Monday, December 12, 2016

Should Tolerance be Limited?

In any time of controversy, there are claims of tolerance, intolerance, and intolerance of intolerance. The last one has gotten a lot of play time post-election, with people claiming those protesting the election and criticizing Trump voters are intolerant in their promotion of tolerance. I understand this argument well, as I claimed and experienced intolerance of different views during my time in Berkeley by some of the residents. Some of the "tolerant" ultra-liberals would write people off for having a view that even remotely smacked of conservatism.

So is that again what is going on now with the anti-Trump sentiment? Should tolerance be completely unconditional? Is intolerance of intolerance hypocritical?

It's probably helpful to start with the definition of tolerance. Google's first definition is:

The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.
And since defining a tolerance with tolerate may not be all that great, let's see what Google says about tolerate:
Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.
I think this is really helpful, as it focused on allowing difference of opinion. This is really foundational in democratic (as in democracy, not the Democratic party) society. If we cannot allow differences of opinion and get along, society falls apart. Although this is also the reason for many wars over the years. As people live closer together, we have increasing encounters with people who are different from us.

How well we can we deal with that reflects on our level of tolerance. Most folks I know (and likely everyone who will read this) would agree with that basic idea--we want to tolerate differences.

But the reality is we all have our limits. How different can someone be before we say, "No"? What thoughts and ideas are too extreme before they get censored?

The biggest apparent irony is when those who promote tolerance draw the line at ideas that do not accept diversity. Is this contradictory to their tolerant ideals?

I think it's helpful to also get beyond definitions and consider the ideals that drive tolerance. These are oversimplifications, but hopefully helpful.

A major reason for tolerance is driven from a social justice perspective that there is inherent value in each person and in dialogue and discussion reflecting many opinion. It helps enhance and shape greater understanding of the world and ourselves. Therefore, we need to protect ideas that may seem different. This is what's behind academic freedom, the theological idea of soul liberty, discussion groups, and even some parts of freedom of the press. However, this motivator has quite a range of tolerance levels and endorsement of what kinds of things can be valuable.

When someone values tolerance in order to bring people together, limits to tolerance (meaning times of intolerance) make sense. Tolerance is an active process that helps give people recognition. If an idea misrepresents or disregards another group's rights or perspective, tolerance ends. We can see examples of not tolerating murder, rape, many forms of crimes foundationally, not just as a practical element of society.

We can make an argument that Jesus displayed intolerance in the temple when he threw out the vendors. He made many efforts to create an inclusive group, from tax collectors to prostitutes to temple priests, but his tolerance ended when people were stopping other people's access to God.

I would make an argument that tolerance should be limited when ideas misrepresent, disregard, disrespect, and make no effort or willingness to seek understanding of another viewpoint. Unfair intolerance by the tolerant (and yes, it definitely exists) happens when we do not accept a different perspective, but people's rights are not violated, etc. For instance, slavery should not be tolerated. White supremacy/nationalism should not be tolerated. Violence toward any group with provocation (including law enforcement, racial groups, and faith groups) should not be tolerated.

So what has been happening post-election? A lot of misunderstanding! While some may complain just because of a loss and display unfair intolerance, the consistent message I hear is not rejecting ideas just because they don't like the ideas, but because the ideas promoted fundamentally misrepresent, disrespect, and disregard other groups. There is not an effort to gain accurate information or even dialogue.

Many people don't see this. They either haven't heard things that have been said (this has been far more common than I realized) and/or they have trouble understanding how problematic the words are. So I ask all to listen, to truly listen, to the other views and hear the authentic concerns. There are authentic concerns on both sides.

If we can listen with respect and humility, then we build authentic, helpful tolerance. Regardless, many of us will continue to stand intolerant of disrespect, of misrepresentation, and of disregarding other people and groups.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Love Brings Peace

This is the second week of Advent, with the topic of Peace, following the week of Hope. The nexus of these two topics is the first anniversary of the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Friday marked the first anniversary of our community changing forever. I have three prior posts related to it: The week afterrelated to a sermon, and around the six month mark.
I find meaning in the anniversary occurring between Hope and Peace. And our pastor's sermon this week was quite relevant.
Some of us spoke in Sunday school about how San Bernardino, when known, wasn't known very positively. A terrorist attack doesn't put it on the map of positivity any more. However, I'm so proud of how our community has responded. It should be put on the map for its response to tragedy and trauma, beginning minutes after horror. While there were minutes of horror, there have been hours, days, weeks, months, and building toward years of love, compassion, encouragement, and unity.
I'm particularly proud of two organizations I'm a part of.
My county family has risen to the occasion to respond not only to our general community, but our Public Health family, as well as to ourselves. I still lead a team of liaisons serving survivors, and my liaisons are still available 7 days a week. They've made over 3,000 contacts this year (and this is to only one group). There isn't a day that goes by that we don't think about or do something to help support our community's recovery.
My church has quietly but actively engaged, as well. Members helped clean up scraps left by the FBI that were used in bomb making. Imagine the difficulty of having that left. Our interim pastor prayed with the family of the shooters. He and other members partnered with other places of worship for interfaith strength.
These are just some of the stories of true community strength, but you likely won't hear them in any media. What brings tears to my eyes is the active acts of love that exist without fanfare or recognition, but fundamentally transform lives.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Stop Misrepresenting, Start Listening

Wow, what a week, and how social media has blown up.

Before election day, I shared the photo in this blog, and I think it's time to share it again as a reminder to everyone.

Back in July, I also predicted that many people would have trouble accepting the results, but that part of what makes us great is the process of democracy, not necessarily the results. I stand by both of these posts.

The problem is that people on both sides are not just sharing their personal concerns or convictions. Rather, they are misrepresenting other perspectives, largely from not actually understanding the other side. We have all been quick to talk and slow to listen.

Before creating and re-sharing another nasty meme dismissing and even condemning a different opinion, please try to fully understand it. Please deeply listen to concerns on both sides.

Here are two articles that anti-Trump folk probably should read to understand some of the non-racist reasons people supported him:

For the Trump supporters who do not understand the protests, here are some articles and thoughts. Violent protests are not acceptable, and protests do not mean that those protesting don't acknowledge that Trump won fair and square. It's not even about policy issues. It's in alignment with serious concerns people have about his fundamental dismissal of huge groups of people based on inaccurate generalizations, reinforced by the people he is surrounding himself with. People must stand up against injustices, in alignment with a classic Martin Niemöller quote:
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
And some articles that may help the Trump supporters listen to the deep concerns of the anti-Trump movement:
As Obama said, we all want Trump to succeed. Indeed, that would be best for the country. Success does not mean ostracizing huge groups of this country and world who have been central to making this country great. Success and greatness begin with listening and understanding differing opinions.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Are We Listening?

In the midst of debates of policy positions and voting decisions, do we really understand the motivations of people we criticize? While I know I'm never guilty of this (ha ha), I've noticed the way many people characterize others frequently displays a strong sense of ignorance of the nuances and true motivations of differing perspectives.

A friend posted an article that shares a painful perspective of someone who had a late term abortion. He specified that he didn't want people to debate the issue, just to read the story. Rather than trying to listen and understand someone else, many people complained that my friend didn't want people to debate there. They didn't want to listen and understand; they just wanted to argue.

Michael Moore recently claimed Trump supporters are "legal terrorists," dismissing the honest needs and motivations of people who will vote for Trump.

The Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter efforts, memes, etc. often don't understand each other and frequently talk past one another.

This only leads to more anger, divisiveness, and ability to dismiss other people and perspectives.

How do we make America kind again? By listening. By truly trying to compassionately understand the perspective and motivations of someone else. We may never agree with them, but if we can better comprehend the complexity of life, we may be less likely to build contempt.

My pastor gave an excellent sermon last month encouraging exactly this. I can't imagine a better way of explaining the importance of seeing people and how to do so. Morgan Guyton wrote a wonderful blog post reminding us that a full range of political perspectives and personalities live in our church, and we need to remember to love them--we're all in this together and usually have the same goals. And then there were two articles that attempt to build compassion for some of the reasons people may vote for Trump despite himself.

So let's us all help each other make American kind again by encouraging listening and seeing each other. Regardless of the election outcome, this is what we need to move forward.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Making Satan Real

This review first appeared on the Englewood Review of Books.

Christians view and interpret Christ rather diversely. However, there seem to be even wider discrepancies between understandings of Satan. Is he real or a metaphoric personification? Is he a fallen angel or playing a designated role in God's court? Does he have real power or not? Do Christians need to worry about Satan, or should we have no fear because we live in Christ? Many modern Christians in developed countries seem to avoid the issue, perhaps reading CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, but not having much more conscious experience with the Devil beyond that.

In Reviving Old Scratch, Richard Beck's intended audience is the group of Christians who, as he says, are "doubters and the disenchanted." He taps into sociological frameworks with the latter term, referring to the opposite of enchanted worlds, where we see overt supernatural influence all around us. Disenchanted means stripping the magical quality of things, largely via scientific explanation. A good example of this comes from a missionary living in Africa, where a woman had an emergency delivery. When she returned to her village with her newborn, her health quickly declined. The local Christian seminary students were convinced the neighboring village had put a spell on her and started threatening them to release her. Just then, the village received a physician, who quickly identified an infection and medically treated her. The villagers were skeptical, but trusted the physician. A few days later, she was just fine. Those villagers live in an enchanted world. Few Americans would even have a similar thought cross through their minds in the same situation--we have a scientific explanation and solution. Beck cleverly and aptly summarizes our disenchantment process as "Scooby-Dooification," referring to the classic Scooby-Doo plot line of a supernatural threat that eventually gets unveiled as a common person creating fear in the guise of false supernatural forces. The disenchantment process of the supernatural is part of the solution of solving a crime.

This disenchanted world makes belief in anything supernatural, including God, difficult. The idea of Satan is even more challenging to many Christians in the developed world. Yet references to Satan and demons are pervasive through Scripture, and many people talk about the demonic as part of the influence of the world and their lives. People like Elaine Pagels have provided detailed explanations on how Satan is more metaphor and personification (a lecture transcript provides a nice summary of her analysis). However, Beck's foundational thesis is that this isn't a good enough response to Satan. Rather, there is actually something quite useful, powerful, and important about talking about Satan and demons as real. This is summarized nicely when he stated, "I turned the corner in my faith when I adopted a theology of revolt, a vision of spiritual warfare, a posture of action over theological rumination. I got disgusted with how much time and energy I was wasting on my doubts. It was time to get off my theological ass and into the game" (p. 82-83).

The biggest struggle I have with this text is how to categorize it. While categorizing isn't always necessary, it can be helpful to clearly know what the book's purpose is and how to set expectations. While the back of the tome labels Reviving Old Scratch as "Religion/Theology," Beck doesn't actually make any traditional theological arguments. He doesn't try to convince anyone about their theology of Satan. There's a basic assumption that Satan as a conscious force does not exist, which goes back to the disenchanted audience to whom he is writing. Rather, he seems more to provide many examples of how disenchanted Christians can still find value, meaning, and depth in Scriptural and everyday references to Satan and demons. He basically creates a hermeneutic for modern American Christians. That is fundamentally theological. However, it often feels like the book lives more on the Christian Living than Theology shelf. At times, it feels like a devotional, especially in part because while generally logically organized, the book seems more like a series of semi-related stories than building a logical, linear argument. In the midst of all of this, Beck deserves kudos for being able to reason in an academic environment, but write a book that is accessible and bridges both theology and Christian living.

There were two primary areas where the text made helpful theological insights for me:
  1. Early on, Beck introduces and seems to support the atonement theory of Christus Victor, which refers to Christ's death as a ransom. Satan holds humanity hostage, and God ransoms us through Christ's sacrifice. One of the biggest theological problems with this atonement theory is that it almost gives Satan more power than God--God is required to pay Satan. That gives many people pause. I found it odd that Beck talked about this theory, particularly from a disenchanted view. If Satan isn't a being, how does Christus Victor apply? Beck ultimately argues that demonic power is real, but he never really closes the theological loop on this point. However, his book triggered other connections in my mind. I've become a fan of Girardian scapegoat atonement theory, which asserts that it is humans who need a sacrifice--a scapegoat--to feel reconciled. It is the absurdity of Christ's sacrifice that breaks this cycle. What if Christus Victor and scapegoat theory could actually be describing the same thing, but Christus Victor from a more a enchanted worldview, while scapegoat is more disenchanted and psychological? If Beck is correct about the reality of demonic power over us, but due to the reality of the human condition, not because of a supernatural conscious force, what if God is actually trying to ransom us from ourselves?
  2. From a disenchanted worldview, many Christians struggle with ideas of worship. I've heard people say, "Is God really that insecure that he needs us to worship him every week?" I've also recently struggled with the purpose of singing and music--what is it really supposed to do? Beck provides some excellent examples about how the purpose of worship isn't to stroke God's ego, but it helps us reorient ourselves to refocus our actions. He states, "When life is hard, we must constantly exorcise the demons of despair. And worship, praise, and testimony are how we combat the despair and reach toward hope" (p. 131-132). That fundamentally impacted my experience of worship in the weeks that followed.
Beck's text is a nice addition to the conversation about Satan and the demonic. It won't be terribly helpful for those looking for more traditional exegesis. However, his stories bring Scriptural and theological principles to life in a powerful way. He makes abstract, removed ideas, especially for the disenchanted, real, immediate, and relevant. His framings provide good reminders and ways to consider and approach life. I dog-eared a couple dozen pages because of the many good ways he discusses important, timely topics. While some could think a book about Satan could be depressing, this is a quite uplifting, inspiring text. In fact, I ended the book with tears in my eyes from a touching concluding story.

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, August 22, 2016

What Jobs Are Important?

As many around the nation saw, there has been a massive wildfire in Southern California. It seriously threatened my hometown, where my parents still live, so I watched it closely. Growing up in a mountain town, we had threatening fires almost annually. Although some were worse than others, this one was probably the worst (as many friends noted: never did we see the whole town evacuated).

During each of the fires, including this one, there was an outpouring of well-deserved appreciation for the fire fighters who saved the town. Their tireless efforts continue to impress us.

At the same time, working the public sector and having been involved in two national-headline-making disasters in the past year, I've also seen that there are MANY more people involved in disaster response than fire, police, and medical. There are a variety of departments, professions, and workers who are deployed 24/7 (often without the overtime and other well-deserved benefits of fire, police, and emergency medical personnel). These other individuals tirelessly help people put their lives back together, provide comfort and resources to those who need it, and help navigate bureaucracies. If you've never been in a disaster, these things may seem superfluous, but the aftermath of a disaster can actually be more traumatic than the disaster itself.

In some ways, I think we place importance on professions and work based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as those who support the basic things are most critical. Is that really fair or accurate? Frankly, losses in some of the higher levels lead people to suicide, so I wouldn't minimize things beyond basic life needs. Those who support disasters in traditional first responder roles are often recognized because of placing their safety on the line. This is not to be minimized. However, the implication is that psychological safety and other parts of life from other first responders are minimized. Being on call actively 24/7 for months on end to survivors of traumas is dangerous work and changes lives forever. It's quiet work, though, and rarely acknowledged.

So let's generalize this. We have a hierarchy for careers. I went into psychology for the meaning. I do believe it is meaningful, and therefore important, work. But how many jobs do we dismiss as "menial," fundamentally limiting their sense of importance and then the workers' sense of meaning? A classic example is a trash truck driver, a job few people would want. What would happen if this profession disappeared? We'd suddenly consider it important. What about amusement park ride operators or ticket takers? Sure, entertainment isn't important in a traditional view of Maslow's hierarchy. However, what would life be without any entertainment? I think it helps us bring meaning, order, and balance to our lives. And without workers to support these things, our lives would be significantly affected.

So do some people really have more important jobs? If so, what should we base importance on?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Stop Calling Presidential Candidates Mentally Ill

Election season can be downright crazy. And it's not infrequent that policies, parties, and candidates also get labelled as "crazy." This may be the first year that at least one candidate is explicitly being called mentally ill as an argument against him.

Trump's behavior has been appalling to many, including within the GOP, who have withdrawn support because of his antics. I've seen at least one petition that asks for him to be explicitly diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. I've seen others more casually call him mentally ill as a way to dismiss him. All of this is used in a derogatory way and to argue for someone in the GOP to deem him unfit for office and candidacy.

For those of us in the behavioral health field, a major part of reforming systems and improving access to care is reducing stigma. Deeming someone unfit for office due to mental illness fundamentally reverses decades of work.

Mental illness does not necessarily mean someone is unstable.

Mental illness does not necessarily mean someone cannot work in highly complex and responsible jobs.

Mental illness does not necessarily mean someone cannot have a "normal" life.

Mental illness simply means someone has a health concern. We all have health concerns at some points in our lives. Oh, and by the way, half of all people will meet criteria for a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives.

No diagnosis or mental disorder alone disqualifies someone from office, in my opinion (Trump's biggest problems aren't due to mental illness). In fact, some research indicates that about half of all Presidents have had mental illness. Others have already noted that narcissism isn't a death sentence for politics. In fact, any level of politics, especially rising to the level of President probably requires some level of narcissism--one has to have some level of grandiosity to seek what is commonly considered the most powerful position on the planet.

However, effective use of narcissism or other symptoms of mental illness can lead an individual to great success. Consider the classic phrase that our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. People with any struggle can turn it into something effective. That's called resilience and recovery. And it's what gives hope to those with mental illness.

Politico published a good analysis of asking whether Americans would even elect someone with mental illness, clearly addressing the on-going stigma attached with this label. In short, politicians are generally forced to hide any sense of mental illness even though plenty of them have it. How sad is that?

In a time when we're talking about glass ceilings being broken, please don't strengthen the glass ceiling related to mental illness.

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 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.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Let Love Triumph Again

Just about six months ago, in the memorial for county staff related to the San Bernardino shootings that occurred a couple blocks from my office, Rudy Giuliani gave the sobering prediction that it was not if, but when, another attack would happen, and it would be our duty to help our neighbors. I doubt anyone thought it would happen so soon and so horrifically.

What I would encourage all to do is remember that for those who survived, their journey is just starting. The attack itself was a horrible trauma, but the psychological and spiritual journeys will be lifelong.

While evil abounds, love can repudiate everything it stands for, especially when we talk of hate and terror. I would use my sermon from just a few weeks ago to illustrate beautiful examples of how community and relationships can begin the healing process through love.

I'll end with my benediction from that day‭‭:
Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith. Galatians‬ ‭6:2, 9-10‬ ‭(CEB‬‬)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: The Sanctity of the Mundane

This review first appeared on the Englewood Review of Books.

Rob Bell, in his latest book, How to Be Here, explores how to create a life worth living through being present in the here and now. It addresses ideas that are becoming quite popular, likely because of their relevance for our modern culture and way of living. Bell continues with his strong, engaging writing style and story telling, so fans of his approach will likely appreciate this text, as well. His style should open up ideas to new audiences. At the same time, the book could be better organized to make his point clearer and send the message “home” more effectively.

As noted, Bell provides his usual writing that is engaging, accessible, and engrossing. His passion comes through clearly, and the personal anecdotes enliven abstract ideas. The short sections make the text easily digestible while allowing for pauses in reading, when needed. He is an incredibly effective story teller, and his success in many areas reflects this skill. It is once again displayed very well in How to Be Here.

The biggest challenge in this particular book is that, in many ways, it feels like a collection of short essays that are loosely connected, but could really stand on their own. I frequently found myself asking, “What is his point? Where is he going?” I struggled to find an overall thesis and direction. The book is subtitled A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, although interestingly, that subtitle doesn’t appear on the cover to provide some clarity. In hindsight, the title does summarize the thesis and purpose of the book, mentioned above: Create a life worth living through being present in the here and now. However, there are several sections that dive into other sub-theses and concepts, like ikigai, a Japanese word for what gets you out of bed in the morning, motivated to take on the day. There are great ideas and discussions he presents, but they don’t feel fully realized over the course of the entire book. This is what contributes to that essay anthology feeling.

A short introduction providing a direction/thesis and tying all the parts together would have done wonders for the coherency of the narrative across the entire text. On the other hand, Bell's style traditionally tends to be conversational, and his ultimate point isn't often known until his work is done. This works well for his short Nooma videos or even longer sermons. A book is a different experience, though, and making a clear direction, even if the conclusion is still a surprise, is really critical for reader engagement and comprehension. He also doesn't go back and clearly connect all the dots on the backend, which would at least have provided retrospective coherency.

All that aside, the points he was trying to make were strong. In many ways, the text reminded me of a modern version of Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God. Bell illustrates this very well, in his unique, engaging style, emphasizing examples of and the power of being present in the moment, seeing the sanctity of the mundane, helps us experience life more fully and find meaning.

Indeed, there are many faith and cultural traditions, within and without Christianity, that have taught these lessons. The behavioral sciences have picked up on these principles in the past decade, generally describing them under the umbrella of mindfulness, and plenty of research has reinforced the truth of these claims. From that perspective, there isn't much new in Bell's text, although he doesn't necessarily claim that he is coming up with a new idea. In many ways, he is a story teller to illustrate and convey principles in new ways. And Bell has always been excellent at this. This story telling to bring abstract principles to life is what How to Be Here does best. 

At the same time, the book full title: How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living is misleading, as it isn’t really a guide, at least not in a traditional sense. There are no steps, no real recommendations; just stories. A reader could easily walk away from the book wondering what they can really do to be here. Bell’s stories have examples, but they’re highly contextualized and therefore not necessarily generalizable. There are plenty of more concrete guides to mindfulness and presence that lay out example activities, prayers, exercises, etc. that can help us be more mindful and present in the moment. A potential downside of these materials is that they can be viewed prescriptively and formulaically, which is definitely a problem.

Perhaps this is why Bell takes a different approach. In reflection, an implicit part of his message seems to be that there is a journey, a story, to being able to be effectively present and create a life worth living. His initial and most enduring metaphor is in writing a story of our lives, starting with the blinking line on an electronic page. There is great truth to this approach, and frankly, I think it is truer than any activity, exercise, or form of prayer, as it is frequently in the doing of things that we lose our presence and sense of meaning. Yet many people need some examples of things to do to practice this sort of thing. Bell’s book can be complementary to these other, more traditional guides, with them providing practices, while he helps build motivation and weightiness to value of such practices.

In the end, How to Be Here is a book with meaning and value, but it doesn’t sit on its own well. Additional structure to orient the reader what the purpose of the book is, and ensuring all points are clearly connected would have strengthened it significantly. As it is literally advertised as a “how to” book and a “guide,” reference to other resources would have helped, as well. Even explicitly discussing the power of narrative and journey over practices, as I noted above, would have helped improve Bell's thesis and purpose.

This text is probably best for people who don’t necessarily need suggestions on what to do different (many of us know what to do), but need reminders of priorities and that mindfulness and presence is really quite worthwhile.

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, May 30, 2016

Review: Should we ask Presidential candidates about their faith?

As a psychologist with a bachelor's degree in Religious Studies who works in the public sector and did an internship in the California State Assembly during college, I have a particular interest in the role of faith as a motivator and driver of behavior and decision-making, especially during election season. The 2016 election season has already had some interesting intersections with faith and candidates' appearances of commitment (or lack thereof) to traditions.

Stephen Mansfield argues that the populace should ask every candidate, especially Presidential candidates, detailed questions about their faith in his latest book, Ask the Question: Why We Must Demand Religious Clarity From Our Presidential Candidates. I was initially concerned that this text would ultimately argue asking these questions in order to have a religious litmus test for the Oval Office. While I'm sure Mansfield has strong personal faith (which can be guessed by how some things are framed) and political convictions, he stays largely objective, providing a descriptive assessment of both the history of faith and politics in the United States as well as the role of faith in the lives of many Presidents and candidates.

Mansfield observes the religious political history of the United States, noting the ways religion and politics have intersected differently over the decades. He knows his religious and political history well and will probably shock some readers in detailing the more agnostic faith of many of most respected historical leaders. I particularly appreciate that he does not present these facts with any judgment, as might be expected from texts published by Christian companies, rather acknowledges reality, including the historical motivators and benefits of restrained faith.

In exploring the faith of Presidents and Presidential candidates, both historical and current, Mansfield describes the honest depth of people across the political spectrum. He has written religious biographies on several political celebrities of both parties. Sadly, he explained how he received death threats after writing his text on Obama, acknowledging the President's deep Christian faith. But Mansfield drives on, continuing to raise descriptive, objective awareness of how politicians' faith histories impact their current public policy. This is truly a gift.

There are a few times when Mansfield's personal opinions appear to subtly show up. He occasionally makes evaluative comments about some leaders' faiths, stating that their faith hasn't imbued them fully since they still take a particular stance on some topic. With his religious history background and knowledge, he should be well aware that people can honestly come to vastly different conclusions of biblical and theological application. This doesn't mean their faith isn't driving them; it just drives them and has transformed their lives differently than for others. Despite this, Mansfield's descriptions of the role of faith in the lives of many Presidents and candidates left me with a deeper respect and appreciation of these people.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I 100% agree with Mansfield argument that we must ask explicit questions for religious clarity. Mansfield's thesis for asking these questions relates to the fact that religious labels mean less and less over time and individual's unique theological framework needs to be addressed. I agree with the fact that worldview and values clearly drive behavior, decisions, and policy making, although this piece could have been clearer in the book. However, increasingly, worldview and values are not necessarily framed in clearly religious terms even though academically, I would argue that all worldview is religious in a broad sense. Emphasizing religious clarity may actually restrict these conversations, as many people (candidates included) may not be getting the underlying question. We need to ask questions about candidates' values, moral frameworks, worldviews, and the like. Religious language will arise out of that naturally, where applicable for the candidate.

This is one of the most engaging nonfiction books I have read/listened to in quite some time. Granted, I am a nerd when it comes to religious history, but this is a book I'd be quite tempted to listen to a second time. Bob Souer's narration is clear and engaging. However, especially when reading Presidential speeches, there's nothing that could compare to the original intonation, expression, etc.

I highly recommend this book as a thoughtful exploration of the role of faith/religion in the American Presidency. Hopefully it helps reduce assumptions across ideological lines, helping us recognizing the ability of many people to improve our public policy and the honest, if different, faith some people come to public service through.

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, May 2, 2016

Clarifying Gender Identity

So, probably like a lot of you, my Facebook feed has been filled with various perspectives on bathrooms. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about various statuses related to what transgender really is. Much of it seems to be related to our sex-obsessed culture that seems to see sex in everything.

Gender identity simply has to do with whether someone identifies as male, female, both, or neither. When one's gender identity doesn't match their biological sex, that is when the term "transgender" starts to be used (although it's more complicated than that, as well, such as genderqueer, but we'll keep it simple here). Also, know that there are not necessarily just two genders--other cultures around the world have more than one gender that does not necessarily correlate to biological sex (Samoan culture is one good example).

To be clear, transgender has nothing to do with sexual orientation. People make this mistake a lot, likely in part because "T" is part of "LGBTQ," although it's one of the most misunderstood of the letters. Sexual orientation/sexuality has to do with who you are sexually attracted to.

People who identify as transgender can be considered heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. The orientation is defined by their gender identity rather than their biological sex. And again, don't assume sexuality has anything to do with gender identity.

Transgenderism also is not the same thing as masculinity or femininity. These latter two concepts are related to cultural-specific expressions of gender. Masculine women and feminine men are not transgender. Again, biological females who have a masculine tendencies who still identify as women are still women. They're not transgender. And they're not necessarily lesbians. I've seen posts going around confusing masculinity/femininity with gender identity. They're not at all the same thing. Boys who play with dolls are not necessarily either gay or consider themselves to female. They're just expressing behaviors that our society labels as more feminine.

Transgenderism is not the same thing as transvestite or cross-dressing. Some people, for a variety of reasons, like to dress as the opposite gender at times. Despite the appearance, this has nothing to do with gender identity. It's closer to the masculinity/femininity discussion above. Cross-dressing also does not necessarily mean anything about sexual orientation. Biological men who are heterosexual sometimes dress as women. They never actually identify as a woman nor as gay.

It's interesting to pay attention to research on transgenderism. Discrepancy with one's gender usually starts very early and causes significant distress. More masculine or feminine expression doesn't solve it because it's not as much about expression as it is identity--being able to considered male or female. Transitioning to the other gender relieves that distress, which I think conveys something significant about how real it is. (Of course, we cannot understate that transitioning also adds a whole lot more due to societal non-acceptance. Transgender populations have one of the absolutely highest suicide rates because of this.)

I find it quite interesting that people of many faiths are increasingly able to accept non-heterosexual orientations, but are quick to reject transgenderism, which has to do with identity more than behavior. Morality is fundamentally about behavior rather than identity. Identify informs behavior, and when we have identity conflicts, bad things happen.

The only argument I've heard against transgenderism is that God creates everyone and doesn't make mistakes, so therefore transgenderism isn't "real." One only needs to scratch the surface of birth defects to undermine that argument, which is also extremely poor theology.

So if you're going to make arguments for or against policies and laws related to transgenderism, please be informed with fully accurate information. It's also important to listen to real people's stories and stop sexualizing everything. Accurate knowledge allows us to have adult conversations rather than promote ignorant fear mongering.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Defeat Evil with Good

The sermon I gave at the First Baptist Church of Redlands on Sunday is now available online. I explore the Scripture below (the underlined portions being the responsive reading) with examples and application from our community's response to the December 2 San Bernardino shootings.

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:9-21‬ ‭(CEB‬‬):

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.

An additional Scripture was ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:13-16‬ ‭(CEB‬‬):
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
The benediction was‭‭ Galatians‬ ‭6:2, 9-10‬ ‭(CEB‬‬):
Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.

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


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.


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).