Monday, April 18, 2016

Speaking Sunday

For those interested, I will be giving the sermon at the First Baptist Church of Redlands (51 W. Olive Avenue, Redlands, CA 92373) on Sunday, April 24. The service is at 10:15AM. The title of my message is Defeat Evil with Good, and the Scripture will be ‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:9-21‬.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Priorities

Having a toddler and infant can be... exasperating at times. But then you see the smiles, the hugs, and the kisses.

This weekend, the little ones reminded us of priorities in life.

We went to the LA Times Festival of Books, where a heavy downpour started. As everyone ran under tents, the toddler promptly ran into the middle of it, face to the sky, with the happiest look ever, tongue out, dancing in the rain (and puddles). Our first reaction was, ugh, he's going to be soaked, dirty (etc., etc.). But then we noticed his joy (and the joy he brought to others around him). Water dries, and clothes can be washed.

Sometimes it's worth getting wet to be able to dance in the rain.

And then on the way to church, it was a very overcast today. We were rushing (as usual) and got on the freeway. As we change freeways, the toddler exclaims, "Oh my gosh! There's clouds! Look at the clouds out your window! And there's clouds on my window, too!!"

Don't just stop to smell the roses. Clouds can be pretty cool, too.

At the Festival of Books, we got to hear a talk by Buzz Aldrin and then get a book signed by him (yeah, that was pretty cool). My toddler and I listened to 40 minutes from someone who walked on the moon, so lots of stories, right? Well, the interviewer at one point asked Aldrin how one pees in space, and he talks about a UCD (urine collection device), and how it's important to empty it. He tells how he sees Neil Armstrong successfully walking on the moon surface, not sinking or anything bad. So Aldrin decides before he goes down the ladder, it would probably be good to, um, empty his UCD. The interviewer says, "So while Neil is taking one giant leap for mankind..." Aldrin finished, "I peed in my pants." Everyone laughs, and Brendan looks up at me with a smile and says, "He peed in his pants?!"

Be careful what you say. Little ones (and adults) will not always remember what you want them to remember.

The kingdom of heaven truly belongs to the children...

Monday, April 4, 2016

In Support of Flip-Flopping

During the election season, there is much criticism over candidates' "flip-flopping," or changing positions on issues. In many cases, the argument is that the particular candidate isn't a "dyed in the wool" person committed to a particular set of values, but rather being someone who came to a new position later.

But why is changing one's mind a bad thing? Especially for leaders, don't we want someone who can consider new information and potentially change their minds? Aren't intelligence, wisdom, and leadership built upon these principles? Someone whose mind cannot be changed and has shown no history of thoughtful development doesn't seem to be a mature person who deserves to be a leader. Especially at the level of President, an individual needs to be able to hear and see new information and make new, informed decisions, which might even surprise themselves.

Another argument against flip-flopping is that the candidate isn't sincere and is just saying what they think people want to hear. Now, I want a candidate who will sincerely uphold what they say they'll do. However, isn't it our elected officials' jobs to listen to the people and uphold their will as much as is possible? If a candidate knows a position is what people want, it is their job to advocate for that position, even if it doesn't match their own perspective.

Now someone who is claiming one thing and doing something else entirely does have a problem. And many candidates do claim a certain value system that is pretty obviously false. These can definitely be issues of integrity and trustworthiness.

But someone changing their mind and stance isn't a problem in my mind. It's mature.

Monday, March 28, 2016

In Support of Political Correctness

Political correctness frequently gets a bad rap, and this election season is no different. Supporters of some candidates love their celebrity politician because of their lack of political correctness because they just "say it like it is." I see comments like this on Facebook and elsewhere all the time related to politicians, pastors, businesses, etc.

The distaste for political correctness is valid in many ways. It can be frustrating to figure out how to say something so as not to offend anyone. And there's a point at which we just need to say what we need to say. If something needs to be said, sometimes people will be offended, and we can't always make everyone happy.

There's truth to a lot of this, but I think those who constantly advocate for the end of being "PC" are missing some significant things, particularly when those critics are Christians.

First of all, when I hear of people not being PC and instead "telling it like it is," almost every time what was said was just plain wrong. Sure, some people may think it, but the facts are false. If you need to be blunt and direct and step on people's toes, the facts need to be accurate.

More importantly, political correctness used properly is not about avoiding conflict or making people unhappy. Rather, it's fundamentally about loving our neighbor, recognizing that we don't always understand another person's perspective, and so we don't want to unintentionally offend someone else by violating their values. It's not about not having values and perspectives and strong beliefs, opinions, and stances of our own, but rather it's about not forcing that worldview on someone else.

Especially as Christians, our jobs are to put others before us and understand where they are coming from. We are not called to impose Christian values and particular denominational theology on others.

Good political correctness demonstrates values and particular perspectives without disregarding other values and perspectives. It's about being appropriately sensitive to know what other people might be thinking or feeling. It's about getting our facts straight and only stepping on toes when we really need to, not just when we're mad and having a temper tantrum.

Offending people unnecessarily while getting facts wrong isn't a virtue to extol, "telling it like it is" and being appropriately politically incorrect. It's just being a jerk.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Holistic Look at Guns

A lot has been said about guns in the past three week, but what I have found is that all the arguments are very narrow in focus. Memes focus on how mass shootings are reduced with someone "good" with a gun, while others emphasize how there are exponentially more gun casualties than military men and women lost in the war on terror.

What happens when we put all of this information together? What happens when we acknowledge the validity in both sides of the argument (yes, both sides have something important to offer!)? What is the overall impact of guns when not just looked at in one sphere? What happens when we ask honest questions about it all rather than just attempting sound bite arguments that don't capture the real world?

Let's look at those numbers and assume the memes are correct (I haven't verified their claims). So if everyone was armed, mass shootings could be reduced to an average of 2-3 victims, probably saving hundreds of lives a year. Let's not understate this fact. This is powerful and significant. Saving the lives of the innocent is tremendous. And the sense of safety that can give us is important.

The pithy comics emphasizing how gun control wouldn't stop terrorists completely miss a big picture, but the point is well taken.

But let's also look at the other side. The cost of having the opportunity to have guns is that tens of thousands die annually. Let's not mention the injuries.

So let's do the math: hundreds of lives saved versus tens of thousands of lives lost. All are tragedies, but is my life worth more than someone else's? It's a similar argument I made just before the San Bernardino shooting asking whether the cost of security and self-preservation is worth it.

While I would follow good gun safety of course, as every gun owner would say, it's the irresponsible folk who die or whose families have problems. What is our responsibility to create a safe society, not just a safe household? What is my responsibility to help protect the kids of a family who may not provide the best supervision or follow all gun safety rules? Is my sense of safety worth another family losing their child to a gun accident? And I guess I need to be particularly vigilant about screening my kids' friends' families' gun safety practices, too...

And then there's the memes about guns not being dangerous, but rather it being the shooters. The best one I saw was of Anakin Skywalker and the Padawans he slaughtered. I understand this perspective quite well as I have used it myself. However, the difference between modern guns and even lightsabers is that no other weapon allows someone to kill and maim so many people so quickly and so far away. A lightsaber is only so dangerous in the hands of someone uber trained. Two terrorists would not have been able to kill 14 people in 3 minutes with knives. Evil still happens, but the consequences of it could be contained. Remember that guns at the time of the second amendment only shot once before taking a minute to reload, and the accuracy and distance of the bullet wasn't that impressive.

Then I consider the culture that is created by wanting to carry guns. What is the psychological state I have to be in to need to carry a gun constantly? What state does carrying a gun reinforce? I can only imagine the anxiety I would regularly feel carrying a weapon like that. I wouldn't be able to grab my son and throw him up in the air freely. I'd always been on some level of higher alert. Do I want to live like that?

Further, what are the consequences of having many people carrying guns in this state, especially when we're a bit more hypervigilant? The people who own guns now are probably more likely to really follow proper gun safety techniques than someone who went through the bare minimum processes to get one out of fear. That means the casualty numbers would jump even higher, and at probably at a higher rate, if more people armed themselves just because of accidents.

So when we start arguing that arming ourselves will help reduce violent attacks, let's also remember that the cost of their guns for the chance at saving lives is tens of thousands of lives of collateral damage and a culture of fear.

Are guns worth it?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Light in the Darkness

Today marks a celebration of St. John of the Cross, author of The Dark Night of the Soul.

The last week and a half has been filled with darkness. In fact, it's fair to say the December 2 San Bernardino shooting has consumed my life since it happened.

Many of you know that my office is a half mile from the site of the shooting. Both the Inland Regional Center and Public Health are close partners. I know many Public Health employees and have referred many families to the IRC. Our building was on lockdown, and there were thoughts during the lockdown that county facilities and behavioral health sites were being targeted. The shooters' home is a few blocks from our church. Several people I work closely with lost family and friends. My department is on the front lines of crisis response, and I'm currently managing a large team working with survivors.

While the news overall has been dying down, our work has not slowed. Recovery and healing for our community will continue for weeks, months, years. And in the midst of it, the remaining press has engaged in some disgusting behavior, lying to intrude into people's personal pain and coping.

And yet the light shines.

While there have been responses of fear turned to hate, there have been far more responses of fear turned to love.

People of all walks of life have banded together to build each other up.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of county staff have volunteered to step up and do extra work to help, including 24/7 support, like those amazing people on my team.

Supportive texts, calls, Facebook posts, etc. keep us moving forward and feeling supported.

And don't forget the prayers.

Then there's parts of regular, daily life that shows me God is present and caring for me.

Our healthcare provider gave us a beautiful specialty blanket with our newborn's name embroidered on it. What healthcare provider does that?!

Our primary car (the only one that will fit the carseats) had a leak, so I took it into our shop. It was a problem that we fixed two years ago, but was now out of warranty and was going to cost around $3500 (can't afford this and was close to the cost of the car). A half hour later, the manager called me and said he pulled some strings and got it covered under warranty. No cost. And because I dropped the car off and rode my bike to work, but it was now dark and raining, the manager sent one of his employees to pick me up. I never even considered not riding to the shop. He thought of it and offered.

My toddler is obsessed with trains. We got to have some "normal" time and built a train together at a Lowe's kids clinic. He hasn't stopped talking about how we hammered together and made "our train." He's carrying it everywhere. And then last night, he said, "You're a great friend. You're a great dad."

Yes, God is present here. There is light in the darkness, and it's even more meaningful because of the darkness and will eventually overpower the darkness completely.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is the cost of security and self-preservation worth it?

Security has become a bit of a conversational past time the last couple of weeks. The Syrian refugee crisis and Paris attacks have, of course, brought this to a significant head. But the issue is not new and comes up with various issues, including gun control, police force, just war theory, etc.

My problem is that, like many issues, we have dichotomized the sides, which doesn't help any solution-finding. We need to validate that a sense of security for ourselves is important. But security for other people is important, too.

Assuming refugees pose various dangers to us (on Monday, I talked about my personal experience with Muslim peacemakers), is our safety more important than the safety of the refugees? Should we be putting our needs and (more commonly) comfort about the basic (often life and death-related) needs of others? It's human nature to do so, so it's understandable, but is it what we should strive to do?

When we start denying people asylum in order to protect ourselves from potential (not guaranteed) cultural changes and potential (again, not guaranteed) attacks, we should also not place these as opposites and acknowledge the true costs. Few people want cultural change, and no one wants the safety of their loved ones and themselves to be put at risk.

What we are saying is that maintaining our culture as it is is worth hundreds of thousands of lives of the Other who have no safe place to go. We are willing to let hundreds of thousands of innocent people live in limbo with a horrible quality of life with many likely dying in order to maintain a status quo culture and give us a sense of security. Is that cost worth it?

Let's assume for a moment that denying refugees prevents another 9/11-like attack, so we have saved 3,000 American lives. The cost is hundreds of thousands of refugees' lives. All are innocent victims. All would be tragedies. So are our lives worth more than theirs? What does it say about our value system that we put psychological security above human rights? The problem is the cost of denying refugees isn't ours to pay, at least in the short term and materialistically. It's theirs. But it's ultimately our cost morally.

What is our obligation to our fellow human? When do we put ourselves at risk in order to reduce the risk to someone else?

Should security be pursued at all costs? Is self-preservation or (wise) self-sacrifice for the sake of another the higher goal? 

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).