Thursday, May 1, 2008

Grammar and Cheese Sandwiches

I’ve been tutoring an 8th grader for a couple of months now and we just started doing grammar worksheets. If any of you had to take Dr. Caroll’s Grammar and Usage class, you know what “Cheese Sandwich” is. That was probably my favorite part of grammar class. **WARNING: GRAMMAR LESSON – but don’t skip it because it makes the rest make sense.** For those of you who don’t know, Cheese Sandwich is the example used when you encounter a particular kind of noun and adjective arrangement. Traditionally, we would say that “Sandwich” is the noun and “Cheese” is the adjective, since it is describing what kind of sandwich we are talking about. This is untrue. “Cheese” is not an adjective because it cannot be declined. You can’t have a Cheeser Sandwich or a Cheesist Sandwich. Just a Cheese Sandwich. (“Cheesy” is a different word than “Cheese,” just to clarify.) Two nouns, with one noun describing the other. “Cheese” describes sandwich, and “Sandwich” is the emphasized noun because it is the one being described. Simple, right? Cheese sandwich. I wanted to think of other examples of this for the tutoring. And while I was trying to come up with some (that didn’t involve food) I had a conversation with someone that, naturally, involved politics. And I was saying that, even though libertarians tend to be fiscally conservative, I would never describe myself as a libertarian because of the amoral implications; I couldn’t support the legalization of prostitution, for example. The person I was having the conversation with shrugged and said, “Well, that’s the price of freedom.” That’s the end of the story, because I had no response. I was shocked. The person I was talking to was a Christian. And that was my Cheese Sandwich moment. I began to wonder how we chose to define ourselves: a Christian American, or an American Christian? Does it sound redundant? It’s not, actually. Think of the Cheese Sandwich and you’ll see what I mean. Both are nouns, neither can be declined. Yet one must be subservient to and describe the other. Christian American or American Christian. I knew the answer for myself, because it has been years developing. For a long time, I too was of the opinion that, as an American, the final authority was the Constitution. Therefore, whether I liked it or not, issues such as abortion, gay marriage, prostitution, legalized drug use – they all had to be interpreted in light of our Constitution, which says that, unless specifically and explicitly prohibited, those activities should all be legal unless determined otherwise by individual states according to the will of the people. But then that changed. Slowly, probably as a result of going through college and being beaten on by liberals who told me that my faith should be kept to myself and away from the government. But I began to realize that my rights as an American existed because God allowed them to, and as a Christian, I had the responsibility to act in accordance with the Scripture, not the Constitution. Make no mistake, I think the American Constitution is the greatest creation of man, above Shakespeare, mascara and Hershey’s Dark. But it is man’s creation. It does not supersede Scripture. So I had a decision to make: Christian American or American Christian? The blog “On Civil Obedience,” explores this idea as fully as I can. And from reading that, you can probably guess which Cheese Sandwich I am. When I vote on a bill, verbally take a position or support a candidate, my first question used to be: How does this reflect in light of the Constitution? This is the wrong question. The first question we as Christians should ask is: How does this reflect in light of God’s Word? When Scripture and the Constitution cross, which they do far too often, which way are we to lean? Do we say, “Well, that’s the price of my right to American freedom?” God is not going to judge us, the voters and the rulers of this country, according to whether or not we ran this country according to the Constitution. He’s going to judge this country and those of us who run it (and yes, we still do) according to whether or not we used our authority and responsibility to bring honor to him. Example: When I was in junior high and high school and learned more about the Civil War and civil liberties, I recognized that the Civil War, or more specifically the results of it, was unconstitutional. Mandating a federal law against slavery was unconstitutional; according to the Constitution, issues such as that are supposed to be left to the will of the states, the voters. However, I came to realize that the constitutionality of the Civil War is not where my focus should be, because the result was the end of slavery and the legalized oppression of an entire group of people. Slavery did not honor God. We needed to end it, not in pockets or over a span of years as each individual state (we would hope) outlawed it, but finally, once and for all, all at once. And in this case, the Constitution and Scripture were opposed. Which side do we take? I hope the answer, now 150 years later, is obvious. So, as Christians, we must ask ourselves, which Cheese Sandwich do we want? The difference is subtle, but significant. Christian American or American Christian?