Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Some things you just can't ignore...

I've already commented on the Parkview Church video, but it just kept eating at me because it so perfectly illustrates the point of this blog. There is this misnomer that people who don't believe in a god are immoral, when the reality is we simply don't wave banners or make videos against pop music backdrops to get credit for it. We give to the poor, we donate our time and money, we reach out to those less fortunate...and we do it frequently...we just don't expect brownie points now or later for the honor of doing so. Yet what message are these pastors sending to this congregation? Their seemingly clueless flaunting of their own wealth and privilege, combined with the ironic message of 'service to others' was something I just couldn't ignore. 

So I sent them an email. Here it is:
To Whom it May Concern at Parkview Church,
You’re probably aware that your recent video has gone viral, and I felt compelled to contact you after watching it. I am, quite frankly, appalled that your examples of serving others were buying gas for luxury vehicles, handing out snacks to commuters from suburbia, and washing someone’s feet outside a retail shoe store. Really? That’s all you could possibly think of to demonstrate service to others? First of all, these acts were nothing close to actual sacrifice, and touting them as examples of service to your congregation implicitly directs them to stay within their comfort zone of wealth and class distinction, offering token favors to those who, quite frankly, are the single most privileged population of individuals on the planet: wealthy (and white) Anglo-Saxon protestants, and all the while patting themselves on the back for supposed ‘random acts of kindness’ in Jesus’ name.
As an atheist, I know that my responsibility lies in helping others here and now. Not out of any promise for divine perks and elevated cloud status in Heaven, but because it’s the right thing to do as a citizen of this earth. True service involves humility and sacrifice. True service is giving of one’s time and resources to someone IN NEED without strings attached. No one in your video was truly in need and, were anyone to mimic your recommended acts of kindness, no one in need would have been helped. In fact, Orland Park and Lockport Illinois are difficult places to even FIND someone truly in need. Less than 10% of your citizens are single mothers, barely 3% of the population is at or below the poverty line, and 95% are white families that average 80-95 thousand dollars a year. Not exactly the center of desperation, now is it?
You want to bring service back? You want to remind your congregation of Christ’s mandate to love thy neighbor as thyself? If they love themselves enough to buy a luxury SUV, that must mean they love their underprivileged neighbors to the northeast a tremendous amount! I guarantee there are neighboring areas that could use some love on the same level as your congregants love themselves. Five neighborhoods in Chicago are considered to be among the 25 worst areas in the country to live. Five out of 25 in the COUNTRY! Right there, in your own backyard!! And yet your only random act of kindness was to hand out Twinkies and lattes to suburbanites on their morning commute? Sure it was cute, I’m sure it gave folks a smile, but that was nothing close to an act of genuine, sincere service to others. I’m not suggesting you go do your Timberlake impression in downtown Chicago, but you could do something COMPLETELY different from the typical American Mega-Church and get your hands dirty helping those who ACTUALLY need it. Take that credit card you were flashing around and buy a few hundred bus tickets for a homeless family shelter, then as a congregation adopt a school in urban Chicago to provide them with warm clothes, holiday meals and gifts this winter. Set a goal to collect one ton of non-perishable food to donate to a pantry in the city, ‘fill a U-Haul’ with supplies for a crisis pregnancy center…there are countless things you could (and should) encourage your followers to participate in that truly embodies Christ-like giving to those in need.
There are countless bible verses that clearly admonish followers to help the poor. Try James 2:1-9; Matthew 25:34-46; Deuteronomy 15:4, for starters, or a few more that are, again, crystal clear...
Do not oppress the poor (Proverbs 22:16; 28:3; Job 20:19; Ezekiel 18:12; 22:29; Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:11).
Do not be apathetic toward the poor (Ezekiel 16:49; ~Luke 16:19-20) or ignore their cry (Proverbs 21:13).
Do not show partiality against the poor (Proverbs 29:14), partiality to the rich (Leviticus 19:15).
The righteous care about justice for the poor (Proverbs 29:7).
Do not try to eliminate the poor from where you live (Amos 8:4; Psalm 109:16) or destroy the poor (Isaiah 32:7).
Do not preach helping the poor and not practice what you preach (James 2:15-17).
I don't expect people to sell everything they own and move to a third world country to ‘help the less fortunate’. What I *do* expect people to do is: be conservative with the earth's resources, share with those less fortunate than ourselves, experience life through the eyes of others, appreciate the vast differences in our world, and stop trying to push a political/economic/religious/societal agenda on those different than us under the guise of charity. True charity, true kindness, true generosity, has NO strings attached and is actually selfless giving of time and resources…not a thinly veiled attempt at conversion. I do expect people who tout the virtues of ‘service’ to actually rub elbows with the underprivileged in homeless shelters. I do expect people who live in the top 10% of the world’s economic spectrum to adopt poverty stricken families for the holidays, and I do expect people who are that well off to use their wealth and privilege to call up the principal at Robeson High School in Engelwood and offer to buy coats for single teen moms, or cans of formula for their babies etc. I realize that isn't as glamorous and sanitary as handing out candy bars and swiping a credit card at your corner gas station, and it probably doesn’t have a very catchy slogan to match up with a funky pop music hit, but it’s real and it’s honest, and most of all…isn’t THAT what Jesus would do?

I don't know if I'll receive a response, but I'll let all of you know if I do. In the mean time, do some real service today and help someone in need...not because some spirit in the clouds commands it, but because it's the right thing to do as a member of the human race. 


I don't think this is what Jesus would do...

I saw this video on the Friendly Atheist blog by Hemant Mehta which, by the way, is my favorite blog about atheism, in case you were wondering.

I'd embed the video, but I'm new to this whole blogging experience and I haven't a clue how to make that work. I've tried three different ways and it's not showing up correctly, so take a minute and watch the video, then come back for the rest of the conversation. I'll wait...

Ok, what did you think? I was, quite frankly, appalled at the flashy arrogance and smug satisfaction the got out of offering free car washes to people driving 40 thousand dollar vehicles in an upper middle class bastion of white privilege. Here's a thought. Instead of handing out free gas and Twinkies to SUV driving suburbanites, how about they take that credit card down to the rough part of town and spend it on people that REALLY need the help? Think of how many bus passes they could've bought, or how many meals could've been paid for and served to a homeless shelter, or shoes and coats bought for kids in need. They want to 'be last' so they can 'be first', which speaks to their true motives, then why don't they 'trust Jesus' and go among the least of their brethren to do some REAL good? And don't get me started on the whole 'hijack sexualized pop music for Jesus' routine. Ew.

In the name of all that is wrong with this attitude and mentality, this idea that to get a better seat in the clouds (seriously people?), I took $50 worth of groceries to the local food pantry. I (anonymously) left the bag with the staff, and inside was one of our cards. I'm not going to make a catchy video with a cheesy Timberlake remix, I'm not going to call and ask what they think, it was entirely anonymous. And actually? We can't 'afford' that right now. Our budget is tight, we have kids to feed, and I can assure you we're not in the same economic class as the folks in that video. We drive a beat up vehicle that is well over ten years old and has 175 thousand miles on it with rusted holes in the doors. We shop at second hand stores for all our clothes and furniture. We're not poor, but we're assuredly not wealthy. What we do have is the luxury of knowing what we're going to feed our kids tonight. And that's a hell of a lot more than some people, so rather than handing out lattes to the over-privileged, I encourage you all to take a few minutes of your time and do some REAL good...without god.