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.

Monday, April 30, 2018

What Stephen Carter doesn't say

Recently author and Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter wrote an essay, published in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in response to a fairly snarky piece in The New Yorker about the firm Chick-Fil-A’s alleged “infiltration” in New York City because of the founders’ explicitly Christian beliefs, specifically that homosexual conduct is morally wrong. Trying to suggest that Christians of all stages — young, old, those of color — might have been offended, Carter writes, “When you mock Christians, you’re not mocking who you think you are.”

The trouble is that Carter seems to paint all evangelical Christians with the same broad brush. When most people criticize “conservative Christians,” it’s understood that it isn’t the faith itself that they find chafing but their desire for cultural supremacy, and most of the people demanding such supremacy, overwhelmingly white and who have the wherewithal to run large-scale political campaigns, have themselves stated that they speak for so many millions of people or even God. While not explicitly stated, that was the intent of The New Yorker’s piece, which is likely why African-Americans and other “Christians of color” likely weren’t at all offended — they understood that it didn’t apply to them.

Carter mentions that the African-American population is more likely to attend church and, according to polls, believe that their faith informs what they do. But keep in mind that it was the African-American church from which the civil-rights movement sprang two generations ago — and which at the time was generally opposed and today generally ignored by white evangelicals. That’s because black and white American Christians have different histories and cultures and thus interpret the Gospel through different lenses. Not for no reason are the vast majority of African-Americans registered Democrats.

And when you consider the 1980s “golden age” of media so-called ministries, almost all of them were run by white male baby-boomers whose audiences were, among other things, frightened by their cultural privilege slipping away. Since black Christians never held such privilege we never paid that any mind, which is why so few of us were involved in the anti-abortion or anti-gay movements (despite that many of us actually agreed with them).

Carter also writes that large number of “millennials,” including Asians and Latinos, adhere to the Christian faith.  But again, they don’t share the political/ideological views of the previous generation, with fairly large numbers accepting “gay marriage” (a view I don’t share) and adopting a pro-life position greater than just opposing legal abortion (which I do agree with).

Basically, Carter’s concern is way off-base. The response to Chick-Fil-A in The New Yorker was based not on the Christian faith itself but on the fear that certain Christians have felt a need to shove their cultural agenda down the throats of others — and when you do that, pushback becomes inevitable.

Monday, April 23, 2018

'Traditional' vs. evangelical

Those of us who run in evangelical circles have talked about younger folks leaving the Christian faith, some of us wringing our hands in the process. Last week, however, one of those people came forward to share by video that she was joining their ranks. My heart went out to her.

See, I knew her — she had briefly been a worship leader at my church. She described her childhood in her evangelical world as uplifting, had gone to a well-known Bible college and was married three weeks after graduating. All well and good, you might say.

But while she didn’t exactly say this, I got the suspicion that she felt that she was conditioned to fit a system that, in her view, didn’t allow her to grow — in particular due to her gender.

And that’s causing me to rethink some things as well. Now, over the years I’ve become more of a traditionalist when it comes to women’s roles in the church, in large part because I as a man was treated better in complementarian settings. That being said, having myself not sought a leadership position in my church, I haven’t had the power to subjugate them.

But that’s not the point I want to make here. Rather, I sometimes wonder if, for the sake of maintaining its authority, we’ve lost the ultimate mission of the Gospel — to call people to Jesus, not a religious system.

In most churches, of course, you have “insiders” and “outsiders,” with the folks who grew up in that system receiving primacy. Christian media often reinforce that trend, with a focus on “traditional” values as such that is never to be questioned. But more than simply possibly harming females, the system ironically has also driven teen boys out as well because the energy they would bring simply isn’t welcome.

In writing this, I may be saying that evangelicalism as generally understood is in more trouble than I thought.

My own church has done an excellent job of welcoming “outsiders” into the fold. Our annual Thanksgiving testimony service almost always has people sharing their stories about staying “clean and sober” and, while I’ve never personally had problems with drug and alcohol abuse respectively, I applaud right along with them. Of course, these generally were not “good church people” analogous to the older brother of the proverbial Prodigal Son — and that’s the point.

Perhaps, rather than maintaining a religious system to which people have to conform — in my Sunday School class, we’re discussing Galatians, a big part of the controversy in that epistle — we need to open up our doors and hearts and welcome people, warts and all.