Monday, July 04, 2011

4 JUL 11: Legends of Doom

The pastor's sermon topic was "America's Forgotten Motto." Before you click on the link, I should stop and ask if you know what the national motto is. Here's a hint: "Have it your way" was created by Burger King, without any sanction from Congress.

The pastor of a small Columbus congregation left no doubt where he stood on our country's condition. Exactly 235 years after declaring independence, there's so much wrong that "the sun is now setting on.... the American empire." If Puerto Rico ever becomes independent, it will join the Panama Canal on the "lost and found" list -- well, at least switching sides.

This pastor cited all sorts of evidence to show how the U.S. has forgotten its motto. One obvious item ripped from the headlines was the New York state legislature's vote to legalize homosexual marriage. I could see this issue becoming a "North-South" divide in our country - unless Georgia's governor decides homosexual couples should earn the privilege by serving as farm workers.

But then the pastor made some claims which seemed hard to believe. For instance: saying the pledge of allegiance at the start of school -- "Not anymore. Not anymore. That's a no-no." You even have to be extra-careful how you say the pledge during the U.S. Open golf tournament.

"You can't take a Bible into school anymore," the preacher went on to declare. Now this was a surprise - especially I remember receiving a pocket New Testament from the Gideons when I was in grade school long ago. These days, you have to steal one of those from a motel room.

And no fundamentalist sermon of this type would be complete without a jab at the American Civil Liberties Union. It was lumped together with "atheistic groups." To be honest, I can't remember the last time I heard a sermon in favor of the ACLU. But Unitarians don't tend to have the tithing power of Baptists, to afford big media ministries.

When the worship service ended, I knew I needed to get a second opinion on some of these points. So I went to a church deacon who has children in Muscogee County public schools - or more accurately, I went to his oldest daughter. She's about to be a high school junior, so she's not afraid to speak her mind.

The daughter confirmed to me her high school has a "Bible as Literature" class. In fact, those classes were approved by the Muscogee County School Board almost five years ago [19 Sep 06]. Yes, that means the Bible is used as a textbook. The official version is the New King James [24 Apr 07] - which some people hope a certain basketball player in Miami will become.

(Yet do a search for "Bible" at the Muscogee County Schools website, and you'll find nothing. That would disturb this pastor, who says the Bible once was the primary textbook in U.S. public schools. Shame on mean old Mr. McGuffey for changing that...)

Then the church deacon/Dad added more to the story. He said Muscogee County students not only recite the pledge of allegiance every day -- they also recite a pledge to the Georgia state flag. Why Republicans didn't add a reference to God or Jesus in that pledge, I have no idea.

The deacon also mentioned a comment made by a church-going attorney in another part of the country. That man said the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuits have made it easier for church members to take time away for special conventions and festivals. So there - the Jehovah's Witnesses can come back to town in mid-October, if they'd like.

I tried to tell the deacon to explain these things to the pastor standing nearby. I don't know if he did it. If he did, the congregation may hear an apology from the pastor next weekend. The deacon's daughter may have some cover either way, by heading off to a summer youth camp.

This sermon was timed to mark Independence Day - and of course, the pastor has freedom of speech to say what he pleases. I have freedom of the press to respond to what he says. But the pastor then could exercise freedom of religion, and bar me from attending his congregation anymore.

I bring up the message on this holiday because it reveals several things. The pastor warned during the sermon about people who want to "rewrite history before our very eyes." Yet with words of ministerial hyperbole, this speaker did the very thing he warned against. It's not quite on the level of bogus battles at Port Columbus, but....

To be fair, this pastor is a grandfather -- with no children in public school these days. Perhaps he was speaking from memories of years gone by. But U.S. traditions and rules can change - and he might be surprised to find in Columbus and Georgia, they've actually moved closer to godly values. They simply haven't started tearing down mosques yet.

The pastor listed other concerns about the U.S. and its future, and many of them seem legitimate. But you don't have to exaggerate about U.S. traditions to make that point. In fact, that approach can hurt your point - such as when the pastor mentioned plans for a new arena on Long Island "for some kind of activity there that nobody goes to anymore." Well, they certainly won't go to hockey games in Atlanta as much now....

It's easy to find all sorts of faults with the U.S., and use them to warn our country is doomed. But I've heard messages along this line for decades -- including the founder of this congregation's movement, who once claimed the Nazis would conquer Britain. In other words, he was Harold Camping but with a lot less media attention.

I've been thinking far back in U.S. history this year. Did some ministers predict the end of America when the Civil War began? I suspect so. Did some even expect the end when the White House was burning during the War of 1812? Probably so. Yet the U.S. survives somehow -- even though I heard another man openly wish this weekend for the economy to collapse, so Jesus comes quicker.

Our country has found ways to keep going for 235 years. Perhaps this democracy is living "on borrowed time," as this pastor also mentioned in his sermon. But if enough people keep living by that national motto, the timeline may extend farther than doomsayers imagine. After all, we're now more than 11 years beyond Y-2-K.

So have a happy Independence Day (while you can) -- and let's wrap things up with a quick check of weekend news:

+ Columbus Police arrested a Parks and Recreation employee on drug charges. Travis Murphy is accused of selling marijuana outside the Frank Chester Recreation Center - a place where several police cars are parked around the clock. At least he saved the city a little bit on gasoline.

+ WRBL announced on its website Bob Jeswald has signed a new multi-year contract as Chief Meteorologist. Hmmmm - why would the station take the trouble of posting that sort of news, like a sports franchise would? Did the writer spit on a picture of Lee Brantley, while writing it?

+ Four Atlanta baseball players were named to the National League All-Star team. So whatever happened to the talk of boycotting next week's game, because it's being played in the "anti-immigrant" state of Arizona? Does this explain why the only Atlanta selection with a "different" name is Jair Jurrjens?

+ Instant Message to Wal-Mart at Columbus Park Crossing: I'm shocked - SHOCKED! You ask me to leave the car two hours for an oil change. Then when I come back, you've canceled the oil change - with no reason why?! I've had dates push me aside with more respect than this.

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