It’s Not A Weapon

I recently read an opinion article where a minister was decrying the death of ‘religious etiquette’ where he complained about wedding dresses being too risqué and people carrying water bottles to church and those things he sees are the death of respect for church. I read another article decrying how people being tired or afraid of being judged by their appearances as to why people are not attending church anymore. I have also read hundreds of articles and opinions how our country is going to Hell because of same-sex marriages, birth control, abortions, lack of organized prayer in schools, gun control, and a myriad of other things. Some churches have gone as far as giving guns to people to entice them to attend church. This got me to thinking that one of the problems that the Christian faith, in particular the Christian faith in the United States, is that religion is being used as a weapon against other people rather than as a bridge. Somehow, I do not believe either our Creator or Jesus advocated faith being used as a weapon. That seems utterly absurd when you stop and consider it, doesn’t it?

The Christian faith, including the Bible, is not a weapon. Stop using it as such! Jesus taught that his disciples were to go out and make disciples of the faith. He did not say to do that under duress, torture, or hatred, yet Christians have done this for centuries. Rather than obeying the two greatest commandments to love God with all your being and to love your neighbor as yourself, Christians have been trying to promulgate the faith by yelling, screaming, torturing, and even killing others who refuse to comply with their faith or their particular form of faith. This is not Christianity! This is abuse. This is cruelty. This is inhumane. This is downright un-Christian like behavior!

There are people hurting in our world from the wounds caused by those who are supposedly ‘good’ Christians. Need a few examples? If you need examples, then you are already part of the problem. However, out of kindness, I will give you a few.

The LGBT community. People who are born Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual have been persecuted for centuries. The excuse is that what they are doing is sinful according to the Bible. When one tries to argue using one of the two greatest commandments, they get the “you cannot pick and choose what you’re going to follow and not going to follow from the Bible” crap. Yet, these same people likely have no issues with tattoos, perfumes, jewelry, material wealth, eating seafood, eating pork, working on the Sabbath, etc. Talk about picking and choosing which scripture to follow and which not to follow, these people are doing it themselves. If a person identifies themselves as part of the LGBT community, it’s because the Creator made them that way. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14:13-14,

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean (NRSV).

Simply put, don’t stand in another person’s way saying he or she is somehow bad or sinful as that is not our place as humans. If we say something, such as a person’s sexual preference, is disagreeable for us, then that is our personal viewpoint for ourselves. If a person does not like the idea of someone else being born LGBT, then that’s their issue, no one else’s. It is not up to the straight person to judge the LGBT person or for the LGBT person to judge the straight person. Our Creator made humankind in His/Her image; therefore, all humankind is clean and part of the Creator.

Now, before anyone jumps to other conclusions about allowing for horrible things such as murder, rape, or child abuse, let me be clear, those things are wrong. The same passage goes on to say that if a person does something that causes someone else to be injured, then they are “no longer walking in love” (Romans 14:15 NRSV). Once again, the point is love. Love. Love. Love. The point of the Christian faith is love and love is not a weapon.

It does not take a history major to understand how many times well-meaning, but misguided Christians persecuted non-Christians and Christians who espoused dissimilar beliefs for not being Christian or not being their own particular form of Christian. The Puritans came to what we call the United States to escape religious persecution. However, they persecuted the Catholic Christians and the Quakers when they arrived in the colonies. Go back further and there are the Crusades to rid the Holy Land of those who follow the teachings of Islam, the cousin of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Add to that the countless times the Jewish people were persecuted throughout time by Christians. Add to that the treatment of the Native Americans as they would not assimilate to the Christian faith, even though their faith in some ways is far more Christ-like than the way most Christians practice.

There are many paths leading to the Great Spirit of the Universe. People follow whichever path to which they are led. Just because that person practices their faith differently does not make them wrong. I was raised in a home where religion existed on a rather casual level. My mother sometimes attended church at a United Methodist Church or a Church of Christ-Disciples. My father attended at Church of God. Certainly different ends of the Christian perspective. I went to these three, but also attended for a while in my youth, an Apostolic Church and was baptized and confirmed as a Roman Catholic. In my adulthood, I have attended Lutheran (ELCA, Wisconsin and Missouri Synod versions), Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, Southern Baptist, Church of Christ-Independent, Buddhist, and now United Church of Canada. I hope to be able to at least attend a service in a Mosque as well, but have no idea how to go about asking if I may.

What I have learned is that people are all seeking something in life, a meaning of life greater than what they experience in their day to day lives. For some, a belief in a Higher Power fulfills that need. I think it is a human need to know we are not alone in times when we feel so very alone. It can be comforting to feel the presence of our Creator even if the presence is simply another person sitting with you that cares about you as a person.

Religion is not meant to build walls up between humanity, but rather help to build bridges of understanding and cooperation. Religion is not a weapon to be used to harm others, we have far too many weapons that do that already. Isn’t it time to care less about a person’s exterior or if they bring a drink or snack to church or who they love and more about one another and how we can work together to live this crazy thing called life?

Real Americans

I recently had a person respond to a comment I made on a Facebook post deriding me for my concept of what an American is and is not. I commented that America is not what it once was and that it has gotten to be a place vastly different from where I was born and raised. This becomes even more apparent to me since I am temporarily living outside of the States due to family employment. I am gaining a much different perspective on the US while living in Canada and being able to visit my native land on occasion. What I am seeing, in addition to what I hear from my neighbors and acquaintances, saddens me sometimes when I think of the potential that exists in the United States to do so much more with the wealth that is there than what is currently occurring. What has happened to my country? To our country? Why are we acting the way we are? What exactly is a real American?

As I see this becoming more of a series of posts rather than one concise posting, I will just touch on the one concept that bothers me. That concept is what a ‘real’ American is. When I was growing up, an American was someone who was either born in the United States or immigrated to the United States and worked his or her way to citizenship. It could also be a child born overseas to US parents or even to one US parent. Sounds simple enough. I even think it is still the legal definition of what an American is. So, what happened?

The scene is becoming increasingly common. Someone asks another person the question, “What are you?” I heard this often from students I taught and even neighbors where I once lived in Florida. They asked me this. They asked others this. They did this in a quest to place a person in a box. Ironically, the people asking the question were usually white and they asked this question to someone who was not White, more than those who are white. Interesting. The concept of what a “real” American has devolved in some way to mean a person who is not Caucasian. Given the skin tone of most Native Americans is not Caucasian that makes the question both rather idiotic as well as rather insidious.

The idiocy stems from the fact that the United States is a mixture of people and cultures far beyond those from Northern Europe. The Southwestern Untied States has people from Mexico, Central and South America. They were there before the first Europeans arrived. The rest of the United States was once vastly inhabited by Native Americans who, as I mentioned before, are predominantly non-Caucasian. After Europeans arrived, many others started immigrating to the United States and settled here. Some Asians were brought over to work on the West Coast and help build the once vast railroad network. African-Americans were brought over both as slaves and some came as free persons. If something happened somewhere in the world, people came to the United States to change their lives for the better. The United States earned and enjoyed being called the Melting Pot of the world. Our country is a land of diversity. That diversity once made us great. We fought a Civil War and went through the Civil Rights movement to make all races seen as equal. It set us apart from many countries in the world where the make-up of the people is the same. Somehow, the love of our diversity has morphed into division.

Part of this idiocy has been manufactured in the form of certain media outlets attacking the skin color of our current president. He presents a quandary for what was once the majority of the American population. President Obama is neither entirely Black nor is he entirely White. He is of mixed race. That mixture seems to have scared some people who are just too xenophobic to realize that being of mixed race is okay. Perhaps these same people once advocated laws that banned intermarriage between people of different races. They saw that taboo fall with the advent of Civil Rights and dealt with it. However, when the leader of their country became someone with those qualities, they could not handle it. Therefore, we have seen a rise in those who question his citizenship and even hate him for being someone they cannot place in a box.

These same people have taken this even further and started to question their neighbors being citizens or not based on skin color or religious beliefs. Somehow, this has also changed into questioning someone’s citizenship or loyalty to his or her country. Recently, we heard of a young man who is of Mexican descent who was ridiculed when he sang the National Anthem at a basketball game. Even though he was born in the United States and is therefore a citizen, people were accusing him of being an illegal immigrant to the United States simply because of his cultural background. What difference should it make when it comes to his being an American? We are a nation of immigrants. Look at the names in the telephone directory. They are all not European names. They are names from the world pantheon of names. With those names are cultures, religions, and lifestyles that all blend to make the United States unique and wonderful. It is a shame to disparage anyone based on his or her cultural background.

Here, in Canada, the question is not asked as “What are you?”, but rather “What is your cultural background?” Yes, that may simply sound like a politically correct way to ask the same thing, but it goes beyond that. It acknowledges that the person is a human being first, and then presents a curiosity about what that person believes, practices, or lives. It is less combative, in part, due to the length of the sentence, but also due to the nature of the words used. Perhaps we, as citizens of the United States, should take this and apply it to our country. No, Canada is not perfect. No country is perfect, but imagine if we started viewing each other as people first, then whatever culture, religion, gender, gender preference, or whatever box that is needed to make us feel better. We would be better able to define a ‘real’ American as someone who loves our country because she or he was born here or immigrated here for a better life.

Civil Rights Crisis being ignored

There is a civil rights crisis in America that remains unspoken. It has nothing to do with Blacks, Hispanics, or Asians. It concerns the indigenous people of America. The very people who settled here long before the first European landed on the shores of our land. The Native American people remain the most impoverished in our country and rarely do we ever hear about them. Rarely do we find campaigns waged on their behalf finding their way into mainstream media. It is almost as if they do not exist, except for old movies where they are depicted as savages or drunks. It is shameful that we allow these noble and great people to live in squalor that matches or rivals that of third world countries. They were here first. It was our ancestors who drove them from their lands, made treaties that we broke, and continue to keep them locked in a vicious cycle of poverty. They need and deserve to be heard. They need and deserve to be given the skills necessary to achieve a higher standard of living.
According to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, 25.3 percent of Native Americans live in poverty and 29.9 percent do not have health insurance. They further state that most tribes do not have casinos or even much tourism due to their remote locations. They give a stark example of how bad it is through a reference to the Blackfoot Reservation located in Montana. Here the unemployment rate is a staggering 69 percent. That is unacceptable for a people who once lived prosperously across our country.
Aside from the location of many of the reservations that the United States Government forced upon the Native Americans being remote from urban areas where employment might be found, the problem of low high school graduation rates hinders a better life for Native Americans. According to an article from Diverse-Issues in Higher Education from 2010, “fewer than 50 percent of Native American and Alaska Native students from the Pacific and Northwest regions of the U.S. graduate from high school.” Graduation rates for Native Americans as a whole “average 46.6 percent” across our country while the graduation rate for other ethnicities in the U.S. range from a high of 77.9 percent for Asians to 50.8 percent for Hispanics (Diverse). Among the reasons given for the high dropout rate for Native Americans, according to the article, are “lack of student engagement, perceived lack of empathy among teachers, passive teaching methods, and lack of parent involvement.” These are problems that can be solved in the educational realm provided the funding exists and teachers are well trained for the needs of Native American students. This is not unlike the widespread efforts that continue to assist students who are speakers of other languages that exist in our schools. The article points out a list of strategies needed to “reduce dropout rates. These strategies include avoiding policies that demean, embarrass, harass, or alienate native students; providing opportunities for students’ involvement in their language and culture; and better preparation for educators who work with American Indians.”
Again, this is much like what educators in areas having large Hispanic or other immigrant populations already must learn and practice in order to reach their non-native students. In those situations, we have dual language classrooms in some areas and mandatory workshops on strategies needed to teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). In Florida where I taught, for example, all teachers need at least 60 hours of ESOL training and those teaching English/Language Arts need 300 hours in ESOL training or an ESOL endorsement on their teaching licenses. We also had many schools where the diversity of their students was celebrated through cultural activities highlighting all cultures.
Native American students should be encouraged to learn and share their native culture within their schools. There should be lessons where their cultural diversity should be integrated within the curriculum along with the diversity of the other cultures within their schools. For those Native Americans who are educated on schools located within reservations, they need teachers who are well trained in the culture of the tribe or tribes that are located within the reservation. Those teachers can then embrace that culture and utilize it to enhance the curriculum that will enhance student learning and understanding. Along with this, there needs to be more technology within Native American schools so that the students are able to master the skills necessary for them to bring jobs that are more prosperous to their communities. Native American parents need to be encouraged to get involved in their student’s education through volunteer opportunities. Native American schools need to encourage adults who lack job skills to gain them through classes geared toward their needs. The cycle of poverty that appears rampant on many reservations can be curtailed with education that is delivered in harmony with their cultural beliefs.
Along these lines, more needs to be done to address the severe poverty that grips many who live on the more remote reservations. While tribal laws can sometimes be complicated, surely there must be some way that tribal leaders and those outside the reservations can work together to come to some way to assist those living on reservations in gaining a better infrastructure both physically and technologically. In an ever-increasing global economy, being remote from urban areas should be a bridge that is easily crossed through better technology and technological skills.
Why are we as a country choosing to ignore the situation faced by many Native Americans? Part of their situation is due to our past practices in attempting to exterminate them from what were their lands in the first place; this includes forcing them onto reservation lands that were either far from their native lands or into portions of them that are distant from infrastructure that could assist them in bettering their situation. Therefore, it should fall in part onto us to help them change their circumstances for the better.
As with all of my posts to this blog, I know I do not have the all the answers to the problem. However, I do want to give some food for thought that will hopefully bring about a change for the better.