Monday, December 29, 2014

Our Police Forces: the Want of Both Respect AND Accountability

It’s not this or that, one or the other, for or against, support or not support.  It is both/and.

We both respect our police forces and hold them accountable.

We respect our law enforcement officers and demand that they live up to high standards of performance.  The one goes with the other.

Finger-pointing and harsh accusatory pronouncements, as to having blood on one’s hands, are not helpful.  Supporting our police officers does not mean that we must not critique them or hold them accountable for their actions.  Respecting our police officers does not mean that we must excuse any lack of professionalism within their ranks. 

Police officers daily hold citizens accountable for their actions, respecting their driving behavior, parking behavior, market behavior, even domestic behavior.  Likewise the community at large is to hold the police force accountable.

Obviously something is awry when communities across the nation see public demonstrations of private citizens bearing witness against their local police force.  Likewise, something is amiss when police officers must protect themselves with bulletproof vests before going out to patrol the streets in the community they were hired to serve and protect.

Whose to blame, all of us, none of us, a few select individuals?  Are we not all responsible for our community and what happens within it?  Do we not all contribute to the prevailing attitudes—good, bad or indifferent—that are expressed?  If we collectively seek higher ground, a better way, and demand a higher standard, shall we not have it?  If we collectively choose the lower level along with the baser elements, will we not have that too?

Let us call for high standards all around.  We all want respect for life.  We all deserve honor and dignity of person, whether official or non-official, in uniform or out of uniform.  Let us call for mutual honor and respect, mutual support and appreciation, mutual service and protection, mutual accountability.

There should be no scapegoating, no name calling, no blanket condemnation of a whole set of people, private or professional.  We are in this together.  We are mutual citizens of the same township, borough, city, county, and state.  We are one.  If we are divided it is because we choose division rather than unity.

Yes, we have a choice: this/that or both/and.  I say we choose both/and, respect AND accountability, support AND critique, diversity among us AND unity.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Unfreezing our Relations w/Cuba: It’s about Time!

Those who decry the change that President Obama has put forward respecting our nation’s relationship with Cuba are either blinded by their grudge against the Castro brothers (admittedly a justifiable grudge) or are too politically motivated to see the sense in it—or both.

Time changes things, and it’s time for change.  It’s reasonable.  It makes sense.  The time has come.  At face value, this seems to be a good, positive and constructive direction for our nation to take in relation to Cuba.

Sure, there are no guarantees.  Not everything will go smoothly.  That’s a given.  But, it’s worth the risk.  The positive future-potential for our two nations, far outweighs the negative present status quo.  For there is much more hope for what could be, than there is for what has been or for what now is, between us.

And that is what is needed and wanted in our national politics.  Instead of being knee-jerk reactive—negative, scornful, accusatory, judgmental, arrogant, and proudly stand-offish, we need more rational, constructive, positive, and hopeful responses toward engagement.

The irony here is that the very people who espouse and defend high moral values—goodness, justice, integrity, honesty, respect for others and their rights, and so-on and so-forth, are often the first to subvert these values in favor of hatred, revenge, retribution, and the seeking of a tooth for tooth or blood for blood in hard hearted retaliation—the opposite of what Jesus Himself commands us!  Says Jesus, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”  (See Matthew 5:43-48.)

It is never a bad thing nor is it ever wrong thinking to seek to mend broken relationships, or to build bridges toward the making of more peaceful relations.  Hatred begets hatred.   Revenge begets revenge.  Spite begets spite.  An open hand, a helping hand, a forgiving and conciliatory hand refreshes, renews, and builds.  And so, yes, this is a good and positive direction for our nation to take, respecting our relationship with Cuba.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Released CIA Documents Says Who WE Are

Last Tuesday, 12 December 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released documents containing information about the CIA torture practices conducted under the Bush/Cheney administration just after 9/11.

The debate is on.  Was it torture?  Was it effective?  Was it not justified, given the threat to our nation?  Should these documents have been released?  And so it goes.

Consider the first question: are we talking about real torture here?  Naïve answer: No, we’re just talking about “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Naïve response: Oh, I see, these techniques have nothing to do with actually torturing anyone; okay, I’m satisfied.  Case closed.

Consider the last question: Why not have just kept these documents sealed tight?  Why expose them?  Well, for one, these documents effectively tell us that the Bush administration misled the public, as the media puts it (why not use the word “lied”).  Do we want our government leaders to lie to us?  How do we keep them accountable?  Or should we let them do whatever they please, however they please, whenever they please—all in the name of national security?

Now, as to the question, was torture necessary; that is, did it produce the desired results—did we get useful intelligence, critical information?!  There’s the catch.  This is a utilitarian question: Did it work?  Does torture get results?  That’s seems to be the focus of the debate.  Yes!  Say those who defend the use of these “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  No, they certainly do NOT!  Cry those against the use of such techniques.

Here’s an insight: When something works, really and truly works, there’s no debate; it’s a given, it’s accepted, it’s embraced by all.  On the other hand, when something is in doubt, uncertain and questionable or seriously flawed, there are disputes, arguments, and divisions, and sides are taken.  And, more significantly, there are always undisclosed reasons as to why anyone would support or promote a questionable thing, act, or program, in the first place.

But are we not missing the point by merely focusing on the utilitarian question in this debate over the use of torture?  Is it not a moral, character, and identity question, with respect to who we are as a people; what kind of people are we?

We all so readily champion the virtues of The American Way: We are a free country with inalienable rights and liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and all that.  We think ourselves superior to so many other countries around the world, seeing ourselves as being more fair and just, more free, more respectful of human rights and liberties.  But much of the world sees right through us and has a great distaste for our hypocrisy.

Over and over again we say one thing while we do another.  We esteem ourselves to be a certain kind of people; yet, when push comes to shove, we act in the same dreadful ways that we accuse so many other two-bit countries as acting, mean, ugly, unjust, oppressive, cruel, self-righteous, and self-justifying.  That is the problem.  We act and behave and respond in ways no differently than those we are fighting.  In short, we have become no better than those we have dubbed The Enemy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why do you Celebrate Christmas—for the Kids?

What is Christmas?  More to the point: what is a Child’s take on Christmas?

The usual answer: Christmas is about giving.  Christmas is about family.  Christmas is about helping the poor, serving the needy, feeding the hungry, giving and receiving gifts.

What goes unsaid: Christmas is about indulging, off time, party time, game time, having a good time, and getting what you want (or at least hoping that you will).

Is Christmas a spiritual thing, a commercial thing, or a social thing?  Best answer: it’s all of the above.

Whether you are religious or not, the odds are that you consider yourself spiritual.  You may not subscribe to any particular religious persuasion or denomination but you readily believe in “The Spirit” and the things of the spirit: altruism, peace, justice, goodness, love and respect, and the need to care for self as well as others.

So you play along.  You do Christmas despite the fact that you are not a Christian.  Maybe you are an agnostic, or an atheist, or perhaps tangentially self-identified with another religion altogether—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, whatever—still you do Christmas.  Why?

Because it’s for the kids or it’s good for a family get together, and besides that, the presents are nice.  It’s nice to give.  And it teaches us to think of others, especially the less fortunate.

In short, we make Christmas what we want it to be and discard the rest.  I get that.  Even though I am a Christian and I believe that the true essence of Christmas is about Jesus, the Christ/Messiah, Son of God, born to save humanity from its self and from condemnation, I get it.  Christmas doesn’t just belong to Christians.  Maybe it never really did.  People are free to celebrate Christmas as they like and make of it what they will.

So in that light, here are a few helpful principles to keep in mind while doing Christmas—for the kids:

1.    Remember that as parents you are always “on stage” teaching your children, because you are always doing.  We teach by our actions.  We teach our children by what we practice, what we do.  You may say one thing, but they will follow your behavior more than your words.  How do you behave during the Christmas season?  What are you really teaching them about Christmas by the way you act during Christmas?

2.    However, actions must be interpreted.  Our kids are keen interpreters of our behavior.  That is, the way we do something, the attitude and spirit in which we carry out our actions, says a lot about what we’re really thinking, how we really feel or value what we’re doing.  So what are you really saying to your kids by the spirit and attitude you exude during the Christmas season?

3.    Children enjoy pretending: “Let’s make believe….”  All children love to play this game.  But kids are not dumb.  They know the difference between fable and reality.  Don’t confuse fable with reality or reality with fable.  Dare to dig deeper.  Look up the real history of “Santa Claus” (or “Father Christmas”).  Did you know that there is a real historical figure, a real St. Nicholas that is the source of our present fantasy we call Santa?  Look it up.  And remember, Jesus is also a real historical figure as well.

4.    And finally, if you believe that Christmas is for “family.”  Then realistically deal with family issues and problems, using the Christmas season as a catalyst for taking steps toward healing.  Many, if not all, family gathering events have their sore spots.  There are wounded families with open sores.  The Christmas season is a good time to take small though tentative steps in the direction of healing.  For example, forgive where forgiveness is needed or apologize where an apology is required.  Or make contact where the need to reconnect is long overdue.

The Christmas season brings social pressures, family pressures, and commercial and financial pressures, to say the least.  The tendency is to push toward excess, over indulgence, etc.  My guess is that, if you are going to make this a better Christmas than previous years, you need to focus on the spiritual aspect of Christmas and especially minimize the commercial financial aspect of Christmas.

Yes, let the kids have their Christmas.  But don’t let them indulge in self-pity, moaning and groaning because they did not get everything they wanted for Christmas.   Move it up a notch.  Enjoy the spiritual side of your Christmas celebration.  Give simply and inexpensively, and with reflection and consideration as to what and why you are participating in this Holiday Celebration at all.  Yes, you can “do” Christmas and do it well—without you or your kids necessarily falling into the de-facto commercialism of it all.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Are You Aging Well?

The end of 2014 is just around the corner.  Soon it’ll be New Year’s Day, 2015.

How are you holding up, age wise?  Feeling your age?

I recently rediscovered a little article entitled “How to Age Well” from my college Alma Mater’s publication, Biola Magazine (fall, 2013).  (Fitting, since I myself am pushing sixty.)  It delineated 10 things to do, if you want to age well: (1) Love yourself enough to take care of self.  (2) Get information about everything.  (3) Laugh.  That’s a good one to practice.

The list made sense.  All good and reasonable things to do: #4 exercise and keep mobile, #5 eat well.  Common sense things to take care of self: be mindful of one’s needs and conditions: #5 feed yourself well, #6 Get your rest, #7 floss your teeth (I thought that was an interesting one that the author, Di Patterson, thought needed highlighting).

Number 8 was interesting too: “Fight Depression.”  I suppose the older we get the easier it is to fall into depression, given the body’s aging process and its somewhat debilitating effect, among other things.  The nice thing I found about this particular point made is the assumption that one can actually fight depression.  How?  The author suggests volunteering (to avoid loneliness or perhaps feelings of insignificance).  In other words, stay connected.  I would add, have a cause or purpose that fills you with passion.

“De-clutter your space” was 9th on the list.  Yes, being organized, minimizing the messes in one’s life helps too.  But it wasn’t until we got to the final item on the list that our spiritual state was highlighted: #10 was “worship God.”  You know, I think the first item on the list could not happen without the 10th one.

The Apostle Paul in effect says that though our bodies are wasting away (dying from old age), our spirits, i.e. our inner beings, are being daily renewed and strengthened.  (See 2 Corinthians 4:16.)  Now that’s the key to aging well!  Renew a right spirit within me, I pray.  Let me have a spiritual awakening and gain ongoing spiritual enlightenment—in Christ, by means of the power of the Holy Spirit, by the Grace of God.

Sure we need to do what we can to keep the body in as good as shape as possible.  But it is the mind, heart, soul, and spirit that really count.  If we are not nurturing the wellbeing of our inner life, the mind and heart, for example, we are losing a lot more in old age than mere muscle strength, or visual acuity, or hearing capability, we are losing our very selves, our souls.

So what does it look like to nurture one’s soul or inner being?  The following is a list of characteristics that give evidence one’s soul is indeed being nurtured:

  1. Being able to hear and recognize, listen to and respond to, God’s nudging, realizing God’s active presence in one’s life.
  2. Being able to accept and receive God’s grace and forgiveness for the wrong one has done in one’s life—which presumes a confessional and repentant spirit & attitude.
  3. Being able to be gracious and forgiving toward others for the wrong they’ve done to you, in the same spirit that God forgives you your wrongs.
  4. Positively living in a way that blesses others—bringing peace, goodness, gentleness, and loving-kindness to them.
  5. Being able to accept one’s mortality gracefully; that is, being ready to die, i.e., to enter into the presence of the Lord when the time comes, leaving behind a legacy of blessing others—family, friends, and acquaintances—which is a true witness to the Lord’s grace in one’s own life.
 Now that to me sums up what it means to age well.