Thursday, May 29, 2014

How the West was Won with Religious Liberty

Excellent chapter!

Religious Liberty didn't emerge in the West set-in-stone as we have it today. It evolved. It went back and forth. It was messy. It was dangerous. It was a radical idea for the early 17th century Baptists as Thomas Helwys with his 1613 "Mystery of Iniquity" found out. People who espoused the idea of religious liberty were met with derision, persecution, scorn and death. But that idea evolved from earlier ideas and was a pragmatic approach with a theological discipline. That radical notion took nearly 200 more years to be crystallized in the first phrase or the first sentence of the first amendment, something that were it not for Baptists - particularly John Leland - may never have found a foothold in the Bill of Rights. From there the idea spread and was the basis of most Civil Rights laws in the US. But it was in the West that religious liberty matured over 400 years. It was not just the battle between faith and non-faith, or Christianity verses other faiths; it was the battle within Christianity itself. The West has gone through this fight and settled on religious liberty. The Eastern cultures have yet to do that. Until the Muslim world (and Hindu and all other cultures / governments centered around a faith idea) go through this same 400 year struggle the then-Christian West did, there will be serious strife.

History is a good guide in this regard, and an even better gauge as to the outcome.

Chapter 1 -- How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West by Perez Zagorin

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Greece Decision

Baptist Joint Committee: Legal and practical implications of Town of Greece v. Galloway

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (home page) has a good analysis of the Greece Decision. While Baptists for nearly 350 years opposed government sanctioned prayer onto anyone as a matter of theology and secular liberty, the last 30 years has seen a significant shift in that position, a shift that coincides with the politicization of faith. The next 50 years will see either: 1) an eventual vindication of the dissent penned by Kagan; or 2) the Christian community backtracking on their affirmative position to this ruling as other faiths begin to exert their right to have their prayers on the Christian taxpayer's dime.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Death At Death's Door

It's hard for me to accept what happened in OK last night. It's even harder to hear what people are saying about it.

Clayton Lockett committed a violent, horrible crime. No one denies this. He admitted it.

And he was sentenced to death. In my estimation, he deserved it, too.

What he didn't deserve was: 1) the way we administer capital punishment in the US; 2) the cocktail used in OK; and 3) the ultimate means by which he died.

Let's set some ground rules about the discussion of capital punishment. First, I don't think many would argue there are some crimes so heinous that death is the best -- most just -- response. (If your conscience sways you otherwise, I have no problem with that as it is your right to work to that end as part of the national policy.)

Second, there is zero argument that there is a racial and economic disparity in America over who gets tried, convicted and sentenced as part of a death penalty case. So if you're poor or a minority, you're pretty much gonna rank at the bottom of the Justice Ladder under, say, a Wall Street banker that nearly caused the world's economic system to collapse by taking advantage of unsophisticated investors with complex and dangerously-flawed products designed solely to make money for the bank and -- eventually -- rip everyone else. As of today, not a single person has been charged for that, something that killed real livelihoods, real dreams, real families, real jobs and in some cases real people that killed themselves or delayed medical care to the point of harm. But, hey, the Apostle James warned us of the wealthy who take advantage of the poor for personal gain under the guise of good business.

So, while I have no problem with the death penalty being just, I do have a problem when it looks like most of the people who receive the ultimate sentence do so because of something as arbitrary as race and money. Yes, money talks and money buys privilege but our system should not give the completely obvious appearance of such an evil. Sadly, it does.

What bothered me about the OK event was the way in which Lockett died. It was a cocktail solution that didn't kill him: it tortured him. It was inhumane.

So? He is an animal! He deserved it!
A bullet would have been cheaper and quicker!
What about the victim? He should have died as she died!
Who cares? He was sentenced to die and this will be a message to criminals!

All of those responses sadden me. As a human being, I really cannot imagine that a human being will feel that way as a matter of policy. Yes, I would be angry to the point of wanting to kill the guy myself had it been my daughter, but that wouldn't make my feelings right. As a matter of policy, I have to think beyond myself.

See, I know that we make mistakes. We get the wrong guy. Our prejudices get in the way. Innocent people are often convicted. Death is the ultimate means of depriving someone of liberty and we don't do that lightly.

That is why the process is set up to take a long, long time: mistakes here are more than an oopsie and can't be fixed with an apology and money.

But in the end, we are better than the way Lockett died. Our society cannot prostitute its soul on the altar of revenge, applauding such an awful way for someone to die. We have to maintain humanity even for inhumane crimes. We have to be kind even in the unkind act of administering death. We have to act morally no matter what.

We cannot. We cannot become the very thing we find repugnant in the criminal.

We are better than that. We have to be.

We just have to be.

Botched Execution - CBS News

The Horrific Crime - The Mirror (UK)

Questions About the Execution - NPR News

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Resurrection:" An All-to-Familiar Show

I've been watching ABC's "Resurrection" since its premier. Not bad. I actually like it. I know, I know ... it's a little like "Lost" that keeps everyone guessing (and a little ticked off). And, yes, it is based on the French TV series "The Returned" but I don't care about any of that. I'm interested in -- and enjoy watching -- the development of the society around the people who have returned from the dead. The "why" and "how" will be up to the writers and I'm sure they will, in due course, explain all that. What has fascinated me is the response of the community to the circumstance. Really, I've enjoyed that development.

Some people pull together and want to learn and understand. Some react with fear. A few turn violent. There are those that react in mob form and those that react rationally.

Some are opportunists that will use the occasion consolidate some power, especially in a church setting.

It is the last person I want to discuss. Helen Edgerton - played by Veronica Cartwright -- is such a character. I've seen "Helen" many, many times in the form of a church member who seeks to use whatever means possible to bring drama, dissention, and harm. This person will take a truth (usually a half truth) and beat people up with it, under the guise of "telling you what I feel," which is really just an excuse to be rude and very, very mean.

Yes, "Helen," the script writers put you out there in all your glory.

Pastors see these "Helens" (or "Harolds") all the time. These people are a thorn in the pastor and church's side. These individuals keep things stirred up to the point where it is not worth the effort because the church / pastor is sabotaged almost constantly. These people are not recognized until they come out from the shadows, filled with rage, discord and strife. Once they raise their head to strike, the pastor will be able to recognize their subtly, but by then the poison is already injected.

And they use "truth" as a weapon. "The church has the right to know." "Just be honest, right?" "I believe in openness and transparency."

Let's remember the Prodigal Son (LK 15:11-32). According to the older brother, the Prodigal wasted the Father's inheritance money on prostitutes and wild living (Lk 15:30).  Think about it: we never would have know that fact had the older brother not told it. The truth can be just an excuse to be mean, when the Grace Thing would be to just keep it to himself.

Yes, "Helen," I recognize you, but you have had a lot of real-life names in real-life churches, and each time you have caused much harm to real people.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's People. That's How Jesus Did It.

I'm prolly gonna get shot at for this one, but here goes.

The blog post below takes about 7-10 minutes to read. Read is slowly. Catch the significance of each sentence. It's really powerful.

It's also not politically correct for most circles -- at least, most Baptist Circles in this part of GA. Why? Well, it basically says that most of our Christian efforts are not effective, and they are not effective because -- well, really -- the ethic of Christ that is relational to those on the margins is lost in the American church. The church today is more concerned with politics, saying "no" to just about everything, or throwing money at programs / politicians / powermongers. In the end, the eternal ethic of Christ is something talked about, but not lived. While most in the church are fighting against the legal contract of marriage being open to all citizens, the least among us are treated with an insidious contempt by neglect. The powerful abuse the poor while we watch the latest mid-term polling forecast.

Worth the read.

Experimental Theology (Richard Beck)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Daily Blog

I remember well Ms. Dell Wilson. She was my high school, sophomore year, Literature instructor. I actually liked her. She was smart and, I know now, a really good teacher. And for a student like me that loved high school but despised lit class, she was a God-send.

Ms. Wilson would make us "journal" every day. I do mean every day. Usually for only 10-15 minutes, but we had to write. She didn't care what we wrote, but it had to be grammatically correct, with proper sentence structure, and a cohesive theme. Now, understand that Ms. Wilson would not assign a topic, unlike Ms. White, who would assign those esoteric and ambiguous ideas of "love" or "happiness" or "fear." I suppose being part of the human race should have automatically qualified me for speaking to those topics, but I wanted something more real, more practical, more tangible ... something along the lines US policy on the Middle East, or perhaps the legalization of marijuana. Those were topics that I could analyze and present some facts to support. But "love?" Geeeesssshhhhhh.

So everyday I had to come up with something to write about. Every day. Did you hear that, EVERY DAY. After about 2 weeks I had exhausted my arsenal of hot button political topics. What was left? What do I write about when the Arab Oil Embargo is only 5 years removed, the reinstatement of the draft is being discussed, and I've already talked about all those things?

This day she gave the standard 15 minute assignment. I look at my paper. I look at my pen. Nothing. It wasn't happening. So here I am two weeks into the semester, and I had nothing. Nothing. It was crunch time. Ten minutes left. Now, only 5 minutes left. A blank paper before me. Sweaty palms and a lot of fear as to what a grade of zero would do to my GPA. I had to do something ... anything ... but it had to be NOW.

So I wrote exactly what I was feeling, warts and all. I don't remember everything I wrote, but I do remember my first line specifically:

I'm tired.

That's it. That was my first line.

Second line was a bit more dramatic:

I have no idea what I need to be writing about.

Third line was a bit more personal:

I have a date Friday night with a girl that I really, really like.

Those lines I remember. I didn't number them but I treated each line as its own paragraph. And I kept writing those lines. While I don't remember all of them, I remember some others were along the lines of: "I wonder what this world will be like in 25 years?" "I have a test in math I need to study for." "History is my favorite subject."

Honestly, I believed I would get an "F" on the paper. It was simple. It had no depth. There was no analysis or development of thought or argument. It was just words on a paper that told what I was thinking and feeling in the most succinct manner possible.

The next day we have to do it all over again. So here I am --- again --- trying to come up with something to write about. And, again, nothing.

Then Ms. Wilson says something while she is sitting at her desk, out loud so everyone can hear. She is reading the journal entries from the day before and she calmly says, "Ryan, that was a very good journal entry you wrote yesterday."

That's all she said. She never looked up. She never made eye contact with me. She did not do anything but say that. THAT. 

And it clicked. 

In my mind, I got it. It all made sense. The point of daily journaling is to write, not to always develop a term paper with footnotes and arguments that looked like a legal brief. No, the point is to be simple and cathartic. Somehow, just putting down the words of exactly how I felt, what I feared, what I anticipated, and what I was thinking ... THAT is the whole point ... and it does ME good. It is not for anyone else, though that is a great thing when others can involve themselves in the expression, but the point is to write an express my own Whatever in a way that organizes my own thoughts and for my own benefit.

I can't help but think that blogging on the internet is nothing more than the culmination of Ms. Wilson's 10th grade lit class.

Thanks, Ms. Wilson. You done good ... er, uh, well. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mom is Getting Older

Yeah. I've been away.

I have spent the last two years trying to handle a world where I am the primary sole caregiver for my mom. It's been extremely difficult as I juggle all the things I need to do.

Funny thing is that it is harder than, say, a 5 year old. A young child will fall, wail, get up, and a kiss makes it all better. A 75 year old will fall and it's a ride in the ambulance, xrays, and 6 months of doctor offices.

Guilt. I suppose I feel more guilt than exhaustion, though the latter is certainly real. I feel guilty because I am unable to do it all, as in everything. I had always believed it was just a matter of scheduling, commitment, determination and planning. I even had some pride in myself that I could do more than my peers, tackle the tougher assignments, be more in-depth regarding a topic, and still have time to give to a few Good Causes to boot. No longer.

I'm lucky if I can just put out the daily fires that need to be extinguished, and I'm leaving the infernos still raging from the previous day, week, or even month.

Yet, I feel compelled to write. Not just for someone who may be reading this but for me. Yes, me. I need to put my thoughts together in some format that makes the world make sense again. I need a voice. I need a place to lament. I need that blank screen to scream, yell, curse, shout, cry, or just speak, even if it's only to myself.

I miss people.

Really. I miss people. That sounds strange to me; strange because it is my job to meet people, understand their unique situations and needs, offer solutions, give comfort, celebrate, or just chat. That's my job. I do it well. I talk with at least 30 people a day in serious conversation. But I miss people. Not people as in human contact, but people as in complete strangers who just strike up a conversation and enjoy the moment of that real connection. Or time with friends when we can sit and enjoy the meal without the worry of getting home in time to make sure the medicines are taken, the cat box is emptied, the food is stored away properly, or having enough drive time for the next medical appointment. No, I'm not talking about the employees at the grocery store who know me by name because I'm there nearly everyday to get food, prescriptions or cleaning supplies. Nope. I'm talking about conversations for the sake of conversations; laughter from the belly; sharing stories never heard before; feeling other people's hurt and not just my own.

I miss that. I miss feeling the humanity in others because I'm consumed with the demands of being a parent to my kids, and a parent to my own parent. There is no time left to feel -- I only have time to do.

I'm not my best for anyone: the rest of my family, my clients, or the causes I support. I'm my best for a situation for which I have no control and I am only along for the ride.

America is going to have to come to grips with my present reality as the Baby Boomers begin to enter the retirement years. Soon, my reality will be the norm, not the felt-sorry-for-circumstance-of-someone-down-the-street. Society will have to come to grips with the financial and emotional drain of aging parents. I'll leave that discussion for another time.

Now, don't get me wrong in all this. I am not complaining about task at hand because I'm thankful I can do this. I wouldn't trade this situation for anything in the world. It's been fun getting to know my mom in a whole new way. Frankly, I never knew she knew so many swear words, and that she could use them so quickly and so correctly in such amazing patterns.

What I'm saying is that one day, I'm fairly certain, my kids will have to do this for me and my care. I apologize to them now for their future anxieties. But what of others who have no one, nor the resources, to care for their aging relatives?

I no longer have the answers, the time, nor the energy I once had. Instead, I have a mom who needs me. And it's the least I can do.