Reject discord, embrace love

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Last night we held a truly historic election with many firsts, some of which we should celebrate, some which we should lament, and some that just are. The first female candidate of a major party is a first we should celebrate, regardless of who that woman may be or what she may represent. The first president to be elected without prior service in either government or the military is something which may be cause for celebration, lamentation, or neither. Only time can tell. And while far from being the most divisive election in history it has been a rough road these past many months. (For more on the history of divisiveness in politics, read up on the elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1884, and 1928; the feud between Vice President Aaron Burr and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton which ended in the death of one; or the tumult of the 1960s, when political assassinations were all too commonplace.)

For many, this election did not go the way they had hoped, but for all of us, whether enjoying victory, grieving loss, or just wondering what happened, we should all remember that politics is still local. The president is still just one man and while that man may be, in many ways, the most powerful on Earth, his power still pales in comparison to the power you have over your own life and even the power you have over your community. If you seek change, let it begin with you.

And I plead most dearly to what I hope is a tiny minority so filled with anger that you are willing to lash out with violence, be it physical or even just verbal; resist that urge. Many, whether rightly or wrongly I will not judge, opposed our next president on the grounds that he would promote hate and violence. This may or may not be the case, but know that, whether he will or will not, you alone have the ultimate power over your own actions. You do not have to give in to your own desires to be hateful or divisive. Meet hate with love. Meet violence with peace.

In the history of the world, the men and women we admire most are the ones who have risen above the fray; Jesus Christ, Susan B Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela. Be like these men and women. Continue to fight for what you believe in and fight hard, for it is spirited debate that makes us all better. But fight civilly. Fight graciously. Fight respectfully. Fight peacefully.

Perhaps my greatest joy is that President-Elect Trump, Secretary Clinton, and President Obama all delivered some of the best speeches of this campaign season the day after the election. They were messages filled with magnanimity, unity, and support made all the more powerful because of the rancor that existed over the past many months between them. We should all take heed of their call.

And know that, whether you “won” or “lost” last night, things are not going to be as great or as dire as you hoped or feared. The sun will come up tomorrow and the day after that. Our nation will get through the next four years, and in the decades to come, this day will be largely forgotten. I promise you there are more important things happening today than what the news is reporting on; things so wonderful they give me great hope for our nation and our world. Children are being born. Young love is blossoming. Mothers and fathers are celebrating a child’s first steps of the final moments together before their child goes off to start a life of their own. And people are rejecting violence. Blacks and Whites, men and women, immigrant and native born are setting aside what are truly paltry differences and working together to better their communities with deeds as large as million dollar fundraising campaigns and as small, but equally important, as a smile or a door held open. These are the things that truly impact our lives. Let these be the things you build your memories upon. Let these be the things you celebrate today and in the weeks and months to come.

And for those of you who are in despair, know that I grieve with you, not because I despair over the outcome of last night or even the future, but that, simply, you despair and the fact that you suffer, regardless of wthe reason, grieves my heart. To be sure, we are in trying times and the divisiveness which we have thus far experienced and the uncertainty many have about the future serves as a catalyst for fear. And while that fear is not for all the same reasons – some may fear what measures President-Elect Trump and our new congress will pass and how those measures will directly impact their lives while others may fear whether those who have already called for violence against our next president are truly serious or simply venting as they process what was a shock to their expectations – I urge you all to join with me in choosing not to give in to that fear and its resultant divisiveness.

Tangibly, seek out a friend who differs with you and let him know that, despite your differences, you know that there is far more that unites you in friendship than could ever divide you in opposition. Tell her that, regardless of how she views our collective path forward, you understand that, like you, she only has the best of intentions and that, regardless of who may be in power, his power will never have the power to overcome your bond of friendship or the power of love.

Finally, take heart for the future, for I know that our best days are ahead. I know this because, while presidents, kings, and even capitals may come and go, Jesus was, is, and always will be Lord and as long as that is the case, we never have reason to despair.

May God bless you all and may He bless this nation and this world, for it is His blessing that has charted us through the past 400 years of our history and His blessing which will chart us through the coming four.

The Zealot Controversy

This Fox News interview with Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot, the controversial new biography about Jesus Christ (or, more correctly in this case, “Jesus of Nazareth”) has started to make the social media rounds with acerbic comments coming from the left (or, more specifically, people who aren’t fans of Fox News and/or Christianity).

They mock Lauren Green with comments about her intelligence, her “homophobia” and Fox News’ bias, the last of which is especially fascinating considering their inherent bias against “Faux Noise” as they often refer to it. Their main argument seems to be that Green should not be allowed to raise the question of Aslan’s faith and how, as many scholars have pointed out, it biases him against a depiction of Jesus as the Living Son of God.

So my question for these folks is–and Aslan actually raises it early in the interview–if a Christian scholar wrote a book about Muhammed would he receive the same sort of questioning about his inherent biases? The answer is rhetorical, of course. (Not only would he receive this line of questioning from moderate Muslims as well as most other folks, the zealots of that religion would be calling for his head.)  So what makes this guy so special that he’s apparently the only scholar in the world without biases? (Or so it would seem by his refusal to acknowledge them; although, perhaps if Green had worded her question thusly he may have been forced to admit to them.)

I’d say the fact that he refuses to admit his biases (something we all have) might be a good indication that his are stronger than most.

And, for the record, yes, I’m sure some of her questioning came from her background as a devout Christian; her bias. But wouldn’t you ask similar questions if someone of a different faith (political ideology or, perhaps, even the strategies you employ in your day to day work), scholar or not, was telling you that the major tenet of the faith (et cetera) in which you believed was wrong? No one likes to be told she’s wrong about something, especially when that criticism comes from someone outside the circle of the subject’s influence. A cook doesn’t want to be told by a scientist that he doesn’t know how to properly boil potatoes even though the scientist might be right. A pitcher doesn’t want to be told by a tailor he’s throwing a fastball incorrectly. And a Christian certainly doesn’t want to be told by a Muslim that the God she and her fore-bearers have been worshipping for 2000 years really isn’t God at all. (Well, no kidding? If Aslan did believe that Jesus was the Living Son of God, then he wouldn’t be Muslim, now would he?)
I’m sure this is an interesting and well researched book and not only does Aslan have the right to write it, it probably contributes a worthwhile thing or two to the study of Christ. The problem lies in his apparent hubris, at least in this interview. He’d be better received if he’d just admit his inherent biases (again, biases we all have) instead of answering every question with his lofty resume.

In Defense of Barack Obama

Mark Driscoll, the often controversial pastor of Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, posts on his Facebook page today: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

I’m not a fan of Obama by any means and if I had to make a judgment about his faith in the Lord I’d be apt to agree with Driscoll. But that’s just it. I don’t have to make a judgment about Obama’s faith in the Lord. In fact, not only do I not have to make that judgment, I’m not supposed to. The New Testament is filled with verses against judgment, Matthew 7:1-5 one of the most widely quoted.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t point out evil deeds when we see them. It doesn’t mean that we can’t try to guide fellow Believers, or even unbelievers, toward righteousness. It also doesn’t mean that we should be so full of Grace that there is no room left for Truth.

What it does mean is that we should not judge what is in a man’s heart, and that is especially true if we’ve never even met the man. Perhaps if Driscoll was Obama’s pastor and had met with him on a regular basis he’d have come to a different conclusion. Or maybe not. But at least he’d know the man. As it stands, all Driscoll knows about Obama is what he reads in the news. And regardless of what sources Driscoll is reading, none of them are ever going to paint a full picture of what is in Obama’s heart.

Furthermore, acknowledging the fact that Obama has pushed for legislation which is clearly not Biblical, Obama’s secular actions may not be betraying his religious convictions. Case in point, I believe that abortion is a sin but I have also come to realize that making it illegal is not the best way to eliminate it. I also believe that Christ is the One True path to Salvation but that doesn’t mean I want to form a Theocracy. Doing so, in fact, would not only be bad policy from an earthly perspective, it would also be blasphemous.

I’m opposed to Obama because I am opposed to big government. I don’t have all the answers to the problems that plague society. In fact, I have so few of them that I don’t want to make those decisions, especially at the federal level. I think they’re better left to local officials or, better yet, the individual. But maybe Obama does have all the answers (all evidence points to the contrary; I’m just playing Devil’s advocate, pardon the phrase). Maybe if everyone did rally behind Obama and give him unlimited power we’d all be riding rainbow-powered unicorns and feasting on gumdrops and gingersnaps. Not something I want to try and I’m 99.99% sure it wouldn’t work, but the important thing isn’t whether I think it will work or not. The important thing is whether Obama thinks it would work.

If Mark Driscoll or I were to sit down with Obama for a completely candid conversation and learn that Obama agrees that none of his legislation will work and he’s only pushing it as part of a Machiavellian power grab so he can proclaim himself dictator and enslave the people, then I’d say Driscoll is right on the money. Obama is evil, doesn’t believe in the Bible and doesn’t know God. But if we were to sit down with Obama and learn that he really thinks everything he’s doing is helping to make the nation a better place, then I’d have to say that Driscoll is dead wrong. Certainly a good, Christian argument for ObamaCare and other social programs can be made; that we have a moral duty to take care of the least amongst us. It’s an argument I happen to agree with on its surface; I just don’t believe that the federal government (or any government, for that matter), should be the arbiter of that decision; that we’re given free will by God and it is up to us at an individual level to choose whether we help the poor or not.

And from a public relations angle, Driscoll’s post couldn’t have been worse. It’s probably safe to say that a large majority of folks who attend Mars Hill didn’t vote for Obama but there’s a reason that pastors don’t run for election and that the topic for the Sunday Sermon isn’t decided by a Gallup Poll. Pastors can and should speak to the issues of the day. I think it was completely justified for the Catholic Church to speak out against the contraceptive mandate or gay marriage initiatives. It has Biblical text clearly and definitively backing up those views. On the matter of Barack Obama though, the Bible is silent. (Yeah, yeah, for some folks Obama is the Second Coming and for others he’s the Anti-Christ. but those are fringe beliefs and not clearly backed up by Scripture.)

By bringing politics to the pulpit, Driscoll has alienated the very people he should be reaching out to (in the sense that I’m guessing he believes voting for Obama wasn’t the most righteous decision one could make). Jesus didn’t go around preaching to the folks He knew were already destined for Heaven. No, He spent His time with the tax collectors and the prostitutes. And while He was truthful about the sinfulness of their behavior, He always led with Love and Grace. I seriously doubt Jesus would have been impressed by Mark Driscoll’s post this morning and I’m guessing that Jesus’s Facebook page wouldn’t have carried those words either, even if Jesus knew that Obama wasn’t a Believer.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean I think Mark Driscoll is preaching some wayward Gospel or that he doesn’t know God. I’m going to take him at his word that he is a follower of Christ and believer of the Bible. We all struggle with sin and that is why we should always be very careful when pointing out the faults in others. Again, it is our duty as Christians (and humans, for those of us who aren’t Christians) to point out the shortcomings in others just as we wouldn’t stand idly by if a friend had a problem with alcohol or was cheating on his wife. But when we do counsel others we must do so gently, with Grace, and with the spirit of the Lord, for it isn’t we who will bring them to salvation (or Salvation), but the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Driscoll, I pray that we may all continue to valiantly fight in our struggle against the sins which are of greatest presence in our life; be we pastors, bloggers or politicians. Go in Grace and go in Peace, my Brother.

Staying True to Your Values Is Good PR

I am currently pursuing a certificate in Public Relations from the University of Washington. Last week we had our first two classes of Winter quarter and we started one of them off by discussing the biggest PR Disasters of 2012 as reported by Entrepreneur.com. Most of them are pretty common-sense: political gaffes and social media blunders. At least one of them, the whole Chick-fil-A episode, was clearly a biased attack on conservative values. (Another was a biased attack on large corporations but I won’t get into that.)

Of course, just because bad PR might be the result of a biased media or a left-wing army of “tolerance” doesn’t mean it isn’t PR or isn’t “fair”. Fairness doesn’t and shouldn’t have anything to do with good PR. In fact, it’s often just the opposite. The job of a good PR expert is to combat often times unfair or one-sided coverage with the truth. If Chick-fil-A really did handle the whole gay marriage thing poorly then its PR department should be taken to task for it.

But I don’t think they did. And more importantly, I don’t think good PR should have to blow in the wind of public opinion, especially when it’s public opinion about something so controversial as gay marriage. Just the opposite, good PR should be willing to stand by its company’s core values, regardless of what they are. This is perfectly demonstrated by another PR disaster of 2012, Susan G Komen’s flip-flop on support for Planned Parenthood. The debate there isn’t whether Komen should or shouldn’t support Planned Parenthood but that, once it makes a decision, it needs to stick by it. By flip-flopping on Planned Parenthood they angered not only a subset of supporters of Planned Parenthood (angry liberals that are looking to be offended and probably didn’t donate a lot, in aggregate, to Komen in the first place), but, more importantly, a group of people who either supported Komen’s original stance or are now rightfully wary of a company basing its philanthropic decisions on a media debacle that likely would have gone away just as quickly, if not more so, had it just kept quiet on the matter.

So good for Chick-fil-A. Its owners hold certain views (views which are held by half the population and probably and even larger percentage of Chick-fil-A customers) and they were willing to stand by those views. And because of that integrity, not only did Chick-fil-A do its single biggest day of business on a day that the left was launching a boycott, its quarterly earnings for that quarter were up 2.2% and its market share was up 0.6%

Furthermore, the “kiss-in” that was supposed to materialize later largely fell flat. And talk about a bad PR move! If you’re trying to get folks to stay away from a business to hurt their bottom line, it’s probably not the best idea to, then, encourage them to go to that business. Not only did many of these folks succumb to the tasty goodness that is a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, many of them probably realized that Chick-fil-A, despite what they may like to think, doesn’t want to burn homosexuals at the stake and treats all its employees and customers with dignity and respect.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as a Christian (and I don’t think one has to necessarily be a Christian to adhere to this philosophy), integrity, staying true to one’s core values, is paramount. Look at all the PR disasters in the Bible. Moses comes down Mount Sinai with the very Word of God in his hands and the Israelites, still fresh from deliverance from Egypt, start worshiping a cow (and you thought politicians today had it bad!). God came down from Heaven and ended up put to death. For hundreds of years later His followers met much the same fate. Even today, Christians are persecuted around the world. But, as we know, that’s not where any of those stories ended. The Israelites reached the Promised Land. Jesus rose from the dead. Christianity is the largest religion in the world. And whether one believes in the eternal salvation of Christ or not, anyone with integrity knows that sticking to one’s beliefs in the face of adversity is what is true. As Lincoln said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”

Martin Luther Quote

Ingenious! Can’t believe I hadn’t come across this one before. It perfectly sums up the libertarian argument against religious intervention in government law-making and best of all it does it from the religious side of things. As I’ve said before, people who wish to carry out God’s Law, as much as I agree with it and try daily to follow it, are being somewhat blasphemous (although I know that’s not their intention) as they put the power of government, “the little g”, above the power of God, “the Big G”.

“God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obligated to keep the peace outwardly….The laws of worldly government extend no farther than to life and property and what is external upon earth. For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but himself. Therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys souls. We desire to make this so clear that every one shall grasp it, and that the princes and bishops may see what fools they are when they seek to coerce the people with their laws and commandments into believing one thing or another.”  – Martin Luther, On Secular Authority

The Truth of Christian faith

I recently got into a Facebook discussion with an atheist (or maybe he’s an agnostic, I’m still not clear on which; he does lists his religious views as “Jesus built my hotrod”; I’m guessing Jesus in this case is his Mexican mechanic). He seems to enjoy posting rather inflammatory statements not necessarily calling Christians and other believers evil, although he sometimes does that too, but more often just insinuating that they are stupid or delusional.

Just yesterday, however, he posted a picture and a quote from Reform Presbyterian Reverend Joseph Morecraft. Morecraft, if this quote did in fact originate from him, could rightly be called an intolerant, religious extremist and, in my opinion, someone who has yet to grasp the core message of Christianity, which is Grace. The nut of the quote was thus; “…if the homosexuals are not burned out of America, if the humanist aren’t burned out of America, there is no hope.” Hmm. Yes, clearly he missed a few days at seminary, not to mention a basic grasp of the U.S. Constitution I’m guessing.

So I began what turned out to be a quite lengthly debate with this follower of “Jesus hotrodism” that, if this is what I’d been led to believe as the teaching of Christ I’d want no part of it either and then invited him to check out the Unitarians and read Case for the Creator. (Fellow Christians might see the former as counterproductive in trying to save his soul but I find baby steps are sometimes a better approach; better that he first believe in a Creator then work on Jesus than be introduced to it all at once.)

So we went back and forth a bit more until he mentioned his “hatred of organized religion” (his words, not mine) came not from being exposed to some ultra-zealous, over-regulated, Westboro Baptist brand of religion but from the following points he laid out, which I will do my best to respond to from a Christian standpoint as, I believe, that is the one true religion.

“Fatalism. A passive acceptance of one’s fate is a long-term consequence of being inculcated with the notion of a God that provides for all (or damns all). It appears to radiate toward weaker minded secular people as well. Symptoms: Resignation to the two-party system. Societal apathy.”

A belief in God is anything but a passive acceptance of one’s fate. Christians believe that our fate is in our hands as it requires an acceptance, an active acceptance, of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Yes, Calvinists, of which I suppose I’d consider myself included, believe in predestination but only so far as God is omniscient and knew what our actions and beliefs would be before we were created by Him; not that He is controlling of those actions and beliefs. As for a supposed religious fatalism having an effect on political engagement, Christians, taking a catholic (as in universal) view of history not only don’t resign themselves to a two-party system but don’t resign themselves to party politics period and are some of the least apathetic people in the world. Where the governments of man may place barriers to God’s perfect plan, Christians find another way. Christians don’t need to rely on government to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless or cure the sick. Christians go out and do it themselves despite the obstacles they face. It was Christianity, after all, which was instrumental in bringing about the end of slavery in the Western world (and continues to fight for its end in places where it still, sadly, remains).

Philalgia. A neologism for love of misery. The underpinnings of early Christianity were based probably on misinterpretations of Jesus’s word and amplified by the dark age Church. As evidenced by terms such as “sinful” describing delicious food, things which provide pleasure are viewed with suspicion even by ostensibly secular people who likely do not reject this view out of hand because they don’t recognize it as religiously derived. Symptoms: Vice laws. The drug war.

I will admit that certain sects of Christianity, chief amongst them the papacy of the Dark Ages, spread a gospel of suffering but, as he mentions, this view was based on a misinterpretation of Jesus’s Word (and, I’d add, a lust for worldly power). True Christian faith is anything but a love of misery. True Christian faith is a love so powerful and immense words, and even the grave itself, can not contain it. Yes, early Christians suffered greatly even as many Christians today suffer to a great extent in places like China and, to a much lesser extent, even here as they become ostracized from the increasingly secularized culture. By rejecting what some may shallowly view as the pleasures of unrestrained sexuality, gluttony and greed, Christians aren’t just following archaic rules passed down for what some see as God’s sadistic pleasure, but to find a greater joy. In fact, the Laws which God has given us are wholly for our own pleasure, not His. After all, He’s omnipotent, while human suffering indeed saddens Him it does not compare to the agony which we put ourselves through here on earth by treating each other and ourselves the way we do. A brief illustration of the power of sin which most will understand; people drink alcohol for pleasure. But anyone who has had too much of it the night before knows all too well that, abused, it is, on its own, a vengeful mistress. Lust, fame, and all the rest, which viewed in the short term may seem to bring about pleasure, are are too painful when seen through the eyes of a man who’s found corporal pleasure in the arms of a thousand women but none who have touched his soul or the starlet who couldn’t cope with only the shallow admiration or her fans and found a bottle of pills or a razor’s edge more comforting than another day in this world.

Externalization of God. The view of God as an external, sentient being separate from humans (no matter how benevolent) preconditions the mind to accept external authority. Easily abused Bible verses like “Render unto Caesar” only exacerbate this problem. Symptoms: The expanding state. Excessive respect for authority.

Those who view only themselves as the ultimate authority in the universe indeed have no respect for authority. Hopefully they were dealt a healthy conscience (of course, that in itself would indicate a belief in something bigger, even if they don’t realize it themselves). If not, where is man to get his social contract? Are we not, then, like the beasts of the wild, savages in a savage land, pirates on a treacherous sea of humanity (but perhaps not, for even pirates have their code as thieves have honor amongst themselves)? And, as he rightly points out, verses like “render unto Caesar” can be easily abused as can almost any verse in the Bible. That is why Christians look not only to the Word of God as found in its pages but also to the Voice of God which comes to them through prayer. And an excessive respect for an ever expanding state of man comes not from the externalization of God but from His obliteration, for when one stops worshipping the “Big G” of God, one is left, most evidently, with the “little g” of government.

Zionistic, jingoistic nonsense in the Old (obsolete) Testament. Contradictions in the Bible aren’t just inconvenient, embarrassing details. They are flat out dangerous. They allow the religion to market itself as peaceful and loving, while justifying hideous acts of war with the equally hideous atrocities depicted lovingly in the OT. They precondition Christians to find war acceptable and somehow not at odds with humanitarian views. Meanwhile, the contradictory parts including parts about being peacemakers and the focus more on war for conquest rather than the glory of combat means that it is essentially portrayed as acceptable to be a chickenhawk. There can be no more disgusting wretch than someone who would never set foot on a battlefield yet expects others to do so.

This is not an argument against the Word of God in its purest form but against man’s inherently imperfect nature and his difficulty in properly discerning that Word. Yes, read with an untrained eye perhaps seeking to validate a preconceived notion instead of the Truth, one may view battle scenes of the Old Testament (and Revelations) as glorified and to the extent that Good triumphs over Evil they must be for, throughout time immemorial there has been a battle between these two great forces and to pretend that one does not exist in hopes that it won’t is grossly naive. What decent society would stand idly by as the weak are slaughtered and justice becomes a farce? Who would not come to the aid of a child being beaten by a drunkard father or a woman being raped. Yet, does this not require battle of a kind? Until the final call of Gabriel’s Horn sounds the end of the final battle will Evil be rid of this Earth so until then we must show understanding when we can but force when we must.

In short, I believe that those who look down upon Christianity (and faith, to some extent, writ large) have been fed a misguided version of it and must only be invited by us Believers into the amazing story of love, grace and the promise of everlasting harmony to those who will give up only their ego, that is our Faith.

God Bless and may the Grace of Our Lord shine down upon us all and turn our souls ever more toward Him and His Salvation.

Reflections on 10 Years Past

Like most people of a certain age I remember it as if it were yesterday. Back then I was working in the travel industry, as a call-center reservations agent for Princess Cruises. I was on the 10am-7pm shift and usually only woke in time to quickly get ready and walk to the bus stop; not enough time to turn on the TV or radio.

It’s funny how the little things stick with you. A friend once told me in high school that, if you’re studying for a big test, after you’re done you should do something really memorable like go skydiving because then you’ll remember everything you did surrounding that event. While I was walking up the hill to the bus stop I passed a guy speaking frantically into his cell phone, “Next they’ll be dropping bombs on us!” Since I had no idea of what had just happened I figured he was some sort of mildly crazy person. I’m not sure if most of the passengers had already heard the news and were living in a daze like so many of us did that day or it was just a coincidence, but the bus ride was particularly quiet that day. When I arrived at work it was anything but.

“The Air Force has just shot down a plane in California!”
“What?! Why?!”
“It refused to land!”
“What do you mean, it refused to land?! The Air Force doesn’t just shoot down planes because they refuse to land!”
“The FAA has grounded all flights! The Twin Towers are gone!”
“What do you mean, they’re gone?! Buildings don’t just disappear!”

It was still early enough in the day that rumors were running rampant. The plane allegedly shot down in California was, as we all now know, United Flight 93, taken over by a group of brave passengers and crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA, saving untold lives and our nation’s capital from destruction. Thank God for small miracles and thank God for those heroic passengers.

After answering a few frantic calls from cruise passengers who were stranded in Alaska or Florida, kept from reaching their homes and loved ones at a time when they must have most wanted to be with them, I took a break and went over to my supervisor’s desk, determined to get answers. As she explained the facts of the day’s unfolding events the gravity of the situation hit me hard, like those planes had hit the towers. I’d been pretty broken up about the bombing of the USS Cole nearly a year before but this paled in comparison. Seventeen officers and seamen in a foreign and somewhat hostile port who’d sworn to uphold our freedoms knowing full well that commitment might result in death compared to thousands of civilian men, women and children who were flying home to see their families or turning on their computers and pouring their first cups of coffee for the day. Things like this were not supposed to happen. We were supposed to be safe here. Sure, we’d faced Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. Those were bad enough but still somewhat bearable. Planes crashing into buildings that then collapsed to the ground?! People jumping to their deaths, preferring a quick impact to the agony of being burned alive?! This didn’t even happen in the movies. Wasn’t the hero always supposed to stop the tragedy at the last minute? It’s ironic that so many people who recall what they were doing on that day speak of glancing at a TV in a shop window or above a bar and mentioning that they’d “seen this movie before, I think it stars Bruce Willis.” But this wasn’t Die Hard or The Towering Inferno. This was real life.

I returned to my desk but I didn’t stay long. It only took one call from a surly travel agent who remarked that the fact that “we” couldn’t get her passengers to their cruise in time “would be bad for publicity and possibly end in a lawsuit.” I had a few very choice words for her to be sure and then realized I wasn’t in a place, mentally, to be handling any calls of a such a petty nature that day. I wished I was in New York so I could help with the rescue effort. I even considered hopping a Greyhound Bus in the ensuing days but didn’t end up doing so. I still wish I had. It’s hard for me to sit idly by, even if it’s from 3000 miles away, and watch calamity unfold.

So I walked the few miles to my church. One of our members was considerably more distraught. She worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that lost most of its workforce that day. Because of that enormous loss she was promoted to a VP position, everyone else in her department having lost their lives. Something like that isn’t even bittersweet. It’s just bitter.

After the service I walked to a nearby hotel restaurant and ordered a cup of clam chowder. I didn’t hunger for food but for information and knew there’d be a TV there. Newscasters, out of their normal stoic character for once, fought back tears as they described the day’s events while the terrible images of that day played in loops.

After a bit I’d regained my composure enough so that I decided to return to the office. On the way I picked up the Seattle Times’ Extra Edition that I still hold to this day.

When I returned home that day I went to the roof of my apartment building and lowered the flag to half-mast then spent the rest of the evening watching the news and speaking to a few friends and relatives. I remember one conversation with some Canadian friends. I remember how grateful I was to them, to their nation, that they’d allowed many of our passenger jets to land at their airports. It seems like such a small gesture, so easy to accommodate, but on that day even the smallest gestures seemed like the world to us.

And during the next days and weeks the feelings that would grip me most would not be sadness, although that surely came and went throughout that time and sticks with me even today as I write this. No, the feeling I remember and cherish the most is one of joy and pride. The terrorists, as their moniker denotes, tried to terrorize us that day. They wanted us to live in fear. They wanted us to feel their hate. And while, just as with sadness, the emotions of fear and hate did grip many of us and, again, like sadness, may still grip some of us today, the emotions that won out were those of joy, thankfulness, pride, bravery and love. As one poster that made its rounds in the coming months and years and depicted a dust covered New York Firefighter said, “When others ran out, he ran in.” Another one of my favorite commercials showed a typical American scene, a row of houses on a quiet residential street. Words superimposed stated that, “on September 11th, the terrorists tried to change America. They succeeded.” The picture then changed to show every one of those houses flying an American flag. And it wasn’t just on TV. Even here in Seattle, a place that rarely wears its national patriotism on its sleeve, the Stars and Stripes flew from seemingly every awning, rooftop and car, more ubiquitous than even a Starbuck’s Grande Half-Caf Latte. Two and a half weeks later I attended the ballet, the furthest thing one could imagine from unabashed patriotism, at least here in Seattle. But even there, before the curtain came up, the entire hall joined in singing the national anthem and the final piece of the evening was set to Stars and Stripes Forever. And people cared, genuinely. They asked stranger and neighbor alike, “how are you doing” and really meant it. Estranged friends and long forgotten relatives reconnected for the first time in years. For a short period it seemed that even gang members had come to a truce as former foes dropped their pettiness and became friends.

As with all things, I may be remembering some of the zeitgeist of those days through a bit of rose colored patina, but surely we were more civil, caring and united in the months that followed September 11th, 2001 than we are today. And I suppose that’s to be expected but it’s still, nonetheless, disheartening. In time, sadly, many of us will forget and a century from now it may only be but a footnote in the broader history of the 21st century. And that’s why it’s important that we take the time to remember that day and those that followed with a little extra clarity. In the days and even weeks and months to come, while we continue to look forward to what will surely be a brighter future (we must hope for no less), we must take the occasional moment not only to remember where we were when we first heard the news, but the feelings that unfolded from it. Remember the warm embrace of a love one that you held extra close that evening. Remember the genuine smile and authenticity of that “how are you doing” you received from the barista as you picked up your coffee the following mornings. Remember the extra feeling of national pride you got whenever you glimpsed a swatch of red, white and blue or heard the first few bars of our national anthem. And take those memories and try, at least for the next few weeks, to incorporate them back into your character. Smile a little bigger at that person behind the counter, show a little more understanding to that driver who just cut you off, put a little more sincerity behind that “how are you doing” and maybe, just maybe, we can regain a bit of the positive change we all experienced in the days that followed.

And for my part, to those who I’ve sometimes sparred with on this blog or elsewhere, my apologies for the times when it got a bit too heated, a bit too personal. We can disagree about the path to prosperity and peace. We can disagree about whether the Affordable Care Act is the right way to bring health care to those who are currently without. But in those disagreements let’s remember that we are allies in freedom, united in the belief that there can be a better tomorrow, that there can be peace and prosperity and that the only way we can grant victory to our enemy is when we forget that there truly is more that unites us than divides us.

God bless the men and women who gave their lives on 9/11. God bless those who continue to give their lives in the cause for freedom and God bless America!

Cross posted at SoundPolitics.com.

Faith, morality and the law

Republican Senatorial candidate Rand Paul recently spoke with Christian Broadcast Network’s David Brody. During the interview he stated “that Christianity and its values are the basis of our society.” This has some people a bit apoplectic, believing, perhaps, that if Paul is elected it will usher in some sort of Christian theocracy reminiscent of the Inquisition. One person I know may not have gone that far but still believes that “Rand Paul believes that if we were all Christians we wouldn’t need laws,” and thinks that supposed belief, and others, I assume, make Paul a “train wreck on so many levels.”

Putting aside the ridiculous assertion that having Christian leaders will lead to Christian theocracy and disregarding what Paul does or does not believe let’s just take a look at this supposed belief.

Paul later states that “laws only work because most of us don’t need laws” and I whole-heartedly agree with that sentiment. There are simply not enough police officers to deal with the crime wave that would ensue if anything more than a small fraction of society were law breakers. We see this in many inner-city neighborhoods. Regardless of why so many have chosen to turn toward crime, the fact is, in places like those, the cops can’t keep up with demand and the neighborhood is lost. Some neighborhoods are so bad that law enforcement no longer travels there on a regular basis if at all, ceding the territory to gang leadership. Yes, the simple fact is our own moral compasses keep most of us in line more than any laws do.

Furthermore, the laws of any society are set by that society’s morals so, ipso facto, if everyone were moral then there would be no need for law. And since, despite what many today may claim, this nation was founded on a Judeo-Christian morality based on the laws of the Bible; even Paul’s alleged theory that if everyone were a Christian we wouldn’t need laws, is correct.

This, of course, requires a different definition of the word Christianity as all who are or might claim to be Christian, fall drastically short on a regular basis, going so far as to break man’s law; i.e. the priest who molests the altar boy or the pastor who embezzles the church coffers. Perfect Christianity is perhaps a better descriptor; namely that if everyone followed the teachings of Christ, whether they believed in Him or not, as they applied to life here on earth (the more supernatural aspects like worshiping but one God or actually believing that Christ is the Savior, etc. need not necessarily apply) to the letter, society wouldn’t need the laws of man. After all, they’d be following the laws of God.

The other argument one might throw out is that of contract law, stating that morality doesn’t apply when someone is, say, purchasing a house from another party. This is not the case. Contracts are written to ensure both parties are receiving an equitable deal, in other words, that neither one is being cheated. Now, perhaps, the offending party may not be cheating on purpose and the offended party may not feel they are being cheated, but in a perfect world, i.e. one where both parties are privy to all the necessary information, contracts would not be necessary. Furthermore, unintended inequality would not be solved through contract law, only through knowledgeable negotiation; the contract only following. Think of it this way; if you and a friend were setting out on a cross-country road trip would you write a contract covering the equitable distribution of gas, food and lodging expenses? If your friendship was true and built on trust, no, you would not.

As James Madison stated in The Federalist #51, “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” I applaud Paul for speaking his mind and not pandering to what may be politically correct or expedient. His candidness is a breath of fresh air in a long stagnant political realm.

TRUE HOPE

I’m here surrounded by lost and empty souls,
Willing to follow anything or anyone who gives them HOPE.
They are like lambs to the slaughter but it is I who they would call foolish.
I weep and I weep and I weep. And they would call me foolish.
It is becoming so much to bear. I do not want to be angry. I do not want to HATE. I do not want to CARE.
But I cannot. I LOVE this place too much to see it destroyed. He will fiddle as we BURN.
Please LORD, help us to not lose sight of Your WORD, Your PROMISE.
Take this burden from me, JESUS.
I know Your will will be done.
Help me to trust in You fully.
My HOPE is in You, LORD, the ONE TRUE SAVIOR.