Saturday, June 16, 2018

Some Thoughts on Law and Love

No Jeff Sessions, Sarah Sanders, and Donald Trump, you cannot use God's Word to justify the evil policy of arresting everyone who comes to our borders and taking away their children.

Here's a good perspective on how this reading of Romans 13 is twisted and perverted:
https://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2018/06/15/jeff-sessions-bible-immigration-debate-over-romans-13-sparked-fort-wayne-indy-area-experts-react/704400002/
From the article: "It's flat-out irresponsible (for Sessions) to use it without attention to the broader context. It's basically practical advice: While you're doing this, sure, go ahead and pay your taxes, give the government its due. But taken as a whole, Romans stands as a counter to unjust government and unjust rule."

And here is Stephen Colbert's take on this week's immigration evil:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4KaLkYxMZ8
Colbert quotes Romans 13:9-10: "The commandments ... are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." And he suggests, for this Father's Day weekend: "Call your elected representatives and demand they do something." 

I did. Will you?

And finally, lest anybody think that it's just knee-jerk liberal complaining against Sessions' and Sanders' use of Romans 13, here's a post, from a conservative organization in 2009, showing some of the evil history of the abuse of that passage:
https://famguardian.org/Subjects/Taxes/Articles/Christian/Romans13.htm

For Lutherans, notice that this is particularly a problem for our tradition as Nazi leaders bent some of Luther's writings to lend support to the move that became the holocaust.

The article concludes: "Romans 13:1-7 cannot be made to apply in exactly the same way as it did to Paul's initial audience without grossly twisting its intent. In American law, the people which form the several states are the 'higher powers,' not the Federal government. Of course, in a religious sense, they are to submit themselves to the ultimate "higher power,' which is the risen and exalted Christ (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 11:15). Therefore, as constituents of the political sovereignty they are to be self-governed by God's Law, and are thus bound by Scripture to disobey any laws or statutes that interfere with this submission to the Creator."

I'm sure I wouldn't agree with everything on this site, but in this case, I think they said it well. God's love and God's law DO NOT call for children to be taken from families, for legal asylum applicants being arrested, or for human beings seeking a safe haven from danger to have their situation made worse.

Friday, January 19, 2018

To A Better Way


My last post here was angry and opinionated and full of profanity, and I've come to see that it was also very divisive. Some people agreed with it and loved it. Some people disagreed, and were offended. I've tried to talk in person about the issues I raised, and the way I raised them, with some people who had different points of view. I've tried to clam up for a while and listen more than I write or speak. This will be an ongoing process, but today feels like the right time to say my next piece. And it has to do with words of wisdom I heard from one friend, about finding "a better way."

In that conversation, "a better way" came to mean a hope that people who have strong feelings about important issues can rise above name-calling and blaming and seeing people of other opinions as just labels, or less than human in some way. There's too much of that kind of behavior. I saw the ironic and hypocritical "log in my own eye," as I was starting to engage in the same kind of behavior I've often criticized. I failed to make my point in a constructive way, and instead lashed out without compassion. I was contributing to deepening the divide of misunderstanding and hard feelings, instead of proactively working toward "a better way."

Looking back, I don't make any apology for my position. I don't even apologize for using profanity, as I still think the language I used is not as bad as the "dirty words" of empty "thoughts and prayers" we were hearing from some in leadership, and I hoped to reveal a problem with what shocks us and what doesn't. (If you made it through the whole post to the very end, hopefully you saw that there was indeed a point to using foul language. But basically I was just amplifying a technique Tony Campolo used much more elegantly years ago. For example, see https://everythingistheology.wordpress.com/tag/tony-campolo/, which quotes him in the 9th paragraph.)

I do apologize for making my point without a context of compassion or understanding for other points of view. I apologize for posting with that attitude of anger without having first prayed and reflected about it. And I apologize for not taking the time to consider how my words and attitude would affect everybody who read the post.

I believe there is a better way for us to talk about hot issues. And I believe that my call as a follower of Jesus, and subsequently as a pastor in his church, is to work on finding that better way myself, and to help others to find it too. I thank people who have responded positively, for showing me that there is a need for points of view like mine to be expressed. And I thank people who have responded negatively, for showing me that it makes a big difference how our points of view are expressed.

I'll mention a few signs of hope that we can move toward "a better way."

Believe it or not, one came from an online interaction involving Sarah Silverman, the comedian who's known for profanity and shock tactics. Take a few minutes and read https://quartzy.qz.com/1173220/sarah-silvermans-powerful-response-to-a-sexist-troll/ for an example of how she's been responding to online "trolls" who try to insult her and trap her into a bitter battle of words. She responded to this man instead as a real person, taking the time to listen to him, and eventually helping find a way for him to address some of the problems in his life. That is a step to a better way.

I also recommend another piece I read recently, https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/you-should-never-ever-argue-with-anyone-on-facebook-according-to-science.html, which puts some science behind what common sense and experience tell us: online interactions are a lousy place for talking about difficult subjects. This doesn't mean I'll never post anything substantial again! But I will try to rein in the anger, and keep an attitude of human compassion for everybody on all sides. And I will keep looking for ways to have real-life, in-person conversations whenever I can. Those are steps to a better way.

A third inspiration for me comes from the recent women's movements to stop sexual harassment and to resist the ways the Trump administration works against the interests of women, families, minorities, and vulnerable people. It's hard to summarize these massive moments, but https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/01/the-womens-march-was-just-the-beginning.html gets close. As we approach the anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration and the demonstrations of resistance in response, there is much more going on than potshots and complaints on social media. There is an organized and supportive network that takes real action for change. In a similar way, for me and for all of us, instead of lashing out in frustration, engaging real people in the real world is a step to a better way.

And finally, a photo that says something powerful to me. This is a picture of a maple tree in our back yard in November. A few days before I took the photo, there was a strong windstorm that lasted 48 hours or so. I was impressed with how many leaves the wind had blasted out of the tree. Dozens of leaves had been forcefully blown away, clear out of our yard. Then came the morning of the first hard frost. There was hardly any wind at all, but when I went out in the morning, thousands of leaves had fallen. There was no massive force, just something in the cold that told the tree it was time to release the leaves. In the 48 hours of wind, maybe 10% of the leaves violently blew away. In the first few hours of a frosty dawn, 80% came down without incident.

So I'm still working on figuring out "a better way" for myself and all of us, in these challenging times. As I write this, Washington DC and the country are scrambling to figure out whether we'll have another government shutdown, and if so, what to do about it.

There has to be a better way. My faith in Christ tells me that it will be a way that's much more about compassion than violence, more about listening and understanding than ranting, more about discovering and doing what naturally leads to life and well-being for all than about pushing and ejecting and demanding and belittling.

Thank you to all who are helping make the move to a better way, for me, for those around me, for our country, and for the world. And thank you for helping me be a part of the move to a better way.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What the Fuck Are We Doing With All These Fucking Guns?

What the fuck are we doing with all these fucking guns?

(I swear a lot in this post. Please keep reading to the end.)

How in the fuck have we regressed, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, to the point where we keep adding more and more guns, and more powerful guns, and the fucking death toll keeps going up, and we don't wake the fuck up and realize we're going in the wrong direction?

From the Daily and Sunday Express
Night before last, one guy with a big fucking bunch of guns started shooting at a concert. So far, reports are that 59 people were killed and hundreds injured, either in the gunfire or the chaos that came with it. It appears that he owned these fucking semi-automatic guns legally, and made some simple modifications to achieve fully-automatic death-dealing capability. How the fuck did our society get to the point where nobody saw anything wrong with any of that, until he started shooting into the crowd?

Oh, I know, 2nd amendment. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." We hear a lot about the "not being infringed" part, but not so much about the "necessary to the security of a free state" part, or the "well regulated part." Do some people need to own guns? Yes, that does add to our security. Should there be registration and training that goes along with that security? Fuck, yes. Should there be regulations to guide the use of guns in ways that are helpful, not harmful, to society? You fucking bet. Should there be screening and laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who can't be a part of a well regulated force? Why the fuck not?

We've reached an incredible level of tolerance for gun-rights groups, particularly the fucking NRA, pushing to remove any limits on personal gun ownership, and using fear and hatred to sell more fucking guns. Have you seen their fucking ad that sneers at and whips up irrational fears about "the liberals" to get you to buy more, bigger fucking guns in resistance? Let me tell you something. This is incredibly fucking stupid and unbelievably fucking irresponsible. If you believe this ad - no, I'll go further; if you aren't embarrassed by this ad - then you've been manipulated into an alternate fucking universe. I am a liberal. I hang around with other liberals. Sometimes I even work on organizing things with other liberals (although less than you might think, because I can't stand political parties). Contrary to what this fucking ad says, I do not hate America, I'm not cheering for ISIS or communism or chaos or anarchy, and I don't want to take away your way of life and everything you hold dear. You know what I do fucking want? I want a society where everybody has enough to eat, a safe place to live, room to raise their family like they want, freedom to be who they are, and encouragement to make a positive difference in their own way. How fucking scary is that?!

There's also a lot of nonsense going around about how all these fucking guns are making us safer. Sorry, you're exactly fucking wrong. If you're still quoting the book More Guns, Less Crime, do some research from different sources about its statistics. Or just look at a catalog of gun violence. In these recent years, with restrictions removed and concealed-carry permits increasing, the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/past-tolls) reports increases in the number of incidents, number of injuries, and number of deaths from 2014 to 2015 to 2016 - and 2017 is well on its way to setting even higher numbers. We're fucking killing ourselves.

And don't tell me I have to be a fucking gun expert to propose gun control. I'm not an expert in nuclear bombs, but I know I don't want a bunch of them in Kim Jung Un's hands. Do details have to be worked out by people who are gun experts? Of fucking course. But it doesn't take a fucking expert to look at the way things are going and say, "What the fuck? Enough!" We are already way down the fucking path of having too many fucking guns and too much fucking firepower out there. Let's cut down the increase, so we can have some honest fucking conversation about how we can rein it all in before we all blow each other's fucking heads off.

There are proposals being floated to allow concealed carry in more places (schools! churches! why not fucking everywhere?), do away with bans on high-powered assault rifles, allow silencers in more places. While some of us might say "What the fuck?" at any time, these few hours right after our deadliest fucking mass shooting (I should say, deadliest fucking mass shooting yet) represent a time when the NRA has paused running its ad, and sponsors of these measures have delayed bringing them up for a vote. "It's not time to politicize guns, so soon after a tragedy." Well, fuck that! Politics is what we call it when we make decisions about how to live together in a society. The fucking tragedy is that we can't seem to have that conversation all the time. In the wake of so many gun deaths, this is the perfect fucking time to talk about the broken fucking system that lets all these fucking guns get out there and gets people so fucking passionate about them, while the problem just keeps getting fucking worse.

You might have heard about the words of Caleb Keeter, a member of the Josh Abbott Band playing in the concert the night of the shootings. Take a look at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2017/10/02/i-cannot-express-how-wrong-i-was-country-guitarist-changes-mind-on-gun-control-after-vegas/ and read for yourself. The bottom line:
"I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with [Concealed Handgun Licenses], and legal firearms on the bus ... They were useless ... We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think we were part of the massacre and shoot us. A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power. Enough is enough. Writing my parents and the love of my life a goodbye last night and a living will because I felt like I wasn’t going to live through the night was enough for me to realize that this is completely and totally out of hand. These rounds were just powerful enough that my crew guys just standing in close proximity of a victim shot by this fucking coward received shrapnel wounds. We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it. We are unbelievably fortunate to not be among the number of victims killed or seriously wounded by this maniac."
You got that fucking right, Caleb Keeter.

Or you might have heard about the words of Bill O'Reilly, who said, "This is the price of freedom." He could not be more fucking wrong. Mass shootings are the price of a way-too-powerful gun lobby and a way-too-fearful-and-money-grubbing political systems. How can you fucking call it freedom when we're living in more danger and fear all the time? We're making our own fucking prison here.

Or maybe you heard the words of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said, "There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country.” Okay, Bill O'Reilly, I apologize - she may be even more wrong than you. Should we unite as a country in grieving for the dead? Of fucking course. Should we unite against the evil (even Donald Trump used that word to describe the shootings) of mass shootings? Abso-fucking-lutely. But to unite in saying this is the wrong time to try to set things right, and work to see that more people aren't killed in the same way? Sorry, that would be fucking evil in itself.

At least 59 people are dead, hundreds wounded. Have you heard the words of their spouses, parents, children, friends? Have you heard the stories of what good people they were, how they represented the best of America by giving of themselves for the good of others? Do you honor them for that, and want us to do better?

Me too. Let's wake the fuck up. Open our fucking eyes and see that we've hit a point where dozens of innocent lives can be fucking snuffed out in a moment, because we're too wrapped up in fucking gun rights and making fucking enemies of each other to pause for a fucking moment and have a fucking conversation about how to do a little fucking better. Let's not wait until it's our loved ones getting shot.

Thanks for reading this far. I hope you'll use your own words, voice, vote, and influence with politicians to say enough. Observe a moment of silence if you feel it's right, but follow it up with a lot of moments of speaking out. Let's rein in this gun violence.

About the swearing: I used the f-word 59 times in this piece. (And quoted it once in what Caleb Keeter wrote.) Did that bother you? Distract you? Offend you? Well, that's nothing compared to the bother and offense of the loved ones of those 59 people who are now dead. If we can go on about our day after hearing of the needless, senseless deaths of 59 people, but be shocked or shaken up by a pastor dropping the f-bomb, that's an indicator that we've been conditioned to pay attention to the wrong things.

Please be a part of making things better.

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Some other resources:
http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/gun-deaths/
https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/
https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/us-gun-violence-statistics-maps-charts
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/10/03/daily-202-10-political-takeaways-from-the-las-vegas-shooting/59d2e8a130fb0468cea81d17/
http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a12766946/american-gun-violence-epidemic/

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Reborn: A Story of Hope in a Time of Racism

Today, I watched Red Tail Reborn, a short video documentary about an airplane. The plane is a P-51 Mustang flown during World War II by the United States Air Force 332nd Fighter Group - one of the units that made up the heroes known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The video includes a short introduction to the Tuskegee Airmen and their history, then shifts to tell the story of this particular plane, rescued from being scrapped in the '60's and restored so that it could fly again.


Turns out the video is not really about the plane. The whole context of the story is the brave service of the Tuskegee Airmen. And the whole context of that story is our American history of racism.

In our history, African-Americans have been found suitable for service in the lower ranks of our military, but have been excluded from full participation. During World War II, the military was still fully segregated, and the video mentions official military documents describing how "Negroes" could and could not serve, due to supposed racial limitations. Eventually, enough factors came together that some units were created to train African-American pilots and crew. The 332nd trained in Tuskegee, Alabama - and the training dragged on and on, as leaders were reluctant to actually put them into service. The video gives a lot of credit to this widely circulated photograph of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt taking a ride in a training plane with one of the Tuskegee Airmen:


Funding and support increased after that, to the point where the 332nd was finally deployed, serving in North Africa and throughout Europe. The unit served admirably, escorting bombers, protecting the lives and earning the respect of white crews, with whom they would not have been allowed to bunk. The video includes an interview with an 85-year-old former bomber crew member, who credits the "Red-Tail Angels" (named after the distinctive red paint on the rear of their planes) for his long life complete with retirement, old age, and grandkids.

Most of the Red Tail Reborn video is about the process of finding, salvaging, restoring, and returning to flight one of the P-51 Mustangs flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. The video was released in 2007, following the engine failure and crash of the plane after its first successful renovation in 2004. It ends with the unfinished story of the plane being repaired and restored again, hoping for a future flight.

The timing of watching this video is meaningful. Today, in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was also a planned white nationalist rally called "Unite the Right," where a number of "alt-right" and other groups promoting "white supremacy" came together to challenge the removal of a Confederate war monument and argue for the need to "take back our country."

As I watched the video, its 2007 tone was hopeful and positive, with several references to "the way things used to be" and "America's past." On the same day I watched it, ten years later, my phone kept notifying me of racism alive and well, causing fresh violence and divisiveness. Our president delayed any criticism of the rally until well into the afternoon, after damage had already been done. Rally organizers responded that he shouldn't have been critical, as they were the people who put him into office. The president's first seven months in office have seen a ban on travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries, unprecedented deportation of Latin American immigrants who have had jobs and families and homes and productive lives in America for decades, new threats to voting rights and affirmative action and public schools, an announcement that transgender people would no longer be welcome in the military, proposed new cuts to legal immigration, a turn back to the fruitless and racially biased drug wars of 30 years ago, and much, much more.

Racism is not just our past. It is still very much our present reality.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is inspiring. In their service, these men showed themselves, their country, and the world that skin color and ethnic origin were useless as ways of categorizing what someone can and can't do. Their patience, dedication, professionalism, and commitment really did overcome a level of ignorance, fear, racism, and discrimination. One of the airmen interviewed in Red Tail Reborn spoke about how the sharing of their story was helping to "transform our society."

Like the Mustang in the video, that transformation was lost in mothballs for a while. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen took a long time to be fully told.

Then, like the team of people who restored the Mustang, working together as both black and white, military and civilian, from all different backgrounds and parts of the country, the story was reborn. It flew again. There was a time when "hope" held the day, and progress really was made.

Like the day of the engine failure and crash, today under the Trump administration and its anemic vision of what American "greatness" means, we're in a tragic moment of violence and destruction. The story of racial reconciliation, of teamwork and community and education and trust overcoming racism has taken a dive.

As I said earlier, Red Tail Reborn ends with an uncertain future. The crash damaged the plane badly, also killing the man flying it, who was instrumental in its restoration and publicity. More expense and time would be needed to repair it. The work of many people, of all skin colors, from all over the country and the world, would be needed to make it fly again.

But I peeked, ten years later, at the rest of the story. The Red Tail P-51 Mustang is flying again. It's painted with the colors and insignia of several of the Tuskegee Airmen units. Its name is "Tuskegee Airmen," and its purpose is to keep their story alive, and keep inspiring people. In fact, in September, it will be near where I live in Northeastern Ohio, and I intend to go to the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton and see it fly.

The plane also bears the words "By Request" under the side windows. That was the name of the plane flown by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr., commanding officer of the 332nd. It means that the Tuskegee Airmen, held back and kept in extra training so long due to racism, gained a reputation for excellence and skill, to the point that bomber crews would request them as their escort specifically.

America still needs the Tuskegee Airmen. We need people of all colors, backgrounds, and nationalities. We need people of courage and determination, who will overcome racism and ignorance and discrimination of all forms. We need to be shown, again and again, that character is what matters.

We need to mourn this moment when the progress of racial reconciliation has crashed and burned. And then we need to get to work on making it fly again. It will happen. It's too important not to.

What will be your part in the story?


+ + +

Dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen, to the Commemorative Air Force and all who have kept the story alive, especially Don Hinz and his family, to the other filmmakers and storytellers, and to all the people young and old who are inspired by the story.

Offered as a prayer for each individual person and each organization who commit themselves to the ongoing work of racial reconciliation, justice, and peace.

All images in this post are links to photos at http://www.redtail.org/.

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For more information, watch the videos:
Red Tail Reborn
Flight of the Red Tail (the sequel to Red Tail Reborn)
The Tuskegee Airmen (1995 dramatization of the story)

And read about and support the Red Tail restoration and history sharing project:
http://www.redtail.org/

See the Red Tail fly in September 2017 at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio:
http://www.libertyaviationmuseum.org/events.html

There's also a web site dedicated to the service and memory of the Tuskegee Airmen:
http://tuskegeeairmen.org/