Sunday, August 17, 2014

A woman’s ‘touch’

Probably the person I remember most in the campus Christian fellowship I went to while attending the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1980s was a woman I’ll call Mimi.

A new believer if I remember correctly, she was not by any means a stereotypical raving beauty — more pixie-cute, if anything — but it probably would not be an exaggeration to suggest that about half of the guys in the fellowship wanted to date her. (And even I, who tried to resist, eventually became one of her admirers.)

Since she was in a long-distance relationship with a football player attending another college, we all knew that was pretty much out of the question. Yet from what I could tell, she treated all the guys who approached her with an extreme grace that really affirmed us as men.

One guy told me later that he gave her roses and she responded with a hug. On the 1982 fall retreat I asked her to dance with me — the song was Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” — and she lit up like a Christmas tree. (And yes, I got the dance.)

I don’t pretend to know or understand Mimi’s motivation or whether she just had this natural charisma that attracted men like flies, but I don’t recall her being all that flirtatious. Rather, I prefer to think that she generally liked us as people, not just as potential partners, and it showed.

In an earlier entry I mentioned the social pressure that we Christian men, especially today and especially those men in their 20s, face in trying, and often failing, to date because of unreasonable expectations. We’re supposed to “have it together” before we even approach a woman because the focus often is “Is this the man/woman I’m supposed to be with forever?”

The trouble is, of course, that if you don’t come from a Christian home and/or didn't grow up with blood sisters — both applied to me — you’ll generally be left out socially; in such an atmosphere men are often looked upon as worthless or with suspicion just because of their gender. Which goes against the Scripture.

More than that, however, I really wonder if a lot of these young Christian women who say they want to marry but don’t want to date the “wrong man” really like or appreciate men for their own sake, and I would suggest such a dismissive attitude toward men contributes to their lack of maturity. Women should understand that even the guys that they may not care for may be called to be fathers and husbands at some point and wounding them unnecessarily would sabotage that process. (I would think that the “Golden Rule” applies.)

Looking back, the times I grew the most were when I had a consistent positive female presence (but not necessarily as a date). I would say that goes the same for most men, since a woman often brings a new dimension to a man’s life. Mimi brought that to a number of men she came into contact with, which is why we probably all remember her.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why young Christian men might be confused about dating

I don’t know what to do, the rules are new …
— “Ain’t It Blue?”, Chicago

In a recent article “Are Single Men Afraid of Dating?” written by Tim Laitinen and recently published on Crosswalk.com, the question was raised about many young men’s unwillingness to commit romantically — that is, to enjoy a woman’s company without going out on a date. Laitinen quoted Christian blogger Matt Walsh, who blasted them for what he called “vicinitizing.”

If my experience is any guide, however, the men they’re criticizing are simply being normal given the atmosphere in which they live.

With all due respect to Laitinen and Walsh, they either don’t understand or have forgotten that, especially at that age, asking a woman he likes on a date is already one of the most nerve-wracking things a guy can do and, if she declines, his entire world has fallen in. (And even at the age of 53, I still feel like that sometimes, especially since, like Laitinen, I’ve never married.) Repeat numerous times, likely if you’re not an athlete or don't have other social status, and you begin to question your self-worth.

In the Christian realm, the relational pressure upon boys and young men has become even worse because of the renewed focus on “purity”; things have gone so far that people are saying that you shouldn’t even date anyone you wouldn’t marry. Since we men tend to learn through experience, taking a shot in the dark like that can simply be too risky and not worth the effort — and no amount of spiritual discipline or building relationships with other men can help in that regard.

Then you have the realistic situation today where many male college graduates are often still living at home with Mom and Dad because they can’t afford to strike out on their own due to their indebtedness. (They have no shot with women anyway.)

I think the real issue is: How does a man begin to build a relationship with a woman in a non-threatening and God-honoring way (and not “play with her heart” in the process)? One possible way that has recently resurfaced for me: Partner-dancing, because you learn the rules on how to participate properly.

In May of 1980 I attended my first square dance, in the gym of the Atlanta church I was attending during my year at Georgia Tech, jointly sponsored by two fellowships where I knew people. That night the spirit of “family” was so strong that, at the beginning, I invited what some might have thought of as the homeliest woman there to be my partner — because she was the one closest to me. And over the past four or five years I’ve gotten into line, swing and ballroom, something I did during my last relationship at the turn of the millennium.

Then, in my view women also need to encourage men in a general sense. But I’ll address that in a future entry.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Some political prognostications for 2014 — and beyond

If I were the national Republican Party today, I’d be afraid — very afraid. Reading the tea leaves, I’m seeing disaster for the GOP in the immediate future.

Or perhaps I really don’t need to read the tea leaves; I think it’s that obvious that the party is on the ropes. It doesn’t really have any guiding principle at this point except defeating the Democrats in general and President Obama in particular, and that’s a harbinger for defeat.

Here’s one thing that should put a scare into the Republicans: I regularly receive fundraising emails from the Democratic National Senatorial Committee — I haven’t contributed anything to the Democrats in over 20 years, but I’m still in their database — which has started a “Paint the South Blue” campaign to encourage Democratic candidates and recruit volunteers in that part of the country. That’s significant because up until a few years ago pouring money into those races would have been a waste of time and resources.

In fact, its own internal polling suggests that five of its candidates are ahead, albeit by only single digits, of even GOP incumbents. Of course those polls may be inaccurate and could change between now and November, but if things hold up the Senate may very well remain with the Democrats.

It didn’t help matters that Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann made noise earlier this year about impeaching the president and in the process handing the Democrats yet another issue on which to run. Some conservatives are now accusing the Democrats of turning that into an issue where none was intended; however, that now represents a “walking back” because, frankly, the votes just aren’t there anyway. It reminds me of Bill Clinton, who during the 1996 presidential campaign charged that the GOP would cut $270 billion from Medicare, and that helped swing the election toward him, especially in Arizona and Florida. (For the record, the actual figure was correct but represented, really, a cut in the proposed increase; however, he got away with it because of the Republicans’ propensity to cut any program that benefited their opponents.)

But what if the GOP were able to hang on to those Senate seats this year or even win it outright? That might mean even more trouble down the road.

More trouble? Yep. Because when Republicans win they always become arrogant; some people are already insisting that, with every minor victory, “conservatism is coming back” and their extremist, triumphalist rhetoric as a result will only increase, turning people against them — just like 2012. (They still don’t understand that people voted not much so for Obama and the Democrats but against them.) And then there’s Hillary Clinton, who, if she runs for president in two years as expected, will have coattails the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

It seems to me that the GOP has two choices if it continues on its present course: Lose small this year or lose bigger in 2016.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The prophet: An analyst, not just a prognosticator

I have to thank Sydney Harris, the late columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the person who inspired me to become a writer in the first place, for labeling my primary spiritual gift.

I never knew his spiritual leanings or even if he had any, but late in his career, I think in the early 1980s, he commented about prophets, especially in the Bible. Previously I had been taught that the prophet was a glorified fortune-teller, and in my theological heritage the prophet is non-existent. Upon reading his piece, however, I realized that he was talking about me.

The prophet, I now understand, does far more than “tell the future” — he or she has the ability to see where things are headed but based also upon what’s happened in the past. He or she gathers information, understands human nature and takes a great interest in history to detect patterns and thus will say, “If this … than that,” predicting what will happen with uncanny accuracy.

In other words, the prophet is essentially an analyst who, as the Rev. Charles Stanley once put it, “sees the big picture.”

People in authority in that day thus lived in terror of the real prophets because they gave it to people straight based on what they knew to be true. Not just believed — knew. In other words, the big shots feared being busted, which is why so many died violent deaths when they were found out.

That hasn’t changed.

My primary interest, and the general theme of this blog, has been evangelical Christians’ involvement in the political realm. Since early 1980 I’ve been disturbed by our pursuit of political power at the expense of authentic Biblical faith, and I think it’s hurt us over the years — a different issue from simply trying to be a “voice.” In fact, too many of us in practice desire worship, something that God isn’t about to tolerate, and I’m convinced for that reason that our attempt to implement “biblical values” sabotages God’s Kingdom purposes.

I’ve lost some close friends over the years because of my willingness to “call out” those who I believe are acting contrary to the will of the Father, and I do mourn the end of those relationships. But I wouldn’t be faithful to the ministry that He set me apart for if I didn’t address such issues; besides, I always knew that being a follower of Jesus will cost something.

I wish I had the chance to tell Harris, who died in 1986, that he was my favorite writer. Anyway, understanding who I am is his legacy to me.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The obstacles to racial reconciliation -- from both sides

When God laid on my heart a passion for racial reconciliation in the 1970s I knew it would be a tough sell. And despite all the progress that's been made, especially since the early 1990s when it finally came on the evangelical radar screen thanks to the Promise Keepers, it still is today.

One the one side you have political conservatives who want to ignore the history of racism in this country. While I won't call them racists, the reality is that the racism that we needed to fight originated almost exclusively from that side of the fence -- and for the most part they won't confront it because doing so might cost them power. Many display an almost blind hatred for President Obama, and I'm not going to get into just what they say about him.

On the other you have black radicals who still maintain a healthy -- that is, unhealthy -- resentment toward white society because of that history. These people label anyone who doesn't support their desire for authority without relationship and are willing to "cross over" as a "sellout" or "uncle Tom" -- and that includes people like Martin Luther King Jr. and even Nelson Mandela. (As you can imagine, I've heard those a few times.)

Let me say here that I have no patience with either side and no tolerance for anyone who subscribes to either "absolutist" view, and if you try to push either down my throat I will fight you to the death. Because that kind of rhetoric is, and has always been, extremely divisive and compromises the spiritual goals.

For my part, I had to walk away from the African-American community for nearly 20 years and have been dropped as a Facebook friends by about 30 conservatives. Ironically, both sides have pretty much the same attitude in many cases.

You see, reconciliation requires a give-and-take, an ability to say, "Well, perhaps I was wrong about this." It comes from a desire to make things right for everybody, not just "my side"; that "because you are my brother/sister, I want to work this out." I've done this in my life, and there's no better feeling. Regarding someone who doesn't think the way you do as an enemy, especially due to color, long ago became too much of a burden for me to bear, and having laid mine aside I encourage others to do the same.

I have come to see racism as an addiction -- many want to hold onto it because it defines them (which is why ending it has become at times bloody). But as Dr. King always pointed out, the non-violent demonstrations that he spearheaded in the 1950s and '60 kept the bloodletting to a minimum.

Sadly, I still believe that race war is possible in this country, and I was recently accused by some black "radicals" that I'm an apologist for whites -- something that my white friends know to be nonsense. On this one I'm on nobody's side but the LORD's.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Impeaching Obama? A waste of time

So Sarah Palin and John Boehner are now calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

I hope people understand that they’re just making noise, because he’ll never be impeached. And even if he is, he’ll never be removed.

For openers, to convict him of “high crimes and misdemeanors” requires a super-majority — that is, two-thirds — of the U.S. Senate to remove him from office. The Democrats will never agree to that, not primarily over party solidarity but also out of respect for the political process. (Besides, they know full well that any Democrat will get the same treatment.)

How do they know this? The last president to be impeached: Bill Clinton.

Now, if you seriously believe that he was impeached simply because he lied under oath — truth be told, that was a set-up that turned out to be illegal anyway — you really need to reconsider.

During the summer of 1992, in the heat of the election campaign, conservative activists filed suit in Federal court in Little Rock, Ark., to have Clinton removed from the presidential ballot. See, they understood full that if he were successful they would be toast. (The suit was thrown out almost immediately.)

Then right-wing media went to work, alleging “corruption” but never proving anything of substance; when Clinton outfoxed Newt Gingrich on the Federal budget in 1995 Clinton’s reelection was virtually assured. On Election Night 1996 Grover Norquist vowed to have Clinton taken out.

And you know the rest of the story.

So what’s the point about Obama? Well, it seems that folks have this nutty idea that, if they merely remove an irritant, things will improve. But they got their wish in 2000 with George W. Bush and, eventually, a GOP-dominated Congress, and things went into the tank, costing it the Senate in 2006. True to form, when Obama became president two years later, they did what they do best — start sniping.

Hate may make people feel better at first but leads nowhere; you have to offer a positive alternative and none is forthcoming. That’s why talk of impeaching the president is just that.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Yes, blacks CAN be racist

In 1982, when I was attending the University of Pittsburgh, a white friend said that another black friend was breaking off their relationship. Reason? "My black friends are getting on my case." Needless to say, I hurt for my friend.

On the other hand, I wasn't at all surprised. I had years ago detected a considerable amount of "closing of the ranks" among African-American college students on white campuses and always refused to cooperate with that. It thus shouldn't surprise you that I had myself few black friends at Pitt, ironically almost all of those through the white fraternity to which I belonged.

Bottom line, I left the community before I could get "kicked out," which I knew I eventually would be. Indeed, I grew up in an atmosphere of "whitey this, whitey that," which as a teen I got fed up and wanted nothing to do with.

So it gave me quite the surprise when I first heard the ridiculous idea that "blacks can't be racist." The thinking goes that racism has to be "institutional" -- that is, a power problem not necessarily centered in people's hearts and having nothing to do with attitudes toward those of another race. Of course, that definition conveniently exempted African-Americans from being racist because, according to that narrative, they don't have power.

I noticed immediately a flaw in that argument: Everyone knows that the Ku Klux Klan is racist, but it hasn't had any real power since the 1960s. (Thank God for that.) And besides, if the people who run a certain institution repent of racist attitudes on their own, won't the institution change? That's why I was never convinced that blacks having more seats at the table would cause change, and I don't think it did.

On top of that, concerning my friend's mourning the loss of that relationship, was that not using the social power of ostracism to keep people in line? After all, that was in part how segregation in the South was maintained, with boycotts of stores that attempted to serve a "diverse" clientele.

In the last 20 years I've noticed that people of all colors have been crossing lines to build intimate relationships, what I've always done. That's the only cure for racism that has ever worked.