Monday, July 25, 2016

Accepting the Democratic Process

I've been on two juries. The first time was a drug possession and selling case. One of the most serious charges (related to illegal weapons, I believe) was determined to be too high and the lower charge that we believed he was guilty of was not an option because of some legal reason (I don't recall). A few people were ready to convict him of the higher charge so he wouldn't "get off." I fought strongly against that, as while our system is imperfect, the thing that unifies us is the process. Our legal system is far from perfect, but there are barriers to wrongly convict people because that's such a major problem. That means some people will "get off." And despite those checks, people still get falsely convicted at a scarily high rate.

A similar process applies to democracy. There is a foundational belief underlying democracy that overall, the People will make the right choice. There's plenty of evidence we can find to the contrary over the centuries of democracy, but overall, things are hopefully moving in the right direction.

We don't like all the results of these processes, but we unify around the process, not the outcome. We accept disappointing results because of this and then perhaps try again later.

I remember how frequently during Presidential Inaugurations, news anchors comment on how peaceful and respectful transitions of power in the US are. However, this year's Presidential election feels different. I've been wondering what Inauguration Day will look like, regardless of the candidate. It seems others have thought the same thing, as a recent Associated Press article explores the same idea about whether a peaceful transition is possible.

Politicians and parties always use hyperbole and strong language to make their case. It's much like what happens between lawyers in a court room (not surprising since many politicians are former lawyers). And yet having seen both the legal process and political process (I interned in the California Assembly), people on opposing sides usually genuinely like and respect each other, even if they genuinely and passionately disagree. Letters from outgoing Presidents to incoming Presidents is very telling of this, as well.

In January, will we be able to continue to demonstrate a strong American tradition of exemplary peaceful transitions of power if our candidate loses?

This professional respect increasingly seems to be getting lost. Hillary is a criminal, and Donald is a dictator. The opposite sides agree with one statement, but not the other. When one gets elected, will the other side accept the Will of the People that is so core to our democracy? What if the claims of the successful candidate are true? When do we accept the democratic process, and when do we need to condemn the results?

It's a slippery slope either way. We know from history what happens when people stay silent too long. We also can see (very recently in Turkey) what happens when a sub-group tries to circumvent the democratic process. Neither option is pleasant, so what's the balance?

I take heart that we have a Separation of Powers. Congress has a huge amount of the actual power. They're the ones who make the laws, not the President. We need policymakers who agree with us there. The President has the most significant bully pulpit in the world and has more power as a representative of this country to the world, so interpersonal skills and wisdom in forging relationships are more central than policy here, in my opinion.

Our County will be tested in the next months. How we respond will be critical on so many levels. I hope we rise to the challenge, and I hope our Constitutionally-created Separation of Powers will not be needed, but will help ease people's angst and mitigate any short-term and long-term problems by the choice we make and have to live with.

At the end of the day, we must remember that a central part of being American is unifying around the Democratic process. And we have to determine how to deal with the consequences of when we don't appreciate the results.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Trumped Christianity

Earlier in the month, there was an op-ed in the New York Times entitled The Theology of Donald Trump, exploring Trump's faith and especially evangelical Christianity's response to him. It's interesting how we interpret behavior, which is obviously a complex process and rarely done objectively.

Another article came to my attention asserting how a covert video of Trump during a prayer session shows how faithful he is. Except his eyes are open the whole time, looking around, and to me, looking quite uncomfortable and appearing to want to know what's going on rather than really being present and moved by the Spirit. I don't know Trump personally, so I don't know what he's like personally or anything beyond his bombastic public appearance. So who knows...

Two months ago, I reviewed a book exploring the importance of evaluating presidential candidates' faith, broadly defined. The author, Stephen Mansfield, argues for asking questions about core values and where they derive from, seeing how those seem to match with the candidates' behavior. That seems to match the biblical verse about looking at the fruit of the Spirit.

Do we see the fruit of the Spirit demonstrated by Trump? A recent anti-Trump ad attempts to answer that question poignantly.

Oftentimes, it seems we tend to evaluate candidates' faith by their political position. In reality, faith can work its way through lives in many diverse ways. Christians can honestly and authentically come to completely different positions based on deep faith. That's one of the reasons I appreciate the Baptist core value of Soul Liberty.

Interestingly, I've heard very little debate about the faith of Hillary Clinton. Mansfield spends an entire chapter on her faith journey, which sounds quite authentic and applied, not superficial. But her faith and process is far more private than many.

Do we really know what to do with and how to even evaluate the faith of candidates? Should we? Is it possible?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: Following Paul

One of my fondest memories of living with my grandpa was going to monthly biblical archaeology meetings together. While I haven't had the opportunity to visit biblical locations, I find presentations on the topic quite interesting. FishFlix, a vendor of Christian DVDs, asked me to review a DVD entitled, Apostle Paul and The Earliest Churches, described on the cover as "Ephesus, Antioch, Tarsus, Galatia--an illuminating visit to the places where key New Testament events took place."

Indeed, this documentary provides visuals for many sites Paul visited in the course of his ministry. However, the sites weren't well-described. Various images and details were shown on screen, but often for only a second. I found myself frequently wanting to examine the details longer and find out more of the history and information about the location.

Ultimately, the documentary seems to have two related, but distinct purposes: (1) reenact Paul's missionary journeys, and (2) explore the historical, religious, and archaeological history of the sites Paul visited. Unfortunately, in 48 minutes, this is too much to try to accomplish, and the DVD did not seem to effectively capture either purpose, both being cut short by the other. I frequently kept wondering what the intent of the film was.

There is a lot of great potential, but it just feels like it is trying to be too many things to be effective. Production quality was modest and dated, and extra attention to detail and consistency would have been beneficial (for instance, captions would be helpful, and text on screen always said "Antioch in Psidia" while the narrator always said "Psidian Antioch," which sounds like Psidia in Antioch).

It's not a bad film, but it's really a very basic introduction. The study guide actually seems stronger than the documentary itself, but even that is pretty basic.

Readers can get a $5 coupon to FishFlix.com if you join the email list or texting 5-GIFT to 44222.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, July 11, 2016

Black Lives Matter and the Good Samaritan

Yesterday, our pastor, Rev. Dr. Shawn Zambrows, preached a powerful and timely sermon on the Good Samaritan. I highly recommend listening to it, if you're so inclined. In it, she cites Martin Luther King, Jr's I've Been to the Mountaintop sermon, where he states:
And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
During the sermon, I reflected on the many debates and memes I've seen on social media, the blogosphere, etc. on Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and so on. Some have argued the historical and systemic problems that require an emphasis on the lives of African-Americans, without diminishing the importance of all lives. Others say that singling out any group fundamentally diminishes the values of others.

What if we're asking the wrong question in this debate? Could King's hypotheses about the underlying questions of the priest, Levite, and Samaritan be at work again?

I understand the All Lives Matter argument quite well. In it, there's a bit of, "What about me? Doesn't my life matter?" That's a fair and valid reaction. But it's also a little bit of the "What will happen to me?" side.

At the moment, the people in need of particular systemic assistance and change are African-Americans. We should be not be asking in response, "what will happen to me if I help individually and/or systemically." We should ask, "What will happen to them if I don't help?" And part of that help is acknowledging that Black Lives Matter in the face of a myriad of experiences that indicate otherwise.

What will happen to them if we just continue to generically say All Lives Matter? What will happen to them if we say Black Lives Matter? What harm would come by calling out a constantly invalidated group by agreeing that Black Lives Matter? We have to put ourselves aside a bit for that to happen.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrate Respect, Not Fear

As we celebrate Independence Day in the midst of election season, our country is again examining how it is viewed through the rest of the world. Most of us want the US to be respected. Some view respect through the lens of fear. In fact, I saw a comment online that we need a leader that will lead other countries to be terrified of us.

Yet fear is not productive in building relationships or moving forward. I guess some people don't care about that. But let's remember the purpose of fear--its function is to keep us alive when threatened. The classic responses are to fight or flee. How is that helpful long-term or in relationships? It's not. It's highly destructive. Fear is very useful when a bear is coming at you, but that will also mean you won't be an ally of that bear unless your whole world is built upon power and ensuring you're on top. That's a precarious position.

I hear people essentially equate fear and respect in kids towards adults. We must remember that what we often see as respect for adults or other isn't actually respect. It's fear, so a child stays quiet. There is not necessarily an attitude of respect. Behavioral respect without attitudinal respect is quite problematic.

Ultimately, fear-based relationships are immature, unskilled power plays. When we are unable to adequately express ourselves and our emotions and do not have the skills to regulate those emotions effectively, we default to primal-based actions of aggression.

Think of the toddler who doesn't get their way. They can't regulate and don't know what to do but yell and hit, which doesn't lead to anything good. As we grow and mature, hopefully we learn skills of emotional expression and regulation as well as effective behavioral responses that are beneficial for us and for other. That's what leads to positive relationships and mutual respect. Aggression and fear leads to mutually assured destruction.

Which would you rather have?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Are All Crimes Hate Crimes?

In light of many horrific tragedies our world is facing, especially the shooting in Orlando, there is talk of applying hate crime law in the United States. Every time the phrase "hate crime" is used, people get up in arms about how inappropriate it is, as virtually all crimes are committed out of hate.

Murder, rape, theft, etc. all violate other people's rights, which theoretically requires some level of disregard for the other, if not full blown hate. I wouldn't disagree with this argument. In fact, I've thought it myself.

However, I've come to realize hate crime law isn't just trying to capture the presence of hate during a crime. It's really more focused on the additional element that someone (or a group of people) is targeted just because of a part of their identity (e.g., religion, race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.). This extra legal charge can be applied to add penalty for committing a crime, at least in part, because of the victim's identity.

This doesn't dismiss or minimize the disregard for rights someone committing a crime often must have, and it doesn't mean there wasn't a specific motivator to commit the offense. What it does do is recognize the problems caused by hateful discrimination that increases crime.

While many crimes are driven by hate of some kind, there's a difference between hating someone who did something that injured you and hating someone because of an element of their identity. A crime driven out of either is problematic, but as a society, we generally can understand the former more. However, the latter is more systemically problematic and without any reasonable justification. Hence, our agreed upon system of justice penalizes that even more.

The real question is not whether all crimes are hate crimes, but whether there should be an extra penalty for a crime committed in part because of the victim's identity.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Safety is an Illusion

Maslow rates safety and security as fundamental needs, just above basic physiological needs of water, air, food, sleep, etc. This makes sense. If we don't feel safe, it's very difficult to function.

However, there's a reality of risk we take in everything we do. And there's almost a bit of a delusional state we need to live in to get by. If I thought about all the ways and chances we could get in accidents on the freeway, I might never put my kids in a car. But that just won't work. Sure, there's good, reasonable safety precautions, like car seats, seat belts, car maintenance, and safe driving. But bad things happen despite all of those things. And they happen every day.

In the aftermath of shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando and gorilla and alligator encounters with children, there are a variety of outcries focused on how somebody did something wrong that could have prevented these tragedies.

We need good, honest, critical thinking evaluations of what can truly prevent bad things from happening when possible.

However, I think a lot of the debate is not that. I think much of it is an attempt to self-soothe by saying, "It would never happen to me" because of the many things I would do differently. I had that reaction with the kids situations, putting myself in that position and telling myself it would never happen to me. But then I realized my "logic" was really just a reaction of fear, not wanting to acknowledge the horror of the situation and not wanting to consider that it could happen to me.

In order to do that good, honest, critical thinking evaluation of safety, we need to be able to face tragedy and horror in its face, recognizing that it's not that far away and not somewhere else. Many arguments about safety I've heard over the past months won't actually improve safety; they'll improve people's feeling of safety. Those are very different things. Feeling safe is fine. Again, I think we need a bit of a delusional quality of life (this is actually reinforced by research indicating that the negative view of the world in depression is actually far more accurate than non-depressed "normal" states). However, we need to consider the consequences and recognize the illusory quality of some things that we do.

When it comes to guns, for instance, do they actually make us safer societally, or do they make individuals who carry them feel safer? Since we can't systematically study them well in this country, that's a difficult question to objectively answer--what I hear are mostly single anecdotes on either side of the debate, but you can always find an exception to any evidence.

And then when we determine something makes us safer, we have to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. We don't want to acknowledge this, either, but we do it all the time. We turn down a variety of safety measures, including air bags, seat belts, helmets, home alarms, distractionless driving, etc. Most of these just impact us individually, but we also need to consider the safety impact of decisions on others.

Just because something makes us safer individually, does it make other less safe? Driving in a car full of spikes could be a good example of this.

When we think of safety, we need to move beyond the feeling of safety into evidence of actual safety, and not just for us individually, but as a society.

And sometimes bad things happen no matter what anyone does.

Questions?

Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).