Black Lives Matter, Single Parents, And Bad Arguments

I had been on the phone for two hours with Social Security. I spoke to multiple different people, answered the same questions dozens of times, and was once again on hold waiting for someone to help. Our office manager at the church brought a chair for my friend, Anthony, as he was tired of standing. He was staring at the wall. He was afraid and ashamed. I didn’t know how to help him, but I was trying my best.

He had been in my office many times before looking for help. Sometimes I gave him some money, and other times I took him out to lunch, to the grocery store, or to the pharmacy. One day, he came into my office with light pants and only a thin windbreaker jacket on one of the coldest days of the year. He was sleeping outside. They didn’t let him stay at the shelter anymore, and even on these days where the city declared a weather emergency, he often did not go. I went home and brought back to him a jacket, a winter hat, some gloves, and a blanket. He was thrilled. I felt good, like I had done something right and these small victories were becoming rare. When he returned a few days later, the jacket, the hat, the gloves – they were all gone. Anthony sold them. He told me later that he spent the money on drugs and a prostitute. I wasn’t mad. I felt helpless. Both of us were helpless in the face of his problems.

On this particular day, Anthony needed to call Social Security to have his payee changed, but he wasn’t able to do so himself. Social Security did not pay him directly, but instead paid a second person as he was deemed unable to properly manage his own finances. His payee did not want to do it anymore. I asked a lot of questions, and thought I could help by talking to his payee directly to see if we could resolve the situation. I was a pastor. The payee would listen to a pastor, right?

Anthony gave me the number. I called. It was the number of a church in Baltimore. His payee turned out to be his brother who was the pastor of the church. The receptionist told me that the pastor didn’t want to speak to me. He didn’t want anything to do with his brother anymore. He had tried, for years. He just couldn’t do it. I told my friend. He wasn’t surprised, but he was ashamed. I felt guilty for even calling.

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Theology of Bullshit: Part 3

*If you haven’t read it yet, check out Theology of Bullshit Part 1 and Part 2*

Pastor Craig, Bullshitter

It didn’t take long for me to feel like a fraud. My wife was in Cambodia working for a small NGO when I started my first appointment as a pastor in the UMC. People were a bit shocked at how young I was. I don’t think the church had ever had a lead pastor under the age of 55. The congregation knew that I had just moved to Baltimore, that my wife (then fiance) was out of the country, and that I was trying to adjust from being a student to being an independent adult. They tried very hard to be hospitable and were incredibly generous.

After my first Sunday service, I learned that the congregation served food and drinks for members and guests. I was excited. Free food. Oh my God, yes! I think I ate about 3 plates. I could have eaten more, but it was getting kind of embarrassing. There were some leftovers. “Craig, why don’t you take some leftovers home?” Oh my God, yes! I would love to. Every week, I would keep eating more and more, and the leftovers kept coming. The members would laugh. I would play it up a bit. “I bet he can’t wait until Loren comes home to cook him some food! He’s so thin! Do you ever eat?” I was glad to take leftovers home, and they were glad to give them to me. It seemed like a perfect arrangement.

One day, somebody brought cupcakes. Oh my God, yes! Cupcakes! I ate about five. After everyone left, there were about 25 cupcakes leftover. “What should we do with the cupcakes?” “Just give them to Craig. He’ll eat anything!” I automatically responded, “Of course I will!” Everyone laughed. But really, what was I going to do with 25 cupcakes? I didn’t eat any of them. They all ended up in the garbage. “Did you eat all those cupcakes Craig?” “Of course! They were gone by Sunday evening!”

The “Craig can’t take care of himself” narrative kept up for years, even though I was an adult who knew how to walk to a grocery store and follow basic cooking instructions. I was sent home with hot dog buns but no hot dogs. Condiments. So many casseroles. Lasagnas. Cakes. And in one instance, multiple bottles of Catalina salad dressing with no salad. “Craig will eat anything!” Don’t get me wrong, I loved the food, and I was appreciative of what they were doing for me. My lunches were often the leftovers given to me by the church. There was a core group of people who made sure that I had enough to eat on Sunday and who wanted to make sure that I knew I was appreciated by giving me lots of delicious food. I remain very grateful for their hospitality. But every time I walked home and carried bags of leftovers with me that I knew I wouldn’t eat, I felt like a fraud. I wasn’t lying. It was just bullshit.

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Theology of Bullshit: Part 2

*If you haven’t read it yet, check out Theology of Bullshit Part 1: Re-reading John 8*

Richard Beck, Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, writes at Experimental Theology. I found his series “On Bullshit, Psychology, and Theology” online as I was reading about bullshit a few years ago. His five part series is fantastic, and you should read the whole thing.

In Beck’s third part of his series, he argues, referencing philosopher Scott Kimbrough’s essay Letting it Slide, that we are more tolerant toward bullshit than lying because we can’t do without it. To make his point, Beck tells the story of Nick Saban who in 2006 prophetically declared “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” while closing out the season as the head football coach for the Miami Dolphins. Less than two weeks later, Saban announced that he would be accepting the head coaching position at Alabama. Saban claimed afterwards in response to allegations that he lied, “I get asked questions that I really shouldn’t answer. You should have the opportunity to weigh those options and I didn’t have the opportunity to do that.”

Beck argues, “Saban realized that his speech prior to the end of the Dolphins season could not be engaged in truth-claims. To do so would distract his team. But neither did Saban wish to lie. So what does he do? He bullshits. And his defense is basically this: If you ask those kinds of questions prior to the end of the season you cannot legitimately expect truth. It’s an inappropriate question requiring a bullshit answer. And you should know this. Thus, to retrospectively call me a liar misses the whole dynamic of the December 21st exchange. The context of the conversation should have clued you in that you would only get bullshit from me. Not truth, not lies. Bullshit. Note Saban’s actual words: “I get asked questions that I really shouldn’t answer.” His point? If you ask those kinds of questions you are going to get bullshit answers. And bullshit, technically, isn’t a lie.”

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Theology of Bullshit: Part 1

Re-Reading John 8

My grandfather once paid me to do some work on his farm. He drove around in his truck while I followed behind with a shovel. My job was to literally shovel bullshit into the bed of his pickup. Even though my grandfather’s jobs paid at the going rate of farm work in 1955, I had a great time hurling bullshit 10-20 feet into his truck like I was shooting a hook shot in basketball. He would stick his head out of the window and loudly compliment me with a mouth full of chewing tobacco, “Good job, Aviator!” At the end of the day, I was tired, sweaty and stinking of, well…, and I asked my grandfather, “Why do you keep calling me ‘Aviator’?” He laughed, “Cause you sure know how to pile it!” I guess you could say, I’ve always had a talent for shoveling.

Eleven years ago, I was sitting in my room on a Monday night watching television alone. 10:00 pm meant that I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The guest for the evening was Harry Frankfurt, professor of philosophy at Princeton University, discussing his new book, On Bullshit.

Watch Interview Here

Read On Bullshit Here or Buy it Here

For me, it was revelatory.

I was a marketing student – I studied bullshit. I was on my way to seminary to be a pastor in the UMC – I aspired to bullshit. Everywhere I went, I thought I was the smartest person in the room, and I wanted everyone to know it – I was full of bullshit. As Frankfurt wrote, “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted.”

Frankfurt believes that the essence of bullshit isn’t that a statement is true or that it’s false, it’s that the source of the bullshit – the bullshitter – doesn’t care either way. To paraphrase Frankfurt, liars tell lies. They misrepresent the facts as they understand them. Truth tellers tell the truth. They represent the facts accurately as far as they understand them. Bullshitters don’t just misrepresent the facts – that would be lying. And, they often make statements that would otherwise be true. What bullshitters misrepresent is themselves. They would have you believe that they care for the truth or that the statements they make are decided upon according to the facts of the situation. Instead, bullshitters are up to something else entirely. They make statements in support of their hidden motivation, and the facts, whatever they may be, have no bearing at all. Frankfurt claims, “He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

If, like me, you’re interested in bullshit, or if like my grandfather, you just like to watch people pile it, there isn’t a better time than election time, and there isn’t a better scripture for it than John Chapter 8.

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Can Anything Good Come Out Of Syria?

The civil war had been raging for years. Rebels, religious extremists, nationalists, criminals, bandits, and a foreign backed regime all fought each other over a land whose leadership and borders had been determined by competing foreign empires. Powerful nations to its east and west, to its north and south and across seas by thousands of miles had long determined its fate. After decades of failed rebellions, and decades of foreign backed minority rule over oppressed and increasingly angry religious groups, nationalism, sectarianism, and religious extremism were on the rise. The foreign backed regime grew weak. The foreign backers themselves were caught up in their own internal disputes. Taxes remained high. Regime control over the economy remained tight. People remained poor. And, civil unrest by an angry populace was met with overwhelming and often indiscriminate regime violence.

Before long, entire towns and cities would be burned to the ground. Brothers betrayed brothers. Parents and children turned against each other. Murder, rape, and violence became the norm. Refugees streamed from once peaceful villages by the thousands, permanently relocating a once proud-people now scattered across the nations. The land, as it once was, would never recover. The world looked on in horror.

This is Syria. In 70 CE.

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Abdullah From Daraa

“What changed everything was an incident which threw into sharp relief the untackled problems of his security state. At the beginning of March 2011 children aged between nine and fifteen wrote graffiti on the walls of their school in the depressed southern town of Daraa calling for the fall of the regime – a slogan which echoed from Tunis and Cairo to San’a and Tripoli – or, according to some reports, just “freedom”. They may have been copying events in other Arab countries which they had seen on television, or perhaps they were repeating the discontent which they had heard their parents voice in the privacy of their families on countless occasions. In any event, they were school children, not adults. But twitchy security officials overreacted in a way that showed they had no qualms about brutality and felt no accountability to the people.

The children were arrested and taken to Damascus for interrogation where they may have been tortured. Their families were still unable to obtain their release after two weeks. On 15 March, a protest in Daraa calling for the release of the children and an end to such arbitrary behavior swelled to several thousand. Four demonstrators were shot dead by the security forces. The next day the numbers demonstrating had risen to 20,000. They attacked the governor’s office, the local Ba’th Party headquarters and the premises off the security forces: the three pillars of the regime’s control at a local in each province… But they all (protests) reflected the same underlying problems and ultimately voiced the same demands; an end to the unaccountable security state and the absence of freedom; policies to tackle the lack of jobs and opportunities, and a drive against corruption.

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Hypocritical Christians: Donald Trump Edition

He said Two Corinthians! Not Second Corinthians! Definitely not a Christian! Hahaha!

He said little cracker and little wine! Definitely not a Christian! Hahaha!

He put his offering in the communion plate! Definitely not a Christian! Hahaha!

He said wine for communion in a Protestant Church! They usually use grape juice! Not A Christian! Hahaha!

One of my favorite parts of leading the Sunday church service, back in my leading-Sunday-church-service days, was the morning announcements. Most people’s favorite parts—the prayers, the music, the singing, the Eucharist, reading in unison (you know, the worshipy parts of the service)—I didn’t care for those so much. Don’t get me wrong. A long drawn out one-sided conversation with the divine gets me going as much as the next guy, but it’s not nearly as much fun as a long drawn out one-sided conversation with a group of people who just arrived, just woke up, and who have no choice but to sit quietly and listen to everything you have to say.

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Puns and Butter

About six months ago, I was in the parking lot of Academy, a sporting goods store, with my father. We were going to buy a few items in preparation for a trip to the lake. My father is a quirky, smart man who, like his three sons, enjoys the curious oddities of economics, politics and human behavior. He has a habit of asking seemingly innocent questions meant to provoke conversation and thought that inform, rather than solve, current issues. He sees it as a sort of game, with those opposite him trying to figure out just what he’s up to.

“I have a question for you, Craig. What, in your opinion, is the most successful current marking strategy in America?”

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Syrian Refugees To Europe Aren’t Running From ISIS

In the context of the current refugee crisis in Europe, we shouldn’t forget that refugees by and large are fleeing the despicable behavior of those who perpetrated Friday’s attacks in Paris.” – John Sandweg, Former Acting Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

While I appreciate the intention of quote, the statement is demonstrably false. The vast majority of Syrian refugees fled violence from Bashar al-Assad, not ISIS. The quote makes for a good tag line, but it has the drawbacks of being completely incorrect and misleading to the public.

After refugees fled violence from the regime (and other actors), and arrived in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, Syrian refugees faced terrible conditions. Refugee camps are wildly underfunded and are often in remote places like the Jordanian desert. (Most refugees, however, live in urban areas, not camps). Refugees are, in almost all cases, not legally permitted to work. Refugee assistance such as cash payments, vouchers, health care, education, housing, food programs, and clothing for winter have all been dramatically cut from already insufficient levels. They are still declining. Small nations like Lebanon and Jordan cannot reasonably accommodate them through private charity or public assistance. Turkey, while large, also cannot permanently accommodate 2 million plus and growing refugees. Public assistance to locals has dramatically declined due to the financial strain. There is growing local animosity towards refugees and the embarrassingly inadequate international response. Prices for necessities like food, clothing and housing have increased for everyone, sometimes dramatically. The chances of returning to a normal life at home are essentially zero, as the war has no chance of ending anytime soon, the economy has been devastated and the cities and villages refugees are from lie in ruins.

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