Nothing “senseless” about it

I don’t like war. But when it happens, it doesn’t matter what I like. And if I dub an act of violence “senseless” when it makes perfect sense in war, I practice self-deceit.

We’re watching war, like it or not. We’re at war, like it or not. We have a tough time saying that word “war” because a) the events don’t fit our patterns of territorial acquisition – though they really do – and b) our very neighbors can be turned into the enemy without our knowing. And let’s be sure we fully understand the murderous antipathy that happens in b); body counts tell a vivid story of hatred.

The root of Islamic terrorism is a mix of greed, poverty and broken, missing or dysfunctional government. I don’t mean American or European government, but that in the Middle East from where most jihadists hail. They find Quranic verses to justify all manner of depravity and slaughter. But they recruit those who calculate they have little to lose in life and yearn to be heroes of something. And indeed they do not.


Why then are the targets America and Europe? It’s because those nations are seen – somewhat accurately – as those with interests that prop up corrupt and oppressive regimes while vaunting an un-Islamic culture. Jihad is waged against infidels – those of another belief system. But it’s more than that internally. It’s a tribal-based chauvinism directed against those who have shamed the tribe. And there is no statute of limitations on such feelings of shame – the nations of Europe and America are called Crusaders due to a long, selective memory (indeed there was no America yet).

It is of interest that if America and Europe stopped consuming Mideast oil that China and Russia would continue – propping up those same leaders.

As important as any of those sentiments are, there is one that is greater. It is so strong that bitter Muslim enemies unite behind it. Of course I mean resentment towards the democratic state of Israel. Its Jewish identity offends Muslims. The tragic relations between Arabs and Jews have created a permanent state of war. Of course, who but the Europeans and Americans are those who support Israel? Thus, the lumping. And again, not inaccurate.  Though to emphasize the good sense in supporting Israel – it remains one of the only nations in the Middle East where an Arab (yes Arab!) can vote.

But there’s no getting around it – Western Civilization, for all its flaws and injustices – stands opposed to the caliphates, monarchies and oligarchies of the Middle East. And I have no issue with citing its evolved superiority. I don’t say that proudly because there is no human history without systemic crimes and injustices. But the means in place to address those are further along in the West.

It’s obvious that this war cannot be fought conventionally. George W. Bush said that after 9/11 but no one has gone deeper into strategy beyond better military options. I am no pacifist in this conflict, but if one leads with guns one or uses only guns, then it will only enforce the hatred, ironically because our guns are better than theirs.

So, what to do? There are thousands of lists out there, so here’s number 4903:

  1. Love a Muslim. It is absolutely true that most Muslims are NOT jihadists. They don’t even bite. They need to be heard, understood and loved.
  2. Nix the tribe. Individuals are much more effective to engage with than armies. And I don’t even mean the armies with guns. If I want another to surrender his/her preconceptions, I should surrender mine. Because most of them did not come from me in the first place.
  3. His name is Jesus.  The Crusaders got it wrong.  Very wrong.  This is not at odds with “nix the tribe” because Jesus followers are from every tribe.  He didn’t conquer by force, he did so by dying, loving those who were killing him.  And yes, that’s more powerful than suicide belts.
  4. Work and support justice for the poor. Very few charities get the money to the problem. Find one. Support it. Raise a child.
  5. Become energy independent. Not only in the name of being green, or more natural but because Mideast oil is too valuable to the whole world.
  6. Advocate for better Israeli/Arab relations. It’s a bitter past but not all Arab people are united in the desire to destroy Israel. Nor are all Israelis hateful of Arabs. There has to be middle ground to find here. Support those who seek to find and walk on it.
  7. Pray. Doubtless there are those who are decidedly non- or even anti-spiritual reading this. That’s okay, we’ll pray for you too. These problems are bigger than us all, so I have no problem promoting them to One who can actually help.
  8. Fight and support the fight. Yes this includes supporting the military forces of the West, but it’s also a cultural and moral fight. Learn the truth and tell it – even if it indicts our side and thus pollutes our cause. Truth wins the war.

We have a mess on our hands. Doing nothing is not an option. Jihadis want us dead. It’s a war.


The grief police

Reeling from the triple bombings in Brussels yesterday, some of my friends have projected the colors of the Belgian flag or written pleas for prayers for Belgium. Others have taken it upon themselves to judge those expressions of shock and grief by saying that they are biased and thus, flawed. Citing the multiple loci of international terror, they search articles, the meme-o-sphere and blogosphere for graphics and pointed prose that aims to correct the presupposed racial and cultural bias.


The trouble is, the presupposition is both erroneous and proud. And as such, it will be ignored or have the opposite effect than what was intended, because it will only annoy people.

Here’s why:

  1. Identification. If people see themselves as closer related to Belgians than Turks, Arabs or Africans, it’s because they are closer related. This is not bias, it’s ethnicity. And cultural affinity. If the pictures of the bloodied women in the Brussels subway connect to westerners more than those of women wearing hajibs or African women, it’s because that scene and those people look and dress like us. That will always be true. Turks, however, will naturally connect more with suffering people who look and dress like them. It’s not bias, it’s cultural and ethnic relationship.
  2. Historical affinity. The allies, America, Britain, Canada and others, fought and defeated the Nazis 72 years ago in Belgium. Belgium was a founding member of NATO. That matters, because the spirit of that alliance was that an attack on any of its members was an attack on them all. Turkey joined later which constitutes no second-class membership, but the link between the West and Turkey has never been like that among the European NATO members. No bias but affinity.
  3. Proximity. “If it can happen there, it can happen here” – said by Europeans or Americans – is more true referring to Belgium than to Africa or Turkey or other Middle Eastern states. Part of this is the nature of bordering nations in each case, part of it is form of governance another part is patterns of people movement. It may be inconvenient that the demographics of those practicing terror are Muslim and from Arab lands. And is tragic to use those demographics too loosely and ban all people whom they describe. Furthermore, I’m making no assumption that a terror incident in a nation that has lots of people who fit those traits is somehow less tragic or traumatic. But it is the case that terror done to nations further away has muffled implications compared to those closer. So, the outpouring is less. And those who would ban people movement to keep the problem away gain fuel. But for those who mourn, again, no bias, just proximity.

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus spoke these words during his introduction – the beatitudes – to the Sermon on the Mount. The mourning is not only the common sorrow of loss but a deeper grief over the state of humankind. That kind of mourning cannot be practiced with bias, because it starts with my own sin and depravity. And really, I’m the only one I can let God work on. And I must surrender the conviction of wrongdoing to the Holy Spirit, who is VERY good at it. I mean that I make a lousy Holy Spirit.

When we project bias or any presumed internal attitude or disposition on others, we are attempting to do a job we don’t have the equipment to do.

Let people mourn. Deeply. As they will. It’s actually a very constructive practice in the end.


Misogyny, misandry and misnaming real demons

The Elliot Rodger video made before the recent Santa Barbara shootings has inflamed the tribes.  It was bound to happen since it was abusive and selfish and articulated a voice that many have seen in themselves and others.  He could not understand why no women wanted him, though all reports are that he was a loner who would not allow himself to be wanted in any case.

In the ministry circles I have walked in is a group of specialists in a ministry called “deliverance”.   Their activities range from finding and removing demons that plague people all kinds of ways (and thus, get named by their activity as in “demon of lust”) to outright exorcism of demons that literally possess people.  Of course if you debunk the importance of that ministry, guess why?  Right .. you have a demon.

I don’t want to discount this activity, because I do believe in a personal devil and have seen demonic activity – stuff that can only be attributed to evil that has an external source.  Not that I believe people are incapable of evil in their own right and volition – they are capable of immense evil and they do it regularly.  But we ALL are, I insist, sinners in need of a Savior.

But let’s get back to Rodger.  It is the song of the #yesallwomen camp that his demons – which they would not necessarily call spiritual at all but rather a set of attitudes – exist in all men.  Or at least that all men are responsible for the atmosphere of entitlement and demand for gratification Rodger articulated in his video.

And of course there commences and there sustains the gender wars.

Hunger –> Loathing

All humans have desires.  They can be towards self or they can be altruistic, toward others.  And all humans have needs.  And the needs people identify and satisfy are almost all towards self – not that there aren’t needs towards others, they just remain unidentified or secondary.

It’s sometimes hard to make the distinction between a desire and a need and I guess I’d say that desires can accumulate and produce, in sum, a need, though it’s scarcely a formula.

When needs or desires go unsatisfied, hunger develops – and please allow me to use the analogy of food here.  If that hunger persists a person becomes malnourished and sick.

What Rodger needed, and didn’t get, wasn’t a girlfriend or sex.  He needed friends.  Good friends.  Friends that loved him for who he was.  Some could be women, but mostly they had to care.  He had none and so he hungered and got sick.  Yes, that’s my autopsy of a dead shooter.

People who hunger that way turn to all kinds of things to fill themselves.  In the worst cases they turn to hatred, deciding since they’ve been deprived of what they needed – that deprivation is permanent and there is nothing to be done about it except something terminal and (sometimes) violent.

Now, the target of that loathing goes two basic ways – out and in.  For every Elliot Rodger who lashed out there are thousands who “lash in” – with sinking depression and a gradual or sudden plan to do self-harm via suicide.

And THAT – the loathing, the conclusion that one’s hungry state is permanent – is the real demon here.

Not misogyny, not misandry (look it up, it’s just as bad a problem as the former, more famous gender loathing).

Truly, one can find men and women who are utterly selfless and loving towards the opposite gender.   That’s how I want to be towards my friends who happen to be women.

And there are the tribes

And one can find examples of the opposite, tribalists who find a fatal flaw in those who are different.   It’s always to promote the tribe into supposed superiority.  And the loathing unifies the tribe, takes it to war, populates death camps, sends nations to war.

Tribes must exist to fill one of the hungers we have – for fellowship and community.

But tribes can get hungry too.  For validation, prominence and power.  None of those is bad, but when they don’t come, the same loathing patterns develop.

Now what/so what?

If I know an Elliot Rodger, I need to let him know I care.  Somehow, at some time.   He needs to know he matters and he has potential.

If I know a Rebecca Sedwick or Megan Taylor Meier or Nigel Hardy or any of a thousand others that are out there for every Elliot Rodger, I need to let them know I care.   I need to use the same social media that the enemy will use and tell them they’re cool and desirable as people.  They’re dying for friends and affection.

It’s not easy; these people are reclusive (very hesitant to open up), scary, angry and/or  just not nice.  But they are are a lot less scary without guns than with them.  Or they have a veneer of smiles and pleasant demeanor but inside be a lonely, loathing wretch.

THAT’s when they need to have their real hunger fulfilled.

Jesus said it

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

And He loves us like no one else.


Painful patterns of conflict

How I will start my sermon today:

Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman

In 2009 I served as foreman on a jury in Fitchburg District Court. We found a man guilty of driving under the influence, acting upon the evidence presented by prosecution and defense attorneys. I remember thinking how much better a case was presented by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts than the defense; really, we had almost nothing to consider from the case his lawyer presented. To this day I have no qualms about our verdict.

Last night a jury of his peers found George Zimmerman not guilty of any charges relating to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a young, unarmed African American man. Immediately after that, my friends on Facebook, and black people throughout the nation expressed anger and outrage over the verdict.

Let me say a few things, personal convictions that I believe, about the case and the verdict:

  1. I have no reason to believe that the jury did the same work I did in 2009 – that is, they considered the evidence and all the testimony presented to them to arrive at a verdict. Now, that evidence and testimony was gathered and presented by people with different skill and resources. I have no question that George Zimmerman’s lawyer did a better job than the State of Florida. They had more money – raised at a rate of $77,000/week through online contributions – and they were better lawyers. Trayvon Martin, a dead person, could only afford a state prosecutor.  None of those facts have nothing to do with race; they just express how the system works, and sometimes how it malfunctions.
  2. I wasn’t there. I have no idea if Zimmerman acted out of self-defense which was the defense’s successful claim. I do believe that excessive force was used and that Trayvon Martin did not have to die. What that means in terms of Florida’s laws I can’t say, but I don’t believe George Zimmerman was an innocent man. It takes two to tango and by all accounts he picked a fight and he killed someone in that fight. That’s wrong and there’s a strong case that he should be punished under some law for some crime. All that said, even the prosecution’s case pointed to a verdict of not guilty; there was nothing to support a second degree murder conviction.   Wrongful death lawsuit, maybe.  Again, this has less to do with race than it does with rich vs. poor in a flawed judicial system. That’s a pattern that can be observed across time and across legal precedent.
  3. This case conformed to a very painful historical pattern to black people. It should be painful to whites too, but it is less so. Is that racism? Probably. It’s certainly insensitivity and insensitivity of a type that has gone on for generations. If I don’t take notice of the patterns of conflict represented in the Trayvon Martin case, then I am ignoring a huge dividing wall in our nation erected for years by people with the same color skin as me. I thought of posting sick pictures of lynch mobs and disfigured, beaten and dragged bodies of dead black men here.  Those make me ashamed of my white skin, or ashamed that someone would use skin color or anything to justify brutality like that.  So, you probably guess that I am taking notice of this conflict. Big time.

Another case, much closer to home:

On the night of August 11, 2012, four women were sitting and talking in a parked car in Dorchester, Massachusetts. One of them was the daughter of a friend of mine, Pastor Agabus Lartey. Someone came to the front of the vehicle, pulled a gun and sprayed it with bullets. Three of the women were killed, including Kristen.

Like most people, I read the newspaper “at a distance” .. seeing things historically but not too personally. This time I couldn’t do that. I knew the people involved.

As the time came near for Kristen’s funeral, I knew I had to go. So I prayed about what God would have me do. And I heard Him say that I was not to go as a pastor, dressed up and sitting among clergy, though I could do that and there would be nothing wrong with doing so.

No .. I was to serve the people after the service.

So I did. I hauled ice, served food, cleaned up, offered second helpings to everyone, and just served.

Please don’t think anything special about me for doing that; I was only being obedient and though I want to obey more, if I do that for just one day a year I am blessed.

I will never forget what I saw.

I mean on people’s faces. It was a despair, a resignation to disaster and injustice that destroys lives and kills dreams.  “Here we go again” their faces said.  They were tired, beaten down.  The older people hugged the younger ones a little more closely and eyed the teenagers with a distinct fear for their immediate future.  You could see it.

This violence was black-on-black, but worse, it snuffed out the life of a rising star. The highest hope in human form in that community was senselessly murdered.

I’d like to think that serving up potatoes and chicken and and ribs and bringing around ice water would do something to help. And people thanked me, they were very gracious and touched.

But nothing like that way I was touched.

See, I want to take away the patterns of dysfunction, of violence, fear and murder from the minds and hearts of my dear African American friends.

There may be riots now; it happened in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. White people at large don’t understand that. It’s not that they don’t want to; they just can’t. But I want understand to help other people understand, because in just a small way, I “get it”.

I’ll say that I would die for that cause if I thought it would matter.

But I’ll say that Someone already HAS died to take all that away, and HE will bring peace out of the midst of the conflict.

He will resolve it and remake new patterns of life and hope and restoration.

It wasn’t easy and it won’t be easy, but that’s what Jesus does.

And I want to be part because it’s in my heart to serve.

So framed by such real human drama and events, we need to learn about God’s peace this morning.

Gunning for a solution …

People are dying in my country.

As someone who occasionally presides over funerals and memorial services, yeah I know that death is part of life.  There are numerous quotes that sum up my faith concerning death and probably the most succinct and positive is

Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

so this is .. I hope .. not written out of fear of death personally.

It is written about a desire to live in a safe place and have my children and their children also live in a safe place.

Let me say that I don’t and probably will never own a gun.  But that doesn’t mean I hate gun owners or find them repugnant people.  Like everyone else, they run the gamut of professions, backgrounds, physical and emotional health and all other demographic and soft data points regarding people.

Now it is of interest that, given a gun, I could probably shoot it with a notable degree of accuracy and lethality.  This is not to brag; it is just from watching TV shows and movies.  And playing a few arcade computer games (we’re talking Space Invaders, ok?), I know I could get much, much better if I practiced.

But I don’t want to practice.  Guns aren’t my thing.  I’d rather play the piano, given a little extra time during the day.

On the flip side I understand that people do like to shoot guns as a hobby.  Target practice is cool, especially when you get good at it.  I also watch my kids play games where their characters shoot monsters and other people’s characters for fun and strategy.  I appreciate games and their entertainment value.

I wrote on top that people are dying my country.

Specifically, they are dying because there those with guns who have taken them out of practice, out of the range or gaming venues and used them on real people.  In a malicious way, not in self-defense and not in war.

The recent slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary is destined to be the poster event for the issue because little kids died and the shooter, which we will learn about in great detail in the coming months, had legal guns and was a trained hobbyist.

He was also crazy.  By the way, as a parent of an Asperger’s child, THAT is not the issue.  But is part of the puzzle called Adam Lanza.

For now, there is a very animated debate about gun ownership.  After Sandy Hook, we should have known it was coming.

Gun owners are up in arms, literally, that their guns will be confiscated.  Suspicion of the government, which turns on like a switch whenever this comes up, is running high.

On the other side are those who do not and would never own a gun.  Their positions range from very strict banning of all guns to only checking the sanity of those purchasing assault rifles.

And of course the debate has all the political civility of 21st century America – that is, nearly none.  At least people aren’t shooting each other over it.  Well, not yet.  Or maybe they are, indirectly.  There have been two other rampages since Sandy Hook, since it is apparently the season to snap.

I support efforts to prevent events like Adam Lanza’s planned attack.  And I support efforts to minimize their impact.  One dead is better than 26 dead.  But zero dead is better than one dead.  I hope you see the math, as grim as it is.

I think it’s clear that the mix of personality, weaponry, mental illness, social maladjustment, bullying, planning and a host of other factors play into the committing of these acts.  The data is already in and it is complicated.

But its complications should not stop us from going after a solution or set of solutions.  Unpublished by the media (because no one wants to read about thwarted things) is any list of prevented attacks like this one:

I think it’s clear that every one of a set of factors is present when these events happen and if we catch ANY of them, we stop the attack and the attackers.

The question is whether we have the national will to do so.  Guns are easy to point to .. easier than, say, mental illness.  But diligence to any of the factors pays off.

In America we also don’t want to be held under suspicion, we say it threatens our freedom.  But suspicion saves lives and lack of allows these events to continue.

An angry person with access to weapons who has told someone even in veiled terms of a plan to kill is someone to call the cops about.  And if there’s a history of maltreatment or mental illness, the urgency of such a call increases.  Etc.

I don’t advocate much gun control.  I don’t know the need for assault rifles; perhaps ownership of such weapons should receive extra scrutiny such that the presence of an Adam Lanza in the house would keep them out of his mother’s collection.

And as sad a commentary as it is, our schools and other soft targets cannot remain as soft.  After the populace has been gathered in for the day, all means of making entry difficult can and should be instituted.

So I’m not interested in taking guns away but I am gunning for a solution to this epidemic we are suffering from.  And I believe we can solve it if we’re calm and thoughtful about it.