Our Children Are Watching

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An ad released by the Clinton campaign strings together some of Donald Trump’s most controversial moments while children watch him on television.

Set to somber music, the ad entitled, “Role Models,” features clips of Donald Trump that have drawn scorn over the past year. There is Trump boasting that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing voters. There is Trump’s June 2015 campaign announcement referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” bringing crime and drugs across the border. There is also footage of Trump at a rally moving around his arms in a way critics say was meant to mock a reporter with a disability. “Our children are watching. What example will we set for them?” reads the text on the television screen.

Our children are watching, indeed!

The ad highlights potential weak spots for Donald Trump with voters – his demeanor and his character.

Now, my children are no longer children; they are adults, but this Clinton ad made me think about what kind of parents my wife and I were when those now adult males were just children.

We taught our children that consistency matters; that in this life our words and our actions matter and should align – what we say and what we do, need to have many touching points.

We taught them that all people are equal, regardless of their skin color, their race, their gender, their place of birth, their religious views, their income level, their gender identity, and their sexual orientation.

We taught them that treating people with dignity and compassion is the greatest calling of our lives.

We taught them to protect those who are bullied, to help those who are hurting, to defend those who are marginalized, and to be someone who cares about other people.

We taught them that humility, gentleness, and integrity are lost arts well worth preserving.

Now, there is no way that we could teach any of those things to our children – and then vote for Donald Trump for President.

They would call us out.

They would realize our absolute disconnect.

They would recognize our great hypocrisy.

You cannot tell your children that you are against bullying, and then vote for a world-class bully for president.

You cannot claim that racial, religious, and gender equality are important to you, and then support someone so fully committed to division, exclusion and discrimination as is Donald Trump.

You cannot impart to your children that your Christian faith matters to you, and then advocate for a man whose entire religious engagement has been a crass, thinly veiled campaign tool; a man who mocks people with genuine spiritual convictions; a man of botched Bible verses and many wives, and a business mogul who calls the Bible his favorite book, but when pressed, cannot even name his best-loved verse.

You cannot instruct your children that women are equal to men and worthy of respect, and then simultaneously cast your vote for an Olympic-level misogynist who regularly offers the crudest evaluations of women’s physical appearances, emotional stability, and intellectual capacities.

You cannot teach your children that they ought to fully value women, and then give them a national role model who has called Rosie O’Donnell “a disgusting person inside and out” and continued to say that she was a “slob” with a “fat, ugly face;” who took to Twitter to call Arianna Huffington “a dog;” who sent Gail Collins a copy of one of her previous New York Times  articles, in which she had taken a jab at his business record, with her photo circled and the words face of a dog” written beside it; who referred to Bette Midler as “grotesque” during a series of 2012 tweets about her; who tweeted out his agreement when Sex and the City star, Sarah Jessica Parker, was voted the “Unsexiest Woman Alive” by a Maxim magazine poll; and who referred to lawyer, Elizabeth Beck, as “disgusting” when she requested a break to pump breast milk for her newborn child during a deposition.

You cannot say to your children that decency and compassion are things you value, and then lift up someone to the highest office in our country who is so fully devoid of both of those principles.

If you have read my blog for a while, you know that I never have and never will support Donald Trump, for an endless number of reasons. But perhaps the most important reason is because I would not be able to look my children in the eye and tell them that they can disregard everything my wife and I have ever sewn into their lives and that none of it mattered. I will vote for Hillary Clinton so that I can stand proudly before my children and show them that I put my vote where my mouth is, and so that I can sleep at night, knowing that I did the best I could to give them the kind of future that they deserve.

What will that future look like?

What will matter in that future?

How will our children look at us on Election Day?

As parents, we know that our children are always watching us – and that includes even in the voting booth.

I guess that my wife and I must have done a pretty good job with our rearing skills, for I am happy to say that neither of our children is going to vote for Donald Trump. Certainly, not our registered liberal Democrat younger son; and not even our registered conservative Republican older son.

No way.

Not this election year.

Not ever.

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Under One God?

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I have noticed that lately Donald Trump has been working a new closing refrain into his stump speeches: He promises to bring the nation together under a single God. In these speeches, Trump is shooting for a theme of unity, but instead makes a statement that is both pointedly un-American and openly discriminatory.

We will be one people, under one God, saluting one American flag,” he said at a speech to the National Guard Association in my beloved Baltimore, Maryland. Moments before, he claimed he would be a “president for all Americans” in an effort to portray himself as more of a uniter than his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But one God? And which God would that be, Mr. Trump? With this statement, Trump is demonstrating his innate bigotry with the suggestion that there is a single faith in America that takes precedence over all others and unites the whole nation. Well, there are a great number of Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and a vast array of Christian sects who will disagree with that proposition.

Once again Trump proves that he does not understand America, its Constitution, or the principles for which it stands. Nor does he understand the religion he pretends to practice.

According to Trump, under his leadership, all Americans will be “under one God.” Of course, Trump, who claims to be a conservative Christian, must certainly mean the Christian god.

Considering his attacks on Islam, it would not be at all surprising to hear that Trump would be in favor of some official ban on other religions. Considering how strong evangelicals consider any other religion to be the enemy, and considering how strong Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have become in 2016 America, it is likely a great number of Trump supporters would support a forced assimilation “under one God.” That would certainly make them “deplorable” in my book.

Even if Trump were not dog-whistling about Americans with “other” religious beliefs, it is clear that he is not speaking to those who do not categorize themselves as Christian at all. That is a full one-third of the nation that he is neglecting while pandering to Evangelical Christian voters. (Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population, but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.)

When Trump made this unsettling statement, I began to wonder if he plans to persecute non-Christian religions if he becomes president. Trump was making what might appear to be a banal unity speech, but the degree of unity to which he was reaching for should make everyone deeply uncomfortable.

Trump’s “under one God” line may sound like boilerplate presidential campaign rhetoric, but the inclusion of the word “one” is new and disturbing. A review of transcripts suggests he debuted it during a speech in Greenville, North Carolina, and has since used it in campaign speeches in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pensacola, Florida; Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C.

Broad overtures to notions of the United States as a “Christian nation” built on “Judeo-Christian” values are hardly anything new in American politics. But a presidential candidate vowing to unite all Americans under “one God” can hardly be viewed as inclusive. Trump’s campaign even capitalized the “One God” phrasing in his prepared remarks for his Pensacola rally.

These are not the words of the “Great Uniter,” but of the “Great Divider” who wants to separate privileged white Americans from blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, women, the disabled, and others.

But think of the America our Founding Fathers endured so much to give us, especially of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Autobiography (1821) of his Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom (1785), which was the inspiration for the First Amendment. Jefferson wrote: “Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo [sic] and Infidel of every denomination.” [Emphasis mine]

So far away from this guiding principal are Trump’s words as he closed out his remarks at the Values Voter Summit recently by once again doing his best imitation of a pious and committed Christian in an effort to appeal to the Religious Right activists who had gathered for the conference: “We’re all equal and we all come from same Creator. There’s a biblical verse that I’ve often read and I want to repeat it again because I think it is so important to what we’re trying to achieve right now for our country. It’s from 1 John: 4: ‘No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.’ So true, so true.”

No! So false, so false.

That is a belief, not a fact. Perhaps if Trump actually read the Bible instead of quoting whatever a staffer told him to say, maybe he would have understood that the Constitution is the basis of our system of government, the law of the land, not the Bible or any other religious text. It is a belief that Trump is welcome to if it is really his, and not only empty words like so much else that pours from his mouth.

Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people, under one God, saluting one flag,” Trump concluded, apparently anticipating a future in which every American, regardless of religion, is required to worship Jesus Christ.

Needless to say, there are atheists, Jews, Muslims, and even other Christians who are horrified by the prospect of a president who wants to make sure our country worships the same God.

Trump’s language appears to conflict with the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment, which holds that people in the United States have the right to practice whichever religion they choose, or none whatsoever. Many Americans subscribe to polytheistic theologies and may worship many gods. Followers of monotheistic religions also have differing views about the Supreme Being they worship. And let us not forget the growing ranks of religious “nones,” which includes atheists, agnostics and others who do not consider themselves members of any traditional religious affiliation.

The question that I ask is this: Does Donald Trump really expect all of these people to unite “under one God”?

It seems more likely to me that Trump is not speaking at all to the thirty percent of Americans who do not consider themselves Christian. In fact, it is hard to see his new oratorical coda as anything other than coded language to his base and specifically to white, evangelical Christians, who are often distrustful of other religious groups. Such a strategy would be consistent with broader themes of Trump’s campaign, which has regularly come under fire for embracing blanket Islamophobia and coddling unmitigated Christian white supremacists.

It might also be particularly appealing to evangelicals who feel more fervent forms of religious expression have fallen victim to the same political correctness that Trump has railed against throughout his presidential run.

Trump has ramped up his outreach to evangelical Christians after winning their support in the Republican primaries and subsequent general election polling, despite numerous questions about his views on marriage equality and abortion rights.

Speaking to the Christian conservative Value Voters Summit recently in Washington, D.C., Trump promised the audience that he would make it worth their while if they voted for him.

A lot of people said: ‘I wonder if Donald will get the evangelicals,’ he said. “I got the evangelicals. I’m going to make it up to you too, you watch.”

I am not sure what Trump means by that. Just what is it he going to make up to the evangelicals, for which they are supposed to watch?

Well, I will be watching, Donald. According to PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter™, seventy-one percent of everything you say is either mostly false, false, or pants on fire false, so I, for one, will not be holding my breath waiting for anything to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Tired!

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I’m tired.

I’m so tired.

I’m so sick and tired.

  • I’m tired of trying to figure people out.
  • I’m tired of watching all those horror shows on the nightly news.
  •  I’m tired of worrying about the future of Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Turkey, and Afghanistan – to say nothing about the future of this country.
  •  I’m tired of seeing the mass killings in Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Washington Navy Yard, Chattanooga, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, and how we seem to be unable to do anything about gun violence in this country.
  •  I’m tired of a political campaign that seems to have gone on for at least a millennium.
  • I’m tired of the mud-slinging, the name calling, and the out-right lying that is going on, all in the name of the democratic process.

T-I-R-E-D! I’m tired!

But even more than all these things, what really gets my undies in a twist are those Christians who speak as if their zealous interpretation of the Christian faith is the only true one and anyone who has a different understanding than they is somehow not a real follower of Jesus.

Every time I have been confronted by one of these self-styled “Christians” about my perception of the teachings of Jesus, I am told that I am a godless sinner destined for hellfire and damnation for all eternity. (I readily admit that I am a Progressive Christian, but I do not believe that I am going to Hell because I am not a conservative, evangelical Christian.)

For me, it is time to call out these hypocritical so-called “Christians.”

“Christians”…I’m really tired. I’m tired of you.

  • I’m tired of you telling gay people that they cannot simultaneously be both gay and Christian.
  • I’m tired of having to explain to you what “Transgender” means when I am quite sure that you have a computer and Internet access and should know better by now that Transgender is not “a guy in a dress.
  • I’m tired of you arrogantly using the pulpit to say how you believe you are entitled to tell people where they can pee, who they can marry, and whether they really love Jee-sus or not.
  • I’m tired of you being more outraged over red coffee cups at Christmas and department store restrooms at any time than you are about poverty, racism, gun violence, rundown school system, and crumbling infrastructure.
  • I’m tired of you accusing gay people of the kind of predatory behavior that straight men have been exhibiting, since, well; the man cave was an actual cave.
  • I’m tired of you needing to be reminded that the number of times Jesus spoke about gender identity and sexual orientation in the Gospels is absolutely ZERO. Nada. Nil.
  • I’m tired of having to explain to you that although I am a Christian, I am not your type of Christian – the type that is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.
  • I’m tired of you telling LGBTQ teens that God hates them, thereby causing them to slit their wrists or jump off buildings.
  • I’m tired of you so-called followers of Jesus who do not seem interested in cracking open any book except the Bible to see what the rest of us have learned about the brain and the body in 2,000 years; or the universe since Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton; or the human condition since Darwin and Freud.
  • I’m tired of you religious folk who seem to want small government everywhere – except in the bedroom and in the bathroom.
  • I’m tired of your scientific ignorance and have it treated as if such ignorance is a Christian virtue.
  • I’m tired of hearing you preach verbatim the Gospel according to Fox News, and the likes of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Alex Jones, and Michele Bachmann.
  • I’m tired of your high-profile pastors like Pat Robertson Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones Sr., Franklin Graham, and Oral Roberts blaming gay people for 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, ISIS, child obesity, and Lord knows what else.
  • I’m tired of waiting for you to show up in this world and actually show the unconditional love of Jesus to people the way he did and told you to do likewise, without excuses or caveats or a theological Texas Two-Step to avoid it.
  • I’m tired of your wasteful, fruitless, mean-spirited, unprovoked, unbiblical attack on the “others” in our community, which is squandering so much time and life and beauty, all in the name of a God who is supposedly Love.
  • I’m tired of your believing that “Christian” and “bigot” are synonymous terms.
  • I’m tired of you making me more and more embarrassed to be associated with Christianity and the Church.
  • I’m tired of you being hateful, judgmental, and just plain ignorant.

Yes, I’m tired.

I’m so tired.

I’m so sick and tired.

I’m so sick and tired of you. But at least I’m not damning you to hellfire for all eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Aleppo, Governor Johnson

“What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?” MSNBC’s Morning Joe panelist Mike Barnicle asked Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor during an in-studio interview.

“And what is Aleppo?” Johnson responded.

“You’re kidding,” a stunned Barnicle replied, to which Johnson answered that he was not.

Barnicle explained to the Libertarian candidate that Aleppo is “the epicenter of the refugee crisis” in Syria, giving Johnson enough information to finally answer the question.

Let me try to answer the question, “What is Aleppo?” in the most graphic way I know.

What is Aleppo?

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Beautiful downtown Aleppo, Syria today

Aleppo is an ancient metropolis, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world; it may have been inhabited since the sixth millennium BCE. The city’s significance in history has been its location at one end of the Silk Road, which passed through central Asia and Mesopotamia. When the Suez Canal was inaugurated in 1869, trade was diverted to sea and Aleppo began its slow decline. At the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Aleppo ceded its northern hinterland to modern Turkey, as well as the important railway connecting it to Mosul. In the 1940s, it lost its main access to the sea, Antioch and Alexandretta, also to Turkey. Finally, the isolation of Syria in the past few decades further exacerbated the situation. This decline may have helped to preserve the old city of Aleppo, its medieval architecture and traditional heritage. It won the title of the “Islamic Capital of Culture 2006,” and has had a wave of successful restorations of its historic landmarks.

Since the Battle of Aleppo started in 2012, the city has suffered massive destruction, and has been the worst-hit city in the civil war. It is currently split between the government-held west and the rebel-held east.

 Governor Johnson, if you are still in doubt, here is Aleppo.

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The face of Aleppo: Omran Daqneesh, Syrian Civil War victim

Aleppo may be an ancient metropolis, but it is also a five-year-old Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh.

Omran is a symbol of Syria’s suffering. Aleppo is a little boy, sitting alone, stunned, and covered in dust and blood, moments after being pulled from the rubble of his home in Aleppo. Omran is a little boy who has only known war for his entire life. The image of five-year old Omran Daqneesh has touched people around the world, an emblem of despair, sparking renewed calls for a ceasefire.

And, Governor, in case you are not aware, this is Syria.

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Aylan Kurdi, Syrian refugee victim

Abdullah Kurdi, the father of Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach – an image that shocked the world – said today his children “slipped through my hands” as their boat was taking in water en route to Greece. Abdullah had been trying to cross along with his family and three other Syrians from the town of Kobane, to the Greek island of Kos just south of Turkey’s Bodrum peninsula.

Abdullah, whose surname is given by Turkish media as Kurdi, but sources in Syria say is actually called Shenu, lost his three-year-old son Aylan, four-year-old son Ghaleb and wife Rihana in the tragedy.

“I was holding my wife’s hand. But my children slipped through my hands. We tried to cling to the small boat, but it was deflating. It was dark and everyone was screaming,” Abdullah Kurdi told reporters of the sinking.

Twelve Syrian migrants drowned when two boats sank in Turkish waters as they were heading towards the Greek island of Kos, in a tragedy to people seeking to cross the Aegean to Greece.

But attention has focused on three-year-old Aylan, whose tiny body was photographed, washed up on a beach in the resort of Bodrum in an image that quickly became a viral symbol of the tragedy of refugees.

As the Syrian crisis is in its fifth year, more than 6.9 million people have been displaced according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Over half of these refugees are children. As the refugee numbers hit over six million, the Syrian refugee crisis in now the biggest of our era.

According to the United Nations:

  • Women and children make up 3/4 of the refugee population
  • By the end of 2014, over 50% of the Syrian population were in need of aid
  • Refugees have little more than the clothes on their backs when arriving at refugee camps
  • 6.5 million internally displaced within Syria as of 2015
  • An estimated 9 million total persons have fled their homes as of 2015
  • Over 1 million people have registered from 2012 to 2013

Unlike former Governor Gary Johnson, former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley knows about Aleppo and the Syrian Civil War and he showed that knowledge in a recent interview.

O’Malley appeared recently on CNN’s State of the Union with Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager until he was fired in June, and chided Lewandowski over Donald Trump’s immigration policies, saying that the United States is not an “only-for-white Americans sort of country.” Lewandowski, a CNN contributor, called his former boss “a raw talent.”

That statement prompted O’Malley to criticize Trump over his proposal to block Syrian refugees from entering the United States, retorting “he’s raw, but it’s not talent.” O’Malley added, “It’s the rawness of scapegoating others. The man finally comes out with his first political campaign of the season, and it’s attacking Syrian refugees.”

O’Malley continued, “People come to our country, Corey, with last names like Lewandowski and O’Malley, not because we’re a nativist white America only-for-white Americans sort of country.”

“We’re a place that’s a beacon of hope for people, like that five-year-old little Syrian boy [Omran Daqneesh]. And what does Donald Trump do? He runs an ad saying that we’re being overrun with immigrants from Syria. Give me a break.”

Give me a break, indeed.

“It’s raw hate. That’s what it is,” said O’Malley, who dropped his Democratic primary bid after receiving less than 1% support in the Iowa Caucuses. Sometimes I wish that O’Malley had had more support. It seems obvious to me that Gary Johnson is no longer a viable alternative candidate any more.

 

Church-less Sundays

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It was a Sunday morning. A wife awoke her husband and told him that he needed to get ready to go to church. The husband replied that he didn’t want to go to church that morning. She told him nonsense; he should get up and go to church.

“But Hon,” he replied, “Everybody hates me, the sermons are boring and none of my friends ever come.”

His wife replied, “Now, listen…! First, everybody doesn’t hate you, only a couple of bullies and you just have to stand up to them. Second, the sermons mean a lot to many people. If you listened to them, you’d be surprised at how good they are in helping people. Third, you have lots of friends at church. They are always having you over to their house. And fourth, but foremost, you have to go – you’re the pastor!!”

As a pastor (retired) myself, I can relate to this humorous story. It’s funny because of the punch line and if told properly, it always gets a hearty laugh. I have used it on several occasions and every time it gets the same reaction – a good laugh.

The story resonates with me right now because I have been MIA as far as church attendance is concerned since Easter Day on 27 March. That’s almost six months!

I am not having a crisis of faith. That’s not a problem for me. I am still a believer, but I do not believe much of the stuff that I used to. Some so-called dogmatic ideas are just not important to me anymore. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (I Corinthians 13:11). I, too, have put away what I consider to be childish ways.

One of the reasons for my absence has been due to some health issues. I won’t go into those here, but they were sufficient enough to keep me “grounded” for a while.

But another and perhaps more important reason for my truancy has been that though I have not been seated in my usual pew on Sunday mornings for almost six months, no one in the parish has seemed to care whether I am there or not. Not even the rector of the parish. There have been no phone calls, no cards, no contact. Nada.

It is as if I don’t exist. I know that if I were a member of AA and missed a meeting, a member would contact me to find out why I had missed. But that’s AA, not the parish.

And we are not that large a parish. That lack of response both disappoints and saddens me. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I have always viewed the parish as a place where people care for and about one another; as a place where people are called to be a warm, brotherly family together; as a place where people are united together in the household of God through a common life. A parish is not mainly a structure, a geographical area, or a building. A parish is first and foremost a caring community of the faithful.

I know that I need such a community.

And this, it seems to me, is the task of a parish today: to be such a community. A parish is a place where, as Paul reminds the Church at Corinth, “If one member suffers in the Body of Christ, which is the Church, all the members suffer with that member” (1 Corinthians 12:26). But heck, that’s just my romanticized idea of a parish. It’s not reality. As I said, maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe my idea of a parish is of a place that never was and maybe never will be. It’s just a figment of my imagination. And that’s a shame.

As a result of my views about what a parish should be, it has become very easy for me to stay home on Sunday mornings. I have even looked into attending services in other parishes, but the closest is almost an hour away. Besides, will anything be different in another parish from where I am now? Unfortunately, I am not too encouraged that it will be any different. Only the names will change.

I was beginning to feel some guilt about my non-attendance when I received John Pavlovitz’s blog article the other day. His words really hit me. (John’s blog is located at johnpavlovitz.com/and the sub-title of his blog is “Stuff That Needs to Be Said.”) John says of himself on his blogsite:

I’m an 18-year ministry veteran trying to figure out how to love people well and to live-out the red letters of Jesus. 

“I enjoy songwriting, exercising, cooking, hiking, and eating emotionally.

“This is a place where I say stuff that I think needs to be said.

“I welcome you to say what you believe needs to be said in response, knowing that ultimately the truth is somewhere in the middle.

“I proudly serve at North Raleigh Community Church. I pastor people in the Raleigh area and throughout the world.

“Thanks for stopping by, and for reading the musings of a flawed, passionate, work in progress.”

John Pavlovitz has rescued me several times with his perceptive and thought-provoking thinking and this time was no exception. I would like to share Johns helpful words with you, my readers. His article is entitled Relax Christian, You Don’t Have to Go to Church. It was published on 4 September 2016. If you are like me and are experiencing church-less Sundays, then read John’s words. I believe that you will find them helpful and on point:

“Today is Sunday, and millions of people all over the world will find themselves in local churches today, participating in worship services and Bible studies and age-based ministries, and finding great encouragement and community and joy there.

“You might well be one of those people.

“But you might not.

“For a billion reasons; either because you’ve been excluded or damaged or made to feel unwelcome, or because your faith is shaken or your pain is too great or your heart is too weary, you might find yourself outside the walls of a church.

“It’s okay, God is there too—I promise you.

“Most of us have grown up believing that the Church was a building, and that you went to worship as a weekly activity. Faith and life and spiritual growth were all about getting to that building, because that building was where you encountered God.

“That is only partially true.

“But the greater, far more glorious truth dear friend, is that you are the Church; that God is all around and ever-present and within you. And so wherever you find yourself this morning, that ground is holy. When your mind and heart are oriented toward the things of God, your very life is an act of worship.

“This Sunday:

“You may be snuggled in your bed with your family and dog, telling stories and giggling away the morning.

“You may be jogging with your best friend through the wooded paths just coming to life in the early morning sun.

“You may be driving through the empty back roads with the roof open, blasting the 80’s metal that reminds you of when you had hair for the breeze to blow through.

“You might be in the garden, your knees pressed to the damp soil, smelling the leaves just popping up through the ground.

“These places are all sacred. They are waiting sanctuaries for God to be seen and heard and experienced.

“They are common cathedrals, fully saturated with the presence of the Divine.

“Church-less Sundays can bring a great deal of guilt, especially if you grew up in organized religion. When you find your spiritual life being defined outside of the local church, you can tend to feel like you’re doing it wrong, or that the experience is somehow counterfeit—less spiritual. You either hear an alarm go of in your own head, or from well-meaning church friends or from pushy pastors that you need to get back to church

“Well, you may and you may not. You may just need to stay right where you are.

“For many people, because of the struggles we mentioned above, organized religion is the very barrier they need to overcome to get closer proximity to Jesus. It is the thing that most hinders their pursuit of peace. It actually creates unrest within them. And in this way, for those people, “church” is the wrong answer to the question of “How do I grow spiritually?”

“If you can’t or won’t find your way into a brick and mortar building this Sunday, be encouraged. You can fully love God without going to church. Obviously community is one of the ways we blossom. As we navigate relationships, as we love and seek love, as we give and receive compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and kindness—we grow in ways we never would otherwise. There is value in sharing life with other people who are seeking to be the best version of themselves. But these opportunities are not confined to the church building, waiting for you to show up and receive them there.

“God is always close by and easily accessible. Divinity often comes disguised as ordinary days, uneventful moments, and typical conversations: making breakfast with your kids, playing with your dog, getting a rare quiet pause with your teenager, reading a book you love, sleeping in because you’re completely exhausted, catching up with an old friend over coffee. These can all be rich, beautiful, faith-affirming experiences that do more for your soul than an hour worship service ever could.

“Everything God has for you is available to you right where you are; in the woods, in bed, at the game, having coffee with your spouse, pruning the flowers, driving down the Interstate.

“These can be the places you fully commune with God and with God’s people; where you reflect and pray and learn and study and mediate and feel gratitude and seek guidance. Anything we do that is intentionally done with an awareness of God and others—that is Church.

“There may be a time in the near future when you once again find your home in a local church community. But you might also never get back there again. And either way, your faith can be rich and real and fully life-giving.

“Christianity isn’t a building or an hour-long Sunday morning activity. It’s you living with a desire to reflect Jesus.

“Wherever you find yourself this Sunday, do this as best you can. God is with you.

“Whether inside or outside the church building, whether in your Sunday best or in ragged pajamas—be encouraged.”

Thanks, John. If your posts are “stuff that needs to be said,” then this article was “stuff that I needed to hear.” Amen.

Mike Pence: Safe and Conventional?

mike pence

Mike Pence

I have spent quite a bit of ink writing about Donald Trump. I think it is time that I devote some space to his running mate, Mike Pence. Some people I have talked with say that while they do not like Trump and his ideas, Mike Pence is viewed as not as bizarre as Trump, and a “safe” and “conventional” choice that will help rally the Republican establishment to Trump. But his actual record is far more extreme and controversial than most people think.

Members of the Council for National Policy – a powerful conservative organization – met in Cleveland before the Republican Convention to discuss policy and political strategy. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus were among the speakers expected to address the gathering. But a buzzing topic among attendees was who will Trump choose as his running mate and there seemed to be a divide about who it should be. “Mike Pence would be fabulous,” as Trump’s running mate, said one attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He walks with us. He talks with us. He is one of us.”

When Trump announced that he picked Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, many people already knew about Pence’s bigotry. Pence has openly fought against gay rights and women’s rights. However, he is not just a bigot, he has some extremely anti-science beliefs that make the Trump/Pence 2016 Ticket dangerous bigoted anti-science combination.

For starters, Mike Pence does not believe in evolution, thinks smoking does not kill, would like creationism taught in public schools, and does not think scientists agree that climate change is happening.

We will learn a lot more about Donald Trump’s newly minted running mate in the coming days, weeks and months, but the Indiana governor is already on record as sharing some of the most easily refuted claims of the GOP’s anti-science wing. Some of his more remarkable lines come from a 2009 interview with Chris Matthews, the bombastic host of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. Others are taken from previous statements made during his campaigns for Congress, or other interviews he has done over the years.

Pence: “God created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that’s in them.”

In this interview, Pence defended creationism and gave non-answers to whether he actually supports evolution.

To be fair, Pence does not outright say evolution is false; he just repeats that he believes God created the Earth. Chris Matthews presses him on what he means by this, but Pence demurs:

MATTHEWS: You want to educate the American people about science and its relevance today. Do you believe in evolution, sir?

PENCE: I – do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that’s in them.

MATTHEWS: Right. But do you believe in evolution as the way he did it?

PENCE: The means, Chris, that he used to do that, I can’t say. But I do believe in that fundamental truth.

A few minutes later, Matthews suggests that Pence himself accepts evolution but, cynically, won’t admit it:

MATTHEWS: I think you believe in evolution but you‘re afraid to say so because your conservative constituency might find that offensive.

PENCE: No, I‘ve said to you, Chris, I believe with all my heart that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them.

MATTHEWS: Right.

PENCE: How he did that, I’ll ask him about some day.

What is the scientific account? The generally accepted scientific narrative goes something like this: The Earth coalesced from rocks and other material that were left over after the formation of the sun, which itself formed 4.5 billion years ago from a collapsing cloud of cold gas. Earth was bombarded by other rocks for another billion years or so, some of which might have delivered water and ingredients that life is known to use. At some point, complex molecules kindled life, which took another few billion years to evolve from bacteria to algae to dinosaurs, to mammals and to us. It is simple!

Pence: “I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming.”

So Trump believes that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese and his running mate says the science is “mixed” on the issue.

Sorry, but both are wrong. Pence’s answer is sadly a bit of an upgrade, but it is still a terrible answer. There is a strong scientific consensus that  the climate is changing. In June of this year, members of the scientific community, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Public Health Association, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and the American Society of Naturalists wrote the following: Dear Members of Congress,

We, as leaders of major scientific organizations, write to remind you of the consensus scientific view of climate change.

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

There is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is having broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health. For the United States, climate change impacts include greater threats of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems. The severity of climate change impacts is increasing and is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.

To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced. In addition, adaptation is necessary to address unavoidable consequences for human health and safety, food security, water availability, and national security, among others.

We, in the scientific community, are prepared to work with you on the scientific issues important to your deliberations as you seek to address the challenges of our changing climate.

Pence: “Smoking doesn’t kill.”

Over his political career Governor Mike Pence has consistently carried the tobacco industry’s water, denying the dangers of cigarettes, opposing government regulation, and slashing smoking cessation efforts. In return, they rewarded him with more than $100,000 in campaign donations.

Pence’s position is rather bizarre. He seriously thinks that the science that linked smoking to lung cancer is part of a conspiracy. Wow.

The World Health Organization says tobacco products kill half of the people who use them.

In one of the statements Pence penned for his Congressional campaigns, he says “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

In fairness, he does go on to say that “smoking is not good for you,” but that the relevant question is that over-protective governmental politics are more harmful than second-hand smoke. That is simply untrue. Of the six million people tobacco kills each year worldwide, five million die from direct tobacco use, and about 600,000 die from secondhand smoke exposure, the World Health Organization says.

As a member of Congress in 2009, Pence voted against the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which allowed the FDA to regulate tobacco products. (I will just reiterate here that it took until 2009 for the FDA to regulate tobacco products.) And I mean, that is fine; Republicans and Democrats can disagree on the role of government and vote against laws written by their fellow humans. But saying smoking does not kill is a ridiculous disagreement about reality versus fiction.

Smoking does kill. In fact, this may be a good time for a news flash à la Mike Pence: Smoking kills 480,000 every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. It does so by causing lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other fun stuff. But hey. Pence did write the “smoking doesn’t kill” piece long before teaming up with Trump, but the complete disregard for truth and off-the-wall statements do pair nicely with the campaign Trump is running so far. This new phase of the 2016 race promises to be just as bizarre as ever.

Pence: “I think in our schools we should teach all of the facts about all of these controversial areas, and let our students, let our children and our children’s children decide based upon the facts and the science.”

Pence is totally on board with “teaching the controversy” in schools. No, it is not just enough for him to not support evolution, he wants to promote such anti-science positions in our schools.

This line comes during a discussion of creationism, again in that Hardball with Chris Matthews interview:

PENCE: Science is an exploration of demonstrable fact, isn‘t it?

MATTHEWS: Right. Right.

PENCE: I think, in our schools, we should teach all of the facts about all of these controversial areas and let our students, let our children and our children‘s children decide based upon the facts and the science.

This is a popular argument of the intelligent design and young-Earth creationism community: “Teach the controversy.” But one good reason not to teach creationism as a “theory” is that it cannot be tested. Evolution, or more to the point, natural selection, has survived scientific tests for more than a century. As a theory of life, it has only grown stronger. If adherents to creationism reject the findings of geology and physics, for instance, which help us understand the age of the Earth, then how can we have a data-based, evidence-grounded discussion of creationism over natural selection?

Pence: “Abortion-inducing drugs can be very dangerous.”

Not only is Pence against a woman’s right to choose, he backs up his position with pseudo-science. Scientists have shown that abortion-inducing drugs are not dangerous. This is a myth supported by those who desperately want to cling on to their anti-abortion positions.

This statement was in reference to a bill he signed as governor in 2013, which imposed new restrictions on abortion clinics – the same type of restrictions the United States Supreme Court smacked down recently. But the claim, like the ones made in Texas and other states, is not based on science. In Indiana, the abortion pill in question was mifepristone, which has been in use in this country for fifteen years and around the globe for thirty-five years. The drug works by suppressing progesterone, which the body needs to sustain a pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends it. And it is not just for women seeking abortions: It is also used to treat an incomplete miscarriage.

Pence signed a more recent abortion-restriction bill this spring, this one to ban abortions by women seeking them because the fetus has a genetic abnormality.

Since Pence has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” and as “a born-again, evangelical Catholic,” I suspect that his religious faith has something to do with his answers.

So there you have it – the bizarre beliefs of Mike Pence, who could become the next Vice-President of the United States and a heart-beat away from the presidency if Donald Trump is successful. There is more, much more, but the above should be sufficient to make a  judgment on Pence’s positions.

For me, Pence is neither safe or conventional – and certainly has beliefs as bizarre as Donald Trump. They are a good “dog and pony show” together.

Now that Pence is the pick, the media vetting has begun, and we will surely learn much more about his thoughts on science and other subjects. But it is worth noting that the claims above are unique, both in their easy, immediate refutability and in their anti-science conservative worldview.

To be fair, other science-related statements from Pence strike a more moderate tone. They almost suggest that as the president of the Senate, and the person next in line as commander-in-chief, he would, at the very least, pay lip service to the scientific process.

In his interview with Chris Matthews, Pence dropped a couple defenses of science that one does not often hear from Republicans, and which he and others would do well to remember. In the discussion of creationism, he said that “science is an exploration of demonstrable fact” – that is actually a pretty good definition. And, he says, “I accept the scientific method.”

So at least there is that. It is not much, but at least it is something.