Kim Davis, Wedlock and Deadlock

By Ross Decker Sr

I’m pretty sure that you have heard, over and over, that Kim Davis. a clerk in Kentucky, refused to issue wedding licenses to same sex couples because of her deeply held religious beliefs. She took a stand, a stand that prevented some couples from obtaining marriage licenses for a few days and, once again, made Christians look totally foolish.

I’m a Christian. Had a “born again” experience in 1976 and I’ve never wavered from the commitment I made to God on that day. But I never got confused about what that commitment was. It was a commitment to live my life according to the grace God gave me through His Spirit in accordance with His word, the Bible. At no time did I make a commitment for anyone else and in nearly 40 years of following Him it has never occurred to me to extend that commitment to anyone else. No one had to follow the rules I’d voluntarily adopted for myself but me.

So, Let me get this out of the way straight off. I’m sick to death of Christians taking stands about what other people should do. Before we do that, let’s take a shot at getting better at our own behavior.

I’m not about taking stands. I can’t support someone using their political power to try to force their deeply held religious beliefs on other people. Kim Davis is all that. She’s taking stands. Gays had to wait about a week before they can get married. Not a very effective stand, was it?  She wouldn’t put her signature on a marriage license because she has to take a stand. She can’t go against her word. Or….can she? What about the vow she took when she assumed the job? She vowed to uphold the laws on Kentucky. Now she goes back on her word. Because she is taking a stand.

Her lawyer claims she has been jailed for her beliefs. But that isn’t true. She is being jailed for her actions. And she is being jailed for ordering her subordinates to follow her conscience rather than their own. She’s taken a stand for them, too.

The Bible is written for God’s people. For believers. Never does the Bible put us in charge of what non-Christians do. We are not to tell them how to live. We have enough difficulty keeping our own stuff together. None of us are in the position to tell a non-believer how to live their lives. We  are called to proclaim the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ died for mankind’s sins. It’s accepting that by grace that we are redeemed. It isn’t by living a moral life.So, why would a dutiful Christian try to control the behavior of non-believers when that good behavior makes a non-believer the nicest person in hell.

I’ve lived this life long enough to see someone on staff at his church refuse to attend a wedding between a young couple because he was “taking a stand.” The couple was of legal age to marry, the bride wasn’t pregnant. All the parents approved of the marriage. What was the issue? The pastor of this man’s church was counseling the groom and the groom chose not to follow it. That was a little more than 10 years ago. That lovely couple is still happily married today. But, that guy, related in no way, refused to be a guest at their wedding because he was taking a stand.

A dear friend gave his daughter in marriage. In this case, she was pregnant. People (from the same church), took a stand and stayed away. Though it was none of their business, they didn’t approve. Maybe they thought that if they went to that wedding they’d wind up pregnant too. It’s hard to know what the reason is when someone takes a stand. Both sets of parents approved of the wedding. But, their dear friends took a stand. And they created a host of negative memories that pop up with each anniversary. And, yes, there have been over twenty of those anniversaries.

Now why does Kim Davis refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex applicants? From my point of view, I’d have to say it’s merely because she feels like it. There are certainly no scripture verses to support her deeply held religious views that she should tell strangers how to behave.

That right wing Christians try to frame this as some kind of infringement upon religious freedom is troubling. The government isn’t forcing its beliefs upon her. If anything, it is Kim Davis attempting to force her religious beliefs on the government. I get that religious freedom extends to the individual outside their house of worship. Religion cannot be limited to the walls that surround the church, temple or mosque. The freedom to practice your religion must extend to the marketplace. Christians are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and the imprisoned. We are to bury the dead. We need to be able, for example, to feed the homeless in city parks. To be forbidden to do so, or to be forbidden to mention Jesus’ name does infringe on our religious freedom. But, when it comes to actions that affect others, our deeply held religious convictions, and the extent of our religious freedom, should be to do good and not harm. To be compassionate and not harsh. It is not an infringement upon our religious convictions to stop us from forcing our religious beliefs on others.

We are a nation of laws. We obey the laws. If we have a job which requires that we perform an action we find we cannot do with a clear conscience, we give up that job. We don’t disrupt the lives of others as we protest the law. Don’t refuse to do your job and expect to continue being paid, especially if you took an oath, as government officials do, to do that job.

One thing we can expect from Christians is to tell the truth. Jesus says to let your yes be yes and your no be no. If you promised to do your job, do it. Or resign. If something about your job bothers you and you do not quit, you effectively tell everyone that you are choosing your paycheck over your principles.

I do believe that a church should never be forced to perform same-sex marriages. That would infringe upon their deeply held religious beliefs. But, an individual’s signature on a marriage license doesn’t compromise their convictions in any way. That would be a legal service regarding a legal procedure. Kim Davis would be acting as an employee of the state, not as a Christian. That marriage will be performed without naming God once. Outside the walls of the church, it’s a civil marriage. Religious convictions are not involved.

Jesus never tells us to interfere in the lives of non-believers. I think that’s because we have such a difficult time managing our own. But, there are many verses and parables which clearly tell us that we are to act kindly, lovingly, compassionately. Let’s not worry so much about how important our signature is and let’s start being kind and compassionate when we name the name of Jesus Christ.

Twitter, Martin Luther, and Oz

martin-luther-nails-thesis-1

by Ross Decker Sr

So, there we sat. Liz and I were waiting in the church library for the meeting to begin. I had some sense of what to expect. I’d been in church meetings before. I’d been to Oz and had seen behind the curtain. It would be a slam dunk set up. The pastor would come in, accompanied by two or three others who totally and unflinchingly agreed with him. They’d put together their talking points. They had played out the meeting among themselves, came to their conclusion and now, all that was left was to fill us in. After, an imitation discussion, of course.

We were called in to discuss some horrible crime related to our Twitter pages. The pastor didn’t want to tell us why he wanted to meet with us, surprise being an advantage to him. Nor did he want to invite the person who’d brought the questionable tweets to his attention. But, we would have no meeting without those two concessions, I assured him. Reluctantly, he gave in. Pastoral sit downs are so stacked against the congregant that, like Gil Garcetti moving the OJ Simpson trial to downtown Los Angeles, he was sure he’d crush us.

I assumed that he had issues with our Twitter accounts because I followed LaylaLoves on twitter and she followed me. We occasionally talked about our dogs, hers being Mojo and mine being Spanky. She is an entertainment and sports reporter. Very knowledgeable and very attractive.

But it wasn’t Layla. It was David Platt. I wasn’t the problem at all this time. It was Liz. She was posting quotes from Platt’s book, “Radical”, a book which looked at the American Evangelical church in a new way. At that meeting was a kid on the worship team. Wanting to be noticed, told the pastor’s wife that Liz was posting “dark tweets about the church.” she, ran to tattle to her husband. Not until the meeting began did the pastor learn that the tweets and re-tweets were points made by Platt, probably because he couldn’t conceive of someone learning something from a source beyond his pulpit.

What did our pastor find objectionable about Platt? Nothing, it turns out. He agreed with every Platt quote once he learned that they were from a respected, hip Christian leader. He did say that Platt was wrong to make those observations public and Liz was wrong to Tweet them. The assistant pastor earned his paycheck, saying, “You don’t know who might read it and say ‘Ross and Liz think the church is bad so maybe it is'”.

Then it got awkward. I enjoy awkward. This was the point where Liz reminded him that he had asked her to do internet research to learn what the cool churches had been doing. He wanted to incorporate some trendy things into his sermons. He was angry with her because she had done what he’d asked her to. Besides, she pointed out, she’d written many positive things on her personal blog.

He got very loud at this, slamming his hand on the table. “All the positive stuff is about Glenn Blossom,” he yelled out. “Glenn Blossom! Glenn Blossom! I’m sick to death of Glenn Blossom!”

“Well, Glenn has been very kind to us,” I said. “I consider him my friend and mentor.”

“Well, you once called me a cold hearted preacher, he screamed. And….there it was. Four years before, a young man who from our congregation lost his life in a car crash early on a Sunday morning. The entire service went by until there was an “oh. as some of you have heard,” announcement. After dismissal. I met the pastor and told him I’d thought that the late announcement wasn’t enough in this situation. I told him that I’d wished he’d done more. He explained why he’d approached it the way he had and his point made sense to me. I told him so immediately and we parted, I thought, amicably.

Not so. Now, in the presence of the assistant pastor, the kid from the worship team and my wife, he spewed out his bitterness. The saddest part about it is that he had been acting as everything was fine. He was taking communion every Sunday and serving it to me. He made me a deacon. And, all the while, he hated me for a conversation that only happened from him reliving it and rewriting it in his mind. I reminded him of what really happened and he admitted I was right. He then launched into a “you two are so bitter that nothing any pastor does can make you happy.” Then, he heel-turned and was off to pick his daughter up from school.

Why did it happen? I think it was a pastor who didn’t understand his job. He admitted that he never was on Twitter. He’d only felt he had to do something because his wife brought it to his attention. And she heard from the kid on the worship team. But, why did he care? What if the tweets weren’t quotes but were Liz’s own words? What if there was, as the tweets suggested, a problem with the church in that it was functionally segregated by color and culture? What if the church really wasn’t doing enough to care for the poor? Is it really preferable to keep silent about it? Should tweets really be, as the pastor actually insisted, “rah, rah, Jesus?” I don’t think so. and this Protestant pastor needed to remember that Martin Luther didn’t think so. In fact, that church might never have existed if Luther hadn’t criticized the Church of his day, using social media in nailing his 95 Thesis’ to the Wittenberg door that Saturday in October.

The next Sunday, during his sermon, he held up a copy of Platt’s book. It was a book he was enjoying, he claimed, and promised to be working Platt quotes into his messages.Of course, he never did. And then he did the thing pastors often do when they fail to dominate their prey in a meeting. He re-enacted a question/answer from our discussion but altered the responses to prove his point. The phone calls started three weeks later. The assistant pastor called to ask why we were still coming to church. He told us that, if a pastor had spoken to him as venomously as ours had to us, he’d be gone. After several more calls I asked a friend of mine, a counselor on the church staff, why I was getting these repeat calls, He told me that they wanted us out.

And, so it crystallized for us. A string of people had been driven from that church after nasty encounters with that pastor. We were just the latest. So, yes. We would start going to another church because that’s what our insecure pastor wanted. I told him we wanted to go to a church that had a greater outreach to the poor. Makes sense, he said, because “you’re not gonna get that here.” So, we went to the other church, the one from last week’s Ashley Madison post.

So, Pastors, don’t fight your flock. Shepherd us. You’re called by Christ to take care of us. Treat us kindly. Drive us into the safety of the church, not from it.Don’t use our private conversations for sermon fodder.  And certainly, under no circumstance should you slam us as bitter without being willing to help us with our problems. Oh yes, and don’t expose your own bitterness while accusing someone else of being bitter.

And, should we not mention problems within the church so that we get people to join us? Is that the way we grow our churches? I think not. I think it never hurts to speak the truth, for the truth will set you free. I have that on good authority, too. It isn’t even from David Platt

  *        *         *

As always, I appreciate your comments. Next weeks’ blog will likely be about the aforementioned Glenn Blossom. Let’s see if you get sick to death of Glenn Blossom too.

Confession, Gossip, and Ashley Madison (part one)

by Ross Decker Sr

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”

When I said those words, it struck me that I’d  never thought that The Penitential Act of confession would be one of the major attractions to Catholicism for me. Why would I sit in a dimly lit booth and speak my sins out loud to another man? For thirty seven years it had been drilled into me that there was no mediator between man and God but Jesus Christ, and I could access God’s forgiveness at any time by merely thinking about it in the privacy of  my head. Now, I was comforted while confessing my sins to a priest.

There was something very welcoming to me about confession. I knew for certain that it was the Seal of Confession more than the confession itself that drew me. I knew that whatever I told the priest would not be shared with anyone else, not even with me. And that was very different from the religious culture I’d come from.

During my previous thirty seven years I’d learned that you had to be careful what you allowed people to see of you in church. The Apostle Paul, Saint Paul, wrestled openly with sinful desires. He didn’t hide that. Romans 7:15-20 has him writing “ For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Let me be clear; Saint Paul would be excluded from ministry in a few churches I’d attended. 

In all of the churches I’d attended, only one pastor, Glenn Blossom, ever admitted to the same struggle Saint Paul so openly wrote about. His openness about his own temptations and failings created such a comfortable environment at that church. He often said that the church, a precursor to our heavenly family, must be the safest place on earth. I wonder too, if the ability to speak freely about ‘little’ sins might be a good defense against the major failings we’ve seen via Ashley Madison. Maybe, if Josh Duggar and Sam Rader weren’t conditioned to hide their sin as a means of self preservation, perhaps someone could have helped them avoid this latest scandal.

Needless to say, those other churches were never the safest places on earth. Following the pastoral lead, everyone dedicated themselves to hiding and denying any sin issues in their lives. To be discovered would mean being shamed, being curtailed from any ministry you might be doing and, what I didn’t find out until much later, being grist for the pastor gossip mill. Just before I left the Evangelical church on my tiny island, I learned the secret that moved me out. The pastors on Staten Island socialized regularly. Their topic of conversation? Their congregation.

I was naive enough not to know that. These pastors all preached about the sin of gossip from their pulpits. It was dishonest. It was hurtful. It ruined lives. It tore congregations apart. Yes, they told us that gossip would surely do all these things. And then, they gossiped.

In the last church Liz and I attended, the one that drove me to the open door of Catholicism was where I found this out. Liz was asked by the choir director to take over the choir. This is Liz’s gift, she has led worship for many years. Surprisingly, the pastor said she would not be allowed to do it because she had been greatly hurt in a church fifteen years before. I immediately asked for a meeting with that pastor.

I was concerned about two related things. First, I wondered why he thought Liz was troubled fifteen years after an event. Secondly, I wanted to know why he thought, believing that to be true, would tell it to his current choir director.

The amazing revelation about the meeting was that the pastor realized that Liz and I did not know the two people he’d heard the story from and….wait for it…..he remembered that the story was about someone else and he’d thought the story was about Liz. He didn’t want to create any “confusion” so he thought it best that Liz not become the new choir director anyway. Besides, he said, he’d spoken to another pastor about us and that pastor told him our twitter pages had “dark posts” on them.

I asked him if he didn’t consider all this to be gossip and he assured me that he didn’t. He told me that he regularly got together with a few Island pastors, naming them, and said that they always talked about the people in their congregation. He said they did so to “protect” the congregation. When someone from their churches left to go to another church the past pastor would call the new pastor to alert him to things he should watch for in the new attender. We asked a pastor friend of ours why this could happen and he answered readily. “It’s because pastors believe the lie that they’re special.”

Staten Island is a small island. Knowing that all the pastors gossip about their church was an eye opener to us. But learning it meant there now was no way we could again sit in an Evangelical church without the reasonable fear that the pastor had heard a story about someone else and now thought it was us. We couldn’t listen to another sermon about “integrity” without feeling betrayed. The church was no longer the safest place on earth.

We began to think about the local Catholic Church parishes. We weren’t thinking of converting. We were just looking for a place to live out our faith in the presence of God without worrying about the gossipers. We knew there was no interplay between the Evangelical pastors and the Catholic priests. Catholicism seemed safe. We drove past one church, The Church of The Sacred Heart, and noticed that the door was always open. That attracted us. We went inside. The service was beautiful. There was so much meaning to me at every moment.

So, as I knelt in the confessional, confessing my sins to a priest, I was confident that no one else would hear about them other than the three of us in that booth. Only me, the priest, and god. I knew that the priest would strive to not even remember my confession. He wouldn’t bring those sins up to anyone. Not even me.  I was safe in church, I was home.

As always, I look forward to reading your comments.

popeconfesses

Brian Regan, My Mother, and Stickman.

by Ross Decker Sr

Shortly after my mother passed away I took my daughter Bethany to see Brian Regan at Caroline’s Comedy Club. Because it was so soon after my mother’s death, I wasn’t certain that we should go. We also though it might be dishonoring to my mother’s memory to go to a comedy show. But a friend of ours had contacted the General Manager, Greg Charles, and Greg graciously upgraded our seats and arranged a backstage meeting with Brian. So, we used that as the reason we shouldn’t stay home. We went backstage for the pictures and spent some time chatting. I told Brian what our situation was and how awkward Bethany and I felt as the show began. But, for me, Brian Regan is the funniest man in the world. It wasn’t long before we were laughing a cathartic laugh. It was a great night. I told Brian that he’d done a great thing for us, that what he did for a living sometimes transcended a joke and a laugh. He’d started us back on the path toward healing.

Recently, Liz and I  had the opportunity see Ron Bennington interview Brian Regan for Ron’s show, “Unmasked”, on Sirius Radio. The interview was done at the same Caroline’s Comedy Club and recorded for a later broadcast.

Ron’s a terrific interviewer. He doesn’t always stick to the well traveled path and often gets insightful and personal responses from his subjects. On this occasion, he even got Brian Regan to cry. Well, at least he caused him to get seriously choked up. Bennington was wondering about how the comedian went about interacting with fans. Although he eschews social media platforms, in person Regan is very accessible. Regan told a story of meeting a guy from a comedy club who asked Brian if he would say hello to his brother. The brother wasn’t there so the man had Brian speak to him on the phone. Rather than just say a brief hello, Regan engaged the brother in conversation, asking how he was doing in school. The guy wasn’t doing well there. He was cutting classes and thinking about dropping out. Regan told him to stay in school, to strive to do well and get good marks. A year later, at the same club, he spoke to the man again. The man reminded Brian about the phone call, telling him that the brother had applied himself to school and was now getting straight A’s. What made the difference? Why had he made such a stunning turnaround? Brian choked up as he told us. “Brian Regan told me to.”

While at college, Brian started drawing a cartoon superhero character called Stick Man. And, because Stick Man came from the mind of Brian Regan, he was flawed. He was a superhero with super powers, but he consistently came up a little short. For instance, if four people jumped from the roof of a burning building, Stick Man would save only three. The fourth would splatter on the sidewalk.  Now, he had done his best. He’d done a good thing. But, in the end, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t everything. Regan thought that he might be able to syndicate Stick Man. He gathered all his work and sent it off.  The answer was no. he got the rejection letter. And he never tried to syndicate it again! It never occurred  to him that this rejection represented the opinion of only one person. He took it as a total and final rejection of his work. He accepted the end of his dream.

Of course, talking about that with Liz turned the conversation to my mother. She’d had a tremendously difficult life. Though she survived, her dreams did not. Her life had been horrible. Her childhood alone was one that would crush anyone’s dreams. She grew up in an orphanage, And that was when things got better. Prior to that, she and her twin sister were passed around among relatives for short stays. No one wanted them. And no one felt compelled to pretend they did.  At one house they were fed only orange marmalade sandwiches. Their health deteriorated so badly that both girls were hospitalized, Their dreams then were that one day their parents would come for them. That day never came.

I remember sitting with her at a church meeting. It was one of those times where the conversation went around the table and each person spoke their names and their interests. When it came to my mother, she said, in all honesty that she had no interests. The pastor pushed further, asking about hobbies. Surely she had a hobby. No. My mother remained steadfast. “Nothing in this life interests me at all,” she told him.

Our relationship had always been rocky. My mother and I rarely got along. I knew she was broken. But, I also knew that the kids weren’t expected to fix the parents. When I got older, I tried. But, like Stick Man. I couldn’t do it well enough. The breaking had come when she was small and she wore the scars like armor now. Armor that simultaneously protected and wounded anew..Often I looked at her with disdain. That day I looked at her with compassion.

How different her life may have been had someone spoken to her when she was a young woman and encouraged her to keep trying. Someone who might have told her that one person’s rejection. ten people’s rejection, didn’t mean she was crushed. She needed to know that. But, she never did.

The obvious point of all this is that we each need to walk through this world with an eye for the broken. We need to be a superhero for someone even if we are an imperfect one like Stick Man.

Trump, Steinbeck and Jesus Christ

by Ross Decker Sr

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” John Steinbeck

I had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ in April of 1976. It was the traditional way, the pastor said that anyone who wanted to give their lives over to Christ should raise their hands. I did. Liz did. So we, pretty much simultaneously and altogether independently, raised our hands. That, as I believe it should, forever changed the way we looked at everything.

Liz asked me repeatedly if I fully understood what I’d done. I assured her that I did. That Tuesday night (pastors are off on Monday) the Pastor used the “pop in” to shore up our decision. And he immediately brought up tithing. If Liz had any doubts about my willingness to follow fully, my agreement to tithe must have put an end to them right there!

Sometime very shortly following that night, I began to see a push to have Christians involved in politics. Christians were taking back the culture! From my limited view, the vehicle they were using to reclaim that culture was the Republican Party. And, over the years, that Republican Party gradually hijacked Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals fell in line with Republican “doctrine” even when it contradicted Christian teaching.

It seems only fair, though scarily so, that the Republican Party should be hijacked today by a rich white man with an aggressive position. Donald Trump entered the race for the party’s presidential nomination with inflammatory words directed against minorities, the poor, and immigrants. He has virtually no political experience, he has been associated with the Democratic party as well as flirting with a third party candidacy. But, he has surged to the top of the polls by loudly saying what Republican Christians quietly believe. He seems to embody the values they treasure.

What do the Republican Christians treasure? Well, poor Republicans seem to love any law that can make rich Republicans richer. They love anything that will help rich Republican businessmen hold onto their wealth. They love a small government that stays out of their business, but not their Liberal neighbors’ business. They love when law enforcement goes after a few kids wearing their pants too low or selling loosies on the corner but they don’t want the government regulating their boss’s salary. They love to tell dissenters to go find a better country, a revival of the sixties’ “America, love it or leave it,” but the ones who resent the government the most wave the biggest flags.

Trump infuriated Latinos (and all thinking people) by describing Mexicans who come to the United States illegally as “killers” and “rapists” in his June campaign announcement speech. He added some days later, “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists…. ‘. He promised to both build a wall and to have Mexico pay for it.

On deporting the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, Trump boasted “Politicians aren’t going to find them because they have no clue. We will find them, we will get them out, It’s feasible if you know how to manage. Politicians don’t know how to manage.” It’s a problem for America, he said, because “We have a lot of bad dudes, as I said. We have a lot of really bad people here, I want to get the bad ones out…And by the way, they’re never coming back.”

Christians! We can’t be like this. We can’t confine our Christian lives to the inside of church walls each Sunday, living by a different world view once we are back in the secular world. There is no secular world for the Christian. My pastor, speaking about tithing, once said that “god’s math is different than ours. Ninety per cent goes farther than One hundred percent when the first tenth goes to God.” His reasoning was that when we “obey God in the tithe” it works out better for us in the end.

Well that’s not how it works. We don’t obey God so that we get more in the end. We obey God because we are supposed to.We aren’t checking out His program and following it if it makes sense. We follow it because we’re supposed to. We follow it whether it works or not. It certainly hasn’t worked for those who have been imprisoned, tortured and beheaded for the Gospel.They didn’t do it to see their bank account swell. They followed God because they were supposed to.

That’s what we are supposed to do regarding our neighbors to the south. Sure, we set up an immigration policy but that policy must be kind, fair and realistic. We are to follow the words of Jesus when he says to love your neighbor as yourself. He seems to think it’s a pretty important ‘suggestion.” In tandem with loving God with all your heart, loving your neighbor as yourself sums up the law of the prophets.

The remarks Trump made about Megyn Kelly after the debate are beyond the pale. His defense  of his remarks was even worse. For a man whose fans claim “he tells it like it is,” he seemed to be unwilling to do just that.  In true politician fashion he sidestepped what he really meant and accused those who were offended of perverse thinking. His Christian supporters claim he was “baited.” Perhaps he was, but so what? “He hit me first” has never been, nor should it ever be, an acceptable excuse for paid behavior. And Christians should never rejoice in someone who attacks the human dignity of another. God made us in His image and when we revile another, we revile Him.

And why do Republican Christians have such a love affair with successful businessmen?

James admonishes us, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?  Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” (James 2:6,7), 

“I’m not using the lobbyists” boasts Trump, “I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”

Aunt Thelma, Martin Luther, and Daily Mass

by Ross Decker Sr

I’m a simple guy. Not complex.  I’m easily trained. The same situation produces the same thoughts and memories in me. When my little Sophie was a bit more than a year old, I thought it would be funny to torture her mom. Each time I went through a doorway I would smack the doorframe and say “sorry, Sophie.” Now I often remember the time she beat me to it, slapping the frame and saying “sorry, Papa.” Everytime I brush my teeth I smile as I think of Lily, who brushes her teeth by holding the brush steady and moving her head from side to side.

Maxwell Maltz wrote a book in the late 60’s about how we can change our own perceptions about ourselves.  It was “Psycho-Cybernetics”. It was based on the assumption that are memories of events shape our present day responses to similar situations. One of the striking claims Maltz made in his book was that, if we came to a fork in the road, barring any memory we had of the last time we were there, we would always make the same decision about veering left or right. If we went right last time, we’re heading right again today. So, when I see something that strikes me, I think of the same thing I thought of last time. Sort of a mental Groundhog Day.It helped me a lot. And it helped the Atlanta Braves a little. The 1969 Braves read the book as a team and won the division championship. Then they got swept by the Mets in the playoffs.

I try to go to daily Mass. My schedule allows it and I enjoy it.  I’ve never once joined the communion line at Mass without thinking of my Aunt Thelma. She was the first in my family to convert from protestant to Catholic. She’d been raised in a protestant family. Her dad was a Lutheran minister. Her parents taught the faith. Still, as an adult she made the conversion. She did it for the most classic of reasons. She’d fallen in love with a Catholic. She and my future uncle were to be married. So she converted to Catholicism and promised to raise her children as Catholics. She kept that promise and, as often happens, she became a more devout follower than my uncle Joe was.

The thing I remember about her when I’m on the communion line is her contemplative silence after receiving the Eucharist. It was impressive devotion. I could see that it was real. The first time I saw that was when I’d slept over my cousins’ house on a Saturday night and went to Mass with them in the morning. When my aunt came back to the pew I asked her a question. My cousin Joey interceded. “You can’t talk to her after she’s received the host, ” he said. “She won’t speak.” This was great. I thought it would last all day. But, of course, it didn’t. By the time everyone was filing out of the door, she was greeting all her friends enthusiastically all the way to the parking lot. Her silence may have ended, but even a cynical guy like me could see that the devotion which inspired it had not.

Martin Luther is thought to have said “We need to hear the gospel everyday because we forget it every day.” Now there aren’t many Luther quotes I can get behind, but that one is one I agree with. For me, it’s the same problem I have with a diet. I may make an honest promise to myself to eat better in the morning but I’m likely to be snacking on peanut butter and jelly by the evening. Sometime during the day I forget how fat I am and I drop the diet. It’s the same story with those decisions I make at Mass. I hear the homily and I want to be kinder. I want to be nicer to people. That’s why I try to go to Mass every day. I need to hear the gospel every day. Because I, along with Luther, forget it every day.

And what do I hear at Mass/? Well, there’s a reading from the Old Testament. A responsorial psalm, and a reading from the New Testament. Generally, the readings are pretty clearly linked. Then the priest sums up the day’s readings with a homily that identifies what Jesus did and said. He usually says that we should go and do likewise.

We also hear a lot of things when we pray corporately. We always pray for the Church. We pray for those who are victims of violence. We always pray for an end to abortion and that God will be the helper of the helpless. And we are often reminded that God will use us to answer our prayers. We always pray for the poor in a practical way. “You pray for the poor,” says Pope Francis. “And then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

So, that’s the things I need to hear each day. Because, if I don’t I very well forget. I was fortunate to see my Aunt Thelma live out a devout Catholic life, She wasn’t perfect. We all knew that. You could surely get on her bad side. And that was never a place that was fun to be. But, more likely, she was the voice of reason around the table when we were visiting. She was the one who could see that someone did wrong but was still deserving of love.

Now, I’m not kicking myself for my failure to measure up. I’ve been on that “good Christian” treadmill many times before. It took a lot of work but I always wound up in the same place. So, I’m not getting back on. Not ever. Still, I do think it helps me to go to Mass as many days as I can. It makes me want to be a better person.  So, maybe one day I can start going a little easy on the peanut butter and jelly. And, maybe someday I will actually become that better person.  Maybe I will be a kinder guy. And maybe it will last even after I drive away in the car.

Guns, Memes, and Bumper Stickers

by Ross Decker Sr

“But you know what’s more insidious than that? Your gun control position doesn’t have anything to do with public safety and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South.”  Ainsley Hayes, The West Wing

And, maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s that the people on both sides of this debate don’t like the guys on the other side. Friends on my Facebook timeline begin to post angry memes immediately after each shooting. It seems to energize them when they get to use a national tragedy to push their point of view. I’m talking about both sides when I say this. Gun supporters have no problem calling gun control people stupid.  And the gun control people never have a problem coming back with snarky insults of their own. I have always been for gun ownership but afraid of guns. I concede that the Constitution guarantees the right to gun ownership. Nonetheless, I’ve never touched one. Years ago, a friend of mine was dating a patrolman in the New York Police Department and once I saw his gun out on the kitchen table. “Go ahead,” he said, it’s not loaded. Pick it up. See how it feels.” I couldn’t do it. That was when I realized that I was afraid of guns. My friend and her cop boyfriend looked at me like I was a nutcase.

I really began to think about this after the horrible Charleston shootings. Gun control was not really an issue on my radar. But then, Dylann Roof walked into a prayer meeting and sat with a group of parishioners. Awhile into the meeting, after seeing how nice these people were, he did the incomprehensible thing and opened fire.

As I write this, the news is reporting another shooting, this one in Louisiana. A man described as a drifter walked into a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater and began firing. One witness said, “The guy was just kind of at ease, just standing there, just shooting,”

So, it has been a long journey for me. I’ve been saddened and shocked by one mass murder after another. And, it’s moved me from a reluctant defender of the right to bear arms to a man reluctantly hopeful that Congress will soon get around to writing thoughtful, enforceable gun laws.

I can’t help but wonder why it is that people who support gun control think that condescending memes will get second amendment supporters to change their mind. That’s not the tactic that works with me. Presenting a well thought out appeal might get it done. But telling me that I am laughably stupid doesn’t make me receptive to your point of view. And changing minds is what the gun control people want to do, isn’t it? I mean, the goal isn’t just to get off a cleverly insulting lines and click “like” for each other. That doesn’t advance the cause of gun control one bit. The pro-gun control folks  might do better changing the minds of pro-gun people if they didn’t treat them as though they were idiots. That strategy draws a line in the sand and makes people dig their heels in. You may not get guns removed but at least you can feel smugly superior. But I hope that isn’t what they are truly after.

The second amendment defenders can afford to be snarky. They don’t need to change minds. They don’t need to influence others. They have existing law on their side along with a Congress that doesn’t seem the slightest bit motivated to remove gun rights. They can ride the status quo on this one. But, don’t be so snarky that you reduce the loss of human life to a bumper sticker.  If one more person says “guns don’t kill people….”

Guns do kill people. One argument I’ve heard is that blaming guns for killing people is no different than blaming cars for an accident that kills someone when a driver is drunk. But it’s amazingly different. A car is designed to transport people safely. Congress continues to pass laws requiring even more safety measures. Car manufacturers are doing many things, like accident avoidance features, to protect drivers and pedestrians both. So, when a car functions properly, everyone arrives safely. When a gun functions properly, someone dies. So no, it isn’t a reasonable analogy. Here’s a reasonable analogy, though. My smartphone won’t function without my fingerprint. Make guns the same way.

My reason for caring about this is that I am pro-life. In all aspects. I want babies to be born. I want old people like me to die while breathing their last natural breath. I want death row prisoners to live out their days in a cell rather than have their lives taken by the state. And I want children to come home and do their homework rather than be murdered at school.

I’m not a political guy. But this issue should transcend party lines. It’s not a “heart issue.” It’s not a “sin issue.” It’s a campaign finance issue. That’s the law that needs to change. The NRA owns both parties. They spread their money around to everyone. They are in every politician’s pocket and their brooding influence hovers over ever gun control vote. They produce a bumper sticker that says “I’m an NRA member and I vote.” It should say “we’re the NRA and we buy Senators.”

So, let’s show each other a little respect. Let’s agree that whether we want guns or don’t want them, we all want people to live. Something has to be done. Together we can do it. Let’s start a dialog built upon respect. We can make guns safer, We can make laws stricter. And we can certainly repeal an amendment. We’ve done that before.

But in the meantime, if your reasoning can be summed up on a bumper sticker or a meme, you probably need to sit down and think it over some more. And, ask yourself if maybe it isn’t the issue so much as it is that you don’t like the people on the other side.

Thanks for reading this. Whether you liked it or hated it, please feel free to comment. And share! Always share!

Amy Is The 100th Sheep

by Ross Decker Sr

Today is the anniversary of Amy’s death. It wasn’t suicide. But it was her life that caused her death. I’ve written about her before on this blog  because her life haunts me in a way. I didn’t know her, of course, but her tragic life and death clings tom e. she pops into my thoughts pretty often and I can’t help but wish that there was a second chance for her. I want there to be a rewrite that gives us a happy ending. I want her to get straightened out, be happy, win Grammys and entertain the world. Her voice was a singular gift to us all.

This world is intrigued by the “what ifs.” It’s a classic plot point to see one event or one inner demon as defining a life. If only she had fallen in love with a different guy. What if she hadn’t met Blake? Would things be different for her? I wonder. I wonder if the creativity that produced her talent also produced the drive to pursue what would kill her. no matter, it was something she could not control. She could not will it away. That lifestyle, fueled by self-doubt, was the light that drew Amy to the flame.

But, what does it mean for those who knew her? What should they have done to help her? What could they have done? The only answer I can come up with is “everything.”  They should have tried everything.

It is so sad that those who profited from Amy’s talent could not find the time to help her with her demons. She was a profitable throwaway for them. I realize she was resistent to help, she was drawn to that which would kill her. That doesn’t make her less valuable. She is the 100th sheep friends should leave the 99 for.

WHY I WANT THE NEXT PRESIDENT TO BE A WHITE MAN

by Ross Decker Sr

Some time ago, during President Obama’s first term, my brother-in-law wrote a blog post that I vehemently disagreed with. He claimed that white Christians across the nation were angry with Obama’s policies because of one reason. He was a black man. And the thing that riled these Christians the most in my brother-in-law’s eyes was that “there was a black man in the White house.” Now, my brother-in-law, being an enthusiastic man, didn’t say “black man.” He used the “N  word” just like he was Obama podcasting from a garage. He did not use the euphemism. He claimed that white, evangelical protestants were using that word too, in their own homes, in their small groups and in their prayer groups.

I was sure he was wrong. And I told him so. After all, he didn’t know any Christians except for me and my family. And we never used the word. I have never heard any of my friends use that word in a small group or prayer meeting. So, he was wrong. Or so i thought….

At the time he wrote that piece I was only on theTwitter. I hadn’t gotten to The Facebook yet. And Twitter was fairly recent. People were fascinated then just by their ability to send out random thoughts, stream of consciousness style. John Mayer used his Twitter account to hawk Sodastream. Demi Moore used hers to promote Kindle. And Ashton Kutcher used his to shill for everything. But back then, no one was using Twitter for politics or social issues. Then, I made the jump to Facebook.

Facebook seemed to me to be the home ground for causes. People were posting memes about everything they loved. And everything they hated. And one thing they hated a lot was the black man in the White House. My Facebook timeline was flooded with anti-Obama posts. There were posts about blacks getting a free ride from “Obamaphones.” There were memes where Obama and, much worse, his family were photoshopped to have chimpanzee mouths, Obama eating a banana, the president dressed as a witch doctor to show what Obama Care was like. I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t Renig in 2012.”

My Twitter feed has a lot of variety. My Facebook feed is full of Christians. Full of Christian bigots. They all, of course, said that none of it was racist. They were angry and and they were insulted that I thought they were. And, of course, the debate has to end there. When someone says they aren’t racist there is nothing else to be done. There were a few, actually two, who argued on. One said that her experience as an emergency room nurse gave her the opportunity to see blacks as they really were. They came to the ER in taxis, wearing expensive sneakers and the carrying the latest IPhone. They were getting over on society. Another told similar conclusive stories about being behind “Welfare Queens at the supermarket and checking the carts for cigarettes and beer. And Pop Tarts. It really bothered this woman that someone would use their welfare benefits on something as unhealthy as Pop Tarts.

Lately the big thing is the demand to drug test welfare recipients. Cancel their benefits if they fail.  And cut off benefits to anyone exercising their right to peacefully protest, exercising their right to free speech by burning a flag. And their kids? Well, they haven’t thought it out that far.

I went to a week long seminar with my church awhile back. A bunch of us guys were walking from the seminar site to our bed and breakfast. We were all complaining about how grouchy the B&B owner was. All the guys, including me, had an example. But, my friend, Bill Modrich spoke up. “Guys,” he said,”we’ve spent this whole week learning how to solve conflict based on Biblical principles. Now, none of us can deal with this without talking behind this lady’s back?” I pretty much laughed out loud just before I realized that Bill was serious. And it really hit home with me that, despite what I claimed about my religion, I really had a disconnect between the theory and the practice. Bill’s said that if we really believed what we said we did, our actions would be so much different. I’ve gotten much better at narrowing that gap but I still need to work on it daily.

Sometimes I think that many Christians, finding God, find a God whose political and social views are pretty much in line with theirs. To me, that seems a pretty good indicator that what you’ve found isn’t God at all. Or at the very least, not the one who can deliver the life altering changes the Gospel promises. Sometimes it seems that, instead of becoming a new creature in Christ, we have just invited Christ on to our side to ride shotgun through our daily living. It isn’t at all like Abraham Lincoln saw it. When he was asked if he thought God was on the side of the northern army he answered that it was his fervent hope that the north was on God’s side.

So, Christians, we can’t act like this. We didn’t sign up to be mean and nasty. We didn’t sign up to degrade our fellow humans. We signed up to follow a Lord who loves everyone. We signed up to serve a God who created man in his image and gave each one human dignity. That’s one of the basic teachings of Christianity. Humans, all humans, are created in the image of God and have a right to be treated with dignity. More directly, when we try to strip another of their God-given dignity, we actually strip ourselves. Who can read a blatantly racist post without seeing how hateful and needy the poster is. The post reveals to all that he has voluntarily thrown off the mantle of dignity that God wants to cloak him with. He means to degrade the target but he degrades himself.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it’s the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace

Barry McGuire wrote those lyrics from “Eve of Destruction” fifty years ago. I don’t think all that much has changed. I know I am speaking from my own limited perspective but I think most of us, in America at least, are racists, We learned recently that even Atticus Finch is a racist! We see color. We have deep seated fears and mistrust about other people which are based on their color or nationalities. There isn’t much we can do about that. It’s what we think. The real problem is when we act on it, When we use our fears to hurt others, That’s where we can be blamed,

So, Christian racists, I want our next President to be a white man. I want him to be a white man  so I can go back to my naivete. I want a white president so I can believe my words when I tell my brother-in-law he’s screwy. I want to be able to go back to a time when I was blissfully ignorant of what the guy a few pew rows back thinks about his fellow man. I want to go back and play pretend. So the only way I see to solve this, short of picking up our crosses and following Christ, is to go  back to electing white guys.

Lino Rulli, Eating Fish, And Being kind

by Ross Decker Sr

“When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also;” Acts 17:6

I listen to The Catholic Guy on Sirius Radio often. Near the end of this past Lenten season, the host, Lino Rulli, came up with an innovative idea that would make the Lenten experience more powerful in the lives of Catholics as well as making the Catholic witness more relevant to non-Catholics. Lino wondered why, instead of the ancient discipline of not eating meat on Fridays, wouldn’t it make sense for Catholics to perform a Friday corporal work of mercy. Let me tell you, that idea woke me up. Lino’s point was both amazingly simple and eloquently profound. If we were to make a statement with our Lenten penance, let’s not do some disciplinary trick. Let’s do a discipline that could turn the world upside down.

Before I went through the RCIA program and entered the Catholic Church I’d never heard of the Spiritual and Corporeal works of mercy. I’d been a member of an inter-denominational church for twenty two years where I never heard the works of mercy mentioned. That’s actually pretty odd because the Works of Mercy lend themselves quite well to a list. And we were a church of lists. We knew the five steps to a life God blesses, the ten steps to powerful prayer. We knew the six steps to financial freedom. Mostly, in that particular church, we knew the seven steps to resolving youthful conflicts. So many sermons were wrapped around the Bill Gothard acronym, DAROS-FS. Perhaps those letters don’t mean anything to you. If so, be grateful.

From there, I moved to an Evangelical Free Church. The corporeal works of mercy were not mentioned there by the pastor either. But, for that pastor, Glenn Blossom, the corporeal works of mercy were a daily way of life.

What would happen if the Church adopted Lino’s proposal? There are seven Fridays during lent and there are seven corporeal acts of mercy. The more I think about it, the more I think that the Church is missing out on a great opportunity to rock the world.

Imagine if a majority of Catholics fed the hungry on the first Friday of Lent. The church would have a foyer overflowing with canned goods and non-perishable food to share with those who needed it. The food could then be donated to a ministry that feeds the poor. Or, it could be as simple as each parish opening a food pantry for just that week. People would be lined up outside churches and the weekend papers would be full of  stories about Catholics doing good. It’s our heritage, isn’t it? We believe in and act in accordance with a belief in the Preferential Option for the Poor. And, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see that caring for the marginalized on one day is the strongest impetus for doing it again.

The second Friday would be the day we gave drink to the thirsty. My friend Hugh Hollowell works with the poor every day and suggests that we could buy a sleeve of bottled water and keep it in a cooler in our car. Or we could pick up an extra bottle of water on our way in to work so we’d be ready to share with someone who needs it. We may also share the spiritual water of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus says in John 4:14, “but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.”

What would be the impact on the watching world if on the third Friday of Lent we were to run a clothing drive and bring clothing down to homeless shelters or Crisis Pregnancy centers? We could overflow the clothing bins that are in every strip mall parking lot. We could literally clothe the naked.

The fourth week is a bit tricky. It is the week where we would shelter the homeless. This might take a bit of ingenuity to accomplish. In simpler times it was not that unusual to take strangers into your homes for at least a short time. The Shunammite woman of  the Old Testament built a special room onto her house for Elisha. I know that some people still do a version of that but I don’t imagine it’s practical for most of us today. Large cities have homeless shelters. There may be an option to volunteer there. I’m certain that mopping a floor or two or just sitting with someone whose life has been shattered could do a great deal of good.

Most parishes regularly list the sick of the parish in the bulletin. We’re a family. Families visit each other in times of sickness. We all do that, don’t we?  Well, I don’t. But we could. Sure, it should be something we always do, but it would be a great start if, on the fifth week of Lent we could stop be to visit our sick church family members. I’m sure a covered dish and a half hour visit could brighten someone’s day.

Have you ever done prison visits? That is something I’ve had the opportunity to do. My wife is blessed with a great voice as well as a tender spirit that moves people when she sings. I’ve visited prisons with her where she would sing and someone would share a devotional thought. As Catholics we are to visit those who are incarcerated. The sixth week of Lent could be the time to do that. You could brighten the day of someone who goes long stretches of time without a visit. Your smile would go a long way.

Truthfully, I don’t know how you’d complete the last work. It’s the burying of the dead. I guess you’d need some special cooperation on the part of the person you’d be helping!

I think we could truly make a great impression on people were we to perform regular acts of kindness. It was Tertullian who noted that the early Christians would “support and bury poor people, supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents… and of old persons confined now to the house; But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another.”

If only today, we could give our world a reason to say, “See how they love one another.”