Thursday, February 16, 2012

Give me liberty ...

For obvious reasons I am huge fan of the religious liberties we afford individuals and institutions in this country.  I know that my life, my faith, and my job are made easier by the fact government in particular, and society in general are supportive of what I do.  Recently there has been some discussion about whether or not our religious liberties are under assault.  Moving away from campaign rhetoric about this issue is hard.  Extreme claims tend to be made either to score political points or maybe because the tension of the situation escalates what gets said and done.  One of the main arguments is that a threat to religious liberties creates a slippery slope.  As someone who is okay with contraceptives I am unaffected by the recent debates but who knows what a future administration might seek to do under this established precedent.

What frustrates me is that it seems to be a short sighted view of the situation.  The implication that is often made is that this is a new assault on our freedom.  Not only have states passed similar laws already, but this is not the first time a religious group has been challenged over its rights to practice.  Native Americans can point to drug use in religious ceremonies as an example of a place where the government has made a choice.  Mormons were forced to give up a long held religious practice of polygamy in order to be accepted.  "Assaults" on religious freedoms are not new.  What might be new is for a politician to disagree with a large voting bloc on such an issue.  But that is worrying because it seems to imply that religious freedoms are only important if they are held by someone with political clout.  Surely we want something better than that.

Our country was founded around the idea of inalienable rights ... rights that cannot be taken from us.  Any society that wishes to function however requires that individuals living in it surrender some of their rights in order for things to function.  We have the right to pursue happiness, but we agree collectively that such pursuits should not include killing others, or break traffic laws, or a whole host of other rules we come up with to try and balance things out.

I think we need to do the same when it comes to our religious liberties.  This is harder because now we get into the idea of what is morally right.  If we believe something is morally wrong can we be a part of it?  Most of our rhetoric is not favorable to compromise and continued growth.  Any time I think we need to slow down and look for a middle ground I am reminded of the strong passions of people like Martin Luther King who were told too often to wait for their freedom, to wait for an end to oppression, to allow things to slowly work there course.  How can I be sure that the issues that I am asking for patience on are not urgent issues of injustice for others?

In the end, I do not know.  I am not sure a compromise on an issue is the morally perfect action.  I am sure however that if we do not find ways to compromise and instead cling to our inalienable rights it can quickly become hard to live as a society.  An end to an injustice comes not simply with a change in laws but a change in hearts.  That is maybe where we need to begin.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Keep It Local

The local chamber of commerce is pushing the idea that we should "Keep It Local: Work, Shop, Live, Play."  I am a big fan of the idea of buying local.  I see the benefits both in turns of economic benefit for the local community but also the environmental impacts of such practices.  To be perfectly honest I am not a perfect follower of this practice even if I am a solid believer in it.  As I was looking at the tagline from the chamber I thought what they are missing is worship.

Should we be worshiping local?  Years ago, churches were built around this very concept, local worship.  Communities walked to their local church and there was an expectation that people who participate in the church closest to them (of their chosen denomination of course).  The rise of the car, the commuter mentality, and an increase in consumerism in selecting a church as radically changed this.  People switch between churches and denominations based on the personal needs and desires of the individual family.  I am currently benefiting from this in my current church.  Several of our members drive further to get to our church then they would have to go to reach another United Methodist or UCC congregation.

When I think about worshiping locally I don't think we need to only think about going to the closest church, even though that would have some positive environmental benefit.  I do think that church and faith is personal enough that there is value in finding the right community for you, even if it is not the closest one.  Maybe when we think about worshiping locally it would mean worshiping with a sense of where you are, who surrounds you.  To worship locally is to attend not only to our relationship to God, but also our relationship to our neighbor.  Churches can often be islands to the sea of people living around them, isolated from the communities they are located in.  Especially in under-crowded sanctuaries our own worship experience can be cut off from the nearest person, whether they are three pews away or right in front of us.

Worshiping locally, like shopping locally is a call for us to be intentional about the people who surround us and to remember that we are connected.  Even in our personal relationship with God, we are called constantly to be in community with our neighbor, whoever they may be.