Yesterday, I watched a portion of Jeff Sessions' Senate
confirmation hearing. I agree that it’s only right and proper that he (or any
cabinet nominee) should face close scrutiny before we endow him with such
awesome authority. His career experience, personal character, and general
demeanor are all fair game, at a time like this. But in the view of this
observer, the tests of orthodoxy seem to be getting weirder and weirder with each
Under questioning from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, it seems
that Mr. Sessions keeps company with some shady characters. Apparently, he
received a few awards from people with dangerous beliefs: One guy is a racist,
one hates women, and the other is a general schmuck. "Will you return the
awards and sever all ties?"
The holiday of Kwanzaa is now
upon us. This seven-day feast (Dec. 26-Jan. 1) was devised in 1966 by Professor
Ronald Everett of California State University at Long Beach, to instill a sense
of cultural pride among African-American families. According to the website (www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org),
the holiday celebrates the “ancient and living cultural tradition which
reflects the best of African thought and practice.”
In recent years, Kwanzaa has
gained traction as an occasion for gatherings of family and friends. It’s
rooted in the seven principles of Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work
and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.
Hallmark sells Kwanzaa-themed greeting cards that emphasize these principles,
conveying a message of dignity and empowerment. At least, that’s the popular
account that most people hear.
Oh, the name doesn’t ring a bell? She’s the young mother who
got caught on network TV, roughing up her teenage son because she found out
that he was rioting on the streets of Baltimore. She reminds me of my own
That’s right: In my old neighborhood, we knew our neighbors
and they knew us. If someone hurt one of her children, Mom would run to our
defense like a mother grizzly caring for her cub. But if I was the offender,
she’d be the first to apologize on my behalf and then slap me back to my
senses. Which is as it should be. How could she complain about the bully down the street, if her own children were no better?
Mom knew that it wasn’t in her power to fix all of the ills
of our society. But one thing she could
do, was to keep my sister and me from making it worse. And it worked: We’ve been (mostly) on the straight and narrow ever
Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes, will know
that I am a person of many strong opinions. On politics, religion, economics,
relationships, publishing, whatever. I don’t apologize for my views, although
in recent years I’ve become smarter in how I express them. No longer do I try
so hard to win every argument. To prevail in battle but lose a friend (or a
client), is surely a hollow victory.
Lately, few issues have divided our nation quite like the
problems of police excess and civil unrest. Cop shoots criminal suspect,
suspect shoots cop. Who was right, and who was wrong? Often, it seems, we form
our opinions before the ink is dry on the story. Nevermind the details, forget
the nuances. Let’s run into the streets, lay blame, and burn down a department
store. As if.
Last week, one of my Facebook friends posted a short rant
that began: There is no such thing as a
good cop. Of course I couldn’t disagree more, and I don’t know how he came
to that conclusion. I tried to draw him out to understand his reasons, with no
As a child growing up in church, I strove to understand what
it meant to be a follower of Jesus. I attended Sunday school faithfully for
years, but my teachers didn’t do much to help the process. That is, they filled
my brain with theology, rules, and information,
but not a lot of practical advice. We never (and I mean, never) discussed sex, dating, decision-making, discipleship, drug abuse, or any
of the important real-world issues that affect the daily life of a 20th-century
teenager in the big city. I wanted to live a righteous live worthy of my
The physical trappings of faith confounded me. Jesus wore a
robe and sandals, but I have to wear a tie and shiny shoes? Our Messiah
worshiped in the open air and fed the poor, but we had to spend endless sums
to repair our crumbling chapel? So many questions I dared not ask.
For about the past twenty
years, my sister has been engaged in the research of our family history. In the
course of this project, she has turned up dozens of relatives that we didn’t
know we had. Sometimes she confirms information that we already knew, while
occasionally she discovers that we had it all wrong.
This week she discovered an
article on the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner (a Hearst newspaper, now
defunct), dated December 31, 1908. As a writer, I was amused by the curious
grammar and word choices. The headline:
Just yesterday, one of my friends posted an intriguing
question of Facebook: Is it proper for a
woman to breastfeed a child in a public place? What do you think? Ah, one
of those topics that is sure to bring out strong opinions on all sides.
About a dozen people answered, all women, and the broad
consensus was “Sure. Just be discreet, and don’t make a show of it.” But as the
odds would have it, a couple of people came out on both extremes: “No, never
expose yourself in public! It’s gross!” and “Yes, I’ve got my constitutional
rights, and no one can stop me!” (I should mention, all of these respondents
identified themselves as Christians. I will explain why this is significant, in
just a moment.)
When I out myself as
such, I never know what to expect. Some people love me, some hate me (although
they’re far too polite to say so), and some just don’t care.
Indeed, the unfavorable perception of my religion is not
entirely undeserved. We all know a few grumpy religious hypocrites, don’t we? And
of course, there’s the baggage of history: The Crusades, the Inquisitions, and
so on. Without a doubt, some of the greatest criminal atrocities of all time
have been committed in the name of Christ.
One thing for sure, these guys don’t speak for me. They’ve
hijacked my religion, based on a false reading of my holy book. They don’t
represent my beliefs or my politics. Further, most modern
Christians will likewise quickly distance themselves from such things.
I found this article in the Huffington Post today, and the
title intrigued me: Black, Gay Christians
Do Exist, And It’s Time You Hear Us. While I have never endured the
persecution and heartbreak that this young man describes, I nonetheless believe
that he has drawn the wrong conclusions from the experience.
First, I was born and raised in Hollywood. So as you might imagine,
my education in these matters began at a very early age, long before my
juvenile brain knew how to process the information. Yes, I know you exist, and
nothing in this article is new. I heard these arguments over 40 years ago.