Saturday, September 30, 2017

Packing "Heat" and the Bible

Many years ago when I was a foreign missionary, I took part in a conference of evangelical missionaries that were working in various countries around the world. One missionary lived and worked in a third-world country where there was a lot of lawlessness.  He shared that because of the violence in that society, most citizens carried a gun for protection.  He went on to say that he refused to carry a gun.  He felt that for him to carry a gun was a contradiction of his message that God is capable of protecting a person. He was known as 'the missionary who would not carry a gun."

Roy Moore, who recently prevailed in the U.S. Senate Republican primary run off in Alabama has been enthusiastically endorsed by many evangelical Christians because he vows to restore America to 'God's Law.'  He is best known for refusing to remove a monument of the ten commandments from the lawn of the courthouse where he served as judge and for defying the supreme court ruling that to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

Recently at a campaign rally, Senate candidate Moore pulled a pistol from his pocket to the raucous delight of his audience of supporters.  In one breath he vowed to bring America back under God's law and in the next affirmed his support for gun ownership by brandishing a shiny pistol.  To assert that one supports the right of citizens to own a firearm is one thing, but to wave a pistol during a campaign speech is quite another.

I will say that I was not surprised by this but I was somewhat shocked. The increasing enthusiasm for these two things, bringing America back God and promoting firearms, in the same conversation is disturbing.  The history of combining religious zeal and weapons is a sad and tragic one.  

Evangelical Christians profess to adhere to certain beliefs that seem to be contradicted by promoting the carrying of a .gun for protection:

1) God will protect them.
2) Nothing can happen to a believer unless God permits it.
3) There is an appointed time for each person to die and one cannot alter this.

If one truly believes that God can and will protect them, why would one need to carry a gun? I would have more respect if such an individual said, "I know I am supposed to trust God to protect me, but I just can't,  so I carry a gun to protect myself."  Or, "I know that God would have to permit something happening to me, but I am afraid he will,  so I want to try to prevent it."

The wedding of conservative evangelicalism and gun enthusiasm is well established in current politics. Internet memes that show a gun and a bible and suggest that one should use both are common.  I dare say that 35-40 years ago, such a pairing would have been viewed as peculiar at best. As an Alabama native, I am deeply concerned about evangelicalism's embrace of Roy Moore (see my February 2015 post).  Brandishing a gun at a campaign rally only heightens this concern.

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Teeth for Everyone!

It came in the mail just a few days ago. The deceptively attractive postcard reminding me that it is time for my dental checkup.  Ugh.  I admit I often put this off until something in my mouth is bothering me.  Like many people my mouth is full of fillings, crowns, and root canals.  Last year a tooth had to be pulled and the dentist asked if I wanted an implant.  Since it was one of the very back teeth, I could not tell much difference without it so I passed on that. If they ever have to identify me by my dental records they will have plenty to work with.

Recently, I was visiting a sports venue in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was the sight of the “Preakness” horse race. This had been on mine and my wife’s bucket list so we decided to don colorful hats and take in the festivities just once.  Like many large sports venues, Pimlico Race Course is in an economically impoverished part of town.  As we entered the neighborhood where the course is located, there were decaying homes on either side of the road. Residents were attempting to make some money by offering for you to park in their front yard or by selling some food that they had prepared. 

As we inched along I couldn’t help but notice two residents who were selling bottled water. These individuals appeared to be in their 40’s.  The thing that caught my attention was that neither of these individuals had any teeth.  As I looked around I saw others who, if not completely toothless, had large gaps or maybe just a few teeth. The question arose in my mind, “Why is it that poor people don’t get to have teeth?”

Personally, I cannot attribute my mouth full of teeth to my great dental care habits. Yes, I brush every morning but that is about it.  When the dental hygienist reminds me to floss at least once per day, I smile sheepishly hoping I won’t have to admit that I haven’t flossed since my last visit. A man in my office suite can be seen in the restroom brushing his teeth after lunch each day with an electric toothbrush!  I took a toothbrush to keep in my desk, but it is almost petrified for lack of use. Yet, I can still enjoy chewing meat, eating corn on the cob, and even nuts when I want.

Shouldn’t the ability to chew and thus eat be something that we as a nation would want to strive to provide for every citizen?  If there are basic needs, this is surely one of them.  I happen to have had parents who took me to the dentist even though I protested vehemently.  For so many this is not really an option.  Dental care in America has become a luxury that is often not covered even by ‘pretty good’ health plans. I once had a friend who tried gluing his broken crown back on using Super Glue because he couldn’t afford the visit to the dentist. If people with good jobs have difficulty having their teeth repaired, how can low-income or poor individuals hope to avoid the pain, suffering, and yes, humiliation of having few or no teeth? By the way, the overwhelming majority of such individuals do work and provide services that are essential for our society to function.

When it comes to government efforts to provide for the basic needs of the less fortunate, it is not uncommon to hear a remark like, “Why should I have to pay for this or that for someone else?”  For me, it is not about what we should do. Rather it is about what we want to do.  What kind of country do we want to have? The sad fact is that in a capitalist society, there will be some individuals who fill necessary roles, but who actually make very little money.  How do we want to treat these individuals? I want my country to be a place that wants every person to be able to have teeth!

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is Abortion Murder?

American society continues to be divided over the issue of abortion and there doesn’t appear to be any truce in sight. For those who oppose abortion the possibility of a supreme court justice that will tilt the court toward outlawing abortion has defined their choice of a president.   Following the November, 2016 presidential election, exit polls showed astonishingly that 76% of voters who self-described as “evangelical” voted for Donald Trump.  It appears that the deciding factor for many, if not most of such voters was that Mr. Trump promised to appointment a supreme court justice who would enable the supreme court to overthrow Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion.  As I write this, senate Republicans and Democrats are battling the confirmation of Mr. Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant seat on the supreme court.

Abortion opponents insist that abortion is murder.  For many that hold this view there can be no dialogue about the matter. Yes, abortion is a serious matter and should not be considered lightly.  But I am willing to argue that whether or not this is ‘murder’ can be debated with valid points on either side.  As early as the 1940’s and 50’s, even many conservative Christian scholars and clergy did not view abortion as something to be forbidden under any circumstance.  Abortion opponents insist that human life begins at conception and to terminate a pregnancy after this point is murder.  But, this is a relatively recent view. Historically, there have been various views regarding when a human life begins. Many believe life begins at birth, others assert it is when a heartbeat or brain activity can be detected.  Still others state that life begins when the fetus could be viable outside the womb.  

The issue of abortion is not addressed in the Bible, contrary to what many people insist.  The only case in scripture of something analogous to abortion is the case, addressed by Jewish law, where an individual strikes a pregnant woman with the result that she miscarries.  The Jewish law specifies a punishment for such an act, but it is not the same punishment as for murder. As far as the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” there has been historical disagreement as to the application of this in several areas.  For example, does this forbid a person from fighting in a war for his/her country? Does this preclude capital punishment? These are questions that are not easily answered.

As I have struggled with this in my own mind over the years, several considerations have led to my refraining from viewing someone who chooses an abortion as a ‘murderer.’  It appears to me that to make it a criminal act for a woman to terminate a pregnancy is in essence forcing a woman to have child, even if she is unable to care for a child, or has no one to help her rear the child.  While adoption is a wonderful act,  I don’t see society being willing to take up this responsibility on a large scale.

The life of a mother and her potential offspring cannot be viewed separately.  In the animal kingdom, offspring become self-sufficient almost immediately at birth.  A giraffe can stand shortly after emergence from the womb and actually begin running within an hour or two.  Guppies give birth to tiny babies who swim off immediately to fend for themselves.  Humans, on the other hand are helpless at birth and this doesn’t change quickly.  Parents know that it takes upwards of 20 years for that child to become a self-sufficient adult. America has an incarceration rate higher that any industrialized nation.  At the risk of over generalization, our jails and prisons are full of individuals that were not adequately prepared by anyone to become productive members of society.

An egg and sperm come together and form a cluster of cells that we call, in layman’s terms, a ‘fertilized egg.’ While some assert that this is the beginning of life, one could make the argument that there is life even before this fertilized egg.  After all a viable egg and a sperm that can swim are ‘alive’ in some sense.  So why insist that after they meet it is immediately ‘murder’ to prevent this from developing into a person?

Further, to say that to terminate this cluster of cells is murder is essentially saying that it must be allowed to become a person regardless of whether there is anyone capable or willing to care for this life physically, emotionally, socially, and educationally.  What astounds me is that the voting block for whom opposition to abortion is the singular issue that determines their vote seems to be, for the most part, the same block that opposes expansion of welfare programs, meals for the poor, better pay for public school teachers, education to prevent unwanted pregnancy, etc.  It appears to be the same group that favors ever tougher laws and the building of more prisons to house the people who break these laws.

Does it not seem logical that the same people who say that every fertilized egg is a life which must be preserved would also be the biggest proponents of a systematic program to help these eggs become lives that are worth living? There is great outrage and protest at the performing of abortions at health clinics, but this rings rather hollow when there is nothing like the same outrage expressed about the conditions in which children live in inner cities or poor rural areas of the country. I would respect abortion opponents more if they put forth even half the effort to help children born into poverty as they put into protesting abortion.

Abortion is a serious matter. Personally, I have not had to grapple with such a decision.  But, I have sat with individuals who have and it is an incredibly difficult decision.  But it doesn’t seem to me that this is something that should be decided by the making of laws.   I respect those who oppose abortion and they have every right to promote their view and discourage people from having abortions as long as this is done in a non-intrusive, non-forceful manner.

For some who will read this, what I have said is ‘anathema.’  They are not likely to change their minds.  I also realize that some people will decide that I am one of the bad guys in this debate.  But, in the interest of civility, tolerance, and a path forward in our society, perhaps some reading this will broaden their view of this matter even slightly, and thus bring greater understanding among us all. 

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thinking Outside the Box

Not long ago I was in line at a local pharmacy waiting to pick up a prescription.  In front of me was a woman who was obviously visually impaired.  She held a guide cane such as blind people often use to help them find their way and it was obvious that her eyes did not focus on any particular object.

When it was her turn at the counter, she said that she was looking for a particular over-the-counter medical product and needed help finding it.  The young clerk told her to look on "Aisle Nine."  The customer said politely, "I am afraid that I will not be able to find it.  Would you be able to help me?" There was a long line and the clerk appeared frazzled.

When the clerk returned with the product, she held it up in front of the customer's face and said, "Is this what you want?"  The customer, not being able to see, did not respond.  I reached over and took the product and read the label to her.  "Yes," she said, "That is it.'  When the clerk asked her how she would like to pay, she said she would like to use her credit card, The clerk then said, "you need to swipe your card." Again, the customer held out her card but was unable to find where to swipe it.  Again, I assisted her and finalized the transaction.  The customer turned and, using her guide cane, began to find her way to the exit.

I don't mean to be critical of the young clerk.  She had never dealt with someone who had to do things differently due to some disability.  But, I ask myself, "Why are so many of us ill at ease around someone who functions in a manner different from what we know to be 'normal'? Why do we find it so hard to adapt what we do to someone who will need to do it differently?

A few years ago I had a client whose young son was born with a portion of one arm missing. There was just a little arm beyond the elbow and no hand on that arm.  This cheerful young mother appeared to take this in stride.  One day she came for her therapy session and she said that she was very frustrated.  She had been calling numerous piano instructors in town and each one told her that they would not be able to teach piano to a child with only one hand.

As I type this now, I feel as I did that day; stunned, speechless, and deeply saddened.  I ask myself why all these piano teachers would be unwilling to try to adapt to someone with only one hand. Then I ask myself, would I be different?

There are people among us that must do things in different ways due to their particular life circumstance.  Sometimes it requires another person to stretch him/her self a bit.  I hope that when that circumstance crosses my path, I will be able to think outside the box.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Enough with Political Correctness?

A comment often heard in the current political climate is that people are tired of “political correctness,” that it is refreshing to have leaders who are not afraid to be “politically incorrect.”  As I have heard this comment, I have reflected upon the introduction of this term into the vernacular.  My distinct impression is that the term “politically correct” is not used by individuals who are trying to be careful as far as the terminology they use or the views they espouse.  Rather, it is a pejorative term employed by people whose thinking seems to be something like this, “I don’t see a problem with that word or those views and I think most people agree with me. They are probably just avoiding those words/views because it is the popular thing to do.” 

Like many people my age, I grew up hearing and using terms that are now widely avoided because they are unkind, hurtful, disrespectful, inaccurate, and even racist. Certain terms and the assessment of certain individuals whom these terms described communicated that these individuals were of less value and that it didn’t matter if our views or words hurt them. To the degree that society now sees it as unacceptable to use such words, I see that as a good thing.

I have heard well-meaning individuals say that they are proud to be “politically incorrect.” Let’s be clear, the term “politically correct” is a term invented by people who do not want to exercise care in the attitudes they espouse or the words they use. When someone says, I refuse to be politically correct, are they not then saying that I refuse to avoid words or attitudes that offend, hurt or oppress people? 

I lived and worked among people of Asian descent for many years.  It used to be common in America to refer to such individuals as ‘Orientals.’  Some years ago, I was talking to a friend who happened be of Asian descent and I used the word, ‘oriental.’  He felt comfortable in telling me that this term could be viewed as condescending and therefore offensive to some.  I certainly didn’t mean it that way at all!  I could have insisted that the term did not mean that.  I could have stated that there was no reason not to use it and that I intended to continue using it.  But since he was a friend and someone I cared about, it was easy enough for me to adjust my terminology out of respect.

Some would say, “What is acceptable is continually changing. What used to be acceptable now is not.”  This is indeed often the case.  In academic settings, it is now preferable to refer to particular student as ‘developmentally delayed’ rather than ‘retarded.’  There seems to be a change afoot to refer to certain citizens as ‘disabled’ rather than ‘handicapped.’  We can be forgiven if we make a mistake in the term we choose but why can’t we be willing to adjust so as to help others feel less stigmatized?  There are even terms found in the King James Version of the Bible that would certainly earn me angry looks if I were to use them at a dinner party.  Language evolves and sensibilities evolve, thankfully.

There is an idea within a certain now popular political camp that states that it is imperative that the terrorists that we are now combatting in the world be referred to as “Radical Islamic Terrorists” rather than another term such as terrorists or extremists.  The Bush administration and the Obama administration avoided the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism” because of the possibility of offending Muslims (believers in Islam) the overwhelming majority of whom are our allies in fighting terrorism. Muslims have been the victims of terrorism and extremism even more than have people of other faiths.  Why would we want to make it difficult for them to cooperate with us in fighting terrorism? Many insist that avoiding the term is “political correctness” and there is no need to avoid it.  Indeed, the new administration has begun proudly using the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism” during the first month in office (Interestingly the new national security advisor, McMaster, has stated that the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is not helpful in fighting terrorism and in fact is not accurate).

An organization that still exists in the U.S. and has come into our consciousness from time to time is the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  This organization is known historically for its white supremacist views and horrific acts such as the lynching and murdering of blacks.  What a lot of people do not know or do not want to acknowledge is that the KKK is a “Christian” organization.  They use the bible in their meetings and they even burn a cross (a Christian symbol) during their terrorist activities.  When the KKK applies for a permit to have a demonstration, they often apply under the premise that they are marching in support of ‘school prayer.’ 

If you are a member of a Christian denomination (Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.) how would it sit with you if the KKK activities were referred to in the media as “Radical Christian Terrorism?”  I suspect that most would say something like, “That is not Christianity, that is just a hate group that uses the bible to justify their terrible views and activities.”  I would agree.

I suspect that people who are determined to use whatever terms they wish just because they can will continue to do so.  But, perhaps there are some who have unknowingly accepted the fallacy that ‘political correctness’ is something to be avoided.  Whether or not such a thing as “political correctness” actually exists, it can only make the world a better place to avoid words that hurt, offend, tear down, and oppress the lives or others.

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