An Old-Fashioned Kind of Love

Something to keep in mind when reading biblical passages about marriage, love, and sex:  for most of human history, consent was a foreign concept, and love was an afterthought.  Women were effectively their father’s property, and were “given away” to the husband upon marriage (often in exchange for a “bride-price” or to seal a treaty or agreement).

But it wasn’t all wine and roses for the groom, either: husbands-to-be often had as little choice in the matter as their brides.  The parents arranged the marriage, usually for monetary or political reasons, and the people getting married basically had to deal with it.  Of course there were exceptions (Ruth and Boaz, for example), and of course the practice varied over time, culture, and geography.  But the pattern was pervasive.

One thing the groom did have going for him was the definition of adultery. Adultery didn’t mean cheating on your spouse. It meant sleeping with another man’s wife. A married man could visit prostitutes or any other unmarried non-virgin he could bed, and it was a-okay, even in the first century. The legal double standard persisted into the reformation (King Henry the VIII of England killed two wives for adultery, but always kept a mistress on the side. Funny, that). The societal double standard exists to this day.

This only started to change in the last two or three hundred years.  We’ve all read Jane Austen (or at least seen the movies).  But Austen wasn’t writing safe, posh romances. She used the romance novel to criticize arranged marriage, hypocrisy, and materialism in early nineteenth-century Britain. She wasn’t the first or only person to speak out, but it took a long time to get from arranged exchanges of property to what we currently think of as marriage.

And eighteen hundred years earlier, when the Apostle Paul was writing?  Or twenty-five hundred years earlier, when Queen Esther would have been alive? Forget about it. The wife was the husband’s property.  So were the kids and the slaves.

Nobody cared whether the bride wanted to get married. Nobody cared whether the slave wanted to become the husband’s mistress.  Nobody cared whether the male slave wanted to become the husband’s ‘lover.’ And though they weren’t slaves, nobody cared whether the 12 year old boys in ancient Greece and Rome wanted to have adult ‘mentors’ with a side order of pederasty.

So why does that matter today? Because it affects how we interpret the Bible. If we see marriage in our modern, 21st century light, or even in an idealized 1950’s light (as the complementarian movement does), we don’t see the reality. Biblical marriage, biblical adultery, biblical homosexuality – these things are all fundamentally different than their 21st century counterparts.

That’s not to say the Bible doesn’t speak to us today on these issues. It absolutely does. But if we ignorantly superimpose our own culture on the biblical text, we will fail to understand. We have ears, but if we cover them and sing 21st (or mid-20th) century love-songs, we will not hear. And as Christians, we must hear what the Bible says. We simply must.

Gluttony

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony by Hieronymus Bosch

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony by Hieronymus Bosch, c 1450-1516 AD

You know what I like?

I like it when skinny-jean wearing hipster-Christians  talk about how “Fat gluttonous pastors will get up on stage and talk about living like Jesus,” and then compare them to worship leaders who visit prostitutes.

I really like  it when they write these articles on their brand new iProducts (made with real Slave Labor[TM] and assembled at a suicide factory!)

And I absolutely LOVE it when they conflate obesity with gluttony, and forget that the POOR in America are the most prone to obesity, but the RICH (and middle class) use far more resources.

You see, Gluttony isn’t about weighing too much to put a full-body photo of yourself on your blog as promotional material. It’s about devouring all you want, without concern for those who are going without.

Back in the day, those were correlated. But today, in America? No-name hot dogs are 99 cents per package. Fresh fish is often ten times that much. White bread? 99 cents a loaf. Health-conscious stone-ground wheat? Two or three times that much. Low-grade, high-fat ground beef? You guessed it, 99 cents a pound. Boneless, skinless chicken breast? Four times that much.

It looks like we fat gluttons “got 99 problems, but being rich ain’t one.”

I know I’m sensitive about this, because I’m a super-heavyweight myself. But the thing is, I freely acknowledge my gluttony.  I am a glutton.

I’m not a glutton because of my waistband.

I’m not a glutton because of my BMI.

I AM a glutton because I use resources carelessly.

I AM a glutton because I buy and throw things away for no good reason.

I AM a glutton because I’m hip-deep in the stream of cheap consumer goods that flood into America like lemmings over a cliff.

I AM a glutton because lights stay on in my house. The DVR is on non-stop, scanning, waiting to record. I’m always charging something. Like most of my countrymen, I use electricity like it’s free.

I AM a glutton because I drive wherever I want, without stopping to think how much gas I’m using.

And chances are, if you’re an American, you are too.

Even if you squeeze your hips into 28″ waist blue jeans, and still have enough room in your pocket for your iPhone.

 

Are Pacifists Cowards?

White Flag. Photo by Jan Jacobsen, Creative Commons

White Flag. Photo by Jan Jacobsen, Creative Commons

One argument I’ve heard against pacifism (or total nonviolence) is that it is a disguise for cowardice. And maybe there was a time when this was true.

Maybe, in World War I or World War II, there were people who claimed conscientious objector status on the basis of pacifism who really weren’t opposed to war, but didn’t want to fight. After all, those wars involved widespread conscription, and people tried a lot of things to avoid the draft.

I’ve got two responses to that argument. The first is that you can’t rightly judge actual pacifists by those who claim pacifism just because they’re scared. This should be obvious.

More importantly, we aren’t in World War II anymore.  Nobody is being drafted into the U.S. Military to go and fight the Taliban. In fact, we’re in process of transitioning from our all-volunteer, professional military fighting a war to unmanned drones targeting “militants” via a Presidential kill list.  Nobody’s claiming pacifism to avoid going to war.

I would argue that right now, in America, it takes more courage to be a pacifist than to not be.  Patriotism is a cardinal virtue here in America, and it seems that patriotism almost always gets wrapped up in militarism.

To support America is to support our troops. To support our troops is to support whatever war congress and the President have sent them to. And to support whatever multibillion dollar weapons system congress is trying to fund this week.  If you don’t support the “$154 million dollar per plane” F-35 jet fighter program, you don’t really love America.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Jet Fighter - for $154 million, it should turn into a robot

Never mind whether it’s true or not. Never mind whether our troops might be better supported and loved by being judicious and critical about sending them off to die. Never mind that the Joint Chiefs don’t even want all the weapons systems congress is throwing at them (or rather, at their friends in the defense industry).

It doesn’t matter if it’s true. This is our narrative. Our politicians may squabble over the details, but precious few want to change the basic storyline. It’s not just embraced by the secular culture, but by the majority of Christians. I’ve even heard it preached from the pulpit.

Pacifism flies in the face of this narrative.

Pacifism says “America is not Jerusalem, and it’s certainly not the City of God.”

Pacifists call us to awareness of the dangers of America, how it can easily become Rome, crushing all those who get in its path, abusing its own people, even while proclaiming the great rights granted to it “citizens”.

Pacifists say things the wider culture, including American Christians, don’t want to hear.

That’s not cowardly. Far from it.

After the Vote Rush (Wrestling the Partisan Angel)

Well, it’s all over but the shouting now.  The votes are (mostly) tallied, and the victor has been decided.  President Barack Obama has been re-elected, and will be our President for the next four years.

I’m dragging today, because I stayed up and watched the speeches last night.  Governor Romney was gracious in defeat, and seemed far warmer, more genuine, and more likable than he had during the campaign.  President Obama’s acceptance speech was Presidential, gracious, and even a little inspiring.

People predicted the apocalypse when President Obama was first elected. Others predicted a new post-racism, post-sexism utopia.  We got an Affordable Care Act modeled on Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts program, drone strikes against Pakistani and Yemeni civilians, no change on Gitmo, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, continued surveillance, and slow-but-steady economic growth.

Competent, but surprisingly consistent with Bush, down to a similar disregard for civil liberties.

And despite the pundits’ alternate snarling and simpering, that’s what we’re likely to have for the next four years.  Some things will get better.  Some will get worse.  For the  most part, it will be more of the same.  America will survive, just like it would have under Romney.

So what is there to do now?  Only pray.  Pray for God’s guidance for President Obama and his family.  Pray for wisdom for all our elected officials of both parties.  Pray for our nation.  Pray that God will heal the divisiveness that turns us all to broken glass every four years.

Pray that we may be clearer, more compassionate, more insightful, more virtuous. Pray that we the people can model the virtues we want to see in Washington.

Pray for President Obama, whether you voted for him or not. And remember Romans 13:1-7. Pray for President Obama, whether you like or approve of the President’s policies (or abhor them), and remember that God loves him as much as he loves any of us.

Amen.

Wasted Vote? No, Clean Conscience.

Eagle and American Flag  by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

Photo by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

I voted with a clean conscience today, and it felt GOOD.  I didn’t give my approval to Obama’s drone strikes against civilians in countries we aren’t even at war with.  I didn’t give my approval to Romney’s promise to continue, and possibly expand, those attacks.

Four years ago, I let myself be suckered. I voted for “the lesser of two evils,” and I almost threw up on the way out of the polling place.  I knew it was wrong as soon as I pressed the button.

Today I was grinning.

It doesn’t matter that the third-party candidate I voted for won’t win.  It’s not like Mississippi is a swing state anyway. My vote went to “No, it is NOT right to kill Pakistani (or Yemeni, or any) children in my name.” My vote went to “No, America’s problems will NOT be solved by killing everyone who hates us.”  My vote went to “No, permanent war is NOT okay, even if it’s fought by remote control.”

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re “throwing your vote away” if you don’t vote for one of the corporate-approved, militaristic professional politicians the GOP and Democrats serve up to you.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re a fool for opting out of the orchestrated drama wherein candidates who are 90% alike go to “war” over the remaining 10% … and then largely forget that 10% once they’re elected.

Don’t let anyone make you compromise because “this election is the most important in history!”  They have said that about every election I am old enough to remember. And the two parties keep sharing power, sharing patronage, sharing money, and shedding blood.  Very little changes.

Vote for the person you believe in, regardless of their “chance” of winning.  Don’t give your approval to things you think of as evil.  If you believe in the Democrat or Republican candidate, then by all means, give him your vote.  But don’t vote for the lesser of two evils.  Don’t do it.  Don’t give your sanction to evil.

I know this is coming too late to affect anyone’s vote in this election.  But I couldn’t have written it before I voted, and between work and election day communion service at our church, this was the quickest I could get it posted.  But I stand by it.  Vote your conscience.  Be heard.