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Archive for November, 2014

Who’s the More Wicked?

November 30th, 2014 No comments

There have been a few intelligent responses to the events in Ferguson but on the whole it has been stupidity compounded by tragedy. When the news of the Grand Jury decision was announced it was met with anger on the part of many, some of whom responded with violence. What followed was the lamentable but predictable retreat of the various sides – black and white, liberal and conservative – behind fortress walls constructed from historical prejudice. There has been a lot of shouting and very little dialog.

What I have noticed most recently is the recitation of injustices that are supposed to turn the tables on those protesting the death of Michael Brown and the Grand Jury decision. Some of them show white kids killed by black men. Some of them show white police officers killed by black men. We are pressed to wonder: where is the outrage about those crimes? Why does “the media” not make a “federal case” out of these? Why does the President not send the Attorney General to investigate these?

Most educated people should be familiar with the fact that statistical evidence can be misleading. But what is even more misleading is anecdotal evidence; so much so that it is even accorded its own fallacy: the so-called “anecdotal fallacy.” A good basic definition of the anecdotal fallacy is the use of a personal experience or an isolated example instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence. People who use these examples as a substitute for evidence will defend their use by pointing out that these are not isolated examples; that for each example given there are a number not mentioned. And that is almost inarguably true. But we live in a country of 317 million people, in a world of 7.1 billion people. At any given moment one could stack up heaps of anecdotal evidence to demonstrate almost any human activity imaginable. An old journalistic aphorism informs that the way to manufacture a crime wave is to report all of the crimes.

But of course all of this misses the point. We would love for the world to be simple enough to settle with a tally. Our injustices – those we have endured – are just as bad as your injustices. Or your acts of injustice are worse than mine. But it is not that simple. It is actually simpler. All injustice is evil. The real fallacy here isn’t in the recitation of our injustices vs. your injustices, although it is little more than a distraction. The real fallacy is that there is such a thing as our injustice, or yours. There is only injustice. And injustice is evil.

If we can produce evidence of injustice toward and by all groups of people, which we can, then we must assume that all groups are guilty as much as that all groups are victims. That fact may seem to lead us nowhere but in fact it leads directly to the solution. Because if we’re all guilty, we’re all in need of mercy. We all need to be forgiven. Justice is a funny thing. We all want justice until we figure out how guilty we are. Then all we want is mercy.

It is another almost irony that it is only when we realize how guilty we are that we can become willing to forgive. Because I must recognize that whatever I wish upon others for their injustice against me is deserved by me as well. Either we must all forgive, or we are all damned.

One of the reasons it is so hard to forgive is that forgiveness is costly. If forgiveness costs nothing then it is worth nothing. If you are in debt to me, I must give up my claim to what you owe. If you owed me justice and I did not receive it, I have to give up my right to justice. And we all must sense at our core how difficult that is.

Here is a good place where we can use anecdotal evidence. This is really true. There was a group of people who went so far in debt to a creditor that the point was reached where it was literally impossible for them to pay the debt. The creditor had every right to recompense. He was in a position to condemn the debtors to the worst consequences. But out of mercy and mercy alone, and not by any characteristic of the debtors, the creditor paid the whole debt himself, and thus the debtors were forgiven. It was incredibly painful, but he did it none the less. And going beyond that, the creditor invited the debtors into his own household, to enjoy with him all of his riches.

This seems an unbelievable story, something that only happens in the movies. But we know the debtors: we are the debtors. The creditor is God. And the price that was paid was paid by Jesus Christ on the cross. When we think of the price we must pay to forgive, we must measure it against the price that was paid for our forgiveness.

Jesus tells us that to be identified as his followers we must love as he loves (John 13:34-35). The love of Jesus turns out not to be affection but self-sacrifice. And so if we are to overcome the racial divide those on all sides must sacrifice all of the justice that was not paid to them when it should have been. We must move past the quantification of evils past. We must no longer point our fingers and say, “your sins are worse than mine!” as if somehow that erased my guilt. We are all guilty. We are all in need of forgiveness. And we will never find justice until we all give up our claims to it.

We will find our peace in the gospel.

Black Friday and the Trouble with Tribbles

November 29th, 2014 No comments

Yesterday on Thanksgiving I was driving home from the last of the Thanksgiving festivities about 9:00 PM and noticed as I was driving by one of the local shopping centers that all of the big stores were open and the parking lots were full. Black Friday, apparently, now begins before we’ve even slept off the turkey. I have in the past two days received literally hundreds of emails informing me with great urgency that I had better hurry because all of the sale items would go fast, or the sale wouldn’t last long. I got Black Friday notifications from every online retailer I have ever done business with, and from places you might not expect: Christian oriented sites such as those selling Bible software and a Christian surfing association. I even learned that my web hosting company was having a “sale.”

I have to admit I have been kind of a humbug for most of my life. I am not a humbug about Christmas per se, rather about the crass commercialization of this most holy event. Everybody’s doing it now, even Christians. I used to be quite vocal and angry about it. I guess I am still vocal but now I am more sad than angry. Because the materialistic madness this season sets in motion is merely an intensification of a fundamental aspect of our culture, and that is that we are starving. It’s not just Christmas, it’s everything that can be packaged and sold.

In 1967 a light hearted episode of Start Trek titled “The Trouble With Tribbles” aired that introduced into our culture the famous little fur balls called tribbles, that purred when handled by humans but hissed in the proximity of Klingons. The trouble with tribbles is that they are born pregnant, and with a voracious appetite. The reproduction rate of tribbles is tied to their appetite such that if you obtain one, and there is enough food available, within hours you will have thousands. In the episode this characteristic of tribbles is at first troublesome to the heroes of the Enterprise, but in the end the tribbles’ voracious appetite reveals that the Klingons have poisoned the food supply. The poison is such that the more one eats the less nutrition one is able to absorb, so that finally the tribbles die of hunger, even though they are gorged.

Dying of hunger, even though they are gorged. You get the connection I’m sure. I see that when I see people so desperate that they’re willing to spend months of their lives trying to figure out how to feed their hunger with other peoples’ money, or others desperate enough to spend months earning the money to part with (or going into debt) in exchange for something they hope will feed their hunger. Honest or dishonest, it is an exchange empty of nutrition in both directions. On the one hand there is money that doesn’t satisfy the hunger, and on the other there is stuff that doesn’t satisfy the hunger. The more we eat the less full we feel, and in the end we die of starvation. Is this not sad?

I don’t think this hunger is something new in the world. In the gospels we see people flock to Jesus because he feeds them a food that really satisfies. On the day after he fed five thousand people the crowd he had fed crossed the Sea of Galilee desperately seeking him, but really seeking another free lunch. Then Jesus told them that he was the real food that came from God. And he told them the most astonishing thing: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” (John 6:35 ESV)

Never be hungry. Never thirst.

This is what you are looking for. But you will not find it at the shopping center.

It’s not a SKIN problem, it’s a SIN problem.

November 27th, 2014 No comments

Some clear thinking and honest reflection about race. Transcript of a Facebook post by Benjamin Watson.

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars

November 26th, 2014 Comments off

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we wish it to be

November 26th, 2014 Comments off

Here is a link to an article that addresses our propensity to see things as we wish them to be.

“What we’ve got is this contest of moral visions that has become a factual fight because of this tendency of people to change their factual beliefs to fit their moral inclinations….

If the findings seem pessimistic, predicting that facts are often dictated by belief and reason clouded in self-serving ways, they also suggest ways of mitigating solution aversion…. Problems might be framed with aversion in mind…. Of course, if people feel they’re being manipulated, that could backfire; a more durable strategy, if also a more difficult one, involves making open-mindedness a personal and social virtue.

‘What you see in politics now is this massive lack of self-awareness.’”

The heart of the article is: because of the worldview I have developed through both nature and nurture, what seems perfectly obviously real to you seems perfectly ridiculous to me. Rather than to entertain the possibility that your view is valid within a worldview obtained along different lines than me, I dismiss you as out of your mind.

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 Benjamin Franklin offered support for the Constitution in spite of serious reservations as follows:

[H]aving lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error….

On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.

Why can we not lead like this today? Can we not doubt a little of our own infallibility?

 

Today

November 20th, 2014 No comments

“In the Gospel, Jesus always uses the word ‘today’ … and it is today that we must respond to people’s needs.” – Archbishop Konrad Krajewski

“God … is asking you to believe that he is God.”

November 13th, 2014 No comments

“God is not asking you to believe in the impossible. He is only asking that you believe that he is God …. You are saying, ‘O Lord, I do want to serve you; but that is the highest wall I have ever seen, and I will never get past it. Whatever shall I do?’ You must learn that the God who has called you is a God who can do the impossible. You must trust him to remove the wall in your life and step forward in faith, if necessary through the wall, knowing that he is able to do miracles for those who trust him.” – James Montgomery Boice

“You were faithful, your country was not…”

November 11th, 2014 No comments

First off, Veterans Day is about honoring veterans. It is not Memorial Day. Memorial Day is about those who fell, Veterans Day is about those who lived. It was originally commemorated as Armistice Day and the date coincides with the end of World War I: 11/11/1918 at 11:00AM. You could not create a more senseless war in fiction than World War I was in reality. It was after World War II that the day was renamed Veterans Day to remember those who served in the wars after. Of all the wars the US has waged, I think only World War II truly represented the sacrificial spirit we as Americans would like to think we have in all of our dealings in the world. Aside from that, and maybe the Revolutionary war, America’s wars have been no more or less senseless and evil than all of the other wars. There is little honorable, glorious, or ennobling about war.

But if there is any redeeming quality to war at all, it is in the spirit of devotion and sacrifice it engenders in ordinary men and women. Men and women can be willing to go to war for great causes. The causes they really fight for, cooked up by generals and politicians, may not be so great, may indeed be criminal. But the spirit of those who offer their lives in sacrifice is great. Those who have served know a bond with their comrades that others cannot imagine. When you interview those who fought, they often will say they volunteered for the greater cause, but in the end they fought for each other. All of the artificial barriers we erect in our societies between people fell, and all that was left was the common bond of humanity. All that remains is an ocean of love and respect.

So Veterans Day is about the veteran. It’s not about the wars in which they fought. It’s not about the generals and politicians who played them like pawns in cynical games. It’s about their spirit of love and sacrifice; what they were willing to give: for each other, and for their country.

I think this memoir by a Vietnam vet for his fallen comrade expresses it best:

So much was lost with you, so much talent and intelligence and decency. You were the first from our class of 1964 to die. There were others, but you were the first and more: you embodied the best that was in us. You were a part of us, and a part of us died with you, the small part that was still young, that had not yet grown cynical, grown bitter and old with death. Your courage was an example to us, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, nothing can diminish the rightness of what you tried to do. Yours was the greater love. You died for the man you tried to save, and you died pro patria. It was not altogether sweet and fitting, your death, but I’m sure you died believing it was pro patria. You were faithful. Your country was not. As I write this, eleven years after your death, the country for which you died wishes to forget the war in which you died. Its very name is a curse. There are no monuments to its heroes, no statues in small-town squares and city parks, no plaques nor public wreaths, nor memorials. For plaques and wreaths and memorials are reminders, and they would make it harder for your country to sink into the amnesia for which it longs. It wishes to forget and it has forgotten. But there are a few of us who do remember because of the small things that made us love you — your gestures, the words you spoke, and the way you looked. We loved you for what you were and what you stood for.  Philip Caputo A Rumor of War 300

Convicted or Redeemed?

November 10th, 2014 No comments

I heard a man pour his heart out this weekend over the sins he had committed and the way that his addiction had made a mess of things for himself and his family, and he broke down and cried. I reflected that at the same time he had been attacked with his feelings of guilt and remorse — in the dead of night when you are with no one but your thoughts — remembrances of places where I had gone wrong came to my mind. You know the feeling when you suddenly remember something that you deeply regret.

Our enemy will not let us forget these things. Our enemy lurks ever in the background accusing us. And we know that we are guilty. He is trying to convince us that we are not worthy of Love. It is that moment when we stand alone in the desert with Jesus, tempted. The enemy’s plan is accomplished when we despair of the depths of our sin.

Without the desert we cannot understand the magniitude of grace. Because we know how badly we have fallen short, we can know how much was forgiven when Christ paid the penalty for us.

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