Monday, September 29, 2014

Why God’s Grace is Needed in this World

Are you overwrought with the responsibilities of life?  Is there just too much to take care of, too much to watch-out for, too much to worry about?  Are you carrying the world’s cares and concerns upon your narrow shoulders?  How’s it going?

The world is a dangerous place, threats lurking at every turn.  Anything may happen.  So, we lock our doors, install high-tech security systems, read all warning labels, and apply all precautionary steps.  Our families, our children must be protected.  We can never do enough to be safe enough.  We are vulnerable, helpless in the face of the unexpected.  Even insurance coverage provides limited guarantees—read the fine print.  You are overwhelmed with safety and security concerns in the face of life’s dangers.

Make one major mistake and the world will disown you in a minute.  The world is cold and exacting in its demands of you.  You are only valued for what you can do, what you can bring to the table, not for who you are.  When you begin to fall short and can no longer perform well, making and producing, let’s say because of a debilitating accident or illness or just the creeping-up of old age, for example, you may be suddenly discarded, no longer valued.  You have become a burden rather than an asset.  The world is intolerant of weakness and neediness, frowns upon helplessness and want.  You are overwhelmed with making yourself valuable and significant.

The world is impatient with faults, failures, and imperfections.  Error once, it may be forgiven, error twice and you are suspect and put on notice.  Error three times and you are out—forever a failure and deemed worthless.  You have very little wiggle room, little time and little space to change and transform for the better.  While the world loves great achievers and so-called overnight successes, it reserves contempt for late-bloomers and the average Jane or Joe steady-worker and hard laborer.  You are overwhelmed by your glaring imperfections and hidden faults.  You will never be perfect enough.

The world praises the shrewd and powerful, though he/she is cruel and arrogant, while it dismisses the lowly and humble, though he/she is wise and exhibits much depth of character.  You want to be good, kind, generous; but too many take advantage of such kindness and see such character as weakness rather than strength.  You are overwhelmed by constantly having to defend yourself against users and abusers and those who would ridicule your good intentions.

The world wants instant and immediate gratification.  It is unwilling to wait, to make hard choices, to sacrifice the good thing for the better or best.  There is no longer long-range thinking, with patient long-term investment of time, talent, skills, resources and money toward future rewards and delayed positive outcomes.  You are overwhelmed with the constant call to satisfy the immediate and the urgent, to meet the incessant demand of the right-here and right-now.

The world wants no authority over it.  It wants what it wants, however, whenever and wherever it wants, without submitting to any higher authority as to its rightness, goodness, or actual benefit.  The world wants no accountability, accepts no consequences for its wrongs, refuses self-discipline or self-imposed hardships in order to make things right.  You are overwhelmed by the “every man for himself” attitude that companies and corporations and individuals seem to have by the way they function—despite what they say.  To speak of a higher calling and a higher standard, a higher way of living and being, is now laughable.

The world ridicules and laughs at faith in God.  But compared to what the world offers humanity, God’s promises and assurances and ever present mercies of grace in our lives far outshines anything the world provides.  God is our refuge in the face of danger.  God truly values us—as evidenced by our redemption in Christ, a costly one in terms of the cross he endured.  In Christ, God renews and transforms us in the face of our faults, failures, and weaknesses.  God exalts the humble and casts down the proud.  Our salvation is sure and is near.  God’s goodness will prevail.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Adrian Peterson and the Question of Child Abuse

I have no doubt that Adrian Peterson (NFL star running back for the Minnesota Vikings) is being utterly sincere.  He truly does not see himself as a Child Abuser.  In his own mind and heart he was not abusing his son.  And he really is sorry for any harm he may have caused by that last beating he gave to his four year old son, using a switch (a twig from a tree or bush?).  Sorrowfully, he may also be sincerely wrong, wrong about what he thought he was doing.

All of us believe in the principle of using disciplinary measures.  So it is not a question as to whether or not any disciplinary measure should have been used.  It is a question of type or form and its severity.  As the saying goes, “The punishment must fit the crime.”  Though some cultures or societies will say that any kind of corporal punishment is abusive, other societies will say corporal punishment is quite permissible and even necessary—within reason. 

What do we say?  I’m sure whatever it is we do say, we do not agree with each other—not in our multi-cultural, diverse and pluralistic society.

By using a wooden switch to spank his four year old son, Adrian Peterson apparently caused unspecified injuries to him.  Perhaps this is where most of us can find agreement—that causing injury is going over the top, is abusive.

Even so, Peterson sees himself as a good father and believes that he was exercising his just right as a father to discipline his son for his son’s own good—no injury or bodily harm was intended.  Says, Peterson, “My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day.”

In a public statement, Peterson categorically rejects the label “Child Abuser.”  He says, “I am not a perfect son.  I am not a perfect husband.  I am not a perfect parent, but I am without a doubt, not a child abuser [my emphasis].”  I would agree.  So, let’s not label Peterson a child abuser.  Still, was the deed itself abusive—the specific whipping of the boy with a switch that led to unspecified injury?   Yes, I believe it was.

Peterson hit it on the nose when he said, “I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.”  In other words, because of this incident (and its exposure to public scrutiny), the proverbial light bulb went on.  It has become a teaching moment.  As if to say: “Oh, you mean there are actually better and more effective means of disciplining my child so as to instill in him a healthy respect for right and wrong?”  Yes, there are.

Adrian Peterson simply behaved as his father behaved before him and perhaps as his father behaved before him, on down the generations.  We do what we’ve lived.  And, of course, everybody knows the oft quoted Biblical passage that has itself become a justification for much abusive behavior—often misquoted as “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  For the actual quote see Proverbs 13:24 and 22:15.  These two proverbial passages do uphold the principle of appropriate discipline while not justifying abusive corporal punishment.  Point being, it is safe to say that Peterson is now in the process of changing his mind.  He is perhaps rethinking what he has learned and experienced, about discipline and the use of corporal punishment.  It is possible that he is coming to a new and better understanding as to what constitutes “appropriate disciplinary action.”

Perhaps this is something all of us should be doing.  Rethinking, reconsidering, and reframing a new mindset as to what constitutes appropriate discipline or punishment—at all levels.  For example, our nation imprisons more of its population than any other nation in the world.  Perhaps as a society we are being abusive in our overuse of prisons and prison-sentencing within our judicial system.

Is it possible that there are various aspects of our American culture that lends itself toward abusive behavior among our men, husbands, and fathers—resulting in various levels or forms of child abuse, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, and battered women, and so-on and so-forth?  Perhaps we need to collectively take a hard look at ourselves and ask ourselves, why do so many men, husbands, fathers, and sons, commit abusive acts—even when they confess and admit that they never meant to cause any harm when doing so?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ray Rice and the Question of Spousal Abuse

The video speaks for itself.  Ray Rice, NFL football player for the Baltimore Ravens, knocks out his future wife (they marry a month after the incident) while in a casino elevator in Atlantic City.  It’s caught on tape.  There are consequences.  Ray is fired.  Is his professional football career over?

In response to this video exposure, Janay, the wife, seemingly blames herself, and the media, but not her husband.

There are many issues here, and many questions.  Should the video have been made public?  Were the consequences too harsh?  Has he really changed (if it happened once, has it happened before, will it happen again)?  Is this no one’s business but their own, a completely private matter?

Good question: should this incident have remained private?  Well, the incident did happen in a public setting and they are a kind of “public” couple, having a semi-celebrity status.  But, more to the point, the fact is—this kind of incident is already of public/community interest by its very nature.  Why?  We are stakeholders.  We have an interest in the welfare of women, children, and men that make up homes within our communities.  That is, our communities have an interest in minimizing and preventing spousal abuse as much as we have an interest in reducing and preventing child abuse or bullying in our schools.

That being said, should Ray Rice now be labeled for life as “Ray Rice the wife-beater!”?  Is he now human scum, lost forever?  Should he be deemed a continual threat to wife and family?  In other words, is there no possibility for redemption?  Can he change?  If so, will he?  Can they both change, Janay and Ray?  What are their prospects for a long-lasting and happy marriage, given this rocky start?  Well, it all depends.

Obviously, if their marriage is to last, they have some hard work ahead of them.  Still, it is not impossible.  People do change.  But transformative change does not just happen, willy-nilly.  Not without determined effort, along with the supporting help of a social network of family, friends, and wise counselors or mentors.    Change must be sought after with intention and purpose.  And, change does not happen by withdrawing into the privacy of one’s own world and keeping close significant others at a distance.  In that sense, it is not a private matter.  It requires a real community having a real interest in the couple’s success as a couple.  Here is where the couple needs to embrace a certain amount of openness and vulnerability in order to constructively move forward.

However, for the most part, we the public, the National viewers of this video, are simply engaging in voyeurism, satisfying our lust for a good scandal, having very little care for what’s best for this couple in seeing that their needs are being met—their true relational, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.  And that is what is at stake here.  Do they have a close knit community of supportive and caring people that will help them move toward redemptive transformation?  This kind of positive and supportive community purpose or end goal for a troubled couple is what the media often generally ignores in a scandal of this kind.  And here too is where we, the National audience, also show a lack of interest.  We fail to be positively supportive and redemptively engaged where it really matters.

They do need a certain amount of healthy and respectable privacy.  They need space.  But they also need to be held accountable by caring stakeholders who are concerned for their welfare, who will hold them accountable in the right way with the right aim in mind—healing and wholeness and transformative renewal.

There are many women who are battered by their husbands in our communities.  They need our attention.  The men need hope for change—without fearing they will lose everything if they should admit to battering their wives.  The women need hope for empowerment and security.  Our communities need to provide that hope in tangible ways while avoiding simplistic kneejerk reactionary or condemnatory rejection of victim or offender.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Privatizing our Justice System for Profit? Danger! Danger!! Not Good!!!

You’re out of work.   Money is tight.  To make things worse you get pulled over and receive a ticket, resulting in a fine—for not wearing you’re seatbelt.  It is forty-dollars.

But forty dollars is way too much for your empty pocketbook.  And so, for not paying the fine, you are put on probation.  You are now handed over to a 3rd party, for-profit, privately owned, Probation Service Company.  This private probation service company charges you a monthly fee for its services to the community’s court system—thirty-five dollars a month. 

You already could not pay a forty-dollar fee.  How are you now going to pay a thirty-five dollar monthly fee to a privately owned, for-profit, Probation Service company?  You get deeper and deeper into debt that you are unable to payoff immediately.

Oh yea!  Did I mention this: If you don’t pay-up, you go straight to jail and do time, and for what?  For not being able to pay the initial forty-dollar fine resulting from failing to wear your seat-belt while driving.  (Do you remember the old concept of “debtors’ prison”?)  So, you either go to jail, or you get deeper and deeper into debt, or both—and your life spirals uncontrollably downward because of a simple forty-dollar fine AND because of a court system that has hired a for-profit, privately-owned, Probation Services Company thinking that it will save tax-payer money (which is very doubtful).

This is a quintessential example of injustice.  It is transforming justice into a business commodity handing it over to third party businesses with pure profit motives, resulting in an absolute conflict of interest as to the due-process and end-goal of real justice.  And this travesty of justice is actually happening now here in America!  This is an outrage!

Get on the computer and google the phrase “Probation for Profit.”  Look up the info and find out for yourself.  We can’t allow this to continue.  It must be nipped in the bud now.  (Although as far as I can tell, it is far beyond the “budding” stage.)

If you have any sense of justice you’d have to agree that this is wrong?

Oh yes, what is also wrong, having the same conflict-of-interest effect, and therefore having the same damaging effect on our justice system, is the whole idea of privately run and privately owned for-profit prisons.  This too is happening in America.  And it is wrong.

We are selling-out justice to the highest bidder.  This forebodes ill for America.  We are corrupting our system—imperfect as it already is, we’re only making it worse.  The majority of us may not feel its ill effect here and now.  But we will feel it, down the road.  Just give it a little time.  And when we, the many, finally do, much damage will have already been done, and it will be all the more difficult to stop it and reverse it.  Yet I fear that no one much cares, until or unless it hits us, personally—when it will be too late to do something about it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to School! Questions about Educational Expectations

Our kids are going back to school.  So, what are they learning?  We nurture our kids from pre-school to the University.  What is it that we expect from a twelve to sixteen year process (from high school to college) of formal education?  Obviously the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But it doesn’t take sixteen years to teach the basics.  So what else is our educational system teaching our children, given all those years in the classroom?

Well, among other things, we want our kids to be introduced to social values, the principles and practices of proper behavior—social etiquette, good manners, personal accountability and responsibility, to develop a good work ethic, to learn self-respect and respect for others, to develop self-discipline, self-knowledge, to move toward self-actualization, to learn the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, ethics and morality.  But is this also an educational system’s responsibility?

If so, which values, whose morality, what standards of right and wrong should be taught?  For many, religion is taboo, the Bible is out, and moral authority, of any kind, is suspect—to be questioned and challenged at every turn.  Pluralism, relativism, multi-culturalism is the norm.  That is to say: All opinions are to be considered valuable and all values to be respected.  This is especially true when it comes to religion: all varieties of faiths and beliefs are to have equal status—which usually means little or no status at all.

In fact, when it comes to values, there is always a discriminatory Authority at work, arrogating to itself the right to determine good input from bad input.  This Authority, whatever its ideological source—science, religion, economics, culture—begins with the assumption that it and it alone has the correct and fundamental vantage point from which to decide such things.  Take the simple question of God’s existence.  There are those who begin with an authoritative claim that there is no God and those who begin with the opposing but equally authoritative claim that God is.  In the end, both sides rest their case on the simple assertion that their starting point is fundamental truth and therefore authoritative.

Therein is the rub.  Exercising values presumes authority, the right to judge and discern between competing perspectives and authorities as to what is acceptable or unacceptable.  It de facto assumes that it has the correct standard by which all else is to be measured and judged as to good or bad, correct or incorrect, safe or dangerous, positive or negative, helpful or unhelpful for human consumption, application, and growth and development.  The irony is that no system, educational or otherwise, can remain intact without such a presumptive authority to make such choices.

For example, a justice system presumes that it already knows and understands the nature of true justice.  An economic system presumes it understands the fundamental principles of good economics (and all societies are to agree that it is Capitalism, right!?).  So what does an educational system presume—that it too knows the purpose of knowledge, what it is, and that it understands knowledge-attainment, the best and most effective means to conduct knowledge-transference (the right kind of knowledge)—how to educate the present and future generations.

What are our assumptions respecting our educational system?  Where are we heading?  From pre-school to the University, what are our expectations?  What new paradigms might we need to implement?  What doesn’t work anymore?  And here is my concern: How is the “business” model of education helping and/or hindering (or perhaps possibly even harming) the whole educational process?  Here I’m thinking of the many “for-profit” educational institutions of higher learning whose fundamental motivation for being in the business of education is the making of money—such a motivation cannot really be good for education, can it?

So, as you send your children back to school, give it a thought.  What are you expecting from your school district, regarding your child’s education?  What do you expect of the University for which you are paying dearly in tuition costs?  Are you getting your money’s worth?  How would you even know?  What does it even mean to be properly educated?  And who is to say?

Well, at least this much is still true: a good education begins right at home.  And, it is far better to be wise, though formally uneducated, than to be highly educated yet remain ignorant in the things that really count in life.