Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dave Ramsey and The Legacy Journey: A Review

Dave Ramsey begins the book retelling his own riches-to rags-to riches again tale; how he earned his first million, blew it all frivolously, and then pulled himself out of debt by working 80 hour work-weeks.  But this book is about more than financial advice; it is about divinely sanctioning wealth.  So confident is Ramsey about God’s divine approval of his wealth that he recounts the certainty that “God smiled” (3) when he wrote the check to buy himself a Jaguar with his new found riches.  Chapter two is titled, “The War on Success.” The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity is first and foremost a defender of wealth.  Published in 2014 it seems almost certain this book is in response to the critique he faced a year ago.[more below]

Rachel Held Evans accused Ramsey of promoting a “prosperity gospel,” basically that if one is in right relationship with God, one’s bank account will flourish.  This book only seems to continue that trend.  In the first chapter Ramsey confidently asserts, “If you do the things I teach from God’s Word… then over time you will become wealthy…you will become at some point one of those ‘rich people’” (5).  A couple pages over he declares that handling money God’s way “you end up wealthy” (7).  If this isn’t prosperity gospel, what is?

Ramsey hosts a daily radio show
Not only is Ramsey certain all good Christians are meant to be rich, anyone asserting otherwise is a “toxic ‘Christian’ voice” (yes he put the quotation marks around “Christian”)(13).  According to Ramsey, this idea that Christians are meant to live in a “spirit of poverty” is a reincarnation of the Gnostic influence of early Christianity (26).  Apparently the countless monks and nuns throughout the centuries that took a vow of poverty had it wrong.  Apparently the millions of Christians in developing nations in Africa and South America are not following God or else they would be flat out loaded. 

Conveniently, while Ramsey has no problem telling his readers what they should and should not buy, “I can tell you with 100 percent certainly that anything you buy with debt—is not a blessing” (69), he’s far less willing to let his own financial dealings be held to a similar scrutiny.  The money God has given Ramsey is his to manage and apparently God only trusts Ramsey to manage that money (186) and the amount a (rich) person has is solely between them and God (77).  How convenient. One can only wonder, if it really is “God’s money,” why is Ramsey so concerned with keeping and protecting it?

And if Ramsey’s assessment of spirituality is scary—his exegetical skills are even worse.  Despite openly admitting he’s “not a biblical scholar” (51), Ramsey has no problem interpreting the passages of scripture critics point out such as Luke 18:27 and Matthew 25:14-30.  Failing to cite a single biblical commentator (six of the sixteen citations in the book are to his own books); Ramsey asserts that the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 isn’t about money at all but instead grace (46).  Continuing on into Luke 19 and the story of Zacchaeus, Ramsey somehow conveniently stops reading when Zacchaeus promises to give half of his money to the poor and repay anyone he had defrauded four-fold.  The Bible tells that it was only AFTER this promise that Jesus said salvation had some to Zacchaeus’ household.  But of course neither story has anything to do with money.

The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 is perhaps the preeminent text of Ramsey and his ilk.  This story, according to Ramsey, is the biblical justification for wealth acquisition and why equality isn’t biblical.  Yet Ramsey’s interpretive shortcomings are apparent to anyone paying attention to the context.  Jesus had just come from the temple when he began this long diatribe.  He tells three parables, the parable of the Ten Virgins, the parable of the Talents, and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  Ramsey would surely admit Jesus isn’t literally talking about ten virgins, or literally talking about sheep and goats.  So why does Ramsey think Jesus is literally talking about money (a hyperbolic amount of money at that?).  Because it justifies Ramsey’s entire system.

Amazingly enough, Ramsey fails to see himself in the parable of the rich man who builds bigger barns in Luke 12.  Referencing the story himself (169), Ramsey asserts the only problem of the rich man was his worship of wealth. Yet despite the rich man being called a “fool” in the Bible for preparing  to “eat, drink, and be merry,” Ramey says it’s okay to live it up and enjoy one’s wealth (53).  For all his talk of contentment, it’s hard not to think Ramsey is just as guilty as the rich man of worshipping wealth—nearly the entire second half of this book is dedicated to maintaining and preserving one’s wealth.

Day 161: Taking Baby Steps from Flickr via Wylio
Dave Ramsey's well known work
What seems most perplexing amongst his many inconsistencies and flat-out hypocrisy is his assertion that one should be “careful not to let politics set you up to misinterpret scripture” (52).  Surely Ramsey is the impartial interpreter!  So certainly it couldn’t be Ramsey’s politics influencing his idea that those critiquing him are “envious” (71) and should “mind your own business” (73).  No, Ramsey clearly keeps his politics and religion separate.  That’s why he says, no one wastes money like the government and that he “doesn’t need the government to redistribute the money” God asked him to manage (156).  If there was any doubt about where Ramsey’s true allegiance lies he reveals such when he states that “we do not all bring the same level of economic service to the marketplace.  Service to the marketplace generates wealth, not your inherent value as a human” (43).  That’s right, free-market capitalism determines a person’s worth, not God.  It seems pretty obvious that Ramsey’s god is actually free market capitalism.

In the end, Dave Ramsey’s The Legacy Journey is an unabashed defense of wealth and the 1%. It is an attempt to divinely sanction a global economic system which has enriched a small fraction of people like himself while exploiting millions (probably billions) of people.  It promotes an individualistic spirituality that is neither historically Christian nor in any sense biblical. It simply ridicules the poor and financially insecure for not being rich and privileged.  The Legacy Journey, and the teaching of Dave Ramsey it promotes, is neither Christian nor biblical—but rather worldly, selfish, and uncaring.

[] Dave Ramsey was in the religious headlines about this time last year when his website posted the blog 20 things the rich do every day. Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans called out Ramsey for confusing “correlation with causation.”  Ramsey, in lieu of any reasonable arguments apparently, responded by calling critics like Held Evans “ignorant.” 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In Reaction to Michael Brown, the white Evangelical hate machine strikes again.

Let me first say this.  I can in no way relate to the pain and struggles being felt by the family and friends of Michael Brown by his community, or by African Americans historically in this country.  I am a young white heterosexual cisgendered male, and contrary to Bill O’Reilly, I recognize the inherent privilege I have simply as result of my skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc…  I can in no way can sympathize with the frustration and disillusionment being felt by so many.

Wool Ripper Machine from Flickr via WylioIf you haven’t figured it out by now, I claim to be a Christian—well sort of—not in the Bible thumping, you’re all going to hell, hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner kind of way.  I would identify as someone who tries to follow the morals and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible.  So for simplicity let’s just call me a Christian.  And as a Christian, the Christian scriptures does influence my perspective on issues in life. 

So, as a Christian, when I reflect on the death of Ferguson, MO teenager Michael Brown, I am saddened at the tragic loss of a young man in the prime of his life, headed off for college and to bigger things.   My Christian perspective strongly influences how I look at the situation.  Jesus showed love and compassion to all people, especially those on the outskirts of society.  It may be cute and quaint to read of Jesus spending time with prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners, but in reality these folks were the scum of society in his time, yet he made a point to take extra care of them.  So when I read of a young minority male being killed (seemingly unnecessarily) my faith tells me that a human being, a child of God, a person Jesus would have especially cared for, has been lost.

Naturally, I felt like other Christians would feel the same way.  I understand that many Christians would consider my theology “heretical” and probably even question my labeling as a Christian. But, theology aside, I am nothing but dumbfounded by the apathy, callousness, and dare I say hatred regarding the death of this young man. Let me be fair—I do not want to paint too broad a brush—I don’t want to accuse every evangelical Christian of being hateful and careless regarding this incident, but the attitudes and reactions I have seen within my own circles stirs me to keep my silence no more on this matter.

Besides the whole matter that witness accounts seem to at least suggest that might have acted inappropriately.  Besides the fact that the police have to my knowledge still not released an official account of what actually took place.  Besides the fact that the Ferguson PD seems to have a troubling record of excessive force and civil rights violations.  Besides the fact that the PD has behaved in a over-aggressive manner  arresting reporters , denying access to news crews, and just seeming like they are trying to hide something. 

Stop hating (all way) from Flickr via WylioWhen the story first broke, it seems all the white Christians were calling for a “fair investigation.”  A pastor and professor from the Bible college I attended critiqued Missouri Governor Jay Nixon for saying he wanted “vigorous prosecution.”  Yet, this same pastor then fails to show that same grace toward the victim, writing  “we would plead with an eighteen year old boy to change his plans, do something positive, stay off the street.” Yes, because walking down the middle of the street and allegedly stealing cigars warrants 6 bullets to the body.
Then there is the fun I had the other night on Facebook, when I dared to suggest we not condemn an entire community because a few burnt down a gas station. There was this doozy of a comment, “He was a douchebag that didn't want to follow the law and assaulted an officer.” And another “caring Christian” said “I almost choked on my food today when they said he recently found the lord.” So when another Bible college graduate opined that the problem was that I was going “off topic,” I had this to say.

Yes, because of all the things happening in this thread (hateful speech, disregard for human life, racist attitudes, willful ignorance...) "straying off topic" is clearly the worst. I really do not understand how people can be so callous and uncaring regarding a young man's life, a grieving community, and a historically oppressed minority and still claim to be a follower of Jesus. I'm fine disagreeing over theological matters--but this is far too much. This young man, just like his alleged shooter, was a child of God and a human being. The language being used to describe him and his community is reprehensible, ungodly. But, alas, I am straying off topic again...

Yet, again, another Bible college grad has the nerve not to call out the explicit hatred and racism found elsewhere in the thread but instead accuses me of name calling.

Loren, I cannot agree with what sounds (reads) like bitterness from some on this thread. But, I haven't read a single racist comment. You are calling those you disagree with "ignorant." If you are going to play the "your argument is ignorant" card, you may want to check out the meaning of "racist" first. Hint: disagreeing with someone of a different ethnic background does not automatically make one a racist. I encourage you to rise above the name calling that is so common in politics these days.

This is of course after a previous commentator had said, “people like you are what keeps inner city violence happening. Making excuses for violent ignorant behavior because of your misplaced rich boy white guilt trip. Stuff it.” And referred to me as a “a blithering idiot.” Oh, and when I called out the incorrect information of others regarding the “broken orbital bone” of the police officer and the people of Ferguson doing “nothing” to protect their city, I was accused of not using reputable sources (HuffPost).  So yeah, I’m a bit frustrated by the encounter. But most of all, I am incredibly disheartened by the lack of seemingly any care or concern in regard to a loss of a life by people who claim to be “Christian” and “pro-life.” 

Yes, you might say that these folks are isolated in their views, but even responses like this seem to miss the point, again pointing the finger at African-Americans as causing all the problems. This blogger, Emily Timbol echoes my concern, “where is the white evangelical response to Ferguson” she asks.  I’ve combed through the rest of the post from my other conservative Christian friends.  Plenty of Ice Bucket Challenge stuff, nothing about Ferguson.  So I am left to assume that the reactions I have seen speak for the whole lot—and it doesn’t really surprise me…

So, to wrap up this long blog, I just want to apologize, apologize on behalf of white evangelical Christianity since they are so unwilling to do it themselves. I want to apologize to the African-Americans and other minorities in this country for the racism and oppression you face on a daily basis from white America.  And I want to apologize personally, because though I may admit to my own white privilege, I’m not exactly racing out the door to do anything about.  Though I cannot sympathize at the loss of yet another young African-American life, I can still mourn the tragic loss of life and the utter lack of concern from so many in my own religion. 

**Update** I feel it would be fair to make mention that the pastor's blog mentioned earlier in the post did post a second blog that I feel is far more Christ-like response. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

An Eye for an Eye leads to Nuclear Holocaust

I was born in 1982, so the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent end of the Cold War happened before I was even out of elementary.   But from what I’ve learned about those times, it doesn’t seem like something we’d want to go back to anytime soon.  From McCarthyism, to Sputnik, to nuclear bomb drills, to reckless military spending those years aren’t something I’d like to live through. So I find myself completely perplexed by suggestions by some politicians and military experts that the way to respond to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is by flexing our own military muscles as well.
Let me say straight out, Putin’s actions are wrong.  I’m not an expert in geo-political issues, but based on Putin’s previous efforts to invade the former Soviet bloc country of Georgia during the Bush Administration and Putin’s own past as a KGB officer, it seems like Putin might be trying to rebuild the Soviet Union.  Looking farther back into history, Putin’s aggression coupled with the recently held Olympics and discrimination again the LGBT community, I’m reminded of Hitler’s early days of racism and annexation of neighboring territory. Either way, Putin doesn’t have a good track record.
'Bomb' photo (c) 2012, _Gavroche_ - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Looking back into history seems entirely appropriate, because I can’t help but thinking; hasn’t this whole thing played out before? Didn’t it nearly lead to a nuclear holocaust? From the end of WWII in the 1940’s to the early 1990’s the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in an epic grudge match. Though the two never actually fought head to head, the time consisted of countless proxy wars in which the two powers fought for causes and governments which either supported or opposed their cause. And as is usually the case, aggressions boiled over at times to the threat of war via the most powerful weapon on the planet—the nuclear bomb.
Think about some of the endeavors the US pursued because of the Cold War; the Korean War which cost some 35,000 American lives, Vietnam which cost over 58,000 American lives, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, run away military spending, and incessant military excursions across the globe.  The list could go on and on.  And, thanks to the relentless military spending, especially during the Reagan years, the debt is still going on and on and on… Again, I wasn’t alive for most of the Cold War, but being as the world was on the brink of all-out nuclear war who knows how many times I really can’t understand why anyone in the right mind would think responding to aggression with aggression would be a responsible option.
'Gandhi with Lord and Edwina Mountbatten' photo (c) 2013, Nagarjun Kandukuru - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”  Gandhi was a political and spiritual leader in India who helped lead his country to independence from Britain. Gandhi, who studied the teachings of Jesus, was a proponent of non-violent activism and influenced the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The “eye for an eye” model comes from the Hebrew Bible, specifically Exodus 21:24.  Jesus is quoted as referencing that same scripture in the gospel of Matthew chapter 5.  Jesus reinterprets the verse, disagreeing with the assertion that violence must be responded to with equal violence. Jesus and Gandhi both recognized that responding to violence with violence, will not end violence. Will we?
What’s the point you say? Responding to aggression with aggression inevitably leads to more aggression.  We’ve seen it already.  We can’t let history repeat itself.  We can’t fulfill the prophecy that those who “don’t know history are failed to repeat it.”  Do we really want to live through another military arms raise? Besides the ethical and moral problems of spending trillions of dollars on weapons of war, I fear it will be the United States, not Russia which collapses economically this time. We’ve already been to the brink of nuclear holocaust before, let’s not let foolish leaders take us down that road again. Let’s listen to the wisdom of spiritual teachers such as Jesus, Gandhi, and King who advised us that violence doesn’t solve anything.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What's most unbelievable about Arizona’s anti-LGBT law

When a similar law came to light and failed in Kansas, I thought it would just be a one-time fluke.  A conservative, fly-over state with no real influence making a play to get on the national state by trying to pass a law that would allow businesses to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation.  When the bill predictably (or so I thought) failed in the state senate, I was convinced that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s public support for the bill was nothing more than political pandering to the base.  He knew the bill would fail so why not take a strong stand for it and achieve a moral victory as a martyr for the cause. Then Arizona happened.
'Rally for LGBT equality' photo (c) 2010, Fibonacci Blue - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Let’s be completely honest for a moment.  While the bill is titled as relating to the free exercise of religion, it’s plainly obvious to anyone with any common sense that it’s simply about legalizing discrimination and bigotry.  The idea that anyone who owns or operates a public business can legally refuse to serve potential customers based on that person’s sexual orientation is simply mind-boggling.  Are we in some time vortex which has sucked us back to Jim Crowe era America?   Supporters of the bill, aka conservative Christians, like to say this is about “religious freedom.”  Since when does exercising one’s freedom allow you the right to impose on someone else’s?
The whole “religious freedom” mantra is being repeated with the same frequency and intensity as the one-percenters kept proclaiming themselves “job creators.”  Both claims are worthless and hollow—yet to those who think giving rich people more money when our economy is based on consumer spending, “religious freedom” as the right to legalized bigotry makes perfect sense.  Religious freedom in America has been about the right to individual “soul liberty”—not the right to bash someone else over the head with that personal belief.   I can believe whatever I want—but that doesn’t mean I can necessarily live out those beliefs in the public sphere.  America is—for better or worse—a democratic society where majority rule shapes the public values and guidelines.  And again, while the public can’t force you to believe a certain thing, it can mandate that you behave a certain way.
The idea of “religious freedom” now meaning the ability to behave in accordance with your own personal thoughts or belief system is entirely problematic.  Suppose I am a business owner who believes pre-marital sex is wrong; do I know have the right to refuse contraceptives and maternity coverage to all my single female employees? If I think all Muslims are going to hell can I ban them from my restaurant?  If it is my sincerely held belief that white people are the master race—can I begin seeking to eliminate all other races?  “Religious Freedom” in America has traditionally referred to individual “soul liberty,” or the idea for each person to think or believe however they see fit.  With this new law—and the changing definition of the word—conservatives are essentially re-defining “religious freedom” as the ability to behave however I see fit, regardless of standard public practice or law.
'Lone Anti Gay Protester' photo (c) 2010, William Murphy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
More brilliant conservative logic!

And, what’s most shockingly, mind-numbingly, ridiculous about the bills in Arizona and Kansas is that they are nearly universally and exclusively supported by conservative Christians.  Yes, those same conservative Christians that are constantly wailing about they themselves being “persecuted.” Yes, those same conservative Christians that every Christmas season play-up the made-up “War on Christmas.”   That these same conservative Christians, who despite their obvious hegemonic influence over American culture, have this delusional, fantastical notion that they themselves are being discriminated against can then turn around and support legalized discrimination of an actual minority group which is actually facing legitimate bullying, persecution, and discrimination is nothing short of ridiculous.  Frankly, it’s beyond ridiculous. It’s moronic, stupendous, and completely hypocritical.  Can any of us really not imagine the hullabaloo that would come about if some state tried to pass a law which  allowed business owners the right to refuse service to Christians!?
A foundational principle of America is the right for individuals to believe what they want to believe.  While this has been ignored at different stages throughout our history such as in Puritanical New England or the McCarthy blacklists of the 1950’s, religious freedom—when properly practiced—is an exceptional part of what makes America great.   Just as I do not wish to be told what to believe, I have no desire to tell others, yet there is a huge difference between belief and behavior.  Believe what you want, but you must behave within the confines of the law. And whatever you believe, don’t use that belief as an excuse to hate. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Olympics are Un-American.

 That’s right; the Olympics are un-American and I just said what no one else has the guts to say. 

'Olympic flag flying outside Eland House' photo (c) 2012, Department for Communities and Local Government - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/While millions of Americans continue to watch this worldwide sports competition, and NBC has spent billions trying to jam it down our throats, everyone seems oblivious to that fact that the Olympics are a socialistic, communistic (what do you mean those two things don’t mean the same thing?) event that contradicts everything America is about.  America is about winning. America is about being exceptional.  The idea that the greatest nation on earth, a national exalted by its deity, would degrade itself by being in the same space as other, lesser nations is disheartening and disturbing.  Where are the “culture warriors” like Sean Hannity and Todd Starnes when we need them!

In America, winning is everything—in fact, winning is the only thing as famous football coach Vince Lombardi once said.  Yet, in the Olympics, not only are athletes celebrated simply for simply competing (what is this, some kid’s league where everyone gets a trophy?) but the losers are even rewarded.  What do I mean? Well, the silver medalist is the first loser.  The bronze medalist is the second loser.  In America, we call the first and second runners up by the appropriate monikers—losers—because that’s what they are. Awarding losers for failing to win is completely antithetical to everything America is about.  Does the NFL give a trophy to the Super Bowl loser? Does the NBA award the Finals loser for coming in second? Heck no! Second place is just the first loser!

Does America even recognize the socialistic, communist agenda that is being shoved down its throat?  This is obviously some ploy by the United Nations to make America look foolish in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of its own people.  America is the preeminent nation in our world, and any “competition” which degrades that fact is obviously some one-world conspiracy theory masterminded by the United Nations and the America-haters running it. Why NBC is devoting so much coverage to the event further gives credence to the Glenn Beck’s and Sarah Palin’s of the world that the mainstream media is a bunch of left-wing America haters. That Americans continue to watch the coverage shows the effectiveness the propaganda machine.

'Olympics 2012' photo (c) 2012, Mike_fleming - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/If America ran its sports completions like the Olympics, Peyton Manning would inarguably be the greatest quarterback ever.  Thankfully, not everyone has been brainwashed and still understands that Manning is just a loser who can’t get it done in the big game. What I don’t get is why America even celebrates athletes who win a medal other than gold. That’s like celebrating the Buffalo Bills for losing four Super Bowls! It’s like every two years America loses its mind and forgets what makes it exceptional—winning! I mean, we’re America after all.  We do whatever the heck we want, when we want.  We’re like the Charlie Sheen of the world. No matter what every other nation thinks, we know that we are “winning.”  Screw the rest of the world.

Well, in case by now you haven’t caught on, this is sarcasm.  Though the Olympics are increasingly becoming a corrupt entity profiting the global one-percent, at the heart of the Olympics is a celebration of humanity, of triumph in the face of adversity, and of overcoming obstacles—no matter that final result. The Olympics is about people of all races and nationalities coming together, where athletes from different countries become their competitors’ greatest fans.  Perhaps America should take note.  Maybe winning isn’t the only thing that matters. Maybe we should begin to celebrate achievement and effort, no matter the final result.  There’s nothing wrong with rewarding the victors, but when along with such acclaim comes derision and degradation of hard-working, dedicated athletes who on that single day were simply not as good—I’ve got to ask if its American culture—not the spirit of the Olympics—which has things so wrong.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Blessed are the peacemakers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning

This week I was reading Matthew 5:1-12, a part of the passage of scripture commonly referred to as “the Sermon on the Mount.” At the beginning of the passage, Jesus lists several groups of people he finds to be worthy of praise and admiration.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the peacemakers. That’s right, blessed are the peacemakers.
''Peace' sign' photo (c) 2009, daveynin - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Now, to our 21st century ears, we hear that phrase and think of beauty pageant contestants wishing for “world peace” or hippies holding up two fingers in a peace sign. But, those living in 1st century Galilee would have immediately found his remarks to be divergent from the societal and political expectations of the world around them. Those living in 1st century Galilee inhabited a country dominated by the foreign oppressor Rome, which thrived by being unmerciful, brutally violent, and exploitive of conquered people groups.   Blessed are the meek? Hardly, in the Roman Empire, those who are gentle get squashed! Blessed are the pure in heart? Please! In the Roman Empire, everyone in power is corrupt! Blessed are the peacemakers? The Roman Empire was built by war and violence! In context, Jesus’ words are far more controversial.
With this in mind, I happened to see the news report of Edward Snowden being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Now, this is the same Edward Snowden who, working for the National Security Agency (NSA), leaked information about the US Government spying on its own citizens. For such actions, Snowden has had to flee the country, and most likely—flee for his life. He has been labeled a traitor, conspirator, spy and so forth.  Despite the seemingly obvious lack of Constitutional support for such actions by the government and repeated lies from Director of Intelligence James Clapper that the government was not spying on its own people—Snowden has still been charged with espionage for bringing to light the unlawful actions of the United States Government even though his actions have spurred action by the Obama administration regarding changes to NSA actions and policies.
'Bradley Manning: '...how on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe..' exposing both the system & it's weakness' photo (c) 2013, Tjebbe van Tijen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I’m also reminded of another high profile leaker, that of Chelsea Manning (as a Trans-ally, I shall refer to Manning by the names and pronouns appropriate to the gender she wishes to express herself as).  While serving as an Army Intelligence officer in Iraq—and self-identifying as Bradley—Manning sent classified information to WikiLeaks regarding video felt by Manning to expose war crimes and other unethical actions by the US Military such as the use of torture and the killing of civilians.  Manning has asserted that conscience led her to expose the documents and videos, adding that “I want people to see the truth.” Manning also asks, “If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”  Oddly enough, Manning was accused of endangering American lives—forget that President Bush (and sadly Obama) forced thousands of our troops into an unnecessary and very likely illegitimate war. In the end like Snowden, Manning has been convicted of espionage for actions that were morally driven.
As I reflect on these two people in light of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew, I can’t help but think that our society despises peacemakers. After all, war is incredibly profitable for those in power—for politicians and CEOs. The so-called “war machine” consists of politicians promoting fear-mongering and imperialism which thereby leads to trillions of dollars spent on weapons of war, where massive earnings end up in the pockets of CEOs and the 1%, who in turn financially support those politicians who stir the pot. Yes, saber rattling is incredibly profitable—every bomb dropped and bullet shot (or threat of such) demands more be manufactured.  Isn’t it so shockingly ironic that President Bush can claim to be a huge supporter of the troops when his decisions ultimately led to the death and suffering of thousands of lives!?
I support the troops by not wanting to send them to war and risk life and limb. I support policies and politicians which seek to rein in our war machine which does nothing but perpetuate death and destruction for the purposes of massive profits.  I support whistleblowers such Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning who call out the immoral behavior of our government. I firmly believe Snowden and Manning fit Jesus’ description of those called “peacemakers,” and lest we forget, “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lay off Richard Sherman

Surely by now you’ve seen the video of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and his epic post game “rant.”  Immediately following a dramatic Sherman deflected-interception in the end zone to seal the victory and a trip to the Super Bowl for the Seahawks, Sherman was interviewed by Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews.  It will be remembered as the best—or worst postgame interview of all time.  Watching the interview live, my initial response to the interview was to burst out laughing. Being that postgame interviews tend to consist of "Uh, I thank baby Jesus and cliché and cliché… Disney World!" as my friend @jalinton pointed out, I was certainly surprised and caught off guard by his response. 

The Seahawks and 49ers are fierce rivals and both excellent teams, so when San Francisco got the ball back with just a few minutes on the clock and started marching down the field, I had the feeling the game was going to end either by a last second touchdown or by Seattle’s defense making a huge play (perhaps a turnover) to end the game. Sure enough, a ball tipped up by Sherman and intercepted by linebacker Malcolm Smith on a throw to the end zone with only seconds on the clock, clinched the victory.  The players were pumped and the Seattle fans were going crazy—then seemingly everyone was shocked when Sherman spoke in the interview with the same passion and emotion with which he plays.

'Richard Sherman' photo (c) 2013, Mark Samia - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/As for Sherman’s comments themselves, they’re hardly controversial.  When asked by Andrews about the play, Sherman responded by saying, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get," Sherman shouted when asked by Andrews about the decisive play. "Don’t you ever talk about me.”  When asked who he was talking about, he responded that “Crabtree," he responded. "Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick. LOB!"

Here’s what you need to know.  Sherman’s statement about being the best—it’s true.  He was voted to the NFL All-Pro team, the best of the best. Further, Michael Crabtree, true to Sherman’s words, isn’t  a top 20 NFL wide receiver. Hall of Fame wide-out Chris Carter doesn’t have him in his top-10 for 2013, nor does he crack Yahoo Sports list of top-20 fantasy wide receivers.  Crabtree’s response on Twitter doesn’t hold water either; when a cornerback does his job so well the receiver he’s covering isn’t open, the QB isn’t going to throw the ball his way and therefore he won’t have any stats to show.

Trolls on Twitter and Facebook are reacting as if Sherman is some sort of thug.  While his reaction caught me off-guard, I can respect his passion and I understand it was in the moment. What bothers me is the entire backlash against Sherman (who has responded to his critics in well-written article—he  regularly writes for Sports Illustrated ), is the way his character and ‘class’ has been questioned.  Sherman has been labeled a “thug” and a “bad role model” because he said something passionate in the heat of the moment. 

All this backlash demonstrates the underlying racism still prevalent in America (fittingly, this event occurred on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend).  White America will accept anyone as long as they fit the mold of what white America expects.  Basically, you don’t have to be white—you just have to act white.  White America is cool with you, regardless of your skin-color, so long as you live in suburbia with the white picket fence and wear your khakis and golf polo-shirt. Break those norms and you’re in for a heap of trouble. 

'Angry Jim Harbaugh in High Resolution' photo (c) 2013, Adam Rifkin - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/For all this ranting and raving about Richard Sherman, we’re forgetting the ridiculous sideline antics of Sherman’s old college coach at Stanford—now 49er’s leader— and white guy, Jim Harbaugh, who was constantly on camera yesterday for his endless hand-waving, jumping up and down, and exasperated looks he gave to the officials (conveniently, ESPN has a list of Harbaugh’s top 10 fits). Oh, and should you still have a problem with Sherman’s exuberant confidence, remember the quarterback who threw the pass, Colin Kaepernick, has a touchdown celebration in which he mimics kissing his own biceps.  So lay off white America.

This is important—just  because someone doesn’t act like you would act or behave like you would behave doesn’t mean they’re wrong or a bad person—it just means their different.  And this shaming for Richard Sherman for not “behaving appropriately” (behaving as white America expects one to) is basically closet racism.  This MLK day, I’m reminded that America still has so far to go before people are judged by the content of their character (however they choose to express it), not by the color of their skin, or whether they adhere to the cultural expectations of white America.