Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Hand of God?

I was slowly catching up on reading my old magazines, something much more easily done now that many of them are available online, and I can read them on my iPad, when I stumbled across an article in one of my religious magazines about the fight to prevent the execution of Kelly Gissendaner for her role in the murder of her husband in 1997.

OK, let me say it now and get it out of the way…I’m no fan of the death penalty, but not for the “touchy feely” reasons you might think. I’m against it for two reasons. First of all, mistakes get made. A photo of a man who was a dead ringer for me, right down to his eyeglass frames and the shirt he was wearing, being arrested for dealing drugs in Washington DC in a late 80s issue of Newsweek made it apparent how easily a case of mistaken identity could happen. But there’s also the case of flawed evidence, and mistaken assumptions. Sometimes the state of the art of science, and what we think we know at the time, can lead us to find the wrong person guilty. And if we execute that person, we’ve made a mistake that can’t be corrected or made up for.

Second, I just can’t imagine anyone wanting the job of being the executioner. Now, from what I’ve heard, I know that they try to set it up so that more than one person is involved in the execution, and there’s some doubt as to who actually did the deed, but still…I can’t imagine having to live with that…especially if it’s discovered later that “mistakes were made.”

Oh wait…there’s a third reason. The unfairness and unevenness with which the death penalty is administered. Some populations are sentenced to it statistically more than others. But that’s an issue for another time.

Frankly, if we are to have a death penalty, I’d much prefer for it to be a “smoking gun” death penalty. By that I mean, we have to have clear video of you committing the murder, or there has to have been a crowd of people nearby who saw you, chased you down, and caught you. There can’t be any of this “reasonable doubt” stuff. It has to be absolutely certain that you did it. That’s a death penalty I could live with. Otherwise, you get life in prison.

But enough about that. Let me return to Kelly Gissendaner.

The article talked about the many appeals to spare her life, especially after she converted to Christianity, turned her life around, and completed a Theology degree through a program offered by Emory University. It talked about how one of the many postponements of her execution clearly showed “the hand of God” at work.

And this is where they lost me.

I’m not a hard-hearted person. I’m not an “eye for an eye” person…at least not in the incorrect way that most people interpret it. But I had to ask, “Where was the ‘hand of God’ when Douglas Gissendaner was being murdered?” Why did God suddenly decide to “show his hand” in procedural delays in order to further the appeals process for Kelly, and spare her life?

I also had to ask, and have asked before in similar cases, “If you’ve become a Christian and have turned your life around, why are you asking for special treatment?” I especially ask this of someone who has completed a Theology degree, and should understand this better than the average person in the pew. If Jesus went, uncomplaining to his death when he was totally guiltless, why are you filing appeal after appeal (or allowing your lawyers to do so) to prevent you from dying for something you’ve admitted to being guilty of?

It just doesn’t work for me. And it especially doesn’t work for me after finding out that she studied Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

So what finally happened? Was her sentence commuted? Was she granted clemency? Did an appeal from Pope Francis save her life?

At the time that the article was written, it was unclear how the story would end, and I wouldn’t find out until the next issue…a true cliffhanger.

But no matter how it ended, I still have problems with the idea of seeing “the hand of God” in the process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Microaggression and Nuts – Part 2

Previously…I ranted a bit about microaggressions and how everyone seems to be getting on the microaggression bandwagon. I gave the example of asking about a person’s ethnic background as one thing that many people consider to be a microaggression. I also mentioned that nuts had a lot to do with this.

This week I’ll try to tie up all those loose ends.

First let’s go back to the issue of where you’re “from.”

Let’s say that the asker gets the form of the question correct, and asks where are your ancestors from, rather than where you’re from. It turns out that nowadays it’s not polite to ask about a person’s ancestry…or at least not to start out the conversation with it. That’s because that automatically pegs the other person as an “other.” And pegging someone as an “other” is a microaggression.

I don’t quite buy that…nor do millions of other people my age. There was a time when we all talked about what we were and where we were from…I mean where our families originated. This didn’t make anyone into an “other” but just another one of 57 varieties around us. And knowing what variety you were made it more interesting. And finding out that someone else had the same ancestry as you, and that their grandparents did the same strange things, made you feel not quite so strange. Similarly, finding out the "unusual" traditions of some of your friends' families was very cool.

But now we’re told that because some people are offended by this, because some people perceive this as a microaggression, we can’t ask this question at all…at least not in the very beginning.

This is where I think some people are being just a little bit too sensitive…and this is also where the nuts come in.

No, not the crazies (although sometimes some people on the microaggression bandwagon strike me as being a little so); I’m talking about actual botanical nuts.

Like the kind my daughter is allergic to.

Her allergy to certain nuts means that she is sensitive to them. In fact, I might say that she’s overly sensitive to them. And saying that is not a value judgment on her. Her body just goes into overdrive trying to fight off what it thinks is an attacker, and ends up trying to kill her instead.

I think about my daughter’s allergy because many people I’ve run into who have an issue that’s their particular microaggression seem to want to make the world safe from anyone having to deal with that issue…they want to start from a position of assuming that everyone has that issue, even though 99% of the population may not have a problem with it. In fact, I might say that some of these people are macroaggressive about microaggressions. To me, it’s as if I wanted to make the entire world safe for people for whom nuts are kryptonite.

However, I realize that I can’t rid the world of nuts…nor should I try to. My daughter is one of a very small number of people for whom certain nuts are kryptonite, and for the most part it’s our issue to deal with. We won’t prevent anyone else from having all the nuts they want, but it’s her responsibility to keep away from certain foods.

Looking at certain members of the microaggression crowd as being like my nut-sensitive daughter allows me to say that they’re sensitive about, or even overly sensitive about, a certain issue without it coming off as a value judgment. It’s just a statement of fact. My daughter’s body is overly sensitive to nuts and Chris is overly sensitive about gender pronouns.

The difference, however, lies in what they each think the rest of the world should do about their particular sensitivities.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Microaggression and Nuts – Part 1

I admit it...I have a problem with microaggression. Not with people being microaggressive to me. Not with me being microaggressive to others. But with the entire concept of microaggression. It seems that in the last few years we’ve taken what used to be called “having a conversation” and turning it into a minefield where the most innocently asked question can be seen as yet another case of a microaggression.

The program website for a conference I’m planning on going to lists a session on microaggression in one of its tracks, and in the description it says, “Microaggression has become a phenomena…” I want to scream, “Microaggression has not become a phenomena. The concept of microaggression has become a phenomena...and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon!” But as I learned at a conference I was just at this past April, to do that would make me guilty of a microaggression.


One of the things I learned at the April conference was one thing you should never do is to say that the person or people who claim that something is a microaggression is being overly sensitive, because to say that is yet another microaggression. One of the basic concepts is that no one can tell you what you are or aren’t offended by.

Well…I can buy that. I can buy the fact that I can’t tell you what you are or aren’t offended by. I mean, if you’re offended by something, then you’re obviously offended by it. I can’t tell you that what’s part of your reality isn’t a part of your reality. But what they’re really saying is that I shouldn’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t be offended by; and to suggest that you may be a little sensitive about a subject or a question is doing just that. Not only that, but to suggest that you’re overly sensitive about a subject or question is doing that in spades.

There’s just one problem with the idea that you should never tell someone what they should or shouldn’t be offended by; and that’s that there are times when people are offended by things that they shouldn’t be…and that even members of the microaggression crowd would agree that they shouldn’t be. Take for example interracial relationships; there are a fair number of people out there who are still offended by them. Do we have to say that they have every right to be offended, or do we get to call them troglodytes (with apologies to the real troglodytes out there)?

The tricky thing about microaggressions is that the offending comment doesn’t even have to be made with malice aforethought. It could’ve been an innocently-made comment that came out wrong. It could even be what the speaker innocently thought was a compliment, but that annoyed the hearer for the 40,000th time. It’s something the particular hearer is sensitive to, but once again, to call them overly-sensitive is another microaggression.

One of those tricky situations is asking where someone is “from.” Now, I know some people who get bent out of shape over simply the form, and not the content, of the question. Their particular microaggression is people who ask where you’re from (Bethesda, MD) when they really want to know what your ancestry is (Dutch). They wouldn’t mind the ancestry question if it were asked correctly. And yet, my particular microaggression is people who are pedantic about things like that when they know darned well what you mean.

This is one of those things that used to be considered part of normal conversation, but as much as I’d like to talk a little bit more about that, it’ll have to wait; because I want to get to the part about the nuts.

And that will have to wait too…until next week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

For Better or Worse...But Not Off the Charts!

A few years ago I was sitting at home suffering for a nasty stomach bug that seemed to be sweeping across the country, leaving millions of people gripping their stomachs and running for the bathroom. I lost three days of my life to that thing, and at the risk of giving you way too much information, not only was it the first time I’d thrown up in over 35 years, but Cheryl also said that when I did, I exploded.

And as Cheryl did yeoman’s work taking care of me and cleaning up after me, it solidified in my mind something that I had said many years earlier: When I become old, infirm, mentally incompetent, and leaking from all my orifices, she is most decidedly not to try to take care of me herself. She is to find a nice nursing home, put me there, and visit me every now and then…with her boyfriend. After all, the staff members there get time off. There’s absolutely no way I’d want her having to do this for me 24/7. I love her too much to want her to feel that she had to do that.

Yes…you really just read that. I said with her boyfriend. It may scandalize some of you more traditional people, but frankly, my dear...

Ah…but some of you are complaining that our wedding vows said “for better or for worse.” Doesn’t that include dealing with me in just the shape I don’t want her to have to deal with me in? Well, actually, a quick check to the “Wedding Program Archive” in my closet shows that our vows said “in good times and in bad, and while some of you may say that that means the same thing, I’ll tell you what I don’t think it means. I don’t think it means for better or off the charts. There are just some things that no one could possibly realistically imagine happening, and you shouldn’t be held to an impossible ideal should you find yourself in one of those situations.

And if you know how much I value my mind (and hers too…as well as the package it comes in), then it should come as no surprise to you that I figure that when my mind’s gone, I’m gone. The body may still be functioning, but the person she made those vows to has long since checked out. And if you know how much I love Cheryl, then you know that I’d still want her to have companionship, no matter what anyone else thinks.

This brings to mind the sad story that I read in Redbook a while back. A 43-year-old woman wrote in about her husband of 22 years, who had suffered a severe head injury that left him with the mental capacity of a five-year-old. She said that at first she was immersed in how best to take care of him, but then she started to see her own future…and it looked pretty grim.

Yow! Talk about off the charts. With any “luck,” this woman has another 30 to 40 years ahead of her. There’s no way she could possibly have imagined that. There’s no way I could imagine her spending the next 30 or so years with no male companionship.

She went on to say that she had no intention of divorcing him or turning his care over to someone else, but it was scary and lonely thinking of what was in store for her.

Of course, after I read that, I immediately went to Cheryl and repeated what I had told her many times before. I told her that if “off the charts” ever happens, she is to make sure that I’m taken care of, but to also make sure that her needs are taken care of too.

I wish that the woman in Redbook had had that conversation with her husband before the accident, and hope that all of you take the time to have it now.

Because sometimes “for worse” is far worse than anyone could reasonably been expected to imagine…or hold to.