Race and Kindness

Two subjects seem to collide regularly in my thinking as of late: race and kindness. While it goes without saying that they aren’t mutually exclusive, they do seem to be, as activities go, a couple of things we struggle doing well in our society. Dissing dying senators and black teens slammed to the floor in Waffle Houses made for a just a minute sample of yesterday’s Twitter feed alone, with much collateral tweeting. It’s enough to clog the soul. I’m not interested in discussing all the nuance of individual situations here because that’s not my point. What I am trying to convey is that we have a problem with kindness in our society, or, I should say, a lack of kindness, and that we have an ongoing issue with race in our society, and that they are interrelated.

One doesn’t have to disagree with President Trump to at least nod to the consideration that much of his rhetoric is derogatory, ad hominem, and generally insulting. And one doesn’t have to spend more than five minutes on social media to see egregious examples of clashing, divergent ideas of power and race in America, regardless of what one thinks the solution should be.

Today, I listened to a podcast from On Being with Krista Tippett. This particular episode was an interview with John A. Powell, entitled, Opening to the Question of Belonging, and it was pervasively good. What I mean is, it seeped into my bones as I listened because Powell did what all really profound public intellectuals do, he synthesized into concise, coherent language the soul-clogging thought and emotional twisting I mentioned above. He talked about our most divisive social issue in the kindest way, breaking down the science of implicit bias, and how we as a society can step on the path to a new understanding of one another. I am now rabidly consuming other talks of his, as well as reading his book, Racing to Justice.

The salient observation here is that kindness –dare I say, love — towards all exuded from Powell man as he leaned firmly on this potentially explosive hot button. It made me long for more public leaders, in thought, politics, or otherwise, who unite with their speech, rather than agitate and divide. And it gave me courage towards examining my own implicit biases.

I want to be someone who fosters belonging.

A Resistance of Persistent Kindness

“If I’ve got my timings right, and clearly I have…this is Christmas 1914, and the Human Miracle is about to happen – the Christmas Armistice. Never happened again, any war, anywhere, but one day, one Christmas a very long time ago, everyone just put down their weapons and started to sing. Everybody just stopped. Everyone…was just kind.”

~The Doctor (Doctor Who “2017 Christmas Special”)

If you’re not familiar with the series, The Doctor is an alien time traveler who regularly interacts with humanity in Earth-saving, universe preserving ways. In the episode mentioned above, he was tasked by future humanity to return a British officer to a WWI battle, from which he was mistakenly taken, so that the officer could die at the hands of a German soldier who was about to shoot him. The Doctor, who possesses a vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge amassed over his 2,000 year lifetime, acts on gut instinct and returns the officer at the very moment the German troops begin to sing “Stille Nacht,” initiating one of the most remarkably beautiful moments in human history, the Christmas Armistice, thus sparing the British officer’s life.

How is possible that these warring factions, one bent on overthrowing the other, could find such a moment of peace? How is it possible that these men lowered their arms, crossed no man’s land, and embraced? Shared humanity. Just thinking about that moment, as it really happened or as depicted in Doctor Who, leaves me in tears. Even as I type this, my eyes are filled.

So, what has happened to us on the battlefield of the internet, where fellow humans with whom we disagree are reduced to something less than human? My particular favorite Facebookism is when we refer to someone as a “piece of shit.” What does that actually accomplish? I believe the primary thing it does is diminish another’s intrinsic worth, removing any compelling reason to listen to them, learn from them, or allow them to edit us in any way. There are copious studies on tribalism, confirmation bias, etc., that shed light on these behaviors. What I am talking about here, though, is simple, basic, human kindness. The lack of it is killing us.

Many bemoan the ills of social media, how it ruins discourse. I’m not sure I buy it. The devaluing of another human being is a moral action, not a technological byproduct. Yes, impersonal settings (read, not in the same room with only text and images to express sometimes complex and nuanced ideas) make it easier to lose civility, but let’s be real. We would never allow our children to act the way we grownups do on social media, no matter what the setting. In a society that teaches tolerance and acceptance on a grand scale, in public practice, we no longer value kindness the way we once did. How ironic that we show the least tolerance in the very venues we use to promote it.

Now, before you accuse me of longing for the good old days, I fully acknowledge that pride, bigotry, hate, and dismissiveness of those with whom we disagree have all been around since humans have. But, it seems that there are so few left who will cross no man’s land, who will “put down their weapons and…sing,” who will just be kind. Why? My guess is that we are scared. Scared to be wrong, scared to change, scared to lose power, scared to go first.

What is gained by putting down our verbal weapons, by leaving our trenches, by singing songs, by being kind? Recovered humanity. And doing those things is essential to peace, public service, and productive debate. In fact, it’s essential to everything.

Immediately, some will read this and say, “But the [insert the favorite object of your ire here] really is a P.O.S for saying or doing such and such.” No. No, they’re not. They are people who say and/or do things that we disagree with, or that we may even find reprehensible. Don’t devalue them. Especially don’t devalue the one who you are inclined to hate. In doing so, you levy judgment in a way that, if levied on you, would hurt unfairly, because you know that you are more than your worst behavior. Sometimes, we are hardest on others when we recognize our own failures in them, all the while not accepting that they are more than the sum of their most egregious sins, acceptance we offer ourselves much more freely.

So, should we stop calling out what is wrong? No. Should we let bad or criminal behavior go unnoticed? Of course not. But when we engage in discourse with other people over these issues, we must keep their humanity in view at all times, even if they don’t do it for us.

In my faith tradition, one gospel writer notes that as Jesus Christ was being nailed to a cross in a public execution, he uttered these words, “Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they’re doing.” He was kind to the people who were killing him. It makes me think of all the times I was unkind to those who were acting out of their own pain or confusion towards me. And it makes me think, too, of all the people who name Jesus as Lord but then spend their time crucifying everyone who they don’t like or agree with. That is worthy of a separate post.

By and large, people with whom we disagree aren’t trying to kill us. In all seriousness, though, when we devalue others as to something less than human, that is essentially what we are doing. When a politician is labeled a piece of shit because he denies climate change, or when he degrades women by his words and actions, we kill him. When a professional athlete is labeled a piece of shit because he protests police brutality against African Americans by kneeling during the national anthem, we kill him. When we launch ad hominem attacks on individuals with whom we disagree, we are dehumanizing. We are killing them. Killing them.

My views (political, cultural, religious, etc.) have evolved, morphed, and even reversed in some cases, all because people valued my humanity while challenging my beliefs, assumptions, tribalism, prejudice, bigotry, you name it. I am so grateful for this. In some cases, my views remained the same, yet I was equipped to articulate them better because of the exchange. In others, I opened gateways of thought for them. In all cases, they shied away from labels, ideological identification, and, above all, anger. They were kind. And the peace that kindness imported to my mind and soul allowed me to objectively assess the topic at hand.

For the sake of our shared humanity, it’s time to raise the level of our public discourse. We must resist with persistent kindness the temptation to obliterate our fellow humans. I kindly welcome opposing viewpoints.



What are we worth to each other?

The juxtaposition of sublime and ridiculous in our media slathered culture is almost too much to bear, even when contemplated for just a moment. Daily on Facebook, we see videos of dogs sitting on cats sandwiched between the latest Kellyanne Conway memes and TrumpCare discussions. (You can decide which of these is sublime and which is ridiculous, by the way. I’m a big fan of canines dominating felines, so you know where I stand.) In the midst of this humorous and horrific hodgepodge, the following was posted, and it revived a dormant man-crush of mine.

In this young man’s speech, I was reminded of his grandfather:

“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Kennedy the elder delivered these words on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. I’ve written about RFK before here, and he is worth revisiting. You would think that this man’s heart, so shaped and shattered by grief, would be reduced to spewing scornful wrath from his public pulpit. Instead, in measured tones, he waded deep into honest assessment, humbly dispensed wise counsel, and embraced higher ideals.

What strikes me is the timeless nature of his words. Consider the tone and tenor of our current public discourse, as witnessed in the deluge of social media postings: hate and fear of our fellow humans; diminishment of others for their race, beliefs, or political leanings; worst-case scenarios over job losses and violent immigrants. It all makes it sound as if RFK was looking over my shoulder as I was scrolling Facebook this morning.

With all due respect, some of the smartest, most gifted friends I have are also the most vitriolic. They somehow see those they disagree with as sub-human. They post or share these types of things:

  • A pro athlete doesn’t stand for the national anthem, and he is a “piece of shit.” “
  • “[Congressman] shreds Paul Ryan…”
  • “Chuck Schumer hits back after Donald Trump calls him a ‘clown.'”

Humans we disagree with are pieces of shit or clowns. We love seeing those in the wrong “shredded,” filling our tribal echo chambers with the gurgles of maniacal glee. What will come of this?

RFK ended his speech with these words:

“We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

While there is true physical violence perpetrated each day, there is more insidious violence among us, the hatred of our fellow humans. If called out, or even questioned, it is often denied, excused, of played down. But when we publicly diminish the value of others – those with whom we disagree, and even those whose acts we find unacceptable – we actually diminish ourselves. I’m learning that I do not need one more person in my life who agrees with me, likes me, or follows me. What I do need is to live at the deepest levels of peace with all humans whenever it is possible, and to keep their dignity intact, whenever it is not. Life is too short, and our desire to live happy, satisfied, and fulfilled lives too utterly universal.


I’m Still Not Black – Part 2

racism prejudice 2A a few weeks ago, I published I’m Still Not Black, my (then) latest installment in an ongoing series of race related posts.  The subject was what appeared to be racially motivated police activity in detaining actress Danièle Watts, questioning her as a possible prostitute.  A resident in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles called the police to report lewd activity in a parked car. Watts clearly saw the actions of the police as discriminatory.

Since the break of the story, new information has come out, including audio indicating that the only one being unreasonable in the exchange was Watts.  So much so, that local civil rights leaders, ones who came to her defense early on, are calling on her to apologize.  Here’s the audio of Watts’ interaction with police.  The police officer in this interaction, while becoming mildly frustrated, is the voice of reason here.

TMZ (I know, I know…TMZ!) has posted what they say are photos of Watts straddling her boyfriend in the front passenger seat of a car with door open. They also report that local business employees actually saw the PDA, and went and spoke with Watts and Lucas (her boyfriend) before the police were called.

So, if all this is true, it looks like Watts and Lucas were given the opportunity to stop, but feeling defiantly amorous, they continued, and the police were called – reasonable.  The police then asked for their ID – reasonable.  Lucas priovided his – reasonable.  Watts refused and, instead, became agitated, emotional, and uncooperative – unreasonable.  The police officer, simply attempting to follow up on a call, continued to seek to ID Watts, and ultimately chose to detain her in order to do so. Once he did, he released her – reasonable. Watts took to social media, and stirred up a story, that seemed plausible to many, myself included.  Things aren’t always what they seem.

From The Hollywood Reporter’s post regarding the response of local civil rights acivists:

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable president Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Project Islamic Hope president Najee Ali and other activists held a press conference Friday, telling reporters that they now have doubts about Watts’ side of the story.

“I was one that was very outspoken about it,” Hutchinson said about having come to Watts’ defense when her story first broke, as quoted by NBC 4. “We take racial profiling very seriously. It’s not a play thing. It’s not trivial.”

The Associated Press quoted Hutchinson as saying that Watts “cried wolf” regarding this incident being racially motivated.

Here’s my takeaway:

Both black and white people can be reasonable when it comes to race.

Both black and white people can be unreasonable when it comes to race.

Reasonable civil rights activists are willing to discern which situations are racially motivated and which are not, and will communicate their findings publicly.  

Danièle Watts “crying wolf” doesn’t therefore automatically make Darren Wilson innocent or Michael Brown’s death justified.

Racial profiling is “not a play thing.”  Nor is it trivial.  Racism exists.  Dialogue is necessary.  All involved must be reasonable.

One more thing.  Now that some time has passed, and ISIL (ISIS / Islamic State / Bill Maher & Ben Affleck, etc) and Ebola are the new 24 hour news cycle darlings, the issue of race and equality in the United States has returned to its designated back burner, on slow simmer.  Until another race oriented issue turns up the heat, and things begin to boil over.  This must become unacceptable to us as human beings.

I am a classic avoider.  If something isn’t immediately calling my attention, I can ignore it.  And I have paid stupid tax on that behavior over and over again.  How long will we wait – how much stupid tax will we pay as a nation of human beings before we say individually and collectively say that it’s just not worth it?  Why wait for one more Ferguson, one more Danièle Watts incident, one more…one more.

Don’t say that you aren’t prejudiced in any way towards others, because prejudice is basic to being a human being. The most important step is to admit it as a way to combat it.

My name is Bill.  I am prejudiced.  Let’s work on our prejudices together.


I’m Still Not Black

broken-chainLast week, black actress Danièle Watts was detained as a possible prostitute for making out with her white husband in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. They were in their Mercedes with the door open.  A resident alerted the police that there was a prostitute having sex with a man in car on the street.

When the police arrived, Watts refused to provide her identification, as she believed she had done nothing illegal. The police then cuffed her and questioned her, before releasing her, stating that there is no record of the incident, as no crime was committed.

Here are three different accountings of the story, one from Business Insider, one from The Root, and one from Global Grind.

Watts talked about the times her father came home “frustrated or humiliated by the cops when he had done nothing wrong.”

In my post from a few weeks ago, I’m Not Black, I suggested that whites had an opportunity to open dialogue by seeking to understand, generally, what it is like to be black in America. With that in mind, I have questions:

Would anyone have called the police if Watts were white?

Would she have been taken for a prostitute if she were white?

Would the police had even asked for ID or questioned the couple’s relationship were she white?

Was there an actual crime committed, meaning, were her civil rights violated?

Please know that I am not seeking to be incendiary, but rather to gain perspective. I can only imagine the outrage and potential shame she experienced. Her response is gracious and strong, regardless.

What do you think?




FOX Colored Glasses

Scary News“Army Officer Denied Entry to Michigan High School While Wearing Uniform”

“School Security Guard to Army Officer: You Can’t Come In While Wearing Your Uniform”

“Under Fire – School Won’t Let Army Officer Wear Uniform”

These are three titles/subtitles from the same story on foxnewsinsider.com. I first became aware of the story through a friend on FB. He was outraged at the violation of civil liberties. I respect my friend very much. He is an intelligent, gifted, hard working family man, and he has drawn the wrong conclusions from the story, just like FOX has.

The article states that “Lt. Col Sherwood Baker, had stopped at Rochester Adams High School in Rochester Hills during the day to clear up an issue with his daughter’s class schedule.” Upon attempting to enter the school, Baker was told that “he could not enter wearing the uniform because it could offend people.” He was given the option of coming back in street clothes, or calling the school. At that  point, Baker and his wife called the superintendent’s office from the parking lot, and a staff member let him in.

The superintendent was “appalled,” the principal expressed regret to the family, the district apologized  and made it clear that “[it] does not have a policy excluding individuals in uniform and will be working with administration and the firm that handles [its] security to make sure district policies are understood and communicated accurately.”  In an interview, Baker’s wife, Rachel Ferhadson, said, “I feel a lot better about it now than I did 24 hours ago. … They have taken steps to correct what happened.”

When I saw the headline, I was concerned but also skeptical.  It didn’t seem right to me.  After reading the article, I would sum it up this way. An Army Officer was initially, and incorrectly, denied entrance to his daughter’s school  because he was told by a security guard that the military uniform he was wearing may offend some people. Not accepting this as reasonable, the officer promptly informed the school superintendent of the situation, who immediately allowed the officer and his wife entrance to the school. The superintendent made the security company aware that the actions of the guard were inappropriate and did not reflect district policy. The story here seems to be that reasonable people, faced with an unreasonable challenge, engaged other reasonable people to reach a solution, which they swiftly did.

This is an encouraging story for anyone anywhere on the spectrum of reasonableness. Unfettered political correctness did not win the day. Blind patriotic outrage did not create a tempest. A man who serves our country and a man who serves our children got together and solved problem in a way that serves us all. Why can’t we see news this way? Why must we be goaded into offense, outrage and fear?

To be fair to my FB friend who originally posted the story, he did write that the problem was solved, but he began his post with outrage and ended it with the call to fire the security guard for abridging civil liberties. His premise and outrage obscured the real story line, one that showed how cooler heads prevailed in a potentially ugly situation.

It’s time for us to think critically when it comes to news, especially from sources that share our ideological leanings. Otherwise, we are being fed news and information like that which a mother bird feeds her baby chicks – predigested and easy to swallow. We need to feed ourselves, and draw reasonable, truly “fair and balanced” conclusions, with our tendency towards confirmation bias on the table at all times. It’s not wrong to read people and sources with whom we agree, but we must do so employing critical thinking, and we would do well to read people and sources with whom we disagree, in exactly the same way.

The general public shapes the news cycle by engaging certain outlets like FOX, MSNBC, and others. Why not access news through NPR instead of MSNBC, or The American Conservative rather than FOX? If viewership and page visits equal advertising dollars, let’s help funnel Madmen cash to sources that are more intellectually rigorous, that speak with authority rather than yell with outrage, and that possess a self-awareness that allows for, and encourages, rigorous debate and productive dialogue.  Let’s have better conversations about the most important things.



What Does It Mean To Dialogue?

I Wanna Win with textIn one of my recent posts, I’m Not Black, I posited that the discussion of race relations between black and white in America could be furthered by whites seeking to understand the black experience. At one point, I used the term, “white privilege.” The term, for my purposes, was defined as the experience that most white people have, of neither defining themselves, nor being defined by society, according to their race. My conclusion was that a certain humility was required on the part of white people to begin the dialogue.

Responses to my post covered a broad spectrum, from encouraging agreement, to further dialogue, to skepticism, to angry disagreement. There were, however, no lukewarm responses. After sifting through my interactions with readers, I have drawn some conclusions:

  • Dialogue is hard
  • Nobody wants to go first
  • We want to win
  • There must be a third way

Dialogue Is Hard
My dictionary app defines dialogue as “a discussion between two or more people or groups, esp. one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.” Stated differently, dialogue is a two-way, equal conversation, where the parties are mutually focused on discovery and problem solving.

Nobody Wants To Go First
Vulnerability creates the possibility of dialogue. Without it, there will be no honesty, no mutuality, no real discussion. It requires an emotional gamble, a risk, that the one going first may be rebuffed or rejected. Going first “feels” like a position of weakness.

We Want To Win
Somewhere in the course of our lives, we developed the belief that we must be right to be valued. Mastery of knowledge, morality, or whatever the issue, provides us control and keeps us superior. I fully admit to embracing this approach along the course of my. Breaking free of it is like trying to throw out a glue covered piece of paper. Each time you pull it off with one hand, it sticks to the other.

So often, though, when we win, we actually lose, or worse, we measure victory by the wrong standards.  When was the last time that a political debate “winner” was measured by the fact that he or she spoke the most compelling truth to the most people? Never. Instead, they were judged on mastery of their material, how often and easily they rattled their opponents, and how much applause they received from the audience.

There Must Be A Third Way
Olga Khazan has written a concise and helpful piece for The Atlantic entitled, Four Words to Seem More Polite, which is really about empathy.

Empathy is considered by many psychologists to be essential to cooperation, problem solving, and to human functioning in general.  Researchers have described it as “social gluebinding people together and creating harmonious relationships.”

The goal of empathy is to understand the feelings of another. Too often, though, we think that if we are empathetic towards someone else regarding a particular topic or experience, we will be tacitly agreeing with their beliefs regarding it. With the issue of race, there appears to be a hesitance towards being empathetic, for fear of validating a view point with which we may disagree.

What’s left for us to do? If, as a white person, I stand with my arms folded defiantly, and say that I will not offer empathy to black people because they are solely responsible for how they think, their socio-economic plight, etc, I miss the point entirely. Someone who struggles simply wants to be understood. Until they are, they will not dialogue in any productive way.  If white people, in general, sought to understand what it is to live life constantly conscious of their race, it would start conversations that we never thought would happen, ones that seem so fleetingly impossible given Eric Garner and Ferguson, Mo.

Someone who I love and respect challenged me privately when I suggested, as I mentioned above, that white people exercise humility in going first in the race conversation. I used the example of Jesus, who left his place of privilege to walk in our world so that he could understand what it means, first hand, to be us. As I look at his example, I am convinced more than ever that he is the best model.

You don’t have to believe in Jesus to catch the power of he did. According to Christian teaching, Jesus left his place of glory in heaven to take on human form so that he could empathize with us. He knew that reconciliation could not take place until he identified with those for whom he sought it. As a white man, I have an opportunity to see through the eyes of my black brothers and sisters, and, in doing so, feel what they feel, to empathize with them. And when I do, and when I can articulate back to them my experience in such a way that reveals that I “get it,” then real reconciliation in my world can begin. Then, I will be more like Jesus than perhaps I have ever been.



Ice Water and Embryos

iceThe ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. If you’re like me, you’ve had a semi-tortured relationship with it. I loved seeing it all over my Facebook feed for the first few weeks, then, after a bit more inundation, it was kind of pesky, because I am selfish and I want to see what I want to see. But, my cold heart was warmed when I started to catch the spirit of the challenge, and when I saw the widespread appeal. George W. Bush taking the challenge, and then challenging Bill Clinton, in return. CEO’s and sports and media moguls with their videos alongside those of my friends — it all began to fascinate me. It also taught me of the innate desire in us to help other human beings, to make an impact, to celebrate life while bringing life to others. I was so encouraged, and I still am.

Then I saw this headline:  The ALS Challenge kills babies. I will let you click through to read the whole article. It was posted on the American Family Association’s website, and the article was then shared and commented on via Facebook by friends who, in my opinion, are usually critically thinking, reasonable evangelical Christians. I describe my friends this way because the article itself is sensationalism wrapped up in ethical God language.  I will confess that I have no love for the AFA, as they are the type to constantly throw rocks at the culture in the name of Jesus, even though Jesus never did that. They name themselves as Christian, but their brand of Christianity is foreign to me.

A second, slightly more reasonable post, this one by Churchleaders.com, read this way:  ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Raise Concerns for Pro-Lifers.  Again, you can click through to read the whole article.  From a secondary source, it quotes the president of the ALS Association saying, “My answer is this: invest prudently in helping people with ALS and their families and caregivers in the battle against the disease, while resolutely pursuing all avenues to extend, improve and ultimately save lives.”  So there is some reasonable wisdom.

I wrote the following in the comments section of the Churchleaders.com Facebook post:

Leave it to Christians to throw a bucket of cold water on ANYTHING good, even on throwing a bucket of cold water on yourself to raise $ for ALS research. 

Stop shopping at stores whose profits are used for things you find morally objectionable. Stop
 talking with people whose beliefs offend yours. Stop buying products produced in Chinese sweat shops. You can’t and you won’t. 

Evangelicals didn’t even lead the abortion debate when Roe v. Wade was decided. It was the Catholics. Evangelicals were ambivalent to abortion legislation. 

I write this as a follower of Christ, as a sinful, broken man who does NOT have all the answers. Having said that, we MUST do better than to be seen as finding something wrong with everything so that we can be the right ones. 

And later, in response to a well written challenge to my seeming dismissal of those with ethical concerns regarding stem cell research, I wrote this:

There is an inconsistent ethic here. 

By and large, evangelicals support the death penalty. By and large, evangelicals supported the invasion of Iraq. By and large, evangelicals cannot articulate the various methods of embryonic stem cell research. 

For most evangelicals, it costs them nothing to be opposed to embryonic stem cell research. It would cost them, though, to be thoroughly consistent in supporting and participating in commerce and social action that treats post-womb people as Christ-like as possible. That is where the evangelical pro-life stance reveals its gaping inconsistency. 

ALS research is a kingdom fulfilling work, which, I agree, should not harm others in the process. My point is that there must be ways to investigate the research methods involved without throwing out the term embryonic stem cell research, and conjuring up the image of embryos created for the sole purpose of research, which is an extremely rare practice.

The COMPLETELY irresponsible and sensationalizing tactics of the AFA, in my opinion, should be dismissed for what they are.  They are Christian cranks, the original trolls, if you will, looking for anything remotely good and making sure that they have something bad to say about it.  Who to boycott, what to write your senator about, how to make sure you are not defiled by the world.  I refuse to be associated in name (Christian) with that group.  They are moralizers.

The more evenhanded approach of Churchleaders.com is less unpalatable, as they are seeking to help people be wise in the employment of their values.  In the end though, our inability to wield a consistent Christian ethic is never really addressed.

When we do, somehow, truly come to grips with the fact that we’re all gapingly hypocritical in our ethics, when we finally embrace the truth that Jesus would neither kill an unborn child, nor throw the switch on the electric chair, then we will begin to honestly assess our own gaping ethical holes.  For the record, mine seem so huge in my eyes as to disqualify me from even writing things like this.  However, as both Shakespeare and Arthur Weasley say, “The Truth Will Out.”

Addendum: Here’s a promising and fascinating article on advances in embryonic stem cell research.


Binary, Trinary, Jiggity Jig

Three ArrowsFor the past week, I have been captivated by the writing and thought of Kathy Escobar, a pastor and blogger from Denver.  (Click here to go to her blog.)  The first post that grabbed my attention was entitled, Third Way Practices, the third way being “an option regarded as an alternative to two extremes.”  Maybe not so earth shattering a concept, but if I say “gay marriage” or “gun control,”  all of the sudden many of us can find it hard to think of a third way.  These involve binary choices, only.

The psychology of ideology is a fascinating subject, one that I am thoroughly and uniquely unqualified to discuss.  But, since I really am talking about ideology here, I will admit that I am wading out into deeper waters than I might reasonably expect to tread for any length of time.  So be it.

With that on the table, maybe its important to outline what I will not be not saying here.  I will not be saying that there is a higher, more spiritually enlightened, more mature way of coexisting with those with whom we disagree.  I certainly hope I will not be saying that I am standing on some elevated perch, able to see and assess the landscape of cultural and spiritual issues better that others.  To be fair, I can a big, blowhard of a fool who thinks he knows more than everybody.  I don’t want to be that guy.  So, on to our third way discussion.

Here’s what I tend to do.  I often read or hear someone espouse what I consider to be an extreme belief or belief system, and my initial reaction is to package that person in a way that I can manage them.  This means labeling, assigning motives, and assessing character.  I do this so that I can either refute, belittle, or dismiss that person and their beliefs.  It is most decidedly not so that I can engage, dignify, or welcome them into dialogue.  I have already made up my mind about them and what they think, and therefore I am absolved of acting like a human.  Maybe that’s an extreme description, but I think it’s in the ballpark.

It is certainly how I feel while observing cultural “debates” via news and social media.  The two issues I mentioned above, gay marriage and gun control, fit this experience perfectly.  There is heated debate, there is dismissiveness exhibited from both sides, there are accusations of stupidity and immorality from both sides, there is exasperation everywhere.  I do these things, too.  I am, as of late, though, losing my tolerance for this kind of behavior in myself.

I have had long Facebook discussion with friends on topics ranging from scientific naturalism to food assistance to gay marriage to the fact that the Mets, even though they suck canal water, are still my favorite team.  I am learning to (mostly) love these discussions, because, if I am even remotely open to them, they change me.  I don’t mean that the discussions change my opinion, necessarily, but, rather, they change me.  What happens when I engage, dignify, or welcome the other into dialogue, is that I get hold of a true vision of their humanity.  I am talking about why they believe what they believe, and how that affects their everyday lives. Honestly, I respect them more.  My tendency, though, is to disrespect and dismiss.  When I do that, I distance myself from them.  That’s a weird thing, because I really love people.

So, this third way thing, what is it?  For me, it’s really this, that everyone doesn’t have to see it my way so that I can feel superior, or even good about myself; that I don’t have to “win” an argument so that I can gain some kind of moral or intellectual victory ; that it is really better for me (and I think society and culture in general), to find ways to walk along together with those with whom I disagree.  There are exceptions.

Escobar writes about how safer people make safe conversations, which, naturally means that unsafe people, well, you get the point.  There are those who seek to build bridges, even if they have a clear territory staked out.  They will let you travel on their land. These are good people with whom we can walk the third way.  Then, there are those who sit at the end of their territorial driveways, ready for a fight, building a rebuttal even before you speak.  It’s okay that they’re like that, meaning, they can choose however they see fit to live and interact in society.  I just don’t choose to interact with them.

What I have learned, however, is that walking the third way can produce options and solutions that could never arise out of binary, black and white, either/or, two choice only discourse.  And, when there simply can’t be new options and solutions, at least there can be welcome, mutuality, love, and respect.   Even if we only had more of those traits in our public and private discourse, we would be better off, I think.  Look at me,  I am moralizing, so I will bring it home.  I begin to become a better man when I listen more than I speak, when I think before I react, and when I value people more than opinions.  When I really do these things, I find that my immediate society and culture (my relationships and community) are much more life giving, much more helpful to me and others, and, quite honestly, much more enjoyable to take part in.

Who’s up for a third way?