Monday, October 26, 2015

Too Much Pressure on Nuclear Family?

Remember when?

Remember when it used to be that children were watched by the whole neighborhood?  If little Johnny was caught being naughty, a neighbor’s mom or dad or friend wouldn’t hesitate to call him out: “Hey Johnny, stop that now!”  “Yes, mam, sorry mam, I won’t do it again,” Johnny might have replied.

And the kids knew.  They knew that the whole neighborhood had an eye on them.  Hence, parents didn’t worry.  Kids were free to meander and wander from house to house, yard to yard, and family to family.   Every family watched every other family’s kids.  And if a youngster, however small, seemed to wander off or stray too far, the kid was immediately corralled and sent back to where the others were playing.

That was back then.  This is today.

We seem to have lost our community.  Worse, not only have we lost community, we now villainize parents for not being adequately vigilant in watching their own children.

In just one moment of inattention, a parent loses a kid.  And whether or not the kid is found in good time, the parent is in trouble, judged and condemned as an unfit parent.  Yet, what parent has not had such an experience?  The mother turns around just for a second, and boom, the toddler is suddenly out of sight.  “I don’t know what happened.  How could this be?  I just turned around for one second,” the mom cries with a flush of desperation and disbelief.  “Ah!  There he is!!  Johnny, get over here right now!!  You scared me.”

And what does the News Headline say?  “Mom lets her 2 year-old child wander off, while she shops.”  Blame the mom!  Villainize her.  Make her look like a bad, uncaring, selfish woman who is only too pleased to put her child second or third or even last in the priority-list of concerns.  It makes a good story.  It sells.  And it’s very hurtful and even damaging to the parent.

So, we’ve not only lost a sense of community, it’s been replaced by vigilante accusers and condemners.  Community members no longer support, defend, and care-for, rather they accuse, divide, and condemn, ripping families apart.  “The mom is unfit to be a mother, take the children away from her!”  “She should never have had children in the first place.”

Truth is that a nuclear family is not big enough.  It is insufficient.  Children need more than mom, dad, brother, and sister.  Children need community.  Children need community place and space where a community of other parents and other children are watching out and caring for their livelihood.  Children need neighborhood friends as well as extended family, neighborhood families—in addition to one’s own aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  One’s home should include one’s neighborhood, that is, a whole collection of families.

When are we going to acknowledge that it is just too unrealistic and too taxing and tiresome and just too much responsibility for one person (usually mom) or one set of parents to keep an eye on their own children?   Parents need community.  Parents need other parents.

Raising children is actually a social, communal responsibility, involving a whole network of adults.  Oh yes!  It does take a village to raise a child.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Deadly Faith

A young man, only nineteen years of age, was beaten to death.

He was not the victim of a robbery.  He was not mugged.  He was not attacked by street thugs.  He was not in the wrong place at the wrong time in the face of gang-bangers or a drug crime.

He was in church.  Lucas Leonard was beaten to death by people of faith, members of his own church, which also included his own parents.  Why did they beat him?

Lucas died as the result of religious fervor, or what might be called righteous indignation.  He was being punished.  Lucas was expected to confess his sins and ask for forgiveness.  And he wasn’t alone.  Christopher, Lucas’s seventeen year-old younger brother, was also beaten.  Christopher survived his beating, Lucas did not.

These beatings were done in the name of God, in the name of faith and righteousness.  The beaters were trying to elicit a confession from these brothers so that they’d receive forgiveness for their sins.  Meanwhile, those who were doing the beating were oblivious to their own perpetrated sin as they beat these two brothers, the one unto death.

What a twisted application of faith!

It is these kinds of acts in the name of God that turn people off toward religion.

God, however, is not the problem.  People are the problem.  In the same way that it is not money that is evil but what people do with money that makes it good or bad, so it is not faith in God that is the problem, it is how people define and/or practice their faith in God. 

Read the words of Jesus carefully.  There can be no justification for beatings of this kind.  It is impossible to claim that Jesus would have approved of such beatings, especially as a way of extracting a confession for the sake of providing forgiveness to the confessor.  Yet such actions have been perpetrated by religious types in the name of Christ over the centuries.  Remember the Inquisition of the middle ages?  It is the same dynamic, dark and twisted, perverted misapplied and ill-practiced religious fervor.

Jesus did not hesitate to denounce the abuse of faith and religion.  In his day it was the Pharisees and Sadducees and the religious Scribes that he denounced because of their high-minded, self-righteous, holier-than-thou oppressive, judgmental, and mean-spirited attitude toward those whom they thought were condemned by God; which was just about anyone whom they felt did not conform to their own particular religious standards, practices, and expectations.

Here’s the thing: all religious teachers and preachers and practitioners (including myself, a pastor) have the potential and are in danger of becoming Pharisaical in the worse sense of the term.  Indeed, all passionate devotees in religious faith also have the same potential to become Pharisaical—that is, it is not just found among religious leaders.  (Pharisaical: to be holier-than-thou, self-righteously high and mighty and therefore extremely judgmental, critical, and condemning of others, showing no mercy and having no love or grace for the lost and forsaken.)

According to Jesus, a true heart for God is demonstrated by having compassion for the down-and-out, showing mercy to the lost and forlorn, and offering love and grace to the guilt-ridden shamed sinner. 

So, no, don’t blame religion or faith in God or Christianity, as the cause of such terrible abuses, as in the beating of a young man to death in the name of saving him from sin.  Indeed, it is the lack of Jesus that is the real problem.  It is the lack of knowing and understanding what Jesus is really about, the lack of truly embracing His way, His truth, and His example.

Before you quickly judge Christianity or faith in general, I challenge you to read Jesus for yourself.  Truly listen to what Jesus Himself says and teaches and see how he Himself lived, what He did and why He did it.  And you will see that the problem is not with Jesus whom we call the Christ; the problem is with humanity, human nature, and our own need of grace and mercy.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The New Gun Debate: It’s About More than Guns

The Oregon shooting resurrects more heated debate on Gun Control/Regulation.  And of course we hear more of the same quips such as:  “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”  Or “It’s a heart problem not a gun problem.”

Hard core pro-gun proponents not only will not budge on the issue, they become all the more adamant in their stand against any further consideration for stricter gun laws.  They continue to insist that guns are not the problem and that gun regulation is not the answer.  Meanwhile, the NRA continues to find ways to make it next to impossible to do and/or reveal scientific sociological studies that give evidence that good solid gun regulatory laws along with appropriate enforcement actually do reduce gun fatalities.

So what do guns mean to them?  What do guns represent to the gun owner, especially to that particular kind of gun owner that resents and fights against any, ANY suggestion that guns should be regulated?

From what I can tell, it can only mean something like this: “When push comes to shove, my gun(s) represents my ability to take a “last stand” in absolute defiance against a government I disagree with and/or distrust to the core.  Thus, I stand ready.  That is, if and when I ever feel threatened by the government, I may have to resort to my guns to fight to the bitter end in defending my God-given right to determine my own destiny and make my own way in life.  Therefore, I must not only resist the government’s encroachment on my right to bear arms but must also resist its desire to know whether or not I have any guns at all, or how many guns I have if I do, or why I have them, and/or what I use them for; because, to give the government that kind of information is to give them the upper hand.  And I will NOT do that!  This is why I so adamantly stand against any and all gun regulatory laws and defy any suggestion that we need more gun control or any control at all.”

This is a worldview statement.  It is a philosophical mindset.  It runs deeper than mere right wing versus left-wing politics.  It is a way of looking at the world and one’s place in the world, especially one’s place with respect to one’s idea and definition of freedom, power, and authority, or of one’s ideas respecting the rule-of-law and the government.  It is a mindset that says something like this: “In the end, when all is said and done, I am my own best authority and rule of law; and only I can guarantee my true freedom.  My guns give me a fighting chance to do this, if that’s what it should come down to.  So, no way am I going to allow the government to take away my guns or to regulate my use of and/or ownership of them!”

This is why any and all arguments from the pro gun-regulatory side fall on deaf ears.  There is no rational argument that will be heard.  There is no “making sense,” no common understanding to be had, no ability to come to terms in agreement.  What we have here is a fundamental worldview and philosophical mindset difference between the two sides.

The pro-regulatory side trusts the government.  They see no need to keep the government in the dark or to hold the government at bay about who owns guns, how they purchased them and what they plan to do with them.

On the other hand, the anti gun-regulatory side sees the government as the core problem and core problem maker.  For them, less is more; the least amount of government is the best amount of government.  Hence, a government that meddles with one’s firepower (gun ownership) is a government that is meddling with one’s core freedom—one’s fundamental right to defend one’s self against tyranny.

This, it seems to me, is why pro-gun lobbyists (such as the NRA) and anti gun-regulators will never agree to what (for the rest of us) may seem to be quite sensible and reasonable gun laws or gun-regulatory action or gun control, in this country.

Monday, October 5, 2015

2015 Memorial Day is Behind Us, Veterans Day is Coming

We celebrated Memorial Day this year on the 25th of May.  But Veterans Day is still ahead of us.  Veterans Day always falls on November 11th of each year, whatever day of the week it may be.  This year it falls on a Wednesday.

What’s the difference?

While Memorial Day is the day we specifically remember and honor those who DIED in service to our country (particularly those who died in battle), Veterans Day is the day we honor ALL military veterans, a special time to show our appreciation for any and all LIVING veterans.

It is important to realize that our living veterans have also sacrificed their lives for this country; perhaps not unto death, but their personal and family sacrifices can be as real and palpable as were those who have died.  This point is often overlooked.  Indeed, for some surviving Vets, life can have become a kind of living-death, uglier than death itself.  Consider the many Vets who commit suicide back home, after having returned from active duty in war.

What is war like?  We civilians have no idea.  We can’t.  How could we?  It is something that has to be personally and directly experienced up-front and first-hand, to really “get-it.”  And we can’t just walk up to a veteran and say, “Tell me what war is like?  What did you do over there?  Did you actually kill people?  How did it feel?”

We civilians also have no clue as to what we really expect from our veterans.  For example, a young man (teen?) enlists in the army.  Civilians that we are, what do we assume will happen to this young man during basic training?  Do we realize that he is literally being trained to become a killing machine?  And in the face of real battle, actual war, what happens to him inside?  Do we really understand what this means to his psyche, his soul, his spirit, how it affects the core of his inner being?  His family lovingly sends off a once open, happy-go-lucky, life-enjoying kind of kid, only to have him return dark, sullen, taciturn, angry and closed-off to everyone he once held dear to his heart.  In short, how is it that we civilians actually expect that such a young man is to return from war and enter back into civilian life, picking up where he left off, unchanged for the worse?  What are we thinking?!

We civilians don’t understand and we don’t know.  And because of this, there are many, many veterans living among us who are in deep pain and are suffering severe mental and emotional anguish while they can’t trust us or believe in us enough to share their pain and turmoil and hurt with us.  Why?  For one, we offend, though not intentionally.  We are too shallow and insensitive in our thinking or in our behavior or expectations of them, or in our assumptions about war and what we think it’s like to participate in war.  They see this in us and thus close themselves off to us.  They know that we just don’t get it and perhaps never will.

Consider the simple act (however good intentioned it may be) of a civilian thanking a military Vet who has seen live action while serving.  Might it not come across as shallow and somewhat out of touch?  Why?  First of all, we civilians are really clueless as to what it is that they have really done, experienced, and participated in, and we have no idea as to what motivated them to enter the military in the first place.  Our light hearted and perhaps even naïve thank-you may actually represent the selfish ease with which our nation now uses and expends a volunteer army while the rest of us go about our business.

In such a context, what does it really mean to be patriotic while only a volunteer force shares the real burden of securing the safety of a whole nation and its people?  Is saying a mere “Thank you” really adequate in the face of those who put their lives on the line for the rest of us?  One military Vet commented that such a “thanks” feels self-serving for the civilian; it suggests that the “thanker” somehow really understands the sacrifice that was made and the resulting mental anguish, night terrors, and feelings of loss and bewilderment that a war-torn veteran may feel and experience daily: “I pulled the trigger,” he said, “you didn’t.  Don’t take that away from me.”  One has to wonder.  If we still had the draft, where all able young men/women between the ages of 18 and 25 must enlist in the military, would we so readily support military strikes and engage in all-out war, as we seem to so easily do now?

We seem to forget that war has an undeniable impact on all survivors, not just those who were killed in action.  It traumatizes.  There is mental, emotional, and psychological impact leading to things like stuffed inner rage, anger and/or shame for having survived coupled with a loss of faith and a kind of spiritual desolation.  There can be excruciatingly painful memories leading to cycles of violence and extreme distrust of one’s surroundings.  Loss of sleep, unpredictability, and self-destructive behavior are also symptoms.  Again, we civilians are often left clueless.  This is why a veteran’s re-integration into civilian life can be so difficult and sometimes seem to never actually take place.

Veterans Day is a day to honor all veterans.  Perhaps it should also be a time to really consider what war really is and what it does to all its participants.  Perhaps it is a time to take a serious look at the pros and cons of entering into war and to consider why a nation should see war only as a very, very last resort, only after absolutely every possible means to international diplomacy has been exhausted and every avenue of conciliatory terms has been tried, so as to avoid a “Declaration of War”—especially since we now only use a volunteer army.  With such an army, it is all too easy for the rest of us civilians to gung-ho support war (“We support our troops!), knowing that any particular son or daughter or grandchild can escape its effects simply by not volunteering.  In such a context we can have our cake and eat it too (or so we think)—support our troops AND keep our own child out of harms way.  How easy is that!