March (well April) for Science

I ventured onto Boston Common after a meeting I was attending on Tremont Street this past Saturday (April 22, Earth Day). I had heard that the March for Science was to take place that day. It was rainy, pretty cold with a raw wind and I wasn’t really dressed for it so I wanted to make it quickly to my car parked under the Boston Common. When I started across the common, entering at Park Street Station, I could tell the march was already in full swing. Well, that wasn’t right either, because many hundreds of people were still arriving from all directions.

The first person who caught my eye was a HUGE man, with a sign that said something defiant and angry (I forget exactly what and you would too). He scowling, growling with a shaking fist held high in the air as if to rally the people. I passed up the opportunity to involve him in the pugilistic exchange he seemed to long for, and walked by to his right. For the next several days I was searching my memory for the image that best fit his appearance and mannerisms. Then it came to me.

The tone of the signage, speech and even the expressions on people’s faces was just like that. Lots of spouting. Lots of indignation and well, hatred.

Now I love science. My Dad had a PhD in Physics. I love the researching, the discovery and the exchange that goes into the scientific method.

And the scientists I have known have been a pretty humble lot. By no means all of them, but

  1. Their work is so laden with trial and error that it just makes them cautious towards advancing their findings beyond some initial positive results, qualified with words like “tentative”, “preliminary”, etc.
  2. They are careful not to cite something, even evidence, as “fact” until is it thoroughly vetted.
  3. When there are theories that get developed, it’s only after lengthy community scrutiny and testing.
  4. Their work is open to revision and even repudiation, should other, overriding evidence emerge.
  5. Their community is not American but international.  That is, advancements and contributions arise from all over the world.

The contrast between that careful process and the brash posters and talk on the Common was profound. The march was not about science but about using some selected scientific themes and theories to advance a world- and political-view that the people felt was being attacked by the current president and his administration. “Science”, then was the ultimate authority, though science itself establishes its authority with much more trepidation and process.

And the hatred was palpable. Another saying from the movie referenced above came to mind:

I was relieved to see a nerdy, overweight kid smiling with a poster reading “Be a proton. Be positive”

I do think I understand the antipathy particularly against THIS president. It’s not so much as he’s conservative, though that certainly was unforgivable to this crowd. It’s that he is defiantly so, ill-mannered and impenitent in the face of mistakes.

But this Saturday I didn’t see anything better in his opponents.

Which brings me again to the place of saying if that is the substance of modern political “discussion”, then I am proudly unpolitical. Because I will not hate like that. Not even (or especially not) or science.

Sanity and mercy for the alien

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy

The third beatitude spoken by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount hits at a key double standard that plagues humanity. That is, people universally want mercy extended towards them but adopt stances that lack mercy towards others. Christ repeatedly linked the incoming with the outgoing, because it’s the foundation of community in a human condition where people have a strong likelihood to fall into destructive and hurtful behavior.  So the statement has a flip side – no outgoing mercy, none coming in.

I take it as a given that we all need mercy.

I’m going to write about a hot button issue with the hope of being a cooler head and inspiring other heads to cool off as well. And become exercise more mercy, because they need mercy towards themselves.

As we experience the actions of individuals and groups, we will observe behavior that can offend and injure ourselves or our group. That behavior is widely various and so are its effects.

When the others’ behavior becomes a hot button due to flash points or political arousal, the practice of outgoing mercy evaporates and hearts are made hard.

Image result for quichua milford ma

The current turmoil of sentiment against illegal American aliens is a very good example. Offenses, real and imagined, have energized a movement and candidate to take decisive action. And the backlash of liberal ideology that embraces immigrants then became merciless towards their political foes who they didn’t bother to understand, let alone even consider exercising mercy.

I’m a moderate, which means I have very few political friends – or better put my political friends are actually civil enough to see both sides of the issues. So you know

  • I do understand the problems caused by illegal aliens – lack of tax-paying while consuming services, taking jobs from American citizens, breaking the law by being here illegally, crime and more.
  • I do understand compassion – that these people came to our country for a better life just like all immigrants before them, that they are “illegal” because of laws that have failed and that they have families just like mine.

I’m also an engineer and part of my make-up is trying to solve problems. So I want to advance some ideas, not necessarily new ones but in composite perhaps only lightly articulated. I would ask readers – who mostly fall into the camps described above – to avoid finding a problem with every solution. Mostly because we have no solutions now and the very will to find workable ones is primary to getting out of the current turmoil.

Here are the bones of a plan:

  1. Establish a path to citizenship for aliens currently in the country. Make it attractive and make it well-defined with steps anyone could walk. Start with a social security card to go with a path towards a green card.
  2. Provide a deadline by which people have to sign up for the plan and make it clear that if they fail to do so, they will be deported. I mean forcefully.  Serve strong notice to all known employers of undocumented aliens.
  3. Once the deadline is reached, aggressively go after scoff-laws and have them either sign up or leave. Hit places of employment very hard.  Yes, this is merciful because it advances responsibility.
  4. Reform the immigration laws. Establish reasonable quotas (higher than they are), asylum rules and vetting processes. Provide a method for safe haven for refugees while keeping out those who would harm the country.
  5. Make a 5-year review of immigration law mandatory. That is, times and people movement change. And so should the law.

.. or some set of points like that.

I realize this forgives the offenses of overstaying one’s visa, illegally crossing borders and potentially lying about it.  I don’t do that lightly but as a pragmatic step whose only alternatives both lack the mercy and are too costly on many fronts to make them viable.

And I would definitely both share the riches of my country with others and insist that if they are here, they become part of “us”. Because we need each other.

Healing points

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Image result for peter john healing cripple

The story of the crippled beggar in Acts 3 is as historical as any we have from the era. There are those who deny the miraculous – usually until they need a miracle. And there are those assign such accounts to some hopefuls stuck in the first stage of grief – denial.  In other words, to them, the need for belief in miracle is a sign that one hasn’t accepted the reality of one’s suffering.

But that’s hardly the context of the story. There was no doubt that the man involved was crippled. He wasn’t expecting a miracle or asking for one, but only for money.  In a day when there was no social welfare, his disability relegated him to being a professional beggar for his subsistence. It was a low calling, and beggars were among the lowest caste in society. The same is largely true today.

So, when Peter and John told the man to walk and as he stood to his feet he was healed, it was more than a physical transformation to healthy legs. (As H. David Edwards once mused “he was asking for alms but received legs”). It was a raising of social standing, a redemption of soul and restoration of dignity to a human being long denigrated to shame.

When we encounter the crippled – and I widen the scope to include emotionally and mentally crippled – knowledge of the nature of transformation to health is vital if we are to use what we have been given to help. I hold as a given that miraculous healing powers are given in a similarly wide array of talents and gifts. That is to say, you who read this likely have gifts that perhaps you have never used. But that’s getting off subject.

I am by no means an expert healer. I don’t even know what that means. But I have learned that to really help people in all the ways this man was helped, there are some guidelines. Forewarning – some of this may sound unloving and uncaring. That’s because the ultimate health of someone is a strategic goal and tactics may in fact be confrontational and challenging:

  • Don’t decide to cripple yourself. Identifying with someone who is suffering establishes a connection to a degree. But adopting the attitudes and pathos of unhealth drags you down and leaves the person you want to help in the same straits where you found him/her. This is not a statement of considering yourself superior. Indeed, you will likely need help yourself if you haven’t already. But you must be true the goal of healing, not merely empathy.
  • Listen before you speak. It is an impersonal insult to classify someone by his/her maladies, even if they are easily categorized and treatment standardized to an extent. You are working with a human being who needs to be heard and understood. It’s required to establish trust.
  • RSVP “no thank you” to pity parties. A crippled person can become so attached to his/her role as victim that it is demanded that you buy into the lies they have told themselves about how they got to their current state. This tempers the “listen before you speak” directive just above. When someone tells their story, it is vital at some point to confront and correct their negativity. This may even cause them to shut down but that is better than letting the recitation of the reasons they got into and must remain in the broken state to define their very identity. Truly, self-pity is uniformly a trap to keep people down.
  • Silver and gold won’t often do anything but enable. To only throw material wealth into a life that is so broken only enables brokenness. Am I saying to not provide for someone’s needs? No. Only that someone who has never learned to balance a checkbook or understand priorities of where money should go is not going to learn by simply having money.
  • The healed should become healers. If there is restoration in a life, it is best to use that to invest in the lives of others. There is no better testimony to the cripple than “I have been there, done that, and here’s how I found my health”.

So yeah, all that. Peter and John saw instantaneous result from their action. That’s great when it happens. But you shouldn’t give up even though it takes time, prayer and sacrifice. You will see healing if you persist, even in your own life

The deafening expectations on a drone

I recently heard a friend express a mindset I know too well – that he was drowning in the expectations of others. I have been there. There was a time when I felt that I was even accountable to my dog. I don’t know or care if there is a clinical name for that state of mind. I only care that it’s wrong and that it’s healthy to get past that feeling.

It’s not that others can’t impose – they can and do. It’s not that we don’t truly have obligations to meet – we do. The problem is that we can sink into an existence that doing what is expected of us is all we are. We become beings whose only value is doing our jobs. Worse, those jobs only increase in number, have virtually no rewards and they never end.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The people and institutions in our lives enforce a thankless, workaholic drone existence. No, not the pilotless drone aircraft, the drone bee, who does nothing but work for the queen in service to the hive:

Image result for drone bee

I have found some ways out of this trap, but for sure it can still be a struggle, and one that depresses and steals joy. Here are some ideas:

  1. Celebrate. If you are like me, you work for and/or with people who rarely if ever give you a sense of completion, even when you are victorious. At least that’s how you see things and how you hear what they say. Every finished task is rewarded by a list of future expectations. In that situation, it’s not just advisable but required that you intentionally mark your accomplishments with times of relaxation, reflection and parties. I mean spend resources – time and money – to formally do it. You have done and/or built something beautiful.  It’s part of life’s rhythm to sit back and rejoice in that, enjoy it.  And if you don’t do that, your longing for closure and the accompanying “feel good” will plague you. I know this from experience.This includes celebrating the finished work of others. Because the joy is contagious whenever you do.
  2. Identify voices. If there are certain people who make it a habit of telling you only what you haven’t done, make sure you notice and give them a label – toxic. It’s not that you always get to separate yourself from these people, but you can certainly marginalize their impact on your life. It may be that you must pay attention to these people (e.g. this might be your boss). But the message of incessant shortcoming is not good to listen to; so learn to tune that part out.
  3. Turn down the volume of competing priorities. I have had times when urgency was all I heard. And I was not imagining it – it was all there was. So I developed a saying – “If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent” – that has served me well. Find the few people who can help you and get your priorities straight. If they can’t help you 1) make your own priorities by level of impact (list things by what you think can you do that would help the most) and 2) know they are not worthy to be advisers or authorities in your life.
  4. Ask for help. I was never accountable to my dog. It was just a job I had assumed that turned into drudgery at times. We didn’t even need a dog in the first place, though Alex gave me great joy also. But as for stuff like that, rotate the job with others or take the steps to just eliminate it from your life.
  5. Decide what really matters. Years ago, a wise friend in the Christian faith shared a verse from the Old Testament with me – Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Now I have determined I’m a mortal, so this pertains to me. The first two parts – act justly and love mercy – define attitudes and actions towards myself and others. Am I just with myself – really weighing what I’ve done and am doing against how things were before I did those things ? And do I love mercy – towards myself? Do I forgive myself, cut myself some slack and allow for myself to learn life’s lessons? The last part is about being humble; putting others first and letting myself be a small part of something much, much bigger.

    And these things apply to how I work with others. Acting justly and loving mercy gives them the same benefits I need.

    So if this is all that’s required of me – and I would posit it does – the urgency projected onto the drone are simply the wrong measuring stick for a life well lived.

It’s Christmas in 2 days. Let’s relax and celebrate. Because we need it.

Can we learn from Bruchko? Please?

We have just celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  Along with the general attitude of gratitude suggested by the holiday is a the history of least a single point-in-time harmony of Europeans and Native Americans.  The image of the two groups in fellowship, enjoying a share meal is seared into the minds of young American children from early age.  And it’s not that inaccurate:

Related image

But it’s also not complete as a story.  Because the whole story mostly features the two group not getting along well at all.

Native Americans were misnamed “Indians” by the wave of southern European explorers who found themselves landing in the shores of the Americas. “America “ itself was a name bestowed upon the new world, after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

By most DNA and historical analysis, the tribal groups inhabiting the Americas at the time of the “discovery” by Europeans had migrated from eastern Asia thousands of years earlier. Their distinction as the earliest inhabitants establishes a context for what would follow, but their real origin makes the moniker “Native American” a bit less sticky.

Whoever or whatever existed in the American continents prior to their arrival would be more “native” than they. This does nothing to soften the horrible tale of brutality later practiced against them. I mention their origin only to note that their discovery and settlement of the same land traveling from the east had at least the same aspect of people movement as that of the discovery and settlement from the west by Europeans. And we’ll never know what else it had in common.

I have thought and hard about how the ensuing conflict between the two cultures could have been avoided or lessened. Aside from the Europeans sailing back and leaving the Americas and their residents alone – maybe establishing trade partnerships, say – there was going to be conflict. Consider:

  • The Europeans who came to the New World were discoverers and settlers. Negatively they could be called conquerors, though the European version of conqueror was quite different than these settlers. They were not diplomats or people sensitive to other cultures. There were traders for sure, and perhaps these were the most likely strike a harmonious balance with the indigenous people.
  • Cultures were going to clash. There were many difference, but the principle one causing conflict concerned land. Owning and permanently settling on land was a foreign concept to Native Americans. And restrictions of where could live, hunt, fish and farm were also foreign.
  • There was a profound technological advantage. There has been much said and written about the forgotten (or repressed) advances of the Native American people. In spite of this, the Europeans held a 800-1500 year advantage in development upon their arrival. I do not say that to say that made them better as a people group, though that’s exactly what they concluded. The racist attitudes created an atmosphere that squelched any move for reconciliation.

Related image

Now, Native Americans were not the only people treated poorly by the westward moving whites. Mexicans, Asians and Africans also received prejudice and brutal abuse.

So, beginning with King Phillip’s War, there would be conflicts between the peoples. The Europeans prevailed, supplanting their culture over the land. It is in the wake of that prevalence after conflict that we live today. It can also be said that the conflict is not over – there have been skirmishes that persist even today.

Native American population is thought to have decreased from 12 million to about 250 thousand by the end of the 19th century. Most of the decrease is attributed to disease, but loss of life due to conflict and relocation was awful.

Image result for indian dead at wounded knee

Saying that conflict was inevitable is not to say that cruelty or maltreatment was. The war had atrocities like many others, and after a point, neither side cared much about the culture or even survival of the other.

There have long been voices calling for restitution and restoration but I would hold that neither can occur without allowing Native American culture to dominate, at least provincially.  And yes, that means the war for cultural dominance is still with us.

I will assign value to advancement in technology for the benefit of people without it, divorced from its often-linked cultural domination. Some might call this culturally insensitive; I really just want the best for all people. I believe that the advancement of the human race through innovation and invention is a blessing for all humankind. And yes, not all technology is good or used well, of course. Like all people who are exposed to new things, we do well to be suspicious of the motives and practices of those introducing us to new things.

So how can Culture A be brought up to speed with the blessings of Culture B? And how can the differing elements of culture be reconciled?

I thought about this and one story came to mind.

Image result for motilone bruce

It was Bruchko – the story of Bruce Olson who sought out a reclusive tribe of Native South Americans in Venezuela – the Motilones – and not only brought them into the 20th century, but made them a political force to be reckoned with in the nations of Venezuela and Colombia. They kept their land and evolved their way of live mostly peaceably.

And please, if you assign him a stereotyped role as “missionary” you will miss a very important story of compassion and cultural sensitivity.

Image result for pipeline protest

How can this story help us today with Native Americans in the US? I don’t know, but I want to believe it can be done. Because it has been done.

When umpires get it wrong

A while ago I figured out why I have always been a baseball fan. Sport – particularly that one – is analog. Drama gets played out on the field that we see in our lives. It’s a replay or a sidebar to all that has happened or is happening. The characters have similar analogs – pitchers are those who put their best foot forward and present their goods, skills and personalities. Batters are those who – a third of the time at best – send them packing. And they do it by being scrappy – bunting, beating out an infield hit or Texas-leaguer – or masterful – culminating in the grand slam home run.

There are two teams with management and strategy honed for each game and each season.

And there are .. umpires.

I was watching the Red Sox bat in the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium last night. Here’s another reason I’m a baseball fan – you can’t script this stuff. Of course bases loaded. David Ortiz is up. He strikes out. Not because there were 3 strikes thrown, there was one (ok if pitch 5 was a strike there were 2). He is called out on strikes that were not strikes. Here’s the pitch placement:

Umpire Ron Kulpa is an evil villain today in Red Sox nation as he would be among any fan base rooting for the team that he victimized. And I’m sure his performance will be analyzed by the big wigs in MLB and maybe something will come of it.

But I’m more interested in the analog, as I said above.

So first, who are the umpires in our lives? That’s pretty easy – they are or bosses, the authorities, the government. And I must include God, as we perceive God.

And it’s no wonder why people get so steamed when they get it wrong; when our players get judged unfairly. But the analog is deep, and deeply instructional, because when umps mess up:

  • We are reminded who our authorities are. That is, who has power over us. Sometimes we can change who they are, sometimes not. But there are ultimately two responses to the rule of authority – acquiescence or rebellion. In the face of injustice, both are perilous. The former because it can ignore what’s really inside of us and the latter because it considers our position higher than it is and, as St. Paul said of the authority – “he does not bear the sword for nothing.”
  • We see disappointments that had nothing to do with us. Our projects are canceled, we lose our jobs or even more tragically, our marriages or families. Again, it had nothing to do with us. But we struggle to believe that because we know we’re not perfect. Because in disappointment we always try to find a reason so we can try to avoid it next time. So we blame. Ourselves. Now it might be true that we did have something – and maybe a lot – to do with it.  That is, it wasn’t a bad call after all.  But the truth is that the tendency to blame ourselves is universally overblown.
  • We learn – erroneously – that we can’t trust as much as we thought. Multiple bad calls forge patterns in our emotions. This can get dangerously generalized to the point that we view all the world as hostile. That blossoms into operational and even clinical paranoia. The trick here is to isolate the bad call, see it in situational and relational context. If there is a pattern, identify all the patterns, not just the ones that dealt us a bad hand. And big point – see the hand of God as always for us, even when we are disappointed. God’s goal is our redemption. Always. Thus, God can be trusted. Always.
  • We fail to move on. There will be another game, another day, a different and fair umpire. Adopting futility will do nothing but take us down a dark hole. Different than trust issues, this takes us into depression – seeing things worse than they really are. People still love us. We’re still talented, desirable and valuable. A bad call, or a bad ump can’t change any of that.

Like many reading this, for me there is a flip side. I have also been an umpire. Who made bad calls. Often there’s nothing I can do to fix the error; either the people are gone or just won’t talk about it. To be sure, I made good calls that weren’t accepted either. No one is perfect, and the place where our imperfections hurt the most are when we are leaders.

Grace, humility, mercy and forgiveness are what get me through the day and through life. Because the umpires calling my game get it wrong. Many times. Humility calls me to remember when they got it right too. And honesty says that is most of the time.

Let’s go Red Sox!

The Hubris of Revision

I read an article yesterday picking on Valentine’s Day. It took down the card companies, the forced and scheduled love, and even the Single’s Awareness Day which it has fostered.

The article said it was fine to celebrate. But somehow it was necessary to find things wrong with that, which is akin to saying “You are free to do that, but you’re an insensitive and ignorant idiot.” At least that’s what I heard.

It didn’t really go into history, and I think that’s because the writer may have found himself attacking something really beautiful. But historical and cultural revision is all the rage.
RevisionistHistory

And I’ll say it – it’s predominantly by the millennial generation.

Now getting history right is good. Let me talk a little about a popular-to-malign figure, Christopher Columbus:

I do think Columbus has been over-lionized, and mostly by a distinct group – my ethnic Italian friends. But the attack on old Chris has presented him without any good qualities. He was, at the very least, a daring explorer. And on the bad side, at the very least, a horrible governor. So now if you celebrate his day – which was always a good day to take off from work – you are a heretic and one espousing pillage and rape.

Not so!! I have no particular connection with things Columbus and I’ve known since 15 years old or so that the Norwegians were the first Europeans to set foot on North America.

So what? Columbus set sail across an ocean not knowing what he would find. His modern critics have the courage to post entries on the internet.

His crew was a collection of tough, morally compromised men who believed they answered to no one, not even Columbus.

I don’t know the details and context of the abuse his crew and people heaped on Native Americans. Neither do his detractors, though they love to find and spit disconnected writings as if they prove their points. We can probably say he at least didn’t stop it. But we don’t know what would happen if he did. There are other explorers who treated the indigenous people they encountered with kindness and dignity. Bartolome de la Casas is such a person.

Columbus had weaknesses – in particular he was a poor leader and governor. His men ran rampant and did their brutal best to ruin the good country and people they had found.

I’m not making excuses for Christopher Columbus. I’m saying he wasn’t as good as the holiday says and not as bad as his modern critics say.

The more troubling phenomenon is the need to revise. To make some points:

1. Snobs revise. C.S. Lewis coined the phrase “chronological snobbery” to describe the phenomenon of a generation declaring its superiority to past generations by applying its enlightened perspective to those living in past centuries. Note that he wrote that in the 1940s – so there’s nothing new about revisionism.  But “snobbery” is an accurate description of the practice.  One thing is certain – that same practice will be exercised by one’s children.  The snobs will be vilified by future snobs.

2. Context and progress matter. In the American south during the slave era, racism was rife. Believing that Africans were subhuman was required to live in a society where they were treated that way. It was wrong, horribly unjust and we live with the wounds of that society to this day. But expecting someone who lived in that society to have the values of 21st century America ignores the economic system in force and the struggle it would take to bring justice. So, reading the words of a white slave owner – like Thomas Jefferson – and coloring them all with a single fact is willfully ignorant and unfair.

3. Injection is fallacy. Like Walter Mitty, those who insert themselves as heroes, retroactively into systems and times of injustice and abuse are day dreaming. It’s so easy to write critically and spew ad hominem vitriol on one’s forebears. It’s an entirely different matter to live under such systems and stay alive to make change. Nazis killed detractors; and the fear that spawned helped poison the minds and actions of an entire generation of German people.  There were heroic ones who resisted, but they did so risking it all.

4. Do revisionists really care? If those writing so critically applied the same energy to the known injustices of today; they would get a taste of the roadblocks and realities of the good fight. That way they would understand better that, for instance, misogyny was once a sea in which entire cultures swam (indeed still swim) and its practice, assumptions and language permeated everything.

Please, let’s revise US. And let’s practice mercy – finding the good and virtue amidst whatever else we might find wrong – with our historical past.

We will then find that mercy triumphs over judgment. Period. And when we need mercy, we will also receive it. There was someone really important who said:

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.