Monthly Archives: June 2016

Not perfect, just forgiven

Like most bumpersticker wisdom, it falls far short in practically every way.

Even people of the faith vary on what that means. To some, it’s an acknowledgement that, yes, we will sometimes fall spectacularly short. It’s a statement that we, like all other people, are bound by weaknesses and selfishness, and yes, even hypocrisy.

Some of our critics would agree on the hypocrisy part. But though they may not say it this way, their complaint about this concept is the complacency. I’ve got Jesus, so I can do whatever I want to you. I have license for being a bastard because I don’t have to be perfect. My grace covers whatever horrible thing I might decide to do to you.

The truth is infinitely more complicated. For instance, take me. I’m a hypocrite. In some places, I’m actively struggling to overcome that hypocrisy. And in some places, I’m woefully complacent. It’s hard to do better than that.

And yet, the charge that comes with the bumpersticker truth calls for us to do the hard thing. The message this weekend at our church is from the book of Philippians, known to theologians as the letter of joy. But some of the concepts in that letter are anything but joyful.

We spent a little time today on verse 1:29, where Paul says that we have the privilege of trusting in Jesus, but also the privilege of suffering for him. This concept can be easily misunderstood. It doesn’t mean putting on the hairshirt and metaphorically flaying ourselves because we’re awful. If Jesus gave up his godhood to come down and save us, then we’re off value–all of us. Even the gays and the AY-rabs and that guy at work we don’t get along with.

In this country, right now, very few people are suffering for Jesus. Sure someone considered us all morons because Starbucks used a red coffee cup last year, but honestly, if that’s the worst thing someone does to you, it’s been a damn fine life.

So if we don’t have it bad and we’re valued enough that Jesus suffered for us, what’s all this suffering stuff.

It’s about the gays and the Ay-rabs. It’s about that guy you can’t stand at work–something I have right now. It’s about the guy who just stopped dead in the road while you rushed home, trying not to pee yourself on the way. It’s about that former spouse or the parent or child with whom your relationship is strained. (For the record, this is not a call to invite or weather abuse because Jesus would want it.)

It’s about being bold and courageous.

It’s about love. Because in love, there’s an immense amount of trust, but it’s also about risk and pain. When you love without regard to your target’s ability to pay you back, you open yourself up to that trust and that suffering.

And that’s okay. We’re forgiven. We can afford to take those chances.

I, for one, hope I can find the courage to take more of them.

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It’s getting bad again (or not)

Once again, the world seems like it’s going to shake loose. Great Britain has decided to leave the EU. And now movements in Texas and California want to leave the US. For a lot of people the choice between Trump and Hillary is the choice between worse and worst (assign values to people based on your own personal tastes). Everything seems bad.

It’s not like it was back in the good old days when people knew how to act.

For me, the good old days was the 1970s. You remember the 70s. It was the decade when gas stopped being cheap, when the balance of power shifted from the west to the oil-grubbing sheiks of the Middle East. It was when a President’s power crumbled under the weight of scandal and paranoia. It was when the Misery Index was created and when we needed to Whip Inflation Now. It was when we waited hours in line just to fill up on gas.

And yet, here we are, 40 years later.

We managed somehow not to go to war with the Soviet Union, in spite of the fact that we were all doomed to nuclear incineration. Gas prices have jumped up and down like a bowling ball on a bungee chord. And fifteen years ago, the towers fell and it seemed like every major establishment had a massive crisis of corruption and abuse.

I’d just gotten laid off and just as the jobs started to re-appear, the towers came down. And the job openings evaporated.

And yet here we are.

The problems facing us are, indeed, challenging. But when have they ever not been challenging?

If life is always hard, and even Jesus said it would be, then where is the joy? Where is the reason to go on?

Maybe it’s in the hand of your lover, in the smile of a child around you. Maybe it’s in the look of relief when that clerk having an awful day was greeted by your empathy, rather than your wrath. Maybe it’s in the hug you were able to give to that person who needed it at just the right time.

Those things will be around always. They’ll never, ever lead the news. They aren’t useful for winning political campaigns. They can’t cure cancer, eliminate the debt, or come up with a mutually agreeable resolution to the gun issue.

But they can, for even a brief period of time, render that stuff to be problems for later.

Or maybe they’ll be that transforming moment that someone never forgets, even someone who works your nerves like a wire brush over raw skin.

But only if you take the risk and try.


Brexit, Bernie, and Trump

I don’t know enough about Great Britain leaving the EU to know whether it’s a good idea. My daughter, who’s quite informed on such things, says it’s a  bad deal. I trust that her arguments are well-thought-out and maybe even sound, but I haven’t done the analysis.

Part of me is emotionally attracted to supporting the desire to detach. I get that. I think a lot of other people get it, too.

Everything–everything is so big. And getting bigger. And people are feeling outflanked by all of it.

 

You aren’t a person any more. You aren’t even a number. You’re a part of a demographic, not an individual.

Companies make moves based on how much of their customer base they can afford to lose, based on cost-cutting or offshoring. Your experience doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is keeping their attrition rate below X%.

That’s part of what resonates about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Their attraction is based first around the presumption that he cares about me. That explains the difficulty in having rational discussions with either set of supporters. They won’t listen because their guy is for them. And if you don’t have that personal connection, you won’t see the point.

Trump’s a populist. He speaks the language of the people in his base. After the Republicans gained election largely on immigration issues, then caved before being sworn in, Trump got his opportunity. If you’re trying to compete at the lower end of the economy, and you’re competing against illegal aliens who’ll work for less, you support immigration control. It doesn’t make you stupid or racist. It makes you human.

It also gives guys like Trump an opportunity to gain by speaking to your concerns.

On the other side, Sanders has the same attraction. Big business will sell you to someone to kill you if they could make 25 cents on the deal. Sanders connects with people who look at business and see a massive soulless entity built on consuming more and more, and amassing more and more at the expense of everything and everyone else.

 

That brings me back to Brexit.

The EU is enormous. It’s a confederation of countries with regulations on practically everything. There are EU standards on technical writing, for instance.

In big organizations, compliance to the rules comes first. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

On some level, the attraction of Brexit, Trump, and Sanders is the attraction away from that model. Toward a model where you matter. Where you’re told you matter. Where things are smaller and closer and can be influenced more readily.

This populist push against bigger and more powerful is real. And disruptive. And it’ll, ironically enough, grow over time.


*They* are us

A lot of people are putting rainbow flags in their Facebook pictures, but I’m not going to do that. For me, it seems presumptuous, because that’s not me. I don’t carry that burden today. I wouldn’t presume to understand what it’s like.

In December 2003, two Tampa-area men were abducted and sexually tortured, then dismembered. They were in a gay nightclub when they were abducted. Their brutal murders scared the gay community in Tampa Bay. It made them draw together, to wonder who they could trust and who might kill them.

Now, more than a decade later, a man deliberately opened fire in a gay bar, killing 49 people. To location wasn’t a coincidence. While he was doing this, he pledged allegiance to ISIS, an organization known for throwing gays off buildings to kill them.

The shooter’s father said he was enraged by seeing two gay men together in Miami. While it’s important to our foreign policy to call this what it is–Islamist-inspired terror, I expect that for 49 families and circles of friends, it doesn’t matter.

The family members won’t be thinking of ISIS when they look at the kitchen chair that will never be filled again. People won’t be thinking of ISIS months from now when a memory picture of their dead friend shows up on Facebook and tears away the emotional scab that was forming. Survivors won’t be thinking of ISIS when they’re invited out and politely say no before they fade away because they don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they’re still too afraid.

I don’t know what it’s like to be those people. I have no clue what it’s like to think twice about a place I frequent because just being there might make me a target. I don’t know what it’s like to have my ass handed to me late one afternoon after school because I like people of the same sex. I don’t know what it’s like to know that a monster named Omar and untold others want very much to murder me to appease their god.

To be clear, an Islamist named Omar Mateen killed more than four dozen people out of hate. Current thinking says he’s a lone wolf, someone inspired by ISIS to do as much damage as possible. It was Islamist terrorist and to some degree, we are all his enemy.

But we weren’t his targets over the weekend.

The majority of us can go where we want to go and be who we want to be. No one’s coming to kill the Methodists because their god says so. No one’s going to shoot up a sports bar because the very existence of the people who go there offends them. If I wear a Mets hat, I don’t have to worry that someone might have it in for me because of what that represents.

Eventually a Methodist church or a sports bar may be targeted. And when that happens, maybe I will understand a little.

But today, though we’re all diminished, we aren’t all equally diminished.

A large segment of our fellow Americans are more diminished. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing that. There’s nothing wrong with considering that most of the rest of us can’t fully understand where they are. And there’s nothing wrong with extending a little extra compassion.

We are not them, but they are us.

If we forget that, God help us all.


After Orlando, please consider this…

I’d like you to think about how it would be if your son or daughter was on vacation in Orlando this weekend. They were thinking about going out last night–or maybe not. After all, it was hot and they were at Universal all day and maybe they’d just grab some dinner and take it easy by the hotel pool. 

But it’s their last night of vacation and they like to fit in every bit of fun they can. So you figured they’d probably wind up going out.

You got up this morning and saw something about a shooting or something in Orlando and didn’t think much about it. There are a lot of shootings and maybe they were just rehashing the shooting with that girl from The Voice. So you take a shower and check your email and on the way there you see a news post in Facebook. It was a mass-casualty situation at a gay bar. An update that says 20 people were killed at a gay bar.

Your heart sinks that someone would target people because of that. And you’re a little concerned. You look at your phone, trying to decide whether to call. You don’t want to be that parent, the one whose insecurities are so big that your kids can’t even sleep in on vacation. 

So you keep the news on and try not to think of it too very much. You try not to think about how sometimes your son or daughter can go for couple drinks at Chili’s can wind up clubbing until three in the morning. 

And then the guy on TV, you don’t know which one, says that actually fifty people died. Fifty people. They’re calling it the biggest mass shooting in US history. They’re calling it a terrorist attack. They aren’t naming the shooter, but there are multiple posts on Facebook naming him.

So you call. 

The call rolls to voice mail and you leave a message.

“No problem,” you tell yourself, hating that your voice sounds unsteady. “It’s the last day of vacation. They’re sleeping late.”

You figure it’s better to do something else than keep watching television. But you can’t turn away. You see the guy who was at the club talking about what it was like, how this other guy’s arm was basically split in half. How he had to make tourniquets out of his shirt. You hear about the screaming and fear inside when it happened. And you want to jump out of your skin, you’re so worried. But that rational voice tells you to calm down. It’s horrible, but your child is certainly okay.

You listen to talk about ISIS and anti-homophobic rhetoric from Islamic fundamentalists. You’re used to the rhetoric. You’re used to the meanness. You’ve been used to it because it’s been happening since before your child decided to come out. 

You call again. Still the voice mail. This time you don’t care if you sound worried and frantic because you are. You leave another message.

The police have only now just cleared the scene and someone says it’s going to take hours to identify the dead. 

And it’s after 11 o’clock now. They should be up. They should be checking out of the hotel because they have to leave today. Sure the battery on the phone is iffy, but they should’ve called.

Now, that voice of reason, the one that told you that there are thousands of places to go out in Orlando, the one that told you you always get worried and overreact…now that voice is starting to sound irrational.

The problem is, there’s a logical explanation. There are 50 logical explanations, with 53 more at Orlando Regional Medical Center–wounded and maybe dying. 

You hear about how this shooter, this Omar Mateen, saw two men kissing and was angered by it. You remember the stories of people like your child being thrown from buildings for what they are. You tried to ignore those stories because it was happening over there, and the last thing we need to do is get bogged down in another war over there.

But now it’s not over there. It’s here. And it’s mid-afternoon and you still haven’t heard back. You think about calling the number they put on TV for relatives, just to see if there’s anything they can tell you. You pick up the phone and even start dialing once or twice. But you don’t complete the call. After all, you don’t know. Other people do know, they know their loved ones were there. And they’re trying to get information, too. And you decide to give it a little more time.

Now, you’re pacing, unable to sit down. Unable to turn off TV or do any of the nine thousands things you had mapped out to do. And you pray, you beg for a call.

And then it comes. Only it’s not your child’s goofy smiling face on the phone display. There is no face. Just a number. A number you don’t know. And it starts with 407, the area code for Orlando.

Today’s not a day of Leviticus. If you believe in God, the heavenly father, than how can he be any less upset and broken-hearted over this than we would be if it were our children?

 

Jesus said to love God and your neighbor. There’s no small print with disclaimers about which sex they sleep with.

I don’t know what it’s like to weep over what someone did to your children.

I think God does. And I think he’s doing just that today.


Theresa Saldana, Brock Turner (rapist), and rape culture

Theresa Saldana

Earlier this week, actress Theresa Saldana died at the age of 61. When I saw the story, the name rang a bell. It turns out that she was viciously attacked by a stalker in 1982. Her stalker stabbed her ten times, hard enough to have bent the blade. Somehow, she managed to survive the attack and became a victim’s advocate. Her attack happened just a few months before actress Dominique Donne (Poltergeist) was strangled by her boyfriend and several years before actress Rebecca Schaeffer was shot to death by a stalker.

Saldana’s death happened the same week Dan A. Turner, the father of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, said that the six-month sentence his son got for raping an unidentified co-ed was too steep a price to pay for “20 minutes of action.” There was already outrage over the length of the sentence, and an effort is ongoing to recall Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky for the sentence.

Brock Turner, the man who will never date your daughter

The reaction to all this has included charges the America has a rape culture and that this case is indicative of that culture.

To that assertion, I respectfully disagree.

In a related note, when my daughter went away to college, I talked to her at some length about parties, bars, and drinking. Just common sense. If you’re at a party and you set your drink down, get another drink. If you drink beer, drink it out of a bottle, not a cup. Keep your thumb over the opening.

If you set it down, walk away. Every time.

My son is going to college this fall. I’ll tell him the same things, but not with as much force as I told my daughter. Because honestly, the odds of someone drugging and assaulting an average-sized blonde female student are much higher than for a tall man.

That doesn’t make it right.

The overwhelming majority of men are not and will not be rapists. The overwhelming majority of men believe that forcing a woman to have sex against her will is and should be wrong. The overwhelming majority of men don’t believe that a woman’s genitalia was created primarily to be their playground.

The overwhelming majority of men would probably find karmic justice if Brock Turner’s victim’s brother accidentally dropped a big metal pipe on Brock’s head a few dozen times.

Justice was delivered in the observatory with a lead pipe. Not by Col. Mustard.

Last month, a very successful football coach named Art Briles was fired because of sexual assault allegations related to the football team. The college president, Ken Starr, was reassigned for the same reason. This doesn’t eliminate the problem of sexual assault on campus, but it’s an important step in the right direction.

Former Baylor football coach Art Briles

I don’t think our culture is primarily okay with rape. Outside his idiot father (an almost criminal understatement), I haven’t seen anyone on social media defending Brock Turner. I haven’t seen anyone defending Art Briles. And that’s a good sign.

That said, if my daughter were going to college this fall, I’d still have the discussion with her about drinking and being drugged.

That said, there are still woman like Theresa Saldana and Rebecca Schaeffer being attacked and killed because they’re physically weaker and because they’re women.

That said, there is still a statute of limitations on rape.

That said, there are still too many people who focus on what the woman did to cause the rape, rather than the fact that the man raped her.

So there is still work to be done.

 


Blowing a second chance a little bit

I think I’m blowing it.

Not in a big way. Just a little, here and there.

A little more than four months ago, I returned full time to work after being on partial disability for a while. I had…something. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Who knows? I’ve written about it before. On the whole, last year sucked. It was something you live through that has to change you.

And I have changed. I ran this morning. It was hideous out–it’s Florida, it’s June, it comes with the driver’s license. You get a hologram to make sure the license is real and the obligation to sweat your ass off when you run in the summer. To quote the great Inspector Todd (Beverly Hills Cop), you can see I don’t have any bit of it left.

(Actually, I do, but that’s a separate problem for a separate post.)

As I said, I ran this morning. It was awful. I hated it. And I loved it. I loved every sweaty, nasty second. I fully understand how blessed I am to be able to run five miles any day, regardless of the weather. I fully understand how blessed I am to walk across a parking lot without stopping to rest. I fully understand how blessed I am to be worried about whether it’s realistic for me to run in the Clearwater Marathon next year.

I got that part.

Last year, I had my life forcibly taken away for reasons I don’t understand. And then for equally unfathomable reasons, I got it back. If that happens to a person, that person has an obligation to be a steward of that experience.

I need to be a better steward.

I don’t have the joy part down.

There’s a lot of noise about how if God loves his people, why all the shit happens. I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that if you believe in the Bible, it promises the shit. John 16:33 promises that in this world, you will know trouble.

I’m comfortable in saying that I received more than my share of trouble last year. I’m equally comfortable saying that the troubles that mattered have been taken away from me.

I should be more joyful. I want to be more joyful. Put a better way, how can I not be more joyful?

This isn’t me kicking my own butt for not being perfect. This is me wanted more for myself. And more for the people around me.

In this world you will know trouble. A promise. I don’t know why God doesn’t see fit to come down and fix that. But I know that by my choices, I can add to that trouble, I can turn my back on the trouble, or I can be something different than the trouble.

It’s too important to have the chance to push back the darkness and then pass on that opportunity.

I hope to do better. I hope to do better.