Friday, October 08, 2010

Whose House Would Jesus Watch Burn?

I was saddened by the news the other day that a local fire department in Tennessee had to watch a mobile home be destroyed by a fire because the owner didn't pay an annual $75 fee for fire protection. What really brakes my heart is the quote from the firefighter who said they all wanted to do something, but knew they would be in trouble if they did. So they just stood there and made sure the fire didn't harm the homes of others who had paid the fee.

Unlike a lot of news that saddens me, I was actually surprised to hear this. I didn't realize that local municipalities were so hard up for money that they had to charge extra fees for what most of us consider essential services. And even if that's the case, the firefighters must have been really afraid for their jobs to be able to fight against what basic human decency would otherwise compel them to do. It's the system, not the firefighters, that are at fault here.

As if the story wasn't sad enough to begin with, some right wing commentator felt the need to add insult to injury by claiming that letting the man's home burn was the "Christian thing to do":

In this case, critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability.
(quote courtesy of Right Wing Watch, via Tea Party Jesus)

Fischer's justification of allowing your fellow human beings to suffer right in front of you just confirms Brian McLaren's contention that there is not just one Christianity out there, but many different kinds that all demand our allegiance (check out A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith for more on this concept). I talk a lot about all followers of Jesus being one and us having to learn to live together, and I still believe that, but things like this make me wonder if people like Fischer and I really worship the same Jesus.

Maybe I'm just too "liberal", or I've been co-opted by "feminized Christianity" (only women stood by Jesus at the cross, while all the guys ran and hid, so maybe a feminine touch isn't such a bad thing?), but when I read Matthew 25, I can't find Jesus saying to the sheep (the ones who get into heaven),

Blessed are you, for when you saw me hungry, you told me to get a job. When you saw me in prison you advocated for longer sentences and the death penalty. When you saw me sick you said I didn't deserve health care. When you saw my house burning you stood there and watched it burn because I didn't have the money to pay a fee. You guys really taught me a great lesson!

I've read lots of different translations, and I can even read a little Greek. Trust me, it's not in there!

Incidents like this are part of the larger problem of the disgusting state of public discourse in our country. People see that they will get lots of attention if they say the meanest, most hateful, most divisive things they can think of, regardless of whether they actually believe these things or not.

One of the young ladies in my congregation posted a very insightful poem that sums up what many of us in the "Reasonable Majority" feel about the current state of political dialogue in our country. Take a minute and read "Politics, Ugh" by Melissa Smith.

I continue to hope that this moment in history will be a brief, ugly chapter in a story that ultimately climaxes with the triumph of God's reign in the world. But living in this moment is really hard, so the sooner we start the next chapter, the better.


Jessica Miller Kelley said...

"muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability." Wow.

I love your rewrite of Matthew 25. That's awesome.

Carter said...

From what I've read about this incident, and what I know about volunteer fire departments having lived under municipal fire protection for less than eight of my 46 years, there's more to this story than is commonly being reported. (And I definitely don't think any jobs were at stake, unless this is a very different kind of "volunteer.") What if the homeowner chose for simple convenience's sake not to pay the fee? What if the fire department had stopped the fire but someone had been injured or worse in the fighting, at a home where the owner had chosen not to pay the fee? If I pay the $75 fee, can I expect the fire department to fight the fire at someone else's home as well?'m still surprised at the decision, and the question Whose House . . ? is still worth asking . Just keep asking more questions and adding some of the variables.