RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Man, the older I get, the more I sound like my conservative parents and grandparents! (But the less and less I sound like contemporary conservatives.) My grandparent’s generation was the one that Made America Great Originally (MAGO). And I find so much disconnect today between my life as a youth and my world as a mature person, between “Christianity” as I have experienced it and what I read about in the Bible, and between rights and responsibilities (which used to be coupled together).

I’d like to blame Baby Boomers. And I figure there’s a lot of blame that would stick! But I doubt very much that blame will help, and demonizing others is a big part of the problem. I think in today’s socio/political atmosphere, it’s more important to demonize than it is to be right or even Right.

If there is a label or a world order for which I hope to sacrifice my life, let it be “Christian.” Let it be “King Jesus.” I will be sad to sacrifice the “way of life” I grew up with – the one I take comfort in, but apparently the rot was in it too. And while it is so easy, as a modern, American, conservative “Christian” to champion “family values” (and though I see “family values” as important), I think that misses the mark too.

I used to hear my folx talk about rights in conjunction with responsibility. It’s not enough to simply have rights and freedom. Without some sort of focus and restraint, that just means entitlement and chaos. But the Americans invented “the rule of law” by which to sort it out.

Ahhh… the Constitution of the United States.

Yes. It was all so logical, so liberating. It provided for self-rule (after a fashion), though in practice it never came close, really, to what that sounds like. But there was a pull-together mentality that came with it (based largely, I think, on “family values”), that tempered any illogic or overly selfish ambition. So, somehow, it sorta worked.

We appealed to the Constitution to settle differences. It’s a document made up by men. Rules made up by and voted into place by men. White men who owned property, but who said that all men were created equal. (Already, there was illogic being covered over, but there was chaos being contained too.)

I think now about how as a child in the 1970s, I could watch married people depicted on TV as sleeping in separate beds. The language was clean, the humor was clean, but they often (if not usually) smoked cigarettes too. We drove around with seatbelts in the car, but never (I mean NEVER) buckled them. All of this seemed so natural to me! I was like five or ten.

One exception though.

Even though my grandpa smoked, my dad hated the smell of it.

The smell of it.

He would complain bitterly about it, especially when we went out to eat.

Those of you younger than me will not remember, but in those times, some restaurants split their dining rooms into separate but unequal sections: Smoking and Non-smoking. (Ha! I came along after racial segregation, but I expect smoking sections were an easy transition for restaurants to make after that.)

Some restaurants didn’t provide a non-smoking section at all, but of those that did, they invariably put the non-smokers between the checkout register and the smoking section, meaning non-smokers were guaranteed to catch the smoke on the draft, even if it wasn’t blown in your face. And, boy! Dad would not that all the time. It would give him a headache, he would say.

For years, I thought my family was the only one that cared or noticed. My mom’s mother felt similarly to my dad. But this did not appear to be a national gripe. I’m sure there were others, but we were definitely a minority until the 1990s.

What changed?

Hmmm…

I recall a discussion of this in some of my sociology courses in college. It seems that once it was determined that people could become sick from the “second-hand smoke,” the anti-smoking movement finally got traction in the legislatures, councils, and courts. As far as I could tell, no one really cared if you smoked in your own car, your own home, or even outdoors, but pretty soon, ashtrays were moved the entrance/exit of nearly every establishment open to the public (except bars).

Surely smokers had rights! In fact, if you listen closely even today, there are smokers around in the minority (things have flipped completely the other way round now) who complain that their rights as smokers are all but stripped away. These days, employers are apt not to hire you, renters won’t rent to you, and insurance companies won’t ensure you if you smoke.

The smoking thing got traction over “second-hand smoke” which could make non-smokers sick, but it became a financial savings to the system to crack down on smoking from more angles than just “second-hand smoke.” In fact, I don’t hear anyone talk about “second-hand smoke” these days and haven’t for a very long time. Even more, I must say that for the vast majority of non-smokers, it takes prolonged and sustained exposure to second-hand smoke before you are likely to get sick.

Hmmm…

You still breathe the air on the freeway! You still run a gas-powered lawn mower. You cook your s’mores on a campfire! And just yesterday, I heard a report on TV about the air pollution in my home that comes from my gas-powered stove! So, just because I haven’t been exposed to a lit cigarette in almost two years doesn’t save me from second-hand smoke by other means at all!

But, by God! Those smokers are all but extinguished!

They still technically have their rights, but they are forced to face their responsibilities to the rest of us for exhaling their fumes across a crowded restaurant.

And, I am thankful for it.

Hmmm…

We got here adhering to the Constitution of the United States too. Ain’t that somethin?

Yeah, and my freedom to drive a car without wearing a seatbelt has been taken away too.

And I remember as a teenager when that one came down the pike how much my family, friends, and I grumbled about it.

In fact, I lived in Colorado when it came to our state (one of the later states to adopt seatbelt laws), and I lived near the state line with New Mexico which adopted the laws at least a year (it seems) before we did. Whenever we made a trip into New Mexico, there was the sign on the roadside warning us to buckle up or get a ticket. So, we grumbled and dutifully buckled up. But upon reentering Colorado on the return trip, we exercised our rights and freedoms to unbuckle!

Supposedly, that law came about from the insurance lobby. Americans were largely forced into giving up that freedom due to the financial cost associated with it – despite the lifesaving/preserving measure it entailed.

We are stupid like that.

The Declaration of Independence is not the same document as the Constitution, but the two go together in spirit. They support one another rather than cancel each other culturally or otherwise. Right?

Yeah. Except that the Declaration declares we have an unalienable right to life. Yet somehow, we look into the Constitution and find it acceptable to kill enemies in war, prisoners condemned by the courts, and … and … and … the most innocent of all… the unborn babies.

Nothing illogical in that.

There is logic in it too – to a point. Lives are saved by the taking of lives. It happens. And anyway, you have a second amendment right to keep a gun, and that is for taking lives.

Pardon me, but if that makes all perfect logical sense to you, keep in mind it doesn’t for someone else.

Rights and responsibilities.

We used to talk about these ideas when I was young. Perhaps we talked about it while exhaling our fumes over a table in a restaurant designated such that we shouldn’t. But we did. And we thought we were making sense.

Somehow, we used to pull together one way or the other more so than we do now.

But I have come to see that appealing to the Constitution and trying to claim a “rule of law” is always, always, always subject to bias, selfishness, and was always at least a little dishonest at best. So, I point you to Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible – specifically.

I am fully aware that the Bible is subject to interpretation too (at least in the meantime before The Age to Come). Some methods of interpretation are better than others, and I strongly believe that too, but these days just a simple appeal to Scripture in any way, shape, or form seems a bridge too far for most. I lament that.

I come from a faith heritage that, though born in Scotland, came to America immediately, largely because of the influence the Americans had on the world. Thomas and Alexander Campbell found the “rule of law” all so “logical” and appealing and sought to apply Constitutional appeal to the New Testament itself, believing that would put the world to rights.

It was sort of a blending of Con law with a Field of Dreams mentality and stirred into a religious faith context. They thought, much like “if you build it, they will come,” that if you treat the New Testament like a US Constitution, you will reestablish the true church and God will come. They worked out the approach, which seemed so logical at the time, and brought it to America where it quickly became one of the fastest growing revival movements briefly. (In fact, one of those early evangelists broke with our movement and joined Joseph Smith in that other uniquely American expression of “Christain” faith, the Mormons, who bear many of the same striking features as the churches of my youth.)

So, it looks like we are back where we started. Following the Constitution is fraught with illogic and dishonesty when you really think about it. Appealing to the Bible seems hardly any better, and in fact, if you study the thinking of people like Thomas Jefferson who specifically set out to separate church from state, you learn that they too were trying to remedy problems that arose from all the “Christians” trying to order the world.

But there is one more part to that which, even if tried, has not been exhausted.

Love.

Christian love.

It is a responsibility of Christians to share their Christian love. A love that puts rights aside, takes up a cross and follows Jesus.

We really need to talk about THAT.

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