Sunday, February 8, 2009

Phelps Bashing and Other Hobbies

Once again, over at AbsoluteWrite, the subject of Fred Phelps and his gang of loonies has come up. The press over there is uniformly negative, and with good reason. While some of the members over there are Conservative in their viewpoints on homosexuality, it’s possible that not a single one of the 26,000 plus members on the board agrees with his tactic of picketing military funerals to get his point across.

But I’m saddened and dismayed at the vehemence that some of the anti-Phelps crowd, both on and off the board, displays.

They hope that someone pickets his funeral, when it comes, though they disagree with picketing funerals as a general rule.

They hope that when it does come time for him to meet his maker, that he’ll be resigned straight to the depths of Hell.

I’m sure some of them, deep down, think he should be stood against a wall and shot, or stoned to death.

There’s a link on the board to an article written by a journalist about Phelps. The article was written as work-for-hire, meaning the author does not own his work. The paper he was working for does. The paper refused to publish the work, and no wonder—it was poorly written, and made such broad statements as, “Where any family counsellor will assert that a child who strangles pets has almost certainly been brutalized as well,” without so much as a single citation to back up his words. At this point, we’re not even sure who, exactly, the author is talking about—Phelps, or his son Mark.

The paper he worked for, quite rightly in my opinion, refused to publish the work. This was within the rights of the paper, and no insult to the author. Every day, companies pay writers for work that may never see publication for a variety of reasons. As long as the writer is paid the agreed-upon fee, that's their right.

So how did this document come to be published, and available on the web for all to view? The author, claiming he was owed additional compensation for his work (despite having been paid the full amount agreed to in his contract) filed suit in court. The document was appended to the suit, therefore making it a public document. Within hours, parts of the document were published in rival papers (who published it in stories about the lawsuit), and the text of the whole document, including the lawsuit, was available for public viewing on the internet.

An order was obtained by the paper to have the suit sealed so that the Clerk of the District Court could no longer make copies, but no such order was issued to anyone else who already had a copy. The damage was done, and the work was effectively published, without the permission of the copyright owner.

I personally don't believe that the author was trying to get more money out of the publisher. Two things have me convinced that the purpose in filing the suit and appending the document to the suit was to get around the strictures of the law without actually breaking it. One: the document was made public on a large scale within a span of less than 48 hours of filing the suit, and two, appending the document to the suit wasn't truly necessary. The author was filing suit for unpaid overtime, and how the document itself could aid his cause in this is a mystery to me.

I go into such detail about such shady ethics because I’m trying to show that in trying to combat one evil, those who are willing to resort to such tactics are sinking to his level, and even sometimes below it at times.

Combating hate with hate doesn’t work, friends. It only breeds more hate, and the cycle continues.

I follow a man who tried to break the cycle. This is what he says about such circumstances:

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

“Judge not, that ye not be judged.”

“The measure you give will be the measure you get.”

Do unto others, not as they have done to you, but as you would have them do to you. The measure you give will be the measure you get.

Those are truly chilling words, if you think about it. Have you ever consigned someone to the depths of Hell because they did something so heinous it was beyond your comprehension?

Have you ever actually crossed the line and done something cruel to someone because they truly deserved it? You get what you give.

Those words aren’t idle dreaming. They’re true. So many times, I’ve given evil and had it come back on me in one way or another. And so many times, I’ve given love and also had it come back to me, in one way or another. I prefer to give love. It doesn’t end up hurting so much.

I have to say that I truly pity Fred Phelps. A life dictated by overwhelming hatred can’t possibly have that much joy in it. A life directed by the fear of the wrath of God means he has little time to contemplate the everyday wonders that show the love that God has for him. He must hate himself as much as he hates me and my lesbian and gay friends.

And so, a prayer. May God fill the hearts of Fred and all who hate with joy and peace and understanding and love.

Love will cast out fear and hate.

Only love will cast out fear and hate.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Turning the Text Upside Down

Scripture: Luke 14:16-24

Yesterday I had the joy of attending the 50th Anniversary of a church in Toronto where I had been Minister of Christian Education a number of years ago. The current minister of this church was enrolled in a doctorate programme for ministry at an American university, and he invited one of his professors, an African-American preacher from Chicago, to come and preach to us.

He preached on this text, the parable of a man who gave a banquet for his friends, and ended up having his servants bring in the blind, the lame, the crippled and the poor in order to fill up the seats at the table. I’ve heard sermons on this text before—I’ve even preached a few myself. But I’ve only heard and spoken sermons on this text from my own white, Canadian middle-class background. To hear the perspective of an African-American on this text was both eye-opening and liberating for me.

His main take on the text, the whole point of his sermon, could be summed up in the phrase, “You don’t belong here. This banquet was made for others better than yourself, and you’ve just been invited to fill the tables.” Or, to paraphrase George Carlin’s “Refrigerator” sketch—“If you don’t eat it, we’re only going to throw it away.”

Coming from a liberal white Christian background, I grew up believing, and still believe, in the inherent worth of each person. Every person is created in the image of God, and every person is loved by God.

As most from my background do, I’d extrapolated that belief to a belief that we all belong at the banquet table, that we all have a right to be there.

Except I knew, deep in the depths of my heart, that the right to be there didn’t really apply to me. I know who I am—I’m a person who lusts, whose financial affairs are a mess, who separated from her husband and left her kids to his care, who is wasting her life working for a movie theatre instead of preaching the gospel as she’s been trained to do. I’m a slothful glutton who eats and sleeps too much, and runs away from hard work.

There are times when my faith in the church has faltered. There have even been times when my faith in Jesus Christ and God have faltered. Merciful Heavens, I still haven’t figured that one out, and can’t tell you for sure exactly what I believe about God!

I don’t belong at the table, and I know it, and it will always be that way, and nothing the liberal feminist theologians can say has helped me believe otherwise.

And for the first time in a very long time I felt liberated. I don’t belong at the table. Nothing I can do can change that fact and earn me the right to belong. And that’s true of the folks who worshipped with me that morning, and of everyone throughout the world who sits down to eat at the banquet that God has prepared. We all have our secret sins and passions, things that make us unworthy to be at the banquet.

It’s a gift we did not, and can not, earn. We’re at the table by grace alone. We don’t have to prove ourselves better than those who aren’t there. We don’t have to prove ourselves better than those who sit beside us. We don’t have to be perfect or anywhere close before we can go to church and sit amongst the congregation of the faithful.

Unworthy as I am, God has compelled me to come to the banquet and eat. I’ve been snatched out of the alleyway where I’ve been hiding, and dressed in my rags I’ve been seated in a chair where a rich, powerful person in beautiful clothing should be sitting instead, eating a meal that is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.

I don’t belong there, but by God’s grace, I’m there anyhow. The only choice I have is to enjoy it, or not.

I will choose to enjoy.