Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, April 5, 2015 8:10 pm

Odds and ends for April 5

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Cops in California are using a 1930s-era anti-lynching statute to intimidate protesters. Prosecutors so far have declined to press those charges, but it’s only a matter of time until a right-wing nutjob decides to try to make an example of someone.

Speaking of California, its people are in serious denial about its extreme drought, now in its fourth year. About 94% of the state considers the drought serious, but 61% still favor voluntary measures to deal with it. Y’all need to wake up.

Likely presidential contender and perennial horse’s ass Mike Huckabee thinks I’m a member of the “militant gay community,” inasmuch as that’s whom he’s blaming for the backlash against Indiana’s bigoted “religious freedom” statute. Who knew that Christians who take the Second Great Commandment seriously were militant gays? My wife certainly had no idea.

We have a system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent and this case proves it.” (Previously.)

In Florida, relatives of officers of for-profit charter-school companies are enacting legislation to divert money from public schools to charter schools. But none dare call it a conflict of interest, let alone a crime.

Randi Harper, somewhat unwillingly turned into an activist by GamerGaters and perpetrators of online violent and/or sexual threats, got SWATed — someone called in a false tip to police that led a SWAT team to raid her apartment. Her experience could have ended with her dead, or at least her dog. Fortunately, both are alive and well. She talks about what you need to do to protect yourself from such potentially deadly “pranks.” For the record, given the risk of gunplay anytime heavily armed cops storm a home, I think this “prank” should be treated as attempted manslaughter, at least. (h/t: Chip)

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh draws a useful distinction between what he does and much of the “news” you see in print and online today: Instead of taking a tip and building it into a story, too many reporters just run the tip.

 

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Saturday, November 15, 2014 1:56 pm

All kinds of awesome: “Pieholes should be quiet.”

Filed under: Cool!,Religion — Lex @ 1:56 pm
Tags:

I don’t know which is better about this, that a little girl is trying to shout down an amplified street preacher or that the street preacher is very politely ignoring her, thereby, in at least a small way, living Christ’s teachings. Me, I found myself pulling for both of them.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 8:42 pm

Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is one — VERY strange dude

Filed under: Religion,Weird — Lex @ 8:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

Yeah, OK,  I’m mixing my faith references here. Sue me. But I got tickled when my friend, ex-colleague and former boss Teresa Prout, then and now the city editor of the News & Record, posted on Facebook the other day about  getting an email from a man who claims his father is one of four prophets who have been designated by God to carry out His will before the end of the world, which is coming March 11. (Naturally, one of my midterm projects is due March 7. But, noooooo, the world couldn’t end a week earlier.) The prophet in question is in prison for killing his wife and a judge, by the way.

Nobody spends much time in the newspaper bidness without encountering religious zealots, and it can be hard sometimes to distinguish the merely overzealous from the outright insane. But her anecdote reminded me of an incident when I was the N&R’s religion writer (and Teresa was my editor at the time) that led me to write a column that, as it happens, was published 15 years ago last week. Unlike a lot of my older stuff, it actually has held up pretty well:

One busy afternoon just before Christmas, one of our receptionists called to say that a man had come in who wanted to talk to someone immediately about an important religion story.

I walked downstairs to the lobby, where I met a man about my height but heavier, with long, slicked-back, salt-and-pepper hair and a salt-and-pepper beard. He was dressed in black from his jacket and shirt down to the pointed toes of his boots. In fact, he cut such a Mephistophelian figure that I shouldn’t have been surprised when we had sat down in the lobby’s only two chairs and he announced that he was Jesus Christ.

A number of questions began running through my mind, the first one being the question of why there was no guard at our lobby security desk. The second one was: How can I get this man out the front door? The third one was: OK, even if this guy isn’t Jesus, he’s still a human being toward whom, according to Christ’s second great commandment and the dictates of good customer relations, I have some obligations, so how can I meet those obligations gracefully and compassionately?

And — hey, I am a reporter — the fourth one was: What if he’s telling the truth?

“I see,” I said. “Have you always known that you were Jesus?”

“Found out about 10 years ago,” he said.

“And where were you when you found out?”

“I was in prison,” he said.

“No kidding. Where was that?”

“Butner,” he said. Butner, just northeast of Durham on Interstate 85, is the home of a well-known state mental hospital and a lesser-known federal prison and mental facility.

“Why were you there?”

“I beat a man up in Eden pretty bad” — Eden being the Rockingham County town, not the garden, I ascertained.

“But you didn’t yet know you were Jesus when you did that?”

“That’s right,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that now, of course.”

“Well, if you are Jesus, that’s obviously a big story,” I told him. “But see, we’ve got a problem. We’ve got to convince my editors. We can’t just write a story saying that you’re Jesus. We need proof. Now, the Bible says there will be signs and wonders to accompany the return of Christ. Got any of that?”

No, he said. He couldn’t really prove he was Jesus.

“OK, as Jesus Christ, what is it you’re here to do? Anything in particular?”

“Judge the world,” he said, shifting a bit in his chair. As he did, I realized there was some kind of bulge under his jacket near the left armpit, and what had been a mild situation suddenly felt threatening.

Was it a gun? I couldn’t tell. But now, in addition to my obligations to this man, I had other obligations, namely protecting my co-workers — two receptionists were behind the desk nearby, and other people were walking casually through the lobby — and myself.

I gauged the distance between my left hand and the flowerpot on the table between us. I gauged the angle. And I resolved that if his right hand so much as twitched toward his jacket, I was going to smash that flowerpot against his temple as hard as I could.

“Judge the world,” I repeated. “And how are you going to do that?” He looked confused, so I added, “I mean, are you going to judge the world collectively or individually? Everybody at once or one person at a time?”

“Oh, one person at a time,” he said. “That seems fairest.”

“Well, won’t that take a long time?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But I’ve got a long time.”

Whom would he start with? He wasn’t sure. When would he start? He wasn’t sure about that either.

We talked about 10 minutes more, and I kept steering the conversation back to the point that unless we had some kind of objective proof that he was Jesus, the News & Record wouldn’t be doing a story about him. He wasn’t terribly unhappy about that, but he wasn’t taking the hint, either, and there still was no security guard.

Finally, I mentioned that I might entertain the notion of his writing a guest column for the Religion page. That prospect brightened him a bit, and he agreed to consider it. We stood up and shook hands, and he walked out the front door.

No reporter stays long in this business without hearing — usually by mail — from someone claiming to be Jesus. And after almost every one of these contacts, I have speculated upon the exact manner in which Jesus might choose to make himself known if he were to return today. (In my more disgruntled moments, I even draw up an agenda for him.)

The Book of Revelation foretells the manner of Christ’s return, and its account bears little resemblance to the manner of my black-clad visitor. It certainly doesn’t suggest that he might come back as a rough-hewn man of the street with a simple, powerful and disturbing message.

But then, that’s pretty much how he came the first time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012 9:05 pm

He Is Risen: An outsourced reflection, a prediction, a prayer

I spent this weekend finishing up a final project for one of my courses for the semester. Save a proofreading, it’s done, and I can turn it in two weeks early. Which is good, because the project in the other course is going to kill me, but that’s not today’s point.

What’s today’s point, and yesterday’s, and, really, the point for all of Holy Week and the point for all time for anyone who claims to be a Christian or just admires Christ as a historical figure, is the radical nature of what Jesus asked us to do and who he asked us to be. I’ve read volumes on that subject over the years, and despite my misanthropy, recent dearth of church-going and occasional proclivity for PG-13 language here, I take it seriously.

And I’ve found few pithier summaries than this one, posted on Good Friday by Charlie Pierce. He responded to a temporal event in a specifically Roman Catholic context with small-c catholic truths that show no sign of dimming after 2,000 years:

… the liturgies of Holy Week … are the most moving because the one thing they’re not about is authority.

Authority is the villain during Holy Week. Secular authority, in the person of Pontius Pilate. Religious authority, in the institution of the Sanhedrin. What matters most throughout the season is the individual conscience. As Garry Wills never tires of pointing out, Christ did not make priests. He did not make a Church. And he sure as all hell didn’t make a Pope …

What stands out in the Holy Week services is humility in the face of unreasoning authority. What stands out, ultimately, and whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, or think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey imported from the Egyptian mystery cults or somewhere, is that, in the story of Easter week, unreasoning authority loses. It loses badly.

I am under no illusions about what life is going to be like in this country in the coming decade or two. Our bankers are going to insist that the rest of us kiss their asses and give them our money, and no one is going to stop them. Our church leaders are going to continue to engage in the decades-long continuing criminal enterprise of protecting child abusers and enabling history’s biggest thieves. Our police officers are going to use sexual humiliation to subjugate us and pepper spray and worse to keep us from exercising the rights our ancestors (and some of our contemporaries) died to obtain and protect, all in the name of protecting unreasoning authority. And our so-called leaders are going to continue to ignore the protests that the Earth itself is voicing in the plainest language, because, as Upton Sinclair famously observed, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends upon his not understanding it.

And, make no mistake, the pain will be widespread and it will be awful. We or people close to us will lose jobs, homes, health, even lives. And as bad as it will be here, it will be worse still in other places, many already enduring suffering unimaginable to most Americans.  I’m old enough not to care so much anymore about myself, but I’m terrified for my kids.

But, as cynical and pessimistic as I am, I also have faith — literally, the belief in and hope for something of which no evidence is visible — in this: Every single theft, every single swindle, every single assault, every single official lie, every act of abuse and dereliction of duty, every sin of commission and sin of omission by our unreasoning authorities, will, by engendering actions by Americans, others, or even God’s creation itself, bend the long moral arc of the universe just a tiny fraction closer to justice … in this world or the next.

Amen. Be armed, but go in peace.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:05 pm

Generosity

I’m a little late to this, but apparently GOP presidential candidate and pre-Vatican II Iron Catholic Rick Santorum said this:

I don’t believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and visions of our country.

Whereupon which Erik Kain observes:

This is either straight-up opportunism dressed in religious drag or it’s one of the dumbest things to have fled a politician’s mouth in, well, days.

Aw, Erik, why such a pinched, crabbed, constricted outlook? Couldn’t it be both?

Friday, May 20, 2011 7:38 pm

Rapping the rapture

Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 7:38 pm
Tags: , ,

For all I know, people in the western Pacific and eastern Asia are being bodily taken up into Heaven as I type, but I have found no credible news reports of such. Still, even if the world doesn’t end tomorrow, there’s still, as Britney Spears’s new music video reminds us, Dec, 21, 2012, to think about. So let’s think about the Rapture.

My friend the Rev. Ken Carter, pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte (and pastor of a United Methodist congregation here in Greensboro in the mid-1990s, when I met him), tweeted this:

references to #rapture end of world on fb [Facebook] & twitter allow cultured despisers to display free-floating aggression toward something: why? #God

Ken, as have been many members of my family over the years, is in the God business, so I understand his defensiveness. But, as I suspect he well knows, even many of us who count ourselves believers have been pretty hard on this whole world-is-ending-on-May-21 meme (guilty as charged here, here and here, for example).

For one thing, many, if not most, Christians rely on Jesus’s caution in Matthew 25:13: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” In other words, when Jesus comes again, it will be a surprise even to those who claim to know the Bible and the teachings of Jesus best.

But (allowing for the heightened risk of misunderstanding created by the 140-character limit of Twitter posts) Ken also, I think, is straying into a bit of broad-brush countercriticism of critics of the posted May 21 Rapture when he refers to those critics as “cultured despisers.”

For one thing, the phrase suggests he assumes that it’s only the “cultured” who “despise” the Rapture message — that, in other words, this is an issue of classism. Perhaps that’s not what Ken meant, but that’s how it comes across. And I know of no real evidence to suggest that May 21 Rapture criticism is rooted in classism.

He is right about aggression, but in many cases, I do not think that aggression is particularly free-floating. One of those cases is my own.

Because here’s the thing: Many of the same people who are touting the Rapture on the morrow are some of the same people who cling most tightly to beliefs that, counter to the teachings of Christ, increase the amount of human suffering in the world rather than alleviating it. And many of those people hold, or strongly influence those who hold, great political and economic power in our society, with the result that that power is used to make weaker people even more miserable than they already are.

Not only is this behavior bad in and of itself — direct disobedience of Christ’s teachings — it, in marketing terms, tarnishes the brand. It makes Christianity look silly and hypocritical, and some of us whom Ken dismisses as “cultural despisers” actually care a great deal for what these jackleg haters are hijacking.

Every time I read or hear about another instance of this kind of abuse of power, I want to slap someone. That’s not very Christian, I’ll be the first to admit. But neither is it “free-floating aggression” — against God or anything else worthy of worship. It’s a very focused aggression: focused on people who enjoy their power too much to stop using it for harmful ends or are too damned stupid to acknowledge their hypocrisy, let alone atone for the damage their beliefs and actions have caused.

I confess that another way in which I am an, ahem, imperfect Christian is that if the Rapture does come tomorrow, I expect that those who actually get Raptured will have been, like the boggle-eyed long-term employee who gets singled out for a lifetime-service surprise award at the company banquet, utterly unaware that they were among the Chosen. And I derive a distinctly un-Christian level of pleasure from the thought that after they’re gone, a lot of sanctimonious, self-righteous jerkwads who had taken special care not to drive tomorrow lest their driverless cars maim innocent (well, clearly not innocent if they’re still here) pedestrians after they were Raptured, will be left standing on the sidewalks, shaking their fists at the heavens and shouting, “Well? WELL?!?

Eyes on the ball, people. The Second Great Commandment is the prize. Keep your eye on that, and it won’t matter when the Rapture comes.

(Image: Longcat and Tacgnol of Fark.com; caption by DivaGeek)

Monday, March 8, 2010 8:18 pm

At which college would you be most likely to find Jesus?

Filed under: Religion — Lex @ 8:18 pm
Tags: ,

The answer may surprise you. The reason probably won’t.

UPDATE: Article wasn’t behind paywall when I started the post, but it is now. Stupid Chronicle. Hmph.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:29 pm

Persecution

Perhaps the least surprising aspect of this story is that the N&O had to shut down comments on it because they became so abusive:

A Wake County middle-school teacher may be fired after she and her friends made caustic remarks on a Facebook page about her students, the South and Christianity.

Melissa Hussain, an eighth-grade science teacher at West Lake Middle School in southern Wake County, was suspended with pay Friday while investigators review her case, according to Greg Thomas, a Wake schools spokesman. The suspension came after some of Hussain’s students and their parents objected to comments on her Facebook page, many revolving around her interaction with Christian students.

Hussain wrote on the social-networking site that it was a “hate crime” that students anonymously left a Bible on her desk, and she told how she “was able to shame her kids” over the incident. Her Facebook page included comments from friends about “ignorant southern rednecks,” and one commenter suggested Hussain retaliate by bringing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster to class with a swastika drawn on the NASCAR driver’s forehead.

“I don’t defend what the kids were doing,” said Murray Inman, a parent of one of Hussain’s students. “I just couldn’t imagine an educator, or a group of educators, engaging in this kind of dialogue about kids.”

Hussain did not return calls and e-mail messages Monday.

The Wake district doesn’t have a policy on the use of social networking sites, Thomas said. But the district, North Carolina’s largest, does have a code of ethics for employees that the school spokesman says applies to social networking. The code says employees’ conduct “should be such as to protect both the person’s integrity and/or reputation and that of the school system.”

Teachers across the nation have been suspended or fired because of questionable material posted on their Facebook pages and other online social networking sites.

Other thoughts:

  • The first rule of blogging about the day job is don’t blog about the day job. What the teacher did was stupid.
  • The second rule of blogging about the day job is don’t blog about the day job (unless blogging about the day job is part of your day job).
  • Commenters on one’s Web site/Facebook page can and will say all manner of stupid, objectionable stuff. While I would argue that one may have a moral obligation in some cases to take down such comments, I wouldn’t argue that one has any legal (or regulatory) obligation to, and I sure wouldn’t fire someone for comments someone else posted. In other words, whatever was posted in response to the teacher’s postings ought to be irrelevant for purposes of this discussion.
  • One irony about this case is that under current First Amendment law, government employees and non-government employees have roughly equivalent levels of freedom and risk with regard to speech about their respective employers, but the practical result is that government employees have less protection under the First Amendment itself, which protects citizens from government interference in their speech, than do private-sector employees.
  • The district’s employee code of conduct says employee conduct “should be such as to protect both the person’s integrity and/or reputation and that of the school system.” To the extent that this phrase even has any meaning, that meaning is BS. The school system cares only about its own reputation, and it cares about the employee’s reputation only to the extent that it is perceived to reflect upon the school system’s reputation. Moreover, who decides what actions do or do not damage one’s integrity or reputation? If, say, a war criminal like Dick Cheney claimed that I had a lousy reputation and no integrity for criticizing him, I would interpret that as proof that I had an outstanding reputation and a great deal of integrity, and so would many other people. I am not defending the teacher’s postings in this particular case; I’m saying that the code of conduct appears to be meaningless and therefore useless and irrelevant to this case.
  • If Murray Inman can’t imagine teachers “engaging in this kind of dialogue about kids,” then Murray Inman isn’t very imaginative. Everybody in every line of work imaginable says disparaging things about his/her customers from time to time, and teachers are not immune. If Inman meant he couldn’t imagine anyone would do so publicly, well, all I can say is that no level of human stupidity should be unimaginable; as a species, our capacity for Teh Stoopid approaches infinity. Some stupidity is fatal, and evolution is our friend in this regard, but it’s a long, slow process.
  • What the teacher did was stupid. It bears repeating.
  • What the children did was both stupid and cruel, which is worse than stupid alone even allowing for the fact that we’re talking about kids. These are middle-schoolers, not kindergartners.
  • What the parents who are defending their kids’ behavior and arguing for punishment for the teacher are doing is less teaching the teacher that actions have consequences, although it is that, than teaching their children that stupid, cruel behavior can and should be rewarded.

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