Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Thoughts On Current Outrage Surrounding The NFL

I am on vacation in the beautiful, North Carolina mountains, and, because I have no guilt wasting time on vacation, I dedicated an exorbitant amount of time tilting at windmills on Facebook yesterday, and I rode away into the night feeling as valiant as Don Quixote himself. Dang it feels good to be a gangster. Am I right, Quixote?

Now I sit writing an article for my blog that I don’t have much intention in ensuring a lot of people read. Again, this is just some catharsis with no guilt for wasting time. I must admit, most of my blog posts are like this. Anyway…

I say most of this in jest, of course, because I have had several occasions in which someone has told me that my thoughts helped him or her and brought his or her thinking around on whatever happened to be the topic at hand, and I too have had moments like this myself. I’m just trying to be honest with myself. I know for the most part, my Facebook posts and blogs will do little to change the world.

I’m ok with that. Yet, I will add this: When I do have something burdening my heart enough that I write about it on my blog, you can be assured that it is something that I pray about and work at solving in ways I find more meaningful than simply jotting down some thoughts online. When I say I do not think my words will change the world, I do not suggest I do not want the world to change, and I do work on doing my part in being a problem solver.

Now, onto the matter at hand:

The hot topic yesterday was, of course, the NFL allowing its players to take a knee during the National Anthem. What are we to make of all of this?

I can say this: We won’t properly make heads or tails of this event if current emotional outrage drowns out reasoned discussion, and I see it on both sides. One side is saying, “You disrespect men and women who have died for you, you ungrateful piece of trash,” while the other side screams, “You are a racist pig wanting to silence minorities and you can’t even think your way out of a wet, brown paper sack.”

That is our first problem. People do not know how to disagree.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…  James 1:19

It takes time to understand an argument, but, in our culture, we take the shortcut of asking ourselves, “On what end of the political spectrum would this fall?” If the issue falls on the other side from where we stand (as we perceive it) it is automatically bad, and if it falls on our side (as we perceive it) it must be defended at all cost. No time to think in a fast paced world. We must make quick assumptions. We must prejudge.

So, whatever side one falls on, if one’s initial response is to quickly pick a side and call those on the opposing side “fools,” “idiots,” “trash,” “ingrates,” “morons,” or a bunch of other words I saw but won’t repeat here (let’s not forget Son of a bitch, coming from our most hallowed of public offices, however), then we have a problem.

They may be acting foolish, but have we even tried to first be listeners of their grievances? Have we been slow to anger? Again, people on both sides have been guilty of this. I cannot say that within my heart, I haven't had a few names for people, and for that, I am sorry.

But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22

The key to being able to learn is to avoid anger. I have to admit, this is hard. When issues of justice are at stake, sometimes it is not possible to go all Spock, full of reason with a great measure of detachment, but it is worth trying.

Let’s begin with the major claims being made:

On the one hand, and this narrative has changed very little, except for a little twist after POTUS called those NFL players who continue to kneel “Son of a bitch,” those NFL players taking a knee have consistently said that they are trying to bring attention to the fact that the nation, which is supposed to be about “liberty and justice for all,” is failing certain peoples. Admittedly, it did shift a bit in recent days to include a protest against Trump for his calling certain NFL players a derogatory phrase. But, the central message remains intact.

There are two groups of people: Those who have heard and believe this is, at least for the most part, the intended message. Then, there are those who refuse to believe the express explanation and suggest this is all about disrespect for the country.

(Now, give me time to be fair to all sides, as far as I think I can be without betraying my own beliefs, before giving up on me in the paragraphs ahead.)

It is a matter of proper dialogue and debate to give the benefit of the doubt to the person when he or she says, “This is what I mean.” Until it can be shown otherwise, not with small anecdotal evidences, but clear proof that an ulterior motive exists, it is proper for debate to let someone’s words be his or her words. Understand those words and attack them, not some made up conjecture.

On a number of occasions, the players have expressed that they mean no disrespect to the service men and women, nor are they trying to be unpatriotic. They are trying to do something for the nation (call out injustice within) not do something against it (support anarchy). The whole idea of kneeling was an attempt to show deference for the service men. When Colin Kaepernick first began this protest, he sat during the anthem. He then consulted a peer who had served in the armed forces and this peer told him that taking a knee would be more respectful for service men, while still getting his point across. He did just that.

That is the narrative.

On the one hand, to say this has absolutely nothing to do with the anthem and flag is misguided. The protest time was carefully picked to make a very pointed point about our nation.

What these players, however, wish to say is that they believe in their hearts that the flag represents more than the military, as it should. They are not protesting these men and women who fight for the flag, hence, the knee instead of just sitting. They are protesting a certain part of our nation’s current state.

Along with partly being a symbol of the military, the flag represents the entirety of the country and her people (“And for the Republic for which it stands”), and these men do not think our nation is living up to the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” In other words, they are not, in their hearts, trying to pull the nation down, but to call her up to what she is supposed to be about.

So, yes, the flag and anthem are a part of this, but they are saying that those who are calling them out for being unpatriotic are missing the point. I think this is a fair argument on their part, especially in light of recent events in which many who now cast blame on the kneeling players were making a similar claim just a month prior:

Consider the phrase I used a few times: “in their hearts…”

One month ago, people were saying: “In our hearts, the confederate statues represents something deeper than the hate you are making it out to mean,” and they wanted this argument to be heard.

Presently, many of these same people are saying: “I don’t care what you say is in your heart when you protest, I say it is hateful towards the military.”

We cannot have it both ways.

If all the flag can represent for a person is our military, then that person is dangerously conflating the two. The military does not own the flag. The military serves the nation for which it stands and protects her in service. Do I stand in honor of these men and women? Yes, I do. But, if it is demanded of me to do so in a compulsory manner, then there is a problem.

When we begin to demand people act and behave as we wish, we begin a slippery slope to all sorts of chaos. Remember, Richard Dawkins is leading a massive movement of secularists who believe religion in all forms is dangerous and therefore should be prohibited. When we tell people how they should express their deepest beliefs through certain prohibitions (I prohibit you from kneeling), then we join the ranks of people like Dawkins.

Now, for a moment, let’s switch gears.

On the other hand, to be completely shocked and angry that some people would take offense to the mode of protest is a bit misplaced as well. Many persons were raised to believe that patriotism is one of the greatest positions one can take in this life, short of their allegiance to God. (I happen to think these come too close to each other sometimes, but that, again, is the topic of another post). Furthermore, they were told that any deviation from standing with hand over heart during the pledge and the anthem is disrespectful.

The very intent of picking the time of the anthem as the time to protest was meant to cause a stir. So, that people are stirred up is understandable. What then needs to happen for those who would want to say, “Wait a minute, just hear clearly the reason for protest out before you get too insulted,” is for these persons to be very patient in giving this message. It may take a bit of time before the others can calm down. They were provoked.

If people are purposefully provoked, then the ones provoking might have to take a few lashes if they want to be heard.

It is not a terrible move to provoke people. Jesus was provocative, and he explained himself to those who truly wanted to learn. So, if you are going to poke the bear, be ready to explain yourself when he comes out mad as a hornet, and don’t be surprised that you may have to spend a little time calming the bear down (and not in a patronizing way either).

It isn’t fair to be provocative and then say, “What are you mad about?” On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to do something bold to awake the giant, either. Again, you just have to take the time to receive a little lashing, before you can be heard saying, “Let me tell you why I woke you up. I need you to hear something, and I could not get your attention nicely. I mean no disrespect, but I could not get your full attention any other way.

Could there be a better way? Maybe, but the point now is that it has happened, and if they stop now, the naysayers are going to do their “I told you so" dance… It’s a pickle for sure.

Now to my final two thoughts:

If you are the sort of person who will say, “I hear what they are saying, but I do not believe them.” In other words, you say that you have listened, but there is really nothing of substance to their grievances (i.e. minorities are not oppressed in any way), I would ask, have you done any research, or are you just not willing to believe our nation could overlook people? Having that sort of faith in our government then means you should never complain about anything going on in congress. If they have our best interest in mind at all times, then do not complain about healthcare, taxes, or abortions. Just read a little bit of history, and remember that the ripples of history don’t disappear the day, week, year, decade, or even century after they were made.

If I can say that my success is in part due to what my ancestors did way back in the 1700s, then others can say that oppression that only ended decades ago has some bearing on their life now. Furthermore, it is not just about what happened then. There are still injustices today (link below).

 And, if you are the sort of person who would say, but they are rich and therefore have no right to complain. They should be grateful. I would warn that this comes very close to racism. “You can’t complain about minority injustice, because we gave you the ability to play football….” Really?

Did you hear that Saudi Arabia finally passed a law allowing women to drive? I guess those women have nothing more to complain about. They should be grateful to their benevolent nation, right?

For more on minorities and injustice read this:

Finally, if your love of tradition outweighs your willingness to listen to the other that is a huge conflict, especially for the Christian. If your love of country, flag, and anthem, means you cannot stop for a moment and listen when someone is saying they are in pain, you need to take time to reevaluate your priorities.

Pain often expresses itself in nasty ways. Think of a loved one who has gone through a mental breakdown. If their pain is expressed in shouts and screams that you do not like and may think are unwarranted, would you then say, “I will not listen or try to help.”

I am not saying that the pain of the minority community is equal to the above illustration. I am saying that, even if some do not like how it is expressed (by what mode and through which representatives), that should not mean we allow our anger at what might be perceived as an insult to control our response, which should always be first motivated by loving patience and a willingness to listen, despite what the other is doing.

Otherwise, tradition undermines love:

Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! Mark 7:9

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Now That Something Has Happened

I will not be sharing this to social media. The arguments have become too deafeningly shrill to add to the noise. This is more for my own mental therapy. I will add to this blog as I continue to think about this issue:

Just a few days ago, the "Muslim Ban" was just a rumor, but now there has been an executive order signed. Now, America is in another fierce debate on what this all means.

The issues get muddy quickly when dealing with complex politics like this. What exactly does the language of the order mean? What is the full future intentions of the executive branch? How does this compare to past administrations?

I do not have the expertise or the emotional energy to say much more, but I will say two things:

1.  No amount of comparison to Obama should matter. To so many, nothing Obama did was good enough. So, it cannot now be a litmus test for this administration. Saying, "Well, Obama did something similar" is more than too late.

2. In a recent National Review article, it was argued: "He backed down dramatically from his campaign promises and instead signed an executive order dominated mainly by moderate refugee restrictions and temporary provisions aimed directly at limiting immigration from jihadist conflict zones." This was said in an argument stating that people are overreacting.

First of all, this is his very first action as President towards refugees. Thus, this cannot be called a step-back from his promise, but a step towards. He has only drawn closer to his (and this is a funny, but telling word choice) promise.

Second, from where I'm sitting, it seems that the only people satisfied with this argument as excusing these actions as "not that bad" are those who already supported Trump's position towards refugees before they knew the details of the order. Retrospectively arguing for the now "moderate" step that has been made seems short-sighted, and here's why:

This man DID say he wanted a COMPLETE BAN ON MUSLIMS (in reference to refugees in particular). So that people are frustrated that he has made this new order on top of the already extensive vetting process already in play and see this as a slap in the face of refugees isn't something being pulled from thin air. People are only assuming he is trying to do what he said he would.

I'd rather be quick to defend the refugee over the most powerful man in the free world, or his ego, or my own

We can sugar coat as much as we want, but there will come judgement one day. I sure hope I am not found as reasoning away the greatest commandment to love God through loving the other. If this makes me foolish and places my family and me in harms way, I will leave our life and fate to God, our Father.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thoughts On Possible Refugee Ban

Today, Trump is set to visit The Department of Homeland Security. At the moment, most people are focused on what it is he was so adamant about during his campaign, the building of the wall. However, this will not be his only agenda, as he signs several more executive orders during his visit today. One additional promise from his campaign may come to be today: the complete shut down of accepting Muslim refugees into the United States.

If it is happening today, there is not much we can do to either promote or hinder this agenda. So, we might as well spend some time in reflection. What might it mean to follow through with this ban? What follows now is a series of considerations. I will not be solving the issue, nor do I claim to be doing so. In this regard, may this be a meditation, not an argument.

First, let’s consider the major factor that causes most advocates to support this agenda. We may call it xenophobia, Islamiphobia, racism, or the like, but the truth is that, while these might be, for some, the means to fear, it is not simple bigotry that motivates people. Indeed, it is fear, and we cannot pretend that there are not some legitimate reasons for fearing the presence of more Islamic peoples in our nation. Terrorism is a real threat, as we well know from our own recent history and from current European events, but is it such a threat that we are warranted in our shutting out countless innocents, because of the threat that some individuals with ill intent might sneak in with these innocents.

This might seem to move off point a bit, but, since it is inevitably where the discussion leads, we must face how radical Islam came to be, because some will say, “Well, it is not our fault radicals exist, and while I feel sorry for the people in areas they already infect, we cannot allow them to infect the U.S. This has nothing to do with the U.S., we are a Christian nation, and, since these people are Muslims, they are part of the problem, since it is Islam that creates radical Islam.”

Is this a fair and accurate consideration?

It is true: We make a mistake when we assume radical Islam is not related to religion, as if it is only a political movement using Islam as an excuse to commit its atrocities. Islam’s eschatology is intrinsically tied to political power. There is no doubt that many of Islam believe that the Islamic world must take over the entire globe, politically, for their desired end to take place. Whether this should happen through terrorism, war, or diplomacy is up for debate within the Islamic world:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.[1]

Likewise, we make a mistake when we assume radical Islam is not related to political unrest, much caused by the United States (as well as other Western powers) imperial presence in the Middle East. Our interventions have caused upheaval in the region over and again, one example being our covert actions in Iran, which eventually helped spark the rise of the Shia Islamic Republic and thorn in our side Iran has recently come to be:

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency coined a term for it: Blowback. The explosive boomerang that governments throw when, either by propaganda or through covert military operations, they deliberately stoke the flames of ethnic, religious or nationalist rivalries for political gain. Faustian monsters are created who then threaten to overwhelm the very governments that gave them birth. Blowback was first used by the CIA to describe unintended consequences of their covert activities in Iran in 1954. The agency warned of the possible repercussions of the coup d’├ętat it had engineered to overthrow the elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq.[2]

Moreover, when we began to support unrest in Afghanistan to frustrate the Russians, we caused much fear in the region, and refugees began to flee the region. Just like today, they were gathered in large camps away from their homeland, where they were left to their own devices. Just like the current situation in Greece, the refugees grew increasingly disgruntled, as no one came to their rescue. It was this unrest that radicals used to recruit once normal Muslims to their cause. At the same time, the U.S. was funding and arming these radicals, creating movements that still exist today.

Yes, radical Islam is an Islamic problem, created, in part, by Islamic people, but it is also a U.S. problem. If we are really worried about the rise of radical Islam, perhaps we should consider how not accepting refugees create hotbeds, like the ones in Greece at the moment. These hotbeds of unrest and desperation are perfect harvesting fields for the radical movements like Isis. By bringing in the innocent, we protect them from desperation, which leads to radicalization, and, in turn, protect the global community, as well as the U.S., from avoidable, rapid growth of radicalization.

Now that we get the practical out of the way (practical from human, political perspective), let’s talk about the sacred, sanctified approach (what is practical from a divine perspective). Without considering the overwhelming biblical data, which calls us to care for the refugee, consider this:

As Christians, we must think very carefully about how we treat the refugees for the sake of our witness and mission. Yes, we must be prudent, but we cannot let fear control our treatment of those in need. A lesson from Christianity’s past here in the U.S. might help us to think more clearly about our situation today. It is not a perfect analogy, since our approaches are different in each case (the first case being direct contact, the second being complete avoidance), but they come together in their motivation and (possible) consequence:

For many years now, I have been traveling to and from the Navajo Nation to share the love of Jesus Christ, and, to be quite honest, there is a part of me that feels like a fool every time I go, because I know the sad history of the tradition I carry on of "sharing the Gospel" with the Native Americans. Our nation, wanting to control the situation with the Native peoples we feared, justified its actions by proclaiming the Native as "dangerous." So, the white man slaughtered thousands. Who were the dangerous ones again? After we had broken the backs of these tribes, we placed them on reservations and Christian boarding schools were then established.

"In the name of Jesus", it was these schools' job to kill the culture of the people. The tribal children would be punished if they did not comply. They were not allowed to speak their language. They were not allowed to see their parents for many months at a time. If they tried to escape they would be hobbled. And all of this was done by Christians "sharing the Gospel."

Generations later, I have been called in the name of Jesus to share His love with the Navajo, and each time I am out there I have to face the consequences of what my brothers and sisters in Christ did many years ago in the name of fear. I have to see the hurt still in many of these precious peoples' eyes. I have to remind myself each time that what sets me apart is that I'm not out there to take anything but to give my all. I am out there simply to love.

The Christian community was too willing to be motivated by fear of “the other” to treat them like human beings. We cannot do the same today to the innocent among the Islamic nations fleeing danger. Christians cannot allow fear to motivate how we treat “the other” now, lest we damage our relationship with these peoples for generations to come. If we refuse them rescue in their time of need now, (what else are Christians here in times such as these than offering such hope) how will we ever hope they will trust us in the future, when we finally realize they deserve love and the good news of the Kingdom as well? What if, wanting to share the good news with Muslims, today and in the future, our missionaries find that it is they who are really feared, because the Muslim knows we have considered them as we do wild animals, less than human? What we are willing to do to humans we devalue is clear, and, knowing this, those we mistreat may now and forever refuse us access to their hearts.

I hope I never do anything in this life to make the work of the church harder for the generations to come. We cannot allow history to repeat itself over and over again. We must lay down our lives as Christ. This is the ultimate principle as we see in Acts 5:17-42. When there is a choice between proclaiming the love of Christ with great danger of losing our lives or avoiding the situation altogether, we must proclaim the good news. Allowing fear to motivate us has no place. National protection is an added layer to the issue for sure, but supporting the total ban of Muslims, which inevitably leads to the ignoring of the innocent refugee God cares so much about, is, in my mind, equally dangerous.

Again, we have to be smart about this, but we cannot simply use our fear to dismiss the oppressed for whom we are called to care.

We must love, because he first loved us.

"But the lawyer wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29

[1] Wood, Graeme, March 2015:
[2] Ramachandra, Vinoth. (2008). Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. pp. 17