Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Drugs, Guns, and Immigration: An Unholy Trinity of Failed Policy

The reports out of Juarez, Mexico, are depressing, doubly so for me.  I grew up in the border area of El Paso with many relatives on both sides of the border. My memories of going to the mercado, of watching the women patty-caking masa into corn tortillas, of festivals and Danza de los Voladores (The Dance of the Flyers), filled me with a sense of the magical and beautiful and a world teeming with mystery. So, seeing that part of the world descend into darkness and evil fills me with dread. Family members have fled, legally, to El Paso for safety. The drug war is destroying part of the world I love, destroying part of me.

The forces that brought the disastrous border conditions are varied, from corrupt Mexican government to a social structure of Mexico that keeps the poor oppressed. There are problems south of the border. There are also causes north of border as well. The contributing reasons include our failed immigration, drug, and gun policies. These three unholy policies here have help to created a climate where any young guy with a gun and violent moxy can get rich by feeding the economic system of cheap labor and cheap drugs. Capitalism writ large in blood.

Our gun laws feed the violence plaguing the border as cheap guns on this side of the border make for cheap life on the southern side. So bullheaded is our love of guns that even a provision to forbid members on the terrorist watch list from buying guns was defeated. The drug cartels are armed in large part on the U.S. side. Heaven forbid a drug lord or terrorist be denied the right to bear arms. That is the meaning of the Second Amendment. Right?

But focusing only on the number of drug arrests has produced a toxic mess in this country. The story of a major drug dealer giving up a small part of his circle of clients in a plea bargain is all too common. The major dealer gets a slap on the wrist and goes back to recruiting and selling. The low level users get locked up for years, possibly turning them into hardened criminals. The police get large numbers of arrests and stats to dazzle the public. The public gets the raw end. The bad guys go mostly free and the low level users that could be helped with drug therapy go to prison instead.
Finally, an immigration policy based on xenophobia and historical guilt has created a deep resentment in this country to a centuries-old phenomena. On one hand Americans offer immigrants jobs, and on the other hand call them “illegal.” “Yes,” we say to them, “Do our dirty dangerous jobs that we don’t want to do, but after that get out.” It is interesting that we call such migrant workers “illegals,” but never do we call businesses using that labor “illegal businesses.” In fact, we think it good business practice to get the cheapest labor possible. If there were no one willing to hire migrant workers, then immigration would slow to a trickle based on sound economic principles. Yet, we place the whole blame on the “illegals.” We want to have our lettuce and eat it too.

St. Paul gave Christians a way of judging actions by basing them on the fruit of that action. Based on this biblical criteria, our policies are a miserable failure. The unholy trio are certainly unchristian and worse, a miserable failure.

first posted  

God's Politics

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pleading Psalm—a modern response

Lord God, Master of the universe,
I am tired as only
a mortal can be.Death weighs
Me down as a baby’s terror cry
from out of the Darkness. Death,
not my own but of seas, but of children,
but of love, these deaths bear down
as I plead for new life.

I am lost
for the moment of how to answer
the weeping of widows, or whipped slaves
invisible or the thrown away children
wandering the streets
of our urine smelling cities.
I tired of friends ripped raw by divorce.

Tired of children being used
as objects of men’s evil desires.
Weary of hearing stories
Which I can not help, for
I am no ones savior.

Tired of the wicked who win
as they break the souls of the weak, win
by cheating, by accusing the lowly,
winning by drying the land into desert,
winning by poisoning the seas. They
Hate you for loving us. They claim you
As the source of their sin they call virtue
as they bomb the innocent.
I tired of being part their company.
I am so tired of my son’s pain, a baby
Born with words misspelled in his genome.
Weary, weary, weary of the anger
That goes by the name of politics.
Pick a side to hate. Kill those
Who want us dead says this logic.
How do we love our enemies?
Weary of being forsaken
on our daily cross, I cry,
“How long do we have to taste
our own blood trickling
from our foreheads?”

I am tired, Lord, of waiting.
So tired, I nearly
Forgot. You are with us. I catch glimpses
Of you, the Word, in the children eyes,
Their heads shaved in fight with cancer. Your
Pierce hand holds me as speak with nurses
Who care in ICU wards. I enter your
Word and find peace with others
because you beckoned me
from my weariness.You
carry the lost sheep home.
Come Lord Jesus, Come.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chruch Success, Follow Jesus, proclaim the Gospel and life follows

I am excited about what my church is starting to do. One of the least understood aspects of the great commission (Matt 28:16-20) is that it gives life. When people got out and practice the great commission, they get the greatest gift, life and it is the very meaning of Grace. Loving Jesus meas following Jesus, which means finding service where you live. Last night at council, the president, (me, and yes the are scrapping the bottom of the barrel, but it work for Jesus.) made a suggestion for staring three initiatives for following the Gospel in our context, birthday party each month to celebrate the gift of others God gave us, a night feeding people whose children are in the hospital, and for a a global effort, Free the Slaves. Not only did they love them, they added their own. All of them generated by the daily living and not some secret I want to open it to the rest of the congregation to start several ministries.

I have been on a Ted Talk kick lately. This one is about success. Richard St John says the first step is doing you passion. My passion is Jesus.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sam Harris is Dancing with the Stars and Tripping over the Science, Morality and Logic

Recently, Sam Harris brought up the topic of Science and Morality, taking aim at a longstanding tradition of philosophy saying it is impossible to derive an ought from is. His Ted Talk, the Reason Project website, his Huffington posts have all been pressed onto the floor, music blaring in his bid to impress the judges and squeeze another best seller out of his fifteen minutes of fame. His upcoming book, The Moral Landscape is his attempt to refute 200 years of science, logic and philosophy. Can he do it?

For those unfamiliar with Sam Harris, he, in 2004, published an emotionally fueled best seller out of his fears of organized religion. Using high school logic, he claimed to refute religion in favor of science once and for all. Normally, such an effort would hardly amount to anything but a C- in a freshman philosophy class with a note to read Wittgenstein, but coming on the heals of 9-11, it became a run away hit and tied Harris to the new atheists revival of the 18th century dream, which thinks religion will fade into the dark history of human history. Thomas Huxley’s silly windmill lancing was alive and well in Harris’s book. Suddenly, a whole industry grew over night channeling the misplace emotions into self-congratulating frenzy of biases and bigotry. Speaking tours, best sellers, and attention followed. Sam was one of the first celebrity intellectuals of the new millennium less for the quality of his thinking and more for quantity of his fame.

The dream, of course, fundamentally misunderstands religion and pits it against science based on a narrow view of materialistic reality, a dream that died with the linguistic turn of Philosophy. The problem for Dr. Harris is that after his borrowed logic, his ideas are nothing more than older forms like Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian, and knee jerk fear generated by 9-11, there not much to his writing. He certainly lacks the cleverness of Richard Dawkins, the sardonic wit of Christopher Hitchens, or even the grumpy old man charm of PZ Myers. So, his problem is how to maintain his Celebrity? Like many of the past their prime time contestants on Dancing with Stars, he is looking to continue his fame by revising his shtick to include morality. Unfortunately, if his Ted Talk and the rest of his attempts at promotion of his new book, he will disappoint like an aging comic trying to ChaCha with a professional dancer only to look like a buffoon tripping over his and other’s feet. Fame is such a fleeting thing.

Lets, for fun look at his proposal. First, his argument against David Hume Ought/is divide is easy to sum up. Sam simply disagrees. That’s it, no questioning Hume’s assumptions, or his logic; he presents no outline of an argument; Sam just disagrees. Sam speaks and we should listen. Why? Second, he says that morality should be based on human flourishing and that human flourishing is based on states of consciousness. So, he is proposing a neurobiological version of utilitarianism with a group of scientists as the judges of what is moral. Third, he wants to keep the idea of human flourishing both vague and definite. We both can have arguments about what it means, but agreement on what it doesn’t and religion is in the no column. Most damaging is his view of moral philosophy, he does not think it right to even consider it:

First, a disclaimer and non-apology: Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy. There are two reasons why I haven't done this: First, while I have read a fair amount of this literature, I did not arrive at my position on the relationship between human values and the rest of human knowledge by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continued progress in the sciences of mind. Second, I am convinced that every appearance of terms like "metaethics," "deontology," "noncognitivism," "anti-realism," "emotivism," and the like, directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe. My goal, both in speaking at conferences like TED and in writing my book, is to start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and find helpful. Few things would make this goal harder to achieve than for me to speak and write like an academic philosopher. Of course, some discussion of philosophy is unavoidable, but my approach is to generally make an end run around many of the views and conceptual distinctions that make academic discussions of human values so inaccessible. While this is guaranteed to annoy a few people, the prominent philosophers I've consulted seem to understand and support what I am doing.

I do applaud his attempting to fight moral relativism, but brownie points for effort are not an endorsement for his work. I don’t know how good, rational, or coherent his new book will be, as it is not out yet, but the coming previews Dr. Harris has presented, with his philosophical pratfalls and goofing thinking does not bode well. It seems that the clock is on fourteen minutes for Dr. Harris's fame. Well Dr. Harris, maybe there a reality show in your future: Celebrity Intellectuals, Being a Real Live Chauncey Gardner, or Fooling Them Some of the Time for Fame.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's day poem

Yesterday was mother's day and  below is a poem from Baby Tito's blog.   Also, there is great refection by my wife on her journey as a mother. The poem below made me think can we know the meaning of the word before we know the word?

Ode to my Mama
by Ernesto Tinajero II, (baby Tito) for my mama’s second Mother’s day

 (Okay, Papi help a little to write the poem)

I learned the meaning
Of mama before I could
Say the word. You sing to me
The hymns you compose for me.
Your song sings
Of love, God and me,
Your baby. You answer

my calls of the night,
of the terrors of time, space
and hunger with food
and the warmth
of your lap. Mama,

the word taste good
as I struggle to speak.
It is best to learn
the meaning of some
words before being
able to say them.

Words like love,
God and Mama.

Oh, Mama, mama, mama

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Science, Denialism, and the Idea Fix

Science is one of those fields that many love to claim. Whether it is been homeopathy, eugenics or the many of the fringe movements, the claim to being a scientist or based on science. To say that is science proved this or that means in practice to stop debates or questions. Those that question the findings of science are the curse on humanity, the science deniers. Those whose home should be in the Middle Ages, funny how it is always the Middle Ages and not some other age. Now, do not misunderstand me, the endeavor that encompass the scientific quest has left humanity better off than our ancestors. My point is that it is still a human quest. A quest influenced by both the grace and bias of humanity. A quest that has to include humility less it becomes There have been those who use science to prove their biases. Eugenics, a science (?) claimed to prove racists theory with the evidence to prove it. The work of Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve shows such thinking is still with us.

Michael Specter newsy book takes on those dreaded science denialists in his newest book, Denialism, How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives. Below is his Ted talk which he outlines his complaints.

My criticism of his polemic is that though many of the examples from his book are cherry picked, and most claimed Science as their basis. He goes on a tirade against the don’t-vaccinate-because-it-causes-autism crowd. But, wasn’t started by a research Dr. Andrew Wakefield dubious scientific article. The whole Eugenics movement was comfortable with their science background. The real culprit in many of these cases is the idea fix that Stephen Jay Gould as brilliantly wrote about. We fall in love with a idea that we fight for it despite evidence against it. It is simply our arrogance. The problem seems to be human nature.

Listen to Michael Specter talk and tell me want you think.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chronicle of a Resurrection Foretold

To criticize is to assume that one could do better, and by nature the critic must stand apart, from the sidelines, so to speak. Sometimes that is welcome, as with a coach. Sometimes it is unwelcome, as with your mother telling you to come back and put on your coat. It is cold outside. Reading the defense and the hurt feelings generated from all sides by Soong-Chan Rah’s recent essay on the whiteness of the Emergent Church, to add my voice would be as welcomed as the big brother adding, “Yeah, what mom said.”

Yet, I add. I add not out of sense of being better, or knowing how best to do church, but I add from my own experiences with the Emergent Church movement. I have known, from my times at Fuller in the earlier part of our shared millennium, many people involved in the Emergent Church movement. The love of postmodern philosophy was thick in the air. Choking on some Derrida distinction was common. Many of the students were gathering in new communities that were called by various names. One — the tribe — comes to mind. They were cool, and gathered in large drum circles during worship time. For the most part, they drew their numbers from middle class American students that could be called white. Throughout this movement was a strong streak of wanting to be seen as different than from what came before. They were not like their parents, and there was a touch of running away from their history. I remember there was also a strong dislike for old white dudes. It also left the large population of international students untouched. Why? I am not too sure.

I don’t think it had to do with being exclusive. Most of the students wanted to identify with the oppressed and the downtrodden. I liked them, even as they tried to place me within their narrative like a red octagon peg in a square hole: Sometimes I fit and other times I didn’t. Being a Mexican-American that looked different from what they thought Mexican-Americans should look like, I had to defend more than once the fact of being born in Mexico to Mexican parents. “You don’t look Mexican. Are you sure you’re not Italian?”

I introduced many of them to the beauty of Pablo Neruda’s poems, to the grand puzzles of Jorge Borges, and the spice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels. I remember one young woman, reading some of Neruda’s one hundred love sonnets, slamming the book closed and declaring she wanted a man to love her that way. From some of them, I learned the pain of being the losers in Civil War, and how it still shaped them. We shared our lives through the bridge Jesus gave us. Then a stereotype, mine or theirs, would slam us back to “me and them.” Stories can close humans as much as open them.

I do wish I had a chance to say to my friends in the Emergent Church that my people were more than just an oppressed people. We are a people of music, art, and joy. We are a people of villains, heroes, of strong women, and stories of power, greed and redemption. To move forward, like in any relationship, leads through the cross. We were not victims, even if we had been victimized before. We all need to know and acknowledge our history. We all need Jesus to love us in that deep way.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Free the slaves, Dr Bales and the breaking of the chains

There are more people in Slavery today (27 million) than were taken during the slave trade days. This is the bad news, the good news is by percentages, slavery is at lowest point in human history. Sojourners had a piece on the issue of Slavery recently titled Slavery is Alive and Well. While too many people are in Slavery, we have to see that only a little effort by us can eliminate this most evil of practices.

The below talk at TED by Dr. Kevin Bales of  FREE THE SLAVES makes the case that slavery is in fact on its deathbed and that only 10.8 billion is need to push it over the edge into the dustbin of history.What is the most disturbing part of Dr. Bales work is that people are view as such a cheap commodity, a direct challenge to the Christian worldview. We, Christians, believe that Jesus can and gave himself for others. God, himself valued human life as to offer himself to free us from the slavery of sin. Christians were on the frontlines to stop slavery in US and Britain. The proclamation is the freeing of the slaves, and as Jesus freed us, we must work for the freedom of others. I pray that my fellow followers of Jesus will join the movement to end Slavery once and for all. View below and get involved to end this scourge of humanity.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Marshmallow Theology

Listening to Tom Wujec TED talk about the marshmallow challenge made me wonder how church leaders would do. How would theologians? Pastors? Council Presidents? The last one really interests me as I am the president of my council and I want to build me church.

I love that one Business Graduates (not a good sign for those Church consultants) did the worst and Kindergarden kids did the best.

What can the church learn? I think that in the act of doing can a design work, there is more than one way for a design to function for its intended purpose, not get in each others way. Missionaries have long had to do what this exercise does. See what materials are available, keep the goal in mind and there is multiple ways of getting there. As we go on our way to proclaim the Gospel, it good to keep in mind our goal, Jesus