A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Very few days I remember exactly what I was doing when a certain thing happened. I remember what I was doing when I heard on 9/11 that an airplane had flown into the first of the two towers. The days and weeks that followed stand out more clearly in my mind than many others, indelibly etched there by those shocking, traumatic events.

Add today’s attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters to that short list.

Before everything blew up, I was having not my greatest work day — I already cried once — but eventually managed to get on track and start accomplishing some real work. Then one of my coworkers sent me a message saying that protesters had started attacking the Capitol. I turned on NPR. Continue Reading >>

Politics and Religion

In the 10 days since the inauguration, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Christian here and now. Although Trump received strong support from evangelical Christians, and some of his edicts actively favor Christians or traditional Christan causes, I’m one of those believers who cannot support this administration or its policies. This stems from my fundamental understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

The simplest version of Christian religion is “believe in Jesus and you won’t burn in hell forever.” On par with this shallow brief system is its collary, “believe in Jesus and he will give you good things/protect you from bad things.” Both of these are the “Jesus as lucky rabbit’s foot” philosophy. This tends to spawn the kind of religion that demands lots of works to earn the desired reward, while practicioners tend to have no tolerance for different views. They know the right way, and they are going to force the rest of us into their way.

That’s the kind of religion that supports Trump.

My understanding of what it means to follow Christ is radically different from that. My faith looks like this:

  • I know that I’m broken in many ways, and that I cannot fix myself. Therefore, I’m in no position to judge other people’s choices. Jesus said to clean up my own heart before telling others what to do.
  • Christ is the only perfect person who ever lived, and he voluntarily sacrificed Himself to fix my brokenness before God.
  • Jesus called his followers to care for the most marginalized people in society, and to not count the cost of helping. He said to care for widows and orphans. He said that if someone asked for your shirt, to give him your coat, too; if they demanded you go a mile with them, you go two voluntarily; if someone hits you once, don’t fight back of he goes to hit you again. 
  • By being in relationship with Christ, I slowly become more like Him — never perfect, but less broken, with my heart and priorities more aligned with His. I slowly start to see myself and my own well-being as less important than caring for others, which is ultimately what Jesus did.
  • Continue Reading >>

    Christmas Giving — to Charity

    The holidays are fast approaching, a time when people start freaking out about what gifts to give hard-to-buy-for family members. Money flows. For many retailers, it’s a time to make or break; for many individuals, it’s a stressful and anxious time.

    I wanted to share how my family has been fighting this trend, and what we’re thinking about doing differently this year.

    Many years ago, my parents started doing a Christmas donation give-away. They would allocate a certain dollar amount to each family member, and give us Monopoly money to represent it. Then we would all go through the charity giving catalogs and decide where we wanted to put our giving dollars. Sometimes we teamed up to do something like help pay for a well (which are often expensive), or sometimes just spend it on something like vaccines for kids or bicycles for girls.

    Similarly, in years past, Ian and I have given donations in the name of family or friends, and then provided them a handmade card to let them know what we did in their name. But usually, in both cases, the donation has supplemented gift-giving, or accompanied an actual physical gift.

    This year, I think we’re going to do it differently. With the election, and with the precedent set by the officials so far appointed in the new administration, it’s going to be extra-important to support causes and people that will be hurt in the future. That’s why, this year, we’re starting to talk about doubling down on this commitment to donations at Christmas. We’re talking about going all in and, with the exception of gifts for Benji, forgoing gifts entirely. Instead, our entire gift budget will go to charity.

    Gifts are supposed to remind us of the gift God gave to us at Christmastime: Jesus, and, through him, grace and redemption from our sins. Getting even a very appropriate gift that I like and appreciate is nice, but I believe that giving to nonprofits and charities that do Jesus’ work* is even more in keeping with the intention of Christmas giving. I’m going to be asking my friends what charities they would like us to support in their name (feel free to let me know in the comments or by email as you read this, if you want!), and I’m going to be researching organizations that I want to give to this year. It’s going to be more than just sending Bibles to Africa, believe me.

    This election, and the national mood to go along with it, has really reminded me why we need to live generously. It’s not just people “out there” who need our help; it’s people right here, in our state, county, city, neighborhood. Many people have been hurting for a long time, and they chose Trump because they’re hoping to get some kind of help. Well, I doubt Trump is going to help them, but I’m pretty sure nonprofits will be there.

    Probably, we should have been living with this level of generosity all the time. I guess it takes a serious jump to get our engines going, but this is about as big of a jolt as we could hope for. Time to take a leaf out of Jesus’ book. He gave everything, even his life. We can certainly allocate a few more dollars to help others.

    *That’s not to say that we’re only going to support Christian charities; I know many excellent organizations that aren’t explicitly Christian do the kind of work Jesus would absolutely support.

    Presidential Election Results: Part 2

    It’s been five days since the most critical election in generations, one in which the outcome stunned more than half the voters. (Sadly, those more-than-half were in the wrong states, so their votes didn’t count as much as those of voters in other states.) I didn’t sleep Tuesday night, as every time I started drifting off, nightmare scenarios of what might happen now that a bigoted, sexist, xenophobic, lying demagogue has been elected as the leader of our nation.

    As time has gone by, I’ve realized there are two disturbing aspects to this election.

  • Trump is morally revolting. He is a blatant liar, he’s sexually assaulted at least a dozen women, he’s racist, he’s completely selfish, he has no apparent moral compass beyond enriching himself and maintaining his own prestige. He mocks women and disabled people. He stiffs contractors to whom he owes money. He engages in tax gymnastics skirting so close to the edge of legality it’s astonishing he’s not already in jail. He has no moral compunctions about splitting up families to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants who are helping drive our economy. He is willing to trample the Constitution by sorting people by race and religion. He has absolutely zero filter and says every filthy, disgusting, and revolting thing that comes into his head. I’m going to stop now, but that’s a clearly non-comprehensive list. I could go on.

    The bottom line is that Trump wants attention, and will do anything to get it — and, honestly, it’s worked. He’s gotten boatloads more attention than any other political candidate ever.

    Okay, so, moral repugnance. I think many people who voted for Trump did so with their noses held, acknowledging that he’s not the most savory or desirable Republican candidate. I imagine many of them voted Republican because that’s what they do, regardless of the candidate himself. I also imagine that many would have preferred a Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or even Ted Cruz over the choice they got. However, that being the choice, they sucked it up and voted for a guy they are fully aware is weak in the ethics department.

    Why? For reason number two, I’m guessing.

  • Republicans now have free reign for at least two, and maybe four, years. For Republicans, who have been waiting and stalling and hoping for this day, this is great! At last, they can finally repeal all that onerous weight of cruft Obama has done: Obamacare, protections for illegal immigrants, environmental regulations and protections, taxing the wealthiest to provide social services for the poorest. It’s got to be an amazing feeling of elation to at last have full and total control with the ability to do whatever they think is the right thing.

    That’s the second thing that’s so alarming for those of us on the other side. We believe in the value of all those things: healthcare for millions of more people who haven’t been covered before; allowing hardworking people to participate in our workforce and find a way to legal citizenship; protection and action to combat the existential threat that climate change presents to our nation and world; the federal government’s role in caring for the vulnerable and disenfranchised.

    In these philosophical issues of economics and governance, it really doesn’t matter if it’s Trump or another Republican. Any Republican will do these things–perhaps even more so than Trump, who’s flip-flopped on his political affiliations along with so many other things. But it’s clear that Republicans and their political philosophy will have their day, and we’ll get to see what they reap.

    I sincerely hope that all the liberal doomsayers are wrong, and that if the tide does rise (no guarantees, if trade is stifled as many economists expect) it will lift all boats. In short, I hope we’re all wrong and that the Republicans are right, because otherwise it’s going to be a very painful future for many people. Continue Reading >>

  • Presidential Election Results

    Well, … Okay.

    Here we are.

    Most of America made choices that I think are beyond foolish, possibly into dangerous territory. The government for the next four years will be able to do pretty much whatever it wants, without any checks or balances, and the put a megalomaniacal, sexual-assaulting, blowhard liar at the helm whose only true interest is in. Way. To. Go.

    Last night, every time I closed my eyes, I kept having visions of what happens now, and it was nightmarish. I can’t say I slept much. By any measure, it’s going to be an alarming, unpredictable, and potentially horrifying four years. I just hope it won’t be worse than that.

    But as I was laying there awake, heart racing and stomach sunken to the floor, I thought to myself: This doesn’t change who I am. It doesn’t change who we, Americans, can be as a people. Yes, we may have put ourselves back who knows how many decades, because people can and do make very stupid choices at times.

    But this is an opportunity to rise above the stupidity, to show that even if our government is making harmful and idiotic policies, we as individuals are not harmful or idiotic. This is a chance to show what it means to be a German hiding Jews in Nazi Germany. We can reach out to our neighbors who are vulnerable, and more likely to be impacted by all these crazy policies than those of us who are well off. Jesus called us to take care of the widows and orphans; well, if we’re too stupid to elect a government to do it, we can still act as individuals to help.

    I don’t think I’m articulating this well. W what I’m trying to say is that one response is horror, shock, heartbreak, stunned astonishment, all leading to anger and disconnection. Another response is horror, shock, heartbreak, stunned astonishment, leading to compassionate caring for people most impacted by this disaster. I think that as Christians, Christ would call us to the latter.

    I vote as I think Jesus would have, in favor of the marginalized and those unable to care for themselves. That’s why I so often vote for tax increases that impact us but benefit other people… oh, people who need mental health help, or low income housing, or whatever. But if the vote doesn’t go that way, my responsibility to help those less fortunate than myself isn’t abrogated. Instead, if anything, my responsibility is increased.

    This is our chance to step up and show that we are bigger and better than this election. Even if things go totally sideways and we end up in decades-long collapse, we as individuals can continue making choices to support, love, and care for those who need it. No election changes who we are, and no election can that take away.

    News Fast

    A while ago, I was thinking to myself, “What did we do for news before this election?” It feels like the election has been going on so incredibly long, news organizations and news consumers alike have forgotten what else to talk about. Maybe I just tend to get sucked into politics more lately, but my perception is that coverage has skewed to covering the juicy, disgusting rotting carcass that is our current election cycle even more heavily than in normal election years.

    I keep hearing about the divisions in our country — between Trump supporters and everyone else, between Republicans, between whites or police and blacks or police, between rich and poor, between country and city, between immigrants and citizens by birth, between Muslim and non-Muslim… It goes on. It’s disheartening.

    But I also wonder how much of it is just news, in the sense that we keep hearing about things because they make such great stories, not because they’re really as bad as portrayed. Surely there are an endless number of instances of people helping others different from themselves; crossing divides; accepting differences. After all, at heart we’re all people, trying to make the best way we can. This is America, the great melting pot. Nearly all of us have family who were immigrants at some point; it’s not like any of us white people can claim to have 500 years of family history in a place here like some can in Europe.

    Anyway, I’m not going anywhere specific with this, except to say that it feels like the news coverage shows us the worst without showing the best, giving an incredibly skewed view of the state of things. Thus, I’ve been taking a break from the news ever since I mailed my ballot earlier in the week, including no Facebook at all and no reading political-related articles online.

    And you know what? It’s refreshing.

    Maybe I’m just burying my head in the sand, but overall it’s sure nice not to spend my time head-shaking at how impossible Those Other People are, or feeling outraged at the latest political scandal (of which it seems like this campaign has at least a few per day). I finished reading a book. I’m listening to music. It’s nice.

    Might be good for all of us just to step back, take a breather. Sure, things are bad. But they’re always bad. And let’s not forget that lots of things are good, too.

    In view of this, here are a few good things that happened in my life lately.

    1. I have the privilege of voting. Which took a long time, with all the stuff on the ballot. The privilege of spending time learning about each issue and candidate, and using the reasoning ability God gave me to try to make a wise choice.

    2. Dad and I got to go for a really nice bike ride together yesterday while the weather wasn’t just OK, it was gorgeous. Plus I got to ride my favorite beautiful pink bike, which is a little slower but way more comfortable and all round wonderful.

    3. Benji is four, and Four is Fun. I told Benji this joke: “I tried to catch fog yesterday. You know how it went? Mist.” And he got it, and thought it was hilarious and bad, which is awesome! So puns are in our future, which anyone who knows us already could’ve anticipated. Also, we’re able to go do interesting things, like go to the https://www.lego.com/en-us/stores/events/americana-roadshow display at Alderwood Mall.
    Lego Washington Monument

    Lego White House

    We were inspired after this insane display of Lego prowess, and had a fun time building at the free play area.
    Lego Free Play Bins

    Racing Lego Car

    A Society of Grace

    I’ve been thinking about social safety nets–in case you’re new to this terminology, that means government programs like food stamps, Obamacare/ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security–and the idea of personal responsibility–making choices that let you live in health and comfort. In political discourse, those two are often presented as opposites: Either you have a system of government that encourages personal responsibility, or your government provides social safety nets.

    But, as I said, I’ve been thinking about this. Black-and-white views that say either them or us simplifies issues that simply aren’t simple. So to speak. Here are some things I’ve thought about this, in no specific order.

    Many people who extol personal responsibility and hard work tend to despise social safety nets. They see these programs as encouraging lazy, shiftless bums to mooch off the system–and who pays for them to sit on their couches and watch TV all day? All of US hardworking folks, that’s who! Now, if this was a book or if I was a journalist, I’d have done research on the actual demographics of people relying on these different services, and I’d have some nice hard data to make some good firm statements.

    I’m not, and I haven’t, so I’m not even going to get into whether that stereotype is accurate or not. Instead, I’ve been wondering is: What kind of nation do we want to be? Because how we answer that question fundamentally addresses what kind of society we choose to build.

    Do we want to be the kind of society where we let people make mistakes and give them second, third, fourth, or even more chances, acknowledging that people can fail and often need help? (And I don’t want to suggest that all people relying on social safety nets have made mistakes or are weak failures. Many will be there through no fault of their own. Or maybe that’s just my liberal bias speaking, eh?)

    Or will we instead insist that people who make mistakes, or who need help, must help themselves or die trying? If you have the misfortune to be born in the wrong place, to the wrong parents, do you deserve to suffer? If you are lucky in birth but unlucky in life, is there no grace?

    Because okay, let’s say some people are gaming the system. Does that mean we shouldn’t help the other people who really need it? Jesus didn’t demand that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; the whole concept of grace tells us that we can never be good enough, and that’s why Jesus came in the first place. Because people are people, and can’t be perfect. He came to pick up the slack. To hold us up when we stumble. To be there time and again, after every failure.

    As Christians, we believe that Jesus preached the importance of caring for the “widows and orphans” — those worse-off than ourselves. I’ve heard it said that we should therefore support private enterprises engaged in this work. I don’t disagree; my family gives money to some such. But there are so many people who need so much help that no private organization, or even plethora of organizations across the country or the world, could reach everyone.

    The government’s job is to keep track of people and take care of them. They can reach people who need help, and they have the resources to make a difference. You may not like the government; maybe you think it’s too big and needs to be smaller. Pass some of that responsibility on to local governments or NGOs. Streamline that bloated monster, get rid of all the waste. Okay to that, too. But we have to live with the system in place right now, and our system is one where the government is responsible for helping people.

    Again, I come back to the idea of second chances, grace, and helping those less fortunate.

    It’s easy to insist on people taking care of themselves, right up until something happens to you. Then you’re glad that net is down there after all.

    When you’re 85 years old and have minimal retirement savings, what would you do without Social Security? When you’ve made bad life choices, are unemployed, and need a liver transplant, where will you find insurance coverage but through the ACA? When you’re a hardworking farmer who’s struggling to make ends meet competing against ginormous agri-business and you get some bad weather, those farm subsidies are lifesavers. When you’re a single mom working two jobs trying to support your three elementary-aged kids, where will you turn? What NGO can ensure you’re fed, clothed, housed and taken care of while you try to make ends meet?

    Financial disasters happen, health disasters happen, and while I certainly advocate people preparing (I do work for a financial advisor; our business is planning for this kind of stuff), we need to acknowledge that sometimes things happen far beyond an individual’s ability to prepare.

    Sure, it’s easy to insist on personal responsibility, but when crap happens that is beyond our ability to plan and control, then what?

    As a people, I think it’s up to those of us who have some to assist those who have none. No, we don’t have an ideal system. But the one we have helps millions of people in need. We need to stop thinking about the programs and how much they hurt us, and start thinking about the people, and how much they are hurting.