When Evil Prevails in America

Jose and Cindy Garcia at a January 15 farewell party before he was deported to Mexico.

Martin Luther King: “We have to repent in this generation, not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.”

When I was ten years old, I lived in Harrisburg, Pa. It’s a nice place. But I was thinking. What if my government suddenly forced me to give up my job, to give up my home, to give up my wife and cats, to give up my church, and unceremoniously deposited me in Harrisburg. With no job. No place to live. No nearby relatives. Just dumped me there and I had to fend for myself.

That’s basically what happened to Jorge Garcia of Detroit, who has been dumped in the foreign country which he left at age 10, which for him was thirty years ago. It’s yet another outrage from the Trump Administration’s unbending, no-exceptions-allowed policies. Yet another American family ripped apart by an uncaring government (though a whole lot of my Facebook friends will applaude his deportation).

Garcia was deported on Martin Luther King Day. King once wrote: “The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not…the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice.” That nails what is happening here. Give me law and order, make me feel safe, protect my interests, coddle my fears and paranoia…even if it tramples on justice.

Jorge Garcia was brought to the US illegally at age 10. He has lived here 30 years, and has lived, by all accounts, a commendale life–working as a landscaper, paying taxes, no problems with the law. He married an American citizen 15 years ago, and they have two children who are American citizens, ages 12 and 15. The Trump administration killed an Obama administration policy which protected from deportation the parents of American citizens.

He has tried to get legal, but efforts have been unsuccessful. He has checked in with ICE for 13 years, so when a new president took office, they knew where to find him. He won’t be allowed to re-enter the US–for any reason, I understand–for at least ten years. If his family wants to see him, they’ll need to go to Mexico.

When Garcia’s 12-year-old son was asked how he felt, he said, “Sad, angry,” and then bowed his head and began crying. For ICE, just another day at work. For that boy, a life-altering trauma.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”–Edmund Burke.

It’s outrageous–it’s EVIL–to tear apart families like this. Previous administrations made compassionate allowances, but those days are gone. I won’t be quiet about this.

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My Russian Fan Club

I seem to be quite the rage in Russia. Looking through my Junk mail (which I do once or twice a year), I discovered a number of emails from the last few days reading like this:

“You seem like my type and I would like to know you more! Write me if you are interested, here is my email ________, and, if you want, I will send some of my photos. Hugs, Anastasia.”

All have .ru email addresses and use the exact same wording. A related email tells me, “You are hot, smart, and sexy.” I can’t argue with that.

I’ve received the same email from Liza, Sasha, Victoria, Daria, Sofia, Ekaterina, Maria, Polina, Dasha, Olga, Ksenia, Alina, Katya, Anya, Alexandra, and Lena. I don’t know whether they are a fan club or stalkers, but I appreciate the attention.

The only rational explanation I can think of is that all of these women are babushkas in their 80s, and recently retired as prison guards in the Siberian gulag. I will not be requesting photos. (Really, Pam, I won’t.)

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I’ll Do This if You Do That

Husband: “Here’s my offer. I’ll stop beating the kids, if you’ll let me buy a new flatscreen TV for my man cave.”

Wife: “How are those two things even related? Besides, you promised–over and over and OVER–that your friend Morty would buy the TV for you.”

Husband: “I asked Morty, and he said no. So what can I do? We need to buy it ourselves.”

Wife: “So, if I write the check, you’ll stop beating the kids?”

Husband: “For now, I’ll stop. Believe me. It’s a win win.”

This is kind of how I view the President’s offer–that he’ll make a deal on DACA only if Congress makes the American people fund the border wall, which he always insisted Mexico would pay for.

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All Humans can Show Bad Judgment. Even…Jesus?

Was Jesus capable of exercising bad judgment? According to most Christian teaching, no. Bad judgment sounds too close to sin. We explain away everything Jesus said and did, even when it grates on us in some way. We focus on his “divine” side. We portray Jesus wandering blissfully through Israel, pious and smiling and always saying and doing the exact right thing.

In the words of Philip Yancy, we view Jesus “from above.” But when we view Jesus “from below,” legitimate (in my view) questions arise.

Like the one story from Jesus at age 12 (which I read yesterday), when he stayed behind in Jerusalem and inflicted a three-day panic on his parents as they frantically searched the city for him. Imagine Mary praying, “God, we have lost your Son. Please help us find him.” And it took three days, during which Mary and Joseph no doubt considered every possibility, including the very bad ones.

They finally locate Jesus in the Temple. Perhaps they had already looked there–maybe even started there. Jesus surely didn’t spend three days straight at the Temple, but spent part of the time elsewhere. Mary rightfully scolded her 12-year-old boy: “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” That explanation always seems sufficient in modern sermons. But I’m guessing it didn’t satisfy Mary. Perhaps she immediately responded, “I don’t care! Don’t you ever do this to us again!” But when Mary (let’s assume) told the story to Luke, she left out that part.

Was Jesus oblivious to his mother’s concern? Or did he realize he had done something (dare I say it?) wrong? Did he apologize? There’s not story of him repeating that behavior in subsequent years.

Jesus was 12, and he was human. Was he not capable of bad judgment, even in the midst of righteous intentions?

In the next chapter, Jesus is teaching in his hometown of Nazareth. Initially, people respond positively. Then he takes it too far, crossing a line into heresy, and he alienated people who had no doubt played important roles in his life. For what purpose? Was this just the human side exercising poor judgment? A case of saying more than (he should have known) they were ready to accept?

There are other examples where, looking at Jesus “from below,” we could conclude Jesus didn’t ALWAYS know the exact right thing to do and say. For me, it doesn’t make him any less God. But it goes against the view of Jesus we normally teach and portray.

Just musing.

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That Highly Inefficient Roman Census

Reading about the census in Luke 2, it seems highly inefficient, having people travel to their ancestral home.

For Joseph, that meant going to Bethlehem, known as the City of David. But why stop at David? Joseph was also a descendent of Boaz, and Joseph, and Isaac. How did he know the lineage cut-off point? Did he get a letter in the mail? Was there a Census Bureau website he could consult? Was the rule, “Wherever your descendents lived at the time of David, that’s where you go”?

And why should the Romans care about everyone’s ancestral home? Wouldn’t they be more interested in, “How many people currently live in Nazareth? How many currently live in Capernaum?”

If we did the US census that way, imagine the confusion, with people traveling all across the country. I would go to either Lake Odessa or Lowell in Michigan…or maybe Kadoka, South Dakota. Maybe I would arrive in Lake Odessa and be told, “A-L is in Lowell. Only M-Z is in Lake Odessa.” Or maybe they would say, “No, Dennies have to go to South Dakota.” That would be a bummer.

What about immigrants who had no ancestral home in Israel? Where did they go to register? I’m sure the Romans wanted to tax them like everyone else.

How did people prove they had registered? Did they get a paper of some kind? It’s not like a Roman soldier could call up the office in Bethlehem and ask, “Did a Joseph from Nazareth register there?”

These are my questions for today.

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When Kids Find a Gun in the House

I’m continually disturbed by how many young children find a loaded gun in their home, “play” with it (that’s always the word used), and end up shooting themselves–often fatally. For several years, I’ve been reading gunviolencearchive.org, which daily compiles stories of unintentional shootings and accidental discharges. Every time, there are stories about children shooting themselves.

  • A 4-year-old girl shot herself with her father’s gun hidden in a couch.
  • A 2-year-old, going to the kitchen in the night, shot himself with a gun in a kitchen cabinet.
  • A 9-year-old found a gun in a car, and killed himself with a bullet to the chest.
  • Two children are “playing” with a gun, and one gets shot.
  • A girl, 5, found her Dad’s .45 handgun in a backpack in the bedroom and shot herself in the head.
  • A boy, 5, shot himself in the hand with a gun found in an unsecured safe.
  • A boy, 3, shot himself in the head with a gun left out in the bedroom.
  • During a 3-day period in Memphis, three children accidentally shot themselves–boys 8 and 4, both of whom died, and a girl, 4. (Memphis leads the nation in accidental shootings of children.)
  • A 10-year-old shot and killed his brother, 8, with a Glock found in their home. He thought it was a fake gun.
  • A 4-year-old boy died after shooting himself with a gun found at a babysitter’s house.

In one gun class Pam and I took, the instructor said kids always have some instinct to look down the barrel of a gun. Shudder.

Usually, accidental shootings happens at home. Sometimes they are visiting a relative and find a hidden gun. Sometimes it’s not your kid, but somebody else staying overnight who finds the loaded gun that your own kid has been taught to leave alone. Sometimes, it’s a gun kept in the car; the mom runs into the store, and the child finds the gun in the console or under the seat. There are a zillion scenarios.

Growing up, us cousins would hang out in my grandpa’s utility room, where a shotgun, a .22 rifle, and a handgun hung on the wall. We NEVER touched them. Dad told me recently that, as a young father, he worried about that, knowing the guns were loaded. But really, we left them alone. (If any of my cousins want to confess to something, feel free.) But kids can be curious.

In some states, it is illegal to leave a firearm where an unsupervised minor can access it. In many of the stories I read on gunviolencearchive, it’s chalked up as a terrible accident. But in many other stories, the parent is arrested.

No matter how well you train your own kids regarding weapons in your own home, you can’t speak for what will happen when your kid goes to somebody else’s home with other people’s kids, or when other people’s kids come to your own home. I’ve read articles about how today’s parents sometimes, before allowing their kid to visit another home, ask about the presence of firearms there. It’s not a matter of being anti-gun. It’s smart parenting.

All across the country, the clear trend is to loosen gun laws. I’m not a fan of that, especially with so many child shootings occurring.

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Book Review: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by James Martin

Today, I FINALLY finished one of the best Christian books I’ve ever read: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by Jesuit priest James Martin. At it’s most basic, it’s a travel guide: Martin and a fellow priest visit Holy Land sites from Jesus’ life, and Martin writes about them. Most chapters have three parts: he tells the biblical story that happened there, he relates his own visit, and he shares insights about the story. He also includes the actual Scriptural text at the end of each chapter. Seems simple. But he delivers such wonderfully rich stuff. The trip isn’t about tourism and taking selfies. It’s a true spiritual pilgrimage.
Maybe it’s especially interesting to me because he’s a Jesuit priest. He’s sharing things from angles outside of my own religious tradition. If an evangelical minister did the same thing, I’d probably hear the same stuff I’ve heard in a zillion sermons since childhood. But it was made more interesting (to me) because I learned so much about the Jesuit lifestyle and the many intentional spiritual practices built into being a Jesuit. I learned to greatly admire that lifestyle and how they pursue God.
Martin is quite traditional in his view of Scripture, no different from me. Many chapters dealt with miracles performed by Jesus. He often mentioned ways scholars, even evangelical ones, have dismissed the miracle with a natural explanation. But Martin will have none of it. It’s a miracle, and he’s not budging.
Martin says in the intro, “Humanity and divinity are both part of Jesus’ story. Omit one or the other, scissor out the uncomfortable parts, and it’s not Jesus we’re talking about any longer. It’s our own creation.” His trip was to better understand the real Jesus by visiting what he calls “The Fifth Gospel,” the Holy Land itself where Jesus lived and walked.
He writes, “I would like to invite you to meet the Jesus you already may know, but in a new way. Of, if you don’t know much about Jesus, I would like to introduce him to you. Overall, I would like to introduce you to the Jesus I know, and love, the person at the center of my life. Getting to know Jesus, like getting to know anyone, has been a pilgrimmage. Part of that pilgrimage was a trip to Israel, one that changed my life.”
It’s a long book, 500 pages with 25 chapters. I read it slowly, savoring it over a period of two years. I’m glad I did.
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Freak Out in the Dentist’s Chair


This morning I had the blessed joy of getting fitted for not one, but TWO crowns. A double coronation. One tooth has been a candidate for a crown for years, but hasn’t caused any problems, so the dentist said not to worry about it. But a few weeks ago, a big piece broke from a neighboring tooth. It requires a crown to repair, and it made sense to just do both of them.

The thing I hate–and let me stress, “hate” is an accurate word, is “dread”–is that insidious rubber dam they put into your mouth. I guess it makes a dentist’s life easier. But it triggers all of my claustrophobic impulses. All of them. They are legion.

My dentist apparently noticed my white-knuckle grip on the chair as he prepared to insert the loathsome thing. He said he would work quickly.

I told I would try not to freak out, but couldn’t guarantee anything. The words “freak out” caught his attention. He said he thought he could do the necessary procedure without the rubber dam…and he did, just fine.

All that to say: dear patient, we have options. And no dentist wants to see a patient freak out.

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Saul, Damascus, ICE, and Iraq

Today, Pastor Kevin preached about Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Acts 9 tells how Saul, with the approval from authorities, was finding Christians–men and women–and dragging them off to prison. During our discussion time, Kevin asked what we thought Saul was thinking during those three days he sat in Damascus, blind, after hearing Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

I didn’t enter into the discussion, but here’s what I was thinking. Did Saul think about the human cost of what he had been doing? Of ripping mothers and fathers away from their children? Of taking a man or woman from his/her spouse? Of disrupting livelihoods and causing hardship for the people who depended on them? Of the mistreatment these people experienced while incarcerated? Of the fear un-arrested Christians lived with every day?

My mind went in that direction because I’m still extremely troubled by what happened last weekend in Detroit, when ICE swooped in and arrested scores of Chaldean Christians to deport them back to Iraq. What Saul did 2000 years ago was echoed in Detroit–families being ripped apart, people living in fear, children traumatized, livelihoods disrupted, extended family members forced to seek recourse where little recourse existed because of unbending policies. Tears, lots of tears, and anguish. Hundreds more Chaldean Christians have been targeted for deportation. Some have already been sent back to Iraq.

I don’t know what happened to those persons Saul imprisoned. How long were they incarcerated? What kind of sentences did they receive? Were some executed? What happened to their children? To their businesses? To the extended family who depended on them? Did they have any legal recourse?

Those folks in Detroit, like the countless others ICE has arrested during the last few months across the country, have practically no recourse. They are in the ICE system, and they will be deported. I’ve also discovered that, Christians or not, they have practically no sympathy from conservative evangelicals like me.

As these Christians are returned to Iraq, we can be pretty sure that at least some of them will be killed there. Sometimes crucified. Yes, that happens in Iraq. In America, they have freedom to practice (like me) their Christian faith; in Iraq, they can be killed for it. Since 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq has plummeted from 1.4 million to 200,000. This is what we are sending men and women, mothers and fathers, back to. This is what people said they elected the president to do.

As an American, I will be partly responsible for their deaths. I’m not okay with that.

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Am I That Kind of Person?

Am I the type of Christian who would shelter and aid an undocumented person to prevent a great injustice from occurring?

One of my predecessors was That Kind of Person. William Hanby, the United Brethren denominational editor in the 1840s and 1850s, and also a bishop for four years, spent 20 years helping runaway slaves who came across his path in Ohio. It was illegal. Hanby–an ordained minister, a bishop–was intentionally breaking the law, risking imprisonment. But today we view him as a hero.

I’d like to know the first time Hanby was faced with fugitive slaves, with pursuers close on their heels. Perhaps he tried to talk himself out of helping–it would be so easy to rationalize it away. But in deciding to help, he learned that he was That Kind of Person.

The incredible book “Conscience and Courage,” which I read many years ago, tells the stories of ordinary Europeans who risked their lives to shelter Jews. Author Eva Fogelman says rescuers didn’t fit a particular profile. Most didn’t set out to be rescuers, or consider themselves heroic or even sympathetic to Jews. But when presented with Jews on their doorstep, they decided to help. Only then did they realize they were That Kind of Person.

Today–EVERY DAY in our America–Hispanic families are getting ripped apart. Great injustices happen EVERY DAY. A few days ago I wrote about the Beristains in South Bend, Ind. They are just one example. What happened to that family happens EVERY SINGLE DAY. Enormous trauma is happening to families all around us because of government policies, but most of us never encounter it.

I have practically no contact with the Latino community. But if presented with a family threatened with being ripped apart and thrown into the ICE gulag, would I discover that I was a William Hanby Kind of Person? I could easily rationalize myself out of helping. Most evangelical Christians would. Would I?

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