Archive for March, 2010

Lenten Focus #6 — Go

Posted in religion with tags , , on March 31, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is the final part of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.

I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. Honestly, I do. The only thing stopping me is my non-existent desire to run. Running is probably my least favorite thing to do in the world, so I rarely, if ever, run. I think the last time I ran was across the street, since I thought I could be a car across the intersection. I beat it, of course.

As much as I hate running, I also hate sitting still. I feel like I always have to be on the move, especially when I’m sitting in a class I don’t like. If I could just be able to move around more than crossing and uncrossing my legs during class (maybe Fruit Basket Upset in the middle of a lecture?), I would be more responsive to the material. But it is precisely my restlessness that gives me the energy to apply myself, albeit many times in the wrong areas.

The chaplain of the Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir when I was in it was a man by the name of Karsten. One night, during our nightly devotional, he was telling us about being installed in the first church he was called to. The sermon that day, written by the head pastor, was entitled “Go,” in reference to Karsten’s personality of “Gotta keep moving, gotta keep going, gotta keep trucking ahead.”

And really, how many of us can honestly say that we aren’t constantly moving in our lives? I know for myself, each day is filled with classes, homework, rehearsals, lessons, meals, walking, sitting, reading, as well as blinking and breathing when I can fit it in. And with all of my semesters from now until graduation being overloaded so I can finish in four years, my life will be busier than ever.

Go, go, go.

Reflecting on it, though, we should already be moving and going with the Spirit of Christ. In today’s society, there is so much focus on the self, and not enough focus on others. For students, our schedules are jam-packed for nine months, and then we get a quick three-month reprieve before jumping back into it again.

Go, go, go.

We should be taking that break, and using it as an opportunity to go out into the world and show people the True Light of Christ. We should just be so moved with the Holy Spirit that it’ll take several herds of wild elephants to get us to stop what we’re doing and go back to the grind of work and school.

I’m willing to make this personal sacrifice if you are. We should all be making the sacrifice of ourselves since, as followers of Christ, we are not ourselves, but rather we are the people that we serve. If we are the least of these, we will be first into the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s imperative that we serve others, as that is the whole message of Jesus: to love, to serve, to give of ourselves for the sake of others.

It’s a simple charge today: Go. Make a difference in the world.

Because of the holiday, there will be no posts on Friday or Monday. Happy Easter!

Enough is Enough

Posted in current events, politics with tags , , , , on March 26, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Republicans, Tea Party protesters, conservatives: This has gone too far.

I get that you’re upset about the passage of the health care reform bill. I get that you didn’t like some of the language in the bill. I get that you didn’t like how the bill was “shoved down your throats,” even though this was 100 years in progress, and major campaigning had been going on for a year.

What I don’t get is how inappropriate, violent, and childish this backlash has been. Take a look at what’s been going on since the health care bill was passed:

  • Two different people on Twitter called for the assassination of Barack Obama.
  • Rep. Bart Stupak got an obscene voice mail, calling him a “baby-killing motherf___er” and hoping that he “bleeds out [his] ass, gets cancer, and dies.”
  • Rep. Louise Slaughter had a brick thrown through her window and a voicemail threatening to have snipers kill all of the children of people who voted for the bill.

This has to stop. This is absolutely unacceptable. I get that there was a better way to go around getting health care reform, but there is also a better way to go around voicing your discomfort.

People had their qualms with President Bush when he was in office. And I’ll even admit that I had a few choice words for the man every so often. But nobody threw bricks, nobody left voicemails, and definitely nobody so publicly and adamantly called for his assassination!

Where have our heads gone? What kind of world has this turned into that everything that is said is taken at face value, and that no thought goes into our actions anymore?

And these aren’t rebellious teenagers! The stereotypical demographic that would be causing this much destruction and mayhem are actually the peaceful once! It’s older Americans, people over 40 years old, that are acting like children, throwing tantrums like children do, and making nuisances of themselves.

The main argument I keep hearing from people is that as taxpayers, they don’t want to pay for abortions, the way the new health care bill proposes. Guess what? As tax payers, you’re already paying for stuff you don’t even realize you’re paying for. This website lays out where taxes currently go:

32% Social Security, Medicare and Other Retirement

  • Income support for retired and disabled persons
  • Medical care for the elderly
23% National Defense, Veterans and Foreign Affairs

  • Equip, modernize and pay our armed forces
  • Fund national defense activities
  • Veterans benefits and services
  • Military and economic assistance to foreign countries
  • Maintenance of our embassies abroad
19% Social Programs

  • Medicaid
  • Food stamps
  • Health programs
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Assisted housing and social programs
8% Net interest on the debt

  • Interest payments on the national debt
12% Physical, Human and Community Development

  • Agricultural programs
  • Natural resources and environment programs
  • Transportation programs
  • Aid for elementary and secondary education
  • Direct assistance to college students Space, energy and general science programs
2% Law Enforcement and General Government

  • Federal law enforcement
  • Prisons
  • General costs of the federal government
  • Collection of taxes and legislative activities

I’m a taxpayer. I don’t want to pay for military support, because I don’t feel we should be a warring nation. But I pay it anyway. I also pay for illegal immigrants to use the emergency rooms at hospitals. I don’t want to, but I pay it anyway. I don’t want to pay for prisons or unemployment, but I have to, because that’s what taxpayers do.

This is the only con I’m hearing. I don’t want my taxes to go toward something I oppose.

Too bad.

There are much better pros to the whole thing: better health care, more available treatments, better insurance, and so on and so forth.

You say you love America, but you can’t even help your fellow Americans. It’s pathetic. It’s horrific. It’s unChristian.

Something must be done, and it starts with the American people. Find better ways to express your disgust. Write a Congressperson, makes phone calls, campaign.

Don’t be losers, throwing bricks, making obscene phone calls and death threats. And for God’s sake, if you’re going to “threaten” to move out of the country, do so. Find out for yourself how well you have it here.

Words cannot describe how disgusted I am with you people. Shame on you. From the bottom of my heart: shame, shame on you.

Lenten Focus #5 — Why Are You Going?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , on March 24, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is part five of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

I once read a study that said that most people who go into Psychology subconsciously want to figure out what is going on with them. They go into the field because they feel like something is wrong with them, and by working with and through other people, they can figure out what is wrong and fix it. This study also said that this practice is detrimental to the clients, as they are secondary to the needs of the self.

This whole Lenten period, I’ve been focusing these blogs on who we are, what our message is, and where we’re going, but I’ve never really addressed why. The short answer is I don’t really know why. The old saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways,” but the human mind wants to reason with the mystery. It is against human nature to just accept a statement as is; there has to be a reason, and there has to be a motive, and there can be no other answer.

Part of the reason this question comes up today is because it is the 20th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who, on this day, was assassinated during the Eucharist, in a small hospital chapel in El Salvador.

For those who are unaware of this significance (of which I was one until earlier today), Archbishop Romero was one of those conservative priests who refused to acknowledge the economic and social justice message of the Catholic Church at the time. His appointment of Archbishop was met with great protest, as no one wanted someone like him leading the people, someone who was less focused on the needs of the poor.

Until March 12.

On that day, Archbishop Romero saw his best friend and colleague, Father Rutilio Grande, shot and killed in the streets of El Salvador. Looking at the corpse of his best friend, Romero said to himself, “If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.”

It was on that day that Archbishop Romero completely turned himself around, fighting for the rights of the poor, assisting them, protecting them, and preaching to them. This eventually led to his assassination, the day after he gave a sermon telling all Christian soldiers to lay down their arms and to stop violating basic human rights.

Archbishop Romero’s story brings up a lot of questions: why did he suddenly turn himself around? Why would anyone want someone who helps the poor dead? Why, why, why?

What do psychologists and Oscar Romero have to do with today’s message? Today’s message is a somber one, and one that is unfortunately untrue with many people today.

I have a few megachurch pastors’ sermons as podcasts, and one week, I noticed that all of the pastors had the same subtext in a single statement that they made in their sermons: I am a pastor because I was guilty of how I was living. This is like the psychologists who get their doctorates to diagnose themselves. Pastors who are guilty for their sins are going to seminary because they feel that by doing so, they will be forgiven of their sins.

As the old saying goes, this is like buying an airplane because you want the free peanuts.

In order to follow Christ, we must live like Christ, and in order to live like Christ, we must be willing to die to and for Christ. Archbishop Romero died a martyr because he bought into the message of Jesus Christ: Love God with everything you got, and love your neighbor.

Glenn Beck, a man I simultaneously abhor and admire, said that if you belong to a religious institution that is big on social justice, you must get out of that institution as quickly as possible, because anyone for social justice is a socialist, a fascist, and a Communist, all wrapped up into one.

If this is true, then Jesus Christ is the biggest socialist/fascist/Communist/progressive liberal the world has ever seen, and millions upon millions of people follow him every single day.

Ask yourself: why are you on this journey with Christ? Is it because you are guilty of something you did? Or is it because you have died to Him, and are ready to go and change the world for the better?

Politics and the Playground: Democrats are Geeks and Republicans are Bullies

Posted in current events, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Normally, I don’t let my political views sway what I write about. I believe I mentioned earlier–perhaps a couple of times–that my views are strictly my views, and I rarely, if ever, push them on people.

That being said: Republicans are bullies.

And also: Democrats are geeks.

And further still: Politicians are children.

And one more for good measure: Americans are just as childish.

If anyone watched any part of the health care vote on any news outlet last night, they were treated to probably one of the most immature demonstrations of American governmental procedure of all time. Everything you expected (Tea Party protesters shouting racial slurs at House Democrats), and some that you didn’t (A Republican calling Rep. Bart Stupak a “baby killer”), and some that are just so completely off the wall you’d think it was a surrealist play or something (Bricks being through through Democratic Party office windows).

The House was rarely, if ever, in order. Though the Representatives were formal in there procedures (yielding time, “Mr. Speaker,” etc.), there was an obvious hatred and disdain for the other party.

Absolutely no Republicans at all supported anything about the health care reform bill. At all. At times I wondered if it was because they truly thought the bill needed some work. But looking at the campaigning against the bill, the hateful propoganda against the bill, and the constant references to the bill as “ObamaCare,” I realized that it was only apposed because of it’s Islamo-socio-fascist tendancies.

If we’re to believe the gross exaggerations the most vocal Republicans were throwing out, you’d think that the Health Care Bill required that all American citizens were to become Muslims, be euthanized at 65, and have a manditory abortion twice a month, regardless of gender. You’d think that all of your money is going toward illegal immigrants getting cosmetic surgery, and that if you so much as thought about speaking ill of the bill, you were to be shot on sight.

That’s not to say that Democrats are perfect. Far from it: if they had been more vocal about what was actually in the bill, and would actually take a stand against Tea Party protesters who simply attended hearings to down down the Senators and Representatives, something more might have been done with the bill. Maybe there would have been a more productive discussion. Maybe there would have been changes made, and an actual compromise to the bill, rather than, and I’m quoting every Fox News “journalist” here, “shoving it down the American people’s throats.”

The whole debacle reminded me of my days as a child, playing on the playground, and watching the bullies and the geeks abuse and be abused.

Play this scenario out with me: Republicans are bullies, Democrats are geeks, the American people are the rest of the playground, and the health care bill is tag:

A friendly game of tag is being played, when one of the geeks realizes that the game is kind of becoming unfair, so he proposes a new game of tag. Maybe they were playing normal tag, and this geek would like to play freeze tag.

One of the bullies says, “You just want to change the game because you’re sick of losing all the time!”

The geek says, “Actually, I just don’t like how this game works, and I want to play a version that works for everyone.”

And the bully says, “The game is working fine as it is. We don’t need to change it.”

And other geeks start saying, “Actually, I’m not really having fun with it. And neither are other people on the playground.”

And the rest of the playground says, “Yeah, let’s change the game.”

And the bullies say, “You guys are just wussies. You’re just bringing up a change in the game because you want to avoid the fact that you’re losing!”

And the geeks say, “Well, everyone is losing right now. Let’s just play freeze tag.”

And the bullies say, “Look around you! Nobody else wants to play freeze tag!”

And the rest of the playground says, “Actually, I don’t mind changing the game.” But a few say, “Actually, yeah, I don’t want to play freeze tag.”

So the bullies start shouting. And the geeks can’t handle the shouting. They try to reason with the bullies, to get a compromise, maybe just tweak the rules, but they end up getting beat up after school.

Finally, the time comes when they want to change the game once and for all. The geeks gathered a lot of support for freeze tag, but the bullies know that it’ll never get changed, and they hope to play one last game of tag before the bell rings, signaling the end of recess.

They take a vote, the way all kids do when they want to be fair about changing the game. None of the bullies want to change the game. More geeks than bullies want to change it. The motion passes.

Then the bullies start calling the geeks names, evil names, and threaten to beat them up again unless they change their mind. But the game has been changed, and there’s nothing the bullies can do about it except whine and moan some more and pout because they didn’t get their way.

This is an important, 100-years-in-the-making decision that could mean better health care for everyone in America, and the Republicans don’t like it, only because it is Islamo-socio-fascist-ObamaCare.

Kids these days and their running the country. Whatever shall we do with them?

Lenten Focus #4 — What Is Your Message?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

This is part four of a six-part series of the Lenten Focus, done every Wednesday during Lent. Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

Politicians will be the first to tell you that everyone has an agenda. It doesn’t matter what party you belong to, or where you live, or what you do for a career, you will always have a different slant on a subject as anyone else you’ll ever meet.

The biggest problem with this is that most of the time, it’s impossible to be objective about things. I try my best on this blog to not throw in any of my personal views into the things I write about, but sometimes it’s my viewpoint on a subject that makes me want to write about it.

The same thing happens with the message of Jesus. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus clearly lays out the two most important commandments: Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a simple, straightforward message that should be fairly easy to follow.

But then come in all the baises. Many people today largely ignore how simple this commandment is. They take this commandment and filter it through the rigid rules and regulations of the Old Testament (which we all know, according to Hebrews 8:13, has been rendered useless), turning the commandment into “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself, unless your neighbor is gay, an adulturer, or of another belief system. Then it is okay to hate them until they earn your love by converting to Christianity.”

The message of love becomes lost in everything that goes on in the world. The news is inundated with stories of death, disease, famine, war, infidelity, and all sorts of hatred: Parties hating other parties, nations hating other nations, with no end in sight.

It is imperative to remember those two simple commandments for what they are: a message of pure and unconditional love.

What does this have to do with you? You have an agenda, whether you like it or not. Use it to your advantage, and spread a message of love to the people who will listen to you. A pro-war message of love is different than an antiwar message. A vegetarian message of love is different than a carnivorous message. Men are different than women, the old different from the young. Take this message of Jesus, this message of love everyone no matter who they are or where they come from, and spread it across the world.

Everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a message. Find one that works for you.

Morality is Subjective

Posted in opinion with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

When someone says that a person really “sticks with their morals,” it’s usually a good thing. It means that the person is able to stay on the straight and narrow, never faulting from their beliefs, and is a great example to emulate. But what exactly is “morality,” and how do we define our morals? defines “morals” as “principles or habits with respect to right or wrong conduct” (definition 11, under noun). That’s fine and dandy; we can appreciate someone who knows right from wrong, and continues to choose right over wrong at any point in time.

But what is “right” and what is “wrong”? Is there a universal definition for those terms in every scenario? The answer is unfortunately and resoundingly “no.”

There is a reason there are so many moral dilemma scenarios out there. It’s a great experiment into how flimsy morals are. I love playing them, because I love seeing how people who strictly believe that murder is wrong sweat over a scenario like the following:

You are a switchboard manager of a train station. There is a train that has lost control and is moving down the tracks at an amazingly fast speed. On the tracks ahead are 5 people who will be killed without a doubt if nothing is done. There is a switch that you have control over that will send the train on a sideline. On this sideline also without a doubt 1 person will be killed. The choice is yours what do you do? Do you save the 5 people, by killing the 1 person? Or do you use the switch and have the 1 person standing on the other sideline track killed?

What would you do? Many would immediately say to throw the switch, because losing one life is less costly than losing five lives. That’s a very noble answer.

But then comes the morality of the question: by flipping the switch, you have committed murder. You have intentionally used an object (here being a train) to end a human life. However, if you let the train go and kill the other five on the track, there was nothing you can do, it was beyond your control, and you can wash your hands of it all.

But suddenly, a new layer comes: is it better to live with the guilt of killing one person, or the guilt of knowing you could have saved five lives? Obviously having the burden of five innocent lives on your heart would be terrible, and it would be easier to know that the one life you ended allowed five more people to live.

Then there is another one of my favorites: You manage to go back in time and you are in a room with a 3-year-old Adolph Hitler. You have a gun in your hand and are fully aware of what happens during WWII, but at this point, the baby is innocent. Do you kill little Hitler, or do you let him live?

The immediate response is to kill Hitler. He’s Hitler, you know what he does, and you save over 6 million lives. However, at this point, the kid is innocent. He’s three years old, and hasn’t done anything. If anyone found out that you killed a young, defenseless child, you would be ostracized and exiled. (Click here for more excellent moral dilemmas.)

The point is, morality is subjective. We can see it across cultures, and even looking back through history. Today, it is immoral to have sex with young children, yet in places like Mexico and the Philipines, the age of consent is as low as 12 years old, and in ancient Grecian times, it was not uncommon to masters of trades to have relations with their younger, male apprentices.

Today, it is immoral for a man to hit a woman, yet not more than 50 years ago, it was encouraged to occasionally smack a woman to let her know that what she was doing is unfavorable.

Even in cases that don’t really matter much, such as swearing, people have completely different views. Some such as myself, have no problem dropping the occasionaly curse word, because it is part of this culture’s lexicon; but I also know others who have never dropped a curse word in their lives, and will backpedal like crazy if they’re caught doing something so “morally wrong.”

The purpose of morals is to make sure we differentiate right from wrong, but there are so many definitions of both that it’s impossible for everyone to be on the same page. Where some people feel that sex before marriage is immoral, others have no problem with it.

Probably the biggest issue of this all, though, comes from people who claim to be part of the “moral majority,” speaking out against the sins of the world, and eventually are caught in the act of those sins they were speaking out against. Most recently that person was Republican Senator Roy Ashburn, who was arrested for DUI after leaving a gay nightclub. Senator Ashburn later came out to a radio host, saying, “Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long.”

I’m not condoning either side of any of the issues laid out in this blog. In fact, I’m all about having people voice their own opinions on issues laid out in this blog, as well as the many, many issues that crop up every day. All I’m saying is that if we’re going to praise someone for sticking to their morals, we better know what those morals are.

People Are Like Toilet Paper

Posted in opinion with tags , , , on March 12, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

I’ve been staying at a friend’s house for the past couple of days in an effort to get out of the house while on break and exploring Minneapolis, Minnesota, a city I’ve been to many times but have never really gone out and explored. In my time in Minneapolis I’ve attended a concert put on by the Minnesota Orchestra, gotten lost in the city numerous times, and tonight will be at the Mall of America, enjoying myself at a Patrice O’Neal show at the House of Comedy.

But despite everything that’s happened while I was in Minneapolis, the one thing that I just realized–that I hope everyone will realize soon–is that people are just like rolls of toilet paper.

Let me explain: while I was using the facilities in the house I’m staying in, I noticed that the toilet paper roll was empty. Being a kind guest I found a new roll, and replaced it. But before I put the roll back on, I paused, and the great debate played through my head: is this household a “roll-over” household, or a “roll-under” household?

It honestly stopped me for a moment. I didn’t want to put it the wrong way, or else I would be inconveniencing people in the house, as they reach for the toilet paper and go, “Dang it, it’s rolled the wrong way.” I had a short panicky moment, before I decided to look at the empty roll and see which way they preferred it. But looking at the roll, I noticed that it was completely empty, and that there was no way I would be able to tell how they preferred it.

It was then, oddly enough, that I had a moment of clarity that I felt compelled to tell the world: we are just like that roll of toilet paper. Our different ways of rolling are our different beliefs and convictions: Christians “roll-under” and Muslims “roll-over”; Republicans “roll-over” and Democrats “roll-under”. The appearance is different, and just like in those toilet paper commercials, sometimes it can get pretty crazy. Some people are just so into their preference of over versus under that it can unwittingly cause shouting matches. Many websites are devoted to solving the Great Debate, and no one will ever get it solved.

(To paraphrase the opening of chapter 10 of Blue Like Jazz (by Donald Miller): “Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who like toilet paper to roll over and they put it in like that, and some other guys who like toilet paper to roll under and they put it in like that, and the argument stopped being about toilet paper a long time ago, and honestly I don’t care.”)

Looking at that empty toilet paper roll, though, helped me to realize that it doesn’t matter how we hang, because in the end we’re going to be an empty tube, and no one is going to care whether we were an “over tube” or an “under tube” but rather that we got the job we needed to do, done. It no longer matters how we roll, but that we rolled.

The charge to the world is to get beyond matters of rolling one way or the other. We’re all on this planet together, and the sooner we can get past petty problems like race, religion, political identification, or sexual orientation, the better we can make the world.