“And who is like me?”

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I’ve heard the good Samaritan story many times before.  I even blogged about it a couple times because of the important message it contains about salvation.  But this weekend I’ve gained some new perspective on this account and wanted to share it.

First some context…

The good Samaritan story is the answer Jesus gave to a legal expert who had asked him how to obtain eternal life.

In Luke’s account we read that Jesus, rather than attempt to explain, answered the legal expert’s question with some other questions:

“What is written in the Law?”

“How do you understand it?”

To that the legalistic man answered by quoting Scripture:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”

“Love your neighbor as yourself…”

Jesus tells the man that he had answered correctly and further affirms with a statement: “Do this and you will live.”

However, the expert was not satisfied.  Luke tells us that he sought “to justify himself” and inquires further: “And who is my neighbor?

Here’s the twist…

I’ve never realized the full connotation of that question.  The question actually came loaded with more arrogance and elitism than is reflected in our modern reading of the language.  The word “neighbor” was understood to mean a close associate and thus the question asked was more to the effect: “And who is like me?

In other words the expert wanted Jesus to affirm his own understanding of Biblical text that gave him a legal loophole and means to escape the inconvenience of a broader interpretation of the law.  The expert wanted to love only those who added up according to his own religious standard.

Jesus, now having exposed the real intent of the expert’s questions, responds with a story about a traveler who suffered misfortune.  He had been beaten, robbed and was lying by the side of the road.  Two religious elitists approached and then crossed to the other side of the road and passed without making any attempt to help.

Jesus goes on to describe a Samaritan (a tribe who the legal expert would not associate with) who went above and beyond to help the wounded man and then asks the expert: “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

Jesus turned a question “who is like me” into an opportunity to reorient the questioner…

The expert, obviously trying to justify his own selective love, had asked who to love.  But Jesus does not directly answer the expert’s question.  Instead he takes the conversation from a question of who to love to a question of how to love and described a love without preconditions or prejudice.

To love God means to look past differences of race, social status or religion and love like the Samaritan.  It is a message extremely relevant in a time when we are told some lives matter and others not so much.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean sanctimiously calling out those who we deem to be racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted—as a means to wash our own hands of responsibility for those things—and then being on our way feeling smugly justified.

It means laying our own tribal identities at the foot of the cross, loving those different from us as freely as the good Samaritan did, and being a fulfillment of the ideal in Galatians 3:28…

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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Politics, Religion and (Media) Bias

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Here I go again talking about politics and religion.  Well, truthfully, this post is more about ideas, inquisition, how stories are presented by the media and alleged bias.

It seems everyone complains about media bias.  There is endless controversy over what stories get covered, how they are covered and why, with charges of favoritism from all sides.

I suppose I am just another voice adding fuel to that fire.  But hopefully I add a bit of helpful reason and rational to the discussion rather than just one more partisan crying foul only when his own side is (in his own mind) treated unfairly.

Two things got me thinking about media bias.  The first a couple cartoons and social media comments about the shootings in Chapel Hill that allege it was not being covered adequately.  The second the off-topic questioning of an American politician and the way it was presented.

Ho-hum, no story here…

I first heard about the three students killed in North Carolina the morning after (as evidenced by my blog post yesterday) and on the CNN website via my smart phone.  The shooting took place “just after 5 p.m. on February 10” and, according to the New York Times, it was early the next day before specific information was available about the shootings:

“In fact, the police did not release the names of the victims or the accused until after 2 a.m. Wednesday; Mr. Hicks turned himself in to sheriff’s deputies in Pittsboro, a few miles away, but it was not clear when. During a court appearance Wednesday, a judge ordered him held without bond. By that point, most major American news organizations had reported the story, but that did not slow the allegations of news media neglect.”

So basically a local homicide became a national news story overnight and that is likely something to do with the unusual nature of the crime.  But many complained within that time frame that the story was being ignored and that this was an example of media bias.  Here are a few examples I have found from those alleging media bias:

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Not every homicide receives widespread attention.  It took over a week before the Trayvon Martin shooting was picked up by Reuters and became a hot topic.  So, with that as a basis of comparison, the murder of Deah Barakat, Razan Abu-Salha and Yusor Abu-Salha was relatively quick.

Favoritism and presumptions…

If anything the murder of these attractive and ambitious young Americans will receive more attention than similar cases.  Beautiful people with promising futures are often are shown preference.  Add to that the man who confessed to the murders is an outspoken atheist, the victims identifiably Muslim, and that feeds speculation.

Having myself been raised in a tradition (Christian) where women veil, and having a dear friend (Muslim) who dresses similar to those pictured, I couldn’t help but take interest and wonder if their appearance played a part.  I have worried for my sisters and my Muslim friend because of prejudicial views I have heard expressed.

It is probably their appearance, the fact they were killed in the manner they were, the race and the views of the man, that made this a big story.  It is understandable the Muslim American community can feel embattled at times and unfairly blamed for the acts of people who do not represent them (terrorists) and thus afraid of reprisals.

However, this case is not necessarily a ‘hate crime’ as some speculate.  Yes, the shooter did openly share his views that blamed religious people for violence and (ironically) proclaimed atheism as the solution, but that doesn’t equal a motive. 

From available evidence he seemed to be an unreasonable and angry man who may have murdered over a parking dispute. Whatever the motive, it is an act beyond my comprehension and I mourn with those who have lost loved ones to this senseless act of evil.

Trading topics…

The other story concerns the Governor of Wisconsin (and potential candidate for President) who was on a visit to discuss trade with British officials.  The story headline, “Wisconsin Gov. Walker refuses to answer evolution question,” centers on a question asked that has nothing to do with trade.

The question if Walker “believes in the theory of evolution” seems a rather odd thing to ask a politician.  Doubly interesting is that the Associated Press writer felt it necessary to mention Walker’s faith and the occupation of his father, as if those two facts were relevant to the story:

“Walker, an evangelical Christian and the 47-year-old son of a Baptist preacher, also declined to answer a series of questions about foreign policy…”

Huh? 

I’m not really sure how his faith comes into play here, especially as it relates to the Governor trying to keep on topic of trade by not answering irrelevant inquisitions.  Maybe somebody can explain the connection between his father and foreign policy, but I’m not understanding it.

What I do suspect, both as the reason scientific theory is being asked about and also why religion is being mentioned, is an attempt to construct a label or pigeonhole Walker.  I think it is a classic example of dog-whistle politics in that the intend recipients are supposed to read between the lines and apply a particular stereotype. 

The intent is likely to paint the fiscally conservative Walker to voters, who are tired of government expansion and yet not religious, as dogmatic and ignorant.  I could be wrong, but when a story that should be about trade becomes one about refusal, theory of evolution and religion, there seems something to be amiss.

Bias is in the eye of the beholder…

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps bias is as well.  What we think deservers more or less coverage is probably as much a matter of our own biases as it is of anyone else’s. 

Muslims, understandably, take immediate interest when three who share their faith are killed ‘execution style’ by an irreligious man.  Me, being a political conservative and religious, know too well the presumptions often made about those of faith and saw some sort of prejudice at work in the Walker story.  We take notice when people we identify with in some way are targeted unjustly and we probably miss many instances that counter our own narratives.

The media is undoubtedly biased. The media is produced by people and people are inherently biased.  But our personal biases also mess with our own perception of what is important and our judgment of presentation.  We need to be as aware of our own potential biases to the same degree we believe others are guilty.

The unloving heart of prejudice

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The world can be a dismal depressing place when considering how awfully people treat each other.  One of the worse things we do is judge people based in what we think we know about them and without really giving them a chance to be who they truly are first.

What we presume we know about another person can change how they are able to interact with us.  A negative idea assigned to a person can cripple them from reaching their full potential.  Prejudice views are often secretly held, not even fully realized consciously by those who hold them and that denies those harmed even a chance to defend themselves.

Prejudices can be individually held views.  But they can also be promulgated by groups, taken to simply be common sense and unquestioned.  It is nearly impossible to root out prejudice unless a person is determined and deliberate in avoiding it.  The motivation to overcome prejudice too easily outweighed by the draw of popular acceptance in a particular group.

If prejudice is to be overcome, it will require treating people as unique to be judged on their own merits and not to classify them by superficial characteristics then color what they say according to what you expect to find.  In other words, it requires an extra effort to judge each person individually in order to escape hurtfulness and unfairness of prejudice.

Prejudice, at its core, is a lack of love.  It is love that causes us to treat people respectfully as individuals and contempt for the group to which we assign a person to that we judge them without ever knowing them first.  Prejudice towards a person is a sin of not loving them enough to treat them as we would want to be treated.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

There are many fakes and phonies who use the name of Jesus Christ and yet are lacking in the same love.  Christianity is just religion for them, it helps them feel good about themselves and they go on with living their prejudiced lives.  However, sincere faith does not build walls between people based in ethnicity, gender or economic status, it tears them down and brings all people together around the idea of love.

What you think you know about a person can hurt them.  What you think you know about a person can bias you against their personality and input.  Prejudices box people in, it confines them in a prison of our own preconceived ideas and essentially robs them of their life as an individual.  It is a murder of a unique individual who deserves our love and respect as much as anyone else.

Having been on the receiving end of prejudice has not been fun.  The various experiences have left me sometimes feeling disillusioned and jaded.  But then I get reminders that not everyone is as small and shallow.  There is always hope for those who are prejudiced to mature spiritually and grow in love.  Still, any prejudice is too much.

Sir Charles is right…

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What Charles Barkley says about tribal mentality (watch the video) is spot on.  We are all susceptible to in-group favoritism, which is to prefer those we most identify with over those who we do not, and, with that, we can lose our objectivity.  Sadly, when issues are framed as ‘us’ versus ‘them’ (rather than on the basis of a careful and impartial analysis of the facts) the only result can be more polarization and division.

It is not just a matter of dividing over racial identities either.  Identities can be built around many things.  We can prefer or judge more harshly based in gender, class, education, religion, nationality, political affiliation, brand, friendship, familiarity and basically anything that can be used to create categories of people.  We don’t always side with those who are most like us either.  Regardless, who a person identifies with or against is a reflection of their own priorities and these often seemingly unconscious preferences are worth our conscious examination.

When the allegations against Bill Cosby started to become a story I was originally skeptical of his accusers.  I cringed because I had thought of him as a sort of role model of fatherhood.  I imagined his status as a wealthy celebrity may make him vulnerable to those seeking to gain financial and a sort of odd offer that could suggest a money motive behind the charges made me wonder even more.  Still, why would I assume Cosby is innocent and assume over a dozen women are guilty of trying to extort him?  It could be that I’m a man like him who would fear the same happening to me.  It could also be that the accusers are anonymous people as far as I am concerned and Cosby a public figure I thought I knew.

In contrast, a few years ago when the charges against Jerry Sandusky were made, when he was accused similarly in what became a media frenzy, I assumed he was probably guilty and without much consideration of his possible innocence.  First off, he lacked cuteness factor and, as awful as it is, appearance is a factor in our judgment of guilt or innocence. In my mind Sandusky looked the stereotypical part and that prejudice despite my knowing appearance is not evidence of guilt.  Second, despite being a Penn State fan, Sandusky was not on the coaching staff for a decade and I did not recognize him.  Besides that, his TV interview was awkward and, while actual proof of nothing but his awkwardness, it gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Black men often suffer the same image problem that causes people to be suspicious rather than sympathetic.  It is unfair, but not an inexplicable prejudice and definitely not helped when the causes célèbres are young men who died in violent confrontation.  It is not helpful to the cause of overcoming racial prejudice that solidarity centers around skin color rather than unquestionable character.  It is not fair to the vast majority of black young men for them to be lumped together with every other black young man and especially not helpful they be categorized with those involved in tragic violent encounters.

The idea that every black male is equally likely to be killed is based in an erroneous assumption that race is the only important factor in predicting outcomes.  Statistics do not tell individual stories and many factors other than race influence risk.  Factors like single parent homes, participation in gangs, drug use and many others can add to risk.  Factors like education, positive attitude, good community and others can reduce risk.  So, rather than categorize by race only (as if that’s all that matters) and feed a tribal mentality that is already too prevalent, we should look beyond as well. We should encourage unity around the ideas that reduce risk for all young men regardless of their race.

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

A first step towards light and away from darkness is to reconsider our own tribal identity.  It may say nothing more when she does it than when I do, but I did find it interesting that Whoopi Goldberg is skeptical of the allegations against Cosby and yet did not rise to the defense of Sandusky who faced far fewer accusers.  To Goldberg’s credit, she did separate the acts of the retired coach from the Penn State community, which is more fair than demanding morally responsible and mass punishment for those who had no way of knowing.  But why do we not treat both accused men the same regardless of appearances?

But I do digress.  This is my advice for moving in the direction of light and unity beyond racial identity.  This, for those afraid of young black men, means to identify with the young black men who do not fit a violent stereotype and should not be defined by the negative statistics.  It means judging less in appearance, less collectively and more on individual merit.  For those who fear police, this means obeying the law even when in disagreement, treating officers with respect even when not understanding their requests of us and seeing them as unique people to be treated as individuals rather than as part of some monolithic thing to shower our contempt upon.

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It is the image of Devonte Hart giving a hug to Sgt. Bret Barnum that show the real path out of darkness and to light.  Let’s follow their lead and be a new tribe bigger than skin color and prejudice.  Leave fear and mistrust behind even if it makes you more vulnerable.  Give people who look different from you the same benefit of doubt you give to those who look more like you.  Be willing to go the second mile for those who seem as a threat to you and live to be a light to the world.  The world needs more hugs, fewer demands and chockholds.  We need to love all people as we want to be loved.

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:8-9)

Anyhow, this is probably as much as I want to say about racial tensions, I have probably said more than enough already and I pray my words are understood as intended.  May God bless his children of all colors, genders and social statuses with abundance of love for each other.  May we love each other as God loves us and be leaders in love rather than reactionaries in fear.  We need love and understanding beyond the tribal boundary and that which is only made possible through having the mind of God.

Transcending cliché and seeking truth continually…

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“If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.”  (H.P. Lovecraft)

If there is a biggest pet peeve of mine it is cliché spoken or otherwise lived out.  Cliché is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.”  Or, restated in my own words, cliché is popular expression within a group assumed true and done thoughtlessly.

While I am likely guilty of over-thinking and suffer the downsides of that, many others seem to fall on the other side of not thinking enough which can be likewise perilous.  There is a grain of truth to many cliché phrases and the cliché ‘ignorance is bliss’ might apply as a reason most people avoid real critical thinking.

But it is not simply that some are too stupid to think independently, cliché living can be thought out and deliberate ignorance.  Parroting what your peers or cultural setting already believe (or ‘going with the flow’) comes with many perks.  Perks like group acceptance, not being thought of as weird, burned at the stake, persecuted, etc.

People do not like being wrong and people especially do not like being exposed as being wrong.  It is far easier to ‘kill the messenger’ than it is to humble ourselves to accept our own reasoning and logic could be flawed, incomplete or otherwise be made better.  Questions can make us uncomfortable, doubt is definitely uncomfortable and confidence (even misplaced confidence) is more emotionally pleasant.

Cliché, in some cases, can be overconfidence in what we know or what we think we know is best.  Confidence is good, but overconfidence can be deadly ignorance and is probably how George Anderson Custer became dead and remembered as a cliché.  What worked last time (or the last hundred times before) may not apply to the next time and thus we should always be open to further thought.

Framing reality in either/or ‘black and white’ terms provides a comforting simplicity of thought, but it can also be false dichotomy in an often multi-color, dynamic, both/and, evolving or complex reality.  For example, foreign cars may have had an edge in reliability over domestics, but that does not mean all foreign cars are more reliable nor that domestics still lag behind today.

Cliché thinking and acting can be a way to preserve our comfort zone.  Taking on popular prejudice, confirmation bias, false dichotomy, cultural psychosis, groupthink, and especially our own presumptions, requires extra effort.  Moving beyond the trite or simplistic perspective might require self-sacrifice, standing alone and being unpopular with your cultural peers.

But, most of all, avoiding cliché requires humility and an ability to identify our own blind spots.  If we have already concluded we are the smartest, we know best and others cannot do better, then we squander our potential to grow in our vision or understanding.  We need to look outside of ourselves (individually or collectively) for whole truth.

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.”  (Proverbs 16:18-19)

Do not be content with proud tradition or religious dogma, but actively seek the ‘mind of God’ that transcends culture and cliché.  Faith is not passed on like a family heirloom, it is taken up as a cross of humility, it identifies lovingly with ‘the other side’ and is the will to take a path less traveled.