Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Executive Office of the President Seal
Executive Office of the President Seal (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (from the First Amendment to The Constitution of the United States). The popularity of "separation of church and state" does not rule out different interpretations of what this part of the amendment intended, when written.
     What's the problem? We know the framers of The U.S. Constitution fled powerful royal, political, and legal ties between governments or rulers (the State) and Religion. The new political landscape of the new republic must, the framers saw, maintain clear distance between the State and religion. One should not be allowed to co-opt the other. Any alliance or assimilation efforts would receive fast and furious push-back. 
     That's my take on it. 
      Voter instincts are on high alert now because it's a federal election year. We pay close attention to candidates' records and words. We want to know about candidates' vision of the country and government... and their words. How have they done in the past? What are specifics about how they intend to make things better nationally?
     U.S. voters heat up at signs we might slide, as a nation, in the wrong direction on the constitutional "separation of church and state" guarantees. I know, I know..."separation of church and state" is not a constitutional phrase. I get it. But we use shorthand all the time to name complicated affirmations. "Church and state" is our way of speaking about specific guarantees of freedoms that are in the First Amendment of the Constitution. 

Let's look at three seemingly small actions in February 2012 that deserve magnification: 
  • A presidential mandate co-opted religious institutions to ensure contraception access to employees or persons in care, 
  • A potential party nominee's beliefs about contraception clouded the mandate issue, 
  • The incumbent president quoted words of Jesus as authority for controversial tax policies.        
     These matters seriously affect separation of religion and government, "church and state," "the sacred and the secular"--whatever terms we use. Trying to mix the two closely, intimately, makes voters think of the proverbial oil mixed with water, water with oil.    
     First, an executive office mandate to co-opt religion deals with providing contraceptives, regardless of moral and religious beliefs. President Obama issued the mandate, ordering religious institutions' hospitals and outreach programs to provide contraception access regardless of their religious beliefs. If carried out, this would affect Catholic and Jewish institutions, and others. The government mandate on religious institutions could face high court review. 
     Second,a potential Republican nominee's beliefs about contraception raise concern about how he might view the religion and the state separation clause of The Constitution of the United States. He could have handled the matter successfully without seeming to "preach beliefs" to voters. 
     Instead, Senator Santorum talked as much about the religious basis for his beliefs about contraception during interviews about the contraception-provision mandate. He thereby opened a door for voters to question if he might push his views using personal religious beliefs as his authority, when much more would be required of any president.  
     So I can't figure why the senator chose to speak as much or more about the matter of contraception than the matter of a mandate coercing religious institutions to make them available. He lost a terrific chance to elaborate on religion-state issues of the contraception mandate to religious institutions; he could have done that with strong legal arguments and conviction.   

     Finally, early in February at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama said, paraphrasing Jesus' words*: "...'for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’" to give highest authority to his controversial plans for higher tax rates to "the wealthy" or "the rich" than to others. 
     But, the way the President used the scripture has interpretation and context problems: the biblical parable speaks of things given for a time (gospel of Luke 12: 40-48 has the details), while taxes deal with things earned, income worked for; Jesus' parable describes a relation between master and servant, the President's relation to citizens is public servant and the people, another big difference. 
     What is critically important about this is that Jesus was not even talking about taxes in Jesus' words the President quoted. Jesus was answering a question about the kingdom of heaven and the Lord’s return.

      We're human and we interpret religion-state and state-religion issues in the "separation clauses" differently, and many people disagree about the meaning. This mighty document, The Constitution of the United States, ensures there shall not be any church-state union; that, however, does not prevent efforts to get around the guarantee. 
     The framers of The Constitution affirmed human freedoms as God-given and sacred. We know why they drew the line at coercion of religion on government or government on religion: they had lived under government-religion alliances, and they knew of other examples too; they knew that extreme tensions, pressures, and even bloody conflicts arise over alliances or assimilation of religion and government.   
     Think about it: as fought-for democratic rights, current elections fulfill a guardian-of-freedoms tradition. Whatever American's think or believe about “how to govern," most agree that we want to have a say, as free people, in the continuing security of the freedoms and rights secured for everyone by The Constitution. Of course we want to guard God-given freedoms! It may sound corny to some, but we do put freedom and country before political parties. We are a religious nation with a national inheritance as a free people apart from government. 
     Americans used to wake up and rise up when national and individual freedoms, including religious ones, were put at risk. We see some of that spirit returning in this new century. We sense a treasured duty toward elections, candidates, and speech, plus religious and other freedoms, and politics...they're all part of "American DNA." 
*Source on context of Luke 12:48--For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more--is in verses 40-48:  

40Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
41 Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?”
42 And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?
43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.
44 Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has.
45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk,
46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
Context Scriptures-Source: New King James Version of the Bible published by Thomas Nelson;, Words of Jesus in a parable, the kingdom of heaven and the return of the Lord

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Thursday, February 16, 2012


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"...many people do humanitarian work from deep faith."_FEMA_Image via Wikipedia

  E.J. Dionne Jr. opined ("Contraception and the cost of culture wars"-2/12/12_The Washington Post) about recent controversial mandates for contraceptives to be paid for through religious helping institutions although this goes against the beliefs of some. There are deeper background facts than Mr. Dionne provided regarding similarities between government "help" and Church outreach.    

Defending the Church’s helping role in society, Mr. Dionne, a Catholic, wrote: "When it comes to lifting up the poor, healing the sick, assisting immigrants and refugees, educating the young… comforting orphaned and abandoned children…the church has been there [my emphasis added] with resources and an astoundingly committed band of sisters, priests, brothers and lay people….make the words of Jesus come alive every day.”

More than 'being there,' the Church was 'there' first. Mr. Dionne noted the Church’s assistance to "immigrants,” a modern synonym for strangers, that in scriptures are "strangers among you" and "strangers in the gates." To say that the Church has “been there,” as Mr. Dionne wrote, is not precisely correct; the Church led there. Synagogues and then the Church were there long before empires and governments got there.  I imagine that Mr. Dionne intended to paraphrase the prophet Isaiah and other scribes. They cannot be left out of historical perspectives on helping the poor and others. You can read, for example, Isaiah chapter 58 and 61. Faithful believers led, and before Stephen became the first Christian martyr he led the first work of Christians to help widows and others in need. The Church led in education, as well, and many priests and others died for the cause of evangelism and these ministries.
Secular entities like governments began to follow this path centuries later. Secular efforts since have tried to imitate Judeo-Christian initiatives outside religious or spiritual identification.      
However, the secular cannot co-opt what religious entities deem to be sacred. First leaders of this country saw the separate motivations or tactics likely to appear between sacred and secular works, and wisely separated church and state. The Church has its gospel works to do. When in its right spiritual mind, it is uniquely alive and present in the midst of societies and apart from their governments. Religious freedom is at the core of American design and American distinctiveness.  
In defining their missions, religious institutions are not under the secular, especially government. National and local governments are not to be allowed to cross a line to gain control or direction over the Church, its teaching, worship, and serving ministries.    
Churches became subject to recurring conflicts when they began to receive public monies in payment for operational ministries. The Church, by circumstance and/or choice, has come to rely often on private payments and public reimbursements for rendered services. Hence, private works by Christians and/or the Church are fewer than ever, for most of the health ministries can not operate free of government oversight. The cases of Christian institutions grossly breaking their own moral and legal codes have given good reason for government diligence. The culture war that Mr. Dionne writes about arose recently when "church and state" joined forces. This is not to criticize those actions, but to point out the potential dangers of such collaboration, such as reimbursing religious entities for services without strings attached.  
As a Christian non-Catholic, I believe that godly Christians and their institutions should react strongly to God's calling through the Church and its spiritual history. That is what E.J. Dionne Jr. and others are saying now. The historical background, whether inside or outside church buildings and worship, should be known and acknowledged as God-initiated. When secular entities imitate the calling of the Church to help the poor and others, they are free to do so. Yet, they will always do it differently, on a purely human scale. Sometimes, governments look to the Church for help, including emergencies, refugee assistance and resettlement, for example, and other needs. What the culture calls humanitarian work is what God put first before His people to do by faith and selfless service. It is not surprising that many people do humanitarian work from deep faith. Today, the mixture of public money with beliefs, as in mixing public funds for insurance payments to religious caring institutions, does continue to cloud the matter. Ways must be found for solutions that do not interfere with religious freedoms.     
Leaders outside the Church know that without the service of religious institutions the nation would have poor, homeless, and others in greater need on a scale unimagined. One duty of each person who desires religious freedoms is to speak out about the leadership history of the Church. This divine institution imperfectly working on earth led the way there by a repeated divine mandate to care for the homeless, the poor, the neglected, the voiceless, and the weakest, and to seek to heal.
For people of faith, speaking out about these things can and must be done within and, one hopes, above the fray of political and cultural designs, trends, and wars.     

Ed. note: "Church" and "the Church" here refer to all entities of worship and service and care institutions and groups that hold firm belief in Jesus Christ as risen and living Lord.   

Jean Purcell
Opine Book Cafe 

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Friday, February 03, 2012

"Remembrance" by Rudyard Kipling, "Lest we forget"

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Jean Purcell

  Lest We Forget

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—

The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—

On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

"Taking Off!" She shouted over the noise

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Jean Purcell
Twitter @OpinariPeople
Twitter @OpineBookCafe

"Taking off!" fits with our family memories and tradition (signals with the whirly helicopter-like hand motions...).  

"Taking off!" From days of noisy single-propeller planes and helicopters to jet engines and rockets, I gravitate to its imagery_adventure, rescue, readiness, thrill of flight...

My  husband and I will take off soon and reach our destination the day before the Super Bowl. Our OpineBooks eStore and Book Cafe should take off after we get back.

"E-Store taking off!" I shout over the noise, while CJ McDaniel gets it ready. He did the stand-out cover for Mogama's Refugee Was My Name (taking off in Louisville KY this Saturday, the 4th of February, at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage).

"Taking off" is people in movement, in the air or on ground! So, we are  ..uh, taking off for a few days, leaving things in good hands at home, where the white-light white Christmas tree on a front window table has become a Valentine Tree. Love those lights every night whirling around red hearts and candies!

Meanwhile: See also: Opinari-Quarterly and Subscribe if not already and see also: Author Support

Thanks to Public and Common Licenses for
these fantastic photos via Wikipedia.

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