Thursday, March 31, 2016

Let Porcelain Rule Gender Bathrooms


Who knew going to the bathroom could be such a sociopolitical minefield?

Suddenly North Carolina is the latest government entity to incur the seething wrath of left-wing over-sexualiziers by legislating where people can take their potty breaks.

It's become politically incorrect to assign human beings to public bathrooms based on their anatomy.  Nowadays, it's whatever sexuality a bathroom user feels about themself that should dictate the specific room where they eliminate their bodily wastes.

Do you feel like a woman, even though you have a penis?  Well then, by all means; use the ladies room, even though there are no urinals there.

Honestly, folks; the jokes write themselves.  Only the joke is on anybody who dares presume that biological equipment is an outdated method of determining which bathroom to use.  It's not like anybody's denying somebody the use of a public bathroom.  As if public bathrooms are to-die-for places of stunning beauty, prestige, status, and privilege anyway.

Now, I understand that womens' restrooms tend to be nicer than mensrooms.  I attended a classical music concert at a posh Dallas church once, and on my way to the mensroom during intermission, the line to the ladies' room was out the door, and I saw they had a large crystal chandelier in their potty chamber.  If that was the typical decor of a womens' restroom, maybe I could understand why some men have this sudden urge to switch restrooms.  Even if, remember, there are no urinals in womens' bathrooms.

In all seriousness, though, I understand that for a very small percentage of our population, struggles with sexual identity present a confusing and stressful challenge, and I don't mean to minimize or stigmatize people with gender issues.  However, of all the problems we Americans face, isn't determining which public bathroom to use really, really, really insignificant?

In all the years I've used public restrooms - and frankly, considering how dirty most of them are, I try to use them as infrequently as possible - I've never once thought about how much of a man the mensroom makes me feel.  Does the room justify the man, or the man justify the room, or is it simply a room to eliminate one's extra coffee and donut consumption?

I used to work for a tech company where men far outnumbered women, and on the days when there were no women in the office, and the mensroom happened to be full, I'd use the ladies' room... and you know what?  I didn't feel like it was an affront to my manhood to utilize the porcelain thrones women usually did.  I didn't care for the pink wallpaper in there, or the plastic flowers on their countertop, but I've never been one to base my gender identity on the bathroom I use.

After all, porcelain is porcelain.  And women can't use urinals.  At least, not very efficiently.  Which, actually, represents the simplest answer to a problem that wouldn't exist if a few really excitable folks didn't see public restrooms as the new front line in the battle for gender equality.

Why not simply use the restroom equipped with the porcelain receptacles designed to match your equipment?

Some conservatives say that this issue bears upon the likelihood of child molesters stalking their prey while using the "wrong" restroom, but how many child predators - or rapers of grown women - ply their crimes in womens' restrooms?  Sure, having a person who looks like a man in the womens' room would likely make many females uncomfortable, but frankly, I've been in a public mens' room when a woman has mistakenly walked in, and it's usually been far more embarrassing for the woman than it's been for us guys whom she's surprised.

Mistakes happen.  But legislating biological boundaries out of public bathroom usage simply doesn't make a lot of sense.  The elimination of bodily waste is a basic function shared across the animal kingdom, and it's only we humans who differentiate between spaces for performing that basic function based on gender.  Why should that now be illegal?  Because we humans love complicating everything?  Have we humans become so hyper-sensitive to the taboos of waste elimination that conventional protocols regarding the exposure of private body parts are akin to bigotry?

And if humans with a penis are now allowed to use the ladies' room, does that mean flashers are now off the hook?  What about public urination?  Once, at New York City's notorious Port Authority bus terminal, I watched helplessly as a homeless man in front of me squatted on the sidewalk and defecated right there, in front of the naked city's metaphorical 8 million stories.  If it doesn't matter which restroom one uses, does it matter if one chooses to use a restroom at all?

Actually, the very fact that certain biological parts are also the parts used to eliminate bodily waste probably represents a pretty logical argument about what gender a person truly is intrinsically, whether they think they have gender identity issues or not.  But we won't go there here.

Suffice it to say that unless unisex bathroom advocates are also calling for the elimination of the urinal entirely, from every bathroom, let's be civilized about this and say "let the porcelain rule."

Either that, or tell everybody to hold it until they get home.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reading Trump's Erstwhile Evangelicals

http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/09/13/439833719/true-believer-why-donald-trump-is-the-choice-of-the-religious-right
Photos like this one, by Mark Wallheiser for Getty Images, make evangelicals like me cringe


Through all the bluster, hyperbole, and inaccuracies of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, America's theological conservatives are learning one sobering fact:

What the term "evangelical" means to many evangelicals isn't what many evangelicals think it means.

America's mainstream media claims to have exposed a significant portion of Trump's fan base as evangelical Christians, and a number of theological conservatives who find Trump intolerable have begun howling in dismay.  Not only does Trump mock their faith, but these theological conservatives consider most people supporting his presidential quest to be hateful, bigoted, and Biblically illiterate.

Like the candidate for whom they cheer.

"Those right-wingers cheering Trump aren't typical of the evangelicals I know," many theological conservatives argue.

"Here goes the left-wing media again, making unfounded accusations against Christianity by misrepresenting evangelicalism." 

It's as if a core group of evangelical evangelicals is trying to protect our brand.  After all, it's distressing for us to see so many people claiming to be "one of us" while professing allegiance to somebody who defies so much of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not that Trump's main Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, hasn't elicited similar angst among theological conservatives.  Officially, both Hillary and her husband claim to be Christians, but neither they, nor the media, nor many evangelicals define the power couple as evangelical.  Yet right now, if not an angel, Hillary comes off as at least a gargoyle compared with Trump's spirited malevolence.  Sure, she's a liberal's liberal in every sense of the word, but for all the political reasons conservative Republicans find her hard to stomach, she's never gleefully insulted a handicapped person.  Or gloated about lusting after her own daughter.  Or professed a willingness to defy the Constitution when it comes to religious freedom.

In fact, that last thing alone should be enough to make anybody who professes to be a churchy sort of person decide against Trump.

Of all the presidential contenders who've ever tried to pass themselves off as an evangelical, to many Christians who claim the evangelical mantle the deepest, Trump is the most non-evangelical of them all.  Which, by extension, should mean that his supporters should be non-evangelicals, too.

Meanwhile, I guess my view of "evangelical" has been broader than it's been for other theological conservatives.  For years, I've presumed that "evangelical" has been the term for a religious-type Christian who isn't a papist Roman Catholic, Mormon, or Jehovah's Witness.  Not necessarily a church-going Christian, but a Protestant who is politically and theologically conservative.  Or maybe a teeny bit moderately progressive.  It would exclude many (but not all) liberal Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and conventional black churchgoers, for example.  And it would include most Southern Baptists, conservative Presbyterians, conservative black churchgoers, and non-denominational Bible church congregants.

Don't ask me where Pentecostals fit in here.  I'm not sure they know either.

Apparently, these are similar metrics by which the mainstream media views the more conservative side of Christianity.  But nobody ever clued-in the "evangelical media," which upon hearing that Trump is polling high with evangelicals, has dug into the characteristics of the typical Trump supporter.  Who are these people, and why is the mainstream media describing them as evangelicals?

Turns out, as we're learning about the religious proclivities of self-described religious Trump supporters, they're not the type of evangelicals most die-hard evangelicals want representing us.   They're folks who are politically conservative, but they rarely attend church.  They may know some key Bible verses and religious catch-phrases, but they lack a legitimate familiarity with Biblical content and orthodox Protestant theology.  And even if they do attend church with any regularity, it's hard to tell if their church attendance means anything beyond a social veneer, or habit, or religious duty.

Frankly, with my generic view of what "evangelical" means, I haven't been surprised that the "evangelical media" is finding many self-professing evangelicals who don't go to church, or don't have a God-honoring grasp of Biblical theology.  Why should we be surprised, anyway, since blowhards like Jerry Falwell Jr. and First Baptist Dallas' Robert Jeffress - long-time celebrities within our vast evangelical industrial complex - are fawning over Trump?

Even some folks who are supposed to know the Truth professionally for their jobs are for Trump instead.

I know of a self-professing evangelical Southern Baptist in my neighborhood who is big on Trump.  At least two elders and a deacon at my conservative Presbyterian church are rooting for The Donald.  In most any other context, nobody would question the evangelical credibility of these voters.  So it's not hard for me to imagine that many other so-called evangelicals - even the kind of evangelicals that ordinarily would pass muster with theological conservatives - are eager to see Trump as president.

Part of it, I suspect, is similar to how so many evangelical blacks can reliably vote for pro-choice Democrats, even though our black brothers and sisters in Christ join their white co-heirs in abhorring abortion.  Many religious people - not even Republican ones - simply aren't the one-issue voters some analysts and pundits have presumed them to be.

Part of it, too, has to do with the awful employment scenario faced by many blue-collar voters, particularly in the non-union South, who still see America hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs to Mexico, Asia, and South America.  People see the American standard of living slipping right in front of their eyes, and so far, only Trump has spoken their language, even if it is gibberish based on unrealistic economics and patriotic bluster.

Many Americans, too, are downright petrified by ISIS, especially with the attacks in Brussels this morning that have further stoked nationalist xenophobia against Muslims.  Trump freely parrots the bigoted narrative of the simple-minded, which sounds comforting to the anxious, but directly contradicts the faith in God evangelicals are supposed to cherish.

Last year, America's evangelical media seemed to enjoy viewing the broader spectrum of evangelicalism as reason for dismay when it came to decrying the Supreme Court's establishment of gay marriage.  With so many evangelicals in the US, these media types asked in disbelief, how could the tide of public opinion be so liberally skewed in the United States?

Well, now you know.  But - and not to toot my own horn - in this blog, I've been questioning the legitimacy of our vast evangelical industrial complex for years.  How genuine are its adherents, anyway?  How committed to the cause of Christ?  How many read the books, attend the seminars, and celebrate their favorite preachers - all without worshiping Jesus Christ?  Just in my own church, I can see how it's likely that a significant portion of its membership isn't truly evangelical - or maybe even saved.

After all, here in the Bible Belt, evangelicalism is a social condition, not a heart/soul condition like it is in, say, New England.

Not that a Trump supporter can't also be seeking to honor the Son of God with their heart, mind, and soul, despite their choice for president.  But neither do I have a problem with suspecting that a vote for Trump is not a God-honoring vote.  In other words, we all fail to honor God with everything we do, and everything we want.  We all sin and fall short of God's glory.  That means a vote for Trump by an evangelical simply points to the fallen nature of man, our preoccupation with wealth and comfort, and our ambivalence towards the thoughts and feelings of others.

Hey - it's probably a safe assumption that Trump supporters don't have a loved one who is handicapped.  See what I mean?

If there's any good to be found in the Trump phenomenon, it may be that now, many other true Christ-followers can see the reasons why Biblical morality and its political expediency have been so elusive lately in our country.

It's not all the fault of liberals, as many conservatives have presumed.

Indeed, has society at large turned its back on evangelicalism?  Or have many "evangelicals" turned their backs on what was supposed to define them?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Risky GOP Wants Future Pick Over Obama's


And so the theater continues for what conservatism has become in America.

President Obama today announced his nominee to the Supreme Court, and Republicans in Washington have replied, "so what?"

Conservatives say they're not going to vet and vote on Obama's nominee.  Wait until the next president warms up the leather high-back chair in the Oval Office, they're promising.  Then we'll consider the merits of Judge Merrick Garland for The Highest Court in the Land.

What a petulant farce by Republicans.

Our hallowed Constitution, which conservatives claim to so reverently venerate, calls for the president to nominate Supreme Court nominees, and it calls for the Senate to vet and vote on the confirmation of those nominees.

What the Constitution does not do is specify a timeframe within which this process should take place.  So, since Obama is in the final ten months of his lame duck presidency, Republicans publicly professed no intention of moving at all on any nomination he'd make during the remainder of his term.  And that was before Obama announced that his choice is Judge Garland, described as a leftward-tilting political moderate.

Considering how tight the establishment is within the Beltway, Garland's nomination was likely no surprise to anybody but average voters like me.  There's been no cry of foul play by anybody, no ruffling of anybody's feathers, and considering the political power play into which Garland must have known Obama was throwing him, America's elite power brokers all have been pretty sanguine about this.

But don't be fooled!

It's like one big staged act in some tawdry political play, running off-off-off Broadway in some seedy dive theater where the threadbare vellur seats smell of stale popcorn and smoke.

Okay, so Judge Garland is no Antonin Scalia, the celebrated arch-conservative justice whose recent demise created this yawning gap on the Supreme bench.  But what makes conservatives think they'll get a better nominee once Obama leaves office?

If Hillary wins, isn't she likely to nominate somebody far, far left of Garland?

If Trump wins, isn't he likely to nominate his sister, who is pro-choice?

Shouldn't conservatives gladly take what vestages of political moderation they can get at this point?  Shucks, if they really want political theater, they could methodically vet Judge Garland and simply vote him down, since Republicans currently outnumber Democrats in the Senate.  Is even the pretension of doing one's job too onerous a task for modern conservatives?

I thought conservatives love to ridicule the under-worked?  Now they want to be counted among them?

No, they're going to wait until after the fall elections, when the people will help decide who gets to sit on the bench (as if "the people" didn't "decide" when Obama won re-election almost four years ago).

I guess Washington's conservatives are the only ones who haven't heard:  Trump isn't electable.  Hillary is going to sweep up the floor with the GOP this fall, and that will be that.  And even if by some bizarre miracle Trump does win, by some accounts, he owes so much of his political connections to his sister judge, he can't possibly nominate anybody else even if he wanted to.  For all the problems I have with Trump, from what I've heard, he's a very loyal brother to his sister, and frankly, I respect that in him.  But don't think that if you'll like Trump as president, you'll like his sister as a Supreme Court justice.

Not that his sister,  Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, would be the worse choice in the world.  She's fairly moderate, deliberative, hard-working, and widely respected.  Shucks, she was a Ronald Reagan appointee, so she can't be all bad, right?  But she is pro-choice, and since abortion represents the big kahuna of federal issues that ever have or ever will face the Supremes, doesn't that make her unfit in the eyes of conservatives for such an influential position?

Yes, she's almost 80 years old, which, with all due respect for the aged aside, isn't exactly a good age to begin one's tenure in such a demanding position.  Besides, she hasn't even hinted that she'd accept the nomination if her brother offered it to her.  But here's my big point:  If Trump is willing to nominate her, what does that say about his willingness to nominate another pro-choice judge to the Supreme Court?

He tells his supporters that he's pro-life.  But how convenient is that position?  And how temporary?

Instead, shouldn't good conservatives remember these two time-worn axioms?  Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.  And a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.  I guess these old standards are too "establishment" for today's firebrand right-wingers.

If it's a matter of time constraints, and Republicans don't think they have any flexibility in their all-important schedule to squeeze in a quick hearing on Judge Garland, I'm sure all of the far more urgent work those knuckleheads are up to on Capitol Hill will, when finished to perfection, make us gladly forget that they couldn't do anything about Obama's nominee.  But somehow, I doubt that, don't you?

Which brings us back to the question of whether standing on principles regarding any SCOTUS nominee from the current White House occupant is worth the rhetoric, posturing, and partisanship.  And risk.

Isn't it all so silly?  It doesn't help that if the tables were turned, and it was Republicans trying to nominate a SCOTUS justice during the final months of a lame duck presidency, it would be Democrats holding the process hostage until "after the upcoming election."  After all, this has happened before.  A surprising number of times.

Maybe this is simply how gritty politics is done.  But does precedent make it right?  And the GOP, by playing this game, is banking either on some intra-party coup in which Trump is not their presidential nominee, or that Trump can somehow overcome all that he's said and done that makes him inferior to Hillary Clinton, and win in November.

Both scenarios are pretty far-fetched, aren't they?

Meanwhile, Obama could be seen as doing Republicans a favor, and offering something of an olive branch before the Clinton machine returns in full force to the Oval Office.

I simply cannot understand anymore why the GOP keeps shooting itself in both feet, and its hands too boot.  Yeah, I'm mixing metaphors now; but good grief, it's so aggravating.

If right-wingers are angry at "establishment" politicians, the rest of the planet is growing increasingly angry at Republicans in general.  And you know what?  It's all the GOP's own fault.

Sometimes now, I find it hard to grieve for what America is probably going to endure no matter who becomes its next president.  Apparently our Founding Fathers, even if they were more Christian than merely religious, never thought of the possibility that future Americans would worship such dim patriotic nostalgia than the God they've swaddled with the Stars and Stripes.

So we'll see who gets to take the late Justice Scalia's place... after the Obama family has been safely escorted from the Executive Mansion next January.

For an off-off-off Broadway show, this spectacle is going to drag on for an awfully long time.  Probably even longer than partisan conservatives are gambling on today.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trumpism Yanks More Than Politics


Yanking my chain.

Usually, I write about topics that yank my chain in some way.  

I've written about the super-cool packaging technology Nabisco uses to keep their Oreo cookies "fresh."  Of course, I use the term "fresh" lightly, since Oreos are so full of preservatives, there's no such thing as a "stale" Oreo!  But those plastic sheets coated with a film allowing you to both open and close them with ease - that really got my writing juices going.

Other topics that have yanked my chain over the years include the increasingly homogeneous design of American sedans, due in large part to draconian fuel efficiency standards being imposed by our government.  With all car manufacturers expected to match the same standards, vehicle designers are left with little room to be creative, since efficiency usually comes at the expense of individuality.

I've written about my favorite Norman Rockwell painting, "Lunch Break With a Knight."  The iconic Elizabeth Taylor.  Digital artist Christoph Niemann.  Divorce.  Illegal and legal immigration.  Scandals with pastors.  Good architecture.  And lots and lots of politics.

* sigh *

The thing about politics is that, despite there being a professional study of so-called "political science," there's not much actual science to politics, beyond all the studies people use to justify their fascination over how different peoples are governed.  

Hey; does it really matter if a political scientist can guess future political events accurately?  Who really cares if a political scientist can proffer a new theory for how a historical society elected somebody to office?  Most of politics comes down to averages, doesn't it?  When guessing, second-guessing, and hindsight pass for science, then a lot more people can be "experts" than folks in disciplines like molecular biology.  Right?

And that's part of the problem, isn't it?  Many voters consider Rush Limbaugh to be a political expert, even though he's never held elective office.  Barak Obama is considered by Rush Limbaugh's fans to be an abject failure, even though most of Obama's foes have never even run for their PTA board, let alone leader of the Free World.  But is it Limbaugh's fault that people believe him when he speaks?  It's the amateurish nature of politics that allows people like Limbaugh, his fans, and even Yours Truly to believe our opinions have some sort of merit.  Politics is one of the few areas in life where there are no experts - only people who can convince other people that they are experts!

As this year's political season has continued to disintegrate, I've hunted in vain for other stories that yank my chain more strongly than the depressing drumbeat of headlines from our presidential aspirants.

And as you can tell from the dearth of my blog postings lately, I haven't been very successful.  I've told you how confused I am that so many conservatives adore Donald Trump, despite Trump's obvious refutations of conservatism's traditional characteristics.  I've bemoaned the abject state of civility in this year's elections, from the candidates to their supporters to their detractors, most of whom display so much vitriol and vulgarity that televised debates now should carry parental warnings.

It's all so depressing, isn't it?  And this is supposed to be "the greatest country in the world?"

Despite his tawdry personal life and wild pontifications on the campaign trail, Trump is getting the green-light from GOP primary voters to present the world with a buffoonish caricature of Republicanism in general and Christianity in particular.  Especially ironic has been Trump's claims to being a Christian, and so many Christians seeming to enthusiastically support him.  

Some evangelical leaders have come out and questioned the media's penchant for labeling all of Trump's church-going fans as "evangelicals," but it's hard to question the media's over-characterization when people like the senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, and the president of Liberty University, both issue dire warnings about the destruction of America if Trump isn't voted in as its savior.

I used to be like many evangelicals I know:  Unaware of any self-professing Christ-follower who supports Trump.  Then my blinders came off as I read people posting their personal views on Facebook, and as I discussed politics with fellow congregants at our proudly conservative Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas - a city many call "the buckle of the Bible Belt."  At least two elders at this church adamantly support Trump, and part of me is ashamed that I have to type this out.  These are men - both well-educated, highly-respected medical doctors - with a certain amount of religious training (after they're nominated to serve, all elder candidates at my church spend at least one year in a preparatory theology program for their upcoming duties).  And they're voting for Donald Trump!

And they're not Trump's only fans at Park Cities Presbyterian. 

It is incredibly bizarre to me.

Then I began to think.

About the only thing I can figure out is that some people are putting love of country in place of their love of Christ.  

Based on my strict, Bible-based, orthodox evangelical belief about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not see how a follower of His could be a follower of Trump.  I suspect many of us Christ-followers ascribe far more importance to politics than we should, assuming that politics helps explain the things we see as being wrong with America and the world.  And that mindset probably helps some Christ-followers feel entitled to ignore all of the non-Christ-honoring baggage Trump brings to the presidential race.  

It's easy to view sin on a sliding scale.  But God doesn't, does He?  For example, I may not replace my love of Christ with my love of America, yet I can see patterns where I do the same thing in my life - just not with politics.  I gossip instead of speaking lovingly - or not at all.  I gloss over truth (what God calls "lying").  I binge eat - often gluttonously.  I love comfort at the expense of venturing out of my comfort zone for the sake of Christ.  

And I mean - I really love comfort so much, I literally fear leaving my comfort zone!  Part of that is my chronic clinical depression, but part of it still is my raw desire for being able to control my environment, and the risks to which I'm exposed.  Some people love adventure; I loathe it.  Yet the Christ-centered walk of faith is just that - a walk of faith, not of comfort.

To the extent that many voters - both liberal and conservative - are deeply anxious about the direction in which our country appears to be headed, it makes sense that we want to align ourselves with the political candidates who best express the methods we believe will right our listing ship of state.  Yet, if there are certain core principles that we hold, particularly as followers of Christ, can we so arbitrarily abdicate from the patterns those principles dictate for our lives when it comes to endorsing somebody like Trump for president?

I don't think so.  But then again, people observing me would likely say the same about other areas in my life that have nothing to do with politics.  And guess what:  People could say the same thing about your life, too!  What takes Christ's place in your heart, and your brain, and your worldview?  How many discrepancies exist between the faith you profess and the things you hold near and dear?

So... what yanks your chain?  The claim that too many people are living off of your tax dollars?  The notion that people of a certain religion should be banned from our country?  Or that Christ only displayed His righteous indignation once - and that was in the temple, when money-changers were co-opting the worship of His almighty Father?

What are we worshipping?

I'm still agitated and embarrassed over the Trump phenomenon, but I'm coming to see how the Lord may be using The Donald to help true Christ-followers see other areas in our life where we're acting out of duplicity, and not duty.  The truth of the Gospel offers us incredible comfort, in that God offers us new hope and change.

Meanwhile, can Trump offer anybody that?  Remember, the man he's trying to replace offered hope and change, too, and look what we got instead...

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
  - Psalm 20:7



Friday, March 11, 2016

In Whom Do You Trust Your Vote?


Who wants to "vote for evil"?

Grieved by the choices facing Americans this election year, a number of our country's morality leaders say there's no good candidate to be our next president.  Especially if the vote is between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

That's no surprise, really.  Shucks, most Americans who profess loyalty to either party have major problems with who's running this year!  Democrats have come out in surprising force against the lies, machinations, and duplicity that characterize both Hillary and her husband.  And while the media has given Trump enormous publicity, making it appear as though the GOP has fallen in lock-step behind him, many conservatives are alarmed that he's commandeered so much enthusiasm from disenchanted Republicans.

Conventional wisdom - if there is such a thing anymore - says that although Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz have managed to front energetic foils to their respective party's front-runners, delegate arithmetic is adding up to a final contest between Clinton and Trump.  And if there have ever been two presidential candidates running to be The Leader of the Free World who both express so much that earnest Christ-followers loath, they're Clinton and Trump.

Much has been made about how eagerly evangelicals have reportedly flocked to Trump, and expressed adulation for him and his raucous pontifications, from wanting to ban Muslim immigrants, to his unabashed objectification of women, to his embarrassingly naive presumptions about presidential powers and America's tripartite system of government.  Indeed, even as he boasts about how uneducated his supporters are, Trump mocks them with his incessant outlandishness.  

Of all voters, then, with as much moral presumptions as evangelicals claim to leverage in the name of Almighty God, shouldn't these conservative church-goers be more discerning in their choice of presidential candidate?

If anything, the glee with which many Trump supporters ignore the facts about him, his background, his flip-flopping on basic Christian issues like abortion, and more political stances like crony capitalism have convinced a number of leaders within our vast evangelical industrial complex that the term "evangelical" means something different today than it used to.  Presumed kingmakers like First Baptist Dallas' Robert Jeffress and Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. now represent a tainted brand of patriotic religiosity that splices bits and pieces of the Biblical Gospel with romanticized snippets of the United States Constitution, and view their creation as superior to both of its prototypes.  Throw in what's either a genuine cancer of Biblical illiteracy within the American church, or a willful ambivalence towards Biblical literacy, and flocks from congregations across the country now say Trump deserves their faith more than God does.

Into this bizarre tableau step astonished Gospel spokespeople like Russell Moore, a high-ranking official in the traditionally conservative Southern Baptist Convention.  In a recent editorial for Christianity Today, Moore stumbles around, as if in a fog, trying to explore this new dilemma facing however many American Christ-followers still remaining who want to honor God with their vote.

Obviously, there are significant problems with a Hillary Clinton presidency - and mostly, they're the same ones we faced when her husband ran so many years ago.  And even though many church folk - "evangelical" or not - want Trump to be their hero, Moore is correct in stating that Trump is not merely the lesser of two evils.  Evil is evil, even if we are tempted to gloss over that evil out of frustration for how the other political party has made a mess of this country.

"When Christians face two clearly immoral options," Moore argues, "we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse."

His solution?  Don't vote at all, apparently.

"We cannot vote for evil, even if it’s our only option."

But is voting for evil our only option, as Moore claims?

First, let's acknowledge the obvious:  Years and years of indoctrination from blowhards outside of our evangelical industrial complex, like Rush Limbaugh, and political activists within, such as Jerry Falwell Sr., have created a warped perspective of ultra-religious conservatism that drapes the American flag across the Cross of Christ.

Frankly, it should be of little surprise that the Trump phenomenon eventually exploded onto such an unequally-yolked stage.  But now that we've arrived at this juncture, where right-wing expediency can no longer feign complicity with Biblical integrity, many church-goers see no problem with taking the path more aligned with their beliefs... beliefs based not in the Gospel of The Christ, but in the gospel of The Donald.

And Moore is correct in seeing Trump's fatal flaws.  

Yet there's more to Moore's dilemma.  Let's take a step back and look at this whole voting thing for a moment.  If Moore is telling us NOT to vote, then isn't he ignoring the reality that a vote not cast for somebody often is a vote for somebody else?  Not voting can still produce something we consider to be wrong.  

Meanwhile, since God looks at our heart, why not trust that He knows the processes by which we decide (enthusiastically or not) to vote for a particular candidate?  After all, He's the One ordaining our rulers, right?  

Our vote is a mechanical action; and yes, our actions matter.  However, don't those things in our heart that influence how we vote matter more to God?  He knows how much we love Him, and how much we love our neighbors.  He knows how much we admire wealthy and powerful people like Trump, and how much we disregard the poor and needy.  He knows our motivations, and whether we vote out of what's in it for us, or out of a desire to honor Him first and foremost.  

And what honors Him first and foremost, but our willingness to trust Him in everything?

"And without faith it is impossible to please God..."  That's Hebrews 11:6.

Therefore, which is better:   "Washing our hands" of the dilemma before us, or trusting in God's sovereignty?  Even as we exercise our liberty to vote?  Remember, God has blessed us Americans with the freedom to vote.  Does not voting demonstrate our gratitude for this privilege?

Consider this from its inverse.  Why do we NOT do some things?  When we don't do something, are we not committing it out of implicit love for God and His Gospel?  Or, when we don't do something, are we acting out of fear of that act's presumed consequences?  

On the surface, it may appear as though we don't do certain things because we want to be faithful to God's Word, but how often do we simply not do things for our own selfish reasons?  Is the fact that we don't do something a way to honor God?  Or our motivations for not doing that action?

See what I mean?  God looks at why we do things - or don't do things.  So why does Moore advocate that people of faith not vote?  Is it out of fear for the future?  Is it out of discomfort of voting for - horrors! - a Democrat?

Indeed, you'll note that I'm not telling anybody the person for whom to vote.  Some might interpret that to be an endorsement for Trump, but be assured:  It is not!  I agree with Moore that Trump is unfit to be president.  Even with Hillary running against him.

Instead, I'm currently exploring third-party options.  I'm even open to voting for Hillary, since Trump has voiced disdain for religious freedom - an audacity which Clinton, despite all of her liberalism, has never proposed.  Whether you're a marginal "evangelical" or a committed Christ-follower, Trump's stance on this one issue should be alarming for us all.   And he doesn't deserve my support as a pro-life voter.  Trump has said he'd nominate his pro-choice sister to the Supreme Court, which makes his stance on the issue obvious, no matter what he tells his supporters.

I'm not going to criticize voters who drag themselves to their polling precinct kicking and screaming, feeling compelled to vote for Trump.   And I believe that in this election, at least, conservatives should not fault Christ-followers like me for voting for somebody like Hilliary, a person who until a couple of months ago I'd have absolutely never, ever considered a viable presidential candidate.

What matters is whether we're attempting, despite all of the miserable obstacles in our way, to honor God with the vote He's allowed us to have in this election.  Man looks at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.  And while it's true that our actions come from what's in our heart, other people can misinterpret our actions.

So, what's your motive for your vote?  For people like me, I should be able to find some comfort in knowing that the only eternal reality of my vote is how God sees it.

For people who are choosing any candidate based on criteria that is more patriotic than Christ-centered, however, I can understand their angst at the long-term ramifications of how they'll act come election day.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Nothing Contrary About Miss Mary


She hopped up the moment we came through the front door.

"Well, welcome, welcome!  Y'all come on in!"  Her voice was hearty and expressive.  Miss Mary sprang from her wing-back chair, arms extended wide, an enormous smile stretching across her time-worn face.

She's a life-long Texan, with a twangy accent that could charm the rattles off a snake, as they say.  Very tall, very slender, with very wrinkled skin, likely from years spent basking in the Lone Star State's vicious sun.  And an untamed dollop of kinky gray hair crowns it all.

Three of us had arrived at Autumn Leaves for a visit this morning:  Mom, a friend of ours, and me.  Autumn Leaves is the memory-care facility where my Dad died last fall, but we still visit regularly.

The people there - both the residents and the staff - had become such a significant part of life for Mom and me.  During Dad's stay, Mom learned that a long-time member of their church was also a resident at Autumn Leaves, and that her retired daughter attends their church.  Thus started our little carpool service for the retired daughter - who no longer drives - once a week for her to visit her nonagenarian mother.

And today was our weekly visit.  And Miss Mary was sitting with one of her middle-aged children, who had his pug dog on a leash, and her personal nurse in the lobby's sitting area.

Miss Mary had become a resident at Autumn Leaves just before Dad passed away, so we didn't get to know her well then.  But over the intervening months, we've learned what a hoot she is, as her gregarious personality welcomes everybody, even as she doesn't know who any of us are.

Her arms still outstretched, she waved her hands in a circular motion, like a proud grandmother welcoming her brood to Thanksgiving dinner.  We were told that after her family placed her at Autumn Leaves, Miss Mary had wasted no time claiming the entire facility as her own home - although several times she's complained to me in confidence that she couldn't remember ever having picked out that furniture!  I don't know if that meant she didn't like it, or if she did, but it didn't stop her from considering the lobby her main living room.

Her son, with the dog, remained seated, but his mother came over to me, hugging me like a long-lost relative, cackling about how relieved she was that we'd finally arrived.  Trying to be friendly with her son, a balding veterinarian, I told him about the time I'd asked Miss Mary if she was behaving herself, and she quickly retorted, "wail, cain't you see mah hay-low?" in her yellow-rose-of-Texas accent.

(For you Yankees, let me translate:  "Well, can't you see my halo?")

Once time, after she'd returned to Autumn Leaves with her personal nurse from a trip to the local Starbucks, she marched up to me and asked me if I'd been able to keep myself entertained while she'd been out.

Miss Mary loves men, and she hugged my Mom, giving her a sloppy kiss on the cheek, asking her if she was proud to have such a handsome son as me!  I'm telling you; sometimes, these dementia patients can be excellent for your ego!

Usually, the friend we bring with us goes down to an activity room, finds her mother, and spends an hour or so sitting with her.  They don't chat much - one can rarely have any kind of meaningful conversation with a dementia patient - but spending time as mother and daughter has a value for them that anybody should be able to appreciate.

During that time, Mom and I normally are able to chat with the staff, commiserate with other family members who are visiting, and even interact with residents; but today, things were pretty quiet.  Miss Mary's son left not long after we arrived, and several staffers were in a meeting.

So eventually, Mom and I found ourselves lounging in some upholstered side chairs in the lobby, when Miss Mary came back from having her pants changed.

Hey - it's a fact of life.  Many dementia patients have brains that cannot process the biological signals for how its body empties its bladder.  Wet pants are part of daily - sometimes hourly - dementia care.

At any rate, Miss Mary was now agitated.  She couldn't stand still, or sit still.  She carries an empty purse with her ("It's as empty as my head," she'd joke, perhaps indicating her dim awareness of her condition).  She'd toss her purse into a chair, like she was staying... and then snatch it back up, like she was leaving.

Earlier, after we'd arrived, and greeted her and her son, I was watching the morning activity in one of the side rooms, when I heard Miss Mary marching down the hallway, muttering "I hate you" to nobody in particular, with a few F-bombs thrown in for flavor.  When she passed me, I greeted her (you can never greet dementia patients too many times; they won't have remembered your last greeting) and she muttered something about having misplaced something.  This scenario happened twice.

Miss Mary usually wasn't this rattled.

At any rate, as Mom and I now sat in the lobby, Miss Mary came over, sputtering about how long she had to wait for her son to come and take her to lunch.  She maneuvered one of the big wing-back chairs to face us, ostensibly so she could sit down and have a chat.  But she spent so much time rearranging the chair, she forgot that she'd wanted to sit down in it.  Without stopping, Miss Mary stalked off to another part of the lobby.  That happened a couple of times, too.

While she was waiting for her son (who had just left, you'll recall), another couple arrived to visit a loved one.  They had never been to Autumn Leaves before, but Miss Mary welcomed them to her "home" anyway with all the charm and enthusiasm of the perfect southern hostess.  Surprised, and obviously uncomfortable with such familiarity from a woman they'd never before seen, the couple stammered something about the person they'd come to visit.  Miss Mary had no idea who that was, but with her long arms, she waved them down a side hallway, assuring them that they'd find what they were looking for.

I think that couple spent all of five minutes at Autumn Leaves, before they were hurriedly trying to leave.  The woman made some apologetic comment to me about how the place unnerved them, and I completely understood:  If you've never spent time in a dementia care facility before, it can be a distressing experience.  I don't know what it says about Mom and me that we're so comfortable when we visit Autumn Leaves!

Still, we don't spend much time there, either.  You can get surprisingly drained from being around so many people whose memory no longer works.

Although, with Miss Mary, her delightful sense of humor obviously has a stubborn streak.  It's proven to be one of her last senses to go.

Back in the day, she used to be a public schoolteacher - proper, organized, with excellent diction, and an upright poise - and we were told she is a proud Southern Baptist.  Later on this morning, she came up to me with an empty plastic cup, asking me if "they had something stronger than water in this place."  I laughed, and she did, too.

"Miss Mary," I teased, "I thought you were a Baptist!"

"I am," she shot back with her quick wit, "but I'm not always a good one!"

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Might Mob Rule Trump Democracy?


Our word for today is "ochlocracy."

Say "ah-CLOCK-rah-see," and you're saying the technical term for "the fickle crowd," from the Latin phrase mobile vulgus.

Up until last fall, it was commonly known as "mob rule."  These days, however, you could also say "Trump presidency," and mean the same thing.

Whether Donald Trump wins the United States presidency or not, Americans have been polarized by the brash billionaire's brazen style of rambunctious politics.  Even more troubling, however, has been the unbridled adulation many otherwise sane voters have been lavishing upon the megalomaniacal real estate developer.  This year's race to fill the White House isn't over, but no matter who wins, it's obvious that mob rule is a concept with which a vast section of our populace is unapologetically fascinated.

Nobody can seem to recall a candidate for such a high office that has been able to profess lust for his own daughter, boast of his serial adultery, taunt the handicapped, deploy strings of insubstantial superlatives and let them masquerade as facts, and call for the elimination of the Bill of Rights as we know it - and see his popularity only balloon in the process.  Trump supporters claim to be conservatives, but they don't care that he's built and owned casinos.  They don't care about his personal life that is sleazy by anybody's definition.  They don't care about his bigotry, his bullying, his tyrannical suppositions for how the Oval Office operates, or his inability to articulate any coherent public policy.

The only logic anybody can detect in Trump's campaign is that he knows how to spew loquacious diatribes full of catch phrases, sound bites, hot button topics, and sassy buzzwords that resonate with the baser instincts of voters Trump himself teases tend to be poorly-educated.

Within his mob-rule hordes, what Trump is doing they call "telling it like it is."  Which says more negative things about them than their candidate, frankly.

Little of what Trump offers in terms of his proposed goals as president are realistic.  He's either directly contravening the Constitution - a document he and his followers profess to adore - or ignorant of how our three branches of government interrelate.  He's fuzzy when it comes to things the federal government does, and what responsibilities states have.  He displays no interest in or comprehension of international diplomacy, he rarely offers ideas to pay for some of his grander schemes, and when he does offer ideas - like building a giant wall along our border with Mexico - he seems to be serious when he says he'll make the Mexicans pay for it.

Unfazed, Trump's fans eat this all up, betraying their own cluelessness about the scope of Americas problems, how these problems got started in the first place, and what it will take to actually fix them.  It's as if we now have a generation of American voters who have been raised on a strict diet of Rush Limbaughisms about American superiority and the evils of liberalism, devoid of any responsibility on the part of genuine right-wingers for any of America's current predicament.

From the outside, it looks kinda like the same metric of "my-way-or-the-highway" fascism that got Europe into so much trouble a century ago.  But remind Trump and his supporters of facts from world history, and they'll scoff as if you were spouting fairy tales.

It's amazing, actually, that the same people who claim to so revere the American way of life can display scant comprehension of how complex our democracy has become.  For example, a country doesn't simply build a cross-continental wall, or evict millions of people, without provoking profound disruptions to its economy and crippling its role in international affairs.  But try explaining this to Trump and his supporters, and you'll be labeled an obstructionist.

If it were only a handful of Americans who embraced such bizarre political fantasies as Trump's, they could be disregarded as a marginal cohort of malcontents and blowhards.  But lots and lots of people appear to be enamored by Trump's pugnaciousness and hubris.  To them, Trump represents a rage against the machine that is Washington, DC.  Trump is the breath of fresh air that will blow money and security over our land.  His may be the most ridiculous mishmash of pie-in-the-sky hyperbole, but his supporters seem so desperate to believe him, they don't care how loopy he sounds.

Legitimate democracy, on the other hand, rarely works as easily as Trump's mob wishes it would.  Nobody gets everything they want in a democracy.  Patience is essential in a democracy, as are compromise and diligence.  Plenty of other presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle misunderstand this as well, but at least they're not making buffoons out of the American electorate with their insistence that mob rule will work better.  And that's what Trump and his minions are calling for:  mob rule.

With mob rule, equal protection under the law doesn't exist.  The Bill of Rights becomes more fable than fact.  Power comes not through reason, but through intimidation.  Emotion rules; not logic, or practicality, or fairness, or even wealth.  After all, the presidency won't inflate Donald Trump's wealth.  He's spending some of his own money on this race, instead of loaning himself out to so-called special interests; and yes, even his detractors admit that's an admirable strategy.  But if he wins, this is his prize:  He'll get to bully a whole lotta people, and that apparently really stokes his ego.

Sure, Trump has the right to run for president.  And yes, Americans have the right to vote for him, no matter what kind of statement they're making of themselves in doing do.  So far, Trump hasn't said or done anything illegal, and as far as his supporters are concerned, it's not against the law to be uneducated about how government works.

But let's not be fooled into thinking that mob rule is the same as democracy.  There's a lot more to a legitimate democracy than being able to vote a blustery billionaire into office.

Hopefully America won't have to learn that the hard way.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Being So Right Is Wrong for America


Is it over yet?

This has been a particularly depressing few weeks for me.  As hard as I try to suppress my emotional reactions over the endless train-wreck that is this year's presidential campaign, I find myself increasing frustrated:  So much of what I've warned against in my blog over these past several years is being proven correct.

Not that I'm tooting my own horn here.  And indeed, the things I've written about right-wingers, the Tea Party, and American politics in general have not been popular.  This blog has never attracted a large audience, although after certain articles have been posted, it has received an impressive page-click count.  Still, how many readers even finish reading my essays I do not know.  But the outpouring of affirmation for what I've written has never been resounding.  And it's not like I'm correct about everything I write anyway.

Nevertheless, as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and particularly Donald Trump have duked it out over the Republican presidential nomination this winter, they've basically validated some of my consistent themes.

More's the pity.

Illegal immigration, for example, is a major problem for the United States.  But I believe we need to deal with it in a humanitarian and economic fashion that minimizes harm to families and provides economic opportunity for law-abiding citizens and legal immigrants from across the globe.  We cannot simply deport millions of people, we cannot grant blanket amnesty, and we cannot vilify an entire ethnicity or country of origin without damaging the civil rights of innocent human beings.

For the record, my solution is simple:  Enforce the employment laws currently on the books.  I call it "organic repatriation."  When U.S. employers are made to hire legal workers, the market for illegals will dry up.  Effective enforcement will mean that employers will have to construct a wage structure that fits with the capitalistic model of supply and demand.  Capitalism - what a concept, huh?  If it's true that Americans won't work for the wages you want to pay, then you'll need to raise what you're willing to pay.  Meanwhile, immigrants who are here illegally will figure out that they can't get work, and they'll return to their countries of origin.  Hopefully, back legally at home, they'll become advocates in those places for better employment and living conditions, based on their experiences here in the States.

Then there's national security, for which our vast military industrial complex has been invented, and right-wingers especially have adopted as their cause célèbre.  Donald Trump would like to temporarily ban all Muslim immigrants until he can be convinced that they don't pose a terroristic threat to the United States.  Yet Trump, and his legions of supporters, refuse to admit that such a ban based on religious grounds is blatantly unConstitutional.  And even if Trump could circumvent the Bill of Rights in this case, he'd be propping open the door to the elimination of religious rights for all Americans, thanks to the basic legal doctrine of precedent.

The sheer lunacy of right-wing duplicity when it comes to national security is intensely sobering to me.  How can people who claim to so enshrine the Constitution be so ambivalent about deconstructing it?

And what about this "exceptionalism" I keep hearing about?  First of all, if America is so exceptional, why do we have this deplorable caliber of candidates for president?  And second, although there is legitimate debate in some circles about the numbers of so-called "evangelicals" who are supporting Trump, the master ear-tickler in this year's campaign, I've been spinning my wordsmithing wheels over the fact that the United States of America does not trump - pun intended - the Bible!  We're not God's chosen country.  We may have been founded by people who were well-versed in Christianity's religious traditionalism, but we're not a "Christian" nation. 

Even if we were, we're certainly not now, since so many church-goers suddenly wax hedonistic when it comes to supporting people like Trump.

Most all politicians are egotistical, and I used to consider Cruz one of the worst when it came to self-aggrandizement.  But Cruz is a pussycat compared with Trump.  Trump has mocked the handicapped, denigrated women, boasted about lusting after his own daughter, owned casinos, bankrupted at least nine of his own companies, professed admiration for Russia's Vladimir Putin, and proposed nominating his pro-choice sister to the Supreme Court.

And to top it all off, Trump says he's unwilling to confess his sins to God.

Hello?!  That's like one of the major tenets of the Christian faith:  confession of sin, repentance, humility, walking in the truth of the Gospel?

And so-called evangelicals don't care about any of this?  Where is the Fruit of the Spirit ANYWHERE in Donald Trump's personal life, public life, or business resume?

"Bringing America back" is not a Christ-centered reason to vote for anybody, whether it's Trump, Cruz, or Bozo the Clown.  Being anti-establishment isn't, either.  Liking a candidate's flamboyant political incorrectness isn't, nor is the much-vaunted priority of national defense.  Yes, national defense is good, and I'm glad we have it.  Being anti-establishment appears to be a good way to help break up "crony capitalism" (from which, incidentally, both Trump and Cruz have benefited over the years).  But leave those reasons to heathen unbelievers, or money-hungry secularists.  God's people are supposed to have higher standards.

Nevertheless, even if I am wrong about all of this - and some evangelicals would still insist that I am - perhaps my biggest beef isn't with the political candidates themselves.  After all, they're simply parroting what their voters want to hear.  I don't propose banning people like Trump from the presidential race.  We're still an approximation of a free country, whatever that means.  Shucks, a longtime friend of mine from my New York City days is personal friends with The Donald, she's voting for him, and I respect her desire to want to vote for a friend.

No, my biggest beef is with the many people who apparently have abandoned the truth of the Bible and capitulated to baser instincts of fear, lust for titillating entertainment, and their love of affluence.

To these folks, not only have the no-good Democrats become villains, but also anybody who does not see things the way they do.  I've read many articles by evangelicals more talented and famous than I, imploring church-goers to evaluate candidates like Trump against the authority of Christ's Gospel, and the vitriol being spewed at these authors by self-professing Christians is profane, obscene, and utterly non-Christlike.

In a way, I now understand why Christianity has become so impotent in the United States.  People may go to church, but they don't follow Christ.  People may recite Scripture, but they don't truly believe it, or they've twisted it to mean what they want it to mean.  Time was, conservatives accused liberals of doing that, but now we know that many good church-going conservatives have been doing it, too.  There's no other way to explain their tidal surge of adulation for politicians like Trump.

So, although I hate to say "I told you so," I'm not sure what else to say.  I'd like to have been wrong, through all of these essays, most of which I wrote for my own benefit as I tried to sort out my own sins, hopes, fears, and problems.  There's not a whole lot of satisfaction in being proven right when it means a lot of bad things for American churches and our country as a whole.

In fact, I guess I was pretty stupid and naive to think that anything I wrote might help convince a reader that perhaps I was right and they were wrong, but there was something they could do about that.

Hey, it's my pity party.  I guess I can cry if I want to.