Topical Tuesday – We Are All In the Same Boat

I have just fixed signs to the windows of our coffee houses in DFW declaring that a ‘No Open Carry’ zone is in operation when you enter.  For me, this rather pacifist oriented Englishman, the return of the OK Corral to Texas (Open Carrying of guns is now legal) is perplexing and raises some disturbing potential scenarios.  Couple this with the almost simultaneous Executive Order of the current US President to introduce stricter background checks for gun owners and you might wonder where all this is going!

I believe the issues behind the whole gun control debate are deeper seated than whether guns should be openly available or not.  I believe that there is a point of tension that exists around the protection of individual freedom and the protection of the community as a whole.  For many, the idea of imposing rules that limit accessibility to firearms is just the thin end of the government wedge that will ultimately lead to government control and abuse of power.  I get that, I really do.  There are plenty of examples of nations where individual freedoms are so curtailed that basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the ability to criticize the government are all but a chimera.  But on the other hand, the freedom to pursue our own individual lifestyle has to be weighed against the reality that we live in community.

The outrage and exasperation expressed by those who oppose the President’s executive order to impose slightly greater background checks has to be motivated by this underlying fear, as it is otherwise a major overreaction, given the limited change this order will make.  The motivation for stricter laws in this case comes from a very real desire to protect the wider community from the small minority of people who should not have access to firearms. It also stems from a desire to curb approximately 30,000 deaths a year in the US from those firearms.  It is very similar to the laws already in place that prohibit drunk driving, speeding and other automobile related offenses.  I don’t think anyone is proposing we should allow people under the age of 16 to be let loose on the road or indeed those who are old enough, without some form of ‘background check’ and test as to their suitability to drive.  Motor vehicles have the potential to be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands, so too with guns.

The underlying issue comes up time and again as the tension between individual and community freedoms is tested by each new advance.  In my own native country, the use of cell phones while driving is outlawed entirely except in hands free mode.  In Texas, we still rely on the goodwill and good sense of our fellow motorists not to text while driving.  Official statistics suggest that texting makes an accident 23 times more likely!  How many of us would argue that imposing a legal sanction for doing this would be a good idea.  And yet, there is resistance to every threat to individual freedom that must surely come from an inherent fear that the government is in a process of removing those very freedoms!

So, in essence, this boils down to a clash of 2 competing ideologies that can be summed up as follows.  ‘Every Man for Him/Herself’ or ‘We are All In the Same Boat’.  I am a big believer in the preservation of individual freedoms….provided they don’t impinge on or threaten other members of the community.  I am a supporter of a government at local or national level that seeks to protect the rights and freedoms of those who live in the community and particularly those who are in greater need of protection.  I am not in favor of government control that takes away my ability to influence a change in that government or if it begins to abuse its power.

I believe it is sensible to create laws that protect us from drunk drivers, second hand smoke, irresponsible gun owners; the list could be long.  On the other hand, I don’t think the ability to purchase raw milk or have water without fluoride added has any detrimental effect on those around me.  Why do we baulk so readily at sensible measures proposed to protect us from the dangerous few?   And yet, we pass laws that prevent us making individual choices that have no real impact on the community at large such as the purchase of raw milk or cannabis?  Whether it be fear or corporate influences, I long for the sensible application of laws that release me to enjoy my basic freedoms and yet protect the community as a whole.  After all, We are All in the Same Boat!


Sunday Sermon – No Room To Judge

Hi, my name is David and I’m an Alcoholic.  Although alcohol has never been a victim of my addictive personality, there are many things that have.  I openly confess at different times in my life to having been in the grips of nicotine, video games, TV shows, food and a host of other predilections I could name.  One of the reasons I believe Alcoholics Anonymous has been so successful in the lives of so many is its philosophy of leveling the playing field.  There is no room to judge because we are all addicts here, and no one is better than their neighbor.

Have you ever noticed just how often we do judge those around us, whether it be close friends or family, or just the jerk who tries to run us off the highway – here I go again, yes, that happened yesterday. Again! I am going to suggest 3 good reasons why this is not only counter-productive, but actually damages ourselves and those around us.

Reason 1 – For those of us who profess faith in Jesus, there is a well known statement by Paul in the New Testament when he says – “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift.” (The Message)  In simple terms, we have all failed to live a perfect life and needed rescuing.  Even more compelling, our standing with God has been restored not by any effort of ours, but by the actions of this Jesus who did what he did for every single being who ever lived, lives or who will live on this earth.  By the way, for those of us who think we have some special, more elevated standing in the hierarchy because we go to church, this was the result of no effort on our part, but it was all Jesus…for everyone!  Later on, this same Paul says “The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” (The Message).

Reason 2 – It occurred to me, when I shone the spotlight on my own tendency to judge others, that deep down, my motivation was to make myself feel better!  We seem to think that robbing someone else of their dignity somehow enhances our own.  If I can identify weakness or fault in others, somehow it makes me look better by comparison.  In effect, all we are accomplishing is a cover up of our own deep seated inadequacy.  Acknowledging our own humble failings and rejoicing at the good in those around us actually releases us to enjoy our own self-worth and fully accept who we are.  From there, it removes the damaging barrier of superiority and releases us to enjoy deeper relationships with those around us.

Reason 3 – The environment we create through our judging of others rebounds back on all of us as we struggle to hide our failings and build a defensive wall.  It was Jesus that said “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment.”  It occurs to me the more judging is inherent in our culture, the more we fear our failings will be judged.  This leads us to hide, cover up and avoid admission in order to preserve our standing in the community, be this family, workplace, church or any other human tribe.  Our fear of being judged by others deprives us of one of the most powerful weapons in finding freedom and healing.  Admitting when we are wrong and acknowledging our weakness.  This brings us back to the power of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Admitting we have failed, that we are no better than the person next to us and that we need help from each other and ‘a higher power’ gives AA adherents a proven path to healing.

It is far too easy for those of us who profess faith in Jesus to imagine that we are somehow superior to those who don’t.  We might do well to reflect on the words of Paul.  “There is no partiality with God!”

How Can You Possibly Believe That? Understanding Your Enemy.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to switch off, exit the room, turn off the TV. How can anyone possibly hold those beliefs, think that what they are saying has any basis in rational thought! These days, be it climate control, gun control, immigration, or gay marriage, we find ourselves on the opposite end of an argument we just can’t fathom! This becomes even more disconcerting when we realize there are millions of people who seem to hold the contrary view that seems to us irrational or even outrageous!

My son made me think the other evening, when he used these words during a discussion, ‘Dad, that may be your opinion…’. We were discussing one of those thorny issues that has at least 2 sides, and he was playing devil’s advocate. I like that phrase; it implies what I am thinking or saying is good and pure, but what he has to say is tainted with evil! But as I thought about his comment, I realized that in so many situations, I consider myself right and anyone on the other end of my verbal punching bag to be wrong.

In so many discussions, what we are talking about is not based in fact, may not even sport an ‘established truth’, but consists of opinions expressed as fact or truth, but is merely an opinion. I realize that none of us have a monopoly on what is right or true, but how often do I argue as if I did? A recent discussion with a friend who works in the Oil industry on the science of climate change made me step back and question where I was actually deriving my ‘facts’ on the ‘science’. My initial response was to dismiss his debunking of human induced climate change because he worked for an oil company. Then I realized, that I had gleaned most of my information from the media and not from the appropriate scientific research.

It seems to me that we would better serve those we disagree with if we could step back and attempt to understand their position.   Perhaps, as in the case of my friend, we may have to admit to not knowing as much or understanding the issues as well as we might think.

Much of religious belief and the source of so much religious strife derives from opinions formed on the basis of established ‘wisdom’. But really? What do we actually know from religious texts, teaching handed down, historical accounts? Much of what I know can be attributed to what I have been taught or told by people I like or with whom I agree. Have I really entertained the ‘dark side’ of the argument or allowed its day in court?

I have recently sought to listen more carefully to the arguments of others. This entails not only hearing the words, but seeking to understand the motives and reasons behind them. Perhaps life experience has taught them something other than my own experience. Certainly they have received their ‘established wisdom’ from somewhere else. It is possible that they may be influenced by fear, real or imagined, or perhaps they possess information I do not have access to.

I may disagree wholeheartedly with the proposal to bomb Syria as a response to the bloody massacre in Paris last year. But do I have an alternative response that satisfies the outrage and fear engendered by this violent intrusion in the lives of those directly affected?

If I could step back and spend more time understanding those with whom I disagree, I just might learn something that would bring a more balanced approach. At the very least, I might actually foster closer relationships with those I think I don’t like. Heaven forbid we might find common ground and a mutual expansion of our vision of the world and the people around us!