Category Archives: Politics

Thoughts and Prayers

There’s a phrase frequently heard in the aftermath of a tragedy, especially after a huge disaster like a massive hurricane, extensive flooding, or a mass shooting. We hear people say their “thoughts and prayers are with the people of…” and fill in the blank identifying those who are suffering. We hear it from television announcers, politicians, and almost everyone making any type of public remarks. It might be one of the dumbest things a person can say.

What exactly does it mean? I understand the “prayers” part. I’m all for praying for people in the midst of a storm. Personally, I have always been encouraged when people tell me that they are praying for me. I take them at their word. I’m a firm believer in prayer, and I try to remember to pray for those I know who are suffering. It is a good thing to tell people they are in our prayers.

However, what possible good does it do for someone to say to a suffering individual that my “thoughts” are with you? Huh? Ok, so what? Am I supposed to find comfort that in the midst of my suffering you are at least thinking about me?

Sometimes if a friend tells me he is going to a baseball game, I might say, “I’ll be thinking about you.” What I really mean is that I’m envious and wish I was going and I want him to know how fortunate he is to be at the game. He’s not going to have a better experience at a baseball game because I was thinking about him. I might even ask him where he’s sitting so I can catch a glimpse of him on television, but again, that’s not going to benefit him in any way.

If my house washed away in a flood or was blown away by a tornado, your thoughts are not very helpful. If a friend or family member was killed by a sniper, knowing that you are thinking about me does not provide a great deal of comfort. For some reason, we take great pride in telling suffering people they are in our thoughts and prayers.

I have an idea where this came from. Many people who don’t pray or believe that prayer makes any difference are not going to say, “I’m praying for you.” Why would they? But, they want to communicate something, so they offer nothing—their thoughts. For many people, thoughts are equally as effective as prayer. Now it has become the accepted response. The phrase allows everyone to say something and feel like they are contributing. “My thoughts and prayers are with you (even though I don’t believe either one is helpful).” So, those who believe in prayer and those who don’t believe in prayer can feel better about themselves.

I’m somewhat perplexed when anyone uses the phrase, but it is especially disconcerting when it is used by someone who has the ability to do more than offer “thoughts and prayers.” For example, to hear a politician send out “thoughts and prayers” to families of the victims of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas is not the least bit helpful when they have it in their power to do so much more. How about working to pass some laws or devise some better circumstances where this type of thing doesn’t happen again?

Or, the President telling the people of Puerto Rico that his “thoughts and prayers” are with them and then does very little to alleviate the actual suffering. I think if I were in Puerto Rico I would suggest he keep his thoughts to himself and send some real help.

Or, what about the NRA member who sends “thoughts and prayers” to those suffering in Las Vegas and then sends his membership dues to the NRA?

If you believe in prayer, when there are people in need, get on your knees in prayer. If you don’t believe in prayer, get off your butt and do something else that is helpful. Write a check, grab a carload of supplies and go help, lobby your Senator or Representative to do something. I hate to tell you this, but your thoughts are not really helpful to anyone if that is all they are—thoughts.

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The Myth of Tragedy

This week, a Congressman from Louisiana was shot by a deranged man (how else can you describe someone who did what he did). The heavily armed gunman stalked a group or Republicans practicing for a baseball game in an apparent attempt to make an obvious political comment. It was a tragedy in every sense of the word.

Shortly after the incident occurred, we began hearing that perhaps this tragedy will help bring us all together. A few thousand additional people showed up at the baseball game a few nights later, and a significant amount of money was raised, more than in the past. News stories were filled with calls for the need to come together.Tragedy

There has been a great deal of moaning about the dysfunction in politics and the sharp divide throughout the nation. Whenever a tragedy of any kind occurs, there is the notion that it will bring us back together.

That is a myth. Tragedies do not unify the country.

I realize you are going to remind me of the horrific tragedy of 9-11 and how the entire country came together. It appears we were united as a result, and all of us made the same commitment to make sure this never happens again.

However, I don’t think it was the tragedy that united us because that’s not what normally happens after a tragedy. Think about other tragedies that have occurred in the recent past.

  • Twenty young children were shot and killed at Sandy Hook.
  • A nightclub in Orlando was shot up, and forty-nine people died, and another fifty-eight were wounded.
  • Five police officers were killed and nine others wounded by a sniper in Dallas.

The full list is much longer. However, none of these events brought the country together. In fact, they did more to highlight our divide than they did to heal our separation. After each one of these incidents, people became more and more entrenched in their opinions about the causes and solutions for these events.

It seems to me that tragedies are ultimately divisive. When a tragedy occurs, it is important to assess blame, and we tend to place the blame on the basis of our preconceived notions. For example, when someone shoots and kills a group of people what do we do? We usually initiate a debate over gun control. When a police officer kills a young black man, what is the result? Often it is a race riot, and police supporters and minority spokespersons shout at each other while the rest of us pick sides.

If tragedies don’t unite us, what is the explanation for what happened after the horror of 9-11? We were united. We all agreed and were willing to accept tight restrictions on air travel. All of us were more watchful when we entered stadiums or gathered in large groups. We didn’t protest when they asked to search our bags. We all agreed that such measures were necessary.

However, it was not the tragedy that brought us together. It was the need for survival. We didn’t mind being searched before getting on a plane because we wanted to survive. Ok, go through my purse before allowing me into the stadium, because I don’t want to die.

The reason a heavily-armed crazy man shooting at a flock of congressmen doesn’t unite us is because it is not a threat to our survival. A police officer carelessly shooting a black teenager doesn’t unite us because most of us aren’t black, so we’re not worried about survival. It pains us to see dozens of deaths in a nightclub, but it doesn’t unite us because few of us will ever be seen in a gay nightclub. It’s not a threat to our survival.

We need to stop buying into the myth that someday a tragedy is going to unite our country. The sooner we accept this truth, the quicker we will get about the hard work, roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table with one another, and find the solutions to our divisions.

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My Attempt to Offend Everyone

Since the middle of summer I have been suggesting that it is a good option to not vote for either candidate in this year’s presidential election. I have not changed my mind.

However, I have paid careful attention to the campaign for the past year and a half and I do have some observations to make. I will strive to be an equal opportunity offender so if you make it to the end of this article without being offended you might want to reread it because you might have missed something.

First, I have noticed there seems to be three groups of people who support Donald Trump. The first group, and perhaps the largest, is those who hate Hillary. This group has been organizing and planning for two decades, and I’ll be honest, I have never understood the hate and vitriol they possess. These folks will vote for anyone else but Hillary, regardless of the character, qualifications, or politics—Trump has proven that to be the case.

voting-boothThere is nothing that can be said or done to change their opinion. If God Himself wrote with his finger on the side of the Lincoln Memorial and told us to vote for Hillary, these people would not do it. The only way for these people to be happy is for Hillary to lose the election and disappear from public service. However, since it appears this is not going to happen, we are in for at least four more years (or possibly eight) of anger.

The second group of Trump supporters is those who tend to be single-issue voters and that issue is abortion. Trump is the only candidate who is opposed to abortion, although such was not the case just a few years ago. Their hope is that a pro-life President will appoint Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate abortion.

However, these folks need to put a little more thought into their position. It is time to reevaluate the idea that government and the legal system is going to solve the abortion issue. I wrote about this four years ago and you can read it here if you wish (nothing has changed). This is a complex issue that has been around a long time and there is no reason to believe that Donald Trump is going to contribute to clarity or resolution. Continue reading

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Second Amendment or Second Commandment

If you did a survey among Americans who claim to be Christians, I’m confident more of them could identify the Second Amendment than could identify Jesus’ Second Commandment.

What, you didn’t realize Jesus had a list of commandments?

Jesus was quite persistent in resisting those who would make Him a legalist. They brought a woman to Him, directly from an adulterous bed, hoping to make Him choose legalism and obey the law. When asked why He allowed His disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath, He moved beyond the reading of the law to the meaning of the law. After being called out for not washing His hands before a meal according to the rule of law, Jesus reminded His host that cleanliness comes from the heart, not from the wash basin.

Finally, Jesus was cornered by a lawyer. If you want to find a true legalist look for the nearest lawyer—that is what they do. The lawyer asked Jesus to identify the greatest law of Moses. He wanted to know what Jesus thought was the most important law.2nd ammendment

Since this man was an expert on the law, he already had an opinion on this issue. He was either expecting Jesus to confirm his own opinion, or to offer an opposing position that they could argue.

Jesus provided an answer that would be quite agreeable to the lawyer—love God with all your being. But He didn’t stop there, saying there is a second commandment of equal value. The second commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

That’s tough!

I think it means when my neighbor is hungry I should be just as diligent in feeding him as I am in feeding myself when I’m hungry.

I think it means when my neighbor is cold I should make every effort to keep him as warm as I do myself on a winter night.

I think it means when my neighbor is hurting because of a loss (a death, injury, or relationship) I should sit down and grieve with him.

I think it means when my neighbor has screwed up something I should be helping to make things right just like I want others to help me make things right.

I think it means when my neighbor is mean and angry I should forgive him just like I want to be forgiven.

I think it means when my neighbor has stupid opinions I should be gentle and understanding like I need others to treat me when I have stupid opinions.

I think it means I want the best for my neighbor just like I want the best for myself.

Jesus’ second commandment is a hard one, but it actually makes His first commandment visible. In other words, how does anyone know if I actually love God? I can tell you that I do, but I might be lying, perhaps even lying to myself. But in tying these two commandments together, Jesus gave us a way to show that we truly love God by revealing how much we love our neighbor.

Do you understand what that means? It means I cannot claim to love God unless I love my neighbor. If I don’t care about my neighbor’s hunger, or his lack of clothing, or his hurting, or his need for help and forgiveness then I don’t really love God.

Jesus’ Second Commandment might be one of the most important things He said.

It is sad that so many will wrap themselves in the protection of the Second Amendment yet fail to comprehend the Second Commandment. If you read them carefully they are almost opposite in meaning.

The Second Amendment is designed to allow me to protect myself, while the Second Commandment is designed to allow me to give myself to others.

The Second Amendment gives me license to kill someone who wants to steal my stuff, and the Second Commandment gives me license to give my stuff to anyone who needs it.

The Second Amendment focuses on my need to take care of myself (and my family), but the Second Commandment focuses my attention on the needs of others.

It causes me to wonder what would happen if Christians (just those who actually follow Jesus) were as adamant about demanding their Second Commandment rights as they are about the Second Amendment rights. Perhaps we would stop hating and killing one another and start loving and taking care of one another. Or more importantly, at least for me anyway, what would it mean if I took Jesus’ Second Commandment more seriously? How would that change my life? Perhaps it’s time to find out.

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An Open Letter to Church Leaders

If you are interested in a potential church member, here I am. My wife and I are prime candidates to be a part of your congregation. We are ready to be welcomed and put to work.

Both of us are experienced and quite capable. We were both raised in families where church involvement was at the hub of family life, and the subject of most conversations around the dinner table. I have served as a pastor for more than 15 years, and a church consultant for nearly 20 years.

Yes, I know you can do the math–that puts us in our mid-60’s. We might not fit the target demographic of your church, but I can assure you the problem is not with us. We don’t especially want to be a part of a senior adult ministry, and I think I am correct in saying that younger folks are comfortable with us so our presence won’t torpedo your ministry plans.OpenLetter

I will confess up front that you might want to accuse me of being too selective when it comes to church. I like to think it is because I have high standards. Either way, what I’m trying to say is I’m not interested in what you are doing simply because you tack the word “church” onto your legal papers.

For the past few years I have felt like we were living on an island all by ourselves, but I recently discovered I actually belong to a labeled category of people. Church leaders have long talked about the “unchurched.” Apparently there is another group of people known as the “dechurched.”

This term is used to describe those who have left the historic Christian faith. This group consists primarily of young people who grew weary of the church’s message that if you obey God your life will be blessed. They dropped out of church once they saw the fallacy of this message and began to experience the natural pain and sorrow of life. They were once a part of the church, but because their experience didn’t ring true with the church’s message, they walked away. Continue reading

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Why You Should Not Vote in the Presidential Election

Many years ago, my father was driving in the mountains of Colorado. As he rounded a corner, he was confronted with a large truck coming toward him in his lane. Apparently the truck was trying to pass another vehicle and stayed in the oncoming lane too long. My father reported that he was forced to decide between the lesser of two terrible options. He could smash the oncoming truck head on, or he could steer off the road and plummet down the side of the mountain. If you have ever driven in the Colorado mountains you are aware it is not like driving into the bar ditch in west Texas.

He chose the lesser of the two, and fortunately his car was halted by the pine trees about a hundred feet down the cliff. He lived to tell the story.

Sometimes life forces us to make a choice between two bad things, and the result is going to be unpleasant no matter what choice we make.

Many people are feeling that way about the upcoming presidential election—there is not a good choice. Approval ratings for both candidates are at historic lows, and are destined to get worse after five more months of name calling, mudslinging, and third grade behavior that is characteristic of this year’s campaign.DontVoteButton

Each candidate has a small hard-core group of voters who wave their flag obnoxiously high, but for the most part, you hear people say, “I could never vote for..,.” and they name one of the candidates. More people are voting against someone this year than the number of people who are voting for someone.

Much of the campaign rhetoric consists of saying, “if this person is elected terrible things will happen to our country.” I get it. We have two bad choices. I feel like my father must have felt as he steered his Buick over the edge of the cliff—he didn’t have a better choice.

But, we do have options. I’m not talking about a miraculous final month by Bernie Sanders, or an out-of-nowhere Republican savior. There are some legitimate options that keep us from being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

The most obvious option is that when you go to vote you will find other candidate’s names on the ballot. As of the first of June, 1,751 folks had filed the paperwork necessary to be considered a candidate for President. Obviously, you will not have to read through hundreds of names while in the voting booth since most of those people will have long departed the race, but there will be other names for consideration. Continue reading

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Why Hillary Will Lose to Trump

On October 27, 2015, I wrote these words on Facebook:

If I were younger I would be all over this movement Bernie Sanders is initiating. He is not really running for President, he is trying to do much more. It’s all about changing the way things are. If you are under 30, or perhaps even 40, that should appeal to you.

All the other politicians are doing nothing more than complaining about the “other side” or promising to do the same thing only better. Their goal is to get control of the current system.

Sanders comes along and tells us the whole system needs to be replaced – a revolution. If you are a young person and you’re not interested in something like that then something is wrong with you.

I’m not saying you must agree with Sanders on the basic issues, but surely you can see the need for serious change, not just new nameplates on existing desks.

I wrote these words three months before the first primary vote had been cast, before Sanders became a concern for Democratic Party leaders, and certainly before most people had even thought about their vote for the next President.

I’m not claiming to be clairvoyant or even a political expert. There was simply something about Sander’s message that dragged me back to the late 1960’s and early 70’s when my political identity was shaped by war protests, anti-government movements, civil rights demonstrations, and political assassinations.

The premise of Sander’s campaign is that the system is broken and needs to be replaced. All of the rhetoric about health care, tuition-free college, breaking up the banks, etc. simply provides examples of how the system should work. He has pointed out that most (and I mean nearly all) countries with advanced economies reflect these qualities that Americans think are unattainable. Within our current political climate they are unattainable. Continue reading

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