Violence and Choco Tacos


I wanted a Choc Taco yesterday. It was a hot day and I was experiencing some post-operative blues. A delicious ice cream snack from the makers of Klondike bars seemed to be the perfect short-term solution to my problems. With my mission objective thus clearly defined, I got into my car and headed for the nearest 7-Eleven.

I parked near the entrance and walked slowly to the door. (A surgical complication has left me with effectively one functional lung for a while so I can’t walk fast.) I entered, and with my shortness of breath in mind stopped just inside the door to visually scan the interior for the location of the ice cream case. I quickly saw there was a Dippin Dots case a few feet away. I started to move toward it, but hesitated, thinking, “There are probably only Dippin Dots in there…”

My ruminations were interrupted by a man exiting the store. In a condescending tone he said, “Excuse me!” and brushed by me out the door. As he passed by I heard him mutter, “F---ing idiot!” under his breath.

Shocked, I turned around and looked at the man. He did have the appearance of an elitist. Bearded and seemingly in his early 40’s, he wore a plain white t-shirt and carried a skateboard. He looked back at me with obvious disdain, shook his head in disgust, dropped his board and skated away.

As I watched him go I thought, “Did that just happen?” My essential worth as a human being had just been dismissed by a middle-aged skater boy solely because I blocked the exit of a convenience store for a few seconds. My years of education, successful medical practice, work in ethics, and volunteering in church, not to mention my roles as husband, father and grandfather, were not only unknown, but irrelevant to this stranger. None of those things mattered. All he needed to know in order to pass judgment on my human value was that he wanted to walk out of a store and I was in the way. No additional data was needed for him to reach the conclusion that I was below the most basic level of courtesy and kindness. I was not a person, I was a F---ing Idiot.

As I made my way to the ice cream case and retrieved my Choco Taco (which was indeed delicious) I reflected on the way in which Mr. Skateboard illustrates the world in which we live. His hate was easily roused and rapidly dispensed. For him, the fact that he was forced to make an eighteen-inch detour was enough to render me subhuman and deserving of abuse. This is the way of the world today. Hatred is just one political opinion, one religious belief, one lane change or one offensive comment away from rearing its head. When hate arrives, evil can follow.

Recently we have seen the havoc wrought when a society ceases to believe that people have inherent value- People in Wal-Mart shot because of their ethnicity. Men working for ICE shot for doing the jobs they were hired to do. Police officers attacked and mocked by the citizens they were trying to protect. Others killed seemingly on a whim at a nightclub or county fair.

There has been much debate and philosophizing regarding the root causes of the violence that plagues us. Fingers have been pointed at video games, politicians and guns. Those who point to these things are overlooking an important truth. When a person believes that all people are created in the image of God and worthy of love, kindness and respect, no video game, politician or weapon can incite them to violence. When a person loses this belief, violence can be triggered by almost anything.

Even a man just looking for a Choco Taco.




Determining the Loser on the Bachelorette


I almost never open an issue of People magazine, but it has somehow started appearing in our mailbox every week. (No one seems to know how or why). I made the mistake of opening it this last week to read the cover article on the Bachelorette and why she had dumped the man she had “chosen” on the show. The sub headline declared her reason, “I could never marry a man who lied to me.”

In the article Hannah Brown describes her horror when she discovered that her chosen man had, at the beginning of the show, failed to disclose the fact that he was in a relationship with another woman. (She apparently believed that only the most upstanding of men would sign up to compete for the affections of a stranger on national television.) She assails the man’s character in vicious terms.

Any sympathy I might have developed for her flight quickly evaporated as I read more of the article. After describing her sense of betrayal, she went on to say how badly she felt for others judging her about something she had done. That “something” involved her spending the night with another one of her suitors, having sex with him repeatedly, and then announcing that fact on the show! (In spite of the fact that she declares herself to be devout Christian.) How dare anyone, declared the article, judge her for her faith or her sexual choices!

I almost laughed out loud at the absurdity, which was apparently lost on Hannah Brown and the writers and editors at People. In their system of values, it is a mortal sin for a man to go on a TV show and pretend to be interested in someone he had never met, but perfectly acceptable for a woman of professed faith to go on the show and fornicate with a man she barely knows. (Hannah ungraciously used another word beginning with “f” to describe her intimate pairing.)

The problem I see is in the value system Ms. Brown’s words and actions reveal, a value system based on personal convenience. She declares lying as terrible but her sexual immorality as understandable. Her sins are minor, the sins of others are defining. This seems to be the way of our world now. In politics, social media and everyday life, we attack others and defend ourselves.

The end result is that no one changes for the better.




What Good News Really Means


My PA (and friend) Brandie is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. A cancer diagnosis is always a surprise, but this one was particularly so as she had a normal mammogram just 6 months earlier (she found it by chance when she scratched an itch!). She underwent the standard tests, including an MRI which revealed two separate areas of cancer and an involved lymph node. Her expectations went from simple lump removal and radiation to 6 courses of chemotherapy followed by surgery and then radiation. Since hearing the news we have been concerned but hopeful.

This week she received some surprisingly good news. Her oncologist had ordered a repeat MRI two days before chemo treatment number 3. Everyone was hoping that the MRI would show at least some degree of tumor shrinkage, some evidence of response. None of us expected the cancer to be gone, yet that was what the MRI showed! There was no evidence at all of the tumors that had been there just 2 months earlier. I rejoiced with her at the results and the news that she would now need only a total of 4 rounds of chemo before the next stages of her treatment.

I could not help but thank God at her report, and found myself joyfully thinking, “God is good!”

I have been chewing on that thought about God’s goodness  for the last few days. Why do I only say, “God is good” when things work out the way I want? Why are my declarations of God’s goodness so often dependent on the circumstances in which I find myself?

I think it reflects a common error in our understanding of God’s purposes and work. Without even realizing it we sometimes act as if God’s primary responsibility and concern is to make our earthly lives better. We correctly declare His goodness and righteousness and love for us when things go well but remain silent about His nature when things go poorly.

It is as if we see God as less than God, as if he is a benevolent heavenly grandfather who wants to give us things. Like all grandpas, he wants us to be happy so he of course gives us things we want and desires to make us happy. Sick? Grandpa God will kiss it and make it better. Struggling financially? Grandpa God will withdraw money from his account and send it our way. Hurting? Never worry, go to Grandpa God because he gives the best hugs and we will feel better.  

We know he will do these things, because he is good.

But God doesn’t always do these things. I have an amazingly devout friend who has been in a wheelchair for years with no hope of ever walking again. I have another Christian friend who is slowly dying from ALS. Is God being good to them?

When the one friend gets hospitalized again from a kidney infection will I say, “God is good?”  When the other loses the ability to talk and is choking on his own saliva, will I tell him how wonderful God is? If Brandie’s cancer returns, will I still praise God for the outcome?

If I understand God’s nature correctly I think the answer must be “Yes!”

Goodness is part of God’s eternal nature. God is eternal and unchanging. His nature never changes, which means his goodness never changes. It never increases or decreases in intensity. It is forever constant.

How can we understand and praise the eternal nature of God’s goodness, when things are going terribly, painfully wrong? I believe we need to turn to God’s eternal plan to help us understand. The bible tells us that God’s plan is to redeem sinful men through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Out of God’s goodness, he sent his Son to die for us. Out of his goodness he works and moves to draw people to himself, and to change us into the people he wants us to be. This goodness never stops.

Whether we experience victory or defeat, joy or sorrow, health or sickness, God is working for our eternal good. This means that if we wish to truly see God’s goodness, we should look to his eternal work and never to our earthly circumstances.

This is difficult to grasp but essential to understand. It is because of this Christians can confidently say, “God is good, ALL the time.”

I thank God for Brandie’s response to treatment, grateful that He has answered these prayers. I do so confident that in his goodness he will work his will in her life, regardless of the outcome.

I am clinging to this knowledge as I prepare for my upcoming surgery. I am doing my best to be prepared to thank Him for his goodness whatever the outcome. If the surgery is successful and my chronic pain resolves, I will be grateful that I will be better able to serve Him, but more so for the fact that I am his child. If the surgery does not work and I end up facing lasting pain, I will be thankful for the promise of grace and strength to endure the pain, but more so for that fact that I am his child.

Nothing about the surgery or its outcome will in anyway impact God’s eternal plan for me. I know this because God is good.



PS: For those who have not heard, I am scheduled to have my right first rib removed at UCLA on August 8th. The nerves to the arm pass through a triangle that has the first rib at the bottom and two muscles from the neck as the sides. The doctor believes that it is there that the nerves are being pinched, causing the chronic pain and numbness I have had for the last few years. (Any repetitive use of the arm, from using a mouse to driving, causes significant pain flares).



My Turn to be Offended


I get offended too. I find myself increasingly offended at things I see on television. (Or should I say I find myself offended my things I increasingly see on television?) I used to be able to avoid shows that insulted my Christian values by not watching certain shows or by changing channels. This is no longer possible, for now even commercials contain things I do not want to see.

Last night we were watching a classic television series, American Ninja Warrior, when a commercial came on that not so subtly promoted behavior that should not be promoted. I started to mentally huff and puff and to internally compose a ranting screed about the moral failings of society. I was about halfway through the piece when I realized I was an idiot.

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a piece about people being offended by the past and how that was foolish. One of the points of the piece was that people shouldn’t go looking for reasons to be offended, that people should let things go. And here I am, getting offended by something other people let go!

I can make the argument that I get offended by the right things and they get offended by the wrong things, but can’t they do the same? I can bolster my position by showing how the Bible supports my views, but since when do television executives follow the Bible?

This is not to say that I shouldn’t find certain things offensive, only that I need to develop a different response. Ranting and complaining or encouraging boycotts may make be feel good for a moment but they are not likely to change anything. There must be a better way.

There is a better way, and the way can be found in the Bible. In the book of Acts we see a story of the Apostle Paul being offended by the rampant idolatry he saw in the City of Athens. (side note- he could not have been surprised by this, it was not a secret that the Greeks worshiped many Gods!). The Greek text makes it clear that Paul was ticked off by what he saw, that he was incensed.

So what did Paul do?

He talked to people. He did not get on a soap box in the town square, he did not pen an angry letter to the folks back home in Jerusalem condemning the heathen. He went to where people gathered and he reasoned with them. He dialogued, he discussed, he explained. He did this in places where dialogue naturally occurred, in places where people gathered to talk.

We don’t do that anymore. We don’t talk to one another. We don’t explain ourselves, we don’t gently persuade or try to convince anyone. We instead attack, insult, berate and complain, and as a result we never change anyone’s mind.

I need to change my approach. If I am going to change the way people think I need to reason more, explain more, listen more, and complain less.

I can also turn off the TV.


PS: Thanks to all of you who subscribe to the blog. It is truly encouraging to see that so many care enough to make the effort to receive my posts in their email. It is amazing that so many care about what I have to say!



The Death of Grace, The Rise of the Offended


Nike stepped in it this week with the recall of patriotic sneakers emblazoned with the Betsy Ross flag. The red, white and blue sneakers with the flag of the original 13 colonies had already been shipped to retailers when the company decided that the flag design was potentially offensive, as the flag is from an era during which slavery still existed in America.

I was taken aback by the story. The flag has been around for 243 years. No new information has recently come to light about the founders or their slave owning ways, and nothing new has been discovered about our nation’s history. Why are people offended now?

Thomas Jefferson was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. The city has long honored the birthday of the author of the Declaration of Independence and our third president as a paid public holiday. This last week the city council of Charlottesville voted to end the holiday, citing Jefferson’s history of slave ownership. As with the Betsy Ross flag, the decision was not based on any new information. Almost overnight the city of Charlottesville transitioned from pride to shame in their native son.

I have read much condemning these decisions, but little about the changes in thought that led to them. What has happened in America that has so quickly led to the condemnation of the previously celebrated?

I wonder if the answer is the death of grace. There was a time when it was universally understood that all men are broken, that there is brokenness, even evil, in all hearts. This realization of personal brokenness is a protection against judging others, it allows us to see the failures of others and say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  It helps us remember that all men tend to share the sins of the time in which they live, and to see our forefathers in the context of the culture into which they were born. It keeps us from judging the past by modern standards, to realize that we would likely have made the same mistakes as our ancestors if we had lived in a similar time.

It is this historical grace that allows us to praise the accomplishments of slave owners such as George Washington, James Madison and Jefferson. It gives us room to overlook the adulterous failings of Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin and instead focus on their contributions to society. It helps us see the good works of fallen men like Martin Luther, who was an anti-Semite, the murderous apostle Paul, and the beloved Franklin Roosevelt, who as president put Americans of Japanese descent into relocation camps.

When we cease to see the world through the eyes of grace, condemnation and judgment will take the place of forgiveness and acceptance in our society. As grace dies we will see more retrospective judgmentalism and more relentless searches for the flaws of our past heroes. The problem is that there are no perfect heroes. No historical figure will be able to withstand the inquisitions of the offended.

I think we will all be better served if we remember a simple truth. The grace of God has always allowed fallen men to achieve great things. Over 200 years ago in His grace He allowed rebellious, flawed men to form the greatest nation in the history of the world.

I think that is something to celebrate.


PS: I would have bought the shoes.