Cherokee County was threatened with a lawsuit if they went ahead with plans to hold high school graduations in a local megachurch building by Americans United For the Separation of Church and State.

The county’s board unanimously voted to go ahead with those plans and risk the suit.

I say: good for them!

First, it just makes good financial sense. The church only charges a few thousand dollars for the rental of its facility as compared with tens of thousands for other venues. In these cash-strapped times, that’s the right call.

Second, the level of discomfort some people have with religious symbols just bewilders me. Is a cross — in and of itself — really so offensive and threatening to the non-Christian that they suffer mental and emotional harm simply by being in its presence?

This isn’t just a problem for non-Christians, either. I know some Christians who are offended by the Muslim woman’s hijab (head covering) as a religious symbol.

What’s the common element here? These people aren’t reacting to the symbol itself, but are reacting to their own notions of what it means. To the Jewish student, the cross may be a symbol of anti-Semitism. To the Christian woman, the hijab is a symbol of Islam’s oppression of women.

Neither notion is a reason to avoid all contact with those symbols. Would it kill us to endure a little discomfort with these symbols to come together a little more closely as fellow citizens?

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While scanning my Facebook feeds, I came across a link to a Salon.com piece entitled: “Just how offensive is Sandra Lee’s crazy Kwanzaa cake?”

The very-white lady, as is her wont, used various pre-made ingredients to create a pretty unappetizing dessert for her cooking show. For some reason, some folks took offense.

I don’t get it.

Admittedly, the cake doesn’t have a thing to do with Kwanzaa. Angel’s food cake?Chocolate icing? Apple pie filling? It doesn’t even sound good, and it looks worse.

But, as the article remarks, Kwanzaa has no food traditions. So what’s the big deal?

Kwanzaa isn’t even a legitimate holiday, having been cooked up by activist Maulana Karenga in the 1960s chiefly as an anti-Christian “alternative” to Christmas for black people.

Actually, that clears it up just fine, for me. Kwanzaa was born out of offense; specifically, Karenga’s being offended by the widespread celebration of the “white” holiday of Christmas. Consequently, anyone who seriously celebrates this reactionary “holiday” stands a solid chance of being easily offended in general, and thus is offended by this cake.

Sad, really. Anyone honestly being offended by this cake just needs to do at least one of these two things:

  1. Develop an ACTUAL Kwanzaa culinary tradition that someone would actually eat.
  2. Stop whining and grow a thicker skin.

That’s all. Maybe sometime this week, I’ll do a wrap-up of the Empire Strikes Back series that dominated this blog this year before remarking on more contemporary matters.

"Full of wisdom for a Muppet am I."

As I wrote last time around, there was a wealth of wisdom for the nine-year-old me from this segment of this, the greatest movie sequel ever made. And there’s hardly another scene that had as much impact, both immediate and delayed, than the one the following quote comes from.
Quote #5
“Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?”
Luke has a fixed idea of reality and what’s possible, while Yoda urges the youth to expand his horizons. While this has a concrete application in the Star Wars universe — raising Luke’s many-tons-heavy X-Wing fighter out of the swamp —  it’s equally applicable in the real world.
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How often have we judged something too difficult or frightening or danagerous to attempt and thus made certain our failure by our inaction? How many of us fellas have decided not to talk to that beautiful woman because she couldn’t possibly be interested in us? Or not written that business plan we’re passionate about because we just know it’ll fail?
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The problem is our mentality, as Yoda next points out in Quote #6:
“NO different! Only different in your mind.
What makes that beautiful woman any different from the less-dazzling one you don’t have any trouble relating to? Only you and your attitude about her. She’s just another person, with her own hopes, fears and opinions. What makes your business idea any less workable than your current 9-to-5 job? Only you and your attitude toward it. If it’s built on a solid system, you can work it — if you really want to.
LIFE LESSON: “Unlearn” what you “know” to be your limits and be open to the possibility of growth and unexpected successes.
Quote #7
“Try not! Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.'”
This was — and still is — a highly challenging statement. I mean, isn’t trying one’s best all one can ever do? It seems that Luke is right in his bitter complaint to Yoda a few moments later: “You want the impossible.”
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Yoda’s powerful demonstration of lifting the huge X-Wing from the swamp with mere concentration does little to sway us from this conclusion. That’s a fantasy, where stuff like that is possible. In real life, all you can do is try, right?
Wrong.
That’s because we, like Luke, are misunderstanding Yoda. The Jedi Master is pressing for Luke’s DECISION and DETERMINATION to do his utmost. To simply “try” is to expect to fail.
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Yoda speaks in his absolutist manner because he’s not asking Luke to do anything that is not well within Luke’s power. Unfortunately, Luke doesn’t yet accept this truth and so can only commit to “try” to lift the X-Wing from the water with full expectation of his failure.
The rule of expectations is the first and possibly greatest lesson I learned from The Empire Strikes Back as a nine-year-old. Here, in this scene, that lesson was reinforced in a completely different context.
LESSON: To decide to “try” something is to give oneself greater permission to fail than to succeed.
Quote #8
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!”
Not every lesson I learned from The Empire Strikes Back was entirely positive. For while this line pointed to the truth of humanity being fashioned in God’s image, with many of his divine attributes, it also suggests that (and here is the lesson I nearly took away from this) humanity itself is divine in and of itself…no God necessary.
This was reinforced by the bad, New Age-influenced theology of the church we were attending at the time. In fact, I distinctly recall the female preacher making reference to the film and saying, “The Force is God.”
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Which, of course, is nonsense. God is no energy field surrounding and created by life. He’s not an “it” to be controlled or manipulated. There is no “dark side” of him to fall prey to. He doesn’t control our actions or obey our commands. If anything, He is, as author Dick Staub coins in his excellent Stars Wars-themed devotional “Christian Wisdom from the Jedi Masters”, “The Lord of the Force.”
But I digress.
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When I recall such moments, I’m now so very glad I was a natural-born skeptic, only half-believing those half-true-whole-false sermons. God used that skepticism to protect me from buying into the counterfeit faith of my youth and to influence me to do the background check to firm up the genuine faith of my adulthood.
Today I’ve retained the real wisdom of that Yoda quote — wisdom that is absolutely true: We’re more than just our body.
Yoda has just floated Luke’s fighter from the swamp by closing his eyes and gesturing, and Luke is understandably awed and humbled by his master leading to Quote #9:
LUKE: “Master, I…I don’t believe it.”
YODA: “That…is why you fail.”
The LESSON here was clear: You must adjust your level of expectation! You’re capable of more than you think!
Again, this was a lesson that my then-church twisted to fit its own theology: that positive affirmations of our inner divinity was all that was needed to activate the Christ Consciousness within ourselves, like this one: “I am God; therefore if I name it, I can claim it and if I believe it, I can achieve it!
Sadly, while there’s some truth to this rhyme-y cliché, it was taken well out of context both by that liberal denomination and continues to be today in otherwise more orthodox and theologically sound corners.
Finally, before I depart Luke’s training on Dagobah, I’ve got to mention this  scene:

Dream duel with a dark lord. Luke chops Dream Vader's head off a few seconds later.

Apparently, this is what that kid was referencing when he “spoiled” the result of Luke and Vader’s duel for me. So when I recognized the scene, I realized there were unknown surprises in store for me in the roughly hour or so remaining in this seminal film. And thus the Rule of Expectations was now in full effect.
Next will be a look at Cloud City, the coolest locale in any Star Wars film, and the lessons it had to teach. Look for it!