Saturday, October 20, 2012

Time to Come Home Democrats

In December of 2011, USA Today ran a story about voters leaving the two major parties. However, the article noted that there is still a large advantage of registered democrats versus republicans and even fewer independents. Nationally we have about 42 million democrats, 30 million republicans and 24 million other party affiliations. It is time for Democrats and progressives to come home and vote our core beliefs of liberty and justice for all.

 I was a registered democrat for 17 years, but I rarely voted with my party. My first election in 1976, I voted for Jimmy Carter. By 1984, I was a Reagan Democrat. I joined the Republican Party following the election of William Jefferson Clinton to the presidency in 1992, and by the election of 1996 I was a full on ranting red-faced conservative republican. I had not voted for a democrat for president since Carter in 1980. I voted for Dubbya twice and I still pray heaven’s forgiveness. I have now come full circle. I am ready to come out and announce to all who will hear that I am proud democrat.

Like many Americans, by 2006 or 2007 I was weary of war and Wall Street greed. The policies and actions of the George W Bush administration had become too difficult to defend. The inspiring rhetoric and soaring oratory of Barak Obama filled me with both pride and inspiration as he talked not of a red America or a blue America, but of a United States of America. It was the first time in my life that a political figure moved me. Yes, I believed we could change America.

As a republican, I proudly cast my vote for Barak Hussein Obama in the 2008 presidential election. I then changed my voters’ registration to No Party Affiliation, and left the Republican Party. It was an act of repentance.

I believe we should spend more on peace than on war. We should spend more on investing in our future than trying to recreate the past. I want to live in a country where we wouldn’t dream of asking a soldier, sailor, or airman to serve and then allow her to come home only to end up homeless. A country that allows a warrior it has sent into battle to return from the fight and become destitute is not worthy of the blood of patriots.

At the Republican National Convention, it sounded as if John McCain and Mitt Romney thought we didn’t have enough wars going and needed to mobilize quickly for Iran or Syria. I would rather make errors in negotiating for peace than to be right about going to war.

It is time for those who once believed that peace is preferable to war to reevaluate their current position. We are the largest military power in the world. We can defend ourselves. We can be anywhere in the world within hours and strike with massive military force laying waste to armies and great cities. We don’t literally need to be everywhere in the world.

We lost our jobs, our savings and our homes, and regardless of the vain babblings of the GOP mouthpiece, Fox News, the economic disaster was the direct result of GOP policies. Nevertheless, we always pick ourselves up, then reach down and help the person beside us. We do not step over our brothers and sisters on the way out, we take them with us.

Recently the S&P 500 hit its highest number since 2007. The auto industry has recovered and is growing again. Real estate is stabilizing. We have made the turn and are heading towards the potential of prosperous times ahead. Now is not the time to retreat to the failed economic practices and foreign policies that produced the mess President Obama is currently repairing.

Democratic ideas that invest in America by investing in her people are superior to those who demand that the market control all aspects of our lives both public and private. The free market has no use for those unable to afford her services, whether they are luxury cars and homes, or basic sustenance and health care.

Republicans want to return to power on the premise that there is something wrong with America. What is it about us that they don’t like? I reject the notion that America is in decline. I see an America that is on the rise, an America that is poised to reclaim her place as the leader of the free world. I see an America that is rightfully proud of its best and brightest. The US Olympic team won the overall and gold medal count while the hot shots over at NASA were landing rocket ships on Mars. In addition, and in honor of Neal Armstrong, might I point out that the only flag flying on the moon is the Stars and Stripes. Armstrong’s giant leap was not only the result of a small step by a young democratic president but was the result a long march by thousands toward a goal said impossible by millions. JFK challenged America to send a man to the moon not “because it was easy, but because it was hard”. Americans can do the hard things. We always have, and often the right choice is the hard choice.

Churchill once said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities." We have exhausted all other possibilities. The politics of global conflict, of military industrialism, of preemptive aggression is a failure. Diplomacy is a much more effective weapon for long periods of peace.

Democrats believe that personal responsibility includes a responsibility to our fellow citizens, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give without expecting a return; these are the Judeo – Christian values that built our civilization.

Republicans believe in a tough-love government that encourages citizens to adapt a social Darwinism that believes only in the survival of the richest. Republicans believe the rich are simply smarter or have worked harder than others to become successful. However, Democrats take a more Jeffersonian view that intellect comes in all socioeconomic classes and is not limited to the elite.    

Finally, it is time to recognize that the government of the United States is not the enemy of the people. But there are elements of our society, including elected officials that are enemies of the government of the United States, those who would like to drown it in a bathtub and replace it with the highest bidder.

Functioning democracy is not perfect. It is messy, chaotic and at times contradictory. Politicians lie, special interest exert influence for favors, somebody always feels like they are getting the shaft and the country is going to hell in a hand basket. Churchill said it best, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." So, for the republicans, the libertarians, the tea party patriots and others who are angry and feel we need to take our government back I say bravo. Let’s take it back from this insane and dangerous notion that government is the enemy of the people. Let’s take it back from the moneyed interest and stockjobbers of Wall Street. Take back the halls of congress from madmen that believe our president is some kind of foreign-born Islamic terrorist hell bent on destroying our American civilization.

For those who are in the anti government camp I would point to the words of Jefferson’s Declaration, “…that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed”. In other words, you can put up with some things you don’t like. You don’t get your way all the time.

Moreover, for our constitutional constructionist who insist that we get back to our founders intention as laid out in the Constitution I offer these words, “…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty…” Domestic tranquility and general welfare could have very broad meanings and open the doors for many government programs like say, the Lewis and Clark Expedition or the Transcontinental Railroad. It could also include interstate highways and healthcare for all.

America is coming back, but we are not going back. We will not return to the policies of favoritism and cronyism for the carpetbaggers and scallywags of the 21st century. President Obama will take us forward into a role of leadership in the new century. Our comeback is a progression not a regression. We are constantly moving forward, not looking back.

We have put our hands to the plow and are not looking back, for as the scriptures warn, those who look back are not worthy of the Kingdom, and I propose to you today, that those who say we should take our country back are not worthy of the promise that is America. The Republican Party consists of what Thomas Paine called “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” those who “shrink from the service of their country”. They want to reap the rewards while others toil for their pleasure.

It is time for the Reagan Democrats, whom are now likely card carrying Republicans’ to come home. If you are old enough to remember Vietnam, the Kennedy’s, Dr. King and the turbulent times of the 60’s you should also remember the hope one generation held out for change. President Obama is leading on those ideals today. He needs four more years to complete the work he has started and then let history be his judge.

If you believe in the “value” of sticking up for the little guy and not letting some bully push them around, then Barack Obama is your candidate. I’ll take the community organizer over the job outsourcer every time.

The stakes are too high and the cost is too great to allow President Obama to lose this election. You might not agree with him on every issue, but in the Democratic Party that’s okay. The prospects of a Romney presidency are too frightening to imagine. He has stated that he is not concerned about nearly half of our citizens. Romney’s economic policy will favor the rich at the expense of everybody else, and if you doubt this check his history as a CEO.

If you are a lover of liberty and justice for all then you should cast your ballot for President Barack Obama. Move forward toward a more perfect union, choose hope over fear, and embrace progress over a return to failed policies and practices. Make a willful choice to seek out what is best for the greatest number of people in our country. Choose unity over division. Come home democrats to a party with a positive vision of America’s future rather than remain in a party who feels we are in decline.

We once reached for the stars, and some soared among them. The challenges of the 21st century are no less daunting. Baby-Boomers, seniors, and working class folks, now is the time to reflect on your values. Do you really believe in liberty and justice for all and that we are, out of many, one, or have you been deceived by the avarice that passes for today’s Republican Party philosophy? Are you willing to let your neighbor die on the hospital doorstep for lack of healthcare, or let a child go to bed hungry so you don’t have to pay a higher tax?   

 America is better than that. We overcome great odds because we are a nation bound together by exceptional ideals. Help us continue to move those ideals forward by reelecting Barack Obama as President on November 6, 2012.    

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Private Sector is Doing Fine

The end of democracy and defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of the lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.  Thomas Jefferson

Earlier this month President Obama made the comment that “the private sector is doing fine”, for which the right has excoriated him.  Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney claims the President is “out of touch” with mainstream America.  I suppose it all depends on your definition of just who is the private sector. 

Is the private sector the company CEO’s or the workers that they exploit?  Working class Americans are struggling, but CEO’s and other corporate executives are living the good life and piling up the cash with impunity. All while the republican machine continues to vilify the working class and singing the praises of corporate greed.

When Governor Romney and his surrogates pontificate on the state of the economy we often hear about the “job killing” regulations and restrictions that President Obama has imposed on US business.  That claim is a bald-faced lie. 

Millions of American workers are unemployed or under employed, but corporate profits are at record highs.  Corporations are flush with cash, but that cash is going into the pockets of executives and stock holders, not for job creation or payroll increases for workers who may have experienced salary reductions or at best no salary increase for several years.  The web site reported last year (07/2011) that compensation for corporate CEO has increased 23% from 2010 through 2011.  The same article reports that the record profits are due to “reductions in wages and benefits”, and that labor compensation is at a 50-year low relative to US GDP and company sales.

Writing for MarketWatch, Rex Nutting reported in July 2011, that according to the US Commerce Department for the years 2008 – 2010 corporate profits were $343 billion higher than previously estimated, but that income for workers and families was $265 billion lower than estimated over the same period.   

Earlier this year, (April 4, 2012) Matt Krantz wrote in USA Today that US business interest reported a 6.7% profit growth, on average, for the first quarter of 2012.  It was the tenth consecutive period of profit growth with 81% of companies exceeding expectations.  Still the American worker is suffering.  The record profits for companies and the dire straits many workers are suffering are the result of unmitigated greed.  It seems the republicans and their backers have taken Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” to a new level believing greed is godly. 

I say this because so many conservatives base their worldview and their politics on their interpretation of Christianity, and biblically speaking, they have that interpretation very wrong.

The Bible has much to say on greed and on how society should treat the poor and down trodden, those Jesus calls “the least of these”.  In the story of the Israeli exodus from Egypt God supplied daily food for His people in the form of Manna.  The people were instructed to gather what they needed for each day.  They were not to store the food up for long-term use, only enough to feed themselves and their families for that day.  In Leviticus 19 God instructs the Israelites on harvesting their crops, and when doing so they are not to pick the fields and vineyards clean, but are to leave some around the edges, and any crops that are dropped should be left for “the poor and the foreigners living among you”.  The Mosaic Law is replete with instructions on proper treatment of the poor and needy, all of which stand in stark contrast with the current mindset of the political right in America. 

Additionally, Jesus himself had much to say about the treatment of the poor and much of it directed at the religious leaders of his day.  However, one of his most scathing critiques, known as The Parable of the Rich Fool is recorded in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 12.

15Then he (Jesus) said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”  16Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’  20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’  21“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Let me be clear, there is no sin in being rich the sin lies in greed.  Storing up more than we can ever use in our lifetime is a sign of greed.  Today US corporations exceed the greediness of Midas.  Right wing ideology is driven by greed and a fear that someone is trying to take something away from them.  They begrudge the worker a fair days pay and decent benefits all in the name of profit.  Now that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, the influence of money in politics has no end.  If we choose to worship at the altar of profit to the detriment of our fellow citizens then we are indeed hastening the demise of our republic.

President Obama is not the one out of touch.  The vaunted “private sector” which the right trumpet as the savior of all things economic is doing quite well, record profits tell the story.  The ordinary people are the ones suffering unjustly at the hand of corporate greed.  Allowing republican ideology in its current form to occupy the halls of government will only exacerbate our economic malady.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Sin of Sodom

There is presently a bill before the City Council in Jacksonville, having to do with the issue of discrimination against the LGBT community.  I understand that many business and civic leaders helped develop this legislation and support an ordinance to protect all citizens, not just a few.  Since we know the bottom line is the altar where the free market worships I would imagine the movers and shakers in town believe this legislation to be good for business. 

It has been my observation that those who come forward and publicly oppose this legislation due so, on some belief that allowing homosexual citizens to just be themselves is an offense to God.   Some even say the bill will undermine their faith.  I do not understand how allowing someone to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in their own way is a threat to people’s faith.  Honestly, the church really should be careful of the stones that they cast.  They have enough to atone for as it is.

The church has never spoken with a unified voice.  Historically, the church has been on both sides of nearly every major social and moral issue throughout America’s past.  I mean the list of things the church was for, before it was against them, is quite lengthy, considering empire building through war, slavery, misogyny, and racial equality, for starters.  We can throw in plenty of sexual scandal too, but our civic leaders have the nerve to pass judgment on others as living a deviant lifestyle.

Even the Apostles disagreed on what it meant to be a Christian; but the leaders of the Jerusalem Council compromised and determined that new Christians need not follow all the Mosaic Laws.  Dealing with the Divine is simply too personal to have a one size fits all religion.    

I will not attempt to use the Bible to support same sex marriage.  I think that is a difficult argument to make.  However, if a person or a group wants to use the Bible to condemn homosexual activity, there is enough scripture to support that position.  So if you hold a religious view that says being gay is a sin, don’t be gay.  Isn’t that what the religious right says, homosexuality is a choice.  If it offends you, just don’t be gay.  Go ahead, hold your religious views about the LGBT community, but for me, I will not sacrifice basic civil liberties for another person’s religious belief.  

People should be free to practice religion in a way that suits them, as long as they do no harm to others.  However, they should not be free to impose their interpretation of religion on anyone else. 

The religious right cites the ancient city of Sodom as an example of God’s disapproval of homosexuality; however, they have not bothered to read the entire story.  Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom with his wife and daughters, Abraham had the audacity to plead with God over the fate of Sodom, and God was willing to negotiate.  Additionally, Lot offered up his two virgin daughters to the crowd outside his home so that they could have their way with them.  Nice example of fathering, but for some reason we do not get upset about that.  The biggest problem with using Sodom as an example of God’s response to homosexual behavior comes from the prophet Ezekiel who called himself “The Son of Man”, the same title Jesus claimed for himself many times.

 Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.  She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen.  (Ezekiel 16:49-50 NLT)  Sodom’s sin was her treatment of the poor and needy.

If someone wants to find some Bible verses to build their life around and be worked up over, may I suggest Matthew, chapters 5-7.  Finally, if allowing the LGB T community full citizenship undermines your faith then I am sorry for you, you have a very small faith.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why I Quit School

In January of 2011, I became a statistic, and some say part of the reason our education system is failing our kids.  The previous August I started my second career teaching sixth grade Language Arts at a Title 1 school in Jacksonville, Florida.  I did not make it to the end of the second semester. 

It is to this point one of the great failures in my life, but it was not because I did not work at it.  It was the hardest job I have ever had.  My contract required me to report for duty at 8:50 and stay until 4:10, but the reality was I was at work by 7:00 and often times did not leave until 5:30 or later.  I spent hours upon hours working at home and gave up at least one of my weekend days every weekend.  This is not uncommon for new teachers, and I did not mind the hard work.  I wanted to succeed.  I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the kids in my classroom, but the deck was stacked against me.

Maybe I was too old.  Perhaps I was too stuck in my ways, or maybe just too white to be relevant to a student population that was more than sixty percent non-white.  I wanted to be the teacher whose class was tough, but who made sure that the students knew I cared about them.  I wanted to impart my love of learning to them, to show them that education was the way to success.   I wanted them to know they did not have to allow their circumstances or their culture define who they were or what they could become.

Probably the biggest reason for my lack of success was the fact I accepted a job I should never have taken.  By academic training, I am a historian, but I took a position teaching Language Arts, English, as we used to call it.  I was already behind the eight-ball before the game even started.  Coupled with all the demands of a new teacher and the ridiculous curriculum and testing required by the state, things went downhill faster than an Olympic bobsled team. 

The people who claim teachers are lazy and the bottom of the academic barrel need to be slapped and sterilized, but not until they spend at least a semester in an urban school setting.  Just swooping in for one day and observing does not give a clue to the complexity of the situation.  Allow me to explain.

My student population was something else.  What a revelation.  We had an assignment for the kids to write a biographical essay.  As I went around the room checking their work and offering help I was shocked at what I read.  One boy was writing about the day that he saw his Uncle shot and killed during a drive by shooting.  Another student was describing the day her sibling drowned, while still another was recalling the night the police came in and arrested his stepdad for being a drug dealer, and how they hauled the man and the drugs out of the house.   Additionally, I had a student whose older sister, also a student at our school, had just tried unsuccessfully to kill herself by putting a gun to her chest and pulling the trigger.  She survived thank goodness, but who knows what has become of her since.  These are not stories that sixth graders should be telling.

I had kids in my classes that read on a second grade level.  Let me repeat that, a second grade reading level.  How did they get to sixth grade?  Who was responsible for these kids passing through the system as functional illiterates?  Most of my students were reading below grade level and very few if any had any desire to remedy the problem.  During a time of what is known as SSR, silent sustained reading, I approached one student who was obviously not reading and encouraged her to pick up her book and get started.  She replied very sternly, “I don’t read”, I said, “This is language arts sweetie, reading is what we do”; she reiterated, “I don’t read”.  How do you fix that?  I had set up a library in the back of the classroom with books acquired at my own expense, many were donated from other teachers, some were purchased at thrift stores, and all were approved by the state as appropriate for grade level.  I brought in the local paper everyday and kept a weekly supply of the paper in our reading area so that they could peruse whatever might interest them.  Most of these kids had no interest in being educated or in being informed of the world around them.  They did not see education as holding any value for them.

The mantra in Duval County Schools is to meet the students where they are.  So after I found I had kids several years behind grade level I asked permission to allow these students to begin reading material on the level they were at and then see if we couldn’t move them up a level or two before the end of the school year.  Oh no Mr. DeGrove, you must stick to the curriculum provided.  But they can’t read the current grade level curriculum I argued.  Stick to the curriculum they demanded, no variation from the county mandated plans.

Rookie teachers really are an island to themselves.  The experienced teachers are too busy with all that is required of them to be much help, although many gave encouragement and offered to help the truth was when I asked they simply did not have time.  Our grade level had four Language Arts teachers; three of us were first year teachers.  The experienced teacher had one year under her belt and half of that she spent on maternity leave.  The administrators would come in and observe the classroom and the instruction, leave a list of things I needed to do to improve and then leave.  I had the principal, three assistant principals, the standards coach, another administrator whose position I never figured out, a retired teacher from a mentoring program, and a few other well meaning folks visit my class and analyze me on a regular basis.  They all had time to criticize, but nobody had time to show me what to do to improve.

My students were not learning anything in my classroom.  I became discouraged, I became beaten down, and finally I just gave up.  It was more than I could take.  Everyone lost.  I lost a dream of a second career.  The school system lost a teacher who desperately wanted to succeed.  Most importantly and shamefully, the kids lost.  I was just another adult who did not keep his promise, another white guy who told them how much they mattered then walked out on them.  Our education system in Duval County is set up for failure, and at that, we have been successful.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shaking off the Dust

 If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (Matthew 10:14, New Living Translation 2007)

 I left the church some years ago.  Burn out probably played a significant role, but more importantly, the individuals that made up the church led me to reevaluate the church’s role in society and my role within the church and Christian culture. 

Church has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Raised as a Southern Baptist I have never been a member of another denomination, sect, faith, or other religious group.  In fact, I can only think of a few times when I have even attended a church service other than Baptist.  As a child, our family attended services twice on Sundays and were faithful attendee’s of the Wednesday night suppers and prayer meetings.  I was involved in youth groups, Training Union and Sunday school; if it was church sponsored, I was there.

Like so many of my generation after leaving the nest, my attendance in church activities waned and slowly died.  Sin is so much more fun, but guilt takes the fun out of sin after awhile.  The guilt drives you back to the church as you realize the emptiness of the party life.  The responsibilities of parenthood draw you back as you do not want your children to grow up as godless heathens.  Of course, the fear of eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire is a pretty good marketing tool as well.

I grew up in the church.  As an adult I matured to the point where I became a church leader Ordained Deacon, Sunday school teacher, Outreach leader, Ministry leader, the traditions, values, theology, doctrine, and worldview of the Baptist Church pulse through my veins.  I toyed with the idea of full time ministry, even taking a couple of college credit classes from Liberty University.

Confident in my own salvation I preached the Gospel whenever possible and more importantly I became a prayer warrior.  I tried my best to be prayerful in all things, to pray without ceasing, to ask so that I might receive.  My prayers were for heavenly things, peace on earth, and wisdom for our leaders, both spiritual and political.  I prayed for my family, my pastor, my Sunday school class, my co-workers, my neighbors, and I named them all by name.  I prayed for my own forgiveness and that I might forgive others.

At the risk of sounding self centered or arrogant, I begin to notice that other members of our congregation were not a serious about the faith as I was so I worked harder as a teacher and leader.

One of the jobs I took on was leading the Levite Ministry.  The Levities’ were volunteers who showed up early on Sundays and Wednesdays to help prepare the church building and grounds for worship services.  We unlocked doors and turned on the AC.  We made sure tables and chairs were set up and trashcans were empty.  We policed the grounds for trash and debris.  I thought, this is the perfect way for committed Christians to show their faith through their works.  We can come in an hour earlier than everyone else comes, go about our business, be a blessing to others, and serve the Lord humbly.   Too bad there were only about two other souls who saw it that way as well.

We tried to establish a ministry for parents, because I knew from experience that raising teenagers was challenging to say the least.  Having teenagers in your home can cause one to renounce religion and enlist in the French Foreign Legion.  I knew for a fact that several families had teens that caused their parents grief and I thought we might minister to the needs of those parents, but the program died for lack of participation.  I was becoming disenchanted.

The pastor wanted the deacon body to assume a family ministry where each deacon shepherded a number of families and the deacon would tend to that small flock.  Hospital visits if needed, prayer request, spiritual guidance and other various and sundry task as needed.  It was a major flop.  People did not want visitation, at home or in the hospital, and they damn sure were not coming to us with prayer request unless it was financial.  People were always ready to admit they needed God to provide them with more money.

Another idea was a ministry to assist the elderly, the single parent, navy wives whose husbands were serving our nation in uniform.  We thought the deacons could volunteer to do odd jobs for members of the church or the community who had a need.  We could mow the yard, rake, wash the car, clean the house, take an elderly couple to the store, just some little service that somebody might need to make their life easier.  But alas, the faithful followers of Jesus just could not find the time to perform even the simplest of task for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

A deacon brother and I tried to institute a food closet for the homeless and transient who came to our church looking for a meal.  The other failures had been disappointments.  This one made me angry and was probably the beginning of my questioning of our claim as Christians.  The reaction of the deacon body and some of the other members of the church body to “those types of people” lingering around the campus was revealing as to just how “faith” affects a person’s everyday life.  I concluded that faith had little to no effect on the lives of most of the members of our church.

I began to pay attention to the cars we drove, the clothes we wore, the homes we lived in, even the vacations we took.  We were a very wealthy congregation living in affluent neighborhoods.  I looked out of our Sunday school class window at the parking lot one morning and just identified a few of the cars our class members had driven to church that morning.  Just a handful of folks had driven cars that would have a collective value of more than a quarter of a million dollars, yet we could not make church budget on a weekly basis.  Hell, we could not even recover the cost of the morning doughnuts and coffee from the donations basket.

However, the most glaring deficiency I saw in our congregation was the astounding lack of knowledge of the Bible.  The book we claim to hold most dear and most sacred was scarcely read by most folks who carried it around on Sunday mornings.  This fact was evident in the inability to articulate theological positions based on scripture or to even point to a chapter or verse to support what they were sure was a gospel truth.  They just could not tell you where it was in the Bible, but they knew it was in there.  God helps those who help themselves; cleanliness is next to godliness and all that sort of thing you know.  But they sure as hell could tell you where the verses are that said God hates queers, or that God will destroy those who oppose Him.

Many of the biblically illiterate were long time Christians.  Some served in leadership roles alongside me.  I understand that many folks find the Old Testament somewhat of a tough read, but these folks were not even versed in the most basic of Christian Doctrine from the Gospels.  I was shocked to discover that the Sermon on the Mount was a revelation to some of these folks.  I mean, if you are going to call yourself a Christian, you should at least be familiar with what Jesus said and taught.  Even those who deny the Divinity of Christ, such as Thomas Jefferson and Gandhi, thought the Sermon on the Mount was great moral teaching.

The final nail in the cross of conviction of the emptiness of today’s church was the 2004 presidential election.  At the time, I was a blood red republican and had been voting republican since the Reagan Revolution, and I voted for George W Bush in 2000 and 2004.  Nevertheless, I begin to question this insane notion that somehow Democrats were not Christians, or at least not “real Christians”, or not the right kind of Christians.  My parents and grandparents were some of the best Christians I ever knew.  They were kind, honest, and humble people and pretty conservative when it came to social and political issues.  But they were being demonized by the rabid right wing as something they were not, and never had been.  The church had fallen back onto a philosophy that had worked for it throughout the ages.  Attack those who believe differently than you do.  Marginalize those who hold differing opinions, paint as enemies of God and of the state those who would dare to question the popular orthodoxy and dogma, and define anything that is different as evil. 

My academic background is in U. S. history and in religion.  I am certain that my experience as an undergraduate and graduate student helped bring about this change in me.  My Christian brothers and sisters will say worldly and ungodly influences polluted my mind.  After all, public education is one of the great enemies of today’s Evangelical mindset.  I had a family member tell me that all schoolteachers were some kind of godless, socialist, America hating scum.  This went over well with me since I was in graduate school at the time earning an advanced degree in education, and that my daughter and son-in-law were both public school teachers.    

As I read more and more about church history from a secular point of view, how the church had reacted to trends and ideas throughout our history I begin to realize that organized religion is little more than a political system designed to seize and hold power.  The British used biblical passages to support the Divine right of kings to rule over subjects.  The American colonist used the bible to support their call for freedom and self-rule.  The bible provided both north and south support for the various arguments for slavery and freedom.  Even Lincoln noted in his second inaugural address the following truth.

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

Dr. King turned to the scripture during the Civil Rights movement, while the bigots and segregationist also used scripture to try to curry favor with church folks.  As Lincoln said, God cannot be for and against the same things.

In my view the church has become politicized to the point of spiritual paralyzes.  This is one of the reasons our founders forbade the union of church and state, to prevent the tyranny of the majority.  The church itself cannot even agree on theological and spiritual truths and doctrines, hence the various sects and denominations.  How then are we to live?  What gives one group the right to say what acceptable behavior is for a community or a culture?  I reject the notion that the foundation of American law relies on biblical or Christian doctrine.  The Founders were a diverse group of believers and non-believers alike.  Instead, I have adopted a more Jeffersonian view that religion is more a private matter between one person and his or her God.

There are indeed many good people of faith, of many faiths, that interpret the various scriptures in many ways, but the basic tenets of the monotheistic religions have a common core, to treat others as you would want to be treated.  To be kind to those around you to seek justice and mercy and to walk humbly before God, and as Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” (Luke 6:32 NLT)    

We must remember that Jesus saved his most vitriolic comments for the religious leaders of His day.  The Pharisees rejected any message that challenged their narrow and legalistic view of religion, much like today’s American Christian and the associated churches.  Jesus was the original liberation theologian.  His message was so radical, so anti-religion, so far outside the accepted dogma of the day that He paid for those views with His life.

Therefore, I have retreated from today’s church and from organized religion.  I seek spiritual solace in the still and quiet voice of God.  I pray in my closest and try to do my good deeds in secret so that only the Heavenly Father sees.  And as I leave the albatross of religion I have stopped to shake the dust from my feet and remember that Sodom and Gomorrah may get a break on judgment day.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jesus Paid His Taxes

Hello Friends and Neighbors

It has been a year and a half since I last posted on this blog. Shame on me. I have had many ideas, but have been too lazy to put those ideas down on paper, or to enter them into a Word Document to be posted somewhere in the nether regions of cyber space. I will make every effort to prevent that from happening again. I will try to post on a regular schedule and make every attempt to write thought provoking and insightful pieces. If you would follow my blog and make comments, even if you disagree with me, it would be a great honor.

I recently responded to a piece on the Op-ed page of the Florida Times Union. Last week an Episcopal Priest wrote a Letter to the Editor asking the question, “Government: What Would Jesus Cut?” His argument was that as a nation, as a community of human beings, our budget should reflect our core values. Our core values should reflect our belief that we should love our neighbor as our self. The good Reverend believes the government should not balance the budget on the backs of “the least of these” that dwell among us. I agree that the most severe cuts should not be to social services that benefit the poor, handicapped, and elderly.

A day or so later another letter took exception to the priest’s interpretation of how people of faith should respond to budgets and taxes. Her thesis was that Jesus “would not have given His money to Pontius Pilate’s gang”. While I agree with this writer that Jesus would want each of us to do our part to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison, the sad truth is that we don’t. Many churches are merely gathering places for the rich and well connected to be seen and make important business and political connections. Many churches spend much more on salaries, on buildings and amenities for the membership than they do to feed the homeless and other acts of Christian charity. That is why the government has to fill in the gaps. The church has abdicated its mission, given by none other than The Christ Himself, in favor of honor among men. They have their reward.

The second writer seem to argue that it is somehow sinful and an offense to God to pay taxes to the government. I disagree, and I believe I can use the Christian Bible to defend my argument. In my Letter to the Editor, I have laid out a very brief, but I believe solid defense of, Biblical support for the idea that Christians and Jews are obligated to pay taxes and obey the ruling government.

If you read my earlier post from 2009, you will see that the theme is consistent. People of a Judeo/Christian religious faith or background are commanded by Scripture to be good citizens. Christianity expects the Body of Christ to honor their government and their rulers. I suppose that idea of “rulers” doesn’t sit well with many of the conservative ideology, unless it is the idea of corporatist ruling over us.

I have written previously about gay rights, the religious right against health care, the religious right against Jesus, activist judges, and health care. All arguments to date are theologically based. Please, read and respond, I welcome all arguments, and all points of view. However, I do ask that we all remain civil and respectful of differing opinions. Argue strongly, but do so with dignity and honor. (RLD)

Following are a cut and paste of the three (3) Letters to the Editor that appeared in the Florida Times Union on March 4, 8, and 10, 2011. I have included links to the Times Union site for verification. The material for the Florida Times Union is not being sold, marketed, or used to make any type of monetary gain or compensation for The Communal Hope. Any comments or questions concerning my work can be emailed to Any discussion or comments about the subject matter or philosophy presented in The Communal Hope should be posted in the comments section of the site. Thank you.

Government: What would Jesus cut?

Posted: March 4, 2011 - 12:00am

Most remember the 1990s phrase, "What would Jesus do?"

The letters, WWJD, became a code worn on the wrist of many believers. The bracelets reminded believers to personally act in a moral manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus in a real way.

Let's bring this phrase into a new century.

Government in both Tallahassee and Washington are rolling out dramatic budget cuts.

As a nation, we face many difficult financial choices to control spending. Where and what cuts do we make?

As a nation, do our budgets reflect our values and priorities that we hold dearly and believe as Christians?

Let's ask, "What would Jesus cut?"

It seems that education and domestic programs that provide basic subsistence like nutrition, health and housing for children and the poor is first up to cut. Is this choice consistent with the "good news" stories we read of Christ?

"Let the children come to me" and "when you do it unto the least of these, you do it to me" are key beliefs to guide our answer.

Do we want our nation's budgets to turn away the poor and vulnerable?

In this economic meltdown, we need the supports that level the playing field for those persons who are in need. Food, shelter and education lead to jobs and income that lift families out of poverty into productive taxpaying citizens.

When we gather to offer worship and sing hymns like, "All for Jesus I surrender, all for him I freely give," some outside of our doors are watching our witness.

They see an awful lot of trouble in the world that could be remedied by people who sing such sacred music.

What if Christian folks spoke of and lived our beliefs by asking our elected representatives to prioritize our spending?

When we ask the right questions - "What would Jesus cut?" - our thinking can clear considerably.

rector,St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church

REPLY: GIVING (Published March 8, 2011)

Following Jesus

This is in response to the letter that the Rev. Michael D. Moore wrote about "What Would Jesus Do?"

I can tell you what He wouldn't have done. He would not have given His money to Pontius Pilate's gang!

Knowing they would probably abuse it and usurp more of the people's power, Jesus would have wanted each individual to give what he could give directly to the people in need. Just like He did.

I also believe that Jesus would have wanted us to live within our budget and to elect officials who wanted the same.

We can give our good will in the form of money directly to the organizations who support the poor. There are many ways to give to the nutritional health, education, and housing of children and the poor, besides paying taxes.

More so, He wants our time, our energy and our love for the poor. Volunteer at the local food bank and schools, bring clothes, nutritional food (and sometimes cupcakes too!) to the food banks and shelters.

The hymn the reverend spoke of says, "All for Him we freely give," does not mean in taxes, for heaven's sake.

I know no one who freely gives to the government.

Don't ask, "What would Jesus cut."

We should ask, "What would He give?"

Fernandina Beach

THE JESUS TEST (Published March 10, 2011)

He paid taxes, too

Recently, a letter on these pages suggested that Jesus "would not have given his money to Pontius Pilate's gang."

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) all record the incident when the Jewish religious leaders tried to trick Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Pontius Pilate's boss.

Knowing the tax must be paid in Roman coinage, Jesus asked to see a coin. Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

In Chapter 13 of Paul's letter to the Romans, we read that Christians are obligated to pay taxes to the ruling government.

Additionally, in Matthew 17: 24-27, Jesus commands Simon Peter to go and pay the temple tax "for me and you."

So Jesus not only condoned paying taxes, he led by example.

It is disingenuous to oppose taxes based on biblical grounds.

Jacksonville Beach

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tea Parties and Red Coats

Dressed in the garb of the Minute Man angry citizens march on Town Hall meetings, but they wear the wrong uniform. They should be sporting the Red Coats of the British Army. They stand as sentries of the old guard; ready to relive the Boston Massacre, brandishing weapons against their fellow citizens. Nothing could be more offensive to the American ideal than to retain power under the force of arms.

One of the things I hold dear about America is our dislike of bullies, of those who would assert their will on those less powerful. The Founders called it the “tyranny of the majority”. The popularity of an idea does not give it moral authority.

All citizens of this great nation deserve access to affordable quality health care. Health care that is not dependent on your employer’s bottom line. Health care that is undeniable if you or a family member contracts a catastrophic illness. Many of today’s insurance policies ration care through annual and life time limits on benefits.

The CEO’s and major stockholders of insurance companies are no different from any other Yankee-Slicker on Wall Street. Health care should be a non-profit business. It is immoral to amass riches upon the sickness and misery of others.

Many on the conservative right claim to be Christian men and women, wrapped in the flag with a cross in one hand and carrying Mr. Colt’s great equalizer in the other. They despise liberals and moderates as godless heathens bent on destroying the founding principles of America. They are ignorant of both their politics and their theology. Conceived in the womb of The Enlightenment, nurtured on the milk of classic liberalism, America burst forth from the pangs of revolution. Liberalism, not conservatism, gave us our freedom.

As for the theology, allow me to relate a story from the founder of Christianity. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of The Good Samaritan, prefaced by a lawyer asking Jesus about the requirements for inheriting eternal life, which we know as “The Great Commandment”. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus affirms that the lawyer has answered correctly, but the lawyer is not satisfied, so he asks “And who is my neighbor”?

Jesus then tells the story. A traveler is robbed, beaten, and left naked and half-dead on the side of the road. A Priest passes by but ignores the man. A Levite does likewise, both spiritual leaders in the community. A Samaritan, hated and despised by the Jews, sees the victim and had compassion on him. He tended his wounds, placed him on his own beast, and continued on the journey towards Jericho where he found a roadside inn and continued to nurse the man. The next morning the Samaritan went to the innkeeper, paid him for tending to the wounded fellow, and instructed the innkeeper to provide for him and if he spent more than he had provided, the Samaritan would repay him on his return trip.

Jesus then asked, “…which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?” The lawyer answered that the one who showed mercy was the neighbor. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise”.

It is time for progressives, liberals, and moderates, to go and do likewise. Let the angry right pass by on the other side of the health care debate. Let them leave their neighbor bloodied and bruised in the ditch. Let their indifference for their fellow citizens expose the moral depravity of their soul. We must not let them define the debate with lies and fear mongering. We cannot allow them to intimidate with assault rifles and Hitler posters.

Those who oppose health care reform will never be ready to embrace change. Change is the fear they cannot face, the fear that drives them to bring weapons to Town Hall meetings, the fear that labels all things progressive as “socialist” and the fear that would demonize their friends and neighbors if they held a contrary opinion.

Now is the time for Americans to love their neighbors as they love themselves. Now is the time for health care for every citizen of this great nation. No American should ever again file bankruptcy due to medical bills. Parents should never again have to wonder how they would pay for treatment for a catastrophic illness for their child. No senior citizen should ever again have to decide between food and medicine. As Dr. King said, “if not now, when?”