We Are Pontius Pilate

Since the first of the year, I have been going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week to rediscover how to get my body back in shape and to fit in reasonably sized clothing choices once again. I attend a wellness center filled with many people, usually mature or older, seeking to either get in shape or highlight therapy towards injuries and such. After a vigorous swim, I decided to enter the hot tub. For some reason, the hot tub at this wellness center has jokingly become the informal roundtable pool

Todays topic began with the R.Kelly grand jury indictment. I carefully listed to all the various unscholarly noise and gut assumptions. After nearly five or so minutes of listening I felt as if the conversation had become judge, jury, and executioner well before evidence or trial can present its arugment. 

What ended the conversation quickly is when an older lady looked over and asked me directly, “do you think he is guilty?”  I replied with, “I have no formal opinion on the matter because I don’t know R. Kelly nor do I live in the Chicago metro area.”  The hot tub quickly became quiet. The facial expressions snapped over to glare at me to suggest I am the onion in the soup. She then said in a careful tone, “but there are perverts like him out there harming kids.”   I said, “yes, but R. Kelly’s issues don’t affect me directly. However, what I am most concerned about our citizens that may be called to be potential jurors claiming to not know anything about R. Kelly but do and want to spread bias while affirming an oath to a judge and God then they will be fair an impartial. Now, that does affect all of us.”  Quickly the hot tub emptied. I knew that I hit a raw nerve. But instead of listening there is cult or gang-like atmosphere that people insist that we agree with fears and affirm everyone is out to get us or do harm despite the fact that it is thousands of miles away or next door.

Rather than engaging in an argument I quickly became the advocate of reason. Did I obtain any winners or sway people? Perhaps not. But what I did convey is pushback towards normative behaviors that we must agree or nod to keep the peace when in fact we are just reinforcing a bad behavior. 

I managed to get out of the hot tub and go to the locker room to change ending a workout. In the locker room I saw a few men from the pool area. As I was changing, one leaned over and said, “you know that woman is a preachers wife?”  I looked back with a smile and said, “I could tell with all those virtuous Christian values pouring out.”  Everyone in the locker room laughed with agreement. The men began suggesting I was the only person that ever stood up to disagree with her. I tried to explain that as a Christian my beliefs are to seek justice, then mercy, and forgiveness. I said, “People have a choice to either be more like Jesus or become like Pontius Pilate.”  That alone cemented that we are often quick to adjudicate before weighing evidence.  It is not my intentions to sound overly biblical or born-again. Instead it is important that people claiming to be Christians practice what they preach. 

On that note, there are many people not only entering correctional facilities today but a large number are let out and attempting to reintegrate into society. In my eyes those exiting the legal system in America have paid their price and should be treated as paying that debt to society. If our culture has no planning towards atonement and reentry into society then we have no reason to provide love, worth, or ambition in excelling as life continues by those affected or connected to incarceration or registry requirement.  It is fine to dislike the crime, but our energy shouldn’t be consumed with hating the person. Disappointment should be brief lapses over time. Instead, we live in a world today where we want to lock people up and throw away the key. Eventually that place too will become overcrowded and bursting with no room to reform and teach others because a person influenced others to think like them. It’s not gangs we should be worried about. It is the ganglike mentality that fails to separate between the street gang and the hypocrites that appear ganglike we should worry about. 

Welcome shouldn’t come with an asterisks

I recently wrote a blog about my thoughts on why church membership has declined over the years. The focus of that particular blog brought attention towards a message of “do unto others” and how we seem to have forgotten that everyone has a specific path when seeking a relationship with their God. After all, we are taught that God created all in his image. Rather than allow that particular message blend with our soul, we somehow became selective rather it be mannerisms, different behaviors, or ideologies to determine if membership and welcoming is qualifications for membership.

This brings me to today’s observation of church parishioners and leadership to particular congregations or perhaps denominations. There seems to be emphasis or expectation on how a person is welcomed into a congregation. Naturally, there are welcoming committees, interest cards to be filled and returned, and in some cases acknowledgment during a service to welcome new visitors. But are congregations and parishioners accidentally or purposely making the welcome feel somewhat unwelcoming? One Sunday I witnessed a car pulling into a visitor space reserved for new people at my local Presbyterian church. Most noticeable on the car rear windshield was an Obama decal. I watched the young couple get out of the car and greeted by a committee person standing at the doorway that could see the visitor parking spaces. The couple was met with a handshake, and the church member went back towards the door to watch for other cars that may be first-time visitors in the remaining parking spaces.

Standing in near the doorway I could overhear conversations as the area from the choir stairwell is adjoined to the area that the welcoming committee stands. What I overheard next from the welcoming committee to a fellow parishner was most disturbing. “Another Obama supporter. I doubt they will be back.” From the brief moment I was struck that membership and welcoming are how one makes and develops it. To some, this observation may be an overstretch of other congregations. But the message of how we receive any prospect of new members or welcoming others to seek whatever religious preference available has indeed become a select committee judging others by the tangibles rather than the merits.

It is as if by chance and constructive skill that some Christians view others in an unchristian like manner if they appear or support others that different than the greeter or congregation majority? A self-assessment would be if an individual at your church mentioned they went to a political speech of a high profile political speaker, despite your objections and opposition to the speaker, in general, would you view that person or member differently? If so, you are perhaps an additional reason church members will continue to decline.

Christian values and virtues should be met with peace, dignity, intercession, and supplication. It doesn’t imply that our personal compass must align with others. It merely means that we surrender at one moment when before our Lord or higher power that we may set aside the controversy and reflect our image of God as merciful and legitimately welcoming of all. Congregations shouldn’t have to become marketing and customer service oriented agents because we should be superlative in our welcoming.

If your congregation has an image of blue jeans, tee shirts, tattoos, unshaven men, or others that appear dramatically different than yourself? Consider your congregation to be lucky and privileged to retain those seeking a religious message of positivity and spirituality versus if they were never there at all. I am always reminded that the meek will inherit the earth. It doesn’t say anything about the best dressed and most successful is in the same line?

I Will Bear True Faith and Allegiance To The Same

Recently I had a delightful evening conversation (and I do mean that in the sincerest way) with my neighbor’s whose political ideologies significantly different to mine. We didn’t exchange heated debates or blame assessments with one another. We talked casually about how the government shutdown was affecting ordinary people, children, and the flow of our economy. We collectively agreed that the government shutdown seemed to be used as political weapons once U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was immediately sworn into office. I was stunned to hear from various Trump loving supporters that they had no confidence in his ability to lead or be reasoned with. To hear this coming straight from all an all staunch conservative room was almost surreal-like.

In the conversation, I heard my neighbor say something that stuck with me. She said the oath of office for the Presidency says, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Her interpretation of “true faith and allegiance to the same” means citizens are utterly loyal to the Constitution and believe in its laws to protect them – not to ever hurt them for legislative purposes or personal agendas. Although her political leanings are far-right, she voiced her concerns that the President has lost touch with preserving the constitution but creating a personalized agenda to tear it apart. She ended with a greater concern that the president may intend to create a divisive moment in history that leads to the start of a civil war between liberals and conservatives. She went on to say that the President doesn’t listen to his advisors, press, or people unless they make him look good in a photo session or on television. But the Trump rhetoric and personal insults are pitting American against American. The mood almost felt like how most Democrats felt during the presidential election cycle. However, it had caught up with the most conservative and evangelical Christian voters.

Another highly conservative male that lives down the block chimed in and quickly presented a biblical scripture to use against Trump’s constant anger filled rhetoric. He said, James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” He went on to explain that the President isn’t listening to those hurting and using his Twitter to vent his anger which seems something the devil would do.

The room filled with frustrations about how to remedy a situation but not to the point of anger, only great disappointment. Yes, there were some emotional moments that seemed to be misinformative news opinion, but the overall tone was bonded by the unity that we were all voters with differing viewpoints but at least willing to compromise and become respectful of one another. The lesson learned from that moment was we could accept defeat or deadlock but were willing to put a critical issue aside for the sake of others. Esentially we all agreed now is not the time to introduce an expensive border wall. It was that ah-ha moment that made me wish the President was sitting in that room to hear from the people that voted for him exclaiming they won’t support or vote for him in future. To that group of ultra-conservatives, the president went against Christian ideals by putting children, families, and our nation at risk over a politically divisive issue. A woman in the group mentions 1 Timothy 3:5 “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” as to infer that Trump is hurting families no matter what the cost.

As the conversation entered into nearly its second hour of discussion, we quickly began to realize that our disappointment, disgust, and perhaps energy was expended to waste time but give insights that we should be people with an ability to respect one another. We did say that our strength is best spent by turning off the television, Facebook and involving or volunteering ourselves in issues that are dear to our hearts. Perhaps turning off the “Trump reality show” where ratings and statistic, not God or humanity, seem to be the vanity he craves and relishes upon and we incidentally are becming adicted to.

Upon reflection, I was glad to be in a room with adults that respected differing viewpoints and exchanges. It is a continual lesson with regards to “do unto others”readings. Additionally, it allows people to either be heard or listened to in an exchange of values over politics. Sometimes we are quick to create our personal safe space in avoidance of sensitive or trigger subjects where we may feel outnumbered or marginalized. It is not to assume or duplicate our personal Via Dolorosa but to discover astonishing and sometimes unexpected outcomes on the opposite spectrum of us that finds a moment of unity and accidental allegiance.

We Created Discrimination​

Many believe that prejudice is influenced or taught in the home. I suspect that could be a plausible argument. However, I tend to think that forms of discrimination are formed from particular events. I would cite such facts such as soldiers being deployed to Iraq and engaging with faction groups posing as soldiers. It could also be argued that military leadership paints a portrait of Muslim culture or middle easterners as radicals. We commonly hear and see this rhetoric often by soldiers displaying “morale” patches or scribbled helmet sayings similar to the days of “Commie Killer” adorned on cold war helmets.

But why are Americans suddenly anti-Latino or anti-Mexican? Immigrants typically embrace jobs that American youth won’t take or apply. Is it that unfair prejudice is actually our malice and bitterness is that they are employable while most American youth won’t take a moment to apply? It reminds me of the days where migrant workers filled American farmlands picking anything from cotton to yams far less in wages, benefits, and protections than the typical American worker. Generations beforehand worked side by side to pass on time treasured traditions ensuring that families would hopefully pass on to future generations. Eventually, those generations abandoned the hard and heat sweltering work. This the era of migrants to fill the slack left by younger generations to seek higher education or other employment means. It was American farmers that opened the floodgates to welcome anyone that would take jobs ranging from farms, manufacturing, production lines, janitorial, cooking, and other low paying or low skill jobs. Today we see job construction sites filled with not faces of the typical white or afro-American worker. Instead, we see construction sites all over America with a diverse mix of Hispanic and foreign workers. What I don’t understand is companies and individuals insist on hiring Latino workers while at the same time treat them as potential criminals or quasi-servants. It is as if the middle and low class of Americans have somewhat created the underclass of society that will work but ridicules that class for taking all the jobs available in the first place? It doesn’t make sense, but we use immigration law to argue about the legality of something Americans skirted the law in the first place.

When any form of leadership creates a dialog that a particular group of people is criminally prone with no facts to support it, then perception becomes a reality. Influences such as hate-filled speech lead to discrimination. With that being said, Latinos as a whole in America have been falsely criminalized. There are those that oppose such language but appear to be falling on deaf ears or silenced by the power of government influence. Folks, a lot can happen in four years during a Presidential cycle. But what has transpired over the past year has the recipe of leading from political divisions towards a severe civil war where the firestarter could come from the Latino community – and legitimately so. I certainly do not wish or want any forms of fighting. But individuals within society have a right to protect their integrity and stability that they refrain from becoming labeled or wrongly classified. When certain politicians decide to take it upon themselves to invoke religious scripture, then society may experience repercussions like no other they have witnessed.

A suggestion to return to some form of normalcy is for Americans to accept responsibilities that they habitually cut corners by outsourcing, allowing immigrants, don’t enforce hiring practices, and skirt issues to get ahead. It is somewhat strikingly similar where Americans would foolishly recommend that if African Americans were not happy with America that they could go back to Africa. Such exaggeration is not only stupid but a magnification of how and where discrimination and bigotry originates.

Every so many decades Americans disdain for other cultures publically airs its own forms of prejudice. Such recent events are when Japan during the 1970’s gas crisis began importing cars to the United States. 1980 were when China started to import cheaper manufactured goods. 1990 were when people from India began infiltrating customer service and high tech job markets. 2000 when suddenly Mexicans that had been here in the millions were decidedly a threat to Caucasian populations. Perhaps we should take a moment and remember that the melting pot doesn’t belong to any race, religion, creed, sex, or identity. Just because you discover it doesn’t make it exclusively yours. We are a society elected by people supposedly of laws. But when we create laws to enforce upon a particular class of people, then we are no longer a democracy.

People Are People

There is a time in our lives where meeting someone we may be attracted to leads to some somewhat embarrassing moments. That particular moment is when you approach someone at a bar or social setting and ask them out only to learn that they are gay or lesbian. Immediately the apologies and blushed faces are apparent where the brain exclaims, “I wish there were labels to identify who is who?”  Our obsession with labels or our own personal gaydar has become slightly problematic that when someone hears pansexual, gender non-binary or aromantic. It becomes a lesson defining moment sometimes leaving us more confused than educated. Even for the LGBT community, such labels create a learning moment. At least LGBT members embrace most anything thrown at them to learn and assimilate. It is a shame that same quality isn’t shared in the heterosexual community as a whole.

But when labels transfer away from sexual identity towards registered offenders, those on parole, individuals with criminal records, or just everyday humanity, then the labels become forms of weapons with mass destruction appeal. Often we hear of the stereotypical and somewhat sexist, racist or name-calling tone of “Tyrone, that black dude that looks like he was just released from prison” or “Chris, the guy that looks like a molester.”  There is no basis as to why people enjoy appalling and unpleasant descriptive values when attempting to describe one another. But such sarcasm spills over without defense from humanity to uncomfortably laugh at such descriptors. It is slightly similar to how Nazi’s attempted to label Jewish citizens by nose size, eye and hair color, or particular skull features. It was all hocus-pocus noise however people actually believed it – and some supremacists still do today.  Perhaps our obsession to label is a convenience? Somewhat like unofficial nicknames were given as a child that stuck with us. However, if someone has a criminal record, is a registered offender, or is a member of the LGBT community shouldn’t be the sole basis to stigmatize or label individuals. Doing so is not only wrong and hurtful but is nothing more than adult versions of bullying. The past is the past, but adults should learn to act like responsible adults.

I don’t introduce my friend Martin as, “this is my black friend Martin.” Instead, I introduce as “this is Martin.”   I don’t say, “this is my dike friend Carol.” Instead, I say, “this is Carol.” If an individual wants to learn more about them instead it is an LGBT or perhaps rumor that need put to rest, there are times and appropriate places to continue that conversation as long as it is respectful and allows open dialog.

Recently there was a discussion about how to label registered sex offenders.  This was perhaps a thorny issue to tackle. However, I strongly feel and suggest that all forms of labels that diminish the humanity value offer more harm than good. I suggested, “this is Steve” followed by “someone affected by the registry.” That way the conversation can begin if Steve is a registered offender or if Steve has a family member on the registry. But we will constantly learn that ill winded people will suggest “Steve, that dude that looks like a creeper.”  We see the postings and hear the noise all the time yet do very little to advocate or redirect improved language. Comedy is one thing if you are a skillful comedian. However, there is nothing funny about the misuse of labels and how it stigmatizes others.

Gender may create a bit of an issue for many trying desperately to become politically correct. First of all, there is no political correctness in the LGBT world. It is learned as you go because diversity knows no limits. The term mister goes a long way but can be interpreted as differences between LGBT members. However, straight men shouldn’t begin throwing the enthusiastic term of girlfriend around unless you are sensibly fashionable, have perfect teeth, and can recite all song lyrics by Madonna. I have discovered that titles should be a doctor, professor, queen, princess, mom, dad or other obtainable and qualified appropriate titles. Sure, the LGBT community does occasionally throw the term Miss Thing around, but in a lighthearted joking manner. The LGBT community is one of the communities that embraced people of color, those affected by HIV or AIDS, the homeless, transgendered, convicted, and registered offenders. Why? Because it was those labels and human beings that were shunned and abandoned as a second-class citizen. While the heterosexual community tends to forget its cruel past, the LGBT community continually reminds its members to not forget how we got there and keep moving forward. That is the real gay agenda to allow everyone to become inclusive and break down barriers that divide us.

There was a time where there was a gay club, and a lesbian bar usually separated miles apart from one another (because gay men could figure out where to put the pool table as it would take away from the dance floor). Today, the gay clubs are united dance clubs where people of all backgrounds are free to be themselves and sometimes experience conditions they never thought would be mentally possible. You don’t turn a person gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Just as you don’t make a criminal or sexually deviant. People make mistakes and poor judgments. Pay the price and move on. There are situations no matter how brief that people experience for themselves. Labels create obscurity of learning from one another. But labels are an eerie reminder of the pink triangles during the Holocaust. Never again will LGBT members be labeled and ridiculed by policy.

The musical artist Depeche Mode wrong a song called People Are People. The lyrics are:

People are people so why should it be

You and I should get along so awfully

So we’re different colors

And we’re different creeds

And different people have different needs

It’s obvious you hate me 

Though I’ve done nothing wrong

I never even met you

So what could I have done

I can’t understand

What makes a man

Hate another man

Help me understand

These lyrics from the 1980’s describe a time where racism, religion, sexuality, and only being different created a mound of labels. Perhaps people should learn from those lyrics as to become less obsessed with labels and more driven to become assimilated into a society that embraces and accepts them for face value.

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