Fearless Moral Inventory and Cancel Culture

I debated posting this because of how “hot” this issue is. I will touch a nerve that some will call political. I have selfishly avoided controversial public statements recently for a host of reasons, but I need to address a horrific trend I see happening in people I love and respected.

Real Talk: U.S. politics manufactured your outrage over the estate of Dr. Seuss stopping production and sales of six titles you have never heard of – or haven’t heard of in years, at least. The beloved classics the outraged keep bringing up and demanding be read until all of our dying breaths will still be available at every bookstore and library – with a few, radical exceptions of places the outraged would never patronize, anyway.

U.S. politics manufactures outrage to distract from bigger issues. I wish the estate had quietly just stopped selling the titles *PUTS ON CYNICAL HAT* instead of doing a press release to make the estate look more woke to sell more books to progressive millennials *TAKES CYNICAL HAT OFF* but they made their decision on how to do it and we played into the outrage game that decision gave to us.

No one got canceled and everyone got distracted from the bigger issues going on all around us. We played right into the game, and our politicians love that they can come out against “cancel culture” instead of addressing, again, all the big, life-and-death issues going on all around us.

But I cannot add anything to the direct conversation. If you want to get mad and read more Dr. Seuss, you will; if you want to stop reading Dr. Seuss – or did years ago – you will. The whole exercise wasted everyone’s time and only served to anger and divide us further.

I only even addressed it in specific as a conduit to the bigger issue this and other stories like it point to. I see something else happening here, something I have seen since everyone started screaming about “Cancel Culture” and wanting to just ignore past transgressions because they happened “in the past” and were perpetrated by our heroes and beloved creators of things we love.

After reading The Refuge and Kathy Escobar in Searching for Sunday, I have argued that Christianity and church needs to take a lesson from the recovery moment and start using the 12 Steps to guide our path of repentance.1 We, as individuals, as communities and congregations, as institution, and as the whole Body of Christ need to actively repent and do better – and give up our addiction to comfort.

(I encourage you to grab a copy of the 12 Steps a guide; you won’t need it to read this, but you might find it helpful for bits I didn’t write complete and useful later if you decide something I said resonated with you)

The first three steps you can easily mimic and declare just by sitting in the pew and saying the words. Cradle Christians have done this since their birth (adapted to fit a generic Christian repentance movement and not recovery from addition specifically):

  1. Admit we are powerless over sin and that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God (as we understand God).

Read the gospel, believe the gospel, believe the cross, and decide to put God in charge. Easy to say and easy to fake; only really requires showing up and saying the right words.

Also pretty easy to sniff out a liar, but naming that liar – even with proof – is problematic to say the least. Comfortable liars don’t take kindly to admonition, and their apologists really don’t take kindly to it.

But when you get to step four – and especially step five – just arriving at church and reading the words on the page stops fulfilling your visible obligation. We must look in the mirror and see our true selves, not the polished version we created for job interviews or the “selectively, perfectly imperfect” version we create hourly for social media. We must name our sin, name how we have wronged each other, wronged ourselves, and damaged our relationship with God.

We must name when we chose sin and its comforts over love and its sacrifices. We cannot just generically say, “I am sinful; forgive me, God,” at this point. We can no longer privately confess and only name those sins that don’t really make us look “that bad” as we have our personal, private conversation with the magic, vending-machine version of God that provides tickets out of Hell that only cost a silent confession once a week. We must name our sins, in detail to at least one other person.

We must bear our souls and say, “I am broken and sinful, and I must name the ways for facilitate healing.” Our healing and making this creation closer to what God intended requires it.

And then we ask God to take away our sin and make amends to those we have hurt.

On an individual basis this looks exactly as you would expect, and most people do not lose their mind and try to convince someone making amends they have nothing to apologize for and their feelings of sinfulness only come because culture and popular opinion have shifted.

We absolutely need to do this on an individual basis – and frankly, we need to not just encourage it in worship but give space and safety for it to happen (I don’t know what that looks like, exactly, but that’s also a different conversation). We need to acknowledge and name how we have damaged relationships and withheld love, and we need to do what we can to heal the relationship. 2

But this must go beyond our individual sins; we must confess the sins of the bodies and institutions we hold up and systems we benefit from. We must do this for God’s creation to get better and heal. We must do this much the same way Jesus did this (which got him killed).

Yet every time anyone sees something wrong in our history and says, “That’s a terrible thing that happened…” or, “That was wrong then and is wrong now…” and suggests trying rectify the situation and make amends to those hurt, sections of our society – and especially particular parts of the Body of Christ – start jumping up and own, hollering about how it’s silly and anyone offended by our harmful past actions – and present actions – are “snowflakes” who just follow popular culture.

Racism is real and depictions of non-White people – and who we consider White now but did not before – from periods of our past are incredibly racist and lift Western European and American White-ness as superior to all other races and cultures. Depictions rooted in sexism, homophobia, and any other -ism, do the same to the marginalized for the benefit and entertainment of the privileged. Continuing to publish those depictions does active and lasting harm to the groups depicted.

Ceasing publication and distribution of those images and depictions shows at least a small sign of fearless moral inventory and a step toward doing better.

I will never give Disney any room for moral authority – just, no – but I find part of the updated disclaimer they put on dated and problematic pieces they have available for viewing incredibly apt and approaching righteous (as much as I want to vomit saying anything Disney does is righteous):

“These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

You don’t have to believe Disney truly believes this or says this for any reason other than financial gain to see the righteous truth and frank confession in that statement.

These things did not suddenly become wrong, and culture did not dictate our morality to us. We (royal we) do a fearless moral inventory of our society, systems, and culture, and, in doing so, learn that we did things that were wrong but acceptable when we did them. We look to both do better and make amends for our wrong actions.

As far as I read in the gospels, that sounds like what Jesus called the religiously comfortable and powerful to do.

We do all of this inadequately and constantly fall short3, but if we continue to take a fearless moral inventory – and act upon it – we can move the needle toward justice and God’s will. We can follow and embody Christ instead of fearfully and angrily holding on to what was because the fearless moral inventory might uncomfortably implicate us and taste bitter in our contentedness.

Do we refuse to participate in following God’s will for justice and sacrificial love because we might find ourselves implicated and needing to repent and take the bitter herbs, or do we follow Christ even to death – especially the death of our sinful and comfortable selves?

I think you know the right answer. I hope you choose it, and I pray for the strength to choose it myself.

Peace,
– Robby


1 I know the 12 Steps as written and published contains problematic language for a couple of reasons – gendered language for God, an implied necessity for Christian faith, etc. – but the steps themselves are a pretty spot on and incredibly challenging path to repentance. Unless you can stop sinning whenever you want, you have an addiction to selfishness and withholding love (and if you can stop any time you want, why don’t you)?

2 No one owes us forgiveness or absolution, by the way; you apologize to open the space for reconciliation and find peace yourself, not so you can receive Earthly absolution from the person you wronged. Any apology that ends with, “Are we good?” or any other request for absolution is a false apology.

3 Some (read: very few, but not zero) people do get wrongly “canceled” or have no opportunity make amends for small, past actions, but this is rare and exaggerated by those whose beloved heroes refuse to make amends for egregious past and present actions and fall victim to what some have started called “consequence culture.” I wouldn’t acknowledge this on principle, but if I don’t, it gives opportunity to discount the whole thing. I must say to those people, “Cancel Culture” for being kinda bad on social media but not awful isn’t nearly as prevalent as is being canceled standing up to the rich and powerful and not being rich and powerful yourself.

How Long, O Lord?

I still have no words.

The beginning of Psalm 13 has rang in my ears since I first started watching the attack on our democracy yesterday:

“How long, O LORD?”

How long will we deny the problem?
How long will our leaders deny truth?
How long will the powerful sow seeds of hatred?
How long will can we bear the violence of weaponized discontent?

13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
– Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

Lord, in your mercy…
…hear our prayers…
…hear our screams…
…hear our wails…
…hear the pain in our speechlessness…

I cannot give commentary, I cannot make more sense of it than anyone else has, I cannot even speak more truth to the powerful than has already been spoken.

I can only mourn. The America I believed in – the America promised to me by those who loved me – came under attack yesterday, or at least the illusion of and eventual hope for that America.

A misguided American – a misguided child of God – lost her life because she believed this was necessary; she was lied to and believed it, and she lost her life because of someone else’s lie.

I just…have no words anymore. I have said it all before, and today I can only mourn and pray for healing that has not come yet and does not appear on the horizon.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Come, Lord Jesus, come…

Our Divisions Will Kill Us

Go read last week’s sermon as a prelude to this.  I preached that sermon as the Word of God–as ordained ministers do from the pulpit–and though I still struggle to believe I could possibly give the Word of God, if I do that, preaching that sermon gave the Word of God.

I–the guy who writes this blog–have more to say that does not qualify as the Word of God.  I want to follow-up with on how our divisions shatter our world and how we should approach the crisis of today.

I believe we live in a crisis state.  The United States had a policy of separating families–including infants–who illegally crossed the border, many wanting to claim asylum but found themselves unable due to boarder stations not processing people attempting to enter the country.  The United States has deported parents without their young children.  The United States has an active and growing resurgence of vocal and violent racism that claims moral superiority not unlike the Ku Klux Klan before them.

The United States currently exists in deep, painful, and life-threatening crisis of evil, both in the philosophical sense and a real, practical, and horrifying sense for many populations within her land.

I believe the crisis is a an opportunistic infection of a much different disease.

The disease is hateful, vitriolic division.

Do not misunderstand my point.  The opportunistic infection can and will kill us.  I do not write this to downplay the dire crisis situation we find ourselves in.  We need to cure the infection or what we know as the United States will die.

As we seek to cure the infection and heal the damage caused, we need to desperately need to understand what allowed such an infection to happens and treat the problems so it cannot happen again.

I want to start with a troubling Twitter hashtag I saw over the past few days that exemplifies our vitriolic division.  #CivilWar2 has declared war between Democrats and Republicans.  Mind you, the declaration does not go against the infection but against other parts of the body.  It declares a political philosophy morally correct and refuses to accept dissent.  It demonized half of the country and tells those who would gladly join the cause of fighting the infection to fall in line with their political philosophy or suffer the consequences, driving those potential allies into the welcoming arms of the crisis-makers.

I do not speak of new things.  I remember hearing in college–my much more conservative days–that voting Republican means I want women to get cancer.  I remember hearing in my youth–as my mind and philosophies formed–that voting Democrat means I want to murder babies.  I remember hearing that standing right of the line means hating black people.  I remember hearing standing left of the line means I cannot call myself Christian.

I wrote no exaggerations.  Someone told me each one of those things, each multiple times.  As I stepped right, someone called me evil; as I stepped left, someone else called me evil.

I can picture their faces.  I do not exaggerate; people called my changing and evolving positions evil, often adding stupid and immature to the mix.

I could only learn one lesson aside from than how lonely I would feel desiring and working toward politics and ministries of reconciliation and subtly: disagreeing would force me to the outside.  Not having a tribe forced me to the margin, and we have no tribe for subtle, strong centrists who desire the best policies for universal love, universal survival, and universal growth.

I am not evil.  I am not stupid.  I am not immature.  My growth marked improvements in each of those areas, and multiple someones called my growth each of those things.

When everything that you disagree with is evil, nothing is evil.  When everything you disagree with is stupid, nothing is stupid.  When everything you disagree with is immature, nothing is immature.

I have finally arrived at the root of the problem as I see it.  We live in a unique crisis of evil.  I cannot state that any differently.  We live in a unique crisis of evil.

We have so overused that word and vitriolically divided ourselves into two tribes and killed all dissent that when we actually have something evil in front of us, we have no way to call it as such.  By writing this someone will believe I said, “Republicans are evil!”  By writing this, someone will believe I said those who speak out angrily should not be so uncivil.  By writing this, someone will hear a political message.

We all did this by politically dividing our stances on morality and evil.  I found myself marginalized by the American political dichotomy, but I have my tribes, as well.  I find myself ready and willing to tear down other denominations for what I want to call evil when they simply interpret the Bible differently.  I have wholesale condemned people who believe in “Ecclesiastical Separation.”

I can name them as easily as I can name those who condemned me.

We have called the other evil for so long that when evil appears in great force, we cannot call it as such for fear of sounding political or do speak up only to have that fear painfully realized.

Our hateful, vitriolic divisions allowed this to happen.  We allowed this to happen and shattered the safeguards that would have prevented it in the name of political expediency.  We found ourselves shocked that evil could take advantage when we opened the doors wide open.

This crisis can kill us.  The opportunistic evil that comes from our divisions can and will kill us.  We felt morally superior as we allowed this to happen and patted ourselves on the back.

I ask this of every #CivilWar2 political activist:

When this war you declared ends, do you plan to call the other side “our countrymen (sic) again”?  Or do you plan to shoot your guns off and make sure they know you won and demonize them, furthering the divide between you and those who would stand as your allies?

If we would stop dividing ourselves, and especially stop dividing the Body of Christ, we could fight evil.  Now we have to watch it do its work until we can stand united again.

I am reaching out to you, asking that you ignore our divisions and stand united against the crisis of evil we currently live in.  We shattered the safeguard; help me rebuild it.

Peace,

– Robby

How I (Suddenly) Became Progressive

I have been trying to find where my outside church ministry in Fort Wayne and Indiana is leading me – that ministry you do because you are called to just a little bit more than just being a preacher, hospital visitor, and administrator – and I found myself attending a presbytery justice advocates group.

As we talked, I found myself hearing the politics and concerns of the groups and found myself agreeing with them, not in a surprising way but in a, “Yes, my people.  I found my people.”  Then one of the people call the group “progressive.”

I was a little bit taken aback.  I’m a moderate, certified fence-sitter.  I have strongly held political beliefs, but they don’t fit neatly in the adversarial binary off the American political system.  The only thing “radical” about me is my insistence that those I minister to and I myself love radically and the sheer volume of coffee I drink.  I don’t lean left, I never have.  I used to lean right, but I’ve centered myself.  My positions tend to be more logical than anything, seeking first to love than to actually see things work.

If you see me or talk to me, you don’t think progressive.  At all.

But I realized something in that meeting: I have become a progressive, in a way.  I didn’t change all that much – I fleshed out more theology and stopped giving benefit of the doubt to one side, which didn’t really change all that much about me – but I can easily be labeled a progressive now.

I didn’t change, but the line moved, and I’m on that side of the line.

Here are some things it became progressive to believe or observe:

  • That all people – all of God’s children – should be able to participate in the fullness of the church, no matter their lifestyle, brokenness, or who they love.
  • That there is still racial inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That there is economic inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That people should be able to go to the doctor and not need to make a decision between eating or healthcare, rent or healthcare, or any other necessity of life or healthcare.
  • That people should be paid a fair wage.
  • That the rich should not gain their wealth by the abuse of their workers.
  • That Christian allegiance is to the cross, not a flag.
  • That Christian allegiance is to Christ, not a world leader.
  • That all Christians are broken, all Christians desperately need the saving love of our savior, and that none of us can cast a stone against another sinner.
  • That Christians are called to protect, lift up, hear, and speak out for the vulnerable and the weak, using whatever privilege and power we have to help those and speak for those who do not have that privilege and power.
  • That wealth is not a blessing from God but simple a resource for use to better God’s creation and show Christ’s love.
  • That Christians cannot act in fear and are called to act against their own well-being when it comes to showing love.

I used to believe that the vast majority of these things were boilerplate Christian values.  There may be some deviation if we really want to break them down to the most minute subtleties, but I thought this was pretty basic Christian doctrine for the mainline.

The reality, I’ve learned over the past few months and even couple of years, is that these believes and observations make me progressive politically.

I was taught that not being strongly conservative made you a liberal.  I was taught that being liberal was evil.  I was taught that being a liberal Christian meant that I didn’t believe anything.  I was taught that the progressive church was the coming of the Antichrist.  I was taught that disagreeing with the narrow doctrines of the conservative church was tantamount to being not-Christian.

And our binary, adversarial political tribalism has made it to where a prophetic voice is discounted and ignored because it is simply seen as an attack from the other.

When did being a moderate make you progressive?  I don’t know, but it has, and I guess I’m a progressive now.

I guess being a progressive means that you value showing love above all.

29Jesus replied, “The most important one is ‘Israel, listen!  Our God is the one Lord, 30and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  31The second is this, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.”

– Mark 12:2-31 CEB

I guess being progressive means following the Greatest Commandments.

I guess I’m progressive now.

Peace,
– Robby

Why People Voted for Trump

(UPDATE: So as I’m editing old posts while creating the new blog, some posts beg to be deleted but I can’t just bring myself to do it.  The situation with our now President has changed, I have, from the pulpit, called him out for actions I found despicable, and yeah, it’s been a weird few months.  As I’m looking for a position (and eventually will be an installed pastor), I wonder what I should leave up, and what should disappear.

This one stays because I had a friend who was calmed because of this post.  It was a pastoral post, even if it’s a bit harsh and WAY political.  It stays because it did good. – RB)

Okay, I wasn’t going to post about this because no matter what I say on the topic, I’m going to be accused of voting for someone.  I’m not sure who, I’m not sure who is going to accuse me, I’m not sure the ramifications, but I’m tired of people saying 48% of the nation is bigots.

It’s not and you know it.

Let’s get something out of the way.  Bigots were always going to vote for Trump, minority groups for Clinton.  Right or wrong, stupid or not, that’s how it was always going to go.  But that doesn’t include the majority of people.

So how could someone vote for Trump?  Let’s take a walk down the “Lesser of Two Evils” track.

So, you have Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.  You see Trump as a millionaire bigot and Clinton as a millionaire criminal who is above the law.  Neither has your interests on their radar.  Both are going to get us into war.  Nuance – and some fact – is missing from this, but nuance and facts are often missed when selecting a candidate.

So how do they address you?  Clinton acts like you are unimportant, a benign growth on the body of the nation, while Trump at least treats you like the heart and backbone of the country.

So, you have to vote for one of them, one treats you like you are below them and the other like you mean something, who do you vote for?

It’s not bigotry, it’s not racism, it’s not because rural people hate women or Muslims or (insert whatever group they were supposed to have not cared about to vote for Trump); it’s because Trump spoke to rural America while Clinton spoke at rural America.

You want fly-over states to vote for you?  You want Iowa to go back to voting for Democrats?  Treat them like they aren’t a nuisance, and that their feelings and opinions actually matter to you, and then they’ll be way more open to having a conversation about progressiveness.

And about Iowa specifically.  We are a joke until it comes to an election; then we’re 6 electoral votes that are up for grabs.  Maybe we stop treating Iowa like a joke, remember that Iowa was 2nd for marriage equality, and try to actually reach out to farmers and factory workers and rural people instead of treating them like Risk pieces.

Most people will vote for their own needs over someone else’s needs, and unless you voted for the rural person’s needs over your own, you can’t judge them for it.  It’s not bigotry, it’s not evil, it’s self-preservation as far as they can tell.

And it’s not stupidity, either.

That’s it.  I’m posting it, consequences be damned.  Maybe, just maybe, we can try to understand each other – and why we make the decisions we make – a bit more instead of saying 48% of the country voted to restrict your rights and make your life more difficult.  Maybe they did what was best for them, much the same way you did what was best for you.

I’m not telling anyone what to feel.  I’m not addressing the fear that many people have.  I’m not pretending to know what is going on in the hearts and minds of the marginalized in our country.  And I’m not saying this is how people should have voted – I’m very much in favor of voting to protect the marginalized and believe they are the groups we should consider first.  What I am trying to do is explain why a rational, loving, unbigoted person might vote contrary to you.

And hopefully, we can act like a united people eventually.

Please, can we stop hurting each other and yelling at each other?  It is doing no good.

– Robby

The Problem of Pastors and Politics

I was having a conversation today…and yesterday…and Sunday about how it has been so very, very hard to keep my damn mouth shut about the political game.  I’ve slipped a few times – more this week than in all previous elections combined – but I am doing my absolute best to not tell people to vote in any way or imply that any candidate is not a Christian candidate.

I’ve wanted to.  My God, I’ve wanted to.  But I have been keeping my mouth shut.  Mostly.

I know I’m not alone, but I can’t help but notice that I have quite a few pastor friends who are quite vocal this election, and I get it.  I really do, I really, really do.  But I find myself at a crossroads.

I am a pastor(ish), and even when I am not in my pulpit, I may as well be because people are going to hear it as the pastor giving his pastoral advice.  I may not be presenting the Word of God in every moment (ESPECIALLY WHILE WATCHING DEBATES) but I am a pastor in every moment, and the words of my mouth are the words of a pastor no matter if I am commenting on the qualities of a specific sandwich at Chick-fil-A* or talking about the qualities of a specific candidate.  In every moment, my voice is the voice of a pastor.

Now if I say that a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A* was tasty but the breading was a bit soggy, I have expert status because I eat a lot but not because I’m a pastor.  I’m just a sad, sad man at that point.  But if I say that one candidate is better than another, my being a pastor gives a level of expertise as a theologian and professional minister.  If I say a particular candidate is not a Christian and demonize them, then I have declared – even unintentionally – that the correct Christian choice is to vote against them.  If I say that the country is doomed if a particular candidate is elected, I say that using the authority I have as a pastor.

Maybe that’s how you think pastors should work, and I won’t be able to convince anyone otherwise, but consider the situation I find myself specifically and tell me how I am supposed to be political and not do a disservice to the Christians I serve, because all of them are baptized, confessing, and worshiping Christians just like me, flaws and all.

I have a staunch Trump supporter, a few that will vote Republican, a strong Clinton supporter or two, a few that will vote for Hillary, and a pile that seriously think the only answer – the absolute only answer – is for neither to be on the ballot and so they feel so helpless and hopeless.

Now let’s say that I demonize Trump and support Hillary.  The Hillary supports just feel supported, the Trump supporters no longer feel like they are welcome Christians, and those frustrated in the middle point to things that she has said that clearly go against my preaching and ask how I can support her.  Most people (or at least half) were just told – albeit possibly unintentionally – that voting for the candidate of their choosing is a sin and that they should feel ashamed.

Now reverse it.  Different people, same result.  I literally told half or more of the people in my congregation that they are sinful for disagreeing with me.

Maybe you don’t see it as forcefully as I do.  Maybe you see yourself as speaking in a voice that isn’t your pastor voice.  Maybe you believe that absolutely no real Christian could support a particular candidate – and that your view is absolutely correct.

But I do.  And before I get an onslaught of things that are wrong with both candidates, I’m watching the same news, reading the same blogs, and having the same thoughts as everyone else.  I can see – clearly – what is going on.  I don’t need you to tell me why you hate/love a particular candidate.  I am not blind or dumb.

I just don’t think it’s responsible for us to be so publicly demonizing and deifying candidates and tell those who we serve who disagree with us – that those that serve right along with us – that we hold the only possible Christian option and dissent is unacceptable.

Now jokes about voting for Mr. Potato Head and Aaron Rodgers (whom I hate with the fire of a billion suns) and expressing your frustration with how the election is shaking out is an entirely different matter.  That’s called being human, and my success as a pastor is about 75% due to my being willing to be a human.  But when you discussion of political situations turns to “Absolutely not her/him”, you tell those who disagree with you that they cannot have their position and still be Christians.

I’ll admit I hate elections, and I want my Twitter feed to go back to beer, jokes, bourbon, jokes, and occasionally a profound statement, but the rhetoric is out of hand, even if I agree with 99% of it.  We’re pastors, we have a different standard and a different calling and we should respect that even when it pains us.  We serve our congregations (or different ministries), not the political process of our country.  Think about the people you serve and if what you are saying will make them less served by you.

Rant over.  Contemplating turning the heater on in my office.

– Robby

*I hadn’t had Chick-fil-A in years and then one opened in Dubuque and I was on the road a lot and found myself having to choose take-out and now I’ve had enough Chick-fil-A for a year…

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

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.

A Moderate in a Radical World

I just listened to this podcast and at the very tail end, when discussing why young protesters are more effective today than 20 years ago, one of the qualities of young protesters were described as was, “More radical.”

It stopped me in my tracks.  The whole episode is worth a listen* but that one little bit about current protesters being lauded for being “more radical” just stopped me.

A few days later I read this blog post** and again, I found myself stopped.  Instead of staying stopped, though, I got indignant.  I found myself wanting to scream at the culture of “radical or wishy washy” and being told the only way to be a force for good in the world, or a Christian, or even just a loving person is to be radical in a direction.

I’m not radical, and I will never be radical.  I am very strongly moderate – not moderate because I won’t make a decision but moderate because I believe the middle ground contains more truth than the fringes – and very passionate about extremism being the cause of so much of our world’s problems.  I’m that person who gets accused of being a bleeding-heart, communist liberal (stretching there) or heartless, gun-toting conservative (not much of a stretch) depending on who I’m talking to.

As a moderate, I have always valued discussion from all sides of an issue.  Opinions may be misguided, anecdotes and experiences may shade observations, and your personal feelings and desires will always bias your thoughts, but the truth comes from analyzing everything.  Politics should stop removing the “science” from “political science” and start treating the discussion like a scientist, observing everything, collecting as much information as possible, and then moving forward.

I try to live in the gray.  I fail sometimes, sometimes I get indigent over people not living in the gray, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy to fight for the middle, but I firmly believe the gray contains the most truth.

This nation has become black and white about everything.  Race.  Gender.  Sexual orientation.  Religious and Non-Religious.  Political Ideology.  Pro-Pot and Anti-Pot.  The idea of having conversations to find a common ground on any of these things used to be an uncomfortable necessity; now it doesn’t feel uncomfortable because impossible things aren’t uncomfortable

It is impossible to have a conversation because everything in our lives – politics, church, even our marriages and families – have become adversarially two-sided.  Nothing is a discussion; everything is a battle that must have a clear winner.

Does it bother anyone else that we treat our politics like a damn football game?  Does it bother anyone that we worship the letter that we put behind our name more than we worship Christ?  Does it bother anyone else that if they have the wrong letter behind their name – or, God forbid, they don’t have a letter behind their name – that we demonize them and make them out to be monsters who want nothing more than to kill your children/kill all the people who look different?  Or for those of us who aren’t on a side, we are “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, [and God] will spit [us] out of [His] mouth?” (Revelation 3:16)

We do this at church, too.  Any time a controversial topic is decided, the losing team – because it is teams fighting each other in a game at this point – prays for the winning team to find God again and stop denying the teachings of scripture/the love that Christ taught us.  Why do we Presbyterians have a new denomination?  Oh, because the PC(USA) no longer follows scripture.  We all know that isn’t true, but that doesn’t stop us from saying it.

If you can’t tell, I’m pissed off.  I’m tired of being told I don’t love enough, I don’t care about safety enough, that I’m not allowed to mourn violence, that I’m not allowed safety because I’m not violently preventing violence (take a second to unpack that one), that I’m being to literalist or I’m ignoring the teachings of scripture.

I’m tired of being condemned because I’m not radical.

And I’m tired of us worshiping those who are.

I posted a comment on the Facebook wall of the seminary classmate who posted the article and his comment went to the motivation or pushing Presbyterians to action and “loving radically” and though I agree with him, I think, especially as pastors, we need to be intentional about what we said, and the article compared middle-of-the-road to being lukewarm.  It did, absolutely, and the comments basically echoed the ideal that we can’t be moderate and do any good.

Again, everything about this being more radical has nothing to do with loving more – or following Christ more – but moving closer to a side of our adversarial division.  No one has said that we need to give ourselves completely to loving our neighbor – all of our neighbors – but they certainly tell us how we are loving them wrong.

Personal politics have no bearing on loving neighbors as self.  You want radical talk?  You don’t love as much as Christ commanded you to.  I don’t love as much as Christ commanded me to.  It doesn’t matter what American political ideology you subscribe to, you are not loving as much as you could nor as much as you are commanded to.

You want to love radically?  Forget your own needs and desires and love at a personal loss to yourself.  Love even when it hurts or is uncomfortable or you cannot help but hate the person you love.  Show love to Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton and Kim Jong Un and ISIS and the drug addict down the street and the husband cheating on his wife and the hacker who stole your identity and the guy on Facebook who’s political posts make you sick.  Show love to people who have killed, to people who have harmed children, to people who have left God completely, to people who rape and murder, to people who enslave and torture.  Show love to people you hate – all of them – and people who mean to harm you.

That’s radical love.  Spouting off about how much someone you disagree with isn’t loving enough or isn’t Christian enough isn’t love; it’s battle and it’s war.  Christianity is neither of those things.  Christianity is submission and sacrifice and love despite our own desires.  Christianity has no political affiliation because both completely ignore the call to act outside of your own desires and your own needs and to love all your neighbors, evil and good alike.

That is not lukewarm, but that is moderate.  That is the middle of the road in our two-sided, adversarial culture.  That is loving both sides more than you love yourself, and showing love to both sides despite their hatred of you and calling you “lukewarm.”

My prayer – my ultimate prayer – is that we can put aside our narratives, our political ideologies, and our need to win, and we can instead take that truly higher ground of loving everyone – literally everyone – and showing that love even to those who desire us jailed, tortured, and dead.

I am passionately moderate, I am passionately in the middle of our two artificial sides, and I am not lukewarm.  Stop interpreting scripture in the midst of American politics and interpret it as love, not war.

Now my head hurts, I killed two hours I didn’t really have, and my blood pressure is up.  Need to breathe a few breaths and do some work.

Out of Love and In Peace
– Robby

* I will make one remark about the second half of the episode talking about the race protests around the country.  It is wholly uncritical of the protests, making out that their methods and ideologies are absolutely correct.  I don’t want to make this a forum to discuss race relations in the country, but I do want to be fair and make that observation.

** </pastor hat>As a side note, Donald Trump isn’t anything other than what he can convince you of to increase his own power.  He is super-pandering, working to combine people’s irrational fears of people who are different, rational but overblown fears of terrorism, and legitimate desire to be not-crazy.  I will, without fail, vote for an other candidate, even the ones I fear most, to prevent him from becoming President.<pastor hat>