Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is The U.S. A Christian Nation?

As a member of American evangelical culture, I heard the same question multiple times over Independence Day weekend: is the U.S. a Christian nation?

Yes, it's a loaded question, and yes, the debate has raged for years.

It, along with the issues of abortion and whether or not Al Gore invented the Internet, will fester until egos dissolve and we can dialogue effectively our intellectual and thoughtful reasoning behind our opinions. So basically never.

Originally I wrote several long paragraphs detailing the path to the conclusion I've come to. Instead I have a simple answer with a relatively short explanation.

(Drum roll, please.)

Is the U.S. a Christian nation? No.

Is that a bad thing? No.

The majority of a population checking a certain box on a census form (or that one group assumed the beliefs of an entire population) does not warrant the notion that a certain country "is" one kind of religion or another.

The majority of Americans subscribe to a faith falling under the umbrella term "Christian," just as most Israelis read the To'rah and the mainstream beliefs in Iraq follow the teachings of Mohammad. All three religions are diverse and have several, in some cases many, branches.

An example closer to home would be an examination of Campbell's student body. Statistics will tell you most students checked "Baptist" on their application, but that certainly doesn't mean the statement "Campbell has a Baptist student body" is anywhere near true.

What about the Methodists, Catholics and atheists at Campbell?

And what about the Taoists, Hindus, and Buddhists in the U.S.? Their religion should be part of the country's image just as much as Christianity should be.

And why is it okay for the U.S. to not be a "Christian nation"?

For starters, there's no reason any country need be defined by a certain religion. A country's religious make-up is one of many facets of its culture, just as race, gross domestic product, and average family size are.

The mainstream evangelical movement makes a big deal about the religion of this country because it thinks the answer determines its success in being evangelical. It's mistaken.

Secondly, bundling countries into teams based on religion is only going to exacerbate global political tension. Defining the U.S. as "Christian" fuels the fire in the Middle East, just as labeling Israel "Jewish" intensifies the crisis and heartache on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Think of other situations when a certain philosophy defined a geographical area. Northern Ireland and Ireland. North and South Korea. The North and South in the U.S.

I'm not too sure why some evangelicals so wholeheartedly believe the U.S. is a Christian country. After all, evangelicals are the ones asking the question. No other group is wondering.

Is it just convenient for an evangelical to convince oneself we can proudly go about life believing God is going to back us up in every battle and resuscitate the economy to persuade the world the Great Experiment and capitalism rule the day once again?

Maybe.

Or perhaps it's to hold on to the status quo. To grasp with knuckles whitened a time when every family went to church on Sunday and Blue Laws weren't necessary because the Sabbath was a day of rest for everyone.

Except for Jews whose Sabbath is Saturday, and for Muslims who formally recognize God five times a day with prayer.

And except for families who couldn't afford to take a day off work. Whose inclusion in the church succumbed to a stigma against the poor.

And except for citizens whose heritage didn't include Christianity.

And except for fellow Americans not believing in God at all.

So, except for those minorities, someone can generalize the entire country, all 300 million people, by saying the U.S. is a Christian nation.

I guess some people like to round up.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Groupies

News travels fast on a small campus, but these days it travels even faster via Facebook.

Apparently well-known history professor Dr. Rorin Platt recently received some bad news from Campbell about his future with the university, though no one seems to know exactly what that news is, whether he lost is tenure or was just plain fired.

To no one's surprise, disgruntled Campbell students formed a Facebook group protesting the university's actions regarding Platt.

I have never had a class with Dr. Platt, nor am I a history major. I don't have an opinion about how excellent or horrible a professor he was, but I have a few things to say about the Facebook group and also about the group's goal to confront the administration on behalf of Dr. Platt.

People often throw Facebook communication to the side as petty and of little consequence, but whether you type a sentence into cyberspace or write it in a letter, words are still expressions of opinions and thoughts, which speak volumes about one's character.

This is my spiel:

1. Maintain a realistic perspective. After someone dies, gets fired or leaves abruptly in another way, people extol that person's graces and relay only the "good times." When people say Dr. Platt is one of the best professors Campbell has, remember how humans cope with loss and take into account his followers could be wearing rose colored glasses.

2. Despite Campbell being a non-profit institution, it still has to run like a business in order to stay in the black. When the university hires new faculty it's making an investment. When a professor frequently arrives considerably late to class, demands coffee runs from students and makes inflammatory remarks (as group members and other accounts have expressed), that investment isn't returning much profit becuase the professor isn't performing well.

The point? Regardless of Dr. Platt's quality of teaching, the university simply could have seen the situation as business.

3. A group member cited an apparent heart condition as reason for Dr. Platt's frequent tardiness, then mentioned the Americans with Disabilities Act as reason why the professor should remain at Campbell, implying Campbell was unaware of the legislation and in fact wasn't complying with it in the case of Dr. Platt.

In order for the university to comply with anyone's disability, that person much file the disability with the government. Secondly, the ADA requires employers to provide accommodations, like a wheelchair ramp or elevator. It doesn't require the organization to keep the employee despite poor performance.

4. An SGA member in the group cites personal communication between Dr. Platt and Dr. Greene, the university provost. My first thought was, why is a student aware of such communication? If he wasn't fabricating the quote from the letter, he was arrogant enough to attempt to impress the group with his inside information, though simultaneously revealing that he either read the letter without Dr. Platt's knowledge, or Dr. Platt showed him the letter. Neither occurrence was smart. The latter only speaks against Dr. Platt and the former speaks against the writer himself.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

5. The writer of the aforementioned posting also insulted Dr. Greene and Dr. Hammond, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The group wants to approach the administration about its decision-- and offensive slings from the SGA Executive Vice President are going to facilitate its cause? I don't think so.

6. This is (sarcastically) my favorite part of the entire group-- when the SGA Executive Vice President insults fellow students with an elitist, and once again, arrogant attitude. He condemns those apposing the group as below him.

"...they prove how those individuals go to 'Camp Campbell' not Campbell University and are taught by 'Camp Councilors' not true professional that are professors like Dr. Platt."

Translation: If you didn't like Dr. Platt, you somehow attend a different Campbell University run like a camp instead of an institute of higher education.

Ladies and gents, that's not even the kicker. After a long paragraph of run-on sentences and what's supposed to be inspirational rhetoric about justice, he snidely brings down community college students when referring to those who haven't researched Dr. Platt's background.

"Again this is evidence that some students just do not belong at a University, maybe a community college."

Translation: If you don't support the group, then obviously you haven't researched Dr. Platt (how silly of you), which makes you so dumb you should be in a community college, which apparently is below the writer's standards of education. Considering the poster's syntax and composition abilities, that's quite funny.

7. Last but not least, the group wants to meet in person to discuss how to officially show the administration its disapproval. Good for them. I'm always a fan of fighting the man, but once again, let's be realistic. I don't think the administration played rock-paper-scissors to come to a conclusion. As we saw from one person's unwise citation of personal documents about Dr. Platt, the administration spent several months on the matter and had personal meetings with the professor. I doubt a few angry students are going to prompt anyone to reverse the decision.

(Photo credit: http://cdn.davesdaily.com/pictures/401-protesting.jpg)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Heaven knocks all too soon.

A well-known mother in my small hometown just died of cancer. Her teenage children mourn her absence.

A daughter in my church back home perished in a snowmobiling accident last week. She had two small children.

A friend's fellow church member recently committed suicide, leaving his wife and three young children behind.

I didn't personally know any of these people. I selfishly thank God for having no such grief and heartbreak in my life. Then my thoughts turn to the families and friends of those lost and I can't bring myself even to begin to imagine or picture what such a life-wrenching event would be like.

I remember very well the woman from my hometown. She had cute kids with bright blonde hair just like hers. While I didn't see her often enough to miss her whenever I visit home, I'll always look at her kids with a sorrowful heart. She'll miss their graduations, weddings, birthdays, and her own future grandchildren.

Her kids won't ever again wake up to her making pancakes, nor will they again catch a glimpse of her stuffing Christmas stockings. They won't have that encouraging face on their first day of college or see her tears of joy on their wedding day.

The same void will cast a shadow over the lives of the other three families.

Their spouses said "I do" with visions of a lifetime together. They weren't expecting "until death do you part" to become real for several long and beautiful decades.

Death takes away life and sometimes inspires new life. It has this strange power over mortal humans make us double-check priorities and relationships. Today I'm thinking of those families often, but in a week will I feel so connected, or will I become raveled up and tangled in my own life once again?

Death makes us think outside our own lives. For a few minutes or a few days the world shatters and falls around us. We either grieve for a loved one or grieve with a loved one.

In a few years those families will have coped with their astounding lost and while their hearts will be tender, they will be healed. All we can do is be their support and pray for peace in their lives.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

NUMB3RS

I don't like math because I'm not good at it. Plain and simple. Despite my distaste for graphing calculators and whatever else math people do, I appreciate the powerful ability of numbers to universally communicate a message when words aren't enough.

Below is a list of stats from a book I recently finished, "The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small, The: Charting a Course for the Next Generation" by Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman.

I understand that coming down on the U.S. is easy for other countries and Americans alike because it's the "superpower" or whatever, and blaming the big kid is the quick and easy band-aid when someone gets a black eye. Regardless, these stats point a finger at U.S. legislators (and partly U.S. citizens) for losing sight of the big picture.

Excerpt (p. 93):

"Is this country living its creed and preparing for the future?


How America Ranks Among Industrialized Countries in Investing In and Protecting Children

1st in gross domestic product

1st in number of billionaires in the world

1st in number of persons incarcerated

1st in health expenditures

1st in military technology

1st in defense expenditures

1st in military weapons exports

22nd in low birth weight rates

25th in infant mortality rates

High in relative child poverty

High in the gap between the rich and the poor

High in teen (age 15 - 19) birthrates

Last in protecting children against gun violence

The United States of America and Somalia (which has no legally constituted government) are the only two United Nations members that have failed to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

....

If we compare just black child well-being to children in other nations:

62 nations have lower infant mortality rates, including Sri Lanka.

Over 100 nations have lower birth weight rates, including Algeria, Botswana, and Panama.

Black women in the U.S. are more likely to die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth than women in Turkmenistan."

Interpret the information as you like.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My three favorite letters


Ah, SGA...how you bring such joy to my heart.

My own pride sucked me into the SGA drama vortex in my freshman year when I became vice president of my class. I didn't return to SGA after that year but being on the school paper and maintaining SGA-born friendships means I still hear a lot of stuff about SGA, good and bad.

SGA executive elections take place next week. The positions up for grabs are president, veep, men's campus coordinator, women's campus coordinator, executive secretary and executive treasure. But everyone knows the hot ticket is the spot for president.

I'll refrain from recounting the horror stories from the last two or three SGA executive elections and instead say my piece about this one. I think a lot of people are unaware of a few different things going on.

1. SGA is an extra-curricular activity. Yes, it's important, but hand painting enormous signs isn't worth it, and neither is asking for campaign moola from Campbell graduates. I doubt they give really a crap.

2. What would you say if George Bush ran again under a campaign of "change"? You'd say that's pretty silly-- how could he make so much change after already being in office for so long. Consider the slogan of select SGA candidates and question it against the time they've already been in the higher echelons of SGA.

3. To clarify number one, although SGA should not be anyone's life substance, it's a unique combination of legitimate student voice and an honest example when higher ups say they listen to students. It's easy to say administrators never listen, but think more critically-- administrators have kids either our age or older than us, and a few of Campbell's administrators were once students here. I doubt their hearts are frozen over. That said, if students are going to give up just because they think no one listens the first time around, then we don't deserve representation before decision makers.

Campbell students hear a lot of bad press about SGA. Sometimes it's because SGA shot itself in the foot and other times it's because someone's running their mouth. Anyway, I think students don't see the good guys (and gals) in SGA who aren't there for a the reputation, resume booster, or opportunity to dress up. I personally know many SGA members who genuinely want to represent us and improve our school because they love it, not because they have something to prove to the world.

I guess my point is that even though certain people in SGA give it a bad name, we should still appreciate its value and purpose and support those in it for the good fight.

Elections are Tuesday, Feb. 24 in front of D-Rich.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Diagnosis X: Crappy Infirmary


I've been to the campus infirmary a couple times over the years, once for the flu and once for pharyngitis. The building's title now is actually "Student Health Services," a euphemism the newly erected sign proudly proclaims. Students prefer the old term because it's what they know.

I personally had great experiences with the infirmary staff and felt the RNs and P.A. did a good job, but others have different stories. This blog isn't about the quality of care or the competency of the infirmary staff. It's about the condition the building itself, the infirmary's hours of service and how both are negatively affecting the health care of Campbell students.

What does an "infirmary" make you think of? For me it conjures images of the medic tent in M*A*S*H-- improvised medicine and inadequate facilities. The new title of "Student Health Services" was an obvious attempt by the university to alter negative perceptions. I think a more appropriate name would be "Medical Instrument Museum."

I pass the infirmary almost every day and can say with absolute certainty that it sticks out as an eye sore. Every other building on campus is new or newly renovated, and is also an example of either Georgian or Neoclassical architecture. The infirmary, on the other hand, is possibly a spawn of the 1960s mod era. I like the Beatles as much as the next person, but the infirmary doesn't give an impression of professionalism or even cleanliness.

The infirmary's appearance is small beans compared to my biggest complaint about it: the hours of service. One of my friends had an asthma attack on a Friday afternoon and had to have a friend drive her to urgent care after heading to the infirmary's locked doors. I'm not saying we need service 24/7, but normal hours would be nice.

If classes run from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., I don't see why a campus health facility shouldn't. The Friday hours (or lack of) and weekend closing are especially ridiculous. Illness and injury don't go on vacation when the infirmary shuts its doors. The alternative to a closed infirmary is to hit up the nearest urgent care and spend money when the infirmary's care would have been free.

Campbell is a suitcase school, meaning most of its students pack up and go home for the weekend. While the majority of students hit the road Friday afternoon, the school shouldn't leave out-of-staters, internationals, and other stationery students in the dust by assuming they won't get sick or hurt over the weekend. Just because the university can't profit or break even by providing health services over the weekend doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. Health in the U.S. is a standard, not an option.

Okay, the hours and look of the infirmary aren't the greatest, but I haven't even discussed the interior of the building. I know I sound like whiny girl who watches too much What Not to Wear, but I think you can agree with me that an establishment's decor, like a person's outfit, demonstrates purpose and ability.

The infirmary would have looked great during the LBJ era. The furniture is old, varnished wood. The lobby is cramped and poorly lit. The exam rooms contain thick, dust-ridden curtains and dated medical cabinets and containers, with a box of rubber gloves and an informative poster here and there. Walking into an exam room is a blast from the past.

Should I be able to get past the aging equipment and be optimistic? Maybe, but I prefer to be in a medical facility that at least looks to be safe and clean. The avocado green Q-tip container might be sterile, but it sure isn't convincing. For a university with such a great pharmacy school, undergrads sure do get thrown under the bus when it comes to health care.

Yeah yeah, everyone knows the infirmary is weird and I'm just repeating what everyone else thinks. Well, I think there's more to it than it just being an old building with insufficient hours. The university has managed to update every major building except the infirmary. It's capping the undergraduate student body at 3,600 (a goal it will reach and sustain in the next few years) and doesn't seem to have a plan for a new healthy facility.

Last year the SGA president cited the school's 25-year plan in saying the area behind the infirmary down to Highway 421 will be paved over and become a giant parking lot...doesn't sound like they're leaving much room for a bigger infirmary. Does anyone know if the infirmary is accredited? If so, the website certainly doesn't boast of it.

I polled my Facebook friends for 13 hours, January 28-29 to get their opinions on the infirmary's service, appearance, and hours. Here are a few reactions:


"Bad, worse, and worst. People don't get sick on the weekends?"


"They are good at training you to use crutches... and it would be nice for them to be open on weekends... at least like sat mornings or afternoons... or crazy concept after 5 on a week day?"


"[The appearance, service, and hours] all suck!"


"Something needs to be done about health care at CU. It might be different if we were in Raleigh and had readily accessible other options that weren't the ER. But we're not." (From a medical school student at ECU)


"I liked being felt up and insulted."

I think the brand new student gym is (awesome, and) one half of a commitment to health. An updated infirmary should be the other half.

Friday, January 9, 2009

God's a Financial Planner, Too.


If you're looking for a Campbell-related post, sorry to disappoint, but this isn't one. The first three days of the semester haven't sparked any controversy to my knowledge, but some light reading has catalyzed my thought processes.

The Bible is full of men and women who risk humiliation, ostracization and death in order to fulfill God's purpose for them, which is usually revealed through a special revelation. The Old Testament, or Tor'ah in the Jewish faith, is especially rich with such accounts.

The Book of Haggai ended up towards the end of the Old Testament, the first half of the Bible which details God's work on earth before the arrival of Jesus. (The New Testament, the second half, recounts Jesus' life and the beginning of the Christian church.)

Haggai is a pretty weird name. It's not on the top ten baby names, and it sounds like the word "hag" or the phrase "hey guy." Haggai doesn't, however, have the strangest name in the Bible.

Haggai was actually an ancient prophet whose purpose was to convince the Israelites, the people Moses led out of Egypt, to rebuild the holy temple after the Babylonions destroyed it.

The events of the Old Testament took place thousands of years ago, so what do they have to do with anything in the 21st century? Well, that's the funny thing about the Bible. Its lessons have no expiration date.

Everyone is aware of the increasing unemployment rates and recent bank and auto bailouts. Two and a half million Americans brought home pink slips in the last year (click here for source). Quite frankly, Americans aren't used to being the ones bleeding on the side of the road with no help. The country has been a superpower for several generations, so people are accustomed to a relatively comfortable lifestyle-- namely, employed and eating three times a day in some sort of abode.

The story of Job would be a good one to comfort the financially distraught, but I recently read through Haggai (it's only a couple pages) and found this passage to be appropriate:

Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it."

Okay, heeding such advice would have been more helpful back before the government started wiping business' tears and changing their diapers. However, hindsight being 20/20, we can hopefully learn from our screw ups and better the future.

In the passage God is warning the Israelites to be grateful for what they have and preserve their blessings instead of squandering them away. I think it speaks to irresponsible spending and irresponsible loaning, both of which are coming back to nip the U.S. (and other countries) in the "butt-tox," as Forrest Gump would refer to one's hind quarters.

Yeah, yeah, we're a capitalist country so we need to spend in order to stay afloat, but don't buy five pairs of shoes when you only need rain boots. Don't blow your paycheck on a new iPod when your savings account is skimpy and the utility bill is on the table. That's God's message to the Israelites.

God is telling the Israelites that they have more than enough to live comfortable lives, but they take their success for granted and lose it in the long term.

The lesson? Be grateful for what you have and appreciate its value for the future.