“It’s just criminal behavior”

As a native of Maryland and someone who has enjoyed many days in the city of Baltimore, I feel I have a closer feel for the violence and idiocy on display there over the past few days than I have had to other violent protests like the one that took place in Ferguson, Missouri. Knowing the city provides a more real appreciation for what is happening, even if it makes no less sense. Rarely have I ever taken to this space to point out something on which Barack Obama and I agree, but in this instance we do. In a report on CNN Wednesday the president was quoted as saying that police officers and police departments need to be held accountable–and that is true. He said police departments need to build up trust in the communities they serve, and that it true, too. (I would add that it is equally true that we need to teach young people to respect those in law enforcement, not to fear or disrespect them). More importantly, though, President Obama said that the rioting in Baltimore is “counterproductive.” He went on to say, “The kind of violence, looting, destruction that we saw from a handful of individuals in Baltimore, there’s no excuse for that. That’s not a statement, that’s not politics, that’s not activism, it’s just criminal behavior.” Quite right.

What too few people seem to understand is that there is nothing even remotely synonymous about the riots, violence and destruction taking place in Baltimore and free speech or serious efforts to reform potentially dangerous practices in a police department. Breaking the law is no way to bring about reform within law enforcement. Destroying property accomplishes nothing, especially when it is the property of a business or private individual. Looting and robbing accomplishes nothing. Smashing police cars and attacking police officers accomplishes nothing. All this behavior does is demonstrate a stupidity on the part of the rioters. If these individuals are so easily whipped into a frenzy that they will shatter windows, run out of a store with stolen merchandise, light fires, throw rocks and more, these are individuals who have zero sense of self control or discipline. They behavior demonstrates exactly why law and order is needed. There are enough cameras going off in Baltimore these days–whether security cameras, cell phone cameras or honest-to-goodness cameras in the hands of both journalists and private citizens–that dozens of offenders should be able to be identified. Every one of them should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This kind of behavior is ” counterproductive…it hurts communities that are already suffering,” Obama said.

Sadly, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake served only to add fuel to the fire. She originally stated that those who wanted to destroy should be given space to do so, according to various reports. Fox News reports that a law enforcement source has informed them that Rawlings-Blake gave a stand-down order early on in the rioting. If that is true, she should be impeached at the earliest possible opportunity for violating her oath of office and acting counter to the responsibilities she holds as the mayor of the city. Oddly enough, she then called the rioters “thugs” in later statements…but has since backed down from that and apologized for using the term. On Tuesday she recanted that statement and said, “We don’t have thugs in Baltimore. We have a lot of kids that are acting out, a lot of people in our community that are acting out.” While that is true–people are acting out–the term “thug” fits. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster both define thug as “ruffians”–and ruffians are bullies or brutal persons. People who start smashing windows, lighting fires and throwing rocks are absolutely bullies and ruffians.

Interestingly, multiple news sites are reporting that “thug” is the new “N-word.” That is ridiculous; groups cannot hijack the English language because they are offended by a word. If a word is an accurate descriptor of a person, a people group or behavior, we cannot allow that group to stand up and say “you cannot call me that, it is offensive.” How absurd is it that the same people who are smashing, lighting, throwing and screaming are also whining about the word being applied to their behavior? How stupid is it that people who are breaking the law are complaining about the label being put on their actions? We would laugh in derision if someone convicted of robbery were referred to as a “thief” and complained about it. There are many–of various racial backgrounds–who celebrate and promote the “thug” image in rap and hip-hop music. They have no ground to stand on when the word they are glorifying in their words and play acting is applied accurately to real behavior.

The comments of the mayor of Baltimore, the behavior of the thugs in the streets and the objections of those feigning offense at the word “thug” are not the only examples of stupidity on display in this mess, unfortunately. The dean of the University of the District of Columbia Law School, Shelley Broderick, apparently felt compelled to get her foolishness into the mix, too. She has informed the students at the law school that they can defer their exams if they go to Baltimore to work with those involved in the rioting because it will be good training for their futures and because it is essential to provide legal assistance to those involved in the “police accountability movement.” I am not making that up, either–that was her term for the rioting, thuggery and lawlessness on display in Baltimore. It is difficult to imagine how we will be able to move past the uncivilized and barbaric behavior that seems to be the initial reactions of those set on fanning the flames of racial unrest in the United States when those who are entrusted with training the next generation of lawyers are referring to criminal behavior as a “police accountability movement.”

I should point out that for each of the incredible examples of lunacy described above there are many other people demonstrating cooler heads, common sense and an appropriate grasp of reality. These are the people who need to be heard, who need to be followed and who need to be encouraged. If there was any police brutality or inappropriate treatment of Freddie Gray then that needs to be investigated and dealt with; those responsible, if anything happened that should not have, need to be held accountable. Sadly, dealing with that will have to be put in the back burner while the chaos in Baltimore is quelled and cleaned up. Stupidity itself is not a crime in the United States, for which we should all be grateful, but when that stupidity results in behavior that is actually criminal, we need to call it what it is and treat it accordingly.

That makes no sense

In the April 18, 2015 issue of WORLD Magazine Andree Seu Peterson had a column entitled “A class about nothing” which was subtitled “Psychology professor offers intensive case studies of the imaginary.” The premise of her column was the absurdity of a Rutgers University professor “teach[ing] psychology to medical students through reruns of Seinfeld. They analyze Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine for greater insight into narcissism, obsessive-compulsion, and inability to forge meaningful relationships.” Later, Peterson writes, “The Rutgers professor is not merely adducing illustrations; he is studying the episodes like Rommel studying a map of North Africa. He has created a database of every Seinfeld episode and its teaching points, and he assigns two episodes a week.” This may seem silly to some people, and the merits of studying a 1990s sitcom that poked fun at itself for being a show about nothing could surely be debated. Given some of the other college and university course offerings I have heard of, though, this would not, in and of itself, be sufficient fodder for an entire column (or blog post) in my opinion. Peterson apparently did not think so either, because she extrapolated on her shock at the course content to include an attack on the possibilities of learning anything from fiction.

That probably sounds extreme, and I think so too–so I will let Peterson speak for herself. “Does anybody besides me have a problem with this?” she writes. “Is it gauche to point out that Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are sitcom characters? These are not real people. They are made up. They have no true existence. They have no deep-seated motivations, no real histories, no actual upbringings, no formative years.” This is all true, of course. However, the implication that because these four sitcom characters are not real people we cannot learn anything from the show is ludicrous. Peterson has admitted in other columns that she does not watch television–which is certainly fine–so perhaps she has a grudge toward the medium itself that is tainting her position on the teaching power of fiction–in whatever form it may appear. After all, if the fact that Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine “are not real people” means that we cannot learn anything from watching them it would necessarily be true that we cannot learn anything from reading Robinson Crusoe, The Scarlet Letter or any other literary work of fiction. Nor could we learn anything from watching movies that are not based on fact. Theatrical productions resulting a writer’s creative mind would be out, too.

In fact, if Peterson’s point is carried to its extreme, we could learn nothing from the parables of Jesus. There are myriad lessons to be gleaned from the story of the prodigal son or the parable of the sower or the parable of the ten virgins, but guess what? The prodigal son, the sower and the ten virgins were not real people. They had no more true existence, deep-seated motivations, histories or upbringings than Jerry and his pals do. Stories, however, communicate powerfully. My favorite professor in college stressed that history is a narrative. I agree, and I enjoy history because I know it is a story, not just names and dates and places. Racial prejudice comes alive far more in fictional accounts than in reading newspaper accounts of the actions of Klan members and good ol’ boys down south who did everything they could to prevent integration and equal rights for African Americans. I could elaborate at length on the merits of literature and the teachable moments that are created by good fiction, but I think you probably already recognize that.

Peterson elaborates, saying that the closest thing she can think of in the Bible to a professor teaching psychology through the use of Seinfeld episodes is the “dim-witted idol-maker: ‘He cuts down cedars. … He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. … And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”‘ (Isaiah 44:14-17). In a bizarre demonstration of self-delusion, he makes a like–then believes it.” Sadly, Peterson is so far off-base here that it is not even funny. The “dim-witted idol-maker” is taking an inanimate object and ascribing to it knowledge, wisdom and power that it certainly does not have because he just created it out of the same material that he is using for fire wood. To suggest that believing that a god-made-from-logs is the same thing as believing that it is possible to learn life lessons from works of fiction boggles my mind. It may well be one of the most foolish things I have heard in a very long time.

“The Bible is different,” Peterson writes. “Cain, Lot, and Absolom are real people, with real childhoods and real thought processes.” True, those examples are. As already mentioned above, however, the Bible also teaches us with fictional people. “It makes no sense to try to find motives in cardboard facsimiles,” Peterson concludes. This is simply not true. The creative arts–whether literature, sitcoms, feature-length films, plays, visual art such as painting and sculpture–can and do teach us. In fact, the danger is not in suggesting that there are lessons to be learned therein but rather in suggesting that they are harmless and void of influence. It is when we stop realizing that the television shows we watch, the books we read and the movies we view have the power to teach and to influence that we are walking straight into a trap. Such a position grows out of a deep lack of understanding that has potentially life-changing consequences. That is what makes no sense.


The Bible talks a great deal about joy–including instructing us to count it all joy when we encounter trials, because trials strengthen our faith and our patience and serve to shape us into who God wants us to be. I know all of that, and you no doubt do, too. Knowing that, and believing it, does not mean though that it will be easy or enjoyable. Nor does it mean that we will always feel joyful. If we are honest with ourselves (and others) there are times when we’ve just about had it. We do not really feel like pressing on or persevering or fighting the good fight. Truth be told, sometimes we would rather just lock ourselves in our house or our room, when we would like to retreat to an undisclosed location–preferably one with lovely weather and environmental surroundings to our liking–or even when we feel like we would be perfectly fine abandoning the ministry God has given us, whether that be full time Christian ministry or the call to be light and salt to those we interact with in the secular workplace, and just punch a clock and check electric meters or something mundane and seemingly free of contention and strong opinions. Acknowledging that does not make me special, because it is certainly nothing we have not all felt from time to time. Acknowledging it publicly may be more transparent than some of us are comfortable with, but the reality is that we all feel this way at times.

In my own life it seems as if there has been one thing after another for the past four months or so, and it does get exhausting. It can be tempting to question whether it’s worth it or whether any good is really coming out of the trials. As I was reflecting on this I was reminded of a song that I had not heard in quite some time, but I knew where to find it. The title is the same as the title of this post, and it was co-written by Southern Gospel songwriters Kirk Talley and Rodney Griffin. Tally and Griffin are both singers, as well, and the song is about as transparent as a song could be for someone whose life is devoted to full time Christian ministry in the form of songwriting and singing. The message, though, is relevant far beyond singing. The words speak adequately for themselves, so I will just share the lyrics with you and trust that you will be encouraged by them, too.


Weary with nothing left to give
Tired from this hectic life I live
But yet I stand before you
Ready to sing on
Though I know the Savior
I don’t always feel the song

Chorus One
Honestly, I don’t always feel like singing
When the struggles of this life pull me down
Quite honestly, I don’t always feel like smiling
When it’s hard to find something to smile about
But I will keep singing, I will go on
For if I give my praise to Him
He will give the song

Little ears listen to what you say
So teach that Sunday lesson anyway
The task that God has given
Is something only you can do
You must go on and sing your song
His grace will help you through

Chorus Two
‘Cause honestly, you won’t always feel like singing
When the struggles of this life pull you down
Quite honestly, you won’t always feel like smiling
When it’s hard to find something to smile about
But you must keep singing, you will go on
For if you give your praise to Him
He will give the song


I sing because I’m happy
And I sing because I’m free
I will keep singing, I will go on
If I give my praise to Him
He will give the song
He will give the song

A fly in my mouth

Confession: I drink a lot of tea. Not hot tea–I seldom drink that. I drink a lot of what some people call iced tea, though I rarely have ice cubes in it. Oh, and I cannot stand unsweetened tea; it has to be sweet tea. Don’t even think about offering me unsweetened tea with sugar packets either, because it is not even close to the same thing. I drink tea at home, I drink tea at work and sometimes–if they can get it right–I drink tea at restaurants. Nowadays I actually drink quite a bit of green tea, which is supposedly healthier, but it’s still sweet.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a chair in my living room reading a book. I had a glass of tea on a coaster next to me. I stood up to go do something and when I did I also picked up my glass of tea and took a drink. When I did, though, I became immediately aware that something had just entered my mouth besides tea. I did not get a real great feel for it but it was rather solid and certainly should not have been in my tea–and the first thing I wanted to do was spit it out. As I was standing in the middle of the living room I knew this would not be wise, so I managed to not spew the tea across the room. I did however spit it into my hand as a beat feet toward the kitchen sink. When I did so I looked into my cupped hand to see, floating in the little pool of brown tea, a fly.

Now, I hate flies…and I mean that literally. I truly, genuinely, deeply hate them. Unlike many other unlikable creatures (such as snakes or spiders) I cannot think of a single good reason for the existence of flies. I think they may well be part of the curse. I know one thing, had I been Pharaoh when Moses wanted to lead the Israelites out of Egypt there would have been no need for ten plagues. After the flies, I would have given Moses anything he wanted. In fact, I probably would have surrendered Egypt and I would have left!

And now I had just had a fly in my mouth. The very thought of it was disgusting. I dumped my tea and fly into the sink, dumped out the rest of the glass and seriously considered scouring my tongue with a Brillo pad. I was disgusted by the fact that I had had a fly in my mouth. For the next half hour I could hardly get it out of my mind.

Then my thoughts shifted and I was reminded of Revelation 3:16. In that verse God says of the church at Laodicea that because of their lukewarmness He would spit them out of His mouth–literally vomit them! As disgusted as I was by having a fly in mouth, God is even more disgusted than that when I am lukewarm–or when you are–about spiritual things. When we go to church and present the right image but then do our own thing for the rest of the week, He wants to throw up. When we talk a good talk but walk an entirely different walk, He wants to spit us out of His mouth. The level of detestation I have for flies is minute compared to God’s revulsion for lukewarm believers.

In other words, He takes it quite seriously.