Archive for the ‘Citizenship’ Category

Wag the Dog

January 23, 2019

I’ve yet to see this movie yet, despite thinking about it over the years.  I remember thinking at the time it came out that it was a brilliant concept, and a frighteningly realistic one.  Fast forward 20+ years and our technical know-how and digital wizardry is leagues ahead of 1997.

President Trump has taken a lot of flack for his skepticism, let’s say, about the press.  His insistence that the press is not unbiased and sometimes outright untrustworthy has raised the cry of many, not the least of which the press itself.  And yet we repeatedly find out that the press is a) not unbiased and b) often untrustworthy.  How related these two are falls into an area of personal opinion that I’d rather not get into but leave for you to come to grips with.  Not everyone with a press badge is unbiased or trustworthy.  The press badge does not confer these qualities upon them.  Nor does owning a media outlet, nor does being the editor-in-chief or any other title confer these qualities magically.

Add to this mix the ability for people holding a phone to put together footage that looks and sounds a certain way and then farm it out to the media for coverage, and you have a perfect storm.  There may not always  be a need to wholesale fabricate events (though I wouldn’t put it past most people/politicians), but there is a very real possibility that something presented in a certain way is not the whole story at the very least.

So we have the latest outrage over alleged mockery of native Americans by a group of teenagers on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Media – social and otherwise – was apoplectic over the jittery footage displaying a confrontation between an older Native American and a crowd of Anglo high schoolers, allegedly mocking him.  After the traditional screaming matches of the past few days, new footage and testimony apparently contradict the initial reports.  Rather than the teenagers surrounding the man and mocking him, he and his group approached their group, apparently intent on some sort of confrontation, possibly spurred on by the fact that some of the youth were wearing Make America Great Again hats.

These clarified reports of the event are bolstered further by reports that this same man – Nathan Phillips – attempted to disrupt Catholic mass this past Saturday evening at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception also in Washington DC.  What  was – and continues to be – interpreted as another tragic instance of white oppression against minorities, and more importantly as further evidence of the degradation of America under President Trump, may in fact be the exact opposite of this.

An unbiased press might have thought twice before rushing in to condemn the alleged perpetrators.  A more trustworthy press would have sought out possible alternative narratives before passing judgment and leading a firestorm of threats against the youth and their school and families.  That’s the sort of press we need, in a day and age where footage can not only be fabricated, but certainly can be recorded in such a way as to obscure what is actually happening, or to exclude details that might put interpretation into a better perspective.  When every person has a smart phone with a video camera in it, the assumption that any such footage must by definition be fully accurate in what it appears to portray is foolish at best, dishonest at worst.

But since I do believe that much of our press is both biased and untrustworthy, here is a basic tip for y’all at home about how to handle this stuff.

Don’t assume that just because you read it online or see it on a TV news report or read it in your newspaper that it’s true.  Certainly not immediately, and when it relates to alleged footage obtained from unidentified sources.  Journalists should be taking care of this sort of filtering for you but they aren’t.  So do it yourself.  Before you react violently on social media, give things a few days to settle out.  Recognize that media outlets are commercial ventures, not non-profit organizations.   They depend on advertising revenues linked to the number of viewers or subscribers they have.  In which case, the pressure to be the first to report a breaking news event is incredible.  Shortcuts are undoubtedly taken in terms of verifying sources, looking for alternative points of view, and other basic unbiased and trustworthy reporting actions.  Therefore the possibility that breaking news isn’t all that it seems is only going to increase.

And for goodness’ sake, before you start screaming derogatory comments about entire groups of people (which is what this story was all about in the first place, remember?), remember your basic human decency.  Even if it turns out that someone is caught doing something abhorrent on video, it does not mean that:

  • Everyone who wears the same clothing brands as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone who voted for the same candidates that person did supports their actions
  • Everyone of the same race or ethnicity as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone with the same accent supports their actions

Take a few deep breaths people.  We live in complicated times where things aren’t always what they seem.  Don’t be the dog wagged by the tail.







December 20, 2018

Today I had the opportunity to do  something I didn’t really know I wanted to do.  It’s not the sort of thing you think about very often.  I had the opportunity to witness the naturalization ceremony for 3,357 new US citizens.  It was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and there were easily three times that number of guests on hand as well.

While advance information on what to expect was scant, we arrived nearly two hours before the ceremony actually started – one hour ahead of when my friend was instructed to be there.  A small group of us made the unpleasant drive down, excited for her but unsure what to expect.

The ceremony began with instructions in English and Spanish, followed by a video montage of various immigrants.  Over 18 million people have become citizens over the last 100 years through immigration.  There weren’t pictures of all of them, thankfully, but it was a nice enough way to begin.

The ceremony itself consisted of a brief district court session provided over by a judge.  The US Government motioned for the judge to approve the citizenship of the 3,357 people present, as they had each successfully completed all but the final necessary step for  citizenship.  The final step, the judge then informed them, was to take the citizenship oath.  All of the applicants repeated, en masse, a brief oath administered by the judge.  The oath led them to renounce their allegiances to other countries or authorities, indicated their acceptance of and willingness to follow the laws of the United States, and called on them to defend their new homeland from enemies foreign or domestic if asked to do so.

The judge gave a few brief personal remarks then, encouraging them to continue their education in learning about America, and to be constructive and productive citizens.  Another government official offered words of welcome also, and introduced three specific applicants who, although not officially citizens, had already served in the American armed forces.  There was a brief video welcome  from President Trump, followed by another patriotic music and video montage.  There was much applause and more than a few tears amidst the many, many smiles.

Of course, being America, the lobby was filled with vendors, as was the patio outside the convention center.  Food vendors selling hot dogs and sausages, fruit wedges and churros.  Inside the vendors sold nice covers for the naturalization certificate, or patriotic teddy bears and small flags to wave.  One sign insisted New US Citizens Need Flowers.  I took pictures for several different family groups celebrating the exciting day.  Over 100 different countries were represented in those 3,357 applicants.  Mexico, the Philippines, China, El Salvadore and South Korea had the highest number of applicants in this particular session.


It was a beautiful thing to witness.  To read the papers or watch the news or scan the Internet, you’d think our country was nothing but a terrible place full of terrible people, whether you define terrible in conservative or progressive terms.  Nothing but disparaging comments about how we are failing in this regard or that, how we are disintegrating from this ideology or that, how we are mere shadows of our glorious selves – and those selves weren’t that glorious to begin with.

But I was reminded today that while there is some truth in all of that, there is also the truth that does not get promoted nearly so much.  The truth that despite our faults and flaws, we remain a beacon to much of the rest of the world.  That we offer opportunities and possibilities that people in other places can only dream of.  And dream  they do.  It was a reminder that there is much worth appreciating and celebrating here.  And much worth fighting for.  But that the only way to do what needs to be done is by working together, rather than trying to force each other to do what we are so very positive is right.

These people are good reminders that it can be done.  It requires hard work and perseverance, but also listening and caring and a focus on the end result.  I hope these new citizens will help  in the process, and continue to liven this melting pot with their gifts and abilities, their perspectives and experiences.

Welcome to America.  Your new homeland.


St. John Wang Yi Zinzendorf the Baptist

December 17, 2018

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.  ~ Nicolaus Zinzendorf

This mantra has been stuck in my head for over a year now.  While there is some doubt as to whether the words were ever written or spoken by Zinzendorf in exactly this format, the spirit of them is definitely attributed to him.  In a world that seeks immortality through works and words and the acclaim of others, the Bible calls us to obedience to the God who created us, redeemed us, and alone can grant us immortality not simply in the memories of others but in flesh and blood and spirit.

Faithful obedience is not often glamorous.  Not often memorable.  Not often noteworthy.  It’s the decision to get up in the morning and do what needs to be done.  Laundry.  Cooking.  Earning a living.  Faithfulness to those around us.  Restraint.  Hardly laudable qualities in a modern culture that calls after fame and glory in 120 (or 280) character tweets or 4-second vines.

This past Sunday we considered Jesus’ words to John the Baptist – blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  John the Baptist is remembered 2000 years after his untimely death.  He remained faithful to the one who created him, the one who would redeem him.  Whether that faithfulness changed the world around him was not to be John’s concern, any more than whether or not he would ever be freed from prison.

Persecution is hardly new, and it isn’t something that I think we should seek out.  But if we attempt to be faithful, persecution is apt to find us in one way or another.  John the Baptist found this out.  Jesus knew this.  Pastor Wang Yi now lives with this reality.  While we don’t have any words known to be written personally by John the Baptist, I like to think that perhaps he might have said something similar to Pastor Wang Yi.

I pray that if I find myself in a similar situation my words will be very similar, seeking not to be remembered – so very, very, very, very few of us are, even for a short time! – but to be faithful.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2018

Below is the address President Woodrow R. Wilson delivered to the United States public on the first Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day), November 11, 1919:

The White House, November 11, 1919. 

A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half.

With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. 

Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. 

To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations. 


(Thanks to Wikipedia)

Beautiful words which in hindsight were so very blind to the reality of sin interwoven into the deepest recesses of the hearts and minds of mankind.  I’m grateful for the resolve of men and women who do and have and will serve our country to keep us safe, striving as well to extend the blessings of peace and liberty to other people.  But I don’t trust those good intentions much farther than I can throw them and I trust the lasting results of those intentions even less.  I prefer the words of Psalm 146:

Psalm 146 English Standard Version (ESV)

Put Not Your Trust in Princes

146 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

(Thanks to

Thank you to all who have, do, and will serve.  I’m sorry it’s necessary.  But it is, and will continue to be until the Lord reigns forever and in all places.




Saying What God Says

October 31, 2018

A respected person on Facebook recently posted a link to this video.  It might be helpful to view it or have it available as we go through this.  The video was published in June, but remains more or less applicable to the current tittering over the wave of migrants making their way to the US border from various points in Central America.  Though I assumed I wouldn’t agree with what the video has to say, I watched it all the same in case there was something to be learned.  Unfortunately, the only thing to be learned is how to make an inane video and drag  the Church into a challenging situation while condemning anyone who disagrees with your vacuous statements.

Let me say that I am sympathetic to the plight of those in need, regardless of where they live.  I can easily empathize with those who are willing to risk everything for the chance at a better life rather than remain at risk of certain death or abject poverty.  What I can’t empathize with are those here in our country who think the solution to such situations is to ignore common sense and reasonable laws aimed not only at helping these people, but helping and protecting our own citizens as well.  Nor can I easily empathize with Christians who insist that either you support their position on this issue or you’re essentially denying Christ.

Let’s break this down.

The video starts by attempting  to answer a question – Why do people hate migrants and refugees?  There’s a clear hint that this isn’t going to be a nuanced, intelligent discussion of either politics or the faith.  The implication right out of the chute is that if you disagree with this man’s particular (and unsubstantiated) religious and Biblical opinions (which may or may not be right, but I can’t tell because he doesn’t bother to substantiate them) you are a hater of migrants and refugees.

I am not.  I don’t know these people personally.  I’m also well aware of our nation’s history as a country of migrants and refugees.  I take pride in that as an American and a Christian.  I believe there are valuable precedents that should be maintained in welcoming your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, to quote Emma Lazarus.  We have always done this to one degree or another and we always should.  But in general, we have had laws and rules and regulations for how this should be done.  Not because we hate these people, but because it is part of the responsibility of our nation to our own citizens, and part of the reason we can continue to be a lamp to so  many people throughout the world.

Side question: How many countries do you know that have no rules, laws, processes, or procedures regarding who can come into their country, how they can enter, and the rules that they need to abide by while they’re there?  If you know of one, and that country is serving as the model for ignoring or decrying any sort of immigration law here in the US, I’d really, genuinely love to hear about it because I can’t think of one.

If  I want to go to another country, not only must I follow proper procedures to leave mine, I have to respect the laws and rules of the country I want to enter.  Our family entered and exited seven countries last year.  I fully expected I would be required to follow rules governing my entry and exit and I abided by them.  My desire to visit their country did not entitle me to demand they suspend their rules for doing so.

Ok.  Back to the video.

His first point is to criticize conservative Christians who point out that migrants and refugees are breaking the law.  No.  Migrants and refugees are not breaking the law by wanting to enter our country or enter it by legal means.  Illegal migrants and refugees, however, are breaking the law.  Period.  Otherwise, we would not have a distinction between legal and illegal.

Rev. Martin then makes the emphatic statement that seeking asylum is a human right.  Now, we need to distinguish here.  This man is wearing a collar, has already referenced conservative Christians (which he apparently does not include himself among nor provide definitions for beyond disagreeing about the issue of legal migration and refugee processing), and therefore it  is not unreasonable to assume that he’s asserting that seeking asylum is a human right as defined by God through the Bible.  I’d like to know the verses that he would reference to support his assertion.

Because if it’s  not a Biblically defined human right, then it’s a man-made human right.  And as Rev. Martin is going to move on to next, not all human-defined laws are right.  If seeking asylum is a man-made human right, then there is a place to question how that right is substantiated.  Now, I have no problem with a man-made human right to seek asylum.  But such a human right merely entitles someone to attempt to seek asylum.  It does not insist that they must be automatically received on those grounds.  Also, does asylum apply to those fleeing persecution or  danger, or those leaving their homes and seeking to move elsewhere on any number of other grounds?  We have major terms being hurled around here without definition and I don’t think  they’re being used properly.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted by the United Nations in 1948, asserts that Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.  I don’t have a problem with that definition.  But let’s be clear that barring some Biblical reference (which I can’t think of off hand and Rev. Martin never provides), this human right is a man-made one.  The Bible certainly refers to people from other places and how God’s people the Old Testament Israel should treat them (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 23:22, Leviticus 24:22, Numbers 15:15, Deuteronomy 10:19, etc.).  There are broader requirements to love my neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  But again, definitions are not being pinned down anywhere in this video.  Note also that these verses don’t address how a sojourner enters into their land or community.  It only addresses how that sojourner should be treated once they are there.  I assume this means the sojourner has already been allowed to enter and sojourn with God’s people in God’s land, and in such a case certain rules apply.  I don’t assume this means anyone for any reason could impose upon God’s people and land.

Disclosure: I don’t believe the majority of Old Testament rules apply to the US today, or to any other country or time other than Israel in the Old Testament, which was a theocratic example and experiment, unique in all of human history.  But since people like to try and draw on the Old Testament as binding for Christians, I’m happy to critique such arguments.

He then moves on to claim that those who disagree with his position will try to use the Bible to support their view but that they’re  doing so incorrectly.  First off, he accuses them of being inconsistent – wanting to refer to the Bible to support their stances against abortion and same sex marriage, but apparently while ignoring the Bibles’ clear statements about welcoming migrants and refugees.

The Biblical argument against abortion, briefly stated, is that murder is forbidden (Genesis 4:10-11 , Genesis 9:5-6, Exodus 20:13, etc.), and that the unborn child is every bit as human as an adult (Psalm 22:10, Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5, Job 31:15, etc.).  The Bibles’ stance on abortion seems clear if the unborn child is just that – a human being.  Science comes in pretty handy here to demonstrate that this is clearly the case.

In regards to same-sex marriage and/or homosexual behavior, the Biblical argument rests on some very clear verses:   Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-28, Jude 1:5-8, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, etc.

If Rev. Martin – or someone else – will show me a Biblical verse that does not deal with how we treat people among us, but rather directs us in how to determine who should live among us, that would be helpful in making his case.  Lacking this, I can only come to the conclusion that Christians who argue against abortion and against homosexuality and gay-marriage and also argue against illegal immigration are not being inconsistent.

Next Rev. Martin asserts that Christians are misusing Scripture to support their positions against illegal immigration and for enforcement of  the laws already on the books regarding how to handle people seeking entry to our country.  He uses a rather embarrassing clip of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as she attempts to vaguely use the Bible as a defense for following the law of the land.  What Sanders might have been thinking of were verses in Scripture such as Romans 13, or Hebrews 13, both of which seek to make it clear that our freedom in Christ does not entail freedom from the civil rule of law, assuming said law does not force us to violate our faith in Jesus the Christ.

Then Rev. Martin makes the very strong assertion that God’s Law demands that we welcome migrants and refugees.  Depending on what he means here, I agree with him.  Although since he doesn’t explain what this means, or provide any Scriptural references to support his claim, I can’t be sure we agree.

I agree that we should love and care for people we encounter in our day-to-day lives regardless of whether we think they are here legally or illegally.   I even agree that our government should seek to provide protection for those who are fleeing persecution or even poverty.  But what does this mean?  Does this mean that we let in everyone who shows up at the border?  Do we ignore the entire concept of borders?  What if we let people in but require them to live in humane, temporary shelters while we process their requests and make sure they are who they say they are and that their reasons for seeking entry are legitimate and consistent?  That would seem to be a form of welcoming people, wouldn’t it?  An attempt to show love and care to the outsider without presuming that such love and care must require us to either make them citizens immediately or release them into the general  population without any idea who they are or what their real purposes might be here?

I agree with his next point, that migrants and refugees have become demonized and dehumanized.  That is unfortunate.  But I would also assert that humanitarian assumptions have been extended by other Christians to entire groups of people without any actual thought being given to it.  If I wish to enter another country in order to facilitate illegal activity, I probably won’t say this at the border.  I’ll come up with another reason to enter.  That country then has to determine whether or not my rationale is reasonable to accept.  We do this shorthand through passports and visas.  Passports and visas are national  endorsements of sorts, saying that we are likely to be good visitors to other countries because we are good citizens at home.

I don’t hear any talk about passports or visas in most discussions about migrants and refugees.  I don’t hear much talk about vetting their backgrounds.  Is this unreasonable?  Is this unloving?  Is this the same as demonizing and dehumanizing them?  I guess it depends on who you ask.  If you ask me, it isn’t.  It’s  reasonable.  And it’s necessary in a sinful world where people lie and misrepresent things.  Our investigations will be imperfect – again because we are sinful and broken and very, very finite.  This means some bad people will still come in under false pretenses.  And it also means that some good people who were entirely honest and genuinely in need will be refused entry.  That is lamentable, and we should strive to minimize it as much as possible.  But it will happen unless we simply cease to acknowledge that we have borders with other countries and allow anyone who wants to to come and go as they please.

Then we have the obligatory references to Hitler, the Rwandan massacres, and Japanese-American policies in World War II.  I don’t think President Trump’s use of the word vermin was either Christian or appropriate.  That being said, simple  reviews of arrest records will easily reveal that there are genuinely bad people who enter our country both legally and illegally.  Unfortunate, but true.  And I ask my government, to the best of its ability, to keep out the bad people and let in the good people.

I very much like his suggestion of getting to know the people and stories behind their situation.  I think that those who are obsessively afraid of any outsiders should do this.  And so should people who would blindly attribute only the purest of motivations to everyone and anyone.  But this isn’t just helpful for the issue of immigration.  Perhaps it would stimulate interest among our people to take an interest in the plight of the people and where they come from.  What are the situations of the countries they are fleeing?  Why is there such endemic poverty?  Why is violence rampant?  And do we as a nation have a humanitarian obligation to be of help to these people just as much as we seek to be of help and a defender of the helpless on the other side of the globe, where oftentimes the regions involved are rich in natural resources we are interested in?

Yes, we should remember that these are human beings and seek to treat them as such.  To treat them, in fact like the people we currently live next to and among, people that we assume are following the laws of our states and nation and communities.  I might very well seek to flee my homeland and bring my family to safety.  And I would pray that if that were the case, the country I fled to and its representatives would be sympathetic.  That they would listen to my story and provide an opportunity for a new life.  But I would fully expect that this would be on terms they determined, not me.  I could be free to reject those terms if I didn’t like them, and to seek better terms elsewhere.  But I couldn’t possibly presume that I would be made exempt from their laws.  I presume that in large part, it is those very laws that created a more stable environment, which is what I would be trying to find for myself and my family.

As for his final question, it’s one worth considering.  But it’s a question separate from national policy.  The parable of the Good Samaritan seems instructive here.  But it’s a story aimed at me, personally.  Not at public policy or national security.  If I have a say in those things, then by all means I should take seriously that privilege.  But for me personally, I pray that I will show the love of Christ to everyone that crosses my path every day, whether that’s my wife, my children, or a stranger asking for help.  I will pray to respond in love, rather than with a question about their legal status in my country.

But that question really wasn’t what prompted the video.  I truly hope someone will point out the verses to me that clearly indicate how I as a Christian am supposed to support and articulate public policy as opposed to verses that do clearly dictate how I personally am to respond to these people when they actually cross my path.  That would be a discussion I’d love to have.  I haven’t memorized the entire Bible, and perhaps there are folks, like Rev. Martin, who have passages  in mind I’ve forgotten about or am less familiar with.

If that’s the  case it would be a lot more helpful to cite those passages rather than accusing people  of hating a class of people and then demanding our public policy be crafted on Biblical verses and principles which aren’t bothered to be cited.



Interpreting the News

October 25, 2018

Perhaps you’ve heard about the group of migrants headed towards the United States from Central America?  No?  Can you tell me how you are able to remain undisturbed by these sorts of tidbits?  I’m willing to invest in whatever technology you’re using!

So the local paper carried a Reuters article about the progress of the migrant caravan so far, and I’ve spent the last 20 minutes trying to interpret it.  It’s easy to just gloss over the specifics, but I decided to actually try and make sense of what the article claimed to tell me.

It tells me that first of all, the caravan numbers  in the thousandsMost of them are from Honduras.  This is the second paragraph of the article.  But in the 4th paragraph, I’m told that the caravan started with hundreds of people in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.  Google maps showed me that location in northwestern Honduras, close to the border with Guatemala.  Now, after passing through all of Guatemala, the caravan numbers thousands of people and yet most of them are Honduran?  I’m not sure how that makes sense, but I suppose it could actually be true.

Mexican officials, I’m told, are trying to navigate between our country’s demands that they stop the migrants, and their commitment to migrants’ rights.  First off, I think our leadership needs to cool their jets.  It’s not our job to tell Mexico (or Guatemala, or Honduras) how to enforce their borders.  Clearly, as this article demonstrates, that control is illusory at best.  If Mexico wants to let thousands of unknown people wander through their country, so be it.  They claim to be carefully processing everyone and I hope that they are – that’s the responsible thing to do.  President Trump or anyone else shouldn’t be telling them what or how to do things.

Of course, the understanding is that the only reason this is being paid attention to is that it fuels the fires for conflicts here at home over immigration.  I was  very impressed that this article characterized the two sides of our domestic debate more fairly than I typically see or hear.  One side supports legal immigration and the enforcement of federal immigration law.  The other side has some people who support abolishing ICE and [establishing] open borders.  I think that’s a reasonable  description of the sides.

Publicity of this caravan only is helpful to the latter side.  By highlighting the humanitarian crisis of these people, pressure will be put to bear on anyone who denies them entry into their country – ours or otherwise.  Those who support immigration control can use this as an example of why we need to protect our borders, but frankly, that’s an obvious assertion anyways.  I don’t know of many countries in the world – all right, any – who don’t control their borders.  I don’t know of any countries who don’t have policies about how to handle people who want to come into their country.

Except maybe Mexico and Guatemala, who seem to have some policies but are fine with disregarding them.  I’m not sure I’d agree to welcome with open arms a mob that tears down fences and demands entry on the basis of wanting a better life.  The want is valid.  The means, not so much.

Our country has policies as well, but there are people who apparently don’t like them and think we should ignore them.  I maintain that if we don’t like our immigration policies, we need to rewrite the laws rather than simply decide if we want to enforce them or not.  Doing so is actually a benefit to potential immigrants – it allows them to know what to expect if and when they reach our borders.  It’s far more humanitarian to actually establish and follow laws and procedures and policies, rather than leave it up to the whims of an official or bureaucrat as to whether they are enforced or not.

All of which misses the main point.  If San Pedro Sula – and by extension all of Honduras – is riddled with crime, why aren’t we pressuring or helping the Hondurans to establish some sort of rule of law?  Why is there absolutely no talk of why people are fleeing Honduras, only what we should do with them if or when they reach our borders?  Isn’t  the main humanitarian crisis in Honduras then, not making it’s way through Mexico?  And if these people come from such a corrupt, crime-infested country, and if they’re willing to disregard international rules of law regarding how to enter a country, then why in the world wouldn’t we carefully screen and scrutinize them before allowing them into our country?

I’m all for being merciful and responding to the plight of others, but unfortunately this article doesn’t do any of that, and neither are either of our political parties.  Similar to the refugee and immigrant crisis Europe has faced over the last few years prompted by the civil war in Syria, the major issue shouldn’t be how to put these people into new countries and cultures, but rather how to make sure that these people don’t have to leave home in the first place.  Humanitarian efforts, or democratic efforts shouldn’t be a political football here at home.

But I digress.

The second issue is (continued from my paragraph four) the issue of migrant rights.  What rights, precisely, does someone have who comes to the border of a country and asks to be let in?  I think most people would agree that the only practical rights are the rights that the country gives them.  If I show up on the border of Canada and want to come in and live there, I should expect that they should ask me some questions.  I should expect that this may take some time.  I may not get in right away.  I may have to stay on this side of their border until they know whether or not they want to let me in.  If I’m requesting humanitarian aid, then likely the wait is better than whatever I’m facing on this side of the border.  Hopefully they’ll offer me some food or something.  Perhaps they’ll have an internment area where I can stay if my safety or health is in danger.  Politically speaking, that would be very kind and generous of them.  I’m not sure it’s a  right of mine as an immigrant that they would be ethically bound to honor, or honor beyond a certain point.

I can say as a Christian that I might be tasked with providing a  migrant with assistance.  Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbor makes pesky business of these issues of geo-political boundaries.  I can’t not love the person standing in front of me because of their immigration status.  If they’re in front of me and I can help, I probably should.

However that does NOT mean I must support open borders or no immigration enforcement.  There is nothing in the Bible that I can see as a clear mandate to ignore the rule of law and ignore national laws and borders.  I can see lots of places in Scripture that call me to respect and honor them as much as I can while maintaining my faith and worship of God.  And it doesn’t mean that if someone is here illegally and suffering that I’m under no obligation to show love to them.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it works just the other way.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to support legislation that provides a legal support framework carte blanche for people who come to this country.  We live in a broken and sinful world and therefore need to be wise in how we do things.  That includes immigration.  Wise, but compassionate.  Firm, but loving.  Those can be hard things to manage.  Just another of those tensions we are called to live in, Biblically.

If a stranger shows up pounding at my door at 3 am and demanding help, what do I do?  First off, it’s not unreasonable to try and ensure the safety of myself and my family before I open the door.  I may choose to yell back and forth through the door with this person until I have a better idea of who they are and if they pose a threat to me.  Let’s say I open the door to talk and find out what’s going on.  What rights does this person have?  What can they demand of me?  Can they demand that I let them sleep on my couch just because it’s raining and they don’t have a place to stay?  Perhaps.  But that’s a contextual decision, not a policy.  We’ve actually opened our home to someone we only just met so they had a place to stay for the night.  It was an unusual situation in which we were pretty sure we were not going to be robbed or killed or otherwise harmed.  But it would be lunacy and irresponsibility to say that we had to make that offer to anyone who demanded it of us.

I may not let the person in my house to dry off or sleep on the couch.  Sorry, but I have responsibilities to my family to consider first.  That doesn’t mean I’m unloving.  Nor does it mean I can just slam the door on them and feel justified.  As a Christian I should still desire to be of help if I can.  Maybe it’s giving them an umbrella or a jacket.  Maybe it’s offering to pay for a hotel room.  Maybe it’s directing them to the local warming center.  Maybe it’s taking them there.  Situations vary.  Responses vary.  I’ll undoubtedly end up making a few mistakes here and there.  I desire to do good but I’m not perfect or omniscient.  Knowing that, I try to err on the side of caution without losing love for this person as a creation of God’s.

Is that not a reasonable analogy?  Explain to me how it isn’t, other than a matter of scale and degrees of separation in terms of me personally having to deal with the situation.

On the national level it gets trickier, but I think the same principles hold true.  We need to deal with people in love as much as we can, but that doesn’t mean that they get to dictate what that love is and how it looks and feels.  It’s complicated, but it’s not rocket science necessarily.  Think about how you would handle the situation in the middle of the night at your own home, and then extend those principles to the national level.  Quit screaming at each other and figure out something that works.  Act like adults instead of petulant children.  Lives are at stake here – we owe it to those truly in need to figure out how best to help them.

Then we can try to help people so that they can stay in their homes safely rather than trekking thousands of miles to a new place and being subjected to all of the dangers and inconveniences that entails.




More Doomsday

October 17, 2018

If death from nuclear war or a massive decline in bug population wasn’t enough to make you jittery, perhaps this little article will.  One in ten people is more than 90 days in default on their student loans.  Student loan debt has grown by 157% in just over a decade.   What does that mean?  Over $1.5 trillion dollars in existing student loan debt.  Interest rates on student loans have topped 5% for undergraduate loans and are nearly 7% for advanced degrees.

Yet one cited expert in the article posits the student loan debt rise isn’t nearly a crisis on the scale of the housing collapse a decade ago.  He claims the difference is that student loan debt isn’t systemic.  I’m not sure what he means by that, considering earlier in the article another expert described the situation as systemic.  Elsewhere the article reported a further increase in the number of people living at home with their parents still by age 35.  Generations of people are unable to do the things their parents did by their late 20’s and 30’s because they’re saddled with massive student loan debt and, surprise surprise, aren’t able to find jobs that enable them to continue paying it off.

Meanwhile, tuition rates are basically at all-time highs and continue  to climb.  Why not?  If people are being groomed to see college education as an absolute necessity for future financial security, of course people are going to keep taking out loans to pursue that education.

Those most likely to default on their loans?  People who attended for-profit schools, minorities, and those who started on their education but didn’t finish.  Also, as a whole it’s the smaller loans that are defaulted on, rather than the big, six-figure loans.  Those who spend a lot of money to get advanced schooling for careers in law and medicine tend to be better able to repay their loans.

Meanwhile, the government just keeps handing out loans.  After all, it’s not  the government’s money.  It’s yours.  And mine.

I don’t know how any financially sensible person could see this situation as anything but a massive bubble waiting to burst, and burst it eventually will.  At which point I’m sure the effects will be very systemic.  And pervasive.  Destruction by nukes, bugs, or financial meltdown.  At least we have options to place our bets on.


Heir of the Dog

October 15, 2018

Here’s a good essay by well-respected author and academic Gene Veith.  He asks the question whether adults should still be held culpable – even prosecutable – for crimes they committed as minors.

His basic point, one that is reflected in many of our legal forms and procedures (such as – in general – treating minors accused or convicted of offenses differently than adults, including lighter punishments and the possibility of having their criminal records as minors expunged or sealed permanently), is that we generally understand that children are children and held to different standards of accountability.  We all did things as  children that, having attained some level of maturity or at least age, we wouldn’t repeat.  The why we wouldn’t repeat might be sketchier – is it just a better understanding of legal ramifications or actual recognition that words or actions once somehow judged appropriate never really are?  But barring some extreme situations, I don’t presume to judge the character of an adult based on some random fact about their childhood, especially if what I know of them as an adult outweighs that random incident.  Such as, say, eating glue in third grade.

There are also times when a minor commits one or more crimes so heinous that they are no longer treated as children but as adults, because the fundamentals at play ought to be understandable even by someone under the age of 18.  There’s a line between adulthood and being a minor, but it can be a permeable one, as well as an inconsistent or inaccurate one.

What interests me, tangentially to this conversation, is our obsession as a culture with beginning to rescind honors and accomplishments by individuals based on a later-discovered moral failing or flaw, perhaps an isolated incident but more typically of an ongoing nature.  I first wondered about this with Bill Cosby.

For example, his honorary degree from Penn University was revoked in February 2018 as the nagging rumors of sexual foul play finally materialized and were acted upon, leading to his conviction and a 3-10 year prison sentence.  Wikipedia claims Cosby has over 70 honorary degrees from various institutions.  Many rescinded those degrees once his misdoings were verified.  Other institutions did not revoke their degrees, such as Virginia Commonwealth University.  Other schools removed the names of prominent honorees from buildings because of either real or perceived transgressions.

Obviously Cosby’s sexual behavior is deplorable and deserves punishment.  However on the flip side, does  such behavior counteract or overwrite a person’s other achievements?  Is this a binary thing – where you are either an accomplished professional or a disgusting criminal?  Can you only be one or the other?

That is problematic to me, as I don’t know many binary people.  I know many people who have wonderful characteristics but also who have some characteristics I don’t like so much.  And of course in my vocation as pastor, I am called upon to hear confession from time to time.  Very personal and specific confessions of actual bad or even illegal things people have done in their past.  And I am then charged and privileged to declare the forgiveness of Jesus Christ to that person, and to mean it.  I’m not allowed to distance myself from that person afterwards because what they confessed was too heinous.

Yes, there is a difference between the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and potential  legal liability for one’s actions.  But again, this isn’t a  binary thing.  We’re all guilty of some infractions real or imagined, large or small.  Did we make a full stop at that stop sign?  How often are we going over the speed limit?  Yet we generally say that such things don’t negate the good things a person has done or accomplished in their life. Sure, you ran that stop sign, but we’re not going to take away your Nobel Peace Prize because of it. 

As a Biblical Christian, I hold the tension that says that each of us is capable of amazing acts of love and grace, and at the same time capable of amazingly hurtful, cruel, even criminal behaviors.  The person is the same, capable of both sides of the coin, and therefore not binary.  Perhaps for short periods of time, but when considering the work and span of a person’s life, only in rare cases (Hitler, duh?) can we say that a particular person was practically universally bad.  Or good.

St. Paul fleshes this out in his amazing words in Romans 7.  This reality that we all live with – that there is a continual battle within us between the sinful and evil me, and the holy and righteous me.  I’m not binary.  By putting my faith in Jesus Christ, both mes exist within me – for the moment.  Only one is going to last, however.  Eventually I will be binary – I will be completely and only perfect.  But until that day, when Jesus returns and ushers in a new creation, I remain both saint and sinner.  The traditional theological phrase is simul iustice et peccatorAt the same time righteous/just and a sinner.

What this should lead to is not a glossing over or ignoring of sin, but the recognition that someone might be capable of a great sin, and yet still capable of accomplishing something great and praiseworthy, either before or after the period of time when they perpetrated the great sin.  It allows me to condemn Mr. Cosby for his sexual violence against women while recognizing that he is a legitimately gifted comedian, actor, and even thinker.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  And just as the sin needs to be punished, the gift remains worthy of praise.

And such praise is necessary, every bit as necessary as the punishment of sin or illegality is.

If  we’re only going to acclaim the admirable works of perfect people, we have nothing left to praise.  Nothing at all.  Which means what remains would be to determine which sins or illegal actions would be severe enough to counteract not only whatever good someone may have done in the past, but any good they might achieve in the future.  (And, for the Lutherans reading, I’m using generic terms and not dealing with a theological argument about whether we on our own are capable of any good works!)

And who will determine what sins or illegal actions those are?  And on what basis?  And what happens when a sin that is at one point considered heinous is eventually not viewed as a sin at all?  Can we counteract not the punishment that was due, but also the praise that was scrubbed out?  I don’t think so.

Hopefully Mr. Cosby learns from his sins and their consequences.  Not only that, I hope that others in positions of power or influence or wealth learn that such behavior is wrong.  Always.  But his accolades and accomplishments need to remain in the public eye as well, as reminders of what is possible despite our shortcomings, our failures, our sins, and as encouragement to others that good can be accomplished even if they get off to the wrong start.

The Politics of Freedom

September 28, 2018

I didn’t watch the hearings yesterday.  I’ve followed the headlines in the papers and online.  I know the basic gist of what was going to be said.  I didn’t expect many surprises and there don’t appear to be many.  We’re left more or left where all of this started.  Two people.  Two narratives.

But let’s back up for a minute.  What may or may not be established about what may or may not have happened decades ago with these two people is not the issue.  It isn’t about that night.  It isn’t even about the intervening 30-some years.  It’s about the freedom to believe in something others disagree with, and the lengths people can go to in order to stop those beliefs from spreading.

Let’s start with some different assumptions from the partisan screaming out there.  Let’s assume that both these people are being as honest as they are capable of.  That they are operating out of lifetimes of integrity.

I assume Christine believes her memories of that night and has correspondingly been impacted by that night and those memories in very specific ways.  I assume most all of those ways are negative and painful which is a horrible thing to have to deal with.  It is horrible for any woman.  It should not be something any woman has to deal with.

I assume Brett believes his memories of that night, and will correspondingly be impacted by these accusations regarding that night in very specific ways.  I assume most all of those ways  are and will be negative and painful which is a horrible thing to have to deal with.  Nobody should have to deal with those things – man or woman.

None of that is why the world was watching and listening yesterday, although I assume a great many people thought it was.  No, the world was watching and listening ultimately because of politics.  Because of a carefully planned and orchestrated effort to derail the nomination of a man who holds views that others disagree with.

It really isn’t about Christine because she wasn’t sought out in order to help her deal with her memories of that night, to provide healing and relief as necessary.  There are many women who suffer similar things.  They weren’t sought out.  She was sought out specifically because her understanding of that night involved a man poised to become a Supreme Court justice for life and there are people  who are committed to preventing that from happening.  Because for these people, Brett is a bad man not because of what he did or didn’t do 35 years ago, but because of what he actively believes right now and for his entire professional life.  Christine is only useful towards this end.  She has been used, no doubt about it.  Perhaps she is willing to be used towards this end.  Perhaps she is willing to be used because she agrees with the ultimate goal of preventing Brett from being appointed and thus preventing the things he believes from being promoted.  But she is being used all the same, and it’s no less dignified or honorable than being used for your body.

It isn’t about whether or not Brett is a decent guy.  We’re not talking about a systematic abuser of women.  We aren’t investigating a pattern of dishonesty, a pattern of violence towards women, a pattern of sexual manipulation.  I get the impression that both sides are pretty much agreed that his life has been a consistent one of integrity and professionalism.  Certainly that understanding could change over time if there are more accusers.

He simply has the misfortune of believing things others disagree with.  And in order to stop those beliefs from potentially altering policy and law, they are willing to destroy him.  They are willing to destroy Christine as well.  This is not a #metoo issue.  This is politics.

Conservatives have done similar things in the past to liberal nominees – I’m not trying to make a partisan argument here.  Lives are smashed and destroyed for convenience and to serve a hazy and vaguely defined greater good – a greater good the American people themselves are divided on.

The goal is not justice or truth.  The issue is freedom.  The goal is ideological dominance at any cost.  Neither Christine or Brett receive justice in this  process and the truth is still largely in the mind of the beholders.

And know full well that you could be in the hot seat next.  Even if you aren’t a lawyer or a judge.  Even if you aren’t a politician.  Because politics affects everyone in this age of near-instantaneous and universal communication and coverage.   You might be used to destroy someone else.  Or you might be the person destroyed.

But hey, it’s nothing personal.  It may not even be true.  It’s just politics.

Interesting Read

September 7, 2018

How do you articulate an identity in the face of an overwhelming alternative narrative?  Where do you begin?  What do you identify both as the strengths and challenges of the alternative?  What critique do you offer against the prevailing alternative narrative?

It might look something like this.