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Category Archives: Cultural Analysis

The title is a bit misleading because in this post, I ask more questions that make statements.

  • In this postmodern age, authenticity is a key virtue. Trump was authentic to be sure; he was unorthodox to be sure; he bucked the GOP system or the established order. (Yes, another tenet of postmoderns is to be anti-establishment; Trump certainly was during the campaign). Was this part of his appeal?
  • No mention has been made of gender as a factor in this election. That is, could men publicly endorse Clinton but really vote for her in the privacy of their voting booth as the President of the United States of America? Many authors including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (see “We Shall All Be Feminists”) have said that many men have difficulty with a strong female leader. Was this a factor in Clinton’s defeat?
  • Chris Wallace, moderator of one of the debates, asked Trump if he would concede defeat and accept the results of the election.  Trump responded, that he would not if he felt the election was rigged against him.  I don’t recall that question being asked of Clinton.  Did the media give Clinton a false sense of confidence or bravado?
  • Clinton’s message did not appeal or resonate with a “large swath of white, working-class voters.” On the other hand, Trump built a “larger coalition by drawing support from scores of smaller communities.” How did the Clinton campaign miss this? (See “Democrats Seek Fresh, More Inclusive Approach,” Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2016)
  • According to the Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2016) article, “How Trump’s Winning Coalition Coalesced,” “minority voters, young voters and segments of affluent whites did not come out in Obama-sized numbers” for Clinton.  Why the apathy?
  • Both candidates are morally flawed individuals — so something had to give. What tipped the scales in favor of Trump – a man who on the campaign trail said disparaging things about women, about the disabled, about Muslims, etc.?
  • Personally, I am not sure what to think of the word, ‘evangelical’ means anymore. What does ‘conservative Christian’ mean anymore? What is a ‘conservative evangelical’?
  • I hope the campaign Trump was an aberration and hope that the President-elect Trump is quite different.
  • Trump’s misogynistic, racist and bigotry rhetoric has emboldened cowards and have created some insensitive pranksters.  I must protect the vulnerable.  I must call out and confront these cowards respectfully and winsomely.
  • I have said before, my hope is not in the family who resides in the White House or in the one who boards Air Force One. In the end, I know who is truly in control!

Interesting days ahead.

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A voyeur is defined as (1) a person who derives sexual gratification from observing the naked bodies or sexual acts of others, especially from a secret vantage point. And (2) a voyeur is defined as an enthusiastic observer of sordid or sensational subjects. Basically, a voyeur is someone who likes to “look in” on the lives of others. The film, The Truman Show (1998), portrays wonderfully our voyeuristic tendencies. Unbeknownst to him, Truman Burbank’s (Jim Carrey) life is being televised into homes, into the local diner, into the athletic club, etc. “The Truman Show” is a live broadcast of Truman’s every move and it has viewers’ rapt attention.  Reality TV shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Big Brother, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Survivor allow us to “look in” on the lives of others. Oftentimes these reality TV lives are scripted (or staged) but nonetheless, we love looking in via our TV set.  When a car accident occurs or when see a police officer interacting with a citizen, we have a tendency to slow down and “look in”. Of course, this is where we get the phrase “rubber necking”.

Another tendency or rather a need we have is to be known.  To be known implies that an ongoing relational investment is required. To be known is normal.  A wife wants to be known by her husband; a husband wants to be known by his wife.  An employee wants to be known by his employer; an employer wants to be known by his employee.  A football player wants to be known by his coach. In many instances, the normal human need to be known has been replaced with the striving for significance. Or maybe we can say, that in many instances, the normal human need to be known has been replaced with the desire for attention?  Some seek significance by posting, writing or saying outlandish and inflammatory things. Some pursue significance, or better attention, by their scanty attire. Some seek significance by embellishing (or falsifying) their educational or professional credentials. Some pursue significance by out performing their peers on the job.  Some seek significance by their home address (or zip code) or by the car they drive or the company they keep. Some seek significance by sharing quite personal and ‘shocking’ information via the various Social Media outlets.

Speaking of Social Media outlets, it seems to me that Social Media — Snap Chat, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. — brings our desire to be known and voyeurism together.  To be sure, some go over board with striving for significance or wanting attention; nonetheless, we like to “look in” while they do.

Perhaps, voyeurism serves our need to be known.  Social media outlets serve our voyeuristic tendencies.  Maybe that’s why these outlets are so addictive for many. The normal human need to be known is normal; what is not normal is the over-the-top ways people seek significance – most of which is unhealthy. Or better, what is not normal is the over-the-top ways people seek attention.

Introduction

Like most Christians (or maybe not), I was taken aback by President Obama’s edict that forces public schools across our country to allow those who self-identify as transgender to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.  Before attempting a response – what does it mean to “self-identify” as transgender?

Self-Identifying

“People who identify as transgender or transsexual are usually people who are born with typical male or female anatomies but feel as though they’ve been born into the “wrong body.” For example, a person who identifies as transgender or transsexual may have typical female anatomy but feel like a male and seek to become male by taking hormones or electing to have sex reassignment surgeries” (see http://www.isna.org/faq/transgender).

How might a Christian respond?

First, we must treat those who self-identify as transgender with dignity and respect as they too are imago Dei bearers (Genesis 1:26-28).  This means among other things to take time to listen to their stories, to show them hospitality, to serve them, to advocate for them, etc. For example, we must teach our kids to stand up to bullies of those who self-identify as transgender.

Second, we dare not abandon those who self-identify as transgender.  The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, if we don’t associate with swindlers, the sexual immoral or those who self-identify as transgender, then “board a space ship” and leave this world.  (Of course, Paul does not say “board a space ship” but you get the point.) This is not the time to retreat, erect walls and throw “condemning grenades” over the wall at these precious people.

Third, we dare not condemn those who self-identify as transgender.  No one has that right except God alone.  Even Jesus did not come to condemn (John 3:16-17). So, to condemn others would be usurping God’s role as final judge.

Fourth, we must know the difference and not be fooled.  Many in the LGBT community are playing the anti-discrimination card. True, we should not deny these dear people the rights and privileges and access to public restrooms as any other American but this is not the same as denying Black Americans their rights and privileges – all of which had the ugly and insidious precursor or precedence of US Slavery.   To equate the discrimination that those who self-identify as transgender face with the discrimination that blacks faced in this country is to be fooled and it sadly makes light of the many beautiful dark skinned imago Dei bearers who died and/or who suffered gross inhumane indignities in and during US Slavery (and Jim Crow).

Fifth (and finally, for now), we must allow businesses – both Christian and non-Christian owned and operated – to struggle with how to accommodate those who self-identify as transgender.  Most public businesses offer a service to the general public and they cannot be partial to one group over another (and this includes schools too).  This is why I believe it is okay for a photographer, who is a Christian, to photograph a wedding between two people of the same sex.  Some Christians would quickly object, “this is condoning a sinful lifestyle.” If we follow that logic, then supporting a restaurant where the owners are not Christians is condoning their non-Christian worldview and accompanying lifestyle.  Many professional athletes are paid exorbitant salaries; when I pay for a ticket to see these athletes in person, then I must be condoning this greed and/or excess.  Jesus invited Himself to a known crook’s home, a crook who became rich from his fraudulent practices; following our logic, then, would suggest that Jesus condoned Zacchaeus’ sinful behavior. To serve others whose lifestyles are in stark contrast to ours is not condoning their lifestyles; rather, to serve others whose lifestyles are in stark contrast to ours is being a conduit of common grace (Matthew 5:43-45).  It appears Christian have forgotten this vital teaching on common grace.

(Note: if the photographer is not okay or his conscience does not permit him to, that’s his prerogative.)

To say that this issue is complex is an understatement; however, God promises to give the Christian believer wisdom and wisdom generously if we simply ask for it (James 1).

My list is by no means exhaustive of course; again, because this is a complex issue and there is not a neat and tidy how-to-list.

Society vs. Biology

There is one matter worth commenting on and one I struggle with: this whole notion of ‘self-identifying’ as male or female. For millennia, one’s gender at birth was determined by one’s biology; it was not a matter of my choosing or my parents choosing.  Even today expectant mothers and daddies want to know the sex of their unborn child.  And technology allows that; this technology can pinpoint the biology, and thus, the gender of the nascent infant in utero.  Most applications for work, etc. still only have two boxes for gender: male or female.  Male and female have been the binary distinctions of the human race since the beginning of time and this binary distinction transcends time and culture. This is because of natural law.  C. S. Lewis refers to this natural law as the “Tao” in his book The Abolition of Man.  In the appendix of the book, he shows how many natural laws regardless of one’s ethnicity or culture (civilized or not), have been recognized for millennia.  How can we, as a society, change what has been “naturally” binding for years and years and years?

To be continued…

During a recent stay at a hotel in the Midwest, I peeked out my window and I noticed a car trunk was open.  (The car was a very nice Black Cadillac). I thought nothing of it and resumed typing again on my laptop computer.  I took a short break and noticed that same car trunk was still open.  So, wanting to be a “good neighbor,” I called down to the front desk to alert someone but the line was busy; I retried calling the front desk after a few minutes but to no avail. Not to be deterred and denied being a good neighbor, I grabbed my plastic hotel door key and took the elevator from the third floor to the lobby to alert the clerk.  When I got to the front desk, there were two African-American men laughing it up with the white male hotel clerk (apparently they knew each other).  I told the clerk about the car trunk being open and because it was cloudy outside this could be trouble if the trunk was not closed.  One of the African-American men quickly said, “we can’t do that anymore.” He spoke in hidden code but I knew exactly what he meant.  This hotel was in a predominantly white area and an affluent area at that.  Translating this hidden code for those who don’t get it, this African-American brother was saying this, “I am not going to take a risk and close the car trunk because of where we are.”  You see he did not want to be seen closing a car trunk to a car that did not belong to him because if anything came up missing…do you get it, I get it.  I painfully get it. It is hard being a ‘good neighbor’ in a racialized society.

Postscript. Someone closed the car trunk and it did not rain.

I like KU Men’s Basketball.  That makes sense as I am a proud alumnus; I graduated from KU in December 1982 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.  Something happened earlier this week involving Brannen Greene in a game between KU and their in state revival, K-State (Kansas State University). Greene dunks the basketball with 2 seconds left in the game. Clearly, this was unsportsman-like and un-classy as the score was already 75 to 59 (Greene’s dunk made the final score 77 to 59 in KU’s favor).  That was a knuckleheaded mistake by a guy who has committed other ill-advised decisions while at KU.  Earlier in the season, Greene was suspended for several games for some offense (I don’t know the details).  Coach Bill Self apologized to the K-State faithful during the post-game interview on behalf of Greene.  Now, that’s a classy move on behalf of Self who has led the Jayhawks to eleven straight Big 12 regular season championships, 2 NCAA Final Four appearances, and the 2008 NCAA championship during his 13 seasons as head coach.

I do not know Bill Self personally – however, I have heard Bill Self speak on several occasions and I have taken a picture with Self. (See picture here: http://tinyurl.com/z4zsujx.). Self seems like a really nice dude. Yet, what was not nice or classy was Self’s comments about Greene during the post-game interview. According to this link, http://deadspin.com/bill-self-calls-out-his-player-for-dick-move-a-dunk-1757049897, Self calls out Greene for making a “dick move” (referring to Greene’s ill-advised, unsportsman-like dunk with 2 seconds remaining in the game). A “dick move” – are you kidding me?!

Sure, Greene is still maturing; however, rules are rules.  And rules are a good thing; otherwise there would be chaos and pandemonium. Self is right to correct Greene as correction facilitates the maturation process.  However, for Self to refer to Greene’s indiscretion as a “dick move” on national TV is immature and unclassy.  We all say things that we regret – because to do so is human. However, should Self offer another apology for his inappropriate comments? Or do people like Self get a pass because of his impressive resume as the KU Basketball Coach? Or maybe because of our moral relativistic culture, maybe what Self said was not objectionable to many? Perhaps, I am the only one with the hang up?

Tamir Rice, a 12 year old little African-American boy, was shot and killed by an overzealous police officer in Ohio.  Rice was playing in the park with a pellet gun but when the officers arrived, protocol apparently was not followed (see http://tinyurl.com/h42y2ud). That is, he was not told to drop his weapon or get on the ground, etc.  Rather, within seconds of arriving on the scene an officer shot Rice in his abdomen. Young Rice, along with his dreams and along with his contributions to our society, died the next day.  The Grand Jury did not indict the overzealous police officer who killed this precious imago dei bearer.  However, I have great hopes for the church in America because after all God has ordained three human institutions for the sake of human flourishing: the human family, the civil government and the church.

As 2016 approaches my hopes for the bride of Christ in the upcoming new year are quite simple: 1) I hope there will be no more deaths like Rice in 2016; 2) I hope that the church in general and the white church in particular will wake up and see incidents like Rice not as a “racial issue but rather as a human issue” as friend and brother, Bryan Berry put it (we all share a common humanity with the likes of Rice); 3) I hope that the church will wake up and lead reform of the criminal justice system and actively, civilly and loudly speak out when injustices occur; and 4) I hope those in the church with privileges – which includes all of us – will use those privileges for the common good or for the sake of human flourishing for all.

Caitlyn Jenner has been named by Barbara Walters as the ‘Most Fascinating Person of 2015.’  Months ago, Ms. Jenner took home the coveted Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPY awards ceremony.  Caityln Jenner was (is?) the famed Olympian Bruce Jenner until her sex/gender change. Jenner has been hailed as a hero in the transgender community. While this was going on, Ms. Rachel Dolezal was parading as an African-American person and had infiltrated the NAACP, a historically black organization.  Remember Rachel? Rachel is white; Caucasian by birth.

Both Dolezal and Jenner underwent a transformation to become something they were originally not.  Dolezal was not born Black; but became Black.  Jenner was born a man; but became a woman.  Dolezal’s transformation was more temporary; Jenner’s transformation is presumably more permanent. Speaking of Dolezal, she has gone into hiding after being vilified and lampooned for being complicit.  I haven’t heard a peep about her or from her since all that stuff hit the fan. Jenner, on the other hand, remains in the public eye and continues to get praise or attention.

Dolezal and Jenner raise a lot of questions in mind: 1) why did Dolezal feel compelled to ‘become Black’ to work at the NAACP – would she not have been hired if she were white? 2) presumably Dolezal did a lot of good for the NAACP as the head of the Spokane Chapter – so didn’t she deserve recognition for that good work – at least as much as Jenner? 3) which person really did the courageous act? and 4) don’t both persons have questionable integrity?

I am confused about our standards in America!

Many Firsts

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues.  Dr. Bernadette Gray-Little is the 17th chancellor of the University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS) and the first African-American female to be at the helm in the university’s nearly 150 years of existence. Yours truly was the first African-American to lead the Francis Schaeffer Institute (FSI) at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO). Yours truly was the first African-American engineer in the printed circuit boards department at then Bendix Aerospace (Kansas City, MO).  Hank Aaron was the first to break Babe Ruth’s homework record (and allegedly he received death threats to discourage him from hitting that historic homerun). President Barack Obama is the first African-American president.  General Colin Powell was the first U.S. Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American female Secretary of State.  Arthur Ashe became the first African-American male champion who won the 1968 U.S. Open, the 1970 Australian Open, and the 1975 Wimbledon championship. (See others at http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmfirsts.html.)

Why is it difficult?

It is difficult for these reasons: 1) many blacks who are first struggle because of hearing repeated messages like the following “you are not good enough” or “you got here because of a favor and not because of your own merit.” Some internal statements worry the “firsts” too like, “can I really be myself”? or “should I ask what something means that seems obvious to the majority culture”? Statements like these – from without and from within – play heavily on the psychic of the first African-American or any person. 2) it is difficult because many African-Americans who are first are forerunners for more African-Americans.  That is, white employers will make decisions to hire other African-Americans based on the performance of the first. So, for many “firsts” the margin of error is fairly small. 3) many “firsts” find it difficult because they do not want to let down all the people that helped get them there. And 4) it is difficult because many of these first African-Americans are ‘in circles’ with protocols, mores, customs, language, written rules and most importantly, unwritten rules that must be learned and translated.

Implications

There are several implications in light of the second paragraph: 1) show the “firsts” some grace and patience; 2) be an interpreter of the not so obvious for the firsts; and 3) don’t be quick to rush to the conclusion that they are not a good fit…they might be a bit nervous and anxious…I certainly was.

[I believe this blog applies not only to the “firsts” in the African-American community but the “firsts” in any culture.  For example, I am certain Sonia Maria Sotomayor, the first Hispanic justice of SCOTUS undoubtedly experiences what African-Americans experience.]

A dear friend, Rob Burns (follow this dude) asked me to chime in on these questions: 1) why do white people misunderstand black rage and 2) what are some practical steps to begin understanding? Here are my thoughts:

  1. The white experience is normative in American society. That is, look at most TV commercials, magazines, and even blank picture frames and what do you see? happy white families and people. Visit many Walgreens or CVS stores and the hair products assume a white customer base. These are the things non-whites notice but whites are fairly oblivious to. And I think ‘white as normative’ is also assumed or subconsciously assumed by white church folks. Because the ‘white life is normative,’ what African-Americans are doing in Ferguson must seem like senseless to many whites because this is not their experience.
  2. A black life in this country is still viewed quite differently than a white life. Two examples will suffice. Scott Turow in his book, “Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty” (2004) states explicitly, that a white life in the criminal justice system is viewed more valuable than a black life. And two, believe it or not, we all make unconscious associations at an instance because of the way we have been socialized in this country – e.g., ‘white is good and black is bad.’ Readers should review the results of the recent Black-White Doll Test. The test was first conducted in the 1940/50s by Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark to study children’s attitudes about race. What is startling is that even black girls and black boys associated the black doll as ugly and the white doll as pretty. Even more troubling is that the test was repeated by Kiri Davis of Manhattan’s Urban Academy in circa 2005 with nearly the same results. I encourage folks to take the Race IAT which “measures our racial attitude on an unconscious level – the immediate, automatic associations that tumble out before we’ve even had time to think.” (See Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink,” pp. 84-85. Find a computerized IAT at www.implicit.harvard.edu and look for the Race IAT).
  3. Going forward I will repeat what I have said before:
    • A. Our minds and our hearts need a major overhaul – I believe if you take the IAT you will see that;
    • B. The church – as a redeemed society – must be leading the way in fighting for social justice, the reformation of institutions, living out Galatians 3:28, and truly acting as their brother’s keeper. Margaret Mead and James Baldwin met for the first time on the evening of August 25, 1970 and engaged in a “Rap on Race.” Baldwin said this, “the salvation of America lies in whether or not it is able to embrace the black face” (“Rap on Race”, p. 77) – so the question is for the church, can it embrace the black face as his or her neighbor?;
    • C. Whites must begin to invite blacks to participate in their significant events – weddings, funerals, picnics, family vacations, etc. and;
    • D. Those with privileges need to ask, “who is not benefiting from this service or institution like I am and ask why?” If person with privileges would investigate the answer to this ‘why’ question, he or she might understand why African-Americans are so cynical, angry and bothered.

As a Christian, I think 3A-3D is what concrete acts in keeping with genuine repentance looks like. (Note: Dr. Anthony Bradley should be credited with 3C).

I live in a predominantly white suburb in Kansas – the “Sunflower State”.  We are fairly new to this neighborhood.  I have met a few of our neighbors.  We have Nebraska Cornhusker lovers to our right; KU Jayhawk lovers to our left (my favorite neighbors thus far). Directly across from our house is an elderly white couple who are grandparents to a handsome, outgoing and athletic bi-racial kid.  One day while mowing my lawn, I noticed this bi-racial little boy and a white little boy playing with a toy guns.  From where I was standing, the toy guns were of the Nerf Tommy, Nerf Zombie and Nerf Sniper variety. They hid behind trees and cars dodging what appeared to be soft tipped rounds. When one depleted his rounds, the other little boy took advantage and rushed and depleted his rounds on the other boy. Watching these little boys playing, instantly sent me down memory lane to my life as a little boy where we played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and ‘Cops and Robbers’ on 60th street (just West of Swope Parkway in Kansas City, MO).  My family nor my friends had the money to buy Nerf guns or anything comparable; rather, we used our imaginations to build forts, to make our ‘make shift prisons’ and to make our own weapons.  We played in what might be considered the city (certainly not the suburbs). Today, I wonder – could me and my friends play ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and ‘Cops and Robbers’ in the old neighborhood? When I am a grandpa will I pass up the aisle in my local Wal-Mart store with the toy guns?  Will I discourage my grandson or granddaughter from playing imaginative games like Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers? Times are really different today.