Category Archives: Responsible Citizens

The Reality Is — Donald Trump is Our President

Since January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump has been my president. Prior to that, Barack Obama was my president, and prior to that George W. Bush was my president. I joyfully supported Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. And I vividly remember loving my America while Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and LBJ were in the White House. I know, I know, in today’s society where people claim their individuality by saying the New England Patriots are not their Super Bowl Champions and, here in Colorado, pot smokers claim everyday life as “not my reality,” it’s convenient not to carry much responsibility ourselves and to blame others for our disappointments. Life is real, and the mark of maturity is to respond to it realistically and responsibly. I know. I’ve been around since JFK and Eisenhower were also my presidents.

It seems harder to respect presidents nowadays. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because the news media prospers by promoting everything bad. One of our leaders might be perfectly healthy, but experience an upset stomach. The news media will highlight every detail of the physiology of upset stomachs, attach sinister ways the upset was created, add a contrarian view that the upset stomach is a deceptive manipulation that reveals the wickedness of the sick one, and finally advocate that the person with the upset stomach should be thrown out of office, don’t ya think! With these types of journalists, it’s no wonder to me that America, possessing the strongest military in the history of the world, has not won a war since the advent of television news.

The news media has refined criticizing and complaining into marketable skills. They have made nagging public figures a favorite pastime, and have become experts at blame, which is interesting because most journalists have never held the positions of those they critique. They give the impression that they are experts on everything. They’re like little kids on the 3rd grade playground who get their giggles telling everyone some tantalizing secret – remember, “you heard it here first.”

Typically, when I have attended an event covered by the media, or experience an event live on TV or radio, then listen to the news coverage and analysis afterwards, I am dismayed. My concerns about an irresponsible press devoted to the advocacy of their own views instead of accurate reporting are reinforced. One nationally known journalist told me that her peers were incestuous and lazy, copying the work of others and slanting it to fit their own narrative of the world. I’ve watched firsthand as they distort events. But in my world, facts matter and I long for our news media to actually report the facts.

Ok, enough about them. Now about me . . .

I am an establishment Republican and a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I’ve worked and paid taxes all my life, been married to Gayle since 1978, and I tremendously enjoy every member of my family. I live a great life. I like the red barn by my house and the horses in the field. I’m proud of the Air Force Academy across the road and the Olympic Training Center downtown. I am proud of our police and fire departments, and the businesses that provide what we need. I’m grateful for our quality city and state government. I like learning, writing, traveling, speaking, exercising, fighting my fat, and sleeping. I enjoy the people at the church I attend. I especially like the elders and staff in the church I serve. Imagine that! They make ministry a delight. And I like going to New York City and Hawaii for pastors’ meetings with our denominational leaders. I like living in Colorado, and I like hiking the Colorado Trail with my wife and friends. I think bills should be paid, homes and cars should be maintained, and kids should be loved, cherished, and molded into responsible adults. I drive a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, have a gun in my bedroom, and like dogs. I don’t need to vote for change in my culture, I like it the way it is. Go ahead. Hate me.

Enough about me? Now more about me. . .

Now for my reality and my current president — I totally blew it predicting this election. I don’t want to replay the campaigns, and I’m sure you don’t want me to. But this election cycle totally surprised me. When Trump was nominated, I predicted Hillary Clinton would win 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, not because I was for Clinton, I just couldn’t imagine Trump winning. I was wrong. Trump won.

But how did he do it? I think Forbes Magazine’s article on Jared Kushner (December 20, 2016 issue) is the best explanation I’ve read yet on the Trump strategy that won the election. (It’s excellent and deserves to be studied by everyone). So much has been written and debated about this election, but I have some additional thoughts:

  1. I think the press helped elect Trump: Gayle and I watch DVR recordings of Meet the Press and Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square every week. As we watched these shows and other mainstream media outlets align against Trump and blatantly assail him, it actually endeared us to him. Surprisingly, their prejudice, arrogance, and disrespect triggered our kindness and forgiveness toward Trump. Although he’s offensive to many of our values and even inconsistent with many of my political preferences, when the unelected elites in the press became so passionate that their view of America was the only authentic view, I had to reconsider.

Since I believe in the power of checks and balances, and that our republic will survive and there will be other elections, I’m not troubled by any one single election. I am, though, troubled when we put people on the Supreme Court who do not believe the constitution means what it says. My interest was the Supreme Court, not political personalities. When the press was openly calling a guy like me an idiot, a racist, and a sexist for thinking I wanted a president who would appoint a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court, they impacted me. Was I “nuts” and a “buffoon” to think Scalia’s seat should be filled with someone who believed the constitution should be closely followed? I had, and have, very good reasons not to prefer Trump as president, but the Supreme Court is more important to me than those concerns. The press helped persuade me.

  1. I think Sanders helped elect Trump: I think Sanders had better manners and answered questions more directly than Trump or Clinton, but I’ve traveled the world and know that the compelling language of socialism does not deliver as promised. Since Clinton allowed Sanders to pull her further left, I was again motivated to disregard my concerns about Trump. I believe we are in the early stages of the socialization of America, but I did not want to contribute to that slide. When I learned that 85% of Sanders supporters switched to Clinton, that helped persuade me to shift the other direction.
  1. I think Hillary Clinton helped elect Trump: Clinton’s resume was impressive, and I’m not the guy who is going to hold someone else’s sins against them. And I’m not a sexist, so gender did not play a role in my contemplation. But when she identified aborting children as the “women’s issue” of our generation, and refused to differentiate between someone who immigrates to our country legally from those who come here illegally, I became disenchanted. I just couldn’t support her generalizations or determination to characterize guys like me as enemies of Americanism. It appeared to me that the Democrat party had perfected identity politics (dividing people into groups: women, men, college educated, high school educated, native Americans, blacks, LGBTQ, Hispanics, whites, immigrants, students, etc.), and Clinton repeatedly implied these were warring interest groups instead of diverse Americans who value that we all flavor one another, like various ingredients in a melting pot. I like diversity, but I don’t like politicians who assume differences inherently promote competition and hate.

I want government to help responsible people who need a hand, to aggressively retrain people so we can be competitive in a changing marketplace, and to help the disadvantaged, like my special needs son who, without a miracle, will never be able to help himself. I believe our laws need to be equally applied to all of our citizens regardless of race, gender, or religious or sexual preferences. But when Clinton assumed I was against those needing help or those who were different than me, she sent me the other direction.

I want to be a giver, not a taker. There are lots of good people who pay taxes, obey the laws, and support as many benevolent activities in our communities as we can. We pursue our educations so we can serve others, and keep working past retirement age because we think it’s honorable to work hard. We patronize quality businesses and support those in need. By seeming to come against these good folks, Clinton, in effect, helped Trump.

I think it’s too early to tell if Trump is going to turn out to be a good president, but he is our president. Note that in my opening paragraph that listed all the presidents who have served in my lifetime, I didn’t mention their party. Why? Because once they are elected, it does not matter to me. That’s my reality, and my hope is that regardless of your political party, Facebook friends, or age — regardless of the group you belong to, you’ll see the benefit of making our country work. If you are only accustomed to helping when the person or party you prefer is in power, it might be time to talk to some older folks and learn the value of serving people who are different from you. We have a great country. Let’s all serve it well.

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Year End Charitable Donations

During this season when so many dollars are being spent on soliciting your charitable giving, I just want to encourage you to prefer your local church. I understand your church probably does not have a marketing agency designing web promotions, billboard, and television ads to encourage you to give. Most churches do not spend money on graphic artists selecting emotionally moving pictures to encourage you to give. And most churches do not even spend funds to send you Christmas pictures. But research has shown that local churches are the most accountable with expenditures, most effective at actually impacting a community for good, and more focused on providing goods and services to their communities per dollar spent than any other type of group.

Certainly many organizations are doing good work, and we thank God for the good that’s done through all charities, but often we take our local churches for granted.

I know that we go to a variety of styles of churches, or maybe none at all. Research shows that the variety of churches in a community helps the community even more, because more people (with varying preferences) are served. Churches facilitate volunteerism more than any other type of charity, thus maximizing impact. Churches also provide multi-generational services, providing a family dynamic that few other charities have. And churches, of course, promote Christ and His Word, where many others are forbidden to do so, or choose to minimize the Gospel because they fear offending those who are not believers.

Communities with strong local churches are very different than communities with no churches. Churches are important. So please remember your local church when giving this season, and if you don’t go to one, send a gift to a local church. It’s a good investment.

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People Crumbling Internally

I think too many people are emotionally weak. Of course, I was raised on a farm with three older brothers, so I don’t recall anyone getting away with the type of whining that makes news today.

In the past we were kept somewhat sober because disease, famine, and war highlighted our vulnerabilities. They were brutal reminders that we were not in control. However, ours is the first generation in which more of us will die from eating too much than from eating too little; from old age rather than from infectious diseases; or from suicide rather than from soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. My friends and I are far more likely to die from binging at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola, or an al-Qaeda attack. We’re the first generation in which starvation, epidemics, and violence continue to be serious, but are, in fact, manageable. In response, it seems as though we are replacing our external fears with internal conflicts, which makes us increasingly appear like babies.

We’re getting soft. I just saw a news story on ABC about an over-weight elementary-age boy whose mom brought him to see Santa. He asked Santa for an I-Pad and a Play station, both of which produce sedentary activities that would keep him in the house, looking at screens, and probably eating snacks. Santa teasingly responded that he would give the boy his request if he would lay off the hamburgers. The story went on to report that the kid cried all afternoon and even cried himself to sleep that night. Apparently Santa wounded him. In response, the boy’s Mom demanded Santa apologize (which he did) and that he be fired. Certainly there are multiple causes for obesity and I don’t know her son’s reasons. But what I do know is that now her son’s emotional sensitivity is empowered.

I’ve noticed the church also having to deal with a heightened emotional sensitivity among worshippers. When I was growing up, we went to church because we were Christians . . . period. We did not go for entertainment, soothing, or therapy. As I think about attending First Presbyterian Church in our small farming community, I don’t think anyone cared how we felt about it. We needed to know the facts to live well, so we learned the Scriptures, worshipped, served, and returned the next week to worship again. I never remember my parents discussing whether or not we would go to church, or even whether or not they liked the church. Their view was that the church provided an important and firm foundation for our lives. It was based on the truths of the Scriptures and timeworn logic and wisdom. It was fundamental because the alternatives were not acceptable. It was reasonable and had a core of conviction about it and was not subject to our whims or approval . . . and certainly not our feelings.

But today it seems as though we have replaced the Scriptures and logic with emotional sensitivity and personal exaltation. I don’t know if this comes from television, humanism, social media, or all of us feeling entitled because we’ve been raised with benefits earned by others, but we sure seem spoiled.

Even Saturday Night Live is now mocking this trend. Their recent skit “Wells for Boys,” is a spoof advertisement of “toys for sensitive boys,” so sensitive little boys can “live a more examined life.” These toys include a wishing well for little boys to sit beside and contemplate, a broken mirror to remind our boys of “the complex contradictions of their being,” and a plastic balcony so they can express themselves. The SNL skit mocks the overly sensitive way we’re creating weak children.

I don’t typically watch Saturday Night Live, so for me, the tipping point was the emotional response to Clinton losing the presidential election. I have to admit, Trump’s victory caught me by surprise. I knew Clinton had the experience, money, and machinery that would be difficult to overcome. As a Republican, I accepted the expectation that Clinton would win the presidency, Democrats would retake the Senate, and the Supreme Court would move left.

But the actual results were very different. It turned out that Trump won the White House, the Republicans kept the House and the Senate, and the conservatives will have opportunity to fill one seat, maybe two, in the Supreme Court.

When Democrats started blaming their losses on others, protesting in the streets, burning police cars, and damaging private property, I questioned what they expected to accomplish and if they were emotionally healthy. If these responses were, in fact, intentional, then the protesters looked like leftists in third-world countries overthrowing democratic processes because, in their arrogance, they could not understand another point of view – believing everyone else must be ill informed or misled. Or, if they were upset and reacting emotionally and spontaneously, then they were just throwing a fit because they didn’t get their way and wanted everyone to know they were angry.

Either way, we need more adults in the room.

They say the diversity we have always had in America has morphed into bitter divisions. Perhaps this idea is due in part to political parties, scholars, and the press who have grouped us by our age, our race, our gender, our faith, our education, our professions, our sexuality, etc., in order to highlight and contrast the severity of our differences. No doubt, it makes their presentations more interesting. When there is tension, more people pay attention than when there is peace. As a result, those institutions, which rely on followers, students, and ratings, have no incentive to help America be a melting pot where we all can benefit from and enjoy one another’s strengths in an atmosphere of respect. Oh, they do give it lip service, but with every newscast and opportunity in our classrooms, pundits and lecturers irritate their audiences by pitting groups against one another. They encourage us to feel like emotionally damaged victims and, in effect, be selfish children willing to defame Santa because he doesn’t give us what we want and make us feel good.

I suggest that instead of simple emotional reactions, maybe we ought to think and let wisdom dominate our emotions. We have a choice. We can crumble internally, yell, scream, block traffic, hurt people, burn police cars, and bust out the windows of our businesses to show the world we did not get what we wanted. Or we can grow up, toughen up, and respond constructively to life’s circumstances. When we are emotionally strong, we can build peaceful communities, solid churches, and a great country. I think we should opt for the latter. Our survival in a brutal world may depend on it.

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Responsible Christian Citizens In A Constitutional Republic

On my desk right now is The Voice of the Martyrs magazine that reports on the plight of Christians in countries that do not practice a government by and for the people. Today I’m reading about Hindu radicals attacking and killing Christians, about eight year old Nankpak who watched his mother lie face down on the ground pretending to be dead as screaming Islamic extremists surrounded her, about 10 year old Luis and his brother, who hid under their bed from guerrilla fighters who were mercilessly killing Christians in their village, and about Christian children who have been attacked in their homes by mobs led by Buddhist monks.

The difference between these situations and those of us Christians living in America is the Judeo-Christian culture and the constitutional government from which we all benefit. So, I’m never upset by the results of fair, legal elections in the United States. I’m grateful. And considering the plight of Christians in other nations, I’m not sympathetic to the whiners, on either side of our political debates.

Politics matter, and elections are important. Political ideas lead to benefits or consequences; and political policies lead to prosperity or poverty, responsibility or dependence, peace and safety or rebellion and mayhem.

My personal political philosophy is based on ideas that I believe provide the most opportunity, along with the most goods and services for the most people, at the best value. I’m not a communist or socialist because I believe those ideas create poverty, discourage innovation, and limit opportunity. Simply put, I’m a conservative Republican. I like that we are a republic and not a simple democracy. Some might see me as fiscally conservative and socially moderate, but I’m a strict constitutionalist and believe that we are a nation of laws that should be enforced equally and uniformly, regardless of who is in office. I am a law and order guy. I want the judiciary to be independent and the economy to be based on free and fair markets with free and fair trade. I believe in opportunity. I like good government that does what it does well, but not expansive government with excessive intrusion. Why? Because I believe individuals, and the businesses and benevolent organizations they form, provide most of the goods and services we all need.

I’ve seen the consequences of naïve political policies. I’ve led believer’s meetings in Communist countries, Islamic countries, socialist countries, secular-humanist countries, and so-called Christian countries. Most Christian people are wonderful people wherever you find them, but the political and cultural differences they have to deal with are remarkably diverse, and sometimes deeply painful.

Which brings me to my point: since I am a Christian, my faith informs my politics. I know a quality political philosophy is good for all of our citizens and for the world; it’s not just for guys like me. So we need to be competent thinkers when it comes to assessing our politics . . . especially when political activists use our religious leaders to mobilize voters.

Bear with me now, and think with me, for a few paragraphs.

In this last election, Bible-believing Christians passionately participated on both sides of our democratic debate.

The confessing Christian, Hillary Clinton, who carries a Bible, forgave her one and only husband’s infidelities and says she stayed in her marriage because of her Christian faith, who regularly quotes Scripture with accuracy and familiarity, and who is an active member of the Methodist Church, lost. Politically, she’s liberal.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, who has children by all three of his wives, who claims to have never asked God for forgiveness, who is an inactive Presbyterian who attended church with regularity only when his father took him as a child to hear Norman Vincent Peale’s messages on positive thinking, and who does not know the meaning of the bread and wine at church, won. Politically, he ran as a conservative.

Political elections are primarily about political ideology. With a high percentage of our population being people of faith, faith leaders often use their influence to convince their followers that God has chosen the candidate that aligns with their own political ideology.

And sadly, faith leaders often willingly participate because they deeply long to be influential and powerful. They want their followers to believe political leaders respect them, so a photo op for many religious leaders is like whisky for an alcoholic. Many religious leaders, especially media driven religious leaders, thrive on media impressions of influence.

It’s all part of persuasion.

We must be above all of that.

Let’s all go to church this week and be responsible Jesus followers. Let’s be wise citizens, not rabid activists. Regardless of what the nations do, we know how to be the church in the midst of it all. We know how to be steady, wise, consistent, contented, and faithful. Let’s be Responsible Christian Citizens in our Constitutional Republic.

Living On The Margin

The BBC headline today read “I woke in a stranger’s bed, says university rape victim.” The lead on the story says, “Alice Irving woke up in a stranger’s bed after a night out drinking during her second year as a graduate student.” The article goes on to report that Alice accused the stranger of rape, stating she had been in no fit state to give consent for sex.

No doubt, having a sexual encounter while drunk and unable to give consent is rape and should be punished accordingly. I have no intention of excusing any rapist’s behavior. I do, though, believe there is a lesson to be learned that could help prevent these types of events from happening. That lesson is—everything we do and everywhere we go changes our odds for certain events to take place.

I am the father of five adult children, and I’ve always taught them, “Nothing good happens past midnight.” Obviously, that’s not totally true, but it is true that if teenagers are home in bed asleep between midnight and sunrise, the chances of them getting into trouble, or being harmed in a car accident, or involved in late-night violence decreases significantly.

People who are in Church on Sunday mornings are very seldom killed in hunting accidents on Sunday mornings.

People who never take heroin do not overdose on heroin.

Our choices change our odds, and when we make choices, they are our responsibility whether they are thoughtful decisions or the result of foolish impulses.

All adults know that alcohol lowers inhibitions. So is it surprising that most date rapes happen after people have been drinking together? As I said earlier, it does not justify the rape, but it does involve a conscious decision to lower your inhibitions and be around other people who are also lowering theirs. Thus, everyone is choosing to take greater risks.

Trinity Gay, the 15-year-old daughter of Olympian Tyson Gay, was tragically shot and killed at 4:00 in the morning. No excuse for it, and the shooters need to be arrested, tried, and convicted. There is simply no justification for a tragedy like this, but if Trinity had been in bed at 4:00 in the morning, she would have increased her odds of avoiding this tragedy. But instead, by choosing to be out at 4:00 in the morning, she lowered her odds for safety.

I know it’s true that people also get shot at 4:00 in the afternoon, but the odds are lower for anyone to be shot at 4:00 in the afternoon than they are for someone to be shot at 4:00 in the morning. That’s my point – we can all affect our odds.

I believe it’s wise to treat people with respect, have manners, and respond when any authority asks us to do something. Those ideas increase our odds for living a long, prosperous life. However, if we choose to be disrespectful to others, or to be belligerent in public, or to challenge authority, our odds change.

You are safer if you drive the speed limit, wear your safety belt, and pay attention to the road. Certainly, some people do this and still get killed in car accidents. But the chances of getting killed in a car accident goes up for those who speed, don’t wear their safety belts, or are distracted.

Your odds of having the funds you need to live a comfortable life are also better if you have an education or training that gives you marketable skills. My friend Peter Sekovski says some think an education is too expensive, but he argues it’s not nearly as expensive as ignorance. But then again, it’s the odds.

Football players have a greater chance of having knee and brain problems later in life. Basketball players can look forward to greater chances of lower back pain as they age. People who have children out-of-wedlock have a greater chance of needing counselors and lawyers later in life to work with their kids. It’s the odds. We all need to be aware of them.

Going to a party? How will the people and activities at the party change your odds of having a bright future? How would those odds change if you went to a Bible study instead? Just a thought.

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Could Islam Become Peace-Loving?

(Some of this blog is reprinted from my blog, “Is Allah God?”)

Pundits, politicians, and a few scholars say Islam is a peace-loving religion. When they say it, I detect a tone of rosy optimism that subtly reveals they are either hoping it’s true or trying to spin reality in order to appease moderate and non-practicing Muslims.

But many believe that in order for Islam to be authentically peace-loving, it would need a reformation similar to the one Christianity experienced 500 years ago that provided the theological underpinnings for western civilization. The pundits, who sincerely believe what they are saying, are seduced by their lack of belief in spiritual power. The reason Islam cannot experience a reformation is that the spirit behind Islam will not allow it.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the popular author of the best-selling book, Heretic, Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, has hope. She is urging the Islamic world to have a reformation similar to that of Christendom. She wants Islam to:

  1. Amend Muhammad’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Quran.
  2. Amend the supremacy of life after death.
  3. Amend Shariah, the vast body of religious legislation.
  4. Amend the right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.
  5. Amend the imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

I do not believe this will happen. Christian reformation happened because the practices of the Church had veered away from Scripture and the reformers were demanding a higher view of Scripture in both faith and practice. In other words, our reformation facilitated an emphasis on the Scriptures and thus, the life-giving Spirit of God. The opposite is the case for Islam. When Muslims adopt a higher view of the Koran, they are radicalized, not for representing the love of God, peace, respect for others and forgiveness, but for a harsh demand of obedience to Allah and annihilation of those who don’t comply.

For there to be a reformation of Islam comparable to the Christian reformation, its adherents would need to grow away from the tenets of their faith and adopt a lower view of the Koran’s teachings. In other words, they would need to separate themselves from the spirit of Allah and turn, instead, to the Spirit of life. When Christians become devoted, they increasingly adhere to the teachings of the Bible that encourages them to love, forgive, turn the other cheek, be healing, and be kind. When Muslims become devoted, they tend to go a different direction.

Certainly we’ve seen that not all of those who claim to be Christians are immune to demonic ideas themselves. But our historic mistakes have not been representative of Christ or the New Testament, Spirit-filled life he offers, even though some Christians will try to use the Scriptures to defend their own atrocities. President Obama was right when he reminded Christians at The National Prayer Breakfast of what we as Christians do when we are not operating in the life-giving Spirit of God, but are religious ourselves. He said, “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Jesus experienced this when Satan tempted him in the wilderness by using the Scriptures against him. God’s good work within the human heart is a spiritual uplift, an enlightenment, an ascent to a higher way of thinking. It lightens the load of life and provides encouragement. It is not the religious bigotry that some wrongly promote.

An open hearted reading of the New Testament offers God’s solution to wickedness in the human heart and removes the opportunity for outside evil influence, if and only if we submit to the Lordship of Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. If not, we’ll find ourselves hating and warring just like all who follow the “god of this world.”

Bottom line, any time we human beings depart from the Spirit of the one true God who is loving, redemptive, forgiving, healing, and kind, we find ourselves manifesting our own fallen natures influenced by the deadly god of this world. But this is the opposite of our Christian faith. Christian reformers had only to point to the Scriptures to teach us this. To what do Islamic reformers have to point their followers?

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The Planned Parenthood Shooter

Yesterday Robert Dear from North Carolina killed police officer Garrett Swasey, a former athlete turned police officer, near the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. Though the two were within yards of one another, they saw the world very, very differently. At the same moment, only two miles away in the comfort of my office, I was also experiencing a different world.

Today I expect to start hearing projections as to why this gunner targeted Planned Parenthood, and why he chose to shoot and ultimately kill and injure people in our community.

As my wife and I were falling asleep last night, we spoke at length about the way people see situations so differently. I see this contrast in perceptions regularly, even among the people of our church. Different people see situations and others differently based on their own values, experiences, and educations that filter their perceptions.

In addition, we all have, to varying degrees, cognitive distortions, which are thought patterns that cause irrational or exaggerated conclusions. Whoever this shooter was, I’m sure we’ll learn more about his cognitive distortions that caused him to justify, in his own mind, the tragedy he created yesterday. And with each one, we’ll shake our heads wondering how he could possibly think that way.

I teach a class on Sunday nights on Renewing Your Mind: How To Change Your Brain. A portion of that class deals with our seeing things realistically and then responding responsibly. Therapists that emphasize how behaviors are influenced by our thinking (Cognitive Behavioral and Reality Therapists) often use a list of cognitive distortions to help clients identify their own cognitive distortions so they can respond to life more rationally.

Two week ago I wrote a blog entitled “What? That’s Not What Happened!” listing a few of these cognitive distortions.

As Gayle and I were talking last night, we reviewed how our awareness of cognitive distortions can help all of us think through events and choose our responses with greater wisdom. In the context of yesterday’s craziness on the first day of this Christmas season, I thought a more thorough review might be helpful for all of us (This is my adaptation of the checklist by David Burns from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy)

  1. Polarized thinking: When we look at things in absolute — all or nothing categories, we are typically thinking too simplistically. Things are seldom exclusively good or bad, black or white, right or wrong. Instead, there are exceptions, explanations, and nuances that cause most people and situations to fall into a gray area between the extremes.
  2. Overgeneralization: When we overgeneralize, we use words like always, never, everyone, best, and worst. Generalizations are seldom, if ever, true. There is typically at least one exception. 
  3. Discounting the positives: When we  discount the positive accomplishments or qualities of ourselves or others, and focus only on the negative, we or they feel insignificant and powerless.
  4. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading – we assume that we know what other people are feeling or thinking. When we do this, we think we know the motivations of others. Since we rarely understand our own motivations, to presume to know the motivations of another is a significant projection that is seldom accurate; (B) Fortune Telling – we arbitrarily predict the outcome of events or future development in the lives of others.
  5. Magnification or Minimization: We blow things way out of proportion or we shrink their significance, which distorts their value.
  6. Emotional Reasoning: We draw conclusions based on how we feel, assuming our feelings reflect some reality.
  7. Should Statements: We judge others using words like should, shouldn’t, must, and ought. “Have to” is a similar offender. These are sometimes necessary for personal application, and we may sparingly and cautiously use them in reference to those within our chain-of-command, but they can reveal a major distortion of personal significance when used randomly toward others.
  8. Labeling: We draw comfort by simplistically seeing people and situations in categories, boxes, silos, classifications, or stereotypes. This leads to sexism, racism, bigotry, and other generalizations that do not take into account the uniqueness of individuals or specific situations.
  9. Personalization: We assume that what people are doing or saying is about or because of us, when in fact it might not have anything to do with us.
  10. Blame: Our greatest potential for choice is between some event and our response to it. We choose our responses. They are not forced upon us, which is why we are responsible for how we choose to respond. So when we blame, we are giving more power over our lives to others, and denying our own abilities.

It’s too early to know why the Planned Parenthood shooter did what he did. But now we have an opportunity to comfort those who have been hurt by his actions, pray for healing in the lives of those involved, and do everything we can to learn from this horrific tragedy how to respond to actions and views we disagree with in constructive, godly ways.

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Black Lives Matter?

Several years ago, I participated in a Clinton Foundation meeting in New York. During the meeting, I sat by a woman from the United Nations assigned to the genocide issue in Darfur. At that time hundreds of thousands of blacks were being killed or displaced in southern Sudan, but those trying to relieve the suffering could not get significant media attention. This diplomat asked me why she was having such a hard time getting people to care about the suffering people of Darfur. I told her that in our Christian faith everyone is equally important, but in this fallen world, some matter more than others. As our conversation continued, I told her that the people of southern Sudan did not matter to most people in the current geo-political dynamic. Genocide in that region has continued to this day with little attention. It would appear that these black lives don’t matter much.

Ebola broke out in West Africa in 2013. I learned about it on my BBC app, and when I mentioned it to our congregation, few had heard about it. Why? Because it was not a major story in the American media until white Americans who were providing medical care to African victims were infected.

Here in America, blacks kill thousands of black people every year. I have never heard their names, but I do know the names of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray. Why? Because they have become symbols for a specific, popular cause. Symbols are important. Every cause has symbols that move the cause forward.

We just saw a perfect example of this with the dentist who went to Africa to shoot a trophy lion and is now known world-wide as a symbol of every malicious animal killer on the planet. He is a symbol now. If he tries to prove he was hunting legally, he will sound absurd. In the eyes of the general public, the factual details of his hunt are irrelevant now. He has become the poster child of a cause.

The same idea is evident with the “Black Lives Matter” symbols. Some care about the nefarious character, disrespectful attitudes, or previous offenses of those who have been killed, believing their errors mitigate, or even justify, their deaths. But once people become symbols, those facts no longer inform the primary public message.

The “Black Lives Matter” movement is highlighting the issue that abuse by authorities, especially white authorities, against African-Americans continues. This would explain why the thousands killed by black on black violence don’t seem to matter as much. That strikes me as unfair because all black lives matter, not just the ones that are lost at the hands of authorities. The black deaths, which occur at the hands of other blacks, are just as important. But, because they are not illustrative of the issue being highlighted by the media and the activists, they seem to not matter as much. Black on black victims are not symbols of a popular cause, so to talk about them in the same sentence as Freddie Gray seems unrelated.

Because black on black murders are virtually ignored by activists, the issue here might NOT be that “Black Lives Matter,” but maybe that racism matters. Or since uniformed officers who take black lives are the newsmakers, maybe it’s NOT that “Black Lives Matter,” but that abuse of government power matters. Based on media coverage and speeches given by the more prominent African-American leaders, black lives lost at the hands of the white police officers matter the most.

Maybe this is why the press wanted George Zimmerman to be white. That’s better imagery. It illustrates a political point better if he is white. The media reluctantly admitted he was half-Hispanic because George Zimmerman kept identifying himself as Hispanic. But even after his personal racial identification was made public, the media still often referred to him as white. If he was Hispanic, it might not have illustrated the political point as well.

Some might argue that the “Black Lives Matter” movement makes racism become the lens through which we see everything. Could there be a reason why George Zimmerman needed to be white and not Hispanic, and that President Obama is not half-white, half-black, or mixed race, but black? The symbolic value is increased when he’s our first black president, no doubt.

Probably the best current illustration of this complex issue is the highly publicized Rolling Stone feature article about the sexual assaults at the University of Virginia. Those assaults drew global attention until someone tried to find anyone who had been assaulted. There were none. What was reported didn’t happen. Several women’s organizations came out after the article was exposed as fraudulent and said that the fact that the sexual assaults did not happen is irrelevant. What was relevant to them was that the story brought public attention to their cause.

Causes are often birthed as a result of injustices. Wrongs need to be made right. But they must be based in truth so we can move forward with clarity to find solutions. If the issue is really that black lives matter, then black lives need to matter, even in the black community. But if the subject is really racism or the abuse of power by the authorities, then those are the issues we all should be correcting.
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Others are interested in your response and I appreciate your feedback. Please ensure that your comments are are informed and contribute constructively. After reading the blog your thoughts are certainly welcome, and I read all of them. But they will only be published if they are helpful to the discussion. At times, after reading a comment, I go back and correct or improve the blog. Thank you.

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Let Them Eat Cake

Freedom of religion is a valued tenet of American life. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or impeding the free exercise of religion.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage, which caused many Christians to fear their first amendment protections were eroding. Following this ruling, two Christian bakery owners refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. They believed they were demonstrating their personal convictions and their faithfulness to the Scriptures. Another situation has been in the news where one Christian owner of a flower shop refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding on the basis of their religious convictions. Though the vast majority of Christian business owners serve the general public without hesitation, conservative Christian pundits have praised the few who have denied service to same-sex couples saying they are standing for their faith. But are they?

As I’ve participated in missions work around the world, I’ve stayed in hotels and eaten at restaurants owned by Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and a long list of other faiths. In the United States, I’ve often stayed in Marriott chain hotels, which are owned by Mormons. The gracious hospitality these establishments showed me did not indicate to me that they endorsed my Evangelical Christian faith. It meant they recognized me as a customer and treated me courteously and humanely. I appreciated it. Their willingness to trade with me earned them income and provided me the things I needed to fulfill my Christian calling. If they adopted the ideology of only doing business with those who believe and practice their same convictions, we Bible-believing Christians would be out in the cold and hungry, having been discriminated against because of our faith.

So let’s take this ideology to its logical conclusion. If we Bible-believing business owners refuse to serve those with whom we disagree or who violate our Christian convictions, we will run into a problem. Jesus taught that anyone who marries a divorced person is committing adultery (Paul gives us limited exceptions). So should Christian florists avoid selling flowers to those who are celebrating their second, third, or fourth Christian wedding? The Bible teaches that we should not forsake the gathering of ourselves together. So should a Christian bakery refuse to provide pies and cakes to a family that does not attend church? And the Bible is very clear about the necessity of praying without ceasing. Does this mean we should refuse to do business with people who do not have a consistent prayer life?

Of course these examples sound absurd. But they are no more absurd than a business owner refusing to serve someone in the public under the guise that the customer violates their core religious beliefs. Where do we draw the line? Just with same-sex couples? Or with those who don’t participate in our denomination? Or with those who are in our denomination but don’t practice their faith the way we think they should? With this way of thinking, a devout Catholic car salesman wouldn’t sell to a Protestant, a good Baptist would refuse to rent a room to a Church of Christ member, and the Dalai Lama would starve to death trying to travel in Europe, America, or the Middle East.

Religious leaders mislead Christians when they state Christians are being denied religious liberty when the businesses and corporations they established for the purpose of serving the public, are, in fact, required by law to serve the public. Serving the public is simply serving the public.

Nothing in the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage requires us as individuals or churches to attend, support, endorse, or perform same-sex marriages. Actually, the Supreme Court decision articulates that this decision must never be construed in any way to restrict religious worship or expression. But just as Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu hotel owners rent me a room and provide me meals while I am in their cities for Christian meetings, so should Christians who own public business serve the public, without passing judgment on their customers’ personal choices. This practice does not violate our Christian faith.

How do we know? Because of the way Jesus responded to sinners. Just one of many New Testament examples is in Matthew 9:10-11 which reminds us, “Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher [Jesus] eat with such scum.’” Another would be when Jesus fed the multitudes, he did not exclude any particular sinners. Certainly Christ had no problem at all serving the general public, even sinners. He did that very thing on the cross.

I am confident the Christian owners of bakeries and flower shops are well aware that it is not their self-righteousness that saves them, but Christ’s righteousness freely given to them by God’s grace. It might be wise for all of us who are enjoying the grace Christ has given us to extend that same grace to others. We might even go so far as to let them eat cake and enjoy some flowers too.
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Others are interested in your response and I appreciate your feedback. Please ensure that your comments are are informed and contribute constructively. Your thoughts after reading the blog are certainly welcome, and I read all of them, but they will only be published if they are helpful to the discussion. At times, after reading a comment, I go back and correct or improve the blog. Thank you.

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Ferguson and Baltimore: Lessons on Respect

Baltimore was in chaos. Earlier this week, hundreds of people set fires, looted stores and confronted police. The disorder was triggered by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Thousands of troops and outside police have now been deployed, a weeklong curfew has been announced, and many schools and businesses have closed.

I wonder if the actions of the violent protesters will give them what they want? Will burning property and hurting police officers really give them justice? Value? Respect? Will the good people of Baltimore be able to thrive with a new, gentle police force, with a tranquil atmosphere throughout the community after this? Will the houses of worship, businesses, educators and government employees be able to enjoy a peaceful and quiet life as a result? Will more people prosper?

When I was 11 years old I watched Detroit burn. People burned businesses, cars, and neighborhoods. As my family watched 2,000 buildings burn on our little black and white TV, I remember my Dad saying that good people would move away from Detroit, the city would steadily decline and find itself in at least 50 years of poverty. Now it is fifty years later, and we regularly hear about the deprivation that plagues Detroit.

My observation is Ferguson made the same mistake. As I watched them destroying their own neighborhoods, I thought that all the wrong people were in charge. The good people were silenced, and my guess is responsible family and business leaders were quietly thinking about where they could relocate sometime in the next couple of years that would be a better environment.

Methodology matters. We do know how to improve the world. In our lifetimes we’ve watch the impact of Gandhi, King, Mandela, and many others take horrific situations and give future generations an opportunity to improve their lives. I’ve listed three things that might help.

  1. Value Relationships.

Relationships, civil government, and healthy community environments all seem to have some fundamental laws that are universal. History has proven we human beings can create a civil society when we are trustworthy and respectful of others, and when we seek to mutually benefit one another. As a Christian, I believe biblical love means living for the good of the other. In secular terms, when all of us treat each other respectfully and provide goods and services that benefit others, everyone can be better off.

I am persuaded that when we all think in terms of serving one another and using our strengths to improve our own lives and the lives of others, that our communities can be healthy.

  1. Use Chain-Of-Command Wisely.

In order to understand our roles, we have developed chain-of-command structures. When relationships are respectful, chain-of-command is helpful and efficient. When relationships are disrespectful, chain-of-command can be dehumanizing, hateful, and harsh.

When relationships break down, people typically resort to chain-of-command authority to bring order. When command authority is not lubricated with considerate relationships, disorder is looming, and the use of power is likely. We see this in families, businesses, and communities. If there are not cooperative relationships within our chain-of-command structures to get work done and maintain order, resentment starts to replace happiness. All governments, workplaces, homes and places of worship have to understand chain-of-command in order to define roles and maintain order. And when positive relationships fuel chain-of-command structures with those in charge caring and subordinates cooperating, people feel respected and satisfied.

  1. Understand the Purpose of Brute Force.

But when chain-of-command becomes ineffective, someone will use brute force. Obviously, we prefer those in charge to be just and fair, and those under their authority to be respectful and cooperative. However, when those attributes are not present, some type of force is typically used to bring order. It’s not surprising to me to see a police officer respond with excessive force when a citizen disrespects them, disregards their orders and flees. It’s not right, but it is predictable.

Throughout time, we can observe this progressive series of responses in families, communities, companies, and even international relations. I believe we are all created to be in healthy, respectful relationships. When our relationships need order, we depend on chain-of-command. When chain-of-command is disrespected or needs enforcement, or subordinates need protection, we use force.

Yesterday President Obama responded to Baltimore’s chaos by saying, “That is not a protest. That is not a statement. It’s a handful of people taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.” Gov. Larry Hogan told reporters, “What happened last night is not going to happen again.” Predictably, disorder was followed by an overwhelming police force, which may be followed by the exodus of good people out of the area and years of disadvantage. I don’t think that is what Baltimore wants.

Today, Baltimore’s citizens have an opportunity to build respectful relationships through their cooperation. And Baltimore’s leadership has an opportunity to facilitate a civil community by serving with empathy and fairness.

Manners matter. If we want respectful relationships, we need to thoughtfully invest in the elements that will create them.

We do have a choice.

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