Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Defending the Press

October 5, 2017

President Trump has taken a lot of flack from nearly the beginning of his presidency for his dismissal of the press.  Humanly speaking, it’s hard to blame him.  The press has not exactly been kind to him, constantly seeking for some malfeasance or other transgression to invalidate his election, his presidency, his existence.  His public and sometimes official policy of ignoring representatives from certain press outlets infuriated some people and resulted in allegations that President Trump is anti-press.  Dan Rather now routinely writes on Facebook posting his dismay and disgust on this topic as well as many other issues wherein he disagrees with conservatives and President Trump.  So be it.  He’s entitled to his say.

But I believe there is a distinction to be made between having a press badge and being what the press has always supposed to be – an unbiased and investigative community reporting the news in as objective a manner as possible.  This is a press I think most people – conservative and liberal alike – can get behind and support.  This is the press at it’s finest.  You want to uncover the misdoings of Watergate and topple a president?  Go for it – but be objective!  You want to defend wantonly criminal actions of a sitting official or candidate because you agree with them ideologically?  I’m not nearly as impressed.  Press representatives on both ends of the spectrum fall into this dangerous pit repeatedly.  At this point, I don’t think I’m the only American who thinks that ideological bias has been institutionalized in most major media outlets.  The press is not free and objective, but rather dedicated to fostering a particular view of events that support their ideological leanings.

So it was that I turned on NPR the other morning for the first time in months.  I want to like NPR.  I really do.  Hell, as a taxpayer I pay for it.  But I can’t listen to it for too long before the inherent bias’ in their reporting leaves me frustrated and I have to turn it off.  This particular morning it was discussing President Trump’s upcoming visit to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

Of course, most of the initial discussion was about the anticipated tenseness sure to be present at his meeting with local officials, some of whom were loudly critical of his response (and our nation’s response as a whole) to the devastation suffered in Puerto Rico.  The reporter and the radio anchor person eagerly opined about how it would be awkward indeed.  The reporter then duly reported about how there was no power in Puerto Rico and the situation was dire.

But the more you listened, the more you realized she was only telling part of the story, the part that accented her desire to make President Trump look bad.  A few minutes later, she lamented that not many people in Puerto Rico would know about the President’s visit, though some would, because, actually, there were some radio stations broadcasting.  And if you have radio stations broadcasting and people picking up their broadcasts, there is likely at least *some* power on the island.  But rather than talk about how some power is being restored – whether through the grid or through shared or individual generators, the narrative is simply that there is no electricity to speak of.

Furthermore, discussion was about how aid was being distributed.  Meaning the materials and aid were already present, but there were difficulties or delays in distributing it.  Which sounds a lot different from the impression I’ve had in the news that we haven’t done anything.  Things are happening, but it’s difficult.  That’s news I can understand, but it doesn’t happen to make Trump look bad and so the presentation needs spin, apparently.

I want a free press.  I need a free press.  And frankly I have no problem with a president or anyone else who wants to point out that our press isn’t exactly objective and unbiased.  I’m not naive to think that it has ever been – or ever could be 100% objective and free from bias.  But it could do a lot better.  That’s what I was taught as a news reporter and then news editor way back in the Dark Ages of high school.  Report the facts.  Leave the interpretation to the Op-Ed pages.  Make sure readers can trust there is a clear distinction between what happens on the news pages and what happens on the Editorial pages.

Maybe our press outlets could use a reminder of this basic fact that undergirds the American concept of a free press, yet seems to regularly get ignored.  Educate the people on the facts and let them draw their conclusions, don’t presume you have to pre-package the facts to make sure that people reach the conclusion you want them to reach.  You’ll find your readers and hearers more appreciative and more supportive.

At least this one.

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Semantics Matter

August 16, 2017

Words mean things.   They’re important.  So I applaud it when someone points out the real meaning of words.   In this case, a popular actress calling a nation out for murder rather than lauding it for some sort of medical progress.

Patricia Heaton made an important Tweet in response to media news claiming that Iceland is eliminating Downs Syndrome.  She pointed out the difference between eliminating something and killing everyone who suffers from it.

Well said, in 140-characters!

Fightin’ Words

August 5, 2017

A Google exec released an internal memo critiquing the company’s dominant ideological assumptions and is getting reamed for it.  The memo (allegedly) can be read here, while a sample of some of the responses it is generating can be found here.

I can understand why it would sound inflammatory to some people.  I suspect his basic assertions – that a particular ideological mindset are now entrenched and broach no challenge and engage in no dialogue – are accurate.  Some of the additional things he adds to the mix however make those basic assertions difficult to hear.  I don’t know if he attempted to substantiate his claims.  I hope that he did.  I would like to see his detractors substantiate some of theirs as well.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of statistics on both sides of the ideological divide, effectively clouding issues further.

Regardless of your point of view or ideological leanings on this, it’s disturbing once again to see where tolerance has gotten our culture and society.

 

When the Lost Find

April 13, 2017
Now, I know all you folks are the right kinda parents.
One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
Headin’ for the dance at the Arm’ry!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That’ll grab your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!
Mass-staria!
Friends, the idle brain is the devil’s playground!
Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
“Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man

 

I’ve been playing pool all of my adult life, which means countless hours spent in pool halls and bars.  I’ve seen a lot of things in those places, but there’s also a lot of things I haven’t seen, primarily because I don’t know what I’m looking at or looking for.  Pool halls and bars have earned their reputations at least in part, however, and just because I don’t see the sexual solicitations or the drug sales all the time doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.

But there are also times when it’s pretty obvious what I’m looking  at, and then there are times when I’m reminded that I’m not seeing everything I ought to.  Not by a long shot.

I stopped in to a familiar bar with the best tables in town up the hill from my house the other day to snatch a quick few games of pool before an afternoon of meetings.  I knew a few of the guys playing there, and I quickly got my cues assembled and the balls racked and broke.  It was only after a few moments that I saw a girl I didn’t recognize chatting with one of the guys.  And as the game progressed I rapidly realized that the man was making pretty free use of her as she sat with her eyes glued to her smart phone.  Far more use than a casual acquaintance or even a good friend might, to put it diplomatically.

They disappear to his car for a few minutes and emerge in a haze of marijuana smoke and laughter.  But by this time I have to get back to the office.  I’ve packed up my cues and am on my way out of the bar, giving my regards to the guys I know and passing the couple as they re-enter the bar.  As I exit the cavern-like darkness of the bar into the blinding Central Coast sunshine, fumbling for my sunglasses,  I hear a woman calling Hey! after me.

You and I need to talk, she says as I turn in the parking lot to look back.  It’s the young woman the guy was with.  Her attire is eye-catching without being too over the top.  Faded denim jeans and a white t-shirt.  Her blond-ish hair has purple tints in it and her make-up is not light.  She’s probably in her late 20’s and the scent of her perfume alone is enough to nearly knock me unconscious.

I don’t imagine the conversation will be too long, as there can’t possibly be much to say.  Of the three guys at the pool table she was closest to, I paid her the least attention (by far!).  I assumed she just wanted to make sure I properly acknowledged her vanity, as it should have been obvious that I wasn’t interested in her services.

Are you really a priest? I mean, a real priest?   I assure her that I am, indeed, a card-carrying minister, realizing that the guy must have filled her in on that detail for some reason during their time together.  She’s taking her time now, sizing me up.  We’re blocking traffic in the parking lot so I move us out of the way.  I’m in a slight hurry, and not interested in playing around conversationally or otherwise.  But at length she asks What church?  I tell her the name and where it is.  She hasn’t heard of it.  Not surprising, I think to myself.  I start to search for a business card to give her.  My dad died a couple of months ago, and I’d like to think he’s with you.  When I look back up at her face she has tears on both cheeks that she’s wiping away.  I hope he’s with God, I respond after a stunned second.

In the bar I first saw a young woman who was so jaded in life that she didn’t care how men used her as long as they noticed her.  Then I saw a woman supporting herself with that attention and exploiting it.  What I had failed to see – in part because I didn’t want to pay too much attention to her – is someone lost.

My work in the recovery community has taught me a lot, but the one thing it has to keep teaching me over and over again is something that my faith taught me but is difficult at times to bear in mind.  People are more than the sum of their circumstances and choices.  They might be a train-wreck of addiction and crime and moral degradation, but it isn’t who they are.  It isn’t all they are.  And given the right circumstances and situations and the power of God the Holy Spirit, even the most monumental of train wrecks can be repaired.  The tracks cleared, the rubble swept away and a life of promise and possibility stretching into eternity put in place.

I hadn’t seen that with this girl.  So perhaps God the Holy Spirit sent her after me to make sure that I saw it.  I went to my car to search for a business card and brought it back to her.  By this point she was standing by a beat-up car lighting up a pipe of marijuana.  I recognized the young man in the car as someone who had been sitting at the bar earlier, and surmised it was her boss.  I handed her my card, wondering what he thought of the whole thing and realizing he probably didn’t think anything of it.  I wasn’t likely going to upset their arrangement.

I wasn’t.  I’m not.  But God the Holy Spirit, that’s another matter.  That’s a daugher of God the Father I was talking to.  That’s a woman The Son of God died and rose again for.  And while I may not want to look at her too long or bother to get involved too deeply, the Holy Spirit of God is after her.  He can do what I can’t.  He can lead her away from the pipe and the pimp and the random encounters in darkened bars in midday.  He can find the lost and lead them home and I pray that’s what happens with her.

It was a good reminder of the power and purpose of the Gospel.  One of the key reasons God gathers his people together, so that the Word might go out and reach the lost.  So that He might bring them home – the very people we don’t want to look at to closely or be seen talking to in the bright early afternoon sunlight of a busy parking lot.  It’s not a comfortable place to be, but it’s a necessary discomfort for somebody.  Perhaps even me.

 

 

 

The View from the Back of the Church

December 24, 2016

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This is the view from the back of the church.

Come all ye faithful and gather to see

The God-man commanding your whole life’s search

From poinsettia blood nativity.

Sit down and partake of the Word made man,

Though pews be hard and the liturgy rough.

No harder than mangers where livestock ran,

Nails – destined for hands – hold a cradle trough.

Hear, the oft-told story bears repeating

Of angel bands singing to flocks by night,

Mother, husband, stood amidst the bleating

Backlit in the birth of their son, the Light.

The angels proclaim it still tonight. Hark!

When you enter here, the hold of Christ’s ark.

 

 

 

A Bomb, by Any Other Name

September 17, 2016

…might be called an intentional explosive.

Since…why?  Bomb sounds too scary?  Bomb is too associated with terrorists?  Bomb is somehow politically incorrect?  Is intentional explosive more specific or descriptive than bomb?

Words matter.  That might not always show from this blog, but it’s true.  I just haven’t figured out why this word has changed – at least for this event.

Paperback Writer II

April 23, 2016

Another great video, this time discussing the role of the early papyrus scroll, as opposed to the vellum or animal skin material used in medieval writings, which I posted about earlier in the week.

 

Rooms

April 22, 2016

I close my hallway office door behind me.  Fourteen steps down the hall before the left turn and another seven steps to the side door.  I emerge in the bright sunlight of a Santa Barbara afternoon and pass by the playground.  Years and years and years ago it was part of a congregational pre-school, but now the children that scream and swing there are students with a separate Christian school that are tenants on our property.

I pass by the church van and kick the seed pod-thingies from the massive tree overhead.  I weave through two rows of parked cars, staff and visitor vehicles for the senior living center next door to us.  They’ve recently planted new roses and put in a fence, so I can’t take the shortest route down the small dusty hill, but instead have to walk a bit further to take four or five steps down to their side street.  I check for traffic both ways as not everyone obeys the 12 MPH posted speed limit.  I head right and up a short set of stairs and into an outdoor corridor for the senior living center.

The first door on my left I have thus passed for at least the last four years.  I remember it because the name on it is the same name as a famous celebrity who passed away earlier this year.  I always wonder, what if that’s his mother, living alone in this small, obscure apartment?  What an interesting connection that would be, a peculiar brush with greatness a far shade subtler than the culture of texts and pics and social media that swallows so much attention and time and money these days.

Sometimes the door would be open, and the screen door shut, and I could surreptitiously peek in as I walked by.  If I caught a glimpse of the person who lived there, would they resemble that famous celebrity?  There was never time to really get a good look inside, but I could see an easy chair and a coffee table, simple, tasteful.

What is their life like, I wonder?  Where have they gone, what have the seen?  Who have they loved and who have they lost?  Do their children – even the famous one – come to see them?  Do they see their grandchildren?  Do they paint or did they used to like to cook?  Where did they wish upon stars as a child, and what regrets shuffle a half-pace behind them in their small apartment?  Did they like to fly kites?  Did they leap out of bed in the morning or reluctantly force themselves to bed in the wee hours of the night?  Did they like it when their eyelids were kissed, and were they a hand-holder or someone who hates it because it makes your hand clammy and sweaty?

An entire life, a mini-universe bound together in this one person’s identity, and what an amazing thing it would be to explore, to bound through the nebulae and constellations, to see and smell and taste and feel for a bit what they have seen and smelled and tasted and felt, to experience a fraction of my universe through their experience of it.  To sift for possible overlaps and unknown correlations, while reveling in the uniqueness and vast, simple, differences of it all.

I walked by today and the name tag was off the front of the door.  Did they move?  Did they, like many others in that place who bide their time and wait carefully, finally get summoned from their waiting rooms into the Great Beyond?  A name plate gone from a door and a universe winks out of existence, more lost to me than if I had never know it existed there, just a few paces away, separated by a flimsy screen door and the iron portcullis of politeness and social convention and shyness.  A name plate gone from a door, and I mourn for all that I imagined could have been and all that actually was.  No further questions to be pondered, no further glimpses into the softly shuffling life of that faceless person who shared a name – and perhaps nothing else – with greatness.

An hour later I walk back, through the outdoor corridor, past the shut and nameless apartment door, across the road and up the steps and across the parking lot and through the side door and then seven steps ahead and then right for 14 steps to the key in the lock of my own door, which I quietly close behind me on billions of other universes leaving me alone – for a time – with my own.

Paperback Writer

April 19, 2016

In case you’re curious about the process of creating a medieval manuscript, this video is a great, short description of the process!

Politicizing Christ

March 27, 2016

An old friend of mine posted this article on Facebook this morning.  It has been many years, decades, even, since we were last able to sit down and have a theological conversation.  I know that our trajectories in terms of theology diverge rather markedly in some areas, and this article is a good reminder of that.

The article purports to give ten reasons why Jesus himself would not be accepted as a political candidate by evangelicals today.  We’ll ignore the fact that Jesus is not a political candidate, and that when He returns it isn’t going to be a matter of whether evangelicals support him or not.  The fact is that his own people rejected him – I have no doubt that both liberals and conservatives would find reasons to reject him today as well.

But the rationale the article lays out is just so bizarre at times.

Free healthcare.  The Gospels account many instances where Jesus grants healing.  Such healings continued after his death and resurrection and ascension.  But it’s also likely (if not obvious) that not everybody was healed.  Jesus’ main purpose was not to provide free healthcare and healing, but rather to give signs that reinforced what He said.  Healings were not in and of themselves his purpose, but they pointed to the greater, perfect healing that his death and resurrection would promise to all who believed in him.

Let’s presume for a moment that free healthcare was Jesus’ main point.  If such were true, it would be no means mean that any attempt to give free healthcare is the same as Jesus’ free healthcare.  Jesus’ free healthcare was actually free.  Free healthcare as conceived and implemented here in the USA is anything but free.  It comes with a high cost that is hidden and distributed soas to make it appear that it is free.  Jesus was pretty keen on honesty as well as healthcare.  Let’s be honest about who is really capable of offering free healthcare.

Class warfare.  Jesus did not come to pit the poor against the rich.  Nor did He mandate state-sponsored wealth redistribution.  He was vocal about caring for all people – not just poor people.  Jesus loved the rich young man, after all!  (Mark 10:17ff)  Jesus warned of the dangers of riches more than he attacked the rich for being rich.  Being rich is problematic only in how those riches can waylay and distract us from our trust in God.  Those riches are not problematic in and of themselves just because not everyone has them equally.

Immigrants & the poor.  Jesus stood behind the social mandates of the Old Testament.  Our love of neighbor is best defined by how we treat the least of these.  Caring for the poor and for the foreigner is a major theme throughout Scripture, but at the same time God created social and cultural practices that effectively isolated the Hebrews from much of the surrounding nations and cultures.  He created them as a very separate people, not by building walls but by dictating aspects of their everyday life that marked them as unique and that necessarily separated them.

And again, Jesus did not argue that the State should redistribute wealth to the poor, but rather that each individual should take seriously their personal obligation to be of assistance to the marginalized in their society.  You can’t translate Scripture’s call to this kind of holiness into a public policy mandate for a secular government.  Not even the theocracy of Israel was successful in doing that!  I, personally, need to take steps to care for the poor and marginalized around me.  Jesus makes this clear.  He does not make clear that a bureaucrat somewhere on the other side of the country should take my money forcibly to redistribute it to those that they see fit to.

Taxes.  I don’t have a problem with taxes nor do I know any conservatives who do.  Do I like them?  Not particularly – but that’s because I feel I no longer have any meaningful input into how they are spent.  Decisions are made locally and nationally on spending that are not dependent on tax revenues but on political agendas.  Accountability is pretty low in these regards because the solution is always available to raise taxes.  I’m happy to pay my share towards the services and amenities I enjoy, but I also don’t think this requires me to unquestioningly and uncritically allow others to dictate what my share is and how it is used, particularly in a country where I ostensibly have the right to protest and be involved.  I believe this attitude is consistent with Jesus’ teaching as well as Romans 13.

And all of this ignores the basic issue that Jesus is responding to a trap laid by the religious authorities in an effort to get Jesus to advocate not paying taxes, a Roman criminal offense.

Protests at churches.  Churches have always been places where confrontations with the larger culture have occurred (or even begun), so I’m not sure what the point is here.  And Jesus didn’t ransack the Temple because of social policy!  He drove out moneychangers and animal sellers because the Temple was not an appropriate place for such activity.  He didn’t claim that they were cheating or oppressing people, but rather that they were misusing God’s house.

Name-calling.  I think we need to be careful here.  There is a fundamental difference between mudslinging on a political or personal level, and the authoritative judgments of the Son of God.  Did Jesus call every religious leader names?  Of course not.  He doesn’t call Nicodemus names in John 3.  Why does the author specify Graham and Falwell?  Are there evangelical leaders the author doesn’t think would earn Jesus’ negative attention?  I’m sure there are.

Death penalty/Soft crime – Jesus at all times and in all ways upheld the Old Testament.  He never contradicted it but only clarified it.  As such, He was apparently not anti-death penalty.  Jesus didn’t stop the execution of the woman caught in adultery – he clarified the reasons that the religious leaders had specifically brought her to Jesus and made an issue of it in front of him (yet hadn’t, for some reason, brought the man as well).  Oh, and since the Jews weren’t technically allowed to execute someone for a religious offense, the woman likely wasn’t in mortal danger.

What is the goal in dealing with crime?  Is it to make the criminal suffer, or is it to restore that person to right behavior?  I suspect that we like to think that our ideas about crime are restorative – we put people in prison so that they have time to reconsider their life choices and rehabilitate themselves.  Statistics are pretty clear that this generally isn’t happening.  Which leads me to think that our ideas about crime and punishment are punitive.  We simply want to punish.  We want that person to suffer because we suffered.

Jesus makes clear that God the Father’s goal is restorative.  He is concerned with finding the lost sheep, restoring the prodigal son rather than sentencing him to hard labor simply because it feels good.  The author also fails to mention that Jesus does pronounce sentence on the woman – go and sin no more.

Christians of all stripes need to recognize that simply demanding that crime be punished is counter to our faith.  We don’t imprison or fine or castigate because it feels good (or at least we shouldn’t).  Rather we do these things as regrettable necessities towards the end of restoration, towards changing someone’s life.  Jesus is able to do this without executing the woman or imprisoning her.  This doesn’t make him soft on crime – it makes him hard on sin.

Loving enemies. I would again stress the importance of not trying to translate individual attitudes into national policies.  I am not to hate my enemy.  My nation cannot hate an enemy – a nation is an abstraction and extension of the citizens (at least in theory).  I am not to hate my enemy, but I am not commanded to let him kill me, either.  God is pretty big on national defense in the Old Testament, and in fact takes action against his people sometimes because they don’t trust his ability to protect them from their enemies.

I don’t find the Biblical call to love our enemies inconsistent with a national defense policy.  It should guide how we craft such a policy and for what reasons.  It should truly be defense, the ability to protect ourselves against forceful aggression when other means of resolving the situation have failed.

Gun control.  Jesus came to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice, the spotless, divine lamb of God.  We have to understand this first and foremost.  What does He tell Pontius Pilate during his interrogation?  In Matthew 26:43 Jesus claims that his heavenly Father could and would send more than 12 legions of angels at Jesus’ request.  That’s 72,000 angels.  It isn’t that Jesus isn’t capable of defending himself (or being defended) but rather that He is obediently waiving that capability.  The Matthew 5 text the author cites has nothing to do with force – it has everything to do with the state of our heart.  We are not free to discount or hate someone who disagrees with us, even if they threaten us.  While we may be free to defend ourselves, we do so as such – in defense, not in hatred.

Whether I carry a gun (or a stick, or a pocket-knife) is not the issue.  The issue is the state of my heart, because the state of my heart towards others will determine how (and whether) I use that gun or stick or knife.  We might also consider Jesus’ curious words in Luke 22:35-38.

Kingdom of God.  I agree with this completely.  Yes, the Kingdom of God is here and now not just there and then, and we are to take seriously our role as citizens of that kingdom here and now, not just there and then.

 

I dislike attempts to co-opt Jesus  from either side of the political spectrum.  What He does and promises is far beyond what any of us can conceive of, and I have no doubt beyond what most of us are comfortable contemplating within our sin-soaked experience.  There will be plenty of liberals and conservatives shocked and offended at the Kingdom of God.  I just pray that they’re all inside of it when it is fully revealed!