Monday, April 11, 2005

Could it be...a new Jesus fish??

As a commuter in one of the most congested parts of the entire country, I'd like to bring you a news update on the so-called "culture war". Bumper stickers are the primary weapon in this conflict, and given the sheer number of hours I spend behind the wheel each and every week, I consider myself an "embedded" reporter of sorts. I brought you an initial report on this conflict back in January, but I've witnessed an interesting turn of events in recent months.


As our troops are still in harm's way, we continue to affix countless yellow ribbons to every imaginable surface. But have you noticed their orientation? Many of them are now lying on their sides. Originally, I was sure that this was a matter of practicality. As in the photo linked in the title, you have to get creative if you have a tiny bumper.

I was sure it was just practicality, until I started noticing giant SUVs wearing their ribbons sideways, too. And today on my way home, I crept for miles and miles behind a bright red Mini Cooper with a sleek, white racing strip. This Mini confirmed suspicions that have been building for months and months. On the back of the car were three stickers, all placed with utter disregard for the car's lovely paint job. The first was of Calvin kneeling at the cross. The second was a sticker of the Jesus fish, except that it was patterned after the American flag. The third sticker was a bright yellow ribbon lying flat on its side. If you look at it, that yellow ribbon looks a lot like the Jesus fish when it lies sideways like that.

I don't think this recent phenomenon would bother me if I thought it meant, "Pray for our troops". Rather, it seems like another form of competitive patriotism & religiosity between our red and blue citizens. I don't remember having any slogans on the ribbons we put up during the first Gulf War. We just put up ribbons because we were thinking about our soldiers. But now we have to have the slogan on our ribbons because it's part of the false dilemma to which we've reduced any debate about our current war: either you support the troops, or you have questions about the budget, government intelligence, etc., etc., etc...

Symbols are very powerful, and this one seems to up the ante and further increase the false dilemma from which we Americans are supposed to choose: (1) either you unquestioningly support our troops and believe in Jesus; or (2) you are an atheist Liberal who "blames America first". I worry about invoking Christ in such casual, flippant exchanges about a topic as heated as our current war in Iraq. And I hate to think that, as a result, some non-believers may come to regard the Christian faith as a package deal that comes with a bunch of politics they may not agree with.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hell to pay? Or just to live through?

When the Schindler and Schiavo families* burst into twenty-four-hour “breaking news” a few weeks ago, my heart sank. For starters, regardless of how you feel about the end-of-life issues highlighted by this story, these families have endured fifteen years of tragedy, heartbreak, and alienation. Every member of those families needs and deserves our prayers. But the real tragedy for me occurred when Republicans in the White House, congress, and the Florida governor’s mansion scrambled onto the scene.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Terri Schiavo’s parents, and you’re pleading for your daughter’s life. A shared faith brings your priest or pastor and fellow Christians to your side… What do you expect from them? I know that I would expect prayers, counseling, advice, support, advocacy, lobbying, protesting, and so on.

Now imagine that in the final days of a battle that has lasted for fifteen years, new sectarians join the fight on your behalf. Enter President George Bush, Governor Jeb Bush, and various members of congress. Now what do you expect?

These men did not join Robert & Mary Schindler’s fight to offer prayer, support, and guidance. Rather, when they burst onto the scene, they promised action! Worse yet, they promised action from the government, and that is exactly what the Schindlers were expecting.

And this is where a new tragedy in this story unfolded: our politicians gave that family the false hope that our government could be run like a church. They acted like church elders who were outraged at the behavior of certain congregants. They were going to convene, censure the unacceptable behavior, and demand change.

But then our politicians ran square into a problem: the framers of our Constitution had the foresight to build checks and balances into our government, which would contain the whimsy of a few politicians. These politicians couldn’t do anything except exaggerate the tragedy the Schindlers continued to endure. Despite theatric attempts to circumvent an entire branch of our government, even the Bush family realized it was out of options:

Earlier Sunday, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said there is nothing he can do to save Terri Schiavo's life.

"I cannot violate a court order," Bush said after attending Easter Sunday church services. "I don't have powers from the United States Constitution -- or for that matter from the Florida Constitution -- that would allow me to intervene after a decision has been made.

"I'm sad that she's in the situation that she's in," Bush said, commenting publicly on the case for the first time since Thursday. "I feel bad for her family. My heart goes out to the Schindlers and, for that matter, to [her husband] Michael [Schiavo]," Bush said. "This has not been an easy thing for any, any member of the family. But most particularly for Terri Schiavo."

To Terri Schiavo's parents -- who have said Bush should do more to help their daughter -- the governor said: "I can't. I'd love to, but I can't."

Her parents have lost nearly 30 legal opinions in both state and federal courts, which have consistently sided with Michael Schiavo, who also is Terri Schiavo's legal guardian.

Jeb Bush could have come to this conclusion before intervening at all, since all of the theatrics we’ve watched play out on cable news has followed fifteen years of legal decisions. Congress and the executive branch had already created & passed laws that determine what rights families have in making end-of-life decisions, and the courts did their job: they interpreted what this meant for Terri & Michael Schiavo.

What amazes me about this situation is the continued unwavering belief of conservative Christians in the ability of Republicans to make America a nice place for them to live. This is very similar to when President Bush promised his infamous four million evangelicals that he would pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. We have heard almost nothing about the topic from our president since the election, and still conservative Christians wanted to believe that our president, a few congressmen, or one state’s governor could negate the work of an entire branch of our government.

And just like with the DOMA, there was the obligatory threat of serious ramifications for the Republican Party if conservative Christians didn’t get their way on this issue. In fact, Randall Terry promised there would be “hell to pay” if Terri Schiavo died, the same way that the Arlington group threatened the outrage of evangelical voters if no constitutional amendment was passed to “protect” marriage.

My point for all Christians is this: We will always be a just another pool of coveted voters (the “black vote”, “soccer moms”, “NASCAR dads”, etc.). Politicians will always tell you what you want to hear to get your vote. Have faith in God, not politics, and maybe we can spare dragging another family through another pointless tragedy.

*Though the marriage of Michael & Terri Schiavo technically creates one family, I intentionally use the plural here because of how the two halves have alienated themselves from each other since Terri’s stroke.

Note from the Author

You're faithful author is apparently an advocate of the six-week, European-style vacation!

I began working in a new role within my company in the first week of the year, and after almost no transition I found myself working at a feverish pitch for more hours per week than I care to admit. The obvious side effect has been that, even though plenty of interesting things have happened in the world since mid-February, I haven't had the energy to put together a coherent thought! (And how is it April already!?)

I feel like I have finally caught my breath in the last week or two, and I look forward to writing once a week (or so) in the coming weeks. Many thanks to those of you inquired as to whether I was still among the living. (I am!)