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The Cross Is Not A Secular Symbol

The Texas Department of Transportation is using signs that include a red cross against a blue background to indicate a spot on the highway where a motorcyclist died. The family has to pay $350 for the sign, and there are no options. They have to use the red cross, regardless of their faith commitments. So, a Muslim motorcyclist’s family has to use a red cross. So to a Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or even the supposed atheist. They all have to use a singular red Latin cross. (My information on this comes from the Austin American-Statesman Sunday paper left on my back porch by my kind neighbor down on the cove.)

The reason for this is TxDOT says, and it is backed by the Texas legislature, that a cross is not a religious symbol but is instead a ‘death symbol.’

I found this picture of it on Patheos.com.

RedCrossTXSign

Now, the Pastor Greenbean Blog is all about my opinions, so here are my opinions.

  1. TxDOT is full of bologna. The cross is most definitely a religious symbol–and to me it is the most cherished religious symbol for it is the cross that is the scandal of Jesus’ death and the symbol of my life of discipleship. The cross is what I take up daily.
  2. Here is the thing I don’t get most. That blue sign in no way indicates anything about public safety. It doesn’t say “Motorcycles Watch Out” or “Be Careful” or anything helpful. All a person knows from that sign is that the individual, may he rest in peace, died on that date.  The reason I know he died is because it says “In Memory”, not because of the giant red cross. In your mind edit the sign with just the red cross, the name and date. Edit out the “In Memory” and what would you think it was for? I might come to the conclusion it was a dedicated Christian who paid for that stretch of highway. Or a billboard for a new ministry in town. I’m not sure I would come to the conclusion that the person had died there.
  3. If we, as Christ-followers, allow the state to co-opt our precious symbolism in order to communicate something about public safety, then we are guilty of selling out our faith for public recognition. The is a sin and a mistake.
  4. A related opinion: if they take the cross as a state symbol, how long before they come after the wine and bread? The baptismal waters? The ceremonial anointing oil? How long before they make a church get restaurant licensing in order to have potluck? The point is, once you go down this road, the state will always grab more and more power and more and more control.
  5. The cross was a death symbol two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire. It was a symbol of power, the power of the state to do whatever it wanted to compel obedience and submission. Christ-followers turned it around, though, and it became a symbol not of someone’s death, but of someone who was decidedly not dead–Jesus is alive.
  6. Why can’t TxDOT find another symbol? May I recommend a motorcycle?
  7. To be honest, I am completely baffled by TxDOT’s opinion that the cross is not a religious symbol but a “non sectarian symbol of death.” Do they really believe this, or is it some kind of covert attempt to “Christianize” the unChristian, like Mormons baptizing in absentia for the dead? I can’t believe anyone with any sense at all would think of the cross as anything other than a religious symbol.
  8. The cross is a very appropriate symbol for the resting place of a Christ-follower, a cemetery,  crematorium, crypt, etc… However, it is a violation of what the cross means–a choice a person makes in their waking, living lives to follow Jesus–to impose it upon someone who never made that choice. Likewise, the decision to impose it weakens its meaning to those of us who have made that choice.

So I finish with a plea–TxDOT, please leave our symbols alone and get your own.

 

I Am Old and It Is Phil Collins’ Fault

This weekend I did a wedding, but this post is not about the wonderful bride and groom and their families. This post is about what happened two hours before the wedding.

I was sitting in the fellowship hall where the room was decorated for the reception. I was drinking coffee and talking to a couple of very intelligent and interesting young men. One was 20 years old and training to be a welder. The other was 22 years old and a recent graduate of college. I asked, in passing, if there was to be dancing at the reception. The 20 year old said, “I can’t dance.” To which I replied, “Phil Collins, 1991.” For the record, I was right on the money with the year. Yay me.

But that is not what this post is about.

The 20 year old replied, “Who is Phil Collins?” I laughed and thought he was teasing. He then added, “I’ve never heard of that person.” I turned and asked the 22 year old if he was hearing this, and he said, “Yeah, I don’t know who that is either.” I went off for a few moments–mentioning Phil, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and finally the 22 year old, who is familiar with football, said he’d heard of the song “In The Air Tonight” because they play it over the loudspeakers at football games sometimes.

I almost died.

Here is my conundrum. I know this makes me, officially, old. But what should I do about it? I am asking you to vote below in the poll to help me decide. Remember to register your vote by clicking the vote button after you choose. You may vote as many times as you like.

 

 

Roger Moore, Peace, Rest In

Rest in peace, Roger Moore.

The sad part of modern life is we mourn the loss of celebrities, but we really don’t know them as people. We only know them as their character. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. Leonard Nimoy is Spock. Robin Williams is . . . everything.Unknown

It is not disrespectful, therefore, to remember the passing of a beloved icon with a tip of the hat to the work they did. As such, I am certain family and friends of Roger Moore will mourn him the way I hope to be mourned when my time comes. But I, I will mourn him by remembering him as Bond. James Bond.

Moore’s Bond was different than Sean Connery’s. Connery was tough first, slick second. Connery and Daniel Craig play Bond more like Fleming wrote him. Moore reinvented the character as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who enjoyed wisecracks and managed to do his job as a side-effect of his good time. He fit the 1970s, and his Bond was goofier, but far more playful. His bond was more sexual, carefree, and smiled. Moore wore the tuxedo better, but looked out of place in a fist fight. He could sell a scene with his eyes, and in so doing invite the audience in on a little escapism.

On that note, here are his turns as Bond from best to worst, in my personal opinion.

  1. Live and Let Die–His first movie was his best. Trains. Sharks. Crocodile farms. Exploding people. New York City. Jane Seymour.  An espresso machine. Paul McCartney. Perfect.
  2. The Spy Who Loved Me–The underwater car was brilliant. The submarine scenes were a little forced, but who cares.
  3. The Man With The Golden Gun–The film drags a little, but fun none the less. Moore is over-the-top Bond in this one.
  4. A View To A Kill–Horrible movie, but loads of fun. Moore was too old to play Bond at this point, but Christopher Walken as the bad guy was inspired. Let’s just forget about the Beach Boys in the opening escapade, but the Duran Duran theme song more than makes up for that. High Duran Duran coolness factor. (Click Here for more Duran Duran)
  5. Moonraker–The Bond book by this same name is one of my favorites. The movie was cheesy and beyond bad, however Moore makes it so much fun with his witty banter and the fun in Rio.
  6. For Your Eyes Only–Honestly, Moore feels a little stale in this film. Only the scenery of Greece saves it from complete and total failure. The plot is intricate, but all the actors are beyond bad.
  7. Octopussy–I hate this movie. The Tarzan yell is inexplicable. The Fleming short story by the same title is fascinating and spectacular. This movie is a terrible mashup of several Fleming plots and none of them work. But Roger Moore gambling and making his getaway through the streets of India is enjoyable and reminds us of why even as the worst, of the Moore films, it is still a good evening.

On The Removal of Confederate Statues

I have many mixed emotions about the phenomena of cities and institutions removing Confederate statues. It is an issue that has clogged my social media accounts, although I’ve seen very little about it in the news. Perhaps the media isn’t covering it much because they don’t know how to feel about it, either. The most recent actions have been taken by the city of New Orleans to remove statues from public places, even in the middle of the night, and relocate (Click Here for NY Times Article) them.  However, the one that is closest to my heart is on the campus of my alma mater, where a very prominent statue of Jefferson Davis was recently (Click here for a news story on this)  relocated from the main square to a historical archive of statues.

AP-robert-lee-confederate-statue-jt-170521_12x5_1600

Here are my mixed emotions. I have no love for the Confederate States of America. I consider the Confederacy to be rebels who took up arms against the country I love. I do not understand how anyone can pledge allegiance to the American flag and still have such a love affair with the Confederacy and all her symbols and trappings. I also consider the Confederacy to have been tragically wrong. In fact, it was so wrong that my reading of history, as a person of faith, tells me God himself intervened to make certain it lost. How else can anyone explain to me why the South did not win the war in the first two years. There is no logical explanation other than Providence. God made certain the South lost because slavery had to end and the culture which was nurtured by the enslavement of souls had to end. In the modern age, the symbols of the Confederacy, as well as the cause of the Confederacy, have been use by people who are pushing a racist and/or xenophobic agenda. This is undeniable. Since the 1960s “States Rights” has meant, mostly, that states can segregate if they want to and the federal government should just butt out. History is written by the winners, and the winners are still writing and re-writing it as an act of imperium, and good for them. We want to celebrate the values of diversity, tolerance, and freedom which are the opposite of the Confederate values of uniformity, exclusion, and slavery.

Those are the mixed emotions on one side. But there is another side. History is precious. We learn from history, but we learn nothing by  sanitizing history as if it never happened. That is what I think the proponents of moving statues are trying to do–sanitize history. Removing the statues from New Orleans or the campus of the University of Texas does not change two facts of history. Fact one: These people lived and led. Fact two: Years later, people were still committed enough to the cause that they paid money to erect a monument. Both of these truths are a part of our history, and the latter is the issue for many in academia. The statues were put there by well-heeled donors who were racists, and thought of the school as an institution for their kinds of people.

Statues mean something, and they can teach. When I behold a marble statue from Ancient Rome, I do not consider the rightness of the Empire that gave rise to it. Instead I consider what kind of people made this, what were their values, how were they right, how were they wrong, what were their beliefs and so forth. Removing Confederate statues robs future generations from such contemplation as they gaze into the angry eyes of Stonewall Jackson or the gentle face of Robert E. Lee. I want them to stare into the eyes of Lee. I want them to ask, “How can such a gentle looking grandfather have believed in such a horrible cause?”

For that is the lesson. In the end, I think of these statues as monuments of pity. Lee, Jackson, Davis and company were wrong, and their wrongness caused the greatest devastation in American history.  Yet, even in their wrongness, we can learn a positive lesson that helps us every day. Honorable people can be misguided and wrong. I often bring that point out when speaking of war from a biblical perspective. Good, honorable people can be wrong and still need to be stopped. Everything I’ve studied of Lee and (Click Here) Jackson, for example, indicate that these were good men who loved their families and, in their own twisted way, thought of themselves as Christ-followers. Yet they were wrong. Very wrong. Tragically wrong. And they had to be stopped. I thank God they lost and were stopped. It is a lesson we need to remember in the times in which we live. There are honorable, good, and yes, even Christ-following people who are on the other side or whatever issue we are passionate about. Being on the other side doesn’t make them the devil. They may be wrong, but they may yet be noble. It does not mean they should not be stopped and opposed at every opportunity. And of course, I am speaking politically and rhetorically.  We are not at the point of bloodshed. We should stop no one with the power of a bullet, but instead with the authority of our logical and reasoned argument.

Mixed emotions. History is a great teacher, and I fear removing these statues is like taking a teacher out of a classroom, or ripping a page out of a textbook because it is painful. The issue of the statues is different and distinct than the Confederate Flag debate. Statues are snapshots in time–about the people who are memorialized and those who did the memorializing. As a contrary example, the Lincoln Memorial is about Lincoln–his times, his leadership, and his sacrifice–but it is also about those who appropriated his values and transformed him into something like a Greek god. There is little doubt to me that the Lincoln of history would have thought his memorial preposterous. But it teaches us something. I don’t think it is their intention, but those wanting to remove statues have a lot in common with the ISIS folks who destroy art and culture from antiquity because their intolerance can’t abide it. It is an ironic twist that the progressive left today cannot stand anything that is not in uniformity with its own views, thus they are more like the Confederacy they deplore than the Union they celebrate. The result could be a kind of cultural slavery that denies individuals the ability to be contrary, or to consider their history.

See, mixed emotions. I legitimately can see both sides of the issue. Perhaps we are missing an opportunity. Maybe instead of removing anything, we instruct and inform. Count me as one of those who believe education and learning can fix a lot of what ails our world. Simply removing statues from public view is a choice to live in ignorance of the past, thus guaranteeing nothing is learned except a temporarily soothed conscience or a glimmer of false peace. For anyone who thinks that removing a statue will remove the racism in the heart of someone else has never seriously considered the evil of either racism or the human heart.