Monday, April 28, 2014

You Lie! What Nation or Government Leader Hasn’t?

And that’s the problem.  ALL are liars, it would seem.

The first thing that Obama detractors will say about Obama is that he lies.  The first thing that Western Europeans will say about Putin is that he’s one grand liar.  This is not surprising in that even politician’s claiming to be conscientious, ethical, and religious devotees, have often been caught in a lie.

It is why we have law courts and treaties and contracts and swearing of oaths and notarized promissory agreements, and so-on and so-forth.  It’s an attempt to keep people honest and true.  Hold us to our word.  All too often we still desperately try to find ways to wiggle out of our agreements and deny our troth (our good word), when it no longer suits us to keep it.

People lie, nations and their governments lie, business people and corporations lie.  No one is innocent.  And, the more that is at stake, the more likely a lie will be told.  It is a mere clichĂ© to say that politicians lie and will say anything to get elected.  The real sin here is simply getting caught.  This is why whistle blowers, like Edward Snowden, for example, actually do us a favor—yet we condemn them for it.  What’s the favor?

It’s as if the whistle blower suddenly hits a reset button.  The reset button stops us in our tracts, nakedly exposing our complacent acceptance of, and even justification for, daily doses of government lies or corporate lies or institutional lies.  Snowden type whistle blowers call us to accountability, and, ironically, we don’t like it.

Despite the whistle blowers best efforts, soon enough, we all become complacent again, and we’re back to accepting, as necessary and normative, government cover ups, corporate secretive operations, and institutional concealment enterprises—until the next whistle blower stops us short again, for a little while anyway, reminding us that there is a better way.  Yet, we all continue to justify lying on the bases of national security, or relational expediency, or the protection of personal and/or corporate interests.

Just before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator, handed Jesus over to be crucified, he grilled Jesus with questions.  The key question was, “Who are you, are you the king of the Jews,” as they say you claim to be?  (See John 18:28-40.)  Jesus responded, “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.  All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”  At that point, Pilate simply replied, “What is truth?”

No doubt Pilate said this with some contempt—not contempt toward Jesus, but contempt for the idea of TRUTH!  After all, he was a Roman statesman and politician.  He knew better.  There is no truth, only hints and innuendoes, clever half-truths and white lies, suggestive leanings and hollow promises and propaganda.  In the world of people, power, and politics, not to mention business, truth is twisted and actual reality is irrelevant.

It is noteworthy that Jesus also said of himself, “I am the way the TRUTH and the life….” (John 14:6).  I AM TRUTH, he says: that is, my inner subjective personal being is true: I speak truly, I relate truly, I BE truly—I am essentially transparent, consistently faithful, absolutely trustworthy, perfectly dependable, and completely authentic.  I am the embodiment of TRUTH, truth in person.

Who else can make such a claim?  Can you?  NO?  I thought not.  Neither can I.  That being said, what role should truth play in our lives?  Should we speak truth and be true only when it is safe and convenient to do so?  Or should we strive to BE true in all ways possible at all times and with all people?  Which gives us the better advantage or the more cutting-edge lead, lie-telling or truth-telling?  That is, which is more powerful?  Truth be told, we function as if lie-telling has the more power.  Jesus tells us differently.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Like Father, Like Son. Is that bad?

“I can’t believe it; I’m beginning to sound like my father!”  Ever hear that line repeated in a sitcom or in a movie, often said with pain and dread?  Of course you have.  It seems a universal truth: All sons dread becoming like their fathers.  Has anyone considered how sad that sentiment is, respecting fathers?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I have not been a model father.  Thus, it wouldn’t do to have my son become “just like dad.”  Like any and all men, be it husbands or fathers, I am flawed.  So, no, I’d rather not have my son turn out just like me.  I’d rather have him become his own man and perhaps turn out better than me.  (My son is presently in his mid-twenties, and so is well on his way.)

On the other hand, I also believe it would do him well, even in his mid-twenties, to listen and observe and learn from me.  Not everything I do or say, or have done and have said, is nonsense or too old-fashioned and outdated to be taken seriously.  There are things I can still teach him.  That is, I believe that I have gained enough wisdom in life to still be a good influence in his life.

I guess what I am trying to say is that “age and experience” means something.  With experience comes wisdom.  And only years under one’s belt, i.e., time, plus age, bring the opportunity for experience that lead to greater wisdom.

Yet I’m amazed at how many sit-coms and movies depict husbands and fathers as idiots and buffoons.  Now, I’m not asking that we go back to the “Father Knows Best” days, but would it hurt to show husbands and fathers with a little more dignity and respect?

Indeed, would it hurt to depict anyone that is older than forty as people who have learned from their mistakes and have become a bit smarter and wiser for the weathering?  Is it that impossible to imagine the elderly carrying their years with grace, dignity, and self-respect and with much to offer to the next generation by way of wisdom and experience?  Alas, I suppose the problem is that such a depiction of the elderly lacks in comedic substance.

I think what I long for in our society is an appreciative balance of intergenerational respect.  The young are not as asinine, birdbrained, and boneheaded as many elderly imagine them to be.  But neither are the elderly as foolish and vapid, and worthlessly out-of-date as many young people imagine them to be.  Each generation, young and old, can learn and indeed should learn from the other.

Fearing change and refusing to catch-up-with-the-times, the older generation tends toward rigidity and stagnation.  Thus, sometimes the old do need a kick in the pants from the younger set.

On the other hand, the younger generation will often regret not having taken their elder’s advice more seriously and soon admit that they should have listened and learned from them, so as to avoid needlessly repeating the mistakes of their forebears.  Indeed, sometimes old, slow and deliberate, is much more productive than young, fast and furious—and with better results.  Somewhere in there, there must be an ideal balance between the two.

What seems to be lacking is an ideal model.  What does a mature, wise, and respectable “old” man look like, one that young men and even younger lads would aspire to become “just like”?

    Is he strong?  If so, is it physical strength we speak of or a deeper emotional and spiritual kind of strength that is of more value here?
    Is he intelligent?  And by that, we should mean more than mere head-knowledge?  That is, is he insightful, perceptive, understanding, and wise?
    Is he loving?  No, we’re not talking about a Don Juan.  And neither do we mean mushy, sweet and sugary all over.  That is, does he care, is he concerned, is he sensitive and responsive to the needs of others—especially to that of his wife and children?
    Is he courageous?  Does he have the courage to do what is right, even when it hurts or calls for personal sacrifice to do so?
    Is he humble?  He is willing to admit to his mistakes, own up when responsible for things going wrong?
    Is he respectful?  Is he kind to those who have less power or status than he does?

So tell me.  What are the characteristic traits of a manly and/or fatherly role model?  Just what does a good man, or husband, or father, look like?  And why don’t we see more of this type depicted in the media?  And why can’t we readily think of immediate examples of this type, when asked to provide one?  Why is the clichĂ©, “the last thing I want to become is ‘just like my father’”?  And what does that say about men in general, in our society and culture?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Resurrection Celebrations, despite Increasing Secularism

He is Risen!  He is risen indeed!!

It is a truth for many, unqualified and unmitigated.  Jesus is risen from the dead.

In that truth is the power of Christianity, Christ, and the Gospel Message.  This message will not go away.  It will not die.  It will neither be argued away, nor persecuted away, nor legislated away.  It’s a message that is here to stay—until Jesus returns.

Luke, a medical doctor by education and profession, writes: “During the forty days after his crucifixion, he [Jesus] appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.  And he talked to them about the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 1:3, NLT)

Luke describes a few more things about the Apostles’ personal interaction with the post-resurrected Jesus, and then adds the following: “After saying this, he [Jesus] was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and could no longer see him.  As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, why are you standing here staring into heaven?  Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”  (Acts 1:9-11, NLT)  Hence the Christian belief that Jesus will return again—as victor rather than sufferer, the second time around.

Argue against it as you will.  The witness is there.  The testimony is given.  And the intention is clear.  Jesus was dead, suffered and died, literally, fully, really.  And now he lives.  He is risen!  For nothing is impossible with God.

In short, this means things like:

- God obviously has power of Life over Death.

- Jesus’ death was intentional.  Jesus died for a reason, and we would do well to clearly understand that purpose.

- In the person of Jesus, humanity has personal, experiential, and testimonial evidence, that there is indeed Life after death.

- Jesus is therefore the cornerstone, the lynchpin of our hope and faith in humanity’s salvation, which includes life after death, the hope for ultimate and final justice, and the victory of goodness over evil, among other things.

It is no wonder then that this message, this conviction, this belief and hope in the resurrection of Jesus will not die.  It is especially powerful in the face of all that is wrong with this world, its extreme pain and suffering, its oppression and injustice, and its dark unabashed evils.

So we celebrate and we proclaim with passionate hearts and full conviction: Jesus Lives!  Jesus is Lord!!  He is Risen!!!

Please, do join us in that celebration and enter into this great hope for humanity.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Teachers: the new Scape-Goat for Poor Education

If students are not learning and passing with good grades, it’s the teacher’s fault.  Right!?

I am a pastor.  I am also a teacher, an adjunct professor for a local private Christian university.  I’ve seen my share of good and bad students.  And, of course, there are good and bad teachers as well.  It goes without saying that teaching is both an art and a science.  So is parenting or even pastoring for that matter.

Consider the art of parenting for a moment.  In my lifetime, short or long as it may seem, I’ve seen bad children rise out of what seemed to have been very good parents.  I’ve also seen very good children come out of what were clearly very, very bad parents.  Thus, being a good parent gives no guarantee that the child will come out good, though it certainly favors such an outcome.

In short, be it in parenting or in teaching, positive results are not guaranteed.  The whole process—requiring attentive engagement, listening, responding, understanding and applying lessons given and lessons received—is a two-way street.  And it is personal—a personal choice of attitude, will, desire and interest, motivation, responsiveness, and action—the all too volatile human factor.  In short, whether we’re speaking of poor students or bad children, it is not always the fault of the teacher or the parent.

Teaching is complicated by many things.  Poor diet, broken homes, family dysfunctions, the culture of poverty, racism, classism, and so many, many more negative and conflicting dynamics make teaching in an inner city environment, for example, quite difficult, if not next to impossible.

The most complex variable is the human factor itself, the very subject who is to be taught and/or raised.  Variable personalities and temperaments, variable learning styles and learning rates, variable comprehension levels, not to mention the variety of interests, wants, and needs, when considering educational outcomes and directional placement in relation to vocational training and/or specialized academic tracks, for example.  In short, when it comes to educating human beings, one size does not fit all.

Flexibility, adaptability, personalization, risk taking, trial and error, inventiveness, creativeness, instinctive redirection, these traits, and many more like these, are those required of a good teacher to do the job well—and still there is no guarantee that a student will…, will what?  Will learn, achieve, grow, develop…what?  Obtain the one-size-fits-all test result that we’re looking for in our schools and universities?

It is my humble opinion that our increasing emphasis on state-level and national-level unified testing results is killing the art of teaching.  I enjoy teaching.  I love to see the proverbial light bulb go on in a student’s head, that “Ah, Hah!” moment.  It’s exhilarating.  Yet, though I am not anti-government as such, this is one area that I believe the government, at both the state and federal levels, is asserting itself too much.

We hear about how American students are doing poorly in comparison to students around the world.  We’re turning out high school graduates with low-level reading and writing skills.  Fewer and fewer high school graduates seem to be adequately prepared for strong math and science career tracks.  The dropout rate among our minority and inner city kids is widening, so-on and so-forth.  And what’s our answer—get the government involved and throw more standardized tests at them.  Furthermore, blame the educational system, especially teachers.  Such an attitude and approach is not only wrongheaded but also detrimental—in the long run.  That’s my humble opinion.

With the caveat and serious acknowledgment that inner city students, the poor and ethnic minorities, do need special attention from all levels, local, state, and federal, I believe that the application of good educational goals and processes must be reclaimed by our local schools and universities and taken back from the overreach of state and federal government regulatory involvement.

We are too swiftly running towards a one-size-fits-all educational approach for the whole nation.  Our states are putting too much emphasis in the outcome of specific test results.  Teachers are being forced to become educational cookie-cutter test-result facilitators, stifling and deadening more creative, imaginative, and more diverse if not expansive teaching results and possibilities.  This is not good and does not lend itself well to the kind of open-ended possibilities of new discovery and energized learning that America was known for in the early to mid-twentieth century.   This is one area where too much governing from the top down can truly ruin the cause.  Oh yes, let’s quit blaming the teachers.  The majority of teachers should be honored and respected for what they do for our children.