The lessons we teach (or not)

Affection. That’s what our nation is missing.

No warm fuzzies. No hugs. Very few compliments. Everyone would appreciate a pat on the back. A smile. Holding hands. A high five. Especially after the game.
Instead, we don’t like each other. We really don’t like each other. We’re teaching our young people to hate.

And I’m not even talking politics. (Yet.)

The football classroom

Look at two of last weekend’s high-profile college football games here in the Midwest. University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, upset at a referee’s call, got penalized during the game against Ohio State for throwing his stat sheet on the sidelines. Unsportsmanlike conduct.

Although it didn’t happen in this game, college players sometimes get penalized for celebrating too much after scoring a touchdown. Also unsportsmanlike conduct.

You’re penalized if you’re too angry; you’re penalized if you’re too happy. No emotion allowed. Just hand the ball to the referee and move on to the next play.

I should have been a football player. I’ve learned to bury my emotions deep in my heart, keeping them to myself. Is this what we want in society? Really? A bunch of robots playing a game before 100,000 fans and a screaming television audience?

What then?

Oh, the athletes are supposed to play hard for three hours or so, then make nice afterward. It doesn’t always work that way. I’m not sure that’s what affection is anyway.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, left, yells at the field judge during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State beat Michigan 30-27 in double overtime. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, left, yells at the field judge during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State on Saturday. (The Associated Press)

After the game, Harbaugh bitterly blamed the referees for his team’s double-overtime loss. No taking responsibility himself. No thought that perhaps Ohio State made one or two more plays than U-M did. He forgot about his team’s three turnovers, leading to two OSU touchdowns.

I lost respect for Harbaugh after that. Blaming the refs is not leadership. But that’s what the impressionable young people at U-M see from the most prominent authority figure in their lives. The rest of us see that example, too.

In another game last weekend, Penn State ran up the score on Michigan State because, apparently, the Spartans did that to the Nittany Lions last year. Revenge is a good motivator. That’s another message our young people are being taught. He did it, so I can too.

Integrity, anyone? Will America rise above this?

The politics classroom

We certainly didn’t, and still haven’t, after the presidential election three weeks ago. Some people still haven’t gotten over it.

How did we nominate, much less elect, a candidate with no political experience who speaks first and thinks second?

This is who we are as a nation. Angry. Vengeful. Upset when things don’t go our way.

We got what we deserve.

Where do we go from here?

A thankful heart

We just celebrated Thanksgiving. I wonder how thankful we really are for our freedoms, our full stomachs, our jobs (for those of us who have one), our families.

My family celebrated the holiday at Mom and Dad’s house. Ten of us arrived from five states to enjoy the day together. We have different lifestyles and political views, but we put all that aside and had a great time. We found common ground around a wonderful and full dinner table.

Pass the turkey, please. And save some room for pumpkin or apple pie.

We are now in the Christmas season. Is it all about Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

I hope not.

I wish we liked each other more. I think that would solve a lot of problems.

We might have nominated presidential candidates we actually like. We might realize that students who attend the University of Michigan and Ohio State University are more alike than they are different.

The pastor at our church in Michigan, now retired, was a U-M graduate and a strong sports fan. Several of us in the congregation were Michigan State graduates, and several others were Ohio State grads. We had fun in the fall and winter cheering for our schools’ teams. None of us stopped attending church just because one team lost or another team won.

We like to tell our children that sports is a great place to learn teamwork, responsibility and authority. I don’t see those lessons being reinforced anymore, once children get old enough to know better.

The world does not resolve around sports. Or politics. It really doesn’t.

A new champion will be crowned in each sport next year. We will elect a new president four years from now. Nothing that happened this November will last forever.

A little affection might help us see that. But that means we’d have to get along with people wearing the other team’s colors.

If we liked each other, perhaps we’d spend more time in face-to-face conversations and less time on social media. I’m not one to initiate conversations very often, so I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I could do better.

Agree to disagree

Just because I like you doesn’t mean I agree with everything you stand for. America has a very hard time with this concept. I know several gay people, for example. I do not support that lifestyle. But a gay person has likes and dislikes, a job and hobbies, hopes and fears … just like I do. We’re not as different as we make ourselves out to be.

I’m not anyone’s judge. Neither are you. God will judge each of us in our own time.

Let’s hug. Shake hands. Root for our teams, then break bread together.

We can do it.

We have to be intentional about it, make a conscious decision to get along with each other. It’s worth the effort.

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The election’s human side

I was stunned that Donald Trump actually won the presidential election.

Despite all the yard signs I saw supporting him, I didn’t think he could pull it off. But he did.

As I told a friend recently, Trump struck a nerve in this country that runs deeper than anyone realized.

Far deeper, as it turns out.

If the Republicans had rejected Trump and his audacious words a year ago during the primary season, they likely would have nominated someone like Ted Cruz. Would he have been a better choice? Received more votes?

We’ll never know, of course.

Neither Donald nor Hillary Clinton impressed me, nor a lot of other people. Both had negative approval ratings throughout the campaign, for good reasons.

But we were going to elect one of them.

I voted the platform, not the person. I think nearly all of us did, whether we realized it or not.

We either support the Republican agenda or the Democratic vision for our country.

In earlier elections, I was worried the parties were so similar, it was hard to tell them apart.

Not so this time.

The Republican platform

https://prod-static-ngop-pbl.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_FINAL[1]-ben_1468872234.pdf

According to the platform approved this summer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, here’s a partial list of GOP positions:

  • Free trade
  • Free market for the banking system, ie, fewer government regulations
  • Phase out the federal transit program (to make it local)
  • Simplify laws for business start-ups
  • Reduce the federal debt, including a balanced budget amendment
  • Change the activist judiciary, including the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Support traditional marriage and family
  • Defend the right to keep and bear arms
  • Severely limit surveillance on U.S. soil
  • Sanctity of life, including for unborn children; oppose abortion
  • State sovereignty on most issues
  • Proof of citizenship when registering to vote and photo ID when voting
  • Modernize pipelines and the electric grid, including supporting the Keystone XL pipeline
  • No energy subsidies; let the free market decide energy use
  • No regulation of the Internet
  • Support legal immigration, but not illegal immigration
  • Require international treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in the Senate
  • Audit the Pentagon
  • Term limits for members of Congress
  • Allow Puerto Rico to become a state
  • Competition among different types of K-12 education
  • Return higher education student loan funding to the private sector
  • Repeal Obamacare and let states regulate the insurance industry
  • Portability of insurance coverage
  • Reduce the number of criminal offenses
  • Peace through strength, ie, a strong military
  • Unequivocally support Israel

The Democratic platform

https://www.demconvention.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Democratic-Party-Platform-7.21.16-no-lines.pdf

According to the platform approved this summer at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, here’s a partial list of Democratic positions:

  • Increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • Equal pay for women
  • At least 12 weeks of paid leave for having a child or a family member’s severe medical issue
  • Incentivize companies to share profits
  • Expand investment in infrastructure, including roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines, and establish an independent infrastructure bank to assist in funding those projects
  • Connect every household to high-speed broadband, and support Internet neutrality
  • Increase access to global markets for American intellectual property and other digital trade
  • Open access to credit for small businesses, and target funding for small businesses in underserved communities
  • Strengthen criminal laws and civil penalties for Wall Street criminals
  • Establish a multimillionaire surtax and end loopholes for wealthy taxpayers
  • Remove the Confederate flag from public properties because it is a racist symbol
  • Improve diversity in federal and state contracting services, incentivize retirement investment programs, and increase opportunities for jobs and education for people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds
  • Reform mandatory minimum prison sentences
  • Close private prisons and detention centers
  • Create national guidelines on use of force by police officers
  • “Ban the box,” expand re-entry programs and restore voting rights as prison terms end
  • Fix the immigration system, including repealing the 3-year, 10-year and permanent bars and ensuring due process for those fleeing violence in Central America, including unaccompanied children
  • Expand sex discrimination laws to cover LGBT people
  • Restore the Voting Rights Act
  • Appoint judges who defend liberty and equality for all
  • Approve statehood for the District of Columbia
  • Tackle the climate challenge
  • Support clean energy, including solar panels and renewable energy
  • Oppose the Keystone XL pipeline
  • Make college debt-free
  • Guarantee universal preschool and good schools for every child
  • Secure universal health care
  • Protect and advance reproductive health, rights and justice, including access to safe and legal abortion
  • Expand and strengthen background checks for gun purchases
  • Defeat ISIS with assistance from allies and partners

A volatile climate

It’s hard to comment on last week’s election without offending someone, because the differences are so sharp and the election was close. Who I voted for doesn’t matter now, because we have a new president-elect.

It’s easy for me to say that, but do I really believe it? I did believe that when Barack Obama was elected president, both times. He is our president, whether I agree with the direction he’s taken this country or not.

Our social climate will change next year when Trump takes office. Will the gravity of the office itself change him? Will he understand that other people have ideas too?

In the same vein, do you and I understand that other people have ideas different from ours – and different does not necessarily mean worse (or better)?

Many of my friends are stepping back from social media for awhile, because the climate is so volatile right now. That’s not a bad idea.

We are not neighborly

In the AARP Bulletin (yes, I’m that old) that came in the mail a few days ago, Sebastian Junger, a journalist and author who is an expert on military life, claims that the isolationism that prevails across the United States makes it extremely hard for combat veterans to re-enter society. Veterans are a tight-knit group that depend on each other for their very lives, Junger says, and they have trouble recapturing that at home.

“It’s the shock of going from a close-knit communal existence to the kind of individualized unconnected society that we have in modern America,” he says. “That’s just psychologically hard on human beings. It’s hard on civilians as well; they just don’t realize it because they’ve never experienced the alternative … The problem isn’t with the vets, it’s with society.”

That played out during the election. We have our own thoughts, our own ideas, and because we don’t know our neighbors we don’t know what they are thinking.

I have reasons for thinking the way I do. So do you. Can we hear each other out, and respect each other still?

Some of the happiest people I’ve ever met lived in poverty in southern Mexico when I visited there more than 25 years ago. They depended on each other for survival, literally. If you’re hungry today I’ll share my food with you, because I know you’ll do the same for me tomorrow.

Is this what wealth does to us? Isolates us? Insulates us?

Perhaps I should just not post anything anymore and keep my thoughts to myself, and you wouldn’t get angry or upset at me. But neither of us would learn anything from each other, either.

That’s the key. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s figure this out together.

That’s what it means to be human.

The cause of our deep animosity (and the solution)

 

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

The leopard shall lie down with the kid,

The calf and the lion and the fatling together,

And a little child shall lead them.

  • Isaiah 11:6

 

Tomorrow, we will have a new president-elect.

No matter who wins, this nation will need healing. Major healing.

This country hasn’t been so divided since the Civil War in the 1860s.

What divides us is not the issues that have dominated the news this year. It’s not Hillary’s emails or Trump’s derogatory language, Benghazi or taxes, FBI investigations or Trump’s political naivete.

No, the issue that divides us runs much deeper than that.

The deepest issue

Right and wrong. It’s whether right and wrong even exist, and who gets to decide.

Conservatives say yes, there is right and wrong, and we human beings don’t get to decide which is which. There’s a higher power, something bigger than us, that decides what is good and what is evil.

Right and wrong do not change over time, but are the same for all people in all cultures for all time, past, present and future.

Liberals disagree with that completely. Humans get to decide what’s right and wrong based on our preferences and desires. Any higher power is oppressive, limiting who we are and what we believe.

That’s the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals in this country.

Donald and Hillary are not by any means the perfect representations of those ideals, but we chose them in the primaries. This country is heading liberal, no doubt about it, with last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage and with marijuana legislation following the same path – a few states passing it, then a wave of states, and perhaps the nation’s top court will rule on this too. Or, perhaps all the states will eventually just legalize marijuana on their own.

The winner is who yells the loudest and the longest. I was a longtime member of the United Methodist Church. That denomination first discussed same-sex marriage in the late 1960s, and its leadership has rejected language supporting it every four years since – for half-a-century. And yet that resolution continues to be brought forth. Supporters will not take no for an answer, because this is a right-and-wrong issue for them.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage also see that as a right-and-wrong issue. Hence, the stalemate. It just depends on which side has more people in positions of authority.

Is there a compromise? I’m not sure there is.

Supreme Court justice

And that’s why our nation is divided. It’s not so much Donald and Hillary, really; it’s who the winner will nominate as U.S. Supreme Court justices in the next four years. The Supreme Court should not set policy, but it does. So, the appointments matter. Big time.

Will Roe vs. Wade continue? Will same-sex marriage continue as the law of the land? Can the tide be turned? Should it?

Either way, can we learn to get along with each other again, as the Bible verse I quoted at the top of this blog says we will?

Or, as my sister said when we were talking about this over the weekend, will it take another 9/11 to unite this country? It’s so sad that it takes a horrific tragedy to bring us together, to help us understand that all of us are more alike than we are different.

Are we headed down THAT path? I certainly hope not.

No quick fix

What, then, will it take for the United States of America to live up to its name?

First, both sides must agree that this issue is worth solving.

The Civil War in the 1860s was fought over slavery, and even when the war ended, it took many decades for slavery to be abolished. Some people would say it still hasn’t been abolished completely, and I would agree with that. Legally it has, of course, but in our hearts … prejudice remains.

I’m sorry to say that. But I think it’s true.

So, I know there’s no quick fix this time either. The wolf shall live with the lamb one day. I believe that is true, even if I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Conservatives are rebelling at the liberal bent this country is following. That’s freedom of speech. They hope the pendulum of life will swing back in their direction eventually.

Will it? Can it? Should it?

I see plenty of evidence that humans (and everything else on Earth) were created by a master designer, who we call God. The designer gets to decide how his “products” are used. Ford and General Motors build cars for specific purposes; the cars themselves don’t get to decide how they are used. The driver does.

That’s the principle behind God. He sees a much bigger picture than we do:

 

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

Or decide by what his ears hear;

But with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

And decide with equity for the meek of the earth …

  • Isaiah 11:3-4

 

What? God will not judge by the physical evidence? Ultimately, no. Since God created us, he knows our hearts, our motives, and what we will do next.

I am a very good actor. I can hide my emotions and feelings from you if I choose to do that. You can see my motives by what I say and do, but by then the deed has already been done. God knows in advance what I will do. That’s how he will judge me.

Psychologists try to understand the human mind, but they will never get it as well as the one who created the human mind does.

We are not judges

So, we need to judge carefully. At the U.S. Supreme Court and in our own lives.

That’s how we can come together as a nation. By letting God be the judge.

Not me. Not you.

Let’s talk this through. Not with anger. Not with judgment.

Both sides.

Can we do it?

 

They will not hurt or destroy

On all my holy mountain;

For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

As the waters cover the sea.

  • Isaiah 11: 9

 

That’s the only way to make this country work. If I believe that I am right and you are wrong, and you feel the same with opposite views but identical passion, we will never unify as a nation.

Perhaps it will take a tragedy for us to understand the bigger picture.

Or, we can avoid that and choose to do the right thing.

… and Justice for all

But the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice,

And the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness.

  • Isaiah 5:16

 

What is justice, anyway? And who gets to decide when justice is served correctly?

According to Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/justice, justice is “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals.”

That’s assuming the laws are just, and are applied fairly.

Another definition of justice, according to the same web site, is “a title for a judge (such as a judge of the U.S. Supreme Court).”

A Supreme Court justice.

The next U.S. president possibly could appoint three or four U.S. Supreme Court justices, whose job is to interpret the laws already on the books. Because different people interpret the same laws differently, this is a big deal.

Indeed, in the eyes of some voters, this is a major reason why they will vote for a certain candidate – not even because of the candidate’s views on family issues, immigration or foreign policy, but who would he or she appoint to the Supreme Court?

Arbitrary justice

Is all justice arbitrary, then? Does it all depend on politics?

To take it a step further, is there such a thing as right and wrong?

I’m serious.

For all people in all cultures, past present and future, rich and poor, American and Iranian: Do right and wrong exist?

Okay, maybe that’s a little much. How about in the United States: Does right and wrong exist? For black, white and Hispanic, wealthy and destitute, urban and rural, Republican and Democrat?

Is justice even possible? Who gets to decide?

Is marijuana possession a crime? Depends who you ask. In some jurisdictions, yes; in others, no.

If I drive 5 mph over the speed limit, am I breaking the law? How about 10 mph over the limit?

Do we get to pick and choose which laws we want to follow?

If I don’t like a particular law, can I just ignore it? This country allows protests and campaigns to change laws, but are we supposed to keep the laws in the meantime?

What is justice? And who wins when justice is served correctly?

Many people don’t like the Ten Commandments posted on courthouse doors, because of their origin. It doesn’t matter what the Ten Commandments are. Do not steal, do not murder, do not covet things that aren’t yours, do not commit adultery … These things all have consequences, whether a courtroom judge applies the justice or not.

And many of the Ten Commandments are written into U.S. law. For good reasons.

The prophet Isaiah wrote the verse I quoted at the start of this blog about 2,700 years ago. Who wins when justice is served correctly? “The Lord of hosts,” according to Isaiah.

Why did he write that?

Because the Lord of hosts understands true justice, in ways that no man or woman does. Why can I say that? The Lord of hosts created us; He created our hearts. He knows us in our innermost being. He knows our motive. He understands guilt and innocence better than we ever will.

Motive

We work hard in our justice system to get it right, and hopefully we do get it right – at least most of the time.

Murder or self-defense? The split-second decision to shoot changes not just the life of the victim, but the lives of the victim’s family, friends, neighbors, etc. … and the life of the shooter as well.

How do we determine motive?

As a nation, are we willing to accept a judge and/or jury’s verdict? Or is justice served only when we get our way, when we decide for the judge and jury what right and wrong truly are?

Even in sports these days, justice is paramount. A referee or umpire’s call isn’t good enough anymore. We have “instant” replay to make sure, and calls are overturned all the time. We can’t accept human “error.”

Except that all humans err.

So, it’s all about the conclusive video evidence, the body cameras, what’s written in emails and tweets or spoken before a videographer, hidden or otherwise.

When the woman is caught in adultery, do we throw the first stone? She’s obviously guilty, you know. That’s what justice is.

But justice wasn’t applied fairly in that story from the Bible. The man who committed the adultery was just as guilty as the woman was, and should have been stoned as well. Why was he not brought to “trial”?

Motive.

True justice

Who sees the big picture? Isn’t that a judge’s job?

But if a judge is appointed or elected by Republicans or Democrats, how is that “fair”? Either way? Again, is there such a thing as right and wrong independent of politics?

Not in the United States, there isn’t. Not now, anyway.

 

“But the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice,

And the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness.”

 

Perhaps there really is a bigger picture. Perhaps Isaiah understood something 2,700 years ago that we have forgotten today.

The Lord of hosts is not the God of white America. That’s not what I’m saying at all, although I’m sure at least some of you are thinking that. Because in our history white Americans administered justice unfairly in the name of God. And people with power, of any color or religion, have administered justice unfairly pretty much since time began.

That just proves my point.

How can humans – any human – define justice, and get it right every single time?

I don’t think we can. Even video evidence is inconclusive much of the time.

Is justice even possible?

Isaiah connected justice with holiness and righteousness.

Big words. Big ideas. Bigger than you and I, for sure.

Is that kind of justice worth pursuing?

Or do we humans have to figure this all out by ourselves?