Church/State issue takes center stage again

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has triggered one of my hot buttons. I was going to write more about Lent but perhaps this season is a good time to examine a volatile issue in American politics, which divides Christians and hurts the conservative vote.

The issue is the separation of church and state. The current mainstream conservative and liberal understandings of this issue are incorrect. In a nutshell, the conservatives believe that this country was founded on Christian principles; therefore, this country should be ruled by Christian thinking - it should be a "Christian" nation.  Liberals go the other way, believing that church and state should never be mixed. The case going on in New York City regarding whether or not churches can rent public school buildings is an example of liberal ideology.

To see what Santorum is saying on this issue, check out this article:

Santorum: Separation of Church and State Not Absolute; Obama Is 'Snob'

A quote:

"I don't believe in America the separation of church and state is absolute," Santorum told host George Stephanopoulos. "The idea that the church can have no influence or involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says 'free exercise of religion,' that means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith into the public square. Kennedy for the first time articulated a vision saying faith is not allowed in the public square."

Santorum was referring to a speech made by then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who, if elected, would become the first Catholic president in American history. Santorum says that Kennedy's speech, which was meant to calm frayed Protestant nerves at the time, "... makes me want to throw up."

The thing is that Kennedy's speech says nothing about faith not being allowed in the public square.

You can hear it for yourself here: Kennedy's speech.

Here's a snippet from that speech:

But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion.

Kennedy understood that the First Amendment offers not only protections for individuals to practice their religions without interference from the state, but also the converse: that the state is to be free from interference from religion.

Here is another excerpt:

Whatever issue may come before me as President--on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject--I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

Read the full speech here.

In his speech, Kennedy says that he would rely on his conscience to help him decide matters of national interest. As a boy, his conscience was heavily influenced by Catholicism, so in effect, Christian teaching would be used to shape his decisions. And this is where religion and the state should meet - in the conscience of each of us as individuals. It should not be otherwise.

This is where the Founders intended the two to meet: in the lives of the people who ran the representative government by their vote. As long as the people who governed America wanted a moral government that relied on Christian values that's what they would have. However, they did not want a religious institution or group to govern the country as was the case in many of the European countries from whence they came.

In England and other countries, your religion was based upon the religion of the monarch. If it was otherwise, it was at your peril.  If the monarch happened to be a Protestant then the country was Protestant. Catholics were not tolerated, often to the point of brutal and savage death. It was the reverse if the monarch happened to be Catholic.

Unfortunately, this was happening in America as well. The Puritans did not tolerate any other religion than their own brand of Christianity. They fled Europe to avoid persecution, but they did not in the least mind persecuting others. In our nation's early days, before we became a nation, Christian churches had no compunctions about persecuting other Christians of the 'wrong' denomination. While that statement may drive Glen Beck to a state of apoplexy, it is well-documented fact, not 'revisionist history.' This is when the Founders began to write on this issue and these writings shaped our country's political thought.

We see an example of religion controlling the state in today's world, in the Middle East, with sharia law.  There are many Christians in Muslim countries who are being persecuted and killed because they refuse to renounce their faith. We also see Muslims killing other Muslims for not being the 'right kind' of Muslims - Sunni against Shi'ite. Is this what we want in America for anyone? Isn't it better that Muslims are free to worship the way they want and Christians and Jews are allowed to do the same? And atheists, who should be free to worship anything or nothing at all?

Yet, in spite of historical and modern examples, many Christians in our country insist that the nation should be run by Christian government when history shows that our Founders borrowed thought from the Romans, Jews, Greeks, Christians and others.

Why don't we get this? Why are we Americans allowing good debate on the important issues - like the economy, like education of our kids, like healthcare - to be usurped by an issue that shouldn't matter? Why is this so important for conservatives? They need to refocus because the non-issue has pretty much killed their political viability in my book. After 22 years as a registered Republican, I am giving serious consideration to becoming an Independent.


Lent: Day 6. No one is comparable to Christ

I read this quote this morning on Bible Gateway's Lent devotional reading e-mail that goes out to people who sign up for it:

The Lord, though he was God, became man. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud:

"Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I," he said, "am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ."

"Come, then, all you nations of men, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light, I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father."

- Melito of Sardis, 2nd century church father


Art and Christian Expression

As you can see from the sidebar of my blog, I have joined the Etsy community and am trying to sell handmade items on the side. This work is good for me. First of all, it's enjoyable. Second, it gives me a way to express myself and keep my commitment to life-long learning.

Art is also a way to express one's faith. Recently, I posted these matchboxes on Etsy. They are favors and would be nice to insert in an Easter basket or to just give out at Easter. They hold a small piece of candy (mini-candy bars are perfect) or a small gift. I made mine with crosses that symbolize different aspects of Christ:

This cross, with a heart in the center, represents the sacred heart of Christ. Love is at the center of Easter and it is the love in Christ's heart that makes our salvation possible.

This cross is purple and represents the kingship of our Lord Jesus.

This cross is white and represents the purity of Christ. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sin, like the spotless lambs that the Jewish people used to sacrifice to atone for their sins. The red sticky gem in the center represents Christ's blood that was shed.

Art can also be used to tell one's life story. Here we see an image that shows some of a mosaic that is hanging in the hallway at the Benet Hill Monastery. It tells the story of the nuns of the Order of St Benedict, but also of the house and how these particular nuns came to be at Benet Hill:

What can you see from this image that tells you about their story? The right side, not completely visible in this photo, illustrates through art and symbology significant to the order, the inspiration of Saint Benedict and the influence of his twin sister, Saint Scholastica. The central part of the mosaic illustrates the journey the sisters once made from the home monastery in Kansas to the Colorado Springs area, with the original house in the city. It also shows the importance of music and art in the nuns' lifestyle, with hands raised heavenward, reaching out for God.

Artists have been using images to tell their story for centuries. How will you tell your faith story?

Have a great weekend. I'll share more Monday.


Lent: Day 2

So we got through Ash Wednesday still committed to not eating junk food. Our definition of junk food includes chocolate, potato chips, Fritos, pop, candy, cookies, cake, pie, etc. I'm sure you get the idea. What we do allow ourselves to eat are things like tortilla chips and french fries (as long as they are included in a meal). We're just trying to get away from all that snacking on stuff that isn't good for the body.

Even the first day wasn't easy, however, because the lovely ladies at our town library gave Mike this because they are grateful for all the work he does on their computers:

This looks pretty healthy because it has antioxidants in it right? That's what Mike said. They're 'health food.' It was a not-so-subtle ploy, I think. It still has chocolate, although it's dark chocolate, which is healthier. I thought, "If I eat that on the first day, I'll be blowing it because if it's really good, I will want more." So we didn't. Mike was really good too. I even tested him by asking him if the pomegranate seeds were good. He was insulted that I would think that he would fall so soon.

Then, a few hours later, Mike and I went to Village Inn on a date. The kids had gotten me a gift certificate for my birthday and said that I should take Mike out. Thanks, guys! We had a great time, but it was free-pie-slice-night. Mike asked the waitress if she would wrap up our slices in a take-home container and she was quite happy to do so. We gave those nice, delectable pieces of cherry pie with the flaky, buttery crust to Jon and Stephen, who probably worked it off going downstairs to their rooms.

Ah, the day passed and we stayed true to our commitment.

Last night before I went to bed I read this:

"... Lent ... is not merely a time of giving up pleasures and dwelling on one's sins. The giving up of pleasures is intended to make one mindful of how easy it is to fall into bad habits or indulgent behavior. The sacrifices should lead to reform and to turning back toward the healthy and holy in one's daily life ..."

Pretty interesting, I thought. That was from this little book I picked up at the Benet Hill Monastery:

I thought the prayer at the end of the first chapter devotional was fitting:

God of all my days, guide me in this Lent, forgive me my past failings and help me to become more pure and holy by this special time of grace. May my efforts in this season lead to true and lasting changes for your greater glory.

Amen - so be it.


Today is Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In the church today, many Christians will receive a mark of the cross on their foreheads in the ashes saved from palm branches used in the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration. The mark indicates that their sins are forgiven.

It is an appropriate preparation for celebrating the fasting and reflection that takes place during Lent.

A couple of years ago, I attended two Ash Wednesday services so that I could write an article. First, I attended the Catholic celebration. The place was packed, standing room only. I had to leave early in order to attend a smaller service at the United Methodist service. In this service the pastor gave quiet time for reflection and confession of sin. We did some responsive readings and the pastor talked a little. After this was over we went forward in a line and the pastor rubbed ashes on our foreheads and said that our sins were forgiven. It was very meaningful. I felt buoyant after the service.

Today, however, I will not go to an Ash Wednesday service because there are too many other things going on. In place of this I thought of some scriptures and songs upon which to focus. I thought I would share them with you. Their theme is forgiveness. If you can, take some time to go over them, reflect on what God has done for you and confess anything that hinders your relationship. Then be joyful and give thanks to God for his great love and forgiveness.

Beginning song:

Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners


The Prodigal Son: Luke 15: 11 - 32

This is Rembrandt's great painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, completed in the years just before Rembrandt's death in 1669. An excerpt from a critique by John F. Sawyer:

In the painting, the son has returned home in a wretched state from travels in which he wasted his inheritance and fell into poverty and despair. He kneels before his father in repentance, wishing for forgiveness and a renewed place in the family, having realized that even his father's servants had a better station in life than he. His father receives him with a tender gesture . . . Standing at the right is the prodigal son's older brother, who crosses his hands in judgment; in the parable he objects to the father's compassion for the sinful son:

But he answered his father, "Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him."
—Luke 15:29–30

Whereupon the father responds:

"But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:32).

I would also recommend The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers, and Sons, by Henri Nouwen.

Zaccheus: Luke 19: 1 - 10

The Woman Caught in Adultery: John 8: 1 - 11

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Ending Song:

It is Well With My Soul




Lent begins tomorrow

Hi, everyone. It's Fat Tuesday again, which means tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lent season. I began my celebration of Lent with a 490 calorie Mrs. Field's ice cream and chocolate chip cookie sandwich - my two favorite desserts besides chocolate - and washed it down with my favorite soda Pepsi Maxx. Unusual? Not really. Many Christians all over the world are using today and the weeks before Lent to eat things they will give up during Lent. And, Mike and I are going for it this year. No junk food for the next six weeks.

For us, this is a sacrifice.

But Lent is not really about sacrifice, it's about spiritual formation. People who celebrate Lent can give up a harmful habit (in our case eating junk food) or they can add something to their routine like prayer, community service, study, whatever. I plan to blog more during Lent, study and pray when I crave junk food. I'm hoping that it will be a time of growth.

Returning to our roots

I was born and raised a Protestant in what is called a "low church." This means that my church does not, according to the CRI Voice, follow a "prescribed order of service ... does not follow certain liturgical patterns, and does not make use of developed ritual, ceremony, or worship accouterments like vestments." We do not follow the church liturgical calendar. When I was growing up the only thing we observed Good Friday and celebrated Easter. I didn't even realize that people all over the world observed Lent until I was an adult. I didn't know that there was a whole six weeks of observances that I was missing. Am I going Catholic? Some may wonder since I recently visited Benet Hill Monastery for a retreat, but I'm not. I just want to return to my roots and celebrate in a way that Christians have celebrated for the last 1,800 years or so.

As I have grown spiritually, I realize that there is nothing wrong with wanting to return to my roots in the Christian faith. After all, Catholics are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Unfortunately, to hear some Protestants talk, Catholics are on a slippery slope to hell. I beg to differ with this opinion. On our trip to the monastery, I found that the sisters not only followed the biblically-based Rule of St. Benedict, they were also immersed in the scriptures. Even their liturgy of daily prayers were word-for-word scripture. Most Protestants cannot claim this. We are very much into free speech in prayer. There is nothing wrong with this either, I just think a balance is needed. This keeps us from blabbering and saying things that are not biblical. Maybe more on that later.

Lent is also a time of reflection. We remember what Christ did for us on the cross. This is important because reflection causes us to be grateful and gratefulness is the root of a good spiritual life. How will you spend your time during this six-week season? If you have a special routine or some questions post your comments below.

Tomorrow I'll post some suggestions on how to reflect during the season.