Let’s Stop Bullying (Attention Adults!)

This is my latest column in the Greenville News.  Bullying is at its worse, but most acceptable, when adults use it to intimidate people who disagree with them.

bully-655659_1280

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/10/09/lets-stop-bullying/91666120/

Let’s Stop Bullying

I well remember being bullied on the school bus. Many cold, wet mornings (a large portion of the year in WV, by the way) I found my junior-high self sitting in front of high school juniors and seniors who turned their class rings upside down, then used them to hit lesser life forms on the top of the head in a whipping motion. Turning around in pain and anger, trying to find my assailant, was pointless. ‘What are you looking at?’ they asked. It was a very long ride to school.
To this day, kids are still assaulted and treated badly by other kids. Children and adolescents are called cruel names and belittled by those who have more things or more opportunities. They’re told that if only they’ll wear these clothes, or listen to that music, engage in some sexual act or take that drug, they’ll be accepted. Bullying comes in many forms, it seems. And now we have the added joy of the Internet. No small number of young people have been mortified, emotionally traumatized, considered suicide or actually committed it in response to online slurs and cruelty, or embarrassing photos or video posted online.
These days, adults are supposed to understand, and teach their kids, that no one should be mistreated, harassed, harangued, belittled or besmirched in our hallowed school hallways for any reason at all. But something happens after we leave school. Suddenly, adults believe that bullying is OK as long as it’s about something that’s really, really important, and as long as the people they bully are different from themselves. It seems that in actuality, adults are the worst bullies around.
These days, in order to find bullying one need look no further than any discussion about politics (or frankly, culture, religion, science or almost anything else). I’m simply stunned at the way purported grown-ups with differing opinions can treat one another. Online forums and media comment sections drip with disdain. Those who believe ‘the wrong way’ are instantly labeled ignorant, or irrelevant, and often called names. Sometimes, people even wish death upon others.
In fact, that’s one of the clearest forms of adult bullying I see. ‘Well, if you weren’t so ignorant, you’d understand the truth.’ Even those with no particular knowledge of a topic consider those who disagree to be stupid, plain and simple; it’s a strange kind of ‘pseudo-intellectualism,’ in which the enlightened get to wear the mantle of truth. A truth largely determined by the crowd; not surprising in an era when truth is considered a personal choice like food on a buffet.
This sort of argument is everywhere. And not just in the Wild West of the Internet. Even noted political figures accuse their detractors, saying that they’re uneducated and backward or they’d see the truth.
Adults love to bully, no matter how much they pretend to hate the idea. We see it in its soft form in the recent video of celebrities reminding everyone else not only to vote, but who to vote for. They’re the cool kids. They may not be the smartest but they’re the richest and best; they’re sexy and sarcastic. Don’t you want to be like them? Remember, beautiful, rich, famous people are much better (and insightful) than regular poor people!
Comedians once entertained us with the universal, self-deprecating, slap-stick humor of everyday life. Now they, too, are the cool kids yelling their invective at everyone who dares to have an opinion off the mainstream. Biting and cruel towards those they don’t understand, they represent little more than a shinier, richer form of the old-school bully.
Bullies use words to great effect. Disagree with a candidate? You must be a racist, or a sexist. Disagree with a law? You must be a bigot or a fascist. Believe your God is real? You must be a fundamentalist nut! You don’t want to be a bigot or fascist or a nut, do you? Then just do like everyone else does and you’ll be so cool! There, now doesn’t it feel better to be like the crowd? (Now remember kids, you should always be yourself and follow your own heart. Until it takes you outside the bleating herd, that is.)
Robust dialogue is good for a nation. As in evolution, ideas diverge and produce more good ideas. The future of our freedom demands that we disagree. But bullying is the stuff of brutish children.
So let’s stop it, shall we?

Are Our Candidates ‘Christian’ Enough? Theology And Politics.

Should our Christianity influence our politics?  Apparently only in some situations.  This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Not trying to push for one or the other candidate, so I’m not crazy about the title applied to it.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/08/14/ed-leap-but-seriously-would-jesus-vote-trump/88514404/

I’ve seen a lot of commentary lately that says Christians shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. They tell us that he does not, in any way, behave like a Christian. Some of these observations actually come from Christians and are not without merit. But the majority I have seen have been directed from more secular individuals towards Christians.
Instead of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), the question asked of the faithful seems to be WJVT: ‘Would Jesus Vote Trump?’ And it’s a good question, asked for a bad reason. What bad reason? Manipulation of believers for political ends.
It’s a weird election. I think most of us would like to press the reset button and start all over. But it’s August and these two are the main players in the farce which will raise the curtain on its last act in November. I understand both sides of the argument. In a country sharply divided, Trump and Hillary seem (on the surface) remarkably different. Whether they actually are, we won’t know until later. We’ll have to ‘elect one and see what’s in them,’ to borrow from Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
But I’m troubled by something. The same people who told Christians to take our religion and keep it out of politics (and largely out of public life in general) are now berating Christians who support The Donald because they aren’t properly employing their faith in the realm of politics.

Apparently, Christianity properly applied should be used as a screening tool to decide if a candidate is acceptable based on how closely he or she conforms to the popular notion of ‘Christian’ behavior.
I’m trying to imagine the outcry if, when appointing a Supreme Court Justice, a president opined, ‘I’m really not sure she’s Christian enough for the court.’ There would be no end of shocked citizens, deeply angered by a political decision based on Christianity.
I remember, not very long ago, when Christians applied scripture to the same-sex marriage debate. We were reminded in no uncertain terms that our beliefs had no place in the decision. Ditto for abortion. Christianity, it seems, has no place in policies regarding killing the unborn, and certainly shouldn’t play into decisions about whether or not to provide potentially abortifacient drugs! Take that, Little Sisters of the Poor! Silly Christians, keep your ideas and nutty beliefs to yourselves. This isn’t the year 1000, after all!
That is, unless we’re talking about the current presidential election, which is odd. For the most part, past candidates who were very Christian were also considered very unacceptable in the eyes of the media and the secular world. Candidates, for example, like Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist Preacher or Sen. Rick Santorum, the devout Catholic were far too ‘Christian’ to be considered for the presidency. Even Gov. Mitt Romney, Mormon, was just too ‘Mormon’ despite being a very nice, loving husband and father. Good grief, he was the Republican ‘anti-Trump!’
So by now many Christians have learned their lessons. In a grim political and cultural milieu, they have decided that maybe the loud fellow with the bad attitude, who says what many people are thinking, might just be ‘the guy.’ Besides, I don’t really think that Christians voting for Trump are under the delusion that he is representative of Christianity. They just think he might do things that are a little more in line with their beliefs, a little less likely to threaten their values. He might be ‘a little less bad.’ They know they may be wrong, that it’s a gamble. But those of us believers who know our history also realize that our brethren down the ages have been led by far worse (and far less ‘Christian’ ) leaders than either of the current candidates for Commander in Chief. And some of them were quite good for Christians in the end.
I’m not trying to convince anyone to vote for any candidate. Please, vote your conscience. But we should all try to have charity towards those on the other side, who support candidates for reasons probably more nuanced than we believe. (It’s much easier to call our enemies stupid than attribute any intelligent motives to their behaviors.)
And while I believe those who want religion to stay out of politics are ultimately unrealistic, they should at least be consistent. It’s terribly unfair to tell Christians to leave their faith outside the ballot box, but then condemn them for actually doing so.

Appalachia Deserves Our Respect (And Already Has My Love)

This is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Happy Birthday West Virginia!  June 20,1863.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/06/19/ed-leap-appalachia-deserves-our-respect/85974188/

 

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Tomorrow is June 20th, a special day in the hearts of my people; West Virginians. On June 20th, 1863, West Virginia entered the Union in the midst of a bloody struggle for the soul of the young nation. It was, prior to that, the sparsely populated, wilderness-filled backwater of the elegant, beloved Virginia, soul of the South. After June 20th, however, it was…well, a sparsely populated, wilderness-filled backwater all its own. But a free state that rejected slavery!
Those who live in South Carolina are generally well acquainted with my fellow West Virginians. I have a theory that West Virginians share a gene which, at various times of their lives, causes them to have an irresistible urge to drive to South Carolina’s coast. In fact, when the mines close down for two weeks every summer, untold numbers of miners and their families head to Myrtle Beach, which has been affectionately dubbed ‘the coal miner’s Riviera.’ Some of my earliest vacation memories are of the Grand Strand. My wife Jan, a true ‘coal-miner’s daughter’ has similar memories.
If you doubt the connection between SC and WV, I have a vignette: my brother-in-law Dave worked in the WV coal mines as a young man out of high school. His early cell-phone plan included, as local calls, Huntington and Charleston, WV and (you got it!) Myrtle Beach, SC.
I write about this today because West Virginia is in the heart of Appalachia, which stretches from Southern New York all the way to Northern Mississippi (passing through the Upstate of South Carolina). Appalachia is defined as a ‘cultural region,’ and indeed it is.
More to the point, I write this because Appalachia is struggling. Although poverty has improved over the decades, Appalachia as a whole still faces financial woes, much of it made worse by those who are all too anxious to kill coal, but provide no other employment options for those terminated as part of an environmental purge. As if the ‘coal industry’ is only some vast robotic behemoth, and does not represent the hopes and dreams, and often the only financial possibility, for an entire ‘cultural region’ of America.
Appalachia is also struggling with rampant drug addiction and broken by the many funerals, ruined lives and crimes that widespread addiction brings in its wake. From pill-mills dispensing oxycontin to meth labs and imported heroin, the toll in lost lives and lost hope is crushing.
When Jan and I have traveled home over the years, deeper and deeper into Appalachia, up Highway 23 through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky and then home, it’s easy to see a place of magnificent beauty, resilient people and serious, inexpressible hopelessness. I never know if the drug abuse is the cause of the loss of hope, or the result of it. Cart, horse. It’s all tragic.
Sadly enough, America frequently just isn’t interested. Appalachian people are still acceptable sources of scorn for much of urban, coastal America. They’re live in ‘flyover country.’ Trailer-trash, hicks, rednecks. People who ‘cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,’ to quote a well-known political figure. When a culture is endlessly mocked and derided, its people get the message loud and clear. Don’t try. It doesn’t matter.
But this June 20th I’d like to speak for my ancestors, and the forebears of so many, who settled in the Mountains of WV and other portions of Appalachia after leaving the press and stagnation of Europe. I’d like to speak for those who still live there, and who find solace and connection in the ghosts of their ancestors, the starkness of the mountains and valleys, in the life, faith, culture and music of the cities and towns. Like me, they stay there because in Appalachia, the past and the present are difficult but inextricable.
And if nostalgia isn’t enough, let us remember Appalachian people keep the lights (and i-Pads, DVR’s and electric cars) on by mining coal. They also provide timber and produce, work in important industries and share their region for the recreation of any and all. All too many have also shed their blood in America’s many wars, and continue to boldly, proudly ‘stand on the wall’ around the world.
America loves to talk about its multiculturalism. And one of its greatest cultures is firmly entrenched, despite its pains and struggles, in the vast region we call Appalachia. It deserves our respect.

After Graduation, Love the Kids. Just Don’t Worship Them

Sam and Tyler K5 graduationhttp://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/05/22/ed-leap-after-graduation-love-your-kids/84556782/

Graduation is upon us once more. All across the area high, schools, trade schools and colleges are releasing their eager, bright eyed students into the the next phase of their lives. My wife and I have graduated several times, and have graduated two sons. It’s an emotional, beautiful time when Pomp and Circumstance turns moms into weeping messes of mascara and tissue, and dads into great, red-eyed lumps who choke back tears and say muffled things like ‘I…I’m fo prd ov you. I lvvv you,’ sniff, sniff.

The kids are emotional but boy, are they ready. They toss those hats into the air (as parents try to grab them as keepsakes) and they head off to jobs, or to parties or sometimes to pre-loaded cars headed off for the beach. Some go to their own weddings and some go to basic training, or their first overseas deployment with the armed forces. Big stuff all around.
But as I thought about the whole process I realized that one of the great dangers of a successful society (and by any measure of the world at large or history ours qualifies), is that we are capable of investing all of our worth as parents into the activities and successes of our offspring who are now springing off on their own.

As such, we forget something very fundamental. Once the kids grow up, they can largely do what they want. Just like most of us did. But what does that mean exactly?

Well, first of all those graduates with all of their dreams, like ’I want to do forensics,’ ‘I want to be a marine biologist,’ ‘I want to be attorney general,’ etc. may or may not do those things. Their dreams are useful guiding stars at first, but most of them will change course for a variety of reasons. Thus, I am not a full-time magazine journalist as I originally intended. Nor an Air Force navigator…probably good given my tendency to get lost.

We love to brag about what our kids will do. I certainly do. They are hints of the future, and sometimes we believe their successes will somehow atone for our own shortcomings, our own failed dreams. But it’s important to step back on occasion and realize that the future may look very different from what they, and I, and all of us, think it will be for them.

Second, they may decide that the educational path we hoped for them to follow isn’t right. These days, many college majors are a poor economic bet compared to heating and air or welding. My professional friends in medicine and law are particularly stricken by this. When one says to another, ‘Tim dropped out of USC. He’s decided he wants to be a contractor,’ there’s an almost palpable tension and a pat on the shoulder. ‘Well, he may go back to school later.’ Or he may be a wildly successful contractor. Or he may just like building things more than thinking about things that don’t interest him. Who knew?

Third, they will love and marry people we didn’t expect. Just like we did. We can have all kinds of plans for betrothal and hopes that they’ll find this girl or that guy. But in the end, as Pascal said, ’the heart has reasons of which reason knows not.’

And now the hardest, dear weeping parents, and many of you know this. They will make their own mistakes. They will lose jobs and ruin relationships. They will set themselves back. They will violate, sometimes, the law of man and often the law of God. This is called being human. For Christians, it’s tough realizing your kid is a sinner too. (In the secular, world, the equivalent might be realizing your liberal family raised a Republican and you have to love them anyway. Cheer up! Prodigals do return!)
Allow me to review: the kids will study what they want, work at what they want, love whomever they want and make big mistakes. The best we can do is show the grace and love throughout all of it.

But to love them well, we have to take them off the altar. Our worth as humans cannot be wrapped up in our children. That’s a terrifying and overwhelming idolatry and it holds them to far too high a standard.

So as they get those certificates and diplomas, remember they’re humans. Hope and fear, success and struggle in dynamic tension.

And love them.

 

We should value each other more than politics

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/02/26/value-each-other-more-than-politics/80922306/

Allow me to spin tangentially off of politics for a bit, if you don’t mind. (I promise to bring it back around.) After all, I suspect even the most passionate political advocate would welcome some news coverage of an alien invasion or a cat that speaks French, or anything just to take our minds off of the endless drone of political conversation. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in the classic movie, Groundhog Day. ‘There’s no way… this winter (or election)…is ever going to end.’
Instead, I want to talk about perspective. Many readers and friends will recall that five short years ago my wife Jan had a metastatic throat cancer. She endured some pretty miserable radiation and chemotherapy. After that she had a large pulmonary embolus (blood clot in the lung) which put her into intensive care and scared us all.
Over time she recuperated fully and our family went back to life as before, but with some incredible perspectives on the value of life, love, health and the inevitable passage of time. She recently had her last oncology visit and was released. Like a cat tip-toeing on wet grass, the years crept up on us and the thing we hoped and prayed for arrived at last, with less fanfare and perhaps more joy than ever. This year we celebrate her 13th birthday, on February 29th, seeing her as the treasure she is.
The great insight here is that all of our battles, won or lost, illustrate an often neglected fact. Which is that however much we may care about elections or economies or all the rest, the real joy and pain of life circles around that person, or those persons, we love the very most. And anything that makes life better for them, or us, probably won’t come from any elected official of any party but will mostly be the fruit of individual effort (and insight) motivated by intimacy and love.
Indeed, those who govern us have their effects, but hour to hour, day to day, year to year, they remain (quite expectedly) unfamiliar with the unique issues of the many and varied lives of their citizens. We, who love one another year to year, hour to hour, day to day, are best suited to improve the lives of our friends and family members, simply by holding them close in life’s assaults.
Happily, this election too, shall pass. Winners and losers will rise and fall, switch places and mostly end up as impotent to steer the ship of state as all those before them. Scandals will strike, accusations fly, a few good things will result and standard political doldrums will likely set in as always. The political pendulum will pause and swing back and forth as it has for ages, with utter disregard for our messianic political prophecies.
The future will come however we fret about the present. In the end, we will (hopefully) leave behind all of our invective, our screaming, our memes, rallies, slogans and our absolute conviction that a particular candidate will end or miraculously transform life as we know it. We’ll simply move on, as all humans do, to new idols. We’ll then cast the current objects of veneration on the dust-bin of history.
Perhaps, if we are attentive, we’ll then see that the things we dread about the future rarely come to pass at all and suddenly, five years, or ten, will pass and we will still be here, expecting the worst. All the while, of course, living in what is possibly the best time to be human in the history of the world. Many of the things that seemed so immediately critical will probably fade and many of the things that really mattered will remain despite the way we ignored their value. Then we can move forward…till the next election!
Ah, but those we love! Their troubles and victories will remain. Our shared joys and struggles will go on, bonding us together as no election ever could, motivating us far more than any party. They are the arena, they are the causes and campaigns where we make the most difference. They the ‘candidates’ who need and deserve our endless, unwavering devotion and sacrifice.
In our deep need to follow, let’s never forget to follow most closely the ones entrusted to us in the daily trials and wonders of ordinary life.

 

We can’t go it alone; a lesson for an election year.

One of my Christmas gifts was a book by Lewis Dartnell titled ‘The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm.’ The goal of this book is to serve as a kind of basic repository of the things humans would need to know if society came crashing down and we had to rebuild our civilization and our technology.

I love knowing how things work. I think I would have enjoyed taking engineering classes; except for the fact that I’m intellectually stuck somewhere around Algebra I. I’m fascinated by electricity and airplanes, by bulldozers and cell-phones and all the amazing things humans have made.

Since I’m a physician, I often think about how little I could do without all of the wonderful things that science and industry produce for me to use. Something we take so for granted, like Penicillin, was discovered, developed, produced safely in mass quantities and distributed in ways that made (and continue make) life better for literally billions. And that’s just scratching the bare surface. Medicine is wonderful because we have drugs, devices and procedures to make it so. If those things suddenly went away, the world would be a darker, sadder place.

Dartnell makes the point that for a while after the collapse of society, we’d still have lots of ‘stuff,’ and might be able to live comfortably on the remains of the world that unraveled before us. But in time, we would have to start making things, growing food, developing ways to manage clean water and sewage. We would want electricity, we would need transportation and machinery, unless we simply wanted to revert to a kind of primitive existence. That sort of ‘noble savage’ life always sounds fun until you go camping with small children for a week, after which you’d give a kidney for a hot shower.

What really got me, though, was the way the author pointed out that most of us, as individuals, can’t make much of anything even now! Granted, some are better than others, and doubtless there are those amazing people who can make a gas engine from an erector set and toilet paper roll. But on the whole, we can’t and we don’t.

If you doubt me, look around your house and ask how you would make a new refrigerator, how you would repair broken furniture, how you would get water if the supply stopped, and how you would heat your home on a cold night. Then, ask yourself how you would manage to make toilet paper, where you would get fresh vegetables and if you could, or would, be willing to kill an animal to eat.

Currently, someone does those things for you, for me. I am humbled to realize that we are so profoundly interdependent. We need each other far more than we realize, or admit. The man who built my house needs my expertise on medical care, and I don’t know anything about construction or carpentry. My children need professors who know things I can’t begin to understand, and those professors need mechanics to work on their cars. And good heavens, do we ever need farmers to grow our food and truck drivers, train engineers and pilots to deliver goods! The farmer needs the researcher to tell him how to get a higher yield. And just how do those guys work on electric lines in the dark stormy nights to return our power to us? We all need them, as we need those who produce the electricity they help deliver.

We all need bankers and investment specialists to manage money in a complex market and they, in turn, need firefighters, paramedics and police officers to keep them safe. We all need our soldiers to keep us secure, and they have little time to do much of anything else and need us too.

The list is almost endless. And in an election year, this is really important. Because we divide ourselves during elections. We point fingers and call names. I do it, and so do many others. But perhaps the most important thing we can do is remember our tightly woven, almost biological links to one another. America is a living organism that needs all of its parts to work together. Party affiliations aside, ideology aside, a thriving society requires connection like a body needs nerves and blood.

Perhaps the best leaders are those who recognize that for all of our frustration and animosity, none of us can go it alone.

Don’t Freak Out! Be Calm in 2016…

Here is my column in this week’s Greenville News.  Enjoy!  (And call your grandparents…they love you.)

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/10/dont-freak-out-calm-2016/78362386/

A common theme in the emergency department is this one: ‘Doc, I freaked out and came straight to the ER!’ I wish I knew how many times someone has said something similar to me. ‘The baby had a fever so I freaked out.’ ‘I fell and got a big bruise and I was afraid I had a blood clot so I freaked out.’ ‘I saw a spider on my leg and I freaked out so here I am!’

I’ve wondered about this for a while now. I have a theory. I believe that some of the freaking out that leads people to the ER results from the absence of sufficient grandmothers and grandfathers. It isn’t that those dear folks aren’t out there doing their best. It’s that families are often mobile or broken, disconnected from all roots. So the collective calm and wisdom of the ages, often found in grandparents, is often difficult to obtain.

I remember any number of my childhood injuries consoled, bandaged and painted with Merthiolate by my grandmothers. What I don’t remember is anyone freaking out. Not even when I nearly impaled my foot on a makeshift spear whittled from a broom handle.

In addition to ‘the grandparent’ issue, we really don’t do a good job of teaching young people about sickness, injury or even health outside of birth-control; even though life involves far more than reproduction.

The medical world of freaking out, however, is a microcosm of a greater problem. We seem to be a nation that ‘freaks out.’ We freak out over weather, politics, culture, relationships, celebrities and whether or not our own social media posts or pictures are getting enough traction. We freak out when life is difficult and we freak out when we’re bored because life is so good. And when we freak out, we go looking for someone to keep us calm, cover our wounds and give us hope.

Maybe we freak out simply because we watch too much television, where every medical event is a screaming, chaotic blood-fest. Or it could be that we spend too much time on the Internet, where every insect bite is deadly and every bit of swelling is (of course) the sure-path to cancer. Sometimes we freak out because of what we put in our minds. A patient once told me, in tears, that he thought about death all day. It turns out his television viewing exclusively involved shows about murder.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s more than being educated (by school or grandma) about all the the things which should make us ‘freak out’ or not. Maybe it’s a matter of how to deal with anxiety and uncertainty in general. I have observed over the years that children from chaotic home-lives are much more anxious when we have to stitch their wounds, start IV’s, give them injections or any other stressful, frightening procedure. Those who come from homes filled with consistency and calm can often be managed with simple reassurance. It could be that calm was the most important salve applied by grandmothers.

I believe in preparing for crises. I became a physician in large part because I didn’t want to be powerless in the face of medical emergencies. I say we teach young people as much as we can to prepare them for life’s troubles, whether they involve open wounds or flat tires. Knowledge is power, as they say.

But I believe we can help the ‘freak out’ crisis with two other things. The first is by keeping families connected and involved, so that the young can see how adults handle stress. It’s important to model this for our kids, well into their 20s.

The second, however, is a little harder. I believe that everyone needs a belief system to bear them through hard times. As modern, technological and scientific as we have become, we have yet to escape our deep need for hope and meaning, for transcendence in the face of trouble. And yep, I’ll say it; for a God who will calm the storm or calm us in the storm and be waiting on the other side of it, in this life or the next.

Life is hard and scary. But there’s way too much freaking out. And with the right application of grandma, knowledge and God above, maybe we can spend 2016 with just a little less freaking out and a little more hope.

 

A Fresh New Fundamentalism Threatens America

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News. 

 

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/09/11/ed-leap-face-new-threat-country/72078692/

 

If you haven’t heard the name Kim Davis lately, you’ve either been in a coma or stranded on a deserted island. If either applies to you, she is a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex (and straight) couples because of a faith-based stance against same-sex marriage. She was subsequently ordered to do so by a judge, continued to refuse, was jailed for contempt of court and then released.

She has become, in the eyes of many, the great Satan of American Christian conservatism. Unimaginable numbers of news stories, blog posts, panel discussions, op-eds, Facebook and Twitter posts and all the rest have been devoted to her. The majority of what I’ve seen are well-crafted to highlight the way in which she is a hypocritical Christian (who has been divorced more than once and has children by more than one father). Furthermore, photos of Ms. Davis are not flattering. She is, to cultural progressives, the perfect bedtime monster. She is seen as an overweight, unattractive, fundamentalist Christian hillbilly who dares to stand against both the courts and popular cultural opinion (emphasis on the second) on the issue of same-sex marriage. In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to hate, and fear, her.

For the record, as the reader prepares an angry invective against me, I believe that Ms. Davis should have accepted the judge’s accommodation to remove her name from marriage licenses, or she should have resigned. Accommodations are compromises at the intersection of religious belief and work. Still, the law is the law and whether she agreed or not, she should have obeyed it. Render unto Caesar and all that.

Except, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, sanctuary cities like San Francisco have officials who, on moral grounds, refuse to enforce federal immigration law. Four states have legalized recreational marijuana; thus, their state politicians simply choose to ignore federal drug laws. Anti-war protestors in the 60’s, civil rights activists in the South, radical environmental groups, all stood (or stand) against the codified laws of the time on moral (if not religious) grounds. In fact, there was a time when the granting of marriage licenses to same sex couples in California was illegal. It still happened. The furor over this issue, in light of other, more ‘acceptable’ instances of defiance, is a hypocrisy far more stunning than that of divorcee Kim Davis’ chaotic personal life.

Because of Ms. Davis, our country has again been warned of the incredible dangers of letting religion into politics. We are told that we can’t have people using government position or authority to force people to embrace a set of beliefs. Why, just think about the Christians of history and all of their cruelty towards non-believers! How horrible! Wait, that seems odd. Kim Davis was imprisoned for a belief. But remember, she’s a hick who deserves to be taught a lesson! I mean, just look at the pictures!

The most striking thing about this entire issue, and the cases of bakers and photographers declining to do same-sex weddings, etc., is that America, taught to be deathly afraid of people imposing their beliefs on others is now all about forcing beliefs on certain people. Comply, in public life and private, or be fined, jailed or asked to the door. Brendan Eich, developer of JavaScript and (among other things) Chief Technical officer and CEO of Mozilla, was forced to resign over a $1000 donation he gave, in 2008, to the California’s Proposition 8 pro-traditional marriage initiative. The Denver City Council may well refuse to allow Chic-Fil-A in the Denver International Airport because the company’s owners are opposed to same-sex marriage. The list goes on.

In truth, I’m much less worried about who marries who than I am about the religious and free speech implications that come along with same-sex marriage. And I’m far less concerned about Kim Davis being jailed than I am about the giddy delight expressed nationally by US citizens who want to see people punished for having the wrong beliefs.

Anyone who thinks this behavior isn’t the same as ‘forcing your beliefs down someone’s throat’ is simply choosing a new, shiny, post-modern fundamentalism. And First Amendment or not, it’s a dangerous and remarkably hypocritical way to run a country.

Human Trafficking; Closer Than You Think

This is my column in this month’s SC Baptist Courier.  If you have a subscription, here’s the link.

https://baptistcourier.com/2015/09/wholly-healthy-human-trafficking-closer-than-you-think/

One of the wonderful things about medicine is the insight it gives us into humanity on a daily basis. After sufficient time, a physician learns to see, simply in passing, signs of illness or injury in other people. Problems past or present jump out to our eyes. And in fact, as Christians we should develop similar skills out of love. Given that the church is called to be salt and light to the world, it makes sense for us to also serve as scouts, as ‘life-guards.’ As such, we should be constantly on the lookout for the oppressed, the suffering, those subject to cruelty and tyranny, violence and harm.

Unfortunately, in modern times one of the things we should be watching for is evidence of human trafficking. Tragically, all around the world human beings are bought and sold in enormous numbers as victims of such horrors. They are sold as sex slaves (forced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation), as wage slaves (never making enough money to deliver themselves from unfair labor practices and contracts) and into frank slavery in everything from farms and factories to restaurants.

While victims of trafficking may not attend a worship service, there are other places where Christians interact with the public and where we might be able to identify, and report, those in distress. For instance, they might come to our food-banks or other church-related services like children’s festivals or community-wide parties. We might see them putting children onto a VBS bus, or simply observe them in the secular businesses where we work each week.

We can help identify these persons, and alert authorities, by knowing warning signs of human trafficking. The FBI offers a number of identifying characteristics (see also the link below): those who are victims may have no ID or money or documents. We may observe that they are closely watched and are highly controlled by others. It may be evident that they live in terrible living conditions and have poor clothing and nutrition. Furthermore, those who are victims of trafficking may report that they move frequently; or more likely be very evasive about any interaction. We should also be attentive to places where humans are behind locks and fences, or where persons have very long work hours and very little income. These same individuals may suffer wounds from abuse, work related injuries, or other illnesses for which they are not allowed to seek adequate care.

In fact, human trafficking is a problem of exploding proportions, and a business that is worth an estimated $150 billion per year worldwide which currently enslaves some 20 million humans of all ages. While in America, it typically involves foreign citizens trafficked into the US, the fact remains that about 33% of victims are US citizens. The great tragedy of human trafficking is that it preys almost exclusively on the most vulnerable of all citizens: the poor, the alien, the uneducated or undereducated, the weak, the young, substance abusers and those with mental illness. As Christians, this aspect should be particularly galling to us all.

And it should prompt us to learn how to diagnose this disease of humanity so that it can be identified, dealt with and ended.

https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/human_trafficking

http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang–en/index.htm

The dangers of a culture of feelings. (My latest Greenville News column.)

Bruce Jenner and the cultural peril of ‘feelings.’

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/07/18/ed-leap-danger-culture-feelings/30303603/

One of the great things about Christianity is that Christians like myself are endlessly challenged. In this modern, ever skeptical world, Christians truly have to ‘sink or swim.’ While some believers are troubled or offended by this, I say it is a gift. And I would point out that Jesus spent much of his life on earth teaching people who wouldn’t simply accept his words without question. I get the feeling he enjoyed the discussions.

The days of defending our faith to non-believers by saying ‘well, it’s true because the Bible says so,’ are long past. If they ever existed at all, that is. Those of us who believe might abide by that rule, but others aren’t so constrained. And they expect, and deserve, more from us than platitudes.

This makes us better, I think. It forces Christians to confront our own beliefs, facts, fallacies, biases, hopes, joys and failings. We don’t get a pass in popular culture, national media or academia. We have to understand history, archeology, language, ethics and all the rest in an endless attempt to try to demonstrate the truth and relevance of what we hold true to those who are unconvinced. And, by the nature of our faith, we are supposed to do it all in love. We are to love God, love man and love even those who press against us, challenging us at every turn. This is how we are to confirm, and spread, our beliefs. Not by theocratic fiat.

This is so true that I would offer a gentle warning to those in colleges, universities and even the media who try to shield their students or audiences from ideas that conflict with their own. These days the ‘trigger warnings’ on content in media, books or classroom dialogue, the banning of contentious speakers (usually from the political right) serve to offer a soft downy nest for minds young and old. But minds (like bodies) have never grown stronger by comfort, only by challenge. If you want people to have incisive minds, it is better for them to be questioned rather than coddled.

But now, perhaps, we Christians have an opportunity to simply take it easy. Because the rules for truth claims seem to have taken a downward turn. The evidence for this is Bruce, aka Caitlyn Jenner. You see, in our evolving culture, ‘facts’ are considered oppressive things. Feelings, however, are inviolable. So when former male Olympian Bruce Jenner feels like a woman, or ‘identifies’ as a woman, that’s all it takes. Suddenly, she/he is a icon of feminine glamor, splashed across magazine covers and welcomed to womanhood by no less than the President of the United States. And anyone who denies him/her is simply on ‘the wrong side of history,’ whatever that ridiculous phrase means.

The greater implications are that everyone must be accepted and embraced based on what they think, or feel, inside. As such, a suicidal person who says ‘I’m not good, I should die,’ must be speaking the truth. A racist of any stripe who sees herself or himself as fundamentally superior must have a unique inner perspective worthy of our respect. And by extension, the young woman with anorexia, who believes she is obese, cannot be denied. All truth emanates from one’s own mind.

By extension, then, who can tell me that God does not dwell in my heart? That my motivations for morality, however I live them out, are false? Who could now scoff when someone says, ‘God speaks to me every day?’ Or even, ‘catering that wedding will violate my inner conscience?’

In this evolving intellectual climate, no one can do so. My beliefs, our beliefs as Christians, suddenly take on a protected status, not subject to denial, whether they concern abortion, homosexuality or any other hot-button cultural issue. If that’s the ‘lay of the land,’ we would be mad not to use this to our advantage. It is, after all, a supporting premise of modernism. Perhaps we’ll end up in a cultural maelstrom in which feelings superseded all tradition, legislation or litigation, with a federal Dept. of Feelings to arbitrate it all.

However, I sure hope not. Because I’d prefer the give and take of genuine inquiry, the tough question, the freedom to argue and the liberty to boldly disagree, to the mental mush that would result from shielding and ensconcing the whims of every individual’s subjective perceptions.

At least, I feel like I would!