The GOP & the Perils of Talking to Yourself

When I was in college, I was firmly convinced that the Dave Matthews Band was the greatest musical act of all-time and that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road should be canonized as the Great American Novel. Many of my friends agreed with me and we would spend countless nights into early mornings defending our position and expressing our incredulity that anyone would dare think otherwise. We’d whip ourselves up into passionate frenzies and then go out into classrooms where we were shocked and horrified to find that not everyone thought that way! (I’ve eased off my Kerouac claims, but I’ll still put up a lukewarm battle for pre-Everyday Dave Matthews Band.)

I was thinking about this the other day as I was scrolling through tweet after tweet of conservatives who are so passionate about defunding the Affordable Care Act. Just yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz ended his 21 hour filibuster which originated in an attempt to defund or at least delay the implementation of the law.

As I watch conservatives whip themselves in a frenzy over healthcare and liberals do the same over the [deplorable] cuts in SNAP benefits, I’m reminded of my friends and I sitting in a coffeehouse on campus late into the night debating the nuances of Kerouac and Dave Matthews. And here’s the thing that keeps coming up.

It is pointless to even attempt meaningful conversation when we remain staunchly opposed to what people who may think differently are saying.

This is true no matter what side of any debate we’re on. If our only conversation partners are people who agree with everything we say, then we become convinced that everyone thinks like that. They don’t. It’s why Karl Rove had that embarrassing election night meltdown over at Fox News. Everyone he was talking to thought that Obama would lose. So he refused to accept anything else.

But it’s not just with politics that this is the case. This happens all too often in the church as well. Within world religions or Christian denominations, we spend so much time talking to ourselves — or to people who think like we do — that we can become disconnected from the broader public conversation.

In these big conversations about things that impact public life, we need to make space for all people to express themselves and their opinions, and then wrestle through these issues together. Otherwise we become so entrenched on “our” side — which is almost always synonymous with the “good” side — that we not only lose touch with the broader conversation, but we lose touch with our neighbors, friends, and those in our community who may think differently.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have this figured out. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. My main sources of news are the Huffington Post and Jon Stewart. I need to remember this just as much as everyone else.

But in light of the big conversations that are happening in our culture right now — healthcare, government shutdowns, military intervention in Syria, how we fight poverty and hunger — we need to make space for everyone in these conversations.

Otherwise we risk whipping ourselves into a frenzy only to be disappointed by, and ultimately alienated from, the people in our lives who think differently than we do.

Instead of only talking to people who agree with us, or demonizing those who think differently, we need to turn our attention to positive, constructive work in our world. It no longer works to sit by and simply tear things down. It’s time build bridges across our diverse ideologies and opinions, so that ultimately we can spend our lives building a better world.

And not simply talking to ourselves.

Cheers,
Eric

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The Ethics of Breaking Bad

If there’s one thing that the creators of some of the best shows on tv right now have appeared to agree on it’s this: The black and white, pure good guy vs. pure bad guy plot lines are over. Case in point: Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad.

For those of you who don’t know about Breaking Bad, two things. 1) Watch it. It’s on Netflix Instant. Just, please, watch it. 2) Just for the sake of this post, here’s the gist. Walter, a high school chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with cancer. He decides to start cooking meth with a former student, Jesse, to help set up his family with all kinds of cash in the wake of his pending death. Cartels get involved. There’s an unfortunate incident with a box cutter. Mayhem essentially ensues.

Here’s the thing about Walter. Initially his motives are pure, even if the actions he takes in response are not. This is the crux of many ethical dilemmas.

Are a person’s intentions or the result the thing that decides where someone is good or evil?

If someone has good intentions, but the results end terribly, is that person evil? Or if someone has bad intentions, but the situation ends up not harming anyone, what do you make of that person? In seemingly every episode each character has the opportunity to make a choice that effects their course of action. As Walter is the main character (I refrain from using protagonist or antagonist because, depending on the episode, he’s both — sometimes simultaneously) he seems to have these decisions come up more often than others.

And that’s why I think Walter is one of the most curious cases of ethics on television today.

There are a number of opportunities for him to get out of the business — at least one each episode. And yet he continues. At least Dexter has the opt-out of him being born the way he is. The survivors in The Walking Dead are trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Every character in The Wire is just trying to survive life in the game. These characters are evil by biology or circumstance respectively. Walter is evil by choice. And that’s the crux of the show.

Take a normal, innocent man. Have a situation come up that has the potential to make him as dark of a villain as there is — not because of his circumstance or biology, but because of his actions. Follow him down that spiral into Hell and then let each viewer decide when he reaches the point of no return.

What’s your take on Breaking Bad? What do you think of Walter? In your opinion, where was his point of no return? Drop a comment in the comments section and let’s have a conversation. [Probably safe to throw out a spoiler alert for the comments section as I plan on giving my take as well. All are forewarned.]

Cheers,
Eric

Why Talking About Bullying Doesn’t Work

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that
we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

When I was younger, I used to get bullied quite a bit. In elementary school I was taller than most, bigger than many. I stuck out. And when you stick out, you become a target. And it sucked. But there wasn’t much I could do to stop it. I told one of the moms on the playground that these kids were making fun of me and I wish they’d stop and she said I should “grow a thicker skin.”

I was 8 years old.

Flash forward a few years and here we are. We see anti-bullying campaigns left and right. Too many teenagers have decided they couldn’t stand being bullied and so they decided it would be better to be dead than alive, and they killed themselves. It’s tragic. So we keep talking about bullying. We tell teenagers they shouldn’t be bullies. We also tell them that if they’re being bullied, the solution to that problem is to tell an adult. But here’s the problem…

Nobody uses the term “bully” inside a high school.

In the high school social setting, nobody uses the term bully and bullied. Once someone is tagged with that label, they stick out. And when you stick out, you become a target. No matter what people do, one thing they will refuse to accept is the title of bully. Listen to a high schooler talk about all the “drama” going on in their school day. Often times it’ll be trivialized. As in, “Oh don’t worry about that. It’s just some drama.”

By using the term “drama” the people involved are exempt from moving up or down the social ladder as would surely happen if they were stuck with the label “bully” or “bullied”.

This is why all kinds of anti-bullying efforts don’t work. Nobody is willing to stop being something that nobody will own up to being in the first place. You can tell me to stop being a bully all you want, but if I don’t see myself as a bully, your pleas will fall on deaf ears. This is why anti-bullying doesn’t work.

Instead…

Don’t focus on what people shouldn’t be. Focus on what they should be.

Instead of telling people to not be a bully, it would be much more effective to teach respect. Mother Theresa was once asked why she never participates in anti-war rallies. Her response was telling. She said she would keep her promise to never participate in an anti-war rally, but as soon as someone hosted a pro-peace rally, she’d be the first to sign up. It’s an interesting way to tilt the conversation.

Another contributor to this conversation was the “It Gets Better” campaign. Check this link out for more info about that campaign. It is specifically geared toward GLBTQ youth who have been/are being bullied. The more I thought about “It Gets Better”, I liked the initiative, but something was lacking. It essentially tells people who are being bullied to weather the storm and trust that it gets better. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Enter the Make It Better project. This is the “pro-peace” alternative to It Gets Better’s “anti-war” stance. Don’t get me wrong, both campaigns have great goals and strategies to work toward. But there’s a disconnect.

Instead of going back and forth on the topic of bullying, why don’t we tackle these “dramatic” situations, name what is actually happening, and then promote a move toward empathy and compassion? Is this overly-simplistic? Perhaps. But when we are so dead set against bullying, we miss out on all the things we can be encouraging and promoting in our schools, churches, and neighborhoods.

Talking about bullying doesn’t work because nobody recognizes their behavior [or identity for that matter] as falling in line with the “bully” or “bullied”. We need to empower people to speak out and name what is happening in their own experience before it’s too late.

It might also be helpful for adults to abolish the suggestion to “grow a thicker skin”. But that might just be a personal preference.

Cheers,
Eric

God Bless America?

Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act (labeled Obamacare by its detractors). By the end of yesterday, everyone was claiming victory, either present or future. Every senator, representative, pundit, blogger will make their requisite statements. Idiots will wave behind the reporters just to tell their friends who don’t watch MSNBC that they were on MSNBC.

Here’s the thing…

I’m happy that, as a result of the court’s ruling, more people will have access to healthcare and be able to be covered. But how much freaking longer can we exist like this? Mitt Romney lauded this kind of program as a “responsibility” when he was governor. Now he’s running for president and has completely 180’d from that position simply because his opponent is pushing for it.

The Republicans were longtime champions of this bill until the Democrats were for it too. Then they couldn’t be against it fast enough. What the hell is that? That’s not the point of governing a nation.

We simply have to stop disagreeing with each other just for the sake of disagreeing with each other.

We need to find a way to come together with a responsible way for giving people the care they need. If you have a better alternative, I’m all ears. But we simply can’t keep going like this. Next Wednesday is the 4th of July and with it will come chants of “God Bless America.” But what kind of America are we asking God to bless? We’re in bad shape. These arguments that we make have direct correlations to faith.

Josh Smith over at Everyday Revolutionary sums it up well.

What would Jesus do? Most likely, he would stop whining about paying taxes and pursue the cause which seeks to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, regardless of power, politics, and money. So you may argue the finer details of this debate—it is, after all, a much more complicated discussion than what time and space have permitted me to write about here—but in the end, for the Christian, it ultimately falls to the simple decision of whether or not we are loving our neighbors with our actions. If your argument is more about splitting hairs than about showing love, you are wrong. Wrong.

It doesn’t make sense to keep fighting. Let’s find a way forward that helps everyone get their basic needs covered, and then we can go from there. Until then, it’s just pointless to keep fighting.

Cheers,
Eric

My Favorite TED Talk of All-Time

“I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about
what I like to call ‘the danger of the single story.'” – Chimamanda Adichie

The power of telling stories is, perhaps, the most powerful cultural tool that exists in the world. We each tell stories about ourselves, often we tell stories to ourselves. Each of these stories shape our identity in small ways. Watch her TED Talk below.

What strikes me about this talk is Adichie’s addressing of what she calls the single story. The single story is something that separates us from what we believe to be lower than us, or different from us. These stereotypes can carry quite negative connotations and often serve to diminish the dignity of the person or people being judged. Adichie’s talk is peppered with examples of how this plagues so many different aspects of our lives. It really put things in perspective.

As she talked about her childhood experiences with reading something so literally foreign to her experience, it was clear just how impressionable we are as children. Our first encounter with something — whether it be literature, sports or a specific person — is so vital to how we interact with our surroundings. These first impressions become our stepping stones and from there we build our own opinions and thoughts on a particular subject. The books that Ms. Adichie wrote when she was younger, while I’m sure they were wonderfully written, were missing something: her. They were missing her vitally important experience.

These stories were missing the voice of her authentic experience as a human being. 

I’m so glad she brought up the question of who creates the single story. The ones with power are always the ones who control what story is being told. Ever since the expansion of accessibility to media, what once was black and white is now a peculiar shade of grey.

Once these singular stories are created they begin to define a culture and people. As she said, it’s not that stereotypes are untrue, but that they are incomplete. By not knowing the full extent of something we generalize, assume, and judge. Our minds become blinded forever by single stories. They manifest themselves within foreign cultures and in minds that are either too afraid or ignorant to find out the other side of a story. To create a single story is easy and, quite frankly, the church is awful good at it. To break down the walls is even harder.

One of my goals, as a pastor, is to question, push, and prod the single story of a purely benevolent view of the institution of Christianity. My hope is that we can move into a space where there are multiple stories and experiences that are all honored in the conversation, and aren’t cast aside in favor of the single, limited story.

Maybe our focus shouldn’t be to abolish these single stories, but to add to them. When we do, we allow them to blossom and flourish into the full story they truly contain.

Once we can do this, our own understanding of the world will be more complete and with this, as Adichie concludes, comes peace.

Cheers,
Eric

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