May 5

An Open Letter to My Fellow American Christians

Dear Fellow American Christians,

STOP WHINING! For Jesus’s sake (and I mean that literally), stop claiming that you are being “persecuted” for your faith! PLEASE! Knock. It. Off.

If you live in the U.S. and truly believe you’re being persecuted for being a Christian, one of three things is true. One, you do not understand the true meaning of the word “persecution.” Two, you have no basis for comparison between your experience and the experience of people who really are persecuted. Or three, you are an entitled, thin-skinned crybaby.

We can start with the first problem. “Persecution” is defined as punishment or harassment meant to inflict injury, grief, or suffering. Never in all my 41 years as a Christian has another person of any nationality, religion, or political persuasion ever hurt me physically or emotionally because of my personal faith. Not once. Have people annoyed me? Sure. (Usually my fellow Christians, though.) Teased me? Not that I can remember, but maybe. Certainly not enough to make a lasting impression, though, so I don’t see how it could qualify as “persecution.”

Alright, so the second issue stems from a lack of awareness. Perhaps many of you are just ignorant of what actual persecution looks like. Maybe you should reread your Bible. Jesus was persecuted. It was ugly, violent, nightmarish. He was beaten, spit on, nailed to a cross, stabbed.  Paul was imprisoned and beheaded. Many early Christians were tortured and executed. Real persecution was common for early followers of Jesus.

In modern times, true persecution is still ugly, violent, and nightmarish. You think that you’re persecuted as a Christian in the United States? Try being a Christian in Indonesia or Egypt. Try being a girl in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Try being gay in a rural or African-American community. Try being black in South Africa.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with an Indonesian man who is finishing graduate degree in social work. He is Muslim, but he is a liberal with many friends of different stripes. He told me about his Christian friends in Jakarta who have had to rebuild their tiny church three times in five years because the conservative Muslim majority keeps burning it down. I also was lucky to work with a young Coptic Christian whose family had to flee Egypt last year. Her father, an active member of the Christian church in her town, began receiving death threats after the Arab Spring. That is what Christians in other countries know as persecution.

You think you’re being persecuted? By whom? Jason Collins and the gays? Obama and the liberals? Jon Stewart and the Jews? Did ESPN hurt your feelings because they gave Jason Collins a couple days of attention when he came out as the first gay NBA player? After poor Tim Tebow got no press at all? Oh, wait. He did get press. Tebow got negative press? Well, not really. I’d say he got annoyed press. Tebow wasn’t the first Christian athlete, folks. In fact, there’s an entire Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And remember Kurt Warner? How about Joe Gibbs? Mariano Rivera? Derek Fisher? Or all the hundreds of athletes who thank God for their good fortune after a win? If Tebow did get negative press, it was because he acted like he was special, like he deserved attention for praying, like he was the only Christian on the field. And maybe also because he’s just not built for the NFL.

Jason Collins is the first guy to come out as homosexual in any major American team sport. And all the negative, mean-spirited comments I’ve seen about him have come from “Christians.” And while the press has been pretty kind in a politically correct way, I’d wager that fans, teammates, and NBA administrators will be less so. We’ll see. But if good, loving Christians can’t be supportive of Jason Collins, my guess is that he’s in for a rough time.

Hopefully, he won’t be beaten and left for dead like Matthew Shepard who was truly persecuted for his sexuality. Likewise, I hope poor Tim Tebow will never have acid thrown in his face for being a Christian as girls in Arab countries often do when they dare to go to school. I also pray no American Christians will have their businesses ransacked or burned as blacks in South Africa or Jews in Eastern Europe have often experienced.

See, THAT is what persecution looks like, my fellow Christians. It looks bloody. Burned. Broken. Anguished. Dead.

Which brings me to that third point. Y’all need to stop whining and grow up. Nobody promised you that, as a Christian, you’d never get your feelings hurt. Jesus certainly never promised that because he knew that would be a lie. You are lucky to live in the United States. You need to remember that. The next time you want to cry “Persecution!” because somebody teased you, questioned you, or criticized your faith, stop. Remember, we’re still the majority in this country if we don’t alienate all the potential converts with our entitled whining.

Shut up. Turn the other cheek. Remember what real persecution looks like.

It looks like a cross.

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February 4

Super Bowl 2013? Meh.

If you are not a fan of either team in the Super Bowl (nor of the halftime act), you have a few options to make the show more fun. You can host a party, go to a party, or make bets on the game (or pretty much on any aspect of the broadcast). If you just sit at home and watch the game in the same way you watched 60 or more previous regular-season games, you have a more objective view of the whole event. That was me this year. My hubby is on call this weekend, so we couldn’t do much of anything. I made some snacks, and we watched the game on the same couch, in the same room, in much the same way as I watched nearly every other game since August. Overall, it was okay.

The Game

As I said, I didn’t have strong feelings either way. My hubby did. He hates both teams; they make a lot of dirty tackles. The game was, as Bob Costas euphemistically put it, “chippy,” even early on. The refs kept pretty busy separating players, and one of the officials got shoved for his efforts. The first half was a rout. Things got a little more interesting in the second half, but if you were an objective, experienced observer, you could see that San Francisco had a slim-to-none chance of pulling this off. The 49ers kept making sloppy mistakes that led to costly penalties. Baltimore’s defense was getting away with murder. Kaepernick was a nervous colt. Flacco was having a good night. Over the years, I’ve watched many games in which I had no favorite that got me excited nonetheless. Last night’s game wasn’t one of them.

The Commercials

A friend of mine who is in marketing tweeted, “Creativity is dead.” I agree. This year’s crop of commercials was, overall, safe and predictable. The standouts were either disgusting (Thanks a lot, GoDaddy, for running my son out of the room) or weepy (the Budweiser Clydesdale made me tear up). Many of the ads were out weeks ago on the web, so the punch lines were already stale. I did laugh at the M&M “I Would Do Anything for Love” spot, but that was very early on. Many other ads were just derivatives of previous spots (still with e-Trade baby?) or pop culture trends (I like “Gangnam Style,” but can’t we be done with it now?). With just a couple minor exceptions, I agree with Amber Lee’s evaluations.

Halftime

First, let me announce loud and clear (because some of my friends are already really annoyed with my opinion on halftime) that I like Beyonce. I have a couple of her songs on my iPod. She’s beautiful. She’s a great dancer. She’s got a great voice. But I thought the halftime show was just okay. First, I have long believed that the Super Bowl halftime act should be mainstream, American pop-rock. Prince, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Madonna. Good. Country, hip-hop, and non-American acts marginalize your audience. You have a really broad spectrum to appeal to, and very specific musical styles aren’t going to do it. I knew three of the songs Beyonce did, and “Halo,” while a pretty ballad that she performed well, was a low note on which to end the show. She brought out Destiny’s Child, only to make them sing HER songs, which seemed a bit rude. The special effects were cool, but the sound was AWFUL. (My musician hubby was very annoyed.) Overall, I was a bit offended by the peep-show quality of the performance. The whole stage was full of beautiful women. There were some “musicians,” but only a couple were actually playing; most weren’t even holding the instruments properly. All the others were decked in sky-high heels and black leather a la Madonna in the “Open Your Heart” video, dancing and vamping for the men in the crowd. Ew. But at least Beyonce didn’t lip-synch; that seemed to the most important thing about her performance. And she was definitely better than the Black-Eyed Peas.

The Power Outage

Up to that point, the blackout in the Super Dome was the part of the broadcast I found most entertaining. I needed a break from Phil Simms. (Does ANY NFL fan like Phil Simms? What’s he doing broadcasting the championship anyway? All I can say for him is that he’s marginally better than Chris Collinsworth.) Watching the CBS crew scramble was the best play up to that point. I live in Indianapolis, so my Facebook and Twitter instantly lit up with “Well, at least Lucas Oil Stadium pays their light bill,” “Our Super Bowl had electricity. For the whole game.” and “This year’s Indy 500 will be well lit.” “Ray Lewis killed the lights” and variations on that theme popped up quite a bit. The whole situation was an amusing diversion.

The Outcome

I still have a Jim Harbaugh jersey from his time as the QB for the Indianapolis Colts. I guess I would have preferred to see him win. (According to their brother-in-law, my beloved Hoosiers’ coach Tom Crean, the Harbaugh brothers are crazy-competitive, so I worry about their relationship now!) But Baltimore’s team includes a player from my high school, so it was nice to see a hometown kid get a Super Bowl ring.

Unfortunately, Baltimore also includes Ray Lewis. I feel the same about his winning a championship as I would if OJ Simpson had won one after he was found innocent of murder. And Lewis’ Bible-thumping, God-loves-me-best speeches seem to have no effect on his on-field ethics, but I’m sure he’ll feel quite justified now. As one of my minister-friends put it: “Positive outcomes do not validate bad theology. In other words, The fact that the Ravens won doesn’t PROVE anything. Just because Ray Lewis says God is on his side and his side won the game, doesn’t mean that God is on his side.” But he’ll retire now, on top, sure that his “journey” proves he’s been right about all the decisions he’s made. Even though some of those decisions involved a double-murder.

I avoided #52’s tearful farewells (and Joe Flacco’s f-bomb) by flipping the channel the moment the score was final. Then I watched the episode of “Downton Abbey” I had DVR’d. It was the best entertainment of the night.

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January 12

More Guns

Ugh, this topic makes me tired and slightly nauseous. In fact, after the nightmare of Newtown, I had to bail out of Facebook for several weeks. The posts, from both the anti-gun lobby and the pro-gun lobby, were pushing me toward a nervous breakdown. Every day I had to drop my baby girl off at her elementary school. I would wave to her principal (a wonderful man who had coached my son’s Little League team) and see Dawn Hochsprung. I would smile at her music teacher (a young lady I’ve known since she was my daughter’s age) and see Maryrose Kristopik. I would watch my second-grader walk through those doors and see all those precious children gunned down by a mentally messed-up young man whose mama loved guns and taught him how to shoot really well. To come home and read all these posts on my Facebook wall was too much.

So I left Facebook, quit watching the news, stopped reading my Reuters and NPR feeds on my phone. I prayed that everyone would calm down. At least they might stop bombarding me with posts about a subject that, even in the best of times, makes my heart race.

I hate guns.

If you have read my blog before, that’s old news. I won’t re-hash.

Recently, thanks to Alex Jones’ total meltdown with Piers Morgan, the pro-gun/NRA folks’ chief argument has become “We need to be armed against the possibility that our government is taken over by tyrants.”

Because that happens a lot.

But even if it did, we’d be screwed.

See, the irony here is that the same people who scream that we have to have guns in case of a dictatorial government takeover tend to be the same people who want a really well-funded military. So in the remote case that our government WERE taken over by tyrants, we are, pardon my French, totally f—ed. Those tyrants will have access to weapons of mass destruction, so happily funded by neo-cons, that Saddam Hussein could only have dreamed of. And nobody’s little arsenal is going to stand a chance.

Meanwhile, we have millions of people with ridiculous, unnecessary weapons. Yes, by and large, they are law-abiding citizens. I know several responsible gun-owners who would never bust into a school, a movie, theater, a mall, and start using innocent people for target practice. But let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a woman. She was smart, well-educated, compassionate. She loved her husband and her child, and she would never let anyone hurt her family.

When she was pregnant with her second child, however, she got sick with a very rare condition. None of her doctors could figure out what was wrong. But something terrible was happening to the woman’s brain. She stopped sleeping. She started seeing “ghosts.” She started hearing voices. And those voices told her terrible things. They told her she could not possibly carry her baby to term. They told her she had to die. They told her that her husband and son would be sad, though, so she should take them with her. She argued with the voices. She couldn’t watch her beloved little family die. Poison. Fire. Kitchen knife. They were too slow. Too painful. Too dreadful. She couldn’t kill them like that. If only she had a gun…

Luckily, I didn’t.

And my husband found me in the kitchen with a knife and sent me to the E.R. where I was, by the grace of God, treated by a doctor who realized what was wrong with me. One pill a day, and I was right as rain.

Eight years later, I think about those nightmarish weeks when my brain didn’t feel right in my skull, when I didn’t sleep for weeks, when I saw things that weren’t there, when I heard scary little voice that told me to kill people. It doesn’t seem real. I hate guns, and I adore my family. I would never dream of hurting anyone. Could that have been me?

And then I see “monsters” like James Holmes and Adam Lanza. “Bad guys” with guns who could’ve been stopped by “good guys” with guns. What a quaint notion. Obviously, these “bad” people weren’t ALWAYS bad. They went many years without killing anyone with their precious guns. At one point, they would likely have been considered the kind of people pro-gun folks WANT to own weapons. To protect people from the bad guys. Until they snapped. Then they become the bad guys. They wear black hats. Easy to recognize. Especially when they’re reloading their huge clips designed to kill lots of people fast.

Obviously, the kind of mental breakdown I experienced is far more common than a tyrannical government takeover. Most rational people don’t want to make all guns illegal, but this argument against ANY legislation is naive, paranoid and short-sighted. If the US government wants to take you out, your gun won’t save you. But if your mom, your brother, your husband snaps and suddenly becomes one of the “bad guys,” your gun will absolutely kill you.

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July 9

Sit Down and Shut Up

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I can’t help wondering if the right-wing blogosphere/Fox News world has some talking point floating around right now. It runs something like this: liberals preach tolerance, but they won’t tolerate opposition; therefore, they are hypocrites.

Like I said, maybe it’s coincidence, but I’ve heard variations on this theme several times in the past couple weeks. Not that it’s a new line. I’ve heard it for years. In fact, I used it myself back in my own right-wing Republican days: “If liberals are so tolerant, why do they get so bent out of shape with people who disagree with them? Shouldn’t they practice what they preach?”

At first blush, this point has merit. If you’re going to talk about the benefits of tolerance, you should lead by example. A liberal who harps about racists and homophobes, but then angrily abuses Tea Partiers for their intolerance is being hypocritical, right? In a word: yes.

Yes.

Yes, liberals should practice what they preach and not scream in the faces of those who disagree with them. Yes, being nasty with intolerant people is hypocritical. Yes, rude accusations and epithets are not good examples of tolerance.

However…

My own experience with the liberals-are-intolerant-hypocrites line makes me smile when I hear conservatives use it. I know when they use it, they’re nervous. I know they use it because they’re trying to disarm their opposition. I know this because that’s when I used it.

It’s kind of a wimpy, whiny, anxious tactic. Basically, they are trying to end the argument before it begins by negating their opponents’ right to argue at all. It’s pretty clever, and when liberals lose their temper, when they engage in hateful, angry speech, this tactic succeeds.

But we’re only human. Even liberals lose their tempers. Good grief, even Jesus, the pinnacle of patience and tolerance, lost his temper with the merchants in the temple. (How interesting that the only example we have of Jesus’ being angry is with the very group conservatives are most concerned with protecting.)

Still, liberals should try not to stoop to the level of the conservatives. After all, isn’t the flip side of this argument that intolerant speech should be reserved for intolerant people? Evidently, angry, narrow-minded rhetoric belongs solely to the GOP because they are openly intolerant. So that would seem to mean that as long as you are obvious in your hatred, you can spew it freely. If, on the other hand, you are trying to tame your natural human tendencies toward prejudice and suspicion, any lapse on your part is utter failure. Liberals must be perfect or else they’re hypocrites.

I know the conservatives who use this line are not confused about perfection and tolerance. Nor are they confused about the difference between “tolerance” and “weakness.” They know that liberals are not perfect and will lose their composure from time to time; they know that you can be tolerant without being a silent doormat. But they don’t like hearing their own angry rhetoric coming from liberal mouths. They want to keep that tool out of the hands of the opposition. Agitated ranting belongs to them and them alone.

I actually agree with the right-wingers on this point: I don’t like to hear rage from liberal mouths either. It is beneath us. (Hear that, Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann? Knock it off!) Let the Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O’Reillys and the Ted Nugents have it.

But we won’t be quiet. We won’t be drowned out, talked over, silenced by the loud screeching on the Right. The only thing necessary for triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. Good people cannot be quiet, and we won’t be quiet when we see intolerance, unfairness and cruelty. We won’t shut up when Southern pastors call for “whites-only” conferences. We won’t be silent when Congressmen refuse to legalize gay marriage because it will jeopardize the sanctity of the institution they sully with their own extramarital affairs. We won’t stand by while women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts for the same work.

We can be tolerant without being quiet. We can be tolerant without being hateful. We can be tolerant without being loud.

But hey, when we do lapse and lose our tempers and engage in the nasty rhetoric we learned so well from the Right, conservatives can take comfort in one way we liberals cannot: At least most of us don’t have guns.

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March 2

The Rise of “Generation Me”

I ran into one of my favorite former students on campus a couple days ago. It was an unnervingly warm day for February in Indiana, so we sat outside in the Quad, eating our lunches. After a while, our talk turned to politics.

ME: Are you following the GOP debates?

HIM: No. It’s a freak show.

ME: I thought you were a conservative.

HIM: (shrugging) More of a libertarian, really. I like Ron Paul, but there’s no way the GOP’s going to nominate him. Gingrich is an a**hole. Santorum scares me with all his Jesus-speak, and Romney’s okay, but he keeps moving right to cater to the base. Plus he’s inconsistent.

ME: So who’re you going to vote for in November?

HIM: No one. I mean, Obama’s cool. He’s a great speaker, and I think he probably has good intentions, but he’s tanking the economy. I can’t vote for that. And I’m not voting for anybody the GOP’s got right now. Maybe Chris Christie will jump in. That’d be good.

ME: You could always write in Ron Paul.

HIM: Waste of my time on a perfectly good Tuesday.

I like this student a lot. He is smart. He thinks for himself and looks at things from multiple perspectives before he comes to a conclusion. I actually enjoyed reading his essays. And our conversation yesterday summarized a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many of the smart twenty-somethings I know.

Neither current political party appeals to them.

The generation that is currently in college is intriguing. Despite the bad press they get, I like them. Generally speaking, they are savvy in many ways that previous generations have never been. They read and write constantly, even if it is only in Facebook posts and text messages. They have high expectations of everyone, including themselves. They recognize hypocrisy and inconsistency pretty quickly. They are comfortable with technology, but they truly appreciate frank, one-on-one interaction. In fact, they lap it up like thirsty Labradors!

Now they certainly have their flaws. They are impatient. They are jaded. They are distracted. But they know they are. Almost to a man, they are highly self-aware. In my freshman composition classes, I use a book by Dr. Jean Twenge called Generation Me that is basically a 300-page criticism of these students, and they readily admit that most of her points are completely valid. “Yep, that’s us. We’re a hot mess. What’s next?”

Personally, I will be fascinated to observe what this generation makes of the world they will inherit. Many of them do not remember a world before 9/11. In their minds, the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall and Ronald Reagan are equivalent to Prussia, the War of the Roses and Henry VIII, historically speaking. They have grown up on the Internet. Many of them have never looked anything up in a printed encyclopedia. Where will these kids take us? What changes will they make? Perhaps more importantly, how will the rest of us adapt to THEIR world?

One thing is for sure, the current two-party American political system leaves them cold. Here is a summary of what I hear from them:

DEMOCRATS=high taxes, high debt, empowering lazy people

REPUBLICANS=Bible-thumpers, bigots, homophobic war-mongers

In short, neither party offers these young people the things they value. This generation will likely have the largest percentage of college graduates in history. They will be educated, and they will expect to be financially independent. And as I said, they have high expectations of others too. They have been raised by Reagan Republicans who taught them that poor people are just lazy and don’t deserve help. So this generation has little to no appreciation of public subsidies, certainly not welfare. But here’s the rub: they also don’t care much for Social Security. They know they’ll never see a dime of it. Why should they pay taxes so the Baby Boomers can retire in relative comfort? If the Tea Party heard my students talk, they’d be quaking in their boots. These kids will yank it all: Medicare, Social Security, disability, welfare, food stamps. You want to talk about Death Panels? These kids will pull Grandma out on the streets: “Hey, she should have saved while she was young like we are!”

So they’re ultra-conservative, right? Good news for the right-wing Republicans! The next generation will usher in a new GOP majority!

Not so fast.

These kids hate the right-wingers too. Especially the Christian Right.

A dwindling percentage of my students have ever attended a church with any regularity, and they resent being told that they live in a “Christian nation.” They’ve been raised by working moms who make less than men in the same positions, and they’ve heard all about gender inequality. They’ve grown up with “Will and Grace,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and Ellen DeGeneres as a Cover Girl; gay people are cool. They’ve idolized LeBron James, Jay-Z and Shakira. They’ve seen a black Secretary of Defense, an Hispanic female Supreme Court justice and a black president; racism is passe. These young people also aren’t big on the idea of being sent off to fight and die just because old white guys in suits tell them, “Those brown people are bad!” What’s more, these kids don’t really trust the Republicans’ claim of fiscal responsibility and small government. They grew up watching George W. Bush blow that myth sky high.

They are libertarians, although some of them may not know it yet. And it will be very interesting to see which party blinks first, but one thing’s for sure: something is going to change in our political system. Maybe the Democrats will stop their tax-and-spend nonsense to cater to this upcoming voter bloc. Maybe the Republicans will back off their aggressive, outdated, social fascism to bring these kids into the GOP.  Or maybe we’ll end up with a viable third party. (Which would be HEAVENLY to most of us in the middle!)

As the Baby Boomers die off, though, this group is eventually going to be the biggest voting bloc, certainly bigger than my generation. And change is coming. It will be fascinating and scary and, perhaps, a very good thing for our country.

Or not.

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