Friday, March 9, 2018

The beloved community, threatened

A story in today’s New York Times shed light on one of my biggest fears with the evangelical church: Unless it dealt with the differing perceptions of race among its members, the steps it’s taken toward reconciliation over the past couple of decades, becoming what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the “beloved community,” would be sabotaged.

The article focused on one African-American woman in Fort Worth, Texas, who left her largely-white church after the 2016 general election. You can almost guess why: Its members’ support, albeit more muted, of Donald Trump for president for “spiritual” reasons. Not helping matters, of course, was its previous unwillingness to address shootings of African-American men in some high-profile situations.

I’ve seen this up-close and personal. Last week a musician friend who is African-American walked out of a service because the preacher supported Trump. And at my church, a number of white members left because, during our missions emphasis month in 2016, we adopted the slogan “Welcome the Stranger” and they believed it to be a shot at Trump because of his pronouncements against illegal immigration.

But make no mistake — this isn’t simply about “differing views.” This is about commitment to an ideological worldview more than the LORD or members of His Body who may actually feel pain because of it. In such an atmosphere fighting against legal abortion and for religious liberty trumps — no pun intended — loving people were they are, which I would submit is a form of idolatry.

Some of these same people wanted, wrongly, to blame President Obama for exploiting the racial divide — it’s wrong to do so because he fully intended to heal the breach. You can’t heal a breach if you don’t accept that it exists and that it might be your fault that it does in the first place.

And that may be one reason people, especially in their 20s, are leaving evangelical churches — having lived with diversity as a fact of life, they won’t deal with an institution that doesn’t respect those not like themselves.

Of course we lost evangelist Billy Graham a few weeks ago. Perhaps most people don’t know that he was an early integrationist when he started out, demanding that his crusades, even in his native South, be integrated; inviting a black man to be part of his staff at a time when that would have been unheard of and Dr. King to pray at a New York City crusade; and denouncing apartheid in South Africa.

I fear the progress we’ve made is being undone because of our unwillingness to consider others and make room for them.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Narcissism and insecurity

I grew up in a household where my father was the only person permitted to own, let alone show, any emotion, whether anger, grief or tenderness. I recognize that today as a sign of his bullying narcissism, everything ultimately being about him, and in such an atmosphere a family couldn’t, and this case didn’t, survive.

I see parallels with the recent school shooting in Broward County in south Florida. I’d suggest that one reason folks, primarily politicians, don’t do anything about controlling the number of guns is because they secretly want that kind of firepower to blow away whom they see as enemies.

Work with me, please.

This is much bigger than just guns; I see the real issue as the ability and willingness to push people around at will under the guise of “self-defense.” Essentially, I’m talking about a form of self-worship where the only thing that matters is what Charles Stanley has referred to as “the big I.”

And in this scenario, no dissent is tolerated. To give one example, the reaction to NFL players “taking a knee” during the national anthem was widely regarded as sacrilegious, never mind that they were protesting police brutality. (The real issue wasn’t when they protested; it was that they protested because no one but them is allowed to take a stand.)

Part of that stems from talk-radio, which of course got started in the late 1980s, was inherently divisive and, because of ratings, became a cash cow for stations. I refused to listen to most of it, but some years ago a then-co-worker challenged me to listen to one particular talk-show host for one week; I did — and got physically sick. After a while I realized that it resembled listening to the devil — all accusations and no solutions.

See, when it’s all about you any entity that claims to want “justice” is seen as a threat because it’s regarded as at your expense. You and you alone are entitled to liberty and anyone who dissents needs to be put in his place — thus the excuse of “government tyranny” when the issue of gun control is even broached. (The folks most obsessed with “tyranny” are the same more likely to become tyrants in their own right for that very reason — tyrants have no regard for anyone else. And remember that narcissists are self-referencing; thus, they believe that everyone else is just like them.) That’s the real tragedy in all these gun deaths — folks don’t recognize that power is the problem.

Frankly, I don’t know how to fix this. I’m not entirely convinced that reducing the number of guns on the street will make streets and schools safer, though I don’t oppose that. Rather, at some point people need to drop the defensiveness and not see everyone not like themselves as dangerous. That might lead to the delusion of the former student who shot up the school yesterday.

Dad, once angry at me because I didn’t do what he wanted, said to me in response, “You crossed me four times — nobody crosses me!” I don’t even remember the details, which probably aren’t important anyway because I apparently exposed his insecurity.

And that, more than anything, is what causes people to lash out. It’s also a reason why blaming the National Rifle Association doesn’t touch the heart of the matter; its members make a ton of money from that insecurity.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bullying on parade

So President Trump wants us to hold a military parade, complete with weaponry, because of the one he saw in France. I’m not sure what its point would be.

On second thought, I think I know: That if the world saw just what we had it would “respect” us as a power in the world — that no one will, shall we say, mess with us.

It won’t work.

One, the military should always be the very, very last resort to resolving conflicts between nations; remember, wars start only when they aren’t resolved for whatever reason, especially when diplomacy fails. We all know that the president doesn’t really care for diplomacy, with the State Department in tatters due to his neglect and his contempt for much political leadership in the rest of the world (likely reflecting a similar contempt from his base).

Two, we tend to forget that other nations also would have intelligence on us.  They would already know what and how much of it that we have and thus won’t be swayed by our showing off.

More importantly, it’s occurred to me that too many people place too much emphasis on not just military might but on the mistaken notion that when we use it we always act with justice and prudence. Our history has shown in too many places to mention here that it often isn’t the case. That’s why over the years we’ve also created a great deal of resentment in other countries that have chafed under American “leadership.”

It appears that the president is, as has been his wont, trying to bully people into compliance. Epic fail.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I'm not ready

There’s an old saying “Be careful what you wish for — you just might get it.” The point being, of course, is that it might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

For years I’ve longed for a relationship with a woman, perhaps leading toward marriage, but in pursuit of that I’ve recently had an ugly reality dropped on me yesterday: I’m not ready and don’t know when I will be. The details are too long to get into here, but suffice it to say that it’s been humbling to say the least.

I think part of that is that it’s difficult in our society for single men above a certain age. Most men, especially in the church, my age have wives, children and/or, in some cases, grandchildren they can dote on, and if you don’t have those things you really start to think, “What’s wrong with you?” So you start to do things you probably shouldn’t do, which in this case I’ve likely done and alienated some people in the process. More to the point, since very few men are in my state they simply cannot relate to the emptiness I’ve felt all this time.

But because many, if not most, churches are full of single women, they can congregate among themselves for fellowship and have no need at all for men. (A few years ago a single woman friend in the leadership of a singles ministry said she was praying that God would raise up male leadership. I told her that wouldn’t happen, and it didn’t because I knew that the supply of mature single men in her vicinity was, and still is, too low.)

I’m the type of person that enjoys arts festivals, concerts and other things on which it’s far more acceptable to go on a date; being alone is awkward, and organizing a group is often too hard. On top of that, Valentine’s Day, which I’ve always loved celebrating, is next week, and this year it will be difficult to endure. But, at least for now, I’ll be alone, and in the meantime I’ll have to deliver not only some apologies but also seek to make amends.

Where the divide really comes from

We can complain all we want about the political/ideological divide we’re experiencing today. But unless we name and confront those who maintain and exacerbate it for the sake of power, we can’t address it.

Who are they? Well, I’ll give you a hint: If you see any group or literature that blames the “left” or “liberals” for that, you can start there. Two that come to mind for me are Imprimis magazine, published by Hillsdale College in Michigan; and videos from “Prager University.”

I’ve read and watched a few of those extremely misleading articles and videos and don’t particularly care to revisit them; however, Imprimis recently repeated the canard that “Black Lives Matter,” which exists to oppose police brutality against African-Americans, is dangerous because it doesn’t address black-on-black crime, a totally different and unrelated situation altogether.

But more to the point, I’ve found that such groups, mostly on the right, don’t even take seriously the arguments put forth by their political opposites. It’s as though things would be fine once we neutralize them. You can certainly win elections by doing so, but governing? That’s another matter.

Indeed, it would be helpful if people would take off their own blinders and recognize that they don’t get things right. One example is William F. Buckley Jr., who originally opposed the civil-rights movement but later changed his mind and admitted that the conservative movement of which he was the godfather got some things wrong, saying some years ago in an interview with Time magazine, “Federal intervention was necessary.”

Doesn’t the same apply to the “left”? Not in my experience because, in practice, it will work with those who don’t agree with it for the same goals. It happens all the time in Washington because the hard, uncompromising left has never had much political power and even Chuck Schumer, minority leader of the U.S. Senate, has always been willing to cut deals (such as one recently on the Federal budget). Besides, when liberals criticize conservatives it’s due to their behavior, not their political affiliation.

Further, I’ve never bought the idea that the news media or academia are inherently liberal. By definition we in media can’t simply regurgitate the conservative line, and colleges exist to teach people how, not what, to think. Why aren’t there more conservatives in either of those professions?, you may ask. Well, there’s nothing keeping them out, but if you went through the process — especially academia, which almost requires doctoral degrees, including decades of study — you might see that it’s not as cut-and-dried as you might think.

Basically, I see such complaints coming from people with axes to grind, and no one is served as a result. I think that if we understood the underpinnings of each other’s worldview the discourse might become more civil. But not a moment before.