Public outcry over the shooting of Harambe, a silverback lowland gorilla has been deafening these last few days. It is a tragedy that this endangered animal had to be killed because of human failures.
But a lot of the outcry is, at best, misguided. So let’s answer some of the questions and misconceptions that are running rampant.
Why didn’t they just tranquilize the gorilla?
There was not enough time. Despite what you may have seen on television and the movies, tranquilizer darts do not act instantly. They take several minutes to take effect. During that time, the child could have been more severely injured or killed. In addition, the screaming panic in the crowd clearly upset and disoriented Harambe. The adrenaline released into his system to cope with the fear and chaos would likely have made the tranquilizer less effective.
Furthermore, the impact of the dart would have startled Harambe, and the sting of the injection would have caused it pain. Have you ever been stung by a wasp or hornet? What was your reaction? Most humans who are unexpectedly attacked by a stinging insect will jump, scream, flail their limbs, and act in otherwise unpredictable ways. Animals who are “stung” by tranquilizer darts generally do the same thing, and an injured animal is a dangerous animal. The child was already in danger, and injuring or frightening a 400-pound gorilla would not have improved the child’s situation. It would likely have made it profoundly worse.
It looked like the gorilla was trying to protect the boy.
Maybe Harambe was trying to protect the child. But the ways in which animals protect their young are very different from the ways in which humans protect their young, and may, in fact, cause injury to a human. A mother lion’s disciplinary swat could easily kill a human child. Human parents don’t pick up a child by the scruff of its neck or carry it in their teeth, and they don’t pick up their children and toss them out of harm’s way. Harambe may have had the best intentions in the world, but he could have inadvertently killed the child.
The truth is that we don’t know what Harambe was thinking or doing. As much as we are conditioned to think of animals as having human characteristics, we have no facts about what goes on in their minds. Humans anthropomorphize animals and use them as vehicles to illustrate moral lessons, but there is no factual basis to show that they think as humans do. The Zookeepers didn’t have time to reason with Harambe or try to figure out his motivations.
It’s all the parents’ fault. Why does an innocent gorilla have to die because they didn’t adequately supervise their kid?
We are so quick to assign blame. I’ve been a parent of active children. I don’t care how well you are watching them, how careful you are, stuff happens. Preschoolers move like greased lightning. Several eye-witnesses stated that the boy had been asking to go in the water, and his mother told him no. A determined child needs only a moment to completely disappear. The child wanted to go in the water and mommy wouldn’t let him, so he made a run for it.
For all of those who are screaming for the parents’ heads on a platter, put yourselves in their shoes for a moment. The whole world gets to see the result of their parenting nightmare. They had to stand by and watch while their child was in mortal danger, while their child was being injured and screaming for help. And now the whole world gets to judge their parenting skills, based on the worst moment of their lives. Now, amid the clamour of judgment and blame, they have to deal with the what-ifs: “what if we’d had him strapped in his stroller,” “what if we’d been holding him in our arms,” “what if we’d had him on one of those baby-leash things,” “what if ….” Believe me when I tell you that this is torture enough.
The zoo should have had a better-designed enclosure.
It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback in these situations. But the zoo has not had any problems at the gorilla enclosure since it opened in 1978. That’s 38 years of incident-free operation. That’s an outstanding record. Maybe the enclosure could stand some updating, but it’s not the zoo’s fault that, for the first time in nearly four decades, someone breached the safety barriers.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions, to assign blame, to insist that someone was at fault. But this was not such a situation. It’s a tragic accident. Yes, an innocent gorilla was killed to protect a human child who was in a place he should not have been. But children and animals are the most unpredictable creatures on the planet. And when you are dealing with them, sometimes tragic accidents happen.
I read today that Josh Harris has apologized for the effect that his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye had on some people in the most vulnerable, most sensitive years of their lives. And it took me back almost 20 years into my past.
You see, 20 years ago, I was deep under the influence of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), the cult that made Josh Harris’s thoughts a virtual mandate from God. And so was my husband-to-be. In fact, the future husband was out-Gotharding Gothard and out-Harrising Harris. And he convinced me, through casual conversations, that his interpretation of Scripture regarding God’s plan for finding a spouse was the true “godly way,” and that Gothard and Harris hadn’t gone far enough. Future husband believed in a form of arranged marriage.
I’m not going to go into all of it here. That’s not the purpose of this post. What I do want to look at is the aftermath of the way our engagement was contracted, the incredible spiritual pride that had been instilled in us because we “chose a higher standard,” and the incredible grace of God that prevented us from doing as much damage to the younger generations of the church as Harris’s book and Gothard’s courtship teaching did.
Gothard’s teachings are dangerous for many reasons, but one of the most insidious was the way that they encouraged people to be proud of their spiritual choices. If someone challenged you, you simply assumed that they had not chosen as high a standard as you had. (One of the catch-phrases was “others may; I cannot.” Why did we not see how self-righteous such a statement can be?!) Do you see the way that thinking you have chosen “a higher standard” leads people into hubris — how it subtly leads you to see yourself as better than others? It leads you to the Pharisee’s prayer: “Thank you God, that I am not a terrible sinner. I’m not an extortioner, or unjust, or an adulterer. And I’m not like that guy over there. I fast regularly and give to charity. I choose a higher standard.” (See Luke 18:9-14.)
So the future husband and I chose this “higher path” of letting our parents choose our spouse. My parents were stunned when they got the call from his parents and insisted that I should have a choice. The reasons I said “yes” are complex, but I went along with the “parents choose” thing for two reasons: I was desperately seeking to grow closer to God at that time of my life and “choosing a higher standard” seemed like a good way to accomplish that, and the idea of choosing a “higher standard” was, itself, alluring … who doesn’t want to choose “the most godly possible way”? Pride was seeping in — though I didn’t recognize that feeling as pride at that time. It was years later that I realised it was spiritual pride to think that my interpretation, my understanding, of God’s will was a “higher standard” than someone else’s. Essentially, we were standing there praying, “Thank you, God, that we’re not like these other people who didn’t go about finding a spouse the right way. We followed your highest and best plan. We did it right.”
After our marriage, the husband and I started writing the story of our relationship. We wanted to show other people “the right and godly way” to contract a marriage. We were still in the grip of honeymoon bliss, and we were convinced that God was blessing us for having chosen “his best.”
I ran across the first few chapters of that book the other day, along with a letter that I started writing to Elisabeth Elliot to share with her how her recommendations for a godly approach to dating in Passion and Purity didn’t go far enough. (Omigosh, the arrogance!) But God, in his wisdom, never let that book or that letter be finished.
Our marriage imploded. It didn’t last even five years. We hadn’t found anything like “the right and godly way.” We’d been tricked into believing that we were God’s special emissaries for “true betrothal,” when we were, in fact, deluded into making the biggest mistake of our lives — we entered into marriage with no true idea of the person we were marrying and a false understanding of who we, ourselves, were.
After the divorce, I packed away all the keepsakes from those years, including the drafts of the book and the letter about our “courtship.” When I came across them the other day, I was disgusted by the smug, self-righteous tone of the writing. And I gave heartfelt thanks to God that this book was never written.
I don’t know what Josh Harris is going to do about his book. But if mine had been completed and published, I would have to retract it. Find every copy I could and destroy it. And I would have to repent and beg forgiveness (from God and from those I’d led astray) for damaging others in their walk with God. Josh Harris will be in my prayers. He’s facing a difficult and painful task. And I pray that God gives him the wisdom and courage to accomplish whatever he needs to do.
Rushing down the highway today, anxious that I would be late to his funeral, it suddenly hit me that, actually, I probably ought to be late. Just a couple of minutes. Sliding into a back pew, gasping for breath, and fumbling in my purse for a pen. Dr. Hazlewood would have expected it from me.
He called all of us students his “lambs.” I’m pretty sure I was one of the black sheep in his flock. But I came to love him. I never took the time to tell him. And now he is gone.
Dr. Bob Hazlewood was chairman of the English Department at Lambuth College when I arrived there in 1987, fresh out of high school and with absolutely no clue what was in store. School had always been easy for me, especially the literature and grammar parts of school. I had no idea how to study or to manage my time. And I was on my own for the first time in my life.
Green little me, a freshman in a junior-level class that was required of English majors and that was offered only once every four years. A class taught by the professor who scared the socks off of more Lambuth students than any other person on campus, including the academic dean. Because Dr. Hazelwood was fierce. Passionate. Strict.
I didn’t shine, that first semester. I was constantly late to Dr. Hazlewood’s 8 a.m. class in the history of English — a rigorous class that required remembering a lot of dates and famous names (repeat with me, fellow-students! “In 1066, William the Conqueror ….”), as well as esoteric tasks such as memorizing the Lord’s Prayer in Old English and the first 18 lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Half the time, I would forget to bring my homework. Or my textbook. Or my pen. Or I would stumble through a recitation with such poor delivery that I’m sure he was convinced I’d never even looked at the text.
Looking back, I must have seemed like the most disrespectful, most addlepated, most impossible student he’d ever met. (Or maybe that’s just a bit of reverse hubris.) In any case, my struggles and failures that semester culminated in a confrontation in which Dr. Hazlewood informed me in no uncertain terms that I would never graduate from his department.
But three and a half years later, I did. And I missed graduating with honors by only a tenth of a point. Which probably served me right. But I earned the privilege of graduating from Dr. Hazlewood’s English Department. And it took me three full years, six semesters, to repair the damage I did in that first semester.
My faculty advisor clued me in, both to my own faults and to Dr. Hazlewood’s approach to pedagogy. Having been one of his students, she was also able to tell me that his declaration was not binding. That I could, if I worked hard, earn his respect and a place in his department. That he would extend grace and offer a chance at redemption to anyone who deserved it.
I took a lot of classes from Dr. Hazlewood in the next seven semesters. I tried hard to be on time, to have my books and homework, and to sit in the front row taking notes. I still have the notes, the textbooks, and the handouts from those many classes. But the class that stands out most was the class that cemented my redemption: Shakespeare’s Comedies.
We turned in our term paper topics early in the semester, and mine was approved. I wrote the paper. (The writing part of my classes I enjoyed, was fairly good at, and usually finished early.) Then Dr. Hazlewood asked me to see him after class one day. He had reconsidered and wanted me to choose a different topic. He asked me to turn in my revised idea before the next class. I was still desperate to prove myself to him, so I swallowed my resentment and dutifully stopped by his office the next day to submit my second choice of topic, which Dr. Hazlewood approved.
I then did one of the bravest things I have ever done. I hated the thought that all of the work I had already done was for nothing. So, as I was walking out of his office door, I turned and said, “Dr. Hazlewood, would you mind if I turned in both papers? I have already written the paper for the first topic, and I would like to know what you think.”
He was very quiet. I stood there for a long time, trying not to waver under his intense stare. Finally, he said, “Yes. But only the second one will count toward your grade.” That was fine with me. I really did want to know what he thought of that first paper, and I was thrilled that he was agreeing to read an extra assignment for me.
I treasure those papers. One of them earned a B, and the other earned an A. As his other students will testify, an A from Dr. Hazlewood was equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honour. You had to work for an A. You had to show that you had truly thought about the assignment.
After that, I was no longer terrified of him. He was more cordial toward me. And he allowed me to graduate from his department.
After I left college, I realized that my advisor had been right about Dr. Hazlewood. He had never hated me; he hated my underachieving waste of my potential. He cared. He really did see us students as his lambs, and, as our shepherd, he wanted to guide us to being the best we could be.
I wish I had gone back and told him that I finally understood. That I had always respected him. That, black sheep though I was, I loved him. That he had impacted my life. That 25 years later, I still hear his voice challenging me to think. To listen. To grow. To give my all, my best.
That I treasure that voice more than anything else from my college days. And that my world will be a smaller, sadder place now that he is no longer here.
My friend Heather wrote this blog post today about taking a break from going to church, and how it helped her evaluate her spiritual condition and renew her relationship with God.
I cannot begin to express how much it resonated with me. Because I stopped going to church about five years ago, and every time I have tried going back, something has happened to make it clear that I wasn’t ready to be there again. Yet.
Like Heather, I wasn’t obnoxious and obvious about my disappearance. I even had a convenient excuse in the serious after-effects of the car accident I’d been in—a wreck in which I sustained minor physical injuries along with a major traumatic brain injury that went undiagnosed until eight weeks after the collision (because I didn’t go to a doctor until the headaches refused to let up). By the time I went to a doctor, the damage was done.
And that damage has been pretty permanent. I stutter now, especially in noisy, chaotic, or “performance” situations. I have panic attacks when in large, noisy, or chaotic crowds, especially if I’m “trapped” and have no easily accessible, unobtrusive exit path. And I struggle mightily with migraine headaches—they have gotten better, almost gone away, over the years, but they still hit occasionally, and they are much worse than they used to be: crippling me with nausea, blinding me with scintillating scotomas, making me violently averse to noise of any kind, and reducing me to a quivering, helpless jelly from the excruciating pain. So yes, I had a ready-made, very convenient excuse that was a lot more socially acceptable than “I hate what has happened to the worship service.”
But let me be brutally honest: Heather nailed it. The service is no longer rich, wholesome, nourishing food for the believer’s soul. It’s sweet, and fluffy, and creamy-smooth— and it’s giving the Church (or at least many, many local congregations) spiritual diabetes. The last time I heard a sermon about sin was when I visited my old church and got to hear
an hour-long rant a sermon about how divorce was the worst possible sin you could commit.
Now, don’t get me wrong here: we need to hear about sin and we need to define and confront sin. And the divorce rate in the Church is scandalous. But divorce is no more unforgivable than lying or stealing, and it’s time we stopped treating it as some sort of spiritual leprosy. Heck, adulterers get more of a break than divorced people in the Church. But I digress.
At my church—where I remain a member because I love the people, even if I hate what’s been done to the worship experience—the first indication that we were abandoning traditional worship for a more contemporary service was that we stopped saying the creeds and the Psalter.
Then the sermons bore no relation to the lectionary … at all.
Then we changed the liturgy of the communion service and exchanged a new Doxology for Old Hundredth.
Then came the highly repetitive songs that were easy to learn, but that I didn’t like because they were like cotton candy—sweet fluff without substance. The doctrine-rich hymns became rarer and rarer.
And then there was the sermon about how original sin was not such a bad thing, because Adam wasn’t fully human until he sinned. (What?!) After that, the sermons got fluffier and fluffier, until there was not even a shred of meat to sink my teeth into.
And then they installed big screens with pretty slideshows running through the service.
And it suddenly dawned on me that church was more like a sports bar now than a worship retreat. I was already very sick physically, and the spiritual diabetes I was being lured into was just more than I could handle. More than I wanted to handle. I needed to touch God on a regular basis. And it just wasn’t happening any more.
So I walked away. Mostly.
Please understand that I’m not saying any of those things (except maybe the bankrupt teaching) is necessarily wrong. And I suppose you could make a case for “it’s just that you miss what you were used to.” But I submit to you that the whole point of worship is finding a place to touch God. And there is a significant element of custom and tradition in that concept. C.S. Lewis said, in his Letters to Malcolm,
I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.
To judge from their practice, very few … clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain — many give up churchgoing altogether — merely endure.
…. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, … to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best … when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. … The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. …
A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. … Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste….
I’ve quoted this passage before, and my thoughts still hold true. If the channel markers in my river of worship are constantly being moved about, my frail little boat is going to run aground. And that just defeats the whole purpose of going to church.
I’m looking, now, for a new church. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I need to feel refreshed and renewed in spirit when I leave. I need to be able to love the people and feel that they are truly seeking God, not playing a numbers game or compromising truth while trying to be all things to all people. Most of all, I need a sacred rhythm. A predictable, comfortable order of worship that allows me to focus on God instead of being distracted by the next innovative thing.
With all the stories of people fighting for towels in the Wal-Mart aisles, trampling people to death to get into the store for a $98 television, and trying to commit vehicular homicide when the cops intervene, I thought it might be nice to share a story of Thanksgiving weekend shopping that will warm your heart for the right reasons.
I don’t venture out on Black Friday, but I sometimes do go out on Small Business Saturday. This year, I went to a couple of small, local places. One of them was the local consignment clothing store — I was hoping to get a beaded lace capelet to wear to my company’s holiday party. Alas, the cape I was looking for had been sold. (One day I will learn that if I find it at this store and like it, I need to buy it then.) But I saw a couple of sparkly stoles that were just as pretty. Since my blouse for this party is red and sparkly, I thought the silver would be the best choice and bought it. But when I got home, well, it didn’t look as good as I’d hoped.
So I went back to the store, this time taking my red blouse with me. It had been a while 90 minutes since I’d left the store. When I got there, I went straight to the hook where the sparkly red stole had been hanging. It was gone. (Like I said, one day I’ll learn…)
The store’s owner, whom I have known for more than a decade, was standing nearby and heard my strangled wail of disappointment. So, as we were talking, a lovely lady said, “Red sparkly scarf … is this it?” And pulled the very scarf out of the pile of items she was about to purchase!
Now, I’m not one to take items out of other people’s hands. I protested. She’d found it and it should be hers. She insisted. “I know what that’s like, to decide you want something and find that it’s gone. Take it. Take it. It’s yours.”
I went into the dressing room to see if the shirt and stole actually looked good together. They did. When I came out, I asked again if the lady was sure. She smiled, put her hand on mine, and said, “Take it. And have a happy Christmas.”
Not everyone out there will trample you for a towel. Some people will even take the $7 scarf out of their own basket and hand it to you with a smile. And that, my friends, is the true holiday spirit.
I have a lot of friends who are wait-staff. They frequently tell me how much they hate working Sunday lunch, because the church crowd are bad tippers. They speak of people who eat a nice meal, pay the bill, and walk out of the restaurant without leaving a tip. Or, worse, they leave only a gospel tract or a pocket Bible as the tip. Or, worst of all, they leave only a note with some judgmental nastiness about the server’s appearance or lifestyle. We’ve all seen several such cases in the news or on social media in the last several months.
Listen up, fellow Christians. This is not what Jesus would do. Jesus was all about meeting the needs — physical and spiritual — of the people He met. And this message echoes through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation: care for the poor, don’t mistreat your servants, meet people’s needs.
You must not cheat a hired servant who is poor and needy. It does not matter if he is an Israelite or if he is a foreigner living in one of your cities. Give him his pay every day before sunset, because he is poor and depends on the money. If you don’t pay him, he will complain against you to the Lord, and you will be guilty of sin.. (Deuteronomy 24:14–15)
It doesn’t say to give them a Bible or a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws. It doesn’t say to leave them a note about what a miserable sinner they are; how disgusted you are by their obvious homosexuality, Goth appearance, tattoos, the enormous holes in their earlobes, or the bone in their nose; and how it wouldn’t be right for you to tip them because then you’d be condoning their lifestyle. It says to give them their pay, to make sure they have food and proper clothing.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15–16)
When Jesus met someone, He didn’t insist that they meet all of his needs and then give them a lecture about how sinful they were and how much they needed to get right with God. He met their needs, and then, sometimes, He didn’t have to tell them about repenting at all. His care for them spontaneously generated a desire to do right. Or, if He did have to preach them a sermon, He didn’t make their physical healing or provision for their needs dependent on their repentance. It was “Hey, you’re healed. Pick up your mat and head home. And while you’re at it, don’t sin any more.”
So what does that have to do with leaving a tip? Well, it’s about your witness and what kind of impression of God’s people you are leaving with those you meet.
The expectation (at least in America) is that when you eat a meal at a restaurant where you are served by a waiter, you will leave a minimum of 10 percent of your total bill (before coupons and discounts) as a tip. You can leave it in cash or you can scribble it in the appropriate place on the credit card slip. But you leave your overworked, underpaid server a monetary acknowledgement of his service.
In my circle, leaving a 10 percent tip signifies that the service was dreadful and you’d like to kick the waiter really hard in the hindquarters, but since that’s illegal, you’re kicking him in the wallet. A 15 percent tip generally signifies that the waiter did a decent job, and didn’t insult you, ignore you, or pour coffee in your lap. A 20 percent tip means the waiter did great, you’d like to be in his section again, and you are well-pleased with the service he provided for you. If you leave anything more than 20 percent, either the waiter went well above and beyond to perform some spectacular feat of serving, or you’re showing off.
Now, if you want to leave something in addition to that monetary gratuity, you are welcome to do so. Slip the bills inside a tract, a pocket-Bible, a copy of the Upanishads, a jewelry box with a pair of diamond studs, whatever floats your boat. But whatever extra you do, leave some money. As beautiful as they may be, those diamond studs won’t pay the rent. (And the gospel tract certainly won’t.) A server’s salary is usually less than minimum wage; you were sitting at their table for at least half an hour (probably more), and you have no idea what they might have been dealing with behind the scenes.
The worker deserves his wages. (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18)
If you can’t afford to leave a proper tip, don’t go there to eat. If you can’t have compassion and show kindness to those who serve you, do us all a favour and stay home. If you are a habitually poor tipper, repent and go and sin no more. But for heaven’s sakes, if you are going to leave a poor tip or no tip, do not tell your server that you are a Christian, or that you just came from church*, or that their tip is this tract or gospel booklet. Because you give those of us who take our religious responsibilities seriously a very, very bad name. And you cause the heathen to blaspheme.
*This reminds me. If you are eating at a place that gives you a discount for bringing in your church bulletin (or, for that matter, if you are using a Groupon, a Restaurants.com voucher, or any other discount certificate), you tip on the amount of the check before the discounts are taken. Tipping on the discounted check is stingy and mean.
Doug Phillips, founder and president of Vision Forum ministries, resigned his position today in a public post on the Vision Forum website. His reason for stepping down is “serious sin” in his life — specifically, “… a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman.” He goes into detail about his own shame, the damage to his wife and children, the greater damage to his ministry, and the dishonour to the God he claims to serve.
I hope that the words are true. I hope that Phillips truly is repentant over his inappropriate behaviour. But I have struggled all day with the written announcement of his resignation. While part of me wanted to be impressed, admiring the courage and humility required to publicly confess this sin, another part of me was screaming, Edna Mode fashion, “… words are useless! Gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble! Too much of it, dahling! Too much!”
I spent much of the day wrestling with my skepticism. Why could I not accept this abject admission at face value? Why did I feel that it was spin? An attempt to garner sympathy. Insincere. I could not believe that I would be so unmerciful and unforgiving as to reject what seemed, on the surface, to be a true admission of failure in leadership and of remorse for sin.
In the end, I came to understand that my skepticism was borne of my own experiences with patriarchal leaders, and the sociopathic traits that many of them exhibit. Including Doug Phillips. I have never been a supporter of Phillips or his teachings, because many of them contradict my most fundamental understanding of God’s work among His people. And, having experience with more than one leader who lived a hypocritical life, not following his own teachings while harshly condemning those of his followers (and outsiders) who failed to do so, I am suspicious of all of them. No matter how sincere they may seem.
But, in the end, it is immaterial whether I believe that Phillips is sincere in his repentance or whether I believe he is a sociopath trying to charm his way back into the good graces of those whose approbation he relies on. God knows Doug Phillips’s heart, and God will judge Phillips’s sincerity or lack thereof. God, and God only, can exact justice for sins committed and offer forgiveness for sins confessed. Those are God’s prerogatives, and not mine.
No, as a Christian, I am required to pray for this man and his family. And that I shall do.
For Doug Phillips, I pray that he is sincere. That this is not just “spin” or “damage control” to save his ministry. That he does truly repent and that he will learn from this situation the lessons that God has for him. The foremost lesson I would like to see him learn is that women are people. Not chattels. Not playthings. I would also like him to learn some humility and compassion. To learn that no one is immune to failure, and that no one is above the rules — not even the guy who makes them. But mainly, I just want him to be open to God’s spirit.
For Beall, I pray for strength as she faces the inevitable storm that will wash over her family in the aftermath of this situation. I pray for courage to confront and reject sin. For wisdom to recognize and confront insincerity and lack of humility. For wisdom, discernment, and compassion as she copes with Doug’s betrayal of her and of all that he has taught so adamantly and vociferously over the years. For the ability to forgive. Not for Doug’s sake, but for her own.
For their children, I pray that God will give them peace and stability through the ugly days ahead. I pray that God will protect them from the worst of it, and that they will be able to forgive their father for the wrongs he has committed.
For the person or persons whom Phillips wronged, I pray for healing and the ability to forgive. Not for Doug’s sake, but for their own. Forgiveness has a healing power for the victim. I also pray for these people to have the strength to demand reasonable consequences for this sin. Forgiveness does not do away with the requirements of justice. We, as Christians, are able to claim God’s forgiveness because the requirements of justice were met through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus paid our debt. His life was forfeited in substitution for ours, and God accepts that payment on our behalf. But God’s forgiveness of our sin does not mean that we are free from the legal and moral consequences of our sin. And if a crime has been committed, those legal and moral consequences must be paid.
For his employees and church members, I pray for a spirit of compassion and forgiveness, but also for strength not to compromise. When an admired leader fails, it is tempting to accept token apologies and minimize the need for substantive change in that leader’s life and character. I pray that the community surrounding Doug Phillips will have the wisdom and courage to hold him accountable for his actions and for the change that needs to take place to ensure that he does not fail in this way again.
For the Christian community, I pray that God will use this failure as an opportunity for us to examine our own hearts, confront our own sins, and pray for mercy for all of us — men and women, leaders and laypeople alike. For we are all sinners, and we are all vulnerable. There, but for the grace of God, go we.
The decision earlier this week by the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council to accept openly homosexual boys as Scouts has raised a lot of anger and vitriol across the country. The BSA has been warned to expect a mass exodus of boys and leaders from the troops. I’ve seen Facebook posts from many who say that their sons will no longer be scouts. I have also received emails from people who plan to take their sons out of Scouting. My ex-husband has told me that he will be leaving his leadership roles in three different troops just as soon as he has fulfilled certain agreements that he has committed to. And that he would like it if I would take our sons out of scouting as well.
It’s been a hard decision, but I’m not going to do that. And I want to appeal to other parents and leaders to rethink their stance, if they were planning to pull out. For several reasons.
First, removing a large number of good leaders will be very bad for the boys. The purpose of Scouting is for capable, mature men to mentor — to serve as role models and to pass on important skills and abilities — boys who are making the transition to manhood. If you have a young man who believes that he is gay, and you take away all of the men who might be able to influence him to be “morally straight,” you eliminate any chance of his discovering that his sexual preferences might be more changeable than he thinks. You also send the message that, because he is attracted to members of the same gender, he is not a fit person to associate with. This is not a message that we need to send to teenage boys. Ever.
Second, removing our sons from their troops isolates them from anyone who is different from them. We lose the opportunity to teach our sons how to respect others, despite their differences and even when we don’t agree with them or like what they do. The Scouting program has long been known for its ability to take young men of different classes, ethnic backgrounds, races, and religions, and meld them into a cohesive unit. Why should our sons not learn that sexual preference is an area of life in which we have to learn to work with those who are different from us? They go to school and play sports with homosexuals every day, and they will have to work with homosexuals when they enter the workforce. So how does isolating them from homosexuals in their Scouting endeavours benefit anyone?
And what of the benefit to the boys who are gay? They, too, must learn when and how to share the details of their lives with others. How can they learn wisdom and discretion if no one will work with them? A homosexual boy who is isolated from his heterosexual peers cannot learn to communicate comfortably on a deep level with heterosexuals if he doesn’t have a safe place to test his communication skills. And if all that he meets is rejection and derision, he’s going to develop a fear and distrust of all heterosexuals — this is not an outcome that benefits anyone in the long run.
I am a Christian. And while I do believe that engaging in homosexual behavior is wrong (a sin), I don’t believe it’s the only sin out there. And if we are going to ban homosexuals, how about thieves, liars, fornicators, gluttons, and supercilious prigs? After all, the Bible clearly states that God hates a proud look, a lying tongue, mischief-makers, and sowers of discord. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
When I became a Christian, I was making a commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ’s example in ordering my life. Jesus did not isolate Himself from the wicked of his day. In fact, He made Himself so available to them that He got a bad reputation among the “good people” of His culture. They said He was “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34) It was not by refusing to eat with Zacchaeus (a thief by virtue of his profession of tax-collecting) that Jesus influenced him to repentance. It was by publicly and openly announcing, “I’m staying at your house for dinner today.” (Luke 19:1-10) And then by sharing a meal and making it obvious that He valued Zacchaeus despite his character flaws.
Jesus’s example was one of compassion, kindness, and care for those who were hurting and for those enmeshed by sin. If I believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, then the last thing I should do is start hurling epithets at homosexuals, telling them that they are horrible sinners who are going to Hell, and refusing to associate with them. Jesus’s example proves that I will have more chance of influencing them if I establish a relationship with them, show them that I care about them as a person and not just as an evangelism project, and tread very carefully when dealing with the issues upon which we disagree.
It was only believing Christians who were to be isolated if they persisted in unconfessed sin. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) It was of sinning Christians that Paul wrote “don’t even eat with them.” Not of those outside the faith. Those who were not yet believers were to be treated with compassion and love, that they might be won to righteousness and the Christian faith. Read what Paul says: “… I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother [that is, a professing Christian] if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler. It’s not my business to judge those outside the church. It’s God’s.” (I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t mention homosexual behavior here, though he does elsewhere. The closest he comes is “immoral person.” And there’s no hierarchy here. The immoral are put on equal footing with those who are covetous, idolatrous, verbally abusive, drunk, or dishonest. Is anyone talking about throwing the drunks and the envious out of their troops?)
I am commanded to treat sinners as Christ did. And the only time that Christ was nasty to people was when they were self-righteous and when they falsely represented God the Father. In every other instance, we see Him acting with patient kindness. With the woman caught in adultery, with the Samaritan woman who’d had five husbands and was living with a man she wasn’t married to, with Zaachaeus the dishonest tax-collector, with a Roman soldier who was one of the oppressors of Israel, even with the inappropriately ambitious Boanerges, Christ was patient and forgiving. He established relationships with them and then gently pointed out the error of their ways. “You are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”
Were I to show less compassion, were I to teach my children to show less compassion, I would be sinning. So they will stay in Scouts.
So, my property is being reappraised for tax purposes this year, and the mayor (probably guessing that property values are going to go down, since the last reappraisal was in 2009, before values here really started declining) wants us to approve a 28-cent tax increase. NO. Just NO.
When I moved into this house in 1997, my combined city and county taxes were about $800 a year. Last year, my combined city and county taxes were almost $1800. The house hasn’t changed; the property hasn’t changed (except to lose $40K in value thanks to the economy), and you want to make my tax bill higher?! NO.
For those who don’t know how it works, that’s not 28 cents per property. That’s 28 cents per $1000 of the assessment value, which, in TN, is 25% of the fair market value. So for someone with a house valued at $100K, that’s an extra $70 a year. I don’t know about your house, but my house is just 1000 sq. ft., and it is currently appraised right at $100K. Would you want to pay nearly $2000 a year (in addition to your mortgage payment) to live in 1000 sq. ft.? Could you afford that? I almost can’t. And what for? To live in a house that I bought and paid for. How many people will lose their homes if this is approved?
Those who rent and think “oh, a property tax increase doesn’t apply to me because I don’t own a home,” YES, IT DOES. Because your rent includes ALL of the costs your landlord incurs to provide your home, including property taxes. And most leases include a clause that the landlord can raise your rent if property taxes go up. Just remember that when you are asked to vote for a property tax increase.
And you want to know what? The budget that this increase would support includes a 2.3% raise for city employees. Now, I’m all about paying people a fair wage. But city employees ALREADY earn significantly more than private sector employees in comparable positions, and they have significantly better benefits, too. *I* haven’t had a raise since 2008. Why should city employees, paid with MY tax dollars, get a raise when I don’t?
I don’t know if they will put it to a vote. I think they have to. But I DO know that if Memphis homeowners and residents will bombard the city council with protests [perhaps pointing out to them, again, that Memphis has THE HIGHEST property tax rate in the state of TN — even Brentwood and Franklin (Williamson county suburbs of Nashville with a large percentage of high-value properties) have significantly lower rates than Memphis], the council will listen.
So I’m starting now. VOTE NO! Write and email your city council person. Go to city council hearings (pdf) and meetings and let them know that a property tax increase is not acceptable. Memphians are taxed enough, and it’s time that the city and county governments were made to understand that.
This past week has been a very hard one. About ten days ago, my office was rocked by the shocking news that a former coworker had taken his own life. And on the day when I found out when my coworker’s memorial service would be, I was told that a very dear friend had died from complications due to illness.
So I had two funerals and a visitation to attend this week, one a day starting on Monday. It was … heart-wrenching.
But the harder of the two was the suicide. Not because I cared less for my friend than for my former coworker. Far from it. But my friend had been ill for a long time, and, as we are both Christian ladies, I know that she is now with our Saviour in Heaven, well and happy and no longer in pain. And I know that I will see her again when I make my own trip through the valley of the shadow and across the final river.
No, the suicide was harder because my coworker was only a year older than me. He left behind five children, a wife, and an ex-wife. And his parents. And his siblings. And the man had so many people (non-relatives) who cared about him. If only he had reached out and been vulnerable, transparent with just one of them. If only he had sought some professional help when things began to feel overwhelming.
I have a long familiarity with the effects of suicide on those who knew the person. When I was 18, a woman whom I thought of as almost a second mother killed herself. I’m sure that lady never dreamed that her suicide would touch someone unrelated like me. But it shadowed my life for years. And now, in the past two years, I’ve had three more friends or acquaintances commit suicide. In every case, they have shut out those would would have been honoured to help them bear their burdens.
Suicide is horrible. But some of the things that people say about people who commit suicide are, in my opinion, much more horrible. I understand that they are angry and hurt. But I think back to my own suicide attempt at the age of 16, and I know that the person who commits this act is desperate. They are so deep in despair, they are in such a dark pit of pain and hurt, that they see nothing but their pain. They can’t see the way out. They can’t see anything but the endless pain, whether it’s physical or psychological, and they just want to make the pain stop. Suicide seems so reasonable.
To those who would say that suicide is “selfish,” I can tell you that the whole time you are making your plans, you are thinking of how much better everyone will be without you. Of how your being “out of the way” and “no longer a bother” will benefit everyone. If your problems are compounded by financial stresses, you may even think “when they get the insurance money, everything will be okay for them.” So in the mind of the suicide, it’s the ultimate altruism.
And while my own attempt was fueled by what I can now see as utterly trivial adolescent foolishness — though it has value, as it has fueled my attempts to protect my own children from bullying — the fact is that my pain was excruciating to me. I hurt so bad, and I could see no way out. (How do you escape when the problem is that you are completely unlikeable and socially worthless? If people hate you that much, wouldn’t the world be a better place without you?) Had that pain been combined with financial stresses, job stresses, family worries, or any of the myriad other concerns that an adult faces … well, had it been compounded by any of that, I probably would have made sure I succeeded.
The suicide of my “second mother” showed me the cruel pain inflicted on even the most distant acquaintance by the loss of a friend. Last year’s suicide of an online friend, a young man who was just at the beginning of his life, reinforced my understanding of the hurt suffered by those left behind. And the more recent suicide of my co-worker reminds me yet again.The real victims of suicide are those left behind by the person who takes his own life.
Today, I read that Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. I weep for that family. Because their path over the next several years is going to be an extremely difficult and painful one. They have lost someone they loved. And the “why,” even if you are privileged to have it shared with you, is never enough.
Being a poet, I wrote a poem as I processed all the difficult emotions of this week — and all of the emotions from the past that this week dredged up. It is a sonnet about suicide and what drives those who commit it.
Surrounded by the tragedies of life
And sinking underneath the painful load
Of death and pain, frustration, fear, and strife
Sometimes it seems a weary, lonely road.
And some there are who cannot bear the strain,
Whose hearts and minds are broken by their cares;
Consumed by burdens they cannot sustain,
Their courage withers and their soul despairs.
Succumbing to temptation, they give in
To death’s false promises of easy peace
They seek their own destruction as an end
A way to make their agony to cease.
But suicide is not an easy end;
As mourners, left behind, will comprehend.
May God bless and keep us all. And may we remember to share each other’s burdens.