Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Whose Lives Matter?

Late to the party perhaps, but sometimes late to the party gives you a little more time to think about what you're going to wear (unless the party’s totally over by the time you get there).

I was thinking about the controversy between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter”, and it seems to me that what we have here is not a disagreement, but a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding when Group A says something that is clearly understood from their perspective and their knowledge, and Group B hears it without that assumed perspective and knowledge.

I'm trying to think of a good example here that people might be able to understand, even if it doesn’t come from their own experience, and I’m not coming up with one at the moment, but know that I will the moment I post this.

Anyway, moving on...from their experience of feeling that their lives didn’t matter, the people in Group A came up with “Black Lives Matter”, to say that they indeed do and should matter. However, the people in Group B, who never had that experience and/or were never intimately involved with people who had had those experiences hear that as “Only Black Lives Matter.” It was not an intentional misunderstanding, they simply had no personal context for hearing it the way it was meant.

Moreover, in many ways the Civil Rights Movement has been a little too successful, making many white people think that there’s been more success than there actually is...although there’s been a freaking lot of success just within my lifetime. One of those places where there’s been “too much success” is in the category of getting people to believe that we shouldn’t be looking at race and ethnicity at all. The problem is that the great unfinished work requires that we do so. Not only that, but being totally “colorblind” is like not noticing whether a person is tall or short, skinny or fat, blond or brunette. Those are all still valid descriptors for people, but unless you’re dating, they shouldn’t determine how you deal with them. And for statistical purposes, we do still need to divide people into groups, whether it be by race, ethnicity, religion, eye color or whatever.

But I’m getting away from myself. This “oversuccess”, if I may call it that, is what colors a lot of modern attitudes about Affirmative Action, with questions like “If the goal is to judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, then why are we judging people by the color of their skin?” That is, to my mind, a very naïve question that doesn’t take into account the many disadvantages that people who have been judged by the color of their skin for almost 400 years still work under.

The same can be said about the many white responses to “Black Lives Matter.” Having seemingly bought into the concept of being judged by the content of your character, they hear “Black Lives Matter” as going against that ideal by singling out only one group. They ask “What about red lives? What about yellow lives? And, by the way, what about white lives? Are the rest of us chopped liver? How come you get to be the only one whose lives matter?”

Again, this is a naïve question, because the people who ask it, the people who are offended by it, don’t seem to get that there is a very large number of people out there...with weapons...who don’t seem to think that black lives matter...at all.

But it didn't have to be this way. The problem could’ve been avoided, and we might have gotten greater buy-in, with the help of Bob McAllister, the host of the syndicated kids’ show Wonderama from 1967 to 1977. You see, after he left Wonderama, he briefly hosted another show, called Kids Are People Too. Not Kids Are People, but Kids Are People Too. One word…one little word might have made the difference. Think about “Black Lives Matter…Too.” I think that gets the assumed point from Group A across in a way that’s clear to Group B.

Yes, all lives matter. And that means that black lives matter…too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Girder in Our Own Eye

In the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke, Jesus asks how can you tell your neighbor that they have a speck in their eye, while ignoring the beam in your own?

Excellent question. And so, before I write a piece on how some of the people in the “pro-life” camp “cook the books”, use questionable data, and just out and out lie in order to try to make their case against abortion, I need to take a look at some of the ways that many of us in the “pro-choice” camp have been disingenuous or not quite honest about things in order to promote our side of the issue.

And why have we been this way? Because we’re afraid that ceding any “points” to the other side makes us “traitors to the cause.” Yet, it seems to me that intellectual honesty demands that we admit when the other side has a valid point, especially when we’re going to object when we believe that they’re the ones being dishonest. It seems at times that some of us are the NRA of abortion rights.

The components of your basic steel girder are iron, carbon, and elements such as tungsten, copper, and chromium. So what are the components of the girder that many of us in the “pro-choice” camp have had in our eyes for the past 42 years?

First of all, there are the arguments I heard as a teenager in early 70s, which may still be being used now, on why abortion shouldn’t be such a big deal. You know…the ones that said it’s no different from cutting off a hangnail or removing an appendix. It’s just an unwanted body part, so why make a big fuss over it? Some even went so far as to compare the fetus to a tumor or tapeworm that needs to be removed.

Really? Really?

I’ve never known anyone to agonize over whether or not to remove a hangnail or have their appendix removed…except maybe about the possible pain and discomfort later on. And except for situations where there were complications with the surgery, I’ve never known of anyone to have second thoughts or regret about cutting off that hangnail or having that appendectomy.

And this brings us to the second component of that girder: the denial that some women have regrets afterwards.

Come on now…would it kill us to admit that for some non-trivial number of women this is a major big deal; something that they may not have wanted to go through with in the first place, felt pressured into, and definitely regret having done afterwards? Do we have to minimize the numbers and feelings of those who have had regrets in order to not “cede any points” to the other side, or would maybe being honest about this too, force them to be a little more honest about the things they say?

I mean, maybe many women don’t have any second thoughts or regrets…but maybe many women do. Let’s be honest and admit that.

Number three…ignoring or denying the fact that the easy availability of abortion has brought out some of the worst behavior in us. And no, I’m not talking about the fact that there seem to be so many unwed mothers out there. Heck, that’s good news…it means that we’ve stopped painting those women as pariahs to be shunned and shamed. We’ve embraced them, and their cute little babies in our families…and our churches. And…I haven’t had a chance to check the figures on this, but I suspect that our more charitable treatment of unwed mothers, because of our acceptance of the fact that (shudder) people have sex when they’re not married, has helped the abortion rate go down. I also suspect that it’s helped the abortion rate go down more than any amount of ranting from the other side has done.

No, what I’m talking about is boorish behavior by guys…the guys who got these women pregnant in the first place. As much as I hate the “old days” of shame and coat hangers, back then I think that most guys would reluctantly own up to their responsibility and try to do the right thing one way or the other. Now we hear of stories of guys callously dropping off their girlfriends at the abortion clinic to take care of the “problem that they didn’t want to have to deal with.” Or maybe I overstate the case here…maybe these are the same guys who would’ve pressured their girlfriends to visit that back alley 40-plus years ago.

Finally, there’s that whole “war on women” thing. I don’t know if that’s what we called it back in the 70s, but let’s be honest about it. The people who are against abortion are not trying to wage a war on women. They are trying to save lives. They may be a little overzealous. They may not have great follow through once the kid is actually born, but would it kill us to admit that their intentions might actually be honorable?

Of course it would. Because admitting that might mean that they had a point, and then we’d lose.

The problem is that neither side wants to budge even a millimeter; because they’re afraid that if they give that much, they’ve lost the battle. But the simple fact of the matter is that a compromise absolutely has to happen.

And it can only happen when we both take the girders out of our eyes, and can look at each other clearly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Religion and Culture

Our Muslim friends, if we’re fortunate enough to have them, tell us that many things that we think are the trappings of and problems with Islam are actually the trappings of the surrounding culture; and the culture has influenced how Islam is practiced there. As a result, Asian Islam is very different from Middle Eastern Islam.

The same thing is true of Christianity. A lot of things that we think are part and parcel of Christianity, or even certain denominations, are actually facets of a particular American subculture that wrapped itself around a particular form of Christianity. For all the jokes we may make about Baptists and how they think that anything fun must be sinful, most people don’t know that there are many different varieties of Baptists, and that every congregation is autonomous; so that old worn Baptist stereotype may not be quite true.

In addition, in his book Religious Literacy, author Stephen Prothero tells how in the 18th or 19th century, religion in America went from teaching about theology to trying to “preserve morals.”

The question is, “Whose morals?”

And once again, we go to a few religious stereotypes. On the one hand, I’ve heard that wherever you find four Episcopalians, you’ll find a fifth. On the other, I’ve heard that the best way to prevent your Baptist friend from drinking your beer on a fishing trip is to invite another Baptist to keep an eye on him.

Some of us grew up in denominations that had a very tight rein on what they considered to be moral issues, and could find chapter and verse to cite to support their beliefs. Others of us grew up in (or escaped to) denominations that weren’t quite so controlling, and focused more on how we treated each other than whether we danced, drank (in moderation, of course), or swore.

In many cases, these moral issues were little more than social taboos and the proper behavior for fitting in with the “right sort of people”, and weren’t moral issues at all. Drinking, salty language, and dancing in and of themselves have no moral component to them theologically. They can, however, make some people think that you’re not “the right sort of person.”

If you look at Christianity, you can see that there’s a disagreement between Paul and Jesus on appearances. Paul exhorts the congregation at Thessalonika to avoid even the appearance of sin. Jesus, on the other hand, hung out with sinners on a regular basis. Why the disconnect? Well, I’m no Biblical scholar, but I suspect that Paul was concerned with this new Christian thing looking “respectable” in the eyes of the rest of the Roman empire, and didn’t want any weird rumors going out about them that would lead to them being persecuted any more than they already were.

And that whole avoiding the appearance of sin can cause some very uncharitable behavior as a result. I’m thinking of the story I was told about the couple that was booted out of a Christian college because they got stranded together during a snowstorm, and even though those in charge were pretty sure that there was no hanky-panky, there was the image of the school to protect.

Ah…this is why people think that they don’t like Christians.

But really…is being Christian all about presenting a “perfect image” to the rest of the world? Not in my book. And I’ll tell you, I’d rather be with the Christians who drink, dance, play cards, carouse, swear, talk about sex, and enjoy life, while loving God and their neighbor; than with the “brittle saints” who are afraid to enjoy life because they’re afraid of the impression they’ll give of not being the right kind of person. And yet, I feel sorry for those people who have been so victimized by religion used to enforce cultural taboos, that they can’t truly enjoy life.

With that in mind, there’s an old Jewish saying I love that says that in the world to come, we will be taken to task for all the things we could have enjoyed in this world but refused to.

And I’d like to end with a joke at the expense of some of my Baptist friends:

Q: Why don’t Baptists have sex standing up?

A: It might lead to dancing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Too Close for Comfort

I don’t remember how we got into it, but one of my female friends and I got into an online discussion about why guys don’t talk. Now the fact that we were having this discussion at all puts the lie to the idea that we never talk. We do talk, just not the way that women talk to each other, or want us to talk to them.

I think the question she was asking…on behalf of millions of American women…was why don’t guys talk to their significant others about the important things. You know, the things that might be gnawing at them. Most of us have heard or read about the many ways that men and women communicate differently…both with others of the same sex and across sexes, so I won’t bother going over them again here. Besides, I’m not sure if they explain one important reason why we don’t share certain deeply felt issues with our significant others. At the very least, they don’t explain why I don’t share certain deeply felt issues with my wife.

Sometimes a person can just be too close for comfort.

“What?” I can hear you asking. “How can your significant other be too close to talk to?”

Well, maybe it’s just me, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. On the other hand, I’ve been surprised lately to find out how many things I thought might just be my little idiosyncrasies, were shared by other guys.

As I explained it to this particular female friend, sometimes your significant other can be so close that talking about the problem with her doesn’t make it better at all, but instead creates a “feedback loop” that takes forever to dissipate. If you’ve ever heard feedback through an audio system when the microphone is too close to the speakers, and the sound from one keeps getting picked up by the other, building and building instead of being out and gone, you know what I’m talking about.

There are just some things that are so sensitive to you, and so intensely personal, that you need to talk about to someone who’s not your significant other, who’s not a member of your household; because you need for it to be better by being spoken about or dealt with, and going away. You don’t need it hanging around in the air of your home and your relationship. You need to talk about it, or deal with it with someone you don’t see every single day at home, so that the “sound”, so to speak, has a chance to dissipate before the next time you see them again.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about talking to your significant other about some sensitive issue, and having her continue to “throw it in your face.” What I’m talking about is something totally unintentional that’s just a function of being in that close of a relationship or being in the same household. I’m talking about that person knowing about this deeply-felt issue, you knowing that they know, and not being able to get away from it because you know that they know, and you’re reminded of it every time you see her…which is constantly. This is why I don’t share all of my deepest thoughts and concerns with my wife, but have other friends I talk to about things that she’s too close to talk to about. These are friends I might not see for months at a time, but the fact that I might not see them for that long means that by the time I do see them again, after discussing the issue with them, we’ve both had a chance to let things dissipate.

I understand that some women may feel hurt by this. They may feel hurt by the fact that we won’t or can’t share some of our deepest hurts or concerns with them, but can with someone else. But believe me, for guys like me, it’s not meant to hurt you, it’s meant to help us. That’s how it has to be so that we can process the emotions better and heal any hurts easier.

It keeps our ears from hurting from the feedback.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

About Those Unicorns...

So last week’s entry was titled Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics About Planned Parenthood, and Unicorns. But I ran out of space to talk about the unicorns.

You’ll get them today.

But first there’s something very important I need to say before you get them.

I want you to forget the whole idea of conservatives waging an intentional “war on women” and their right to control their bodies. Even though that’s what it looks like from the other side, that’s not what they’re thinking at all. In fact, they’ll probably tell you that that’s not what they’re thinking.

And they’ll be telling the truth.

You see, what looks to many of us like a “war on women” is really the collateral damage of something that actually is important to them.

Morality. It’s the morality stupid.

Yes, I know that used properly, the term “morality” covers a lot of ground…including how we treat the poor and helpless among us. But for some reason, in popular…conservative…usage, it always gets down to sex. And when it gets down to sex, it gets down to none of it before you’re married. The Sexual Revolution may have happened back in the 60s, but these people are still fighting to have everyone maintain the moral standards of the 50s.

And at least, if people insist on not maintaining those moral standards, they shouldn’t have to help pay for enabling other people’s immorality with their tax money.

That’s what it gets down to. It’s not a war on women, it’s a war for “personal responsibility.” The problem is that women are unintentionally the victims of this war. They want “personal responsibility” for everyone equally, male and female. But it’s not their fault that when two people are being “immoral and irresponsible” only one gets pregnant.

And that’s why even if it didn’t deal with any abortions at all, many of these people would still fight to defund Planned Parenthood. It’s not personal. It’s not a vendetta against women.

It’s the morality, stupid.

And now here come the unicorns.

Aside from being the creatures that are so special that they will only approach a virgin, unicorns have been used as a metaphor for totally unrealistic, idealistic, expectations.

And the people who want to defund Planned Parenthood want their own unicorns.

You see, it’s been well established that the programs and services that Planned Parenthood provides help to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies (thus keeping the number of potential abortions down) and reduce the number of people walking around with STIs. You’d think that everyone would like that. But the social conservatives argue that Planned Parenthood and similar organizations do this the wrong way…by enabling people to act immorally without suffering the consequences.

And to the sexual conservatives, as laudable as they are, reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and STIs are only secondary goals. They’re secondary goals that are best met by focusing on their primary goal…abstinence before marriage.

The sexual conservatives want the unicorn of only teaching abstinence…even though it’s been shown that while abstinence is unarguably successful as a method, abstinence-only programs have an abysmal success rate. They want the unicorn of having everyone remain a virgin until they get married…even if they don’t get married for the first time until they’re 48.

They don’t want Planned Parenthood to be part of the game…with “their money”...because they want the unicorn of getting the results we all want the “right way.” And they don’t wan’t “their money” to enable people to keep behaving “immorally and irresponsibly” without suffering the repercusions.

They’re so focused on the idea of finding and riding that unicorn to the land of fewer unwanted pregnancies and STIs that they’re willing to walk past a whole herd of regular horses that can take them to the same place quickly.

But unicorns don’t exist. After all, if they did, their virgins would’ve been on them by now.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics About Planned Parenthood, and Unicorns

OK, today I want to talk about Planned Parenthood. And I want all of you...supporters, deriders, pro-choicers, and pro-lifers to sit down and listen carefully. Because I’m going to say a lot of things that neither side is going to like, but that is a lot closer to the truth than anyone has really been saying. And it’s a lot closer to the truth because it’s a lot more nuanced than the binary black/white, good/bad, pro-choice/pro-life version we’ve been getting, and have found ourselves forced to choose between.

But before I start, let me get this important piece of information out of the way: I’m pro-choice, but want to see as few abortions as possible. Pro-choice doesn’t mean that I believe that a woman should be able to have an abortion just because it’s Tuesday and she doesn’t feel like being pregnant anymore. It means that I recognize that there are some situations where what the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America calls on page 4 of its Social Statement on Abortion, the “option of last resort” needs to be safely there. I understand that there are some situations where there seems to truly be no good choice, no choice where there’s a clear “win” for either side.

Now, having gotten that out of the way, I’m going to start out with some commonly bandied about statistics, which for the sake of argument here, I’m going to assume are true. The first is that only 3% of the work that Planned Parenthood does is abortion related. Did you hear that? Only 3%. And yet, there are people who act as if that’s all they do and want to have it taken down for that reason. Why is that?

It’s because of the second statistic…which says that Planned Parenthood is the single largest provider of abortions in the United States. Let me repeat that again for emphasis: Planned Parenthood is the single largest provider of abortions in the United States. That doesn’t mean they do 99% of the abortions. It doesn’t even have to mean that they do 51% of them. They could do as little as 5% of the abortions in this country, if the other 95% was distributed among thousands of independent places that each did 0.1% or less. It just makes them the largest single provider.

It’s like this…since someone once called Planned Parenthood “the WalMart of the abortion industry”, let’s take a look at WalMart. They’re all over the place. You can hardly spit without hitting one. As a result, it’s pretty safe to assume that they may be the single largest seller of bicycles in the US. But is that all they sell? Not by a long shot. Is that the only place people go for bicycles. Not even. Do most people go there for bikes, or is that the place that most people go for bikes (two different things)? No and no. In fact, just recently we bought our bikes at Target.

Do you see what I’m getting at here?

So what percentage of abortions does this “single largest provider” perform? I’ve seen figures that say roughly 30%. This means that 70% of the abortions are being done by other people…that just aren’t as easily targeted.

Does everyone understand that it’s possible for all three sets of statistics to be true? Can the pro-lifers in the audience see that the defenders of Planned Parenthood are not being disingenuous when they say that abortion is only 3% of the work they do? Can the pro-choicers in the audience see why pro-lifers see Planned Parenthood as the “low hanging fruit” in their battle against abortion?

Can everyone see that it’s more complicated than the people on the extreme ends of the argument want to make it out to be?

And what about those unicorns?

Well…you’ll have to wait until next week for those.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Whose Privilege?

I remember the first time I heard the term white privilege. It was at a faculty in-service about diversity, back when I was still a teacher. I also remember my reaction when I first heard it:

It was a load of crap, because I was quite certain it was something else.

I had what I thought was a fairly middle-class upbringing. I knew people who had less money than we did and I knew people who had more money than we did. That meant that we were in the middle. We grew up in a two-family house with a dark and dusty cellar that had a coal furnace in it; but I also knew people who lived in single-family houses with finished basements.

We weren’t rich, but we didn’t want for anything, and had nothing to complain about. When we wanted bikes, we got them. When we wanted electric guitars, we got them. There were three TVs in our house: one in the living room, one in my sister’s room, and one in my room. That way we never had to fight over who got to watch what. We knew people who were teachers (a lot of teachers), lawyers, doctors, hairdressers, autoworkers, accountants, carpenters, retired military veterans, and who knows what all else. I had friends with swimming pools in their yards, and friends who had ponies at their birthday parties. There was one set of friends who had a large house out by the lake, and they hosted a cookout every year that brought in old friends from miles around.

All of these people were black. And all of these people instilled in us the idea that we could do anything we wanted…after all, just look at them. Yes, I knew there was prejudice out there, but big deal. These people succeeded, and so could I, if I had the right skills and a little bit of luck.

And because I knew I was middle class, and could succeed at anything I put my mind to, I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone.

But this wasn’t true for everyone.

I had a friend who didn’t feel the same confidence to succeed at whatever they tried at that the people I grew up with did, and who was always afraid of being found out to be “an impostor.” This friend’s family came from a working-class background, and when they made it to the middle class, and moved to the suburbs, it was total culture shock for her. She was always feeling that she wasn’t good enough, that she didn’t fit in, that she had to prove herself to everyone. Ironically, her family had more money than mine did, but she was comparing herself to a different batch of people than I was.

By comparing herself to what Elton John would call “sons of bankers, sons of lawyers,” she felt like she was poor and at a disadvantage to everyone else.

Even though she was white.

The thing was that I felt that I had more advantage than she did because I compared myself to different people. She was comparing herself to what I considered to be rich people…people that I felt it was pointless for me to compare myself to. And yet, because these were the people she grew up around…people with a few more advantages out the gate than she had, she felt that she was at the bottom of the pile. And when you feel that you’re at the bottom of the pile, it doesn’t matter whether or not you really are.

Similarly, when you feel that you’re middle-class, with all the rights and privileges thereunto pertaining, it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, or purple. If you feel it, you own it, have the self-confidence that goes with it, and are able to make things happen for yourself.

Based on how I now see white privilege defined, it’s undeniable that she had it. But no one defined it that way back then. In many very real terms, I did have more privilege than she did. And I did because I saw myself as being solidly middle-class, with no need to worry about what anyone else thought of me.

I had middle-class privilege.

And that’s a priceless thing that many people with so-called white privilege don’t have.