Sunday, August 17, 2008

Praying For A Eulogy To Memphis Intolerance


Apparently, in the minds of many Memphians, He would scream, hurl epithets, demean and bully.

In fact, if we’ve ever seen the antithesis of Christ-like behavior, it was in the reaction by too many Memphians following the death of Memphis music legend Isaac Hayes, who just happened to be a Scientologist.

While a guiding principle of the Gospel supposedly is “love the sinner and hate the sin,” apparently, in Mr. Hayes’ case, his main sin was being different, having the audacity to pick his own religion, one admittedly wide of the mainstream.

The Post

There’s talk that Memphis has entered its post-racial era. We’ve suggested that it’s certainly entered its post-Republican era. Now, if only it could enter a post-religiosity era.

At a time when tolerance is a competitive advantage for cities attracting and retaining talented workers, the headlines across the U.S. about the over-the-top complaints of alleged Christians about Isaac Hayes’ funeral are a damaging blow to our image, once again reinforcing the widespread opinion that we don’t appreciate our music legends and that this is a place where bigotry often knows no bounds.

That’s because the national news about the outcries by many Memphians to the fact that the memorial service for Mr. Hayes, a Scientologist, would take place in a Christian Church, Hope Presbyterian Church, plays into the narrative about Memphis that is too widely held, a narrative that acts as a barrier to our civic maturity, not to mention our economic competitiveness.

Throwing Stones

There’s nothing quite like the spectacle of Christians when they so defiantly act unChristian. If those without sin should cast the first stone, we are blessed in Memphis with an awful lot of people with a firm sense their own perfection. Of course, many of them are emboldened by their own anonymity, too – the main reason that we avoid reading comments posted to articles in The Commercial Appeal.

There are reports that the funeral of Mr. Hayes may even attract the underbelly of Christianity, Frank Phelps, whose Topeka-based Westboro Baptist
Church members stage anti-gay protests at the funerals of Iraq soldiers. Judging from some of the comments made about Mr. Hayes and his chosen faith, there are clearly some Memphians who’d feel right at home.

So far, the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church, Rev. Craig Strickland, has been vilified by people who’ve never met him, nor do they have any conception of the way that his faith is put into action, but they are certain that he is an agent of the devil. Meanwhile, the grieving family and friends of Mr. Hayes have been assaulted with hateful broadsides that must make them question why he ever moved back here from Atlanta.

Get A Life

We’re hard-pressed to understand why anyone should care what Mr. Hayes’ religion was, even one as curious as Scientology. We are even more hard-pressed to understand why we should be outraged that Hope Presbyterian Church is being Christian enough to allow the singer’s many fans to celebrate his life there.

Back to the subject at hand, tolerance, it’s worth remembering that in surveys of young, college-educated workers, they say they want to live in places that are clean, green, and safe, and that allow them to live the life they want to live. In other words, they want a place that is tolerant of others – different lifestyles, sexual orientations, and races and ethnicities. It’s an issue that we seem to struggle with, owing perhaps to our Bible Belt traditions.

Sadly, the venom unleashed at Mr. Hayes’ funeral killed any euphoria from the message that African-American voters sent to the nation by voting overwhelmingly for white Congressman Steve Cohen over his African-American challenger, Nikki Tinker.

The Pot Boils Over

Incidentally, the percentage of women who say they want to live in a tolerant city is slightly larger than the percentage of men, a fact made more important by the fact that women are now 20 percent more likely to be college-educated than men. In that regard, economic growth today is powered by the 25-34 year-old college-educated demographic, but cities getting on the front of the wave also have are figuring out ways to attract women in particular.

All in all, the Isaac Hayes controversy is a troubling commentary on Memphis’ inability to come to grips with the simplest of principles – live and let live. Rather, we are capable of jumping on any disagreement to launch into the kind of vitriol that undermines a sense of civility in our community. (The media’s codependency with this culture of crassness is problematic in this regard.)

A few days ago, we were talking with a psychiatrist friend about dysfunctional families and the difficulty that its members have in breaking away from the abusiveness and antagonism that are their constant companions. Ironically, in the midst of a destructive relationship, members fear – and fight – any change to things.


The problems are twofold: one, the family members think all families are like theirs, and two, the dysfunction becomes familiar and comfortable albeit it hostile and painful.

In this environment, communications are raw and attacks are common, and communications has been used as a weapon so often that family members can no longer interpret each other’s dispassionately or react proportionally. Instead, every one is forced to take sides in every disagreement, escalating every issue into a controversy that bursts the family at its seams.

As he talked, we forgot for a moment that he was describing dysfunctional families. We thought he was describing Memphis.

Now What?

We asked: What does someone do to change the dysfunction?

He said that it’s no easy or quick. The people who use the dysfunction to have power resist change the most. They immediately feel threatened and set up roadblocks and obstacles. We thought of some old guard political leaders.

If people are serious about changing things, he said, there are several things they have to do:

1) They have to realize that one person’s not in charge of another person’s life, and every one has the right to make their own choices free of attack;

2) They have to quit fighting old battles, because there are no winners, because every one loses;

3) They have to identify what they want to happen and then change their behavior to make it happen; and

4) They simply refuse to respond to the dysfunction or engage in the old combative ways of communicating.

Paying Attention

Most of all, for change to happen, it requires constant attention to positive behaviors and improvements in relationships, until the people who try to perpetuate the dysfunction find no reward or power in it. Perhaps, then, we could actually attract some national attention for our ability to transcend our differences and abandon the bomb-throwing behavior that attracts national press.

As we said, it’s much more than simple decency (although that would be reason enough). Rather, it’s an economic necessity.

In a world of multitudinous ethnic groups, an assortment of religions, different sexual orientations and a polyglot of cultures, a city that can’t respect its own differences can never connect - or compete - in a world whose overwhelming characteristic is its diversity.


JR Rozko said...

As a follower of Jesus, all I can say is, "I'm embarrassed and I'm sorry." The behavior you are describing here is certainly not in line with the way Jesus taught and lived. Please know that these agitators don't speak for all of us.

Anonymous said...

You might be making a little too much of this reaction and the lack of appreciation for diversity in Memphis....this has more to do with the nature of fundamentalist Christians than it does with Memphis. If this happened in "progressive" Nashville, for example, you can bet your rear that there would be a similar if not greater uproar there.....look at the English-Only referendum they have going on isn't just Memphis, if anything, it's the entire South, a region so proudly and purposely wedded to ignorance (still), that idiots here still see no irony in insisting everyone be unreservedly and mindlessly Christian and patriotic "uhmarikins" while at the same time believing the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of "heritage, not hate," instead of the symbol of racism and a failed traitorous attempt to break up the United States of America that it, in fact, was.

Anonymous said...

"Hate the sin, love the sinner," is not in the Bible. It's from Gandhi. He was a cow worshiper. Stop attributing the words of a cow worshiper to Christ. That's the kind of behavior that has caused this nation to incur the condign (just, meet, fitting) wrath of God.

You arrogant doomed americans think you can fill up the air with words, and somehow get off the hook for your idolatry. No worshiping humans -- including dead ones. Give God the glory!

He alone holds the breath of life in his hand. The only PROPER response to Isaac Hayes dying at an unnaturally early age, is to thank the Lord your God that you are still alive to repent and obey.

This nation is cursed of God. It's too late to pray. It's WAY too late for all your jibber jabber. Get a Bible; read it; obey.

We have warned you for 18 years on your mean streets, looking at your hard angry raging faces, to simply obey God. That is not a complicated proposition. But you would not hearken and you will not obey the commandments of God. So now you can watch fearfully over your shoulder for God's wrath congratulate yourselves on being the nation that heralded in the final destruction of all things.

You should be so scared you're shaking as you fall to your knees and beg forgiveness. Instead you strut around with your puny chests puffed out, propping up your mongrel media mutts and pundits with way too many words to justify your rebellion against your Creator. Not good!

We must pack up some picket signs and go where your eyes, ears, hearts, and BIG RUNNING MOUTHS are focused, to be sure none of you can pretend you didn't know your duty to obey God.

Fear God; give him the glory; the hour of his coming draws nigh.

Margie Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, KS, where you find in spiritual Zion the faithful watchers who are your best friends in the whole world

Looking for love in all the wrong places said...

Wow! Anonymous 5:44 you are a sick puppy.

Anonymous said...

anon : 5:44. All I can say! That was some toxic stuff.

Anon 11:24: You're on the money.

Ghandi was very attracted to what Jesus had to say, it was JC's followers that repelled him. Some things never change (for example see anon 5:44).

Zippy the giver said...

"The people who use the dysfunction to have power resist change the most."
"every one has the right to make their own choices free of attack; "
So, Isaac followed "Scientology", a scam from a sham, but Isaac was no scam. He tried to help.
He took the good out of a scam and used what of it that worked. Good for him. Everyone should learn that lesson.
I've heard Jackson and Sharpton will be there, charlatains looking to tag along on fame, capitalizing on racial dischord, lone rangers running around gathering thanks for work they never did. Who cares about them, they don't speak for anyone sane.
That laundry list of "what to do" is not training and will not do the critically important work of transforming Memphis in particular, culturally. It would be nice if it were that easy, but, what will work isn't really much harder than that and it is effective.
When the people of the world get so self-important, self-righteous, indignant, and self-absorbed that they become trigger happy at the drop of a hat, governments usually make wars to cull them, giving them a common enemy.

Russia has a new old state this week.

It was very generous of Hope to open their doors up. They are actively engaged in walking the walk.
Their Christianity is a real thing, these "things" that call themselves "Christians" yet spit venom about this would have me hard pressed to recognize them as "humans". They act automatically, they are more like "beasts".

Zippy the giver said...

I forgot the Eulogy:
"It's time to wake up to a clean slate, the one everyone in Memphis will grant willingly to everyone else in memphis, regardless of ANYTHING. This clean slate will provide you with a blank spot where your future once was. Thank the Lord for that because your future looked like suicide and homocide.
Now you can put some kind of life worth living in that blank spot. You will have to make one up. You will need help and a group of friends dedicated to putting their and your lives together. You will needd to forgive often, but, you will need to hold each other accountable even more. That is your job now. If you fall, get back up and continue on inside this committment. Everything will work out for all of you. You will forget this from time to time and be tempted to get complacent. That is what falling down looks like. Get back up and continue on inside this committment and everything will work out fine. If you have trouble forgiving anyone, look at them as if they are someone you love more than life itself. It gets easier that way. Show someone else how to do this. Remember what is is and what ain't ain't and what is most important is the only place you are, RIGHT NOW, the past is only powerful if you can't forgive. You can forgive. Remember to ask for help. People like to help, after they have helped.
You are not your body, it is just what you are travelling on time in, it is waiting to be buried. You should not be.
There is only one life and you are in it, live it in love, look at others with love. There is NO SECOND CHANCE to get it right. This is it. There is a higher power than just little old you, ask for help when you are overwhelmed. It will be there if you are on the right track.
Good luck, and remember to throw some dirt on your disfunction, remind it that it is dead. It never once served you well, good riddance.

Anonymous said...

The issue of the Hayes' tribute has been manipulated by many parties involved.

First, the Wichita Baptist people are extremists and should be seen as such by both Christian and non-Christian, as their beliefs are hateful and unfounded in the Bible.

Second, the issue at Hope Pres is not about whether Hayes should have a celebration or a funeral or a tribute at all, but whether it is appropriate for a church to host such an event for an individual, who knowingly confessed to Scientolgy, which directly contradicts the doctrinal integrity of the Presbyterian Church and the Bible. The church runs a risk of being hypocritical. The Church claims to hold absolute truth and yet is willing to compromise that truth in light of the desire to celebrate the life of a public figure, who helped establish a fanatical religion that undermines the Christian faith.

Were this celebration held in a public venue, there would have been no objection except maybe from those crazies in Wichita. It is not the place of the church to cast judgement like the Wichita Baptists on those who do not believe, but it is the role of the church to assure that it does not facilitate a situation that compromises the very purpose for which it stands. The Church by its very nature has to protect its doctrine and scriptures from contradicting ideas within itself.

It would be like the US holding a celebration for a respected Chinese communist political figure. Though both the republicanism of the US and communism of China can be argued to be right in their respective places, that communist political figure should be celebrated in his own context and by people who respect his views, but not in a place like the US, where that figure's ideology was in direct contrast to the values that the US holds dear.

The whole issue is a matter of venue and doctrinal integrity, expect for the crazies.

Anonymous said...

that was supposed to be "except for the crazies." Hopefully, we won't be "expect"ing the crazies anytime soon!!

Anonymous said...

anon 11:24 here, wow, just think, smartcity got an actual post from one of those Phelps Move to another country lady, you're not wanted here, take your inbred kids with you.
As far as the other poster who said Hope shouldn't have held the memorial service: don't go to church there if you don't like it.

Anonymous said...

You're asking Christians for tolerance of other religions? Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

That Hope church is so Laodicean. It doesn't suprise me at all that they uplift a voice from, 'South Park' one of the most uncristian tv shows ever. Hope is a Country club church that proudly poclaims it serves 200 gallons of coffee a week when they should b telling everyone we're living in the last days. We're @ the 11th hour on the prophecy clock folks don't get mixed up with this Hope Church. Pastor Craig is a worthless shepard