyday it's some different fruit combo for lunch, and really, I'd be happy as a...what did I call that round thing with two shells that I found on the beach? Oh, clam. Happy as a clam with a banana a day. No, that didn't come out right. Happy as a clam, with a banana, every day. Oh, here, let me start over. Happy with a banana. Happy as a clam. Clams don't like bananas, and clams and bananas don't even taste good together. Besides, it's a few more chapters before we can eat anything but fruits and veggies, and then eventually in a whole 'nother book He finally gets around to saying, "Oh, by the way, clams aren't kosher 'cause they don't swim and have fins." Good heavens, this OT stuff is hard work!

    So anyhow, God said don't mess with that one tree, and I didn't. Figured she wouldn't either. I mean really, what part of "no" could she not understand?

    But I walk by one day, and notice that there's a fruit missing...right there. I could see the broken stem, plain as day. Wow, maybe one of the fruit bats got it?

    That got me thinking, was it just Eve and me that wasn't supposed to eat from this tree, or was it all the critters, too, and maybe I was supposed to be standing guard over it to make sure nothing munched on it? Well, then why couldn't God have said something if he wanted me to play body guard to a tree? I tell you, bosses are all alike, there's the rules, and then there's the real rules, and then there's the policies that look like whoever wrote them had not a clue what the rules were, and then no one follows any of it anyway.

    "Hey, Eve, come look at this," I hollered. She was on the other side of the big willow tree, talking baby-talk to some critter. She wandered over, looking a little peeved at me. What, was I interrupting something special with her and whatever it was behind the tree?

    "Eve, look! Something tore a piece of fruit off this tree that we weren't supposed to touch. Which creature do you think would have done that?"

    "Yeah, I see. That branch is all torn and hanging loose. Look, if I just trim off the end like so, and bend it this way, and push these other leaves over the gap in the foliage, why, you can't even tell anything happened, can you?" And in a flash, I couldn't even see where the fruit had been.

    And that's when I realized I'd been framed, and framed good. Damned for all time, in fact.

    Now that she had showed me, so I knew what to look for, I could see there were lots of other places where the same thing had been done. Critters don't do that, do they? I mean, they might eat the fruit, but only someone who has the knowledge of good and evil would try to cover up that they'd done it.

    And Eve had just shown me that she knew exactly how to do it, by undoing it. Not only did she know how, but she knew how to do it really quickly. Hm. I'm not that stupid. Spontaneous manual dexterity with that level of skill comes with a lot of practice.

    She saw what I was looking at, and looked up at me with those big innocent-seeming eyes. "What, sugarbuns? Why are you looking at the tree like that? You look like such a big sourpuss when you pucker up your eyebrows like that. Mmmmmm...just wanna kiss your face and make you smile again, honey." She wiggled at me, but I just stood there staring at the tree with gears whirring like crazy in my head. I could feel a doozy of a headache coming on. And Exedrin was what, a few dozen millenia in the future? Bummer!

    And then she saw that I saw right through her and her tricks.

    "What was that you served for lunch today, Eve? I wasn't paying attention when you rattled off the ingredients."

    "Oh, nothing, just a little fruit cocktail I whipped up. Why, I don't even remember what-all I put in it."



    (This was really getting nowhere, but it gave me time to think. I was NOT used to having to use my brain like this, let me tell you. And that headache was shaping up to be a killer....)

    "We've been eating a lot of chopped up fruit lately, haven't we?"

    "Fruit cocktail. You name the animals, I name the food dishes, isn't that the way it works?"

    "Ok, have it your way. Fruit cocktail. Lots lately. What do you put in it?"

    She started squirming and didn't want to look me in the eye. "Fruit".

    Oh, heaven help me! "Fruit. What kind?"

    "Different kinds."

    "Do I have to drag this out of you? You know perfectly well what you did and you know that I know what you did, so just out with it, ok? Cut the cute stuff!"

    I saw a motion in the grass, and her buddy the serpent came slithering up to her. It climbed up her leg and she just stood there. Suddenly something else clicked in my mind. That thing was her accomplice! Some of the camouflaged broken branches were up high, too high for her to reach. But with the serpent slithering through the branches, it could pull a branch down into her reach.

    Sure enough, with the serpent installed on her shoulders, she kind of transformed. Cute-coy-dumb was out, fierce-Valkyrie-warrior was in.

    "Yes, Adam, I've been feeding you the Forbidden Fruit for lunch every day this week, and you liked it. You LIKED it. I've been eating it for weeks myself, and it transformed me...." (I won't even bother mentioning her gestures during this little confession.) She went on. "Yes, Adam, I asked you every day if you wanted some fruit cocktail, and you said, 'yes, thank you very much.' So when you have that nice little chat with God about whose fault it is, just you remember that you said, 'Yes, Eve, some fruit cocktail sounds mi-i-i-i-ghty good right now.'"

    Oh, I cannot tell you how much I hate listening to her when she gets like this. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...except a woman scorning you is even worse. I was really actually kind of relieved to hear my name being called.

    "Yes, God?"

    "Where are you?"

    "Uh...just a minute....." I ran to the next tree over. Maybe he wouldn't notice the missing fruit if he wasn't looking right at it. "Over here, God."

    "That's funny, I thought I heard you talking to Eve over there by the Tree of Knowledge." And of course he looks right at it and immediately sees the fruit is missing.

    He looks back at me, and damned if I don't feel one of Eve's innocent looks taking over my face. I knew, and I knew that He knew, and He knew that I knew that He knew, but I tried to look innocent anyway.

    And I knew I was trying to look innocent, and that's when I realized that the fruit Eve had been feeding me had changed me. And I realized she must have been eating the Forbidden Fruit for a long time, because she had been doing more and more of those cute little faces she uses to manipulate me. She didn't used to do that when she was first...uh...created. It's like a slow fatal poison, you don't realize you're sick until it's too late. Just creeps up on you. Like that wretched serpent pal of hers.

    Here's where it gets really good.

    "Adam, did you eat the Forbidden fruit?"

    Facepalm. Headdesk. However you want to say it, I could see what was coming. I had been framed, framed, framed.

    "Yes, sir, I did eat the Forbidden Fruit. But let me explain...."

    Not. He just launched into the whole thing about the sins of the father being visited on the children, and throwing us out of the garden, and all the curses and stuff, and that was that. I never even got a chance to explain. Not a chance.

    But listen to this: He didn't even mention the sins of the mother! She was the one who WILFULLY disobeyed him, not me. I ate it, yeah, but I didn't know what I was eating when I ate it. And when I realized, I was honest about it, at least, even if I did try to distract him.

    Let me ask you this: If he had asked, "did you eat the Forbidden Fruit?" before her trick with hiding the broken branch clued me in to what was in her "fruit cocktails", I would have said "No." And I would have believed I was right. But I would have been wrong. Would that have been a sin? I don't know, I don't know the answer to that one. I'm not God, right? He knows, and He's not telling.

    So what would you say were the alleged "sins of the father"? Where did I go wrong? Trusting Eve, eating whatever she fed me without asking too many questions? I mean, after she declared locusts were vegetables because they were green and started using them to put "crunchy goodness" and "pizzaz" in her concoctions, I just really didn't want to know what I was eating.

    Oh, you're right. Good point. I knew about the locusts, and didn't 'fess up to that one at all. Well, God never asked me about the locusts, so I never lied to him about eating them...did I? And technically, he never said not to eat them, he just didn't include them in the list of "foods Generally Recognized as Safe".

    So was that "the sins of the father" too? Man, I am SO confused.....

    OMG! Look at the time, will you? I've been babbling at you for an hour now, can you believe it? Gotta run, I'm a working man now, you know. It's not so bad, really. Gets me out of the house for awhile. And away from that woman and her blasted pets. That snake...something about that snake...I just can't put my finger on it....

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Why I Volunteered to Drive in the Blizzard

    Feb. 2005, one Sat. night very much like tonight (near-blizzard), I had been in Winnipeg for 1 1/2 weeks, I was suffering severe sensory overload and physical exhaustion, and my housing situation had turned into an emotional nightmare. I had a meltdown and fled to my one acquaintance's house for refuge.

    I struck out on foot in her direction along the bus route, with no schedule, and at each stop I would check to see that the bus wasn't coming and then walk/run/slide desperately to the next stop in 2 blocks. Winnipeg blocks can be LONG. This was a main route, and didn't stop except at posted stops. I was terrified that the bus would come when I was between stops, but it was too cold to stand still, and I might reach my destination walking before the bus went by.

    Well, the bus came when I was right between stops. I swear it was a guardian angel and not a real driver. He somehow understood from my resigned walk (trying not to slip on an especially icy sidewalk) that I wanted the bus even though I was far from the stop and wasn't waving and screaming--or even looking--at him. And he stopped right there.

    I climbed on, tears welling up not just with stress and cold, but mainly relief and gratitude for God's looking out for me. And then realized that I had not one bit of money nor bus ticket with me. Before I could even turn to deboard, he said, "Don't worry about it" and told me to sit down. Off we went.

    When I told him my destination, down a side street in the desolate, deserted downtown, he double-triple checked that I really knew where I was going and had a safe destination near there, because it was a notorious part of the city. He checked again as I deboarded.

    I never REALLY believed in guardian angels till that night. But I believe now! It was a turning point in my faith. God can even stop a speeding bus on an express route!

    I have had other profound bus-related experiences since then, and other amazing drivers. But this is the one that defines me as a professional transit driver in my own right. The worse the weather...the more likely that the smallest ordinary courtesy will change someone's life for the better.

    Today, in one of the worst snowstorms in memory here, I picked up frozen passengers as much as 35 minutes after the scheduled time. "Don't worry about the paperwork" I said as they boarded. "Just hurry on, sit down, and warm up... we'll figure out how to get you can pay or show your pass when you get off." Gratefully, they collapsed into seats and sat like silent snowmen for awhile. Slowly they would thaw, and then they would start searching their pockets. Not one single customer left without paying. It felt like they were stuffing the farebox with gratitude, not just dollar bills.

    Did I ever mention I love my job? God, thank you for letting me be a bus driver! And thank you for driving the bus with me on days like this!

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Where Is Home?

    Home. A topic I've thought about a lot since the beginnings of my sabbatical adventures in 2004. What does "home" mean...I mean, how do YOU define it? What do YOU mean when you say "I'm going home now"? What defines, in your mind, where you live? Is it where you cook? Sleep? Read? Eat? Do laundry? Meet friends? Relax? Clean house? Some people never do those things in their "home" but nevertheless certainly know where their home is...some people do those things in places that they know is NOT their home. So how do YOU define the concepts of "home"..."living" in a place..."occupying" a residence..."residing" at a location....?

    As technology has allowed us to "unplug", many things that meant "home" a couple decades ago are now "ethereal" or "virtual"--waves in the atmosphere. Our phone no longer has a fixed location. Neither does our answering machine, computer, internet service, television, alarm clock, etc.

    Home was once where we gathered, stored, processed, prepared, and ate food. Now we eat in the car, or at restaurants, or at our desks. Every office has a microwave, and likely a refrigerator. Food comes ready-to-eat from the grocery store, the convenience store, gas stations, soup kitchens, friends, home delivery.

    Coffee shops have become our new "living room" for hanging out with friends, reading, doing homework, catching up on email, even paying the bills online. Our mailing address may be a post office box for security.

    We may never shower at home if we begin each day with a workout at the gym.

    Sometimes we "live" at our job, or in our car, more than anywhere else.

    Is "home" where we pay rent or a mortgage, or have some other contractual agreement giving us the right to use that space? Is it where we are obligated to pay for utilities (heat, electricity, water, etc.), or where we enjoy the utilities themselves, regardless of our financial responsibility for them? Is it where we pay taxes? The address on our voter registration card? The "primary residence" listed on our homeowner's insurance? Where our pets stay when we can't have them with us?

    While I was "traveling"..."transient"..."homeless"..."a pilgrim"...or whatever during my sabbatical, I struggled with the inevitable casual questions from strangers, "Where are you from?" and "Where is home?" a lot. Was it the place I awoke that morning? Where I would sleep that night? Where my parents live? Where I would return to at the end of my travels? My "permanent address" which was a P.O. box? The best answer I could come up with still defines "home" to me: "I live between my prayer covering and my shoes."

    But then, again and again in my Christian journey, I hear/read/feel "This world is not my home." And the further this radical pilgrimage takes me, the less I feel "at home" in "the world"...and I see that others sense that regardless of "home", I certainly am not part of their culture.

    On the one hand, renting an apartment in town where I kept most of my clothes, did my laundry, stored food and prepared meals, took showers, had most of my bookkeeping and papers, and slept much of the time--was not sufficient to prove to the county that I wasn't "living" or "residing" in the tent camper at my farm.

    On the other hand, I am paying all the utilities on a house now, while not allowed to "live", "reside" or "occupy" that house until it has "all the necessities of daily living" which include (according to the Powers that Be) a kitchen range. So I am "living" in another space, which has pretty much no utilities/amenities. And I wouldn't even use a kitchen range if I had one, at this point. I own numerous electric non-kitchen-range cooking devices: microwave, crock pot, rice cooker, roaster, toaster, teakettle, griddle, skillet, and two hot plates (some would include the clothes iron, as well...and the most "cooking" I do these days is warming up pre-cooked food on the defroster vent of a vehicle).

    I continue to struggle to understand the various conflicting legal applications of this question, "What defines home/residence/living/occupancy?" If I use my definition of "living between my covering and my shoes", then I am frequently in violation of what I am told is the law, since I spend a lot of time in places I am not allowed to "live". That includes both public and private places...Is being "private space" part of the definition? If home is private, how can authorities tell us what kitchen appliances a space must have in order for anyone to sleep there?

    A huge part of my Christian testimony is integrity, honesty, and obedience. I am struggling to keep "legal" with all the various interpretations of "living", "residence", occupancy", etc...but the authorities will never give me one definitive "test" I can apply (or they will apply) to determine whether I am "living" in a place or not. So I never know what I can or can't do. All I know is that I can't afford a lawyer to track it down for me...and so far I haven't managed to do it on my own.

    So, I want to know: How do YOU identify where someone lives? Please respond by email, FaceBook or comment on this blog. I would like to compile these answers in a future post, but I want to respect anonymity as well. Please let me know if you wish to be credited; if not I will use anonymous excerpts, summaries, and compilations of various responses.

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights!

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Testing, testing....

    I am testing out a new voice recorder (and trying to break the habit of calling the device a "tape recorder!).

    "Come Sheep" is an evening meditation song that I more frequently just play on the piano as a transition between some of my other piano tunes. The simple piano arrangement is as restful to my fingers as the words are to my soul. But I don't have all--or any--of the verses memorized, so if I sing it during daily life, it is just the chorus and "lalala"...but I still feel the peace it evokes.

    The chorus is based on the call I use for my own sheep flock: "Come, sheep; Mabel, Taylor, Come, sheep." They know the sing-song well, and at least the older the dairy ewes do in fact know their names.