"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Of Confederates and Scapegoats

via Wikimedia
“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.” - G.K. Chesterton

As a Catholic, I participate in the sacrament of confession on a regular basis. For those who may not know, confession requires stating your sins in both kind and number to a priest who, acting in persona Christi, grants you absolution so long as you are contrite, sincere, and have a desire to avoid those sins in the future. Basically, you have to take personal responsibility for the times you have fallen and ask Christ for the graces to overcome those temptations in the future. What you are not allowed to do in the confessional is make excuses for your sins. Imagine if I the next time I went to confession I blamed Sam Adams for getting me drunk, Peter Griffin for my use of vulgar language, and Adrian Peterson for abusing my kids. More to the point, imagine if in confession I blamed a flag because I had done something racist. (In case you were wondering, these are not sins I am guilty of, except for perhaps the vulgar language, and I assure you I will not be blaming Peter Griffin in my next confession.)

But I'm not writing a blog about confession. In fact, I wasn't going to write this at all. By golly I was going to try my darnedest not to comment. I really was. I mean, I don't really care if a particular flag is flying or not flying over, near, beside, or under some state's capitol building. You might think I should care. As you read this some of you may have the sudden desire to take me by the throat and strangle me into admitting that the Confederate flag is racist, while at the same time another group of you may have the strange desire to hog-tie me until I admit that that the Civil War was about state's rights, not slavery.

Neither issue is what I'm writing about, and frankly, I don't really care all that much either way. Yes, there is that whole "those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it" prophecy which is repeated ad nauseam generally by those of certain political leanings (Personally, I think "doomed" is a strong word, but that's another discussion for another day) Anyway, I'm not here to debate history.

However, what I do care about - concerned about, really - is something much more fundamental to the human spirit and this American experiment in which we're all partaking: the tendency to create a scapegoat.

Now this particular phenomena is not unheard of in history; in fact it's quite common really. The idea has been around for thousands of years dating back to the ancient Jewish custom of sending out a goat, symbolically laden with the sins of the people, into the wilderness. What we're dealing with here is not new. That does not mean it's not a problem.

Cut through all the current commentary about flags, racism, and history and we find the gist of the story: a crazy, deranged young man entered a church and killed people. Yet, we want to find a scapegoat.

Evil thoughts beget evil choices which beget evil actions. The connection is elementary. You don't need a scapegoat. You don't need to know the color of the killer's skin, nor the skin color of those slain, or for that matter the state or country where this event took place for you to know such an action was simply evil. You don't need to know the killer's motivations, what drugs he was on, or how he was raised. We don't need to have a national conversation about guns, parenting decisions, or events from 150 years ago. We surely don't need to have a national debate about an emblem. Honestly, I might even argue that even today we don't need to have a dialogue about race, because the problems we're facing today are more than skin deep. The problems are even more fundamental, just like two plus two equals four, and yellow with blue make green.

Instead, I propose we have a national conversation about personal responsibility. That's the issue we desperately need to address. Not whether a flag - a piece of colorful cloth - should be fluttering in the wind at the top of a pole.

Let's talk about the fact that approximately 40% of births last year were to unwed mothers.

Personal responsibility.

Let's talk about the fact that divorce rates have been hovering just under 50% for several years.

Personal responsibility.

Let's talk about how the financial crisis was created and perpetuated, in large part because borrowers took more than they could afford.

Personal responsibility.

Let's talk about how dead-beat dads are a drain on our economy and needlessly perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Let's talk about how parents need to make their children explain their poor grades, not their teachers. Let's talk about frivolous lawsuits clog up our legal system. Let's talk about if you piled all the guns in the world into Forest Park not a single person would be harmed.

Let's talk about how a young man can walk into a church and kill nine people, but instead we're talking about drugs, guns, and a flag.

That young man chose to take that gun that day. He chose to walk into that church. He chose to sit through a bible study, and even after admitting he nearly didn't go through with it, he chose to shoot and kill nine people.

The drugs didn't do it. The bullets didn't shoot themselves. The Confederate flag patch on his jacket didn't do it. He did it. Let's not make a scapegoat out of a piece of cloth.

**Disclaimer: I know that sometimes people do act under the influence of drugs, alcohol, strong emotions, demons, etc. and in those situations are not fully in control of their actions. Some people have genetic conditions which create dependency and addiction. The last thing I want is to discount the harmful effects of things like substance abuse or gloss over them. These are real issues. Yet, some of these issues can also be addressed in a discussion of personal responsibility. However, as I understand it, the murderer in South Carolina appears to have been fully in control of his actions at the time of the shooting; hence the comments above. If I'm wrong, I will update this post.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

I'm Leaving Facebook

If you're on social media long enough, you have probably noticed one of two things occur with some regularity:

  1. Someone publicly states they are leaving facebook - although it could be any platform - and deactivating their account
  2. Or, they simply stop posting anything and are lost in the digital abyss
In my case, I am leaving facebook, but it's not quite in the way you might expect.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my resolution to change my social media habits. So far I think I've been doing better. But I want to keep going. I want to make sure that I'm in control of my social media habits, not the other way around.

When it comes to facebook, I'm not deactivating my account. I'm not taking an extended leave of absence. In fact, I may be more active than before (aren't you excited?). What I'm doing may be harder than just deactivating my account:

I have decided to stay off of facebook -- on my phone.

I've turned off the notifications. I've taken the app off my phone's main screen. I'm going straight cold-turkey. No more facebook on the phone.

Even though facebook usage is on the decline, especially in the younger generations, this may prove to be a revolutionary decision. Drinking craft beer, growing a beard, wearing flannel, and going gluten-free are counter-cultural fads of yesterday. Removing oneself from the constant stream of social consciousness, albeit in a small way, is a true counter-cultural idea, akin to what it was like getting rid of TV in 1995.

Taking such a drastic step is not done hastily. I've recently been contemplating just how disconnected and empty I feel when I begin mindlessly scrolling through my newsfeed with a few random minutes to waste here-or-there at work, in the check-out line, at a red light, in an elevator, or anywhere else that I might otherwise be forced to exchange awkward glances and some pleasantries with a stranger. Just whip out the ol' smartphone, start scrolling, and it all goes away. It is a curious paradox that being social can be so anti-social in the same act.

Far worse are those situations when I've been too preoccupied with something on facebook to be present in my life at home or with friends. Yes, I've done it; I'm sure we've all done it. As my kids get older, I definitely don't want to miss those small moments which turn into cherished memories later in life. I surely don't want my kids to remember dad as being on his phone all the time. And my relationship with my wife? I can't even begin to estimate how much time we've spent together, not talking or enjoying each other's company, but on our respective devices, you guessed it - scrolling through facebook.

Frankly, it's not healthy and I don't like it, not to mention the science out there warning of the dangers of too much social media exposure. I can't remember exactly how long, but for some time I've made a conscious effort to avoid the urge to pull out my phone in many situations because I want to be more present in life. I want to take those few minutes and enjoy being alive, not checking-in on someone else's life. I want to enjoy the sun, the wind, the smells, the sounds of life. I want to be social as I am; not through a virtual me. I want to enjoy the steady stream of my own thoughts, of my own consciousness; not the world's.

It's going to be a difficult transition. I will probably allow myself to post the occasional picture from my phone (because how else could I ever post a picture?). I'll probably even allow myself to do the occasional "I just need to look it up on facebook" search from my phone. But generally speaking my facebook interaction will be limited to the time that I'm actually at a computer, and even then I will be attempting to limit it.

I'm not going away. I'm not leaving the social media universe (believe me, twitter is staying right where it is). I've just decided to act on what you're feeling: I need a break from the constant noise, and this is one way I can free myself from the constant distraction.