Thursday, November 26, 2015

When the label doesn't fit

I was recently insulted as a tea-partier, even though I have no sympathies for that movement.

The issue came up because of a Facebook discussion about Mike Huckabee, the GOP presidential aspirant who said that, were he president, there would be "no abortion." Here's the thing: I agree with his anti-abortion stance, which I've maintained for over 40 years.

Of course, fighting abortion became a conservative issue when the “religious right” adopted it in 1978 as moral cover for its real concern — restoring tax exemptions for private religious schools in the South that the Carter Administration removed because he believed that they were founded to circumvent court-ordered desegregation of public schools. Trouble was, it was split off from issues like poverty, pollution, racism and other issues that would also threaten the “sanctity of human life.” (In such a situation I was #alllivesmatter even before it became a hashtag saying.)

So what does that have to do with the tea-party movement? Virtually nothing. The New Yorker magazine exposed the involvement with the Koch brothers, who were bankrolling it — and who mentioned in an interview with Forbes magazine that they were pro-choice. The tea-party movement always was about “overreaching government” anyway, but since it has never claimed any central authority there’s no specific doctrine or ideology that its adherents subscribe to.

That might explain the confusion — and the anger toward me. But it’s misplaced.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

‘Safe spaces’?

I really thought we were making serious progress on racial reconciliation on college campuses. People were talking to each other and building intimate relationships across racial lines, the only way I’ve ever understood positive things to happen.

Learning recently of demands for “safe spaces” where black students didn’t have to deal with racism at all has really deflated me — it seems that they’re cutting off their nose to spite their face.

For openers, where will they find them? And when? What’s their goal? And what will they prove in the process? That they aren’t strong enough to live in the real world, where not everyone will like them.

And then, what will they do for allies? You need them to bridge the gap between people, so that they understand and can convey at least a little bit the indignation that black students may feel.

On top of that, what about the black students who are already comfortable in their own skin and willing to relate outside the parameters of what’s “acceptable” without being referred to as an “Uncle Tom?” Solidarity for its own sake isn’t a virtue, you know, and making unreasonable demands simply doesn’t work.

I will admit that conservative activism among students, many of whom are quite insensitive and some of whom are clearly racist, likely has raised hackles. I saw it at Pitt in the 1990s when a conservative student newspaper regularly insulted Pitt’s Black Action Society for reasons I don’t quite understand except for the purposes of resentment.

But getting “loud” doesn’t help the cause. In the least. Because it demonstrates weakness and thus sabotages the opportunity to gain true respect

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Activism — part of the educational process

“This. Means. War.”

I thought those words back in 1994 when a then-future, now-former girlfriend who was living in Chicago at the time got involved in a cult there and who told me that it was sending a mission team to Pittsburgh. Originally interested, I became suspicious when a male friend of hers who was trying to “recruit” me ahead of time dropped some doctrine on me that I knew to be wrong, and after doing some research I realized that this group was bad news. And since it did most of its work on the campuses of major colleges in major cities — I was taking evening classes at the University of Pittsburgh, which fit the bill in both cases — I decided to take action, breaking the news of their arrival on campus in The Pitt News, for which I served as columnist.

Eventually I became the primary counter-cult student activist, attending meetings of the former Cult Awareness Network and speaking twice to groups of students, one of which landed me on the front page of The Tartan, nearby Carnegie Mellon University’s student paper.

Though to my knowledge there really was no coordinated campaign to defeat this group and I never cut a class, my willingness to go to the mat has since proven to be one of the defining moments in my life. Several years later, author John Eldredge, who writes about masculine development in a Christian context, identified that men need “an adventure to live, a battle to fight and a beauty to rescue,” with in this case two of the three coming into play.

That might be the case with demonstrators on a number of campuses, most notably Yale University and Ithaca and Smith colleges, who are fighting racism, “rape culture” and the high cost of college, among other things. Of course the biggest salvo has recently taken place on the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri, where the president and chancellor both stepped down after members of the football team threatened to strike if they didn’t and the head coach, who probably makes more money than the two administrators combined, supported his players.

But some of their critics, whether ignorant, insensitive or just plain racist, have said that student’s shouldn’t be rocking the boat in that way, that they should simply shut up and return to their studies. However, I applaud them for the willingness to take stands because students have also caused changes — and, I suspect, grew in the process.

Two examples from the civil-rights movement: The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which engaged in voter registration drives in the South — when it was extremely dangerous to do so. And the four students from North Carolina A&T State University who staged the first sit-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. They got an education you simply can’t flop down tuition money to receive.

As did I 20 years ago.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

America needs you, Bill McCartney

Lately ESPNU, the cable sports channel focusing on college athletics, has been running a special program on Bill McCartney, the founder of the Promise Keepers evangelical men’s ministry and former football coach at the University of Colorado.

What set McCartney apart from many evangelicals, however, was his strong stance against racism, even bringing it up at PK events — to the chagrin of many; he himself said that attendance at events dropped when he decided to address the issue. In fact, in an article in Time magazine he was quoted as saying, “The Spirit of the LORD said clearly to my spirit, ‘You can fill a stadium, but if men of other races aren’t there, I won‘t be there, either.’ ”

I wonder how he would look at the present situation at the University of Missouri, whose president and chancellor both stepped down this week as the result of student protests, especially when the school’s football team threatened to go on strike if the president didn’t leave — and not simply because of McCartney’s avowed stance. See, he himself played for Mizzou.

And in that same article, McCartney mentioned that he got opportunities that his black high-school teammates didn’t and knew just why. That understanding that he received “white privilege” has certainly colored his thinking over the years.

Unfortunately, if you try to bring that up in certain circles it would be ignored or denigrated, certain folks not even wanting to bring it up; in this case, however, it would drive history and the truth underground. Missouri was a slave state, after all; MU didn’t admit its first black student until 1950; and — remember this — Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb that suffered racial trouble last year, lies just two hours east.

So perhaps it would behoove us evangelicals not to believe that racism is simply in the past; for many people of color it’s still a daily reality. I would suspect that McCartney, who saw it first-hand as a college coach, would have a handle on it, and if he did speak about it I would listen.

And by the way, fans of the band Chicago, of which I am one, would recognize the title of this entry as the first line from the song “Harry Truman,” an ode to the late president who integrated the Armed Forces — and, ironically, was a native of Missouri.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Drugs — rich vs. poor

When a rich man chases after dames
He's a man about town, oh yes, a man about town
But when a poor man chases after dames
He's a bounder, he's a rounder
He's a rotter and a lot of dirty names

— From “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich” from “Finian’s Rainbow”

Last week 60 Minutes ran a report on heroin use among the young in suburban and exurban Ohio.

Recently Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie shared the story about a mother’s addiction to cigarettes, calling for more of an emphasis on treatment as opposed to incarceration.

These are well and good, but I often wonder why these things are making national news just now, especially since substance abuse has always been an issue in such places — it’s often as though such a crisis happens only in poorer neighborhoods and people need to be punished for their transgressions.

Indeed, in one local suburban/rural county a news report about 15 years noted the large number of teens using. And I learned a couple of years ago that a large number of kids at one specific high school were using — when I was in high school (and I graduated in 1979).

Here’s the thing: Four states have implemented drug testing for welfare recipients, part of the thinking that people are poor because they use drugs. Which to me doesn’t make sense because drugs cost money (and in fact, states that do such testing have caught only a handful of applicants relative to the money being spent).

And it’s likely that affluent communities try to sweep the drug problem under the rug to protect their names — and property values. Some years ago one township council held a hearing at the local high school about a methadone clinic that wanted to locate in that area but was fighting it. But during a break one of the students noted that another student had set a trash can on fire while he was high.

But I see the issue as social class, not drugs. Perhaps we need to see drug abuse among the young as something that happens to us, not just them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Some random thoughts …

· President Obama, mocking Republican candidates for the White House for complaining about “media bias” after the last GOP debate on CNBC, nevertheless made an excellent point in suggesting that dealing with the Chinese and Russians would be tougher than the media. That’s one thing often lost on that crew — I mean, you think that leaders from other nations would be intimidated by an American simply because he or she is American? Not anymore, as terrorists are showing these days.

· I actually find it funny that folks are making noise about getting rid of the political “establishment” in Washington, D.C., suggesting that power ought to be returned to “the people.” Sorry to say this, folks, but, in practice, √©lites have run this country from the jump, and our system was designed for that to happen. Even the idea of the “gentleman farmer” serving in D.C. for a few years ignores the reality that only wealthy people like him had the time to take off to do that. Besides, whom would you want dealing with other countries? An expert? Or a neophyte?

· Given the segment on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday about heroin problems in rural and suburban Ohio, I don’t understand why it would be news — after all, drug use among the privileged has been swept under the rug for decades. Anyone remember the anti-cocaine spots in the 1980s where people were wearing power suits? But they didn’t get hammered the way urban dwellers have been for decades. Indeed, I learned recently that one suburban high school in my area had had a problem when I was in high school (and I graduated in 1979) — what’s changed?

· Blogger the Rev. John Pavlovitz recently published an entry concerning the failure of Christian clergy to understand and appreciate single adults and apologizing for it on the behalf of pastors. While I got where he’s coming from, a big part of the problem is church culture in general where maintaining families is often seen as the primary — indeed, in some cases the only — function of the church, and if you’re not a spouse and/or parent, as I’ve never been, you’re somehow “less than.” Even singles ministries were formed supposedly for building us up, but the more mature and attractive folks began pairing up, leaving and never returning. We’re not told how to mourn those losses.

· For the musically-minded, I recently ran across these remarks that jazz bassist John Patitucci made three years ago: "There are so many people who want to play music, but not everybody has that gift. So, if someone has that gift and then they don't really work hard — God calls us to excellence -— that's a problem that sometimes gets people in church in trouble with music. They don't grasp the fact that if you're going to make music for God, it better be the best music you can come up with. It better be the highest level of music and it had better be music befitting a king. That means get in the wood shed and don't come out till you get it right. So, I take it very seriously."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Man in the mirror

I'm still contemplating a two-panel cartoon I saw on Facebook earlier this month.

The one panel displayed a preacher asking his congregation, "Who wants change?" Every hand was raised.

The other showed him asking, "Who wants to change?" No hand was up, perhaps not surprisingly.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with much of our modern political discourse. Few folks these days want to come to the table in humility and work with those who disagree and those that do are often considered turncoats.

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate showed Ted Cruz blaming “[liberal] media bias” for the questions he and the other hopefuls had to answer — but what it that’s really not the case? It’s an easy thing to say, but does he have the proof? I doubt it.

But not just politics, either — I’m also seeing it as a spiritual issue as well. Many folks say they look forward to the return of Jesus Christ; trouble is, they do so for the purpose of cleaning everyone else up or out so that they can live in peace with what they believe to be true. Thing is, when He does come He will change them as well, and they’ll see just how much they need to change.

And that can be painful and humiliating, but at some point the buck has to stop and we have to understand and accept our part in the mess and eventually make amends. That takes real guts, not to mention maturity.

Just ask anyone who’s ever attended 12-step recovery meetings, which I used to do. The process of recognizing and admitting one’s sins — getting specific, that is — is by definition humbling because it means having to take responsibility for one’s own actions and attitudes, something often not encouraged in a previous life. In other words, we simply don’t like to admit fault, often preferring to blame the “other guy.”

But, to solve problems, that won’t do. I’m reminded of the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror”: “If you want to make the world a better place / Take a look at yourself and then make that change.”