Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Me Too…in Other Ways

October 17, 2017

I thought this was a great essay by Mayim Bialik.  While I doubt she and I agree on many things, I very much appreciate her mature evaluation of the irresponsible behavior of both men and (potentially) women.  Of course, she has been excoriated for this from many women who view her conservative treatment of a woman’s role in all of this as a betrayal of feminist insistence that women never, ever have absolutely any responsibility in a situation of sexual inappropriateness.

Bialik’s essay in no way gives a pass to men to sexually harass women.  But she does acknowledge that women have a role to play in this issue as well, which of course is a forbidden aspect of discussion.  Should women have to worry about being assaulted or harassed?  No, they shouldn’t.  We all know that in our hearts.  But they do.  And we recognize that there are good reasons for this, and that occasions for worry happen quite a bit.  Regardless of whether a woman conforms to societal notions of beauty or sexuality.  Despite whether she dresses conservatively or provocatively.  Regardless of whether she chooses to drink excessively or otherwise compromise her faculties or not.

In other words, there are no foolproof ways to assure a woman will never be harassed or assaulted.  Or to assure that a woman will never feel harassed, even if no such harassment was intended.  This is part of sin playing out in our world.  A sin that runs deep…all the way back to Genesis 3:16 and the preview of the battle of the sexes that has ensued ever since.  Woman and man struggle for control over each other.  What history has shown is that women have traditionally fared worse in this struggle – at least by the standards of wealth and power and public office.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t active combatants, or that they haven’t learned how to win in other ways.

The reality is that we relate to one another, both people we want to relate to and people we aren’t even aware of.  We relate to them in how we carry ourselves, present ourselves, how we speak and groom ourselves, what we wear, and all of the other subtle and not-so-subtle body and image languages we use.  Pretending that this is not the case is irresponsible and dishonest.  Most everyone takes at least some effort to put themselves together in a way they want other people to view them, and at least anecdotally, women put more time and more care into this than men.

How we prepare ourselves says things to other people.  Bialik understands this.  Admitting this is not giving an excuse to those who act inappropriately.  But admitting does recognize that at some times, some women are complicit.  Show business has long been an environment where this is tacitly understood (similar to politics, oddly enough).  The outrage over Harvey Weinstein has the benefit of a specific target, someone who can personally be held accountable and punished.  But it isn’t as though Weinstein invented the casting couch.  He perpetuated it.  And as much as it might offend some women, I’ll go a step further to suggest that he perpetuated it – like those before him and contemporaneous with him and those who come after him – with the help of some women.

Not all, to be certain.  But in the recognition that some people have been hurt and harmed, it is easy to try and oversimplify things and in so doing, ignore underlying truths and realities that might otherwise be helpful or necessary to bring about change.  Systematic behavior relies on a lot of things.  Systematically abusing other people presumes often times that abuse is not just tolerated, but rather sought out.  That it isn’t always abuse.  That some are participants, not victims.

The last big example of this was the famous taped comment of Donald Trump about some of his interactions with certain women.  He was taped – probably without his knowledge – and the tape was released before the election last year to try and destroy his chances of winning the presidency.  That effort failed, much to the surprise of Hillary Clinton and many other people.  How was it that such patently offensive language would not cause every voter (or at least every female voter) to repudiate Trump?

Because common sense understood what he was talking about.  Common sense understood that Trump was crudely describing the atmosphere of wealth and power and success that he has spent his whole life in.  The reality that there are always people (men and women, I have no doubt) willing to do whatever it takes to enter that atmosphere, to breathe deeply and permanently acclimate to it.  Some people work really hard to earn and accomplish things that bring wealth and power.  Others are willing to shortcut the process, relying on other assets and exchanges.  We call these people gold diggers.  Kanye rapped about them in 2005 but nobody took offense to him or to his rather explicit lyrics (and please be aware that the link above is to the lyrics to the song which are not exactly child-friendly, given the subject).  Why?  Because everyone understood what he was talking about.  When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything, Trump spoke.  I know somebody paying child support for one of his kids / His baby momma’s car and crib is bigger than his Kanye sings.    The implication is clear and everyone knows it when they aren’t ideologically blinded – not everyone is a victim.  Sometimes, everyone is guilty.  Is it crude?  Of course.  Does that make it any less true?  No.

Were voters commending or affirming the Donald and his comment and the reality he was expressing rather ineloquently?  Of course not.  But they also understood that he was describing a particular reality, however offensive and disgusting it might be.  And they understood as well that lots of people enter that reality knowingly, not as victims but as participants.  As combatants.

Is this right and proper?  That the rich and powerful should expect that there will be up-and-comers eager to sell what they have for what they might become?  Of course not.  But it is reality.  I’m not affirming that this is the way things should be, but I’m pretty sure this is always how things have been.  Which makes me skeptical about our attempts – however well-intentioned – to eliminate it.  As long as some have wealth and power and others don’t, there will always be willing participants on both sides of the equation, which means there will be unwilling victims on one side or the other of the equation.

What does all this have to do with Bialik and feminists and Weinstein?  The simple reality that how we present ourselves leads others to conclude things about us.  Those conclusions may not be correct, but they aren’t necessarily unreasonable conclusions, either.  This doesn’t justify abuse or harassment, but it can be a contributing factor to it -whether we like to admit that or not.  It isn’t always, but it sometimes can be.  For these reasons taking some time to consider how we present ourselves to others is worthwhile and appropriate.

What do you want people admiring you for – your body or your personality and other attributes?  If you don’t want to be confused with someone who is actively looking for a sexual relationship or encounter, why would you dress like that sort of person?  Bialik simply acknowledges the reality that clothing and appearance help communicate and we are responsible for thinking about the messages we send.  We can’t always be responsible for how those messages are received or acted upon, but we are responsible for thinking about what we are trying to say to the people who see us.  When we use this common sense, we may find that abuse and harassment decline not just in our own personal lives, but in the lives of others around us as men are reminded that women are not simply here for their own personal gratification, but ultimately as partners (Genesis 2:20, 23-25), which is what God intended from the beginning and, in Christ, will re-establish permanently one day.

As Genesis 2 shows, it isn’t ultimately what we wear that is the problem.  It is the sin within all of us.  The sin that takes the good bodies that God created and turns them into objects of shame and fear (Genesis 3:7, 10).  Which is why our efforts to eradicate sexual objectification, harassment, and abuse will fall short.  Not that we shouldn’t try, we just need to realize that the issue is sin, and runs a lot deeper than just retraining people how to speak and act.  Ultimately what Harvey Weinstein and all those like him needs most isn’t public humiliation or jail time or any other arbitrary punishment we might decide to inflict on them.  What they need most is salvation – the same thing every one of us needs.  Something we can’t get or create on our own, we can only accept it on the terms of and in the life and death and resurrection of one God-Man, Jesus.

That’s what our hope is – the transformation of ourselves and creation into the people we know we should be on the inside but are never capable of fully becoming.  Until that time, we need to be careful.  We need to think about the messages we send with our clothing and our behavior and all the other ways we communicate.  We need to work hard to keep ourselves from situations where we might exploit or be exploited.  We need the fig leaves and the animal skins here and now to protect us not just from one another but from ourselves as well.

 

 

 

 

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More Mixing

October 11, 2017

It’s not just Sears  mixing up girls and boys, treating them as essentially the same thing for the sake of convenience, ideology and profit.  Today the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that girls will be fully integrated into the organization.  As Matt Walsh put it (on Facebook, so I can’t link you to it), this removes from the BSA “any remaining reason for their own existence.”  Ironically, this move was criticized by Girls Scouts USA (GSUSA) which interprets the move as an attempt to lure girls away from GSUSA and bolster a declining BSA membership.  Integration is good unless it hurts your membership numbers.  I look forward to feminists criticizing GSUSA for their response, but I’m not holding my breath for it.

At least the GSUSA understand that there are benefits to having all boys or all girls organizations, and that the existence of such organizations is not a de facto affront in any way to members of the opposite sex/gender.  But in our bizarro-world culture, such obvious truths are now given very little airplay, let alone respect.  Boys and girls, men and women in the same locker rooms and restrooms?  Sure thing!  No problem!  The common sense respect offered by single gender places and organizations has been decimated by a miniscule (comparatively) group of people bent on an agenda of deconstructing our society from the inside out.

I assume it won’t be long until BSA renames itself.  After all I can’t imagine that, once admitted, girls are going to care for being labeled as boys.  I hope that boys and men would have the courage and honesty to admit that the name is no longer accurate.  And if we continue down (and it is a downwards movement) this road of confusing sexes and genders, particularly denigrating men and masculinity, any such male-oriented label is going to be seen as a detriment rather than an asset.  Self-preservation of the BSA entity (brand), rather than the ideas upon which the BSA was founded, is ultimately a betrayal and rejection of those ideals that serves and benefits nobody.

Blaming God

October 5, 2017

Here’s a good post on the inevitable efforts of some Christians to explain why God would allow – or even actively cause – terrible things like the Las Vegas shooting.

This is nothing new – for Pat Robertson or for any number of other well-intentioned Christians who want to make sure that people are doing the right thing and repenting and changing their hearts.  As such, catastrophes are an opportunity to preach the vengeance and anger of God against sin.  Those catastrophes may be national or personal in scale, but it’s the same basic sermon.

Now this is a thoroughly Biblical sermon, to be sure.  There are plenty of places in Scripture where God discloses what He’s going to do and why He’s going to do it.  It isn’t that God can’t and won’t work through world events to draw people to repentance.  The problem is that the only time we can really know that this is what is going on is when He tells us.  If He doesn’t explicitly tell us, then we can’t explicitly claim that God caused or allowed such-and-such to happen for such-and-such a reason.  At least not in anything more than the vaguest of language.  God always desires that we should repent and draw near to his forgiveness and grace.  So at that level, I can explain my breakfast bagel and tea this morning in those terms.  Or my sleep during the night.  Or that bout of gas I had yesterday.

God is God and we are not.  This irks us and frustrates us and frightens us, but that’s the reality.  We are not going to have a perfect understanding of what God is going to do and why He is going to do it.  I’d tend to listen to Pat Robertson and other people’s explanations of these things more seriously if they were explaining it before it happened.  You know, like the prophets.  When God wanted people to connect the dots, He connected them for them.  Before, during, and afterwards.  To pop up on TV after the fact and declare God’s will and purpose in a particular event is not very convincing or compelling.  It shouldn’t be to those who don’t know God already, and it shouldn’t be for those who do.

Select Who to Protect?

August 28, 2017

In case you missed it, that shining star of intellectual prowess and liberty, Berkeley, just had another stellar moment yesterday.  You might remember back in February when demonstrators against conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos ended up causing $100,000 in damage to the UC Berkeley campus and causing him to cancel his talk.  Yesterday, Berkeley police opted not to prevent armed alt-left antifa protesters from entering a park and assaulting at least five conservative protesters.

How should a city deal with perpetrators of violence – regardless of their ideological creed?  Apparently Berkeley’s mayor thinks the best way is to capitulate and hope they’ll play nicer.  Berkeley’s mayor requested UC Berkeley to cancel future planned speaking engagements by Yiannopoulos and other conservatives.  Fortunately, at least so far, the university has refused.

And rightly so.

It shouldn’t take a genius to recognize that you don’t end violence by giving violent protesters what they demand.  Our nation has enjoyed a long history of mostly peaceful demonstrations for various causes and ideologies.  Some of them are or were appealing and beneficial.  Others not so much.  But the important hallmark of America’s freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is that, so long as they are peaceful, they are allowed.  That such a tradition, and such liberties, should be usurped by any group using violence and intimidation ought to be repugnant to every American, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

Frighteningly, though, it doesn’t seem to be repugnant to everyone.  While President Trump was excoriated for his perceived inadequate response to neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, there has been far less call for such repudiation of the antifa movement by Democratic leadership, and far less criticism of them for failing to do so.

This is how freedom dies.  By police deciding not to enforce the law.  To wait until after the violence to make arrests rather than standing strong and calling for backup.  Were the police worried they would be overrun by masked street thugs?  Better that the police be overrun, that they call for backup, that they show these cowardly extremists for who and what they are, than allow citizens to be brutalized and the event to be passed off as a conflict between liberal and conservative ideologies.

It’s scary enough to realize that politicians and media are so painfully biased.  But it hits closer to home to think that the police might demonstrate such a bias as well.  That they might choose not to protect you and your family.  This is how freedom dies.  I hope that others will join in criticizing the decision by the Berkeley police to stand down and allow unarmed citizens to be attacked, rather than fulfilling their sworn duty to serve and protect.  Such an ideological decision is a black eye on law enforcement, one that I hope law enforcement leaders around the country will denounce.

 

August 21, 2017

I woke up this morning pleased to say I didn’t know when the eclipse was happening today, but grateful that I wouldn’t have to hear about it any more.  I glanced at the sky as I headed out for the day, as the eclipse was supposed to be happening.  But it was a beautiful grey cloud and fog cover that hid the sun completely from my view.  I wondered how many disappointed people there were around the country who had built this moment into some sort of personal epiphany, and would have their hopes crushed by the equally wonderful but too familiar beauty of clouds.

It’s not that I’m not interested in nature, but I automatically distrust things that become an obsession in our media and culture.  The moon passes in front of the sun as it has innumerable times.  But now because we can communicate and plug in 24/7 it becomes an Event.  Perhaps an even greater Event than in the days when we picture uneducated peasants looking up at terror and imagining a dragon consuming the source of light and warmth and hope.

The Eclipse isn’t going to change your life.  It’s not going to provide you with fulfillment, or happiness or meaning.  At best it’s a distraction for the vast majority of folks.  For a small percentage it might serve as inspiration towards a particular vocation.  But what we don’t need is another distraction from the issues that need to be dealt with, whether personally or communally.  I wish we could get as excited and committed to dealing with those things as we apparently are with having the proper eclipse-viewing gear.

Matthew 11:16-19

August 17, 2017

One of the irritating things of the past couple of weeks have been the recurring demands from various directions that the Church condemn publicly the activities in Charlottesville.  Specifically, that the Church condemn the Neo-Nazi marches and white supremacist groups, ideologies, and individuals.

I condemn Neo-Nazism and white supremacy ideologies.  I believe the Bible refutes these ideologies in principle and theology.   But let’s be careful about what is going on here.  I’m going to preach about the situation in our country in the aftermath of Charlottesville.  Not because some random person demanded that I do.  This certainly isn’t the first time that people have attempted to dictate what the Church preach.  Personally, I find the Church to be one of the greatest perpetrators of this error, designating numerous Sundays throughout the year  for special topics and focus on special issues or special interest groups.  This bugs the heck out of me and I generally refuse to comply (complicity is always voluntary in our polity, but there is no shortage of encouragement!).

Responding to demands on the Church to preach what culture thinks it should preach are perilous, at best.  This is not the Church’s job.  Fundamentally, the Church exists to preach the Biblical narrative of reality, emphasizing the Incarnation of the Son of God to suffer, die, rise again and ascend to heaven with the promise of return.  The Church can and should apply this central narrative to current events, but I worry that these days, such an application is not the Church leading the charge towards cultural change as it has in the past, but rather attempting to please and placate the larger culture so that culture will regard the Church better.

In other words, calls for the Church to preach against an ideology is not acknowledgement or agreement with the Church.  It’s an attempt to co-opt the Church for political and ideological reasons.  Sometimes these may overlap.  But not always, and the Church needs to be careful.  In general, I believe that culture will ultimately be hostile to the Church, even if it overlaps it or falls under Church influence for a period of time.

The cultural call for the Church to preach on a given topic no longer stems from a shared understanding of human nature, human history and divine existence.  Culture has jettisoned the Church and the Bible as unnecessary and actually problematic in terms of telling us who we are and whose we are.  Culture assumes things directly contrary to the Biblical narrative.  It assumes that the problems of our day can be routed out through education, indoctrination, and population control.  As I’ve already written, I believe this is the source of the shock and terror by many at the events in Charlottesville.  I believe it is similar shock and terror to Trump being elected president.  This wasn’t part of the cultural narrative.

The cultural narrative is that we are in control of our destiny and that, through the careful application of education and science and technology, we will further ourselves as a species.  This means the eradication of anyone and anything that is seen as contrary to a narrative of continuous progress and upwards movement towards our highest potential.  This allows for the destruction of millions of babies that might hinder personal and therefore societal progress.  It promotes the destruction of unborn children who exhibit (or might exhibit) genetic indicators that are deemed unproductive and undesirable, such as Downs Syndrome.  The cultural narrative is that the State is the best agent and overseer of this progress, and that the State is responsible for enforcing such progress when necessary.

So the shock of a president who doesn’t appear to share the same progressive ideology or assumptions about education or science or the media is a shock, literally.  An outrage.  This wasn’t supposed to happen!  He’s supposed to play along with the overarching cultural narrative and only tweak certain things to continue the illusion of real change, real diversity in our institutions.  And so the shock of finding out that there are numbers of people who still hold to ideas that have been deemed flawed and hateful.  This wasn’t supposed to happen!  Sesame Street and public education and mainstream media were supposed to have beaten these misguided concepts out of people!   UN Ambassador Nikki Haley preached this message this week when she asserted “People aren’t born with hate.  We have a responsibility to stand up and condemn it.”

The Bible says we are born with hate.  And lust.  And greed.  And envy.  And self-absorption.  And all the other problems that plague us as a people.  And the Bible claims that we aren’t going to be able to eradicate them because we have no objective, clean base from which to do so.  These things exist in everyone.  To different degrees.  In different ratios.  But everyone deals at some level with them in thought, word and deed.  Those calling out the hatred in Charlottesville are just as sinful and broken.  And it is for all our sinfulness and brokenness that Christ died, and it is for each of our sinfulness that we need to be saved.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand up and condemn hate when we see it and hear it!  We do!  Scripture calls us to this and entrusts us with this.  But if we have the mistaken idea that in standing up to it and condemning it we somehow also have the ability to eliminate it, we’re fundamentally mistaken.  Dangerously so.  It is at that point that we are most at risk for becoming the thing we hate – for utilizing power or cultural influence to damage others, believing our cause to be justified and the people we battle against to deserve nothing less.  We also have to recognize that hatred as culturally defined can be misleading and even incorrect.  A purpose or agenda doesn’t become true or right just because there are people crusading for it.  And just because someone claims something or someone is hateful doesn’t mean it necessarily is.

This became apparent with CNN’s publication of a listing of hate groups.  One group gets to define what is and what isn’t a hate group?  On what basis?  Are we to just take their word for it?  I looked at the map created by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  There’s a group labeled as a hate group right here in my city.  What is their hate?  They are for immigration reform.  This makes them anti-immigrant, according to the SPLC.  Other groups (some Christian) are labeled as hate groups for being anti-LGBTQ.  What does that mean?  Does it mean they’re preaching the Bible and holding to Biblical standards on sexuality and gender that are thousands of years old?  But now they’re lumped in with the Black Panthers and radical Islamic groups?

So it’s OK to post the identities of the Neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville with the call for their employers to fire them.  But if a woman was identified being virulent in one of the women’s marches in January and was fired for her participation, I can only imagine the firestorm that would descend upon her employer.  It’s OK to threaten people for some ideas and beliefs, but not for others.  We need to be very careful about this line our culture is treading, and we as Christians and as the Church need to be the most skeptical and wary of all.

Jesus dealt with this in his day as well and warned his followers about it.

But to what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  

Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.  (Matthew 11:16-19)

The Church needs to be wise.  The Church condemns hatred, but all hatred.  The Church points out sin, but all sin.  This means at some times our culture will embrace us and at other times they will try to stone us to death.  Preach the truth in all seasons.  And that means preaching it to ourselves, to our fellow Christians, and to the culture around us.  That means trying to make sure we aren’t being co-opted for other purposes, and that our preaching of the truth truly is in love and not for personal or cultural agendas.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  (Ephesians 4:25)

So I’m preaching.  The texts justify it to some degree, but the texts further still drive us towards the realization that God the Father desires that everyone come into his grace and forgiveness through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.  This means that regardless of what someone is guilty of believing or saying or doing, as I stand up against hatred, I do so with the goal that this person will not simply tow the cultural line of the moment, but will place their faith in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.

That’s something I’m pretty sure the larger culture is not going to call us to preach about Sunday, or any other day.

Explaining Hatred

August 15, 2017

Everyone has been weighing in on the events in Charlottesville.  Almost all decry the ideologies of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, and rightfully so.  Almost all decry the violence and bloodshed, and rightfully so.  And almost all are shocked to realize that such ideas can exist in our country.  I use that word – shocked – intentionally.  They aren’t just saddened, but rather deeply shaken and horrified.  It is this particular aspect of the social response that I find so fascinating and disturbing, a clear demonstration of just how shallow Biblical and Christian theology and doctrinal understanding are in our culture, or at least are among those in positions of public influence and celebrity.

One response stuck in my mind came from Jimmy Fallon.  As much as I’m a fan of anyone (not very much), I’m a fan of Fallon.  He has great comedic instinct and demonstrates real creativity – like helping to arrange covers of popular music on children’s instruments.  But I found his comments on Charlottesville troubling.  They were also very awkward and uncomfortable, but I chalk that up to him speaking in a non-comedic voice he doesn’t use publicly very often.

What particularly caught my ear was when he mentioned (at the :22 second mark) how he struggled to figure out how to explain to them hatred in the world.  What shocked me is that he phrased this as some sort of new dilemma.  As though, prior to Charlottesville, this wasn’t something that he was going to need to explain to them.  It hadn’t occurred to him, perhaps.  Or he didn’t think it necessary.

Which baffles me.

Literally hundreds of people killed in very visible terror attacks over the last few years, and it’s never occurred to him that he needs to find a way to explain hatred to his children?  Millions of people driven from their homes in Syria due to a violent civil war and he hasn’t realized that this is an example of hatred he’ll have to explain to his daughters?  Hundreds of young girls kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Chibok Nigeria to be sold into sexual slavery and forced marriages, and this didn’t strike him as something that required an explanation?  Bickering between nations large and small, not an example of hatred needing an explanation?

Baffling.

Perhaps the issue is that these things happened somewhere else.  I suspect this is part of the issue, actually.   It happened in other places, among primitive and backwards people, allegedly.  People who haven’t been exposed to progressive ideals and carefully nurtured to be tolerant by a public education system and through public television.  These are examples of a lack of education, a lack of cultivation.  If only the perpetrators could be taught properly, formed properly, they wouldn’t act in this way.  We wouldn’t have these problems if everyone benefitted from the progressive and enlightened way we raise our children here in America these days.

Except for the young woman recently convicted of encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide.  Is this be a form of hatred?  Just this past weekend in Chicago there were 30 shootings with nine resulting deaths, but this isn’t a form of hatred?  The ambush and murder of five police officers in Texas last year isn’t an example of hatred?  What about children that are still routinely bullied and driven to despair both in person and through social media, despite years and years of anti-bullying propaganda?

It seems that there are a plethora of hateful things happening here at home.  Yet none of these give Fallon pause to consider the role of hatred in our country or world?

Or are these also examples of primitive behavior?  Demonstrations of backwards thinking, of irrationality, of rebellion, of a failure to properly assimilate?  How many different ways do we have of describing hatred, or more broadly and accurately, to describe the power of evil in human hearts?  Yet how rigorously our culture insists that these are aberrations, occasional blips on the radar screen of otherwise glorious progress towards kinder, gentler, better human beings!

I explain hatred and evil to my children because I have to.  I have to explain it to them to prepare them for the world.  And I can explain it to them.  We’re broken.  Fundamentally.  Beyond repair.  Beyond rehabilitation.  There is nothing in this world that can fix our brokenness.  Sometimes that brokenness is minor like when I rage-quit a video game that I shouldn’t take so seriously.  Sometimes that brokenness is major, when it marginalizes and destroys other people.  Except those distinctions are really pointless and inaccurate.  They are both expressions of the same brokenness, just on different scales.  They aren’t qualitatively different even if they are different in a quantitative way, in the amount of measurable damage that results.

This is the explanation I see every day around me and within me.  It isn’t that we don’t know what to do, that somehow we aren’t clear that it’s wrong to kill someone, or get inordinately angry about a video game.  The issue is that despite knowing, we aren’t able to fully control ourselves.  There are parts of our thoughts, words, and deeds that are out of control, and our attempts to rein them in are inadequate at best.

I don’t accept Naziism, but last I checked that ideology existed in one form or another in pretty many places around the world.  I don’t agree with it or think it should gain power, but I’m not shocked by it’s existence.  The KKK has existed in various forms in our country for over a century.  I find racism repugnant but not shocking.  It’s brokenness.  Sin.  It exists.  It will continue to exist.  And you can’t just legislate it away, and you can’t just educate it away.  The only thing you can do is what we’re headed for – kill the people who profess it.

That is shocking.  Not that it can happen – it’s happened repeatedly through human history on a large scale and still goes on around the world today.  What is shocking is that it could be me in the gas chamber, or preparing for the firing squad or the noose or the lethal injection.  Once you begin down the road of killing those people you disagree with – no matter how repugnant their ideas – it’s a slippery slope of who else gets added to the death list.

What should give the biggest cause for pause in all of this isn’t fundamentally the reality of racism or Nazism or fascism or any other –ism.  Rather it’s the inability of so many people to both realize that of course there will always be -isms of one form or another that are repugnant or deeply flawed.  There will always be hatred, there will be always be evil, because there will always be sin.  This is the fundamental incompatibility in world views that exists in our culture and our world.

I prepare my children for the hatred and evil in the world by showing it to them in themselves.  Making them aware that they are broken already.  Teaching them how to cope with that reality – both in terms of discipline but also in terms of repentance, confession, and acceptance of forgiveness by the only entity not only capable and willing to save them from themselves, but who actually already has begun that process in a tangible way 2000 years ago through a man who claimed to be divine and dying for my sins, with his resurrection from the dead as evidence that I should believe him.  I teach them that this is their hope, their only hope.  I teach them to be good, of course, to the best of my ability to teach and their ability to learn.  But I also remind them that they aren’t going to be perfect, they won’t always be good.  And what this means isn’t that they have failed as human beings and have only despair left to them.  But rather that they will struggle with their sin until they die, but they can struggle with it because they don’t struggle alone.  The God who created them and died for them is with them, here and now and forever.

I don’t like evil and hatred.  I will stand against it as I am called to.  But I can’t ever forget that the hatred and evil exist in me as well and always will.   Perhaps in more socially acceptable ways, but still sin, still brokenness and separation from the God who created me and therefore has died to save me from myself.  Which means I can try to persuade others that their ideas are wrong and misguided and at odds with the God who created them as well, but I can’t come to classify them as the Other, as somehow different from myself.  I can’t presume that if I kill them off, things will be better.  The only thing that can make them and myself better is to acknowledge our complete inability to fix the fundamental brokenness we share, and to go in repentance to the God who created us and died for us, accepting his promise to do for us and in us  and despite us what we cannot do for ourselves or one another.

To heal us.  Not through education but through the blood of the Son of God.  The only innocent blood that has ever been shed in our world.  In that blood you and I have the real hope for healing and new life, for the brokenness to be perfectly and eternally healed, and for the voices of hatred or lust or anger or whatever that plague us to be finally and eternally silenced.  It’s only the blood of Jesus that can extinguish the torches and beat the swords into plowshares.  Imperfectly here and now, but perfectly and forever when He returns to reclaim creation from our rebellion.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

 

The Surprise of Sin

August 14, 2017

I haven’t been following the events in Charlottesville too closely.  But it has been interesting to see the very emotional responses to the demonstrations there.  It has led me to wonder why so many people are so deeply affected by the demonstrations.  After all, white supremacy and the KKK – these are not new entities in American culture and politics.  They are, I trust, still minority movements.  Fringe elements – far more so than they were decades ago.  Yet their very existence has suddenly struck many folks as completely unacceptable.  Why is this?

Let me first pause to say that I condemn racism, I condemn points of view that posit God’s blessings exclusively to any particular people or race.  Such opinions run directly contrary to Biblical theology.  They may attempt to use the Bible to foster a nationalism that is racially based, but I think this is faulty at best.

More accurately, what it is, is sinful.  But sin is hardly anything new.

This is not to discount sin or the events in Charlottesville or anywhere else that sin breaks out.  My point is rather that we should hardly be surprised by sin.

But I think that there is a segment of our society that is surprised by sin.  Surprised and personally offended.  It isn’t just sinful, it’s a personal issue, a personal affront.  I think that segment are progressives and liberals.  The same folks who are personally offended that anyone might question the sanctity of the State as the supreme authority for caring for the poor and marginalized.  These folks are deeply shocked and offended that there are still white supremacists in America.  Why is this so?

I think it’s because the assumption is that nearly 50 years of progressive agendas and power in educational systems has presumably helped to weed out such negativity.  Big Bird and Elmo, Barney and the rest of the gang were supposed to have helped squelch primitive notions of racial superiority.  School curriculum was supposed to further eliminate mistaken and undesirable notions.

Yet here we are 50 years later, and sin in the form of prejudice and racism still exists.  How are we to account for this?  Aren’t we as a species moving forward?  Aren’t we progressing?  Isn’t our country a role model for egalitarian concepts and tolerance?  How could we possibly be confronted with the horrors of racial prejudice in public, unmasked, even?  Modern notions of education and birth control and abortion were supposed to be gradually eliminating these elements from our midst.

But they’ve failed.  Sin is far more pernicious and pervasive, far more invasive and insidious.  It can’t be eliminated with education or birth control or abortion.  It can’t be eliminated by updating our Facebook status’ or condemning it on Twitter.

Sin remains.  In myriad ways, but certainly in racism and prejudice.  And sin will continue to persist despite our best efforts to weed it out.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take sin seriously, but it’s a reminder that sin is not simply a matter of education or breeding.  It is deep within us, and bursts forth in unpredictable and unflattering ways.  Sometimes it takes us by surprise and other times we’re well familiar with the demons who lurk under the surface.

Please, go ahead and disapprove of those who espoused Nazi ideas this past week, or any other time.  Please, go ahead and condemn those who imagine some sort of divinely sanctioned Utopian society based on real estate and pigmentation.  But please, don’t be surprised.  Don’t take it personally.  You’re sinful as well.  Not in the same ways, hopefully.  But without a doubt in many equally devastating (if more socially acceptable) ways.  Don’t assume somehow that your sin is any more acceptable or less despicable and dangerous –  both to yourself and others.  And give thanks to the God who forgives us our daily trespasses, as we are called to forgive those who trespass against us.

 

 

Another Google Response

August 9, 2017

In the continuing saga of Google controversy over gender – or more specifically, over hiring and promotion practices aimed at promoting diversity – here is the latest salvo.

It tugs on the heart strings in all the right ways, but it fundamentally misses the point of the original memo.  The original memo was not questioning whether some women were just as capable as men in terms of performance in technology related fields as well as in ascending into the upper echelons of management.  The memo did indicate that overall, men and women seek out these sorts of jobs at different rates, and therefore that trying to force diversity and equal percentages of each gender might be fundamentally flawed.

While many people seem to read it as an attack on women, I didn’t see or hear that at all.  Nor did lots of other people undoubtedly smarter than I am.  However it was a stinging criticism of implicit bias’ towards certain ideological assumptions  and the corresponding discrimination against differing points of view which results in people being afraid to speak if they don’t hold with the dominant ideology.  It was a request for more study and data, and not simply a treatise about how women should stay home and not become programmers or CEOs.

But that’s how many people – including this woman – seem to have interpreted it.

I’ve known oodles of women who are way smarter than I am in math and science.  But that’s not what the original memo was trying to address, and it was not the question that this woman’s daughter asked her.  I don’t know how old her daughter is, but her question is a complex one that, when she’s old enough to understand the complexity, deserves a complex answer.

There are always prejudices and stereotypes that can be dangerous and damaging.  That doesn’t mean all stereotypes are, nor does it mean that some stereotypes may not have actual data behind them.  And it’s very unfortunate that this woman has had her abilities and commitment questioned simply because she’s a woman.  It’s unfortunate if she’s been excluded from industry events because of her gender (though, at the risk of beating a dead horse, y’all remember it’s now socially acceptable to discriminate against guys, right?).  Given her status, it’s obvious that she surmounted these challenges, or is continuing to surmount them.  That’s fantastic and a wonderful model to her daughter and other young women.  And young men, I hope.

I didn’t hear the original e-mail trying to discourage women from pursuing computer programming or upper management positions in technology companies. What it was doing was questioning attempts to force companies to have an even distribution of genders when there was credible research and evidence to show that such a goal might not actually be reasonable or sustainable.  What is the “negative stereotype” that Susan Wojicicki accuses James Damore of perpetuating, and who wins when both claim to have data and statistics to back up their perspectives?

In this case, Google and those who agree with Ms. Wojicicki win.  Which is the very environment Mr. Damore was attempting to describe.

I have a daughter as well.  My hopes for her are not specific to the tech industry or science.  Or music or art or literature.  I want her to figure out what makes her happy, what she enjoys doing and is good at.  I want her imagination to fire in directions of her own choosing (by and large).  My hopes and aspirations for her are that she will be happy and fulfilled in whatever vocation she chooses to pursue.  That she won’t be held back from a chosen career path because of the sexism of men around her if she chooses to  enter the workplace, and that she won’t be the object of sexist scorn by feminists is she chooses to commit her life to raising a family and running a household.

Perhaps if we focused a lot more on helping our kids figure out what they’d like to do and how to do it, we’d all be happier, instead of trying to use our children to vindicate our own experiences as adults.   This may require specialized programs and training in companies to ensure that people have equal opportunities.  But that’s a far cry from demanding absolute numerical parity between men and women across all levels and positions.  Maybe we need to quit quantifying equality in that way, and spend more time making sure that if a woman (or a man) wants to enter a particular vocation, they have the ability to do so and be successful at it.

How would I answer my daughter if she asked me the question Ms. Wojicicki’s daughter posed her?  I’d begin by asking her why she wanted to know.  Is she afraid?  Is she worried maybe she shouldn’t consider a future in technology because she’s not as good at it as a boy?  I’d encourage her to explore that for herself.  Not to worry about broad brush-stroke studies of men and women, but simply to see what she likes to do and what she’s good at.  If she’s good at and interested in science and technology or management, then I will encourage her to pursue those things, and find ways to put her skills to good work.  I’ll be honest that there may be people who try to stop her for any number of reasons.  Those will be her battles to fight – I can’t fight them for her. But I can prepare her to face them bravely and competently.

What I don’t want to do is tell her to pursue something in order to make a point, or just because Mom or I have done it (or haven’t done it).  And if necessary, I’ll acknowledge honestly that perhaps her question doesn’t have a simple answer and that it’s misleading to pretend that it does.  That we need to talk about a whole lot of things beyond whether she’s good at math or not.  It’s OK for the situation to be complex.  Maybe if we continued to honestly acknowledge this with one another as adults, we’d move further along in figuring out how to make workplaces safer and opportune places for both men and women.

Facts & Feelings

August 8, 2017

On the continuing saga of the fired Google exec who dared challenge prevailing opinions about gender and workplace policy and culture (which I mentioned already here and here), here is input from four apparently well-qualified academics.  Their conclusion is that the author of the memo lined up pretty well with actual research into the differences between men and women.

Unfortunately, that research and his conclusions from it are not very popular these days.

He’s already out of a job, so being right is of questionable consolation in this day and age when truth is determined too often by who screams the loudest and uses the most pejorative language.  His situation perfectly proves the very point he was trying to make.   Google couldn’t have proved and endorsed his critique any better than by firing him.

We struggle as a culture to come up with a framework for male/female interactions (as well as gender, sexuality, etc.).  Whatever is proposed inevitably ends up being offensive to someone and therefore is untenable.  But whether something is offensive or not is separate from whether it is true.  In the drive for equality, feminism and now pop culture at large has settled on the idea that in order to be equal, men and women have to be the same.  Physically, emotionally, intellectually – you name it.  Practically interchangeable.

The only problem with this is that it’s not true.  We know it anecdotally in our relationships, and those informal observations are backed up by an impressive amount of research.  Worse still, it is patently offensive to both men and women to insist that they are virtually identical except for some hormonal and physiological differences – both of which modern medicine and psychiatry are happy to tweak with until you think you’re happy.

I find it interesting that it is common to describe human beings as animals, emphasizing our similarity at a genetic level to the animal kingdom, we are far less interested in seeking comparisons on social issues.  It isn’t helpful to note, for instance, that in many animal species there are very clear roles for each gender, and that those roles differ, but both are important and necessary.  Perhaps such comparisons aren’t often drawn because it is an inconvenient truth, a truth we like to think we have moved beyond.

We are convinced that now that we understand (or think we understand) genetics and DNA and natural selection we have somehow surpassed these things and are in the position of redefining reality and truth to suit our purposes.  We are convinced that our alleged knowledge has made us masters of the things we think we know.  However if DNA and genetics and natural selection are the things we think they are, it seems rather unlikely to me that we have somehow gotten the drop on hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection.  As though we have reached a place where our genes no longer dictate to us, but rather we are free to dictate to our genes through genetic modification.

For now, and for all of time leading up to this moment, men and women have been different, and this has been the source – unfortunately – of inequality.  I have no idea how things will be going forward, now that we are editing and tinkering with DNA and our own genetic code, making changes that can be propagated to future generations.  C.S. Lewis warned about this stage of things in his very prescient book The Abolition of Man.  Unsatisfied with merely being able to rewrite history, we are now permanently rewriting our future as a species.  While some are optimistic about this, I am not.  Our rewriting of history has so often been disastrous that I can’t imagine our success in rewriting the future.

Perhaps it will be a future where the Google engineer is wrong and his detractors are right.  But that’s not the case here and now, and it would seem wise and desirable by all sides to recognize this and take this into account rather than simply pretending it isn’t true.