Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Joe McCarthy Lives!

For years I’ve ranted about the belligerent partisanism that’s dividing and conquering America. In a real sense I’m more afraid of that spirit of adversarialism than the threat of Islamic extremism.

Nikita Khrushchev understood it in the 1950s, and the leaders of ISIS understand it today: America can be conquered without a shot being fired. All an enemy need do is play an effective round of “let’s-you-and-him-fight,” and we Americans will destroy each other. ISIS attacks Paris, and Americans square off against each other!!! And the critical mass of Americans is oblivious—too obsessed with pointing fingers at “the other party!”

This demonic temperament is a growing cancer in the American ethos. Remember the iconic, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” from the 1976 satirical film, “Network?” The movies, “Born Loser” and “Billy Jack”, from the same era, touted the ineptitude of government and police, and flaunted an openly rebellious, vigilante type anti-hero. That genre continues to caricature one antagonist in the adversarial drama that is America.

More than one of my social media acquaintances has implied advocacy of armed rebellion as a way of “restoring our nation” to the way they want it to be. Some proudly advertise their gunslinger mentality while arming themselves against the various apocalypses they anticipate. (And that statement is not about guns or gun ownership or 2nd amendment rights.)

Perhaps it has been present from the beginning; but I trace the current manifestation of it to the understandable fears emerging immediately prior to World War II in response to the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Gandhi said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.” Some circles acknowledge that anger is a “secondary emotion,” triggered by embarrassment, frustration, fear or other primary perceptions. I think The Scions of Shannara series has the quote: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate to suffering. Travel too far down that road and the way is lost.” Western culture in general, and America in particular, is nearing the infamous point of no return.

The origin is fear: understandable, credible fear. And the cause of the fear was not totally resolved with the surrender of Japan. There followed the cold war, the fear of the bomb and that American travesty called “McCarthyism.”

Whatever drove Senator Joseph McCarthy, be it fear, ambition or a hyperactive need for attention, his drunken, obsessive diatribes exploited the fears of a nation and polarized its people. Lines were drawn and sides were taken. Innocent people and careers were destroyed in the witch hunt, and a new American ethos emerged: paranoia linked to ideological paralysis.

It is the nature of paranoia that when the object of one’s fear is removed the paranoia seeks another object. Like a heat seeking missile, it is indiscriminate in its search, and will lock on to any source of heat (read: any ideology different from mine).

Once McCarthyism was embraced by an identifiable portion of the population, its undergirding ethos was validated. Lines remain in place; sides taken remain virtually inviolate. Topics change and people change, but the polarization at the root of the phenomenon has only solidified.

Take it to the next level. Ideological polarization by definition manifests an “us vs. them” mentality. “Us” is right; “them” is wrong. Period. By extension, “right” equals good, and “wrong” equals evil. The resultant moral dichotomy feeds and justifies the polarization. The assumption of moral superiority is inherently an arrogant stance, and almost always triggers hostile reciprocation. Thus, a self-perpetuating cycle of antagonism is engaged. The subject or object is secondary; it is the fight, itself, that reinforcs the dominant American ethos.

I’ve been part of the problem. I’m working on it.

It’s no secret that I hold strong ideological convictions; but, it is not my intention here to point fingers at anyone at any point along the spectrum. There’s enough ideological paralysis and arrogance to go around, although each of us probably is more acutely aware of those qualities in those who don’t share our viewpoint.

What I observe almost universally is a rigid “I’m right syndrome”. People don’t want to discuss or resolve issues; they just want to “win the fight”—and virtually everything is a fight. It’s discouraging.

Recently I’ve made an intentional effort—sometimes effectively—to question my own ideological convictions. I’m trying more often to review all the evidence I can find, and to ask, “What if I’m wrong?” It’s a hard sell to most others. If I ask, “What if you’re wrong?” the almost universal response is, “But I’m not.” Doors are locked. An impasse blocks further conversation.

Years ago in my faith struggles I discovered (perhaps by Divine intervention) a concept that has served my peace of mind. My relationship with God is not based upon the correctness of my doctrine, but upon the grace of God. My Scriptural basis is II Corinthians 5:7, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” While I believe in absolute truth, I don’t believe any human, is capable of comprehending truth absolutely. St. Paul writes, “We see dimly, as if through a flawed pane of glass” (I Corinthians 13:12, my paraphrase). The title of this blogsite comes from that verse.

When Americans come to grips with our need to be absolutely right—when we are secure enough in our own identity (both individual and national) to humble ourselves and consider the possibility that I/we may be wrong (at least partially. Nobody is totally wrong—or right—about anything.), the polarization that is weakening America may begin to be healed. It at least would be a step in the right direction.

That’s how I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,


Monday, November 9, 2015

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

The recent flap over Starbucks coffee cups seems like a good occasion to drag out my blog from almost exactly one year ago today. Just about then...
...I was reorganizing our entertainment center when we returned from nineteen months in Las Vegas. I found our collection of Christmas DVDs—movies, TV specials, concerts, etc.

The one on top was a copy of a 1955 Jo Stafford Album. The title song, “Happy Holiday,” was Irving Berlin’s 1942 classic that everybody loves. The second DVD was the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie, “Holiday Inn,” in which that Irving Berlin classic was introduced. It’s a perennial favorite, along with “It’s a Good Life!”, “Miracle of 34th Street,” “White Christmas” and—you can finish the list.

In the same box was our collection of Christmas cards dating back who knows how long. We keep them for decorations and gift wrapping. “Season’s Greetings,” is among the most common phrases on the covers of the several dozen cards in that stack.

Call me a “Christmas Freak.” I love just about everything about it, and in the last couple of years I’ve even been able to endure the crowds at the malls without uttering a single “Bah!” or “Humbug!” And the joyful anticipation doesn’t follow a calendar. For me it begins about the time the leaves start turning.

I think I love it because in my personal history it’s always been the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—with cousins and “Granny” either spending the holidays with us or us with them. I associate Christmas with family, presents, wonderful food, beautiful music, beautiful decorations and the beautiful story that holds it all together.

The story is paramount. No matter what else happens or doesn’t happen during Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas that follow, I’m never distracted from the awareness of that beautiful story. It’s always with me, thanks to the foundation laid in my family—a foundation that included regular participation in the Body of Christ. No matter what symbol is displayed, or when or where, I am reminded that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, and that through that birth, “God is with us!”

Apparently—and sadly—some are unable to avoid the distractions. Those same phrases that for over a half-century elicited happy smiles, warm feelings and even hugs have more recently become “fighting words” to some people.

A few years ago someone suggested that it would be more “inclusive” to use the phrase, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, to acknowledgment that not everyone is Christian and to demonstrate respect for their religious freedom—the same respect we expect and demand for our own religious freedom.

Religious freedom, like every other freedom, must be extended to all, or no one is free, for if freedom can be taken from one, it can be taken from all. Further, religious freedom includes the freedom from having others’ religious faiths inflicted upon us.

The intention was to find ways to include people of other faiths—or at least not to exclude them—in the public celebrations of Christian holidays. Nothing has ever been intended or suggested that would limit religious celebrations shared among family and friends and within specific communities of faith.

But the good old American autonomy that built this nation raises its head (unnecessarily in this case) and asserts, “Nobody’s gonna’ tell me what to do.”

I haven’t experienced the slightest infringement of any rights. I am free to say, “Merry Christmas” any time I choose, and as far as I know you are free to do the same. Nor do I feel anything has been forced upon me if others choose to say, “Happy Holidays” in deference to the religious freedom of those who don’t share their convictions. Indeed, I don’t feel “Happy Holidays” is a condescension at all. That phrase is still a “warm fuzzy” that triggers deep nostalgia and reminds me that Jesus was born.

At what point did “inclusiveness” become bad? At what point did inclusiveness become a liberal conspiracy to take away anyone’s right to say, “Merry Christmas?” At what point did respect for someone who is different from me become a concession to some evil plot to undermine truth? And at what point did the melting pot mentality[1] engraved on the Statue of Liberty morph into intolerance and disrespect for diversity?

As Christians, we are called to share of our faith; and there are effective ways, ineffective ways and counterproductive ways to do so. In the last third of the 20th century we saw the counterproductive result when too many mainstream churches shied away from face-to-face witnessing at all.

On the other hand, in more recent years much of what is called witnessing is confrontational and does more harm than good. After all, Christianity is an invitational faith, not a coercive one. Jesus said, “If I am lifted up I will draw all people to me.” Too much of what is called witnessing today pushes people away.

So, I will continue to look for ways to make my witness effective, without trampling the rights and freedoms of those who don’t share it. And if my life is being lived such that others don’t know and respect me as a Christian unless I say, “Merry Christmas,” then my witness lacks integrity and credibility. And I have absolutely no need to inflict my faith vocabulary upon those with other faiths or no faith, and thereby run the risk of alienating them from any possibility of witnessing effectively to them in the future.

That leaves me with more than abundant opportunity within my family, my circle of friends and my community of faith—and in the yard decorations in front of my home—to say, “Merry Christmas!”

And that’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,


[1] Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
~ Emma Lazarus