November 16, 2016

Election Lamentations

When it became clear that the Republican candidate won the election, I turned my Facebook cover and profile picture black to express my deep lament over the choice the American people had made.  Many people misunderstand the many reasons for my lament and to be honest, I am writing them down as much to help me understand my own emotions as to explain them to others.  I lament because it seems the voters made one or more of the following reason as a basis of their presidential preference:
  1. The cult of personality was chosen rather than leadership.  This became obvious when both candidates were nominated.  It was a much a problem with the Democratic party who seemed to put the desires of the one or few over the desires of the many via "super delegates""  It happened in the Republican party as the many decided to support a personality over someone with skills in diplomacy, any experience in government, and knowledge of the Constitution.
  2. People have chosen a savior rather than a leader.  Many people will most likely dispute this point, both Christians who say they already have one and Atheists who say they don't need one, but hear me out:  when we look to any one person as the one person who can solve our problems and difficulties, we place that person as our functional savior.   This is as true for those who think a female president is a solution*  as it is for those who think a billionaire bully is.  And it is especially true for those Christians who mistakenly believe that God's greatness is somehow linked to America's greatness or certain laws being enacted or the "right" Supreme Court Justices being elected.  All this thinking is functional disbelief--not trusting that The God who overcame Pharoh can overcome abortion without some help.  
  3. People have chosen ideology over character.  Some people voted Republican or Democrat because they have always voted that way (Traditiooooon!  Tradition!)  Some people on the Republican side were so focused on the abortion issue and the current and potential Supreme Court vacancies as their reason for voting, that many overlooked the fact that the Republican candidate is  an unrepentant adulterer, a self-proclaimed molester of women, a greedy and unscrupulous businessman, a traitorous tax-evader, and arrogant bully.  This is especially egregious for the Republicans who castigated Bill Clinton for his presidential philandering and derided his supporters' claims that private life doesn't affect public service.  Furthermore, during his campaign, the President-Elect demonstrated an unwillingness to listen to good counsel (slow to listen), quick to speak and quick to become angry at anyone who disagreed with him, often carrying it into an extended Twitter brawl, making a bad situation worse.  And my heart is especially broken over the fact that some of my brothers and sisters in Christ made that decision.  To be sure, the Democratic candidate also has character issues.  My biggest problem with her character was that on several occasions, she lied and tried to cover up wrong-doing, whether it involved a White House intern or emails.  And she didn't seem to learn from the consequences of her first boss, Nixon, that truth is difficult to suppress or cover up.  Her maneuverings in the last four years to set up a nomination system to ensure her as Democratic candidate also seems self-serving.  Her main advantage over the President-elect, however, is that, because of her experience in government, her ideas had some grounding in reality, even if you disagreed with them.
  4. People have chosen fantasy over reality.  Sure the President-Elect was on a reality TV show, but we all know that it is merely TV real, not really real.  And his campaign was based on empty promises of greatness at the expense of others.  Furthermore, people were living vicariously through his displays of crass, disrespectful, unkind, nasty rhetoric (I am using the word loosely) because, deep down, we would love to be able to tell off, ridicule, and speak exactly what is on our mind with no repercussions.  Posts and comments I see on Facebook testify that people are living the fantasy.  Unfortunately, folks, the reality is that there are ALWAYS repercussions. God designed life to be that way.  Furthermore, even the President-elect's ideas and the "facts" (also used loosely) he stated during his campaign were mainly un-researched opinions that played well to the masses.  Several sources during the debates put him in the "pants on fire" range for truth.  And, finally, thinking that complex problems can be solved by simple, finger-pointing, sound-biting solutions is also a fantasy. 
  5. People have chosen to let fear rule them.  Republicans were afraid about the potential Supreme Court vacancies, ISIS, China, Syrian refugees, Mexican immigrants, not being great, being run by a woman, Bill Clinton in the White House again (okay, I was worried for the women working there), the media, rigged elections, abortions, Russia, Muslims and probably a few more that I forgot.  Hillary focused on one fear--the spectre of President Trump, which was also bad.  The problem with fear is that it replaces rational thinking with knee-jerk responses and will lead a nation to give up its rights in return for its safety. As someone who has been battling fears for decades, I have ample experience with the repercussions of fear-based decisions.  And politicians have used fear in the past to perpetrate all sorts of atrocities.  And as Christians, we are supposed to be fearless, trusting in God to provide what we need.  
* Though there is no one tribe, or gender  that can save us, our country will be its best when all of the cultures, religions, and both genders are represented in Congress, the Supreme Court, and in the White House.
I have one more reason for my lamentation.  The president-elect spent most of his campaign setting up as scapegoats Mexicans, Chinese, and Muslims living in America, encouraging hatred and disrespect of these people who are equally made in the image of God as I am.  He is willing to sacrifice these people's peace, livelihood, and right to be innocent until proven guilty at the altar of American power.  I have many friends who have experienced racial epitaths and slurs hurled at them thanks to the feckless speeches of the President-elect and who wonder what the future holds for their children in a society that doesn't feel the need for social restraint and that doesn't value them as human beings.  And for those of you who have told me "Its only the illegals who have to worry," I will remind you  that this man questioned President Obama's citizenship for about eight  years even though the President produced it sometime in his first term.  He also proposed to kill not only terrorists, but their families, too, a violation of the Geneva Convention.  So, yes, I can see him creating a posse of thugs who don't care about no stinkin' documentation and throw the (insert racial slur here) out, even possibly getting rich off  the stuff left behind, a la Andrew Jackson.

Yes, I lament for how far my country, which I love wholeheartedly has fallen from ideals of being "the land of the free and the home of the brave," but I am not dismayed.  For one thing, God is on His throne.  He chooses and removes leaders.  God is faithful and good.  God loves and cares for His world and everyone in it.  Therefore, the current president-elect is for our good (and by good, I mean the "good for you" good which is not the same as the "pleasant" good) and for His glory.  And if God can turn Nebuchadnezzer, Naaman and Paul, to name a few bullies, into believers, then He can do the same with the President residing in the White House for the next four years.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:34

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”  Mark 10:27

August 30, 2016

PC is not just a type of computer

In June, Jasmine Richards, head of the Black Lives Matter organization was arrested on charges of lynching in Pasadena, California.  No, I am not making this up.  Now, before you create mental images of a black mob attempting to kill a white person in a riot, let me tell you what really happened: During a demonstration, Ms. Richards grabbed a fellow demonstrator who was being taken into police custody to try and free her.  California law defines lynching as "The taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer."  So a law initially intended to protect people from mob violence is being used against the people who have born the brunt of mob violence.

Speaking of hateful things, Donald Trump has declared war, among other things, on being “politically correct”.  He delights and revels in saying  “politically incorrect” things about people.  However, he seems to have a different definition from me on what political correctness means.  His definition seems to me to involve a stream-of-consciousness erupting from the heart with no input from the brain, free from the concerns of truth, reason, or respect.  But maybe my definition of the term has been wrong all this time.  I decided to ask some friends and family what their definition of “politically correct” is.  The people I asked represent three races and generations as well as both political sides. 

The vast majority of people defined PC as suppressing the truth to avoid offense, though they assigned different motivations, either fear or to ingratiate one’s self to a particular group.  One person defined it as “going with the flow” and two people defined it as “proper courtesy”.  I asked them to give me an example of being politically incorrect.  Some mentioned certain politicians' hesitancy to call out Islamic terrorism, others highlighted the problem of calling out sin in the LGBT community, another mentioned compliments that included the phrase “…for your race” and another said making unwanted comments about someone’s personal appearance that is characteristic of their race.  One person said “anything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth.” 

The last question I asked people is what they thought the difference between being PC and being kind.  Those who gave it a “truth vs. offense” definition mainly said that PC was an external force, while kindness and respect is from the heart.  Two people said that there was no difference because courtesy is an expression of kindness.

I have been in the “truth vs. offense” group, who believe in “speaking the truth in love.”  Lately, I have been having some niggling , okay, not so niggling, doubts about this position, however.  Donald Trump seems to lack an understanding of the real definition of "politically correct", both in definition of the term and as an example of appropriate conduct. I hope that is obvious.  But could God also equate PC with “proper courtesy?”  Here are a couple thoughts that have gone through my mind:
·        God is the only source of truth.  Therefore, my understanding of the truth is incomplete.  Rich Mullins said it best when he said, “The Bible is proof that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing.”  Furthermore, my understanding of certain Bible passages have changed over time and there are still parts that I don’t understand.  So maybe I should let God be the One speaking authoritatively into other people’s lives and humbly offer my thoughts as something to consider and take to God.
·        God keeps bringing me back to my primary and secondary job descriptions as a human being:  love Him completely and love others completely with His Love.*
·        Jesus tells us to love our enemies and bless them, not try and convince them of the truth.  In fact, in Matthew 5:41, Jesus tells us to go the second mile with someone who has forced you to carry their load.*
·        I also went to Ephesians 4:1-16, the source of Christian’s desire to ”speak the truth in love”.  The section discusses Christian fellowship—i.e., how Christians should interact.  So my thought is when we apply that verse to people who aren’t professing Christians, we are misapplying the verse.  Furthermore, the passage starts out encouraging Christians to act in humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with each other in love.  It ends in verse sixteen with the encouragement of “building each other up in love.”  The emphasis seems to be on “building up” and LOVE, with truth being mentioned once in the first sixteen verses.*

* I would be interested in feedback from people who study the Bible to point out any errors in interpretation to me. 

The direction this is leading me is the same direction that my investigation into tolerance has led me.  Both being politically correct and tolerant are outside influences that never break into heart areas to produce real change.  What they create is a veneer of seemingly right behavior over a potentially rotten core, creating hypocrisy.  So Donald Trump is right in denouncing it but wrong in thinking that rejecting it means abandoning love, kindness, reason, self-control and humility in how we speak to and about other people.  I reject both those who would seek to enforce PC conduct and Donald Trump's lack of kindness and humility.  Instead, I look to God to help me be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry” (James 1:19) and to remember that "Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10) 



July 1, 2016

Becoming "Liberal"

A few weeks ago, I was accused of being a liberal.  Now those of you who know me are probably laughing or possibly spewing a beverage that you have just sipped, especially those of you in my family who have actually voted for a Democrat in the last four elections.  What made complete strangers view me as a liberal?  It definitely wasn't because of any comments that I would never make in support of Hillary.  I wasn't making anti-Trump statements, though I have been "guilty" of that.  I wasn't supporting any liberal cause whatsoever.  I was merely stating that we should not be inciting fear against Muslims because of a lone gunman and that we shouldn't be jumping to conclusions until the police had published a complete report after conducting a complete investigation.  Interestingly enough, these were the same comments I made after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.  However, being called liberal was relatively respectful.  There were other comments:
  • "You R a fool"
  • "You need to study the bible"
  • "Hello America.  I would like to introduce you to your biggest problem.  Ignorant, uneducated, liberal idiots."
  • "Islam has been at war with the rest of the world for 1400 years. You need to enlighten yourself. How much more evidence do you need?"
  • "Will you feel this way when you are place under Sharia Law?  You had better read history because it is painfully obvious you are clueless."
Now, I am not sharing this so that you feel sorry for me.  One thing I have come to realize is that I am not an innocent victim--I have dished it out, for which I now publicly repent.  Furthermore, I know people who have had to handle far worse, like:
  • My black friend, professionally dressed, endured a retail store's manager hovering nearby and watching her while she waited for a customer service person to come to the counter and help her, rather than offering to help her himself.
  • This same friend also had a co-worker tell someone else to make sure to bring her purse with her to the bathroom so that no one could steal it and then nodded in her direction.
  • The mixed-race son of a different black friend was helping a next door neighbor in the middle of hard times by volunteering to mow their yard while they worked in the garage.  Another person on the street called the cops and reported the son was engaging in suspicious activity. 
  • A twelve-year old hurled a racial epitaph at my 2nd generation Asian American friend this summer.  He was very surprised when she walked over to him and asked him "Who do you think you are talking to?" and slunk away.
  • The most horrific example I want to share is what one person replied to my comment:  "Look at who has done the shootings and caused terror, Muslims! From 9/11 to the shootings in Orlando. They should be deported back to their land of origin because they are a bunch of filthy, women beaters and killers, child rapists and they will never conform to our ways of living. I carry a pistol with me as do most southern women and if the people in the night club in Orlando had guns, most of those that died would not have done so. We are law biding citizens that carry for our protection and we don't go around killing people. Muslims are full of hate for Americans, look at the killings in Paris, Belgium, Germany and 9/11 and Boston.  Get your head out of the sand and wake up! They all want us dead and the sooner people like you realize this the better off you will be if not, you could be the next person being tortured or getting your head cut off!"
What happened to me is a momentary blip. When you come across occasional derision and hatred, especially over an opinion, it is easy to forgive.  The friends I mentioned deal with this on a regular basis.  I honor and admire them for handling a lifetime of racism and disrespect with courage, equanimity, grace and/or humor.  And I am choosing to stand up  and speak out for them and to stand up for the 91% of Muslims who are not only against ISIS, but also are targeted by ISIS as infidels.

And here is the worst part of the story.  My comment was made on an Evangelical Christian's Facebook page, which means it is likely that the people being hateful and insulting are brothers and sisters in Christ*.  And yet, God calls me to be gracious to them because they, like me, have blind spots.  Furthermore, God has many, many, many passages like Ephesians 4:31-32 calling for me to be kind, compassionate and forgiving because through Christ, God has forgiven me of a multitude of sins. 

And here is the conclusion I must make.  If not wanting to call lone Muslim shooters "Islamic terrorists" until the police have completed their investigation makes me a liberal; if discouraging fear of specific people groups who are being targeted because a small minority of them are waging war on America is being liberal; if bringing to light acts of hatred, fear,  and racism makes me a liberal; if aligning myself and empathizing with my fellow humans beings suffering racism or general hatred makes me a liberal; if thinking that we should be treating everyone with kindness and respect, even in disagreement AND regardless of how they treat me makes me a liberal;  then I am okay with being liberal. And being liberal does not disqualify me as a disciple of Christ.    

* The actual person on whose page I commented never replied to my comment, only his followers. 


June 14, 2016

The Joys and Fears of Having Teenagers

I used to have a huge fear of the teenage years, partly bcause it would be a true test of the parenting decisions I had made when they were younger and partly because they would be moving out of my protection control (I'm getting better).  When kids are young, they agree with parents because they don't have reasoning skills, or at least they aren't developed yet.  Teenagers have the ability to reason and they start questioning what their parents have been telling them.  I thought that being challenged would be an uncomfortable feeling.  Instead, I have embraced it, because sometimes I get a better understanding of what I believe and sometimes, I find that my way of thinking is erroneous and needs to be updated. 

A month ago, I had a discussion with one of my daughters about how she was currently attired.  In the past, I taught my kids about dressing modestly and not letting people touch them in private areas.   In the past, she agreed even with the idea of dressing modestly.  The conversation was re-introduced one day when I took her out to dinner and noticed, truly noticed, what she was wearing (Bad Mom confession--I don't always look at what she is wearing when she goes to school).  Now, to be honest, the outfit wasn't flagrantly immodest, but there were a few things that I felt would call undue attention to her I ways she would not like.   I talked to her about it, trying not to slip in my lecture voice and she pushed back.  She pointed out that women in Muslim countries were getting raped even though they were covered from head to foot, so it apparently didn't matter what women wore because the problem seemed to be on the men's side.  This was a completely valid argument, an argument I have seen on the web even in Christian circles.  I agreed that the onus was not only on the woman, that men had responsibility for their actions, too.  But I also argued that it wasn't an either-or situation, but rather a both-and situation.  And as I tried to verbalize the thoughts that seemed to be floating just out of reach, we went back and forth, having a great discussion about women's and men's roles in the area of lusts of the heart and eyes and mind.  We talked about the messages that are received from men trying to lay blame on women or on alcohol when really it is their own thoughts that are the problem.  I wished we would have talked about the importance of controlling our thoughts, not just in this area, but in others, because it is our thoughts that lead our actions (I am speaking directly to you Brock Turner).   I told her that her dad is teaching our boys to avert their eyes when scantily clad women appear on TV or in shops, like the woman in Walmart who was wearing low-riding short-shorts paired with a crop top that revealed her thong underwear.  We talked about the importance of not taking on responsibility for how men thought or viewed them, because that is a dangerous road for so many reasons.  We also discussed how clothes will create impressions in a person's mind, how dressing appropriately for the occasion is essential, especially in an interview.  I mentioned how studies have shown that men are very visually stimulated and how one study showed that when men look at women in bikinis or underwear, the part of the brain associated with objects lights up--objects, not people.  I asked her if she would want to wear something that would peg her as an object in a man's mind?  Then my swirling thoughts finally coalesced and I was able to put the discussion in different terms.  I asked her if she had a friend who was an alcoholic, would she offer the friend a drink.  She was horrified at the thought.  I asked her then, if she thought dressing immodestly was akin to offering an alcoholic a drink and she said she would think about it more.

In light of the Stanford rape case, I am glad that we had this discussion, not because the victim dressed immodestly or even because she became drunk and "deserved it"  but because girls can't count on fathers to train their sons to respect and honor women as fellow humans in their thoughts, words and actions, protecting them at all times, especially from themselves.  But here is the rub:  even if they do train their sons to treat a woman with respect and honor, peer pressure and media messages, or the sin inside each human can subvert their efforts.  The Duggar parents are the most highly visible examples of that.  And this knowledge should humble every parent out there, especially those who are raising their kids in the fear and admonishment of the Lord. 

So I will continue to encourage my daughters to be careful how they dress as a way of honoring themselves and helping brothers who need all the help they can get.  I will also encourage them to drink moderately, not becoming drunk because a drunk woman is an easy target for boys who prefer to think of women as objects to satisfy their own desires.  I think of it as a form of self-protection.  But I also need to remind both them and myself,  that being careful is no guarantee of safety because women are raped regardless of what they wear and regardless of how much alcohol they drink.  They are raped by people they trust as well as by strangers.  They are raped walking to their car or running on a path or in their home.  The onus of preventing rape lies directly on the men, like the sweet, wonderful men who stopped Brock Turner and called the police.

And this is where I turn to another side topic, because as a parent, I can do everything I can to protect my kids from being raped or introduced to porn or becoming addicted, but I can't guarantee their safety or their faith.  Nor can I guarantee that they won't make a horrible decision as an adult or teenager like driving drunk, stealing or going on a shooting rampage because, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"  The only remedy and my only hope is the work of Jesus to not only forgive me for my sins, but also who changes hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is my prayer for my kids, that no matter what they DO, they are humble enough to confess and repent when they mess up and accept the work Jesus did on their behalf as sufficient in their lives, just as I do the same.  And I pray that they will feel God's love, mercy and kindness lifting them through and beyond the consequences of their decisions as they submit to Him.

May 5, 2016

The U.S. Is NOT a Victim

Mr. Trump, several months ago, opened his candidacy enraged at Mexico and China and all the countries that were taking advantage of us, painting the United States as a victim.  My response was, “Seriously?  From what legion of tortured numbers did you get this idea or is it just a figment of your affluenza-afflicted imagination?”  With Mr. Trump now the only candidate the Republican Party offers, I feel compelled to speak up

First of all, America is the top consumer in the world according to United Nations Statistics Division1.  The average American household spends almost four times more in goods and services than the second place finisher, China.  The cost of living differences does have something to do with the difference, but not as much as you would think.  Costs in the U.S. are only 1.5 times greater overall than in China, based on one website source,2 which would bring our spending to be roughly 2.5 times that of China.   The average monthly wage3 in America is $3, 263 per month, $656 for China and $609 for Mexico.  The GDP for America is $17 trillion USD vs. $10 trillion for China and $1.2 trillion for Mexico4.  Another source states that the United States is the fourth largest generator of waste in the world5, which was actually surprising to me because I thought we would be higher.  We have so much that we are the top country for obesity in the world.6  We have been third in water consumption7, second in electricity consumption, and  first in oil consumption9.  Yet China, who hovers near us in these statistics, has four times as many people, making them quite a bit more efficient that we are.

What is my point in quoting these statistics, which, as I have stated before, if tortured long enough can confess to anything?  The numbers indicate that we have so much extra, we can generate a huge amount of waste in our country.  Even without actual numbers we have visual evidence through our grocery stores that are filled with food from all over the world so that we can enjoy strawberries at any time in the year, even if they are not in season.  And we see evidence from that horn of plenty when we go out and see so many people overweight in this country.  We see this when we go to clothing stores filled with clothes and products created by many nations of the world that is so cheap we can fill our closets with the latest fashions and discard those fashions when new ones are introduced.  We see it every time we go to the mall and see cheap electronics and goods that are made overseas so that we can buy stuff we don't even need.  We have ample evidence that we are an over-consumer of the world's resources which negates the victim card we are trying to play.  Furthermore, if Mexico and China are taking advantage of us, then why aren’t they benefitting from it in terms of average pay, which is roughly 18% to 25% of what the average American is paid?  I am sure this fact is not entirely the fault of the United States, though I believe that we are conspirators, some unwitting and some totally witting. 



No, Mr. Trump, I do not believe that as the world’s over-consumer, we are being victimized by China or any other country.  The American public demands cheap food, clothing and “toys.”  The only way we can accomplish this is by importing things from other countries who use slave labor10, or prison labor, which has a similar pay scale.  If anything through our greed and miserliness, we are encouraging a system of world-wide slave labor that only empowers the already powerful.  The fact that American workers are also hurt by lost manufacturing jobs to slave labor is a natural consequence of our greed and therefore fully merited.
Please don’t read into this any political suggestions for moving to socialism or communism.  This is merely a response to Mr. Trump’s message, which is wrong in so many ways and dangerously feeding our national overdeveloped sense of entitlement.  If anything, I would encourage folks to investigate buying products from fair trade sources as I am starting to do and be content with less as part of the anti-Trump movement. 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_consumer_markets
2 http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/rankings_by_country.jsp
3 http://1-million-dollar-blog.com/average-monthly-salary-for-72-countries-in-the-world/
4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)
5 http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Environment/Waste-generation
6 http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Health/Obesity
7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_freshwater_withdrawal
8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_consumption
9 http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Energy/Oil/Consumption
10 http://www.ecouterre.com/more-than-29-million-people-enslaved-says-worlds-first-global-slavery-index/global-slavery-index-2013-2/

December 20, 2015

A Time to Cleave*

The Father peered outside and watched His Son at work.  A lump formed in his throat as he realized what would happen soon.  Reluctantly, he called out to the young man, requesting that he come back to the house.  He gazed steadily at the youth trotting toward him, as if he was afraid he would disappear if he didn't keep watch.  They had always been together.  How could he let him go….?

“It’s time, Son,” was all he said watching the other’s face light up with expectation.  Surprised, the father asked if his son knew what would happen next. 

“Yes, Dad.  We have to rope the comet, gather up the horses for the horsemen and all the other battle implements and prepare to…

“No!  Not that time.  That will happen the next time.  For now you travel to earth under different accommodations.  Did you forget the original plan?  I can see from your confused look that you have, so let’s go over it one more time.”

The Son really knew the plan, but just wanted to see his Dad laugh one more time before he had to leave.  “Let’s see, I fly down wearing a close fitting suit with tighty-whities over my clothes and a cape flying behind me. I have will have gorgeous hair, blue eyes, six-pack abs and a strong, cleft chin, all of which are highlighted by my suit. I land in Rome, use my X-ray vision and super strength overpower the all the world’s tyrants and save the oppressed people so they can experience truth, justice, and the American way.”  The only indication on his solemn, placid face that he was suppressing laughter was the twinkle in his eyes.

Contorting his face into a Very Stern Look took extreme effort as the Father managed to get out, “No plan of mine will EVER involve wearing tighty-whities over your clothes” before bursting into laughter.  Then they were consumed by spasms of laughter, audible and silent, for many minutes until both ended up on the floor wiping tears from their eyes, though neither of them knew if they were from the laughter or for the separation that was coming all too soon.

The Father continued more soberly, “No, you will become a baby to be born in the same messy way we designed it, not able to control your bladder, completely dependent on your parents for everything.  Your earthly parents are loving, God-fearing people, but they are a poor couple, not even married yet, who live in that tiny town in a small community. Right before you are to be born, I will have that capricious leader we put in charge make everyone in the country go to their birth town so he can get a better estimate of tax money to be raised.  The town is small and will be overflowing with people.  Your parents will not be able to stay with relatives and will even have to make do staying in a barn.  My only birth announcement will come from the angels singing to those shepherds near the town.  The only gifts you will receive will be from some superstitious court magicians who will travel thousands of miles to see you, but will be several years too late for the actual birth.  You will grow up like any baby, becoming stronger and wiser and more capable.  You will astound people with your wisdom, your kindness and compassion, your ability to heal people and your love.  In other words, you will show them exactly how we are so they are less likely to mis-interpret what we have said in the past, though, knowing them, they will manage it anyway.” Sadness descended on his face at the last sentence.

Looking intently at the Father, the son summarized the plan:  “So I will be born a completely ordinary child to a couple of nobodies in the boondocks of Nowhere-ville who have to travel to another speck of a town which will have no room for them in a regular house.  I will be born in a smelly, dung-filled barn and my first bed will be a cow’s feed box, anointed with cow slobber.  You will extravagantly spend the music of the angels to deliver your message to a group of people who’s testimony is considered invalid in a court of law and who can’t even participate in the Jewish ceremony of atonement.  The only way that people will think I am special as a baby will be in the way I was conceived, which will be a constant source of ridicule for both me and my earth family.  And I will not have any special powers that will be appreciated by any except the most desperate, the plebeians, the proletariat.  The people of influence, the powerful, the rich, will either dismiss me, ignore me completely, or try to kill me.  Oh, and dad, you failed to mention that my true mission is to make peace between us and them by paying off the debt of sin they have been and will be generating for tens of thousands of years.”

The Father looked away, not wanting his Son to see the stricken look that passed over his face.  When he could speak, all he could say was, “You know that when you love someone as much as we do, you will do anything to save them from themselves.”

The Helper had joined them and together, they had their last group hug for a while, all of them crying piteously.  An angel, seeing them, slipped off on an errand.  The Father saw him leave and pulled himself together so he could get one last look at His Son.  “Now remember, you will never truly be alone.  The Helper will be with you always, giving you my instructions and helping you execute your mission.  Make sure you take care of yourself.  I will also send earthly people to care for you and to make sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat.  And when they fail you, I will send angels.  There will only be that very, very small insignificant time when we will not be able to even look at you because of your…situation.  You understand, right?”

The boy nodded and kissed His Father and best friend and, with the Helper’s arm around him, left on his mission.  Deep sadness welled up in all three once again, a sadness that broke their hearts, a sadness that would not truly leave them until, once again, in a short time, they would be reunited.  “So this is what earthly people experience so many times in their life” thought each person as the Son left.

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This story was inspired not only by the Gospels, but also by so many people, pastors, authors, and friends, who have re-told the Christmas story in modern vernacular.  For many years, I told a version of this to my kids to entertain them as we folded clothes.  Special mention goes to David Plaep, author of “Beholders of the Rising Sun” who has burned a vision of the shepherd’s scene in my memory, along with the idea that God’s first sacrifice for us on the road to redemption was having to be separated from His only Son whom He dearly loves, from whom I borrow heavily.  He is so much better at telling the story than I am.  I highly recommend the book.
*Note:  the verb "to cleave" can mean both "to divide as by a cutting blow" AND, as an intransitive verb, "to adhere closely, loyally and unwaveringly"

December 12, 2015

When will it be safe?

Three years ago, I was inspired by one national debate and a blogger to write an essay called, "Is It Safe Yet?"  Today I am re-writing it to exclude political leanings because I have so much inspiration from so many sources, it has become clear that the pursuit of safety transcends political boundaries.  I made some other changes, deleting some thoughts that I now realize are irrelevant, adding another thought and tightening up other paragraphs.  This essay is not saying that making reasonable efforts to be safe is bad.  Locking up criminals after they have committed a crime, requiring machinery to be safe, enforcing traffic laws, protecting people from thieves and swindlers, and some measures of gun control are wise and necessary measures.  What I am talking about is pursuing safety as the primary objective of our country. 

A fatal flaw in the philosophy of the pursuit of safety is that no law, no political party, no weapon can make us truly safe because the sin in each of us will cause us to always want what is truly bad for us. Given a choice most of us would date the bad boy or girl, smoke a pack or two of cigarettes a day, drive our car after knocking back a few drinks, sit in totally inactivity for long periods of time to watch inane programs while our brain turns to oatmeal, eat foods chock full of saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup and always unplug an electrical device by pulling on the cord while taking a bath. These are the choices we make when we have been "freed" from self-control and reason.  Furthermore, sin convinces us to wallow in our hurts and grievances, encouraging us to withhold forgiveness until it turns to bitterness and hatred, qualities which make us unsafe towards others.  You can take the person out of danger but you can't take danger out of the person*

An unintended consequence of our desire for safety is that the desire to live in a perfectly safe environment erodes our compassion.  If we are all perfectly safe, then we have no understanding of suffering and cannot offer comfort to those who are suffering because, after all, it must be their fault.  And if something bad happens to me it must be someone else's fault.  Oops, there goes forgiveness out the door also.  So we become a nation of finger-pointing, blame-shifters when trouble comes to us and hard-hearted judges when trouble comes to other people rather than being a nation of people who forgive and are forgiven and who provide comfort and aid to those who are bullied, incapacitated, helpless and/or hopeless. 

ASIDE:  Remember, I wrote the above paragraph three years ago.  Is ANY of this bringing up thoughts on our political narrative at all?  Does this resemble what we have become as a country? 

And yet another consequence that I didn't discuss initially is that, in the interest of our safety, we would take stances that effectively assume someone's guilt until proven innocence, which is happening as people want to pass laws of all kinds to prevent things from happening.  George W. Bush attacked Iraq on the pretense that they 'might' attack us with weapons of mass destruction before any evidence was presented nationally to back him up.  Muslims are locked up in Guantanamo Bay as potential terrorists or accomplices of terrorists without the benefit of a Constitutional-based trial (i.e., where the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt).  Those advocating for tougher gun control laws or even an end to the 2nd amendment are effectively saying that we need to assume people will use guns for evil rather than hunting or using it to protect themselves against lunatics with guns, who seem to have a knack for getting them both legally and illegally.  Police seem to assume that black men are out to kill them because there have been so many incidences where police officers have used guns as their first line of defense, shooting to kill and black men believe that police are out to kill them because police are shooting to kill them seemingly as a reflex.  Some Americans advocate tougher immigration policies for certain groups of people or shutting down immigration altogether to prevent potential rapists, thieves, murderers and terrorists from entering the country.  Once again, prevention is impossible and there are times I wonder if we are turning people into paranoid crackpots with all the fear-mongering promoted by our politicians and the media and in our pursuit of this insane level of safety. 

As a Christian, this safety-driven philosophy also flies in the face of the gospel, which is a story of the intense suffering of one man who was executed on the cross for crimes he didn't commit.  Philippians 2:5-11 lists all of the things Jesus suffered so that we, the guilty, sin-festering slobs, could be redeemed from the death penalty we truly deserved:  He suffered to be separated from the Father and Holy Spirit; he suffered to become a helpless baby who grew to be a poor man in a small village; he suffered to become a servant, he suffered a brutal, undeserved death.  John 18:5 says that Jesus knocked down a contingent of soldiers coming to arrest him with mere words.  And yet, he submitted to their arrest, their illegal trial, torture and guilty verdict rather than walking away.  Why?  What was his motivation?  Romans 5:8 says "...God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  God continues to pour out his love for us daily and Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily and love others like he has loved us, i.e., whether they deserve it or not.  His plans for his children might include suffering for His sake or suffering for the sins of others.  In other words, Christians should be the ones pursuing an anti-safety philosophy, encouraging each other to give up the rights we feel we deserve and serve the God who so richly deserves all of our love and respect.  I know that this sounds like absolute foolishness, but I would rather be a fool for Christ than a fool worshipping at the alter of unattainable safety, always unsatisfied until I become an abject coward.

And yet, I confess that I still have fears lurking and trying to control me--fears that my kids will die unnatural deaths, that the economy will collapse, that we are only a few generations away from a tyrannical leader who can take control because Americans have been chipping away at the Constitution over the course of time in the pursuit of safety.  And yet, there are so many Bible verses encouraging us to stop being afraid and to be of good courage.  Romans 5:3-5 says "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  And this gives me the power to turn away from my fears and to serve God wherever He leads me and encourage my kids and others to do the same because I know that he will either provide his protection in this life or take me/my kids/my fellow Christians to be with him forever, a place of complete, perfect safety.

Below is an afterward I wrote three years ago, but it is even more true today than it was then. 
I would like to add one more thing to this  as an afterward.  God has been making me eat these words and leave my safety/comfort zone in so many ways.  There are times when it has been very hard and frustrating and humbling.  And yet, looking back, I consider myself blessed for the experiences He has given me, the people who I have the privilege to call friends and the awe in how God works so gently and yet so persistently to open my eyes to see His vision of heaven and earth, His vision of me and those around me.  Alleluliah!

* inspired by a Baby Blues cartoon