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Sheep and Goats

Jesus said that at the end of the world “All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.” (Matthew 25, verse 32, NRSV)

But in Luke 3:6, John the Baptist says “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

And Saint Augustine said, “The line between good and evil is drawn straight through the human heart.”  We all intuitively know that this is so.  Even the most self-righteous among us know deep in our hearts that we fall far short of sinlessness.  And science provides support for this.  Richard Dawkins famously wrote about the “the selfish gene,” the drive to survive at all costs that is inherent in human beings.  But, as far back as Darwin, evolutionary scientists theorized that humans could not have survived without cooperation, and therefore evolution also selects for compassion and altruism.  And some recent evolutionary science supports the theory of inherent altruism (see this excellent article from Psychology Today). God built goodness into our very genetic code. 

I’m a good Lutheran and completely understand that I will never win salvation via good works.  We Lutherans are all about justification by faith.  But…if none of my good works could ever earn me a place in heaven, how could any level of faith get me to heaven?  Relying on your own faith feels to me every bit as mistakenly pious as relying on your own good works. 

What can save us then?  Grace alone.  

If none of us is good enough or faithful enough to be saved or our own merit, the logical conclusion is that we will all ultimately be saved. Or damned, take your pick, but I’m counting on saved. Otherwise what was Christ’s sacrifice for?  Augustine would definitely disagree with me. And the universalist position does raise very serious questions about justice.   I’m not a theologian, just a layperson who likes thinking about these things. I admit that I have no idea how universal salvation would work.

But, in this lovely defense of universalism from the journal First Things, Russell Saltzman puts it beautifully.  “If it was God’s purpose to reconcile the world through Christ, I’ve never felt comfortable saying God can’t have what he wants.”

None of us knows the “day or the hour.” But I hope that what happens at the end of the world is that Christ erases that line through our hearts by separating each and every one of us from our sins.  That feels like a Christ-like thing to do.  Separating people into categories?  Suspiciously human.  


Be the Change #51: Patriotism part two

I ended my last blog post with the two questions:

Why do I still love my country?

And

What IS a country anyway?

A country is a set of laws that apply within a geographical boundary.  It is a culture, usually containing many sub-cultures.  It is a group of people who accept that by law, culture and geography, they are a nation. 

So, when we love America, we love those things. We love the land within our nation’s boundaries, from the Alaskan wilderness, to the frantic energy of the big cities, to the ocean of grain ripening under the midwestern sun.  We might not love every single law, but we love the Constitution and our heritage of democracy and freedom.  We love the bold, independent can-do spirit that is at the heart of our nation’s culture, and we love the sub-cultures that immigrants from all over the world have brought with them, from tacos to Christmas trees to square dancing.

But, above all, we love each other.  Above all, a nation is its people. 

Think of the young men and women who selflessly serve in our military, and our police forces and fire departments.  They are defending us, all the 250 million Americans in our swell hilltop mansions, our little brick cottages in trolley suburbs, our farmhouses and, yes, even our tents under bridges. 

Think of your community:  your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, the members of your church.  You care of them, feel concerned for their welfare, want them to be treated fairly.  You would defend them if they needed defending. 

Your country is your larger community.  A community defends itself.  People in a community treat each other with respect and kindness.  They take care of each other. 

When you love America, it’s because you love the people who live here with you.  People in a community can disagree, but they don’t give up on each other

If you can’t love your fellow Americans just because they disagree with you politically, that’s not patriotic.  When you throw around terms like “racist” or “libtard” because someone voted for a candidate you don’t like, or their views are different from yours, that’s not patriotic. 

Why DO I still love my country?  I have been disheartened by many things that have happened in recent years. Endless wars all over the world.  Mass incarceration. Children separated from their parents at our border.  Most of all, I am saddened by the atmosphere of partisanship and acrimony.   Honestly, right now, I still love America as an act of will and as an act of loyalty to the ideals that I was taught as a child.  I won’t give up on my country any more than I would give up on one of my children or one of my friends who was in trouble.  I love my country as an act of hope that we will find our way again, as we have in the past.  But, first, I think we need to find our way back to each other.

Here’s a challenge for you:  If you really consider yourself to be patriotic, refrain from political insults for the whole month of July.  Criticize our government all you want; that’s so patriotic that your right to do it is enshrined in the very first amendment to our Constitution.  But, don’t throw blame and insults at your fellow Americans on the other side of the political divide.  Just for the month of July, as a birthday present to our nation, love your fellow citizens. Shut off whatever voice in your head (or from TV or the internet) is telling you that everyone who disagrees with you is evil, stupid and your enemy. 

 


Be the Change #50: Patriotism part one

Most children are afraid of ghosts, or big dogs, or the monster under the bed.  Not I.  When I was a little girl, I was afraid of Communists. 

Growing up in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, I don’t think I knew about nuclear weapons.  I wasn’t exactly sure what Communists were, and I wasn’t clear on what they might do to me.  But, I must have known something about the Holocaust, because I vaguely remember thinking they would take me out of my home, take my clothes and make me march to a horrible camp where I would be beaten, starved and killed.

Sometimes I woke in the middle of the night with these fears.  My dad would be sitting on his scratchy red chair drinking a last beer before bed, just home from a church softball game or an Elks meeting.  He took me onto his bony lap, listened to my fears, and reassured me that he and my mother would always take care of me.  And reminded me that my country would protect me.  America was the richest, strongest country in the world, always on the side of what was right.

School reinforced that message. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance daily, hands over hearts.  In Social Studies class, we learned about our wise Founding Fathers and the Constitution they wrote.  We were taught that America was the land of opportunity, where people from other places could come to find freedom and better lives.  In Music Class, we sang “God Bless America” and “This is My Country” and “America the Beautiful” in our piping voices, accompanied by grim-faced Mrs. Riffle banging on the piano. 

But a woman in late middle-age knows things that a little girl is rightly protected from. I now know that we stole this land from the natives who were living here before Columbus “discovered” the New World.  I know that our brawny economy was built partly on the whip-driven backs of slave laborers, and that the descendants of those slaves still can’t get a fair shake in our justice system.  I know that we have meddled in other countries’ elections to install leaders who were sympathetic to us and often brutal to their own people.  I know that our foreign policy has sometimes been driven less by idealism than by avarice. 

And yet I still love America.  We’ve been hanging our flag less lately, but we used to hang it every sunny day from April through November.  I vote in every election.  I tear up at the words to “America the Beautiful” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  I’m proud of the innovation and prosperity that the U.S. brought to the world, of the sacrifices that my parents’ generation made to rid the world of Nazis and hold out against Communism in the Cold War.  I’m proud that our Constitution is a model for the world, and that people want to come here from every corner of the globe – even now, when the Trump presidency has me pondering what it even means to be patriotic.

And so I ask myself: Why, with all that I know now, do I still love my country?

I’ve been struggling with that since November 8, 2016, and the answer starts with another question:  What IS a country anyway?

To be continued in my next post…


Be the Change #49: Schwarzenegger on Gerrymandering

If you don’t believe me on gerrymandering, listen to what The Terminator has to say about it.  Arnold Schwarzenegger has released a series of videos on this topic.  The videos ate both informative and entertaining, Some include humor such as when he says that Congres is less popular than hemorrhoids, herpes, cockroaches and Nickelback.

As governor, Schwarzenegger helped push through Proposition 11.  Prop 11 gave California a Citizens Redistricting Commissions, similar to what Fair Districts PA is promoting for Pennsylvania.  Only 5 other state use independent commissions to set district boundaries.  An independent commission should be the standard.  No individual drawing district lines should be a legislator or public official.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Watch what Ah-nold has to say about it….

90-second summary (this is the best one, the one where he says Congress is less popular than herpes):

2-minute summary (this one is a little more serious, but with touches of humor; it explains how gerrymandering drives gridlock in congress)

5-minute detail (includes a clip of President Reagan objecting to gerrymandering way back in the 80s.  also includes an explanation of how gerrymandering works)


Be the Change #48: Gerrymandering Again

Are you sick of partisan politics and political gridlock?  Do you wish the Pennsylvania state legislature could ever pass a budget without a last-minute fire drill?  Then you should care a lot about gerrymandering. 

For those of you who have forgotten 9th-grade Civics, gerrymandering in the practice of drawing district lines for state and federal legislatures such that incumbents and protected and/or that one party or another is heavily favored in each district. 

Click HERE for an example of what a congressional district looks like when the state legislature is allowed to run amok designing districts to protect the party currently in power.  Does that look fair to you?  Does it even look logical? 

Gerrymandered districts are designed to be “safe” for either a Democrat or a Republican.  This practice drives partisanship because the incumbent almost never has to worry about a challenge in the general election.  They only have to worry about a primary challenge.  In the primaries, the challenger in a safe Republican district will almost always be to the right of the incumbent.  In a safe Democratic district, the challenger will almost always be the left.  To protect themselves against extremist primary challenges, the incumbents move towards the extremes themselves.  It can be political death to reach across the aisle and cooperate with the other party. 

Result:  gridlock, including constant threats of governments shutdowns at both the state and federal levels. 

Further result:  Communities who used to have a representative who had their best interests are heart are now split, so that nobody in Harrisburg is really looking out for them.  Do you live in Ross Township, PA?  You used to have a legislator in the State House who represented the interests of your community.  Now Ross is divided among 4 different legislative districts.  Do you think that was done in your best interests?

“Your” representatives in gerrymandered districts actually have no incentive at all to serve you.  Their seats are safe as long as they please the party leadership and the big donors. 

Result:  government by power elites, not by the people.

Further result:  trust in our form of government erodes. 

71% of Americans – across the political spectrum – agree that gerrymandering should be against the law.  And the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agrees.  Early this year, they threw out the 2011 map and put a new, fairer one in place.  But guess what?  Without reform, in 2021 the legislators will be free to gerrymander again.  And there will be another lawsuit. 

Result:  Your tax dollars and mine are spent defending against lawsuits that should never have to be filed in the first place. 

Fair Districts PA is working to change Pennsylvania from one of the worst gerrymandered states to a model of fairness.   Today state and federal districts are designed by the party in power in Harrisburg.  Even the minority party isn’t blameless.  They usually go along with the map designed by the majority party as long as it also protects a few of their favored incumbents.  Fair Districts PA is working to replace that self-serving system with a citizens’ commission. 

Please write to your state representative and senator NOW and demand that fair districting bills be brought to the floor for a vote.  Find the name of your representative and your senator HERE.   And write a letter to the editor.  Fair Districts PA provides resources for letter-writing, more information about the proposed citizens commission, and other information on their website.

If you care about democracy, you should care about gerrymandering.  Join our fight now!


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