Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Am Conflicted.

I deeply detest the divisive belligerence of the partisan political posts on Social Media. I have participated in the vicious “Mixmaster,” and thus far the investment of time, energy and emotion has produced a net loss.

I understand and affirm the right to express one’s opinions, and I understand and affirm the right and the obligation to stand up for one’s beliefs.


I have begun to see that doing so on Social Media is totally useless. In fact, I’d venture to say such an effort is counterproductive.

In the first place, nothing is ever resolved in the venomous, malicious and hurtful exchanges that too often emerge. Essentially, Social Media becomes a venue, at best, for venting, and at worst, for cowards to hide behind its anonymity and become verbal terrorists, exploding over all who come within range.

I understand the human need to vent; but, it seems to me there are other, more appropriate and, indeed, more effective venues for venting.

In the second place, no minds ever are changed; indeed, most of the time it’s more like “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts;” “I’m right.” Period. Therefore, if you disagree with me “You’re wrong.” Period. It’s a short journey from “You’re wrong” to “You’re stupid,” to “You’re evil,” and the elimination of evil is justified in most ideologies.

Sadly, however, too often the aftermath is an end-justifies-the-means ethic. In my thinking, no cause, no matter how good or noble, justifies, or is enhanced by, ignoble means.

And so, earlier this week I resolved to abstain from participation in the adversarialism. It was just futile. Useless. Divisive.

Today, however, a specific on line article caught my attention, and convinced me that Social Media has become a viable indicator of the American political pulse and blood pressure. The news agencies pick up on it; and by extension, I’m guessing the politicians and policy moguls notice, too. Perhaps all that contempt and bitterness and hatred spewed across Facebook walls play valid roles in social and political influence.

Perhaps I should stay engaged, after all. My perception of Social Media is not at all representative of Social Media as a whole. Fully 85% of my Facebook friends are conservative--from traditional GOP to Tea Party to Libertarian to Survivalist. A large majority are from the South and are Evangelical Christians. While I make no value judgments here, the ethos of my Facebook community is skewed, and not representative of the whole venue.

[Yes, I understand that my unwillingness to pass value judgement begs the question whether the belligerence I experience on Social Media is a direct result of the ethos of my Facebook community. On the other hand, my liberal FB friends, though making up a small minority, are not immune to their own brand of venom!]

I’m conflicted.

By personality type, by profession, and by faith, I advocate peace, unity[1] and cooperation. I promote reconciliation, collaborative conflict resolution and empathetic human interaction. I belong to a church whose vision includes being "a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world." Thus, I detest the schoolyard bully fa├žade projected by a disproportionate majority of Social Media pundits (and wannabees) in my Facebook community.

My gut wants to just drop out. I’m tired of the bile and the refusal to consider “other”
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perspectives. I’m tired of ideology taking precedence over human need. I’m tired of the racism, the misogyny and the hatred directed at ethnic, religious and LGBT groups. And I’m tired of the denial of all the above.

Most of all I’m tired of the “I’m right syndrome”—the across-the-board refusal to collaborate, negotiate or even communicate with anyone who disagrees with “ME/US”[2].

I’m tired of it all because at the bottom line I’m convinced that between any two of us there are infinitely more similarities than differences, and that if we so choose, we can build on our similarities and agreements and can thereby create “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

That’s how I see it through the “Flawed Glass” that is my perspective.

Together in the Walk,

[1] Unity is not the same thing as uniformity. It’s more like harmony—a choir singing in unison can create beautiful music; but the same choir multiplies its beauty when the basses, tenors, altos and sopranos are singing different notes at the same time. That’s harmony. That’s unity.
[2] As I’ve written and preached many times, I believe in absolute truth; but I don’t believe any human or human group is capable of perceiving truth absolutely. Our human perception of “absolute” truth always will be “relative” to our personal experience of reality.

Friday, January 20, 2017

To Watch or Not to Watch

Today I watched the Inauguration of President Donald J Trump. Some of my friends felt I should have boycotted the event, instead of honoring him by watching.

I saw it through different eyes. I saw it as honoring, not President Trump, but our Democracy, and honoring what President Ronald Reagan called the “common and miraculous” peaceful transfer of power that has been the hallmark of our Democracy since 1797.

I didn’t vote for President Trump, nor do I even respect him as a human being. But, like it or not—like him or not—he is the President of the United States. He is my President. His past suggests that he will not represent me or my views or my interests; but, I live in Arkansas, so it’s been a long time since I felt represented. Nevertheless, he is the President—the only President—of the United States.

Nor have I participated in or supported or encouraged any of the protests which have come to my attention—although I fully respect the right of peaceful protest. Indeed, there are situations in which I believe public protest is an effective strategy, the civil rights marches being one example. There, the purpose was to raise awareness and to rally pubic support against a gross injustice—to change public opinion and public policy.

The protests (I read that several hundred were being planned) today were simply that: a protest. No concrete or tangible effect or result was proposed or suggested. “My candidate lost, and I don’t like it.”

I don’t like it, either.

I fully expect that I will disagree with the overwhelming majority of what President Trump says and does; but I will oppose those things in ways I feel are more effective; although, letters to congressional representatives or Senators, in spite of the fact that they are the most accessible method of protest, generally have not been ineffective. Again, I live in Arkansas, and letters to Senator Tom Cotton are like letters to a brick wall (his responses give no evidence whatsoever that he or some staff member even reads my letters), and Letters to Senator John Boozman don’t even get a response. Still, I write.

I participate in several advocacy and interest groups, through which the power of numbers gives me a sense that I may be making a difference.

I also use blogs and letters to the editor. While I never use the pulpit for partisan political advocacy, the people in the church I serve know of my political persuasions, and I am strong in advocating biblical values that do impact political ideologies.

I appreciated Senator Roy Blunt’s (R – Missouri) comments in his opening remarks as Master of Ceremonies. It was he who reminded Americans of President Reagan’s words, which I quoted above, viz., the “common and miraculous” peaceful transfer of power that is the hallmark of our Democracy.

Democracy thrives on vigorous debate. Yes, each of should be actively involved in efforts to influence the outcomes of the political process. It just seems to me that that 220-year-old hallmark should take precedence on this one day—this one day—over our partisanism.

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

As Innauguration Day Approaches

This morning I was reviewing some of my writings from the past year, and found the following "E-Pistle" to the congregation I serve. It was from the morning after the election, and I felt called to offer pastoral perspective. I find it still appropriate, and offer it to a larger audience through my blog. As always, I invite and encourage your respectful response.

* * * * *
"Good Morning, Church!
"As your minister, I feel called to provide encouragement and guidance—in all of life’s circumstances –to those who called me. It is most difficult to do so when my own cup is empty.

"This morning I have prayerfully gleaned words of focus and direction from several sources, and my cup is not so empty now. I want to share how my own spirit has found some peace and made some sense out of what happened at the polls yesterday.

"1.      For the first time in my memory, one party will control the entire government of the United States:

a.     The Executive Branch—The Presidency, the Cabinet and the White House staff.

b.    The Legislative Branch—both Houses of Congress

c.     The Judicial Branch—it seems to follow that the Supreme Court, and for the next four years all lower court appointees, will represent a conservative ideology.

"2.     One of two things will happen as a result:

a.     The ideology of the party that controls the government will be exposed as inadequate, or even counterproductive, for the good of the entire country.

b.    The ideology of the party that controls the government will be vindicated as adequate and effective in providing a foundation for the growth and integrity of our country.

"In either case, the direction of the country’s future will be clear: if (a) comes to pass, then we will be set back and damaged for a time; but, the way will become clearer as we move into the next election cycle. If (b) is the reality, the way also will be clear for the next election cycle.

"I pray that if (a) plays out, the damage will not be too bad. And if it is (b) that plays out, I pray that I will have the grace to own up to the inadequacies of my own ideology, and will be able to swallow my pride and support what seems to be working.

"I have my own ideas about which scenario will play out. For now, what do we as Christians do?

"As usual, I found great wisdom in the closing words of Bill Rose-Heim’s letter to the churches in the region he serves (Greater Kansas City Region):

"'We can re-commit to living out our Disciples identity:

“’We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.  As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.

“'Talk about timely!  Let’s get around the Table.  Let’s listen and speak with humility and wisdom, compassion and hope. Then, let’s get to work!  We are ALL called and chosen for this time!'

"And Unity is our Polar Star!"

Together in the Walk,

Pastor Jim