Monthly Archives: December 2012

Potato chips and religion

Having grown up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I know from potato chips.  My great-grandmother made them on GroffsChipsher stove-top in lard and sold them at the local farmer’s market, which later turned into a hugely successful business.  Sometimes you can find a Groff’s can on display at Cracker Barrel.  As a kid I visited my great-uncle’s factory and snatched a few fresh, hot, salty chips from the conveyor belt on their way to one of those cans.  Today, I can pretty much leave chips alone.  I can see a bag and know the pleasure of the taste, but walk away.  However, if they are a particularly good brand sitting next to French onion dip, it is conceivable that I would sit there and eat the whole damn bag.  But perhaps I have extended the metaphor too far.

Gossip is like potato chips.  It is seductive.  Once engaged I can’t stop.  After consuming a quantity of it, I feel disappointed in myself for doing something that just wasn’t good for me or anyone else.  I once tried to give up gossip for lent.  I don’t always participate in that Christian custom, but there were times I tried the big ones like sex, chocolate or booze with reasonable success.  Gossip was the hardest.  I didn’t last two weeks.

This brings me to churches and gossip.  Holy crap.  Literally.  In my work life, I have spent more than 15 years in both leadership and support roles in nonprofits of various sizes with different missions.  So I have quite a bit of experience with organizations that are similar to churches.  Sadly, I have to say, that I have never seen gossip as vicious in any of those organizations as I have witnessed in churches.

I was involved in one church where a new clergy person was hired and after only a few months was under siege by a barrage of brutal gossip that any secular organization could have labeled a ‘hostile work environment’ and perhaps even slander.  In my opinion, the behavior was unfair by basic social standards, but also unreasonable by secular professional standards.  And here’s what was missing: in a Christian church, the standards established by the words of Jesus were ignored.  Simply put, these church folks, however dedicated to their church activities and church friends, were not behaving like Christians.

On a good day, I would describe myself as a reluctant Christian.  I have views on the Bible and the salvation theology of today’s church that are not pertinent to this column, and would make many Christians uncomfortable.  But the overpowering reason I hesitate to proclaim an association with Christianity is how many really awful and embarrassing Christians I have experienced and have the displeasure of bumping into on a daily basis.  This is one curse of Facebook, for example.  I have relatives that are regularly posting Bible verses and praise-Jesus rhetoric who are the same people who refused to visit our cousin who was dying from AIDS.  So they can post as many Bible verses as they want, I will always remember what they didn’t do.  For those of you who are less familiar with the Bible, let me report that there is a verse where Jesus responded to questions by saying, “’And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’…I tell you just as you did it for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me,” (Matthew 24:35-41 NRSV).  I’m no Bible scholar, but I’m thinking this is exactly the kind of thing to which he was referring.

For reasons I can’t explain, self-appointed religious personalities frequently get away with worse behavior than non-religious people.  Unfortunately this takes me to responses to the  December 14 Newtown, Connecticut shootings.  Even one of the darkest forces of our culture, the National Rifle Association, had the good sense to shut-up for a week.  Not so with religious wing-nuts like James Dobson.  The link to a Huffington Post story on his comments follows.  They are too appalling to quote, and malicious gossip of the worst kind – gossiping for god in the media.

Not only are these type of charlatans guilty, but so are those who listen to them and send them money.  There can be power in community.  If no one listens to them or sends them money, what they say will be marginalized and eventually the moot will become mute.  They don’t deserve the platform they are routinely provided.  (Kudos to the mainstream press for not giving Dobson et. al. much coverage.)

What amazed and encouraged me about the responses to the Connecticut tragedy, is how many people found a way to come together.  People created community in candlelight vigils and prayer services around the country.  These were both organized and ad hoc.  Ordinary people and complete strangers looked for ways to express empathy and support in a situation where all of us felt powerless.  Not one of us can bring back the deceased and innocent children and adults.  We have been touched by the loss.  Even the fat, lazy, cowardly politicians in Congress have been stirred to at least consider appropriate action.

I have to admit, I am overwhelmed by the tragedy and consider the ongoing news stories now exploitative and painful.  Still, the night of the shootings, I found some solace in seeing full churches.  This is not because I am a church promoter or one who fantasizes about the conversion of others.  It is because I am encouraged that in the midst of grief and anger, large numbers of people were seeking to come together and look outside of themselves.  Perhaps they were looking to God.  Perhaps they were looking to each other.  But they were and are looking out and up, not in and down.  They are not dwelling on the hate and evil that were the very forces that provoked this tragedy.

It seems that more often than not, organized religion disappoints rather than inspires.  But we could say the same thing about our families and friends, our spouses, our jobs.  We are all flawed human beings trying to get through the day.  And whether it’s at church or school, in tragedy or in decadent pleasures, maybe this week, we could just cut each other some slack.  I’m pretty sure that most religions would agree with me on this one.

So this week, be kind to yourself.  Eat some potato chips.  Don’t feel guilty.  And spread it around a little if you can.  –J.B.

Past posts on guns and violence and more

Here’s a post from 01/25/2011 on mixing crazy and violence and religion.

Read this post from 05/12/2012 to learn about a church that kidnapped their own teens at gunpoint to scare them into Christianity.

Revisit Christmas posts of the past

Here is the link to “Take Christ out of Christmas” from 12/22/2011.

Here’s the link to “Have Yourself a Very Druid Christmas” from 12/07/2010.