vote-by-post

I have never been a fan of early voting, especially not in something as significant as a presidential election.  I am of the opinion that there are some things important enough that people ought to order their lives around them in order to participate.

As a Christian, and a pastor, I would consider the Lord’s Day to be the ultimate example of such a thing.  God created the world in a span of six day then, essentially and metaphorically, “rested” the 7th Day.  God then decreed that people – especially those who claim to be devoted to God – should follow the same pattern; that we ought to set one-day-in-seven as a Sabbath, where we rest from our labors, and commit the day to God in a way unique from the others (which also actually belong to God).  The Sabbath is a gift, if we understand it correctly. The 4th Commandment, that requires humanity to observe this day in no way mitigates the gift God has given us in the form of a day of rest. My point in this post is not to make a case for a specific day of Sabbath, nor to consider appropriate vs. inappropriate activities for this day, but only to offer it as an example. A Sabbath day, commanded by God, as a gift of God, is intended to be, and is important enough to be, a day set aside, around which we build our weekly schedules.

While less important cosmically than a Sabbath, in the civil sense Election Day is monumental enough that people ought to set the day aside, and vote on the appointed day, whenever possible. In other words, Election Day is too important to subordinate it to the idol of convenience.

Granted, some exceptions can, and should, be made.  For instance, the case for our daughter who, as a student at a college in another part of the state, would find it quite difficult to appear at our home precinct. She needs some accommodations.  I am not sure that an absentee ballot would not be a sufficient accommodation, but in Virginia an early voting option is offered. And students are not alone in their need for some accommodation.  Some whose business travel requires them to be out of town, others who may be in the midst of various types of long-term infirmities, are examples of those I believe should also be afforded some sort of accommodation.  But the thing is, in Virginia early voting requires a good reason. Simply avoiding lines, or whatever motive for convenience, is not sufficient reason.  But not all states are as much sticklers as Virginia is.  in Tennessee, for example, which I consider to be my adopted home state, early voting is just one option among many, offered for convenience.  As I understand, far more states are akin to Tennessee than to Virginia in this respect.

I appreciate those who are concerned about restriction that make voting prohibitive for some segments of our society. In no way would I want to endorse practices and policies that would suppress legitimate opportunities for any citizen to vote.  But I fear that by making convenience a chief factor in our national elections, we have devalued the importance and downplayed the privilege extended to every citizen of the United States.  I can’t help wondering if this – along with an unappetizing roster of candidates – has not played some part in declines in voter turnout.

Having expressed some of my philosophical aversion to allowing early voting as a common option, I want to turn my attention to the more pragmatic reasons for my oppostion.

About a month ago – 6 weeks before Election Day 2016 – some political analysts expressed their concerns about early voting.  Their concern: simple regret.

“Some people have estimated, and this may be way too large, that one third of the electorate will already have a voted early by November 8 of this year. One-third!”

“And somebody could say, ‘Well I wouldn’t have voted for that person if I would’ve known that that happened 24 hours ago’,”

I am not a fan of October Surprise as a political strategy. It seems to me, if a candidate is worthy of my vote he or she ought to show me why they deserve it; not keep pointing out to me why the other candidate does not deserve it.  Someone else’s disqualifying characteristics do not necessarily qualify me.  But sometimes, like this year, what comes to light in the final days of the election season are not mere sleazy revelations from the opposition camp, but legitimate news of criminal or disqualifying facts from legitimate sources.  And as some political analysts predicted a month ago – weeks before revelation that the FBI was re-opening its investigation of Hillary Clinton – once certain facts come to light, conscientious people are likely to have regret.  But their vote has already been irreversibly cast.

In our present election cycle, it is difficult for me to believe that if the one about whom these potentially criminal revelations have surfaced is elected, that the citizens of the USA will have any reason to believe real justice will ever be carried out.  Whether the possible allegations are legitimately criminal or not, I do not know.  But if a candidate with a reputation for and  history of cover up is elected, unless impeached, can we ever know if justice is done?

If early vote were not such an easy option, those who are already experiencing buyers remorse would not be able to send the nation in such a regrettable direction.

pile-of-bricks

Like watching a group of children playing Ring Around the Roses, fans of the Tennessee Volunteers are observing a team that seems to be singing “We All Fall Down”.  I am not an alarmist by nature, and this pales in comparison to other things in the news, but a series of incidental reports out of Knoxville lead to a reasonable wondering if Coach Butch Jones’ program might be crumbling around him, brick-by-brick.  As the Washington Post reported this morning: Tennessee Players Seem to be Revolting.

This morning, Jones confirmed rumors that star Running Back, Jalen Hurd – certain to be a high round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, should he choose to make himself available – has announced his plans to transfer immediately from the University of Tennessee.  This coincides with a somewhat cryptic Tweet by highly touted, though under-performing, Defensive Lineman Jonathan Kongbo, that suggests he may be thinking of hanging up his cleats, barely a half-season with the Volunteers.  On top of that, another highly touted but under-performing  underclassman,  Receiver Preston Williams, had left the team a month ago, announcing plans to transfer; though he is reportedly still enrolled and taking classes at UT.

Defections happen from every school. A single defection like one these would be disappointing to any team, and to any fan base.  But these coming together – at mid season – they are startling.

Even focusing just on Hurd, things don’t add up. And Jones’ response sounds only like spin, from a coach who already far too often, and for far too long, has sounded like a used car salesman.   While I do not know the man, and therefore my opinion may be somewhat unfair, I don’t expect to hear the truth out of Butch Jones any more than I expect to hear it from Hillary Clinton.

Hurd is transferring, though a Junior, to play one season at some other school.  Again, he is a freakishly gifted athlete, one any NFL scout would drool over adding to a roster.  So why not just finish out the season, and go to the NFL – just as everyone expected he would do after this season anyway?  Now perhaps Hurd wants to graduate from college before beginning his NFL career.  If so, he ought to be applauded for such an exemplary illustration of priorities as a student-athlete – student first.  The problem  with such a scenario is that Hurd will be ineligible to play for another school next season, unless he transfers to a school in a lower NCAA classification.  It’s possible, but unlikely.  Of course, if Hurd has already graduated, or if he will graduate this Winter or Spring, then he would be eligible to play at another school. But if he has already graduated, and now wants to leave the school where he grew up dreaming of playing, why would he want to play at some other school rather than taking the next step into the NFL?

Hurd is reported to have said he wants to play a different position – Receiver, or Tight End, or H-Back; one where his body would not take the same kind of pounding it does as a Running Back.  While he is an All America talent as a Running Back, he would be an awe striking Tight End or Receiver.  So again, why not just make the transition in the NFL? Plenty of guys change positions when they get to the next level.  Someone with Hurd’s natural gifts would make such a transition more easily than most. Further, he is not likely to make himself more money by playing receiver at Chattanooga or Tennessee State for a single season.  NFL Teams will take him for his natural abilities, with or without the year of seasoning at the FCS level.

While players leave programs everywhere, for a variety of reasons, Hurd’s situation seems suspicious.  Like many of his teammates this season at Tennessee, Hurd has been hurt. However, unlike his teammates Hurd’s injuries have remained undisclosed, while those of all the others are chronicled.  Further, other injured players have traveled with the team for games on the road. Hurd, however, stayed home when the Volunteers played at Texas A&M a few weeks ago.  No reasons for the differences in treatment were offered.  This itself is not wrong, as we have no right to personal information about private individuals, but it is suspicious.  Yet, in that instance, not only was Butch Jones tight-lipped, he offered contradictory reports about Hurd’s injuries.  Again, suspicious. So when coupling the loss of Preston Williams and the potential loss of Jonathan Kongbo with the odd developments of Jalen Hurd’s departure, it causes many to wonder – and some to fear – that the house Butch Jones has been building may be showing serious signs of crumbling.

I will finish with this: I am not against Butch Jones; nor would I suggest that at this point his job ought to be in jeopardy.  But there is enough suspicious activity, combined with a coach who to date has mostly shown himself to be a salesman, to wonder if there is something going on behind the curtain that will eventually show these recent events to be just the tip of a devastatingly large Orange iceberg destined to sink the hopes and hearts of Tennessee alumni and fans – not to mention the Volunteer Navy.

Two Sides of Holiness

October 24, 2016

east-knox-reflections

Jerry Bridges offered a powerful insight and challenge to Christians about the nature and focus of the Christian life:

“Scripture speaks of both a holiness which we have in Christ before God, and a holiness which we are to strive after. God has made provision for us to live holy, but He has also given us definite responsibilities to pursue holiness. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness.”

College football season is just around the corner. In fact, I think this is the last weekend without a game until January.  While I don’t seem to be able to watch as many games as I used to – I just don’t seem to have the endurace; my interest wanes – I still feel the excitement this time of year.  In many ways it’s like my New Years – everything is starting new, anything is possible.  And this year my Tennessee Volunteers are back!

Arguuing with the Ump

The rhetoric of this political season is dizzying.  Remarks by candidates and supporters alike have reminded me of Arthur Schopenhaur and his 38 Stratagems.  Schopenhaur was a brilliant German philosopher of the early to mid 19th century (1788-1860) who, while analyzing both rhetoric and debate, discerned 38 different tactics to win a debate or argument.

I have decided to make a game of this campaign cycle, if for no other reason than a diversion to keep me from exasperation.  I am using Schopenhaur’s Strategems to analyze the candidates. While watching the debates, the conventions, and even the attack ads, I am seeing how many of the stratagems I can identify.  It’s sort of like the Licence Plate game, or Road Trip Bingo, families play on long road trips; except, sadly, ultimately the end results are not a game.

Schopenhaur’s 38 ways to win an argument are below. See how many you can identify.

  1. Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it. The more general your opponent’s statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it. The more restricted and narrow his or her propositions remain, the easier they are to defend by him or her.
  2. Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his or her argument.
  3. Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to a particular thing. Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it. Attack something different than that which was asserted.
  4. Hide your conclusion from your opponent till the end. Mingle your premises here and there in your talk. Get your opponent to agree to them in no definite order. By this circuitous route you conceal your game until you have obtained all the admissions that are necessary to reach your goal.
  5. Use your opponent’s beliefs against him. If the opponent refuses to accept your premises, use his own premises to your advantage.
  6. Another plan is to confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.
  7. State your proposition and show the truth of it by asking the opponent many questions. By asking many wide-reaching questions at once, you may hide what you want to get admitted. Then you quickly propound the argument resulting from the opponent’s admissions.
  8. Make your opponent angry. An angry person is less capable of using judgement or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.
  9. Use your opponent’s answers to your questions to reach different or even opposite conclusions.
  10. If your opponent answers all your questions negatively and refuses to grant any points, ask him or her to concede the opposite of your premises. This may confuse the opponent as to which point you actually seek them to concede.
  11. If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises, refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion. Later, introduce your conclusion as a settled and admitted fact. Your opponent may come to believe that your conclusion was admitted.
  12. If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable in your proposition.
  13. To make your opponent accept a proposition, you must give him or her an opposite, counter-proposition as well. If the contrast is glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being paradoxical.
  14. Try to bluff your opponent. If he or she has answered several of your questions without the answers turning out in favor of your conclusion, advance your conclusion triumphantly, even if it does not follow. If your opponent is shy or stupid, and you yourself possess a great deal of impudence and a good voice, the trick may easily succeed.
  15. If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment. Instead, submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection some true poposition, as thoug you wished to draw your proof from it. Should the opponent reject it because he or she suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd the opponent is to reject a true proposition. Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on your own for the moment. You can either try to prove your original proposition or maintain that your original proposition is proved by what the opponent accepted. For this, an extreme degree of impudence is required.
  16. When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions, or lack of action.
  17. If your opponent presses you with a counter proof, you will often be able to save yourself by advancing some subtle distinction. Try to find a second meaning or an ambiguous sense for your opponent’s idea.
  18. If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him or her to carry it to its conclusion. Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject.
  19. Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any objection to some definite point in his or her argument, and you have nothing much to say, try to make the argument less specific.
  20. If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises, do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion. Rather draw the conclusion yourself as if it too had been admitted.
  21. When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial, refute it by setting forth its superficial character. But it is better to meet the opponent with a counter argument that is just as superficial, and so dispose of him or her. For it is with victory that your are concerned, and not with truth.
  22. If your opponent asks you to admit something from which the point in dispute will immediately follow, you must refuse to do so, declaring that it begs the question.
  23. Contradiction and contention irritate a person into exaggerating his or her statements. By contractiong your opponent you may drive him or her into extending the statement beyond its natural limit. When you then contradict the exaggerated form of it, you look as though you had refuted the orginal statement your opponent tries to extend your own statement further than you intended, redefine your statement’s limits.
  24. This trick consists in stating a false syllogism. Your opponent makes a proposition and by false inference and distortion of his or her ideas you force from the proposition other propositions that are not intended and that appear absurd. It then appears the opponent’s proposition gave rise to these inconsistencies, and so appears to be indirectly refuted.
  25. If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary. Only one valid contradiction is needed to overthrow the opponent’s proposition.
  26. A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s arguments against him or herself.
  27. Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal. Not only will this make the opponent angry, it may be presumed that you put your finger on the weak side of his or her case, and that the opponent is more open to attack on this point than you expected.
  28. This trick is chiefly practicable in a dispute if there is an audience who is not an expert on the subject. You make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience. This strategy is particularly effective if your objection makes the opponent look ridiculous or if the audience laughs. If the opponent must make a long, complicated explanation to correct you, the audience will not be disposed to listen.
  29. If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had bearing on the matter in dispose. This may be done without presumption if the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.
  30. Make an appeal to authority rather than reason. If your opponent respects an authority or an expert, quote that authority to further your case. If needed, quote what the authority said in some other sense or circumstance. Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are those which he or she generally admires the most. You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something that you have invented entirely yourself.
  31. If you know that you have no reply to an argument that your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge.
  32. A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category.
  33. You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.
  34. When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you no direct answer, or evades it with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is a sure sign you have touched a weak spot, sometimes without knowing it. You have as it were, reduced the opponent to silence. You must, therefore, urge the point all the more, and not let your opponent evade it, even when you do not know where the weakness that you have hit upon really lies.
  35. This trick makes all unnecessary if it works. Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect, work on his or her motive. If you succeed in making your opponent’s opinion, should it prove true, seem distinctly to his or her own interest, the opponent will drop it like a hot potato.
  36. You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If the opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as if he or she has no idea what you are talking about, you can easily impose upon him or her some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.
  37. Should your opponent be in the right but, luckily for you, choose a faulty proof, you can easily refute it and then claim that you have refuted the whole position. This is the way which bad advocates lose a good case. If no accurate proof occurs to the opponent or the bystanders, you have won the day.
  38. A last trick is to become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular trick, because everyone is able to carry it into effect.

Oh, by the way, while I wish it could go without saying, nevertheless it probably needs to be said: all of these are counter to God’s way of communication.  The way and the wisdom of God would be better summarized:

  • Recognize the value and dignity of the person with whom you are speaking/debating. Disagree with a position or an argument, but do not demonize an opponent.
  • Seek wisdom for discernment.  As Stephen Covey urges in his 7 Habits of Highly effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  • Do not bear false witness. This means our words must be an honest reflection of our convictions and positions.   Simply, let your yes be yes, and your no be no.  And we should not intentionally distort the statements of our opponent.  Such tactics obscure and violate Truth.  And the 9th Commandment forbids anything that gets in the way of the truth, or injures anyone’s reputation.

On Saturday morning January 30, scores of church leaders, along with a smathering of parishioners, gathered in the basement of an old department-store-turned-church in Richmond, Virginia for a discussion on Race and the Church. The invited primary speaker was Dr. Sean Lucas, pastor of historic First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary; and author of the recently released For A Continuing Church.  I considered it a privilege to be among those gathered, though participation was an open invitation.

My primary takeaway from that morning meeting is that much of our current racial rifts, and the prevailing voluntary segregation of Sunday mornings, is due in large part to a history that has barely been openly acknowledged, much less genuinely and transparently repented.  Dr. Lucas provided ample examples, as the video above reveals (and his book expands upon).  And while in many respects progress has been made, and reconciliation is occuring, there is still work to be done for the church in America to truly be one, as Jesus prayed for us to be. (John 17) A large part of what is left to be done is for White Christians – the “White” church – to go back in time, to understand and to own our sins, and our forefathers’ sins, related to racism.

Some may balk. Perhaps understandably.

“How many times must we say we are sorry?”

“I was not even born during the period of the Civil Rights Movement, so how can I be responsible?”

While such rebuttals may be honest and true, they have not proven effective to bridge the reconciliation gap.  The desire and demand of Jesus is not that we merely go through the motions, but that we be “One” just as he is one with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit.   No doubt that in many cases there is forgiveness that has been withheld.  But even where this is the case, there is still a need for those of us who were born into the majority side to repent – to take steps back, to come to understand what was done in the name of the Church bur for the cause of bigotry.  And we do not go alone, but rather we go there with our brothers and sisters of color. We go together that we may walk together, retracing the ways we have failed – failed one another, and failed our God – moving together in repentance and faith.

Take some time to watch the video. If you are in the Richmond area, join us for a future event.

Baseball 1886 Currier and Ives

Forget the groundhog a couple weeks ago, the real sign of the coming of Spring takes place today: Pitchers and Catchers report to Major League Baseball Spring Training. Baseball may not hold the hearts of American culture like it once did but, for those of us who still enjoy the game, this is one of the dates to look forward to on the calendar.

Many who are still fans of baseball today can trace their love for the game back to their own childhood playing days.  Whether playing for organized teams or in the backyard, many young boys dreamed of one day playing in the big leagues.  What could be better than spending afternoons (or now mostly evenings) in the green grass outfields or the combed dirt infields?  While dreams of fortune and fame were probably prevalent, it is not difficult to understand why some old timers said they would have played for free. Just the thought of playing, and of being considered among the best, was tantalizing enough.

I suspect this is why what Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) said in Field of Dreams resonates with so many of us:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

I never got to live that dream. My baseball career got shelved after junior high school, when I put my attention to other games: tennis, track, and mostly football.  But I did get a little taste of the dream, as I have had the privilege over the years to serve at different times as a chaplain in the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox organizations – for their minor league affiliates.  There I saw gifted young men pursuing the dream.  Several  made it to The Show, a few of my chapel regulars even made names for themselves.  They achieved the dream.

But as baseball begins anew today, prepping for the 2016 MLB season, I am reminded of an article I recently read by Rachel Balkovec, the first strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball, titled: Lost Boys.  Rachel reveals a side of professional baseball that few see.  It is the harsh reality associated with the dream.  She does not diminish the allure of baseball for those who adore the game, but after reading her brief piece baseball fans may have a greater appreciation of the cost of achieving the dream – a dream that few really experience.  And for those who, like I once did, dreamt of careers with seeming numberless innings, perhaps it can also help us to appreciate a little more the lives we now do have, away from the playing fields.