Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

COVID Risks

November 3, 2020

A good reminder that the risks of COVID are not restricted to the physiological illness we are conditioned every day to fear, but also the psychological (and I would argue spiritual) side effects that prolonged isolation bring on. This article reminds us there are lots of risks, and many of them won’t show up in a mucus sample.

Mobs and Justice

September 25, 2020

Once again there are mobs floating around major cities in our country demanding justice after the decision of a grand jury not to indict any of the police officers involved in the tragic shooting death of Breonna Taylor. The range of these protests is typically broad, from peaceful protests to more violent protests. The Los Angeles Times reported about two cars that “plowed” through protestors, implying guilt on the part of the drivers, though when you actually read the article it’s far from clear that’s necessarily the best characterization of what happened.

First off, a reminder that protests which block traffic are illegal, though some states allow protestors to block streets if they obtain a permit in advance. But a mob of people arbitrarily deciding to block traffic is in itself an illegal act – pretty much all the time as far as my limited Internet research shows. I’m happy to be proved wrong with appropriate links in the comments section. This document from the ACLU indicates as much. Blocking traffic is in itself illegal, an irony somehow lost in the shuffle of cries for justice, which clearly then are cries for justice in certain situations rather than others, problematic in the least. And needless to say, attacking vehicles and their drivers is very, very illegal, very much against the idea of justice the protestors claim to be demanding. At least one of the vehicles in the LA Times article received extensive damage from protestors who were angered it didn’t want to stop. The car that struck one of the protestors is also said to have damage on it, damage the driver claims was inflicted on the vehicle first and which caused the driver to try and escape the crowd.

Complicated stuff at best, though the headlines certainly wouldn’t lead the casual reader to that conclusion. I don’t think they intend to, frankly.

The cry for justice in this situation is also problematic. The death of anyone is a tragedy, and certainly the death of someone in their own home at the hands of public agents of any kind is additionally odious and should call for investigation. However, investigation actually did happen. The cries and protests for justice come after a grand jury determined no criminal charges were appropriate against the officers involved for Taylor’s death. The officers weren’t cleared of wrong doing by an internal investigation but by a grand jury. A grand jury is a means for determining possible offenses in a situation and lodging official charges to be pursued in a court of law. A grand jury is made up of private citizens, similar to the jury in a court case. They are assembled and tasked with determining to the best of their ability whether a crime has or hasn’t been committed.

So the crowds blocking roads and attacking motorists in a demand for justice are ignoring the fact that justice has already been applied. Typically 16-23 people are assembled for a grand jury and a majority of them must agree a crime was committed and indicate which law was broken. So the majority of the people on the grand jury for this case determined the police officers did not violate a law.

That doesn’t mean Taylor’s death isn’t tragic. It doesn’t mean that perhaps the existing laws might need to change, and already there is discussion towards that end regarding the serving of no-knock warrants, where police can enter a home without prior notification or warning. Of course there are also reasons why such warrants exist, such as protecting officers from a coordinated, deadly response to their ringing of the doorbell or knocking on the door. In this particular case the man they were looking for – an ex-boyfriend’s of Taylor – was not there. Yet her current boyfriend was there, and he was armed, and he opened fire on officers first.

I don’t hear the protestors talking much about that. Clearly, this is a more complicated situation than some people would like it to be. Some details don’t contribute to a story of an innocent young woman shot to death in her own home by reckless and uncaring agents of the State. Apparently the majority of the grand jury realized this as they explored the facts of the case.

So what is justice then? If the due process of the law is inadequate, what do the protestors suggest as an alternative? Is it a matter of mob justice, so to speak, where if enough people scream and yell and threaten and destroy property, they determine the appropriate verdict in a trial? Is this justice? Do what we demand or we destroy things?

Grand juries have been around for over 800 years and are part of a cherished and celebrated legal process and set of protections against mob justice or the arbitrary whims of power. They’re intended to provide as much assurance as possible that a crime really has – or hasn’t – been committed, regardless of which persons or powers demand an outcome to suit their own preferences or interests. Against this what do the protestors suggest as an alternative?

Deadly force is deadly serious, without a doubt. That’s something police officers are trained to recognize and to which they are at least theoretically held accountable. They are also responsible for performing dangerous work like serving warrants on premises or for people that are known to be dangerous and capable of killing them. That’s a lot of pressure to be under, even for professionals, and something the law seeks to take into account. I also assume the man who fired on those police officers when they entered the home understands that deadly force is deadly serious, and if you’re going to pull a gun and start shooting immediately rather than waiting to assess the situation a bit better, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re probably more comfortable with deadly force than the average person. Cries for justice ought to reasonably include why this man opened fire immediately.

Bad things happen. Sometimes bad things happen because of bad people, and in those situations the bad people should be held accountable. But not all bad things are matters of injustice or a matter of bad people. This is something that should be – and is – evident regardless of your ethnicity. Yet even ethnic minorities are denounced and vilified if they question or disagree with the mob justice mindset that insists on a particular verdict. Do the mobs have all the details and information the grand jury did? Is their shouting and blocking traffic a superior insight into the happenings of that fateful day? Does their anger somehow trump whatever facts are available?

Should it? Is that how we want verdicts reached – by whoever screams the loudest or makes the most intimidating threats?

Are the protestors demanding an end to grand juries? Are they demanding that police be disbanded? Are they demanding an end to no-knock warrants? Are they demanding a particular charge and conviction of murder in this particular case? Are they demanding other things not specific to this case but part of a larger agenda of change? And how will they respond if a larger or more vocal or more violent group of protestors shows up and demands just the opposite? Who decides who is right? Is it just a matter of starting to shoot and stab each other and see who is left at the end of the exchange? Or do we rather place our faith in a good albeit imperfect system of law, knowing that sometimes injustices will go unpunished, but that far more often than not justice will be done, and can be relied on to be done without protests and threats and violence?

If the laws need to be changed then work for change. But that change involves not simply making demands under threat of violence but wrestling with the difficult realities of a sinful and broken world where many bad people exist, and where most of them probably don’t wear a badge. If you want to agitate for change then know what it is you’re agitating for as well as what you’re agitating against. Because tragedy happens every single day. This doesn’t make it less tragic. But compounding tragedy with riots and threats of violence does make it more tragic, especially if you don’t really understand what it is you’re asking for or protesting against.

The Christian Life and Social Media

September 12, 2020

Thanks to Chuck for sharing an article with me about a missionary pastor in the United Kingdom facing calls for his deportation and the burning down of his church because he expressed views on Facebook offensive to the LGBTQ+ community.

All of which is pretty predictable these days, but once again raises the purpose of social media for Christians. Social media has become ubiquitous and touted as a place of self-expression. However self-expression is routinely being attacked when it doesn’t conform to minority opinions about sexuality and gender issues, not to mention politics in general.

I deleted my Facebook account about a year ago and I haven’t missed it for a single moment. Not one. The concept that was so attractive 13 years ago – being able to stay in touch with people in your life you might otherwise lose touch with – is not the reality. It’s now a place to scream your views and heap abuse on those who disagree with you – even if those people by some miracle are still friends with you on Facebook, surviving the common calls several years ago to purge ourselves of anyone who disagrees with us. I observed a few strange things, to say the least.

Colleagues who are pastors and literally make their Facebook identity their professional one puzzle me. Don’t you have any people in your life you relate to as other than a pastor? Does every single one of your family & friends have your vocation as pastor as the primary means of interacting with you? It seemed odd to me, at the very least. I know a lot of people through a lot of different venues, and my vocation as pastor only comes into play in a certain number of them. As such I tried to keep that in mind on the rare occasions I would post anything. I wanted to be aware of and considerate of not just what I said but how I said it.

I found (and continue to find it odd when I hear about it through my wife or other people) that someone who emphasizes their vocation as a pastor on social media feels as though advocating for a particular political party or platform is appropriate on social media. Again, are the only people they’re friends with on Facebook people who share their opinions on everything? If so, why the need to say something in the first place? And if not, why say something that could be deeply hurtful to people who love you but disagree with you?

Particularly for clergy I find this an egregious misuse of social media. It is a blurring of the line between being who we are and being honest and authentic, and the divine directive to operate with love in all things and to be very cautious of what we say or do – even if we’re right – that might hurt or cause another person to wander away from or further away from God. And when those social media comments call into question the very faith of someone who disagrees with a social or economic or political policy? Good grief people – what are you thinking!?

Some might argue that we have to raise our voices in social media as well as everywhere else, that otherwise Biblical Christian faith gets overwhelmed and drowned out by the discordant clamorings of any number of other ideas and ideologies. It would be good to remember that as near as we can tell the Christian faith did not grow and spread by screaming and shouting at random passersby, but in small acts of love and interpersonal giving and even sacrifice. Tragically the Church is more accustomed these days to thinking in terms of market share rather than trusting the power of God the Holy Spirit to work through the least of his sheep towards not just the transformation of culture but the salvation of souls.

Jesus directs his followers to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. I tend to suspect that if we are to place the emphasis in the proper place, it should be on the latter rather than the former. There is no shortage of serpents in this world – wise or otherwise. But there can never be enough doves.

I’d urge Christians to reconsider social media in general. What does it accomplish? How do you feel when you’re scrolling through your feed? What sort of emotions and responses does it stir inside of you? Is your social media experience true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise? Or are you more often stirred to irritation or anger or offense or lust or sorrow or shame? I won’t advocate for dumping social media, but I do advocate for proper, appropriate, and critical/thoughtful use of it. Simply the fact that you’ve been using it for a long time or everyone else is using it hardly justifies something that may be personally harmful to you.

Yes, anti-Christian rhetoric is on the rise in social media and elsewhere. Yes, it is horrible that people threatening bodily harm, economic injury, and destruction of property are sanctioned and not seen as a threat whereas someone simply stating a contradictory belief is viewed as a dangerous threat to be eradicated. Yes it is unfair. Yes it is wrong. But simply mirroring those tactics and that rhetoric is not only not going to be ineffective, it’s outright disobedient to how we are called by God to deal with a very dangerously sinful world. Not just a sinful world around us but a sinful world within us. Giving reign to that internal sinfulness is just as dangerous or perhaps more so than the dangerous sin around us. We are called first and foremost to be obedient to what God has called us to, regardless of whether this accomplishes the other social or political or cultural ends we would like it to.

Speak the truth but speak it in love. I’m increasingly skeptical of whether that’s possible through a megaphone or social media.

Pastors in Pandemics

September 9, 2020

The message came early in the evening during preparations for dinner. A member who had fallen and been hospitalized had slipped into unconsciousness. They were non-responsive and not expected to recover. They were coming home for hospice care, and would I come to pray with the family?

It was my first home visitation in six months.

I can’t describe how good it felt to spend time with a parishioner in their home. Preaching and teaching has been enough of a struggle these past six COVID months. But actually spending time with people where they live is another aspect of pastoral ministry I really miss. Not chit-chatty social calls but spending time in prayer during important moments, whether it’s after the birth of a child or near the end of someone’s life. To be where people live, to – COVID be damned – breathe their air, that’s when and where you learn the most about people. People may appreciate a sermon or enjoy a Bible study but when you’re with them one-on-one in their home, real connection can be made. Relationship is strengthened and deepened.

Pastor’s are uniquely privileged in this respect as we get to be with people in their homes without at least some of the angst caused by hosting a social visit. Few other professions meet with people in their homes (at least under good circumstances!). As a seminary professor once drilled it into our heads, it is part of a noble task. I try not to take my privilege lightly.

The home is the primary locale for life. I suspect American Christianity has missed a great opportunity in trying to position the church buildings or grounds as the most important space in people’s lives when it’s obviously their home. Sometimes ministry needs a different and larger space but ministry began in the home, whether it was Adam and Eve in the beginning or Jesus and his disciples having dinner with Mary and Martha and Lazarus. And unless the home is recognized as just as much the abode of God the Holy Spirit as the sanctuary, the sanctuary will eventually dwindle in significance.

I wish it was a happier occasion for this first visitation in six months. Then again, praying over (and with) someone who has lived a long and vibrant life and has a deep and abiding trust in Jesus as their Savior is a really good thing. To know that he’s now at peace, awaiting the final Day, the great reunion that won’t ever end, that’s not a bad thing. Not by a long shot. It’s an honor and a privilege to remind people of that even in their grief. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Encouraging Community

September 7, 2020

She came in person to ask for help.

We chatted for a few minutes in the office. She was new to the area. She made a bad decision and purchased a car “as-is” from a private seller for $2000. Then she found out the car needed another $2000 in repairs. Perhaps our community could take up a collection to assist her. She had documentation she was enrolled in a city safe-parking program – she could sleep in her car in a designated lot somewhere in the city where she wouldn’t be hassled and would hopefully be safe. She was homeless, but not without resources and was open to assistance. She had applied for employment. Her area code was on the East Coast, but she declined to divulge where she was from.

I told her I’d make some calls and get back to her. I knew I wasn’t willing to try and come up with $2000 for her. But perhaps I could get her a free second opinion on the repairs, or perhaps a discounted rate on the repairs. I called a congregational member in his final year of law school to see if she might have any Lemon Law recourse in our state. I apprised my Elder of the situation to get his feedback. He thought the congregation could provide some limited assistance from a benevolence fund we have set up, but was skeptical of extensive help – and rightly so. When she called back later in the afternoon I didn’t have more information and told her I’d be in touch the next day. When asked, she was pretty confident the seller of the car wasn’t going to be of any help in defraying expenses.

The next day I had word back from the law student that her options were slim. When she called – very proactive! – I explained the situation.

I am asked for help on a somewhat regular basis. Sometimes it’s by phone. Sometimes they stop by the office. Sometimes they want $20 in gas or help with food. After nearly a decade of working in the recovery community here, I’m more aware of both the myriad issues that can drive people to ask for help as well as some of the local resources available to assist them. So rather than reaching for my wallet I often refer them to one of these resources. They invariable are uninterested. Usually that’s the end of the encounter.

But I’ve also taken up the practice of suggesting they join us for worship, that they meet our community. After all, I’m convinced that the underlying issue for many people in dire need is a lack of community. For whatever reason(s), they don’t have people around them who know them and care about them and can be of help. We can try to target mental health or housing or substance abuse or any number of presenting problems for homelessness, but without a community, any solution is going to be temporary at best.

So I invited her to worship with us on Sunday and said I’d talk with her then about how we could help. At the very least I’d be willing to purchase her a bus pass so she could get around if her vehicle proved unreliable. She thanked me and said she’d be there. She remained calm and didn’t argue or protest.

She actually came on Sunday.

Forty-five minutes early, but she was there. She was greeted by various people in the congregation as she sat enjoying the sun on the hottest day of the year. She listened to the musicians warming up. I walked her out and got her a bulletin and made an introduction or two. Just a few moments before worship started there was a knock on my door. In the hallway was my wife and this woman, both smiling and talking. The woman asked again for financial assistance. She had spent the previous night making a list of her most pressing needs. She had a line on someone willing to help her out with her car repairs, and the biggest need she identified was fees to have a background check run on her and to apply for work as a home health care assistant. I told her I’d cover those expenses the next day.

I assumed she was leaving before the service started, once she had a pledge of assistance. But to my pleasant surprise she stayed through half the service. I had committed to help her and I was going to do that whether she stayed or not. But her willingness to participate at least somewhat was very heartening.

However the next day was Labor Day and her potential employer was closed.

Tuesday she was in touch again and we coordinated to meet at a notary and then at the employment office. I paid her fees for her and she thanked me. I cleared it with my wife first – who agreed it was a good thing to do and had appreciated meeting the woman on Sunday morning. I notified my Elder of what I was doing.

I don’t know if we’ll see her again. I’m hoping we will. She indicated she had some sort of church background but didn’t elaborate or explain. But she read through our statement of faith regarding Holy Communion. And she engaged me on part of it she misread as saying we needed to be worthy to receive Holy Communion. I clarified it was a warning against receiving it unworthily – presuming our deserving of God’s grace or in denial of our sinfulness. She seemed satisfied by this. She left shortly after I started my sermon, but by that time she’d been there for nearly an hour and a half, so I can’t entirely blame her.

I think people were friendly and let her know she was welcome so I hope she’ll be back. I hope she’ll appreciate that she was responded to not simply in terms of a financial need but in terms of community and a place to belong and be safe. I know the odds of this all working out are slim. That doesn’t bother me in terms of money spent. It worries me for her and her future. Because what she needs ultimately isn’t just a job or a reliable car but people around her who love her. And more deeply than that, she needs a relationship with the God who created her and loves her more deeply than anyone else ever can or will. Maybe we can be a part of that story, her return to faith or nourishment in the faith or whatever it is. I can’t control that part of her story, I can only seek to be faithful and open to whatever part in her story our congregation can fulfill.

Times are hard all over right now. We can and should be open to the needs of others, even when we’re trying to socially distance and protect one another. One of the ways we do this is through hospitality. It’s a curious word that is difficult to work with in our American culture that, even before COVID-19 struggled with hyper-individualism and a heightened level of distrust and fear of anyone beyond immediate family members.

So hospitality is complicated for us. We like the idea but frequently because we define it improperly. A seminary professor teaching on 1 Timothy 3 once glossed over hospitality as being nice. A recent article in a denominational publication mentioned ordering food via GrubHub or tipping additional when picking up food during our COVID-19 pandemic as forms of hospitality. But being nice isn’t hospitality, although a host will be nice as they are being hospitable. And being generous is not being hospitable, though a good host almost by definition is a generous one. Hospitality involves a relationship established when an outsider is invited to become an insider. Into the home or family or community. And we struggle with that as American Christians.

Yet we’re called by God to be hospitable (Isaiah 58:7, Genesis 18, Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 3:2, Hebrews 13:2, just to name a few) both by exhortation and command as well as by example. So being of help to people isn’t necessarily just a matter of writing a check or handing out some cash. That may be part of the equation as well, but we have the opportunity to establish a relationship that goes beyond giver and recipient, beyond excess and need, and instead that crosses the chasm between insider and outsider.

It doesn’t always work and hosts can’t force people to be guests, can’t force people to receive hospitality, and can’t force people to come in from the outside. But we can and should create that opportunity when and how the Holy Spirit prompts us. Because there’s more going on than a meal or repairs for a vehicle. God the Holy Spirit is at work seeking to draw all people back to the God the Father who created them and God the Son who redeemed them. The Holy Spirit’s care and concern goes beyond the immediate to the eternal, and beyond the physical to the totality of a person’s body and spirit. And the Church and the people of God are the place where the Holy Spirit’s work should be most prominent and eminent and palpable.

My decision to help this young woman financially was practicing generosity. But the invitation to her to join us and meet more of our folks and potentially find connections that would stick and begin to form a network of support, a community, a home – that’s part of hospitality. That’s part of trusting you are a piece of someone else’s puzzle in the hands of the Holy Spirit as He seeks to bring wholeness to a broken world. And miracle of miracles, in doing so, we find that those we open ourselves to are pieces in our own puzzle.

Copaganda and History

August 28, 2020

In light of yesterday’s post and the issues swirling in our country at the moment around police, this article detailing copaganda in the United States was very interesting. For those unaware (like myself, about an hour ago), copaganda is a term used to describe a perceived whitewashing of police and their work in our communities. It is a derogatory term, presuming that bucolic and benign depictions of police through programs such as Officer Friendly are patently false, deliberate efforts to brainwash the population (children in particular) into trusting police officers who, in reality, are an implied danger and threat to the population.

Copaganda of course belies a particular point of view. Whether it’s a full on distrust or disavowal of any form of authority or something more particular to the police force is a matter of degree. The underlying assumption is that the police are not there to benefit the population but rather to control and, by extension, fleece it in some way, although the article above doesn’t make clear at all what such whitewashing efforts actually accomplish and how they are dishonest. The fact that sometimes police officers do their jobs poorly – either because they are sinful humans who are prone to error or because they are sinful humans who sometimes deliberately do bad things – is taken as evidence that any positive understanding of police officers in general is false.

While I can’t remember any specific Officer Friendly presentations in school I no doubt had them. The name Officer Friendly is familiar even if the specifics of who might have talked to us and when are lost in the haze of aging memory.

What this and other articles fail to take into account is the rising level of violence in our society over the last century and particularly over the last 60-some years. I can understand why police officers and other law enforcement officials are a bit more reserved and cautious these days, especially in certain areas of town. They face threats that were likely impossible to even conceive of 60 years ago. While perhaps law enforcement has always been described as a field of service where you put your life on the line, it would appear in our country that has only grown more and more true over the passing decades.

But I’ll point out that depictions of police officers as friendly and well-intentioned is not simply a public relations move from the 60’s to 80’s, but rather how our culture as a whole viewed the police and, I would argue, everyone.

I’m philosophically opposed to the practice of binge-watching that seems all the rage these days. But the one series I am working my way through systematically (though slowly) is the original The Twilight Zone series. As a kid I loved when I could find this on Saturday afternoon reruns, and my fondness for the slightly tilted surreal reality hasn’t faded with time or with subsequent, disappointing efforts to revive the series. Combined with this is my sheer amazement at the output of Rod Serling and others associated with the show. Truly impressive from a creative standpoint!

The show is also a fascinating time capsule. It captures the sort of Everyman nuances from mid-century America, nuances that ideas like copaganda directly contradict and claim were false. What I see in those shows is a culture vastly different from today. It doesn’t shirk from portraying bad people, but it’s well-understood that they are bad and wrong and also atypical. The underlying assumption is that most people are honest and well-intentioned, trying to get through life. The trouble-makers and problems invariably end up being those who see themselves as somehow above such mundane matters, as exceptions to the rule, as smarter or better than everyone else. Their assumptions are invariably proven to be wrong, and not just wrong but dangerously wrong. Usually for themselves but also sometimes for many other people or all other people. If there’s a myth that needs dispelling, it might well be the myths of copaganda and exceptionalism that is so prevalent today rather than the boring assumptions of averageness 60 years ago.

In shows like The Twilight Zone, or Andy Griffith or any number of other successful mid-century shows, police are invariably depicted as basically good. Not perfect. Sometimes bumbling. Sometimes bad but in that case it’s clear the badness is their personal issue rather than a systemic problem with police as a concept. These might be futuristic, interstellar police such as in the first season episode The Lonely. They might be more ‘typical’ figures such as in the episode The Night of the Meek, where the policeman functions both as an Everyman kind of figure, a person just like you and I rather than a dark and sinister agent of nefarious groups and ideologies, but also as a protector, as the one charged with being objective when having to determine the truth in a given situation. We’re reminded that left to our own devices we are very capable of misreading others and accusing them of false things based on our preconceptions, and the local police officer who knows his beat and the people on it can serve as a protection for the marginalized. This is a theme also prevalent in Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

It’s not that the series ignores the dangers of abused authority, as in The Obsolete Man. But perhaps closer to the horrors of Hitler and Mussolini, there’s an awareness of a profound difference between human frailty and flawed judgment in a moment of crisis, and a deliberate misuse of power to systematically oppress people. The series as a whole is far more prone to prowl and probe the dark corners of our souls and hearts as common citizens rather than to seek to pin blame on an external person or authority. After all, the abuses (perceived or otherwise) of a group in power are only possible because of the sinfulness and brokenness (as well as the ignorance) in our individual hearts and minds.

Just as telling in these shows is the relatively rare presence of police and other officials. People more often than not have to figure things out for themselves rather than rely on the opinions of anonymous experts or authority figures, whether that involves an interdimensional rescue or a group of neighbors coming to grips with imminent atomic holocaust. If the implication of copaganda is that we are victims of a police state, there’s very little presence of police in these shows. That overall absence also belies the fundamental assumptions that people are essentially trying to be decent and can often, if imperfectly, deal with situations on their own.

It will no doubt be claimed that shows such as The Twilight Zone represent only one slice of human experience, and that however accurate they might be in that one slice they don’t cover every possible experience. That’s true. As it’s true of everything, including copaganda. The fact that some people have negative experiences with the police does not in and of itself prove that all police or the concept of a police force is evil and wrong. Recent events in Seattle where the police were forced out in favor of a presumably better and more benevolent self-rule are good reminders this is true, and that without the restraint provided by an authority presence, we quickly revert, Lord of the Flies style, to a basic system of rule by force and the abuse of the weak and marginalized (even if that category now becomes made up of those who were formerly not marginalized).

It might also be argued that shows like these are less depictions of what is and more wishful thinking about what could or should be, or even of what once was. But I’d argue the depiction of law enforcement in such shows is not attempting to be exceptional or in any way mythic or imaginative. What makes the shows work is that police officers – whether supporting characters or the main character – are believable. The law enforcement characters are not the fantastical ones, and that even if Andy Griffith is a bit stylized, it’s not a character beyond the realm of reality for the viewers. He doesn’t completely contradict reality and experience, even if his even-keeled temperament never gets ruffled in the course of a typical 20-minute episode.

We’re sinful and broken. For some that sinfulness and brokenness is going to be more severe and pose a greater risk to others. In an industrialized and urban society (another factor copaganda doesn’t deal with) where most often neighbors don’t know each other very well and extended family bonds are often non-existent we apparently require a group of people to help maintain order and provide assistance in emergencies. Recent events have shown that though police officers are not perfect (as nobody is!) their presence is far better, ultimately, than an absence of their presence.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. This doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to question certain aspects of law enforcement. And it certainly doesn’t mean than when bad apples are discovered we don’t deal with them. It just means that the presence of bad apples doesn’t necessarily prove a theory of an entire system and everyone in it being corrupt and a threat to the people they claim to serve. And if some police officers have to deal with inner city violence and drug and human trafficking, it doesn’t mean that some others have far more docile beats where they are indeed able to assist in visiting schools and being a proactive positive influence in young people’s lives.

The Talk

August 27, 2020

This article questioning the value of The Talk caught my eye. The column is primarily politically motivated and I’m not going to deal with the political rhetoric that predominates the second half of the article.

I’d like to say to Ms. Brazile that I am not black or a person of color or a minority in the traditional usages of those words in our culture. But I had The Talk as well. I don’t remember the specifics but it was a very clearly communicated lesson. Police are here to protect us and as such we assist towards that end by being polite and deferential. I must be polite and deferential to use Ms. Brazile’s words. But perhaps my must is different than hers and the version of The Talk she seems to imply.

Because while I have no doubt police and other first responders were highlighted as people deserving of our respect and gratefulness, politeness and deference were something I was taught everyone deserved. My parents, my teachers, my neighbors, strangers – everyone. I learned these basic concepts in the classroom. But I also learned them at home. And at home they could explain the deeper reason and reality behind these talks. The reason why others deserved this and it was incumbent upon me (must) to give it is that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And the command He gives me isn’t simply to grudgingly pretend to give politeness and deference but rather to actually love my neighbor, whomever that neighbor happens to be at the moment. And further still, I am commanded to love even my enemies, to pray for those who persecute me (Matthew 5, Luke 6). So it isn’t just a matter of whether I agree with the person in front of me or think they’re doing their job properly or even whether I know for a fact they are doing their job improperly, I am not released from the command to love them. And love encompasses both politeness and deference.

That was my talk, given not just once, and my talks started long before I was a teenager.

The Talk you refer to sounds different. I don’t know or presume to judge what your religious leanings are. And Lord knows in our cultural rejection of the concept of God and the authority of the Bible, lots of alternative concepts are forced into service to convince people how they should live their lives with others. Concepts like tolerance and kindness, things I’ve written about critically here over the years because they can’t possibly replace love your neighbor as yourself.

The Talk you describe sounds a lot like a talk about self-preservation and self-defense. It sounds like a talk aimed at saving someone’s life when something has gone terribly wrong, not as how you ought to be with everyone, all the time. It sounds like a talk that presumes the worst about the police and frankly, everyone else. It sounds like a talk that is ultimately not very convincing because it comes far too late, and is far too limited in scope, and it is likely being given by someone who doesn’t really believe The Talk themselves, though they undoubtedly had a similar talk at some point in their lives.

However I’m going to go out on a limb here and make an assumption and an assertion. And that is that The Talk you refer to is not the first talk or the only talk on this topic. I’m willing to wager that nearly every child in every school room in this country received a talk multiple times at a very early age. A talk aimed at teaching them how to behave with others, to show courtesy and respect to authorities and those older than themselves. A talk, even, that described police and firefighters as heroes who are here to help us.

But what also seems evident is that though nearly every single person in our country probably had those talks, there are some people who either weren’t listening or, more likely, heard other talks as well. Talks that asserted courtesy and politeness and deference weren’t default ways of interacting with other people. That the police were enemies, not friends. That you have to fake politeness and deference because they certainly aren’t warranted. Regardless of the situation.

Ms. Brazile questions the efficacy and appropriateness of The Talk if it isn’t working. But I’ve watched an alleged video of this latest shooting in Kenosha. And as near as I can tell there isn’t an ounce of politeness or deference being demonstrated anywhere in this video. I hear people screaming – which surely can’t help the situation. I hear moments of silence that I assume are blocking out profanity. I see what appears to be a young man struggling against police rather than cooperating with them and apparently ignoring their commands for some reason. It’s not a good quality video, and it might not even be authentic in this age of digital forgeries and deep fakes. But I’m assuming it’s authentic until I learn otherwise, and I’m making that assumption in good faith rather than in an intentional desire to skew things.

The Talk isn’t being followed in this video by any of the bystanders or apparently the young man at the center of it. I don’t know what happened right before this video or right after it. I’m not defending the use of lethal force in this or any other particular situation, though I readily admit lethal force is sometimes necessary and appropriate.

I’m simply observing that for a community of people you assert to have given and received The Talk, none of them are following it, as near as I can tell. Which leads me to question your conclusion – that The Talk is nothing more than wasted words. You assert this young man was innocent and was merely trying to help out a situation, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on in this admittedly grainy and shaky video. Regardless of what this young man thought he was doing or intended to do, it ended up with him disregarding The Talk as you described it. Which means perhaps it isn’t The Talk that’s deficient.

Perhaps it means instead we need to really look closely at the other talks this young man probably heard. Because it’s those talks he appears to be listening to, for whatever reason. And listening to those talks never is helpful to a person. In this case, he appears to have been seriously wounded. But he might have just as easily been injured to a lesser degree while struggling with the police. Or he might just as easily have ended up arrested and charged with resisting arrest or interfering in an officer’s duty or any number of other charges. All of those outcomes are bad. All are tragic. There is no outcome, no situation where ignoring The Talk you describe makes any sense.

So perhaps instead of blaming The Talk, or the police, or systemic racism, we need to examine the other talks young people are hearing. Because those talks don’t seem to be helping anything or anyone.

Kindness Replaces Tolerance

August 18, 2020

I warned about the dangers of the tolerance movement over a decade ago. This was a cultural buzzword aimed at disarming anyone critical over the massive changes being pushed onto our society and culture by a very small minority of people with powerful, well-placed allies in media, education and government. Don’t like the idea of marriage being redefined arbitrarily by the State – or by the individual? You’re not being tolerant.

The danger of the movement was that tolerance flowed only in one direction. Everyone was to be tolerant of the minority opinions of marginalized groups, no matter how small or how outrageous their demands. But nobody needed to be tolerant of long-standing institutions, practices, or beliefs. These were inherently excluded from the mandate to tolerance because they were deemed to be intolerant themselves. A convenient argument that served it’s purposes. Massive changes to our culture were forced through as critics from any quarter were silenced by the demand to be tolerant.

Tolerance hasn’t been heard much in recent years. But a new, related buzzword is rising to prominence – kindness. I was sitting at LAX a few weeks ago and saw a woman and her young children sitting nearby – two of the three of them had shirts touting or demanding or encouraging kindness. Later on landing from various flights, the flight attendants invariably reminded everyone to be kind as they went on their way. An Internet meme showed a letter ending with the exhortation that, if you had to choose between being right and being kind, you should choose being kind.

Kindness is a tricky thing. It sounds good. Who doesn’t want to be kind, after all? Kind, nice, these are words in our cultural that hold appeal. They’re often wrapped up in the explanations we give about how we want people to be. Don’t we want our kids to be nice?

I guess it depends on how you’re defining the term, and that’s the slippery part. Ultimately, as a follower of Jesus Christ and an adherent of the Bible as the sole infallible repository of instructions and examples of what that means, I want my children to be loving. Kind as a variation of loving might work, but kind in substitution for loving will never work. Not for very long. This was my critique of the tolerance mantra as well – it’s a lousy substitute for love. So is kindness.

Biblically, kindness isn’t a major theme. More often than not in the Old Testament when a translation (such as the English Standard Version) employs the word kindness in translation, it’s referring to God’s disposition to us, the Hebrew term chesed. Otherwise, kindness is sometimes the Hebrew word shalom, which more commonly is associated with peace. But peace isn’t necessarily a word we use as much today and so kindness is used instead (Genesis 37:4, for example). Kindness is not a common Old Testament term (if you do a word search for kind, be aware that more often than not the results refer to the translators use of the word kind as a synonym for type).

In the New Testament when translators employ the word kind, they are translating a variety of Greek words with a fair variance of meaning, such as epiekeia (also meaning gentleness), philanthropos (courteously or, more literally, humanely), chrestos (good) (Luke 6:35 – the only place in the Gospels where the ESV makes use of the word kind in translation). This Greek term word chrestos in various forms is the primary word translated as kind by the ESV.

The Bible is far more apt to talk about love, and specifically exhorting followers of Jesus Christ to love rather than to be kind.

Kindness as a metaphor or synonym for love would then be an appropriate goal for my children or for myself. But kindness as a replacement for love doesn’t work. Not for long. Kindness has too many problematic connotations. It’s possible to be kind without love. Kindness is more perfunctory, more a matter of how things are done rather than why things are done. I could imagine someone to be kind who was merely very good at superficial displays. Someone who aspires to be kind has no problem with saying whatever wants to be heard, pretending to agree with whatever is requested. In fact any number of things we consider to be quite bad in general could be justified under the banner of kindness. The goal is to spare hard feelings or difficult conversations or unpleasant disagreements. The goal is not necessarily what is best, or true, or right.

Love recognizes that there must be a best and a true and a right and sometimes, unfortunately, in the name of love we must confront people with this reality who would rather believe otherwise. I could be kind to someone and not point out the dangers of a course of action or an ideology. But I wouldn’t be loving them. I’d be more accurately loving myself but excusing myself from a difficult conversation or their disapproval or rejection of me for not simply supporting them in their erroneous ideas. Love must be tough sometimes, because love presumes some hard truths and realities, and recognizes that our feelings are very fickle and fragile. If my goal is only to spare someone’s feelings I will inevitably fail at this, and in the meantime I will likely have also failed at being honest or any number of other things as I go to greater and greater lengths to try and spare their feelings.

And of course, like tolerance, this kindness movement is only in one direction. We must be kind to very small minorities of people who insist on changing everything in our culture to suit their personal preferences for how things ought to be. Anyone who would disagree with them is being unkind and is therefore to be denounced and if necessary destroyed.

Examples? How about the evolutionary biologist having his career shredded because he insists on the science that shows that male and female are not simply cultural and social constructs that can be arbitrarily redefined or done away with completely. Science in no way supports the demands of radical LGBT supporters who insist that gender is a spectrum to be defined by the individual rather than a binary reality to be dealt with. Apparent exceptions may arise to this, but it doesn’t change the fact that in the overwhelming majority of situations, men are men and women are women and this is biologically not sociologically dictated and should be supported as such.

Or how about the sanctions enacted by more liberal democracies on more conservative democracies who refuse to embrace LGBT demands for redefinition and reconstruction of society around their ideas?

How about people losing their jobs for having the audacity to state the obvious – that not all protests and protestors are equal, and that there are some very awful things being done right now and hidden behind the masquerade of protesting racial injustice?

How about people being vilified and criticized for not simply doing what everyone else is doing, or what some people demand that they do? Being criticized for their rightful recognition that body language matters and therefore we should be very careful in what we demand from others?

The overly simplistic attack that someone who refuses to do what others arbitrarily demand them to do is evidence of racism or some other inappropriate motivation is unkind, but it is sanctioned under the kindness banner because not providing the demanded response is itself deemed unkind and therefore not entitled to the protections the kindness banner would otherwise extend.

If my goal is not kindness but love, then I am forced out of my own head and my own ideas and my own hopes to engage with another person as another person, not just an extension of myself. I am driven to listen to them, to seek to understand them. I may in the end still not agree with them, but love also prohibits me from discarding them or attempting to destroy them simply because they disagree with me. It also prohibits me from accusing them of being unkind or unloving simply because they don’t look at things the same way I do.

Kindness dispenses with all of that effort.

So beware of this latest Trojan Horse called kindness. It isn’t necessarily what you think it is, isn’t necessarily what Sesame Street claims it is, and you aren’t required to live and act and believe by it’s precepts and demands. Especially if you claim to have a Lord and a Savior who has given you far greater and deeper and richer commands to love, even if it isn’t always perceived as kind.

Watch Lists

August 17, 2020

Governor Newsom of California introduced the idea of a county watchlist in mid-July as he ordered reimplementation of some of the restrictions placed on the state as a whole in mid-March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, it was announced that rather than state-wide restrictions, restrictions would be on a county-by-county basis. The six criteria by which counties would be evaluated are:

  • Are more than 150 COVID-19 tests per day per 100,0000 residents being administered? If yes, this is bad. If no, this is good.
  • Are there more than 100 new cases reported per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days? If so, this is bad. If the numbers are lower, this is good.
  • Are there more than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents, or more than an 8% positivity rate on on tests administered? No is good, yes is bad.
  • Has there been a 10% or greater increase in COVID-19 hospitalized patients over the past three days? No is good, yes is bad.
  • Are Intensive Care Units at 80% capacity or more? Yes is bad, no is good.
  • Are 75% or more of available ventilators being utilized? No is good, yes is bad.

Some of these criteria seem straightforward and others are somewhat nebulous. How many ventilators does my county have? How many could it obtain if needed? Who determines how many tests are administered and on what basis? My county is currently administering more than 200 tests per day on average, as of yesterday. Who decides that and on what basis? The other area of failure for my county is the cases reported per 100,000 residents a day. We’re at ~150 new cases per 100,000.

But what does this mean? Are there more than 150 new cases of active COVID-19 cases being discovered per day? Again, according the data provided on a daily basis from our County Public Health Department, no. Tests are administered, large numbers of cases are added to the reported total, but the number of actively infected people has remained constant or decreased since mid-July. Here are the numbers of ACTIVE COVID-19 CASES in our county, as gleaned from the e-mails Public Health sends out:

  • July 15 – 334
  • July 16 – 414
  • July 17 – 401
  • July 20 – 274
  • July 21 – 295
  • July 22 – 350
  • July 23 – 361
  • July 24 – 369
  • July 27 – 308
  • July 28 – 333
  • July 30 – 290
  • July 31 – 249
  • August 4 – 227
  • August 6 – 205
  • August 7 – 198
  • August 10 – 306
  • August 12 – 310
  • August 14 – 290
  • August 17 – 278

Our County reached a peak level of infections in late July, and has remained consistently well below that peak ever since, despite a slight spike the second week of August. An average rate of 304 cases per provided data point from the County. The State of California claims our infection rate per 100,000 residents is just over 150. But that apparently is a measure of all positive test results rather than active, current infections. Why this is the measure I don’t understand, frankly, other than that it’s an attempt to mitigate obvious errors in reporting and other mistakes human beings make all the time, and which California in particular has had a good share of in the past few months, culminating in the resignation of the state’s highest public health official.

Still problematic to me that you would shutter entire industries, curtail Constitutional rights all for an infection that on average over the last month has affected roughly 7% of our county population and resulted in only 80 deaths over the past five months.

Political Suggestion

July 27, 2020

Perhaps like you, my town is starting to be dotted with notices of businesses closing. Doors shutting for good after being forced to shut down as part of the grand social sacrifice to stop the spread of the coronavirus. I’ve heard little mention through official channels of remorse for these closures, the preliminary wave of what I expect will be a much larger wave continuing on into the years ahead of us. I’ll assume our leaders presume loan monies are adequate to sustain businesses shuttered for months on end.

The signs and notices around town tell a different story.

Of course most of our elected officials don’t have businesses to run. Their salaries as well as their premiere health benefits are guaranteed through tax dollars. They can literally weather the pandemic indefinitely, determining who closes and who opens without any serious personal risk themselves. I’m sure they know people who are affected. At least I hope they do. I hope somebody close to them has lost their business or their health insurance. Not out of vindictiveness but so our leaders have an accurate measure of the economic and psychological pain being caused through prolonged closures.

For an illness that is far less lethal than we originally feared.

In some ways I imagine it is like royalty in centuries past. While the masses of people beneath them might be struggling through catastrophe, the wealth of the aristocracy could effectively insulate them from those effects, or allow them to relocate for a period of time. Responsiveness suffers when there is sufficient buffer between the reality of the electorate and the reality of those elected.

So a suggestion.

For as long as some businesses must remain closed or at much reduced capacity, those elected leaders responsible for mandating the closures should endure a commensurate level of economic suffering as well. As long as there are businesses not allowed to reopen, all officials from the Governor down to the local elected leaders should not draw any salary. They should be entitled to unemployment benefits like everyone else, for which they must file like everyone else. They should have the same health insurance coverages – or lack thereof – of anyone else on unemployment. This situation should continue until mandatory closures are lifted and businesses can reopen.

If businesses are allowed to reopen (or continue operating) but at reduced capacity, all officials from the Governor down to locally elected leaders will only draw salary and benefits directly proportional to the reduction in capacity they are mandating for others. If restaurants can only serve half the customers, government officials should draw half salaries.

In the case of varying levels of closures or reductions in capacity mandated, government official compensation will be tied to the most restrictive mandates currently in force.

Again, this is not intended to be punitive. At least no more punitive than the existing closures and restrictions. But it is intended to lend an air of urgency to a very real and pressing catastrophe that many of our elected officials seem to be personally unaffected by. Their salaries continue as they order others into unemployment. Their benefits packages continue to operate without a blink while others are at risk of losing health coverage and any number of other benefits tied to employment and the overall economic health of an employer and the economy at large.

This would motivate our leaders to be more creative in addressing the issue than simply ordering people to stay in their homes and close down their businesses. It should motivate our leaders to be more creative than simply adding trillions of dollars to our national debt in bailout payments or destroying state budgets through loss of tax revenues.

If our leaders share our pain and our concerns, I have to believe they will be far more motivated to figure out solutions that everyone benefits from. This can’t go on indefinitely, or even through the end of the calendar year as some people (academics, government officials or others without any real skin in the game in terms of personal finances) are prone to warning us.

Thoughts?