Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When You Write on FaceBook, Watch Your Mouth!

    Is it possible to sin on facebook, or in a blog, or even in email?  Maybe a step down for those not so spiritual; are there rules of etiquette for media interaction?  Whether you take sin seriously or not, is it possible to be within the rules of etiquette and still be an obnoxious ass in electronic media?
    I would risk to venture that the answer to these questions is "yes."   Taking for granted that there are laws which bind us, such as it being a crime to lure young children to places where some predator may hurt them by lying about one's identity on the web, or the use of child pornography, there are areas which I am afraid some of us step over with complete abandonment of the ideals and values we hold in face to face conversation.
    A few people I have known, sometimes for years, have treated me with derision, sarcasm, and contempt when formulating an argument to something I have said.  I find this surprising, and sad, and amazed that they think my feelings are somehow different if I read it on a post, message, or via some electronic media than face to face.  I think for the most part I have been well treated, but on occassion I am amazed someone would risk our friendship by thinking they could write something insulting, publicly, about what I have said and not think I would remember it when I see them again.  This may be because I grew up in Newark, and disrespect is well remembered.
    It is the pretense of anonymity in electronic debate that makes us think we can be nasty, especially if it is funny and dismissive.  We not only feel as if we are equal with those with whom we disagree, but if we can ridicule them we feel we are superior.  I suppose some ideas and positions deserve ridicule, but it is dangerous in person to so ridicule someone's position, or to assume that their hurt, shame, and anger after you have demolished them will be forgotten.  In person we are somewhat more circumspect simply due to the fact that we don't want to get into a fight, but care for others should not simply be because they will pick up something and hit us with it.
    Some of us love debate, we enjoy good reparte (sp), we are amused at clever sarcasm.  I know I love to hear a sound and reasoned argument, and I especially love it if the argument follows the rules of logic, and even better if the conclusions are not just valid but true.  Some of the worst examples however of ad hominem arguments are in those long trails of comments after some public posting where people have stopped making comments germane to the original issue and mock, demean, and curse at those with whom they disagree.
    Just because one is clever in covering up insult, racism, vilification, etc. by using ostensiblly neutral phrases, name calling is still name calling.  Insulting labels, equating views with what a general public would almost always despise, and simply not being fair or not giving someone the benefit of the doubt are far too frequent in electronic discourse.  Exaggerating someone's point so that it no longer is actually their point, setting up a straw man with which they themselves would not agree, and then beating up on this new and irrelevant issue in an attempt to make our opponent seem extreme, stupid, and evil is just flat dishonest and wrong.  If the reader is half way intelligent he will despise your crafty dishonesty, which they should. One would assume that no one wants to be a jerk in print (nor on the screen) and have everyone in the universe be able to pull it up to your mortification.
    Of course this has become the pattern of both political talk radio and pseudo political television satire.  It has become ruinous for kindness in disagreement.  Recently a gentleman who works with very brilliant university students told me that students no longer like to have "bull sessions."  My comment to him was that my observations have led me to believe that as soon as we realize we disagree with someone we don't want to engage with them, we want to destroy them.  We all seem to want to be on stage, and on the web our disagreement is about playing to the audience, as if we win points or can count coup by our petty little stabs at someone's position.  It is far too easy to be a bully in this medium.
    Let me state that I bring this up not because I am afraid.   I smugly feel (Lord, forgive me) as if most of the time I can fight for myself in any kind of writing or speaking, and it is not usually a fair fight.  I can be as viciously cruel with my words and thoughts as anyone, I have made my living with words.  This does nothing so much as give me more responsibility to treat people, even the really mean and pathetically dumb, with respect.  Let me add some Scripture.  From Psalm 34:12, "Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies."(NIV)  And again from Proverbs 18:21, "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit."
    So, if you are mad at someone go see them and have coffee, or get off line and call them on the phone, or at least send a message instead of posting so only they can see it.  Don't kid yourself, the amount of people listed on FB as friends are not really your friends, you need all the real ones you can keep.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The "Ain't Nobody Good Enough" Political Party.

    I am puzzled by our ability to magnify that which is not crucial to our futures while neglecting to face the obvious.  I am saddened, if not dismayed, by the energy people put into  imagining national conspiracies and failing to see the non-fictional trends that hinder our progress as a nation and people.
    I am also bothered by my political choices, given to us by the extremes of both parties, leaving me to wish I had the "line item veto" over the positions of both major candidates so I could craft something that would seem to me to be more just.
    I suppose I am responding both to some of the comments I read on Facebook and from what I see in the media.  On Facebook I have "friends" who post some really hysterical and histrionic comments and articles from even more histrionic individuals.  This spans the spectrum of radical lesbian feminists, socialists, to the right wing individuals who find us being sucked down into socialist totalitarianism.  What is confusing is that both of these views can't be correct, as both see the other side as on the ascendency and society bordering on the apocalypse.
     It is a political tendency to demonize the other side, this gets rid of the middle roaders who are too quick to compromise and give away the farm as it where.  We become traitors by simply standing where we were, which in my opinion usually means the island of common sense.
    We have recently seen in America that we have real problems, such as White Supremicists who kill people due to their supposed religion, and crazy people who kill people for no apparent sane reason at all.  We have poor people and poor children who don't get medical care, and put off medical procedures that they can't afford, and get punished when they do by being hounded by collection agencies that the medical profession too quickly unleashes on those who are slow to pay, driving far too many people into bankruptcy.  At the same time we have people claiming that if the government gets too involved in health care our health care choices will be rationed, as if poverty didn't already do that.
    Where I might appreciate and strongly desire the reality that as a nation we must pay our bills and balance our budget, while believing strongly that many of our economic policies hurt the working poor and lower middle class and favor the upper classes, and thinking both parties seem to be out of their minds in their absolutist approaches to solving our national economic dilemna I am also dismayed at the abysmal moral choices of our current president.
   I can't begin to tell you how proud I am that we have a president of color in the White House.  What a wonderful achievement for him personally, but more important for all of us as a nation.  I don't think anyone should demean that step for America.  I appreciate President Obama's desire to help the poor, though it can be debated whether all or some of his policies will effectively do so. I love the personal model of his own family life. What takes away his glory and brings shame to us is his political commitment to gender identity politics in a mistaken concept of justice that is in fact a commitment to immorality.  Not only is his commitment destructive to marriage, family, the Armed Forces,  and the freedom of religion but has become a bully stick to other nations who do not accept his faulty view of justice and freedom.  His elevation of these commitments to ultimate descriptors of democracy is in fact shaping him into a thief of our freedoms.
    What seems to be hard for many is to be able to critically assess the views of politicians without whole hog acceptance of the political views of the party we seem to be most aligned with.  As a Christian I have some fundamental principles when it comes to politics.  One is that I don't want fear to drive my choices.  I want to fear God and nothing else.  I don't want to shape my choices because I am afraid of the government or homosexuals, or feminists, or socialists, or undocumented aliens.  I don't want to shape my choices because I am afraid of the police, or banks, or millionares, or the United Nations.  I want to shape my choices based on hope, based on realistic appraisal of what is and what challenges are presently before us, on a vision of what could be if we lived in common care for each other.
      As a Christian I have an innate sense of distrust for what is in people.  Love doesn't mean we forget how screwed up human beings are. So, no matter who comes along or what party seems to finally fulfill our desires for utopia the reality is that no candidate is Jesus, and no party will bring us to the Kingdom.  We must judge which will better deliver justice, equity, peace and if they will do it with honesty.
    I do want to look straight into the face of evil and call it for what it is and stand up against it, but I want to do it with faith in an all powerful God.  I want to do it with love for people, I want to do it with graciousness towards those on the other side who may yet hear reason.  I want to do it with uncompromising truth on all sides, and I want to do it with courage.
    Recently my wife and I visited the Imperial War Museum in London.  We went through their Holocaust exhibit.  It is good for that exhibit to be in a war museum lest anyone think that all war is wrong or that all wars are nonsense.  There are things worth fighting for, living for, and for which to die.  We don't need fairy tales or boogey men, conspiracies, or demonization of well meaning folks as there is enough real danger in the world.  I hope America will get its act together and work together for all of its people, without destroying our bedrock blood bought freedoms, so we will be ready to meet the real dangers which can all too quickly engulf us.

Friday, August 3, 2012

International Travel

We are in London, England during the 2012 Olympics.  How cool is that?  We didn't actually come for the Olympics, it just turned out that our plans for being in London coincided with the International Olympic Committee plans to hold the games here, at this time.  How nice of them.   We are on an extended trip we have planned to take after stepping down from the pastorate of my church.  We spent a month or so in Nairobi, Kenya and now are spending a month in London.
    Traveling internationally can at times seem romantic, and it would be pompous and ungrateful to not realize how special an opportunity it is for most of us.  Once you have done some of it the charm begins to wear off a little and you start noticing some of the inconveniences.  I hope my sense of wonder however never wears off.  I think I go back and forth between wonder and wondering.
    As in I wonder how come almost every time I fly out of Nairobi it has to be late in the evening?  This puts me in the conflict I have between wanting to watch all the movies I can, and eat any or all of the food that it is consumable and sleeping.  My  body wants and needs to sleep, my greed wants to eat, and my love of movies makes me stay up past my bedtime.  Emirates didn't make it easier by offering me 160 channels, with a choice of about fifty movies.  One time I hope I can leave Nairobi in the morning, fly to Europe and spend a day or two, and fly again during the daytime.   
    This time we flew through Dubai.  My wife Joan had been watching MI: Ghost Protocal and when we took off shw realized the buidings in that movie were in Dubai.  On the way to Nairobi we had flown through Istanbul.  Here I am again in the Middle East, only this time not as a soldier.  These two countries, Turkey and Dubai are fighting hard to capture as much of the air traffic as they can.  They have produced some amazing airlines and airports.
    Emirates is offering seats so cheap I think everyone in the world has arrived in Dubai at the same time in the middle of the night.  Dubai seems to have anticipated this as they have an enormous amount of stretch out chairs on which people can sleep.  Unfortunately it is only about a quarter of what they need.  I think the idea is mostly to make the transit lounge into one of the largest shopping malls you can find on the planet.  I would love to buy some of this stuff, if I had room in my carry on, oh, and of course if I could afford it.  How many Rolex watches do I need?
    We had had enough trouble making weight with our check in bags when we left Kenya.  At our departure they weighed our bags and told us they were 14 kilos over.  "OK," I said, thinking that I was willing to pay a hundred dollars to cover the cost.  "That will be $70.00 per kilo!"  Somebody do the math.  This is the point in a marriage relationship where you find out if you are a team, or if the other person is ready to leave you at an airport in a foreign country without regret.  Thankfully we had gotten there early enough to spend all the time we had trying to stuff 14 kilos into our carry on, which we could barely carry, on or anywhere else.  My wife Joan said at one point, "we can do this" and at that moment I decided not to leave her.
    I think I was writing about Dubai, and it is an amazing place of cultural juxtaposition.  Here were long lines of men in white, with beards and prayer shawls heading for Saudi Arabia, women covered from head to toe with only their eyes showing.  Here was some European (I hope she wasn't American) wearing incredibly short shorts.  This of course during Ramadan when Muslims tend to be extremely, well, Muslim.  I thought "she is never making it out of this country."  No one seemed to pay too much notice except my wife and I.  One thing we did notice was that in this huge airport they didn't plan too well on counting stalls in the toilets. 
   As a man I am not used to standing in a line in front of a toilet stall.  I don't even want to admit that I actually use the toilet, as if all my work could be done at the urinal.  Once in Cairo I was in a stall and someone stuck their hand in the stall with toilet paper for sale.  That was a hard choice, to admit I was there or accept a needed service.  Now in Dubai it finally was my turn and the seat was hot.  "Oh, I hate this," I thought.  Then I realized the seats were heated.  For me, as an American, this was a not a psychologically reassuring moment.  I mean, maybe the time I stayed with a family in Maine and they had an outhouse, now that was a place for a heated toilet seat.  Of course if they could have afforded one they probably wouldn't have needed an outhouse.
    The trip from Dubai to London was so much  better than the one from Nairobi to Dubai.  The plane was half empty for some reason and we had plenty of room.  I didn't have to fight for space with some giant of a man seated next to me, like I did out of Nairobi, who seemed to mumble incoherently for most of the trip.  This meant, between him and the movies, I never slept.  Didn't sleep in Dubai, watched more moves on the way to London.  I think War Horse had something to do with an escape from a prison in outer space, but I may have run things together.
    Finally in London, asking the Immigration officer where we could score tickets for the Olympics, who said he couldn't get any in the lottery.  He let us in anyway.  To our great joy our friend Chris, who picked us up at the airport, told us he had tickets for all of us (not including the Immigration officer) to watch an Olympic football (soccer) game at Wembley Stadium.  Free housing in London during the games, and now tickets.  This was awesome. It was only after taking a shower to try and wake up and mistaking what I thought was deoderent for what was actually some roll-on Icy Hot, did I come back to reality; and I might say intensely.