Category Archives: Culture/Politics

Remember Your Training

I’m trying to process the verdict in the case of Philando Castile’s death. With the dashcam video now publicly released, I can only shake my head and wonder how anyone can justify or explain away his shooting.

I’m not a trained officer. I’m totally an armchair quarterback. I’m not privy to all the details revealed in court. It’s easy to second-guess and hindsight is 20-20 and all that

I know every situation is different and no two officers might respond the same to a given encounter. I understand that an officer is at risk and is naturally going to be thinking about how to protect themselves. I am deeply grateful for those who are willing to wear a badge and place themselves in harm’s way to maintain law and order in our society. I want police officers going home to their families at the end of their shifts…

…But I want civilians going home to their loved ones too.

Every situation is different and yet there are videos of white dudes walking around waving guns at police officers, and they don’t end up shot… videos of white guys wrestling cops and reaching for their guns, but they don’t end up choked to death or gunned down at close range… instances of white guys shooting up churches or movie theaters and ending up in cuffs to face trial when other people are sitting in their cars complying with an officer’s instructions and that’s a life-threatening situation.

Again, every situation is different, and I’m not privy to all the details. But I would have to be intentionally blind or ignorant to pretend there’s not an obvious trend toward increased use of force against minorities. Studies show higher use of non-lethal force against minorities is a fact. Incidents of lethal force by the statistics may not be higher but the perception certainly exists and it’s causing distrust between police and the communities they serve.

I saw a video marketing a cheap sleeve that holds all one’s identification and vehicle paperwork. Before an officer approaches the car, you can place that over the door so that everything is readily available, and no reaching for anything is necessary, thus preventing any fear or misunderstanding when you comply with the direction to produce paperwork or identification.

It sounds like an unfortunate necessity after what was done to Castile, who seemingly tried to do everything right.

At some point I feel like we need to ask, how much fear is enough when dealing with a police officer? How compliant must one be? How deferential, how cautious, how meticulous in every response, every motion, every action?

Do civilians – particularly civilians of color – have to behave as if professionally trained for encounters with police? It sure seems that way… and it makes me wonder why it’s not the other way around.

—–

“Remember your training and come back safe

to the land of the free and the home of the brave”

It’s a speech that we save for those fully grown

For soldiers deploying into a war zone

For young men and women just over eighteen

Who experience challenges we’ve never seen

But for far too many, that’s not the first time they’ve heard

Someone giving them warning with similar words

We say all lives matter but it’s clear that they don’t

And we say it gets better but it looks like it won’t

And we hush down the voices loud and outspoken

And we tell them relax, let’s not fix what’s not broken

And we say each encounter has some subtle difference

And we remind the protesters to presume others’ innocence

But the man in the car who did all that was asked of him

Got shot with his daughter in the back seat to witness it

Seems to me there’s a pattern anyone can make out

Clear enough to see beyond all reasonable doubt:

Out playing? Get shot.

Obeying? Get shot.

Run away? Get shot.

Wedding day? Get shot.

Ask why? Get shot.

Comply? Get shot.

Justified? It’s not!

It’s a speech that some give to their kids ‘cause they have to

If you want to live through this, better know what to do

Hands in sight, Sir or Ma’am, be polite, watch your tone

And if you can help it don’t get stopped alone

But maybe live-stream everything from your phone

Otherwise your side might never be known

If it’s your word or theirs, you’re going to to lose

But remember, take care with the actions you choose

‘Cause all they need to say is they feared for their life

And then anything that they do’s justified

So remember your training and come back safe

In this land of the “free” and this home of the “brave”

Christian Stars vs. the Forces of Evil

There’s a movie coming out soon that–from a Gospel perspective–has an awesome story of love:

…love that does not judge based on the outward appearance but looks into the heart… 

…love that sacrifices, that willingly leaves comfort and wealth behind, accepting separation and lowered status… 

…love that is powerful enough to break a curse and redeem the soul everyone thought lost….

What an opportunity to point out the parallels to Christ and the Good News. 

But two minutes of questionable content can ruin all of that, if someone is so inclined.

If you haven’t heard all the hooplah, there’s a scene in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast which shows a man having feelings for another man, thus inviting a firestorm of judgment by concerned Christians on social media. Some are even going so far as to say that Belle’s love for Beast is an encouragement toward bestiality, further proof of the Magic Kingdom’s depravity! (/sarcasm)

Numerous Christian leaders have come forward to condemn the inclusion of a gay man having a romantic interest in another male character. It doesn’t help Disney’s cause that this news broke alongside another boundary-pushing moment, this time in a cartoon on Disney XD.


During a scene depicting a school dance, at one point all the pairs of students kiss. If you look away from the main characters and pay attention to all the shaded characters included as props for the scene, you’ll see that there are some same-sex couples mixed in with all the heterosexual couples. 

This didn’t escape the Religious Right’s notice, and–coupled with the scene from Beauty and the Beast–a number of big-name leaders are calling for a boycott of all things Disney. (Good luck. Run down the list of all their affiliates and companies they’ve absorbed, and there’s a high chance you’re enjoying some Disney entertainment without realizing it.)

The biggest fear all these leaders have? We can’t have Disney pushing an agenda of “normalizing” homosexuality. 

Here’s the thing: When we’re talking about between 2% and 10% of the population, it may sound small, but that’s a pretty sizeable group. That’s between 7 and 35 million people in the US.  (Here’s a good break-down on that controversial 10% number.) 

Not good enough? Not a big enough population to deserve any sort of attention?

Imagine someone claiming that every leftie on TV or in a movie was part of an agenda to “normalize” being left-handed. Picture a public figure claiming we should boycott a company because of their agenda of normalizing red hair. The population demographics are roughly the same. (2% average for red-heads, with some populations like Scotland and Ireland boasting 13% and 10% respectively. 10% for left-handed people across the board.)

Including a group, putting a token character or token couples into a scene–that’s not an agenda of normalization, that’s recognizing their existence.

Do we consider Uhura and Sulu in Star Trek as part of some aggressive agenda? African-Americans make up ~12% of the US population, and Asian-Americans make up ~5%. 

I think rationally we can look back and say, yes, Gene Roddenberry was pushing boundaries. But he was displaying the reality that yes, there are people who are black or Asian. At the time, it may have riled some viewers, but now we generally look back and applaud his forward vision and inclusive casting. 

I can already hear the argument coming: “Well, it’s different with homosexuality, because I believe it’s a choice.”

Let’s go with that. A lot of things are choices, and we see them normalized if not glorified all across media, yet there’s little outcry against it.

Sexualized characters? Heterosexual relationships outside of marriage? Infidelity? Promiscuity? Where are all the boycotts for all the companies that engage in “normalizing” this behavior?

Greed? Jealousy? Pride? All of these character traits are constantly on display–quite often it’s the hero or heroine who engages in these sins. Sometimes there’s a moral to the story and the downside is shown, but quite often, there are no consequences to this kind of behavior. Is that the good Christian message we want?

What about overweight characters? Perhaps we let the “agenda of gluttony” slip by under the radar because most often, fat characters are used solely as comic relief–an issue that merits its own post. Or perhaps we can look at the congregation filling the pews in real life and so we shy away from this one… it hits too close to home, or too near to the all-you-can-eat place we’re going to after the service.

Violence is the biggest one of the bunch. Some movies make it a point to display the horrors of war or the cruelty and heartlessness of criminals or villains, and maybe there’s an argument for why those depictions matter in the context of those stories. (Saving Private Ryan, for example, would probably not be as hard-hitting without the hyper-graphic rendition of the Normandy landing on D-Day.)

But how often do we watch entertainment that includes graphic violence? How often are our children exposed to such movies or TV shows? Some studios avoid all the gore and blood, or present enemies that are probably more tolerable, like armies of Ultrons or robotic aliens. But having visited the theater for a number of recent movie releases that fall under the Disney umbrella, I can say that our culture sees no serious problem with kids watching a ton of violent content. 

Why aren’t we protesting the normalization of violence–something we all hope our children will never witness in their entire lives? And yet a movie with positive messages and powerful potential allegory is subject to boycott because “oh dear, it has one of the gays in it, and I wouldn’t want my kids to think that’s normal even though they’ll likely encounter actual gay people all throughout their lives.”

It’s a fact. Redheads exist. So do lefties. And so do homosexuals. Pretending they don’t is a foolish plan. Actively protesting anything that acknowledges their existence or recognizes them as fellow human beings?

The only agenda we’ll impact that way is our own.

Chaos in Creation

My lunchtime view as I wolfed down a sandwich:


Thank You, Lord, for the beauty of Your creation in the midst of all our chaos.

As calming as this should be, I am not calm. After all kinds of discussion about immigration and security, I can’t help but think of the image of a three year old Syrian boy face down in the sand. He was one of the few out of the throng of people displaced by the crises in our world, one circumstance that caught our attention.

I can’t picture what his life was like. 

But I can picture my youngest boy, now six, the way he lights up every room he’s in and every face he sees. I try to picture him lying face down on the beach, but I don’t want to see that. 

So I try to picture someone explaining to me, in that circumstance, that “we’re worried about Trojan Horses and terrorist threats, that’s why we couldn’t help you.”

I try to imagine how absolutely hollow and self-serving those words would sound.

It’s hard. I don’t have answers or good policy suggestions. I just have these feelings on my mind that I need to get out.

Yeah, it’s a base appeal to emotion trying to stir up compassion. I always thought compassion was pretty exceptional. I always thought America was too.

But at least we’re sort of safe or something.

War on Christmas Over!

“It’s okay to say that now. ‘Merry Christmas’ is back.”

Or so declared a number of Fox News voices on a mash-up video from a left-wing site, posted by one of my friends from that political camp. On the video, President-Elect Trump makes a show of proclaiming, “Merry Christmas” to the crowd, and the video cuts to supporters going wild. The newscasters delighted that the war on Christmas might now be over.

So I guess we win, or whatever. Religious Right, assemble! On to the next vile foe we must defeat to preserve America’s position as God’s favorite!

One of many battlegrounds!
One of many battlegrounds!

That a secular government–by design and by the Constitution–would take pains to be inclusive by not singling out one religion over another should come as no surprise. “Happy Holidays” is a way of recognizing “Maybe not all of you are Christians and some of you might celebrate something else during this season.”

But it’s been spun up for years as a “war,” as if not saying “Merry Christmas” is akin to denouncing the faith or outlawing worship. What if coffee shops don’t offer Christmas cups? What if a store clerk says, “Happy Holidays” to me? This is just one step in the advancement of the liberal agenda to destroy America, of course, so we’re told. Because we have to remember how bad “they” are and how imperiled our freedoms are, so that we keep a good, rabid voting base to get the GOP candidates elected.

Dear Christians, is the President-Elect saying “Merry Christmas” the victory we want? Is that the Good News we proclaim? Christmas is back now, guys; it was gone for the last eight years or something, but Trump said the word and now everything is better!

This changes nothing, and we’re foolish if we think it does.

Is saying the word “Christmas” the important part? Or maybe it’s a blow to politically correct culture that we celebrate? “I’ll say, ‘Merry Christmas’ and if you don’t like it then too bad!” Which totally sounds like the love of God revealed.

That’s what Christmas is about, right? The love of God revealed in the Son of God who entered a broken world and became one of us? That Jesus came in the image of fallen humanity in order to show us how to live and free us from the power of sin? We celebrate Christmas because it starts a story that leads to a cross and an empty tomb, not because “boy it really gets under those progressives’ skin when I say it, hehehe.”

My thanks go out to those who are actually on frontlines that matter:

…those ministering to the poor,

…those reaching out to the wounded and hurting during tough times,

…those who preach the Gospel around the country and around the world,

…those working to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation,

…those providing comfort and counsel to military members deployed worldwide,

…those speaking life and hope in prisons so that men and women don’t continue down the same paths that got them incarcerated, and so on.

I’m pretty sure these are the wars Jesus won at the cross and the empty tomb. These are the war-zones where His victory needs to be proclaimed and His compassion displayed.

Those wars–where we battle not against Leftists or Democrats or Liberals, not against flesh and blood–those are still ongoing. That’s where we’re needed, because that’s where lives can be changed.

To my fellow believers, merry Christmas. Let’s not forget what it is we say we’re celebrating.

Not to the Swift on WattPad

Having just finished my third National Novel Writing Month, I revisited the manuscript of Not to the Swift as the first book I ever completed and a departure from my sci-fi/fantasy norm. I forgot how much I love those characters and the conflicts between them.

I’ve made the whole book available for free reading on WattPad today. I know the joke is that site is full of sparkly vampire and One Direction fanfic… but there are kids engaged in reading, and reading a lot. Also, while purchases on Amazon or Kindle put a buck or two in my bank account, what I really need is readers who might buy future books. (I’m so selfish.)

To that end, if you read Not to the Swift and enjoyed the book, more than a purchase, I’d love an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you.

As a personal aside, chapter 16 is my favorite. I had a lot of fun as a writer trying to emulate a middle schooler’s style and level of poetry while hopefully making it meaningful to the story content.

More than that, I think it was in the middle of NaNo, and I was struggling to get the words on page as well as dealing with the constant inner doubts of “is it even worth writing?”

Renee telling her students that everyone goes through that sort of thing was just supposed to be a little personal pep talk to myself and something it sounded like a decent, encouraging teacher might say to address kids’ fears of sharing their work in public.

When she comes back into the room after the encounter with LaTasha Washington, in the moment of writing it struck me that Amir could respond with some of the same advice he’d just been given. I love when those moments come up later, sort of a bookend or resonance within the writing. I probably try too hard for that in other places, but here, it seemed to happen naturally.

Over the last few months, I’ve been mulling over what I wrote back then, contemplating the characters and where they might be “today.”

It’s a challenging but fascinating exercise to imagine what another person’s viewpoint or argument might be, especially on such charged and divisive subjects. I feel like if I can write a remotely convincing point of view from someone whose ideas and beliefs I may strongly disagree with, then I’ve hopefully learned more about that sort of person and their perspective–learned to see them as a real human being with feelings and emotions, and not just as the butt of a joking Facebook meme.

I don’t feel like there’s enough of that going on in America today, but the only person I can really change is me… so this is part of my ongoing attempt.

I fully intend to write a sequel to this book, Not to the Strong, perhaps as next year’s NaNo effort. I have included a preview of one scene here:

Maria shook Bishop Simms’ hand and smiled, then gestured toward the seats at the front of the sanctuary. “This should be fairly quick,” she said, “but feel free to answer at any length you choose. Any long, awkward rambling can be edited out later–thank goodness, or I’d have been fired years ago.”

“I just hope the editors are careful to preserve the content of the dialogue instead of looking for the right sound bites.”

“We’re not like those types of news agencies, sir. We won’t put words in or take words out of your mouth.”

Simms laughed, a full-bodied and amicable sound. “You know, Miss Melendez, I believe that’s what all the others would tell me too.”

The cameraman placed lights on posts and set up diffuse panels to soften the shine, then made final adjustments. Maria shuffled in her chair and checked her watch. “You about done with that?”

“I just–there’s a glare coming off the bishop’s head that I’m trying to reduce.” He looked at Simms with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry, man.”

“Son, no need. Been bald for the last thirty years. I’ve wished I could reduce that glare too.”

Maria flipped through notes on her cell. “Okay, Bishop, the obvious topic of discussion will be the question of reparations, so we’ll knock that part out right off the bat. Sound good?”

“I’m at your disposal, and all too happy to talk. Ask my parishioners.”

Maria smiled. “So I’ve heard… Hence my warning about the editors.”

“You’re good, Maria.” The cameraman gave her a thumbs up and hunkered down behind his device. “Ready? Five, four, three…” He waved his finger twice.

“Good morning, Stapleton,” Maria said, her face a picture perfect smile. “I’m Maria Melendez, and this is Today on the Town. I’m sitting in the sanctuary of New Hope Tabernacle, a place of worship that has developed an intermittent relationship with the local news in the last few years. You may remember this sanctuary from the funeral of young Chris Washington, an unarmed black teen inadvertently killed by Officer Chris Mason while responding to a shoot-out between rival gangs–with Pulaski High School just a couple blocks away.”

Bishop Simms waited, hands folded in his lap, a slight upward turn to his lips, the sort of smile looking for a boot to drop or a knife in the back.

“Since then,” Maria continued, “Bishop Henry Simms has been a prominent voice on the subject of racial tensions and race relations in the Stapleton area. But in the last year, his platform skyrocketed into national attention when his slogan and position on the subject of reparations came up in the Presidential Debate.”

She turned toward Simms, whose face maintained that gentle cautiousness. “So, Bishop, let’s talk about your efforts. Since finding yourself under national scrutiny, have you reconsidered any of your more aggressive or challenging stances on policy?”

“If I changed my views just because of the spotlight,” Simms said, “that would imply that I wasn’t fully convinced of them to begin with. My positions are the same as when you stepped into my church that sad day as we mourned Chris’s wasted life.”

“So you’re not backing down on the issue of reparations, or the messages you’ve given condemning the rampant white privilege you claim affects so much of American politics?”

“No. Why should I? Though I’m not sure I used exactly those words.”

Maria scrolled through the text on her cell screen. “In a sermon on–December Twelfth two years ago, you’re on record asking how we can rightfully expect God to bless our nation while at the same time allowing corruption to grow and fester throughout all levels of government.”

“A valid question, in my opinion.”

“And later in that particular message, you brought up the disparity between how whites and blacks experience police intervention in Stapleton and across the nation. To a lot of people across the country, this doesn’t sound like Sunday morning sermon material.”

“Throughout the Old Testament,” Simms replied, “we see God concerned with His people and their societal expressions of righteousness. This word, in the Hebrew, goes straight to the modern concept of justice and equality–whether we’re talking about the courtroom, the locker room at the police station, or the break room in your work center. God doesn’t change, so I believe that justice and righteousness must still stir up His passions and holy anger just as much as when He sent His prophets to condemn abuses back then.”

“Do you see yourself as a prophet in a sense, Bishop?”

“Nothing so lofty as that. I’m a watchman on the wall, looking out over my city and my nation with concern. There’s so much–”

“A watchman on the wall,” Maria interrupted. “Interesting choice of words, given the divisiveness and the spectacle of the last election. A lot of talk about walls during the debates and the run-up to Election Day, wasn’t there? Are you supporting policies to build walls?”

“Again, I harken back to God’s holy Word,” Simms replied, “far more than I do the brash words of one man or woman. In the days of Joshua and King David, they built walls not to separate their own people, but to protect the community. I’m willing to stand on that kind of wall and call attention to the problems I see weakening our society. And like many times with the children of Israel, I don’t see the big problems coming at us from the outside, but within our walls, within our communities, our cities.”

“And your answer to that appears to be a mutil-billion dollar reparations program many call a bold-faced socialist redistribution of wealth, with some even leveling charges of reverse racism and discrimination.”

Simms leaned forward. “You ask why I talk so much of reparations. Is the concept far fetched? Perhaps. It certainly is a difficult and challenging question, whether–”

Maria shook her head. “Bishop, the conservative estimates on what it would take to attempt such a program are staggering.”

“Maybe,” Simms replied. “But it gets people attention, and it should. What African slaves went through is mighty staggering as well. And while we have made so much progress in the last several decades, we cannot sit idly by and declare ‘Mission Accomplished,’ all is well in the racial divide in America.”

“Well, it is a divisive view you’re espousing, Bishop. You can understand why people might disagree.”

“Might be we could have a much different conversation if there was acknowledgment that there’s cause–There’s a grievance in our past, as yet unresolved, where reparations could be in order. I wouldn’t presume to speak for every person in the African American community, nor do I think you can speak for all Latinas, or your cameraman for every white male. But I think that it would be a huge step to hear certain vocal leaders on the other side of the debate simply acknowledge it. Acknowledge that the grievance exists.”

“Bishop, I have to ask, what of forgiveness? Christian leaders and especially your detractors have often responded based on your own religious beliefs. “Simms is a preacher of the gospel,’ they say, ‘so he more than others should know Christ called us to forgive, not judge. Because He–Christ Jesus–already forgave.’ That’s a quote from the Reverend Jerry Turnbull, a megachurch pastor from Saint Louis.”

“Oh, I have heard those kinds of arguments before,” Simms said, nodding. “Yes, indeed, that sounds pretty good when you’re preaching to your congregation. But I look to no less than the Apostle Paul for my answer to Reverend Turnbull’s query.”

“Saint Paul?”

“Paul indeed wrote that nothing now separates us from the love of God, and there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, so I understand where my brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue are coming from.”

Simms curled his hands toward his heart and continued. “But Paul had a broken and contrite heart about his sin. He wrote at length about his failures, his crimes against the church, his rebellion against the Lord. ‘I am the chief of sinners,’ he said, ‘I am the least deserving.’ Paul knew the power of grace because he recognized the depth of the evil he had done.”

He pointed his finger to the south side of the sanctuary. “People on this side of the Twenties would be much quicker to forgive if we heard some of that recognition of wrongdoing from those fine believers on the south and east sides of Stapleton.”

“Yes, but–”

“Maria,” Simms continued, “I think of what one of my parishioners told me the other day. ‘I don’t hold my brother’s death against anybody… but I still hold that pain inside. That’s part of who I am. And while I know God forgets the sins of others and binds up my wounds, I don’t think that means I should forget the hurts or pretend they didn’t happen.’ So it is with our nation and our past. Too many folk want to pretend it didn’t happen, or, you know, ‘well it’s all over and done with now, let’s dust ourselves off and move on.'”

Maria opened her mouth to respond but said nothing.

“We still remember the Alamo,” Simms said, “and the Revolutionary War… and rightly so. We must remember our history, both the good and the bad. The good, so we can emulate the heroism of those who came before, and the bad, so we don’t forget and become doomed to repeat their mistakes.”

“Hard to argue with any of that, Bishop,” Maria finally said. “But when you slap a bill for several billion dollars on a weakened economy, people are still going to balk.”

“I’ve long heard it said that freedom isn’t free,” Simms replied. “Believe me, we know. We paid for our freedom over centuries of abuse and maltreatment. So perhaps my response to my detractors comes down to this: you talk a good game about freedom and justice. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.”

I Am Not Omran

In the aftermath of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie became a unifying rallying cry for those who wanted to say something against the attack. “I am Charlie,” it meant. In other words, I am with them, and an attack on them is an attack not only on freedom in general, but on me personally.

While I mourn the 12 people slain that day, there have reportedly been 250,000 killed in Syria over the last five years of civil war. Quick math in my head works that out to about 135 people killed on average daily every day for the last five years straight. 

I don’t recall seeing many hashtags. And I don’t want to. 

In the midst of the most ridiculous (read: horrifying and frustrating) Presidential election in my experience and to my historical knowledge,  we’re treated to horror stories of how ISIS might send attackers to pose as refugees, and how “swarms” of people in need are flooding into countries that permit them entry. Fear is the message, personal safety is paramount, and people in need are rationalized away as a risk or at best a sad reality we can’t do much about.

Well, a picture of this Syrian boy named Omran has been making the social media rounds… and in an emotionally gripping video, CNN reported on his situation. 

I watch this and it strikes me that “Je ne suis pas Omran.” I am not him. I don’t know his world, his life, his circumstances, or his pain. I can’t relate. I can’t claim “This is me too.”

I’m living in comfort, abundance, and security. It may not always feel that way, when the budget is tight or the news is frightening. But it’s a good bet no one who can see this post is experiencing a crisis or situation anything like his (and the millions of people displaced and affected by this ongoing humanitarian disaster).

When I look at Omran, what I see is a striking similarity to my five year old son. He’s the “baby” of the family, the darling, the youngest of four children. He entertains us all with hilarious antics and endearing, heartfelt expressions of innocence and love. He is free to do so because #JeNeSuisPasOmran. 

No, I am not Omran. And that means I likely have the power to help. 

Yes, I understand the fears people have about national security. And in my brain–fueled as it is by seasons of 24 and the like–I can see how easy it might be to slip a threat into the country posing as a refugee. 

But maybe just maybe a lot of refugees are actually people in deep, desperate need. And a lot of organizations are helping them where they are, or in neighboring countries. So fear about our safety in the US is no reason to ignore the plight of others. 

Please consider what you can do. Here are some organizations I found that appear to be helping. 

Hand in Hand for Syria

Helping Agencies

Save the Children

The Same Love

We played this song for our worship set at church a few weeks back. I liked it well enough when I first heard it–sounded kind of like U2 (and the chord progression blends right into With or Without You).

But the words emphasize the universal aspects of the Christian faith, the stuff that reinforces what’s common to all of us. It speaks to the widespread nature of God’s love, the human condition common to us all, and the far-reaching call, with a central focus on the cross of Christ.

As I back off a bunch of political debates and frustrating arguments with fellow believers and non-Christians alike, I’m reminded of what’s important to me.

In this place at the foot of the cross, the same Love calls out to all of us, wherever we are.

The same love that calls to the poor and says, “I will be your treasure” is the one that calls to the rich, points to the poor, and says, “Treasure what I treasure.”

The same love that calls to the weak and says, “I will be your strength” calls out to the strong, points to the weak, and says, “Be my hands to lift their burden; be my arms to defend them.”

The same love that calls to the outcast and marginalized and says, “You are welcome here forever and always” is the love that says to the popular and the in-crowd, “Treat them how you’d like to be treated. Go out into the furthest reaches and love them as I have loved you.”

The same love that died for all lives and declared that all lives matter must point our attention to injustice and oppression in the world wherever it is found, calling out that those particular lives in danger matter right now.

The same love that paid the price for all sin and paved a way for all sinners is the one calling us to drop our pretenses and hypocritical standards, fling wide the gates, and let whosoever will come.

Because most often, out there among them is where you will find Him.

Don't Drink the Water

As I watch (and I admit, occasionally engage in) the meltdowns on Facebook and other social media, here’s a non-partisan thought on politics:

It’s not weakness to admit the shortcomings of the candidate or party you support. It’s not treachery to admit where the other candidate or party does well. Rather than making you a traitor to your own, it reveals you’re a person of consideration and character, refusing to be swept along by a stream of half-true headlines or news bites that tell you exactly what you might want to hear.
More than the evils of either (IMHO abysmal) main party candidate, I fear the drones on both sides who refuse to see anything that disagrees with what they want to believe.

Those who dismiss everything their candidate does wrong as if it isn’t on record and readily available for public review.

Those who turn on and savage public figures who they counted as allies for years prior to some perceived slight or difference of opinion.

Those who rely on the most suspect and sketchy source as fact when it is not supported by even one mainstream media outlet (and I include Fox in that).

This year I feel left with two horrible choices and perhaps a couple slightly better options that have no realistic chance of winning.

I want to blame the parties, the system, those in power.

But in my dealings with friends on both the right and the left, it’s all too clear that we’ve got the election the American people asked for.

I don’t unfriend people on Facebook. I may not agree with everyone but I like the variety of viewpoints (which I thought was one of the strong points of social media).

In light of willful, repeated ignorance in the face of several corrections or challenges, I’ve had to consider it several times now. Even people who concede one day that their extreme points take it too far–these same people will repeat the exact same words the next day as if it’s some obvious, unassailable truth.

In Rio, some sources report the water is tainted with sewage. Athletes are reportedly being advised: “Particpate, but keep your mouth closed to avoid contamination.”

I feel like that is good advice for social media over the next few months, as well as for the voting booth in November.

100 more days. (Followed by four years of further baseless and myopic vitriol on both sides.)

Good luck, America, and good night.

Fair is Fair

A familiar image popped up on my Facebook feed, shared by a reasonable conservative friend, sourced from a page of patriots dedicated to opposing “Jihad.”

So I wasn’t surprised to find a misleading story:

Post whatever you like on a political issue. You're practically guaranteed no one will look it up.
Post whatever you like on a political issue. You’re practically guaranteed no one will look it up.

I knew I’d seen this image before, and had even responded to the panicked fear-mongering, the dire sense of impending doom, the overwrought feeling of “what has our country come to?”

Yet here it was again.

Out of a foolhardy need to correct people on the Internet, I clicked “Show all comments” on the thread. The reactions were explosive. A few, in bold, are presented below, along with my thoughts on their points:

Anyone who didn’t walk out is a traitor to the oath they swore when they were elected.

Actually, they’re upholding the importance of pluralism and diversity, and ensuring that our government isn’t misunderstood to be promoting or respecting a particular religion over all others. By supporting this, they’re doing exactly what they swore to do. And to be fair, selection of pray-ers is probably pretty transparent and unrelated to almost everyone in either body of Congress.

How can they say separation of church and state about schools and government offices when they’re forcing the Islamic ideology on the House of Representatives?

Because the prayer fits that gray area where no religion is being forced or pushed upon any individual, no one is being forced to participate in a religious act, and no implication of government respect or disrespect is shown for a particular religion in relation to all others.

If Obama wants them to have an Islamic prayer, then he has to let them have Christian prayers too. He never will, but he should. Fair is fair. 

If fair is fair, then we probably owe Islamic clerics far more opportunities to conduct the prayers, not less. 

The timing seems highly suspect, coming right off the heels of the tragedy in Orlando. It’s pretty obvious what Obama’s trying to say here.

Well, the video is actually from late 2014–note the presence of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, which, by the way, is a Legislative body controlled by Republicans at that point, and not part of President Obama’s Executive branch.  So the President had nothing to do with it now, nor did he back then. But for whatever reason this page decided to post it like it happened yesterday. You’re right, the timing is suspect… but not in the way you think.

This post highlights a level of ignorance many Americans may have about what happens every time our representatives meet. I didn’t know all this until looking into a similar post a few months back, so I assume maybe others also don’t know.

The House of Representatives has a chaplain who conducts an invocation or prayer at the start of every session, and this practice has taken place since 1789. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of prayers offered are Christian in nature.

The first Islamic invocation was conducted in 1991, and several have occurred since then, once every couple years or on some occasions twice in one year.

Other religions have also been represented, but sparsely. Jewish prayers account for 2.7% of all invocations in the last fifteen years. Hindus have occasionally offered prayers (once every six years or so since 2000, near as I can tell).  Islam and Hinduism are tied at about 0.5% of the invocations in that 15 year period.

That data came from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who pointed out that 97% of prayers in Congress in the last 15 years  are Christian in nature. And yet no form of atheism, secularism or humanism has been given a chance to conduct anything resembling an invocation. “Of course not,” one might say, “they’re not a religion.” But there are values which most atheists or humanists espouse, and there are options that would permit inclusion and participation of a group that is currently excluded, without putting down religious beliefs or pushing a non-faith ideology on anyone–in the same way that Christian prayers can be offered without violating the separation of church and state. (But when someone tried to nominate a secular person to perform the invocation, that request was denied.)

Back to the original point.

The problem is, a page with an agenda can depict this subject in a frightening or conspiratorial light. President Obama is blamed for this as though he directly scheduled this cleric to pray and as if he has banned any other forms of prayer–neither of which are true.

Simply put, a little bit of research goes a long way to defusing tensions, enlightening minds, broadening perspectives, and understanding differences. Taking the time to dig a little deeper and discover the truth keeps us from going off the deep end or responding in fear toward someone we don’t agree with. It helps unite us in a time when our culture and country is starkly divided.

Instead of seeing the worst, we can seek and discover the best about others. Instead of presuming or pre-judging, we can come to know others as they are, just like we’d hope to be treated if the roles were reversed.

That seems pretty fair.

Voices Worth Hearing

A couple things crossed my social media feed and challenged / moved me in the last few days. And I’m not just talking spoiler-laden clips of Game of Thrones’ season finale. (But holy cow did they fit a lot into that episode!)

1. With regard to the Brexit vote, before it happened, here’s a powerful and masterful example of persuasive public speech.

I know a lot of people opposed Britain leaving the EU, arguably for some good reasons. What I hate is the idea some spread or implied which said that every “Leave” supporter is some xenophobic, racist, greedy, hateful miser only out for themselves. Several million people voted for this (what was it, 19M+ if memory serves). Are we really supposed to believe that the vast majority of them are motivated politically by hatred and fear? Take a listen and enjoy a well-stated perspective, even if you don’t agree.

2. After the tragic and horrific shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, my wall exploded with different views on what should be addressed, what could have been done, what the real problems in America are, and so on. Accusations of Islamophobia (and maybe some actual Islamophobia) all peppered the mix. As if it’s so simple as suggesting adopting “if we just had a stricter law about guns” or “if the President would have called it radical Islam” or some other myopic opinion masquerading as a solution.

In the midst of all that, I found this OpEd on CNN: Well-stated views about what Muslims in America could do about the current state they’re in. On the one hand, I don’t like the idea that an entire, complex group of people is painted with the same shade, with one massive brush. But the writer seems to pragmatically state, “Well here we are, what can we do about it?”

3. Another piece of very persuasive and energetic public speech appeared on my feed today. I don’t know who Jesse Williams is, but he issues a challenge to all those with something to say about Black Lives Matter and about how African-Americans should deal with racial tensions. Those of us who aren’t forced by daily experience to consider all the ramifications and consequences of something as basic as skin tone might do well to listen with an open mind. We might not see it how Mr. Williams sees it. We might not agree with his conclusions. But there is a wide swath of America that does see it that way–a large percentage of Americans for whom Mr. Williams’ comments are spot on, addressing their day-to-day reality. If we’re willing to understand, we can’t assume we’ve got the whole picture on something so complex as race.

If you’re only going to watch one of these, I suggest the third option. Click the image below for a link to the speech.

Jesse Williams
Jesse Williams