Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

By now, nearly everyone on social media has had time to react to Colin Kaepernick's decision not to stand for the National Anthem at an NFL pre-season game on Friday, August 26.  Many of them have expressed an opinion on his action (and explanatory words), often using pictorial memes created by others.

But I believe that this subject has too many nuances to be captured by any meme, nearly all of which are of the "Hooray for our side!" variety.  So let me use this space to explain what I think is right and wrong about Kaepernick's words and actions.

Before I get into that, however, let me make one disclaimer:  I pretty much loathe the song that is our National Anthem.  Musically, it is a mess.  Perhaps "abomination" is not too strong a word.  At any rate, it requires a vocal range that prohibits most American citizens from singing it decently without awkwardly switching octaves mid-song.  This article explains the inherent pro-slavery views of the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner.  In fact, the only verse I like is the one we sing in our Anglican church on patriotic holidays:

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation! 
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land 
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation! 
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, 
And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,”  
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave 
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Even that, however, has the kind of vision of America as God's chosen country that was dealt with (negatively) in Bob Dylan's song, "With God On Our Side."  So, I have no love for this song.  The reason I stand and sing it is because it represents the country I love, and that is the only reason.  I've often been public in recommending that we accept as our National Anthem the song which is sometimes referred to as "the black national anthem":  Lift Every Voice and Sing.

The third verse is especially poignant, and extremely timely for us at this juncture in our national history:

"God of our weary years,God of our silent tears, 
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; 
Thou who has by Thy mightLed us into the light, 
Keep us forever in the path, we pray. 
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, 
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forgot Thee, 
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand, 
True to our God, true to our native land."

Every Christian, perhaps every theist, should rejoice if my recommended national anthem change were implemented.  For "Lift Every Voice" is infinitely more spiritual than the Star Spangled Banner.  It doesn't use God, as our current national anthem does, as merely an insurer of our national victories.  It pictures Him as a being infinitely above our nation and all others, a Being we should be most afraid of offending.   

But I will bet you that if this became our new National Anthem, many of my white friends would not stand for it; they'd remain seated as Kaepernick has pledged to do for our current national song.  And they would fancy themselves heroic, or at least righteous for doing so.

But what of Colin Kaepernick and his choice to remain seated?  Much depends upon why he did it, and what his proposed remedy for the situation is.  As to the first, here are his own words:
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
The point has been made by many that as someone who is extremely wealthy because of the American system, and has someone who has clearly NOT been oppressed himself, Kaepernick has no right to speak up.  But I don't find this argument valid.  Those who are given strength and a voice are right to speak up on behalf of the oppressed.  Sometimes it falls to you, as a person of power and influence, to speak up and say that we cannot treat things (as they currently stand) as "business as usual."

A stronger argument against Kaepernick's words is that he is simply factually incorrect about America.  There is less systemic oppression of black people and people of color than perhaps in any other society ever.    Allen West makes that point very cogently in this article.
Mr. Kaepernick, a biracial young man adopted and raised by white parents, claims America is oppressing blacks at a time when we have a black, biracial president who was twice elected. We’ve had two black attorneys general and currently have a black secretary of homeland security, along with a black national security advisor. Here in Dallas our police chief, whom I know, is an outstanding black leader. The officer in Milwaukee who shot the armed assailant after issuing an order to drop his weapon was black. Is Mr. Kaepernick following suit and cherry-picking what he terms “oppression?”
But, for purposes of argument, let us hypothetically concede that Kaepernick is factually correct about America.  If that is what he believes, is he duty-bound to remain silent?  I think not.  Some critics have suggested that Kaepernick and all other Americans should adopt a "My country, wrong or right" attitude.  But I disagree.  G. K. Chesterton weighs in on this notion:
“My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
So, a true patriot can (or, rather, "must") protest his own country when she is in error.  But the true patriot does this in love.  Just as one would work towards the sobriety of his own mother, in love, so the true patriot works toward the reformation of his country in love.

The question now becomes:  "Is Colin Kaepernick that kind of man or not?"

He doesn't leave us wondering very long about this.  It is right there in the t-shirt he chose to wear to his post-game press conference.  It features Fidel Castro, oppressor extraordinaire, and enemy of everything American.  This, and not the act of remaining seated during our very flawed national anthem, is the true offense.  To suggest (and his shirt does suggest this, let's not pretend otherwise) that the philosophy of Fidel Castro, the brutally oppressive dictator of Cuba, is somehow an answer to what is wrong with America ... shows that Kaepernick is not trying to correct America as his beloved mother.  Rather, he is on the side of those wishing her eternally destroyed.  To endorse a socialist dictator while earning many millions of dollars thanks to America's capitalist system ... well, that is the worst and most blatant sort of hypocrisy imaginable.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Social Media and the Tyranny of the Exceptional

I spend a lot of time on Facebook, some on Instagram, and a bit on Snapchat.  Particularly on Facebook, there is some tendency toward the publication of The Exceptional.  Exceptional (a.k.a, "newsworthy") events are favored by many:  a terrorist attack takes place in Europe, a politician says something horrible, an athlete accomplishes an incredible feat, a dog rescues a homeless person, the world will end next year due to (take your pick:  GMO food, chemtrails, global climate change, or fluorinated water).  We gravitate, some of us, to the very, very good or else the very, very bad.

But I love it when people chronicle the mundane aspects of their daily lives.  My friend in Pennsylvania had a cup of coffee at his favorite diner.  My friend in Houston smoked a cigar.  A lady from Michigan attended her child's sporting event.  A bodybuilding competitor photographed her breakfast.  A friend from North Carolina has the Cutest Grandson Ever.  Another fellow from Pennsylvania posts a photo of his beloved dog.  A woman in Maryland gives an update on her garden.  A couple in Texas show a new kind of beer they sampled.  A kid from Michigan posts a cool car he saw on the street.

I have seen many Facebook posts to the effect of:  "Nobody wants to hear about your workout!  Nobody wants to see what you ate for breakfast!"

But, I do.  I want to see your pets, your kids, your pool party, your vacation photos, your anniversary flashback photos, your gym selfies, your cute pics of your kids and grandkids, and especially your food!  In a world tyrannized by The Exceptional, I would like to see The Normal. Maybe it is old age catching up with me, but it comforts me to be reminded that not everything happens on the fringes, the extremes of life.

Give me a cornucopia of the common, a plethora of the plebeian, an abundance of the average, a multitude of the mundane, an ululation of the unexceptional, a surfeit of the simple, and an overplus of the ordinary.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ridding My Life of Toxic People?

I see meme after meme after meme on social media to the effect that I should:

* Rid my life of toxic people.
* Banish all negativity from my life; don't let it touch me.
* Guard myself from all possible emotional harm.

But the Saviour I worship did NONE of these things. His incarnation into this world was nothing less than full immersion in negativity. He suffered emotional harm. He lived and died his life entirely for toxic people. How can I do otherwise?

This painting (Ed Knippers, "Pest House - Christ Heals the Sick") is how I see Christ (and, prayerfully, myself) in the world:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Marital Intimacy in Heaven

A few weeks back, I was pondering this verse while at the gym, and got a little peeved at God:
"For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." (Matthew 22:30)
Given the blazing success that marriage to Cindy has been for me, it irks me that decades of development of emotional intimacy, the accumulation of inside jokes, the crafting of our own unique lexicon ... shared by only the two of us ... all that will be down the drain in the kingdom of heaven, says our Lord. And it seems like such a waste.

Why would God take all that away from us? It seems like a downgrade. In fact, it doesn't really seem like something our amazingly generous God would do. So then I thought: "Maybe he won't. Maybe I've misapprehended the verse."

What if ... God being overly generous and loving emotional, spiritual, and every other kind of intimacy with and among his people ... what if God went truly overboard with generosity and gave us that same level of intimacy seen in the very best marriages ... I say, what if God gave us that same intimacy with EVERY other believer in heaven? It seems so like Him to do that. If you look at the world He has crafted, from micro-organisms to galaxies, it fairly screams out, "Yes! More! All of it! Infinite! Yes!"

So, this is my current view of heaven, that each believer's intimacy with each other, and our intimacy with God, shall be like (nay, exceed!) the intimacy in the best marriages on earth. Rather than taking one thing away, God will give me 100 million times more! So like Him, to do that.

"Yeah ... I heard a funny thing.  Somebody said to me, you know, that I could be in love with almost everyone."

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Energy - A New Poem


For reasons God keeps hidden from the world,
He loves to turn potential to kinetic.
To take a pent-up energy tight-furled,
And change it into something most frenetic.

So walls of ocean water piled high
Soon crash the beach as waves of violent foam.
So high voltaic potential in the sky
Must flash to ground with no resisting Ohm.
So differences in pressure must let fly
Fierce atmospheric force, and winds rush home.

Thus in my members, when not with my love,
A terrible potential there is bound.
But, when at last with her I’m speaking of,
It’s loosed like lightning finding its true ground.

©2016, Paul W Erlandson

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Introducing ... the Jetfire Guitar!!!

All the way back in April, 2008, my son Eliot Erlandson drew out a quick pencil sketch for a guitar we wanted to build together.  We knew it had to be a kind of "Jetson's" type of retro look ... maybe it could look like a rocket or something.

Then, too, we knew we would build it based on some hardware (bridge, tremelo, and pickups) from Hallmark Guitars, since I own two Hallmarks, and love the way they sound.  Other than that, we didn't constrain ourselves too much.  We wanted a solid-body electric with two single-pole pickups, with the body being out of mahogany.

Here are some photos from our eight-year journey (in fits and starts) to get this concept of Eliot's brought into reality.  Today, it is a gorgeous, very playable electric guitar (videos to come!) with a gorgeous Candy Magenta paint job using House of Kolor automotive paint.

Routing out the body ...

Eliot cut the body shape out with a band saw ...

The plan all along was to have all the electronics mounted to a fairly large pickguard, and we stuck to that plan ...

Finally, the big day came, and we had the beast painted by Clifton Darnell of Darnell Rod & Kustom.  Fabulous!  When the sun hits this baby, it shatters your retinas!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Changing the Way I Pray

I'm changing the way I pray for people. In the past, I generally prayed for good things to happen to good people, for good people to be delivered from their troubles, and for bad things to happen to bad people (Oh, don't pretend to be shocked! David did this all the time in the Psalms.).

But there are drawbacks to my old way of praying. One of them is that I first have to determine which people I am praying for are in need of benediction, and which in need of malediction. It's a lot of calculation, with scant amounts of data, and well ... when you get right down to it, we're all worthy of God's curse.

So, I've adapted the words of absolution from the Holy Communion service in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and I pray it for all of the people in my life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I pray this:

Have mercy upon [them]; pardon and deliver [them] from all [their] sins; confirm and strengthen [them] in all goodness; and bring [them] to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

There are 6 petitions here:

(1)  That God would have mercy on the people for whom we pray.  We all need this.

(2)  For bad people (sinners) to be pardoned for their sins.  Of course this implies with it conversion to Christ as a necessary condition for forgiveness.

(3)  That these same bad people (all of us, I suppose) would be delivered from their sins.  Think about it.  Visualize your worst earthly enemy, and then imagine that person being delivered from all of his/her sins.  Wouldn't that be great?   Some of them (us) would scarcely be recognizable!

(4)  For those of us who have some good in us, that this good would be confirmed in us.

(5)  That the good in people would be strengthened.

(6)  That the object of our prayer would be brought to eternal life in Christ.

No longer do I have to calculate the goodness or badness of a person before praying.  This prayer covers it all.  Behold, the genius of the historic Book of Common Prayer!