Debra A. Copeland

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EPISTLE TO JERRY FALWELL: A WINTER HYMN - 01/2016

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Think Pieces (17)

Posted 01/04/2020 01:54:32
Category: Think Pieces

i.

LAST MONTH there was a Christmas parade in my hometown. It was like something out of a Hallmark movie, only more congested. I read later in the paper that over 10,000 people attended the parade, in a town with a population of 9900. I either hadn’t read, or had forgotten about the parade in advance. When it took more than 30 minutes for me to drive fewer than 3 miles to town, I grumbled; acted a little like Scrooge. But when I finally reached town, while driving around searching for a parking space near a store on Main, the same street the parade was being held, I sensed something positive in the air. It was a Christmas parade. On Main Street. Just like something out of a Hallmark movie. Only more congested. But still something to be thankful for.

As I made my way along the sidewalk, people stood three and four deep. Some held babies in their arms, or hoisted toddlers on their shoulders. Some carried children in slings and packs on their backs, others held children's hands. To me, the mood of the crowd seemed sober, almost grave, but also somehow, quietly cheerful. Inside the shop, as I made my purchase, the clerk said, as we gazed out the plate glass window at a giant Frosty the Snowman floating by, "This is just what they needed."

Yes, I thought. She was right. Still numb from news of the most recent mass murders, this time in San Bernadino and Paris, energetically drained from chronic horrific news, we’re all in need of communal gathering. And let me tell you, the kids were not disappointed--they thought all those firetrucks were pret-ty cool. Firetrucks, which carry brave men and women out to save and protect others from loss of life, limb, and property. What could be more American, more wholesome than firetrucks in parades? Firetrucks in parades is what separates us from, say, oppressive authoritarian regimes, which favor processions of tanks at their public events. 

After the parade, there were fireworks. I thought of the veterans . . .

After the fireworks, a Christmas movie was projected onto a giant screen erected in front of the courthouse. Families watched from the curb, or sat in chairs on the sidewalk. I went home and turned on the TV. I don’t remember which, one of the networks was airing Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I decided to settle into a comfortable spot and watch, for probably the fifth or sixth time since childhood.

You may already know the plot, but if you don’t, it’s Christmas 1945. A whole town is praying for a single man in crisis. Henry F. Potter, a mean-spirited banker, has played a cruel and dirty trick on good-hearted, small-town businessman, George Bailey. Potter has backed Bailey into a corner, one it looks like there’s no getting out of. There are times in the movie, why, if Bailey had had a gun, he might have shot and killed Potter, that’s how angry he was. But, as the situation appears more dire, Bailey starts thinking of doing harm to himself. He heads to a bridge to throw himself into the icy river. Only, so many townspeople are praying for George that their prayers form a chain which reaches all the way to heaven and Clarence Odbody, a friendly, homespun angel attempting to earn his wings, is dispatched immediately to Earth to assist.

It’s interesting, how you can see a movie or read a book at different times in your life and come away with different impressions. Viewing It’s a Wonderful Life this year left me with the impression that America, back then, wasn’t a whole lot different from America today. Seems there have always been greedy, corrupt bankers and politicians, and Scrooge-like CEOs and warmongers, and a shallow, hard-hearted elite in control of everything. Much of what is happening today is just history repeating itself, yet again. This year I was also struck by the number of times George Bailey proved himself a Purple Heart Soldier, willing to sacrifice himself if it meant saving others. George Bailey might’ve lost his temper and cursed at times, but in the end, he was a true Christian. More than a true Christian. To me, George Bailey was Christ-like.

[Enter choir of angels, singing.]

THE ANGELS: [Cantabile.] George Bailey was Christ-like! George Bailey was Christ-like!

When the movie was over, I decided to watch the news. And lo and behold, what did I witness? You, Jerry Falwell, Jr., heir to your father’s throne, chancellor of a Christian university, giving your testimony. Which included, among other things, giving instruction to the students in your charge to apply for weapons permits so they can, and I quote, "end those Muslims before they walk in."

THE ANGELS: [Forte.] George Bailey was Christ-like!!

Chancellor Falwell. I was shocked. I’m not sure I’ve recovered. I have to wonder—

THE ANGELS: Have you thought this thing through?!

Yes. Exactly. What the angels said.

THE ANGELS: [Crescendo.] George Bailey was Christ-like!!! George Bailey was Christ-like!!!

Can you imagine the nightmares concerned cops and loving parents everywhere will have when frat parties are spiked not only with alcohol, but guns? What are your thoughts with regard to domestic terrorism? What about those Christians?

ii.

(At this point, Jerry--may I call you Jerry?--I'd like to share with you that I too am a Virginia-born Southern Baptist, spent my formative years indoctrinated in the Gospel as interpreted by Billy Graham. Tell me, were you threatened unceasingly, as I was growing up, with eternal damnation in hell?)

In an effort to put your words in context, I watched the full recording of LU’s December 4, 2015 convocation. The musical opening carried me back in time to Sunday mornings when I was a little girl and sometimes attended church with my grandmother. At the end of the service, the congregation always sang all six verses of “Just As I Am,”while the preacher stood at the altar and called, invited, implored, sometimes scolded lost sinners to come forward and be saved. LU's young singers and musicians performed beautifully. They carried me back to my teen years, when I sang in the church youth choir, and made joyful pilgrimages to another Baptist landmark in Lynchburg: Eagle Eyrie.

But when you stepped up to the podium. . .well, I gotta tell ya, I got a little confused. You promised scholarships to children of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris (and also San Bernadino? I can’t remember). Which appeared to be a kind enough gesture . . . I suppose.

But when you got to the part

Where you spoke with an angry and unloving heart

About what you were carrying in your back pocket—

Whoa. 

THE ANGELS: [Largo.]  George Bailey was Christ-like.

Jerrry, you and I know, but maybe others do not, that Southern Baptist girls, just like a lot of Muslim girls (and others), are trained from birth to be obedient and subservient to boys. All Southern Baptist children are taught God offers salvation only to those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior; all others are morally inferior and doomed to Hell.

But it is my personal belief

That where the Bible speaks

Of Jesus as being the Truth, the Light, and the Way,

And that the only path to heaven is through Him,

That what it really means, what the Bible is actually saying,  

is that Jesus is Love.

THE ANGELS: [Allegro.] All you need is love!

Love. Love. Love.  Jesus is Love, Jerry! And Love is the Truth, the Light, and the Way!

THE ANGELS:  [Allegro.] All you need is love!

Love, for Christ’s sake. Say it, spell it, love it, Jerry, L-O-V-E, c'mon, you can do it, I’ll hold your hand.

THE ANGELS: [Allegro.] All you need is Love! Love is all you need!

Listen here, Jerry Falwell, Rest-of-the-World, All-Living-Beings-Everywhere: Jesus and the Beatles and the hippies got it right. There is only one God, Universal Being, Spirit, Savior, Allah, Yahweh, Field, Force-Be-With-You, Whatever-You-Want-to-Call-It, and it is Love. Love is the foundation, the fabric, the physics of the Universe, as well as of human existence.

THE ANGELS: [Largamente.] All you need is Love.

Love is compassion. How can students at a Christian university be taught such a basic Christian tenet while being encouraged to root and cheer for, to applaud violence and hate? No one has said it more perfectly than Dr. King: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

iii.

Pissing contests, battles of ego and will, rivalry and discord among brothers, tribes, and religious sects are as ancient as our origins, of course, and certainly date back to the Israelite patriarch Abraham from whom, it is written, Jesus's earthly father Joseph as well as the prophet Muhammad descends. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, with two different mothers, Hagar and Sarah, one a powerless slave, the other the uncommonly beautiful but cruel wife, who also was her own son's aunt by virtue of being her own husband's half-sister. Arab Muslims trace their religious roots as well as bloodlines to Abraham, the "handmaiden" Hagar, and the child they had together, Ishmael. Jews trace their religious and genealogical origins to Abraham, his wife Sarah, and the son Sarah prayed for and received late in life, Isaac. European-American Christians do not trace family linkage to biblical characterts but, like Jews, align themselves religiously with Abraham, Sarah and Isaac.

Jesus and Muhammad. In whose names churches were built, new religions founded. I know very little about Muhammad, but I have studied Jesus a little bit. I believe Jesus was unlike any who came before him, or since. Jesus was intolerant of injustice. And way too cool to get tricked into pissing contests. There could be no such thing as rivalry or discord when interacting with Jesus. Jesus had his ego in check. Jesus was selfless. Jesus wouldn't even commit an act of violence in self-defense. Which begs the question--I'm serious, think about this: If the United States of America were, suddenly, to convert from a pluralistic democracy to the Christian theocracy some seem to crave, how would this new nation justify the establishment of a military? How would its citizens explain their fascination with guns designed solely for the efficient killing of humans? In agonizing pain, Jesus hung on a rough-hewed wooden cross, the weight of his body supported only by the nails they'd hammered through his crossed ankles and his wrists. Jesus hung naked, bleeding, dying, and said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

iv.

Sacred texts foretell of "end times," periods in human history when things get very bleak before they get better. Many feel we're in such a time now. Sacred oral indigenous prophecy describes similar scenarios.The Revelation of St. John describes apocalyptic events and perpetration of evil so horrific the planet as well as all of humanity goes into a tailspin.  But both written and oral prophecy promise that Goodness and Justice will prevail. Historically, dark ages have been followed by times of  renaissance; as  old, destructive patterns break apart, new and healthier, more just patterns form, propelling humanity forward on the spiral of evolution. The Bible promises that one glorious day, the dark times will end forever; that there will occur on Earth, as well as in the Heavens, a shift so great the Universe is eternally transformed, and peace reigns, and humans become new and higher beings. Southern Baptists call the souls of the future the "Raptured” or the "saved." Some shamans refer to the new and higher humans as “homo luminous.” The name given to the evolved species by futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard is “homo universalis". . .

Hey. Jerry. Are you still reading? (If you’ve read at all.) If you are tuning in, I have a few more questions: 1) What do you think about the fact that the United States holds, and has held for many years running, the world record for annual number of mass shootings? 2) What is your level of concern for Vets who are taking their own lives at a rate of 22 per day? 3) What’s your take on the fact that the United States of America, with a population of 300 million, representing only about 5% of the global population, incarcerates about 25% of the world’s prisoners, outpacing even Russia and China? 4) What is the level of your students’ awareness, and your advice to them, with regard to the climate crisis--do you really believe you're doing all you can and should be doing to develop in your students the ability to seek, and find, truth that is true? How much real intelligence do you have about these persons you perceive as a threat anyway, "those Muslims," as you refer to them, making them seem like little more than caricatures to you? Have you ever befriended a Muslim? I’m willing to wager not. Because if you had, surely you would not have been so careless and crass.

Ah-hem. May I mention the time I went to the Holy Land? It was shortly after John Paul II’s visit in the spring of 2000. My observance of relations between Arab and Jewish Israelis put me in mind of relations between American Blacks and Whites during our nation’s apartheid. In Israel, the dominant, richer, more powerful population is, as we know, the Jewish population. But I was struck by the humble, kind, hospitable nature of the Arab Israelis I encountered. One sunny day, on an excursion to the countryside, my companion and I were greeted by a waving, smiling Arab man standing beside a campfire on the banks of the Jordan. With hand gestures, he invited us to partake of a meal, the fish he’d caught in the river and was preparing to fry. A small, old, wizened Arab woman sat on the stoop of her modest home in a maze of streets in Jerusalem and beckoned us to tea. In spite of her wide, toothless smile, she looked so sad.

There was an unpleasant encounter. Four skinny, hungry-looking Arab boys tried to pickpocket us, two petite women. They didn’t get away with it, though, or get the money and possessions they demanded while threatening us with half-hearted shoves. Four sad, empty-bellied boys were no match for my companion who was twenty years my senior and fifty years theirs and possessed of the fearlessness of a grandmother.

Because of the open airiness, as well as all the super fresh, super healthy, super delicious food, I found myself preferring Arab restaurants over Jewish ones in the country their proprietors warily share. Have you visited the Holy Land, Jerry? If so, did you interact with Muslims while you were there? Or only with Christians and Jews? 

v.

Seriously, Chancellor, I have to ask, what is your agenda? Are you looking for a fight? Some kind of Christian jihad? The Crusades II? Do you really think you’re spreading the message of Christ here? Or the dictates of arms dealers? Do you not see striking similarity between what you espouse and what you claim “those Muslims” do? Do you know that people all over the world are praying for us? Yes, for us. The Americans. Lost, and too proud, stupid, or blinded by ignorance to know. 

THE ANGELS: [Sotto voce.] Change is coming!

Change is coming. There can be no stopping it. Again, Dr. King says it best: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. For now, let us be comforted and assured by this: We still have firetrucks in our parades, for all the little children to see. We’ll know we’re in trouble, I guess, when  thefiretrucks get replaced by tanks.

vi.

It is by loving and understanding tradition that one can finally be free to create something new that is not merely novel .

--Stephen Hill, host, Hearts of Space radio

There are some Americans, too many Americans who are doing nothing so much as whittling away not only their own, but everybody’s personal freedom. Freedom most of us have enjoyed all our lives due to little or no effort on our part. Freedom which was fought for and died for and hard-won by others.There are some in this nation who are being complicit in the trading in of our very democracy for a dangerous model of nationalism which could all too easily morph into fascism. The situation is urgent. From this day forward, we must all commit to doing everything in our power to heal, restore, and allow to blossom and bloom something tragically missing in our churches, in our culture, in society as a whole. Something which has been oppressed, repressed, suppressed, and denied for so long time itself seems to have forgotten it exists. Yet it is something so beautiful and precious, and so sorely needed on the planet right now that the planet wails and weeps for it. Yet how cruelly they treat it. How casually and coldly it is rejected and rebuked. Because they don’t care. They don’t care. They refuse to acknowledge it, they disrespect it, disregard it, brutalize it, even though doing so is doing nothing but turning on themselves. Because it’s in them too. It’s in them too, oh yes it is, whether they know it or not. And in their denial of it, parts of themselves shrivel and die.  

For millennia, women, with their emphasis on heart, were relegated to the fields, the hearths, the bedrooms. Men, with their emphasis on ego, laid the foundations, set in place all the systems and paradigms by which societies all over the world now function. Until only very recently, men have made almost every decision with regard to how life on this planet operates (are some light bulbs staring to go off??). It is time--woefully past time--to turn to the feminine for guidance. It is time for churches to be at least co-ministered by women, and for every congregation in the land to sing songs of praise, worship, and thanksgiving to God the Mother!

Another wave of women is moving to the front. The initiative is well underway. But the ending of a plotline can go either way. Prophecy does not surpass human will. Even prophets will tell you that. A story's ending is almost always left up to the character and behavior of the actors. I know, this Christmas season, how I'd like my fantasy holiday movie to end. This Christmas season, I'm praying, rooting for, cheering and applauding, Love. To all. Amen.

--DAC

01/2016