Monday, January 27, 2020

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 75th Anniversary

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust, remembering the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, 8.7 million Slavs, 1.8 million ethnic Poles, 220,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, 312,000 Serb civilians, 1,900 Jehovah's Witnesses, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime.  Honoring the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945 and the end of the Holocaust.

We remember and commemorate these events so that we never forget them.  So that we learn from them, for that is the purpose of history.  For us to be able to look back and see the events that led to such events and to be able to recognize them as they occur around us.

"The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is thus a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights [...]

We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history.  We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today's world.  And we must do our utmost so that all peoples may enjoy the protection and rights for which the United Nations stands."
Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, January 19, 2008

The learning of history, the application, is sadly where we are falling down.  It's part of a bigger discussion of how we learn history, how we teach history.  Another big question for tomorrow's blog.  But on this topic, we can see the evidence around us of our failure as a society to completely grasp the lessons of the Holocaust.

Anti-semitism, though not at its highest levels, remains relatively high.  In the European Union, 89% of respondents that had identified as Jewish indicated that anti-Semitism had increased over the last five years in their country.  Further, 40% of respondents feared a physical anti-Semitic attack.

In the United States, the Anti Defamation League found that there had been 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, slightly down from 2017, but still at a historically high level.  The New York Police Department has said that there have been more anti-Jewish incidents in the city in 2019 than all other crimes added together.

There are bright spots, reflecting a willingness, an eagerness to learn and to not forget.  The University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation features more than 52,000 Holocaust testimonies that are frequently accessed.  The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum had more than 1.6 million visitors in 2018, 93% of which were non-Jewish.

We still have a long way to go, though.  Only 11 states require than Holocaust history be taught in school.  This is reflected in the gaps in education of the current generation.  Among millennials, 66% of them could not identify Auschwitz, 22% of them could not confirm hearing of the Holocaust.

It seems history is more important to us than ever before.  If only we would listen.  May we never forget and may we ever be vigilant.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Lunar New Year


Today marks the start of the Lunar New Year.  Avalyn is studying China this month, so we've cooked a few traditional dishes, learned a few words and phrases, and have a few fireworks to light tonight.

This is the year of the rat, the first of the twelve year cycle.  

As with our western new year, I hope that this lunar cycle ahead is a joyful and prosperous one for you and yours.  Things here are already shaping up to be an exciting and adventurous year ahead, still feeling on the precipice of great change.

Happy New Year!

Congratulations and be prosperous! May your happiness and longevity be complete!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

"There can be no gain saying of the fact that our nation has brought the world to an awe inspiring threshold of the future. We've built machines that think and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. We have built gargantuan bridges to span the seas and gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. And through our spaceships we have penetrated oceanic depths and through our airplanes we have dwarfed distance and placed time in chains. This really is a dazzling picture of America's scientific and technological progress. But in spite of this something basic is missing. In spite of all of our scientific and technological progress we suffer from a kind of poverty of the spirit that stands in glaring contrast to all of our material abundance. This is the dilemma facing our nation and this is the dilemma to which we as clergymen and laymen must address ourselves. Henry David Thoreau said once something that still applies. In a very interesting dictum he talked about improved means to an unimproved end. This is a tragedy that somewhere along the way as a nation we have allowed the mean by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. And consequently we suffer from a spiritual and moral lag that must be redeemed if we are going to survive and maintain a moral stance.


And the words of Jesus are still applicable. What does it profit a generation, what does it profit a nation to own the whole world of means televisions, electric lights and automobiles and lose in the end the soul. The words of Jesus are still true in another sense. Man can not live by the bread of colored televisions alone but by every word, the word of justice, the word of love, the word of truth, every word that procedeth out of the mouth of God. And the problem is that all too many people in power are trying to get America to live on the wrong thing. And this is why we are moving in the wrong direction. This war is playing havoc with our domestic destinies for all of these reasons. We are fighting two wars today.


And so I say we need your support and we expect it as we move on into this area and I want to thank you for the support that so many of you have continually given. As we were marching today, some 5,000 strong, I thought about Selma because I could look around and see so many who have marched with us in Selma, and from Selma to Montgomery. And we are still marching and we are still moving. And I give you my commitment today that I plan to continue. Someone said to me not long ago, it was a member of the press, 'Dr. King, since you face so many criticisms and since you are going to hurt the budget of your organization, don't you feel that you should kind of change and fall in line with the Administration's policy. Aren't you hurting the civil rights movement and people who once respected you may lose respect for you because you're involved in this controversial issue in taking the stand against the war.' And I had to look with a deep understanding of why he raised the question and with no bitterness in my heart and say to that man, "I'm sorry sir, but you don't know me. I'm not a consensus leader.  I don't determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or by taking....  Nor do I determine what is right and wrong by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion."  Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.  On some positions cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right."
Martin Luther King, Jr., A Proper Sense of Priorities, February 6, 1968

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

What good does it do us, what does it profit us today to remember the man, to post quotes from his life, if we are not actively working towards change?  Are we honoring his legacy if we pretend his struggle existed only in the past?

This Martin Luther King, Jr. day, may we be active supporters in the cause of justice, of mercy.  May we be taking positions because our conscience tells us that it is right.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Mitchuation Update - Prayer Request

A brief update this time and something I don't usually do on this platform.

I wanted to ask for your prayers for this upcoming week.  It's going to be a big week in our household.  One in which we could use traveling grace, wisdom, and discernment.

On the job front, I'm having continuing conversations with three opportunities.  One would be a generally remote position with some travel, with a company that I currently have a contract association.  One would be a consulting/review management position in Austin.  The last one is an in-house e-discovery director position in Indianapolis.

I've had a conversation with the remote position and will be having further talks with them in a couple of weeks.  On Wednesday, I have an interview in Austin.  On Thursday, I have an interview in Indianapolis.  So we're going to be making a flying trip to Austin Tuesday afternoon, have the interview in the morning on Wednesday, and then heading back to DFW airport to leave for Indianapolis.  Coming back home late Thursday.

Lots of miles, lots of prep work, lots of potential decisions.

For those of you readers that are of a religious nature, I would ask for prayers for safe travel for me and the family.  For the ability to present myself well in interviews.  For wisdom and discernment to be able to recognize if the opportunities will align with our goals for the future.

As always, I thank you for your readership, and thank you for the prayers in advance.  Will pass along another update when I have it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Soapbox - On Differences

"Bear with me gang.  It's philosophy time again!  I was having a discussion the other day with a professor pal of mine from U.C.L.A. about the so-called 'generation gap,' and I laid a few personal opinions on him that I'd like to share with you.

First, we're never gonna solve the generation gap till we stop seeking the wrong answers to the wrong questions.  Everyone yaps about young people being 'different' nowadays.  Forget it!  Human nature doesn't change.  It's the human condition that changes - it's the environment!  What's happened to us is, the world has been wildly changing, producing new sets of rules each time you blink your eye.  It's the social climate that's been changing, not you 'n me, Bunky!

Here, this'll show what I mean.  Say you've got two homes, a large country estate and a small city apartment.  You play your stereo full blast on your estate, but who cares?  No one can hear it.  You're not disturbing anyone.  But play it just as loud in your small apartment with the paper thin walls and your neighbors wanna clobber you!  You haven't changed.  You're the same yoyo in both places.  But the conditions are different!

The fact is, young people are the same as ever, the same noisy, scroungy, mangy, nutty, wonderful crazies they've always been - and adults are still the same grouchy, grunchy, goopy, hard-pressed and harassed heroes they've always been - and which you'll soon become!  Nothing's change but the labels.  Which leads to point #2 -

None of us is all that different from each other.  We all want essentially the same things outta life - a measure of security, some fun, some romance, friendship, and the respect of our contemporaries.  That goes for Indians, Chinese, Russians, Jews, Arabs, Catholics, Protestants, blacks, browns, whites, and green-skinned Hulks.  So why don't we all stop wasting time hating the 'other' guys.  Just look in the mirror, mister - that other guy is you!

Stan Lee, Stan's Soapbox, February 1980

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The 28th Amendment!

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Today, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United states designed to guarantee equal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.

The text of the Equal Rights Amendment states:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.  

I've been watching this for some time, as it was just last year that Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the proposed amendment.

For a proposed amendment to become a part of the Constitution, one method is for it to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.  Or thirty-eight states.

The Equal Rights Amendment has had a torturous path toward those thirty-eight ratifications.  Thirty five of them ratified within the original deadlines.  Nevada, Illinois, and Virginia have only ratified in the last three years.

Here, though, is where things get even more interesting.  First, the Amendment initially came with a built-in deadline for ratification, initially March 22, 1979 and extended to June 30, 1982.  That deadline has obviously passed without the requisite ratifications, so there is some thought that even with another state ratifying, the Amendment would not go into effect.  The Supreme Court, in Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1939), has ruled that the supreme authority to determine whether, by a lapse of time, a proposed amendment lost its vitality before being ratified lies in Congress.  Put another way, the decision regarding whether the deadline is controlling is in Congress' hands.  And there have been several proposals on the floor over the years to revive the Equal Rights Amendment and to remove the deadline.  It's also important to note that the deadline was passed in a separate message, not included in the proposed amendment itself.  Given those circumstances, the deadline itself may not even be constitutional.

Secondly, four or five states that initially ratified the Amendment have rescinded their ratification (with South Dakota's being most questionable).  The Constitution is silent on whether or not a ratification can in fact be rescinded.  And while the Supreme Court has heard arguments on the validity of a rescinding, it has not ruled directly on their validity.  The issue in NOW v. Idaho, 459 U.S. 809 (1982), was decided on procedural grounds.

It presents a very interesting situation. With Virginia ratifying, the amendment arguably should be the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It will result in much debate and political maneuvering to achieve such a result.  There will be constitutionality cases, there will be great political theater.  Likely, you will see those that support it act like it automatically becomes a part of the Constitution and those that oppose it pretend it does not.  It will be fascinating to watch.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Big Question #4: Am I willing to yield?

"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion."
Carl Sagan

This topic has been on my mind a lot.  I think it shows in the history of this blog.  The nearly two years of this blog are littered with topics on the dangers of our insistence on being right.  Our refusal to compromise.  Our refusal to admit when we are wrong.  And our refusal to admit when we don't know.

More recently, Brother Paul's sermon brought it back to the forefront, with the passage in James showing that true wisdom is willing to yield.  It is open to reason.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason [willing to yield], full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
James 3:13-18

This makes me pause and reflect.  Am I willing to yield?  Is my wisdom of the type that could be described as pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, willing to yield?  

Am I willing to debate?  And not in the sense of screaming at each other, with entrenched positions, designed only to make myself look better, smarter, more informed?  Am I really willing to engage in conversation?  To hear other points of view?  To actually consider them?

Am I open to having my mind changed?  Even on things that I may have considered sacred?  Am I willing to evaluate those sacred cows to see if they are essential, or just preferential?

And this goes in every realm of life.

Am I willing to admit that Republicans have good policies and Democrats make mistakes?  For entrenched conservatives, are you willing to admit that Democrats make good policies and are acting in what they believe is the best interest of this country?  Likewise, are you willing to admit that Republicans overreact, make bad policies, make mistakes, and sometimes look out for personal interests over country?

Am I as a Christian willing to concede points to atheists on theological debates, when the matters concern non-essentials of the faith?  Atheists, are you willing to concede that there are matters far beyond our comprehension, and questions that will remain un-answered regarding spiritual issues?

Am I as a person of faith willing to admit that science may better explain how the universe was created and functions?  And as a person of science, am I willing to admit that faith offers a better explanation as to why?

With issues of faith, am I willing to discuss differing interpretations and positions with fellow believers without drawing a right/wrong line?  Without falling into an us versus them trap?  To recognize that we both may be right and we both may be wrong, and possibly all at the same time?

As a white person, am I willing to yield to people of color when it comes to issues of racial disparity?  To acknowledge that the issues they raise do exist?  Such as those raised by black lives matter?

Am I willing to judge other groups by their best examples and myself by my worst intentions, instead of the other way around?

Am I willing to listen to traditionally oppressed groups and treat their concerns with validity and respect?

I hope I am.  I hope that my willingness to ask questions reflects a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue and debate.  That I am open to having my mind change.  I believe I am, but I also know and recognize that I have biases and blindspots that I may not recognize (another question coming up).

We as a society need to be able to compromise again.  To be able to have our minds changed.  To be able to grow.  To learn.  

It makes our world bigger and opens new possibilities.  I pray we have not become as hardened and as entrenched as it first may seem.  I still believe in the power of conversation.  Maybe not on a mass scale; that dialogue may be lost thanks to the commercial based news cycle.  But individually, one-on-one, I have to believe we can help each other see the other side.  To understand each other.  To reach each other.

If we are just willing to engage in a meaningful way.

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
Carl Sagan

Monday, January 13, 2020

Big Question #3: Who is my gospel excluding?

"Of one the Lord has made the race
Thro' one has come the fall
Where sin has gone must go His grace
The gospel is for all

The blessed gospel is for all
The gospel is for all
Where sin has gone must go His grace
The gospel is for all

Say not the heathen are at home
Beyond we have no call
For why should we be blest alone?
The gospel is for all

Received ye freely, freely give
From ev'ry land they call
Unless they hear they cannot live
The gospel is for all
The Gospel is For All (Of One The Lord Has Made)

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

This big question is a corollary to the previous question.  Who is my gospel excluding?  Put another way, what people, what race, what group, what section of town, what person have I written off as not worthy of receiving the gospel?  Not worth my time to share?

I should start this exploration with a bit of background in what I mean by gospel.  One of the labels for this blog is evangelism, and while it is perfectly applicable, I think it carries a specific connotation that can put people off.  The idea of the guy on the street corner, holding a sign telling people they are all going to hell.  Or the door to door missionaries, asking every person they meet if they know about Jesus.  And while these are definitely examples of a type of evangelism that can occur, they are by no means the only ways, nor should they be the primary types of evangelism we rely on.  

Evangelism is telling your story of the gospel.  Gospel is good news.  Evangelizing or witnessing, is then simply telling people the good news that you know.  How your faith has changed your life.  What amazing things you have seen happen.  

In this way, everyone is more ready than they realize to evangelize, to paraphrase Brian McLaren.  We just have to be willing to tell our story, and to answer questions when we are asked.  To the latter, we have to be willing to say, "I don't know" when it's true and be willing to look into the answers for our friends.

The problem is, we all at every level, have those places where we refuse to carry the gospel.  Refuse to share the good news, whether because of apathy, antipathy, or outright hostility.

I see this playing out in a couple ways.  First, in regard to who is welcomed into our churches, and secondly, in terms of where we are sending out people to witness.

This is more easily observed in the macro.  For example, with regard to who is welcomed in our churches, the evangelical church has largely written off the entire LGBTQ+ population, determining them to be at best approached from a distance or at worst exiled.  If you quibble with this description, imagine what would happen in your church if a young gay couple came in and sat in a pew holding hands, or even dared to kiss.  What kind of discussions would be had, internally or with them?  How welcoming would the people of your church be to them?  Would they be vocal in their displeasure?  Would the couple be asked not to come back?  Not to come back if they did that again, or just not to come back at all?

And that is just the most obvious example.  In what other ways are our churches unwelcoming, shutting off the gospel from other people?  If a smelly, obviously homeless person comes into church to worship, how are they welcomed?  Are they treated like everyone else or are they given a wide berth, left to their own?

If a man of Sikh heritage comes into your Christian church looking to join in worship wearing a head scarf, are you suspicious of him?  How about a man of apparent Middle-Eastern descent?

The macro is also an easy way to identify our discrepancies in where we are sending out.  How easy is it for us to donate to send to foreign missions, when we are not crossing the tracks in our own towns to witness?  How often do we leave other parts of town to their own churches to evangelize and decide exactly where our borders of reach stop?  This carries dangerous connotations, as often towns are still de jure segregated on racial lines.  

The harder issue is to drill this down to the micro level.  Who do I think does not belong in our church?  Where are my prejudices showing when someone different comes to church?  Am I as welcoming to the homeless as I am to the wealthiest in town?  When people of a different race come to our church, do I help make them feel welcome?  If the Middle-Eastern man came to our church, would I be inviting or suspicious?

Likewise, where am I refusing to take the gospel?  In the micro level, I see this as subtly different than refusing to go into different parts of town, though that problem remains the same.  For individuals, I think the question becomes the places where I choose not to bring the gospel with me.  Where I conveniently leave it behind.  

Am I carrying the gospel to my work?  To school?  To my family?  To those family members?

Where am I refusing to share my story?  Not open to questions about faith?  Not willing to share the good things that God is doing in my life?

Where am I very careful about not saying anything about God, church, or faith?  Do I have friends I purposefully downplay this part of my life, not because of anything they've said or asked, but because I want to fit in?

"But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
1 Peter 3:14-16

This is one I am working on.  I think and I hope the answer is remembering that this does not have to be as difficult as I make it.  It's about being willing to give an account, a defense, for the hope I have.  Being more ready than I realize just to share the good that I know.  Being willing to answer questions that are asked.  Not being afraid to discuss what He is doing in my life.

Just being open to share.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Big Question #2: Does my church look primarily like me?

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
1 Corinthians 12:12-19

The second question that has been bothering me lately and causing me to really dig deeper is how much does my church look exactly like me?  In other words, how homogenized is my church?  Could the standard worshipper at my church be described as a type?

We know the standard; Paul lays it out pretty clearly.  The church should be one the most diverse groups that can be found, existing in utmost harmony.  It should be a body made up of diverse parts, all working together to keep the body in motion, in service, and in praise.

As it is, I fear we have too many single churches that are all eyes, all ears, all feet.  We see the pattern, churches fighting, splitting, and then re-forming around commonalities.  This denomination is for conservatives.  This denomination is for liberals.  This church is a black church.  This church is a white church, in fact, if not in charter.  This is a church for older worshippers, with hymns and the King James bible.  This is a church for the younger worshippers, with lights, sounds, a praise band, and comfortable clothes.

We fragment and fragment and fragment the body until we've reached a point where we wonder why we're ineffective.  Why there is so much division in this country, in the world. 

If the universal church of God cannot get along, how can we expect the rest of the world to do so?

I look at the churches I have connections to, and I notice, there is definitely a type.  While there are exceptions, they are largely white.  Largely conservative, theologically and politically.  Largely middle class.  It can be typified even closer based on the particular areas.  Ladies have a country-crafty design sense.  Men are hunters, fishers, tradesmen.  We're Fixer Upper, HGTV churches.

I realize, some of this comes from the areas that they are located in, and that's fine to a degree.  The church should reflect it's location.  The people in the area.  

The problem is that it doesn't accurately reflect the whole place it is located.  The church should be a microcosm of the community that it is in.  It should ideally reflect the demographics of the community, or at least come close.

We're definitely not there yet.  Right now, we're reflecting specific segments.

Perhaps I notice it more because I sometimes feel like an outsider.  I'm more liberal than the general body.  I'm more city than country, despite where I grew up.  I'm art and tech focused, not a hunter, fisher, or rancher.

Does the homogenization of our churches reflect a reluctance on our part to share the gospel with people that are different from us?  Does it reflect our unwillingness to share the gospel to all the ends of the earth?  We might have a great desire to see the gospel shared around the globe, but is that good negated by our unwillingness to share it in the other side of town?  Or worse, do we view that as a mission, a place for us to serve and feel better about it, but something that isn't really supposed to mix with our church regularly?

How much of our outreach is pointed to people exactly like us?  Based on our members interests and preferences, appealing to like minded individuals, but not casting a broader net?

I'll admit, some of this came from discussions with Jamie regarding a powerful book she just went through and the one that is next on my list entitled Insider Outsider by Bryan Loritts.  Loritts writes about being a person of color in predominantly white evangelical spaces and the implications that it has on our faith.  Part of the struggle he outlines is how we may invite the minority in, but we expect them to adapt to our preferences, our patterns and traditions, instead of being open for us both to change from the encounter.  

I guess, that's our fear.  We don't want to be changed.  We want to continue in our same patterns, continue with our same programs, our same traditions.  We're not open to other voices, to the point of sometimes not even being open to God's voice.

The church desperately needs all voices in its walls.  All colors, all creeds, all genders, all classes, untied in one thing - complete surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."  Proverbs 27:17.  For this to work, the iron has to approach the other iron at a different angle.  If both are going the same way, neither is sharpened.  It just doesn't work.  We need people to approach things differently.  To challenge us.  To grow us.  To force us to confront different ideas.  Different interpretations.  Different viewpoints.  

We need black voices in our churches and for there to stop being a de facto split in white and black churches in our communities.  We need for 11:00 am on Sunday morning to stop being the most segregated hour in America.  Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that and we still have that same problem.  We need black voices to help us see black representation in the Bible, like Jethro, Zipporah, Bathsheba, and Zephaniah.  We need to hear their voices on what liberation means to them.  We need to learn their history, their theology, and their perspective.

We need more input from female voices in our churches.  We need to remember there were female prophets, disciples of Jesus, apostles, and deacons all recorded in the Bible.  We need their voices on scripture, to potentially correct some of our interpretations.  To see the woman at the well as potentially a five-time widow, opposed to a woman of loose morals.  To remember that Bathsheba was a victim who was taken advantage of by the king.

We need liberals in our churches.  We need liberals to push us to social justice, to remind us that we are to be about the business of making this world better here and now.  We need them to be pushing us to action to speak for the oppressed, to care for the hurting, to defend the weak.  We need them to ask questions, to force us to confront difficult passages and truths, to force us to determine what we actually believe, not what has been passed down to us.

We need all social classes in our churches.  To force us to confront inequity.  To move us to compassion and provide us the means to do so.

We need the LGBTQ+ community in our churches.  We need them to show us their examples in the bible and for us to wrestle with those texts.  Eunuchs.  The centurion and his pais, his boy.  We need to recognize that they are already there.  If somewhere between 5-10% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+ in some form or fashion, then there is some small portion of your church that identifies that way as well.  They are staying closeted.  Wrestling in silence.  Or leaving altogether.  If you believe it is sinful to be homosexual, then you must realize that there are already people in your church that are struggling with same-sex attraction, that are wrestling with their faith, their orientation, and what they've been taught.  We have to do a better job having these discussions and in presenting the full text.  Our current strategy has led to family expulsion, bullying, discrimination, and increased suicide rates in the LGBTQ+ community.  We have effectively communicated a writing off of that entire group.  We can definitely do better. 

We only get stronger when we do this together.  If we keep splintering, keep fractioning, to where each church is just a little pocket of the same type of people, each church is just one part of the body trying to function alone, then we've given up all pretense of unity.  We're ignoring God's plan for the body.  

It would do us well to remember these differences, these distinctions we draw down here, make no difference.  We are all one in Christ.  The more our church looks exactly like us, the less it looks like the universal Church of God.   That should trouble us.  That should motivate us.

Let's hope our bodies start to reflect that unity more and more in the coming year and beyond.

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Galatians 3:28

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Big Question #1: Do my New Year's resolutions benefit only me?

This is a question that has been resonating with me since I saw it on Twitter.  Do my New Year's resolutions benefit only me?

If you are the type of person that makes resolutions, they generally fall into the self-improvement category.  New Year, new you and all that.  And I'm as guilty as the next person.  This will be the year I lose that twenty pounds, that I finally get out of debt completely, that I read more, that I devote more time to study of the Bible, and so on, and so on.

I published the list of them last year.  And generally they all benefit me, or my family, again directly affecting me.

How often have I used this practice to benefit myself, and not to be a better part of society?

And when you think of it, isn't that really backwards?  If we focused our resolutions on being more generous, more kind, more helpful, more supportive - wouldn't self-improvement be a natural bi-product?  Wouldn't we all be better people in general?

It's not that self-improvement is bad in and of itself.  Growth, change, development are all good things.  But there must also be a point in which we move beyond self.  I look at my list and everything is focused on self-improvement.  My goals are all about me.  Why is that?  Wouldn't we be better served by not focusing just on the betterment of ourself and turning our attention to the betterment of the world around us?

The question then is, what would such a resolution look like?

I think, like any others, these kind of resolutions should also be SMART.

Time Bound

Good goals, good resolutions are first specific.  They move beyond generic and become something definable.  "Be generous" is a very generic resolution - one which is easily ignored and easily claimed to have been achieved.  After all, giving a dime to just one person on one day at one time over the course of an entire year would technically achieve this goal, though I doubt it is what the person intended.  A specific way to be kinder would be better.  It's a place to answer all the questions about the end result you want.  Exactly what you want to accomplish.  Why it is important.  "I pledge to work at the local food bank this year" while not perfect, is a step toward this goal.

The goal must also be measurable for the same reason.  That way you can chart progress and can tell when a goal is achieved easily.  This is part of being able to keep yourself motivated.  For that reason, "I pledge to volunteer at the local food bank once a month" is a much better version of the goal above.

For obvious reasons, the goal must be achievable.  This is where it pays to be reasonable.  It's better to have a goal to volunteer once a month than every day, if you are more likely to actually keep the goal of once a month, as opposed to giving up on it.   You can think of this as the reality check on your goals.

A good goal must also be relevant, it must matter to you.  This seems intuitive, but you would be surprised the number of people who keep working towards goals only because they think they are supposed to.  Because they know other people value it.  Answering questions like, is this worthwhile, does it matter, goes a long way to addressing this issue.  If saving the environment is a great passion for you, it may make more sense for your resolutions to involve greater commitment and involvement in cleaning roads, rivers, lakes, etc. or raising awareness about climate change, than volunteering at the food bank.  Both are worthy causes, but you are more likely to stick to the one where your passion lies.

Finally, the goal must have a time component.  There needs to be a sense of urgency.  It's hardwired into us.  We are much more likely to address a pressing need and procrastinate one with a nebulous or lengthy timeline.  If you are wanting to volunteer at a food bank, perhaps start with seeing what their greatest need is.  It might not be helping with the distribution on a monthly basis, but helping with an upcoming drive the next week instead.

There are several goals and resolutions that could help meet these.

To give away an extra $100 a month to a worthy cause
To give away X% of my income this year
To volunteer weekly, monthly at a local food bank, pet shelter, homeless shelter, with X group

It's an election year, so there is an opportunity to help volunteer with a campaign for a candidate that you feel really could help change things.

A resolution to actively study the candidates and vote as an informed voter would be a great one.

It's also a census year.  Perhaps a good resolution for civics is to apply to work with the census.  Or to be helpful and respectful of the census workers when they come.

I'm still working through my list.  Resolutions aren't things that need to be limited to the first of the year only.  They are things we should be continually committed to.  So, I'll continue to fine tune my list, taking a hard look at how many are just for self-improvement and to where I should be resolving to better the world around me.

What about you?  What does your list look like?  And how balanced are your resolutions?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Big Questions

I'm a fan of questions.  To readers of this blog, I don't think that will come as a surprise.  I'm a fan of raising questions, of thinking through questions, of asking the harder questions.

Questions are interesting, much more so than answers.  They are additive.  They continue conversations instead of ending them.  They further dialogue, debate, and discussion.  

Questions force us to acknowledge what we don't know and what we want to learn.  They force us to grow, to change.

They make us acknowledge what we really believe.

In that regard, questions are scary.  This is why we often do not want to take questions.  To be questioned.  We don't want to face the what we don't know.  To face the possibility that we are mistaken.  That we are wrong.

For the start of this new year, I'm going to start a new series focusing on questions.  On the big questions that are captivating me right now.  The ones that are challenging me and forcing me to struggle with them.  The ones that have surprised me.  The ones that need to be asked.

I won't purport to provide hard answers in any of these entries.  They will be thought explorations of where my head is at with each of them.  How I'm processing them.  And as is typical in my writing, it will probably ask several component questions as well.

I would love to have your input for each.

This post will serve as a hub for each of the subsequent posts.  I'll keep updating it with the new post links each day as well.  There is no set end to the series, but I have several percolating at the moment for the days to come.  I will also likely be returning to this series as new questions arise throughout the continuation of this blog.

Monday, January 6, 2020


"A manifestation of a divine or supernatural being; a moment of sudden revelation or insight."

Today marks Epiphany, or Three Kings Day.  Twelfth Night has ended, and the magi have arrived.  A celebration of the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and the physical manifestation of Christ to the gentiles.

After today, the twelve days of Christmas are over and we enter Carnival.  King Cake season.  A celebration in preparation of the coming fast.

I think the Biblical account of the Magi provides us a blueprint for how to approach this new year with the appropriate viewpoint.

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold and frankincense and myrrh."

What would it look like if we started the year with exceeding great joy, celebrating our encounter with the Messiah?  If we brought Him the best gifts we can, that reflect His character.  Gold celebrated His kingship, frankincense celebrated His deity, and myrrh celebrated His death.  What would we bring, what aspect of His character would we celebrate?

So, let's celebrate the season.  Let's start the year with joy.  And may we carry that spirit forward throughout the year.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Reminder 2020

As 2020's posts start, I wanted to take a minute to say thank you and to give a reminder to the readership.

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.  And to those of you who read in silence, thank you as well.

I also wanted to use this time to post a reminder of the blog rules and regulations, 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, but 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.

With that, 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.
  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 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.
Again, thank you for reading.  Please let me know if there are topics that you particularly enjoy or there is changes you could envision.  Here's to the many more posts to come.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


Happy New Year, everyone!

Hope you all made it into this new year safely and with celebration.

Last year, I started this year with some wisdom from one of my favorite writers.  This year, one of his poems.

What You Need to be Warm.

A baked potato of a winter's night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother's cunning fingers. Or your grandmother's.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.

The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.

Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.

Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You're safe now.

A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began

as we walked away from our grandparents' houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.

Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.

You have the right to be here.

In this new year, may you find warmth.  May you be warmth.  It's what we need more of right now.