Friday, December 3, 2010

our pugilistic mindset

It is December and time for the seemingly annual display of our pugilistic mindset...meaning that the cries of "war on Christmas!" echo through the studios of a certain segment of our news media (you know who they are) and spill out on the airwaves. The latest story going around is that kids in a certain Florida school have been banned from wearing green and red, because they are Christmas colors. Of course the school's denial has met with silence from the critics...who wouldn't know the truth if it bit them,IMHO.

It is easy to dismiss this annual bitching and complaining as the actions of a deluded, angry few, intended to get attention, raise support,etc. But I think something else is at work here and it involves us all. I believe that all too often any of us can fall into the trap of being pugilistic..that is ...looking for a fight, just for the fight's sake. There are many things we encounter on a daily basis that can make us angry. Bad drivers, rude callers, slow sales clerks - weather that is too cold,hot.wet,etc - all these and much more try our patience. If our day starts bad we can develop an attitude of "don't mess with me, I'm having a bad day!" And if we don't relax we may unload on the next unsuspecting person. It can happen to any of us, so beware the pugilistic mindset.

Even when we see legitimate targets or come across instances of wrongdoing that need to be corrected, are we looking for solutions ,or for an enemy to fight? We talk about elections in terms of war, of our fellow American opponents as "enemies", and wax on about the downfall of the country if the other side wins. And our differences get magnified into huge moral crises.

It doesn't seem to matter whether it is sports, politics, religion,or any other area. We all face the temptation to go looking for a fight. Fighting for what is right, to defend those at risk, is important. But why manufacture a fight?

I am reminded of a confrontation I had with a couple classmates in elementary school while walking home. They ambushed me at the junction in a path and I could tell that one of them wanted a fight (the other was just watching...lame groupie :<) . I hadn't had a run-in with the kid, though I had known him to get in trouble in class. I hadn't done anything I knew of to make him angry..he just was looking for a fight to "look tough" (hence the groupie). My response? I simply walked by him and away down the path..ignoring his pathetic shove. I never had a problem with him again.

Perhaps in this season. between Thanksgiving and Christmas we should ignore those who are itching for a fight, restrain our own pugilistic impulses, and focus on spreading a contagion of peace. There will be times when we need to fight, and important things to fight for, but I think right now there is much more need for peace and healing in this world...don't you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

wag more, bark less, part three - progressives

Okay, now for the other side. I see my views as having morphed over the last decade or so. I was never a hard-right conservative, just grew up with Republican voting parents. Politics was very attractive to me, thus I was a history/political science major in college, but people always took precedence over political debate and policy matters. I was raised to treat people right, no matter who they were , what they looked like, or where they were from. That was a matter determined by family and faith.

I remained fairly conservative throughout college and beyond, but bit by bit I began to change. I began to challenge the status quo assumptions that I had about government and how it relates to various groups in society. My circle of friends and associates grew more diverse - I was exposed to people from a greater variety of backgrounds and experiences - and I began to rethink issues in light of that. I realized the importance of our social responsibility to care for , as the Bible states, "the least of these". It was taking the mantra that I had learned as a child in interpersonal relationships and extending it to society at large and advocating for its application to the context of "We the People", in other words, government, which is all of us collectively.

So, here are the progressive/liberal answers as I see them, to the questions I have listed.
1. Worldview. See the world in terms of haves vs have-nots, or better yet, the fortunate and the less (or un-)fortunate. There is a sliding scale of need, and each one higher in fortune has a duty to help those less fortunate no matter where they are on the scale. As the Bible states we are "blessed to be a blessing"

2. Theology - Seeing the God of grace and forgiveness. The message of the Cross is all about grace. Law is not unimportant, but we must always remember that we are all human and flawed and that should temper our justice. This is a view that says you do good things because you are forgiven, not to be forgiven. There are a limited amount of things God has specified - some to do , some to avoid, but the majority of life is to be lived by principles, freely. God wants us to live freely, use our minds and hearts, and not be beggars fearing a lash if we step out of line. If we live this way we will treat others better, even when someone has made terrible choices -because , as the old saying goes "there, but for the grace of God , go I" .

3.Role of government . We are the government, not separate from it. Government is us acting as a whole to bring solutions to society. As the Preamble to the Constitution states, we the people established the Constitution to among other things , promote the general welfare, the common good.

4. Interpreting the Constitution: It is a living document , set up to be adaptable to changing times. Why do you think they included an amendment process, if it was to be set in stone? One of the key passages is the "necessary and proper" clause at the end of the list of Congressional powers. It was meant to be flexible.

5. Things government should be involved in. That is for we the people to decide. The size of government is not the key issue, effectiveness is. There are things which are better handled at a state or local level, and things that are better addressed nationally, so that there is a universal standard. We saw that dangers of states going their own way during the Civil Rights battles - individual liberties were protected only when we acted nationally.

6. The Branches of government: The courts should stick up the individual, to protect all rights (not just guns), and not just defer to established authority. The courts should act as a restraint against legislative or executive branch over-reach. Justice is about clearing the innocent, just as much as punishing the guilty. And criminal justice is about restraint , restitution, and rehabilitation, not just punishment. We have a system of checks and balances between our three branches of government and the Supreme Court (and lower federal courts) is not inferior -even though it is insulated (for good reason) from the popular will. Justice and civil liberties should never be up for a vote.

7 and 8 The relationship between the government and the people is a social compact. We agree together to work for the betterment of all. As Lincoln put it we have a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people"

As you can see there are real differences here. Maybe if we know more where we are coming from we can begin to see areas where we agree or we can compromise. We are one people, not split into opposing camps. Leave that to the shouters. Let us really debate and grow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

wag more, bark less, part two...the cons

In part one I talked about the divide I see politically on a national scale, and some questions that may shed light on why those differences exist. In this part two I will attempt to give what I think are the typical conservative answers to the questions.

1. World view - they view the world in terms of good people and bad people, with very little, if any, gray in between. They see that there are good people (themselves included), bad people, and then anyone that has not been firmly established in either camp. Those in-between are seen as suspect and presumed to be bad unless verified as good. They believe that people have to prove their innocence and they see life as a constant battle between good and evil, no rest for anyone.

2. Theologically they tend to be legalistic....believing that God is as strict as they are...ready to bang heads of those who step out of line...scripture is just a list of dos and don'ts and anything not clearly marked as either is off limits or must be individually checked out with God through prayer. This fear carries over into their political beliefs- hence the emphasis on law and order.

3. They view the government's role as protecting the good people from the bad people, and maintaining good social order, nothing more. They see it as the problem (to quote the conservative hero , Ronald Reagan), or the enemy , or as a necessary evil, separate from the people, not a part of it. In essence they see government as a hired gun, nothing more.

4. They are strict constructionists as far as constitutional interpretation. They share some version of the view of Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who has stated that the Constitution should be viewed through the original intent of the founders and that it is fixed in time. Their focus is on the enumerated powers and not allowing Congress to expand beyond what is expressly listed. They also put great weight on the 10th Amendment, that all powers not specifically designated to the federal government or prohibited to the states, are reserved for the states and to the people . They argue for a smaller and very much limited government.

5. Understandably they focus on:1.war and national security(protecting against those bad outside the country); 2. law enforcement (national, state, local) protecting against those bad within the country); and , 3. gun rights (making sure that when the other two entities break down that there is personal protection against the bad). Anything else is out of bounds. While they say they want government out of their lives they make exceptions and these are all in keeping with their worldview. Drug laws are okay, including policies against medical marijuana, because they see those who use drugs as bad. Laws that discriminated against gays, like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or DOMA (against gay marriage) are see as okay, because they view gays as bad people. Union restrictions are seen as okay because they basically want businesses left to do whatever they want because they see business as good and as the fountain of freedom and democracy.

6. They elevate the elected branches over anything or anyone appointed - courts are seen to function only as an arbiter for good people and a punisher of bad. Thus mandatory sentencing guidelines are popular, since they don't want judges to have leeway , that would let bad people get away. They see criminal justice as being "lock away the bad guys for as long as you can", "anyone accused of a crime is automatically guilty". They view the courts as inferior to the legislative and executive branches. They accuse justices of being activist if they attempt any sort of judicial review -elevating the "peoples' will" over the rights of minorities.

7. Their view the relationship between the people and the government as a contract. This is not just because of their general pro-business outlook (stating "government should be run like a business) . But also because they view government as a necessary evil , a hired gun brought in to confront and control the bad in society. And hired help need only a contract - one that can be abrogated at any time when the hirer decides the hired is not performing his or her duties correctly. Basically an an employer/employee or master/slave relationship. Hence the"Contract with America".

8. They use the term "we the people" to denote common folk, people like them, but then describe anybody different as "out of the mainstream"...in other words, abnormal. So it would seem to me that when they talk about we the people, they only mean the "good", not everybody.

I know this is in some respects a broad generalization. I have seen trends and common themes come up in conservative talk throughout my life, from Nixon/Agnew, through Reagan, and again under Bush I and II. Recently there has been a lot more fear talk, which I think re-enforces the good/bad conflict that they see in society - including references to the "culture wars" (a term I particularly hate). This is why I believe these are their answers to the questions I have raised. And it explains some of what may at first appear to be inconsistency in their statements -like in terms of personal freedom (it is freedom for the good only, it would seem)

Does this describe you? It's not me...more on that in part 3.

Friday, October 15, 2010

wag more ,bark less..part one

We are a very polarized nation right now. Not just because there are differences between us but because many of those differences have been reduced to slogans, signs, and shouting. There is a wide chasm between those on the right and those on the left, with many feeling they have been dropped into the abyss between. And while some would attempt to build a bridge others (on each side) are trying to burn it down. Did we forget we are all Americans, members of one nation?

Part of the reason is that we see political differences as having moral components - a right and wrong answer, and no room for compromise or accommodation. We have let our emotions run wild and put our minds on hold. Not that passion is not important. But without a rational/reasonable mind to establish boundaries our political discourse runs amok.

It is time for all of us to go back to basics and figure out what we believe politically, why we believe it, and realize that in our pluralistic democracy it is okay if we disagree, as long as we do it peacefully. I will attempt, in this three part blog series, to outline what I see as the two major current lines of thought on politics, and the reasons why. This is not to say that these are the only ways, since I believe that there is a continuum of thought that stretches from one side to the other. But it is meant as a starting point for discussion. I will also let you know where I stand and why.

I believe that most people see government in one of two ways,conservative or liberal/progressive, generally. I believe this is based at least in part on their worldview - how they categorize people. This is formed partly from personal and family experience and partly from their spiritual views, whether individualistic or organized-religion based. Their worldview influences how they view the role of govt,interpretation of the Constitution,the functions and limits of govt,and their involvement in it.

I believe there are several questions that we need to ask ourselves to examine the foundations of our own political philosophy. Ask yourselves these questions and then in the next two parts I will discuss how and why I see the two sides answering these.
1. Worldview...how do you view the world,specifically how do you divide up or categorize the people in it? Is it good vs bad? Have's vs have-not's? Fortunate vs unfortunate? Or something else?
2. What is your concept of God/higher power? For those who believe in God,we see an ultimate authority and the way we view God influences how we view our relationship to any other authority. Legalism or grace, justice or forgiveness, what is the attribute that predominates in your mind?
3. Role of government -what is it , a separate entity, or part of or an extension of us(we the people)?
4. How do you interpret the constitution..is it fixed in time, or a living document that flexes to handle the changing times?
5. what areas do you see the government having a proper role in , what not, and why?
6. what role do you see for the different branches of government , especially the courts?
7. what is the relationship between the government and the people...is it a contract or a compact?
8. and, finally, just what do you think is meant by "we the people"?

Most of what we see in political debate today would have us believe that there is a fixed wall between left and right and no way to bridge it. I believe, however, that most people are somewhere in the middle and don't know what they believe or why. There is much passion without thought, which some use to their own ends. There is hope for dialogue and solutions if we first understand where we are coming from and try to work things out instead of always fighting inflexibly.

To quote a recent bumper sticker "Wag more, bark less"....it's not just for dogs:)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prejudice

We live in a dangerous world, as many campaigning today would tell us. Many appeal to our fears to fuel their own drive to power. But often times they resort to feeding our biggest enemy. They label groups as "suspicious", accuse candidates of being up to no good...all but accusing them of being "the enemy". It is a tactic that can separate us more than all our other differences - cultural, economic, religious, language, or politics. It comes in many forms with many names, most provoking automatic defensiveness. But to understand and defeat it we need to see it in it's most basic form.It is called prejudice.

Prejudice, to break it down linguistically, is just pre-judging. It is like a judge ruling a defendant in a trial guilty, before hearing any of the evidence. It is judging an individual based on what we know or think about the group he or she is a part of, rather than on his or her actions. We tend to form opinions about groups -like for instance, blonds - based on a small sample of interactions with some individuals- and make a broad group generalization by which we then use to evaluate any other members of that group. And usually the generalizations we make are not positive.:(

Think of it this way. If you were bitten by a dog as a young child you might be fearful of all dogs. If you avoided dogs because of this, your attitude toward them would be governed by your early experience. All dogs would be judged based on that one encounter you had,even though they may be the most gentle of dogs. If, on the other hand, you were like me, and had multitudes of positive dog experiences while young, you would approach dogs quite differently. Childhood experiences can be very powerful but as adults we need to rise above those or we will remained trapped in our own little world...and be used by those who prey upon prejudice.

The driving force behind prejudice is fear. Like the previous example we can develop fear from early experiences-or learn them from our family or friends. Our strongest, most basic need is self-preservation. Real or perceived threats to that will cause us to become defensive and look for shortcuts to build our defenses. Much like we label medicines and food for quick and safe action, we label people to enable our bodies and minds to react on short notice. But these are dangerous shortcuts. It puts us in a constant state of "fight or flight" and stunts our living. And it hurts others, as well.

We have seen throughout our history that in times of distress we lean towards prejudice. In times of economic downturn we discriminated against many categories of immigrants (Italians, Irish, Jews,Asians,etc). After Pearl Harbor we let fear drive us to lock up thousands of American citizens in internment camps, simply because they were of Japanese ancestry. And after 9-11 we looked with suspicion on anyone who was either Arabic, or Muslim, or whom we thought were. Lately there are those in our country who use the label "Muslim" as a smear and dagger with which to attack their opponents. And we invaded a country (Iraq) which had not attacked us,based on the fear that if we didn't there might be a "mushroom cloud".

How do we battle this? There are three things we need: knowledge, choice, and humility.Knowledge is needed to dispel the fog of the unknown. We have a fear of the unknown often because we think "what we don't know can hurt us"...we do not share the explorers' expectation of wonderful discovery, but rather fear the bad we imagine awaiting us. Get to know those who are different from you - economically, racially, culturally,even politically. Expand your "sample" of experiences so that you will see a truer picture of the "group". Don't judge all dogs by ill-tempered guard dogs, there are many scruffy unconditional lovers out there in dog form.

Choice... you must choose to avoid generalization and welcome the exploration of the unknown. It takes work, but you will be rewarded. Don't be like the American tourist who goes to Paris and dines on hamburgers. Life is too short to be stunted.

And last, humility...you must accept that you are not perfect. We all fall into the trap of generalizations and prejudice from time to time. You must resist it by being willing to examine yourself and work to correct the flaws you find. And you must be willing to extend the grace you give yourself to others...the freedom to be who they are, not some caricature of your fears. As you want to be treated you must treat others. Would you like to be judged based on the bad behavior of someone who looks or dresses or worships as you do? No? Then don't do it to others. It's as simple as that

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remember

Yesterday was a day to remember. Sept 11th will always be day to remember. But what exactly are we remembering and what do we often forget to remember? And what do we do with what we remember? If we only remember the historical event-pictures,video,names and faces and actions/reactions -we are simply historians. If we remember only the pain and anger, the shock and sorrow, we are simply grieving. If we act in revenge and hatred, reacting against real and perceived enemies, we are in danger of simply continuing a cycle of violence that only breeds more violence, death and destruction.

We must remember more. Calling for justice is important, but calling for and contributing to healing is even better. And it extends around the world. We tend to think that war is the only real way to deal with problems we see in the world. We react to conflict instead of being proactive to diffuse situations that can lead to conflict. We pick sides instead of separating the sides and insisting that both sides sit down and talk. We look down on diplomacy as less manly,as giving in. I think sometimes we just like fighting too much.

Look at our dealings with Latin America. How many times over the past century-plus have we intervened in one country or other, always blaming outside forces - like the Soviets mostly - for the trouble? And we ignore the base issues - land distribution and discrimination both racially and economically - that are often fueling the conflict. We have supported many terrible leaders simply because they were "anti-communist" and enraged those they were oppressing.

Our actions in the Middle East have not been much better, fueled by a "stop the Soviets at any cost" mentality...and the effects have lingered far beyond the fall of the USSR. We have chosen sides instead of choosing the pursuit of peace and it has cost us nearly.

But the most important thing to remember is: Remember who we are. Remember what our values are, what makes us different from the extremists who value violence above all. Remember that we have a call to "seek peace and pursue it", a mandate to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and a simple mantra "what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before thy God". Those are the high points of faith, not judgment and revenge.

As Americans we say we value freedom to speak, to worship, yet in these days many are denouncing and demonizing those who choose to worship differently. We take the crimes of a small deranged minority of one religion and use that to proclaim the whole religion and its followers guilty. And we proclaim that they must "prove" their innocence. This is unAmerican and hateful. This is contrary to all that we profess to believe.

Remember, yes I remember where I was and what I was doing when the towers got hit and when they fell, and I will never forget that. But more importantly I remember who I am , both as an American and as a believer in Christ, and I will never forget that either. This is a legacy of my parents that I strive to live out every day. This is who I am. Who are you? And what will you remember?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

lighting your candle

Have you every gotten weary of debate? I enjoy the give and take of debate and discussion , but when it devolves into argument it isn't fun anymore. And when you present evidence and reasoning and receive only hostile rejection and name-calling, etc. it gets a bit old, to put it mildly.It leads me to ranting and pounding my head (figuratively) at the stubborness and blindness of people. I have to stop and wonder, what do I do about that?

I want to suggest three things to do when faced with those situations. Humility and self-examinations, seeking serenity, and lighting candles. Humility means that you examine yourself....your motives and your information ("have I missed something or gotten something wrong?"). We are all human and we all make mistakes. We need to be open to considering the feelings of others and give them the benefit of the doubt...not just friends, but opponents as well.
It is easy to get carried away and see things as black and white, instead of gray.

When you have carefully examined your motives and information, and fixed any flaws therein, then you can move to the next phase, which is serenity. You probably remember the serenity prayer "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference". In this case substitute the words people or minds for things.

There are people who are of the mindset "don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up". Don't waste your time with them. There may be times to speak out and oppose them , but dialogue is impossible. The Bible calls those people fools and there is no point of talking to them.
Take courage and press on with those who show some sign of listening to opposing viewpoints.You may be able to persuade them with new information or arguments they have not thought of. It may take a bit of work, but don't despair. And make sure you know the difference...it will save you a lot of grief and frustration.

Lastly, there is an old phrase, not sure of the source, that is very true in today's trying times. "It is better to light a candle than merely curse the darkness." Sometimes it is easy to curse the darkness, considering all the ignorance, misinformation, and outright libel and slander that is spread through our communication venues today. Frustration leads to anger, but we need to be clearheaded and fight fire with water, not more fire. Take a deep breath and focus on doing good for those around you, lighting candles every day. Love is the antidote to hate, peace is the antidote to war, especially for those who are violently opposed to you. Faith is the antidote to doubt and suspicion. And lighting candles will light your own way to peace.

shalom and salaam, my friends.

Friday, August 6, 2010

fighting fear

Fear is a natural part of life and happens to all of us. It is part of our "fight or flight" response to percieved danger. But it needs to be handled carefully. If done well it is like a fireplace blaze or campfire that serves us well. Fire keeps us warm, safe and fed - using fear warns us of dangers to avoid - like walking too close to the edge of a cliff. But out of control it is like a forest fire or house fire that is very dangerous and destructive. There is a lot of that destructive fire going on these days and we have to know how to combat it, both in ourselves and in others.

We live in a dangerous, yet fascinating world. We all respond to change differently. Some of us welcome it, some are fearful of it. With change all around we need to be sensitive to the fear that often rises in ourselves and to the fear of others. Most of this is in response to unknowns - who are these people, what will happen next, what do I do next in response to this new thing?

We need first of all to think rationally about our own fear. We need to be aware of what we are afraid of and why. And we need to reason out the best response. We can be affected by others fears so we need to filter the information we receive to strain out any false or misleading - or just unsubstantiated -stuff that may be feeding our fear. Ask yourself - can I do anything about this situation? If so, then do it. If not ,realize that and endeavor to focus on things you can work on.

When we have our own fear fire under control only then can we focus on helping others who fear. There are three basic ways in which people respond to the fears of others. In order to make it clearer, let me continue the fire analogy. The first way is to say "don't be afraid", 'there's nothing to be afraid of", etc. We toss platitudes their way and think that to "just say no" to fear is enough. This is like the well meaning person who throws water on a grease fire. It only spreads the fire. Water is great on a normal fire, but not grease (or oil). In the same way, dismissing someone's fear without knowing the cause will not help.

The second way people handle people's fears today is to stoke them, feed them, pouring gas on the fire. These are the fear pushers. You see and hear them on cable and talk radio. If I mentioned names or showed pictures you would recognize them. They don't care what people are afraid of , they just want to spread the fear, spread the fire. They don't want people to think. They present situations in the simplistic worst light, and if there isn't something currently disturbing they will go looking for it. As one political candidate said about another - "all he knows is a noun,a verb, and 9-11). They need a bogeyman to scare people and for those fear pushers 9-11 was a gold mine.

I advise a third option. Listen and learn and then fight the fear fire intelligently. Take time to understand why the person is afraid. Ask them "what are you afraid of?", and "why are you afraid?"...and then listen to their responses. As people of faith we see the example of God in scripture asking people why they were afraid - not because he didn't know, but because they needed to articulate the reasons so they could deal with the fear and press on. It's like fighting a fire....if you know it's a simple source -like wood, paper,etc -you can douse it with water and kill it. If you know it's gas, oil, or toxic or otherwise hazardous material you know that other things , like dirt, foam,etc., must be used to kill it so that it doesn't spread.

Too often we are fixers, and not listeners. Sometimes we are afraid of others' fears. Sometimes we get weary of all the "be afraid. be very afraid" chant that arises from some quarters of our society. Sometimes we grow weary of trying to help people see past the fear and embrace the new opportunities that are out there in our world. But we must persevere. Fear fire fighting is up to all of us.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

political antibiotics

I saw a sign recently that had echoed the recurring theme of "throw the bums out" ,referring to Congress (and perhaps local and state officeholders as well) . There is a sentiment in our country that if we just "clean house" that somehow things will get better and our problems will disappear.It is usually accompanied by cries of "career/professional politician" directed at incumbents at election time, used to attack them as unworthy of the office.

Somehow people think that experience in a job is a bad thing, if the office is elective. And that inexperience or amateur status is to be preferred. Now, there is something to be said for a fresh perspective unfettered by habit and routine. And long tenure in any position does not guarantee competence. But to blindly toss out all incumbents without careful examination is like emptying a fridge into the garbage to eliminate bad odors. You end up with a clean appliance but go hungry...you have to check each item and only toss out the bad stuff.

Or, to use an analogy that popped into my head recently. It's like antibiotics. For quite a while doctors regularly prescribed antibiotics for sick patients exhibiting symptoms of infection. They worked quickly and seemed to solve the problem for both patient and doctor. More recently this has changed and doctors are more reluctant to prescribe them, though many patients do not seem to understand and still request them.

There are three reasons. One is that some bugs have begun to develop resistance to the usual drugs, including antibiotics. Another is that only bacterial infection can be treated by antibiotic, and some bugs are viral. And the third factor is that our bodies contain both good and bad bacteria but the antibiotics don't distinguish between the two. It kills both, and in the process weakens the immune system, making it vulnerable to other illnesses.

I believe this is true with Congress and other representative assemblies. There are, to be sure, bad apples that need to be removed. But we must distinguish between the good and the bad and not generalize to our own detriment. If we are not careful we may get worse "bugs",get no fix of problems because we trade (elect) one bad bug for another, or we weaken the whole system of government because we have elected a whole bunch of well-meaning but untested rookies who don't know how to use the system to best benefit us, while tossing out proven problem solvers due to guilt-by-association.

Please, think before you vote.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

SCOTUS

SCOTUS is the acronym for Supreme Court of the United States, also known simply as "the Court". Periodically there are vacancies in its membership and the President is called on to nominate, and the Senate to consent to, a new justice. We are that point in our history again and I thought it was a good time to briefly comment on my views on the Court and why careful consideration is important to American freedom.

Many will rail against "judicial activism" and urge support for a "strict constructionist"...also railing against "unelected" deciders of law and those who argue for the view of the Constitution as a "living document". To them I say, activism is vital to our national health and ,yes, the Constitution is a living document that we need to continually re-evaluated through the years. The Founders were not psychics - they could not spell everything out because they did not know what would come up. So they built in flexibility in the document so that it ,and we, could adapt to changing times.

The three branches of government- legislative, executive, and judicial -have separate and distinct functions and areas of power, and also have ways to check the power of each other. This is to prevent over-reach by any and to keep government balanced. As far as the judiciary is concerned their area of power is the interpretation of the law. They are charged with the duty to uphold the Constitution by making sure that all the actions of the other two branches (plus the local and state versions of those branches) are in agreement with the rules of the Constitution , because it is the supreme law of the land.

In order to do this the Court may strike down laws or other governmental action as unconstitutional. It does so in response to cases appealed to it from lower courts. These are brought by ordinary citizens who have not found relief from any other source. We work under the mantra of "majority rules, minority rights". The will of the majority acts through the legislative branch and that is vital to a stable country. But when the rights of a minority are being trampled on it can easily become a "tyranny of the majority" - think of slavery and racial segregation/discrimination that went on for decades even after slavery was outlawed. This is where the Court steps in.

Long standing tradition is important and legal precedence is as well. These are vital to preserve, for the sake of a stable society, and thus conservatism has its place. But liberalism does as well, coming from the same root as liberty, and seeing that only in growing are we truly free. It is akin to matters of faith where some are mired in legalism...those who won't do anything unless they firmly believe God has spelled it out as okay. Versus those who believe that God has set us free to live , giving only simple guidelines, and that if it is not specifically denied as bad we can try it. Sticking to traditions in law makes as much sense as in matters of faith. The faith version of this is the proverbial 7 last words of the church "we've never done it that way before".

I believe that the Court stands as the defender of the powerless against the powerful. But you say, don't citizens have recourse through Congress? Yes, the ballot box and Congressional phones lines/emails are open for all and we can make our views known. But when the majority opinion is destructive of the rights of an individual where are they to go but to the Court?

Just after Pearl Harbor there were thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry who were interned in relocation camps because they were deemed, solely on the basis of their race/national origin to be suspect in their loyalty to the US. Not for anything they had done but of who they were. They had no recourse in Congress, popular opinion of the majority was against them, so the only way to seek relief against unfair treatment was to go to the Court.

Unfortunately, this is one of the times when the Court failed. In Korematsu v US (1944) the Court decided that the exclusionary zones on the West Coast, excluding those of Japanese ancestry, were constitutional. The Chief Justice even said that the defendant was not excluded because of his race! It took us almost 40 years to apologize and say that the decision was wrong. Similarly it took over 50 years to determine that "separate but equal" rationale for racial segregation in schools was wrong (Plessy v Ferguson 1896 to Brown v Board of Education 1954). And it took Constitutional amendments (13th,14 th) and the Civil War to fix the situation and finally outlaw slavery after the disastrous Dred Scott decision in 1857. So it is important for the Court to get it right.

Some in our country would like to restrict the jurisdiction of the Court, even some (Texas GOP platform) who would like to do that in cases involving the Bill of Rights! My friends, the Bill of Rights is toothless without the Court. The right of legal counsel when on trial (Gideon v Wainwright 1963) or advice of legal rights when arrested (Miranda v Arizona 1966) were both strengthened by the Court. When popular opinion in reaction to current events (think 9-11) looks for scapegoats among the powerless there is great need for an entity like the Court to stand up in defense.

Some have said that the Court must be impartial. One justice nominee, who is now the Chief Justice, said it was to be an umpire, calling balls and strikes . This envisions a level playing field between the parties to a case. This can hold when there are two individuals involved. But when the case involves the law-making or law-enforcement group (like Congress, President,etc) versus an ordinary citizen, there is no level playing field. So the Court must take steps to re-examine the law and the Constitution and find out if there is to be relief for that individual. Law-makers and Law-Enforcers need no defense - they have the power. It is the individual who needs protection for his/her liberties.

For those who would blanch at a "re-examination" of the Constitution let me give you a parallel situation. For those of you who are people of faith, relying on a scripture for divine guidance. Have you learned all you can from your first reading of it, or do you often have the experience that you see new things/new truths or understand more each time you re-read it? I know I do.
Is it because God changed? No, it is because we have grown and times have changed and we need a fresh understanding of divine will to apply to our new situations. It is much the same with the Constitution. It has not changed, but the times and we have , and there is always a need to further our application of its principles and laws to the times we live in.

The same judicial nominee/now justice said that benefit of the doubt should go to the lawmaker/law enforcer. No, that is not how our system of justice works and he should know better. The benefit of the doubt should always go to the one accused "innocent until/unless proven guilty". An activist Court is a hallmark and defense of individual liberty and we should demand and celebrate that -today of all days.

Happy Fourth of July everybody! :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Gettysburg

As we get set to celebrate Independence Day, another anniversary looms that should gives us pause for reflection. On this day,July 3rd, 147 years ago, the battle of Gettysburg ended. It was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War and one of the most deadly in all of American History (46,000 casualties, including almost 8,000 deaths). It was seen as a turning point in the war, the beginning of the end. And it was memorialized in Lincoln's Gettysburg address. The Union was saved , we began to be one people once again, but at a great cost.

Much has been written about the war, too often simplistic notions of what lead to it and what it was all about, but oftentimes it becomes an intellectual exercise , devoid of emotion or an understanding of the people involved. Michael Shaara wrote a book called The Killer Angels, about Gettysburg, later made into a miniseries. I watched it years ago and very much enjoyed it, now I want to read the book.

Especially after I just finished reading Gods and Generals, which was written by Jeff Shaara, Michael's son. This one is about the period leading up to Gettysburg, as seen through the eyes of four key generals: Robert E Lee, Thomas Johnathan (Stonewall) Jackson, for the Confederacy, and Winfield Scott Hancock , Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, for the Union. It shows where they came from (beginning in 1848 and the Mexican war) and what made them who they were, ultimately showing them in the early battles of the war.

The picture that emerges is of four deeply religious individuals (and their fellow soldiers) who all thought they were doing God's work, defending their homes, families, communities. Good people or faith can disagree and God is not bound to any of them. Pious words are easy, actions are not. They were often at the mercy of events that swept them along like a flood. And all saw situations where comrades were split by the war, friendships broken, in part due to the fact that we still did not see ourselves as one nation, but as a collection of states. None were really vocal or active in the debate over slavery, they simply were doing their duty as they saw it.

It also shows that just following orders can be disastrous. There were key parts in the battles when lower level commanders knew the top general was wrong, yet could not bring themselves to challenge the orders...too much military mindset training. And it brings home the reality of war, away from the cold strategy, to the human cost in blood, sweat and tears. Did you know that many of the soldiers (mainly the south) did not have shoes and marched barefoot?
One of the battles shown in the book is the town in which my wife went to college, Fredericksburg. I have been there with her and so I had some sense of what the terrain was like. I have also been to Gettysburg and seen the battlefield, though many,many years ago.

Two things that struck me as I read, apart from the observations above. One is that I shudder to think that people recently would even hint at the word secession (Texas Gov Rick Perry and others) and that states' rights would be the rallying cry for so many. How can we go back to the divisiveness of pre-Civil War days and have state governors think that they can just ignore federal law? That issue was settled, in much blood, and I believe it is only those with no true understanding of history that can spout careless words and concepts like these.

The other thing is that in all our conflicts we must channel our differences through peaceful means and ratchet down the rhetoric. It is healthy to have lengthy , and often contentious, debate over serious issues. But one thing must be certain. We debate as Americans, one nation united by history and purpose, and certain key principles. We must not seek to divide but to unite. As Lincoln had a forgiving attitude ("malice toward none ...charity towards all") towards the rebellious southern states, let us be gracious toward those we disagree with and focus on what we share in common, not those things that can so easily divide us.

As General Sherman once famously said "war is hell" and no one in their right minds (and hearts) would ever seek it willingly. These books (Gods and Generals, and Killer Angels) both show that and remind us that seeking peace is a much preferable goal.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

misuse of patriotism

This is Memorial Day weekend, a time where we remember and honor the sacrifices of those who served our nation in war and often gave their lives to defend our freedom or the freedom of our allies. It is a time of much flag-waving and feeling proud of our country standing for freedom in the midst of a world that is too often enslaved and enslaving. But not all demonstrations ring true.

Recently our President has been accused as dissing the veterans by not speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day....he is speaking at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Cemetery near Chicago, his long time home. Somehow the standard for patriotic display on this day has been determined to be speaking at Arlington and nowhere else will do, and no one but the President is good enough (though the Vice President is speaking there in his place).

As many have countered, many times in recent history American Presidents have decided to speak somewhere other than Arlington on Memorial Day. Reagan did that twice, Bush Sr did it all four years of his presidency, and even Bush Jr did it twice (2001 and 2002) . Coincidentally, the only President who spoke at Arlington on every Memorial Day during his presidency (8 times) was President Clinton, who nevertheless was consistently attacked as unfriendly to the military. Such is the hypocrisy of the "flag-wrappers"

But there is another problem with this attack, beyond the historical record. Why do we treat one cemetery as more special than the others? If we truly honor all the veterans ,why is the President speaking at one more important than any other? I do not mean to diminish Arlington. It is a beautiful place and a fitting resting place for veterans. Looking across the sea of gravestones is a solemn occasion (0ne that I have been fortunate to do a few times) and it gives one pause to ponder the reality of war and it's consequences. Visiting the gravesite of President Kennedy and re-reading the words of his inaugural address always brings tears to my eyes.

And it's personal. My uncle is buried at Arlington. He was serving in the military training pilots to fly during World War II when he died in a plane crash. He gave his life for his country, though he never saw combat. I have visited his grave, left roses there, and grieved for the uncle I never got to meet.

But I have also visited, and left roses , on another grave site on the other side of the country, for someone else who faithfully served his country. That was my paternal grandfather. He participated in the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I. He did see combat and yet survived the war and later retired from the military in the late 1950's. He passed away in 1964 and was buried in Washington National Cemetery just south of Portland Oregon, later joined by my grandmother three years later.

Both of these served their country in the military faithfully and with honor. Both are worthy of remembrance, not just because they are my family, but because they were patriots who answered their nation's call to serve, despite the risk. Both have family who remember them. Why should we differentiate between them just because one was buried at Arlington and the other wasn't?

But that is what people are doing when they attack the President for not speaking at Arlington this weekend and having the "gall" to speak at some "lesser" resting place. Shame on them! This is fax patriotism, using it for political gain. Please remember all who died, no matter where they are buried, no matter the manner or time of their death. They deserve it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

checking your attitudes

okay, time to finish up immigration-related posts for now. The other thing about the issue that sometimes torque me are the attitudes that people display. It is one thing to debate issues and have disagreements. I do not demand that everyone agree with me and I will not push someone to change their views - I try merely to inform them of problems I see with their reasoning and facts - (and following faith tenets) and argue passionately for my views. If we were all of one mind on everything it would one heck of a boring world.

But I have seen a lot of angry, attacking language in the debate that goes beyond disagreement and healthy debate. It reflects hate and prejudice by its very presence much like smoke indicates fire. It is fueled by the anonymity of comment sections after articles - and displayed more honestly on radio and TV by those who should know better. It is hard to miss and disappointing to see.

My appeal to you is to carefully think about what you are going to say or write before you utter it. Once it is out there you cannot retract it, only modify. Think about how you would feel if someone said the same thing about you. Words have consequences and a singer/songwriter(David Meece) made an updated version of a popular childhood ditty when he wrote and sang "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart"

And remember, under our system of government no one gets bonus points for how far back they can trace their ancestry,nor brownie points for what they have done with it. All are equal in the eyes of the law - and of God , who the founders stated our rights flowed from. Sometimes we too have problems with feeling entitled. America should not be a social club, for only the privileged to enjoy. It should be a refuge for the weary....re-read the words of the plaque on the State of Liberty.

The statue of Liberty is set as a welcome to the world. Come and experience the freedom and opportunity that America offers. If you have felt beaten up, world, come here and find relief. Let's not lose that , okay?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

citizenship

In the debate over immigration, just as in the debate over the "war on terror" we hear citizenship being touted as the deciding factor in how people are treated. Citizens get one level of treatment, non-citizens get treated at another, lower level. On the surface it appears logical...there is something special about citizenship. And that is correct. However, as with most generalizations and superficial statements, if you scratch below the surface you may be surprised at what you find.

Citizenship is conferred in this country in two ways. Many people immigrate to the US,spend time here learning the language,culture and law, and after a period of time are able to apply for naturalization. By way of a citizenship test, background checks, and swearing an oath, they can become naturalized citizens, which gives them all the privileges of citizenship. The only restriction is they cannot be President.

Most people become citizens the other way, by birth. They don't have to pass any test, swear any oath, learn anything (except for advancement in school and work).And they can even become President, if they so desire. They become citizens based on the fortunate situation of their parents (or at least their mother residing here when they were born. It makes no difference how long their ancestry goes back, just that they were born in the US. That is the way I became a citizen.

The privileges of citizenship that are outlined in the Constitution are sparse. Voting is one, regardless of race, sex, or age(18 or above). Another is serving in government. You have to be a citizen to become a Representative, Senator,or President. And that is about it. There are other references to citizen, but these are the big issues.

When you look at rights delineated in the Constitution you find the words "people" or "persons". When talking about freedom of speech,religion, press, trial by jury, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc, the prohibition against infringement by law enforcement is to individuals, not just citizens. The right of habeus corpus, contained in the body of the Constitution (before amendments) is for all, not just citizens. So there is no difference in the area of rights between citizens and non-citizens.

Why is this so? Partly it is because those rights are seen as part of the "certain unalienable rights" that Jefferson declares are "all men...are endowed by their Creator" with. Partly it is because of the moral foundation of those rights - they are right and fair and just, not privileges for the few or "acceptable". But aside from the moral and philosophical, there is a legal reason. The rights are listed as a limitation on power, to protect people, and it is operable for all who reside in this country,not just citizens. It is a limit we have set on our government. And it is a reminder that rights are a right of being human, and as Jefferson also declared governments are set up to secure (protect) those rights, not grant them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

immigration,part two - rule of law

After glossing over indefinite detention, "enhanced interrogation" (torture), and warrantless wiretapping, can those on the conservative wing seriously ever even say the phrase "rule of law", much less argue for it? They have so pushed for a situational ethics thinking (ends justify the means) - which is another thing true believers would never endorse - that any support for strict adherence to legal guidelines comes across as highly hypocritical at best.

The rule of law is our guideline in this game called life. It is the set of boundaries that ensure (or encourage at least) civil conduct and make a peaceful life possible. Just as in any contest the rules are not there to bludgeon any competitor and cause them to constantly look over their shoulder for fear of stepping out of line. It is there to reinforce what they normally should have, a good sense of right and wrong - morals and manners - and to deal with serious violations of those so that all can benefit.

You have seen basketball games, for instance, where the referees are calling every petty infraction of the rule book, and fans are chanting "let them play". The referees are not the game, they are there to provide the framework and guidelines to help the players play a safe, orderly game. In the same way, in this game called life, laws are not life, they are the boundaries set to insure that all people get the chance to play freely. They must be administered wisely to ensure that people don't worry about either being taken advantage of by unruly players, nor about being hammered by the rule enforcers.

The problem is two-fold. One , we target selectively those who we think have stepped out of line, while expecting ourselves to "get a break" when we step over the line -as illustrated by the "war on terror" advocates and their cavalier attitude towards those accused or suspected of terrorism. And, two, we confuse the spirit and letter of the law. We forget what the purpose of the law is and harp on strict enforcement (for others, of course) of rules.

We are like the Pharisees as seen in the New Testament who targeted Jesus as a "bad person" because he healed on the Sabbath. They forgot that , as he said, "Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath". There was a rule about not working on the Sabbath Day, but it was meant to benefit, by providing a day of rest, not provide a target for the "morals police".

Another thing about strict adherence to letter, as opposed to spirit, of the law. Law is there to provide a safe and sane society. If we handle things well those truly committed to actions detrimental to the general public (like violent criminals who care nothing for life) are restrained while the rest of us live our lives in peace with little attention from law enforcement aside from the occasional corrective warnings (like being stopped and advised of a headlight being out, for instance). When the law becomes the focus instead of life ,and strict enforcement of every rule is made, then we enter a caged existence.

So it is with immigration. So many people come here, legally and illegally, to get a better life, more opportunity under a fair system. They want to work hard, for the most part. And, as has been the case over the course of our country's history, they will add to the richness of life in America, by challenging our status quo -culturally, culinarily, linguistically,etc. If we are wise we will welcome them in and learn. A society that is static is only dying, slowly. A truly healthy society has growing pains and we should not shy away from those.

So when you next hear someone say "but they broke the law" you might ask them if they have every driven over the speed limit. If they admit that they have, ask them "why aren't you in jail? You have broken the law as well" ....we often gloss over our own errors while highlighting others - but need to remember ...a humble mind is a healthy mind :)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

immigration, part one

The hot news topic recently has been immigration. It has been spurred by the enactment of a new stricter law in Arizona, a state that I spent considerable time in in the past, but which I am glad to be out of. There are many reasons, chiefly climate and politics, but I still have good memories and friends from that period in my life as well. My experiences in Arizona are complex, as is the issue of immigration. It brings up many issues of faith and politics interacting and I hope to cover a few over the next few posts in order to prod your thinking.

There is the issue of entitlement. We often think of entitlement as an attitude of "others", chiefly seen in the anti-equality arguments of social conservatives against (as they say) "special rights" for gays. But I think that those of us who can trace our ancestry in this country back to colonial times have a habit of thinking in terms of entitlement for ourselves - and that can be dangerous.

There is the issue of dealing with those less fortunate. Our hearts are drawn to give to help victims of natural disaster, poverty, disease, in foreign lands. But when they come here to live and work, our attitude changes. We tend to be very protective of "our space" ,."our resources",. and forget everything we learned in kindergarten (sharing).

There is the issue of law. We are adamant that others abide by the letter of the law, but how often have we slipped out of ticket due to an understanding officer? What if the law was applied to us with the tightness that we advocate for others?

And finally, the issue of passion. It is a good thing to be passionate and to have strong opinions - it shows we care. But all too often it can degenerate into fear, distrust, hatred, and prejudice , of many varieties (not just racial).

I think the most important thing is to think clearly and with empathy...or at least with sympathy. We may not always be able to identify with what others are experiencing or feeling, but we can try to "walk a mile" in others shoes and think how we would feel if what we advocate doing to them were done to us. It just might change our attitudes and our hearts.

More to come in future posts.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

let me have coffee please

Sometimes you just have to rant. I admit the TeaPartiers get me riled up. I was a history and political science major, so I think I am more versed on those subjects than the average jane and joe, but it still amazes me when I hear the stuff people say in these gatherings. But I know that throughout our history we have had much like this. Most people do not think past what they read in their (flawed) textbooks in school and don't remember much of that. They are seriously incurious and utterly unmotivated to investigate beyond the bare facts, even of our valued American heritage. And they tend to just echo the loudest voice that seems to mirror their politics.

We tend to resort to demagoguery, sloganeering, sound-bite patriotism, and platitudes. In the past it has gotten us into plenty of trouble - witness the "yellow journalism" of the Spanish- American War. While we may think that today's acrimony is some radical change from the peaceful past , I beg to differ. During the run-up to the Civil War we had one Senator beating another one senseless on the Senate floor in a debate over slavery. Today we have the Virginia governor issuing a Confederate Month celebration without even mentioning the "S" word. How forgetful are we?

I wouldn't be safe in Texas ("Remember the Alamo"? really?) and though I would like to tweak a few Tea Partiers they are too disturbing. I mean, has anyone asked them why they use a historical event that conflicts with their purported values to spark their movement? What do I mean? Well, ladies and gentlemen, the Boston Tea Party was nothing more or less than an act of political vandalism.

Destroying someone else's property (remember this was British,not colonial tea) to make a political point Kinda like the anarchists breaking store windows in Seattle during the WTO riots. Something that would seem an obvious violation of those pesky Ten Commandments that these Tea Partiers would love to see displayed everywhere. But yet we in America have through the years celebrated the event as a highlight of proud American history

I know, that will get me marked as a heretic in many circles - and that's not the end of things I could say about our skewed view of history. Let me be clear, I love my country and this is my home. I love the freedoms that we have and there is no where else like here. I am very grateful to God for allowing me to be born here. But love doesn't have to have blinders. If you love something or someone you want to make it or them better. Hiding from flaws is not love ,it is myopic (nearsightedness , for those of you without glasses :)

So my assignment to you is this. The next time you hear or read a platitude or slogan or appeal to "patriotism" don't just swallow it whole without analyzing it , to see if it makes sense. I know we are all busy, not in school anymore, and it is easy to just absorb the news. But if we are to avoid being led around like sheep by the latest loud voice we have to develop better brains and use ours heads to actually think, not just store trivia.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

a world without....what?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do without some significant tool or technology?
If you ever camp, like we do , you know how it is to do without some modern conveniences for a while. And even then it is only for a short while and then we go back to the regular techie world.
What kind of things would you be willing to give up, or think that the world would be better off without? What scourges would you like to rid the world of? Sometimes I think cars are more trouble than they're worth, especially when needing fixing, but I can't see myself giving mine up any time soon.

According to some recent comments from so-called "conservatives" they would hate to see a world without nuclear weapons (or at least the US without them). Imagine that? Their response to the recent talks between the US and Russia on reducing nuclear arsenals is to warn about the danger of going back to pre-nuclear days. Does anybody who lived through the Cold War really think that it was a fun time and we wouldn't have been better off without nukes? You really would miss the "duck and cover" drills in elementary school?

It is not that I am against national defense, not in the least. In the same way that we protect our families and homes individually, we must be ready,willing and able to defend our country against those who wish to do us harm. But would you use a flamethrower or bombs to defend your house? No, because in defending you would destroy more than you saved, and the use of those things would harm all around you. Such is the case with nuclear weapons...poison the earth , sicken people, for years, and once you start there is no easy way to stop.
]If you have ever seen the records (pictures and first hand accounts) of the devastation of Hiroshima you might understand the importance of insuring that something like that never happens again.

There was a time when nations had no qualms about using chemical and biological weapons and WWI battlefields were full of their victims. These things are not contained to the battlefield and don't discriminate between soldiers and civilians. We got beyond thinking even having those were okay, perhaps one day we will do the same for nuclear.

To think that we as a country once contemplated a nuclear exchange with the Soviets, thinking that somehow anyone would "win" is disturbing. And to think that there are some who are "afraid" of reducing nuclear stockpiles is even more so. God has given us free will, but that does not mean that we should use that freedom to go down paths to destruction. I applaud the recent discussions and hope they will bear good fruit. And I pray that cooler heads will always prevail.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hope and Change

It always amazed me during the campaign of 2008 how the words hope and change were maligned by one side because the other side used them as rallying cries. They were dismissed as "touchy feely" and those who embraced them were dismissed as delusional. By many who should have known better. It is one thing to debate the kind of change needed or just what our hope should be, but we should never dismiss hope and/or change as being bad.

Think of this weekend and the celebration of millions of believers. Easter is all about hope and change. Hope is bound up in the idea of resurrection. That death is not the end, that there is a future beyond the grave, called Heaven. Reuniting with love ones and the our great Deliverer.
And not just in the far future, but right now. As we read in Jeremiah, God said to the children of Israel "I know the plans I that I have for you ...to give you a future and a hope". In many other places God assures us that while in this world we will have hard time He will be there with us to get us through. An appeal to hope is not wrong.

And what about change? The cross and the empty tomb are symbols of great change. They were the ultimate change points of a life lived to challenge the accepted thoughts and conditions of the day. The religious conservatives of the day were much like ours today and Jesus challenged them constantly to lose their chains of legalism and realize the spirit of the Law. How many times did he say in the Sermon on the Mount, "you have heard it has been said....but I say unto you" ? He chastised them for putting "theology" (or ideology) above the welfare of people. He called for a life of sacrifice and demonstrated it on the cross, removing the barriers between God and man. That was some change!

Too often we get stuck where we are, and with things as they are, and lose hope of things ever getting better. Or we comfortable where we are and fear change, thinking it will only be for the worse. But God calls us to better things, to grow each day. And we who have faith in God should live it out each day, and be the first to embrace hope and change, now and forever.

Happy Easter everyone :)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

what were they thinking?

What were they thinking? Have you ever said that, looking back on some historical event or movement? Did you scratch your head and wonder how people could think in a certain way and either promote or allow something to happen that today we all (or mostly all) think was wrong? Like "whites only" signs and attitudes in the South, internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry in WWII, the Hollywood blacklist and other Red Scare tactics, or the continual racial/ethnic stereotyping of a many immigrants ove the years.

Hindsight, it is said, is always 20-20, but in order to prevent future folks from being tasked with the same retrospective we need to be proactive about things in the present. What things do we do now,or allow with rationalization that may at first glance appear rational, but upon reflection reveal our prejudices? And what prompts us to be that way?

Part of the reason is that we fail to walk in others' shoes - think in terms of how something will affect others and not just ourselves. We let fear rule, let our comfort zone feelings make a moral judgment on others, instead of embracing change and diversity. And, sometimes we either think anything we do or say in contradiction to what is being done or said will either make no difference or bring on us the ire of too many people.

We need to put ourselves in the picture (in the situation) and see how we would feel if the same things were done to or said about us. As Jesus said, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or as the English poet (a man of faith) John Donne said, "no man is an island entire of itself, we are part of the whole, each man's death diminishes me, send not therefore for whom to bell tolls, it tolls for thee".

We are all in this together, and we must be there for each other. It is a mandate of heaven

Thursday, March 11, 2010

social justice

Okay, got to make more than just one post per month. Just a quick post here.
A friend told me about a saying that was made by a religious figure (South American bishop)
that kind of sums up the problem with advocating social justice today
"when I gave food to the poor, I was called a saint, when I asked why the poor had no food, I was called a communist"
Those on the right are fine with charitable giving to those less fortunate, but not with organizing to reduce the problems that give rise to poverty. They have no sense of a collective responsibility to care for those less fortunate, and thus respond to calls for social justice with name calling.
Just today a popular rightwing TV and radio talker told christians to leave their churches if they mentioned social justice.
But isn't that a part of what Christ advocated? Try reading Matthew 25 and see what you think.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

what are you know for?

One of my mom's favorite mantras was "accentuate the positive"
It used to bug me sometimes, because I would find things that I felt needed to be set straight and she always tried to put a positive spin on things. She was a real "glass half full" kind of person.

She gave everybody the benefit of the doubt and wanted the best for all. She wasn't naive, by any means, she knew people all too well. But she made a conscious choice to be an advocate for promoting positive change and conserving the things she knew to be good and uplifting.

These days it seems like many people are known more for what they are against than what they are for. They are the people of "no". To seemingly endless things they say "no". There's even a whole party of them in Congress. They don't like the solutions that are proposed to the problems we face but they don't offer any solutions either. Like a stubborn mule that digs in its heels they refuse to leave their stalls to travel to pasture, and yet complain that they are hungry.

It is easy to criticize. In school it was always easier to write a book report or critique if I didn't like the book or what it said. I could list off its defects easily. But if it was a book I really liked it was much harder. It is easier to tear down than to build. It is easier to point out flaws than to repair them. There is a place and time for pointing out flaws, but if all we do is point out things that are wrong, we become simply naysayers, stagnant and cold.

We are called to be better people. We who live by faith are called to build and grow. We are called to spread hope, to "seek peace and pursue it". We are called not to "curse" the darkness, but to light candles to disperse it.

So what are you known for? A simple question in complicated times