Monday, September 30, 2013

Moral or Immoral Monday?

As many of you probably know, for quite some time now there have been various protests in North Carolina on Mondays. Those who plan and carry out those protests call them Moral Mondays.
Much of the protest in North Carolina has been about the drastic changes in voter registration laws. That was especially the target of the protests on Sept. 16, the Monday after the 50th anniversary commemoration of the church bombing in Birmingham (about which I wrote here).
As today is Monday, it will be interesting to learn what the good people of N.C. will do today.
But it seems that today will be an “immoral Monday” for the United States.

As is being widely reported, the federal government is on the brink of a shutdown. It ought to be a simple matter to keep the government operating. All it would take is to pass a budget.
But the Republican-dominated House of Representatives have been unwilling to agree on a new budget unless there was defunding, or at least delay of, the Affordable Care Act, which has been the law of the land since March 2010.
“Obamacare” has been the main target of conservative Republicans for many months now, and at this point they would rather shut down the federal government rather than to approve a budget bill that includes Obamacare, which is scheduled to move to the next stage of implementation tomorrow.
What is perplexing to many of us Christians, opposition to Obamacare is the main focal point of some conservative Christian groups, such as the Faith and Freedom Coalition. On Sept. 18 I received an invitation from them urging me to join, sending them membership dues of course. In large red letters at the top of that appeal were the words: Campaign to Undo Obamacare.
Just five days earlier, I received from the same group a multi-page “90-Day Battle Plan To Dismantle Obamacare, asking me to send them $75 a month in Sept., Oct. and Nov. to help fund their $3.3 million dollar campaign.
And on the 9/26 Washington Update webpage of Faith and Action, a conservative D.C. lobby organization, is this “poster” DELAY / DEFUND / DEMOLISH / DESTROY / OBAMACARE.
It seems very strange that Christian groups such as these, or that legislators such as Southern Baptist Ted Cruz or Mormon Mike Lee, see the most critical ethical issue in the land to be fighting against expanding healthcare insurance coverage.
A few days ago good friend Anton Jacobs expressed similar dismay well on Facebook: 
The specter of affluent leaders working overtime to stop a program to extend health care to a greater portion of the population boggles the mind. Could someone please explain to me the mind and heart of people who would deliberately deprive fellow citizens of health care for ideological reasons?
Unless something unexpected happens today, the government will be partially shut down tomorrow, for the first time since the Republicans forced a shutdown for 28 days in 1995-96 during the Clinton presidency. One of the main issues then was Medicare, for which the Republicans wanted to increase the premiums and the President wanted to implement the scheduled reduction.
The temporary shutdown of the government will not be a catastrophe, although there will be severe consequences to many people and unpleasant consequences for the nation as a whole. But it does seem to be rather immoral to cause this sort of pain because of opposition to a law which just next year will provide healthcare to some 10 to 15 million USAmericans who do not now have it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Don't Worry, Be Happy"

Although I remember well his best known song, I hadn’t remembered that Bobby McFerrin was the one who sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” That song topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 in 1988, twenty-five years ago now. It was the first a cappella song to ever reach number one. Then in February 1989 it also garnered the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.
The lyrics for McFerrin’s lilting song seem to have been inspired by Meher Baba, whose picture with the words “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” appeared on numerous posters and inspirational cards. Baba, whose birth name was Merwan S. Irani, was a “spiritual master” from India, who claimed to be an Avatar, God in human form.
So with his hit song McFerrin made Baba’s simple words known around the world. People greatly enjoyed both the music and the appeal of the lyrics. George H. W. Bush even used McFerrin’s popular song in his 1988 U.S. presidential campaign—until he had to stop doing so because of McFerrin’s objection.
Bobby McFerrin (b. 1950)
One of my good friends always includes the words “Be well and feel good” before his name at the end of his email messages. That is a nice wish, but we don’t always have control over whether or not we are well, nor completely over how we feel. But I assume my friend David also likes the words “Don’t worry, be happy.” And we can have considerable control over worry and some over whether or not we are happy.
Long ago I heard it said that we humans worry about two things: things we can change and things we can’t change. If we can change something we don’t like, we should get busy and do it rather than just worrying about it. And if we can’t do anything about it, there is no use to worry.
And then I remember these words attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Just last week I saw an article on “The Habits of Supremely Happy People.” The author of that piece cited psychologist Martin Seligman, who stresses that at least 40% of our happiness is up to us.
So perhaps to a large degree we can be happy and not worry, if we so choose.
I became interested in learning more about McFerrin when his paraphrase of Psalm 23 was sung by the choir in the church June and I attend. The lyrics of that song begin,
                 The Lord is my Shepherd,
                 I have all I need,      
                 She makes me lie down in green meadows,
                 Beside the still waters, She will lead.
                 She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
                 She leads me in a path of good things,
                 And fills my heart with songs.
McFerrin wrote those lyrics as a tribute to his mother, but it is a good reminder that God can (and probably should) be pictured as Mother as well as Father. There are several YouTube videos of McFerrin’s “Psalm 23,” and I particularly enjoyed this one (click here), which includes a tribute to famous women throughout history.
Earlier this year McFerrin released a new album, “spirityouall,” and he talks about it in an interesting interview on the May 24 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program (found here).
Perhaps McFerrin can sing about being happy and not worrying because of his deep faith, such as he expressed in “Psalm 23” and in his new album.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Levellers

This article is being posted on the 370th anniversary of a battle you may never have heard of as an excuse to write about a group you may never have heard of. But there is some value in knowing about First Battle of Newbury (fought on Sept. 20, 1643) and especially about the group known as the Levellers.
(The group I am writing about, though, is not to be confused with the English rock band founded in 1988 and named the Levellers.)
While most USAmericans know quite a bit about the Civil War in the U.S., most of us don’t know much about the English Civil War, which was fought in the 1640s. One of the major battles of that war was fought at Newbury, about 60 miles west of London.
That First Battle of Newbury was led by King Charles I, who ended up losing his head (literally, in Jan. 1649) in the civil war. He was the leader of the Royalist forces, but the Parliamentarian forces won the battle.
Thomas Prince was on the side of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and he was badly wounded at the Battle of Newbury. In the late 1640s, Prince, along with John Lilburne and Richard Overton, became a leader of a political movement that came to be known the Levellers.
If you have read “A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age,” Glen Harold Stassen’s 2012 book, you know something about these matters, for he narrates how Overton and the other Levellers were “pioneers of democracy.”
Stassen also explains that the Levellers group was one of the “free-church sects,” along with the Anabaptists, Baptists and Quakers, which had considerable influence on the development of democracy in England and then in New England and the other Colonies.
While there is some confusion about the origin of their name, it is clear that the Levellers believed all people should be equal before the law; that is, the law should equally protect the poor and the wealthy. They were also advocates of the complete freedom of religion.
Overton (1599-1664) was a Baptist during the “contentious days” of the English Civil War. According to Stassen, “He strongly advocated the human right of religious liberty on the biblical basis of following Jesus” (67-68). In 1647 Overton published the first comprehensive doctrine of human rights.
Overton first made a confession of faith and was baptized at the Waterlander Mennonite Church in Holland in 1615. (The Waterlanders had broken off from the main Mennonite branch in 1555, and by 1615 they were comprised of about 1,000 baptized believers in Amsterdam.)
But back in England he became a Baptist, and also became friends with Roger Williams, it seems. Williams left England for Boston in 1630 and founded the first Baptist church in North America later that decade. In the 1640s he was writing the same sort of thing about religious liberty in New England that Overton and the other Levelers were writing in England during that same decade.
Stassen links the central emphases of Overton to the American Pledge of Allegiance, saying that the words about “liberty and justice for all” were central in Overton’s writings. (It is estimated that Overton wrote about fifty pamphlets arguing for political and religious liberty.)
Thinking about the Levellers and their emphasis on equality and justice reminded me of this cartoon, which you may have seen on Facebook where I found it.
Or maybe there is not much difference between equality and justice, if you are talking about eye level rather than where one’s feet are.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Memory of Addie, Cynthia, Carole, and Denise

You may not have recognized their names, but you doubtlessly remember something about the four girls who were tragically killed 50 years ago today in an act of racial violence.
It was 10:22 on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, when a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., taking the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair, and injuring 22 others.
As I wrote on his birthday anniversary eight months ago today, not long after Martin Luther King’s powerful “I Have a Dream” oration (on August 28), there was an escalation of violent racism in the nation, and King himself talked about his dream turning into a nightmare.
On that fateful 9/15 Sunday morning, four “beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered” (King’s words) in an act of racially motivated terrorism as they were going to their church basement assembly room to hear a sermon entitled “The Love that Forgives.”
At the funeral service for three of the young women on Sept. 18, King referred to them as “the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.” And so they were.
As you see in the picture, at the top of Addie Collins’s gravestone are the words, “Civil Rights Martyr,” and the inscription at the bottom says, “She died so freedom might live.”
And the tragic deaths of Addie and her friends did help spur Congress to pass the Civil Rights act less than nine months later and then the Voting Rights Act in 1965. (The latter was inexplicably gutted by the Supreme Court earlier this year.)
The martyrdom of Addie, Carole, Denise, and Cynthia (and others) also paved the way for great achievements of other Black girls. In her mother’s womb at the time of the tragedy, a little African-American baby was born just over four months later and named Michelle Robinson. She is now the First Lady of the United States of America.
Extensive commemorative activities have been taking place in Birmingham over the past few days, and this morning the 16th Street Baptist Church is observing the “50th Year Commemoration of the Church Bombing” with Sunday School at 9:30 and the worship service at 10:45.
The Sunday School lesson is “A Love that Forgives,” and the guest preacher at the worship service is Dr. Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention.
This past Tuesday, the Congressional Gold Medals were bestowed posthumously upon those four girls. If they had not been killed, one would now be 61 and the other three 64 years old.
The Congressional Gold Medal has been used to honor world leaders, military heroes, scientists, actors, artists, and others. It was first awarded to George Washington in 1776 and was most recently awarded in 2011 to those who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The “4 little girls” martyred on 9/15/63 are worthy recipients of Congressional Gold Medal, which with the Presidential Medal of Freedom are the highest civilian awards in the United States.
Note: On Friday, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly had a very find segment about the 50th anniversary of the 9/15/63 bombing [click here]. Some images from that 1963 explosion are found on here on YouTube. A song called “4 Little Girls” and some other pictures can be accessed here. And “4 Little Girls” is also the title of a 1997 documentary film directed by Spike Lee; I finished watching it yesterday, and it is well worth seeing.

Note added on Feb. 6, 2019: A few days ago I finished reading While the World Watched (2011) by Carolyn Maull McKinstry, who was a close personal friend of Addie, Cynthia, Carole and Denise--and who had talked with them just minutes before the fatal bomb explosion. I highly recommend this book for gaining a better understanding of that bombing and about the segregation suffered by African-Americans in Birmingham during the 1960s.