What would Jesus vote for?

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz told his viewers (both of them) that Jesus would vote for public health care. During his comments, he referred to people who disagree with this view as “Bible Thumpers”.

Schultz is wrong; Jesus would not vote for universal health care. The Bible is clear that Jesus is not a Democrat. Then again, Jesus would not vote against it. The Bible is just as clear that Jesus is not a Republican. That’s because Jesus is a monarchist. Put simply, Jesus would not vote.

Maine fining Christian organization

Three is a pattern. Add Maine to the list.

Elaine Thibodeau of the State of Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation has sent a letter to the Christian Action Network (CAN) in which they were told to pay a fine totaling $4,000 for not being properly registered in the state as a fund-raising organization and for improperly using the name of Maine’s governor in its fund-raising letter. http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/maine-fines-group-for-inflammatory-anti-muslim-message/.

CAN says they were properly registered and have the canceled checks that Maine cashed to prove it. As far as using the governor’s name, telling people to write the governor does not imply the governor supports CAN’s position.

Most telling is that Thibodeau claims that CAN’s fund-raising letter “contained an inflammatory anti-Muslim message.”

Think about what that says. The state of Maine says that CAN (or anyone else) is not allowed to send a letter that contains an inflammatory anti-Muslim message. Certain Islamic sects and the U.N. agree with that, but it is not consistent with our constitutionally protected rights in this country. We have the right to make inflammatory anti-anything messages.

If there was any doubt there there is a trend to erode our rights in this country, there should not be any doubt now. First Connecticut, then California’s speaker, now Maine. Christians are a special focus in this trend. We must not be intimidated into being silenced.

What Bill of Rights?

This afternoon I was talking with someone about faith and work. I told him I thought this was an interesting time in our country. I see Catholics and Christians in general being more vocal about their faith and their right to participate in the public sphere. At the same time, I see more opposition than ever against people of faith in this country, specifically Christian faith.

I considered that a bit more and realized that trend of Christians being more outspoken is in response to the trend of trying to deny Christians their right to participate in public affairs. I found the proof of that a few hours later. The state of Connecticut has taken the lead in trying to disenfranchise Catholics. Earlier this year some Connecticut legislators introduced a bill to force the Catholic church, and only the Catholic church, to change its organizational structure. The bill was unconstitutional as the first amendment prohibits government from interfering with the exercise of religion. A state mandating the organizational structure of a church is so obviously the exact kind of interference that the first amendment prohibits that the sponsors were forced to withdraw the bill after attention was drawn to it. The archdiocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut was instrumental in leading the opposition.

Not content to just violate one clause of the first amendment, the state of Connecticut has upped the ante. Its Office of State Ethics has launched an investigation into the archdiocese’s actions in opposing the unconstitutional bill last March. The government claims that the archdiocese acted as a lobbying organization for higher buses to take people to protests and using its web site to encourage church members to contact their legislators about the bill. The government is claiming the archdiocese was required to register as a lobbying organization.

Bridgeport’s Archbishop William Lori calls the investigation a violation of the first amendment’s guarantee to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. I says that it is also a violation of the right to petition the government. Requiring people or organizations to register as lobbyists, especially when they are targets of proposed legislation prohibits those organizations from exercising their right of petition.

Who would have thought that in 2009 there would be overt government action in this country to suppress a churchi? Yes, Christians are being more vocal because they must if they want to preserve their own rights.

I’ve bought my last EA game.

Last week about protesters demonstrated in front of the Electronic Entertainment Expo against the release of Electronic Arts video game Dante’s Inferno.

The protesters, who came from a church in Ventura County, held signs with slogans such as “trade in your playstation for a praystation” and “EA = anti-Christ” as they marched and handed out a homemade brochure that warns, “a video game hero does not have the authority to save and damn… ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE. and he will not judge the sinners who play this game kindly.”

See? Those crazy Christians are radicals. They get all offended over a video game. No reason to take them seriously. In fact, you should go out and buy this video game just to show them how backward their beliefs are.

But wait a minute. Yesterday, EA revealed that they were behind the protest. They hired a marketing company to create a viral marketing campaign. They even created a tacky web site and paid the E3 protesters to pose as Christians and act outraged.

I can’t help but notice that there was so little concern from Christians over this game that EA had to manufacture the fake outrage. Religious bigotry has come so far that one of the largest video game producers embraces it as a tactic to sell video games. But how backward is that?

Christians are a huge market segment in this country. Why not embrace them? Dante’s inferno uses the most famous Christian epic poem in history for its inspiration. The idea of the video game is to battle and defeat demons. Sure, the game will not have much theological value, but the idea of defeating evil is one that appeals to Christians. Instead of making Christians into villains to exploit, EA should view them as potential buyers. EA has shown me what they actually think of Christians and it isn’t a good picture.

Not all tax collectors are bad.

I recently came across a discussion of this passage in gospel of Luke:

Luke 18:

10. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: `God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12. `I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
13. “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
14. “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Isn’t it funny how things jump out at you sometimes? Like this one got me wondering about this anonymous tax collector. Jesus had a tax collector in his audience when he taught this parable. Did you ever wonder if the tax collector in this passage was the same tax collector that became an apostle of Jesus, now most commonly known as St. Matthew?

Liturgy for comprehension

Julie at Happy Catholic , Amy Welborn, and Jeff Miller have all taken issue with the USCCB for not approving a section of the proposed translation of the Roman Missal.

I respect all of these bloggers but I disagree with them in this case. In fact, I find their criticisms of Bishop Trautman to be unfair and misrepresentative of his position, especially the “Dick and Jane” parody Jeff Miller employs. Bishop Trautman has stated he is not for using “street language” and advocates the translation having “an elevated tone”. That does not mean the translation should use archaic language and overly complicated structure.

Trautman’s criticism does have substance:

[Trautman]said that the text’s preference for mimicking the sentence structure of Latin, featuring long sentences with a large number of dependent clauses, impedes understanding in English. Trautman cited one prayer in the new Proper of Seasons presented as a single 12-line sentence with three separate clauses.

This is where I get to put my education as a technical writer to use. The good bishop is right. Any 12-line sentence should be rewritten because it will be ineffective. In the same article Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee said, “If I have trouble understanding the text when I read it, I wonder how it’s going to be possible to pray with it in the context of worship.” The bishops are not claiming laity are stupid, they are claiming that the writing is confusing. The translation is just bad communication.

The translation violates rules of writing for comprehension. A couple of those rules are, do not use archaic language when it can be avoided and do not use longer sentences when shorter sentences will do. Long sentences with mulitple clauses should be broken up into smaller sentences to increase clarity. The presentation of a 12-line sentence with three separate clauses ignores this concept.

Overly complicated writing is a barrier to communication and by extension it is a barrier to worship in liturgy. It is not insulting to laity to ask for a faithful translation that is also understandable to the modern venacular. The entire purpose of having a venacular translation is to make the liturgy more approachable to the laity. I shouldn’t need to have a master’s degree to understand it.

Strangers who pray

Julie at Happy Catholic linked to Patrick at The Paragraph Farmer about his encounter in a post office parking lot when an evangelical woman he never met before stopped to pray for him. Patrick asked if others had a similar experience.

A few weeks ago I took my daughter Bailey to the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden. The main feature of the shrine is a 22 foot tall statue of Jesus on top of a hill. The 373 step “Stairway of Prayer” leads up the hill to the statue. With a little help to prop her up, Bailey climbed all 373 steps.

There were quite a few people at the top when we got there. Bailey wasted no time in introducing herself to some older children in her signature jabber. No one understood her but they responded back to her and played with her for a while.

After about 15 minutes most of the other people had left. Two other men, a young boy, and Bailey and I were all that remained. At that point, one of the men took off his cap, got down on his knees facing the statue, and began praying silently. Something about his actions attracted Bailey. She stood a few feet behind the man watching him. He prayed for a couple of minutes. She didn’t take her eyes off him the whole time.

When the man finished, he stood up, replaced his hat, and turned around. He looked down and saw my daughter staring up at him intently. The man looked over at me and said, “what a beautiful girl.” He then extended his right hand to the top of her head and prayed, “The Lord bless you.”

That part is my most vivid memory. I don’t have the words to explain how it moved me to see this stranger pray for God’s blessing on my child. I could only respond with an inaudible “thank you” I mouthed. I didn’t even find out his name. He left with his friend and the boy a minute later.

The entire scene lasted less than 5 minutes but it is burned in my memory. The prayers of strangers offered in charity are powerful indeed.

Gaining the whole world

Have you ever noticed how some Bible passage are short on details? For instance today’s gospel reading is the story of Jesus recruiting Levi (more commonly known as St. Matthew now) as his disciple.

Luke 5:27-29
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.

This is all we are told about Levi. We need to look at the clues to piece his story together. From this passage, we can see that Levi was apparently a very successful tax collector. He had his own house. He had the financial resources to through a banquet at a moment’s notice. He had enough friends that he was able to fill the banquet with a “large crowd.” Levi had all the worldly trappings of success. What more could you want? Money, comfort, leisure for the buying.

Does this sound like anyone else we’ve seen recently? Heath Ledger was 28 years old when he died two weeks ago. He had fame, money, friends, and a life of comfort (he was scheduled for a massage at the time he died). Still, he was so unhappy he accidentally killed himself by taking a lethal combination of pain killers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety meds. At the same time, we also see Brittney Spears continue her very public self-destruction. These two have (had) everything in the world that is supposed to make life enjoyable.

Two thousand years ago a successful tax collector named Levi seemingly found himself in the same position. Then a man walked by and told him to leave it all behind. And he did! Levi gave up everything to follow a Galilean around for three years. He put his life in danger and, years later, likely gave his life for believing in the man who said “follow me.”

Don’t you wish we had the tell-all biography of St. Matthew?

A lesson in forgiveness

Last Wednesday, 6 year-old Noe Balderrama was crossing a street with his 14 year-old sister. His sister got to the other side but Noe had turned around to get a book he dropped. The driver of the pickup truck didn’t see him. After the accident, the driver stopped to give aid, but Noe died at the hospital.

Noe’s funeral was yesterday. James Hoehl attended. James was the driver of the pickup.

During the funeral, Noe’s father called James forward and embraced him saying, “It’s not your fault. It’s God’s decision. There’s nothing we can do about it.” Noe’s mother followed and also embraced James saying, “It’s not your fault. He was an angel and it’s not your fault.”

We can all stand to learn a lesson from these parents on how to forgive.

May God bless Noe Balderrama and the family he left behind.