How to Choose a President

So I watched every second of the debate last night.  It was a huge mistake on my part, not likely to be made again.  But it got me thinking, how do we actually decide who it is that we have leading the executive branch of our federal government?  What is the thought process that we go through to actually make the decision?

I am not endorsing or detracting from any candidate officially (though I really, really want to…) but I think it is more than fair to give ideas on how one might decide who to vote for.  A set of questions, in a specific order, that gives you an idea of how to choose a candidate.

Remember, these are in a specific order.  Start with the first question and move down.

1. Is this candidate qualified to actually fill the role of President?

If I sent an application to an engineering firm, it would rightfully be tossed out.  Do you know why?  Because I am incapable of completing the tasks of the job I am applying for.  It doesn’t matter if I have the same design philosophy of the company, it doesn’t matter if I’m a really cool dude, it doesn’t matter if I’m fresh blood while another candidate is old hat, if I cannot complete the tasks required of me, I should not be hired.

I think all the vast majority of people – include Christians – get so caught up in the political game and black-and-white nature of partisan politics that this very simple question gets ignored.  It needs to be first on the list, period.  You don’t hire pastors as security guards – usually – and we shouldn’t hire people who can’t actually complete the tasks of President to be President.

(Sidebar: I hate capitalizing President…)

2a. (Specifically for Christians, but also applicable to others) Will this candidate embody the Greatest Commandments?
2b. (For everyone) Does this candidates actual political positions align with my moral convictions?

I tried to come up with something more instructive here, but I couldn’t.  Look at the political positions the candidate purport, look at how they speak and act, and then decide if you can give them the yes on these questions.

There is an argument that these questions (especially for Christians) should come first, but the best morality and the best politics and the best person means absolutely nothing if you can’t put those things into action.  The reality is that if someone cannot actually do the job, it does not matter how awesome they are.  There is a reason I’m not, nor will I ever be, a baseball pitcher or starting NFL quarterback.  I’m pretty awesome, but I can’t do that.

3. Is this person the best candidate for everyone who isn’t me?

I am a white male, protestant, religious, moderate, working class (and slowly clawing my way up), beer drinker, bourbon drinker, short, over-weight, non-pot smoking, writer, pastor.  And I could focus that microscope even further.  Who is best for me may not be best for my wife, or the church secretary, or the family that just moved in down the street, or the banker, or the homeless guy I gave money to that one time, or the pan-handler I gave money to that one time.

When we choose someone who is best for us, we are choosing on a very narrow microcosm to benefit with our choice.  If we decide to be a bit less egocentric in our decision-making, then we actually consider a much broader set of benefits and actually, you know, attempt to improve the world, not just our personal microcosm.

And really, everyone else being better off makes you better off, just saying.

4. Is this person the best candidate for me?

If you actually get this far, then you can actually be selfish.  If you are fortunate enough to get through all of the questions with two (or more?) candidates who can actually do the job, embody your moral convictions, and are good for everyone, then you can selfishly choose a candidate who will pass laws that will make your microscopic microcosm of the world better specifically for you.

That’s the end.  Hopefully this was unbiased enough to not actually endorse/detract from anyone specific, but I can’t guarantee that.  This is the first election where I very much wanted to just start screaming publicly about political matters, but it isn’t my place and certainly my pulpit will not be sullied by partisan politics.

– Robby

The Bible Trivia Exam came up again…

(UPDATE: So I wrote this post a while ago.  Since then, this happened.  I’m leaving this up for posterity, but I can say correct decisions are starting to be made on the topic.  Hurray! – RB)

Okay, I’m so done with the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) and how ridiculous they have become.  I should try to be more diplomatic and pastoral with this, but I’m just done.

The Bible Trivia Content Exam is a 100 question multiple choice test you take after your first year of seminary.  Does it actually show anything about your giftedness for ministry?  No, not a thing.  Does it actually help show what your weaknesses in scriptural knowledge are?  Maybe, but probably not.  Is it full in inane questions that requires you to know the random minutia of scripture that you will likely never use again?  Yes, yes it is.

Did having the old tests available to I knew what to study help me pass the test?  Yes.

Did having the old tests reduce my Biblical knowledge and prepare me less for ministry?  No.

Did having the old tests increase my Biblical knowledge?  Yes, a lot.

So the PCC has got a lot of criticism – and loud criticism – about the change in the BCE and the PCC basically said, “Yup, we hear you, but we know better than you and we’re responding without actually addressing your concerns.”

So, here’s how testing has changed in the PC(USA).  The BCE has become harder and impossible to prepare for short of memorizing all of scripture, while the senior ordination exams – you know, the actual professional exams that test your true readiness for ministry – have become easier with the removal of proctoring, the removal of any closed-book questions, and recently the removal of any time limits.  So basically, you have to know trivia like the back of your hands, but the actual meat of ministry you can rely on time and resources?

So you know, I’ve got a solution.  Make the BCE a senior ordination exam.  If this exam is supposed to “assess competency in core areas of knowledge within [ministry],” why exactly are you assessing it before the education that you are supposed to learn about these things is completed?  You are asking people entering into seminary to have a full seminary education’s worth of knowledge – including a bunch of first-career pastors – of the minutia of scripture before actually completing seminary, and then you are surprised that less and less students pass the exam.

The test is supposed to “…assess one’s knowledge of stories, themes and pertinent passages in the Old and New Testaments,” and you know, you learn those things in seminary.  Because if you come in knowing all the answers, you don’t learn and you aren’t challenged.  So if we are going to make the BCE more difficult to prepare for and more difficult than the senior ordination exams, then maybe, just maybe, it needs to be a senior exam.

OR, maybe just maybe, the PCC can stop being stuck in a “memorization is the only way” mentality with the BCE when you certainly don’t need memorization for the actual professional exams.

OH, and I was curious about something because Tim mentioned pathology in that condescending letter.  I called my nurse sister about her boards and you know what?  They didn’t randomly get a test before their education was completed that tested knowledge that they haven’t gained that they will gain in their education.  So their boards where tough, timed, and to make sure they don’t kill someone – like our ords are designed to make sure we aren’t heretics and don’t turn people away from Christ – and guess what?  They release to previous years exams to practice on.

This is just stupid, and most people outside of the PCC see it.  But those who think that we all know nothing about scripture and somehow this trivia exam weeds out those who don’t know enough are also in charge of the PCC, and it pisses me off.

Pastors, remember the bull crap you went through when you were going through ordination, and fight to make it better.  It doesn’t need to be easier, but it can be fair.

GRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

– Robby

I Hurt

I’ve made a few of these posts in the past, and though I truly don’t have time to write this today (8 hours of work to finish in 5 :-S) I cannot remain silent.

For the majority, this will not apply or just echo the sentiments they have already said.  For those, I encourage you to share if you agree but more importantly, hug your family and friends and be thankful for the days that you have that might have been cut short.  We all should hurt because of this, and we must let ourselves feel that hurt.

This post isn’t for those who agree with me; this is for those who don’t.

The correct action when this happens is to mourn.  It is not politicize, it is not find our bully pulpits and soap boxes, it is not call for radical changes and for people to resign because they didn’t make the correct accusation, it is not stand on the bodies of those who lost their lives to make our political points.

It is to mourn.

I do not have words to describe how I feel about 50 people being gunned down and 50 more being injured because of their lifestyle.  I found John Oliver’s words oddly apt in describing how I feel. Warning, it is a bit raw, but I can’t find better words myself to describe how this feels.

Stop making this about an agenda.  50 of our citizens were murdered simply because they have the right to exist.  Stop making this about you and make it about their lives and mourning that they were cut short.

I said it when Antonin Scalia died and I will say it now, they have not even been interred to their final resting place and the mourning process has not even truly started yet; stop standing on their still warm bodies and make this about your politics.

Grieve and mourn and hurt.  Get angry at someone who murdered so many people.  Refuse to find solace in this world because there is none here.  Sob and scream.  Do the things that mourning people do.

But do not make it about politics, and do not stand on the bodies of innocent, dead people because you want your voice to be heard louder.  This period is not about you; it is about them, and their families, and a mourning nation.

I have never considered myself an ally of the LGBT community – I am not an activist for anything, really – but this senseless violence was carried out on that community – that marginalized community – specifically and without remorse.  We cannot ignore that.  Simply existing and exercising their sexual identity is the reason that one man decided that these people deserved to die, and that should never be.

We need to lift up our marginalized, especially those who live in fear of violence, and show them love.  We need to stop withholding love from groups of people that we disagree with, that we don’t understand, that we are disgusted by, that we hate, and that we fear.  We need to be showing love to all.

Did you see the line of people donating blood?  That is what we are capable of.  Let’s make that the message of these days of mourning.  Do what you can for others, sacrifice of yourself for others, help the world by showing love.

Political conversations needs to happen, the debates need to happen, solutions need to be found to curtail this problem, but not now.  Mourn first, give first, love first, let their memories becomes memories, then you can start your grandstanding.

Today is not about anyone other than those who were lost.  The loving thing to do is to remain mindful of that.

I’m hurting for our nation, for our marginalized people, for people who are hated because their lifestyles are uncomfortable for others, for all who experience violence.  And it cannot be okay, not today, so I am just going to hurt today.

Lord, hear our wails and our sobs and give us peace that this world has taken away.  Amen.

– Robby

Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy

This should be a tweet, but I couldn’t make it a pithy little quip.  Just…if you don’t care about my inane intolerance of just annoyingly edgy and confident media…like…just…go do something else instead of reading this.  I’m just…tired…

But really, I listened to Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything today, most notably the episode on the future, and I just don’t have words to explain how much I exhaustedly hated it.  Like, it epitomized everything I hate with our culture right now that doesn’t revolve around politics.

This is what I got out of it: technology is making us stupid, and Benjamin Walker knew everything bad that would happen with technology now in 2006, and only people as smart as him knew it.

Oh, and social media is making us dumber.  As is technology.

He’s 4 years older than I am.  We are in that weird middle stage where we are the elder millennials, me more solidly in Generation Y than him, but still this isn’t a generational divide.  He just arrogantly doesn’t like social media and technology for the sake of not liking it.

What he epitomizes, for me, is the ultimately popular counter-culture, the hipster culture, the “I’m somehow better and smarter than everyone else because I’m not a sheep that just adopts technology and uses social media and you should worship at my superior feet” mentality that makes me want to punch things.

And it does because the reality is that this mindset of edginess and counter-culture being morally superior is so grating on my nerves because I have the mentality that I don’t care what culture does, I do what I find to be the correct course of action.  If culture agrees, great; if it disagrees, whatever.

I spent a lot of energy as a preteen trying to fit in, and a lot of energy as a teen and young adult screaming that I didn’t fit in and that made me better.  And then I grew up.  I found my confidence and humility that allowed me to enjoy the world instead of looking for what I should hate.

I will pull an example from music.  I have a weird taste for Ingrid Michelson, Sara Bareilles, and Brandi Carlile…and Tech N9ne and Bad Religion occasionally.  I should hate them according to…well, really every measure of culture that I fit into.  And I also love great, non-mainstream (but still accessible) bands like The Tedeschi Trucks Band and JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound and PJ Harvey and Gary Clark, JR., but I still like these really mainstream (or popular punk) artists, as well.

Why is being counter-cultural moral?  Can someone actually answer that?  Why is being contrarian a moral position?  Why do you get to look down your nose at people when you refuse to consume popular culture and you rebel against technology?

Christians, too, have this awful ideal.  Whenever a moral direction is changing within the church, the accusation is that the church is following culture, implying that all surrounding culture is absolutely wrong, and that aligned changes mean that the church is following culture, not that it is a parallel and concurrent, but separate, change.

Why is resisting change and being contrarian and counter-cultural seen as automatically moral?  Can someone actually answer that for me so this subset of our culture…odd word choice…can not grate on my nerves quite so much?

I’m grumpy, I’m tired, and caffeine has worn off.  Someone please just save me.

Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee…

– Robby

Innocence by Dissociation

There is this great Imgur album that makes me smile and is a fun reference for when you need to explain why an argument doesn’t work.

Ed Hochuli throwing flags at your logical fallacies.

Just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside for some reason, and I don’t even like Ed Hochuli (zebras = evil, just ask any NFL fan).  Anyway, I want to point your attention to this image:

fsi99rn

I’ve thought about this for much of this election cycle.  There has been a lot of talk about how two candidates in particular are not part of a large machine, blindingly condemning all the other candidates awful because they are part of the machine.

Maybe I should be railing against that, too, but I see a more egregious problem.  And also, just because somethings is a logical fallacy doesn’t not mean the evidence won’t prove it.  Thoughts for another day.

The problem I see is another fallacy that isn’t “officially” a logical fallacy but seems to happen quite regularly right now: the belief that someone is innocent simply because they are dissociated with the problem group.

“Donald Trump is not a politician, so obviously he isn’t the problem.”  “Bernie Sanders is an outspoken independent and truly radical so he’s the only good option.”  Do you see how they both are lifted up by the dissociation from mainline politics?  Has nothing to do with their politics, just that they aren’t obedient cogs in the political machine.

Dissociation is not proof of innocence.  I’m not saying anything about the guilt or innocence of anyone, just that this is not proof of anything.

The frustrating thing with logical fallacies is that they preclude something from being used as proof but don’t actually prove something untrue.  It may be quite true that Donald Trump is going to do something good because he isn’t beholden to anyone, or that Bernie Sanders radicalism is the cure to all the county’s ills*.  Just because the conclusion is come to through a logical fallacy doesn’t make the conclusion untrue.

Am I the only one that sees the problems rising here?  Do you see how broken our political system is that outsiders are lifted up as messiahs?  I realize Christ was an outsider, and a radical, but his actions were chosen by being correct, not by what would make him radical or different.

That’s my problem.  I took me writing this whole thing to figure this out.  We are voting for people because they are outsiders or radicals and judging them solely based on that.  Or also because they are doing things that we want, not what would actually be best for the country and all the people.

Just…stop choosing politicians like a 19-year-old rebel and start choosing them like hiring managers and call committees.  Who is actually qualified to do the job?  Who will seek to serve the will of the people and the needs of the people?  Who will actually serve the country and the world instead of serving themselves?  And who will do that in a way that is effective?

I don’t see an answer yet, and maybe that’s just me.

Breathe in, breathe out, lunch time!

– Robby

* Please, in the name of all that is good and holy, do not read this to say I actually believe either of these things – I don’t – but an example of how logical fallacies actually work in terms of proof.  The answer: they literally prove nothing without additional work.  No accusing me of being a Trump/Sanders 2016 ticket support….

I’m Frustrated (A Post for Super Tuesday)

When I wrote the first edition of this post, it was a rant because I was frustrated with politics.  As I woke up this morning – this Super Tuesday morning – I realized that I could reign my ranting in and make an actual attempt at describing the real and mature frustration that I have with the current political climate.

I am a centrist, and have been for quite some time.  I believe most truth lies somewhere in the middle, but being in the middle doesn’t mean being true.  Nor does lying on the right or the left (or the top of the bottom) make something true.  A good centrist (or moderate, if you are feeling that today) seeks the correct action, period.  There is no narrative or agenda beyond finding the truth and seeking what is best.

The only agenda that I follow is the Christian agenda.  And by Christian, I mean the example of Christ, which is radically important for what is to follow.

(For my non-Christian readers – all like 2.7 of you – read this as a thought exercise in morality that you can take with the grain of salt that you would any other morality thought exercise.)

There are two absolutes that most Christian doctrines take from the words of Jesus: love and unity.  Most non-Christians have those values in their personal theologies.  They are pretty universal to human morality and help the survival of our species.

I am going to put the greatest commandments up again, with an emphasis relevant to our political situation:

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.  40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
– Matthew 22:37-40 CEB

“…[y]ou must love your neighbor as yourself.”  I want this to sink a bit, and then I want you to judge your potential candidates using these words.  All politics aside, if someone is using hatred to garner support, they are not supporting a Christian agenda.  Period.

I could spend a great deal of time seeking other examples of how Jesus commanded us to do things – and I could specifically point out candidates who don’t do those things – but any hatred used to garner support should be enough to disqualify anyone from the Christian vote.  Period.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has a very flawed understanding of Jesus.

That’s the part that’s relevant to today.  What follows is relevant to the rest of the election cycle.

Christian unity is a big deal.  Christ’s sacrifice on the cross did, amongst other things, unify the Israelites with the Gentiles.  As Christians, we are one body united under one savior.  It doesn’t matter what the doors of our churches say or which theologians we follow; we are all one under Christ.

As Americans, we have built an adversarial system that is designed to work by division.  By designed, I mean the same way that Pugs and English Bulldogs were designed.  We didn’t design what was best for us – and we certainly didn’t design what Christ would have desired – but rather we designed what felt best and played into our human inadequacies.  As that selective breeding continued, the bad characteristics continued to grow while most semblance of what is good disappeared.

This is not the way that Christ envisioned things.  This is the exact opposite of unity and love.  The biggest problem, though, has almost nothing to do with the politicians.  I hate politicians, and I will likely always hate them, but they are a product of the voting public.  We’ve turned political discussion into a lynch mob and a hatred-filled meme war with deceptive infographics and every politician being compared to Hitler and Jesus at the same time.  If a politician doesn’t participate in the political mudslinging*, they are weak against their opponents.

Why are the other opponents?  Why aren’t they just people with different ideas?  Why does it need to be a battle instead of a debate where the best candidate in the eyes of the voting public graciously wins and the lesser candidate graciously loses and then the winner works for the good of everyone, not just those who voted for them?

Because it just wouldn’t be fun if we didn’t tear each other down and judge each other and place ourselves on pedestals of being right while condemning everyone who disagrees.  We think that we are absolutely right all of the time and anyone who disagrees with us is just too stupid to figure it out.

Why have we done this to ourselves?  Every Presidential election cycle I lose friends.  Literally every time.  Why do we allow ourselves to get drug into this like pawns fighting the battle for political overlords?  Why do we forget that we love each other and that other people can disagree with us without being stupid or evil?  Why must we condemn the other?

I know this election cycle there is a candidate or two that people feel very strongly about – as do I – and I am not discouraging you from pointing out why a candidate would be very bad for our country.  What everyone needs to stop doing is making it about party lines.  If there is a candidate that is absolutely the worst potential president we could possibly come up with, stop condemning those who like that candidate, acknowledge that there are reasons why they support them, and respond to what is absolutely wrong with the candidate.

Please, stop tearing each other down for disagreeing.  Stop calling people stupid and evil because they support someone who don’t.  Stop comparing everyone to Hitler and/or Jesus.  Actually show love and compassion for each other.  This isn’t radical talk, it isn’t complicated, it isn’t even hard; stop dehumanize and demonizing each other and our politicians and act like the adults that you are.

Breathe in, breathe out, good boy.

– Robby

P.S.: Sorry it’s a bit rough.  I’d let it stew, but it’s half useless after tonight so…

*If this wasn’t a Christian blog, I had a much more colorful phrase for this.

I Want to Be a Sheep

14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep.

– John 10:14-15 CEB

(Heads up: this blog has always been a place for me to be vulnerable in a public and controlled way.  This is one of those posts where I’m a bit more vulnerable [read: whiny] than is probably healthy, but as far as I know there is a point in there, somewhere…)

I’ve kind of missed a couple of #pictureLent days, which is really sad for me because it was my way of trying to get back into a routine of devotion – and to stop making excuses of why I couldn’t.  Then I got sick and busy – which is an awesome combination – and I missed a couple of days.  But I’m trying, and I am sticking to my blogging plan (which I’m not saying out loud for fear that just saying it will be enough to make me feel better), so here we are.

IMG_20160216_094204376

(The program is BibleWorks, which is important for what is going on.  And I should have cleaned up the clutter, but it also just kind of makes sense given the state of my mind and schedule right now.)

Being a pastor means you are called to be a shepherd.  It’s literally the call you sign up for.  I don’t find myself using the crook a lot to fend off wolves, but I do find myself guiding and directing as much as I can, given the boundaries of my position.  And I love it.  Nora’s asked me a few times if I made the right decision for my life’s work and I know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

But sometimes you don’t want to be the shepherd that day.  I woke up yesterday and the cough that started destroying me Saturday settled further into my chest and added sneezing.  It was cold outside, making breathing (insert sarcasm), and Nora started her new job.  It was Monday, it’s supposed to be my time for Sabbath, and instead I did about 6 hours worth of work.  Any other Monday I would have just said, “well, I’ll make up for it some other time this week,” but yesterday it just didn’t set well with me.  The laundry and dishes that actually belong on a Monday didn’t get done, the table is clearly still a mess (as is my desk, which is why I’m at the table), and this morning I’ve got some energy back but the cough is still hanging on strong.

I wanted nothing more than to go back to being a sheep in the flock.

My biggest guilt right now is that I haven’t really used scripture as a devotional tool; it’s been my job, and not a whole lot more.  And yesterday I stared at BibleWorks for probably 2 hours and my soul read none of it.  I forgot that I’m still a sheep despite my role as a shepherd.

God is my shepherd.  Scripture is His guidance, His staff, and His love expressed.

Yesterday morning I tweeted about penance and hope, but I also think that any study of scripture – be it professional or devotional – that doesn’t end up leading the person studying to hope is flawed.  I got nothing of hope out of my studies yesterday; I got tasks done, but no devotion.

If I want to be a sheep, if I want God as my shepherd, I have to let him be the shepherd.  Even if I am a shepherd of a small flock, I know that ultimately I am just another sheep that (weakly and slowly and often badly) fights the wolves and guides my fellow sheep.  Ultimately I will not be successful if I rely on my own abilities and not the guidance and protection and love of the ultimate shepherd.

I can’t do this alone, and I am admitting that even if I love my role as minor shepherd in the grand scheme, I am not desiring to be in charge.  I want to be a sheep in God’s flock.  To do that, I need to start relying on scripture again, fully, and not just as a professional tool.  That’s my goal.

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing. 2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; 3 he keeps me alive. He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.

– Psalm 23:1-3 CEB

Peace,

– Robby