Friday, January 29, 2010

Happiness Is...

I keep running across stories that have to do with Christianity and firearms. I have always had a sincere problem with that combination. "Onward Christian Soldiers", praying for victory over our enemies, even "God Bless America" simply sit funny with me. There's plenty of that in the Bible of course, but most of it is in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If we stop to pay attention to the fact that Jesus did an awful lot of teaching between His birth and His resurrection, we'll see that Jesus told us to bless our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, not pray for their downfall. Jesus told us that if we are struck on one cheek, we're to present the other as well.

On the other hand, my father was Navy. I have every respect for our brothers and sisters in the armed forces and I pray for their safe return. I sincerely hope that Trijicon Inc. was acting in that spirit when they decided that it was a good idea to print Bible verses on rifle scopes sold to the US military. Considering that the verses in question included 2 Corinthians 4:6 and John 8:12, it could be that was what they were aiming for. Unfortunately, those verses could also be interpreted as proof that the United States is engaged in a crusade against Islam.

I'd never thought about it that way before, but this is another very good reason to pay attention to the separation of Church and State. I've always said that separation of Church and State is of the utmost importance because it is what allows us to have the freedom to worship where and how we please. It is because of the separation of Church and State that we can print Bible verses on things without worrying about what the government has to say about it. For some reason some Christians seem incensed that the separation of Church and State also allows Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, etc, etc, etc, the very same freedoms. As a patriotic citizen of the United States of America, I say that this freedom of religion is one of the very best things about our country. And as the Muslim Public Affairs Council put it, "Allowing religious references to be placed on U.S. weaponry, which are bought and paid for by U.S. taxpayers, is unacceptable."

The other piece of news that relates to how religion and firearms shouldn't mix is the case of Scott Roeder. For those of you who missed it, or don't recognize the name, Scott Roeder is the man who walked into the morning worship service at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita and shot one of the ushers, George Richard Tiller, MD, in the head at point blank range with a handgun. George Tiller was the medical director of Women's Health Care Services in Wichita, one of only three nationwide which provided abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy. Scott Roeder was quickly arrested and confessed to the murder, which he claimed was justified, "Because of the fact preborn children's lives were in imminent danger..."

I suppose you can guess where religion comes into all this, Scott Roeder considers himself a member of the Army of God (USA) and claims the Bible as a major influence in his life. I have a huge, huge problem with this! Where does love God, love your neighbor, love yourself—the two greatest commandments and the basis for all of the Law and the Prophets—come into the decision to walk into a church and shoot a man in the head? How can you argue that every life is sacred, therefore I'm allowed to take one? Even if you're right about abortion, vengeance belongs to the Lord, not extremists with handguns.

Well, District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled on Thursday that "Scott Roeder's lawyers failed to show that Dr. George Tiller posed an imminent threat and therefore will not be allowed to ask jurors to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge..." So I guess the court is coming down in a similar place concerning whether or not the killing was "justifiable."

For my part, I'll try to take my own advice and not judge the man. And I promise that I won't shoot anybody in the name of Christianity. It would be pretty hypocritical of me.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Internet Data Privacy Day

I learned from an article through AOL that today is Internet Data Privacy Day. The article had an absolute wealth of links to all kinds of wonderful web sites dedicated to many aspects of digital literacy. I will be adding a section on internet safety to my sidebar in honor of today.

I think the most important quote from the article is "You as a parent need to catch up. But first you should make sure that you understand what they are doing. You also need to be sure that you've protected your own data sufficiently." Why? As it says on the American Academy of Pediatrics site, "While today’s tweens and teens may be more digitally savvy than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues."

Please don't get me wrong, because I rarely make the mistake of selling today's tweens and teens short, but let's face it—our brains don't stop developing until our mid-twenties. Tweens and teens are by nature and definition not entirely mature. The years we spend as tweens and teens are all about figuring out who we are and becoming who we're going to be—and we always make mistakes as we go through that process.

Luckily, most tweens and teens have loving and caring adults who have seen what the big mistake—the truly horrible, life-altering mistakes—can be and desperately want to help tweens and teens avoid them.

I think that's why digital media, the internet, and even cell phones are so scary to many parents. It's all so new and it's more difficult to catch those big, horrible, life-altering mistakes before they happen. Difficult, but not impossible—that's why they need to catch up.

I think the most important site I saw today was the American Academy of Pediatrics site I mentioned earlier. It details, step by step, how parents and guardians can help their children of all ages not makes those really big mistakes. In all honesty, when I was growing up I thought that my parents were a little too strict. I hardly got away with anything fun. Now that I'm an adult, I'm thankful for it—just like the way that hard-to-please teacher got the best work out of me. My parents helped me not make any big, horrible, life-altering mistakes.

So here's my message to all the tweens and teens out there. Yes, I just asked your parents to invade your digital spaces. You might be angry with me about that right now. But I'm willing to bet that you'll be thankful for it later.

Be careful,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Time Travel

January has been incredibly busy for me in surprising ways—so much so that I've not done half the posting that I've wanted to here. I apologize for that, my dear and faithful readers! If I could time travel, I would go back to January 6th, to post pictures of The Journey of Homage. Why January 6th? Because that's when Epiphany is. For those of you who are behind on your big English words that are really old Greek words, an epiphany (little "e") is when you have a sudden brilliant idea—as if through divine inspiration.

As a holiday, Epiphany (big "E"!) is when we celebrate all of the ways in which it was revealed that Jesus of Nazareth was actually God in human form, walking and talking and eating with us! With Epiphany falling so close to Christmas, we don't usually end up talking about the angelic visitations and miracle birth and so forth very much at Epiphany—I guess we're all angel-ed out by January. Many congregations celebrate Jesus' baptism, a few take the time to remember the prophets Anna and Simeon and the things they said to Jesus' parents at his dedication (Luke 2:22-38), but many more tell the story of wise men from the East, following the star and baring gifts so that they can pay homage to the newborn king. We pay homage to Jesus at Christmastime by baring our own gifts to the homeless and needy—that's why it's called The Journey of Homage.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Earthquakes

I was going to wait a little while longer to post. And it was going to be the pics I finally tracked down of The Journey of Homage. But there's so much going on in the world right now.

Just in case you missed it, there have been several significant earthquakes in Haiti quite near to the capital of Port-au-Prince. My understanding is that the devastation is simply... horrible. Imagine the dead and dying laying in the streets alongside the terrified and exhausted survivors because hospitals were wrecked and overloaded and the living were staying outside for fear of more aftershocks...

And just in case your imagination isn't that good, keep in mind that probably at least one of your Facebook friends, or a member of your church, or even a classmate or co-worker knows someone in Haiti. My heartfelt prayer go out to the people of Haiti and the people worldwide who know them.

Already there has been an appropriate outpouring of aid from many sources. Being who I am and doing what I do, of course, the first I became aware of is through the United Church of Christ. As the UCC's appeal puts it:
The need is massive.

How You Can Help:

1. Pray for the people of Haiti their leaders and emergency and humanitarian aid workers.

2. Please help the people of Haiti by sending gifts payable to your congregation marked for "OGHS – Haiti Earthquake Relief" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries.


Send gifts, made out to Wider Church Ministries and marked in the memo portion "OGHS – Haiti Earthquake Relief" to Wider Church Ministries; 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.


Make a secure online donation to the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.
The second came to me through a Connecticut based non-prophet angency called Handy Dandy Handyman, which is completely masterminded by a member of the Roman Catholic laity. HDHM introduced me to Father Rick Frechette. You can contribute to his charitable work in Haiti here if you click on "January 12, 9:06 PM Haiti’s newest tragedy. We need God’s help" under the heading "What's New?"
The third place comes to me through Dennis and Leslie, who have worked with International Medical Corps in the past. Dennis writes:
IMC is my favorite NGO; it's got an A+ rating from Charity Watch, meaning that more than 92% of its resources go directly to program activities. Some of you may remember them as the people who Leslie & I interned with in Sierra... Leone. They're good people, they work fast, and if you were wondering how to help out, here's a good place to start.
Unfortunately, there's also a lot of incorrect information bouncing around the internet, like this Twitter hoax that I've already seen careening around Facebook. I'm hoping that the information in this blog entry will be helpful to you. Please remember to always do the research before sending anyone your hard-earned money!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh Sander

Friday, January 08, 2010

Epiphany & Stuff

In my last post I said I hadn't been planning on blogging until Epiphany, and here Epiphany has come and gone, and I'm only just now getting to it.

I was hoping to have some pictures for this entry, but I forgot to bring my camera on The Journey of Homage, and I have failed at laying ahold of anyone else's. Anyway, the Journey was a big success, in my humble opinion. Despite the fairly significant snowfall we had the night before and into the morning—we had about a dozen people walk and we gave out almost 90 bags total. But the best part was watching the people who came with me go from being terrified of even approaching people, to grinning and learning how to say "Feliz Navidad" and even giving out hugs! I'm proud of all my people.

Then, on the other hand, there's Wal-Mart and H&M. My jaw nearly ended up on my chest when I read an article this morning that outed them for destroying and throwing away clothing that hadn't sold. That's right, they not only threw away perfectly good clothing, but they intentionally destroyed them first so no-one could go through their trash and get something good out of it. This clothing isn't being donated to charitable organizations... why? And the fact that the spokesperson for Wal-Mart "acted surprised" simply does not wash with me. I've been hearing from people I know who work inventory, as well as folk who work retail, that this kind of thing is more commonplace than you and I might think. I sincerely doubt that Wal-Mart employees randomly came up with "let's slash 'em and toss 'em" on their own! At least the spokesperson for H&M had the grace not to "act surprised." Then again, maybe I'm just harder on Wal-Mart because they have a history of doing things like banning gay couples from their stores for not shoplifting. Read that sentence again. It says they were banned for not shoplifting.


But it's a new year! And I'm still convinced that there are more people doing good things in the world than there are folk doing horrid things. So to leave you on a hopeful note, I thought I'd share a word for the new year from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh