Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Sunday Sermon: these people are not Christians

Roy-Moore

Dana Hall McCain is right about what evangelicals have become. But words aren’t actions, and “Christians” have much to atone for.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? – Mark 8:36

Dana Hall McCain is a self-professed “woman who loves Jesus more each day.” A few days ago, in the Dothan Eagle, she published a piece entitled “The Great Lie We’ve Believed,” in which she rightly acknowledges how conservative Christians have sold their souls (my words, not hers) in a blind quest for political power.

We ought to applaud her insight into the mess Christians have become, but should we simply accept this fairly banal acknowledgment of reality as sufficient? Or should we demand more – much more – of McCain and the millions of others who have so willingly lost their way?

Note her despair at what she has become. But note how she stops short of suggesting actually doing anything about it. She offers no plan – remarkably, since her every word makes clear what the right path is – and in the most obvious case any true follower of Christ could possibly imagine, seems unable to endorse the opponent of a pedophile. I imagine myself having this exchange with her:

HER: We’ve become so obsessed with political power that voting for pussy grabbers and child molesters seems like the only choice.

ME: Well, you could vote AGAINST them.

HER: The very thought makes me want to gouge out my eyeballs.

Yes, she says the thought of voting for Roy Moore makes her want to gouge out her eyeballs, too. But I don’t see an endorsement of his opponent. I don’t even hear her telling her fellow “Christians” to sit this one out.

McCain’s diagnosis of the church/politics issue is on the money, though.

The hyper-focus on conservative politics in the church has convinced many in our midst that achieving and maintaining political power is our first calling, and that political success is the primary way we impact our culture for Christ. Not evangelism. Not service. Not serious reflection on our own sins and subsequent repentance. Not the cumulative effect of many hearts brought to Christ and lives subsequently transformed, resulting in a more Christ-like culture. Just win on election night…at all costs.

Indeed.

I remember when we said, and said often, that the good character of a leader was an absolute essential. Then 2016 happened. Suddenly, the bar had to be lowered because we couldn’t possibly be faithful to God when the stakes were so high, right? God surely didn’t expect us to trust him and refuse to align with those whose lives are in direct conflict with much of his word in times like these, did he? Because our God absolutely has to have the House, the Senate, and the White House to accomplish his purposes, right?

So we held our noses, walked into the voting booth, and did the dirty deed. We told ourselves that this was a special (read: horrific), once in a lifetime circumstance, and that we’d never have to stoop this low again. This election was our own Sophie’s Choice. Do it just this once.

One of the most nefarious things about a sin is that once you’ve broken the seal and done it, it’s easier the second time.

Exactly. And at the end, McCain finally realizes what many have been saying about Christianity in America since the 1980s:

Here’s where we are: the GOP has come to understand that Evangelicals are trained seals. We show up and clap for any clown you can slap a Republican jersey on. It doesn’t even have to be a godly or wise person. Our votes are a sure thing, and we’ll turn out and vote for problematic or corrupt GOP candidates far more consistently than non-religious conservatives. So come to terms with the fact that the church isn’t influencing diddly squat, not even in our favorite party. To the contrary, the church is the one being influenced — and our credibility before a lost and dying world destroyed — because we have believed the great lie about political engagement.

We have all the power in the world, but we lack the faith to exercise it. They own us, because we don’t trust God enough to call the bluff.

I suppose there are two ways to read McCain. The charitable take would say she’s shining a light on the problem and, especially in that last sentence, offering up a fairly pointed hint at what the solution looks like.

A more critical reading might argue that this isn’t something that was done to Christians, it was a path Christians chose, that they chose willingly and gleefully and that, most importantly, they’re still choosing. Pay attention to the results of the upcoming special election in Alabama if you need evidence.

A more critical reading might wonder why she soft-pedals the conclusion. Does the case she lays out not justify a pretty clear call to action?

A more critical reading might point out that something has gone terribly wrong if any of this even needs saying, because people truly familiar with the word of God would never have abandoned their souls so willingly to begin with.

A more critical reading might draw a line in the sand and say no, you get no points for figuring out in 2017 what was brutally obvious in 1984, if not earlier.

A more critical reading might say fine – show me. You have much to atone for. If you want me to believe you’re a Christian, you need to spend a few decades showing me you’re a Christian. Start with Roy Moore. Then next year show the GOP you aren’t trained seals and vote for candidates whose policies are consistent with the values taught by Jesus Christ. Get out your Bibles, flip to the New Testament, and read those red letter passages. Do you not believe Jesus Christ MEANT what he said?!

Then, come 2020, if you support Donald Trump again, you can shut up forever. You do not know Christ, and come Judgment Day He will not know you.

In the end, a lament over what “Christians” have become is not the same as a call to change. And Matthew 7:16 is not ambiguous: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

Your words no longer matter, fake Christians, and unless you get serious about atoning with your actions, your name will not be found written in the Book of Life.

The fake job dog & pony show just nailed me again

It’s time American business and government leaders addressed this unethical hiring practice.

job-hunting

Friday afternoon I submitted an application with a company we’ll call “BoughtOne” This morning – barely more than one business day later – I receive this:

Hi Samuel,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider you for employment. After reviewing your resume, we’ve decided to move forward with a candidate whose skills more closely align with our needs at this time…

They’re going to “move forward” with “a candidate” – singular.

In other words, this appears to have never been a real job. An actual hiring process doesn’t get from application stage to one candidate this quickly. An actual hiring process, at best, brings in two or three candidates for interviews, then makes a call.

This, then, was probably another fake job dog and pony show – which I’ve written about before.

Oh, there’s a job. They’re accepting applications and everything. But the truth is that the job is already filled, usually by an internal candidate. The only reason they posted an ad is because the company has an HR policy requiring them to. These policies are standard in government organizations and just about every corporate entity of any size does it, too.

These policies are well-intended, but in practice are unethical in the extreme.

If you don’t know why companies behave this way, the answer is actually fairly noble. I’m sure we’re all familiar with good old American know-who – the old boy network, it’s not what you know it’s who you know, etc. We’ve seen people handed opportunities based on connections and relationships despite the fact that others might be more qualified. To some extent this is natural – I don’t bid out every possible project when I have a vendor that I know I can count on, for instance, and there are companies out there who know that when they call me they’re going to get everything they need and more. When we have professional relationships with friends, that exaggerates the effect.

Smart companies want to make sure that they’re getting the best candidate for the job, though, and not just the one with the best pre-existing relationship with the hiring manager. So they institute policies that require an open search, that three candidates be interviewed, and in many cases that a minority candidate be included. When managers in the company need to hire an agency or a vendor company for a project, the same kinds of strictures apply – you may have to solicit bids from three providers, etc.

All of which is appropriate – organizations with processes that lead them to retain the best talent are going to have an advantage in the marketplace.

The problem is, as we’ve already noted, the policies don’t work. They don’t keep Director Bob from hiring his old buddy Fred, they just require Bob to put on a good show before hiring his old buddy Fred.

It’s pure corporate Kabuki. And it takes a human toll.

Meanwhile, several hundred people took the time to apply. Many of them are currently unemployed. Many of them are working full-time trying to find work, and there are opportunity costs associated with the application. It takes time to send off a résumé. Depending on the application process (which with some companies is simply ridiculous anyway) it can take an hour or two to do it right. Really dedicated candidates, the ones doing it the right way, take longer, customizing cover letters and the rez so that their application materials speak directly to the company’s needs. It’s not hard to imagine that in many cases, these are the ones selected for the fake interview, which means the Dog and Pony process victimizes the best and most dedicated the worst.

For all these applicants there is an investment – in time, and in hope. When the unemployment rate is 10%, hope is about all some people have, and few things are crueler than fostering false hope in those who need opportunity as desperately as so many in our society do.

Only-Post-JobsI wonder – how many hours do job seekers waste each year in good faith pursuit of fake jobs. Millions? Billions? I wonder how often people lose a shot at a real job because they prioritized the fake job – there isn’t enough time to apply for everything, after all. So you say Job X looks like a better fit than Job Y. Except Job Y actually exists while Job X was essentially filled a month ago.

To be clear, I’m not saying I would have gotten the job in a fair contest. BoughtOne probably got hundreds of applications, and for all I know dozens of those people might have been better suited to the position then me. And if they did have an internal candidate already slotted for the gig, that person may in fact be the best of the lot. All I know is I wouldn’t have applied if my qualifications and experience hadn’t been aligned with the posted requisite. I invested time and energy trying to make sure I was presenting my value in a way they would grasp and appreciate. Hopefully BoughtOne hired a winner, and best of luck to the company and the person who landed the job. I think I’d have been awesome for them, but who knows?

Assuming I’m right about what happened here, I don’t really blame BoughtOne. They’re the case before me at the moment, but they’re playing the game they have to play.

But. This sort of behavior – by corporations, by non-profits, by universities, by government organizations – isn’t simply unethical – it’s immoral. It toys with the lives of people who desperately need a fair shot. People with mounting stacks of bills. People with families. People without insurance.

The problem is the law, which needs to be amended so that it actually works as intended. I’m not an HR pro, so I don’t have a working solution in hand. But there are people out there – business leaders, legislators, industry analysts and journalists – who know the terrain and I’m confident it’s a problem they can solve.

The bottom line is that America’s employers shouldn’t be allowed – or worse, required – to jack job-hunters around. Let’s get on it.

Do you have regrets?

Sometimes that which does not kill us doesn’t make us stronger. Sometimes it breaks us.

And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few

regrets

There’s this thing we’ve all learned to say:

I have no regrets.

And we mean it. I know an incredible number of smart, wonderful people for whom this is a mantra, and they’re sincere. They look at the blunders, the missteps, the mistakes everyone saw coming a mile away, the catastrophes, and they say “I wouldn’t change a thing.” Our mistakes make us who we are, they say, and if I regret, then that means I’m unhappy with who I am. To regret is to reject one’s experience, one’s learned life lessons, one’s wisdom – the essence of one’s very self, in fact. Regret and self-acceptance are, in this view, incompatible.

Many people think like this. Hell, I thought like this. I’m quoting myself circa 2005 here. I meant it, just as so many of my close friends do.

Here’s the thing: it isn’t true. Not for me, anyway. Not anymore, if it ever really was. I try not to tell others what to think or believe, especially when they’ve proven themselves more than capable of managing their own lives (this is doubly true when they’ve proven themselves capable of managing their lives better than I have). But I have regrets. Big ones.

I’ll apologize in advance for the impending confessional. It may be hard to read, particularly for those who know and love me. I’ll do my best not to implicate the innocent, although, again, friends and family are going to recognize people and events they know well.

The “no regrets” school of thought is related to that old adage – that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. There’s a lot of truth in this, too. We learn from adversity. If we pay attention, failure provides lessons we can use in our quest for success. We can learn from our mistakes and if we’re careful not to repeat them we can spare ourselves a good deal of pain and humiliation.

I’ve failed plenty, and like most of you, I have learned from those mistakes. (Maybe not the first time, but eventually.) I can walk you through the timeline of my life and point out any number of times where I messed up, and badly, and then can fast forward and show you how that lesson helped me later on.

Like you, probably, I have scars I wear proudly. I’m a better man for the failures, and in those cases I have no regrets.

But that isn’t the whole story. Failures are like car accidents. Some of them leave a scratch on the chrome, and we walk away remembering to look both ways before turning. Some are a little worse. They might total the car, but aside from a few bumps and bruises we escape okay. Shaken, maybe a little nervous next time we crawl behind the wheel, but fine in the grand scheme of things. We certainly wish we’d avoided these crashes, but they’re hardly the stuff of lifelong regret.

Then there are the serious ones, where we’re hurt badly. Not fatally, but enough that a few years of our lives flashed before our eyes while the car was spinning toward the guardrail. We recover, but we remember the time in the hospital. We remember the agony of rehab. We carry the scars forever.

These are the watershed moments for those who espouse the “no regret” motto. It didn’t kill me. It’s part of who I am. I recovered. I’m stronger for having survived the experience.

Sometimes, though, we don’t recover. Sometimes we sustain permanent trauma. We lose limbs. We lose organs. People die. And make no mistake, the soul is like the body. There’s damage that heals, and there’s damage that does not. There are crashes that hurt us, but surgery and a few months of physical therapy have us back on our feet. There are also crashes that cripple us for the remainder of our lives.

As I say above, I’ve been in wrecks I don’t regret. Sure, they sucked and they hurt and all things considered it would have been okay had they not happened, but still, I’m stronger for having survived. I’ve also been in crashes that cost me limbs and organs, pileups that didn’t respond fully to treatment. I cannot possibly look you in the eye and tell you I’m better for the experience. Yes, I learned. Yes, I survived. But that which did not kill me did not make me stronger. When all was said and done I was weakened. I was less than I had been before.

I can certainly talk about my failed marriage. I failed in more ways than I can count and I have no honest expectation that I’ll ever fully recover all the self I lost. All I surrendered unknowingly. Then there was the thing that happened after it ended. The marriage and divorce left me for dead by the road. Then she came along, rolled me over and stomped me in the face a few more times for good measure.

Do I have regrets about that lost decade of my life? You bet.

A number of years ago another woman – the one that got away – came to me and asked if we could finally give it a go. We had taken turns being the cause of bad timing for so long, and maybe now was the moment. But I was committed to my fiancée. I said no. I now know that was a mistake, and am not comforted by the fact that I did it for what I thought were the right reasons.

You might, at this point, be thinking sure, but there was no guarantee it would have worked out, and you’re right. For all I know, had I ducked the marriage, and all the other trainwrecks that have shaped so much of my life, something even worse could have happened. All we know, looking back, is this. Option A was a complete failure. Option B had a chance, albeit undefined, of working out. You always bet “maybe” over “no chance in hell.” If you don’t buy this line of thinking, fine, but never, ever do I want to hear a word from you about hope. Option B is the definition of hope, and you can’t have it both ways.

The tricky part of this equation, from the perspective of Fall 2017, is that yes, I deeply regret how much the wrong answer that afternoon in 2002 cost me over the following decade. But now I’m now very happily involved with an incredible woman, and I don’t regret that in the least. It is, without question, the best relationship of my life. I do wonder, though. The marriage left parts of me lying by the road, parts that couldn’t be sewn back on. As I said before, I am less for it. I often wish I were more than I am for my girlfriend, who truly deserves the best possible me. I regret the things which have perhaps lessened her joy with me, even a little bit.

Right now, some of you are bouncing up and down, wanting to shake me and say “but that’s just it! You’re happy now! And you got here by that terrible road you think you regret!” We can’t know, though, and what you say is a simple statement of faith. At some point you might well have told me to keep trying because the right person is out there and I was fated to find her. (Some of you did say that, and in those exact words.) If so, I’d have found my girlfriend anyway, and I’d be less damaged for her, right?

I’ve been carrying this post around inside for a long time. I finally decided to write it down and publish it because in recent years I’ve been pressed to justify what some perceive as undue negativity. The people I hear it from aren’t being bitchy or judgmental – they care for me and want me to be happy, and I’m grateful to have folks like that in my life.

Truth is, I’m actually not nearly as cynical as some think – I’m capable of maintaining a determined, go-get-’em attitude while at the same time being fully cognizant when the odds are against me. While I wouldn’t describe myself as innately happy, it’s also true that I’m prone to fits of wonderment and joy. I love photography. I love it when I write something that connects with a reader. I love reading and I laugh like a four year-old at great comedy. I’m compelled by artistic brilliance. As my friends in the Rocky Mountain Blues can testify, I can get downright giddy about my beloved Chelsea FC. I sometimes smile at what’s running through my head, and if you caught me unawares you’d probably think me flat-out simple.

All that, but yes, I’m a man with regrets. I am a product of my mistakes and of the blindsides life has visited on me (like my recent career follies). However, they have not all made me better.

Sometimes that which does not kill us doesn’t make us stronger. Sometimes it leaves us broken. This isn’t an excuse to give up, to wallow in self-pity, to roll over and die. But perhaps it does suggest that it’s okay to acknowledge the reality of regret and the simple fact that sometimes life builds us up while others it beats us down.

As always, this is only partly about me. The truth is – and I fully understand this – I have it a damned sight better than a lot of people do. I try and keep some perspective about me.

And yeah, there are folks who are just negative. There’s nothing that could ever make them happy. Some of our fellow travelers are just miserable and they like it that way.

Others, though, others are down for valid reasons. Some people are broken, perhaps beyond repair. For them, I imagine, the idea of having no regrets is, at best, going to ring a bit hollow.

The most dangerous word in Washington: “reform”

Republicans

“Reform” is a DC euphemism for “somebody is about to get fucked.” The McDonald’s hot coffee case illustrates the point.

Sam Ervin, the late, famed North Carolina senator who presided over the Nixon impeachment trial, once said anytime he heard someone describe himself as a “simple country lawyer” he immediately checked to make sure his wallet was still there. Read more