Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

What Cancel Culture Can’t Account For

January 5, 2022

A short article, but a miraculous one in our climate of cancel culture and the scorched-earth ideologies and tactics of whomever wields influence at the moment. The article reports how former inmates with the once-imprisoned Bill Cosby still try to keep in touch with him because of the positive impact he had on their lives while he was behind bars.

The author struggles with what appears to be this impossible paradox – a man imprisoned for accusations of sexually assaulting incapacitated women – could still have wisdom to impart and be a benefit to anyone. Because by today’s standards, this shouldn’t be possible. Someone who commits a crime or violates the accepted or promoted values of the moment deserves to be destroyed. Deserves to have their honorary degrees revoked, their accolades trampled, their achievements obliterated. The idea that a deeply flawed human being could at the same time actually be someone capable of doing good to others doesn’t hold currency in our culture today.

St. Paul would disagree, though. Read the latter portion of Romans 7 (actually, read ALL of this letter, but the most pertinent part to this discussion is in Chapter 7 for my less patient readers). St. Paul is not trying to exonerate himself. He is not insisting that he does not sin, or that his sin should not count against him. Rather, he acknowledges full well the reality of his sin, the severity of the sin, his deserving of the full penalty of the law for that sin. He realizes that his intentions are not enough to satisfy the requirement of the Law. And he recognizes he is doomed under the Law if left to himself. He is totally dependent on being rescued, redeemed, restored by someone external to himself (vs. 24-25).

I’m not defending what Cosby may have done. I’m not arguing he should not be punished for those crimes if they occurred. I simply hope to remind people that we are incapable of perfectly fulfilling the law. Either laws we create for ourselves or the Law given to us in Scripture upon which all of our laws ultimately derive whatever validity they might have. As such, punishment must come. As such, all of us to varying degrees deserve punishment. And as such, all of us must pray and plead not simply for justice and obliteration but mercy. Because whether we’re guilty of gossiping or shoplifting or murder, most every one of us also has moments where we are capable of doing some good – large or small – to others. Therein lies our humanity and our love for tragic heroes.

It’s not hard to punish. But it’s hard to punish while still desiring the best for the person being punished rather than simply wishing their suffering for reasons of revenge.

Law and Guilt

January 4, 2022

I don’t keep in touch with many folks from my high school days. A handful of close friends tenuously held together by intentional and not-so-intentional mini-reunions is about it. But I have another friend that has done an incredible job of keeping in touch over the years, and taking the opportunity to get together for lunch or dinner whenever we found ourselves in similar parts of the country. So it was that we were meeting the following day, Thursday, for lunch at a Mexican restaurant she suggested.

She asked me to choose a place to eat initially. I opted for a small Mexican restaurant nearby. I’d never been there but the reviews were good and the place looked pretty authentic, as opposed to the more Americanized places. But she nixed the idea because of Covid considerations. She wanted to sit outdoors, which was fine by me.

Then the night before she sent a short e-mail. Her daughter back in South Carlonia tested positive for Covid, and my friend had obviously spent a lot of time around her in the days before her trip to Arizona. My friend didn’t have any symptoms but wanted to warn me in case I preferred to cancel. I didn’t, and we met as planned.

There were tears in her eyes as we sat across the table from each other. Tears of frustration and anger and fear. We did everything right. And yet her daughter had Covid. My friend’s husband had tested negative, but still the great fearful illness had infiltrated their careful defenses. Their double-dose vaccinations. Their isolating. Their fastidiousness in wearing masks. Her daughter had tearfully asked on the phone the night before if her mother was angry with her that she got sick. My friend was angry, but not with her daughter. She was angry with all the people who hadn’t been careful. Hadn’t vaccinated. Hadn’t isolated. Hadn’t insisted on masks everywhere.

Though she didn’t say it, she was angry with me, as I fit into those categories. And in the carefully constructed Covid mythology, if you followed the rules and did what you were supposed to, you could avoid the virus. Except for those people. The people who for whatever reason opted not to follow every twist and turn, scientific, political, social, calculated or arbitrary, designed to keep people safe. Healthy.

It was a striking conversation. My heart went out to her. And I gently reminded her that there are no guarantees in life. That doing all the right things might be a very good idea, but certainly could not ensure a perfectly predictable outcome. She knew this to be true, and yet she couldn’t get past the anger and fear that the efforts she and her family had made, the sacrifices they had made, were not enough to protect them.

So this article struck a chord with me, and does a better job than I might in explaining the theological metaphors illuminated in this very un-theological Covid crisis. It’s worth a read.

It isn’t that trying to do the right thing is wrong. It’s just that in this very fallible and sinfully broken world, there is no clear, perfect right thing. Nothing we can hold onto and cling to as justification for ourselves, as protection for ourselves. Nothing outside of us, nothing inside of us. Only Christ can do this for us. Can promise us to be enough. And that requires us to let go of whatever we’re clutching to and cling to him instead, acknowledging in that action our terrifying frailty and the transient and brief nature of our mortal lives.

Old Testament Laws Today

December 26, 2021

An interesting article about the Old Testament rule that Israelite farmers needed to observe a sabbath year every – seventh year – from planting and harvesting crops (Exodus 23:10-12). I’m sure there were complicated issues of politics in Old Testament times as well as today. The directive was given for the express purpose of benefitting the poor (who had no fields of their own and could glean from whatever sprouted in their wealthier neighbors’ untended fields.

Following Up

December 19, 2021

Following yesterday’s post on the rather narrow focus of Covid-response measures (essentially vaccinations for everyone) I came upon this article from National Public Radio. It references “surge teams” created to assist hard-hit Covid areas and provided a link to more information. That led me to this White House press release from 12/2/21. While it doesn’t talk about building more healthcare infrastructure – temporary or permanent in nature – it does briefly describe several teams of personnel available for deployment nationwide, as well as funding measures to support locally-based groups of medical volunteers.

These are certainly good responses and I wish we heard more about them. Since it’s apparent already vaccinations alone are not going to stop Omicron or likely future strains of Covid – at least not to the extent we don’t have to worry about surges in cases and potential corresponding increases in hospitalizations – directing some serious thought and resources to additional infrastructure only makes sense, could help to provide jobs and economic stimulus to various areas, and would provide people more hope that we will get through this time one way or another.

I can’t take credit for these ideas (dang it!), but I can at least recognize that other people far better placed than myself are thinking about them.

Narrowing Solutions

December 18, 2021

We’re ramping up for a dire winter according to many predictions. The Omicron variant is widely believed to be far more transmissible than Delta even as early reports from South Africa and other places say it is less severe in the symptoms of infection. Or, you’re more likely to get it, but less likely to be hospitalized or die from it. On the whole good news if you presume (as I do) that Covid variations are not going to just disappear on their own and we are not going to suddenly develop bio-technology to eradicate them. Like the flu, Covid will continue to be around but will gradually grow less challenging as people develop better immune responses.

Thus far, the only solutions to yet another wave of Covid I’ve read focus on the need for vaccination, despite the fact many initial reports indicate vaccination does not prevent infection or even symptoms, but reduces the impact of infection. Or, getting the Omicron variant if you’re vaccinated should be less painful than if you get it and you aren’t vaccinated. Of course, I haven’t read many comparisons of the effects on vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated persons. If you have, send me a link. I surmise the lack of discussion about this is because vaccination is the solution we have culturally honed in on to the situation.

But if Covid will become endemic rather than pandemic (something common and expected as opposed to new or unfamiliar), the virus could continue mutating for some time, causing repeated spikes. While I pray this is not the case and the virus goes the way of other pandemics such as the Spanish Flu, which was really only extraordinarily deadly for 2-3 years, we can’t know that for sure. If it doesn’t, and there are recurring spikes, the problem is less a matter of keeping people from getting the virus than it is having the capacity to assist those who experience it more harshly and in potentially life-threatening ways.

Already cities and states and counties and countries are locking down again. While this may slow the transmission to some extent it certainly doesn’t stop it, as we’ve already seen in the various Covid waves thus far. But what it can do is minimize the number of people who have to go to the hospital. The concern ultimately is that we aren’t equipped to help those who are most likely to require hospitalization, that hospitals and ICUs will become overloaded and unable to help everyone who needs it.

I still marvel that no exploration of increasing our capacity (literal, our hospital bed capacity) has generated any notice or interest. We can’t shut down countries and states and cities indefinitely, but we could expand our hospital capacity to help more people who might require it. Considering we’ve spent already $3.5 trillion dollars on Covid-related relief, expanding capacity in New York City or Los Angeles seems like a good investment. At the very least, it could be good practice.

It’s not like there isn’t a plethora of real estate available that could be put to this use, even if temporarily. Creating the equivalent of higher-tech, more robust Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals seems like good practice to have. Beyond dealing with pandemic issues such experience could be valuable for other types of natural or national disasters. And if we had the capacity to handle the most serious cases Omicron might bring this winter, we could allow the virus to run it’s course in the hopes it is indeed less severe and could therefore provide additional levels of immune and antibody resistance to larger numbers of people more safely. There are reports that even for vaccinated people, contracting Covid further improves their immune response.

Our resolute determination to eliminate Covid may be valiant at one level, but it’s also a very narrow response. It would be nice to hear about other approaches to handling this pandemic so that it truly can transition to endemic status if our efforts to simply eliminate it fail. This sort of investment could economically benefit a much wider segment of our businesses than just the pharmaceutical companies.

Lutherans in the Spotlight

November 17, 2021

Lutherans – and particularly conservative, Confessional Lutherans – don’t often make it into the public spotlight. That’s partially intentional. Still, people are noticing that our aversion to the spotlight doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas (Biblical, hopefully!) to communicate to the power-brokers and king-makers of Washington D.C. Here’s a brief spotlight on the unfortunate necessity of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod working to help shape public policy and the rule of law.

Swallowed by the Cracks

November 17, 2021

(Still a great jam all these years later.)

Unsurprisingly, being fully vaccinated (whether with Johnson & Johnson’s single shot or the two-shot program required for other vaccines) is likely going to be redefined to insist on at least an initial (and I believe eventually annual at least) booster shots. In other words, I don’t think it will be long before immunized or vaccinated status is a rolling status dependent on mandatory updates. Failure to stay up to date on boosters will kick someone into the legal status of unvaccinated.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention to the actual science of the vaccines and the changing understanding of how they work and more specifically, how long they work. If antibody generation wanes considerably after six months, only through additional boosters can the population hope to be protected long enough – by our current methods – for the virus to wane in prevalence and strength. Of course, since the vaccines only reduce your odds of infection and reduce the effects of infection, the virus may never really subside, a reality countries around the world are coming to grips with as they transition from pandemic footing to trying to manage the situation as endemic and ongoing, like the flu.

In the meantime, the reality of an even bigger problem will likely garner little more than passing notice by lawmakers and citizens alike. Indeed, as more and more states decriminalize not only marijuana but cocaine (and potentially other drugs), the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to skyrocket. Just in the last 20 years we’ve surpassed the number of Covid deaths (if my math is mostly correct). That may seem like a long time but this year we just surpassed 100,000 diagnosed deaths by drug overdose, up from only 20,000 a year just 20 years ago. At this rate the potential death rate for drug overdoses could rival Covid deaths, with no magic vaccine available to slow it down.

Musicians and other celebrities continue to pass away at young ages but the role of prescription medications as contributing causes of death is ignored. Regardless of whether someone kicks the habit or not drug abuse can cause permanent damage, damage that shortens a person’s likely lifespan. Yet we continue to allow the glorification of drug use even as it continues to strangle young people at an alarming and growing rate.

What a waste. When we emerge from our government and media inflicted Covid paranoia (at least I hope people emerge!) will we rally to destroy this larger and far longer-term enemy in our midst? Or will we continue to demand increasing laxness regarding the issue of drugs in general, further contributing to mixed messages to our impressionable youth?

I was a kid when the war on drugs began, long-overdue at that point and really just at the beginning of the epidemic of harder drug use as a widespread issue. The deaths in this war far eclipse the deaths of all of our military ventures in the last 40 years and Covid – probably combined. Maybe we won’t properly start caring about it until our ICUs are overwhelmed. Then again most overdoses aren’t caught in time to attempt medical treatment so I guess that conveniently won’t be a problem.

Maybe we’ll have to wait for the cemeteries to fill up and the environmentalists to get pissed off before we recognize that legalizing for tax benefits drugs that are killing our children is not good public policy. We seem far more willing to protect the environment than our children.

Show Me the Math

October 31, 2021

It’s hard in life as well as poker to know when someone’s bluffing. It’s easy to act and speak as though you’ve got a winning hand, and finding out if that’s true or not always entails a certain amount of risk. Some people aren’t willing to risk calling a bet to see if the other person is bluffing or not. Others love the risk.

Elon Musk certainly seems like a guy who isn’t afraid of risk. And why not – he certainly can afford to call a few bets now that he’s worth over $300 billion dollars. I’m glad to see he’s willing to put his money where someone else’s mouth is – if they can back their claims. Elon Musk has signaled he’s willing to spend $6 billion dollars to substantially alleviate world hunger, if the UN official who named that figure can prove his math.

Frankly, this is a great move – by both people.

The assumption that the wealthy could fix the world hunger problem (either in the short or long-term) has been a steady assertion by progressives advocating for wealth redistribution. However efforts to stave off or solve world poverty and hunger issues have at best blunted the damage of famines and other disasters, and have not resulted in the elimination of chronic poverty, hunger, malnutrition, etc. In some cases at least, aid efforts may have actually made things worse in the long run. This information is not often discussed by the media, though others are willing to point it out.

So for the United Nation’s World Food Program director to put a $6 billion dollar price tag on saving 42 million lives from eminent starvation is not unusual save for the specificity. But specificity is exactly what is needed. I assume the wealthy have reached their state of wealth and maintain it by some very good evaluation and analysis skills, something often lacking in wild assertions about how taxing the rich will fix various local, national, or global problems.

Musk’s calling out of this claim is also crucial. Talking about how the rich can save the poor is one thing. But showing it is quite another – or at least I assume it is. I assume the reason poverty and hunger have not been eliminated already by massive influxes of aid is because the calculations of experts and mathematicians and others fail to take into account basic human sinfulness. They operate strictly within the realm of the theoretical without accounting for the avarice and cruelty that is part and parcel of a fallen humanity.

Wanting to solve hunger is different from being able to, and the issue is not simply money, unfortunately. However hopefully this exchange – in addition to saving very real lives – could lead not just to future giving and investment increases, but improvements on the processes by which aid is envisioned, planned, and executed. I’ve got to believe that if the mechanisms were clearer, more people would be prompted to give. And if the mechanisms are flawed, then business people are far more likely to be able to help correct and improve them.

These are real lives at stake, and the inability to solve hunger and poverty totally should not hold people back from saving very real lives here and now. Hopefully the upshot of this exchange will be saving lives and showing others – wealthy and otherwise – how their donations can make real differences rather than just ending up in the pockets of anyone with a gun, a gavel or a scepter who decides to help themselves first.

Imagining Repentance

October 29, 2021

Your Grace, it is such an honor to have this time with you.

Thank you my son, I have wanted to meet with you for some time.

Really? A man as busy as you, leading the Church, and you’ve wanted to meet with me?

Of course my son. A good shepherd cares for every sheep from the least to the greatest. But sometimes more time is taken with the greater ones, as they have greater responsibilities. Especially now that you hold such an important position yourself.

I am thankful to God I can serve him and his people as President of the United States.

A fine understanding of vocation, my son, and the reason I have hoped to speak with you. I pray God continues to use you even more mightily in the future!

How do you mean, Your Grace?

My son, you loved your daughter Naomi very much, I know. Her loss – along with your wife – was very hard on you.

The hardest loss in my life, Your Grace.

Very understandable. And yet you support the murder of unborn children. A position you once were much less in agreement with, when you had far less influence than you do now.

I support the rights of women, Your Grace. I strive for the equality men and women are created under by God.

But the Word of God on this matter is clear, my son, as is the voice of the Church. Your Church. The One, True Church. She has not wavered on that stance, though of course some within her wish she would. The stance of the Church upholding the sanctity of human life from conception is clear.

Your Grace, you must understand….

I commend to your reading Job 10:11-12, Psalms 127 and 139. Consider Joseph’s faithfulness to the life of our Lord and Savior in the virgin’s womb. Consider the difficulty, the inconvenience, the scandal that Mary would be found to be with child before her marriage to Joseph was finalized. And yet in spite of these things they acted in faith that the child was of God. You may also be interested to read The Didache which dates to the time of the Apostles and which states categorically that Christians do not murder the children or the unborn. Even though these were common, culturally acceptable practices among the Greeks and Romans.

We must defend the conscience of each person, Your Grace, of each believer.

And at times my son, we must also speak hard truth, even to those in power. Ever this was the case as well you should know from Scripture.

Then what are you saying, Your Grace?

What you already know to be true in your heart. What you have grown accustomed to making excuses for to satisfy any number of needs. You know it is wrong to kill an unborn child, my son. It is a sin. A violation of the Fifth Commandment. A violation of the Holy Church’s Law. You consider yourself a good Catholic, do you not my son?

Of course, Your Grace!

How can you consider yourself as such when you publicly support with your person and words a policy the Bible, the Church, and your Savior condemn as sin? Can you say to your Savior’s face that your public and professional support of abortion is not a sin? Do you think He will commend you for your stance?

I…I do not know, Your Grace.

You must reflect on this, my son. Not in light of politics or career. Not in light of the so-called rights the West has created out of thin air and in blatant contradiction to the Word of God. You should well know that we do not improve upon an error by creating another error.

What am I to do, Your Grace?

No more and no less than each of us must do each day, and by the grace of God we are given a new day in which to do it, or another hour in which to begin it. Repent. Acknowledge your sin and guilt before your Savior. Take refuge in his mercy and grace and forgiveness, which you receive at Holy Eucharist. Turn from your sin. Do not endanger your very soul with so great a sin and worse, so great a refusal to see your sin. Repudiate it. Publicly, as you have embraced and facilitated it publicly.

What you ask, Your Grace….

I do not ask, my son. As the Vicar of Christ I command. I point you to his Word and his Church and call you to confession, to repentance, to forgiveness, and to eternal life. You are not responsible for what others do in spite of your refusal to condone such terrible sin any longer. But you can in your life and words sound a clear warning for all those like you who seek to obey the voice of God through His Church, yet insist on the right to determine which of His words you accept and reject.

(…)

Go now, my son. Reflect. Read. Pray. Repent. Confess. Receive the assurance of your forgiveness in the Eucharist. And trust that in your repentance you find not death but life, not suffering but joy, not enslavement but freedom. And by your great example, many far smaller and weaker sheep may be guided away from paths that lead only to death and suffering. Rise, my son. And may the Lord bless you and keep you; may he make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen, amen, and amen.

Catastrophic

October 23, 2021

This is the word Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor used to describe the Court’s refusal to block Texas from enforcing Texas Senate Bill 8 which went into effect in early September and made it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to obtain an abortion from either an abortion clinic such as Planned Parenthood or a licensed doctor’s office.

It’s a good word. But let’s flesh it out a bit.

Catastrophic can mean something that causes great damage and suffering. It can also mean extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. It might also mean a sudden and large-scale alteration in state.

Great damage and suffering. Sotomayor means this to describe the suffering of women in Texas who are – at least for the time being pending Supreme Court review by early next month – possibly unable to obtain an abortion. Most statistics I found online indicate that there were in the neighborhood of 55,000 abortions provided in Texas in 2020. That to just under 4,600 abortions per month. For the sake of argument assuming numbers are constant, that means around 8000 women are potentially going to be prevented from obtaining an abortion from when the law went into effect until when the Supreme Court has promised an opinion on it.

That’s a big number. Then again, so is 596, the number of months since Roe v. Wade was finalized in January of 1972. I’m going to assume static numbers again, which I know is not entirely accurate since abortion numbers fluctuate by year, rising steadily from 1973 until 1996, when they began to decline. But since the fluctuation is similar to a bell curve it’s good enough for my broad brushstroke purpose here. 596 months of legal abortion, which adds up to – in Texas alone, and again based on generalized numbers – more than 2.7 million abortions in Texas. Think about that – 2.7 million babies legally killed in Texas alone since 1973.

I don’t know what Sotomayor’s rationale is for defending abortion. I don’t know at what point she believes the union of an egg and a sperm magically transforms from a non-human bunch of cells into a human being defended by other laws in our nation from being murdered. But if she thinks potentially delaying or preventing or causing greater cost or inconvenience to 8000 women who find themselves pregnant (despite presumably knowing that intercourse leads to a risk of pregnancy no matter what form of contraception you prefer to practice) is catastrophic, she hopefully can grasp how great a catastrophe over 2.7 million murdered babies in Texas is for those who based on clear science as well as religious conviction know that when that egg is successfully fertilized by a sperm, it is at that moment a new human life deserving of the full protection of our laws. Hopefully she can grasp that as catastrophic as she finds it that men and women should be inconvenienced by the biological results of their decisions, it is a far greater catastrophe to have redefined the meaning of life simply for the greater convenience of sexual liberty.

Extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. Undoubtedly Sotomayor thinks of this in terms of the Supreme Court’s refusal to block S.B. 8 from enforcement until their review. However perhaps it should be used in this sense to describe the failure of a philosophy and culture of death that glorifies the sexual act but insists on stripping it of natural consequences and removing it from the sanctity of marriage. Nearly 50 years of Roe v Wade and undoubtedly for Sotomayor and those who share her philosophy and opinion it is catastrophic to think their way of thinking and their philosophy and their life choices could be found lacking, inappropriate, even illegal. There is the clear message from those who support legalized abortion that this is simply a fact of life now, a reality that must be accepted and protected as inevitable and unchangeable, even though it’s really just a legal decision rendered by a small group of people 50 years ago.

And legal decisions are capable of reversal. It is fully possible for a ruling to be recognized after the fact as inappropriate on any number of bases. In fact our judicial system is based on this recognition and insistence. People are flawed and therefore decisions can be flawed, no matter how passionately some people wish they were not. No matter how clearly science destroys the most fundamental arguments they use to support their position. The extremely unfortunate issue is that it has taken this long to threaten legalized abortion. That it has taken this long to begin to dismantle the idea that abortion is somehow some sort of human right the US government has an obligation to not just defend but actively promote.

Sudden and large-scale alteration of state. This is certainly true, and I suspect that Justice Sotomayor and I probably would agree in how we apply this definition. If Texas is successful there begins – because other states will follow suit – a formal recognition of the reality that has existed for 50 years – a huge portion of the US population believes abortion is morally wrong or intellectually indefensible. It means that supporters of abortion can no longer pretend it is a monolithic, universally accepted and desired option and that dissenters are outliers and a crazy minority.

Hopefully it will challenge the devastating effects of our liberal ideas about unfettered sexual behavior, though this is probably hoping for too much or, at the very least, will take a lot longer to come about. By continually denigrating the estate of marriage and the historic understanding of family, our country has fostered and perpetuated cycles and systems of poverty linked to unplanned pregnancies and pregnancies where the father is absent. The State has attempted to pretend the family and fathers don’t matter and that the State can replace these things with aid programs. It has failed miserably and those statistics are pretty quickly available. We’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars in the last 60 years on a philosophical and political model that has failed to save those it claims to save, and instead has consigned them and their descendants to a continuous cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to break under current conditions.

Hopefully we can start to have dialogue again about the importance of understanding sexuality as something far too important to fling about casually with a disregard for consequences – something made possibly only by the continued support of legalized abortions and free or nearly free contraceptives and abortifacients. Hopefully we can begin to talk again about the value of human life instead of how to sacrifice some lives in order to make our lives more convenient.

Yes, the changes afoot – changes that hopefully will be sustained by the Supreme Court’s review – are catastrophic. But I’d argue in a good way, rather than the negative way Justice Sotomayor interprets them. That’s a lot of hope, but even for a realist like me, hope is critical. That hope is well worth the inconvenience of 8000 women. The lives of 2.7 million murdered Texan children deserve a little inconvenience by some at the moment, if the outcome could be the saving of 2.7 million Texans over the next 596 months and more.