Sunday, April 22, 2018
Well, I guess it was a little different, using a wheelchair and sitting in the handicapped section in the front row. I'm not a front row kind of guy. I rationalize that tall people like me should go to the back, where we don't block the view of short people, (like my wife, which makes seating decisions schizoid in our marriage, but that'a another tale). Truth be told, I like back rows because I feel more comfortable fading into the background. But folks in wheelchairs don't always have a choice.
So, they started playing the National Anthem, recorded, sort of suddenly, and I felt I should stand up, because I could. The wheelchair is faster and safer to get around outside, but I normally use a walker to get around thew house. My wife was trying to get me to stay seated, and I was trying to hand her the jacket I had been using as a lap robe. There wasn't anything in front of me to steady myself on. I got to a mostly upright position. Held my wife's hand to steady myself. My daughter behind me was hanging onto the back of my waistband. I didn't quite dare spare a hand to take off the knit cap I was wearing because of the cold. And then it was over, and I sat back down, to the relief of my wife and daughter.
Didn't think much of it, until a few minutes later, a gruff guy came up to me and said, with an obvious catch in his throat: "Thank you. I've never been so impressed in my life," and stuck out his hand to shake (which I took, with my gloved hand, feeling a little embarrassed). Later on, he talked to my daughter separately. She related the conversation. He asked her if I was her dad. Said he had been a Marine and a cop, and how impressed he was that I, with my handicap, managed to stand, while some millionaire athletes won't.
Those of you who know me know that I am not the most patriotic of Americans. I always thought Christ supersedes nationalism. You know, that whole "Neither Jew nor Gentile . . . but all one in Christ Jesus" thing. I pray daily for God's Kingdom to replace the nations. If we had the Pledge of Allegiance that afternoon, the fellow might not have been so impressed: I normally do stand for both, but abstain from the Pledge, feeling that my allegiance belongs to God alone, a conclusion I came to back in school, somewhere in junior high or high school. But I do stand for the national anthem. I feel it is right to stand when asked to do so, to respect the symbols of the nation that has given me the freedom to practice and preach my unorthodox, unpatriotic religion; a nation which gave the space of freedom and dissent where that religion could develop. I respect those who risk their lives to serve in the military, even though I see Christ's teaching as recommending a non-violent alternative, and I respect this country for allowing me to live as best I can according to my rather different beliefs.
I didn't tell that fellow that while I do stand, I also respect the courage and principles of those who do not. I think it takes more guts to kneel in front of a crowd in protest, than to go along with crowd by standing, even from a wheelchair. I don't think what I did was anything special. I think risking one's multi-million dollar career to make a point about perceived injustice to others less privileged, deserves far more respect. But I didn't say that. The brief encounter didn't suggest it was an appropriate time for those details.
Being a dissenter from "mainstream" religion gives me more reason than for most to respect America and be grateful that I live here. Now days, many countries offer similar freedoms, but when this country was founded, such freedom was new and rare. My view of true American values is that what makes this country special is the degree to which it respects, even somewhat welcomes, non-conformity. One thing that is great about America is that it protects dissenters and protesters.
America isn't great because of people waving the flag, but because, to at least some extent, people are allowed not to. America is special precisely because we are not compelled to stand for the National Anthem, salute the flag, or recite the Pledge. If people felt coerced or compelled to stand, it would devalue the act. Coerced respect is not respect at all, just conformity. Worse, it would take away from the very freedom one is supposedly saluting. I expect even that Marine and cop would agree that he served to protect that freedom, even if he disapproves of those who use it in that way.
Having the freedom to sit or kneel is worth standing up for. Perhaps, though I didn't think about it that way at the time, I stood for the National Anthem that afternoon, because I did not have to.
Monday, November 6, 2017
Exodus 20:16. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." This is the Ninth of the Biblical Ten Commandments: Right up there with murder, theft, adultery and idolatry.
Yet every day on Facebook, I see posts, from people who claim to reverence the Ten Commandments, that copy false accusations and slanders. I won't cite specific examples. There are too many, some obvious, some subtle. There are more every day, mindlessly copied and shared without checking by many people, simply because they attack people they dislike. This is false witness. It is spreading malicious lies to slander someone.
In John 8:44 Jesus says that the devil is the father of lies. The word "devil" is an English form of the Greek word "diabolos" which actually means: Slanderer, False accuser. So, when you post a false accusation, you are quite literally the devil.
By contrast, Jesus said: "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life," so if you want to follow Jesus, you must follow truth. If you follow lies, you are not following Jesus.
But, you say, you didn't realize it was false! Is ignorance a defence? No, it is not. If you spread accusations that you don't really know to be true, it is still bearing false witness. But anyway do you really want to claim ignorance? If you don't know what you are talking about, why are you posting? Why post in ignorance? All you do is prove your ignorance.
Spreading malice in ignorance is gossip. The Bible condemns gossip in the strongest terms. Romans 1:29 says this about the Godless: "so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil."
See who gossips are grouped with?
There is simply no way to reconcile careless posting of accusations with Christian ideals. It is anti-Christian. If you are going to make accusatory posts, you have a Christian obligation to at least make sure they are true. If you can't take time to check before you post, don't post. If you check, make sure you check reliable sources, not just the same scurrilous partisan echo chamber sites that pump out the lies. And, if you believe those slanders against Snopes, you have already been deceived by the devil. If you don't know how to check it, or just don't want to bother checking, just don't post it. It's sinful.
It is astonishing that some people think the solution to guns and violence is more guns and violence. America is far and away the most armed nation in the world: Over 300 million guns in the US, belonging to 100 million or so Americans. 50% more guns per capita than the next most armed nation. The American experiment has conclusively proved the obvious: that guns do not prevent violence.
Guns have no real use or value for honest civilians. None. They are killing tools. That's all. Very dangerous weapons that do in fact kill people, and have no useful purpose in civilian hands. I could elaborate on that, but that's another essay.
The culture that glorifies gun violence, that glorifies the sterotype of the lone hero gunman, is the root cause of the problem. Guns don't protect you; they kill you. Having a gun in your house actually multiplies your odds of you or a family member being the victim of gun violence, whether by accident, homicide or suicide. There is a faint chance you might be able to use your gun to defend yourself. There is a far greater probability that you or someone else will use that gun against you or a member of your family.
Guns are like cigarettes: legal, lethal and stupid. Until the country recognizes that, we will continue killing ourselves with both. You have the right to both, if you are foolish enough.
You can stand on your rights and argue that laws don't solve anything. Maybe you're right - until people change, no law could take away enough of those 300 million guns. Don't worry about the 300 million guns out there. They aren't going away. Just worry about the ones most likely to hurt you, any in your own house.
This is not political. I am not about politics or laws or trying to make people behave. I support no political party or politician. Gun rights folks often assert that criminals do not obey laws. That is truly total nonsense, but I actually agree that changing people, not changing laws, is what is really needed. You can't change anyone but yourself. So, start there. So, change. Start with seeking out the violence in your own heart and fighting it. This an angry and violent nation. Don't participate in that, even emotionally.
But you can go farther: You want to defend your family. The most effective way to do that is to keep guns out of your house. Don't allow guns in YOUR house. Don't voluntarily be in the presence of anyone else with a gun. If YOU own guns, destroy them. I'm not suggesting taking away your useless "right" to own guns if you are so foolish as to want them. I'm suggesting you take the personal responsibility to renounce guns. That won't stop gun violence, but it's one small step in the right direction. It won't solve the problem, but at least then, YOU won't BE the problem. At least then, it won't be YOUR gun that is used in the next slaying. It won't be YOUR family member who goes crazy and kills people with your gun. It won't be YOUR gun that is stolen and used to commit crimes. It won't be YOUR gun that is found by a toddler with tragic results. At least then, YOU won't be supporting the gun culture or the gun industry, an industry of death. Then YOU, or a member of YOUR family won't be the next angry white man whose suppressed rage erupts into mass shooting.
Monday, August 28, 2017
I always used to wonder how Lou Gehrig could say in his famous July 4, 1939 farewell speech to the New York Yankees, after having been diagnosed with ALS, a cruel disease that came to be named after him, that "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/lougehrigfarewelltobaseball.htm
How could any man facing such a near and difficult death consider himself lucky?
But now, having myself been diagnosed, not with Lou Gehrig's disease, but with some similar neuro-muscular condition, I do think I understand, and agree.
I'm still not completely sure what I have. It falls (as do I, frequently) under the general heading of a "movement disorder." My symptoms don't exactly fit the classic definition of any of the possible diagnoses. My doctors tell me what I don't have. I had every test the doctors could imagine, and none of them showed anything. I don't have ALS, or MS, or Parkinsons, or Alzheimers, or Muscular Dystrophy. I don't have a brain tumor or cancer. One doctor thought it might be Ataxia, but the other disagrees. They all say I don't have Hydrocephalus. They all say it's not brain damage from my cycling concussion.
Tentatively, maybe it might be something you've likely never heard of called Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) though my symptoms differ in several ways from how MSA is usually described. There's a whole list of vaguely similar neurological conditions that you've likely also never heard of, but I probably don't have those either. It's some kind of deterioration of the cerebellum (not the cerebrum). Whatever it is, my brain seems to be slowly losing control over my body. And, whatever it is, there is at present no real treatment. In fact, the diagnosis doesn't really much matter as there is no real treatment for any of the likely possibilities. There's also not much in the way of prediction or prognosis. As my doctor says, we know that it progresses, but otherwise we can't really predict much. Lou Gehrig lived two years after his ALS diagnosis. Stephan Hawking has lived over 50 years since his ALS diagnosis, married twice, fathered 3 children, wrote books, did physics, and still gets bit parts on the American TV sit-com "Big Bang Theory." So, these diseases are not very predictable.
But, here's the point: I, like Lou Gehrig, can't help considering myself lucky. I guess I could get into a "why me" or "woe is me" attitude, but that would be fake. I just don't feel that way about it. It would be a totally wrong summary of my life and my circumstances. Lou Gehrig died at the young age of 37. I am now 68, and will most likely make it in some fashion to the Psalmist's proverbial allotment of "threescore and ten" (that's 70, for those of you who don't know the score). So, in quantity of life, I really have nothing to complain about. Sure, I always imagined that I would follow my parents in living into my early 90's, but life is not about quantity but about quality, and I have had a GREAT life. I would not trade these 70ish years for 100 of some other life.
I can only hit a few of the highlights here that have contributed to this great life I have lived.
I was born to wonderful parents and great family in a wonderful community. I was blessed that my ancestors immigrated to America, and to California. Although merely middle class by the standards of this country, we were, and are, rich by the standards of the world as a whole. If we aren't in the global top 1%, we are close to it. As they say, if you have to be a cripple, it's better to be a rich one, and I consider myself rich.
Certainly by the standards of any previous generation in human history we have comfort, leisure, ability to travel, and houses and driveways full of magical things that do the drudge work, entertain us, transport us, connect us, feed us, to a standard undreamt of by kings in any previous century. Yes, I said houses, plural. Most people wish they could own one house (The "American dream.") We have two really great houses, both of which in different ways we were blessed to be able to share with many others. And now we are selling those and building one great big one by the shore of Lake Michigan to share with our daughter and family.
My parents gave me more than I could ever deserve, in every way, material, spiritual, educational. I have a brother who has always been my best friend.
I have the greatest marriage ever to my soul mate. The best wife I could ever have wished for, who, 46 years and counting, is still standing by me and supporting me to my last step.
I have wonderful in-laws, who are still with us and who have been like second parents to me. Lou Gehrig mentioned that his mother in law took his side, and mine does too.
I have two great children and five amazing grandchildren. And, get this: my children actually want to help take care of me, even to the extent of amazingly inviting me to move in with them! How's that for lucky!
We were so blessed to spend summers in the high Sierras. seeing them as few are able to do. I was able to realize a dream and hike most of the length of the John Muir Trail.
I have a faith that sustains me, guides me, gives me hope, gives purpose and meaning to my life, directs my life, and promises something even better to look forward to. And, I have a worldwide family, brotherhood, community of faith that is the most amazingly close and loving group of people in the world. We were blessed to be able to serve that family of faith in many ways. We continue to be blessed with not just one, but two local congregations that love us and care for us, and brothers and sisters all over the world.
I had a great career in my chosen field of engineering. I was fortunate that my parents sent me to USC to Engineering school. Sometime I'll tell you about how I became a "swiss army knife" of three engineers in one. I was privileged to work for some truly great organizations at the peak of their productivity, doing exciting projects. I worked for some inspiring leaders - some truly great men, and was privileged to lead some amazing people. Although at the time it was often stressful, and there were times when I indeed hated it, it was never dull, and I was able to accomplish and achieve some fabulous things. I worked with amazing people, sometimes on the cutting edge of technologies. And it paid pretty well, too.
I was able to run for years, and loved doing it. I got to ride bicycles, to commute by bike for some years. Not quite as much as I wished, but a lot. And I can still trike!
I live in a time and place where disabilities such as mine can be handled with comfort - luxury even. I get the best medical treatment available. That it so far offers no cure is unfortunate, but still, I get the best there is.
You know those outrageous overly generous public pensions the politicians complain about? I've got two of those. With medical insurance, too.
And now, my family is raised. My children self supporting and with great families of their own. My career is done and I can look back on it with a feeling of accomplishment. Do I wish I could still hike and bike and camp and run? Of course I do. But I look forward with excitement and anticipation to the next chapter in my life.
The point is that I have had a wonderful life. I hope it continues, because it is still going great, but were I told it would end today, I would not feel in any way cheated or deprived. Lou Gehrig said he felt he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth, and I feel even luckier.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
In Matthew 2:1-2, we are told: “ . . . behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Notice that they specifically and explicitly give the reason for their worship of this babe. It is because he was “born King of the Jews.” Remember that in Mark 15:2, this was the question that Pilate asked, “Art thou the King of the Jews? To which he replied “It is as you say.” (NIV)
It's easy to be confused by the use of the word "worship" there in many translations. Today we usually think of "worship" as limited to divine worship, of a deity, but the word as used in many translations also applies to bowing, kneeling, prostrating in respect or submission before a king, nobleman, ruler or other authority. It could be divine worship, or it might not be. The question is, which did the Magi have in mind?
Is there any evidence to suggest that Herod or the chief priests and scribes with whom he consulted were some sort of proto-trinitarians who thought that this Messiah was to be God Himself? Granted Trinitarians do find what they consider to be Old Testament “hints” or “suggestions” of Trinitarian doctrine. But surely it is not credible to suggest that before any of the New Testament had yet been given; before Jesus had yet uttered a word; before any of the Apostles were even aware of the events to come; that Herod already thought that this “King” was really God, or a sort of hybrid man/god, a pre-existent mortal/immortal? You might propose that, but there is no evidence in the record to support it. Yet Herod, knowing only that this child was a potential rival to him as King, said he wanted to go and “worship him also.” Clearly Herod intended this as (feigned) worship of a King, not of a God.
Undoubtedly, these Magi had a limited, partial and incomplete understanding of this newborn king. We aren't told what they knew or how they knew it. Our understanding, informed by the preaching of Jesus and the writings of his followers surely should be more complete than those whose information was limited to the Old Testament at best, and perhaps less than that. We should not be limited in our view of the Christ to the partial view of the Magi. So, what is my point? What do we learn from the limited understanding of the Magi?