Friday, June 29, 2018

Let's not jump to conclusions

Yesterday five people, four journalists and a sales assistant, died at the Annapolis (Md.) Capital Gazette at the hands of a gunman. Normally we’d wait for a motive and allow the justice system to do its work.

I will admit, however, that these aren’t normal times.

President Trump, before he even took office, has consistently decried the media as reporting “fake news,” and two days ago right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos made what he called a “private joke” that reporters should be killed. One recent meme on Facebook said that Trump has “blood on his hands.”

As critical as I am of Trump, I won’t go there just yet.

What we do know is that the gunman had been engaged in stalking, which was mentioned in that paper five years ago; he sued the paper but lost the case and in the time since apparently made threats toward it. Furthermore, we’re learning now, he may have planned the attack in advance, so Yiannopoulos’ “joke,” as tasteless as it appears today, may truly have been coincidental.

That being said, I must concur with reporter Chase Cook, who said defiantly, “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” As a newspaper employee myself, I think I can speak for my colleagues in agreeing that we have a job to do and intend to do it. And that would include waiting for evidence to come in before making any judgments.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Confrontation, not just 'civility'

In light of White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ recently being asked to leave a Virginia restaurant because she works for president Donald Trump, calls for “civility” on the part of Trump supporters, while sounding high-minded on the surface, come across as extremely hypocritical.

The reason is because his base loves him precisely because he isn’t civil and doesn’t want him to be. It simply has no respect for not only differing views but also the people who hold them — and it’s been that way since the 1980s.

As Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and an early Trump supporter, was quoted in The Atlantic magazine, “I couldn’t care less about a leader’s temperament or his tone of his vocabulary. Frankly, I want the meanest, toughest son of a gun I can find. And I think that’s the feeling of a lot of evangelicals. They don’t want Caspar Milquetoast as the leader of the free world.”

What’s needed is not simply “civility” but confrontation. I actually practice this regularly, always being respectful of people who may disagree with me but not tolerating their bad behavior, including flat-out lying, for a second.

This is also the real issue surrounding conservative speakers being “shouted down” or otherwise abused on “liberal” college campuses. It’s not what they believe; it’s how they say it, insulting targets and refusing to be held responsible for any reaction.

One of my favorite movies is “Cry Freedom,” based on a true story of the friendship between newspaper editor Donald Woods and banned activist Stephen Biko. Biko, testifying during a trial of other activists, was told by a white judge, “But your own words call for direct confrontation!”

“That’s right,” he said. “We demand confrontation.”

“Isn’t that a demand for violence?”

“Well, you and I are now in confrontation, but I see no violence.” The judge backed down.

See, sometimes "love" really does mean getting in people’s faces and telling them the truth about themselves. That isn’t pleasant but is often needed, and you really can’t have “civility” without it.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The imminent revival, part 12 — the millennial generation and its own 'touch of God'

Much attention has been paid to the “millennial generation,” roughly understood as the children of younger baby-boomers, who now are in their 20s and 30s. It’s a truism that even those who grew up in evangelical churches are finding little satisfying in their parents’ culture, many leaving the Christian faith altogether. Folks are often wondering why that’s the case, especially since “We set up all this programs for them.”

And that indeed might be the problem. With all the focus on youth ministry, which I’ve noticed for the past few decades (though I myself do not have children), one thing seems true to me: That generation as a rule doesn’t have its own “touch of God.”

There’s a saying that while He has children He also has no grandchildren. That is to say, just because your parents may be believers doesn’t mean that you’ll be or become one in your own right; as the late David Wilkerson said, “It takes a fresh work [of the Holy Spirit] every time.”

Some years ago I wrote about a friend whose nephew is in utter rebellion against God, especially since her brother and sister-in-law put him in Christian schools for all 12 years so that he would “avoid hell.” That doesn’t always work because simply being in such an environment might not cause change — indeed, that being sheltered from the world may even compound the problem.

Another issue, probably the biggest one, is the parents’ confusion of political and Kingdom matters. The Trump phenomenon has alienated much of that generation with its hypocrisy, seeing that Christian “values” don’t matter when it comes to political power; I would say that it seems that the parents don’t really trust God to preserve them — and if the parents don’t really trust God, why should the kids? And it’s not that the children don’t want God; they just don’t want the packaging that’s present-day evangelicalism.

That’s why I see this generation seeking God for itself and no longer relying on their parents or the church. And should He visit them in power, they will cause change — getting back to what and how things should be.

My own church is in a unique situation because we’re the kind of assembly that millennials might want. This is not to say that we’re focusing upon them; we’re a racially- and culturally-diverse congregation, and since diversity is a core value of that generation they would likely fit right in. While we do refer to some things that are morally wrong, we don’t as a church participate in the so-called culture war — which, frankly, we Christians lost before we got started.

Recently we’ve embarked on campus rebuilding program that would be pricey but are believing God for the finances. I told an executive pastor that, down the road, it might be money well-spent because we’re offering what they’re looking for — a church that actually resembles heaven. Of course we’re not perfect — no church is — but our commitment to the Kingdom above all else should attract those disaffected 20s and 30s.

In other words, we might benefit from the revival that many people say they are hoping and praying for — but, sadly, working against.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The marketplace of ideas?

Today my employer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, fired its longtime editorial cartoonist, Rob Rogers. Over the past two years the publisher has become a fan of President Donald Trump and Rogers had drawn many anti-Trump cartoons, apparently including about 20 or so that had been spiked.

But before those of you who are Trump supporters and fellow Christians cheer about this, you need to know one thing: Rob was one of us.

Indeed, I knew him during my college years as the worship leader of the campus fellowship I attended. That being said, however, I knew that his political views even then weren’t right-wing, as became clear during a discussion we had at a Wendy’s just off campus. Rob gave incisive, fact-based rebuttals to a number of conservative positions.

Go get ‘em, Rob, I thought.

The bigger issue is that many of these conservative views often don’t stand up to scrutiny. I’ve been hearing for nearly 40 years that the mainstream media are in the pocket of liberal √©lites, a charge which has no basis in fact — their supporters never say specifically what in such stories or broadcasts are “biased.” I’m thus forced to conclude that they simply want the views they don’t subscribe to squashed.

That might explain President Trump’s denunciation of what he might consider unfavorable coverage as “fake news.” We as believers should be thus suspect of anyone who wants to run roughshod over opponents, but too often we actually cooperate with such bullying.

My now-former colleague has been in syndication for a while, so he won’t lack for funds or an occupation. But there’s been a concern for a while about how my colleagues would cover the news should the president be involved, and that’s not good for either us in particular or the business of journalism in general. And once a free press is compromised or quashed — what’s next? Freedom of religion?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Helping someone feel 'safe'

“I feel safe with you.”

I heard those words 33 years ago from a woman friend, and in the context in which she said them they felt like an insult. Today, however, if I hear them my eyes would fill with tears because it’s one of the biggest compliments I can receive.

Perhaps it’s age and the passage of time, but I feel gratified to be able to provide a sense of comfort to women who cross my path, and I’m learning that such a sense is possibly the key to building the kind of intimacy required to maintain a long-term relationship. Of course it won’t happen with every woman nor should it, but if a man can do so he really has something that he shouldn't exploit or take for granted.

Of late I’ve been able to detect just how safe someone feels around me. I attend a lot of dances, and I’ve learned that if a woman is willing to dance close to me — and I always allow her to choose that distance — I can pretty much detect her level of comfort. Now, I also understand that just because she dances close to me doesn’t necessarily mean that she wants sex; of course, I always assume that she doesn't.

But it's more than just physical touch. There are other ways that men can communicate the message "I will never intentionally hurt you," such as by listening and asking questions — because doing so indicates true interest.

Some years ago a woman I met at church who, I didn't immediately realize, was in the midst of grief; at that point I called upon my spiritual gift of mercy. Now, she was always dressed very sharp when I saw her, always in a dress and heels and usually in a hat.

One night after my big-band rehearsal, however, she invited me over to her place, which was right across the street from the rehearsal hall. When I got there she was in a sweater, jeans and slipper socks — and, despite that she was still tender emotionally, looked radiant. I was deeply touched that she felt sufficiently comfortable with me to do that.

Recently I wrote about men who complain that women won't have sex with them and thus go off on rampages. But that alerts me to their own selfishness, which manifests itself in a sense of entitlement, and truth be told I can see why no sane woman would want them. Basically, they really don't care about women as people; they're merely sex objects.

It's about being in tune with who and what she is and aspires to be. Connect there and you'll go pretty far.

Monday, May 7, 2018

It's a gift, not an entitlement

In the mid-1980s I was part of the now-long-disbanded post-college fellowship at my then-church, founded and led by the church’s parish assistant who had put together a “relationships seminar” (my, and likely others’, gateway into the church in the first place).

Through it I began to understand something I had not considered before: A relationship with a woman was and is a gift, neither earned nor something to which I was entitled. Indeed, one of the women in the group composed a song, “You’re a Gift,” that was sung at many weddings within that group.

I bring this up because of the recent incident in Toronto in which one man plowed car his into a group of women; it turned out that he was an “incel” — short for “involuntary celibate” — who was angry that he wasn’t getting the sex that he felt he deserved. We in Pittsburgh have seen such an incident, as nine years ago a man named George Sodini shot up a suburban LA Fitness before turning his gun on himself for similar reasons.

But before we denigrate such people for their murderous rampages, how often do we do the same thing — feel entitled to what we have or get angry when we can’t get it? Some reality must come into play because it gets into comparing yourself with everyone else. I often wonder about the social skills, or likely the lack thereof, that causes such men to feel left out. (I left the aforementioned group in part because of so many weddings.)

I got back into social dance in 2009 after some time away and, while I understood this instinctively, after a dance you’re supposed to thank your partner — because she could have said no. (I will often bow to her.) Indeed, I recently read an article on a West Coast Swing site where part of the atmosphere is to allow your partner “an amazing dance.”

In other words, it’s not always about you and what you want — you need to think about the other person as well.

But back to the relationship aspect. Recently one woman I met at a singles dance asked me why I wasn’t married; I told her, without rancor, “It just never worked out for me.” I’m hoping it will someday, but it isn’t something that I “deserve.”

It’s a gift, folks, not an entitlement.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

'Understanding' Trump supporters

Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, recently wrote about a woman who insists that the rest of the country learn to “understand” those who supported President Donald Trump. He said that he wasn’t prepared to do that.

Nor am I — for one solid reason: Many of them don’t care to understand anyone else. And that’s the reason why we have such discord in this nation.

In one sense, this doesn’t surprise me. In the 1980s I was a regular subscriber to Christian media, which continually referred to anyone who disagreed with the conservative worldview as “anti-Christian.” Clearly, they (and likely their adherents) didn’t want to “understand”; they just simply saw enemies all around and in many cases sought to defeat them by raising money and outrage. That, folks, doesn’t take much to understand — if you're not with us you are the enemy.

See, we who aren’t conservatives really do understand them. Most of us do talk and listen to people not like ourselves; I understand that liberals comprise a quarter of the audience of the Fox News Channel. Part of being fair is listening to the other side.

That being said, we do believe, and can generally prove, that “conservatives” really do get things wrong, but if we say that we’re often accused of being “biased.” This is the reason they complain that the mainstream media delivers “fake news,” though responsible media never use fewer than two independent sources for any story they publish or broadcast. During his administration Trump has consistently refused to be called out on his consistent malfeasance and his supporters go right along with him for reasons I don’t understand except that he’s simply their guy. Moreover, many of these “Christian” leaders don’t confront him on his abuse of power and immoral behavior, cheapening their own message in the process.

And that’s why I’m not prepared to “understand” Christians who support Trump; there’s really nothing to understand except that they simply wanted people they didn’t agree with pushed out of power by any means necessary. All they do in the process is create resentment and anger — not toward Jesus Himself but political power brokers misusing His name.