Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Conservatives hate religious freedom

Conservatives love to talk about how we should strictly interpret the US Constitution and seem to think that it is some sort of infallible document created with a heavy dose of divine intervention. Then why is it that so many of them seem to hate the concept of religious freedom?

Here in Middle Tennessee there is a major battle brewing over the construction of a mosque. Muslims in the city of Mufreesboro have out grown their current facilities and are planning on building a new Islamic Center that would not only serve as a mosque but that would be open to everyone in the community who could use its planned meeting and exercise facilities. The public hearings for zoning approval have sounded like a modern version of the Salem Witch Trials.

The proponents of the mosque have been accused of wanting to build a terrorist training center here in Middle Tennessee. Sweeping claims of Muslims hating America have been made. Christian "pastors" have stood up to denounce Islam stating that the Quaran is a book that encourages racism and violence (have they not read the Old Testament lately). All of this has led to doubts that the mosque would ever get approval from the local government, but there is hope.

Today an article was published in the local Murfreesboro paper, The Daily News Journal that discusses the legal ramifications of the local government not allowing the mosque to be built. It seems that a law was passed by the overwhelmingly conservative Tennessee Legislature in 2009 that makes it almost impossible for a local government to deny approval for the construction of a church or any other religious institution. This means that more than likely the mosque will be approved and hopefully will be built so it can show people, over the years to come, how misguided their hatred and bigotry has been. But in the mean time we will have to listen to people complain. The attorney who brought the law mentioned above to the attention of the regional planning commission is quoted at the end of the article;

"I'm not very happy with this law," Dean said. "It just seems to me it goes way overboard. It seems to me that the local government should have more power to regulate religious institutions."

Conservatives want to give government, local or otherwise, more control over something? Especially control over religion? I guess this just shows that religious freedom is something that conservatives don't cherish.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The consequences of bigoted laws...

One of the great things about living in Nashville is the series of "greenways" that dot our city. These are wonderful places to walk or ride your bike and my partner and myself have been taking advantage of several of them recently to get a bit of exercise. The paved trails tend to be rather lightly used this time of year as the heat keeps most people inside, but we normally run across a few brave souls willing to put up with the heat and humidity and even the occasional down pour as they enjoy some of the more scenic areas of our city.

Today my partner and myself went for a long walk on one of the more popular greenways and along the way we enjoyed wonderful views of the Cumberland River, a refreshing rainshower, and one of the most beautiful things we have seen in Nashville. We were passed by several cyclists as we walked but one will always stand out in my memory. This particular cyclist was a woman, not terribly young and she didn't have the body of a super model, but she was propelling herself along the rolling hills along the banks of the Cumberland in a truly wonderful way. In an obvious attempt to be as comfortable as possible this woman had shed her shirt, and her bra, and was enjoying the heat and the sun and the rain in a way that many of us guys get to enjoy very regularly but that most women, at least in Tennessee, aren't allowed to. Yes, this woman was out in public and she was completely barebreasted, in Tennessee it is against the law for a woman to show her breasts in public unless she is nursing a child but this woman wasn't breaking any laws. You see this woman was transgendered.

In my home state, unlike most states, a transgendered person is not allowed to change the gender listed on their birth certificates and other state issued documents like driver's licenses. This is terribly wrong. The medical community and most of the world has come to terms with the simple fact that our genitals do not always represent who we are and that sometimes individuals need to correct mistakes that nature made. In Tennessee however our legislators have decided that we must all be forced to live with the gender the doctor wrote down on our birth certificates minutes after we were born, no matter what we discover about ourselves in the years to come. So if you are born male in this state you will always be male no matter what.

This creates an interesting quandary. You see the woman we encountered on our walk was born a man and so the state says that she is still a man even though anyone who sees her today will immediately recognize her as a woman. State law also says that it is perfectly legal for a man to cycle in a park without wearing a shirt and having his chest fully exposed, of course a woman has to keep her breasts covered or she risks being arrested. The woman we saw today though is considered to be a man by the state however and so if she was stopped by a police officer all she would have to do is show her drivers license to the officer and the officer would have to let her, and her uncovered breasts, go on about their business.

Transgendered men and women have been fighting for years to change Tennessee law so that they can correct the gender on their birth certificates and other documents. I realized today that the women of our state who are male to female transgendered persons should take advantage of our states stupidity and feel free to walk around with their breasts exposed whenever they feel like it. Maybe they could organize a large group of women who could meet and lay out in the sun on the grounds of the state capitol. This might finally make our legislators realize how ridiculous their stance is on this issue, then maybe we could find ways of showing them how ridiculous their stances are on many other issues as well.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I know more people who don't go to church than who do. I'm gay, my job is bartending in a place frequented by punks, skinheads, hipsters, artists and musicians, I write a blog so liberal it makes my gay, punk, skinhead, hipster,artist and musician friends shake their heads in disbelief some times. Let's just say I'm not around a lot of church going type people, except of course when I am at church. Interestingly enough a lot of the people mentioned above would call themselves, if forced to come up with some sort of label, "Christian". The quotation marks aren't there because I don't believe them, they are there because most of these people would want to qualify their use of the word "Christian".

You see these people are aware of the Jesus Christ in the Bible. You know, the one who spent a lot of time with prostitutes and adulturers and tax collectors. The Jesus Christ who looked at everyone as being equal, the Jesus Christ who said it was harder for a rich man to enter the gates of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. The Jesus Christ who told us not to judge and to cast the first stone only if we were free of sin. The Jesus Christ who said that salvation was available to everyone and who told us to love one another. They would use the word "Christian" and then want to explain that the Jesus Christ referred to in their use of the word "Christian" is the Jesus Christ mentioned in the Bible and referred to above. They would want to make very clear that they are not "Christian" in the sense of what they see in churches today.

To many, myself included, Christian churches have become places where people go to place blame as much if not more than places they go to help others. Churches have become places where they talk about how those "other" people are going to hell. Churches are places where you go to be around people who are, more or less, just like yourself. Churches are places that are run like businesses, where they almost worship at the alter of capitalism as much as they worship God. Why do churches need to spend so much money on having their own gyms and coffee shops and giant screens massive sound systems. They will say it is so they can bring more people to Christ, I think they just bring more people to the gym and the coffee shop. I bet they could bring more people to Christ by handing out blankets and sandwiches, by offering a shoulder to cry on to a stranger who needs nothing more desperately, by working to make sure the poor in this country have places to live and food to eat and can get health care and an education. Why is it that, decades after the Civil Rights movement, Sunday morning still marks the most racially segregated time in our country? Why are so many churches going out of their way to help people on the other side of the world and not sharing some of that help with hungry, homeless, and sick persons in their own towns and cities? Why do so many preachers spend so much time spreading hate when Jesus told us to love?

When Jesus came to Earth he found a church that was worried more about laws and tradition than it was people. He found a church wrapped up in money and politics. He found a church that was spending too much time telling people why they didn't belong instead of telling them that everyone belonged. What did Jesus do when he found his church in this state? He turned over the tables of the money changers, he accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy and pretentiousness, he worked to take his Church back from those who had turned it into... well, into what the church has become today.

Jesus wasn't alone in his desire to change the church, his disciples, the Pharisee Nicodemus, the people of Capernaum. Today those who hope that the church can reflect the Christ we see in the Bible aren't alone either. There are countless groups and congregations working within and outside of the mainstream denominations of the Christian church to make it that place for all, the place offering help to those who need it, not just to those we want to give it to, that place that exists to share the gift Christ gave us, love, with everyone and by everyone, we mean everyone. Take the time and look around your community for the churches that represent the Christ in the Bible instead of just assuming they don't exist because they aren't what you see on TV every week. Many of these churches may seem to be hidden away just because of their small size, but if we search them out, if we don't turn them away when they come to us, if we work to change the churches we already are a part of into these churches their numbers will swell and the light will overcome the darkness.

I know this to be true because of my church. The people at the church I attend span the rainbow of skin colors, we are from all economic classes, we are well educated and high school drop outs, we live in nice homes, run down public housing, and in shelters or on the streets. We are teetotalers and drug addicts. We are gay and straight. We are, in other words, the people Christ came to Earth to give his life for. We are intentionally diverse and we struggle with that sometimes, but we are always glad for the struggle and to be allowed to be part of it. It isn't always easy, but it is always worth it.

Think that was just a bunch of nice talk? Here's what our worship guide/ church bulletin looked like this morning. We aren't the only church like this, go out and find one for yourself.

Friday, June 4, 2010

How much does your employer expect out of you?

You go to work, do your job and go home. That should be all your employer expects out of you, right? It seems like companies are expecting more and more out of their employers all the time. Many people find themselves working more hours or being expected to be on call via cell phone or email almost 24 hours a day. We do more work to make up for the work that had been done by our co-workers before they were laid off, not because the company had no other choice but because the company simply wanted to increase their profits.

Of course this just scratches the surface. We now live in a system seemingly based on the idea that the average person is just a resource to be used up and then discarded. When you are hired, or maybe rented is a better term these days, who do you go through? The human resources department. In economics resources are defined as the total means available to a company for increasing production or profit, including plant, labor, and raw material; assets. If you drive a truck for work you are looked at in the same way as your truck. Work on a computer? Run a cash register? Do you pack boxes in a warehouse? The company you work for thinks of you in the same way it thinks of that computer, the cash register, and the boxes. Once the computer is no longer of use to the company they might sell it to someone else. Maybe they can lower their costs by recycling damaged boxes, well guess what, they have also figured out a way to make money on you even after you are gone... dead and gone. documents the practice of businesses purchasing life insurance on their employees that pays out to the company when they die. If you click on the link above you can see a list of well known companies known to or suspected of buying life insurance on their employees. When the employee dies the insurance policy doesn't pay out to the employee's family, it pays out to the employer. From what I understand the employer can still collect on a policy even if the employee doesn't work for the company any longer, even if the employee was fired by the employer. I don't think I will be patronizing any of the companies on this list and the companies I no longer deal with will be receiving emails letting them know exactly why. I can't cause them any real damage with a personal boycott but maybe my emails will alert an employee to just what kind of company they are working for. We need to make it clear that we will no longer be happy just surviving while the companies we work for and our friends and family members work for grow and prosper and this is one easy way to get the ball rolling. The time has come to recognize the value of people in this country once again. We have to recognize that no one should be able to feast if it causes others to starve. There are many more of us than there are CEOs and Wall Street Bankers and our nations and its laws should work for all of us and not just a lucky few. Surely some of you agree.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's not about race...

"It's not about race..." seems like we here those words spoken more and more often. It could be that we are becoming more sensitive about race relations in the US and might be jumping the gun on seeing race as the source of some of the more problematic issues we are facing today even if they aren't really racially based. Then again it could be that "It's not about race..." is simply an excuse we hope will be taken at face value and allow us to avoid facing up to the fact that we are racists.

I truly believe that most people do not see themselves as racists. They really believe that they don't have any problem with people of other races and colors. Their actions don't support their beliefs however. Could it be that African Americans really don't care about government getting to big or having to much influence over our lives or about big government bail outs and our massive national debt? Could this be why you see so few blacks at tea party rallies?

Is it possible that the tea party rallies are completely free of individuals who doubt President Obama's legitimacy based on the color of his skin? Could it be that the far right is devoid of individuals who would spit on African American Congressmen, but not any other members of Congress were not acting in a racist manner? Could it be that the other members of the far right who defended the individuals who spat upon the members of Congress and said that their actions weren't racist were right?

We are afraid of race in this country. No one wants to admit to being a racist, in this country there are very few adjectives considered more offensive to have used against you. Here in the South we are quick to defend ourselves against claims of racism, not by denying the racism, but by offering up examples of how racism is just as prevalent in other parts of the country. The number of self declared racists in the US is amazingly low and yet racism seems so common.

We seem to only talk about race relations with other members of our own race and then no matter what we say we tend to give each other a pass. White people don't tend to call other white people racist. If you are white and see a black person call a white person racist then the claim can be tossed away as reflecting only how sensitive the African American is or worse reflecting the racism of the African American.

We have avoided having the topic of racism come up when it is really important, when members of different racists are having the conversation, to such an extent that none of us can see our own racism any more. We define racism in the narrowest of terms when discussing the actions of individuals or groups of people who look like us but see racist behavior running rampant amongst those with whom we don't share a skin color. We need to start calling out our friends and family members, our neighbors, our pastors and priests, calling out anyone who thinks less of someone just because of their skin color. Just because someone says "I'm not a racist" doesn't mean we then allow them to say terribly racist things without bringing it up. Do not tell me "I'm not against Mexicans, I'm just for the United States" and then go on to talk about Hispanics in nothing but stereotypical terms and not expect me to call you a racist. I can't make you stop being a racist, we live in a country where you are free to be an idiot, but you should just own up to who and what you are. Then we will see if you can live with yourself.

If there is any doubt that racism is still a problem in our country check out this article, racism exists in every facet of our society but I bet if you asked the well educated judges and lawyers this article is about they would say "It's not about race..."