Tag Archives: rights

Conditional Virtues

whatthePatience is a virtue.

And so are a lot of other things, it turns out.

Ancient Greece had four cardinal virtues: temperance, prudence, courage, and justice.

The Church has three: faith, hope, and love. Alternatively, some look at “the fruit of the Spirit” Paul put down in his epistles: love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Buddhism has its Noble Eightfold Path, Hinduism its Dharma or moral duty, Islam has a long list derived from the Quran, and so on.

Even Ben Franklin, no particular bastion of religious devotion, had his own list of moral virtues.

The key to virtues is that, without fail, they are meant to be practiced regardless of how someone else behaves.

We treat others with love even if they are hateful. We respond with kindness when someone snaps at us. When others would be arrogant, we strive to be humble; when others prove unreliable, we demonstrate diligence and faithfulness. Self-control and temperance do not depend on how wild or disciplined someone else may be.

We practice these virtues because they help us be our best selves. They give us the tools to respond to life’s struggles and difficulties with grace, maintaining dignity in spite of opposition.

Now our society is dealing with the debate over same-sex marriage and whether to recognize it as a right in America. Pitting long-standing religious traditions against the ability to openly express love and fidelity – that’s not just a spark near the fireworks. That’s a nuclear meltdown in progress. The trouble is there’s also a lot of prejudice and ignorance on the religious side, and there’s a lot of defensive lashing out due to past hurt on the same-sex marriage side – understandably so. On top of all that, there seems to be enough hate on both sides to go around.

Which is especially sad since we’re all supposedly talking about expressions of love.

There will always be political disputes and debates, but there doesn’t have to be so much vitriol in our rhetoric.

That brings me to this popular virtue I keep hearing about, called Tolerance.

Tolerance has come to mean that we must not only accept differences in others but also approve of them. When we speak of tolerating a thing, we simply mean acknowledging it, accepting the fact of its existence. I have pain in my foot following surgery. I can tolerate the pain. That doesn’t mean I approve of it. Even the term “acceptance” gets used as if to say “endorsement.” I accept marijuana is used throughout the United States and is even legal in some states. I do not endorse its use.

Equality means treating everyone with respect.
Equality means treating everyone with respect.

Treating each other as equals means tolerance is not a one way street.

If tolerance is indeed a virtue to which we should aspire, then it cannot be limited to those with whom we agree. We cannot demonize the other side as if everyone is either Westboro Baptist Church or NAMBLA. We cannot jump to conclusions and rush to judgment about what motivates supporters or opponents of same-sex marriage.

No, I don’t believe the activists are out to destroy the families. Most of them are just trying to have a family of their own. And no, I don’t believe most of the opponents think anyone is less than human or not worthy of dignity and respect, contrary to popular belief. Yes, there are too many bad apples. We tolerate their right to speech, even ignorant speech. And we counter their ignorance with prudence, temperance, and respectful disagreement.

We cannot justify intolerance and hatred toward others because “they were intolerant first.”

That’s not how virtues work.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” 

Likewise, if we only tolerate the tolerant, then what sort of virtue is it?

We’re always going to have important discussions in America, on subjects where both sides are very passionate. We owe it to ourselves to focus our energy on the viewpoints, not the participants… on virtue, not venom.

Seven is Right Out


“How many shots are we allowed to put in the cup?” the Starbucks barista asked her manager. “Six, right?”

I wasn’t sure whether this question really did have the legal and liability overtones I thought I was picking up, but then the manager confirmed it.

“Yes, six is the limit. But really, someone could just buy another cup with six shots if they wanted more. But at that point, it’s on them, not us.”

Clearly, there’s a line Starbucks draws so that they don’t get blamed for your heart exploding.

I almost hear Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. “Six shall be the number of the count, and the number of the count shall be six. SEVEN IS RIGHT OUT.”


I’m reminded of New York City’s plan for the 16-ounce limit on sugared pop (or soda, or soft drinks, or Coke, depending on where you’re from). I’m also reminded of a blog post by one of my friends from work, and since he has a lot of strong opinions on a variety of subjects, I’m going to throw his link in here.

The fact is, stupid people are going to keep being stupid, even if we legislate the wear of rubber helmets and the installation of padding on all sharp corners. I’m not interested in a nanny state holding my hand everywhere I go.

Politics and cultural observation aside, I’m thinking instead of my love affair with coffee.

My wife says I’m an addict, and I hold to the adage that “you’re only an addict if you want to stop but cannot do so.” I have no desire to stop drinking coffee, so by default it cannot be proven that I have a lack of willpower regarding coffee. So there.

We’ll leave the “addict vs. afficionado” argument aside for now too.

“Everything in moderation,” my wife would say. Indeed.

Given the six shot conversation, maybe I’m the wrong one to bring up this subject.

Coffee at one point had such a hold on me that I would need to make a pot of it when I got home from work–this after drinking a pot or more at the office. If I didn’t, I would fall asleep on the couch at 5 PM. This condition made me quit for a while, until I could get to a relatively normal response and desire for caffeine (as opposed to a driving need).

“Everything is permissible,” the Apostle Paul wrote, quoting prevailing wisdom. Then he countered by adding, “but not everything is beneficial, and I will not be mastered by anything.”

We have freedom that permits us to do all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean we should do everything we’re permitted to do. Just because something is legal or possible, that doesn’t mean it’s right.

And yet, righteousness can be its own destructive influence:

What came to mind in this experience is a verse in Ecclesiastes that has always interested me, in the realm of “too much of a good thing.”

15-17I’ve seen it all in my brief and pointless life—here a good person cut down in the middle of doing good, there a bad person living a long life of sheer evil. So don’t knock yourself out being good, and don’t go overboard being wise. Believe me, you won’t get anything out of it. But don’t press your luck by being bad, either. And don’t be reckless. Why die needlessly?

18 It’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it.

Of course the Bible tells you that being wicked is going to get you trouble. I find it interesting that the Bible also tells you being overly good can also lead to trouble. More formal translations suggest that you will “ruin yourself” by being overly righteous.

The very thing I want to do is put at risk from trying too hard to make it happen.

I come across “affected” (thanks, Simon Cowell) rather than “authentic.” Most of us can probably think of that acquaintance who tries too hard to be accepted, and never really is–not because they’re a bad person, but because they’re frustrating in this respect.

Back when I had to quit caffeine, the coffee I relied on to give me energy became a crutch–without it, I had no energy.

Likewise, in the Christian community, surrounding ourselves with “good” things and staying away from “worldly” influences makes sense, to a point. We’re called to be “in the world but not of it,” so we can’t let our actions and decisions mirror the culture around us.

However, we also need to make sure we’re “in the world, and not out of it.” Just like I can order another cup with more espresso, I can also fill every minute of every day and every conversation or interaction with other people with Christian this and Christian that.  But that becomes far too much of an arguably good thing.

We’re not Amway… we shouldn’t need to act like a pyramid scheme.

We can’t let our church walls become a fortress to keep the big, bad, eeeeevil World out. Otherwise we risk failing at the very purpose behind the lifestyle we’re called to live out.

Live “out” like out in the open, where other people are, the ones that don’t already agree with everything I believe.

Here’s hoping for authentic living and honest interaction with the world around us.



Disclaimer: This is a *fictional* story, not an actual personal experience. I hope to do something like this some day, and to live out love like this every day. But this is just a short story.

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” – James 4:6 MSG

I step out of the van and ignore the immediate hostility of passers-by.

Two cross-dressers glare at me as they head toward the parade route. A man is crawling on the pavement in leather chaps; he has a leash around his neck, and another man is ‘walking’ him. He barks at me.

These are among the more tame participants. It strikes me as odd that in such a crowd, I am the one who gets strange looks.

If I am embarrassed at all now, well… it’s going to get a lot worse.

I make my way to the edge of the crowd and try to squeeze through to the front. I need to be visible if this is going to be of any value. When people turn and see me, they assume they know what I’m here to do. I get jostled and shoved a few times as I gently push my way through. “Bigot,” one person says. “Homophobe! Go home!”

“Get out of the closet already, Bible-thumper.”

The police are out in force. Pride parades often get a lot of attention, not all of it good. That one church from Kansas is lined up farther down the street. Some local churches have put up their own signs, not willing to be outdone by these famous out-of-towners with the “God hates fags” posters.

The cops are busy keeping people marching in the parade from getting into fights with the various protest groups. None of them notice when I finally reach the rope that marks the edge of the parade route.

I stand at the edge and lean out, a Jesus in Teva sandals, a wig, and a polyester white robe with a red sash I borrowed from our church drama team. The beard is mine, scraggly but full enough after two months of growth.

The first few people to see me react in anger, swearing, shaking fists. “You don’t belong here,” they yell, along with some other choice words. People in the crowd throw half-empty Starbucks cups and large sodas and McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Ketchup and mustard splatter across my white sleeve.

No one throws rotten fruit any more. It’s not readily available, and it’s too expensive.

The folks marching in the parade are not happy to see me, either. Rainbow signs with witty slogans are shoved in my face. I don’t know if they’re meant to block my view with their message, or block the view of the other marchers so that no one else has to see another religious jerk condemning everyone in sight.

“What’s another name for the Crucifixion?” one guy asks the girl next to him, loud enough for me to overhear. She shrugs.

“A good start,” he says.

She laughs, and glances my way, her smile turning into a sneer.

I reach out a hand to those marching, and someone spits at it. The next person ignores me, stepping away.

“I am sorry,” I say, and he looks back, brow furrowed. But he’s too far past me now.

Mostly all I get from the faces in the crowd is the strong sense that I am unwelcome–a defensive posture and wounded expression that demands to know, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. This is ours… go away.”

I catch another guy’s hand, someone in a leather jacket, boots, and briefs. He recoils in disgust, but then I say, “I am sorry for how we have hurt you,” and he pauses.

Someone else spits on me. “Go back to the tomb, Jeebus.” His partner winks at me and says, “Hey, baby, I’ll nail ya.” They walk away laughing.

The man in the leather jacket, whose hand I grabbed–he simply nods to me, and I think I see his eyes glisten as he turns and continues in the parade.

A thin guy explodes into a rant with more f-bombs than actual words, arms waving, fists clenched. “What the f’ing f are you f’ing trying to do, f’er? You f’ing f’s think you’re f’ing doing any good with your f’ing ‘God hates fags’ signs and your f’ed up little white dress? Do you really f’ing think I give one good f’ing G-D what the f you f’ing have to say to me? F!!! I f’ing hate you, I f’ing hate your f’ing book that does f-all to teach love and tolerance, and I f’ing hate the f out of the f’ing God you represent! What now?”

He gets in my face.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and a tear runs down my cheek. “I’m sorry for how we have hurt you.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

I think of the recent news stories I’ve heard, the angry sermons on the Internet, the callous defenses of indefensible statements.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve let people say we should ‘smack the gay out of children,’ or put them behind electric fences.”

He says nothing now, but he continues staring at me.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve pointed the finger at all of you, instead of preaching against our own arrogance, our own pride, our own prejudice and hatred. I’m sorry for how we act like you are less than human.”

“I came to say I’m sorry for my people and what we have done.”

His friend grabs his arm and pulls him away. “Come on, man.” But he keeps looking back, and I see him mouth the words, “Thank you.”

Another person spits on me, and a big guy just happens to hit me with his elbow. “Bigot,” he mutters.

This pattern repeats itself for an hour and a half, some people accepting my hand in friendship, many slapping it aside at first, some of them turning back to acknowledge the apologies I offer.

One of the people in the crowd behind me tugs at my shoulder. He’s holding a black leather Bible, with the gold edges on the pages and a little fish over a monogram in the corner of the cover. “You’re in the wrong place, brother. We’re all protesting at the other end of this block.” He points to where the angry people are waving their signs and shouting Scripture like a battle cry.

I nod and remain in my spot on the street.

Two women walk by, arm-in-arm. The blonde says, “You want us to confess our sins, pervert? We’ve been verrry naughty.”

They giggle as they approach. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bible Guy watching.

“I would like to confess my sins to you,” I say.

“Ooooh,” the other coos. “Kinky. Yeah, do it.”

“I am sorry for the double standards we use to judge you,” I begin, and the smiles disappear.

“I am sorry for acting like one sin is worse than any other, for acting like our sins don’t matter to God as much as yours. I’m sorry for behaving like we’re better than you.”

They are quiet, holding hands, waiting as I continue. Bible Guy storms off to rejoin his protest.

“I am sorry for treating you like you don’t deserve our love–like you don’t deserve God’s love.”

The parade marches on behind them. I look at them through tear-clouded vision.

“I love you. We love you. I am sorry for how often we fail to show it. We shouldn’t see you as what you do, but I know we also do that. Please accept my apology on behalf of my people.””

I extend a hand after wiping it off on a clean spot of my robe. They hug me instead, ignoring the chopped onions and ketchup and diet Dr. Pepper.

We stand there, hugging, for about a minute before they thank me and move on.

Bible Guy is back with friends, and they’re not happy. “Don’t you know Leviticus says homosexuals are an abomination and the Bible says it’s a sin?”

“I know,” I reply.

“Yeah, well, maybe you need to get your Gospel straight before you come out here supporting all these queers.”

“I know what the Bible says about homosexuality, and so does the rest of the world,” I fire back. “What they don’t know, what they aren’t seeing, is what the Bible says about loving others!”

“Hey Jimmy,” Bible Guy says to one of his friends, “What do you think we should do with false Christs?”

It takes a couple minutes for the police to respond to the situation and break up the fight. I’m the freak in an offensive costume, so I end up in the handcuffs. “For your protection, bud,” one of the cops tells me as he drags me away from the parade.

Sitting in the back of the paddy wagon, I pull off the wig and rub a bloody jaw.

“Not the smartest move ever for the Son of God, eh, bud?”

“Yeah, I guess not.” I answer. I don’t believe that, though. I felt the hugs, I spotted tears, I saw the faces change from rage to respect. “Then again, things didn’t go so well for Him either, so it’s nothing new.”

The cop laughs. “I thought I saw those punks head back over to the protest after we grabbed you. You sure got them riled.”

“They’re mad because I used to be one of the ones holding signs.”

“Oh… yeah, I used to hate dealing with this parade each year, too. And then my son started marching in them.”

He offers me a cup of water. “Take it you get beat up by Christians a lot?”

“You’d be surprised.” I take a drink. “It was the religious leaders that wanted Jesus dead, not the so-called sinners.”

“Feh.” The cop looks back out to the crowd. “I just wish those guys would go back to their caves sometimes.”

“They can’t help it,” I reply. “They kind of belong here. The event is all about celebrating pride. They’re just full of a different kind.”