Friday, December 16, 2016

What to do when the holidays + family = stress

Family? You know, that group with whom you possibly share some DNA. They mostly consist of people you didn’t choose, but folks you are kind of stuck with all the same. If you’ve never had a major blowout, or wished you could avoid a family member who broke your heart, or you don’t have have an embarrassing relative, you don't need to read any further.

I truly love my wife and kids (along with their significant others), and our grandchildren -- but once you begin to widen that circle to include the rest, well, some of them drive me a little crazy. I imagine with the holidays now in full swing, you might be experiencing more family-time yourself, and this extra exposure can be slightly stressful for some of us. What can we do?

For starters, let’s all just be honest. Admitting that our families stress us out isn’t necessarily bad. You aren’t evil because you struggle with putting on a happy face over sharing a meal, or cringe at the thought of spending time with certain relatives. There’s so much sibling rivalry and family strife these days, it’s almost as if the label “dysfunctional” is moot. So, you don’t have to pretend to be something you aren’t.

How could this be? How could the people we are supposedly closest to, hurt us the most? How could loved ones wound us the deepest? I heard a fancy philosophical phrase that explains this whole thing: It is, what it is.

There’s probably more to it than that, but simply put, this is the way it is. Cain killed Abel. Joseph’s brothers tossed him in an empty well then quickly sold him into slavery, soaked his clothes in blood, and told their father he was probably gored by a wild animal. The Bible is filled with stories of families feuding with each other, and yet God continually fellowships with and uses fallible people to accomplish His will.

Maybe some of our strife stems from our selfishness; maybe there’s some blame to be laid at the feet of our fragmented society, I don't know why for sure. Pointing fingers probably won’t make anyone feel any better. Besides, only the people who have the greatest potential to bring us the most joy can truly hold the unique position in our hearts which can also bring us the greatest pain. Strangers might be able to lie to us, but we only feel betrayed by someone who is close to us.

Families disappoint us, they wound and they hurt each other. Some families simply fight and no amount of therapy or counseling seems to help fix them. They lash out at each other, they are mean & hateful, yet they are bound together all the same. Therefore, we as individuals need to be as healthy as possible.

Being a healing presence might just be the best present you can give your family this season.

You don’t have to repeat the same unhealthy patterns that have been modeled for you by people who share your last name. You don’t have to retaliate or payback family members who have mistreated you. You can be liberated, you can be free, you can choose to love and to bless despite the mess. You are not a prisoner of your heritage, you are someone who is promised full redemption and complete transformation as a child of God.

Taking a break from certain parts of your family for a season of life isn’t wrong, in fact sometimes it's necessary. Still, remember, this life is short. None of us are promised a tomorrow. Once a loved one is gone, it’s too late to tell them how much you loved them regardless of the problems you’ve shared.

This is a great time of year to reflect and to consider how you might rebuild some broken relationships, since the holidays make for a great excuse to reconnect -- if you so choose. These days can provide a safe way to reach out to those who we miss or we know we’ll miss once they are gone. And remember, if you aren’t sure who the wacky one in your family is, it might just be you.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Post-election America: Can we experience diversity without being divisive?

Regardless of who you voted for this year, you either have been let down because who you voted for didn’t win, or you will soon feel let down by your winning candidate since Presidents can’t deliver on all of their campaign-trail promises -- it’s simply impossible to accomplish all they pitch.  Disappointment is one thing, but our nation seems to be beyond disappointment.  

I’m not sure if upheaval is a strong enough word.  One year ago, no one could've predicted how this year’s tumultuous election would conclude.  This has been the craziest year, politically speaking -- the Presidential campaign was a banal circus that brought out the worst in too many of us.   This much is clear, following the results of the election, we are extremely divided as a nation, we are polarized, we are majorly at odds with each other.

Sadly, our nation is radially divided along party lines, by ideologies, race, and religion.  We are not in a healthy condition; we need healing soon.  Christians should be asking: How can the church help bind up our nation’s wounds?  

The Book of Romans in the New Testament was written to a divided group of Christians.  Without going into too much of the tedious history of the period, the church in Rome was disrupted when the Jewish people who started the church in Rome were forced to leave, while the gentiles who remained in Rome had grown in numbers, and then the Jewish believers later returned.  

What were the results in the church in ancient Rome?  It was a diverse group who had reunited, but they needed some guidance on how to get along.  Why?  They were as culturally and ethnically diverse as you could get, yet the Apostle Paul offers godly wisdom with the hope that the church in Rome could experience unity.  Had they given up, would we even be believers today?

How can the book of Romans help us?  It’s in Romans we learn how we can actively perpetuate a mindset that’s non-judgemental and accepting of those with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye with.  We gain valuable insights into the virtue of tolerance throughout the book of Romans.  

“Tolerance” gets a bad wrap in many Christian circles, but we need tolerance now more than ever.  The type of tolerance I’m recommending is not synonymous with relativism, or the claim, “What’s true for you, isn’t true for me.”  I believe in absolutes, truth, and moral standards that apply to everyone equally.  

Tolerance, in the healthiest form, is the idea of respecting people, of dialoguing, of actively listening, and of withholding judgement.  It’s the only way we can meet people with opposing views halfway.  

Here’s just a small sample from Romans to illustrate the point I’m trying to make, “[14] Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [15] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. [16] Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. [17] Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. [18] If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  (Romans 12:14-18 ESV)

Please continue to pray for our nation, that we may experience peace and harmony.  It really doesn’t matter who our President is because God is still in control, and, we are supposed to serve as His hands and feet in a wounded and broken world.  It’s really up to us to make the world a better place, it’s not the job of the government anyway.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

America, has it ever been "great" and where should we focus anyway?

Trump won his election by focusing his constituency's attention on the past, a past that many people see differently.  To be simplistic and direct in his branding, Trump repeated his mantra, "Make America great again"  It's the "again" that strikes a nerve with a varied demographic.

So, besides the fact the phrase was plagiarized (Ronald Reagan used that phrase when he ran for office) what's really wrong with the phrase?

It falls short because it's claiming a future that's tied to a past, a somewhat unshared past experience.  We can't go back in time, even if we wanted to, so its a waste of time to wax nostalgic.  Regardless if you think America once was great, we can agree that not everyone thinks so, in fact about 50% of the population takes issue with this phrase.

How can you govern effectively if half of your people feel alienated?  We could say, "Who cares? Let's move on." But that's not feasible in a democracy or a republic.  That type of "suck it up and get over it" stance only works under a totalitarian regime, and even then the cooperation is only a thinly veiled attempt to acquiesce to the leadership.  

I don't buy into any "privilege" movement, it seems to be denigrating to those who feel someone else is privileged.  I love what Donald Miller posted today on twitter, particularly the end of his post:

Click here for the link to Miller's post if that image was too small to read: "Victims love to call Heroes "Privileged"

I couldn't stand Hillary Clinton, so this post isn't about gnawing sour grapes because Trump won.  I'm interested in our nation finding some healing from our massive division.  So..., what would work better for Trump, if he wanted to united America, again?  Drop the word "again" from his slogan, and simply say "let's make America great, together"

I doubt Trump would take advice from someone of my station in life, but if I could give him advice that he'd listen to, that would be my piece of advice, forget about the past and look forward to a future we all can participate in.

Sadly, when you polish off the golden age, you find it's only a pile of pyrite.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

People do not want you to be honest with them...

People never come out and say, "Lie to me," but when you think about it, you know you've gotten in hot water over telling people what you think.  It happens more often than we'd like to admit, but calling it "like you see it" is usually controversial.

As much as we hate to be lied to, the reality is, most people can't stand it when you are honest with them.  No, I'm not talking about discussing financial transactions or answering questions surrounding your personal accountability.  I'm talking about circumstances like the advice you offer, voicing your opinion, and sharing what you really think about the person you are talking to.

Without trying to sound too cynical, people often don't want to hear truthful statements, and even more often, they aren't able to handle them.  I've seen this resistance to our honesty played out in many different settings.

Leaders "at the top" are notorious for surrounding themselves with people who shield them from negative information, this can be true anywhere, in church leadership meetings, in construction leadership forums, all the way to just sitting around with friends.  People struggle with hearing the truth.  Whether you are talking "politics" or discussing current events, not everyone wants to hear what's on your mind.

Does this mean we should just tell people what they "want" to hear?  How can we maintain our integrity and still be able to communicate with people who tend to "shoot the messenger?"
Here are some steps we can take that can help us communicate respectfully, openly, and with honesty:

Ask for permission to be honest.
That sounds a bit derogatory, but it's necessary to building healthy relationships.
You don't say, "Please give me permission..." but you certainly ask questions like, "Do you really want to know...?"

Ask more questions while offering less answers.
People like to share their views, more than they care about what you think anyway.
Asking, "Have you thought about...?" instead of just blabbing what's obvious can help facilitate more meaningful conversations too.

Ask others how they see the situation or their views on the subject, and wait for them to ask your opinion.  Sometimes, believe it or not, people not only don't want your honesty, they don't want to hear from you.

Leave room for future conversations on the subject with a phrase like, "I should give this more thought before I answer."  This not only builds a little anticipation, it also lets people know you are more thoughtful than reactive.

Ask if you need to, or if you can clarify what you mean.  Sometimes people don't question your opinions half as much as they question your intentions.  Providing deeper explanations can increase understanding, and that always helps you to get your point across.

So, the next time you think about sharing an unsolicited piece of advice or simply saying what's on your mind, slow down and remember not everyone is ready to hear you out.  Not yet.  It's better to be asked what you think, than it is to say what you think and have people overreact to the truth.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Should public schools teach Islamic history?

Today's religion column in the Kingsport Timesnews

In the minds of most of the people I know, when it comes to Islam, it’s either a confusing or it’s an unsettling religion. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Muslims have become a centerpiece of the American conversation. For example, you can’t watch a Presidential debate or the daily news without a reference being made about some Islamic-subset.

Presently, it’s impossible to ignore the Islamic world, and, the influence of Islam on the world-stage is undeniable. Islamic mathematicians shaped Algebra as we know it and major medical advances were made by Islamic scholars during the Medieval area. One of the greatest games ever, Chess, was popularized and changed forever by Islam. From its bloody origins, even up to this day, Islam has played a major role in shaping history.

Therefore, I was shocked when I heard that some people are more comfortable allowing teachers to talk in middle school classrooms about smoking pot and using condoms, than they are with our schools teaching the history of Islam. It’s hard to fathom why it’s being proposed we remove a major portion of the Islamic historical studies from the seventh grade Social Studies curriculum.

Middle school, don’t forget, is also the phase of life when we trust our kids to learn about marijuana, meth, binge-drinking, all sorts of contraceptives and intercourse in the classroom -- it’s the time when our children are led through DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and Sex Ed. I guess no one is too concerned that these two programs might stimulate impressionable minds towards..., unwanted actions?

It seems like the paranoia surrounding the Islamic middle school curriculum rests on the illogical notion that as our young adults are exposed to historical teachings about Islam, they might become overly interested in Islam and somehow wind up indoctrinated into Islam. Should we also remove the history of the Holocaust to avoid sparking potential interest in students becoming Neo-Nazis? Will our young people become racists when they learn about the march on Birmingham?

If we can’t expose our middle schoolers to the history of Islam, what’s next, do we remove this history from our high schoolers as well? At what point do we begin to trust our students with this history? Most seventh graders have smartphones with which they can access plenty of questionable materials online. I’m not sure how this type of censorship will help our young people stay current with the rest of the Country’s educational system or help them to understand one of the greatest threats to global stability?

Could this proposal end up handicapping our students?

Make no mistake about it, Islam is dangerous. But what’s even more dangerous is having a generation of uneducated young adults ill-equipped to face the 21st Century world they live in. In the 1950’s, understanding Islam better could possibly have helped reduce the blistering turmoil which the Middle East continues to endure. It’s certainly no less important today to understand Islam, considering our current milieu.

If you really want to quell the reach of Islam, stop their funding and quit buying oil from Islamic regimes. Also, we need to be more active in the spreading of the Christian faith.

The majority of American converts to Islam today are funded by our tax dollars. No, these converts aren’t being led into the Muslim faith by studying the Quran in middle school. It’s within the walls of our prison system that many people become Muslims. Sadly, Islamic chaplains are able to reach an angry and captive audience, on your dime.

Our young people need to be educated about the history of Islam if they want to take part in educated conversations surrounding one of the most talked about subgroups on the daily news. Kids need to see the differences in Islam and other world religions and they need to comprehend that Islam is concerned with only one goal, world domination. But, shielding our youth from the history of this movement only keeps them ignorant -- unenlightened minds are powerless to make educated decisions.

The Bible never endorses ignoring evil, or false teachers, which I think describes Islam well. Instead, the Bible has instructions to confront these difficulties head on, such as, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ...” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV)

Our young people need to begin as soon as possible learning about the Muslim culture and its heritage if they are to understand how deal with the threat it poses. It’s senseless for young adults to enter high school not knowing what Ramadan is, or to remain ignorant to why Islam is divided between Sunni and Shiites. How do you keep the integrity of a middle school history curriculum and neglect the Crusades or the Ottoman Empire?

In the end, to remove the study of Islam risks disabling the framework for understanding the dividing line between the East and the West, and therefore our young people won’t be able to process world events as well. I get it, people are frightened by Islam. Still, yet another way for me to put this: If you are led by fear, you aren’t being led by faith.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Since when was America a Theocracy?

Dear Christian Americans, please stop looking to the government to fix the world we live in. That stance is unbiblical and unfounded.  Dear American Secularists, please quit pretending you don't worship politicians, either.  

There are too many people already confused over the actual meaning of the separation of Church & State, so I guess I shouldn't be so surprised by how many people see the Presidency as a Messiahship position.  And, in our infatuation with the political superpowers, we all have turned a blind-eye the embarrassing & illegal shenanigans these snake-oil salespeople engage in.

When I say America is a Theocracy, that's not to say we as a nation submit to a/any God, or that we we are ruled by a Deity.  Instead, I'm saying politics is now our national religion.  We are looking for salvation from our government.  We think that the next president will either usher in the Promised Land or Armageddon, depending on if our chosen one is elected or exiled...

As a nation, we've placed too must trust and too much hope and too much faith in our politics, we are in an unhealthy state of mind.  Christians are especially guilty of this, much to our shame.  The mental gymnastics that believers take to justify the actions any politician, simply leaves me flabbergasted.

Christians seemingly haven't read their Bibles or their history books when it comes to politics.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and it wasn't build by the efforts of Christian voters.  Rome was very hostile and very accommodating all at once.  There's a paradox in how the Church spread under the oppression of an Empire that allowed conquered native peoples to worship how they wanted as long as their faith didn't interfere with Rome's agenda.

The Apostle Paul instructs the church in Rome to submit to the Government in Romans chapter 13:1 f.f., and claims God instilled these rulers.  This was while Nero ruled, the same Nero who castrated the young man Sporus, married Sporus, and consummated his marriage in public.  Paul was silent on the debauchery that Rome was infected with, and again, he commends his audience to respect the power of that government.  How could this be?

Because Paul knew his true citizenship wasn't that of a Roman citizen, a right and privilege he claimed, but it was not a point of personal identity for him.  "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20 ESV)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The problem for celebrity protesters

One of the major reasons celebrities represent any protest poorly is because they live lives far removed from the issues they raise.  It's honestly hard to take their claims seriously, or to believe that they can empathize with the common person's plight.  How much could they care about groups and issues they aren't close to, or the people they rarely, if ever, spend time with?

Also, once a celebrity "takes a stand" the focus ends up more on the celebrity than just about anything else, it rarely stays trained on the issue. People forget about the problem when the spotlight stays focused on the personalty.  It's almost counterproductive for celebrities to protest much, because so much attention is showered on them, all the buzz seemingly revolves around them from that point forward.  

Finally, it's hard to point to any actions which celebrities have taken, to observe their actual front-line involvement, to see where they've gone out and invested time & energy to make a difference.  I'm not suggesting they should tap into their vast resources and use their wealth, or to even just show up on the scene, to influence any situation they say concerns them.  I'm sure when the time comes they'll step up and make a real difference for the things that truly matter to them.    

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What many Christians don't know about church

Do you know what’s one of the hardest concepts for many congregants to grasp? From the leadership to your marginalized, from the new families to those who have been with your congregation from day one -- it’s the fact that “your” church isn’t yours & it’s not about you. This is an incredibly difficult truth for most church folks to internalize.

In fact, for those who tightly control others, it’s downright frightening to think church isn’t about them. If you doubt this, just sit in someone else’s pew. Better yet, voice an unpopular perspective, or encourage people to step out in faith.

We easily get settled into the “way” we do church, we can get too comfortable with “how” we make adjustments, and eventually we forget that church is about submitting to Jesus & reaching those who have yet to meet Him. Church participation is a sacrificial act, meaning, you set aside yourself to pursue serving Jesus and you give up your preferences to better reach others. Simply put, this notion that church isn’t about you is discipleship 101.

As a christian, you don’t ever give up your personality or turn into a cookie-cutter robotic zombie. But, as believers we are called to die to self, to spread the good news, and together we pursue spiritual maturity. Sadly, many people who start out on the road to salvation take a personal detour away from the path of maturity because they are blinded by their concerns.

Maybe this is why churches plateau and decline? It could be that when we become inward focused (concentrating on our agendas and wanting our needs met) that we forget about serving our Lord and Master and we lose sight of our God-given goal of reaching people who are lost without Jesus. Where does this lead us?

When children get nervous they often chew their nails, adolescents get fidgety, and when adults get nervous, they often make bad choices. When we lose sight of the fact that church isn’t about us (sadly to the exclusion of others) we tend to lose our focus in other areas as well. Some of the fallout from this misdirection results in a heightened sense of anxiety within a congregation. At that point, many people no longer let faith guide them.

What happens when churches make choices based on our fears instead of faith? We go from making sacrificial choices (i.e., dying to self & actually reaching others) to hunkering down in survival mode. And what happens when the outlook grows bleaker and bleaker as our anxiety chokes out our ability to be optimistic? People sink deeper into their fears, and at that point stocking church restrooms with single-ply TP becomes the least of your problems.

When churches give into their anxiety, they forfeit the assurance which faith and only faith can deliver. Often times just like chewing your nails is a manifestation of being nervous, this congregational anxiety shows up in cocooning, conflict, and finger pointing. Until...

Until a church dies. Or better yet before that happens, at least one person, or hopefully a few individuals, feel called to take a stand for an authentic expression of faith, for trusting God at His word, to believe that God is in control -- not the obstacles we face.

Is it easy to shine a light on darkness? No. Satan will fight you tooth & nail, along with lazy people, mean-hearted people, and selfish people -- all who will try to stand in your way too.

Following faith as your North star instead of giving into your fears (fears are the biggest roadblock to true progress) is the big difference between people who choose to take God at His word and those who want the “rose garden” version of the “name it & claim it” false gospel of comfort & convenience. You can’t claim to be faithful if you are led by fear. When fear steers your decisions, faith takes a backseat. So, what can be done about this?

Churches need to be revitalized, frequently. But this requires trust. If you cut off the supply of freshwater to a pond, creek, or river, it stagnates it. Just like a gene pool becomes unhealthy from inbreeding, we in our churches need a greater diversity to have a healthier community. We need people to gather in the name of Christ who can disagree on non-essential ideas, but who enjoy unity on the major important Biblical truths. And just like a tree or a rosebush grows better by being pruned, sometimes churches grow better when old ideas/programs/perspectives are shed, stripped away, and removed for new growth.

A healthy congregation only thrives when it serves Jesus, reaches lost people, follows faith while suppressing fears, and encourages an exchange of ideas from a wider spectrum of views. Just like a tumor can metastasize, unchecked anxieties will grow and spread, and fear can stop the beating heart of any congregation.

“[5] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8 ESV)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Should we forget the phrase "Never Forget"

On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was sitting in Dr. Sennett's 600 level philosophy class.  Dr. Rae interrupted our class, and as he entered the room, he looked as if someone close to us on campus had just died horribly.  He informed us all to go quickly to chapel.  My 70 mile trip home from seminary afterwards was one of the longest rides of my life.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of the Sept 11th attacks, I simply can't see the value of perpetuating the phrase "Never Forget."  The phrase doesn't keep us vigilant, it keeps shackled to our past and to an enemy that frankly doesn't exist in the same way it did then.  Instead, we've created a new enemy.

Global terrorism and the death rates associated with terrorism has increased by 4,500 % since our response to the terrorist attacks.  We should remember, ISIS/ISL didn't even exist in 2001.

It's time to realize we are embroiled in a vitriolic battle of ideologies, not of nations.
This battle we face will not be won with military might, that's something to remember.

For a better perspective consider this.  You might be surprised that one of our greatest allies today, Great Britain, once stormed our Capitol during the War of 1812 and torched the White House.  Today, German companies dot the American landscape, and the Japaneses own a lot our debt -- last year they passed up China:

Am I suggesting we one day will become allies with radical Islamic jihadists?  A better question might be: What's the alternative, an extermination of them or us?  I don't how to move forward and solve this issue, but I know chanting "Never Forget" doesn't honor our fallen.  What best honors the dead is creating new life, making a brighter future, and fixing problems -- not fixating on past wounds.

Have you ever read "Bury my heart at wounded knee," and are you up to speed how we treat tribal nations on our own soil today?  What about the rift we once suffered during our own Civil War?  What about the fact that for too long during an embarrassing period of our nation's history, American women couldn't vote, nor could our minorities....  We should also be thankful the citizens of  Dresden, Berlin, and especially the people of Hiroshima & Nagasaki don't wave banners with slogans like "Never Forget."

It's not unpatriotic to say we need a better slogan, one that brings healing -- letting go of one that ties us to a painful past.  Maybe on disturbing anniversaries like 9/11 we need a new slogan, something like, "We'll always move forward"

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Is there a Brain Drain in the churches of Christ and is it being led by ministers?

I want to start this post by sharing a screen shot of Rich Little's FB status, as a way to introduce my thoughts:

(Facebook post from Rich Little) 

If you pause to consider it, ministers are called to think, a lot.  We think about sermons we are writing, future classes we are preparing, personal studies with others, how to address challenges within our congregations, what to do when counseling people, etc. So, basically we should spend much of our workweek in thought.  What happens though, when a movement or denomination discourages their ministers from thinking, or from expanding their thinking?

When I was a Bible major at Harding, F. Lagard Smith’s book “Who is my Brother?” was hot off the press. It was also a time when some within our brotherhood wrestled with questions over our identity. Particularly, are we “evangelicals,” and if not, what are we? I also remember during this period Flavil Yeakley warning our class, unless trends in attendance improved, the church of Christ could be nearly nonexistent by the year 2020.

Along this same time, over hushed cups of coffee shared in closed quarters, preaching students and Bible professors discreetly talked about our longings to be able to think freely, to rethink some of our methods of Biblical interpretation, and how to implement change in church settings while remaining faithful to our heritage. But dim clouds hovered over us, for our concerns were not merely of being ostracized, but of being dismissed and becoming unemployable.

At this same time, several established and trustworthy leaders voiced concerns in the classroom and in chapel over a potential division brewing on the horizon: Would the controversies over women’s roles cause a great schism in the churches of Christ as we entered the 21st century? Some predicted a fourth branch of the Restoration Movement was imminent.

Meanwhile, a slow but budding exodus populated by people who weren’t worried about those questions would gain momentum. As ministers and then a new generation of believers, believers who grew up going to VBS, Winterfest, Bible camp, and Lads to Leaders & LTC gradually disengaged from their congregations. Yet, no one seemed alarmed.

The tension that we face over losing some of our best and brightest minds isn’t unique to us alone. Searching articles in the Washington Post, the Huffington post, and other major news outlets will reveal many articles which highlight the slow attrition of ministers and the siphoning off of the Millennial generation from churches in general. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public life, and the Barna Group have both shared startling statistics detailing the loss of faith many young people experience as well. What I think is missing from the analysis of this trend is the disillusionment people feel when they can’t be transparent or vulnerable with the people they break bread with and when “questions” are discouraged.

Young people today aren’t looking for laser light shows, lattes, or laid-back worship services, and, our preachers aren’t interested in these “church fads” either. Attempts at being “cool” will not recruit Millennials to our pews. This generation of young people in their 20’s & 30’s seek significance from their faith and the freedom grow intellectually and experientially. If they can’t find this freedom from within our heritage, they are going to continue to look elsewhere for substance-- far from what they perceive as closed-minded or sectarian churches.

For too long, we asked question about how to keep certain people happy, how to not rock the boat, and how to make sure no one was ever offended. Are we facing consequences for worrying more about not disrupting the way things have always been done than over worrying about being led by God? Our younger generation doesn’t see the relevance of fighting old battles which were initially proposed by people long dead, and our ministers are suffering burnout over fighting for ideas they don’t personally embrace. But I do not think all is lost.

Even though the vast majority of my college classmates have abandoned full time ministry, and I’ve seen countless young people walk away from church, I’m hopeful for our future when I see the lineups at events like the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop and at some of our Bible lectureships. As we invite in solid intellectuals who are deep thinkers, like N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight, and as we host events where passionate speakers like Francis Chan and Bob Goff can speak to our people, I see hope for our ability to integrate into their ideas into our theological framework.

A recently released movie, “Concussion,” is based on the true story of NFL players who suffered major brain damage from multiple head traumas they received playing football. The tension in the plot is over the fact NFL leaders knew about the dangers to the players, but they were afraid to reveal the truth. Could someone write a script for our circumstance, “Concession?” If we continue to discourage our preachers from stretching the comfort zone of the congregations they serve, if we do not find resolution for the stereotypical confrontations between elderships and their preachers, and if we do not find ways to help our young people transition into adulthood with their faith in tact, Flavil Yeakley’s prediction might come true for the church of Christ.

The above picture up top is a screenshot of Rich Little's Facebook post where he shared his exit from ministry.  I met Rich in the late '90s when the word on the street was he was being groomed to replace Dr. Burkes as the next president of Harding University; Rich was a student at Trinity and he was preaching at the Naperville church of Christ at that time.  After Rich defended his PhD., instead of returning to Harding as planned, the Naperville church brokered a deal with Harding to keep Rich on staff in Naperville, and then eventually Rich left Naperville and went to Malibu Ca.   I really don't know why he choose to leave vocational ministry, I would say though that his leaving ministry illustrates the struggle I'm describing well, that of thinking-intellectuals wrestling with finding a place in some of the churches of Christ.

Presently, I myself preach in a non-denominational church, New Song, and we are heavily influenced by the Restoration Movement.  I found salvation in a loving mainline church of Christ, actually the Naperville Church of Christ.  I have no ill-will towards the churches of Christ, and if the right fit were possible & if God someday led us in that direction, I would one day gladly preach in a church of Christ again.  I'm saddened that people with such great potential have these struggles, but I'm sure this isn't unique only to them.  I'm guessing many congregations of many stripes are suffering from this brain-drain too; I'm afraid these are simply the consequences and the fruition of sectarianism.

In Search of Peace

(Kingsport Timesnews 8/26/15)

There are some people who are concerned about the advances in Artificial Intelligence, they lose sleep at night because they are fearful computers will one day take over and enslave the human race.  Who isn’t at least a little worried about terrorism these days?  What about our rocky economy, can you say that it doesn’t trouble you from time to time? Most everyone is talking about our upcoming presidential election and most people are disturbed at the possibility of whoever our next leader might be.  Some folks are saying, we are entering another Cold War with Russia.  

What about closer to home?  It’s normal for couples to argue or for families to have strife from time to time, and even churches can wrestle over changes that need to be made, but what happens when a particular conflict continues?  

It doesn’t seem like there’s any corner of our life that is completely free from difficulties and it’s safe to say, you don’t have to look too far to find situations which disturb us.  What we long for most in this life, I’d venture to say, is peace.  

I know we long for God’s presence, and we long for good health, and we want our families to be safe & healthy, and we seek security, but I believe what we are really looking for is peace.  I’m not sure we will ever have the complete absence of trouble in this life like we want.  In fact I’m pretty convinced in this life we will face trials and tribulations, but the promise is we can have peace.    

How can we find peace when the world feels like it is crumbling around us, when evil seems to be growing stronger each day, and when life holds so much misery and sorrow?  Perhaps in the midst of such pain, we might not see the peace we desire in the moment, but then again, sometimes we focus our attention in the wrong places.

If we are trying to generate our own peace, by our own efforts, or if we are seeking peace in the wrong places, we will never find satisfaction.  Unfortunately, I think we depend on the world around us to deliver the very peace it robs us of.  We mistakenly think peace comes from having a title, position, possessions, or perhaps from our own abilities.   

Jesus leaves His disciples with the promise of peace -- all the while acknowledging they will be living in the midst of chaos, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

Perhaps peace isn’t so much the absence of strife, but maybe peace has something to do with the assurance that all is well despite the circumstances that surround us.  Our problems and difficulties are at best temporary, they can’t last.  They don’t seem like they will ever go away, but just like a child who thinks Christmas will never arrive, time passes and our situation will change too.

I’ve seen plenty of people who felt like they were on the brink of disaster, and, I’ve been through my share of painful situations, and while all of us have struggled to see a brighter future, we survived even when we were less than optimistic.  Not everyone saw the results they wanted or experienced the improvements they hoped for, but along the way we’ve all learned valuable lessons through the pain, grew stronger as a result, and found peace in knowing God never abandons those whom He loves.  

So, no, we aren’t exempt from conflict, distressing situations, or agitating circumstances in this life.  But we are promised peace, by Him Who has overcome the world.  And in this divine promise, there is an eternal reason to hope.  May you find the peace which far exceeds all of our understanding or comprehension, and may you rest easily and securely in Jesus and His powerful presence.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tearing each other down is easier than...

It’s always easier to break out a windowpane than it is to glaze one in place. Dragging statues down to the ground is easier than sculpting them. Smashing, whatever comes to mind, takes less effort or mental energy than it does assembling something new. For example, it’s easier to critique a book than it is to write one.

Whether it’s taking a car apart or tearing down an old house, the act of demolition requires less from us than creativity does. Never forget, it’s easier to bend and warp than it is to make straight. I imagine the same is true of raising kids, relating to your spouse, or the way we treat someone else’s reputation.

Right now, America seems more divided than at anytime in recent memory. Between both of the recent RNC and DNC conventions (along with their ensuing the political circuses), the senseless violence where police officers have been targeted lately, and the perpetual erosion of solid family values, we are obviously in big trouble as a nation.

I’m not telling you anything new, am I? These are dark times, troublesome times. Times such as these spark intense turmoil and tend to demoralize the best of us. And, the more we focus on our differences, the more divided we become. The church isn’t immune to this division either.

Unfortunately, as MLK Jr. once pointed out, Sunday mornings have the most segregated hour of the week. But this segregation isn’t as simple as an ethnic divide. If you look around most congregations, you might notice the lack of socioeconomic or cultural diversity as well.

Until our local congregations can realize there is no competition between lighthouses and until we show the world what radical unity really looks like, we have very little to offer to a wounded and bruised world in these dark times. By the way, when jihadists behead Christians or blow up innocent believers, they aren’t looking at denominational affiliations. Therefore, we might need to consider that other Bible believing people aren’t our real enemies...

Sadly, I don’t own a magic wand or silver bullets -- there are no simple solutions to the problems we presently face. I do know, we owe our young people a better future than the one we’re setting them up for. I can’t claim to know what all we need to reconcile our splintered nation, but I’d venture to say a little less hatred and lot more healing would help.

What we don’t need more of though, is more fear-mongering, more racism, or more vitriolic rhetoric which lambastes one’s political opponents. I have never had to point out to my wife 15 other guys who don't love my wife, to simply say to her, “I love you.” Political candidates (and as far as this goes, church leaders too) shouldn’t layout their negative perceptions about those they view as competition. No. Leaders who want to persuade their followers, should stand on their own strengths without ever pointing out the weakness in others.

At one time, we here in America were known metaphorically by sociologists as the great melting pot, as when many ethnicities merged together. Then, later we were referred to as a salad bowl, where the different ingredients ended up in the same bowl but never coalesced. Pretty soon if we aren’t careful, we’ll come to be known as an empty, grease stained, fastfood bag.

Why not say, “Jesus is the answer” to all these problems we face? A wonderful cliche some might claim.

Perhaps if Jesus is the answer to this whole crappy set of circumstances we are presently facing, then perhaps the church will begin to take our partnership with God more seriously. By that, I mean spreading love, peace, unity, and the message of salvation through Jesus to a lost and wayward world -- and ceasing to stake superiority-claims under different church banners/marquees/signs, or worse yet, claiming “God loves our Presidential candidate more...”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Why police shoot innocent people

I've never worn the blue uniform, and chances are you haven't either.  Before you read another word, this is not a police-bashing post.  I have the greatest respect for people who serve and protect us, and who stand in harm's way, those who live knowing they might have to sacrifice their lives in the line of duty.

Okay, why do police shoot innocent people?
I can think of two reasons, in general, on why innocent people end up shot by the police.

Again, I'm not nor have I ever been in their shoes, but common sense makes it clear that #1, sometimes, who is "innocent" isn't clear, sometimes people make the wrong decisions, and not everyone is perfect, and unfortunately mistakes are made in the heat of the moment.  That's my defense for the completely accidental shootings where police who have honor and integrity make regretful mistakes.  This is one of the reasons I can see why police shootings happen.

By the way, I can't imagine the anguish an officer has to deal with for the rest of their lives after pulling the trigger and harming or killing an innocent person.  Before we judge all the police the same, think that over.  

Again, I'm not bashing the badge, but I'm also smart enough to know that not all police are stellar examples either.  Some police, I'm sure, have shot people when they didn't need to, out of anger, or simply out of cowardly convenience.

How can I balance this, this idea that I respect the uniform and the people who wear it, and yet acknowledge that some police aren't "innocent" in their mistakes?  Simple.  It's called the seduction of power.

The second reason police shoot innocent people, is the person behind the badge is a fraud.  Police, Pastors, School Principals, Troop leaders, and a few other positions/titles in our society attract people with the wrong motivations, people who are very unhealthy, people who will and do prey on those for whom they should be nurturing or saving.  There are people on power trips, who misuse and abuse their station in life.

Sadly, this misrepresentation of the uniform or office harms those who should be being protected or cared for.  Which is, by the way, the reason everyone is so raw over police brutality or when priests molest young boys.

What we can't do in our current situation, is overreact and label all police as bad.  We can't enact restrictions or make their difficult job even harder to perform.  They don't need more paperwork or body-cameras (unless they want this, to help protect their reputations).

What we can and should do, is have a better selection process on who we let serve on the front end, provide support along the way, provide ongoing training, and give them time away to relax and untangle their lives from the harsh work they do.  This again goes for people in ministry or school administration, or any office where there's a risk of drawing in people who might abuse their position.

I've met people who are police officers (or who wanted to join the force) yet who never should've become one.  And, I know some really good stand up guys who I'm proud to be friends with who are the type of police we all need.

The reality is, we need to make sure we don't rush to judgement and lump everyone together.  These are highly emotional times we are in, and we need to be calmer than we are, and more reasonable than we want to be.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

When the police are no longer needed

When I was young and thought I was cool, I used to think police were pigs. I was arrested many times from my teenage years into my mid-twenties and I was highly disrespectful to many police officers. I regret that part of my life and I'm embarrassed by my former behavior.

What I find more embarrassing now, are the idiots who think we can have a free-for-all attack on the police. I think what our country needs to do, is to ship all the people who don't want to have police to somewhere like Somalia, a place where pirates run things. Only a complete imbecile thinks we can have a just and safe society without police.

In a perfect world, police would never make mistakes or misuse their position, but we don't live in a perfect world -- which is why we need police officers. Of course there will be times when any office is abused by those who should be protecting and serving us. Teachers have sex with their students, pastors embezzle church money, bankers share insider secrets, and Presidents lie to the people.

Here's what I think we are setting ourselves up for, as I see the news of these cowardly police ambushes. Number one, police will have to be more cautious, which means slower response times and more innocent lives will suffer. Number two, I think less people will sign up to serve as police officers, and soon we'll have a shortage of qualified people serving and protecting us. Thirdly, I think this will lead to the rise of more people taking the law into their own hands, which will give rise to more vigilante activities and greater anarchy far and wide. Fourthly, this will end up putting us in a military state nationwide where we have the National Guard replacing our police officers, and they will patrol the streets and we'll eventually need a curfew and check points throughout our cities.

Then, when the military patrols our streets and issues out justice (in other words, we'll end up with Martial Law) we'll no longer need the people who served and protected us, we won't need the police any longer and I'm sure everyone will be much happier then... and if you think this is stretch, you haven't traveled much outside the USA.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hijacking the podium: When Celebrities pontificate

Have you ever been to a wedding, and when the father of the bride gives her away, the dad takes advantage of the opportunity to talk and makes a speech about the minimum wage?  Me either.  There's a time and a place for everything.

Jesse Williams, he wins an award from BET, for what most of us don't know because all anyone is talking about in the news are his inflammatory remarks toward white police officers.  His use of an award's ceremony to voice his political views is nothing new.

Back in February, Leonardo finally won an Oscar; but what we remembered most were his words on the climate.  Michael Moore ranted about the war in Iraq back in 2003 when he took the stage, and Marlon Brando back in 1973 refused to attend the Oscars when he was awarded an Oscar for the best actor, he enlisted the help of Native Americans to help him make his point.

For the sake of argument, let's say these celebrities are accurate in their analysis.  Is an award's ceremony the time & place to espouse your views, and, what happens when famous people use these events to take a stand?  Whether it's human rights, a special disease they want to spotlight, or civil rights for a particular group, what really is accomplished when celebrities lament the world's condition as they see it?

I imagine the person hijacking the podium feels a sense of accomplishment, and then goes back to living their elite lifestyle far removed from the dirt and grime of the problem they've described in vivid detail... but have they accomplished much of anything?  Since they aren't revealing novel information, it's not like they are informing the masses of new issues.  Not only aren't they bringing new information to light, they aren't fixing the situation either.

Really all these celebrities accomplish is taking the rhetoric of complaint into the realm of entertainment.  And this move devalues any serious impact they could've had.

If they have a beef with an institution or a political problem, they need to find the correct avenue in which to voice their complaint, and, they need to offer solutions to problem, not just vomit emotionally laden sentiments about how bad the world is.  Well, maybe they accomplish something, maybe they pit different sides against each other more often causing further divisions in our country?

To hijack a mic during an award's ceremony is immature and selfish, it's not heroic or admirable.  In fact, it's taking the easy way out and is about self-soothing motives.  These celebrities could use their influence like Bono of U2 has done for decades, mostly off the stage and behind the scenes.  Or, they could try to articulate their perspectives by writing an essay and submitting their thoughts to reputable magazines and newspapers and seeing if they can gain attention that way.  But to simply take advantages of a captive audience while you have the spotlight, that's simply deplorable and makes me think there isn't much substance to what you have to say or how you really feel about it..

Monday, July 4, 2016

What people really want

One of the best gifts I've received in this life has come my way twice.  First, during the formational years of my childhood and then again throughout adulthood.  As I observe people and relationships, I see clearly I've been gifted with an extremely rare prize.

Growing up my mother had the unique ability to allow me to pursue whatever path I would chose.  Looking back, I know I was a weird kid; when I pretended to be Tarzan, Robin Hood, or Conan the Barbarian, she never blinked an eye.  My mom never tried to shape me or fashion me into anything other than what I wanted, she allowed me to read freely and she provided me with money to buy books.  She let me roam freely and explore the world around me without unnecessary restrictions.  I credit my mom for my creative side and my self-confidence.

As a young adult, very young, I was blessed to marry my wife Tammy.  Tammy has always supported me in whatever career choice, ambitions, or direction I've felt led towards.  She encourages me and complements me, and she stands beside me in the work I do -- she sees potential in me when I don't.  No matter what the form or expression of my work (while putting up with my personal quirky side) Tammy is more than supportive and she is absolutely the best fit for me.  Not only is Tammy beautiful and thrilling to be with, I couldn't do what I do without her.  I credit Tammy with any of my accomplishments in this life.

Where am I going with this?
What I'm trying to communicate is the power of acceptance.

People do not want to be forced to conform to what the world or others want, people want to be accepted for who they are.  But, you ask, "What if they are on an unhealthy path?" The paradox is, we can only influence people when we let them be themselves.

And, all people have an instinctual reflex that kicks in when you try to manipulate them or coerce them, and it naturally causes distance.  So, if you want to grow close to others you must love them and accept them for who they are, and you'll be surprised who they can become by giving them the freedom we all want -- but most rarely give.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why people we can't stand are so popular

If the research can be trusted, and I see no reason not to believe what is being published in this case, one of greatest regrets people voiced on their deathbeds was: I wish I had been more courageous and expressed myself.

Think about this, of the deepest regrets people have at the end of their lives, at the top of the list was the disappointment of not speaking up in life.  Ranking higher than wishing they had worked less and spent more time with their families was this nagging agony from not having shared their opinions more often.

Which leads me to this conclusion, blowhards who are often viewed as obnoxious or belligerent are wildly popular simply because they do speak their mind.  In a sense, I think many people are living boldly, however vicariously, through the opinionated talking heads they watch on TV.

Many media sensations are frustratingly unoriginal and lack tact or intelligence.  Yet, they have an audience who sits there quietly thinking, "I wish I could say that too, you're my hero..."

I for one was never impressed with the Duck Dynasty series.  I applaud them for their wonderful family values and strong faith.  I believe they are genuinely good people.  But still.  I have redneck family members who could run circles around the Robertson family with saying it how they see it.  The show's popularity and the speaking engagements they have landed stem mainly from Phil shooting straight from the hip and saying whatever he thinks, minus any novelty.
I guess the takeaway here is this: Speak your mind while you still have time and don't lose your mind over the people you can't stand in the media -- they have everyone's ear who wishes they could only open their mouths too.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When it's okay to be needy...

The term, "Needy," carries such negative connotations.  When we hear the phrase, "You are so needy," it sounds like a hateful criticism.  Plants need sunlight to thrive, but no one faults a flower for its needs.  Babies need milk to grow.  In fact we come into this life kicking and screaming, and we are very adept at letting our needs be known before we can even talk.

Perhaps this whole subject is a sore spot because we don't understand, in some sense, we are all needy.  More to the point, the confusion sets in as we mismanage our neediness.

Let's be honest, brutally honest.  Needy people can be exhausting and we feel drained just at the mention of their name.  Sadly, some people do not want to be healthy, and they will gladly go along sucking the life out anyone who will let them.  Don't.  Don't give into codependency.  You won't help them or yourself.

Part of the problem with needy people is they can become takers.  They only call when they are in an emergency.  They only have one topic to discuss, ever, and it's some void they want you to fill.  They never give back.  They are a demanding victim who expects you to rescue them, over & over again.

The more you give into a needy person, the more they will take from you, until soon there's nothing left of you for yourself.  It's tiresome to constantly be meeting the needs of others.  But the other end of the spectrum isn't the answer though.  We don't want to go through life as constantly feeling dependent upon others.

On the other hand, there are people who are so desperate to be needed, they create circumstances to manipulate others into depending on them.  They don't realize how needy they are -- they need to be needed.  These people need to be your champion and to have as many people as possible lean on them, in order for them to feel whole.

And, it's hard for some people to admit they have needs that can only be met by other people.  People who feel smug and think they are far superior to the rest are no more healthy than the person who latches on to your leg and leaches the life out of you... through a slow miserable death.

So what's the difference between having needs and being a needy person?  In other words, Why are we all needy?  We are all needy because we aren't made to be independent.  We have to partner with other people -- we need others to enter into this life and to navigate this life.  In other words, we are healthiest when we are interdependent.

Is there anyway out of this bleak situation?  How can we manage our actual needs without allowing our weaknesses to become our identity?  It's perfectly fine to voice your needs to those who can and want to meet your needs, those with whom you have a reciprocal relationship.

The best way I know to manage our needs is to become someone who establish healthy boundaries with others.  If you want to gauge how healthy another person is emotionally, watch how well they respond to your boundaries.  Just like a border between cities or states, it's important to know where you begin and where others end.

Therefore, the starting point is recognizing we all do have needs that we can't meet alone, but we don't have to succumb to being a needy person.  Secondly, work to collaborate with others so we can mutually meet each other's needs in the healthiest way possible.  Finally, establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The ABC’s of gossip

It’s true for many of us, our ears perk up whenever we hear the soft-spoken phrase, “Did you hear about...?” Yet, while this conversation is going on, no one is feeling guilty -- even though we are whispering and looking over our shoulders the whole time. Why? Gossip often feels innocent in the moment, since we aren’t spreading lies after all. Which of course is why we include, “Bless their heart...” just to be on the safe side.

Still, whether or not the information being shared is accurate, gossip damages the heart of community more than just about any other misbehavior people become involved in together. I believe a church or group of people can survive most any setback, but once gossip becomes part of their culture, that congregation or team of people is doomed. It doesn’t matter if you are gathered around the office water-cooler or handing out church bulletins in the foyer, there’s nothing worse for your organization or assembly than to have people gossiping.

Gossip spreads faster than athlete's feet in a locker room, but in case you haven’t given the topic much thought before, for your consideration I’ll share the “ABC’s” of gossip with you. But please don’t tell anyone where you heard about this. Let’s just keep this between the two of us, okay?

A: Gossip Alienates people. Whenever we are involved in gossiping, there’s at least one victim. The victim is the one we are talking about behind their back, and we’ve purposely cut them out of the conversation for obvious reasons. Remember, nothing cuts a conversation shorter than the arrival of the person you were just gossiping about. Furthermore, we usually keep our distance after we’ve talked about someone else -- it is very uncomfortable to make eye-contact with someone we’ve just drug through the mud.

Consider this as you think about how gossip alienates people, “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” (Prov 16:28 NLT)

Many warped people spread gossip to feel better about themselves, true. But remember this fact: Anyone who will gossip to you, will gossip about you. You might think the of you two are bonding while you share secrets, but really, you are alienating others and yourself.

B: Gossip is a Betrayal. We break people’s confidence whenever we gossip. We betray their trust, no matter how we rationalize it. When you know sensitive information about someone and you share it with others for sensational motives, you’ve dissolved the glue that holds all relationships together, you’ve destroyed their trust. For example, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” (Prov 11:13 NLT)

Face it, the only gossip that gains traction is gossip that includes sensitive or embarrassing information. People don’t gossip about the weather. People like to talk about the elder’s children who are involved in some type of inappropriate and reckless behavior -- probably because they were hanging out with the deacon’s kids....

And finally, C: Gossip is ultimately about Control. This is the sickest part of gossiping. We exert control over who gets to hear the information, when they hear it, the flow of information, and how we leverage the gossip, all to give ourselves a sense of power. We even try to bind the people we gossip to when we say, “No, don’t tell anyone, especially don’t say you heard this from me.” That puts people in an awkward situation, every time.

Having “juicy info” gives some people a demented sense of power over others, but it’s not just unhealthy, it’s wicked. People like to be “in the know,” and they like the feeling of having knowledge others do not have, but others they wish they had. The whole thing is messed up.

Basically, gossip is conversational adultery and it often ruins the reputation of innocent people. Sadly, many Christians who would like to “pray more intelligently” about others also like to share slander under the guise of faithfulness. Remember this, your kids hear every word you don’t want them to, outsiders will rightful avoid judgmental believers, and gossip might be socially acceptable but it’s destructive to society.

Gossip, while it gives some people a rush, erodes the integrity of a community just like a landslide. Scripture is clear, we should avoid people who gossip, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers.” (Prov 20:19 NLT). Gossip is impure and destructive, so guard your heart and your mouth and you’ll safeguard your community.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Is it possible to be too accepting?

It seems as if we are no longer entitled to hold up our own individual standards anymore.  Instead, it seems like alternative lifestyles and cultures and beliefs are being forced on us from all fronts, but we aren't allowed to say a thing about it.

I find intolerance, discrimination, and rudeness distasteful and unacceptable, but let's grow up and realize that to dislike or disapprove of another's opinion or choice is not equal to hatred.  The current circumstance we find ourselves in feels like some sort of meta-cultural peer-pressure where everyone is expected to accept every choice as being fully equal, and to be quiet about it all.

Rejecting a choice someone else makes, or not accepting their preference, doesn't equate to rejecting that person.  Certainly common sense tells us we don't have to see everything all the same, and to disagree isn't one and the same as hatred or rejection.

In fact, we are being sold a lie -- if we reject the person's preferences, we reject the person.  Similarly, if we reject another's lifestyle, we have supposedly committed evil acts of racism, bigotry, and discrimination.  The false claim of some people is that rejecting the choices other people make is the full equivalent of breaking their civil rights for the people you disagree with.  That's insanity!

For a free-market of ideas to thrive, there has to be an exchange of contrary and opposing ideas.  For our own intellectual growth to flourish, we have to express ourselves when we disagree.  But currently, to hold to certain morals and political stances results in being bullied into silence, or being labeled with a shame-laden derogatory "ism" meant to stifle your voice.

It is impossible for all of the contradictory views to all be right.  Yet, no one is allowed to speak up and say someone else's ideas are wrong anymore.  That's crazy.  This cultural censorship is slowly choking out clear thinking.

The suppression of opinions that are different from the latest fad or the hippest marginalized group is the path to stifle the freedom of expression.   To say any particular group or ideology is misguided or wrong will be hate-speech, punishable by fines or lawsuits.  To ensure that no one is ever offended is to prevent the personal growth of any society, and, it will eliminate the ability to have a healthy exchange of ideas.  This all sounds like the subplot of a dystopian narrative where the fascist leaders enact a totalitarian regime to suppress the masses...  and their new uniform is fashioned from the "Emperor's new clothes," but who will speak up about the wardrobe?

Squelching dialogue is the least wise move our culture can make.  Dialogue means we speak up, we share ideas that are dissimilar, and we all learn from the process.  Instead, we remain enslaved by feeling embarrassed to speak up, because if we do speak up we are labeled as hatemongers or dogmatic anti-intellectuals who are just plain cruel.  We are afraid to speak out against the things we once saw as embarrassing.  We are devolving into invertebrates.  

To claim all ideas are equally valid means that none of the ideas being presented are wrong, which means we've reached perfection in our understanding of reality.  I personally see a lot of room for improvement from humanity.  For diversity to exist and be profitable to our personal development, means we have to speak up, debate, disagree, and state our opinions.

We can include everyone and accept everyone based on the common-ground we share and through authentic tolerance and respect, but if we silence people through intimidation and coercion simply because they disagree with the lifestyle choices of the furthest fringes of our society, then our civilization is no longer civilized, it is just part of the animal kingdom and nothing is off limits...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Are we setting ourselves up for violence as Transgender & traditional culture clashes:


I have yet to meet anyone who claims to be disgusted by Bruce Jenner's transformation (pictured above) who doesn't enjoy music by Elton John (Gay), Freddie Mercury (Bi) or David Bowie (Trans). Ironic or hypocritical?

What muddies the water even further are the many heterosexuals who judge the LGBT community, yet have extramarital-affairs or are addicted to pornography. My Judaeo-Christian values indicate there's no distinction in sexual sins, whatever way you define them.

Recent news reveals Bruce Springsteen, Paypal, Michel Moore, and others are taking a stance over recent laws which have not favored the choices of transgender individuals, laws dealing with discrimination, and these celebrities and corporations are basically boycotting certain States to show their allegiance with the LGBT community.

Some parts of the laws being debated are controversial, since these laws would allow a physiological male to use a women's restroom or locker room if that supposed male-embodied-individual wanted to identify as a female. Again, is it ironic or hypocritical on their part as corporations or entertainers to boycott those states they disagree with?

This whole subject raises all kinds of questions for me. Since the most recent and available data suggests that only around .03% of the population identifies as transgender, and only around 4% claim to be homosexual or bisexual -- how has this issue drawn so much attention to itself? Also, why has this transgender issue become so polarizing? And why is it so politicized today?

I'm left asking myself, are we setting ourselves up for a violent resolution to this whole subject?

If you doubt we resort to violence whenever we can't negotiate a peaceful resolution to a problem as a culture, then maybe you've forgotten we have four branches of our military to reinforce peace at the international level. Where do I see violence playing out in this situation? Parents protecting their children in public restrooms, for starters.

I know most people prefer to stay on the sidelines with this subject for fear of being labeled as intolerant. It's not my position to judge people who truly identify as transgender. Are transgender people nice, demented, perverted, confused, sincere, fearful, dangerous? That's not up to me to worry about.

While I disagree with the LGBT lifestyle based on my spiritual beliefs, I will say confidently, there's more to a person than their sexual identity, and, there will be some people who will abuse the supposed discrimination laws to prey on people of the opposite sex. And, while I disagree with the LGBT lifestyle, it's not my place to dictate to others how they live their life. And this is the crux of the matter, trying to enforce one's values on others vs. accepting people where they are while hoping for the best.

If you doubt these nondiscrimination laws will lead to abuse, think again.  Common sense tells us pedophiles and the such will use this new set of nondiscrimination laws to enter the restrooms of the opposite sex under the guise of being transgender for inappropriate reasons.  We've already seen news stories indicating this much is true.

Since many people don't know how be tolerant without feeling like they are endorsing a lifestyle they disagree with, many people will remain frustrated, frightened, and angry. It really comes down to respect and consistency. I think there are valid reasons to see how people make life choices regarding their sexuality based on how they were nurtured and not based on genetics. And I do think the direction our culture is heading is unhealthy. 

Still, I know it's not Christ-like to hate, judge, or abuse anyone that I disagree with or disapprove of.  I hope that the self-righteousness of the many doesn't sabotage the delivery of the Christian message to the few, or blind the world to the reality of Jesus.  

However we move forward, may we do so in love and in the spirit of Jesus without trying to intimidate anyone.  May we learn to accept the people we disagree with, and may our actions speak clearly, so clearly people will know who we are trying imitate.

“13 Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. 15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17 New Living Translation)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Are we becoming desensitized to terrorism?

Yasser Arafat isn't a name that raises eyebrows these days.  Back in the '70s & '80s  he was on everyone's radar.  Arafat died over a decade ago, but he was masterful when it came to instilling sheer terror.

Today, a bomb in an airport in Brussels got the attention of most of the world.  It's apparently in retaliation for the capture of one of the terrorists from last year's attack in Paris.  Events like this will no doubt instill fear in innocent people and paralyze that region for days to come.

Unless you have friends or family on the ground in the midst of such a situation, I wonder how long until these senseless acts of violence no longer get our attention?  Sadly, politicians politicize these inexcusable actions, and Cable news sensationalize them as well.  And we the people who are bombarded with images and soundbites are left trying to process how these barbaric rampages could happen in the 21st Century.

Do you remember 9/11?  People were glued to their television sets.  Air traffic was halted.  People gathered in churches in record numbers.  Now?  Now, we remember San Bernardino as the FBI verses Apple more than we remember the victims.   The events in Paris are blurry.  And no one is even talking about Garland Texas.

What can we do to avoid becoming numb to the random acts of terrorism?  Maybe not much, or maybe a lot?  It all depends on how we choose to value life, liberty, freedom, and how well we can unite behind our fellow man.

I think the longer we as a culture are entertained by gore & violence in our video games and movies, the less chance we have of really feeling he impact of terrorism.  The longer we fuel our ethnocentrism, the harder it will be to feel true empathy for anyone who suffers an attack on foreign soil.  And, until we find a way to reach the hearts and minds of our enemies without resorting to blowing them up, then we will resign ourselves to simply accept terrorism as the new norm.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction....
The chain reaction of evil --
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars --
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Strength To Love, 1963