Lord, Forgive Us Our . . .

There are some pitfalls in this brave new world of social media.  One of them is the fact that when I make a blooper, it is exposed not only to the flock (who are used to my many shortcomings) but also to the entire World Wide Web.

For the past few weeks I have been posting this column as a blog post.  As typos go, the ones in last week’s column were real howlers.   Instead of “Pig in a Poke,” I typed “Pig in a Polk.”  As if that were not bad enough,  I left out the “l” in “public” when referring to “public policy.”   This is more than a little embarrassing.  I don’t really want to get into that particular conversation online.  I get enough unsolicited e-mail already.

I figured out how to fix the blog post, but the newsletter went out uncorrected.  I offer thanks to the many of you, both in the congregation and out there in the ether, who caught the typos and let me know about them.  Humble thanks, of course.  In the circumstances, I could hardly offer any other kind.

This puts me in mind of a young pastor in my grandparents’ church in Coahoma, Texas.  Not long after arriving in that community of cotton farmers, he offered a pastoral prayer imploring the Lord to bless the “hoers in the field.”  He hadn’t quite cottoned onto the local lingo.  Every parishioner who shook his hand after worship whispered, “It’s hoe hands, Charlie, not hoers.

On another occasion Charlie prayed, “Lord, forgive us our falling shorts.”  Not quite the same thing as the Book of Common Worship’s “shortcomings and offences.”  I’m sure the Lord knew what Charlie was talking about, but the image evoked by his rough equivalent is likely to have left the congregation rather distracted.

Baggy pants are a fashion statement these days, but falling shorts are another matter.  (Come to think of it, the former might well contribute to the latter.)

Typographical errors, as bad as they are, are not quite so embarrassing as liturgical ones.  In by first parish I began the Easter morning liturgy by shouting “Christ is born . . . I mean . . . risen!”  It was not my proudest ministerial moment.

Humility is desirable in my line of work, but if you’re me, it’s unavoidable.

Pig in a Poke

When I arrived to serve First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee in 1985, Florida was coming down with a bad case of lottery fever.  Both conservative Christian groups and the liberal-leaning Florida Council of Churches opposed the establishment of a state-run lottery, even though proponents insisted that funds derived by separating fools from their money would be used to “enhance education.”

I joined Southern Baptists and Unitarians to say that the state should not encourage the something-for-nothing mentality that undergirds “gaming.”  (You can’t say “gambling” anymore.  That word has been stricken from the lexicon.)  We opposed the lottery on moral grounds.

We lost, of course.  The voters of Florida, in their infinite wisdom (or utter gullibility) took the bait.  And guess what!  The pea wasn’t under the shell after all.  Over time, the tax dollars that should have gone to education went elsewhere.  And the Governor is praised for proposing a budget increase for education that barely makes up for last year’s cut.

Meanwhile the ads for the Lottery grow increasingly surreal.  Throwing your money away on lottery tickets is not an exercise in cupidity after all.  It’s a way of “contributing” to education.

Eat your heart out, George Orwell.

The slide down the slippery slope has brought us to Gretna, a town in that is 85 per cent black and has an unemployment rate of 25 percent.  In a few days the residents of Gadsden County will get to vote on whether to allow slot machines to be added to the barrel racing and card games that are already underway at Creek Entertainment Gretna.

There’s not much doubt which way the vote will go.  The allure of jobs and new tax revenues is powerful.   My colleague, The Rev. Mr. Charles Scriven, a man of impeccable integrity, has launched an effort to defeat the slots.  Alas, the momentum is against him.

We can’t put the genie back in the bottle.  “Gaming” is probably here to stay.  The best we can do is to try to contain it as best we can.  Still, I can’t relinquish the dream of a system that uses equitably-derived tax dollars to further the public good.

“Gaming” is a social evil, no matter how many voters approve it.  It’s bad for families, bad for individuals, and bad public policy.  Dress it up anyway you want, it’s still a pig in a poke.

Courage Today

My son Adam gave me the new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas for my birthday.  At 542 pages, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy made  for good reading at the beach following Christmas.

As Metaxas guided me through those chilling years of Hitler’s rise and the ever-increasing persecution of Jews, I kept asking myself, “If I had been a Christian in Germany at that time, what would I have done?”

Would I, like Bonhoeffer and that small band of pastors in the Confessing Church, signed The Theological Declaration of Barmen, rejecting “Nazi Theology,” or would I, like the vast majority of “good” Christians, gone along with what was termed “German Christianity?”  Metaxas points out that many,  many Germans opposed the Third Reich, but felt it their patriotic duty  to serve in the military and not to resist the government openly.

Last Sunday Glenda Rabby gave a wonderful talk to the Inquirers’ Class at First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, about the role of churches and church leaders during the Tallahassee Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement.  I was too young at the time to make adult decisions, but I remember the pressure my father faced as a pastor in Texas.

When Dad stood for Civil Rights, even in a modest way, he was vilified by some church members as a Communist dupe and a disloyal American.  Members of the John Birch Society came to our church and took notes during his sermons to make their case against him.  My parents received anonymous phone calls at the manse accusing them of being “nigger lovers.”

If I had been the pastor of a church in the South in those days, would I have had the courage to speak out?  To march with Dr. King?  To insist that racial segregation was contrary to the gospel?  To drive black voters to the polls?

In hindsight, the issues facing Christians in the 50’s and 60’s seem crystal clear.  At the time, however, things seemed more complicated.  The same is true today.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho has become a voice crying in the wilderness regarding the recent restrictions on voter registration and early voting passed by the Florida Legislature  He told  a crowd on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,

We are facing a time that few of us thought would be possible.  History tells us we have been here before.  (The legislators) have another plan they want to implement, to make sure the people who voted in 2008 are not the same people who voted in 2012. (Quoted in the Tallahassee Democrat, January 17, 2012)

The argument that the new restrictions are merely a hedge against fraud by voters is an obvious sham.  It requires a willing suspension of disbelief to see the new law as anything but a means of suppressing votes by those who traditionally vote Democratic.  The effect of the law is to limit the votes of blacks and other minorities.  The law is not overtly racist, but then again, neither were the old poll tax laws.  These days you don’t have to be Bull Connor to keep non-whites from voting.

Preach on, Brother Ion!  You are a profile in courage.