Friday, October 22, 2010

How not to be a brave American

This week Juan Williams got fired by NPR. He was fired because he went on television and said "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

I'm not here to discuss the merits of his firing. Was it political? Was it personal? That's not my concern. My concern is that we, as Americans, are becoming too afraid of our own shadow.

How would you feel if someone went on television and said one of the following:

"I get nervous when I see a black man because I think he's going to rob me."
"I get nervous when I see a Catholic priest because I think he's going to molest my children."
"I get nervous when I see a conservative because I think he's going to blow up a federal building."
"I get nervous when I see someone in a pro-life shirt because I think he's going to shoot an abortion doctor."
"I get nervous when I see a Fox News pundit because I think he's going to leave an obscene message on my voice-mail"
"I get nervous when I see an American tourist because I think he's going to be loud, stupid, and ignorant."
"I get nervous when I see an evangelical Christian because I think he's going to picket a soldier's funeral."

Would you agree with that person that it's all right to be nervous? Or would you tell that person to grow a pair and stop letting the media make you unreasonably afraid. We have enough actual threats to worry about, and the last thing we need is for people to be terrified of non-threats.

In fact, I believe that it is cowardly to apply a blanket label on a group. Americans aren't supposed to be cowards. We're supposed to shrug off threats and go on with our lives. We're supposed to be smart enough to separate the bad apples from the bunch.

Muslims don't make me nervous. In fact, if I saw a Muslim in traditional garb on an airplane, I would know that those Muslims weren't planning anything. Do you really think a terrorist is going to dress in such a way as to attract attention?

Bottom line, I refuse to be a coward. I refuse to let politicians and pundits tell me who I should be afraid of. I refuse to reject the values of the Founders by blaming an entire group for the actions of a few evil individuals.

Yes, the Muslim world has many, many evils that need to be stopped. So does a good chunk of the world that isn't Muslim. But those evils are no excuse to NOT be a good American. They are not an excuse to expect Americans to be better than those other, backwards places. My mother never let me get away with "but what about them" when I got in trouble, and neither do I allow others to play that card.

Let's be better than that.

Besides, you are more likely to be killed driving to work or from the flu than you are from a terrorist attack. The idiot next to you yapping on her cell phone while driving an SUV is far more dangerous than a Muslim in Muslim garb.

Friday, October 15, 2010

We need to get over it

I wrote this a while back so I'm cheating a bit. Still, it's my words and I still stand by them. I thought I would share. Tomorrow I'll try to be less serious. I'll probably talk about what's admirable about Jackass 3D.

Christians have a sadly deserved reputation of getting offended by anything and everything. Someone says something on TV and Christians throw a fit. An artist does something tacky and Christians line up with picket signs. A large corporation gives benefits to everyone and Christians boycott. Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. Moreover, it’s the exact wrong response.

Simply put, being offended is the exact opposite response we’re supposed to have with the world. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and to turn the other cheek. We can’t do these things if we are getting offended by the people Christ calls us to love. It’s one or the other.

The Devil loves it when we get offended. His intention is simple, he wants us to love as little as possible, because lack of love hinders the Gospel. Every time we are offended, we do the Devil’s work. We hinder the Gospel of love. We fail to love our neighbor.

For example, suppose you meet someone who has a negative attitude towards Christians. They say that all Christians are just simple-minded idiots who worship an invisible man in the sky. It’s easy to then get offended by this, puff out our chests, and demand an apology, demand our rights, and storm off.

This is pride. Being offended is nothing more than pride, arrogance, and entitlement, things Christ specifically preached against. We need to abandon the notion that standing up for our egos and bruised feelings is somehow godly. It isn’t. If Jesus offered no resistance when the world put Him on the cross, if He was able to implore God to forgive the people for crucifying him, we should be able to let negative comments roll off our backs. Being offended immediately cuts off an opportunity to respond in love.

Many people have negative attitudes about Christians as a defense mechanism. Some of them may have grown up in church, which sadly is a great way to guarantee they never set foot in a church again. Some have had negative encounters with “loving” Christians: being told that you are an immoral, disgusting heathen bound for Hell tends to leave a negative taste in their mouths. Others are bothered by Christians’ habits of imposing their will on everyone else. These people need love, understanding, and grace, not the usual Christian hissy fit.

There are some who get a thrill by annoying Christians. They say awful things just to get a rise out of us, and we oblige by launching into a frothing rage. If we just let things go and respond in love, it not only foils their scheme, but it demonstrates that Jesus is so wonderful that he teaches us to love those who are offensive.

A larger problem is that Christians get upset at the wrong things. Someone uses God as a swear word, we throw a tantrum. Someone else utters a racist, sexist, or homophobic comment, and we say nothing. We allow hatred as long as it’s not about us. We only stand up for ourselves and don’t stick up for the powerless.

If you want to take a true stand for Christ, it’s not in complaining every time someone uses a dirty word. It’s standing up for the gay coworker getting harassed. It’s standing up for the single mother getting sexually harassed. It’s standing up for the weak, oppressed, and wounded. After all Jesus said that if we just love ourselves and those like us, we are no better than the pagan world. What makes us better, and what makes Christ better, is standing up for those the world hates more than us.

Sometimes it’s standing up for the people that Christianity hates. Sadly, we are a hateful bunch. Not all of us, but enough of us to cause trouble. Christians love ganging up on folks, and right now it’s the gays. We love hating gays and too often Christians look the other way when gays are being assaulted, persecuted, or spoken about in a derogatory way. This is not what Christ called us for, nor is it the example He set.

I’ve heard Christians talking about taking a stand when someone uses the Lord’s name in vain. Usually this refers to people using Jesus Christ or God as a curse word. We get offended and pitch a fit and demand that they don’t do it around our precious ears. We need to get over it. Jesus put up with a lot more insults and He WAS God. If he can take it, we can let it go. Besides, getting offended by that is mostly about us, and we turn it into a point of pride. Pride is the opposite of love.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is more than just cursing. When Jerry Falwell declared that the September 11th attacks occurred because of feminists, he took the Lord’s name in vain. When Prosperity Gospel preachers tell their congregants to send in all their money so God will bless them, they take the Lord’s name in vain. When we are told that God wants us to vote Republican, that too is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Those offenses are far more serious than simply using God as a swear, because this leads people astray, hurts them, and discourages the Gospel. Too often Christians say nothing, if not aid and abet these sins.

We need to get thicker skin, it’s the only way to love. When an artist dunks a crucifix into a jar of urine, our response should be to roll our eyes and move on. Getting outraged is what he wants, because without such outrage, said “artist” has nothing to show for his “work.” At the end of the day, all he’s got is a jar of pee.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why am I here?

This is, perhaps, the Ultimate Question. Right up there with the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. (It's 42, by the way.) We often ask why we are here in a cosmic sense, but then we narrow it down to why am I at this particular place in my life? Why am I here?

Tonight I think I may have part of that answer.

I've been praying since Sunday for 4 things: my marriage, my wife, my student, and my purpose. It's this last one I'm excited about. While God hasn't told me where I am going, I think I got an answer for why I'm here. For me, that's critical. I've spent a lot of time regretting the choices that brought me to Houston. It hasn't been easy here, and I'm far apart from friends and family. (Though living far from family might actually be a bonus, but that's another topic for another time.) I keep thinking of the choices I could and should have made, but looking back, perhaps those would have been the wrong choices. Tonight I think I may know why that is.

What, you may be wondering, is the big deal? Why am I so excited? Here's the deal, this thing hasn't played out yet so I could be jumping the gun, but I just have to share. I may be responsible for getting a friend's kid into college with most, if not all, expenses covered.

Here's the situation. I've been working as an SAT.ACT tutor for almost 8 years. It's supported me through the lean times, and I'm pretty good at it.

My friend has a daughter who needs to get into college. Not only that, but she needs to pay for college, as her father, my friend, is out of work and can't afford to send her. Thus, she needs an awesome score on the PSAT and SAT to get there. Her first practice test did not go so well and her getting a good PSAT score seemed unlikely without serious help from a tutor, which would be incredibly expansive and with her father out of work, impossible.

Except God sent me here, had me gain lots of experience as a tutor, and then put me in their lives. I was happy to tutor her for free (they did feed me several times so I got something out of it) and help my friend get his daughter into college. She still hasn't taken the PSAT yet, but her score jumped up A LOT. In fact, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that she could be a National Merit Finalist, which means tons of money for college.

So I wonder, is this the reason I'm here. To help her do well on the test, get into college and pay for it? Perhaps God has a larger purpose for her and He needed me to give her an assist. If that's the case, if I am here to help her when no one else could (or would), then I know I'm in the right place. God has sent so many people to help me, why shouldn't I be a part of blessing others.

So perhaps I got a glimpse of the plan tonight. I can't say for certain, though, and part of me feels arrogant for even thinking this. I might be just making a big deal out of a great moment and arrogant to consider myself part of God's plan.

Then again, I just might be.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Get a rope!

I read a story today about a woman who made a hobby out of mocking a 7 year-old girl with a fatal disease. She was a neighbor of the girl, and apparently this all grew out of a petty feud. This woman had a facebook group devoted to celebrating this girl's impending death and even made mocking Halloween decorations to further torment this girl and her family. Her actions were grotesque and utterly disgusting.

Then the Internet found out about it, and if there's one thing the Internet likes, it's mob justice. They quickly found out where this woman lived and the tables were turned. This woman was forced to give a very public apology in an effort to halt the harassment.

Here's the deal. Part of me is rooting for the Internet vigilantes who tracked down and posted this woman's address and made her life hell. Part of me enjoys reading about what horrors were unleashed upon this likely deserving target. But then I hear that still, small voice that says, "I died for her, too."

Leave it to Jesus to ruin my schadenfreude.

Hatred is easy for me. Life's been kind of frustrating lately and it's fun to have someone to take it out on, someone to hate and wish bad things upon. I like cultivating a rich hate. I'm very good at that seething hatred, and I can let it simmer for a good long time.

But that's not what Jesus calls us to. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Bless those who curse you. Why? Why can't we hate the people who deserve it?

Two reasons. The first is that when we hate, we become the worst versions of ourselves and, in many cases, wind up just as bad, if not worse, than the people we hate. Hatred destroys you from the inside and it will consume and destroy you. You aren't capable of enjoying the blessings God has for you, and you instead seek only to destroy others. This is not the life Jesus wanted for us when He promised us joy, joy to make us complete. He wanted to save us from becoming little more than walking, festering bags of bile. That's a horrible existence.

The second is that none of us are righteous. We are all evil and despicable. God loves us and forgives us NOT because we deserve it, but because He loves us despite our flaws. If God forgives us in our sin, we should be able to forgive others and not be consumed with hate. God cut us a break, we should do the same for others.

It doesn't make it easy. I'd rather pray that God smites this woman and all other people who I find utterly despicable. Instead, I pray for them. I don't pray much on their behalf, but just enough so that it makes it impossible to hate them. I don't want to become to vile and hateful that I find myself taunting dying children, and praying for those who do is how I will make this happen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

M. Night has nothing on me

I'm a regular reader of Cracked, a webite devoted to all things strange and silly in the world, including history, pop-culture, nature, and science. It covers everything, but I can't recommend it for young children (they use naughty words and talk about grown-up things) or those without any free time (this site is as addictive as...I'm drawing a blank but I'm certain an analogy will come).

Today's article was about insane coincidences that will blow your mind, and yes, my mind was blown. I think there are still little pieces sitting around the room and I just know my wife is going to yell at me for not picking them all up. She just hates it when she steps on week-old brain in bare feet.

So why am I so enthralled with this article? Because it reminds me of an interesting coincidence that happened to me. When I was in graduate school, part of my financial aid package included being a TA and teaching a class. One of the students in my very first class was an old childhood friend that I hadn't seen in 12 years. We both moved away the same year. Now, the guy whose house I'd spent the night in was a student in my class. How's that for coincidence?

It's not the only coincidence I've had, but it's the most memorable.

For those of you reading and visiting, feel free to share yours. Especially if you also have a blog and just happened to make a post about how one of your childhood friends wound up being your TA in college.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Daily Discipline

The root of disciple is discipline. I'm not very good at being the former because I lack the latter. I have the abilities to do many great things, but what I don't have is the discipline to make it happen. Too often, I like to coast, to get just good enough and then not push further. That's one of the reasons behind this blog, I need to post every day because it makes be disciplined. I need to get better at this.

I know that if I want God to trust me with bigger things, I need to first begin with the smaller things.

I sometimes wonder what God wants from me, what I'm supposed to do. Here's the thing, when I think about it, I know what I need to do, but it's not what I always want to do because it's hard and probably good for me. I want the glory. I want to be doing the Big, Important Stuff. [TM] However, my attitude is all wrong about it because it's about my ego, not the Kingdom. I need to learn humility and to accomplish what's already before me. God has given me Talents and I need to invest.

So here's where I know God is leading me to do right now.

Pray. I need to pray for my marriage, my wife, the students I teach, and my purpose. I need to daily seek God out and make my day about Him, not me. I used to pray a lot. Now I talk to God, or more to the point, AT God but I don't quiet myself, sit and wait for the still, small voice of the Lord.

Write. I want to be a writer. A famous writer. I'm pretty good at writing and God has even given me some opportunities to use this gift, but I am also lazy. I don't push myself to be better, I like to rest on my laurels and not invest. That's why I need to update this blog regularly, post other places like SCL and work on those projects that are often a grind.

I also need to write more speeches. I'm a member of Toastmasters and have accomplished quite a bit, but again, the temptation is to rest on my laurels. I need to push myself, not just to be better for my own sake, but rather so I can build up my skills and bless others. The more I work, the more I'm able to bless.

I need to realize that the more I work at writing, the better I will get and the more I'll enjoy and be rewarded by it. But it all starts with discipline.

Grade. I teach college. I love it, but what I don't love is grading and giving feedback. However, that's the most important part, as it's how my students get better. These students are my responsibility, as I know that God is behind a lot of my course makeup. I am there to be a servant and to help them, to invest my talents into the next generation. (Or the previous generation coming back to school, nothing at all wrong with that.)

I need to not just zip through this grading but try to think about how I can help these students. Otherwise, I cheat them out of an education. So I need to grade a little each day. That way it still gets done in a timely manner, and I'm not doing so much that I don't give the needed and helpful feedback.

So that's where I am. I've done the first part and made the list. I like making lists. Now I've got to actually go through this list and do it every day. Not because I have to or because God will smite me if I don't, but because I want to be in a better place than I am right now. I know life can be better, I know God has a great plan in store for me, and this is how I'll reach it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A question to any new visitors

Hello. My name is largefrozenfish. You killed my father. Prepare...sorry, wrong greeting.

Since you no doubt found this site due to the link from Stuff Christians Like, I thought I should lay out the virtual welcome mat. Hello and welcome. Bathroom is two doors down to the left, and please remember to use a coaster.

While you are here, I'd like to get to know you a little bit, and in my experience, there's one question I ask that gets to the heart of things, and I can tell a lot about a person by how they answer this question:

What's the worst movie you've ever seen? (feel free to answer in the comments)

I've found that this question reveals a lot about a person. When we express our dislikes, we reveal our hearts, even in a simple question such as this. That's why I ask this question of everyone I meet. (I once asked Lewis Black and got a great answer.) I require every student I've ever had to answer this question. It's a great icebreaker, it helps me get a feel for the class, but it also shows me the students who aren't into introspection.

This question exposes people who don't really think about their own thoughts and feelings, people who just live their lives day-in and day-out, never stopping to not only smell the roses, but figure out if they even like roses. In our mass-media, instant-gratification seeking world, we don't often stop and think.

I'm not asking you to re-evaluate every choice you made with this question, I'm just asking you to look deep within yourself and find one thing you don't like, one movie that was more than a waste of money, it was a waste of time that you will never see again.

For me, that movie is Batman and Robin, the one with Clooney as Batman and the Governator as Mister Freeze. I'm a huge Batman fan and I am so thankful for Christopher Nolan. This movie, however, was such a waste of potential. It could have been good. The character of Freeze is beautifully tragic, motivated not by greed but by love of his wife. His character would have been great to explore.

Let's not even get started on the criminal misuse of the character Bane. Bane, as comic-book geeks like myself remember, actually beat Batman and broke his back. (This happened soon after Superman died, so it wasn't a good year for DC heroes.) Bane was the smartest and best villian of all, but in this, I cannot even speak of it.

This movie could have been fantastic, but instead it became so terrible that not even a drinking game could save it. (Rifftrax on the other hand...)

What does this say about me, other than I am a huge geek? I hate seeing a waste of potential. I know when things could be better and it drives me crazy when they aren't.

So that's my worst movie. What's yours?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Christians and Gays

Recently there have been some high-profile suicides of gay students, all the direct result of bullying.

Where were the Christians in all this? Were we there to offer love, understanding, and support? Did we stand up for the rights of these people? Did we just silently sit back and let it happen? Did we contribute to the bullying, helping along the notion that being gay makes you sub-human? Were we the very bullies?

Christianity has a very poor track record when it comes to loving our neighbor, less so when it involves gays. Let's be honest. We hate them. This isn't "love the sinner, hate the sin" we just hate them. We see gays as unworthy of love and see any suffering they endure as exactly what they deserve. It's one of the most dispicable practices of modern Christianity and I hope, in years to come, its something we are as ashamed of as we are the Crusades, Inquisition, Slavery, Witch Burnings, and the persecution of Gallileo. To name a few.

Why do we hate gays? Because it's easy. We've got Bible verses to back us up, and since we're not the ones who are gay, we have a smug sense of superiority about it. We like feeling better than others, and if we can point to you and declare you subhuman, we will. Loving people is hard, we'd much rather just kill them or drive them to suicide.

It also helps us not look at ourselves. We like to ignore Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:3-5 where he tells us to not focus on a speck in our brother's eye until we deal with the plank in our own. We look at gays and point out their faults, their sexual sins, but we don't look at our own. This is the height of hypocrisy.

Here's something to think about. Christians love to sin sexually. We love pornography. We love adultary. We love rape and pedophelia. We love just about every sexual sin there is, but we don't see anything wrong with it because at least we aren't gay. Apparently, as long as we aren't gay, those other sins don't matter.

Our attitude becomes even more hypocritical with the issue of gay marriage. Christians preach about the sanctity of marriage, but only when we're talking about gays. We don't hold heterosexual marriage to the same standards. I have yet to see Christians marching against gay marriage to also march against adultary and divorce. In fact, many of the so-called Christians who protest gay marriage are themselves shamelessly divorced and have committed adultary many times. (I'm looking at you, Newt.) Why don't Christians protest adultary and divorce? Because then it would affect us.

Show me a pastor who preaches against divorce and I'll show you a pastor with meager returns in the collection plate. If someone proposed a ballot initiative that outlawed remarriage after a divorce, Christians would vote it down, the very Christians who scream about sanctity of marriage.

We Christians need to take a good long look at ourselves. We need to stop persecuting gays, we need to fight FOR them, not against them. Jesus DIED for the very gay people we persecute. Our treatment of gays, and our sanctimonious, hypocritical behavior is appalling. We are doing the Devil's work when we act this way, and it's time to stop.