Sunday, June 19, 2016

What I mean when I offer thoughts and prayers...

This little gem cam across my timeline today:

I'm going to charitably assume this is the product of ignorance, and so will lay out what I, and I suspect most people mean, when they offer "thoughts and prayers" in the wake of a disaster so that it the author of this game and all those who approved it can devote themselves to more productive pursuits than mocking something nobody's saying.

Offering "thoughts and prayers" in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is a way for someone outside of a situation to acknowledge that those close to it are shouldering an emotional burden that can be unbearable, and offering to take some of it.

For me, this includes:

  • Praying for the repose of the souls of those who have died.
  • Praying for the recovery of those who are injured.
  • Praying for comfort for those close to those killed or injured.
  • Thanksgiving for the work of those helping the victims.
This is not a statement that this should represent the beginning and end of the response, or that it alone will prevent future similar incidents. But it is something right and proper to do, and the type of thing I think we need more of rather than less of, even if we do need more of other types of responses.

Cleaning up the crime scene does nothing to prevent future killings. But it must be done, and to mock it because it does nothing to prevent future shootings is silly at best and ugly and mean-spirited at worst.

Now, ideally, these prayers should include an examination of conscience that addresses questions like:
  • Is there some action I can be taking now to comfort those who are suffering from this?
  • Am I somehow complicit in this, through some direct action, through my participation in structures of violence, or my inaction in not doing things that can prevent this?
I can't guarantee that this examination will lead to conclusions that those mocking "thoughts and prayers" would prefer.

But I can guarantee that they will never reach those conclusions if they cut off their own thoughts and prayers because they've been told how useless they are.

The response to mocking "thoughts and prayers" will not be more action; it will be less thought and less prayers. And more entrenchment in what people thought to begin with.

Mock "thoughts and prayers" if you wish. But don't pretend it's helping.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Stop with the Mocking of Thoughts and Prayers

As people know, my daughter has cystic fibrosis. You will occasionally see me here raising funds for research into treatments for cystic fibrosis like the Stair Climb, Great Strides, or the upcoming Cycle For Like (ahem).

When I make these appeals, many people donate generously, but many more do not. This can be a bit disappointing, but I have to assume they have good reasons for that. I don't respond to every appeal I receive. Still, it can hurt a bit.

If she were to suffer some kind of setback (she's doing fine), and someone who chose not to donate were to offer some typical condolences, this would be a decent and good thing to do. If I were to respond by questioning why they didn't donate instead of offering empty condolences, this might be understandable considering the grief I was going through, but it would not be a response to be particularly proud of. It would be even less honorable if a third party were to hear this expression of concern, and make a similar challenge.

Is the offering of condolences a sufficient response, especially for those charged with public safety?

No, but it is a human, decent, and necessary response.

If everyone offering me condolences on my daughter's illness was subject to a spot audit of their record of contributions and public shaming if I found it lacking, the result would not be more contributions. It would be that fewer people would offer me condolences, and we would be more isolated in our suffering, And, since they are now less connected to me, it will be less likely they will donate when they are in a better position to do so. Lose/lose.

Shaming and mocking people who offer this is not likely to result in better actions, it will likely result in less decency. Less connection. More isolation and separation. Which seems to be a contributing factor to these tragedies, among other social ills.

Hold our leaders accountable to do their jobs. But let's not punish them for acts of basic human compassion and decency.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Our Current Idol

At times following a crisis, Americans work through their grief by going through a series of rituals. Sacred texts and imagery are reviewed. Promises of loyalty are recited. Those perceived to be opposed or insufficiently committed are vilified. The hope is that is god can make evil go away, and free us from fear. And now, prayers to other gods are mocked and driven away.

And then, we forget about it until the next crisis.

I'm talking, of course, about gun control legislation.

It's important to remember that we are often tempted to make idols out of good people and things, or at least things that started out that way, until we loaded them up with impossible expectations.

So my point here isn't to say that gun control is a bad idea, or even that it's not a good idea. Or that it's bad to work passionately for things that you think will help people or prevent disaster.

But it seems to me that for a significant quorum of people, this is taking a place in their lives beyond what it merits.

And it's unhealthy. It's unhealthy for them. It's unhealthy for society, since it defines those who disagree as The Enemy. The recent innovation of mocking those who offer "thoughts and prayers" for victims of their families is particularly poisonous. One of the best things about our society is our ability to come and grieve together. Now we can't even do that.

And it's probably unhealthy for the prospects of enacting gun control, since it leads those opposed to dig in.

And it will ultimately disappoint. Even if we enacted the most restrictive possible gun control policies, that would not address the problem that our society is producing people for whom these types of acts are thinkable. Some may be thwarted, but others will still find a way to do damage.

There are worse idols -- this response is better than war or hatred. But it is still not the answer.

I don't like guns.

I like scapegoating and idolatry even less.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Or, create something that people love

I know that admiration of Lin Manuel Miranda and what he's created with Hamilton borders on cliche at this point. I worry that we are setting him up for a tremendous fall, and I pray that won't be the case -- that he will be able to handle all the attention he's getting, and that others will step up as well.

Still, I think that what he does presents us with the best past forward.

Let's face it, it sometimes seemed like our culture had reached a decadent dead-end. Movies were almost all CGI-driven re-tellings of comic book stories we had seen before. TV, other than live sports, was largely splintered. Comedy had pretty much become the in-group bullying the out-groups. Or a vague counter-culture.

And now comes this cultural artifact. It mixed genres that most people had not considered to be related -- hip hop and musical theater -- along with a historical theme. Aside from some extremely light jabs, it's goal was not to make fun of or embarrass anybody; one could enjoy it regardless of one's ethnicity or political leanings.

And it created a platform for many people to display their talents.

There has been a lot of talk about the Golden Age of Television -- shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and now The Americans. I watched an enjoyed all of them, appreciating the craft of writing and acting that went into them.

But they don't strike me as beautiful the same way that Hamilton does. It doesn't seem like it's for everybody (and yes, I know TV shows even on premium cable are more immediately accessible than a live show with quadruple-digit secondary market ticket prices).  I can share this with my daughters, and with people around the country. It brings people together rather than driving them apart.

And this is why I have hope.

Tonight, more than likely, the Golden State Warriors will complete a historically great season. I work at a company and industry that can be ruthless at times, but that is also creating beautiful, useful things. This is still a country where people strive for, and achieve, greatness.

Our politics does not reflect that right now, and that's a shame. But I'm confident we'll find a way to make it happen.

For my part, I'm going to do my best to find and celebrate the people who are creating beautiful things, or even those who are trying. And I hope that I can build beautiful things that bring people together.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Getting Serious About Ending Hate...

It has occurred to me that when those who have the sense to be quiet in the aftermath of a tragedy, it leaves the field open to those who do not. And so, here is my thought. I cannot promise it is equal to the magnitude of what happened, but I do think it is more thoughtfully considered than the hot takes we've been subject to.

First, I want to note that I reached for my rosary beads long before I reached for my keyboard. I pray first for those who were killed, injured, and their families. And I pray for those who might be considering a similar action. And I pray for our nation, including me, that we can respond with wisdom and compassion.  And I will continue to do so.

Also, I want to note that though I may cite individual responses for the purpose of precision, I recognize that they were writing from considerable pain and fear, and my intent is not to single them out for ridicule, but to identify what I think are unhelpful patterns of thought in the hopes that we can do better going forward.

Here's one tweet that crossed my timeline:

On gun control, I stand by what I wrote in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre.  It seems plausible to me that restricting access to certain weapons would reduce the severity of these types of incidents, and thus may be worth doing. I understand that "may be" sounds pathetically weak in the face of piles of dead bodies. I suspect I might have a stronger position if those advocating it were consistent and relentless and persistent in pursuing their goals rather than just popping up in the aftermath of these types of incidents. When I see this....

I'm not seeing sadness at tragedy and a steely resolve to do the hard work necessary to prevent future incidents. I'm seeing what borders on delight at an opportunity to stick one's political enemies with the blame for something bad.

And, this may not be noble, but it doesn't make me want to help you.

As for the "hate," what I suspect many of those writing this mean is lecturing people like me, whose views may not be in perfect alignment with the current fashion, but who would never even consider voting for Trump, let alone committing any kind of violence.

This isn't going to do it.

Here's another tweet that crossed my timeline:

I could scarcely imagine a response more at cross-purposes to its stated goals.

Most people who support things like the North Carolina law do not do so because they think that "LGBT people in the bathroom are a threat to public safety."  The mainstream concern is that (non-LGBT) people in the population inclined to abuse might take advantage of liberalized bathroom access to commit abuse.

I'm not convinced that the NC law represents some Solomonic ideal of how to balance this concern with the needs of the trans population, but I am convinced we are not going to reach such an ideal without talking and, more importantly, listening to each other.

In short, the people who are committing these shootings, or even the people voting for Trump, are not reached by your hashtag campaigns, by your special avatar, or your celebrations of diversity. As a pro-lifer, I am an expert at how ineffective moral righteousness can be in changing hearts, minds, and policies. I'm not positive these people are reachable, but if they are, it will be through regarding them as people, not throwing your slogans at them.

This is hard work, I know. I know that I'm not always perfect in doing it.

But I think that's what it takes. I'm not sure we're willing to do it.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Most or the Best?

For some time, one of my guiding principles of discourse was that one should engage the best arguments against one's position rather than the worst, even if there were prominent examples of the worst arguments or the worst arguments were providing the opposition with most of its energy.

So, while it may be true that some people opposed President Obama's policies because they were racist and would never accept the leadership of a black president, or because they thought he was a Kenyan anti-colonialist, or wasn't born in the country, it was at best a waste of time addressing these types of arguments. At worst, it raised the profile of these types of people and convinced oneself and others on your own side that the only people opposed to you are morons. This doesn't seem healthy.

The Trump phenomenon has led me to reconsider that position.

It is apparent that many people identified as Republicans or supported conservative policies for reasons other than a product of rigorous intellectual examination of the alternatives. Naked self-interest probably qualifies as one of the more noble reasons for this.  There is a disconnect between the intellectual reasoning for a policy position, and the reason people actually support it.

I follow a number of right-of-center writers on Twitter. Not one of them has endorsed Trump, even now that he is the presumptive GOP nominee, and most are in fact explicitly #neverTrump.  Perhaps I've enclosed myself in a bubble of sorts, but I think it also reveals something about the divided nature of the right.

I do not think at someone like Paul Ryan is a racist. Though it may be the case that some of his proposed policies have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color. I think that for Ryan, this is a bug, but for many of the people who identify as Republicans, this is a feature.

The way opposition to same sex marriage collapsed should have offered a clue that this was happening. Not that it happened, but the speed with which it did, and the reasons people gave for it. Often, it was that they had come to know gays and lesbians, either personally or through positive media portrayals, and could no longer imagine withholding marriage from them. I suppose this empathy is good, but it's also revealing that their previous position was based on bigotry rather than a thoughtful consideration of what marriage is and should be. Those type of principles don't change just because one meets a nice gay couple.

The cold reality seems to be that there is not sufficient intellectual support for conservative ideas to support a viable political party. This was countered by folding in racists and bigots, but that is no longer a viable strategy.

And I suspect a similar dynamic is true on the left, only that President Obama has been an effective enough leader to hold  everyone together, and doesn't over-promise what he can't deliver.

I'm not sure how to respond to this reality. I'm sure some of the most important political changes in history have drawn significant support from people for bad reasons. Certainly, politicians who knowingly play to our worst impulses should be condemned for doing so. And I still think our public debates are better focused on issues other than how awful the worst people who agree with you are.

But the Trump campaign has made this reality impossible to ignore. Much of the energy and votes for the Republican party were motivated by hatred.

Laying a Strong Enough Foundation

It may just me me, but it seems my generation of me was pounded with messages about what a good father should look like.

From "Cats in the Cradle" to every sitcom and family comedy, the message was clear -- a good father puts Family over Career. He never misses a ballgame, dance recital, or doctor's appointment. He know the names of his children's teachers, friends, friends' parents, and caretakers. He does at least his share of the housework and ferrying duties. If his job gets in the way of this, he should find a different job that doesn't interfere with his vocation of fatherhood.

Failure to do this will result in his kids growing up not knowing him at best or hating him at worst. It will also cause his wife to resent him for leaving this entire burden on her.

So, it was interesting to hear the direction "Dear Theodosia," Hamilton's ode to fatherhood, took in describing Hamilton and Burr's vision of what that should look like:
You will come of age in our young nation
We'll bleed and fight for you. We'll make it right for you.
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We'll pass it on to you; we'll give the world to you
And you'll blow us all away 
Granted, this is set more than 200 years ago, and I'm not sure either Hamilton or Burr should serve as a model for modern fatherhood. But I think this gets at an aspect of fatherhood (and motherhood), that is often overlooked -- that it also involves creating a better, just world for our children to live in. And the means to do this is sometimes Career.

This ran through my head while reading Joe Posnanski's widely praised essay describing taking his teenage daughter  to see Hamilton. 

Posnaski describes taking a speaking engagement to earn enough money to buy secondary market tickets to take his daughter to see Hamilton, and the glorious time they had.

One could simply say this is an activity of "privilege," and envy that Posnanski can do something like this and most of us cannot. But I think it's worth digging a little deeper than that

For one, the speaking engagement likely took Posnanski away from his family for some time.

More deeply, I suspect that Posnanski developing his craft and reputation such that he could earn enough money for after-market Hamilton tickets from a single speaking engagement required some trade-offs with family life. To "lean in," to borrow a term from another context. My suspicion is that building his career as a nationally known writer required some missed dinners, piano recitals, and teacher's conferences, and that many ferrying duties fell to his wife.  This (with a considerable amount of hard work and talent) put him in a position where he could give himself and his daughter an unforgettable experience that is out of reach for many of us.

Or maybe I'm wrong.  Mabe Posnanski was truly able to "have it all" through hard work and discipline, and my failure to do the same is just a cop-out.  I tell myself that people like Posnanski are more successful than I am because I made different trade-offs than they did (or, less charitably, that they are less devoted to their families than I am), when the reality is that they are just more talented or hard-working than I am.

 It's a question I and many parents struggle with. How many family dinners or little league games is worth a trip to Hamilton?  It's true that moments of grace often pop up when you least expect them but I don't think the experience Posnanski described was much more likely to happen at the Richard Rodgers Theater than the local ballfield.

I don't have the answer. And I suspect the answer is different for everybody. It's why those of us who are religious need to spend considerable time in prayer is discerning the best manner to live this vocation.

Rhetoric and Violence...

As the news of the violent anti-Trump protests in San Jose traced across my Twitter feed Friday night, I snarkily thought to myself, "Ah, I'm sure this will lead to a weeks-long conversation about the extreme rhetoric of the anti-Trump movement, just as it did for the pro-life movement."

Somewhat to my surprise, Freddie de Boer went there:

So, now I have to actually engage in the argument instead of simply snarking about it.

In short, the question is whether violence from some protesters should bring leaders to reconsider the rhetoric they use.

Are the Statements True?

In the case of Planned Parenthood, that they dismember fetuses and sell the parts for research is not in dispute. What is in dispute is:

  • Whether Planned Parenthood "profits" from these sales, putting them outside the law.
  • The moral status of the fetuses.
So, whether "selling baby parts" is true or not hinges on whether or not one considers the fetuses they dismember to be "babies" and the semantics of "selling." I certainly have my own opinions on the answers to these questions, but for the purpose of this discussion, it will suffice to say that it is consistent with the pro-life perspective.

Is Trump a fascist? I think it's clear that some of his expressed plans are closer to fascism than those of any other prominent politician in recent memory.  On the other hand, I still think it is unlikely he will be elected, and if elected, unlikely he would be able to implement the most odious parts of his agenda.

If true, would these statements justify a violent response?

As a Catholic, I have tool to work through questions like this, the Just War Doctrine (which, I think is horribly named, since it suggests that the norm is for wars to be just, when it is the opposite. "Just War" is like "Black Swan".)

In the case of abortion and Planned Parenthood, I've considered the question before.  In brief, abortion clears the "lasting, grave, and certain" bar, but not the others, notably high probability of success.

In my judgment, the case for Trump fails as well. Most notably, that not all non-violent means (e.g. voting for another candidate, constraints from the other branches of government) have been exhausted.

But are they likely to lead to a violent response?

Our recent military adventures make clear that not all my fellow Americans approach these questions with the same rigorous application of Just War Doctrine that I do. Given that, it might make sense to address the weaker claim that the claims about Planned Parenthood and Trump might lead less careful people to respond violently.

In the case of Planned Parenthood, I think the answer is yes. I find the idea that someone like Robert Dear would have been fine and never bothered anybody but for Carly Fiorina mistaking a B-roll for live footage to be absurd, it isn't absurd to think that talking prominently about an organization killing thousands of babies a year might lead some people to believe they ought to be forcibly stopped from doing so, and if the law won't do it, then concerned citizens ought to.

In the case of Trump, this seems likely as well. Particularly in light of the popular narrative about Nazi Germany that his rise to power was aided by the complacency and inaction of people who should have known better ("First they came for the..., etc."). It's not surprising that talk about a prominent politician being the harbinger of a new era of fascism might lead some to conclude that this must be violently opposed.

If so, should this restrain their rhetoric?

This is more of a normative, fuzzy question that I think we need to honestly consider.

Factual truth, in itself, does not justify any statement someone could make. The sin of detraction, for example, involves the passing along of true information for the purpose of harming another's reputation.  So, the truth of Planned Parenthood's activities Trump's fascism does not, in itself, establish the prudence of talking about it. Obviously, those who make such statements are motivated to do so by a desire to prevent current and future evils.

In general, I think the culpability for violence that results from true statements about another party's actions rests first with those committing the violence, and second with those committing the acts that inspired the violence, with those who pointed out those actions placing a distant third. Establishing a norm that those who tell the truth about nefarious activities are responsible for how people respond to that information effectively creates a license for people to engage in all sorts of wrongdoing without fear of being exposed. If police officers are abusing people, we need to know about it, whether people will riot in response or not.

That said, I think people do have a responsibility to be as precise in their language as possible. I try to call what Planned Parenthood does "killing" rather than "murder" since I don't know what their intent is. 

Though this may be for reasons other than preventing violence. Freddie also retweeted a reference to a CS Lewis quote about not using more extreme language than the situation calls for.  In my judgment, this should have been applied to the non-Trump Republicans rather than Trump.  The rhetorical quiver has been emptied on the likes of Paul Ryan, and now there's nothing left for someone like Trump.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Meagan turned 11 this year, and we are now into the second decade of our CF journey.

We continue to see encouraging stories of reasearch breakthroughs that are already changing what this disease means for CF patients and their families. We hear stories of CF patients doing amazing things at ages that were once thought impossible, and we see Meagan live a life as a typical pre-teen, spending her time and energy on typical pre-teen things.

But the toll of CF is still very much with us. We still hear of CF patients taken from us far too early. We still devote considerable time and energy to keeping Meagan healthy. And we always worry with every cough and every cold.
Next Sunday, May 22, we will walk with other CF supporters to move toward a world where the first kind of stories completely overshadow the second. A world where CF patients like Meagan and their families lead normal, productive lives free of the worries and work that are our constant companion.

It's always a fun time -- a family-friendly walk from the Space Needle along the waterfront, followed by food and live music.

I hope you can find a way to join us, either by walking with us, offering your financial support, or your good wishes.   

To join us or donate, please visit here.


John McGuinness

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The privilege of raising a child with a chronic illness.

You have probably seen me write here before about the challenges of raising a child with a chronic disease.
This is all true.
But, today, we got to watch Meagan and about 20 other chronically ill children take part in a "fashion show" for the summer camp for them that they attend. They got to pick out an outfit at Kohl's and walk around the room to a song of their choice. (Sorry, I didn't get pictures -- my social media optimization game is off).
We parents of these children, while having to overcome very real struggles, have a special privilege. While these children have suffered greatly, today, they had a joy that I'm not sure "normal" children will ever know, and we as their parents got to see and share it with them.
We also get to see a bright side of humanity in the many people who help take care of them -- doctors, nurses, teachers, therapists, volunteers, friends, our partners and ourselves.
You will probably see me mention the challenges again, and that is a very real and true part of the story. But these moments of joy are also a part of the journey as well.
And, if you'd like to learn more about the camp or donate, you can visit here:…/stanley-stamm-summer-camp/ The families of the children who go there do not pay anything, and it provides a great relief for these families, some of whom face even greater challenges then we do with Meagan.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The new NBA

The firing of David Blatt (at least as told by Adrian Wojnarowski) seems to usher in a new era in how sports teams (or at least the NBA) are managed. 

It is unprecedented for a coach who took a non-playoff team to the Finals in Year 1 and is leading the conference in Year 2 to be dismissed. Of course, that improvement and success has a lot more to do with the Cavs' acquisition of LeBron James than any coaching prowess on Blatt's part.

So, from a social justice perspective, this is probably a good thing. The Cavs are a factor both competitively and culturally because of LeBron James, not David Blatt or any part of the Cavs' management? Why shouldn't he wield power over how the organization is run. One need only to glance at the NFL to see that the billionaires running the teams aren't exactly serving the public interest. Would the choices LeBron makes (or Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant...) be that much worse that the choices the likes of Stan Kroenke are making? Seems doubtful. So while LeBron's maneuvers may bug the rumpled traditionalist in me, it's hard for me to see it as a foreboding development.

But there is also the manner of winning. Wojnarowski reports that one of the prime goals was to get Mark Jackson installed as the head coach of the Cavs. Now, Mark Jackson coached the Warriors to the middle of the playoff picture in the stacked NBA West. He was replaced by Steve Kerr, who coached the Warriors to the NBA Championship. This year, Kerr missed the beginning of the season, and the team went on a historic run under interim coach Luke Walton, in his first coaching stint.

Does this prove that Jackson is a bad coach? Not really. But it doesn't strike me as prudent to order an organization toward landing him as coach.

Speaking of the Warriors, it does not seem that they are organized this way. The players seem to trust the system put in place by management. Steph Curry is a star, but does not seem (at least not yet) to be calling the organizational shots. When the coaches decide Draymond Green needs to sit for a game, he sits for a game. The Spurs seems to be run similarly.

On the other hand, under this system, the Cavs came within 2 games of winning the championship with their 2nd and 3rd best players out or severely diminished, and James's preferred coach not yet in place. So, it's not clear that the player-driven system won't work. But I wouldn't bet on it. It seemed to me that James the GM's success was mainly due to James the Best Player in the League.

It's of course possible that someone could be both talented as a player and superb in organizing a team. Jerry West, Larry Bird, and others have had success as coaches and general managers. But I don't see any reason why these skills would necessarily correlate, and it seems that carrying both jobs would be to heavy a load for anybody.

And this leads me to seriously doubt the strategy of my home towns 76ers for the past several years of losing and hoping to fall into position to draft a transcendent talent. The next transcendent talent will probably want to have a similar level of influence to what Lebron James enjoys. And it's not clear to me that's a better path to winning than installing a superior system that players want to buy into and be a part of.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Use your own Judgement...

Buster Olney bravely decided to have a Hall of Fame argument on Twitter, and I rewarded him by engaging him.

The first tweet I saw on it was this one:

Now, I agree that is is wrong that Jeff Bagwell has been excluded from the Hall of Fame, apparently because he was a power hitter whose career happened to coincide with a period of suspected high PED use.

But this framing makes it seem like enshrinement is something players like Bagwell are owed or entitled to, rather than an honor they receive.  So, the writers haven't merely declined to bestow an honor on Bagwell, they have wronged him and owe him an apology.

This isn't such a big deal in this case, but this type of thinking leads to some worse conclusions.

Olney has several tweets making this point:

as well as this one...

And that is my basic disagreement.

It seems to me that the character clause was put in precisely to account for situations that had not been anticipated similar to the "best interests of baseball clause" in the commissioner's powers.  As an acknowledgment that they have not anticipated all the possible criteria. Given that we've spent much of the past year renaming buildings and taking down statues, it does seem prudent to have some veto-points in place before giving someone a permanent honor.

In this case, the situation is use of substances by a number of known players and possibly a number of unknown players that enhanced players' performances in ways we still don't completely understand.  It seems like this might be a valid time to apply a clause in an unprecedented manner.*

Again, I think it's important to remember that we're not talking about throwing people in jail or banning them from the game, here. We're talking about whether we want to grant them their sport's highest lifetime honor.  Which is why I disagree with the Olney's second point here.  By not banning them explicitly, but leaving the character clause in place, the Hall of Fame is allowing for a middle ground -- players like McGwire may not be declared anathema, but we're not going to jump at the opportunity to honor them, either.**

From there, Olney gets downright silly:

I believe the phrase "proves too much" was invented for things like this.

If the media can't be trusted to apply the character clause in filling out their Hall of Fame ballots, then we've got much bigger problems than some deserving candidates being left out of the Hall of Fame. Would that the primary impact of the Jewell frenzy (and other (social) media frenzies) was that their target was denied their profession's highest honor!

Look, I get that having to make these judgments is uncomfortable, especially without access to all the relevant facts. And I also understand that "judgement" and "common sense" can and have been used to cover up excluding people based on prejudice.

But that's part of life as a professional, as a grown-up. And so long as we have situations with some ambiguity, we will need human beings with the courage and wisdom to sort through the information and values at hand, and make the best decisions possible.  They'll probably get it wrong sometimes, but I think that's better than just throwing hands up in the air.

And I think it's also worth noting that this same discretion is what enables the writers to enshrine people like Sandy Koufax, whose aggregate numbers would not meet ordinary Hall of Fame standards.

* You can read here on why I think the cases frequently cited as precedents are not quite a fit, at least to me.

** In my opinion, these middle places are an important part of a healthy society. We don't harshly punish people without rock-solid proof, but we reserve the right to withhold our highest honors. This may mean that occasionally some people are unfairly denied, but better that than either banning too many people or doling out awards we later regret.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

No Retweet; No Surrender

Every year, it seems there are more guides for young progressives in how to navigate political arguments with their less enlightened relatives.  Here's Vox's edition for this year.

The standard response to this type of thing is the reason for the holidays is for people to enjoy each other's company, not to score political points. And I'm on board with that.

But to take a slightly different tack, I think people are more likely to be moved by your perspective and your stories than echoing Ezra Klein's talking points.  If you know someone who stands to benefit from a policy you favor, or who suffers from one you oppose, tell that story. If it's more about the values that are dear to you, share that. If it's more of a technocratic number-crunching, well, maybe that's a discussion for the negotiating table rather than the holiday dinner table.

Your relatives invited you to celebrate the holidays with them. If they just wanted to hear what prominent writers had to say about issues, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and pulled up their columns instead of hosting or traveling to a family gathering.

You have a unique perspective on what's going on. Not because you read blogs that others don't but because of your life. I suspect that if you are welcome at a family gathering, so would that perspective, even if not everyone agrees with your conclusions.  If your older relatives have more anecdotes than you do, well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to listen to them, and incorporate their experience in your worldview. That doesn't mean you're wrong, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of how things impact people or how they're perceived.

In short, let's start standing up for ourselves and what we think instead of counting on pundits, memes, and think tanks do it for us.  They probably weren't addressing the human person who is in front of us, anyway.

And, maybe we can also bring more of ourselves to our other gatherings and spaces as well -- start talking to each other instead of throwing talking points, memes, and videos at each other.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Picking up the thread....

After spending several posts setting the table, I never got around to serving the meal on my response to the conflict between Ross Douthat and the Catholic academics. (If you want timely commentary, read a less busy blogger).

On a gut level, I agree with Bishop Barron's take. The way to respond to arguments that you don't like it to offer a persuasive counter-argument, not to complain to the writer's bosses. I would also agree with Damon Linker's note that Douthat's commentary on the synod is a curious point at which to commence concern with the New York Times publishing incorrect or misleading information about Catholicism. (ahem).

Nevertheless, one needn't look around too long to note that public debates aren't always won by those who have the truth on their side, at least in the short run. There are any number of issues where public opinion and policy runs directly against the facts.

In many of these cases, the argument that people cling to is something akin to, "Bad people are conspiring behind closed doors against you and lying to you about their true intentions."  This is an argument which, to Bishop Barron's point, is impossible to disprove.  It is an argument people will cling to in the face of evidence against their position.  It is an argument that drives people apart and leads them to distrust each other.

Given this, I think it is irresponsible to advance such an argument absent some solid information that this is the case.

I hasten to add that Douthat's commentary is irresponsible in the same way that much of, for example, Father James Martin's commentary about the doings of more conservative members of the hierarchy is; for example, his suggestion that the investigation of the LCWR was really just a politcially-motivated hit job.  Or the notion that Pope Francis only met with Kim Davis because some conservative bishop pulled a fast one on him.

From the beginning, it appeared that Douthat's coverage of the synod was akin to how he would cover a political convention - different factions jockeying for influence to push their agendas. I understand that often when politicians say they want a "conversation," what they really want is a particular out come of that conversation, and they will use whatever means at their disposal to drive the conversation to that outcome.

Perhaps it is naivete on my part (as Douthat's mocking summary of the synod would suggest), but that is not what I saw Pope Francis doing. I saw him recognizing a pastoral problem, and getting people together to try to figure out how to address it. Perhaps he was hoping for a particular outcome, but was open to where the spirit would lead them.

Now, this is not the argument the theologians made. They argued that Douthat did not have sufficient credentials to publicly comment theologically.

So I understand why the academics responded in a way other than a robust exchange of ideas. Columnists like Ross Douthat and his editors at the New York Times do bear a responsibility regarding the arguments they advance, give prominence to, or support.

Thus, my conclusion is that there's no real winners here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Red Cups and the Pharisee's Prayer

Shortly after the red cups came out, I posted the following on my Facebook profile:

The way I respond to secularization of Christmas is to stand at the doorway of my church before Christmas Mass and wish everyone who walks in a Merry Christmas in my warmest voice, paying particular attention to those who may be arriving alone.

I also suspect there will be plenty of people in Christian run shelters, nursing homes, hospitals, and soup kitchens who will happily receive Christmas greetings.

If we're looking for Christ in our consumer purchases from big corporations, we're looking in the wrong place.

I received a good amount of positive feedback for this.

As the trickle of responses to this controversy developed into a flood, I started to feel a little bad about it. The number of people mocking those who were outraged seemed to greatly outnumber the people actually outraged. and it felt like I was part of a bullying mob.

Also, the criticisms began to sound like a modern version of the Pharisee's prayer.  I'm thankful I'm not like those other Christians who waste their time and energy getting mad about red cups. I care about homelessness, racism, the unborn, etc....

There was a tone of that to my message as well, though I also want to believe I meant it as earnest advice. I do find the need to stifle my holiday greetings to be a bit painful. For sure, it is not the worst pain in the world, and is probably not as intense as the pain non-Christians may feel of being excluded, but it is nonetheless real. I was suggesting some outlets for where to take that.

It did not come off that way, particularly in the context of a flood of mockery.

But was there value in this?

I suppose there was.  Absent this, the story would have been driven by the few who were outraged and atheists pointing to it as evidence of how screwed up those Christians are that they get bent out of shape over how Starbucks does or not decorate their cups. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate that those being outraged represented a tiny minority, and that most Christians actually are more concerned about human suffering than the degree to which big corporations validate their beliefs.

At the same time, I think we have to be careful that we're not putting ourselves above our fellow Christians.  It's a tough balance between speaking the truth about who we are and not lording it over other people.

Besides, observing what's happened to Halloween as its become separated from All Saints Day makes me wonder if the concerns about secularization should be so quickly dismissed.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Why Mercy Might Not Be Prudent

Mercy, by its nature, is inconsistent, and will appear to be unfair on the surface. A sin has been committed; it merits a certain punishment; that punishment is being commuted or eliminated.

Our sin merits eternal damnation. But Jesus has taken on those sins.  This is an enormous act of love. It is also profoundly unfair.

In a world where local church officials have the discretion to offer mercy and allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, there would necessarily be inconsistencies.  Some dioceses will be more lenient than others. Some may favor certain types of cases over others.

Our current media and cultural environment is very good at detecting and trumpeting these types of inconsistencies. Particularly if this those who benefit from the mercy are somehow less superficially sympathetic than those who do not (Imagine if a bishop allows a wealthy male Republican politician to receive, but not a poor woman whose first husband abandoned her...)

Thus far, the Church has not demonstrated skill in defending its positions and decisions in an environment (e.g. defending its right to not provide benefits that are in conflict with its values = a "war on women").  So, it seems likely that the fallen humans charged with implementing this policy will essentially grant a blanket amnesty, or apply some "consistent" but unwise rule for when people can be re-admitted.

This, as the critics point out, would represent a fundamental change to what the Church has always taught about marriage.

So, while I think that mercy brings us closer to Jesus, I don't know if we're equipped to handle it.

Ok, that should do it for putting my cards on the table. Now I'll look at the current conflict.

My Case For Mercy

I am generally disposed to favor the position of mercy, and allowing their return to the Eucharist for some divorced remarried couples.

What follows are my reasons for having this disposition. It is not an air-tight theologically rigorous case for this position. It is likely driven by some sloppy thinking that I will be embarrassed by later as I (hopefully) grow in understanding. But it's a snapshot of where I am now, and I want to be transparent about it.

I am generally opposed to using access to the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, as a tool of doctrinal discipline. I have not supported efforts to pressure bishops to deny the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians (though I would support bishops who decide to do so), nor when this tactic was turned against those who favor torture.

Jesus's words are that those who do not partake of the Eucharist will die. That it is more vital to our eternal survival than actual physical food. I wouldn't discipline my daughters by denying them food, and this seems to me what denying the Eucharist to divorced remarried Catholics is akin to.

And it seems antithetical to the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels. Who tells the story of the Father running out to meet the Prodigal Son. Who offers Living Water to the woman at the well. I understand the temptation to build a Jesus in our own image and likeness, but it is still difficult for me to imagine the Jesus I encounter in the Gospels refusing the woman from the infamous phone call to Pope Francis (commentary on this is so polarized that I'll just link to a Google search on it).

To which one might respond that the divorced remarried are actively engaged in mortal sin by their continued involvement in their second adulterous marriage.

But it seems to me this proves too much. We Americans are all part of an economic system that continues to deny justice for the poor. A legal system that denies the right not to be killed to the unborn. That was wreaked destruction on the environment. And has been guilty of things like slavery, segregation, and destruction of native populations that we all now recognize as terrible injustices. And we are all, to some degree, implicated in them. Jesus seemed as concerned about these type of things as He was about adultery.

Now, we have not actively chosen to do so in the same way that someone who has entered into a second marriage has. But it does seem to me that one who would deny a repentant person in a second marriage communion for this reason, is a strong supporter of one of our two major political parties, and receives communion weekly without a bit of fear and trembling is engaging in a bit of selective outrage.

Again, this is what motivates my feelings. I'm am not saying this is what should motivate anyone else. And I will assent to whatever decision the magisterium comes up with. But this is why I welcome the conversation.

Next: why the merciful approach may not be currently prudent.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My priors and biases

To continue my extended throat clearing, I'll share what my general impressions are of some of the principles currently engaged in the conflict.
  • I am a big admirer of Pope Francis. I think his modeling of simplicity and humility has been very helpful, and an example the Church needs right now. It's part of the reason I took my daughters across the country on a pilgrimage to be part of his visit.

    Besides that, I believe that he is the leader that the Holy Spirit has chosen for the Church at this time, and my role as a lay person, is to follow him, unless he is leading me into sin.

    And the same was true for his predecessors.
  • I am a huge fan of Ross Douthat. In most respects, he provides a model for making the case for positions that the public doesn't want to hear.

    I am happier when he is providing thoughtful analysis of cultural trends than handicapping political horse races, but I understand what brings the eyeballs.
  • I have mixed feelings about Father James Martin. On the one hand, he does seem to be bringing an intelligent group of people (back?) into the Church, and has an obvious excitement about his faith.

    On the other hand, he occasionally leaves the impression that he is a liberal first and Catholic second.

    A particular disappointment to me was his response to the news that the Holy Father met with Kim Davis. It amounted to, in essence, that the pope meets with lots of people, he could have been tricked by some nasty conservatives, and it probably doesn't mean anything.

    It's true that the meeting likely did not mean that Pope Francis was familiar with or endorsed the entirety of Davis's legal battle.

    But I think Fr. Martin missed an opportunity to remind his readers that this is an affirmation of Ms. Davis's humanity. That she may not deserve to prevail in her legal challenges, but she remains a human person who also is not deserving of the demonization she had been subject to.

    I've also found his frequent use of the word "hate" in describing those who disagree with him to be less than helpful.
  • I am a great admirer of Bishop Robert Barron, and think he is providing an excellent model for what catechesis, evangelization, and engagement with a hostile culture can look like for us going forward.
  • I certainly have my disagreements with Damon Linker.  But I do find him to be someone who makes a great effort to consistently apply his principles, even if they might be ones I disagree with.

Where I'm coming from...

I halve some thoughts on the Douthat vs. the Academics brouhaha that is currently brewing, but since my recent blogging has been rather sparse, I should probably establish some of my current personal context first.

I'll start with what weighs on my heart personally.

As I've mentioned before, I serve as a catechist for our parish's Confirmation program. To me, the person I will describe represents, to borrow a term from baseball analysis the highest "leverage" people from my perspective.  This is based on a composite, rather than any particular individual.

She's the mother of one of my students. She "was raised Catholic" as people are fond of saying now, but has recently been a "Christmas and Easter" Catholic, if that. She may be divorced from my student's father, and may or may not be remarried. She has friends and family members who are actively anti-Catholic, maybe a gay relative who fells unwelcome in the Church, who would seriously challenge her if she increased her involvement with the Church. She or someone she know has been on the wrong end of some pastoral decision, maybe even one that was perfectly justified, but the hurt remains. Maybe her childhood parish closed, or some aspect of her wedding she wanted was overruled. Over time, it just became easier to leave the Church behind.

But, as her son approaches the age for Confirmation, something in her wants this for him. Maybe it's pressure from her parents, who have kept the faith. Maybe she has some positive memories from her time in the Church, and wants her son the experience them as well.

Whatever her reason, she finds herself at the threshold of our church.

And what will she find there? Is it something to which she will want to return, and be part of her children's lives.

Now, I'm not saying that we should or that I do water down the Church's teachings so that she'll keep coming back. Nor is this the only perspective from which we should consider pastoral decisions. The older son may not have behaved admirably, but his pain is also real, and also needs to be addressed.

But my suspicion is that this woman is showing up at the doors of many of our parishes, and this is a critical time for her and her children's souls, and we need to seriously consider how both our behavior and our pastoral decisions might impact the direction she moves in.

In my judgment, prominent Catholic commentators announcing that they prefer a "civil war" to accepting their admittance to communion is not helpful.

That doesn't mean it's wrong, but that's my initial reaction.

More to come...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Experience and Empathy

A recent study finds that those who have been through a difficult experience are actually less empathetic toward those going through similar experiences than those who have not.

The main reason they cite is that once someone has overcome a problem, they underestimate how difficult it was.

Anecdotally, with my experience as the parent of a child with a chronic (currently) fatal disease, I have to say there is some truth to that.  My eyes roll at the day-to-day complaints about parenthood that fill my Facebook theme.  I find myself sarcastically replying, "And what fatal disease does your child have? How long is she expected to live? How much time did you spend doing therapy to keep your child alive today?"

This is compounded by my preferred personal style being to "make it look easy."  I try to in general not show the hard work this is, forego special treatment as much as possible, and, with the exception of fund raising events and acute events like hospitalizations, try to present myself and our family as not all that different.

But we are.

Intellectually, I know that we have adjusted to the reality of cystic fibrosis, which does make dealing with it part of our routine, and that all of us can seem to be maxed out in dealing with the problems we're presented with. And that many parents have even more to deal with.

Still, when I've walked Meagan through her hour-long routine, hoped that the next drug she gets prescribed is one that we can afford and is not terribly difficult, and seen reports of other CF patients struggling or dying, it can be hard to muster much sympathy for the parents of the toddler who was fidgety on the flight to Disney World.

Yes, this is my problem. I'm hoping that by naming it, I can get better.

Dealing with struggles doesn't necessarily make us better people; it's up to us to make it work.