Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Forcing the Issue

There are a lot of very strong emotions on either side of the current Executive Order.

When I heard of it, I was dismayed.   My first reaction was, "here we go . . ."  But really, this is exactly what candidate Trump talked about during his campaign and no one really paid attention because they thought he had an ice cube's chance in Hades of winning.  But he won.  And you can't blame him, he is just now he is attempting to do what he talked about.

And if polls are any indicator, half to almost two-thirds of Americans support the ban.  

I disagree with the majority and think it goes against the very fabric of who we are as Americans ("give me your tired, your poor Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.")  

Not to mention who I am as a Christ-follower:
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:34)

But the entire debacle brings up (and in many ways forces) the issue:

What do we do with Islam?

I know, I know - it is not a ban on Muslims, but let's get real - the Executive Order lists the very things that are central to Islam's Sharia Law.  This is a topic that Europe has been wrestling with for the last couple of decades.  What do we do with a religion that still practices honor killings, stoning of adulterers and oppression of homosexuals?

The actual text of the Executive Order strikes at the heart of this issue: 

 In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including "honor" killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.

You may object saying most Muslims don't think Shariah Law applies to non-Muslims.

Most Western Muslims . . .

This has been a difficult issue in many municipalities in the U.K. were refugees have exerted influence over local laws causing problems for local non-Muslims.  Non-Western Muslims (those coming from Africa, Asia and the Middle East) exhibit a readiness to impose Sharia Law on the West.

So this is an issue much bigger than we think.  I think the right thing to do right now is to pressure our government to allow properly vetted refugees to come to America.  The eventual question will be whether we can support both people's religious and human rights.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Social Media has become a very Negative Place

We need a break from the doom and gloom.

People . . . snap out of it.  The truth is that we are not on the threshold of Hades.  The only torture we will endure over the next four years will be from tying our fate to the actions of a few people in Washington.

It doesn't matter whether you love or hate this Administration - our lives are much bigger than that.

Looking at my own life, I see it played out over and over . . .

I remember the hard blue metal and plastic edges of the front dash on my dad's Ford Torino Station Wagon as I hopped between the seats on a hot summer's day.  My brother and I went with my dad on his trip to the gas station and that meant there was an outside chance we would score a popsicle.  Great times, really.  Hours of fun in a large station wagon waiting for something sweet.

Yes, I waited hours because it was during the oil embargo of the Carter administration.  

The worst of times, right?  Oil prices through the roof . . . huge unemployment figures . . . hostages in Iran.  In the days that followed, my dad convened a family meeting explaining that we were all in crisis because of what was happening with OPEC.  I spent the rest of the time he talked wondering what the word crisis meant.  Our meeting ended.  My question evaporated.  The rest of my childhood went on as planned - crisis and all.

What happens in Washington doesn't ruin your life without your consent.

I remember in fifth grade a young girl named Theoni running from the main office at school saying President Reagan was shot.  I went straight home and sat with the rest of my family as they ran through re-run after re-run of the video footage of our President.  One minute he was waving and the next he was being tackled into the back of a speeding limo.

Reagan lived and returned to office.  As fifth graders we were convinced of "The Twenty-Year Curse" of presidents.

. . . and quickly returned to construction of the tree house.

Life goes on.  We are out of balance with all of this doom-and-gloom political stuff on Social Media.  Like some sort of demented spin cycle that someone forgot to turn off, we keep getting re-hashes of how horrible life will be over the next four years.

Stop it.  We Will Survive.

We survived The Hostage Crisis of the late 70's.  We survived Iran/Contra.  We survived The Keating Five.  We survived Bob Packwood and Boris Yeltsin.  We survived "Read My Lips: No New Taxes."  We survived Monica Lewinsky and the Impeachment.  Y2K. The "Hanging-Chad."  We survived 9/11 and the war that took us into Iraq.  We survived Syria ignoring Obamas "Red Line" and the tragedy of Ben Ghazi.

It's called history - and as long as we are human, we will keep making a mess of it.

And guess what?  We are going to survive a lot more in the next four years - and it's not because of a person or a party or a political practice.  Red and Blue Presidents and Legislatures get it wrong because we are human, we're flawed - we get it.  Can we just get over it?

We can still talk about issues  - but let's do it with a little less drama and a whole lot more care to each other as people with lives that are much bigger than the issues we debate.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Taking the soul out of prayer

So Betsy Devos is probably going to be our Secretary of Education.  This has given us a lot to talk about . . .

Like a friend of mine who likes her and posted, "this woman will support prayer in schools."  This received a lot of likes, but I had to scratch my head: "Hold a sec, there already is prayer in school."

But then it hit me - oh goodness, we are talking about something completely different.  She's talking about school-led prayer.

A wave of conflicted dread flooded me.

Conflicted, because as a Christian I love it when people pray.  Or I should say, I love it when people want to pray.  When I read this comment from my friend, it hit me that battle-ready Christian culturalists in an attempt to do something good could make things really bad.  We could be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Currently, any child in school can pray, lead others in prayer, read their Bible or talk about Jesus, God or whatever other spiritual topic they want to.  It is State-sponsored and teacher-led prayer that is not allowed.  The Supreme Court ruled that student-led prayer is legal.  Those teachers that infringe on student's rights because of ignorance or agenda lose in court routinely.  In fact, according to the Washington Post, we currently have the most religious speech and conduct than at any point in the last 100 years.

The push for public school prayer has gained steam recently.  So here I am in the awkward position of dreading the idea of imposing prayer in school.  Ideally, it would be great if everyone prayed, but that is not what would happen.

Prayer in school would be a joke.  You would have to have Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Hebrew and Muslim prayer.  Don't forget we'd have to read the Humanist Manifesto.  Then there's the Agnostic moment of uncertainty and the Atheist's right to have a minute to not saying anything.  Everyone gets their time at publicly sanctioned prayer (or non-prayer).  It would become an exhibition of multiculuralism - which itself is nice, but it's not really prayer.

Principled legislation has a way of taking the heart out of something.  What we achieve in principle, we lose in soul.

Prayer comes from the heart.  With 50 million kids in school each day, you can bet that there are millions of prayers that go up to God right before a test, wrestling match and sitting in the Principal's Office.  Friends can pray together to start the day or to recover from the loss of a friend.  Prayer happens in school every day.  The real challenge is to get prayer in the home - and that is entirely up to us.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Can you admire a person you don't agree with?

I feel a little weird lately.

In the last week or so, I have felt a small sadness is creeping up to me . . . and I think it has to do with the departure of President Obama.

Before you put me in a political box, listen to me for a minute. 

I am not a political guy.  I don’t feel heavy one party or another and there are a ton of ways I disagree with President Obama: Foreign policy, taxes, Planned Parenthood, Marriage and gender issues - the list goes on and on.  

Just for the record, in the last election my vote was one of those wasted ones on a guy from Utah, but as the days wind down for President Obama I have to admit I will miss him.

Here is what I will miss:

I will miss his humor – He wasn't the funniest president ever, but he had some good lines.  You can see a few here.  Obama's Anger Translator is hilarious.  

I will miss his thinking – yeah sure, I disagreed with a lot of his conclusions, but I loved that he thought through it thoroughly and with calm.

I will miss what he represents – Obama was a significant stride in our nation’s history toward equality for everyone.  Hopefully more to come.

I will miss the fact that he was a family man and really loves his wife.  This was such a great role model for our kids - love your wife, stay true to your family.

I will miss his relevance.  We had a guy in the office who knew how to bro hug but also knew that Kanye West is an idiot.

I will miss that he was an ordinary guy.  Maybe a little stuffy at times, but when he stopped in a place to grab lunch it was obvious that his transition back to 'normal life' will be easy - he's one of 'us.'

And so maybe this blog is not so much about Obama as it is about admiring the people we disagree with.  I feel like our culture has lost the art of respecting your opponents.

How do I know?  Becuase there will be people who will respond to this questioning my values.  There will be some who say I am soft, unprincipled, naive and worse.  All because I happen to like the guy that I disagree with.  It is a loss in our culture when we have decided that people who think differently than us are not worthy of friendship.

One of the biggest lies I have heard over the last decade is the lie that if you disagree with me you are filled with hate.  The practical outworking of this idea is another lie: that you can't find goodness in the people you disagree with.  

The truth between is that you can admire the people you disagree with.

You and I need to change the culture on this point.  Admiration for someone who thinks differently doesn't change our core values.  This is not weakness - it is a great strength to understand those who are different and maintain your course.  I can learn from someone I feel is misguided.  I can admire principled people – even when I feel those principles are wrong.

It seems fitting that on Martin Luther King Day we reaffirm that "we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

So I admire the man that pushed us to get healthcare for everyone into the national discussion.  I am delighted that we are (hopefully) restructuring it in a way that balances pre-existing conditions without bankrupting the next generation.  I mean, hats off to a guy who pushed his passion to a point where now healthcare is a Republican agenda item.

You wouldn’t have heard that 10 years ago.

So thank you, President Obama for being our president for the last eight years.  Thank you for your dignity and class - and I admire you even if (and sometimes especially because) we are different.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

So what is really going on in the world?

Maybe once a week or so we read about terrorism in some distant place.  We hear a snippet of it but return to the more pressing news stories that dominate our newsfeeds - stuff we can argue about on social media.

But what would you do if suddenly and without any warning you came face-to-face with it and the only way to survive was to deny your faith?

It was a Friday night in an upscale restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The kind of place that most of us figure something like this happens - remote - a place that we can't even pronounce.

At 9pm the doors crashed in as Muslim extremists opened fire and hacked diners "with sharp weapons" all the throughout the restaurant.  In seconds twenty-eight people were dead.  Shishir, the chef of the restaurant ran to the walk-in refrigerator with a Japanese customer and held the door shut for two hours.

After two hours of trying to keep warm, an attacker pulled open the door and Shishir screamed over and over,  "For Allah's sake, don't kill me."

Shishir is Hindu.  He acted Muslim to save his life.  

The act worked.  Shishir was spared and the Japanese man was shot - double tap.  Later that night they ordered Shishir to make them food as they were preparing for the Muslim fasting day of Eid.  Doubting that Shishir was really a Muslim, one of the attackers asked him to recite the Q'ran.  Having friends who were Muslim as a kid, he recited the passages that he knew.  It was enough to spare him.

Shortly after dawn, government commandos in armored personnel carriers stormed the restaurant and killed all five terrorists.  Shishir would be saved, but now that night haunts him.

"I don't see any future. I can't sleep properly. Whenever I'm alone and I think of that night, I just can't do anything - I feel terrified."  Read more of his terror-filled night here.

What would you do?  How would you act?

Just a dose of what is real in the midst of the fake news, political rancor and Kardashian quasi-dramas that dance across our headlines.  Do you really think our President-Elect shouting at a reporter is news?  What could it possibly be distracting us from?

So what is really going on in the world?

May we never have to experience it first-person.    

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

She's right . . . but it's not what you think.

Like most of you, I didn't watch the Golden Globes - but I did hear about Meryl Streep's acceptance speech.  I also heard that people are ticked at her for sermonizing about Donald Trump.

She was right, though - hear me out on this . . .

She was dead on when she said that no one should make fun of someone with a disability.  Point for Streep.  I'm not sure that Donald Trump has ever really admitted that he should not have imitated a reporter in the way that he did in his campaign, but Streep is right.  Trump was wrong.


"Because it gives permission for the rest of us to do the same thing," she said.

If I was there I would have stood up and applauded.  Bravo!  So right!  When people in the spotlight do something it often gets imitated - that is why you have to be very careful what you do in the spotlight.

She went on . . .

"Disrespect invites disrespect . . . violence incites violence."

On point.  Well said.  Way to go.  Woop woop!  Say it louder for the people in the back!

Just when I thought she was going to go for the jugular she finished up and sat down.  

Wait, what?  Keep going.  You're on a roll!  This is the perfect time and the perfect audience to push this further.  You are in a room of the very people who make our culture on the screen and you are talking about violence - don't sit down, for heaven's sake!

But she finished up by praising actors and actresses for their craft.  She said she was, "very proud of the work Holywood honors here tonight."

Are you kidding me?  How can you be proud of Hollywood and decry violence in the same speech?
Hollywood is the nation's largest purveyor of violence.  Go to Esquire.com and you will see a list of the top 25 films of 2016.  Look at some who made the list:

Kill Zone: A film about a guy who sells his organs on the black market and plans to kill his brother for his heart.
Don't Breathe: A story about guys who plan to rob a blind man and get gruesomely murdered in the process.
The Handmaiden (called deliriously violent and sexually deranged by movie reviewers) - the story of a pickpocket who gets sent to an insane asylum.
The Invitation: A guy gets invited to dinner by his ex and husband only to find he and his girlfriend and a handful of other guests are about to be murdered.
Hush:  A woman in a cabin is about to be killed by a deaf mute.
Elle:  A Woman seeks vengeance after being raped by a masked intruder.
Green Room: A punk band accepts a gig at a Neo-Nazi club and witnesses a murder.  Movie reviewers called it "the most hardcore thriller in years . . . bursts of brutal violence."
Ouija: The Origin of Evil:  A young girl contacts what she thinks is her dead father in a seance but winds up inviting a spirit that creatively dismembers their entire family.

Those are just the movies!

I can't tell you how many times I watch football on the weekend and the commercials are for TV shows where someone is pointing a gun in someone's face.  I will literally say out loud, "hey another show where bad guys stick guns in your face and the good guys defeat them by sticking guns in their face."

And we are surprised by the violent culture we have given birth to?

Don't tell Streep to be quiet.  Get louder.  Tell all the people in that room, "stop making movies that glorify violence.  Take responsibility for our culture and make movies that families can go to.  Make movies that inspire us to be better people.  Make movies that teach life-honoring values."  

And you - reading this - when someone brings this up in conversation, talk about how she is right and the time is right for us to tell Trump, Hollywood and whoever else stands in the way of decency and the value of human life, "you're fired."

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Truth is Always in the Middle

If you haven't seen the news, today there was a video that surfaced of two young black men who tied up a white man and repeatedly cut and beat him while they scream "(bleep) white people; (bleep) Donald Trump!"  The incident was recorded by two black women on Facebook Live for over thirty minutes.

The chief of police called the entire event 'sickening.'  What poured fuel on the fire was when investigators at a press conference wouldn't talk about it as a hate crime because they had no proof  the victim 'voted in the election.'

Say what?

Some commentators on the news were outraged and quick to echo New Gingrich, "If this had been done to an African American by four whites, every liberal in the country would be outraged, and there’d be no question but that it’s a hate crime.”

As you may have guessed this has become a Red vs Blue issue - which is now becoming the secondary story.  A whole lot of head scratching is going on about whether the reluctance to call it a hate crime is a double standard.  

Just what is a 'hate crime?'  

I (mistakenly) thought it had to do with whether the assailant was hateful in his intent.  Actually, the law is not about the emotion involved and more about the victim selected.   A hate crime is when you purposefully pick a person of a specific gender, race, ethnicity etc.  So it made some sense that the investigators were still trying to determine whether the assailants were specifically picking a white person to beat up.

However . . . this is a pretty thin technicality.  Seems like it could have been pretty quickly determined - say like in the first five minutes of watching the tape.  You can see it here.  

But I want to challenge you first.

When you watch this video - resist the urge to write over the event.  Don't make this horrible act into a grenade you can launch here on Facebook at people who think differently than you.  Let's keep our focus on changing the culture in our country.  

See, because here is what you will be tempted to do:  You will watch this horrible video and you will then post something that supports your liberal or conservative worldview.  You will forget that the truth is always in the middle.  You will create more divisions and launch a secondary cultural argument.  You will repeat this savage act in your social media contempt of opposing viewpoints.  One violent act in the city begets several thousand violent acts in the suburbs.

And it never ends.

Jedidiah Brown, an activist in the community of Chicago said it well: "We in Chicago have embraced such a violent culture . . . I think we're failing this next generation that's coming up behind us."
Notice the word he used: 'We.'
Before you post anything about 'you' - think again about 'we.'  It is easy to lob verbal grenades at each other and feel like you have accomplished something.  Start your conversations with questions rather than statements.  How can we fix this thing - in our town, our neighborhood?
Getting rid of our culture of violence may just start with a simple act of cooperating over social media as we pick up the pieces together.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Dark mornings

If you get up early like me, you noticed how dark it was this morning.

. . . but the light is coming back . . .

That's because our planet is circling back to the sun.  Though we are about to go through some of the coldest parts of the year we are on our way back to summer - a minute more each day.

One enormous cycle complete.

Like many of you, I spent the first hour or so of work today asking myself, "so what am I doing again?"  I was gearing up for 2017 - a new month, a new year - new goals and ideas.

Kind of like last year at this time.

We constantly spin in these cycles.  One ends, one begins.  Each day begins in the middle of the night.  Every minute counts only when it is done.  Every end is a new beginning.  Each beat of my heart sets up another.  Blood flowing through my body in one elaborate round trip.

Again . . . a cycle.

Even in humanity - we just bid farewell to a year that many were glad to see go.  An election put one brand of political ideas in power.  It caused quite a stir.  Eight years ago it was the other brand that caused some to lose their mind.


These elaborate circles we spin through in nature and humanity - it can cause some to feel like we are objects of fate.  That we have no control over our lives.  An ongoing spiral of unfolding time.   

But that's not true.

We may live on a planet that circles the sun but that doesn't mean we live in cycles bigger than us.  What makes us human is how we live through the cycles - not in the cycles.  

How will you respond to the challenge of this new year?  Another spin around the sun.  Another year in your job.  You can fall victim to how you view it - a pawn in a massive game someone else is playing, or an opportunity to live out your calling.  I see far too many people who have become tools of their career.  

Look - God gave you this life not to be a tool.  Your life is bigger than your job.  It's time to make your career a tool of your calling and not vice versa.

It means you have a live a little and follow God in the small steps.  That's a calling.

In your marriage you can continue to cry about what you are not getting out of it or you can step up and give the very thing that you are craving.  Make your relationships the place that you want to be.  That's your calling.  It starts with you.

That's a life that sounds a whole lot more exciting than just orbiting the sun.  

We mark our lives not with numbers but with fearless decisions to do something meaningful with the number of days that we have. 

So we are about to head into the coldest days of the year.  Days that will make you want to stay in bed.  But let's dare together to live now what we know is true - that the Son is coming.  

Go live out your calling.