Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some Thoughts On Newtown

In seeing the varied reactions of many of my friends to the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I've seen some focus on the problem of gun violence being so pervasive in our culture far and above almost anywhere else on earth. And others have focused on the chronic problem of the lack of treatment for the seriously mentally ill, and their easy access, in many cases, to high powered firearms.

Then some of my friends have, rightly to my mind, decried the way the mainstream media reports these tragic events, in effect giving so much attention to the perpetrators that they end up glorifying them even while condemning them. But in any event, these sick and evil individuals end up getting most if not all of the attention, when their victims typically remain anonymous in the long run. Others, in contrast, wish we would simply take the time to mourn the tragic deaths of those violently taken from us without immediately jumping on whatever bandwagon we're particularly incensed about. I have a lot of sympathy for that perspective myself, since it's far too easy to turn these little children and adults, loved as individuals by individuals who loved them in particular, being turned into symbols for some great and abstract cause, meanwhile leaving them as real people behind.

I agree with each of these concerns. They're ALL valid expressions in reaction to the horror we all experienced on Friday when we heard the awful news. And, in time, we MUST begin addressing all of these aspects of what has happened; not only in Connecticut, but in Aurora,Co., in Portland, Or., in Tuscon, Az., and on and on and on... We MUST deal with the constant deadly problem of a nation awash in guns causing our country to have one of the highest death rates due to handguns on earth. We have 300 MILLION guns in this nation! And 30,000 people are killed by them EVERY year here in the U.S.! And yes, the NRA and it's lobbying and control of politicians MUST be confronted for what it is, a straight out subverting of the democratic process, a subversion which directly threatens the lives of thousands of Americans every year!

And the long term issue of how we treat the seriously mentally ill is, to my mind as someone who has worked in the mental health field, a national disgrace. I cut my professional teeth in the mid to late 80's when big cities like NYC were hit with waves of seriously mentally ill adults who had been "de-institutionalized" but without ANY subsequent services provided, just homeless shelters and abandoned buildings and public terminals. We still haven't recovered from that turn of events from over a quarter of a century ago.

And related to that is the problem of treating and caring for the seriously mentally ill before they become so destabilized that these kinds of tragedies occur. Our schools, our churches, our synagogues, our mosques, our police departments, our social service agencies ALL need to be brought up to date on EARLY detection and treatment options! And yes, this needs to be seen as a BASIC healthcare issue as well. When we consider the sheer number of deaths and injuries sustained by this epidemic of gun violence, how could we possibly NOT see it as a national health emergency??? Early mental health screening and treatment MUST be a basic part of covered healthcare!

And of course our sick media culture of never ending images of death and carnage flashing across every cable "news" screen in an endless loop of visual bloodlust has not helped us one bit! The old adage "if it bleeds it leads" has never been more true and more dangerous to our nation's well being. The major news outlets MUST come to terms with how it has become complicit with this culture of glamorizing death and destruction, so that those most sick in their minds watch others being made famous and fantasize about their own names going down in the history books for some act of infamy. I'm not asking for any kind of governmental censorship of this, but only for a true accounting to be made by those in authority at the heads of our media empires for how their short term profit cultures have played into and even exacerbated violent tendencies in the larger culture.

And lastly, as mentioned above, we MUST remember the victims of these tragic massacres. The children who will never grow up, the parents who will never see them grow up. The adults whose lives were cut short as they were living out their dreams. The many family members and friends left behind, grieving, desperately trying to live lives forever changed by "one" day, one evil day they all, we all, wish could be erased from the history books. Because, after all, each one of these victims was a beautiful life, a promising life, a life deeply loved by everyone around them, and we are ALL made poorer by their absence. But let us, in remembrance of them, no matter how young or how old, be ENRICHED because of the time we've had with them. That will honor their memory and keep the love alive which they all so inspired in us.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Space Invaders: Or What Tribes Do You Belong To?

Recently I've been thinking about how many "tribes" I belong to. Tribes as in discreet associations with others whom I share a common interest or identity with. And as I thought about it I began to realize that the tribal structure expands to, quite literally, the cosmic level, but also back down to the incredibly detailed level of very specific commonalities (or more accurately uncommonalities). In other words, how do we identify ourselves? For instance, I'm a Christian, and an evangelical one at that. Though certainly not your typical one if you ask my closer friends. So that's ONE tribe I associate with. But I'm also Christian in the larger sense, so I would associate myself with other Christians of the great traditions which are historically considered to be Christian, such as Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants. So in one sense, while I align with a particular subset withing a tribe, I still associate myself with a larger tribe which encompasses the smaller tribe. Let's consider other tribes I belong to by default. For instance, I'm a white heterosexual male, distinct tribes in their own right, each with their own assumptions and privileges which go with their identities. I'm also a human, one species among millions of others on this little planet we call home. But have any of you watched a good science fiction movie with invading space aliens? What tribe do you suddenly find yourself to be a part? You suddenly see yourself as being an "earthling" over and against "those outsiders" invading "our" space. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it? So being an earthling is the definition in this case. But what if even that's not adequate? Try being a carbon based life form. At this point we start to (or already have traveled down the long road) lose what "tribe" even means. And yet we can't help but be tribal. I love my team. And because of that I hate your team. When I see a game turn out "wrong" I have a visceral reaction. My pulse races, my instincts kick in. And there's a reason for that. Are you in any way different than me? Can I accept that?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cardinal Dolan's Speeches at the RNC and DNC

Cardinal Dolan at the Republican National Convention: Cardinal Dolan at the Democratic National Convention: The two speeches he gives are remarkably similar, but they're not identical. Did Cardinal Dolan serve the church and the gospel well in these two speeches? Did he speak "prophetically" to the two convention halls? Is it appropriate for a religious leader such as himself to do that? In other words, is it appropriate for a Christian leader to speak prophetically to two political conventions? Or is it only appropriate for a Christian leader to speak prophetically to God's covenanted people? Specifically the church. In a related question: Did Cardinal Dolan capitulate to one or another of the two political parties in his words? Was he playing the part of a political partisan under the guise of a religious cloak? I'm not saying he was/is, but it is a legitimate question to consider. In the hyper partisan and polarized political environment we live in these days any pronouncement, whether straight out political, or religious declarations such as these, need to be analyzed and judged as to whether they've spoken God's words after him or have they twisted his words to suit a short term political purpose. Personally, I found his words to be, for the most part, general Christian fare that I can't really disagree with in any major way. In both speeches he spoke of the sanctity of pre-born life, but didn't mention anything specific beyond that concerning abortion. And he also mentioned the importance of protecting the other vulnerable members of society such as the poor, recent immigrants, and the sick and frail. He seems to have crafted his words carefully so as to affirm themes that both parties could say amen to while at the same time including themes that would make both parties squirm. As far as I can tell, he managed to thread that thorny needle fairly well. Lastly, what are your thoughts about the two crowds' reactions to his speeches? Right off the bat it's pretty obvious that the RNC crowd received him more enthusiastically than the DNC crowd. What exactly is the significance of that difference? To my own thinking it's not as straight forward as it would immediately appear to be. More on those two dynamics a bit later...

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Are you exactly like me? Do we exactly agree? There's a very unfortunate impulse in much of evangelicalism and in almost all of fundamentalism towards this kind of extreme exactitude. But ironically it's not only an impulse we see on the traditional right (of course I only use this term in its narrow modern American context). Every strain of belief has its outliers who are prone to this kind of dichotomous, either/or, us/them, Manichean, concrete thinking and behavior. We see it in the various nationalisms which pop up with disturbing regularity. We see it in the close relative of ethnic allegiances which can, and often do, turn into outright racism. We see it in religious discourse, both between starkly different claims of religious truth, but also, and sometime much more viciously, in internecine battles among folks who largely agree on the basics. See the wars of religion in Europe, all among self professed Christians. And of course nowadays, we're seeing it between the warring sects of Muslim on Muslim violence, which is actually more deadly than Muslim on non Muslim violence. But if some folks feel confident concerning their own superiority regarding this matter, because they're so beyond all of that silly superstition, may I suggest a sobering reality check? What of secular exactitude? What of materialist exactitude which violently discounts any other explanation, not just rhetorically, but historically, including the wholesale slaughter of anyone who didn't fit the new "Soviet" style human? Ask those who lived under this particular materialist paradise what it was like to differ from the party line? That is, if they're still alive... By the way, I'm not being an apologist for any particular ideological system here. I'm being an apologist for an asymmetrical reality which recognizes that differences will ALWAYS exist in our midst. Our systems of governance, and even more importantly, our own thinking must allow that variety will always exist, and, in fact, makes life richer and much more verdant. And lastly, I'm not saying that each and every view is equal. That everyone is equally right and equally wrong in their assessment of reality. There IS truth and yes there ARE lies. Maybe all I'm trying to say, like I've been saying for several years now, is that we ALL see through a glass darkly. But admitting to that is a good clue to having actually seen a deeper light than what most have seen or thought they saw. After all, those with the greatest insights have admitted to their own blindness. My point exactly.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Obsolete Man, Twilight Zone, and What it Means to Be Human

By far the best twilight Zone episode ever aired in my humble opinion. It may sound strange to some, but Rod Serling, the largely agnostic Jew how later became a Unitarian, was just as responsible for me becoming a Christian as Billy Graham, through whom I heard the gospel many times as a child. Their moral universe intersected in such a way as to shape me deeply, both personally and ethically, especially as it regards social issues.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Strange Mentality of Fundamentalisms, Whether Secular or Religious

For people who treat obscure passages from Leviticus as though they're the controlling passages for how to read the entirety of the Bible, do you read any other book that way? For instance, do you pick out a sentence in chapter two of a twenty chapter science book, or a good mystery novel, or say, a history book, and force the rest of that book to then support that arcane passage? Have they no idea of what it is to read texts as they progress? To read them literarily? To read them critically (in the good sense of that term) as a narrative progression? Oh wait, that's right. It's not about that. It's about scoring cheap points. My bad, please return to your self enclosed safe little bubble. #strawmanfail Strangely enough, this can apply both to certain atheists I know as well as certain fundamentalists. But I repeat myself about their similarities...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Hate What I Hate Because I Love What I Love

The Trayvon Martin case touches home for me. It's not because I'm black. I'm not. It's not because I'm a teenager. I'm no longer a teenager for many years now. It's not because of the clothes I wear. I don't own a hoodie. It's not for where I live. I live in a very liberal area right now.

But his story, a story I've seen all too often, is us. Because we're HUMAN. Trayvon Martin is us in the deepest sense of what it means to be human. But I KNOW that I will NEVER know what it means to be so different than me. I know I'll NEVER be pulled over for "driving while black" in the "wrong" neighborhood.

Privilege and power are UNSEEN and therefore unacknowledged. And as long as my white Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) friends refuse to "see" this reality of privilege, we'll continue to see this internal church blindness.

But we are ALL created in the image of God. We ALL possess the imago dei. Ephesians 2 and Revelation 5 both attest to the universal reality of Christ's work.

If I may, let me be a bit poetic:

When I look beyond my ken
I see a people not my kin
they seem different they do
sometimes seeing what is new
and when I see You becoming us
it only leads me to discuss
what it really means to be
you and me, we and us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paul Simon, the God Chronicler by Accident

An amazing interview with Paul Simon about the role of religion and especially Christian themes in his music over the years. Thank you Cathleen Falsani for an extraordinary insight into a truly great artist.

Watch Paul Simon on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.