Did you participate in Chick-Fil-A appreciation day?  I didn’t, but I can’t resist the urge comment at the close of it—primarily because most posts and blogs I’ve seen have paid scant attention to what I consider the issue at the heart of the controversy.   What I am about to say will probably be a disappointment to my friends on both sides of the controversy.

The issue involved is not  the sanctity of marriage.  The issue involved is not  gay-lesbian-transgender rights.  The issue is freedom of speech and whether or not we as individuals understand how our actions affect freedom of speech.

What scares me about this controversy is the call to boycott Chick-Fil-A because of its statement in support of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.  Not because I agree with the statement, but because such a statement is not considered to be politically correct.  Should a company be boycotted because of a politically incorrect statement, or a statement with which some people disagree?  What are the consequences of such a boycott?

If a call to boycott had been made because Chick-Fil-A had fired employees who were gay or lesbian, a boycott would conceivably put economic pressure on the company to treat all employees equally regardless of sexual orientation.  Such a boycott would be directed to the actions of the company—actions that can reasonably be seen as unfair.

Here the boycott is against the company, not because of its actions towards employees or customers, but because of its speech.  Yes, your right to free speech gives you the right to express your opinions in response to Chick-Fil-A’s opinions, and you have the right to do that in the form of a boycott.  But make no mistake:  this boycott is repressive of free speech.  Its message is clear:  if you say something we don’t like, we will do our best to shut you down.

Repression of free speech doesn’t change people’s opinions:  it merely discourages them from stating their opinions.  It stops the conversation about the underlying issues.  Only conversation has a chance of persuasion, and only if that conversation does not disparage the others’ points of view.

In the past week, Chick-Fil-A is the third example of what I perceive as repression of free speech.  The first was the ban of athlete Voula Papachristou from the Olympics because of her racist, xenophobic tweet.  The second example was a comment made to me regarding a local political campaign suggesting I should agree politically with an individual if I were his/her friend.  Does our country, does the world, no longer value freedom of speech?  Must we censor those who disagree with us, or those whose opinions we find disagreeable in some way?  Certainly, we can ask that differing opinions be voiced with respect to those in the conversation, but should anyone be pressured into NOT voicing an opinion?  How many Russian authors were executed, jailed, or had to seek political asylum because they wrote something that was not politically correct to the regime of the USSR?

As a combat veteran said in an on-line conversation on-line about Papachristou, “To support the constitution and free speech, you must protect and support a person’s right to say things that you absolutely detest . . . you can’t have freedom any other way.”

The Chick-Fil-A controversy is about freedom of speech, even if we don’t recognize it now.  I hope that everyone who doesn’t recognize the free speech issue will take the time to consider how she/he would feel if his/her point of view was repressed by other individuals.  It’s only a short step from repression by people to suppression by the government, and that idea scares me speechless.


Tornado Theology II: Riding Out the Storm

Since we first began to see images of damage from the deadly twister that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, tornado warnings have taken on new meaning.  The high-pitched sirens are no longer merely an annoyance or interruption to our daily routines—they are potential life-savers. 

If, as I theorized in my last blog, God designed a universe with a “meteorological freewill” so that there is no divine control over the weather and therefore no divine purpose in its devastating effects, is there any point of praying, as we huddle in our basements waiting for the all-clear signal?  To some, the notion that God is not in control of the weather seems bleak.  (Not to mention heretical . . . )

Ironically, I believe we can pray for safety for ourselves and others.  Safety through the storm doesn’t require God to control the tornado.  Often, people survive tornados because they are at the right place at the right time.  Mere good luck, it seems.

Take the case of Cameron Paul, a 19-year-old employee of the Joplin Walmart.  After directing others to a “safe” area in the store, Cameron finally took cover himself.  Most of the hundred-plus people who rode out the storm inside the Walmart survived, although some suffered serious and debilitating injuries.  Even though Cameron saw a nearby couple and their child crushed to death when a support beam fell on them, he came away with only a bump on his head.  A few feet difference in location was the difference between life and death.

Was Cameron merely lucky?  I don’t know.  Did Cameron survive because he prayed, and the couple with the child died because they didn’t pray?  I don’t know.  Only God knows. 

The God I know is capable of nudging us, as willing believers, towards a specific place at a specific time to assure our safety in the midst of a deadly tornado.  If we are in the habit of asking for God’s help and then listening to God’s leading, we are may be more likely to do so in time of crisis simply because it’s an ingrained habit for us. 

Like the unidentified lady in the Joplin FastTrip, whose voice could be heard on video footage taken by a hardy and quick-thinking customer as he and others rode out the storm, literally holding onto each other for dear life in the back of the store.  Periodically the woman could be heard saying, “Heavenly Father” and “Jesus” with such fervency her words could only be interpreted as prayers.

When it comes to riding out the storm, I will pray.  I will trust God to help me make the right decisions and do the right things.  And after the storm?  I won’t blame God for the loss of lives and property, because I know God takes no delight in our suffering.

Tornado Theology

Yesterday’s tornado in Joplin, Missouri, was a tragedy unlike anything most of us have ever seen. Once the body count is complete and the shock is over, however, people will try to make sense of it. Already on the national news, experts discussed whether such severe tornadic activity could be the result of global warming. And no doubt, some will attribute it to God.

Long before I attended seminary I rejected the premise that God is the direct cause of every disaster or tragedy. I have Susan Smith to thank for that. Not Susan Smith the seminary professor, though, Susan Smith the murderer.

In 1995, TV coverage of the Susan Smith case included footage of a hand-lettered sign that read, “Heaven needed more angels.The sign was a memorial for the two little boys Ms. Smith had killed. She had intentionally rolled her car into a lake with her sleeping sons inside, where they drowned.

That memorial sign really made me stop and think. Did God work through the agency of a murdering mother to accomplish some unknown, divine purpose? The God I know does not condone murder; therefore, God would not cause a woman to murder her children for any reason.

“But God allowed it to happen,” some people say. For God to allow something to happen, however, God would have to control everything in the universe. And the God I know designed humanity to have freewill in their choices; therefore, God does not control humans. So when a woman chooses to murder her toddlers, God has no control over her actions.

“But God could have protected the little boys if God wanted them to live . . .” I can hear the argument continuing, because for some people it’s important to believe that everything happens for a purpose. Somehow, a noble purpose—a divine purpose—makes sense of an otherwise senseless act.

Is it necessary, though, to manufacture a reason for a tragedy in order to make sense of it? Or can people make sense of a tragic circumstance by their actions afterwards? Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) provide us with an example of making sense of a senseless tragedy in its aftermath. By turning their grief into energy for a worthy cause, the women of MADD have created good from devastating losses. Almost as if it had been planned that way . . .

For me, Romans 8:28 provides an explanation of why some tragedies may appear to have been planned, caused, or allowed by God: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In other words, God has the ability to redeem tragedies by using the results in an unexpected and miraculous way.

Just as God designed humanity, God designed and set into motion our universe. From the beginning of time, our universe has had the capability of unleashing destructive forces onto the comparatively frail humans occupying the earth. Just as God voluntarily gave up control over human beings, I believe God gave up control over nature once it was designed and set into motion. A sort of “meteorological freewill.” The tornado that hit Joplin was created under the laws of nature because of specific weather patterns occurring in conjunction with other weather patterns, and not because God was punishing the city or its residents.

Of course, theology is sometimes little more than theory, and my tornado theology could be all wrong. My prayer is that the people of Joplin don’t blame God or stretch their concept of God by looking for a purpose in all that devastation.  Because some things don’t happen for a reason–they just happen.

A Small Matter

Such a small matter, really, getting called at the last minute to work a short evening shift at CVS . . .  but somehow I felt used.

Alex Rieger, on the TV show Taxi,  recognized that a person with a dream doesn’t identify with a job that merely pays the bills:  “You see that guy over there? Now, he’s an actor. The guy on the phone? He’s a prizefighter. The lady over here? She’s a beautician. The man behind her? He’s a writer. Me? I’m a cabdriver. I’m the only cabdriver in this place.”

Alex would have known I’m not a CVS clerk:  “You see that lady behind the cash register?  She’s the founder of ala carte Educational Ministries and the creative force behind Camp Confidence.” 

ala carte Educational Ministries–a ministry to empower ordinary Christians to share their faith with the people they meet everyday.  Camp Confidence–a summer day camp that teaches skills of confidence to kids on the autism spectrum.   Two of my loftiest dreams . . .

But at 5:15 on Thursday evening, my boss wasn’t calling because of my ambitions.  He wasn’t calling because of my education.  He wasn’t even calling because I am the most experienced CVS employee, or the fastest, or the hardest working.  He was calling me simply because no one else was available to work for the person who had called in sick. 

And I was going to work, simply because I was the only person available.  Ugh!

Then, with the gentle force of a two-by-four, it hit me:  being available to work is a lot like being faithful to God.   God doesn’t seek me out because of my lofty dreams and ambitions for ministry.  God doesn’t need me because of my Master of Arts in Specialized Ministries.   God isn’t particularly in need of my intelligence, my spirituality, or my personality.  God simply needs me to be available–a human agency through whom God can work. 

God just needs me to be available.   To be faithful.  Such a small matter, really . . .

Blah, blah, blahg . . .

No editors, no juried selection, no gate-keepers between me and my readers.  I’m just another person airing her opinions, her point of view, in a world inundated with too much information.  Blah, blah, blah, . . . blahg.

The fact that anyone can publish by pushing a button is scary.  Not because I don’t welcome diversity of thought, but because the sheer volume of blogging threatens to drown us all in a sea of repetition and triteness.  And yet, here I am, adding my own words to the swell of blogs. 

In the past, the gate-keepers have stopped me.  Still, I operate under the common delusion that something I say someday will make a difference to someone.  Somehow. 

Some theory. 

Blogging is a new way to write–for me, at least.  It’s an option I haven’t tried before . . . a fresh option.