Words

January 17, 2018

Just so we are clear from the outset… this is not a devotion or a “Christian” writing.

Over 40 years ago now I worked at a drug counseling center while serving in the U.S. Navy. Back then there were too many guys returning from Vietnam who had gotten caught up in serious drug use.  And of course there were many who had not been to Vietnam who also got caught up in the same.  At the center where I worked we did two things:  We evaluated drug users to determine the best treatment plan for them.  And we offered counseling and small groups.  As part of the evaluation process we showed a video called “Chalk Talk” done by a Catholic Priest named Father Martin.  Father Martin was a recovering alcoholic and that’s the subject of the video.  It was very well done for its day.  (You can still find it on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7T5stQQFQg.)  I remember Father Martin going to great lengths to define “Alcoholism.”  Frankly I wouldn’t have thought it that difficult until one tries to put boundaries around a definition.

I didn’t really agree with Father Martin’s definition but I didn’t have a better one. He essentially said, “You are an alcoholic if alcohol has caused you problems in your life.”  He went on to tell a story about a man who got drunk once then had an accident that killed his entire family.  “He is an alcoholic,” said Father Martin.

He also discussed how alcoholics define the word. Basically alcoholism is anything they are not.  “If you drink more than a 6 pack of beer a day, you’re an alcoholic.”  That from those who stop at 6.  “You are an alcoholic if you start drinking in the morning or early afternoon.”  That coming from those who only drink at night.  “You are an alcoholic if you drink hard liquor.”  That from beer or wine drinkers.  And it goes on from there.  The point is that defining our terms is essential to treating and confronting issues.  If we don’t know what we’re talking about how can we progress toward resolution?

Years ago I heard a well-known speaker say this: “If you are white and you were born in the U.S.A. you ARE a racist because it is in the very air we breathe.”  I should add that the speaker was white.  Honestly I don’t necessarily disagree with what he said.  My only question is this: Define “racism.”  I don’t say that in a combative way.  Or even to avoid the issue.  I am seriously asking for a definition so that we all know what we’re talking about.

I had the opportunity to make a few observations for the speaker to address. One was this:  “When we use the term ‘racist’ to define ‘everyone’ from those who are white and born in this country, but are doing all they can to overcome the discrimination and disparity between whites and other minorities to those who wear white sheets and burn crosses in people’s front yards… well, that doesn’t really further the discussion.  What it really does is make people defensive and any reasonable conversation ends there.”  I went on to say that someone needs to invent some new language to help define the boundaries, i.e., a class 1 racist vs. a class 2 racist… Or a chronic racist vs. an “unpremeditated” racist… or whatever.  To my knowledge, no new language has been introduced to help bring clarity to this very serious matter. So we continue to struggle with racial resolution partly because we have no agreed upon words thus we have no idea what we’re talking about.  It’s really not much different than trying to get directions from someone who speaks Russian and only Russian.  They can do a lot of pointing and gesturing but in the end, we will not get where we want to go.

Let me apply this to a REALLY divisive issue.  In recent months President Trump has been accused of being “racist.”  If the speaker I mentioned above is correct, then yes of course he is “racist” because all whites in this country are!  And do you also see how this then doesn’t mean anything?  Those in the press who are calling him a racist are racist themselves.  Those who are opposed to him as president and call him a racist are racist as well.  Those who simply despise him and want him out of office are racist also.  I’m not supporting, defending or accusing anyone of anything other than using language that is meaningless.  I suspect when he is called a racist, it is as a certain type of racist.  But what is it? WE NEED NEW LANGUAGE!

The same idea applies to the recent revelations regarding “sexual harassment.” I agree that many deplorable things have been done to women and that men need to be held accountable for them.  But what things?  Can someone help me by defining what “sexual harassment” is?  Not unlike racism or alcoholism some examples are no brainers.  But what I have heard recently is that on some level sexual harassment is “in the eye of the beholder.”  In other words anyone can define it any way they like.  That doesn’t help!  If we can’t define it we can’t very effectively address it.

Sadly there are few forums where we can discuss these things without fear of being accused of something. I’m not trying to make any political statements or social statements here.  I am simply trying to say that we cannot talk about difficult, sensitive issues if we do not have common language.

Years ago, Ellen and I went on a “Marriage Encounter” weekend. Marriage Encounter teaches a form of communicating for married couples.  Basically, you write letters to each other without assuming the other knows what you mean by the terms you use.  The very first thing they had us do was write to our spouse and define very clearly and specifically what we meant when we said we “loved them,” i.e., what does “love” mean in that context?  It was very difficult and very helpful.

So the next time you hear the words “Alcoholic,” or “Racist,” or “Sexual harassment,” ask yourself this question: “How are they defining or using that term?”  And you may want to ask how you use it as well.

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Symbols

June 26, 2015

Years ago I had Plantars warts on the bottom of my right foot. They literally covered the entire surface. If you don’t know about these sorts of warts, they grow inward not outward and can be painful. I went to the doctor and he gave me a prescription for an acidic liquid that I would “paint” on my foot each day that killed the top layer of skin. Each night the dead skin had to be sanded off. Ellen literally used a power disk sander on the bottom of my foot every night for months! I would lay on the floor with my foot propped up on her lap as she sanded away without trying to go too deep and draw blood. The short of this story is… it didn’t work. I still had them after months and months of “painting and sanding.” I finally went to a different doctor. He said that he would burn the roots of the warts and they would go away. So, using some sort of “hot poker-like” instrument he burned 5 little holes into the bottom of my foot. Within weeks the warts were all gone and have never returned. The moral of the story? Dealing with symptoms doesn’t make the illness go away. One has to kill the root. Keep that in mind as you read on.

If you have been paying attention at all you are familiar with the controversy over the display of the Confederate Flag that is taking place across our land. The last time I looked several states had taken it down from their government offices and it’s no longer sold in some large retail stores. Allow me to jump into the fray for a moment.

First and foremost, we need to – MUST – combat racism in our country in every way we can. There is no way we can claim to be a civilized people as long as we separate ourselves based on our skin color or our heritage… Period! I know there are cultural issues and divides. I know there are things done by others that frighten and appall some of us. I know that values are not shared across the board. I know that there are too many young black men in prison. I know that there are way too many illegal immigrants. I know that economic divides exacerbate our issues. All of these things and many more cause untold problems, but they are not a reason to hate other people. Period! Especially, I might add, if you claim to be a Christian. Period!

Now, about the flag situation. Some have claimed that the origins of the Confederate Flag are not founded in racism. It was and is representative of the desire for an “independent Southern State.” That may be true. And it may continue to be true for some or even many. But here’s the crux of the problem. Symbols evolve. What they may have meant a hundred years ago may not be what they mean now. Can anyone with any sense really claim that there are not groups and individuals who rally around this flag for the cause of racism? Seriously? Whether folks like it or not, the symbol has evolved into something divisive and in some circles… evil.

Allow me to mention a couple of other examples. Maybe the most prominent one: The Nazi Swastika. Take some time to do a little research and you’ll find this symbol has its roots in ancient history. And even up until the early part of the 20th Century it was intended to represent “good luck” and “well being” for those who flew it. Would anyone like to see its return? Well, some would, but I think that most right thinking people understand that its meaning has evolved and it no longer is suitable to be flown. Do not misunderstand me. I am not commenting on whether people have a “right” to fly this flag – just whether they should, and what it actually means now.

Other examples from the Christian faith might be the use of Christmas trees or the word “Easter.” Both of these have their roots in pagan traditions, but they don’t mean that anymore. Obviously their meanings have evolved over the years. Those who say, “Well, Christians use pagan symbols” are just silly and naive. Who identifies these things with paganism any longer? Few, if any. It has been many centuries since these “symbols” have been associated with pagan religions. Again, the symbolism has evolved.

I hope you see the association with “plantars warts?” Surely we should no longer encourage racist symbols, but that’s not really the issue is it? Nor will eliminating racist symbols from our buildings and flag poles exterminate hatred for other human beings. The truth is this. We are broken human beings and our hearts are blackened. No government or social movement will alter that. Oh sure, we can make some changes. But they will not last! The wickedness in our humanity will always come to the surface. Dealing with symptoms without dealing with the root is a lesson in futility.

I have no expectation that non-Christians will adopt the Christian value of love. Not that they can’t. I just don’t expect it. But for Believers??? Racism is sinful and needs to be eradicated from our hearts and our souls. Period! We begin in the place we should always begin with these things… REPENTANCE. The “act” of saying, “God, I’m sorry for my sin. Please CHANGE my heart.” If we are not willing to do that in the Name of Jesus Christ then we choose to be in rebellion against God. Good luck with that.

Take some time to consider these verses today and how they apply to your life.

Matthew 22:36-40
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.