Thursday, April 17, 2014

MY PIILGRIMAGE





It’s been more than a month since we got back from California and some of what I experienced there is still stirring around in my soul.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that a mentor had once told me that there are times when we see things as they are and then there are those especially meaningful times when we see things the way they really are or ought to be.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to make much sense of 21st century life. I listen. I read. I try to pay attention to the things academics, politicians, dog catchers, pundits, preachers, T.V. anchormen and women, astrophysicists¸ teachers, and lawyers are saying, but they’re all sounding like carnival barkers to me. They’re selling a lot of stuff, but not much of it is worth my time or attention. Author Tom Robbins (“Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas”) described what I’m experiencing perfectly: “We're given Time magazine, and Reader's Digest, daily papers, and the six o'clock news; we're given schoolbooks, sitcoms, and revisionist histories; we're given psychological counseling, cults, workshops, advertisements, sales pitches, and authoritative pronouncements by pundits, sold-out scientists, political activists, and heads of state. Unfortunately, none of these translations bears more than a faint resemblance to what is transpiring in the true theater of existence, and most of them are dangerously misleading.”

Not even a faint resemblance? No, not really. Most of us are looking for truth and meaning in life, but the prophets of this age are filling our hands and heads up with worthless grease. “Buy this. It’ll make you feel better.” “Trust me.” “Your vote counts.”

I’ve been railing against the secular gurus for a few weeks, but I’m realizing that it’s a pointless battle. As Bette Midler famously put it, “Why bother?”  The gurus have the money and the votes.

So, I’m off on a pilgrimage of faith, looking for “the true theatre of existence.” It’s a difficult journey because the waters I’m trying to navigate aren’t easily seen by the human eye.  It’s also difficult because the world of contemporary religion I’m part of all too often seems to be at odds with the world I’m looking for. The world I’m looking for is organic, not man-made. It’s a place where life flows gently, yet powerfully, channeled through an eternal stream. The current world of religion, on the other hand, is deeply earth-bound. It’s been assimilated and co-opted by politics, entertainment, economics, and a misplaced aura of respectability.

Assimilated? Co-opted? What do I mean by that? Just look around; the sights and sounds of what I’m talking about are everywhere. They’re especially evident in the economics of religion today.

A week ago, Bishop Wilton Gregory from Atlanta made the news when it was revealed that millions of dollars which had been earmarked for the charitable work of his parish had actually been spent on building a new home for him.

There must be something in the water in Atlanta. Neo-Pentecostal pastors, Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar, preach prosperity and live extravagantly. Dollar drives a Rolls Royce, flies around in a Lear jet, and lives in a sumptuous mansion. Until his mega-church empire began to crumble around him, Long drove a Bentley, owned Lear jets, and lived in an estate worth millions.

When confronted, Wilton Gregory apologized and said he would sell the house. When they were confronted, Dollar and Long were indignant. As one of their mentors, Benny Hinn, once said, “The wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.”

The power of mammon isn’t just visible in the life of the high rollers. Many churches these days talk about the need to protect their “investment portfolios.” Some religious television networks are making the outrageous claim that they are churches in order to hide their assets from public scrutiny.

In a couple of days Christians will be celebrating the miracle of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. A short time before that incredible event, Jesus walked along the courts of the temple in Jerusalem. He saw money changers profiting at the people’s expense and was furious. “My father’s house should be a house of prayer,” he roared. “But you have made it a den of thieves.” He then proceeded to overturn the tables of the money changers. I’ve been on the temple mount. I’ve seen the tables. They were quite heavy. It took a very angry man to overturn them.

I see the current state of religion in America and wonder – “Is it once more time to overturn the tables?”

I also find myself longing for the day when the money changers, politicians, and entertainers no longer hold sway, the aura of religious respectability fades away, and the organic stream that heals the nations once more flows freely. If that happens before I shed my mortal coil, I’ll rejoice, knowing that I’m finally seeing things the way they really are and ought to be.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

TIME WARPS








I’ve been flitting in and out of time warps ever since I got back from vacation a couple of weeks ago. I know the one I want to inhabit, but the world’s present realities and the time warps they represent have distracted me. It’s hard to escape them. They seem to be omnipresent.

In some cases the old time warps manage to survive. But, most often the old time warps are overtaken by newer versions.

Nancy and I saw this quite clearly when we were on our way home from vacation. We had some time to spare and decided to spend a few hours in Taos, New Mexico. We’d been there a few times over our years together and had found it to be a unique experience. The Taos pueblo, the new age crystal and candle shops, the tie-dye shirts, or the starving writers’ book stores have always left us with fond memories. The Taos we knew was a time warp, for sure, but, it was a pleasant time warp. This is what we were expecting as we made our way north from Santa Fe. What we actually got was a rude awakening. The Taos of today is a conglomeration of fast food restaurants, a mega Wal-Mart, a home improvement center, and a Walgreen’s pharmacy. The old time warp is gone. Over 30% of the town’s small businesses have been shuttered and tourism is in decline. Taos is now a man-made time warp constructed in the name of progress.

We decided there was no reason to stop and moved north through the Sangre de Christo mountains instead. After all, we know what the Wal-Mart in Emporia looks like. We’ve even been inside. We’ve also got a Walgreen’s and we now have a CVS. If the developers have anything to say about it, we’ll have a home improvement super store and few more chain restaurants offering microwaved food within a few years. Emporia’s movers and shakers call it progress. They’re promising us the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it looks like a low wage, high poverty time warp to me. Zero-sum time warps tend to be like that.

We spent our last night of vacation at the St. James hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico. What an incredible time warp. There was no in-room TV, spotty internet service, and old bullet holes in the ceiling of the bar. The innkeeper told us that many a cowhand or lawman had stayed there, including Bat Masterson, Pat Garret, Doc Holliday, Belle Starr, Buffalo Bill, and more outlaws than you can shake a stick at.

A few days after we got home, I made the mistake of attending a public meeting about the proposed 24th Avenue development. I should have known that the 4-1 vote was a foregone conclusion. The developer romanced the rubes like a 42nd Street three-card monte dealer for over an hour. The mayor and three of his cohorts fell for it.  To paraphrase Bob Dylan, they were “crawlin’ over cut glass to make the deal.” The day after the meeting the Gazette published the photograph evidence of the crime – the commissioners in all their glory. The yes voters looked a lot like the time warp mug shots I’d seen at the St. James. Commissioner Mlynar is a dead ringer for Belle Starr and, if he were to grow a mustache, Commissioner Geitz might bear an uncanny resemblance to Doc Holliday. As for the resemblances of the other “yes” voters, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

The time warps are everywhere. According to John Kerry, for example, Vladimir Putin is living in a nineteenth century time warp.

Like so many things our government does these days, the response about Russia was off by a century or two. Vladimir Putin isn’t thinking nineteenth century. He’s thinking of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the handiwork of Peter the Great and his successor, Catherine.

It’s no wonder we’re having so much trouble ruling the world. We can’t even get our time warps straight. A hundred years or so might not seem like much, but in the world of diplomacy, a miss of a hundred years is as good as a millennium.

It sort of begs a couple of questions. First, what time warp is John Kerry living in? The “I’m gonna’ give you a good talking to” time warp? The “Let’s play nice” time warp? And second, does he have any clue about what time warp the Chinese, Iranians, Syrians, North Koreans, Libyans, Egyptians, or Hassan Nasrallah are living in?

I’m as much a man of my times as any other guy, but I don’t think I like the current crop of time warps. I’m looking for an escape hatch, a worm hole somewhere in our galaxy, or a bucket to retch in. I’ll fill you in on the results of my search in a couple of weeks.

Friday, March 07, 2014

A BIT OF THE BLARNEY









Every year around this time I find myself eagerly anticipating my favorite meal – corned beef, cabbage, carrots, rutabagas, potatoes, pickled beets, and Irish soda bread. That and a pint o’ the bitters to wash it all down are, as they say in the big city, to die for.

My roots are Irish. My family’s lore has it that some of my ancestors came from County Westmeath, which is still known today as “Dillon’s Country.”  I’m very proud of those roots.

Some of my earliest memories are of spending as many Saturday afternoons as possible listening to Notre Dame football games on the radio.  I have fond memories of the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game in 1953. Johnny Lattner, who just happened to be Irish-Catholic, was all over the field. He ran for close to a hundred yards, caught a couple of passes, and intercepted an Oklahoma pass. The Fighting Irish won the game, 28 to 21. Oklahoma went undefeated for the next 47 games under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson. That incredible record, which still stands, was broken in 1957 when Notre Dame running back Dick Lynch, also Irish-Catholic, scored the game’s only touchdown. While we Irish can’t lay claim to special intervention from “Touchdown Jesus” in those games (the mural wasn’t dedicated until 1964), we think there was probably a leprechaun or two traveling to Norman both times with the Fighting Irish to weave their special magic.  Some might disagree about the magic or the notion that there are even such things as leprechauns, but we who are truly Irish know better.

There’s a creation myth that’s circulated for many years. It’s about the good Lord’s creation of the people of Europe. He began with the Greeks and their grasp of philosophy.  He created French for their love of really good food. Then it was the Italians for their love of art. The Russians? Their dark, powerful literature. He saw a need for science, engineering, and mathematics and created the Germans. He crossed the English Channel and created the British to become skillful creators of massive bureaucracies. He was quite pleased with what He had done, but there was something missing. He saw that no one was having any fun. In order to remedy that problem, He created the Irish!

As proof of the Almighty’s creative power, I’m calling a few of Ireland’s great writers to the dock. I’ll begin with Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright.  He was extravagant to a fault. He once said, “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” He made a few enemies over the years and learned to forgive. As he said, “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” I’m taking his advice today. I have a few enemies here in town. They’re all forgiven. I feel really good about that. I hope they’re as annoyed as I am happy. Wilde even had a bit of humorous advice for educators. I offer this pithy little quote for our local cadre of academics.  “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

Next, I offer James Joyce. When asked about what the point of “Ulysses” was, he often said, “I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality.”

Then there’s Brendan Behan. He was a notorious drinker. He once said of the British, “They took away our land, our language, and our religion; but they could never harness our tongues.” To underscore his love of a good drink he once bragged, “I saw a sign that said ‘Drink Canada Dry’… So I did.” For those who claimed the Irish were cynical, he offered this response. “It's not that the Irish are cynical. It's rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.” He often found himself at odds with authority and lamented, “I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse.”

We Irish have lost many battles, but we’ve never really been defeated. As Ireland’s great Nobel laureate, William Butler  Yeats wryly observed, “Any fool can fight a winning battle, but it needs character to fight a losing one, and that should inspire us; which reminds me that I dreamed the other night that I was being hanged, but was the life and soul of the party.”

We Irish have had our troubles. We’ve survived wars, famines, and clumsy attempts at cultural cleansing. We’ve walked many a stony path, but the troubles have made us stronger.

 In closing, then, I offer you this simple Irish blessing:
“If God sends you down a stony path,
May he give you strong shoes.”

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Emporia!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

SHATTERED ILLUSIONS







Some illusions are shattered more gently than others.

When I was young my musical heroes were Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. In my high school days I would often daydream about sitting around a hobo campfire with a cigarette dangling from my mouth and a few down and out drifters sharing the warmth with me. Woody would be there, too, plunking away on that old guitar with the words “this machine kills fascists” emblazoned on the soundboard. Even today I can occasionally hear the mournful strains of the old Goebel Reeves’ tune “Hobo’s Lullaby” well up within me:
“So go to sleep you weary hobo
Let the towns drift slowly by
Listen to the steel rails hummin’
That’s a hobo’s lullaby”

Woody died in 1967. By that time I’d already served six years in the Air Force, including tours of duty in Newfoundland and Vietnam. I got out of the Air Force in ’69 and adopted Pete Seeger as my new hero. I was especially fond of his protest music. Every time I heard or saw something about Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, or Richard Nixon, I’d think of Pete’s rendition of “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” The last words – “The big fool says to push on” – rang so true to me.




Pete Seeger died a few weeks ago. Another of my heroes has met his Maker. Since his passing, there’s been quite a bit written about his Stalinist and socialist ways. It’s as if a lightning bolt of revelation has struck the newsrooms of America. It’s funny. We who were his acolytes knew years ago that Pete was a “red.” And, so was Woody Guthrie. Neither Woody nor Pete hid that fact, except from congressional investigators. They were quite proud of their associations with the “Party.” Woody wrote columns for the Daily Worker and the Soviet press often lionized Pete as a “great hero of the people.”  Pete repented for his love of Stalin, but not for his love of communism. He maintained the party line.  Toward the end of his life, long after a million or so Kulaks had died in Stalin’s purges, he did admit he should have asked to see the gulags. But it was too late. By the time repentance came, the numbers didn’t seem so important. How did Stalin put it? “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is just a statistic.”

We knew, but we didn’t mind. We listened to them and loved them for their sentiments, not their myopic politics. They were roaring socialists, to be sure, but so were most of us in your younger days.  I never met many young people back in the sixties who weren’t ready to abolish the right to private property. We were especially keen on doing away with the other guy’s right to private property, while simultaneously clinging desperately to our own stuff. Our motto was “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is also mine.”

Like Pete, we weren’t troubled by our inconsistencies.

As it always does, times change and the seasons of life pass. We grow up.  When we do, the illusions of our youth are supplanted by the healthy kind of disillusionment that comes with adulthood. As Peter, Paul, and Mary once crooned, “painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.”

Woody and Pete are gone, and so are the illusions. My boyhood heroes seem less heroic to me now. I realize that they had feet of clay.

Those illusions were shattered, but they were shattered gently. That’s not always the case. I read a disturbing piece from the New York Times a few days ago. In a February 1st op-ed, Nicholas Kristof gave voice to the question of whether or not it was “appropriate to honor a man who is an artistic giant but also was accused years ago of child molestation.” The man accused is film maker Woody Allen. The accuser is his daughter, Dylan. Allen denies the allegations. Who do we believe? The artistic genius who gave us “Broadway Danny Rose,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and “Midnight in Paris?” Or Dylan Farrow, the traumatized victim? What about the presumption of innocence? Does that mean that Dylan’s words carry no weight?

I’ve always loved Woody Allen’s films, but I’m finding another illusion shattered. Did he commit the crime and get away with it like the respected ophthalmologist in “Crimes and Misdemeanors?”  I don’t know. It’s all “she said” – “he said” now. But the thought of someone getting away with such a heinous crime makes my skin crawl.

Having illusions shattered can sometimes be a healthy thing. I rarely dream of life in the hobo camps these days, I don’t covet the other guy’s stuff, and I’ve sworn off Woody Allen films.  I’m disillusioned.  But, I’m also a bit wiser and a lot healthier.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

I FEEL A DIRGE COMIN' ON



Holy writ commands that Christian disciples “honor all men.” It also admonishes them to “honor the king.” These are important principles of faith, but I sometimes find them hard to follow. I want to honor and respect our leaders, but I also believe they should honor and respect me and my neighbors in turn. When leaders fail to live up to their obligations to us, we have the right and the duty to speak out.

The Bible is full of times when people of faith have spoken out. John the Baptist called the leaders of his day, “a brood of snakes and vipers.” The prophet Joel railed against Queen Athaliah, declaring that Judah’s society had been “shriveled beneath the clods” under her leadership. Jesus warned those who would listen not to follow leaders who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

Nancy and I didn’t watch the state of the Union address on the 28th. It was our mini-protest.  If we had wanted to watch kabuki or Peking opera we would have made more appropriate arrangements for the evening. We opened our I-pad instead. We found the episode of Downton Abbey we had missed on Sunday, plugged the I-pad into our TV, and settled in for an hour or so of really worthwhile viewing.

It’s strange, really. We’ve found ourselves preferring the compelling fiction of Downton Abbey over the reality and spectacle of our national politics. Will John and Anna Bates be able to weather their current storm? Will Mrs. Patmore be able to reconcile herself to the new electric mixing bowl? Will Tom Branson, the Irish firebrand, be able to reconcile himself to life as a member of the Crawley clan? Will Mary Crawley grieve forever? And, what new schemes will Thomas Barrow hatch?

It’s true. We really do prefer Downton Abbey to the pointless political theatre that our state of the Union has become. We’re weary of watching senators and congressmen¸ Democrat and Republican, pop up on cue and applaud. They look like the toilet seats Andy Griffith rigged up in “No Time for Sergeants.” It has become really nauseating.

I didn’t see it, but I read there was only one really compelling moment at the event. Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg got the honor of sitting in the First Lady’s box.  It was his reward for 10 deployments (not two or three or four or five) into combat zones. He bears the scars of that service – blindness in his right eye and the loss of the use of his left arm. As soon as the President uttered the words, “Like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit,” the gallery erupted in one minute and forty-four seconds of spontaneous applause.

The irony was palpable. Sergeant Remsburg had earned the applause, and much more from the nation he has served. Unfortunately, the same political leaders (including the President) who had the temerity to send Sergeant Remsburg into harm’s way ten times had also cut his cost of living adjustments by 1%. A seat of honor next to the First Lady, a few minutes of applause, and a cut in benefits to boot. Some rewards for patriotism and service to the nation, eh? Even the fictional Thomas Barrow could never be that crass.

No, I didn’t watch the state of the Union address. I didn’t need to. I know things are bad – really bad. And more and more of us are seeing it. The President’s approval numbers are under water and the public is tuning him out. Things with our Congress are even worse. They’re at the bottom scavenging with the bullheads, channel cats, carp, drug dealers, and ambulance chasing lawyers.

Things are approaching critical mass. The justice department is bullying nuns and other political opponents. Government agencies are spying on us, for our own good they say. Not long ago, Congress passed the “Stock Act,” to create the illusion they’re also willing to obey insider trading laws like everyone else.  Then as soon as the election was over they stripped the law of its power, by “unanimous consent.”  When asked why they had changed the law in the dead of night, they told the press that doing so in the light of day would have posed a “national risk” to the people they served. Things have hit rock bottom when legalized theft under the cloak of darkness is considered service to the people.


People see it all and their mood is shifting. They’re more sad than angry.  They feel there’s little they can do to turn things around. Peggy Noonan put it this way –“it feels more like grief.” I think she’s right. I’m past anger now. I feel a dirge comin’ on.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

CUPCAKES?



“When the whip that's keeping you in line doesn't make him jump
Say he's hard-of-hearing, say that he's a chump
Say he's out of step with reality as you try to test his nerve
Because he doesn't pay tribute to the king that you serve.
He's the property of Jesus
Resent him to the bone
You got something better
You've got a heart of stone.”
-          Bob Dylan (Property of Jesus), 1981


Some college football powerhouses add a “cupcake” game to their schedules every year. Loyal fans are treated to the likes of Wake Forest dismantling the overmatched “Blue Hose” from Presbyterian or the spectacle of Miami slapping the Florida A&M “Rattlers” from one end zone to the other.

The day after the games, sportswriters often wryly suggest that Alabama or Notre Dame should start adding the Little Sisters of the Poor to their respective schedules. Thankfully, Alabama and Notre Dame have always rejected the suggestion. They’ve got too much respect for themselves or the Little Sisters.

Unfortunately, that kind of respect doesn’t apply to our government. The Obama justice department, at the behest of Kathleen Sebelius, is going after the Little Sisters of the Poor with a vengeance.

What have the Little Sisters done to provoke such wrath? They’ve said that they cannot in good conscience comply with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all employers provide birth control medications, including abortifacients, to their employees.

What other sins have the Little Sisters committed? I’m hard pressed to find them; unless standing up to government bullies or the failure to fear Kathleen Sebelius’s hobnailed boots constitute sins.

As things stand right now, the Little Sisters’ case is in limbo, thanks to an injunction filed by Supreme Court justice Sonya Sotomayor. The next step might be a hearing before the full Supreme Court.

How did it come to this? This isn’t a conflict the Little Sisters of the Poor want. All they want to do is minister to the poor and dying.  Kathleen Sebelius, however, is itching for a fight. The Affordable Care Act and its mandate are her babies and she means to squelch any opposition. In 2011, for example, she boldly declared that opponents of the mandate “want to roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America. We've come a long way in women's health over the last few decades, but we are in a war (my emphasis added).”

Sebelius and the justice department could find it in their hearts to leave the Little Sisters alone, but they’ve refused. After all, this is war.  Scorched earth is sometimes necessary to ensure the victory.

The administration has told the Little Sisters that all they need to do is “sign the form” and everything will be hunky dory. The Little Sisters are begging to differ. They seem to know what a lot of us already know about the Obama administration. The President’s underlings tend to prevaricate and they do it with great skill. This is the same administration that has trotted I.R.S., H.H.S., N.S.A., and State Department bigwigs up to Capitol Hill to practice their deceit in front of congressional committees. Even the President has gotten into the act by telling us tall tales about keeping our insurance plans and doctors. The Little Sisters are admittedly gentle, trusting souls, but they’re not fools. They aren’t going to sign that paper and that’s that.

The next month or so is going to be very interesting. Will the Little Sisters win their case? Or, more importantly, what might happen if they don’t? Will the government bloodhounds still pursue the Little Sisters? You know they will! Will the Little Sisters remain faithful to their vows of “chastity, poverty, hospitality, and obedience?” You know they will!

Just what would government justice look like if the Little Sisters lost their case? Can the girls be thrown in jail for non-compliance? No. The law doesn’t allow for that, but even if it did, I don’t think the Little Sisters would mind. They’d just turn making license plates and bustin’ rock into labors of love. I guess the government could start sending them threatening letters. The government could even threaten to seize assets, but the Little Sisters have few worldly possessions. Could our government be crass enough to seize their habits? I wouldn't put it past them. Ah, but, there other assets. Surely our government bureaucrats wouldn't consider taking food, medicine, housing, bedding, and nurture from the dying. Would they?


The odds seem to be stacked against the Little Sisters, but I’m not betting against them. They’re laboring under the assumption that their lives belong to a higher power. Kathleen Sebelius has no weapons in her arsenal that can overcome that. In fact, this whole affair has exposed her for what she really is – a ruthless bureaucrat with a heart of stone!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

FAITH, CONSCIENCE, DUTY




Christmas 2013 has passed. For Nancy and me it was, for the most part, a season of quiet reflection. We did get a few gifts for my kids and for Nancy’s family, but decided against exchanging gifts with one another. It proved to be a very good decision. Our conversations were filled with meaning. Our home glowed with an aura of peace and good will, the kind the angels of Bethlehem described to the shepherds.
 
It was also nice to see that our media must have gotten the memo. Most of us have grown tired of the debate about what constitutes the appropriate seasonal greeting – “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I’ve never been able to figure out why so many in the Christian community got so upset to begin with. I guess it goes to show that our media has far too much power to shape our ideas and opinions.
 
I’m not na├»ve enough to think that we don’t have detractors and antagonists. We’ve got plenty. But, there are some things they can’t change, no matter how hard they try. Jesus’ birth was very real. So were his life, his deeds, and his words. They’ll never be able to give us a world where a masterpiece like Giotto’s “Madonna with Child” becomes “Madonna without Child.” Nor can they take away the very real encounter I had with this very real Jesus in the Republic of Vietnam back in the 60’s. Nor can they expunge the experience of millions of other Christians.
 
Looking back at it, it was especially nice this year to be able to escape the ever-grinding gears of America’s conspicuous consumerism machine. It’s sad when you think about it. Primitive and early Christianity had nothing whatsoever to do with the consumer mindset that has overtaken us moderns. In fact, the Christianity of those times had a decidedly counter-culture flair when it came to economics. Jesus said things that run counter to modern thought, things like “Man does not live by bread alone,” “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God,” or “No one can serve two masters….you cannot serve God and money.” The early church took these words seriously, which caused them to run afoul of the commercial interests of their time. The Apostle Paul enraged the merchants of Ephesus when he preached that the silver shrines dedicated to the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis were worthless. With the prospect of shrinking sales and profits in mind, an influential silversmith named Demetrius gathered his fellow craftsmen and merchants together and appealed first to their greed, then to their moral instincts. “Our trade will   lose its good name,” he said. Artemis would be “robbed of her divine majesty.” When the merchants heard this they were furious and Demetrius got what he wanted – a near riot. For two hours, the crowd roared in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” It took the city clerk to eventually calm the crowd down by suggesting they take Paul and his companions to court.
 
How the times have changed. I can’t imagine today’s Christian community becoming so out of step with the nation’s commercial interests that their anti-social behavior would cause near riots in the streets.
 
The New Year is a few days off. The uproar about what constitutes the appropriate seasonal greeting will be forgotten. But, 2014 will bring more important, and meaningful, points of tension between Christians and their antagonists. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not David Green, owner and founder of Hobby Lobby, has the legal right to integrate his faith with his business practices.  In a world that is increasingly post-Christian, new norms will continue to be established to replace those deemed “antiquated.” The new norms will give increased power to social service agencies or government bureaucrats. There will be more and more cases like the one in which a British social service agency forcibly took an Italian woman’s child from her by caesarean section and put the child up for adoption, using their notion of what was best for the child as the justification (the Telegraph – November 30, 2013).
 
These, and other cases (infanticide, euthanasia) to come, will force important decisions on Christians. Will we give in to the new norms? Will we try to re-establish our norms? Or, will be seek avenues of conscientious objection?
 
If we accept the new norms, society will consider us to be “reasonable.” If we choose the path of conscientious objection, we can be sure of powerful societal backlash against us.
 
The path of conscientious objection doesn’t mean that we’ll make the rules. It does mean that our loyalty to society and its new norms and our responses to them must be guided by our faith and conscience. New and newer norms will come, but we must remain constant in faith, conscience, and our duty to say, “No!”