Monthly Archives: September 2019

I’m not sure I know God

Today’s Bible verse of the day, on my app, is Jesus saying that I am to be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect.

This requirement comes in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ magnum opus. In context, Jesus is saying that it’s no big accomplishment if we only love those who love us. Even the “bad people” do that. We’re supposed to aim higher.

There’s no shortage of holes to go down about this topic–starting with why we Christians are so bad at what Jesus tells us to do.

Though I do the right thing sometimes for minutes at a time, I have tons of work to do in this area. Sometimes I’m a hypocrite. Somes I’m retty

Then again, pretty good isn’t perfect. And to be fair, it doesn’t feel fair for God to expect perfection of people who can’t achieve that standard.

Jesus is pretty clear here. He says we’re to be perfect–not to do our best, not to try real hard.

Everyone else falls short.

This command bothers me. A Father who demands perfection of his children doesn’t seem like the same Father who comes running for his prodigal son to welcome him back.

It’s a bit confusing.

But the direction is clear. Love people, even those who don’t love me back.

There’s a part of me that things if I were to know God better, this wouldn’t confound me.

It’s part of the divine mystery, I guess.

I believe in love and (try to) live my life accordingly. But I choose to let the mystery be.

The sacred and profane

We’re studying angels in my men’s small group just now. And as you might expect, there’s been talk about guardian angels. I’m the guy who drew insight into the dual nature of Jesus (man and God–which shouldn’t work), but drawing on Mr. Spock (human and vulcan, which shouldn’t work).

So, of course, I went to the old TNT series Saving Grace, staring the adorable and amazingly buff Holly Hunter as an Oklahoma City homicide detective sent a last-chance guardian angel to keep her from the fires of hell.

The first scene in the program is a semi-explicit scene in which Hunter’s character, Grace Hanadarko, is having sex with her married partner Ham Dewey. After throwing a few back at a bar, she hits a man with her car and kills him and asks for God’s help–which appears in the person of a tobacco-chewing angel named Earl.

During the show, you see a lot of Hunter’s buff body–mostly butt shots. As one review I read said, “it’s not Touched by an Angel.”

And it isn’t. Hunter’s Hanadarko is a deeply flawed person–generally good (you’d want her working your murder)–but massively screwed up. As the series unwinds, you find out that she was raped by a priest and that her sister was a the Murrah building when it blew up, leaving her nephew without a mother.

The review I read had problems with the overall profane nature of the show. Grace is incredibly promiscuous. There’s plenty of drinking and swearing. In the pilot, she even punches out a cattleman for coming on to her.

But that’s reality. And in order to fully have meaning, the sacred has to enter into the profane.

Jesus spent time with whores and lepers. The woman at the well was married four times and shacked up with a guy she wasn’t married to. The apostles were a traveling group of rehab projects. Paul, who is the best known early follower, was the first-century equivalent of Hitler, wanting to wipe out an entire class of people based solely on their religious beliefs.

David, a man after God’s own heart, murdered a loyal soldier because he knocked up the guy’s wife. It doesn’t get much more profane than that.

And that’s good news. Because no matter how good we are, we’re also profane. Every single person has that thing, or series of things, they did that makes the melt inside.

Jesus didn’t come to save the angels. He came for the whores and the cheaters and the hypocrites. Being a Christian doesn’t mean I’m better than you–or shouldn’t. It means that I realize I’m not. I’m a mess, and try as I might, I can’t get it right on my own.

The sacred shouldn’t be nice. It shouldn’t remind us of that sweet little girl at the Christmas pageant in the white gown with the toy harp. Because when that little girl got tired and cranky, she wasn’t an angel.

The sacred isn’t love in the absence of hate and destruction and greed and disease. It’s love in spite of those things.

Beto O’Rourke and the Fourth Amendment

The most alarming part of the Democratic debate was when Beto O’Rourke said, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” And the crowd loved it.

Beto O’Rourke

It made my blood run cold.

Yes, some idiot in the Texas legislature implied that bad things would happen to O’Rourke if he came for that guy’s weapon. That was stupid, irresponsible, and arguably criminal.

What O’Rourke said went to the heart of the Fourth Amendment and the concept of private ownership in this country.

What O’Rourke implied was that in times of crisis, the government can and should be allowed to take any property it deems central to the crisis.

Well, it is a crisis!!!!!

I’ll grant the point. But we also have a climate crisis. Should the government hell yes, take away your 4Runner, your Escalade, your Denali? We have a homelessness crisis. Should the government take away your nine-room house when there’s only two of you?

It’s your property.

The government takes property all the time. Eminent domain.

In 1987, the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek collapsed. To keep commerce running, the state took farm land from a guy named Walt Dufel. That was a specific piece of property for a specific purpose. And while you may argue that this is specific property for a specific purpose, it’s a class of items that are lawfully owned. It’s a do-over for a law that lapsed because of a legislatively valid action.

That’s right, a badly needed do-over.

Right, but you can’t Constitutionally retroactively pass a law. You can’t validly say that we never should’ve let that lapse, so we’re going to effectively change the law now to cover what we should’ve done then. How different is that from saying, “We should never have passed the Bush tax cuts, so pay up now.”?

I want to go back to your statement about the Fourth Amendment. This isn’t a seizure of property; it’s a buyback. That’s a whole different thing!

If I own something and someone offers me money for it, part of my ownership is the ability to say no to that offer. This isn’t an offer, it’s a demand. The money is basically a spoonful of sugar. Most owners don’t want to sell their weapon back, or they’d be doing it now.

In the same debate when Joe Biden correctly said that you can’t just ban ownership via executive order, Kamala Harris laughed awkwardly and chided him for not saying, “Yes we can.”

My objection to both of these statements isn’t rooted in the Second Amendment. It’s rooted in the right to own something. It’s rooted in the presumption that these guns are so bad that we need to suspend the Constitution to accomplish a goal.

Once we do that, all is lost.

The nature of heroism

“We were a mission failure.”

I knew about Heather “Lucky” Penney in passing. On September 11, she and her commander, Marc Sasseville, along with two others, were tasked with bringing down Flight 93 by any means necessary–before it hit another target.

When they received clearance to fly, their jets weren’t armed. Sasseville told Penney she was with him. The other two pilots would wait until their jets could be armed.

In making that decision, Sasseville was deciding who would live and who would die. Like a good leader, he picked himself for the suicide mission.

If they were successful in their mission, he and Penney would not return. They would die in a fiery mid-air crash–Sasseville taking out the cockpit and Penney taking out the tail.

Lt. Gen. Mark H. Sasseville official photo

In doing so, they would be military people purposely killing American civilians. Regardless of the circumstances, for some, they wouldn’t be heroes; they’d be eternal villains. They wouldn’t be around to explain.

In case that’s not enough, Penney’s father was a commercial pilot–who flew for United in the northeast corridor. Though the odds were against it, the plane they were going to take down could be piloted by her father.

Sasseville and Penney’s didn’t take the plane down because the passengers did.

“We were a mission failure,” Penney said. “The passengers on flight 93 were the true heroes.”

The passengers on flight 93 were already dead–something they knew and the powers that approved Sasseville and Penney’s mission knew. They had no choice.

That doesn’t take away from their heroism. They exercised choice in the only way they could. They picked the least-awful alternative. In doing so, they put a lot of others in front of themselves.

Sasseville and Penney had a choice. They charged into the burning building. They chose to put others–a lot of others–above themselves. Both of them could’ve walked away and had more time with their families. They willingly chose a mission that, if successful, would’ve ended their lives. That, too, is heroic. Seeing their continued lives as a mission failure is heroic.

It’s all impressive, but what does it have to do with me? With you?

Penney calls it out in a recent Ted Talk.

Odds are we’ll never have to take a plane down. We’ll probably never start a mission where success means death and failure means life.

But what if the willingness to do that is part of the key to living the best life you can live?

The willingness to do what the passengers of Flight 93 did, and to do what Sasseville and Penney wanted to do, is a symptom of a life well-lived. It’s a big life. A life with a bigger purpose.

Maybe it doesn’t get better than that.

The freedom of Least Awful Alternatives

It wasn’t an earthshaking realization–except that it changed everything.

It was a work project and it wasn’t going well. We were on a call having a holy-crap moment. And the we included a lot of really smart people.

Every option we came up with was heavily flawed. There was no good answer, no matter how we came at the problem.

“We’re just going to have to pick the least awful alternative and go with it,” I said.

We did–agreeing on that approach–and the fact that I don’t remember specifically what we were talking about is a good indication that it turned out okay.

It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. It was the situationally correct. But I’ve gone back to that statement a lot.

A lot of life, it seems, is an exercise in figuring out the least-awful alternative and going with it. A lot of success is based on that approach. And you don’t get to look back, except to learn. You don’t get to kick your butt when things don’t turn out well, or if some new development kicks your butt or changes the circumstances.

On first glance, this isn’t a big deal. So what?

On second glance, it gives you permission to not be perfect. It gives you permission to not have to resolve every possible problem. Because sometimes just getting to the end is success.

Why they don’t get September 11.

These days December 7 doesn’t mean a lot any more. When I was a kid, it was a hallowed phrase, spoken always with quiet reverence. There was a meaning that transcends those two words, a glance among the people who were there–a shared knowledge that didn’t need words.

I didn’t understand. I couldn’t. I wasn’t there.

Most years, I treat September 11 like any other day. That was my intent this year. Except this year, feels different. And part of that is because a growing percentage of Americans can’t understand. Not really. For the same reason I don’t understand December 7.

For this year’s high school graduates, September 11 is literally only history. It was something that happens before most of them were born. They can’t understand, really, the same way I can’t understand December 7.

They hear us talk about it, see the solemnity involved. Read stories like this one and maybe have an emotional reaction, but they don’t understand everything coming apart. They don’t understand what it was like to sit and watch as one horrible domino after the next fell in rapid succession.

Theirs is a different experience–a life in which Islamist terrorists have literally not succeeded with a physical attack against this country.

Their experience is sitting in class as word starts to filter in–via Twitter, text, whatever. Another school shot up. Another set of students–people just like them–shot to death solely because they happened to be where a shooter was. And the shooter was just like them, too. Except maybe a little…off somehow. Maybe that kid with the sweatshirt. The one with the odd clothes. The one who mumbles to himself. Maybe that guy could do that to me.

I don’t understand that experience. Not really. I can imagine it, but I don’t really know what it’s like. I can’t understand how it shaped the people in that situation.

That experience is important, too. Those people are marked by that, the same as I am by September 11. That’s worth remembering, too.

What I’m doing to mark September 11

I was semi-employed that day, working a 1099 gig as a Tech Writer. I still owned a radio then and had it on. The dog was outside, getting tangled in the bushes, as he tended to do. We had to tie him because otherwise, he’d dig out and tour the neighborhood.

On the radio that morning, they said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I figured it was Captain Bob’s Commuter Traffic plane, but working at home alone can be a little lonely so I put the TV on. Clearly, it wasn’t a commuter traffic plane. Clearly something really bad had just happened.

Terrorism, they said. Specifically Islamist terrorism. Remembering the reaction to Oklahoma City–which was still a big terror attack back then–I figured that wasn’t a good approach absent more evidence, and went back to work. I had just gotten back from untangling the dog–again–when the more evidence hit the second tower.

I remember the plane hitting the Pentagon–a place I worked for four years. I remember rumors of a plane screaming up the route of I-95 supposed to target the White House (that wound up being the Shanksville plane, I believe). I remember reports of a column of smoke rising from the Supreme Court (which turned out to not be true).

I remember hearing Peter Jennings describe the towers crumbling and not being able to imagine that–I was out of the room because the dog got tangled in the bushes again.

I remember President Bush reading to kids and freezing when he got the news. I remember stories of former Solicitor General Ted Olson talking to his wife as the plane that hit the Pentagon screamed across the Washington suburbs to its and her final resting place.

I remember the falling man and the noise the falling bodies made when they hit cars (thanks to a documentary I watched not too long after).

I remember the security footage from the guard shack at the Pentagon (one I’d passed through fairly regularly) showing still pictures of nothing out of the ordinary and then showing a firestorm just after the plane hit. And all the pinheads saying it was proof there wasn’t a plane crush, but a rigged explosion. I remember all the dumbass accusations that the Bush administration was guilty of LIHOP (letting it happen on purpose) or even MIHOP (making it happen on purpose).

I remember the fact that we spent a couple days trying to reach my uncle, who sometimes worked in Pentagon and getting no response, only to find out he was on a vacation in Australia.

I remember how the job market vaporized that afternoon–Disney, where I was angling for an interview, imposed a hiring freeze almost immediately.

I remember the tropical storm that hit Tampa three days later. I remember how quiet it seemed when I took my daughter to the bus stop because we were on the approach to Tampa International Airport and there were no planes in the sky. I remember seeing a guy I used to work with before getting laid off on the local news recounting how he was in the towers that morning and high-tailed it out of there.

I remember the terror I felt when the plane crashed in Brooklyn a few months later. And the helplessness I felt as the Dow seemed to fall 300-500 point every day. I remember the still-unsolved Anthrax attacks and the Beltway sniper. I remember the threat against the National Mall the next summer when my family was there for the Girl Scout 90th Anniversary Sing-along. I remember being chastised on a message board for calling the people who made the threat Islamist bastards.

I remember all this stuff like it was yesterday, even though it was 18 years ago.

I don’t have to do something to remember all that, because it’s already there. So tomorrow, I’m gonna get up and do my job. When I get done, I’ll eat dinner and go for a run. And I’ll live the life I’m privileged to live in this country right now, because that’s the best way to mark the day.

I’ll also remember that it’s been 18 years and the people graduating high school this year were infants when that happened, if they were born at all. September 11 isn’t part of their experience; but watching an endless litany of school shootings is. They’re marked by that the way my grandparents were marked by Pearl Harbor, the way my parents were marked by the JFK assassination, and the way I’m marked by what happened on a stunning fall morning 18 years ago.

To that person who made me smile that once…

There was this woman I wound up being Facebook friends with–a writer from the Tallahassee area. She had a great smile and seemed to always try to see the best in life online.

When her husband died suddenly, it affected me a bit. It seemed terrible that someone with such a great outlook would be affected that way.

And when, based on her Facebook posts, it looked like she found someone else, I was happy for her.

I met her exactly once–at the Florida Writers Conference (you should go; it’s a great conference) several years ago. We talked for about twenty minutes. I told her that I loved her Facebook page and that I always made a point of paying attention to what she posted.

She smiled and it felt a little warmer in the hallway of the Marriott where we talked. I told her she should come back sometime, even though it’s a long drive from Tallahassee to Orlando. She said she’d think about it.

It was her niece who posted the bad news. In the space of two weeks, she went from not knowing she had cancer to dying of it.

I don’t know why I thought about her, but I have a few times recently.

Having only met her once, I didn’t feel a lot of grief–mostly just happiness at the experience.

In a world with Cat-5 hurricanes and rich, connected child predators who have connections to the rich and powerful…in a world where mass shootings happen more often then Cheryl’s She Shed burns down–sometimes it’s just worthwhile to think about that person who made you smile.

And maybe to try to be that person for someone else.

Not sure God cares about whether we believe in evolution

It was a bad afternoon yesterday. I drove all the way one of the local microbreweries only to find that their being closed Mondays includes Monday holidays. And this with their new Octoberfest beer ready to try.

On the way back, I saw this billboard:


I don’t want to pick a fight with anyone over the origin story for humanity, but if you’re going to insist that the Bible is the absolute, indisputable truth about everything, which of the two creation narratives are you picking: the one where God created everything in seven days or the one where God created man first and then created a mess of animals and brought them in front of Adam to name them?

To be clear, the First Amendment guarantees people the right to post this billboard, and I’d defend their right to do so against anyone saying it doesn’t. But really? With all the crap going on in the world today, you’re going to lead with an anti-evolution billboard?

Let’s say you’ve got a little kid–a preschooler. And let’s say that your precious little snugglebug asks you where babies come from. What are you going to tell them?

Well, we got some wine on the way home and Mommy started watching Tom Cruise movies and then next thing I knew, we were in bed. And Mommy got Daddy excited with this thing called a bodystocking. And Daddy kissed Mommy a lot and then put his–

No. It’s not appropriate and your kid wouldn’t understand.

The people who first heard the contents of Genesis had no scientific knowledge. If you’re God and you say that “your great great great great…great great great…great great…great grandfather was a monkey,” what’s society going to say?

The Bible is a source of truth, but not fact. They aren’t the same. Pick a novel , TV show, or movie the resonated with you. I watched Castle when I was sick. There’s an episode in which Beckett, who was shot in the chest by a sniper, had to hunt down a sniper–triggering a significant cast of PTSD.

After she fell apart, another character showed her the rifle that shot her. “You’re not fine. You’re just trying to act like you are.” He said that the man who used it was damaged goods. Beckett said, “so am I” at exactly the same time I said it.

Kate Beckett was a character played by a woman named Stana Katic. The other guy in the scene was a character played by Jon Huertas. Katherine Becket never had PTSD. It wasn’t factual. But the truth of the scene was undeniable for me.

The Bible, read correctly, is a love story. Sometime read the Song of Solomon. Only instead of concentrating on the talk of breasts and the fact that his beloved has all her teeth, think about how much the woman in the story longs for her beloved. That’s God. We’re the beloved.

Read the parable of the Prodigal Son. And know that in the culture of the time, if a son did what the younger son did, he would be dead to the father. The father might accept him back, as a slave. But he certainly wouldn’t run to his son. And yet Jesus sets that narrative on its ear.

If you want people to accept your God, which is more important? Making sure people accept the contradictory creation narratives as absolute fact, or letting them know that in a world that can seem cold and ugly, that their heavenly Father loves them?

And which approach is more fitting to a power play?

This post isn’t about the gun

So I was looking for something to write about and came upon this tweet…

This girl is so happy about getting a gun that she’s reduced to tears. Her parents obviously don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, and they’re thrilled that they can get her something she treasures. As a parent, it’s a forever moment for your child to react that way.

Except this is for a gun.

Reaction to the Tweet was pretty uniform. Another gunhumper creates another generation of gunhumpers. Maybe she’ll be our next mass shooter. Disgusting. The assumptions about this family and its dynamic–and the condemnations were almost unanimous.

But what if?

  • What if she’s an avid hunter?
  • What if she shoots competitively?
  • What if the parents have ingrained in her a deep appreciation for what a gun can do–and have taught her to respect it and treat it responsibly?
  • What if they support overall gun control, but also the Second Amendment?

What if there’s just more to it than that?

Jane Fonda recently published a column in The Washington Post, in which she talked about conversations she had with voters. She just asked questions and listened.

She gave three instances of voters she spoke to. People with Fonda’s political beliefs would often dismiss all three for their sins. One was concerned about illegal immigration and wanted it to stop–and voted for Jill Stein (Green Party) in the last election. Two were Trump voters.

Rather than judge them on those views, Fonda and her team engaged them, just talked to them. They took time to go beyond the 140 characters and the one-minute video.

Maybe they changed some minds, maybe they didn’t. More importantly, they made connections.

This isn’t about the gun. It’s about watching a one-minute video in which parents give a child a gift, and condemning them based solely on the gift, with no additional information.

It’s something we excel at. In 140 characters, or a minute of video, we see all we need to render mighty judgement on people we’ve never met. We’ve become brittle, sometimes wrong, but never uncertain.

Some call it bigotry. Some would yell snowflake. Whatever you want to call it, we’re poorer for it.