jasonbwatson

July 24, 2015

Friendship

Last month Tabletalk magazine included a devotional entitled “True Friendship.” It was based on Proverbs 17:17, which reminds us that a friend loves at all times. The writer of the devotional, though, went deeper than that verse in examining what friendship really is. He started off reminding us of the tremendous irony of the day in which we live–the fact that “we live in a world that is both more connected and more disconnected than ever before. Smartphones, social media, e-mail and other technologies make it simple to stay in contact with friends and loved ones even when they live thousands of miles away. And yet, there is a dearth of true intimacy.” This is certainly true, and I have explored this phenomenon in this space before. Social media and other communications technology can be a two-edged sword, providing wonderful benefits but also tremendous problems. Some of those problems come from the comparisons that inevitably result from the almost constant viewing of Facebook status updates and tweets among our contacts. Some of the problems come from the fact that we can communicate with almost anyone instantly yet we seem to have deep, meaningful conversations less and less frequently.

Another of the problems is identified by the Tabletalk writer this way: “With the click of a mouse we can be listed as the friend of someone whom we have never met–and probably never will meet–in person.” I am sure I am not alone in restricting my social media “friends” to people I really do know, but there is a large contingent of folks who like to see how high they can get that friend number. (I also know I am not alone in having received numerous “friend requests” from people I have never heard of, perhaps only because we have one “mutual friend”). Are all of my Facebook friends intimate friends? Of course not. But at least I really do know them all. The writer also mentions the challenge these days of having a “close friend of the same gender without raising suspicions of homosexuality.” Wouldn’t it be tragic if the single-digit percentile of the American population that claims to be homosexual could have really warped our view of human interaction to the point that two men or two women cannot be close friends without being suspected of being sexually involved? Of course, the inverse has long been true, as well–there were suspicions of “something more” when a male and female were close friends. Indeed, I have heard some people suggest that a male and a female cannot be close friends without it leading to something more, whether that “more” be sexual behavior, inappropriate non-sexual intimacy or just confusion and hurt feelings.

The devotional writer states that Scripture “offers a key corrective” to the problems of human friendship by “offering us a high view of human friendship. [Proverbs 17:17] lauds the benefit of true friendship, a relationship in which we receive love from another at our best and at our worst.” I would suggest that precisely because of this, true friendships are quite finite in number. Some people have hundreds of acquaintances and scores of friends, yet when they hit a real crisis they do not know who to call because they have no true, real, lasting friends, friends who will stick with them through the hard times, come along side during adversity, believe the best and stay true through the worst. If you do have friends like that–and I hope you do–I suspect you could count them on one hand, or certainly on two. “Our friendships are harmed and often destroyed when our friends reveal their flaws,” the devotional writer states. “Sadly, this means that our friendships are often quite tenuous, prompting us to look for a friendship that is secure because it is not based on what the other person finds lovely in us. The only one who can provide this friendship is Jesus Christ.”

I would posit that the only one who can provide this friendship perfectly is Jesus Christ, but it is possible to have human friends that do not run away when we reveal flaws, when we fall flat on our faces (literally or figuratively), when we do mess up or behave like a jerk. Certainly we have all had friendships that ended suddenly when circumstances changed, whether they be grades in school, new friends coming on the scene, interests shifting, opinions conflicting or whatever. These were seldom deep, meaningful friendships in the first place. If, however, you have been blessed to have longtime friends who have remained your friends even through challenges, disagreements and screw ups then you are truly blessed, and you have experienced Proverbs 17:17 in a very personal way.

My recent hiatus from blogging was due to a family vacation. During that time I was able to visit two longtime friends, one whom I have known for probably twenty-two years now, I guess, and another whom I have known for seventeen. I do not see either of these individuals often. In fact, one I had not seen in three years and the other I had not seen in perhaps ten. One I stay in fairly regular contact with through e-mails, the other I seldom communicate with. Still, based on our longtime friendships and past experience in both instances, I believe I could confide in both of those friends and turn to each of them for help in a real crisis in my life–even if it was a crisis of my own making. I think I know both of them well enough to know that they would be honest with me if I messed up but they would also help me get out of the mess rather than walking away. Interestingly, going back to one of the points discussed above, one of these friends is male and the other is female. Both friendships have had bumps, including some caused by own stupidity at times. (It really is incredible how much harm our tongues can do, isn’t it?) Repentance and forgiveness are wonderful things though, and stupidity does not have to be a friendship-ender in true, meaningful friendships. I have hundreds of Facebook friends and untold acquaintances and contacts through personal and professional life, but I have a handful of real, deep, true friends. I am blessed and encouraged by them. Some are male, some are female. When we get out of the way of ourselves and put our own preferences and opinions aside long enough to realize that the world does not revolve around us, to recognize that the love Jesus has for us is based on absolutely nothing we could ever do to merit, deserve or sustain it, it is possible to have such friendships. It is not easy; like I said, you will probably not have many of them. Do not, though, let the fact that it is not easy deter you. Do not let possible questions of “something more” interfere with the development and maintenance of real friendships with others of the same or the opposite sex. Do not let Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and texting be your only connection with your “friends.” Do not run the other way when you find your friends are not perfect. After all, you are not, either. Neither am I.

February 3, 2015

Words

Filed under: Spiritual Growth,Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 10:12 pm
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Humbled though I am by the number of people who read my thoughts in this space, I do wonder, fairly often, if there is really any point. Nothing I may say here is going to change the world. While the number of readers may seem impressive to me at times, in the grand scheme of things they do not even reach the level of “a drop in the bucket.” Maybe, just maybe, a drop in the ocean. So does it really matter? Is there any point? I am still not sure, but I keep doing it. And if you’ll pardon my candor, I do it more for me than I do for you. Frankly, I find it therapeutic and good mental exercise. I like the way blogging makes me think through things more carefully and develop cogent arguments and support for my positions. I like that it makes me seriously consider “the other side.” Having said that, I should also mention that these posts are mostly stream-of-consciousness stuff. I do not outline what I will say, I do not read over it and I do not edit it. In occasion I will look back over something and catch a typo or a word I left out, and sometimes my wife will make me aware of the same, and in those instances I will make the correction. In nearly 350 posts here, though, I bet that has happened maybe ten times. So here is my disclaimer: these are not edited, are not polished, and should not be considered exemplars of great writing!

Now why did I say all of that? I said it because a column by Mindy Belz at the end of 2014 reminded me of the importance of words. Mrs. Belz, who writes a regular column and is also an editor of WORLD, no doubt sees all manner of words, from the good to the bad, the splendid to the sloppy, the crucial to the worthless. By her own admission, she receives more than ten thousand e-mails on any given day. Just the act of deleting all of the worthless ones would be a significant time killer! Combining that with the fact that she literally makers her living with words, Belz has a unique perspective on the importance and power of the written language. In her column, she wrote, “[T]he throng of a media-saturated world and the blare of nonstop information can seem more oppressive, more full of noisy gong and clanging cymbal than ever.” How true that is, and no wonder it caused me to reflect on whether there is really any point to all of these words I have posted here over the past few years.

“Scripture has plenty to say,” Belz wrote, “about how we communicate, and models a variety of forms. Recounting history and waxing poetic–even romantic–all have their place, along with harsh admonition and R-rated graphic details of real life in a fallen world. Sarcasm and humor? Those too. But the forms are formed and the point is: Have a point. Speak with purpose. In this day that might mean pausing to think what I hope to accomplish in 140 characters, rather than simply increasing my Twitter followers.”

As I said, this is mostly therapeutic for me, not any intention to increase followers. Still, I choose to get my therapy on a public stage rather than in a private journal, so I would be deluding myself and you if I pretended that I do not hope anyone reads what I write. I am thankful for those that do, and I hope, at least the majority of the time, you can see that I do have a point. If I do not, let me know. If I make a point that you do not think needs to be made, feel free to let me know that, too. Some of you have done that on occasion, and I appreciate it.

Belz ended her column with this: “Brevity isn’t boss, but it shows thoughtfulness. And whether you Facebook, Tweet, Gchat, or hit Slack, words fitly spoken and thoughts that connect are more to treasure than ever.” I do not even know what Gchat is or what “hit slack” means, so I am obviously not as “with it” as I could be. The words I share, though, need to be fitly spoken and need to connect to a purpose. I need to have a point. So, too, the time I use to share them needs to be used wisely, and I need to reflect on whether or not blogging is always the best use of my time.

And it took me nearly 800 words to say all of that…

November 6, 2014

Freedom is not an entitlement

The Facebook page of the organization called The Federalist Papers posted an image of an American flag today with the caption, “The only entitlement I expect from my government is freedom.” The Federalist Papers is an organization with this purpose: “The mission of The Federalist Project is to get people the history and the civics lessons public schools don’t teach to motivate them to push back at the erosion of our liberties and restore constitutionally limited small government.” The organization relies primarily on social media to communicate its message. What is ironic about its post from today, however, is that freedom is not an entitlement at all.

An entitlement, by definition, is the right to guaranteed benefits under a government program. Such programs–Social Security, for example–are called entitlements because those who are qualified for the benefits are entitled to them. That entitlement, however, and the conditions qualifying one to become entitled to those benefits, are determined by the laws made by the government. Congress, for example, has been gradually increasing the age at which one becomes entitled to Social Security. I do not have a real problem with that, but it is clear evidence that entitlements are created by the government and can therefore be changed by, or even eliminated by, the government. Accordingly, referring to freedom as an entitlement is probably not a good idea.

Ironically, the very source the Federalist Papers claims as its name–the original Federalist Papers penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay–would have had very serious concerns about referring to freedom as an entitlement or as something which comes from the government at all. John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government articulated the idea that humans enter into a social contract through which they surrender some natural rights and freedoms in order to establish a government that will protect their other rights and freedoms. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence that man is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights–meaning that the government does not give them and the government cannot take them away. And then the authors of the Federalist Papers, written to encourage the ratification of the Constitution, vehemently argued that the Constitution gave the federal government only those powers that were enumerated in the Constitution. So passionately did they feel about this that they argued against the need for a Bill of Rights, demanded by the Anti-Federalists, because articulating that the government did not have the powers prohibited in the Bill of Rights would imply that the government had had those powers prior to having them forbidden.

Maybe its semantics, and I understand and appreciate the point the Federalist Papers post was trying to make, but we need to be careful with our words…and the last thing we want to do is suggest that our freedom is an entitlement we receive from the government!

October 14, 2014

Just a few more minutes!

The September 26 issue of USA Today included an opinion piece by Vicki Abeles entitled “Students Without a Childhood.” Abeles leads her piece by sharing that her middle-school-aged son Zak has trouble sleeping, often waking up in the middle of the night wondering whether or not he has finished everything on his to-do list. Interestingly, she then goes on to explain that Zak is, by design, “not the classically overscheduled child.” Zak’s only activities, Abeles says, are school, jazz band and homework. That would indicate that there may well be more to Zak’s troubles than the level of his activity, but I’ll return to that shortly.

Abeles uses Zak’s situation to segue into her assertion that the collective “we”–by which I assume she means parents, teachers, coaches and American culture in general–are causing harm to our children “by overpacking their schedules in the name of productivity, achievement and competition.” Let’s ignore for the moment that her son is not one of those children, because that is not the point I want to get at. Let’s instead examine some of the claims that Abeles makes about this “overpacking.”

First, she states that studies indicate that children in America “spend half as much time playing outdoors as they did in the 1980s.” I do not doubt that that is true, though Abeles does not cite any specific studies and I have not researched that myself. I do doubt, though, her implication that the decline in outdoor recreation is due to overpacking children’s schedules. In the 1980s very few children had access to a home computer and VCRs were just becoming common. Atari was the only gaming system for much of the decade, with Nintendo bursting onto the scene mid-decade along with the far-less-popular Sega. Extremely few people had cellular phones in the 1980s and those that did had to be strong enough to haul around the brick-like devices (that could do nothing but make and receive calls, of course). None of those cell phone users were children. So yes, children in the 1980s probably did spend twice as much time outside as they do now, but that’s because many of them are now spending their time inside, fastened to their cornucopia of digital entertainment devices.

Abeles then suggests that the “frantic pace of modern life has even trickled down to kindergarten, where students are already bringing home piles of homework.” According to on article in US News in February 2014, kindergarten through fifth grade teachers assign about 2.9 hours of homework per week. Given the range in grades included in that figure, though, it is impossible to say that kindergarten students are getting too much work. After all, the oft-cited rule of thumb that a reasonable among of homework for students is ten minutes per night per grade level would mean fifty minutes per week for 5-day kindergarteners and five hours per week for fifth graders. A January 2010 article from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, fifteen to twenty minutes per day for four days is appropriate for kindergarten students. That would mean up to an hour and twenty minutes per week. So I am not sure “piles of homework” are the norm for most American kindergarten students. There is also evidence that the amount of homework is not, on average, out of line for older students, either. According to “Changing Times of American Youth, 1981-2003,” by F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono and Frank P. Stafford at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, the average American child between ages 6 and 8 spent 2 hours and 33 minutes per week “studying” in 2002-03, while students ages 9-11 spent 3 hours 36 minutes. Assuming “studying” and “homework” are synonymous, the US News report would indicate that the amount of time spent on homework by elementary students is holding, if not declining, over the past ten years.

Immediately after her suggestion that the “frantic pace of modern life” has led to kindergarten students being inundated with “piles of homework” Abeles suggests that it is no wonder that “young people nationwide suffer from alarming rates of anxiety, sleep loss and depression.” No wonder, indeed…but not because their homework loads.

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that teenagers spend an average of 7.5 hours per day consuming media which, according to the Washington Post, includes “watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games.” I would suggest that that figure has only gone up since 2010. Way back in 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics published a three-page handout for parents entitled “Understanding the Impact of Media on Children and Teens.” Some of the side-effects of excessive media use that were warned about included poor school performance, frequent nightmares and increased eating of unhealthy foods. PEDIATRICS, a publican of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published online on March 28, 2011 a study under the title “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.” The study reported that “a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.” And while the study touted some benefits of this expanded digital familiarity, it also warned of dangers, including cyber bullying, sexting and “Facebook depression.” This is “defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression” and adolescents suffering from it “are at risk for social isolation.”

In November 2013 the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health warned, “Studies find that high levels of media use are associated with academic problems, problems with sleep, unhealthy eating, and more.” It also reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends that adolescents have less than two hours of screen time per day.” in November 2013, Rachel Ehmke, a senior writer for the Child Mind Institute, wrote “Teens and Social Media” in which she reported, “…experts worry that the social media and floods of text messages that have become so integral to teenage life are promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem in the young people who use them the most.” Ehmke also wrote, “When they’re not doing their homework (and when they are) they’re online and on their phones, texting, sharing, trolling, scrolling, you name it.” Maybe, just maybe, the fact that so many teens are “multitasking” while doing their homework has something to do with the amount of time it takes them to get their work done?

Abeles ends her column with a plea: “These many concerns drive me to ask my fellow parents, teachers and administrators to help me give Zak back the time he needs to learn, grow and interact. The crazy demands schools place on our children’s time need to be scaled back–for their long-term health and emotional balance as much as for the optimum development of our children’s minds and the meaning they find in life.” The problem, again, is that Abeles never really connects Zak’s struggles with anything that schools are doing. I do not know how much time Zak spends on digital media and I do not know if he has learning challenges that make school work difficult for him. What I do know is that Abeles’ headline asserts clearly that schools are at fault for the overscheduling and “crazy demands” that are stressing out “our kids.” Her column fails to prove her assertion, though–citing some studies as well as anecdotal evidence, but failing to demonstrate that schools are demanding anything that is harming students. Maybe there are some other culprits Abeles should consider, as well. In fact, maybe she should have done her homework, because I suspect she would find that, more often than not, students are giving their childhood away for “just a few more minutes” of digital connectivity.

July 23, 2014

Word Games

The TIME article by Katy Steinmetz provides an overview of the history of the transgender issue in the United States. “Modern America’s journey” with this issue, she writes, “begins after World War II with a woman named Christine Jorgensen.” Christine Jorgensen was born George, and after completing service as a soldier and being honorably discharged George sailed for Denmark with the plan of finding a surgeon who would transform George into Christine. The story became news, and Jorgensen wrote a letter that was published by the New York Daily News after it ran a story under the headline EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY. In the letter Jorgensen asserted, “Nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected.”

That statement contains a clear allusion to the fact that there is a denial among many in the transgender movement, and its supporters, that humans are created by God. It was “nature,” Jorgensen said, that made the mistake. When nature makes a mistake man is entitled to correct it, the reasoning goes. Interestingly, one of the arguments most often used by homosexuals and activists who support the homosexual rights movement is that homosexual individuals were “born that way” and that human laws preventing homosexual marriage or beliefs that homosexual behavior is immoral are contradicting nature (or even, some would say, the way God made them). Now transgender individuals are suggesting that they way they were born–in other words, their gender at birth–was a mistake that they need to fix. So we have one group of people arguing that they should have special rights because they were born “that way” and another group arguing that they should have special rights because the way they were born was wrong.

This is not the only instance of transgender individuals wanting to have it both ways. In 1980, seven years after the DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder, transsexualism was added. That was later given the label of gender identity disorder and then, in 2013, renamed yet again to gender dysphoria. The president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (yes, there is such an organization) celebrated the change, saying, “‘Gender identity disorder’ [implied] that your identity was wrong, that you are wrong.” Yet, according to Steinmetz, some were not in favor of removing the disorder label because without it it will likely be harder for individuals to access treatment such as hormone therapy without having to pay the entire cost themselves. After all, if it is not a disorder, it is an elective procedure.

Despite the change in the DSM, there is going to be increasing pressure for insurance companies and even government insurance to pay for sex change operations and hormone therapy. At the end of May a board within the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that sex change surgeries will be covered by Medicare. This decision came after Denee Mallon, age 74, filed a law suit to have Medicare pay for an operation changing him from male to female. Once such procedures are considered covered by Medicare it is only a matter of time before the government will also push for insurance companies to cover them, as well.

If you are not yet confused or disgusted, it gets more complicated. According to the TIME article, it is necessary, in order to really understand this issue, to see “sex and gender as two separate concepts–sex is biological, determined by a baby’s birth anatomy; gender is cultural, a set of behaviors learned through human interaction.” Oh really? That is nothing more than another attempt at redefining terms. Dictionary.com provides, as the second definition of gender, one word: sex. (The first definition refers to the various genders of nouns in many languages). If you look at Merriam-Webster.com the definition of gender is “the state of being male or female.” If you read on to the full definition of gender you find that the first definition is, again, concerned with grammar. The second definition? Again, one word: sex.

Even if we wanted to grant the notion that sex and gender are two different things, it gets even more complicated. Steinmetz goes on to write, “Sexual preferences, meanwhile, are a separate matter altogether. There is no concrete correlation between a person’s gender identity and sexual interests; a heterosexual woman, for instance, might start living as a man and still be attracted to men. One oft-cited explanation is that sexual orientation determines who you want to go to bed with and gender identity determines who you want to go to bed as.” So, just to make sure you’re keeping up, that would mean–in the scenario presented by Steinmetz–that a person born as a woman could become a transgender man and then engage in homosexual sex with a man.

Since that is so confusing, Steinmetz goes on to explain that “some trans people reject all labels, seeing gender as a spectrum rather than a two-option multiple-choice question. The word transgender, which came into wider use in the 1990s after public health officials adopted it, is often used as an umbrella term for all rejections of the norm, from cross-dressers who are generally happy in their assigned gender to transsexuals like Jorgensen.” The idea of the gender spectrum is already gaining acceptance; in February Facebook changed its male and female options for gender to include more than fifty choices. The day before Valentine’s Day ABC News reported that Facebook would not be releasing a comprehensive list of options but that ABC had identified fifty-eight options. Among the options are ten varieties of “cis.” What in the world is that? Apparently, cisgender or cissexual, which are often abbreviated as simply cis, is defined by sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook as a label for “individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.” According to Wikipedia this is to be a complement to transgender. So I suppose (assuming I understand this definition correctly) I could now identify myself as cis if I am not satisfied with just simply being male. After all, male apparently no longer tells you that I was born male, identify as male and have a male body. So how does Facebook come up with ten varieties of cis? I could choose to identify myself as cis, cis male, cis man, cisgender male or cisgender man.

Other Facebook options include gender fluid, gender nonconforming and gender variant, as well as two-spirit. I am not even going to get into what some of those mean. Just in case you cannot find your chosen gender identity in the fifty-plus options ABC identified, though, there is also the option of “other.”

As I said yesterday, this entire situation just gets messier and messier the more you try to make sense of it. And so far I’m just talking about terminology! Just wait until next time when I begin exploring what the implications of this are when actually put into day to day living.

January 30, 2014

Miley was just the beginning

Not all that long ago everyone was all riled up over the lewd performance of Miley Cyrus at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The outcry against the performance came from all sectors, including Cyrus’s peers and other industry insiders. The mother of Cyrus’s partner in that performance, Robin Thicke, called her performance “misbegotten” and “not beneficial.” Lance Bass said he suspected that Cyrus shocked a lot of her fans, and commented that he had not expected to have to warn his nieces and nephews who tuned in to watch him perform on the VMAs that Cyrus would be “naked and humping a finger.” Cyndi Lauper called the performance “so sad, so sad” and said that it was “really raunchy. It wasn’t even art. It was raunch.” Given that those were the comments from others in the industry, you can imagine the responses from conservative groups like the Parent’s Television Council.

The VMAs were in September, though, so why am I bringing this up again now? Simple. The Grammys were just a few days ago, and that ceremony was proof positive that what got everyone so worked up in September has since become more acceptable. The sad truth is that–as with so many other things in culture–what was initially shocking gradually becomes less so and soon what once shocked becomes common place.

On Sunday night the 56th annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held, ostensibly to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. As Melissa Locker noted in her column for TIME‘s Entertainment section, however, the show “has become less about the awards and more about the eclectic and outlandish performances.” I did not watch the Grammys, so I am using news reports as the basis for my comments here, but it would seem that “eclectic and outlandish” might be putting it mildly. Those reports make it all the more confusing that the Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri would have started her Monday column (the day after the Grammys) with this statement: “The Grammys were remarkably incident free.”

Really?

To quote NFL officials after an instant replay look-see, “after review” the ruling by Petri has been overturned. The Grammys were actually incident-full. Kristen Andersen of LifeSiteNews, in her column appearing on MyChristianDaily.com apparently has a very different perspective on what qualifies as an incident. (That, of course, is actually part of the problem–so much of what would have been shocking and entirely unacceptable not all that long ago no longer even rises to the level of an “incident” in the minds of so many). Andersen begins her column like this: “Sunday night’s Grammy Awards show was all about shock value.” I do not know about you, but “incident free” and “shock value” are really not synonymous in my book. So to what was Andersen referring? She continues with this: “Scantily-clad singers, same-sex ‘marriages’ set to anti-Christian lyrics, simulated sex acts and a performance full of demonic imagery by pop star Katy Perry – who used to be Christian artist Katy Hudson – were just a few of the on-stage stunts that seemed custom-designed to offend Christian believers.” Not to put words in Andersen’s pen, but it would seem that such antics would likely offend more than just Christians.

During the Grammys each of the following occurred: Katy Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” included her pole-dancing around an inverted broom while flames and demons danced around her; rap artist Macklemore performed a song entitled “Same Love” while thirty-three couples of all sexual orientations were legally married on stage in a ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah; husband and wife Jay-Z and Beyoncé gave a performance in which Beyoncé “wore little more than a thong leotard and simulated sex acts with a chair, her husband, and herself” (Andersen); and Pink “shock[ed] with a sexy performance outfit” consisting mostly of “a sexy, long-sleeved lace bodysuit that hugged her curves” (Hollywoodlife.com).

The UK’s Daily Mail apparently had a different take on the evening’s activities than did the Washington Post‘s Petri. It’s column on Monday ran under a headline snatched from the Twitter-sphere: “‘It’s a sad day when our kids can’t even watch the Grammys’: Beyoncé slammed by parents after VERY risqué performance.” The column began with the statement that many parents deemed Beyoncé’s performance “too explicit for children to watch.” The column went on to describe Beyoncé’s performance as “both seductive and risqué” and included “moves Miley Cyrus would have been proud of.” Based on the photos included in the Daily Mail column I would have to agree–there is no way to blast Cyrus’s performance as raunchy and inappropriate while also commending Beyoncé for hers.

The Daily Mail column included another interesting observation that provides further evidence of the contradictory responses to Cyrus and Beyoncé. First, the column states, “Beyoncé’s performance comes after she admitted in a recent mini-documentary that she is proud to embrace her sexuality. She said: ‘I don’t have any shame about being sexual. I’m not embarrassed about it. And I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me.'” The column then went on to state that such “embracing” of her sexuality has not stopped President Barack Obama from praising Beyoncé as a role model for children. The column quoted Obama as saying recently, “Beyoncé could not be a better role model for my girls because she carries herself with such class and poise and has so much talent.'” She may have talent, but it is unfathomable to me that any father would encourage his daughters to model themselves after a woman who gave the performance the Beyoncé did on Sunday.

Part of the responsibility of Christians is to shine a light on the darkness in the world. Several Christian artists did that after (and during) the Grammys on Sunday. Natalie Grant tweeted, “We left the Grammys early. I’ve many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head. But I’ll say this: I’ve never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I’ve never been more sure of the path I’ve chosen.” Despite the fact that Grant did not identify any particular performance or indicate when she left the Grammys the backlash came swiftly, with many accusing her of hatred toward homosexuals. Responding on Facebook, Grant wrote that she would much prefer to use her platform to unite rather than divide, but “I do have my own personal convictions that I live by, and I will continue to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord. (Philippians 2:12)”

Grant went to the show and left early. Mandisa opted to not even go–and she won two Grammys on Sunday. She won for “Best Christian Contemporary Music Album” and “Best Contemporary Christian Music Song” but she was not there when her name was announced. Explaining her absence via Facebook, Mandisa wrote, “Both times I have gone to the Grammys I have witnessed performances I wish I could erase from my memory, and yes, I fast forwarded through several performances this year; but my reason is not because of them, it’s because of me. I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently. … I knew that submerging myself into an environment that celebrates those things was risky for me at this time. … Perhaps being alone with [Jesus] as my name was announced was protecting myself from where my flesh would have tried to drag me had I been up on that stage.”

If I may, Mr. President, I would like to suggest that Mandisa would be a much better role model for your daughters than Beyoncé.

Bottom line, the performances at the Grammys on Sunday are likely only evidence of what will continue to be; I am afraid things will get worse rather than better. I will leave it to you to prayerfully consider what, if anything, you will do about that, but I would humbly suggest that you consider Ephesians 5:11, which reads, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” That is what I am endeavoring to do here. My purpose is not to chastise or blame Pink, Beyonce, Katy Perry or Macklemore. My point is to expose what happened to expose the serious slide our nation is on away from any modicum of decency in the public arena. Miley was just the beginning….

January 22, 2014

The content of their character

On Monday Sarah Palin took to Facebook to ask President Barack Obama to stop playing the race card. She posted, “Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card.” USA Today opined that while Palin did not specify how Obama “plays the race card,” her comments came on the heels of The New Yorker‘s profile of Obama by David Remnnick in which Obama makes reference to the issue of his race. Obama stated that there are surely some people who dislike him precisely because he is black and others who no doubt like him solely for the same reason. Sad though that may be, it is true, and I am not sure I would consider that “playing the race card.” However, that is not at all to imply that the race card does not get played, because it does.

As I reflected on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday I could not help but think that his dream that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” has not been fully fulfilled. What I find most troubling about that–as, I suspect, would King–is that African Americans are just as responsible for that as whites. In some cases perhaps even more so. There are many instances in which African Americans–leaders and non-leaders–make race an issue.

Examples are, unfortunately, not hard to find, but an excellent one can be found just last week. Tamera Mowry is an actress most known for starring, with her twin sister Tia, in the 1990s television show Sister Sister. Mowry is bi-racial; in her interview with Oprah Winfrey she said, “My mom is a beautiful black woman and my dad is an amazing white man, and I grew up seeing a family. I didn’t grow up saying, ‘Oh, that’s a white man.'” Mowry is now married to a white man herself, FOX News correspondent Adam Housely. The two have been married for three years and, Mowry says, ever since the wedding she has been subjected to name calling and all kinds hatred due to her marriage. The UK’s Daily Mail said she has been “remorselessly attacked.” Mowry told Winfrey, “I have never experienced so much hate ever in my life, ever.” Providing specific examples, Mowry said, “I get called ‘white man’s whore.’ The new one was ‘back in the day you cost $300, but now you’re giving it to him for free.'”

This is not the kind of attitude or dialogue that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have encouraged. He would certainly disapprove. The vitriol Mowry describes comes predominantly, if not exclusively, from other African Americans according to her report. What makes the issue ever worse is that the racial hatred spewed at her seems to be intensified because of the fact that her husband is a correspondent for FOX News, widely seen to be the conservative television news channel. During the 2012 vice presidential debate Mowry re-tweeted a Twitter post from Greta VanSusteren referencing her frustration with Joe Biden’s interruptions of Paul Ryan. The Twitter-sphere erupted with comments about Mowry being Republican, being married to a white man, and being “a light skinned hoes boy.” Alfre Woodard is married to a white man, too; as far as I know she has never faced the kind of hatred Mowry describes. Compounding the problem is the fact that it seems widely accepted and even celebrated within the African American community for a black man to marry a white woman. Why the double standard?

There are of course plenty of other examples; sadly, prominent African American political leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton seem to bring race into almost any discussion, even when it does not conveniently fit. I know that Rev. Jackson was a colleague and friend of Dr. King; I cannot, though, help but think that Dr. King would frown at the rhetoric Dr. Jackson so often uses.

Bottom line, I agree with Dr. King’s dream; the content of an individual’s character matters much more than the color of their skin. And as I think about it it is indeed the “content of their character” that shines through when ignorant people attack Tamera Mowry for being happily married to a white man. It is the “content of their character” that shines through when Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton tries to manipulate a legitimate political discussion into a racial issue. Sadly, those individuals often insist on connecting “the content of their character” with “the color of their skin” and the two are really not connected. At the end of the day, there are people of all skin tones that are stupid, arrogant, bigoted or contentious. Likewise, there are people of all skin tones that are intelligent, compassionate, humble and gracious. The best way to fulfill Dr. King’s dream, I think, is simply to live skin color out of it altogether.

October 30, 2013

Forget About the Joneses

I am not saying anything original when I say that despite the increased connectivity of the age in which we live most people are in fact more disconnected than they were in the past. With the technology that we have today many people are able to be in instant contact with almost anyone almost anywhere in the world. There are tremendous advantages to this, of course. My family can talk to my sister-in-law in Ukraine via Skype and both see and hear her for free. I can chat online or via text message with anyone instantly. Indeed, I can post my rambling thoughts on this blog and anyone around the world can read them within nanoseconds of me clicking “Publish.” There is nothing wrong with any of that. The problem is, though, this increased connectivity via technology has led to decreased connectivity via actual person-to-person in-person interaction. Many people spend far more time e-mailing, texting, talking, tweeting and Facebooking than they do talking face to face.

Another serious part of the disconnect is the separation from reality. When our interaction with others is restricted to what we and others choose to post, text or tweet it is going to be skewed. This filtered reality goes both ways, of course. Some people are much more willing to say something through the intermediary of technology than they would ever be face to face. This usually means a willingness to say things that are offensive, derogatory or hurtful. Children, teens and adults alike seem empowered by technology–emboldened to peck out words on their keyboards or phones and click a button launching those words into cyberspace that they would never have the courage to deliver in person.

At the same time, this filtered reality also leads to people presenting an image that is not entirely accurate. It is more like an airbrushed or Photoshopped version of reality. While some people put anything and everything “out there” for the world to see, the tendency is to post, share, tweet and text that which is “the best.” Technology becomes a personal spin machine or public relations bureau. We tell the world when our children make the honor roll but not when they get sent to the principal’s office. We show everyone our new car but we tend to keep mum about backing into the lamppost across the street. We announce our birdies and hide our double-bogeys, highlight our home runs and keep silent about our strikeouts.

This filtered reality can have a deleterious effect when we are overexposed to it or fail to interact with it while also keeping a firm grip on actual reality. In fact, researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study in which they asked Facebook users, through a series of online questionnaires over two weeks, how they felt about life. The study showed that using Facebook tended to result in a decrease in self-satisfaction and a decline in happiness.

U-M social psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the article about the study, said, “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result—it undermines it.” The complete article appears in PLOS ONE. According to Michigan News, the U-M News Service, the study also found “no evidence that interacting directly with other people via phone or face-to-face negatively influenced well-being. Instead, they found that direct interactions with other people led people to feel better over time.”

Why might the filtered-reality interaction lead to diminished satisfaction and happiness? In the words of one individual quoted by Daniel James Devine in the September 21, 2013 issue of WORLD Magazine, “Facebook is like looking at a highlights reel, and then comparing it to the real thing. Comparison is the thief of joy.” In a Facebook-centric world people accumulate friends and then spend hours exposing themselves only to the filtered-reality of those friends’ Facebook personas.

Facebook can be great. So can texting, e-mailing, tweeting, blogging and more. Be very careful, though, to keep a clear head during your filtered social interactions. Do not be fooled by the “highlight reels” your “friends” are sharing–that is not the extent of their lives. Even if it were, comparison and envy is a sure-fire route to sadness and depression. Forget about the Joneses…your happiness should never come from comparing yourself to others.

January 29, 2013

Free Speech

I was amused as I read through the January 12 issue of WORLD Magazine to find that two of the magazine’s articles–located just three pages apart–were completely contradictory. I was further amused to discover that I thought both articles were wrong. Here’s the situation…

On page 59, Daniel James Devine wrote a piece entitled, “Speech impediments.” In it, he argued that Facebook, YouTube and Apple are guilty of online censorship and that everyone (but Christians in particular) should be concerned about the decisions being made by these companies. He cites examples such as Facebook’s deletion of a photo showing “an unveiled Arab woman in a sleeveless top, holding, in a call for liberation, a passport photo of herself wearing the hijab“, and Facebook’s temporary censorship of Mike Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” held last year in support of Dan Cathy. According to Devine, Facebook apologized for both instances and “claimed the content had been removed by mistake.” Devine also cites Apple’s permanent removal of applications from Exodus International and Manhattan Declaration on its AppStore, and YouTube’s removal of Pastor Ryan Faust’s video warning against gay marriage, since YouTube considered the video to be hate speech.

Three pages later Mark Bergin wrote a piece entitled “Switch hitters” in which he took to task sports journalists for straying from reporting and commenting on sports to commenting on social issues and politics. He cited Bob Costas’ arguments for tighter gun control laws during a halftime show on Sunday Night Football following the murder/suicide by Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher and sportswriter Jason Whitlock’s comments on the same incident. Bergin also mentioned ESPN’s reprimand of golf analyst Paul Azinger criticizing President Barack Obama for playing too much golf while devoting so little attention to job creation. Bergin cited ESPN’s policy that its reporters and personalities are to “avoid being publicly identified with various sides of political issues.” Bergin concludes the column by pointing out that sports journalists have a responsibility to provide “relief from greater concerns” and that “when the sports pages carry reports of murder and suicide, all notions of fantasy and escape are lost….” In other words, Bergin wants sports journalists to stick to talking sports and avoid discussing their opinions on anything else.

So the irony comes from Devine lamenting censorship from social media companies while Bergin is asking for censorship of sports journalists. Here’s why both are wrong…

First, the social media platforms that Devine is concerned about are the creations of companies that have chosen to provide a service. But Apple, Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook are not public utilities (which, by the way, Devine does acknowledge). His suggestion that “users should be free to publish whatever they choose, like newspaper editors” is foolish and naive. Newspapers are protected against censorship from the government, but not from their own editors or owners. A newspaper editor can exclude anything he or she wants from a newspaper. Who in the world would suggest that newspapers should print everything that is submitted to them, whether by reporters or by the public? Devine says that “platform providers…should serve all customers even if they disagree with the content provided.” That’s just silly. WORLD has a web site, and it is free for anyone to access. But I guarantee you it would not allow or leave up comments that it deemed inappropriate or offensive. It’s not as if Google, Apple and Facebook are the only ways in the world for people to get out their messages. If they choose to censor content, so what? Let them. If it troubles you, find another outlet to make your voice heard. if it troubles you enough, stop using their services. If it troubles you to the point that you just cannot sleep at night, and you have the wherewithal to do so, start your own platform and let people post, publish and share anything they want without guidelines or censorship of any kind.

Devine quotes Craig Parshall, the director of the John Milton Project for Free Speech at National Religious Broadcasters, expressing concern that these companies, because of company policies, can remove user-generated content they find offensive, “even if it would otherwise be lawful.” Of course they can; they created and/or own the platform, so they can create any policies they want. We, the users, volunteer to abide by them when we choose to use the services they provide. The fact that the speech may “otherwise be lawful” does not mean any company must allow it to be disseminated through its service(s). I am sure Parshall would not suggest that Christian radio stations should be required to air radio content its owners found offensive, so why should Facebook or YouTube be required to leave up content their owners find offensive? Our country is full of places that have established their own censorship rules, and many of them are religious–schools, camps, colleges, etc. There are some things students at the school where I serve cannot say or where or advertise without having consequences–possibly as severe as expulsion–even if their speech would “otherwise be lawful.”

Mr. Bergin, on the other hand, is suggesting that sports journalists should be prevented from sharing opinions that are not within the narrow parameters of “sports journalism.” First of all, if the on-air commentators of sporting events stuck to talking solely about the games being broadcast, there would be a lot more silence during the games. That would probably not be a bad thing, actually, but my point is that they stray often from “the subject at hand.” Should they be censored for doing so only when what the talk about is potentially offensive to someone? Second, sports journalists work for companies or at least have to sell their work to companies; shouldn’t the companies have the say in whether or not to censor them? If I don’t like what Bob Costs or Jason Whitlock or Paul Azinger has to say, I do not have to listen to read them. But am I really sure I want to suggest that they should not be allowed to say those things?

As I said, it was incredibly ironic to find these two articles just pages apart, since one argues that companies providing public platforms should not censor the content contributed by the public, while the other suggests that companies providing platforms for information to be disseminated to the public should censor the opinions being disseminated. And, as I said at the outset, I think Messrs. Devine and Bergin are both wrong. I guarantee you I want the right to censor or regulate that which I have created and/or own. Why? Because that in and of itself is free speech!

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