Monday, September 30, 2019

Requiem for the Religious Right

I think it’s hard to take Nancy Pelosi’s call to prayer seriously.  I mean it reminds me of a pyromaniac with a match in hand about to set fire to a building saying, ‘Please pray with me that the damage I’m about to cause isn’t too severe.’  I mean if you’re really sincere about that prayer, then put down the dang match. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats can’t put down the impeachment match. They know they couldn’t beat him in 2016 against Hillary Clinton and they’re increasingly aware of the fact that they won’t win against him in 2020, and impeachment is the only tool they have to get rid of Donald J. Trump and the Democrats don’t care if they burn down and destroy this nation in the process. 

Look, I don’t pretend to speak for all evangelicals but this week I have been traveling the country and I’ve literally spoken to thousands and thousands of evangelical Christians, I have never seen the evangelical Christians more angry over any issue than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 Election, and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.  They know the only impeachable offense that President Trump has committed was beating Hillary Clinton in 2016.  That’s the unpardonable sin for which the Democrats will never forgive him .  And I do want to make this prediction this morning: if the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, on Fox News

I think we are finally seeing the last gasps of the religious right.  This might also be the last gasps of the political power of evangelicals.  Their defense of President Trump is reaching ludicrous lengths.  We've seen so many examples of denial, of gaslighting, of obfuscation, of redirecting, and of outright falsehood that I think we've become numb to it.  Now though, it seems the defenses are becoming totally divorced from reality.

Case in point, Robert Jeffress.  I've written before about my feelings on Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas.  He is likely the most visible supporter of President Trump and the Trump administration in the Evangelical realm.  He has gained a spot on Trump's advisory board, national prominence, and a commentator spot on Fox News.  Heavily focused on political weight and power.

His statement above is just too much.  He has previously questioned any religious sincerity in anyone other than an evangelical that votes conservative, so his opening is not surprising.  He then continues parroting the talking points we've come to expect.  Trump's victory was a mandate despite being largely a technicality.  Democrats want to destroy this country.  Humble-bragging to represent the voice of evangelicals, despite downplaying it.

The parts I cannot believe in his "impassioned plea" are how there can still be those in the evangelical community that believe Trump has not committed any other sins and his prophecy of a coming civil war.

So, now we'll threaten violence if Trump is removed from office?

We've hit the bottom of the barrel in mob tactics.  When all other persuasive tactics fail, threaten to break the legs, right?

Don't get me wrong, we are at as divided of a status as a nation as we have ever been. We are seemingly in a continual "us v. them" mentality and our media is designed to facilitate it. To foster it and to grow it.  We live in wind tunnels where we are continually fed only the voices that we agree with.  With the ones we like, we follow, we interact with.  We don't have to confront any reality that doesn't match that bubble.

But this has to be a gross overestimation of the support for Trump that would rise up.  His approval levels are hovering around 37-42%.  You have to assume not all of those that approve would take up arms if he is removed.  Some might even switch to the disapprove side during the process.

Maybe this "civil war" is threatened will be like everything else in Trump's world - a mirage, a lie.  Like the plaque for the "River of Blood" battle at his Northern Virginia Trump National Golf Club.

“Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’ It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!”

Which would definitely be a way to honor the battlefield - if it were true.

The closest site for the battle described on the plaque was 11 miles up the river.

Trump, nonetheless, remained undeterred.  When confronted with historians disputing his claims, "How would they know?  Were they there?"

It really takes a lot to be able to stare reality in the face and deny it.

Maybe we can ask the similar questions of Jeffress.  

How would he know anything about the reality of America?  

Is he even paying attention, or just regurgitating talking points?

Is there anything he won't say for Donald Trump?

Farewell political Religious Right, you won't be missed.

Friday, September 27, 2019


"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters."
Psalm 23: 1-2

I've been contemplating verse 2 of Psalm 23 for a while now.  It's easy to focus on the promise of the passage.  Still waters, green pastures.  The bounty of his provision.

But what has caught my focus is the imperative in the first stanza.  "He maketh me to lie down."  It's not "He lets me to lie down."  It's "He makes me..."  There isn't a choice.  The Lord makes us rest.  He knows what it best for us, He knows when we need rest, and He makes sure we get it.

In looking over this part of the Psalm, I’ve come across some mythology built around it. In particular, one erroneous sermon illustration regarding how a shepherd could control a continually wayward sheep. How the shepherd would force the sheep to rest and stay in the green pasture. According to this false illustration, the shepherd would hobble the lamb, carefully breaking its leg.

The earliest version of this illustration seems to date back to What Jesus Said, a book written by Robert Boyd Munger in 1955. As it appears in the book, Munger wrote of a version heard from Syria.

A Foreigner traveling in Syria who became acquainted with a shepherd. Each morning, he noticed the shepherd taking food to a sheep that had a broken leg. As he looked at the animal, he asked the shepherd, ‘How did the sheep break its leg? Did it meet with an accident, fall into a hole, or did some animal break its leg?’

‘No,’ said the shepherd, ‘I broke this sheep’s leg myself.’

‘You broke it yourself?’ queried the surprised traveler.

‘Yes, you see, this is a wayward sheep; it would not stay with the flock, but would lead the sheep astray. Then it would not let me near it so I had to break the sheep’s leg so that it would allow me, day by day to feed it. In doing this it will know me as its shepherd, trust me as its guide, and keep with the flock.’

This story is the only evidence we have for this kind of activity. Instead, what we know from historical shepherds is that this type of practice did not occur. Breaking an animal’s leg is potentially very risky. The trauma of the injury could kill the lamb, or infection could set in. The lamb could be crippled for life, or the injury could heal in a deformed manner. It’s far too risky to chance.

This erroneous illustration could be the result of mishearing a homophone. While shepherds would not break a lamb’s leg, they may “brake” it. That is, they would attach a heavy weight to the lamb’s leg to slow it down, essentially leashing the animal. A less dangerous version of forcing the animal to rest. Forcing the animal to stay within the green pasture.

As adults, it can often seem silly that we would need to be forced to rest. We’re all so tired and worn, rest becomes something we greatly desire and appreciate. Nap time might not be appreciated in children, but I think if you instituted a federally mandated nap time for all adults, there would be a great rejoicing.

Parents can definitely have experience with having to force someone to rest. Particularly parents of toddlers. Those little dictators are convinced that they know themselves best. “I’m not tired.” “I don’t want to take a nap.” “I don’t need to sleep.

This is a daily fight with our children. The five year old is convinced she does not need naps, despite her getting really cranky in the evenings without one. It was the source of trouble for her at pre-school. She would talk during nap time. First she talked to the other students and would get in trouble for keeping them up. Then got in trouble for talking to herself. When she would be still, she would just lay there, at least not talking or disturbing anyone else, but still not going to sleep. She fights Jamie everyday, to the point where we have sometime resorted to tricking her to sleep.

The two year old is a little easier to get to sleep. If we can just get him to lie down. Though he is getting a lot more fussy about it.

Again, we know they need sleep. We know how cranky they get in the evenings if they don’t get it. How it can get them in trouble for fighting each other. How it brings their emotions to the surface.

We know the benefit of sleep. We know how it helps them. How much more peaceful they are. How much more fun they have in the evenings.

That’s why we have to make them get sleep. Make them take a nap. Make them rest.

We’re not that different as adults.

Sure, when it comes to physical rest, we may appreciate it and desire it. That doesn’t mean we don’t fill our lives with a lot of stuff.

We throw ourselves into work to the point of becoming workaholics. Forging our identities in our work. Making it an idol. Telling ourselves we have to because it is what is expected.

We even overwork ourselves in church. Feeling the more we are doing for the church, the more we are “doing” for God, the holier we are. This current generation is filled with people who resent church because their parents were good at church, but not good at life. Who saw church consuming so much of their parents time, but not transforming their private lives.

We busy ourselves, convincing ourselves that it is for the best. Often in things that are taking our focus off our Good Shepherd. Taking our focus off the provision of the green pasture and deep water.

We seem to want to throw off the Lord’s yoke. Jesus promised his burden was easy and his yoke was light. We want to trade that in for doing things in our own strength.   "I can handle this."  "I know what I'm doing."  "I know my body."  "I know what I can handle."

Just like toddlers, we refuse to take the rest provided to us.

This need for rest goes well beyond physical exhaustion. It covers mental exhaustion.  The point where your mind is so consumed, it cannot shut off.  The exhaustion of the checklist.  Of needing to be on top of a hundred different things.  Of trying to absorb too much.

I think of the all night study sessions.  Trying to retain so much information that you reach a point where the brain just says "no more."  Where you can feel in a fog.

This also covers emotional exhaustion.  Are you the one that takes other's burdens on yourself?  Who empathizes too much?  Or are you carrying a high burden of the emotional weight of your current circumstances?  Are you grieving, are you hurting, are you on edge to the point where the burden is too much to bear?

Finally, this covers spiritual exhaustion.  O soul are you weary and troubled?  Are you consumed with worry?  Do you feel like you have been emptied and not refilled?  Have you reached spiritual burnout? 

Or from the complete opposite end, has the conviction of your sin caught up with you?  Has the Lord's discipline brought you to a place of unrest, where you realize you cannot stay where you are?

The good news, the gospel is, just like a good parent, the Lord makes us rest. For our own good. For His sake.

He loves and corrects His children.  He slows us down when we need it.  He teaches us through it all.

And in the coming promise, He restores our soul.

I know in this season of my life, God has been making me rest.  He has given me physical rest, in moving me from a position where I often felt stressed and overworked, to an interim forced sabbatical and now a temporary position where I cannot overwork given the structure.

He has given me spiritual rest, working through and removing hidden and unconfessed sin.  Helping me move from worry to trust in His provision.  Reminding me of His faithfulness when needed.

I'm learning to rest.

It's a process.

Where are you in it?

Are you in a place where He needs to make you rest?

What prevents you from trusting in His rest?

Thursday, September 26, 2019

After See You At The Pole 2019

Today, thousands of students and faculty gathered yesterday around the flagpoles at their schools to partake in the annual See You At The Pole event.  They gathered, sang hymns and praise songs, prayed for their school and fellow students.  They may have even had a breakfast gathering at a local church before the event.  It will likely be the highlight of the year for many.

The question, though, is now what?

Will See You At The Pole be a one time blip in the school year, now matter how positive the experience, how high the mountaintop?  Will it have a lasting impact?  Will there be something that is carried forward throughout the year in the lives of the students and others involved?

And the biggest message that I would like to promote is that it does not have to end.  See You At The Pole could happen every day at our schools.  Students could gather every single day and pray for the day ahead.

Despite what far too many people believe, all prayer in school is not outlawed.  Student led, student initiated, genuine student prayer is and has always been permissible in the school system (Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School, 1969).  The 1995 Clinton Administration guidelines provide for school religious activities as long as they pass constitutional guidelines and even the ACLU approves of student-led prayer like SYATP before and after school so long as the school neither encourages or discourages participation.

Now, there may be consequences if a student starts praying out loud while the teacher is trying to teach, but that is more of an issue of appropriateness that even Jesus addressed.   "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:5-6.  Jesus in this passage is dealing with the motive for prayer, and one would have to question the motive of a student praying aloud, interrupting the lesson.  For that, there should be consequences.

The school prayer that is not condoned is the kind where participation is mandatory.  Where everyone has to listen.  Where a teacher prays aloud over a class or where a principal or someone else prays aloud over the loud-speaker for the entire school to hear.  That has always been problematic and should not have been condoned.  We should stop championing that type of school prayer.

But student-led, student-initiated prayer where participation is completely voluntary and not addressed by the school, is perfectly valid and allowed.  That goes to the heart of individual religious belief.  And the school cannot stand in its way.

Can you imagine if the Christian students of your school gathered everyday before class around the flag pole and prayed for the day ahead?  Can you imagine what the school would look like at the end of that year?

Let's go further, what would the school system look like, if every Christian teacher went to their room early, before any students arrived, locked the door, and prayed for the day ahead?  If every Christian principal got to the school before anyone else and walked the halls and prayed over them to start the day?

There is nothing to stop this from happening today but our own inaction.

But we do not have to limit this to schools.  What would my office look like if I stayed and prayed over it?  What would your business look like if you got there and prayed over it every day?  If all the Christians in the office/business/etc started the day with a joint prayer?  This doesn't have to be the kind of thing that only happens with a church staff or "Christian" organization.

So to those students and faculty who participated in See You At The Pole, keep it up.  Don't be discouraged, don't let this fade.  Keep praying, keep living the life you have been called to.  Find a group of fellow believers and keep it up.

Even if you're the only one, keep praying.  Keep showing up to meet God at that flag pole and pray.

After all, beyond all the publicity and notoriety the event has, that is what it is truly all about.

To meet God where we are and talk to and hear from Him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Impeachment Begins

"The President must be held accountable.  No one is above the law."

It begins.

In light of the whistleblower complaint and Trump's admitting to requesting a foreign government investigate a political rival, the Speaker of the House finally felt empowered enough to launch the impeachment investigation.  Pelosi had been long reluctant to proceed with impeachment without strong bipartisan support.  

It's not as if there has been enough for them to hang an impeachment proceeding on to date, or as if removal has not been pondered through impeachment or the 25th Amendment before.

It's not as if this investigation is not warranted.  I mean look at previous impeachments.  President Johnson was impeach for trying to abruptly and improperly replace a high ranking executive member in violation of the Tenure of Office Act.  President Nixon was investigated for impeachment because of obstruction of justice and abuse of power in trying to get dirt on political rivals.  President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice in trying to cover up an affair.  Of that entire list, the allegations against Trump are only missing perjury, though given his record on truth telling, that may not be hard to establish.  After all, one reason given for him not testifying before Mueller was that his handlers did not believe he could testify without perjuring himself.

It's not as if the founding fathers did not contemplate someone like Trump rising to power.   "If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats of Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin."  Samuel Adams.  They literally wrote provisions in the Constitution and founding documents to help prevent it and to help evict one such person elected.  Checks and balances on power.  The ability to over-ride a presidential veto.  The Court being able to overrule an unconstitutional action by the executive.  The ability to impeach an elected official who commits treason, bribery, or the nebulous "high crimes and misdemeanors."  Alexander Hamilton wrote that high crimes and misdemeanors covered "those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.  They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."  To Benjamin Franklin, this was necessary for when the Executive has "rendered himself obnoxious."

We also have the newer 25th Amendment which enables the Vice President and a majority of the members of the executive cabinet or other equivalent body set by Congress to remove a president who is unable to discharge the powers and duties of their office.  And there have been times in this current administration that invoking the 25th has been contemplated within the Executive.

What the drafters could not contemplate is a Congress that would refuse to act in the face of such an act.  A Congress where one party was too timid to speak up, and the other party was complicit in enabling such behavior.  To quote the Washington Post, we've discovered "that the Constitution is not a mechanism that runs by itself.  Ultimately, we are a government of men and not law.  The law has no force without people who are willing to enforce it."

Thankfully, we have reached the point where people are willing to step up and enforce it.  Hopefully, this will be an action that crosses party lines.  That comes from our representatives of all stripes.  That puts the good of the country above party.

A point where we recognize that no one is above the law, not even the president.  That his actions, words, and character thus far cannot be tolerated any longer.  That we expect more from our current and future leaders, and that they will be held to that high bar.

That a thorough investigation must be held and the truth must be revealed, not withheld, obfuscated, or belittled.  That justice should prevail.

This will be a long process.  And it has the potential to be a weight on the Democratic party.  It has the potential to affect the outcome of the 2020 election in favor of the Republican party.

That should not matter.

It must be done because our processes demand it.  Because our democracy demands it.  Because we as the people should demand it.

Because it's right.

Hopefully we have the stamina to see it through. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Out of the Mouths of Babes

"This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.

To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
Greta Thunberg, 16 year-old climate activist,
September 23, 2019 before the United Nations Climate Summit

Monday, September 23, 2019


Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
Ceaseless, insistent.

The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.

Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.

Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them.

Sara Teasdale, September Midnight, 1914

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Batman Day

Holy celebrations, today is Batman Day!  This is the fifth annual celebration of Batman Day, now commemorated on the second or third Saturday in September.

This year is an extra special Batman day as DC Comics is celebrating 80 years of Batman.  The character created in 1939 in Detective Comics #27 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger has proved one of the most durable characters in pop culture.  He's gone from pulp to camp to science fiction to crime and everything in between.  He has been a television, film, and radio star.  He's the star of fiction and comic books.  The number one selling comic character in fact.  A video game icon.  The character will even get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next year.

To celebrate this year, DC has worked with cities across the globe to light Bat-signals in the sky.  So if you see the signal, don't worry, Batman is on the case.

Until next year, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Blow, Whistleblower, Blow

This news snuck up on me, but I should not have been surprised.  I completely missed the intelligence community whistleblower filing last month, which seems to be coming to a head this week.

At this point, we as the public do not have much information.

What has come out is that Trump’s interaction with a foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it led an official in the United States intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community on August 12, 2019. When the complain was filed, Trump was at his golf resort in New Jersey. In the five weeks leading up to the complaint, Trump had interactions or conversations with several foreign leaders. It has since been revealed by the Washington Post and the New York Times that Ukraine was the subject of the whistleblower’s alarm. This makes conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky of utmost interest.

In the middle of this whole whistleblower event, Trump has also had trouble with the office of the Director of National Intelligence. Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats resigned on July 28, 2019. Coat’s number two at the as Director of National Intelligence, Sue Gordon, also resigned when she was passed over as the appointee for the Director position. Trump’s initial pick, Rep. John Ratcliffe fell through, with the role eventually landing on Joseph Maguire.

This leads to a new Director of National Intelligence caught in a turf dispute with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and the Congressional Intelligence committees. Inspector General Atkinson determined the complaint to be credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of “urgent concern,” requiring notification of the congressional oversight committees. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff has demanded the full disclosure of the complaint and subpoenaed Maguire on September 13 to compel disclosure. Maguire continues to refuse to testify or to hand over the complaint, arguing it is beyond his jurisdiction. Schiff says Maguire has told him that Maguire cannot because “he is being instructed not to, that this involved a higher authority, someone above.

As of today, Inspector General Atkinson is scheduled to brief members of the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session. Schiff has indicated a determination to get to the bottom of the complaint “come hell or high water.” “This involves something more sinister, something involving a serious or flagrant abuse or violation of law or misappropriation, and the IG underscored the seriousness of this, and also that this needs to be looked into. And right now, no one is looking into this.

Trump for his part has defended his actions, saying there was “nothing said wrong” and that his conversation was “pitch perfect.” When asked today about the identify of the whistleblower, he said “I do not know the identity of the whistleblower,” despite having previously described them as “partisan.” Further, when asked about Ukraine, Trump indicated, “it doesn’t matter what I discussed,” adding “someone ought to look into Joe Biden.” He admits he has not read the complaint, but describes it as “another media disaster. […] You have been wrong on so many things.”

Typical obfuscate and divert.

It's important to note, this isn't just some new scandal, some new way that Trump's supposed enemies have come up with to get rid of him.  Some new allegation, that will prove to be false, or will not stick.

This is part of a pattern of behavior.  A pattern of obstruction of justice, of abuse of power and discretion, specifically with relation to foreign powers.  This could all very well be related to Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and in particular a gas company linked to Hunter Biden.  Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, has admitted to as much.  This would be very similar to Trump asking Russia to investigate Hillary Clinton.

And surprisingly, we keep coming up with historic firsts in how these allegations come out.  Historic firsts in what this administration is being accused of.  We now have the first time the whistleblower provisions have been used against a sitting president.

At what point can we admit this man should no longer have power.  At what point can we admit that his ego is a danger to our nation.  At what point can we look at the sum of the evidence and see that he is a con man.

It's time for him to be impeached or otherwise forcibly be removed from office (25th amendment).  It's time for any lagging supporters to refuse to re-elect him.  If you cannot vote Democrat, then vote for one of the other Republicans that will actually be challenging him in the primaries.

It's time for this all to end.


Thursday, September 19, 2019


A bit of a PSA today.

Tropical Depression Imelda has dumped over 40 inches of rain in the last seventy-two hours for large parts of Southeast Texas. Governor Abbott has declared a state of disaster for thirteen counties. What follows below is a collection of hopefully useful information, a collection of information circulating on Facebook today.

If at all possible if you are able to safely stay inside and not leave your home today, please shelter in place. Schools are closed, the two hospitals in Beaumont are inaccessible.

Do not attempt to drive through standing water. There is a reason that they have tried to get everyone to remember turn around don’t drown. Over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. Just six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling. Six inches of moving water can make someone walking fall. A foot of water will float most vehicles. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including SUVs and pickups. In many areas, it is impossible to see exactly how deep the standing water is. Be safe, turn around, and don’t attempt to drive through the water.

There are many places that are impassable or have been already closed. 62 between Buna and Mauriceville has several places of standing water over the road. I-10 has been closed in both directions between Winnie and Beaumont. Highway 12 from the Texas/Louisiana line has been closed all the way to Vidor. Again, if you do not have to get out and drive, it is best not to attempt it today.

When it is necessary to leave your home (to evacuate or because it is no longer safe), don’t worry about your property. Take important documents and get yourself and your family out.

If your house has the potential to be flooded, unplug electrical devices. Breakers should be turned off as soon as the water is within a couple of inches of your lowest outlet. Move important documents to a higher location where the flood waters should not reach; if you can find something waterproof to put them in, all the better.

If at all possible, do not go into an attic to avoid floodwaters in the home. You could become trapped if waters continue to rise. If going in the attic is a last resort, take and axe or saw with you so you can cut through the roof as needed.

Important Numbers:
Jefferson County: 409.835.8757
Port Arthur: 409.983.8707 / 409.983.8663
Coast Guard: 202.372.2100
281-464-4851 Coast Guard
281-464-4852 Coast Guard
281-464-4853 Coast Guard
281-464-4854 Coast Guard
281-464-4855 Coast Guard
Air Force: 904.553.2185

Download Zello App/Cajun Navy (Several channels)
You can text them at 337-581-3750

Emergency Management Offices:
Jefferson County: 409.835.8757
Port Arthur: 409.983.8707 / 409.983.8663
Port Neches: 409.719.4258
Beaumont: 409.880.3838
Nederland: 409.723.1531
Groves: 409.962.4460

Hurricane Hotline:
Beaumont: 409.835.8757 (Jefferson County)
Port Arthur: 409.983.8333 (Jefferson County)
City of Beaumont: 409.880.3916
City of Groves: 409.962.4469
City of Nederland: 409.722.4965
City of Port Arthur: 409.983.8600
City of Port Neches: 409.722.5885
City of Nome: 409.253.2391
City of Bevil Oaks: 409.753.1475

Non-emergency contact numbers (in light of a regional 911 interruption)
Port Arthur: 409.983.8600; 409.983.8700
Orange County: 409.883.2612
Hardin County: 409.835.8668

Beaumont: 409.880.3901
Groves, Nederland, and Port Neches: 409.723.1537
Bridge City: 409.735.5028
Silsbee: 409.385.3714
Orange: 409.883.1026
Pinehurst: 409.735.5028
Vidor: 409.769.4561

When you can do so safely, document everything. Take pictures of all flood levels, all damage, etc. This will be beneficial to later claims.

When this has passed and disaster relief is stepping in, don’t donate to the Red Cross. There are far better local organizations that can be donated to and there are better national organizations that do not have the bloat and bureaucracy of the Red Cross. The Cajun Navy, Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army, 

To everyone reading and for those so inclined, please pray for Southeast Texas and those going through the storms.  The Lord is with you all, may he keep you safe through the storms.  May they pass quickly.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
Isaiah 43:2

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Time to celebrate another milestone - post number 500!  I cannot believe it has lasted this long.  To go from a general writing exercise, to now a valuable journal for me.

First, I want to thank you all for your readership and your kind words.  I remain humbled by the response.  To everyone who has let me know you are reading, ever liked a post, or commented, thank you.  It is appreciated more than you could know.  To those of you who read in silence, thank you as well.

I would also like to use this time to post a reminder of the blog rules, and to provide advance warning.  There will be blogs that will either make you mad or will upset you or challenge your position on a particular topic.  The blog is my personal writing exercise and soap box, so it will reflect my biases and my contrarian streak.  I will also likely question things that many people believe are and should be settled.  I am open to civil discourse on almost any topic.

Finally, I wanted to pass along a reminder that I have an email subscription option on the page.  With that, you'll receive an email link each time a new post is added.  There is also an RSS feed option, in case anyone prefers that method.

Further, an update of the reminders previously posted:
  1. This blog represents largely a writing exercise and an outlet for me to get thoughts out of my head.  It contains my opinion on variety of issues from serious to silly and is filtered through my experiences, biases, etc.
  2. I promise, I will post on topics that are so niche-focused, so utterly nerdy that anyone but me is going to be bored to tears.  I try to keep those to only once or twice a week and to rotate through a variety of topics throughout the week to keep it interesting.  I use the labels so that you can screen out certain topics if you want to.
  3. I will post things that you will disagree with and that will potentially make you upset.  I know I am more liberal than the majority of my audience.  Probably regarding doctrine and politics both.  These are both topics I'm going to write on from time to time.  I personally favor moderation and lean center-left, but will post on a variety of viewpoints from center-right to hard left (maybe even hard right in a few instances).
  4. I am going to be harder on Republicans than I am on Democrats.  While I am not a fan of many politicians of many different political parties, I am growing to despise what the Republican party is becoming.  And I reserve the sharpest criticism for them due to one fact above all: the perverse mixture of politics and religion that Republicans promote. Because they purport to hold themselves out as the Christian party, I'm going to hold them to that impossible standard.  I also hold them more accountable partly because they are in power, and I'm going to criticize whoever has power more than those in the minority.
    • I'm going to be extremely hard on the current administration and this president in particular.  This administration has moved much farther beyond normal bounds and are in completely new levels of deterioration.  Their actions must continue to be called out and we cannot allow them to be normalized.  
  5. I am likewise harder on churches and Christians than I am on non-believers.  Those who profess to believe have identified themselves as recognizing a higher standard.  To put it simply, "we should know and act better."  And do so based on a reading of the entire Bible.  Sadly, we all to often fall far short of this.  While I do want to extend grace to those that slip, when errors occur as abuses of power in the church  or in ways that belittle the faith they claim to hold, I will be discussing it. 
  6. I'm generally more interested in questions than concrete answers.  I think we as a collective are less curious than we should be and settle for comfortable answers when we should still be asking harder, more difficult questions.  
  7. I am completely open to disagreement and debate. Honest and open dialogue is the only way we can move forward in any civilized society.  However, I have a few ground rules for debate:
    • I will not tolerate name calling or muckraking.  When the thread resorts to calling each other racists, "liberal snowflakes," "libtards," or four-letter words, I will shut it down.  Likewise, I'm not going to let stereotypes and sweeping generalities go unchallenged.  All liberals do not want the destruction of our country, all conservatives are not bigots, etc.
    • I hope for discussion that will foster conversation, not end it.  So I expect more than "guns don't kill people, people kill people" in a discussion on gun control, for example.  I will not let those conversation-enders stand unchallenged.
    • Compromise is not a dirty word.  And likewise, I do hope people change their mind from time to time based on what they learn. Including me.
    • I follow this hierarchy for the value of information: facts then informed opinions then general opinions.  Saying "that's just my opinion" is going to get nowhere with me if it is not supported by the facts.
As always, thank you for reading.

To 500 more!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


"If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws - the first growing out of the last, a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government."
Alexander Hamilton

Today is Constitution Day and United States Citizenship Day, a single celebration commemorating the formation and signing of the United States Constitution, while also recognizing both naturalized citizens and those born in the United States.  It’s a day that many people become naturalized citizens in large group ceremonies.   It's a day that celebrates the strength of our government.

This year marks two hundred and thirty-two years since the signing of the United States Constitution.  Two hundred and thirty-two years, and it still represents the best foundational governing document that man has created.  It's not perfect; there are portions that were compromised the minute they were written.  But it proclaims ideals that we are still striving to achieve.

Equality for all - and all means all.  That the government belongs to the people.  That the power of the government should be split between branches, limited, and kept in check.  That we recognize that this document is not infallible and can and should be amended.

We have done a lot over the past two hundred and thirty-two years to damage this document.  Overreaching power in the executive.  Legislating from the court.  A broken legislature.  A disinterested and apathetic people.  Government for sale.

The principles, though, can survive.  The document is resilient enough, our government is resilient enough to withstand, if we work at correcting it.

I can't think of a better way to celebrate Constitution Day that to commit to working at repairing it.

For Citizenship Day, why not try your hand at a citizenship test?   We might be stronger as a nation, if we all needed to pass this at regular intervals.

Monday, September 16, 2019


"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Psalm 23:1

This started as a homily on the first verse of the twenty-third Psalm.  And it's still that, sort of, but it's morphed into something different.

As we are walking through the Psalm, the focus on this first verse has been on how as sheep of the Great Shepherd, we should be free from want.  He fulfills all our needs.  When we want more, we are either doubting the sufficiency of the Shepherd, or we are acting as foolish sheep.

This applies to every scenario, even when it is difficult, even when it is trying.  Even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Even in a change of employment.  Even in through a fire.

And it's the fire, that I will be discussing, after a reminder from Jamie.

Because it's a fire that brought us together.

I realize I've never told that story here, and thought it was past time.

Jamie and I actually met for the first time in a small group Bible study in central Austin.  She came in to the Bible study that I had been attending and sat down directly across from me.  Our small talk quickly turned to a love of old movies and TCM.

We would later learn that we would have my sister to thank for our meeting at all.  I was attending the small group that my sister had joined when she started with the Austin Stone.  Jamie had attended a welcome/more information session at the church, where she met my sister, who recommended that same small group.

Despite similar interests, we never dated in Austin.  Jamie hung out with more of the rest of my family than me.  She played frisbee golf with Taylor.  She continued to go to the small group with Brooke.  My dad even sat in on that small group and met her there.

In a group setting, I went to one of the frisbee golf sessions and ate with them afterward.  While we all got P. Terry's hamburgers, I remember Jamie heading over to a crepe stand.  I drove her home from group one night.  I helped her move out of her apartment in December to start her time with Missoula Children's Theater.  I was the first one there that night and met her mom and dad.  Jamie and I moved a lot out of the apartment before anyone else got there.  (Her mom would later tell us that she told her sister that night that she met Jamie's future husband).

But in all of that, no one on one dates, no group dates, nothing.

We wouldn't date until we were both in Tyler, in March, over three months later.  I was working in Tyler with the group that I would be associated with for over ten years.  Jamie was home on spring break from Missoula Children's Theater.  We were both getting an email prayer list from the small group, and Jamie read the prayer request I had, indicating I was in Tyler, lonely, and ready to come back to Austin.  So she called me up and asked if I'd like to hang out.

One date turned into the rest of the week, seeing her through the end of her spring break home.  That experience led her to choose not to re-up with Missoula once the semester was finished, but to come back home in June.  From that point on, we were inseparable.

The real story, though, is why Jamie was in Tyler.  It was not where her family typically lived.  It was not where she lived prior to Missoula.  Under normal circumstances, she would not have been in Tyler.

If not for the fire at her parent's house over Christmas.

Christmas Eve, 2007, Jamie's family gathered as they typically would for Christmas.  The family decided to have Christmas in Texas this year instead of Alabama, so there were a lot of people in their house that particular year.  Twelve in this house, thirteen in the relative's across the street.

That night, they lit a fire in the fireplace and had turned in to go to sleep.  What they could not know is that cracks in the fireplace would allow the fire to spread into surrounding walls behind the brick.  Shortly after midnight, that defect would make itself known.

Thankfully, no one was hurt during the fire.  The gifts and stockings were saved. Pictures were saved.  There was damage, but it was repaired.  The fire was contained to two rooms.  In terms of a fire, it was inconveniencing more than anything.

The fire did require the family stay out of the house until it was repaired.  Insurance put them up in an apartment in Tyler.  This worked out for Jamie's parents.  They both worked in Tyler.  It was a tight fit, but it worked.

This meant Jamie was with her family in Tyler when she came home for spring break.

For the want of a house fire, who knows where Jamie and I would be.

"For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."

It's an important reminder.  Our circumstances may lead us to unexpected places.  We may not see the value of the unemployment period.  The fire.  The setback.  The struggle.  The suffering.  That's not what anyone prays for.

But it may be what is needed to put us in the place to get to the next blessing.  To go through the fire to get to the relationship.

To get through this period to see whatever comes next.

So while I may be ready to move through this period, to rush through to get to what is next, I'm going to strive to learn, to remember, that I shall not want for the Lord is my shepherd.  He has this.  He will purpose this.

He will.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

When You Cannot Admit You Are Wrong

One of the marks of maturity is being able to admit when you are wrong.  When you make mistakes.  When you do something you should not.  It is the essence of a being a functional adult.  Of being a functional human being.

It is an acknowledgement of responsibility.  An acknowledgement of the harm and caring to rectify it.

It is a skill that seems to be largely lacking of late.

Perhaps, we are in an epidemic of infallibility, as some have wrote.  Perhaps we are all just suffering from extreme narcissistic personality complexes.

Or, perhaps it is just one, very high profile individual.

The recent NOAA-Hurricane Dorian scandal seems to be a great exemplar of this problem.

Like most things in our modern American society, it started with a tweet.

The information provided was largely correct, apart from the inclusion of Alabama.  The National Weather Service of Birmingham had to followup with a correction just twenty minutes later.
Out president, undeterred, dug in his heels on his assertion.  Following an unrelated announcement, he reiterated his statement that the storm could have struck Alabama, with a weather map dated August 29, tracking the hurricane's path with an additional potential impact section added in black pen/marker.  "I know that Alabama was in the original forecast.  They thought it would get it."

Mr. Trump continued to dig in his heels, and on September 7, 2019, NOAA appeared to backup the president's assertions.  In its released statement, "From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama."

The National Weather Service Employees Organization would push back against this statement from NOAA.
On September 9, 2019, Craig McLean, the chief scientist of NOAA released a letter indicating his intention to investigate potential violations of the scientific integrity of the NOAA based on the September 7, 2019 press release being "political" and a "danger to the public health and safety."   McLean argued the previous press released compromised trust in the integrity of the organization.  "If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster's warnings and products, that specific danger arises."

By this week, the story has become more convoluted, with allegations of tampering.  A senior administration official told The Associated Press that White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to have NOAA publicly disavow the position that Alabama was not at risk.  According to a New York Times report, the Commerce Secretary threatened firings of the NOAA political staff if the situation was not fixed, leading to NOAA's eventual press release later that day.  While Mulvaney was acting to help Trump, it is not clear whether Trump actually asked him to act.

The president, of course, has denied any involvement and called the story a hoax.

So we have a known exaggerator at best and liar at worst (whose misleading statement tally is up over 12,000 - and that's a month behind) and a team around him that is constantly enabling and protecting this behavior on one side, and a litany of scientist on the other.  I know which side I would tend to believe based on past experience.

But it raises the question - does the truth even matter anymore?  Are we really in a post-truth era?  After all, 39% of the country still supports the president no matter what news comes out about him.  He has been able to convince them that the very news is not trustworthy and that he is to be believed above all.

That is only one example of controversy from the past weeks.  We could also look at the investigation into events around Trump's resorts.  The investigation surrounds repeated military spending at Prestwick Airport, the closest airport to Turnberry, and into stays and spending at the Turnberry resort.

The military has spent $11 million on fuel at Prestwick Airport since October 2017, fuel that would be cheaper from a military base.  The airport has provided cut-rate rooms and free rounds of gold at Turnberry for select airline crews.  Early spring of 2019, an Air National Guard crew made a routine trip from the U.S. to Kuwait to deliver supplies, with unusual stops and stays both ways at the Turnberry resort.  This is apparently highly unusual as the crews have typically stayed at military bases.

"The crew were so confused by what was happening when they were rerouted to Scotland to refuel at this tiny airport outside of Trump Turnberry because they had never done that before in the fifty-plus trips they had taken to do these routine supply trips.  They didn't have enough money; their per diem allowance didn't even allow them to buy food or drinks there.  They felt totally out of place."  Natasha Betrand, who broke the story with Bryan Bender on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Combine this with Vice-President Pence's stay at the Trump National in Doonbeg, Ireland.  Pence was visiting Ireland for sit-downs with the countries leaders in Dublin. The resort in Doonbeg is 180 miles away from the locations of these talks.  A top aide for Pence, Marc Short, has indicated that Pence's stay was at the suggestion of the president.  According to State Department receipts, Pence's detour to Doonbeg cost taxpayers nearly $600,000 in ground transportation fees.

The president, of course, has denied involvement in either situation.
This seems very clearly the reason we have the emoluments clauses in the Constitution.  Why there has been an unwritten rule that presidents divest their private companies while in office or at least place them in a blind trust.  It seems like common sense, but perhaps it should have been codified.  As House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote, "The committee does not believe that U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family, and his companies."

We all should feel that way.

When are we fed up with this denial of responsibility?

When are we tired of the constant enabling and protectionism of the people around him?

When do we hold him accountable?

At what point does the corruption, the con, the lies, and the narcissism outweigh whatever perceived good he may have done?

Shouldn't we expect a baseline level of maturity in our commander in chief?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9-11: They Missed

"In The Midst Of The Horror...

Something wonderful happened.

I found out that I'm not as cynical and pessimistic as I had thought.  Here's why:

The passengers who chose to attack their hijackers, likely saving thousands of lives.

The policemen who haven't slept in two days.

The firefighters who pleaded from their hospital beds to be allowed to go back to the scene to help.

The endless line of people in New York volunteering to do something.  Anything.

The people around the world donating money and blood, even from countries in desperate need.

The health care personnel who walked to the scene unasked, to help.

The emergency service workers who rushed back to the scene despite the danger of buildings around them in danger of collapse.

The non-Muslims who refused to give in to bigotry and racism.

The websites that started donation drives that are collecting millions, a dollar at a time.

The Red Cross, never more deserving, never more tested.

The journalists who occasionally worked through tears to keep us informed.

The grief counselors who took the savagely difficult task of being with the loved ones of the victims when it was most needed.

The massive support of the governments of the world.  If there was a sign of hope for the future, that is it.

Those common people in virtually every country in the world, who left flowers and prayers and lit candles and sent letters to the US in memory of people they'd never known.

The huge group of people cheering for not only the policemen, firefighters and EMTs at the scene, but for the Con Ed workers and those who handled the debris.

The politicians who suddenly rose above our expectations to do the right thing tirelessly and selflessly.

Those people who opened their homes to the stranded.

The National Guard, who know that they'll be called when things are at their worst.

The men and women in the towers and the Pentagon who aided those around them who had fallen, to get them to safety, at great personal risk.

The NATO leaders, who said we do not stand alone.

Voices in every language saying, 'I'll give blood.  I'll give money.  I'll give support.  I'll give food.  I'll give a place to stay.  I'll give my time.  I'll give.  I'll give.  I'll give.'

There can never be a full accounting, from quiet heroism that will never make the news, to those who sacrificed their lives after forty years of public service.  I find myself with a new understanding of what it means to be an American, and what standards that means I should live up to.  I find myself proud, not ashamed to be a citizen of the world.

The list of victims is long.  The list of those who want to help in any way they can has more than a billion names on it.

The people who committed this atrocity thought that they were striking at the heart of America.

They missed."
Gail Simone, You'll All Be Sorry, Comic Book Resources, 9-13-2001

May we never forget.  

May we never forget this.  There will always be those that want to hurt us, those that want to divide us, those that want to destroy us.  May we never forget that those people miss what matters.  They miss our generosity, our compassion, our kindness, our love for our fellow man.  They miss our community.  They miss our strength.

That is what we should cling to.  That is what we should strive for.  That is how we should live.

May we never forget.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Cynicism and Childishness

"Cynicism has become the default position for so much of daily structure and daily intercourse.

Why?  Because it's easy, and there's good money to be made.

Cynicism is a great product to sell, and it's the perfect beginning of any examination of anything.  And part of that is conspiracy theories and what have you.

But I think when Fred Rogers first saw children's programming, he saw something that was cynical, and why would you put that in front of a two or three-year-old kid?  That you are not cool because you don't have this toy?  That it's funny to see someone being bopped on the head?

That's a cynical treatment of the audience, and we have become so inured to that, that when we are met with as simple a message as 'Hey you know what, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!' we get slapped a bit.  We are allowed, I think, to feel good.  There's a place for cynicism, but why begin with it right off the bat?"

When did cynicism become the default setting for adults?  A mark of maturity?

When did we become so concerned with showing that we were mature?

Hanks, for his part, refers to the underlying conflict in his upcoming film.  The battle between the cynicism of journalist Tom Junod and the unrelenting kindness of empathy of Fred Rogers, which formed the basis for Junod's article in Esquire in 1998.  It should not come as a shock that kindness and empathy won, especially when they are as pure as Rogers'.

I think we can see this battle in another upcoming film, though in the opposite direction.  Warner Bros. upcoming Joker film directed by Todd Phillips is already garnering a lot of attention.  The film won the Venice Film Festival's prestigious Golden Lion award.  It's being praised as a dark evolution for comics-influenced cinema.   For being deeply unsettling.  A tribute to Martin Scorsese films, closer to 1970s dark cinema than its comics influences.

In short, it's mature because it's dark.  "I say this not to show any disdain for comic-book movies, but only to point out the well-established seasonal logic by which the film industry typically operates.  The summer - the designated stomping ground for superheroes and supervillains - has finally passed, making way for the fall and its traditional bounty of ascetic art films, spit-shined prestige pictures and other subspecies of cinema that have no place in the Marvel and DC Comics universes."  "Built around a credible spiral from outsider to deranged killer, it's as much a neo-noir psychological character study grounded in urban alienation and styled after Taxi Driver as a rise-of-the-supervillain portait."  "You're always aware of how much the mood and design of Joker owe to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.  For a filmmaker gifted enough to stand on his own, Phillips is too beholden to his idols.  Yet within that scheme, he creates a dazzingly disturbed psycho psycho morality play, one that speaks of incels and mass shooters and no-hope politics, of the kind of hate that emerges from crushed dreams."     

It's a well-worn argument.  That comic books, that animation, that Disney, that fairy tales are too childish, too simple, too hopeful, too naive.  They are for children, not for any serious adult.

It's an argument that summed up a disagreement between fans of Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the DC Universe films, particularly those by Zach Snyder.  A reductivist argument that says Snyder's films are deep and complex, they are dark and mature.  Marvel films are jokey.  And yet it is an argument that ignores the fact that Marvel films have addressed racism, sexism, the military industrialism complex, and an AI singularity.  They dealt with simpler, more universal themes of standing up for what is right, what it means to have a heart, what it means to be worthy, what is a family, at what cost freedom.

The broader question ignores the fact that when PIXAR is at the top of its game, it produces some of the best films of the year, period.  Not qualified by animation, but the best films of the year.  I'll hold the first ten minutes of Up against any other material put on film.  Inside Out, likewise, was one of the most moving films of its year.  But these films still get dismissed as children or family fare.  Relegated to the Best Animated Feature, with a potential obligatory Best Picture nod to recognize the box-office draw of the film.  The kind where it is supposed to be an honor just to get nominated.

When we segment our entertainment like this, when we focus on the adult, the serious, the mature, at what price does our obsession with maturity come?   That is a question that is also being asked about with the release of Joker.

Richard Lawson wrote in his review in Variety, "There is undeniable style and propulsive charge to Joker, a film that looms and leers with nasty inexorability.  It's exhilarating in the most prurient of ways, a snuff film about the death of order, about the rot of a governing ethos.  But from a step back, outside in the baking Venetian heat, it also may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.  Is Joker celebratory or horrified?  Or is there simply no difference, the way there wasn't in Natural Born Killers or myriad other 'America, man' movies about the freeing allure of depravity?

The honest answer is, I don't know.  Not after one viewing, anyway.  What I can tell you is that the reaction to the film from my packed audience of Italians and other international filmgoers sounded like roaring acclaim.  Perhaps it's a bit easier to accept and digest all this horror in a country where such men seem rarer - or I'm being an over-worried pill, and it's just a good, startling movie."

Does Joker go too far?  Does it actually reveal something to us, enlighten us?  Or by making us sympathize with a monster, is it desensitizing us, at best, and motivating the depraved of us, at worst?

Is it more problematic that the film refuses to give an answer?  It refuses to take a side in the narrative?  By doing so, isn't it validating all viewpoints, allowing the viewer to read into it whatever they wish?  Isn't that irresponsible storytelling?

Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. It is how we have relayed our history throughout time.  It is how we have taught lessons of morality.  Lessons of importance.

Jesus knew this.  It's why he used parables.  It's why the Bible is as much story, poetry, allegory, as it is history and genealogy.

The greatest story ever told is a story that can be told to all ages.  That seems foolish to maturity.  That requires childlike faith.  "But Jesus called them to him, saying ' Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."  Luke 18:16-17

I don't want to be misunderstood, I'm not saying we should not have any mature films.  Or that films should not handle mature themes and subject matters.  Art is supposed to be a mirror to the world around it.  It is supposed to enlighten us, to motivate us, to push us forward, to chastise us, to condemn us, to elevate us.  We need good art now more than ever.

Perhaps, though, we should be a little more careful in how we handle that maturity.  In what lessons that we are teaching.  In the statements that we are making.

Perhaps it's time to get back to basics.  To reiterate those lessons that we are supposed to hold to.

To mere Christianity.

To Common Sense.

To happily ever after.

To kindness, to charity, to virtue.

Perhaps we need fairy tales and myths now more than ever.  To be truly mature and embrace them all.

"Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves.  To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush a the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.  And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms.  Young things ought to want to grow.  But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development.  When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so.  Now that I am fifty I read them openly.  When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
C.S. Lewis, On Stories; And Other Essays on Literature

Monday, September 9, 2019

Imposter Syndrome

"I'm not a writer.  I've been fooling myself and other people."
John Steinbeck

I can definitely relate.  And I think most of us can relate to the idea of fooling themselves and other people.  Feeling truly unqualified. 

If you want to know what can help exacerbate that feeling, look no further than the modern job search.

On average, 250 resumes are received for each corporate job opening.

More and more, in their initial pass, resumes are filtered through software that will exclude resumes that do not meet keyword requirements.  Meaning a person may never even look at your resume or cover letter.

The average HR manager spends less than seven seconds looking at the average resume.  But, they are scouring your online and social media presence. 

Only 2% of applicants actually get interviews.

This means, there will be jobs that you feel extremely qualified for, that exactly match your skillset, that you never, ever hear from.  And the jobs that you may interview for, you are keenly aware of the deficiencies in your skill set. 

All of this can feed into one's imposter syndrome.  "The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own effort or skills."  In other words, the constant feeling that you are an imposter in the role and it is just a matter of time before everyone figures it out.

I know my search is starting to wear on me.  I've sent out over seventy-five applications, at least.  I've had discussions regarding around six, between recruiters and companies.  I've progressed through interviews with one.  I've had to discuss my deficiencies for positions that I really like; things I am sure I could learn and would look forward to learning, but not current practical skills that I have.  I've also had a couple of positions that I thought I was extremely qualified for that I never hear from.

In looking over the imposter syndrome, it can generally be broken in to five types.  The perfectionist (having to get it all right), the superwoman/man (needing to be able to do it all), the natural genius (needing it to come naturally to them, to get it on the first try), the soloist (having to do it on their own), and the expert (having to know it all).  It comes down to the internal expectations we place on ourselves compared to how we see everyone else.  The expectation that everyone else is just better than us, so we have to do more to keep up.  To be perfect, to be superhuman, to do it all yourself.   

Generally, I've fit into the natural genius type.  I know that was me through school.  Most things came easy to learn.  When they weren't easy, it was difficult to keep momentum to push through it.  Law school really presented the first challenge, it's where I got my first C's for a class grade.  And I cannot be prouder for following my Contracts professor's advice, in that it would be better to be the student who dug in and improved each quarter than to peak first and never push yourself.  Thankfully, I was able to break through those early C's and change how I studied and prepared, enabling me to get A's in the hardest classes at Baylor my last quarters.

Thankfully, with job applications, the motivation definitely remains.  It just makes the internal questions and doubts a little more amplified. Talking through them helps, as does realizing everyone feels this way at some point.  If not frequently.

"Not qualified is where he starts."
Jon Jorgenson

The imposter syndrome can extend far beyond our work or school though.  It can also extend to our spiritual lives.  We can feel extremely unqualified for any form of ministry that we are called to, from evangelism to service to children's ministry to missions.  

At its worst, this is what makes can make believers doubt salvation, feeling completely unworthy of love and saving, despite knowing that there is nothing they could do to deserve it.  To feel in a special class of people that are just too bad, too far gone.  Too wretched to receive what they feel others have and will.

I think this can acutely happen in the spiritual realm because only we know exactly how depraved we truly are.   We know what hides behind the mask.  "If you really knew me, you wouldn't want me."

It's a common thread you can also see in the Bible.

In Moses:
"But Moses said to the Lord, 'Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.'"
Exodus 4:10

In Gideon:
"He responded, 'But sir, how can I deliver Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'"
Judges 6:15

In Jeremiah:
"Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God!  Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.'"
Jeremiah 1:6

In the woman at the well:
"The Samaritan woman said to him, 'How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?' (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)."
John 4:9

That's the great thing, though.  God never leaves people at the state of feeling unqualified.  He is actively looking to use the unqualified.  The weak, the ineloquent, the young, the undesired.  What He calls people for, He qualifies them for.  He provides them the resources, the tools, the skills to accomplish the task.  He wants us to be dependent on Him, to be continually seeking Him.  He wants our weaknesses to be seen as His strengths.

Further, perhaps it is only from His vantage point that the touch points for our callings can be seen.  While Moses may not have been the most eloquent speaker, from hindsight we can see that he was the Hebrew with the best access to Pharaoh, having lived in his court.  The woman at the well would have the greatest impact on the community. 

It would be the same with our calling.  While we cannot see it at the time, God has a purpose for the call.  For His glory to shine.  For our pasts to be redeemed and purposeful.  For us to rely on Him.

I know in this waiting period whatever job is out there, I'm getting because of His provision, not my skill alone.  I'm getting because that is where He is leading us, not because I'm the most qualified.

And whatever it may be, He will be the one to qualify me.  He will be preparing me, guiding me, leading me.

As long as I'm willing to listen.

And as long as I can realize the imposter syndrome is false to begin with.  It depends on the feeling that everyone else doesn't suffer from it.

But we all do.  Even the best of us.

"...Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.  And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn't qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name.  And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, 'I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am i doing here?  They've made amazing things.  I just went where I was sent.'

And I said, 'Yes.  But you were the first man on the moon.  I think that counts for something.'

And I felt a bit better.  Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.  Maybe there weren't any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for."
Neil Gaiman

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Golden Chicken?

Dear Fellow Christians,

Can we talk?

I have to admit, I'm getting concerned about your obsession with Chick-fil-A.  I know, I know, it's a good fast food place.  Those are rare.  The chicken sandwich is good, waffle fries are great.  The locations are generally clean and the staff is generally very helpful.  Plus they have a play area, which as a parent, is lifesaver.

But you are talking about it a lot and in some ways that don't seem healthy.  You seem to be elevating it to a potentially dangerous degree.  Especially in light of this Popeye's Chicken Sandwich battle.

We've all seen them.  The confessional posts.  The "I have sinned" posts where a Christian admits to eating the Popeye's Chicken Sandwich or worse, just attempting to eat the chicken sandwich, but then repents and returns to Chick-fil-A swearing to never be unfaithful again.  Psychoanalysts could have a field day with this, in light of some potentially disturbing social implications.

I know these are meant to be jokes.  But when you see post after post after post after post of the same thing, there clearly seems to be an issue here.  When all the jokes seem to view Chick-fil-A as an extension of the church, as the Lord's Chicken Place, there's likely some truth to the joke.  An underlying sense that Chick-fil-A is special, set apart, holy in some way.

Chick-fil-A is praised for their cleanliness, for their efficiency, for their service, to the point where jokes are made that Chick-fil-A will be running the intake process in Heaven.  It's put up on a pedestal as the "Christian" business we all should be supporting it.

Is it becoming our new idol?  Have we created a "golden chicken?"

I'm only semi-kidding.

At the end of the day, Chick-fil-A is a business.  It is a soulless corporation.  It has no religious identity or association.  It has no belief system.  It exists for the purpose of making money.  Period.  It can do good things and it can make decent food, but it exists to make money.

This fervor of support seemed to pickup following the controversies Chick-fil-A found itself in regarding its stance on same-sex marriage.  Is this support simply brand loyalty or is it a form of Christian virtue signaling?  Have we entangled a love of and support of Chick-fil-A with the Evangelical identity, because they close on Sundays?  Be honest, how many of you would love for them to be open on Sundays so you could eat there after church?

Look, I don't want to shame anyone for liking what they like or for being big fans (which we know is short for fanatic).

Maybe we need to just dial it back from treating it as a holy extension of the church.

Meme better.


A concerned fellow brother

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

An Epiphany: Transgenderism, The Church, and New Bodies

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."
Philippians 3:20-21

I recently experienced an epiphany regarding the new bodies we are promised in scripture.  It was not a monumental epiphany nor should it have taken me this long to reach it, but it does represent a divergence from what is often relayed in modern church thought.  Another way of looking at things.

The epiphany focused on our new bodies and the transgender community.

I make it no secret that I have become more liberal in a lot of ways as I have aged, and that includes in my views regarding the church, the LGBTQ community, and faith.  It's still an area I struggle in; I still struggle with the concepts of sin and sex, understanding both sides of the issues, seeing where our translations may fail us and where societal implications play a role, and coming to my own personal understandings.  I do know for certain that how we've treated that community is not Christlike and that is an area that we must do better in.

I also try to look at these issues a little more detached.  To try and understand from a different perspective.   For example, when you look at homosexuality and observe the practice across the animal kingdom, one could surmise that there is perhaps a biological purpose for the drive.  Could it act as a form of population control, removing a pair from contributing to the furthering of the species?

I've struggled in trying to understand transgenderism from the same perspective.  Perhaps that is due to there being many different issues wrapped up in transgenderism:  gender norms, social expectations, gender dismorphism,  We can see there is definitely a biological component.  Body dismorphism that occurs throughout a persons life.  The concrete knowledge that a person was born in the wrong body, the wrong gender.  There are countless stories of people who can tell harrowing tales of knowing all their lives that their gender was wrong.

But with that knowledge, my question has generally centered on whether the exterior changes were the most appropriate treatment for an internal issue.  What is the root of the issue - is it biochemical?  Is it neurological?  Is surgery just masking the root issue or is it truly the best solution?

Regardless of that answer, I know that this is a community that again needs to be treated with more kindness and compassion by the Christian community.  By referring to them by the name that they ask to be called.  To use the pronoun that they prefer.  Those are basic acts of kindness and compassion.  The least that we can do.

We can also seek to understand their struggle.

It is from that perspective that my epiphany developed.

What if transgenderism, that level of body dismorphism, stems from the difference in the gender of the soul and the physical body?

Put another way, what if the root of transgenderism stems from the soul crying out to be housed in the correct gender?

What if we could recognize the physical sex of a transgender person as an earthly corruption instead of the default setting?

I came to this from a study of the new, perfect bodies that believers receive in their resurrection.  Their bodies for glory.

What if the new body of a transgender person matches the gender they identify with, as opposed to the gender of their physical shell?

The traditional current church view of the transgender issue would be to treat it as going against the natural order.  That the sex that we are born into here on earth is what God intended and so any attempt to alter it or deny it is to go against God's plan.

That is a very interesting way to view our earthly bodies.  One which seems to be unique to this particular issue.

Throughout scripture, our earthly bodies described as "perishable," "mortal," "earthly," "dishonorable," "weak," "lowly," and "natural." (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 48, and 54; Phil. 3:21)  Our flesh is corrupt.  And has been corrupted.

Beyond recognizing our bent towards sin and away from God, we recognize this with a lot of physical imperfections.  From genetic diseases to disabilities, we treat them as something that will be corrected and will no longer exist in Heaven.

We even extend this view to certain mental issues.  To schizophrenia, to depression, to manic-depressive, and so on, we view these mental illnesses as something that is an earthly corruption.  Something we deal with here, but will have no longer in heaven.

We know and believe this because of the descriptions of our new bodies.  Our new bodies described as "imperishable," "immortal," "of heaven," "glorious," "powerful," and "spiritual."

We know the bodies will be like our earthly bodies.  We will eat, we will drink, we will go about normal activities like farming, fishing, building, and other regular jobs.  We will walk on streets of gold, not float.

We also know our bodies will be healed; we have verses that are a comfort to those who need healing.  Isaiah 35:6 indicates the lame will leap like a deer.  The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the mind will know, and the stammer will be removed.

What we do not know is what these bodies will look like.  I think we all just assume that we will look like ourselves at our physical peak, but we have no such indication in scripture.  Colossians 3:9 through 11 can be read to indicate we will no longer have racial or cultural distinctions.  That would indicate a broader change of our current forms.

So with an issue that implicates a difference of the internal and the external, why do we assume that the internal one is the earthly corruption?  Why do we assume the physical form is correct and the mental difference is the problem?

If the soul exists separate from the body, if the soul is the perfect, imperishable form that is truly the essence of who we are, why would we not assume the physical form is the one that is incorrect?  That the transgendered person's inclination is correct?  That their conviction that they are trapped in the wrong gender is their soul crying out to be recognized?

If this is the case, wouldn't that greatly change how we treat this community?  How we act towards them?  The assumptions we make about them?  How we seek to help them as they struggle with their identity?

And even more, isn't that how we should be acting regardless?