Monday, June 27, 2016

Congress Continues to Break Down

A “Sit-in” happened in Congress!  Congressional rules ignored!

This is more evidence of the fact that our system is breaking down.

For now, set aside the issue, the why of their action, and look at the means or method toward their end goal: A Congressional “sit-in” in the House of Representatives!  A calculated defiance of congressional rules!  What does this tell us?

It tells us what we already know, that normal healthy congressional procedures, operations, and ways and means are breaking down—have broken down.  It tells us that the system is in need of reparative attention.  Of course, we already knew this.  But what we don’t know, what we can’t foresee, are the inevitable dysfunctional consequences of a broken system that is about to crash.

I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little, but I think this is a bad sign for our country.  The fact that our representative legislative machinery is breaking down should send off alarms.  Sure, it still operates—like a dying battery that wearily cranks ever so slowly and just barely manages to get the car started.  It is not a good sign.

Consider machinery in general.  Mechanically speaking, a well built, well maintained, and well-oiled machine, runs smoothly, almost effortlessly.  It hums, even sings.  It rings true to its purpose.  It operates as it should and accomplishes its task as intended.

But if the machine begins to show signs of wear and tear, e.g., parts get cracked and/or damaged, and no attention is given to necessary repairs, the whole machine is in danger of complete ruin.  Anyone who has lost, what was at face value, a nice car, because of complete engine failure for lack of proper repair and upkeep, knows of what I speak.

When our forefathers constructed our constitutional democratic system, establishing personal rights and privileges and the three branches of government with appropriate checks and balances, their aim was to build a healthy operative working political system.  The system was built to rise above petty power-play and childish grid-lock.  It was a system for the people (by the people, of the people, etc.).  It was a system built to bring balance and respect for individual and community, as well as for State and Federal boundaries.  The operative key word here is balance!

No one party or person or group of people is to have-it-all or is to control-it-all.  There is to be balance, give-and-take, and negotiation toward union—unity without super-imposed forced conformity.  Burdens and losses are to be shared so as to lighten the load upon any one part of the overall national body.  There is to be collective responsibility for national interests as well as personal and community interests.  After tough negotiations and challenging battles of opinion, perspective, and attitude, there is still to be settled cooperation between differing parties and opposing sides for the greater good, for the benefit of most, if not all.

It no longer works that way in today’s context.  This is why we are beginning to see more unusual and unprecedented dramatic performances being done in Congress these days.

Call me Chicken Little, but I believe it forebodes an ill future for our government system as we once knew it.  If we can’t fix this now, we are heading for a future government that our children will regret to have inherited.  It may take a while, but it will come.

Historical perspective: every great empire, in world history, has eventually imploded from within (extreme wealth in the hands of a few, greed, corruption, political maneuvering and power plays, inside fighting, turf battles, etc.) and, having become weakened from within, is eventually conquered from without—its leaders having become too selfishly myopic, wasteful and exploitive, arrogant and power hungry, and “in it for themselves” rather than for the people as a whole, leading to systemic breakdown—be it the Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, Persian Empire, Roman Empire, or now the American “Empire.”

Wait and see.  Time will tell.  Maybe not in this generation or even the next; nevertheless, history shows that we humans have changed very little.   We forever doom ourselves through our own petty self-destructive behavior.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Orlando Shooting: Faith Community Guilty?

They’ve got a point.  The Orlando shooting was an act of terror, but it was also a hate crime against the LGBT community—a hatred that is often bolstered by the religious community.  How so?

I can’t speak for other major religions such as Islam or Judaism or Hinduism, but I can speak for Christianity and am able to say that it is wrong and categorically anti-Christ-like for any Christian to hate or even condemn individuals and members of the LGBT community (remember Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery when she was about to be stoned to death for her sin!  See the Gospel according to John 8:1-11).

Christians disagree as to weather or not the LGBT lifestyle should be called sin and if so to what degree.  In fact, many Christian churches and denominations are currently experiencing deeply divisive conflict over this issue.

Nevertheless, the one thing that all Christians, including their churches and denominations, ought to agree upon is that Christians are not to be a people of hate nor are to promote, encourage, preach/teach, or model hatred toward any person or group of persons.  Why?  Because such teaching or action is contrary to the teaching and practice of Christ; for without question, Jesus extended tender compassion, merciful love, and redeeming grace to all people (ALL!).

Yet, there is always some extremist pastor out there who passionately and gleefully teaches hateful condemnation against members of the LGBT community—which directly or indirectly gives tacit approval to hateful acts of violence against them.  This is wrong and should not be accepted or encouraged by any who identify themselves as followers of Christ—as Christian.

Evangelical Christians may feel a bit defensive here, saying, “‘Hate the sin; love the sinner.’  We don’t hate the person; we just hate the lifestyle.”  I submit that this response is too easily and perfunctorily said, sounding more like a backhanded way of justifying the continuation of hate.  Few Christians actually seem to live-up to even that much.  In terms of spirit and attitude, how exactly do you divide the LGBT person from the person’s LGBT lifestyle when deciding to compassionately “love the sinner” while vehemently attacking the sin with hateful spite and excoriating condemnation in one’s heart?  We’re talking about the attitude or spirit of one’s heart.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not arguing for the lessoning or weakening of one’s Biblical or Theological conviction(s).  Still, good solid Bible believing Christians disagree on this issue.  So we must hold our conviction(s) with courage and sound integrity, but also with humility.  For, remember that, come Judgment Day, Jesus will focus more on what one’s heart was like (loving and compassionate?), rather than on what one’s mind gave rational assent to (Biblical theology).  Jesus leaves us no room to harbor hatred of any kind for anyone.  Love is His greatest commandment, which we, His followers, must follow and practice toward all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Senator Purdue Quotes Psalm 109 verse 8 Against Obama?

It was a joke.

Is the media making too much of it?  They point to the very next verse (v.9) and say that this can be interpreted as a possible death wish on Obama.

But, Senator David Purdue (R-Ga) only quoted verse 8.  That’s all.

Actually, people do this all the time.  Pastors do this.  Quote a Bible verse, or a portion of a Bible verse, out of context—to be funny, to get a laugh.

For example, when I lived in the metropolitan Phoenix area of Arizona, a pastor humorously quoted Acts 27:12 to refer to all the “snow birds” coming down from the northern colder regions of our country to winter in Phoenix.  The congregation laughed.  It was a play on Biblical words, a joke.

And so was Senator Purdue’s pointed Biblical reference to verse 8 of Psalm 109.  It was a joke, nothing more and nothing less.  I can accept that.

Nevertheless, it is revealing.
Our extremely polarized political landscape leaves little room for humor these days.

Each side has so little respect for the people on the other side.  What we constantly hear is the distaste, even disgust, of the one side for the other.  We witness their anger, even hatred.  We see the ongoing ill-will that the one side has toward the other, such as when it is said that Obama is the devil or Hillary is evil incarnate.

In such a context there is little room for “innocent” jokes, for any joke will be harshly received and misinterpreted as a covert threat-message by the other side.  Defenses go up and nothing “innocent” is heard at all.

It is revealing in that it shows that the far right will not be happy unless they have total control over congress, the senate, the presidential office, and the Supreme Court—emphasis on TOTAL control.  The same could be said of the far left.  This is why congress gets so little done and why blockage, obstruction, and nay-saying, is the modus operandi of the day.

The American people want change but are not getting real change because we are not electing people, on either side, who are able or willing to work together with the other side, to make productive change.  What we seem to be doing is choosing extremists sides and electing officials to fight with that kind of mindset, with total control goals as their agenda.  In short, we’re electing representative officials that seem to carry only extreme positions.  The real problem therefore seems to lie within our primary electoral process.

The question is this: Can we change that process?  Are we willing to do so?  Is it possible to give more power to the balanced middle voice, which perhaps is the majority of Americans, so that they have a more effective presence in the political process?  Or shall we continue to allow extremists to rule the political process?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Are You Listening/Being Heard?

Perhaps the more important question for you is: Do people listen to you, when you speak?  Are you being heard?

A few days ago, my wife spent the day watching our two granddaughters, three year-old Hope, and her six-month old sister, Rose.  I asked my wife how the day went: “Fine,” she said, “But, Hope is at that age where she talks and talks and talks and expects a response almost after every sentence.  So at one point I finally said to her, ‘Shhh’!”  My wife continued, “And, you know what Hope said to that?  She said, ‘Don’t say, “Shhh!” to me.’”  In other words, my granddaughter told my wife in no uncertain terms, “Don’t shush me!”

It takes concerted effort, mental energy, concentration, and sometimes emotional energy, to really listen to someone.

Many of us feel unheard.  As if no one listens to us.   Funny, but we seem to instinctively know when others are not listening, either unwilling or unable to give us their full attention.  Children certainly do.  They know when they’re being ignored, seen but not heard.

Child or adult, when we’re frustrated or angry, or in turmoil or are deeply pained over something, what we seem to want the most is a “listening ear”—someone that will hear us—without judgment, without trying to fix us, and without uninvited advice.  We don’t want a know-it-all telling us where we went wrong, what we should have done, might have done, or could have done differently.  At such moments, all we want is to be heard.

“Listen to me!”

Someone ever say that to you?

You’re not listening!!  Stop!  Look!  Listen!

We may not always be aware of our own lack of attention at times.

We might assume that we already know what the speaker is going to say.  We interrupt, not letting the person finish his/her thought.  Or our body language reveals signs of distraction and inattentiveness—lack of eye-contact, eyes roaming and/or focusing on other things or people, drawing our attention elsewhere.  Hence, we’re not fully tuned-in, not really listening.  There is too much atmospheric static as it were.  And the speaker senses this.

Listening is an art; and a science, requiring physical stamina, mental willpower, and heartfelt interest in the other.  We may have two ears, but we don’t always seem to know how to use them well.

For one, some people are just hard to listen to because they don’t know how to say what they mean and mean what they say in a nutshell.  They prattle.  They wander all over the place before they ever get to the point, if they get there at all.

Another problem is our environments.  Not all contexts are suited for quality conversational experiences.  Noise level may be high.  Children may be crying or calling for attention.  The phone rings.  The TV is shouting in the background.  The office machines are too loud.  Dogs are barking.  How can one hear, let alone listen, under such circumstances?

Emotions may also be a problem to good listening.  When a person has an emotional outburst, all we may hear is the emotion and take-in nothing of what has actually been said in terms of substance and content.  Here, we may actually be treading on sacred ground, dealing with “personal” stuff.  The challenge here is not to stuff, hide, deny, or suppress one’s emotions, but to deal with them, own them with honestly and integrity.  And to listen with the utmost respect!

These are a few reasons why listening can be such a difficult task.  There are many more.  It is also why we do best if we first assume that we are NOT good listeners and must intentionally learn how to listen well.  We must train ourselves to become good listeners.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you are listening well.

Can you mirror back in your own words, a concise and precise summary of what you just heard?

Did you pause to ask questions for clarity’s sake, along the way in the conversation?

Did you hear the speaker’s content behind the emotion or did you only experience the speaker’s emotion as he/she delivered the content?  That is, did you hear the speaker’s mind as well as the speaker’s passion?

Does what you heard require a thoughtful response from you?  Or does it only need an acknowledgment of having heard it?

If a thoughtful response is required, are you able to give a proper response, right then and there, or do you need to ask for time to think about it before responding?  And are you aware of your own emotions as you begin to formulate a response?

Good communication and good listening is about relationship: to hear and to be heard is to respect each other's personal presence, value, and significance.