Friday, December 21, 2012

i heard the bells on christmas day

"Advent is about anticipating the birth of Christ. It’s about longing, desire, that which is yet to come. That which isn’t here yet. And so we wait, expectantly. Together. With an ache. Because all is not right. Something is missing." Rob Bell, "Why Should We Care About Advent?"

This year, I began attending a church that takes the church calendar very seriously. And I realized that I liked it. The rhythm of the Christian life is lived out based on our ceremonies and traditions. Some are sad, some are happy, some are both at the same time. But just as the Bible has its hymns of revenge and its poems of romance, there is a wide spectrum present in the church calendar. A spectrum as wide as life itself.

Christmas is my favorite season of the year. That's fairly obvious from the disproportionate amount of blog posts I write about the holiday. But the true reason that I love it so much has never been as clear to me as it has been made through the lens of church tradition.

I enjoy Christmas as much as I do because it follows the journey that Advent has begun in us.

In the same way that it seems like the world is at its most opaque in the silent, cold, stillness of a winter's breath, I hear more from God in the season of Advent. (That may not be true. It just may be that it is the time I focus most on the listening.) Walk outside on the coldest, darkest night of the year and just stand there. You will hear noises you didn't even previously realized existed. More than that, you'll uncover thoughts you didn't know to be inside your own mind. I know that happens to me in this season. It is as if the world itself has more to offer in those long, quiet moments spent in solitude.

This is the season in which we welcome our coming Savior. Not very unlike the season the Israelites once welcomed him into. Except they had not been waiting since the end of the Thanksgiving meal but instead hundreds of years. Mostly spent in bondage and oppression and in the dimming light of the hope of a promised Messiah. It would have been a natural consequence of their long wait for them to lose faith in their interpretation of God's promise to them or maybe even in the idea that God would make us a promise at all.

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Of course, this year we cannot bring an end to Advent and shine the light of Christmas without having within all of our minds Newtown, Connecticut. There are no words and no comfort to combat the coldest, darkest tragedy that I can imagine.

And yet there is Christmas. One thing I have learned in difficult moments this year is that the days do pass whether or not we recognize it as the pages on the calendar's days flip by. For the families who can never again be whole because of this tragedy, I have only my sympathy and my prayers to offer. And these seem like wretched things in light of the magnitude of the loss that was suffered.

Our entire nation has been set back on its heels from the violence played out on the news. Unlike most tragedies, this one has hit a personal chord. This shouldn't happen. Not in our country. Not in our towns. Not in our schools. The immediate response is one of confusion at a tragedy so senseless. And then an urgent cry to prevent anything like this from ever happening to another family again.

Still we know that even if we improve public policy, we can no more reverse time to prevent what happened than we can to stop death entirely. The violence that exists in our minds can be a betrayal of our biologies or our minds or even our very nature. And when the violence spews forth from within to hurt those that form our communities without there will be losses suffered. We lost the lives of precious children in Sandy Hook and we lost the innocence that accompanies an age where wonder and delight rule over cynicism and hatred.

As the President read the names of the fallen in his speech last week or as the bells rang out 26 times this morning to commemorate those that were lost in a moment of silence, it would be understandable to let this world and this act of terror plunge us into a state of hopelessness. Or to turn on each other and propel ourselves into a divisive political blame game looking to point the finger at who is at fault for this feeling of helplessness and grief.

But the promise of Christmas is that the darkness of this season will be pierced by an unmistakable light. That the silence of this dark and lonely night will be broken by the cries of a baby from a manger.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does He sleep (He is The Lord)
(He is The Lord)
The dark shall fail, the light prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Still, we cannot forget that as those cries from the mouth of the baby will one day turn to giggles to words of wisdom to comfort and healing to our very salvation, they will also turn to cries of anguish as this hope seems to be extinguished by a cross. God's very nature is to bring light into darkness, to bring form into chaos, to bring meaning into despair. We may not always understand it but he has set  the entire world to the rythym of this truth.

And so at Christmas the promise we cling to is just that moment of hope, of light in a dark place, or joyful clamor into the silence. If we can have just that moment to capture and to cherish, I believe we'll have strength for the journey ahead.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

why i'll vote against

“Bad laws are the worst kind of tyranny.” Edmund Burke

1. Amendment One is anti-freedom.

From the days of our Founding Fathers to the present day, the steady drumbeat of progress in our great country has been that of a march towards freedom. That used to mean something in so-called “conservative” circles. I am a conservative in every sense in which that word can be traced through history. I believe in capitalism, our republican form of government, in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and for treating others as we wish to be treated. And I believe in the power of freedom to loose deep down in human beings our best selves instead of the ugliness and violence that we too often inflict on each other as a means of propping ourselves up and controlling others.

That’s why I oppose this amendment. Not as a liberal but as a conservative. Freedom comes with a great price. If you are to be free, it means you must allow others who have entered into the same social contract with you that same freedom. If some are freer than others, then a society can never be truly free. Freedom from tyranny means that you can’t become the tyrant yourself. Even a well-meaning, devout, religious tyrant is one that cannot be tolerated in this country. In fact, if you read your history books, it was just such a tyrant we fled from to establish this nation.

Sure, you can dress it up and say this is about defining “marriage” and not about freedom but that ignores so much of what this Amendment would do if enacted and so much of what it will not do if defeated. We have tried defining marriage in the past (as you see pictured here). Our last state constitutional amendment on marriage was to make sure that people of different races didn’t get the idea that their marriage was valid in this state. The prevailing thought of the day was that allowing mixed race marriages would cheapen the whole institution. (Starting to sound familiar?) But, of course, no one can define words by themselves. Words will mean what they mean as people use them to mean such. So if gays are being married, people are going to call it marriage no matter what the law says. We can’t legislate dictionaries.

To look someone in the face and say “You cannot enjoy the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that I do because you’re different” is the opposite of the American ideal. It is the opposite of what our Founding Fathers created this country to embody. If we are to be the city on a hill, then we can’t treat people differently and restrict their freedoms simply because we don’t like them as much. Oppression is ugly and un-American. And it is not fit for our state constitution.

2. Amendment One is unchristian.

Some religious people in this fight have decided that it is imperative to the fabric of our society to enshrine Levitical law in our state constitution. I suppose we are supposed to just ignore the admonitions of Paul that there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” or Jesus’ “Give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s” brand of church-state separation. The entire story of the gospels is that Jesus came to seek and save what is lost. He came to reconcile men and women and even the Earth itself to God. He did not come to create a government. He was not a political savior bent on ensuring that one society or nation triumphed over all others. If anything, Christ’s time in our world was a demonstration that those society may consider virtuous may actually not be the ones who would find themselves at home in His kingdom.

Church-state separation is important because Christianity may not always be the dominant religion in this society. As Christians, our freedom is important. After all, it is again St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians that reminds us that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Restricting others’ freedom simply because we possess the political power to do so is precisely the opposite of Jesus’ mission. Christ, who even in the garden of Gethsemane, in what he surely knew were his final hours facing a long journey toward a cross refused to let his disciples take up swords to defend him. It was not a political victory he was looking to win. He may have been scorned by the people in power of his day but he did not lack for might. Christ could have summoned an army of angels to fight his battles, to release him from the cross, and make the entire Roman Empire and the world itself his footstool as He had been promised.

As Christians, we should be co-reconcilers with God. So we must ask ourselves will we take up the sword as Jesus has forbidden us? Will we demand a political messiah once and for all? Will we join him in his mission to redeem this world or will we instead embark on our attempt to control it? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” These two phrases, Christ told us, sum up all of the Law and the Prophets. The fabric of our moral universe is love. Hatred and oppression are not fit for the kingdom of God.

3. Amendment One is anti-family.

If you have been following this fight at all, then you will know that Amendment One does more than just restrict gay marriage in our state. It invalidates any civil union even among straight couples and puts in jeopardy the relationship, rights, and privileges of families all across North Carolina. I am not only a conservative and a Christian. I am also a strong supporter of family. That’s why I think it is imperative we defeat Amendment One to ensure that it cannot do harm to families in our state.

Just a few examples of some of the worst harms adopting Amendment One could do to people who aren’t gay and aren’t married.

*Children could have their health care put at risk if their parents are not married. They could lose health insurance and prescription drug benefits that could be desperately needed when a child is sick.

*The financial burdens could be further felt by the children of unmarried couples if one partner dies and wills and trusts are invalidated. Custody issues could even be altered as a child could be caught up in the system and ripped from their family.

*Amendment One would even invalidate domestic violence protections that currently cover unmarried women and leave the most vulnerable women in our society without any legal protection from abuse. (This already happened in Ohio when a similar law passed.)

Amendment One is poorly written and was put on the ballot without a thorough review of just what the consequences of adopting it might cause for North Carolina families.

And just as a reminder a vote against Amendment One is a vote for the status quo. Defeating Amendment One will have no effect on our current laws. Gay marriage will still be illegal in the state of North Carolina. No church will ever be forced to marry gay people. What defeating Amendment One will do is avoid perpetrating the tragedies described above on thousands of children and families in our state.

I promised with the title of this article that I would tell you why I’ll vote against Amendment One. I’ll vote against because I can’t look my gay friends in the face and tell them they are lesser human beings than me and undeserving of the freedoms and rights that I have been blessed simply by being born straight in American.

You may have your own reason for voting against. If so, I encourage you to write out your thoughts, and share with your friends and family. Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This fight matters. So remember to get out and vote on or before May 8. If you need information about how and where you need to vote, you can find it here. Even if you aren’t registered to vote, it’s not too late to register and cast your ballot against Amendment One.

If you’re still undecided, I encourage you to continue doing research. Visit the Vote Against project and Protect All NC Families and learn more about Amendment One and what its passage would do to North Carolina. Then join me in voting against.