Apologies and Other Disingenuous Gestures

I believe that words have power. I believe that what we say and how we say it matters.  It is partly because I have been a preacher all my life. I count on words to have some effect on people for better or worse. It’s also partly because I hear my mother’s words in my ears, “It’s not just what you said, it’s the way you said it”.

At a deep level we all know that words matter. So, I listen as words come out of someone’s mouth.  Usually the FIRST words are the real message regardless of what comes next.  Here are some first words spoken recently:

  • I was embarrassed and ashamed (Starbucks founder Howard Schultz in an interview about the arrest of two black men in a Pennsylvania Starbucks).
  • I’m sorry you feel that way (Sarah Sanders in response to a young boy’s comment that he didn’t feel safe in school and wondered what the administration was doing about gun control).
  • I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career (Tom Brokaw responding to allegations of sexual misconduct from a former colleague).
  • I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using an expletive on my show to describe her last night (Samantha Bee in a tweet aired on May 31, 2018).
  • I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans (Roseanne Barr in a tweet aired on May 29, 2018).

So, Howard Schultz is embarrassed, Sarah Sanders feels the need to apologize FOR someone else’s feelings, Tom Brokaw is concerned about his legacy, Samantha Bee “sincerely” apologizes and Roseanne Barr apologizes to all Americans for making a “bad joke”.  Is there some common denominator of BS and self interest here or am I mistaken?

Someone should tell Mr. Schultz that embarrassment is not an appropriate response to racism. Embarrassment seems more like it’s all about him. I would much rather have heard, “We have fired that store manager and will continue to replace staff who embody racist actions toward our customers.  We are taking small first steps toward addressing racism and will continue to educate our staff.” Or something like that.

Someone should tell Ms. Sanders’ that one does not apologize for another’s feelings; they are another’s feelings. I would much rather have heard, “Gun control legislation is a priority for our administration even though half our elected officials are in the pocket of the NRA.  We will make every effort to act with some integrity though our track record so far is pretty bad.” Or something to that effect.

Mr. Brokaw’s response of being concerned about his legacy before anything else is pretty shallow. He later calls her a character assassin and essentially a failure in her career.  Like many men, he insists he is the real victim.  Men hate it when they lose their privilege and are called to account for past behavior.  He may well be a man of integrity now and act out of his better self.  It doesn’t mean the allegations of three women from an earlier time in his career are necessarily false. I am more inclined to believe the women because of his denial.

 Ms. Bee’s “sincere” apology makes me wonder if there is any other kind? It makes the whole apology seem disingenuous. Is she sorry she said it or sorry she got called to account? Name calling is juvenile and it isn’t funny. As women we need to stand together against such sexist, insulting and belittling name calling. There are many ways to be funny and political without resorting to name calling. 

Ms. Barr did not make a bad joke.  It was racist, insulting and not even remotely funny.  Instead of apologizing for one comment, maybe she could work at not being a racist. Then these names and so-called jokes wouldn’t even enter her mind, let alone come out of her mouth.

Words matter.  First words matter most.  They are the unguarded revealing of priority and perspective. 

The late Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”



The NFL’s Decision and What’s at Stake

The NFL’s decision to mandate the behavior of its players during the national anthem is not about the first amendment. It’s about the right of employers to determine appropriate behavior of their employees. They are within their rights with this action. I do not like it one bit, but that’s the law. It was an economic decision based on decreasing revenues at games as the controversy heated up. The god worshipped by the NFL is money.

The First Amendment does not apply to the NFL because it is not a governmentally funded agency. The First Amendment (which you can read here talks about what the government can and can’t do. It’s an important distinction.

However, there is a precedent that makes more sense in this conversation about what is and what is not appropriate in this debate about NFL players kneeling during the anthem.

In 1943 a new Supreme Court Justice, Robert Jackson, wrote the decision on a case involving West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. It is a complicated case which you can read about here in an article by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker.

In a stunning opinion Justice Jackson wrote: “Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by good, as well as by evil men. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters.”

The Occupant came close as he suggested the players be expelled from the United States.

Justice Jackson continued: “Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment of our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.”

Summarizing another part of his opinion, Jackson condemns forced patriotic ceremonies as disingenuous to independent thought processes. He wrote, “The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

The upshot of his opinion is that “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no office, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism religion or other matters of opinion….”

Typically, in times of increased nationalism uniformity of the message increases in importance. It was evident in Jesus’ time as his message of love and justice and hope was hijacked into a narrative about dissidence and threat to the Roman occupation. Systems and governments regularly distort messages of dissent that threaten the status quo.

Football is big business. It has some odd connection to patriotism and all things God and country. Mostly it has to do with the bottom line of making money. Fans on both sides of the issue boycotted games and revenues dropped. That’s the issue; they don’t care about the reasons the players are kneeling.

True patriots are those who have the courage of their convictions. They kneel because the flag symbolizes so much of what is not true for large groups of the population–liberty and justice for all.

Stop Yelling, Stop Judging

I’m trying hard to follow my own advice.  My success rate is low.  I yell at the TV a lot, especially during the news.  I yell at my Facebook friends when they post things that are dramatically opposed to my point of view.  I spend too much time judging people with differing social and political views.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.

I’m trying to change.  This is not easy for me.  I can be as self-righteous and obnoxious as the people I am calling self-righteous and obnoxious.  I think Jesus said something about the plank in your own eye and the speck in your neighbor’s eye (check out Luke 6:42).  Yup, that’s me sometimes, forests growing out of my eyeballs.  It colors my relationships with people I care about even if I never say the words to their face.

So, here’s my self-discipline improvement plan for talking to people with whom I disagree.  I think if we all try a few of these suggestions the world will be a better place.  Wish me luck, I need all the help I can get.

  • Ask open ended questions about sensitive issues (avoid questions like, “are your out of your &%^$& mind?).
  • Really listen: It’s hard to know what someone is saying if you are thinking up your next smart-ass retort.
  • Affirm the relationship you share (avoid “I love you even though you are a jerk).
  • Remember you are not trying to change their mind (this is a hard one because deep down you really are trying to change their mind).
  • Avoid lumping large groups of people together (“All YOU people are the same” is not helpful).
  • Remember that while snarky is fun, it doesn’t get you anywhere (this is really hard for me because I’m so good at it).
  • Say things like “help me understand” (and don’t reply “how can you be so stupid?).
  • Use non-inflammatory language (“listen you moron” is not conducive to ongoing conversation.
  • Break complex issues into manageable parts: on gun control, talk about assault rifles, licensing, mental health and privacy, Second Amendment etc.
  • Try to find common ground. For example, I assume all our families and friends think children being slaughtered in their classroom is a bad thing.  If not, we need new friends and long-term family therapy.
  • Don’t be afraid to end of the conversation if it goes badly. “I don’t want to say something I will regret” is better than saying something you will regret.
  • Remember you are talking to a person, not a position. Avoid demonizing, dehumanizing and shaming someone.

The capacity for civil discourse in the midst of disagreement is crucial for healthy relationships and for a healthy society.  It is at an all time low in the current maelstrom of our culture.  I’d like to blame the Occupant at the White House, but I think he has just given tacit permission for people to do what they want to do anyway.  He sets a poor example that some people willingly follow.  When I am at my worst I want to follow as well.  Name calling and blaming and shaming are lower parts of the self that can be easily called forward in an environment that normalizes the behavior.

It’s just another thing to #resist.




Scouts of America: New Information, Still a Wrongheaded Decision

So, it turns out I had some wrong facts when I wrote last week’s blog post.  Thanks to local Scout leaders I have an opportunity to correct my errors.  Here are the facts.

First, the Boy Scouts of America is not changing their name.  It will remain the Boy Scouts of America.  The program name will change in February 2019 and become “Scouts BSA” and will begin serving girls as well as boys.

Second, boys and girls will not be in the same troops.  Each will have their own single gender troop.  Girls as well as boys, age 11-17, will be able to work toward the Eagle Scout rank.

Third, boys and girls will be referred to as Scouts following the program name change.  Good to know, I would hate to see girls called Boy Scouts.

Fourth, Cub Scout troops will continue to be called Cub Scouts and will have all girl and all boy troops.

Those are the facts.

This seems like bs from the BS.  Changing the program name without changing the organizational name keeps it a male dominated organization that adds girls on as an afterthought. I believe Girl Scouts are undercut by this action and the value of Girl Scouts is diminished in the public eye.

Girl Scouts has specific goals that are geared toward girls becoming strong, independent and self-confident young women. Young girls learn what it means to be female in a male dominated culture. Is the curriculum for the Boy Scouts going to change?  Or are girls going to learn to have male focused character building? To think that young men and women do not face different issues in growing into mature adults is pure nonsense.

The Boy Scouts of America says on its website, “Our priority is to bring the benefits of Scouting to more youth while remaining true to our mission”.  The BSA mission is (in part) “…to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.

It seems this is an effort on the part of the Boy Scouts of America to shore up dwindling participation. Given the number of Boy Scouts who have exited the organization since the announcement, it just may backfire.  It’s still a lose/lose for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts



Scouts of America: A Wrongheaded Decision

When the Boy Scouts of America opted to include girls and changed their name to Scouts of America/BSA, a few tectonic cultural plates shifted.  The Boy Scout movement began in the United States in 1909 and was incorporated in 1910. The movement soon spread throughout the country. The Girl Scout movement began in 1911 with a group of 19 girls.  It also spread quickly throughout the country.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts helped generations of girls and boys define and redefine what it means to grow up with integrity, courage and character.  Each organization has a (mostly) noble history.  Recent sex abuse scandals and leadership conflicts about homosexual participants and leaders in the Boy Scouts has rocked that history.

I can’t help but wonder if some of the decision to admit girls is connected.  Boy Scouts suffered a pretty severe black eye in the public eye as these scandals came to light. Might this be a hopeful action to increase membership, a way of redeeming themselves in the eyes of the public?

Both Scouting organizations have dwindling memberships because of competition from other organizations, school sports, theme-based camps for just about everything, and a host of other things.   Still, it’s not clear that making the Boy Scouts into Scouts of America  and going co-ed is the answer.

Where it really goes off the rails is at the intersection of contemporary gender roles and missed opportunities.  Boys need places where they can be formed into young men with character and integrity.  Historically, Scouting has been such a place.  The Eagle Scouts I know are fine young men who do not follow mainstream culture and live by the Scout’s code.

Similarly, girls need places where they can be formed into strong young women with integrity. In a culture that objectifies women’s bodies, girls need a safe place to develop strength of character in order to not buy into that culture.  The Silver Bar, the Girls Scout equivalent of the Eagle Scout award celebrates young girls who become strong young women who are self-assured, self-identified and resistant to our often morally bankrupt culture.

When girls and boys are put together in scouting, some of the same gender roles they face in school are reinforced.  The “cute” girls and “cute” boys may well act out of their awakening hormones while socially awkward or differently-abled boys and girls are left on the same sidelines they are at school. 

Finally, the perspective of a friend who has been involved with Girl Scouts her whole life, sees the loss of gender-based scouting as the loss of a safe place for boys and girls to fail.  With the addition of gender dynamics failure takes on a new meaning, as does competition. It undercuts the spirit of collaboration and cooperation that includes everyone, even the socially awkward, differently-abled girls and boys.  Being together, girls with girls and boys with boys, levels the playing field and takes gender-based competition out of the equation.

In a time when gender specificity in youth organizations can be a great aid to development of self, androgenic Scouting is a lose/lose.



They Don’t Speak for Me

White Evangelicals don’t speak for me.  I have a hard time calling them Christians.  That’s okay, they probably have a hard time calling me Christian too. By White Evangelicals I mean the socially and politically conservative lobbying group that is focused on ramping back civil rights, women’s rights and equal rights for all. 

Perhaps White Evangelicals don’t speak for you either.

I believe in the love of God for all people.  I try hard to live that belief every day.  Of course, I fail miserably which is why I also believe in grace.  I believe that my faith should inform my opinions on what happens in the world.  I identify myself as a Progressive Christian with social and political views that benefit the poor, the dispossessed and the voiceless.

Therefore, I believe:

  • the entire creation is God’s doing and God is in all of creation.
  • climate change is real.
  • it is okay to be gay and Christian.
  • housing and health care are basic human rights.
  • access to free and equal education is a basic human right.
  • the world is millions of years old.
  • in marriage equality.
  • that a fetus remains a fetus until it is viable outside the mother’s body.
  • no one should be excluded from adopting a child based on religion, sexual orientation, marital status or the color of their skin.
  • our social order benefits from common sense gun control.
  • in a living wage for all workers.
  • profits before people is a sin.
  • in equal pay for equal work.
  • authentic faith has no place for hatred, bigotry and intolerance.
  • the loudest voice doesn’t have to win.

The bible I read speaks of a God whose steadfast love endures forever, a God who is relentlessly just and infinite in mercy. 

In the bible I read:

  • Jesus calls the rich to accountability; Jesus talks more about the poor and the hungry that any other single topic.
  • Jesus condemns the collusion between religious and civil leaders
  • God speaks through the prophets. For example, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to talk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
  • God’s love is for all people; there are no “in” groups or “out” groups
  • Love wins, always.

White Evangelicals have besmirched the word “evangelical” which means Good News. I believe they give loving evangelical Christians who genuinely desire to share the Good News of Jesus Christ a bad name in the world. What White Evangelicals are peddling has nothing to do with God, Jesus and the bible.

If they don’t speak for you, speak up and speak for yourself.  Speak for the God of love and justice and grace and peace. Find a like-minded community where your faith is nurtured and challenged.  Subscribe to publications like Sojourners and the Christian Century to feed your spirit with points of view that are consistent with your faith and that challenge your faith. Speak to social issues from a place of faith and bring a broad loving perspective to the conversation.  They are the loudest voice only because we are not. 


And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Her name is Naomi Wadler; her name is Emma Gonzalez; his name is David Hogg. They are survivors of the Marjorie Stoneham Douglas School shooting. They were joined by a host of children around the country. (for the complete list click here).

These are the children leading. And we would do well to follow them. Amidst cries that “they are too young, they don’t understand, they are so emotional” they are leading. Of course they are too young; children should not be shot at in their classrooms (no one should be shot anywhere). Of course they are emotional; getting shot at tends to do that people. Holding a classmate while she bleeds out on the floor tends to stick in your mind for, say, the rest of your life. Looking into the eyes of someone holding an assault weapon wondering if you are next tends to burn itself into your brain.

While still having nightmares, still having flashbacks, living with and through the trauma; they are leading. Passionate, articulate and calling for action; they are the ones reminding us that we are the adults and it’s our job to fix it.

These young people make me hopeful for our future.

The title for this post comes from Isaiah 11:6 (read the whole verse here). It speaks of a time when there is peace, which is more than the absence of war. The biblical notion of peace is well being for all people and all of creation. Throughout scripture there are references to women, children and the physically infirm as the ones in particular need of care from others. It is code language for the most vulnerable members of society.

The measure of a society’s humanity is how well it cares for the poor and those most in need. Our grade as a nation is rapidly approaching failing. As social programs are being slashed we are sentencing a large part of our society to a life of privation and need.

Congress sent a bill to the Mr. Trump (which he signed) repealing a law that was intended to make it easier to prohibit gun sales to people deemed “mentally defective” by requiring Social Security to provide disability information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. In the meantime mental health programs are being gutted and insurance is paying for fewer and fewer drugs to treat mental illness. Go figure.

The inability of congress to pass any meaningful gun legislation rests in a long history of (many) legislators taking contributions from the NRA. 42 of 50 states have legislators who have taken money from the NRA (click here for list). The numbers are staggering; tens of millions of dollars invested in campaigns to get NRA friendly candidates elected. For example, John McCain has received over 7 million dollars from the NRA over the course of his political career.

This is not an entirely partisan issue. While the majority of legislators receiving money from the NRA are republicans, there a are few Democrats. At a time when we desperately need bipartisan support on many issues, I don’t think selling your soul to the NRA is a good place to start.

As my father says, “Who pays the fiddler calls the tune”. Bought and paid for legislators assure no meaningful gun legislation will be passed. And while we often sit around bemoaning our powerlessness to do anything, nothing could be further from the truth.

Most states have some form of common sense gun legislation working its way through the morass of the political process.

If there isn’t pending legislation, lobby your representatives and senators to begin the process. Get informed. Talk to your representative. If s/he takes money from the NRA, vote for their opponent in the next election. The power of the vote is the single largest contribution we can make to seeing change happen. Entrenched politicians who are beholden to special interest groups like the NRA are not going to rock their comfortable little boats. So it’s up to us to start making waves.