Let's​ talk about #charlottesvile

Saturday, August 12 began like a normal morning for me. I woke up, ate breakfast, listened to some praise and worship music, and checked twitter. I was bombarded with tweets about race and interracial marriage and #charlottesvile. I was surprised that Charlottesville was trending on twitter. I found out quickly that there had been a riot that Friday evening on the grounds of UVA by the neo-nazi party and the Alt-right. They were protesting the destruction of a Robert E. Lee statue. More fundamentally, they were protesting what they thought was an encroachment on the “white people’s way of life.”  At the time of writing, one person has died and multiple people have been injured. By the time this blog post hits on August 21st, I suspect that #charlottesville will have been replaced by the next greatest tragedy and the incidences in Charlottesville will have been studied (to use the president’s words) ad nauseum. So rather than trying to analyze the how and why this tragedy happened, I’d rather talk about a trend I noticed by people using the #charlottesville.
If you look at the tweets with the hashtag, most of them appeal to this sense of other. For example, this tweet by Bernie Sanders:
https://twitter.com/SenSanders/status/896419851497074689
In this tweet, Bernie Sanders labeled the white nationalist group as displaying racism and hatred. While this is undeniably true, fixating racism and hatred on one group of people ignore the fact that these attitudes are inherent in all of us. Other tweets blamed the president himself.
https://twitter.com/lucasbros/status/896563770176135168
 
I am not a Trump supporter and I didn’t vote for him. I am not a fan of the speech he gave addressing the Charlottesville riot. For the record, I thought his appeal to the economy was a scapegoat, an excuse not to talk about the real issues. Trump may have given them a voice, but racism existed long before Trump ever became president. However, once again, Twitter posters were quick to point fingers at people other than their own inherent racial assumptions.
Before I reach my conclusion, I want to clarify that I condemn all acts of violence regardless of the reason or motivation. The person, who drove their car into a group of protestors, deserves to be held accountable to the full extent of the law. I also want to express that racism and discrimination are wrong. 
Rather than search for who motivated the acts of violence, what I want to address is what was not being said under #charlottesvile. I did not see a call to repentance even among Christian groups. Racism and hatred are rooted in fear. Perfect love cast out all fear. Thus the only appropriate response is, not to search for someone to blame, but to recognize the monster living in all of us; to recognize that we are one step away from becoming the racist violent protestors.
Condemnation behind a computer screen of particular people can only increase the divide that already exists. If we are Christian, we are called to a much higher and harder standard that of love. We must love those, who persecute us,  turn the other cheek, forgive because they know not what they do. If this is the standard that Jesus calls us to adopt, then we should not point fingers, but strive to see the person. Neo-nazis are people, hopelessly misguided and utterly wrong, but people none the less. Condemn racism, discrimination, and white supremacy, but don’t just condemn the Nazis, and forget about the societal structure that makes racism possible.
My heart goes out to the people of Charlottesville. This is a tragedy that should not have happened. We must condemn racism and discrimination. We must stand for the truth that everyone is a person that deserves equal treatment. However, in the same breath, we cannot condemn a group of people any more than we can condemn ourselves because all of us have seeds of evil in us. We have all contributed to racism and systematic oppression.
For discussion:
1. why was the police presence so light in this case, but not in the BLM protest? Doesn’t this indicate societal assumptions about race?
2. In times like these, how do we remember God’s goodness and love for all of us?
3. How can we turn the tide on systematic racism without resorting to violence?
 
 

Let's talk emotional manipulation

One day last week I wasn’t feeling good. I had a lot of things I wanted to get done, but instead of doing any of them I sat at the kitchen table playing mobile games on my phone. What makes mobile games so addicting? The short, non-complicated answer is that these games were made to trigger the dopamine receptors in the brain so that you would get a reward response. Game makers know how to market their games in order to be addicting. They do this because their ultimate motive is to make money. So they use techniques to emotionally manipulate you into buying the game. These techniques include among other things lights, sounds, and instantaneous rewards.
Also on Sunday, July 30th, I took a non-denominational friend to the Wave. (don’t freak, I went to Mass on Saturday night). First a little background. The Wave is a local megachurch mainly in the Hampton roads area; however, it is branching out into other parts of Virginia. The main campus is located on Great Neck Road,  Virginia Beach.  It was one of the first churches I ever attended and it is where I made my first public declaration of faith. Admittedly I am a bit nostalgic for this church even though I now know better.
When we drove up to the Wave, we were greeted by parking attendants. We asked politely where the handicapped spots are located (the visible ones in the front are taken). The parking attendant told us that there is more handicapped parking on the side. We went there and sure enough, there was one spot left. We headed inside, but not before my friend started taking pictures. I asked, “Are you taking pictures of the building.” “Yes,” my friend replies, “I’ve never seen a church look like this.” Previously my friend had remarked that the church looked like a car sales company. The building is two stories high and the front is cover in glass and the sides are white. No religious imagery at all. The only sign that is indeed a church is the words, “Wave church” above the building. We went inside. There is a lobby area. In front is a giant information desk and to the left and right are couches for people to sit including a newcomers lounge. We passed the information desk and entered into the sanctuary, which in actuality is a large auditorium. In front of the auditorium is a large stage and above the stage are three large screens. One look on my friends face and I could tell that she was overwhelmed, but excited. She took another picture, this time of the stage. The service began. An upbeat song began to play. People were jumping up and down and waving their hands. The songs were accompanied by smoke and stage lights After about 30 minutes, there was the offering message and an announcement video. Then we were told to greet one another and say that “they sang  like an angel.” After that, the message or sermon started.
Regard the message, I really enjoyed it. It was titled, “crashing through walls” and centered around James 1:2, and James 1:12. The pastor talked about the importance of endurance and how you can’t get anywhere without it. I want to take a moment to ask a question that I would have asked the pastor myself if given the chance. Where does endurance come from?  If it is necessary for the Christian life and it is the result of our own effort then how are we saved by faith alone like they profess to believe? If it comes directly from God then why do we need to work through trials at all?
Despite those questions, which didn’t come to me until later, there was a moment where I almost got sucked in. It was towards the end of the sermon, where the pastor said, “I want everyone to raise their hand and repeat after me, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.'” It is in that moment that I was once again swept away. I experienced an emotional high. I had been manipulated to feel certain things in that moment and everything had led me up to that point. The music, the lights, and the message were all designed, just like mobile games, to make me make that declaration to follow Jesus.  It is designed to get me to come back every Sunday so that I can get my fix for the week. The strategy is highly effective as thousands of people pour in every Sunday.  The question remains if church is reduced to an emotional experience, what happens when I, the consumer, am no longer moved? Can the gospel or good news be reduced to marketing tactics? Even if it can, should it be?
Catching Foxes podcast recently said that the greatest sin in youth ministry is emotional manipulation. They talked about how the goal of the minister should be about forming relationships and not be solely motivated to help kids encounter Christ. As I think back on my past experience at the Wave, I think that the greatest problem is that the Wave’s motivation is to seek the lost and to help foster an emotional encounter with Christ. These motivations are not intrinsically bad, but it creates a watered down product that ultimately shallow and worldly.
Christianity is much more than a worship band, stage lights, and lounge chairs. It is about sacrifice and reverence; two characteristics that the marketing business world can’t understand.

Let's talk about dignity!

Dignity is a word that you hear a lot. You hear it on the news and you hear it in the pews, but what is it? It seems like dignity is such a slippery concept. We hear about Death With Dignity, which argues that people in intense suffering deserve to die either at the hands of their physician or be provided the means to die usually by overdosing on drugs. Yet the Catholic Church also uses dignity to argue against euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.  How can the same concept be used by two different parties to mean two different things? More importantly, how can we talk intelligently about the dignity of LGBTQ people and still maintain that the homosexual act is inherently disordered or undignified? These questions are important, but in order to answer them, we must first ask, where does dignity come from?
During the summer, I spent a lot of time contemplating the concept of dignity. It first came up in my religious reasoning class but followed me around like a ghost. It came up in Sunday’s homily and again in the case of Charlie Gard. This led me to investigate the concept of dignity.
In short, dignity is the idea that human beings possess value. The problem is that society has forgotten the root of the value. This value comes from God-likeness. This means two things: 1 we are not God, and 2. we have characteristics of God. We are embodied creatures, which means that unlike God, we are tied to our biological makeup. However, that is okay, because our dignity is being like God, not being God. Dignity; therefore, entails both the soul and the body in unity. If dignity is found in the body then we have dignity by virtue of being members of homo sapiens. Thus we all have inherent dignity in our bodies that is worthy of respect and protection; however, there is more. We are not merely bodily creatures, for there are certain characteristics that separate man from animal.  It is in the exercising these higher characteristics that help men achieve fuller dignity.   It is here that we can measure whether an action is dignified in so far as it is an action consistent with the character of God.  There is more that could be said about the characteristics of God, but for this post, I will use the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness gentleness, and self-control.
Most disputes revolving around dignity tend to emphasize one side of the coin or the other. It is not inherent dignity or fuller dignity, but rather inherent dignity  and fuller dignity working together,
This can be seen in the death with dignity controversy. Those in favor of mercy killing emphasize the fact that it is undignified to live a life, where one is unable to experience love or joy due to extreme suffering. Those against mercy killing argue that the killing a person, no matter the reason, destroys the inherent dignity that person possesses. However, neither camp appeals to both strains of dignity in a cohesive way. Such an outlook would have to admit that it is undignified to lose one’s rational capacities, but it is also fundamentally unfair to deny the person’s intrinsic dignity that they possess regardless of their mental capacity. Under this outlook
However, neither camp appeals to both strains of dignity in a cohesive way. Such an outlook would have to admit that it is undignified to lose one’s rational capacities, but it is also fundamentally unfair to deny the person’s intrinsic dignity that they possess regardless of their mental capacity. Under this outlook, it would be wrong to kill a person simply because they have lost their rational mind, but there would be nothing wrong with letting the person die and making them comfortable.
Currently, there is a tension between the LGBTQ and the church. This tension exists primarily because the church wants to rightly uphold the inherent dignity of LGBTQ people especially those who are baptized. Yet, the church teaches that the inclination to be sexually attracted to the same sex is inherently disordered. How can a person have inherent dignity and yet the core of who they believe to be is inherently disordered?
To answer this question, we must remember that dignity is more than just the value placed on our biological makeup; it also entails exercising the characteristics that make us God-like provided that we have the capacity to do so. Two characteristics stand out to me: patience and self-control. Thus, in the eyes of the church, their job is to not just respect the inherent dignity of every person but to challenge people to achieve a fuller dignity. To water down this message, in turn, reflects negatively on the church’s perspective on the LGBT community. It says that the church must treat the LGBT community differently or have different expectations for them. If the church does this, ultimately, we are admitting that we do not believe that LGBT community can achieve a fuller dignity. Lastly, it is important to remember that one’s sexual attraction is not where dignity comes from, rather it comes from the belief that we are more than our biological urges
Whether you are facing a terminal illness, a painful debilitating disease, or same sex sexual attraction, it can be hard to find a balance between the idea that you are loved and have dignity and the idea that you are called to act in a different way in order to achieve something greater. However, these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You have inherent dignity precisely because you are made in God’s likeness, which in turn places certain expectations.
Hence it is not that dignity is an ambiguous concept rather the two strands of dignity are hard to balance.