He’s The President…And Human Too


I haven’t been political in a while. There’s just not much return on it. Every time I write about politics, I get nasty comments and emails, and I’m just too tired to put up with crap like that. Besides, there’s nothing major going on now that wasn’t going on under previous administrations – the only difference is that everyone expected this president wouldn’t act like previous presidents. We were wrong.

But today I saw a picture that was supposed to be funny – I say supposed to be because the primary purpose of the pic was to share the pun caption. It was a picture of our president, Barack Obama, with a grossly exaggerated lower lip and the caption: “Apefirmative Action.”

I almost threw my computer across the room. Seriously? In 2013?

The gross, crass nature of the pun bothered me. First of all, it’s not even remotely funny. Second, it shows the derogative imagination of an emotionally damaged teen. Third, it bothered me to know that there are still people out there who haven’t realized the stunningly obvious truth about humanity: that regardless of race, we’re pretty much all the same. None of us is better or more special than another – and the fact that someone posted that picture pretty much makes that point. If you denigrate another race, you’re merely showing the inferiority of yours.

I was also bothered by the fact that the presidency isn’t worthy of respect anymore. Once upon a time people respected whomever sat the in the Oval Office because they understood that no matter what a particular president’s agenda might be, he was constrained by his oath to protect the American people. They knew of the burdens that weighed on the holder of the position and didn’t envy him.

Nowadays we treat our presidents as punch lines. I’m guilty of it too. After all, no matter what, he’s just a man, and men are not sacred. But while the occasional joke is fine, the persistent and pernicious assaults on the past few presidents in office reveal something deeper. A lack of respect. A sense of entitlement. A society of selfish people, clamouring for their way over the will of the People.

To be honest, we now treat the president as if he’s a C.E.O. and America is a company. We want him to maximize our profits, do whatever will make us the most happy. Forget what’s good for the company, forget what makes us stronger in the long run, we want what we want not. Gimme, gimme, gimme. And if you don’t, we’ll scream and yell and call for your ouster because we want bigger and better dividends, we want you do what we say.

But the truth is that President is not the same as C.E.O.; the ramifications are too big, too powerful. And there’s no way he could satisfy everyone with his performance because we’re too big, too diverse, too easily swayed about what matters to us at his moment. He has to do what he thinks is right; if we don’t agree, we have our legal revolution every four years at the ballot box.

All of this to say, disagree with the man if you want (and on many things, I do – same as with W), but when you stoop to posting racist pictures as a way of expressing your displeasure, you’re crossing a line and revealing an ugly truth about yourself: that after years of learning the truth about race, you’ve simply chosen not to listen. You are willfully ignorant. You make an active choice to be less than intelligent.

Which is why no rational person will listen to your screed. It’s as nonsensical as a baby’s babble.

And it’s why I won’t go any farther. You’re human too. You have a family, a life, hopes and dreams. You have a heart and a brain and lungs just like me, and while you may infuriate me with your rhetoric, you will not make me hate you. You are not a character, not an object; you are a real life flesh-and-bone person with a story that I don’t know. I don’t agree with what you’ve said, but I won’t go so far as to demonize you because you don’t fit my worldview, because that’s part of what it means to be human. I can’t be in control of what the other 7 billion people on this planet do, a fact I’m learning one painful bit at a time.

I think I’ve kind of typed myself into a circle here, so I’ll bring this in for a landing. Respect the person who’s different from you. Don’t be quick to demonize. Don’t allow your heart to descend into the depravity of racism and hate.

By the grace of God, we can be better.

The Five People You Meet On The Internet*

5 People2*With apologies to Mitch Albom.

One of the inescapable facts of life these days is the internet. You go there to find leads on jobs. You go there for the news. You go there to connect with friends and family you might not otherwise hear from. It’s quickly become not just part of our world, but in some cases, it’s become our entire world.

Which means that the more time we spend cruising the information superhighway (remember when we called it that?), the more likely we are to run into certain types of people. Five types, to be exact. They cannot be avoided, no matter how hard you try; if you have so much as an email account, you’re guaranteed to run into at least one of them, and the more you expand your cyber-footprint, the more likely you are to run into all five.

Chances are, you’re one of them.

So, who are the five people you meet on the internet? Based on my extensive interactions, here they are, from least active to most:

Lurkers – this might easily be the largest category, and everyone on the internet knows a lurker. This type of person is not engaged online. They might have one email address, just to “get with the times”, but they seldom use it. A Lurker is also fond of signing on to Facebook or Twitter with someone else’s account, just to see what’s going on. Every once in a while they might drop a comment or two on a post, but it’s always under their pseudonymous ID. They also like to use Google Earth to look up people’s houses and see where they’re living. Basically, they’re someone’s grandparent, who’s just trying to understand the world their grandkids are living in.

Likers – These are the people who don’t contribute much in the way of content or information, but they will Like the crap out of every puppy picture, baby photo, eCard meme, inspirational quote, and “Click Like to Cure Cancer” post that anyone, ever, posts. They are nice people who want to belong, and have no problem filling up your Facebook feed with ten thousand of their “favorite” things. If you bombard them with enough Like-able content, they will click Like so fast and so furiously that they’d eventually Like a picture of Hitler kicking a puppy while pushing a nun down the stairs, without even realizing it.

Crusaders – There are two classes of Crusaders. The first class pops up every election cycle, or whenever there’s a hot news item about a controversial topic. They tend to post all sorts of pictures, videos, and links that not only affirm their preferred position, but also attack anyone who holds a different view. They are very nice people in real life, but online they tend to be strident-bordering-on-militant, and they won’t hesitate to hide or unfriend people who don’t agree with them. The second class has a personal cause they love to promote or talk about all the time – to the exclusion of anything else. They don’t post a picture or leave a comment that doesn’t revolve around their particular subject. It can be sports, their kids, their church, or their favorite comic book movie, but whenever they get a free moment, they’re ready to share with you all of the details you didn’t know you needed to know.

Trolls – Perhaps the most famous of all the five types of people, a Troll is a professional pot-stirrer, the kind of person who provokes a Crusader for the fun of it. Trolls love causing trouble, and are often better known by the user names on Reddit, FourChan, or other Troll-familiar websites. A Troll is the kind of person who would pop up in the middle of a discussion about the fair tax suggesting that the IRS is not only a great American institution, they should very well have the power to go after and investigate fringe political groups who skirt the tax code. After dropping that little conversational hand grenade, a Troll will then sit back and watch the Crusaders lose their minds. Trolls are very smart, and probably very tired of living in someone’s basement.

Promoters – This is the worst of all internet users because they are always online. Constantly. The kind of idiot who can rack up almost 2,000 tweets in less than six weeks. They have their Twitter feed hooked up to their Facebook, website and blog, so nothing that rolls through their “creative” little minds goes unnoticed. They are usually pushing you to check out their latest ebooks or sharing something witty they happened to think up while waiting on line at the local Publix, or asking you to go check the blog or book of a friend. They have multiple Facebook pages (personal, professional, and product-related) and are constantly asking you to check them out. They are usually pretty funny, or at the very least offer some form of entertainment, but their single biggest trait is that they are ubiquitous, almost as familiar as the other advertising flotsam you see floating around on any given page. Worst of all, they’re clueless about how much they put out there.

There are variations on each of the types, but as far as generalizations and stereotypes go, that’s a pretty complete list. But in case I’ve missed anyone, sound off below and let me know what kinds of people you’ve met on the internet.

Oh, and be sure to follow, like and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And if you haven’t had a chance to read my books, please check out my author page on Amazon. And if you have read my books, please leave a review and tweet the link…

Stop the Band, Kill the Noise


“Smeagol isn’t listening! Not listening! My preciousssssss…”

About every six months or so, I get awfully tempted to become a real blogger, the kind that generates thousands of daily hits and tons of followers on Twitter. I make a deal with myself to sit down and craft content that will draw eyes and ire, generate reblogs and rebukes, and just in general put my name on the minds of people who troll/scour the Internet looking for that sort of engagement. I tell myself it’ll be easy – two to three times a day, I’ll post a list of things that are wrong with the church, or I’ll attack a strawman argument on a hot political issue, or I’ll wade back into one of the denominational war zones that always draw attention and alarm from the masses.

I plan all of this, and I’ll even give it a go for a couple of posts, and inevitably, it falls by the wayside. I can’t do it. I can’t keep up. My brain simply can’t conceive of a way to keep writing about the same things in the same ways over and over again.

Apparently I’m neither creative nor outraged enough.

Regardless – whether my lack of imagination or indignation – I have recently begun to marvel at those who can crank out that kind of content on a regular basis. My Twitter feed is filled with such people; I can’t refresh my feed without someone new posting a blog about 5 Reasons the Resurrection Is Absolutely, Positively REAL or 10 Secrets to a Dynamic Church or 39 Things You Must Do To Make Jesus Happy or Else He’ll Revoke Your Salvation.

(I’m kidding about that last one. Kind of.)

There’s one particular gentleman that I follow that posts links and blogs like that non-stop everyday. I know he’s not writing all of those posts himself, but I am utterly gobsmacked at the fact that he does write an awful lot. And they’re usually good. Some quite so.

Writers like that simultaneously inspire and deflate me. Inspire, because I love the fact that they sit at their keyboard and let the ideas flow down like mercy. Deflate, because so often those ideas are either recycled or reheated. They don’t add much new to the conversation.

I know, I know – there’s nothing new under the sun. Heck, even what I attempt to do here is admittedly what another writer did to far better effect. But what I always try to do is to make whatever I write in my voice, in my honest voice. I fail sometimes; there are occasions when I get up on a high horse and either try to sound smarter than I really am, or try to write with an authority I don’t possess, and when those occasions come along, I am reminded over and over again why I don’t write like that all the time.

Because it’s not me.

So why am I bringing all of this up? Lately, it seems like I’m drowning in noise, endless, repetitive noise. The same people clanging the same gongs for the same audience. Mostly, these posts are on some political or cultural issue, and they only exist to get someone’s dander up, or undies bunched, or pick another metaphor for useless agitation. The same medium through which I find my greatest outlet of expression – blogging – is the one that allows untold others to beat our collective cultural dead horses again and again, and to present the blogs on those poor, flagellated equine corpses as fresh and new and unique, when really they are none of those things.

And this harsh rehashing of the yada-yada-yada isn’t confined to one particular spectrum of the web; it’s not just the church people who do it; it’s not just the liberal media; it’s not just the fringe wackos or reality stars or any other specific class of people. It’s all of us. All of us. Adding to the noise, transferring information because we can, not because it’s needed. Even the very words I’m typing – noise, noise, noise. For some reason, today, it’s exhausting.

It creates a sense that the world will always be irretrievably broken, but if we try just that much harder, we can fix it – yes, we can! If we can get rid of the fundies, the gays, the illegals, the GOP, the Dems, the rednecks, the hippies, the commies, the druggies, the libs, the unenlightened, and the downright socially awkward, then we can all live in the glorious utopia that Our Forefathers first envisioned when they arrived on this fair continent and poisoned the Native Americans after swindling them out of their land.

Ugh. Just make the voices stop, Brain. If you don’t, I’ll stab you with a Q-Tip.

So what’s the take away? What do we do? Personally, I’m culling my Twitter feed, starting today. I’m getting rid of all the counterfeit voices, the people who simply channel the outrage of others without contributing thought themselves. I’m going to delete the emails that merely generate sound and fury. I’m going to hide the Facebook friends who only share tiresome photos and memes from random quasi-political groups.

And I’m quite sure that there will be people who decide to delete this post – and any of my subsequent posts – from their information flow. I can live with that. My style isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine by me.

Today’s just one of those days to take a stand against the people who want to manipulate us with fear or anger or both. I’m not gonna dance to their tune anymore. I’m stopping the band, and killing the noise.

Hopefully, it will give me more time for my own voice.

Yours too.

The Scrawl on the Wall

ImageI met a friend for coffee this morning, and after the meeting, I needed to use the facilities. Rather than embarrass myself by using the restroom where we met (and thus announcing to the world that I, indeed, do have to pee on occasion), I chose to get in my car and drive an extra five bladder-punishing minutes up the road to a gas station. After dashing like an idiot through the store and into the restroom, I finally found relief.

I also noticed that the bathroom walls and doors were covered with the various socio-religio-political philosophies of it’s various occupants. Most were negative. Actually, negative doesn’t cut it; that’s too tame a word. Most were, at best, virulently bigoted, and at worst, signs of severely disturbed minds capable of vicious thought and action. I was genuinely disturbed by a couple of the things I read.

And the thought came to me: why in the world do people write on bathroom walls?

Captive audience? Maybe. The temptation of leaving your individual mark on the world in a place where someone has to notice? Possibly. The inviting appearance of a smooth, freshly painted stall door? Only for the aesthetically compulsive. After thinking about it – albeit not for more than thirty minutes, 29 of which came after I’d left the bathroom – I decided that it was the anonymity. The ability to let your most diseased and dreadful thoughts fly without being called to account for them.

Public restrooms: where internet trolls get their training.

What is it about being anonymous that brings out the wack-a-doodle in us? You put most people in a room with more than three other folks, and they’ll act like a reasonably restrained model of civility. Sure, there’ll always be the outliers, the people that either have to make a scene or shutter themselves into the corner, but they constitute the minority. On average, people act normal around other people. We are their boundaries. We keep the freak flags from flying.

Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you were in a large, social gathering and someone said something unbelievably, irretrievably dumb. Something along the lines of:

  • “You know what I miss? The Klan. They kept things tight.”
  • “Personally, I think women aren’t worth as much as men, even if they can do the same job.”
  • “Sure, I feel bad that soldiers die in combat, but hey – that’s what we pay them for, right? To protect our interests with their lives?”
  • “I know I live in the South, but seriously: what’s the big deal about NASCAR? It’s just a bunch of distracted, hyper-competitive drivers making left-handed turns for four hours. Or as we call it in Atlanta, an afternoon on 285.”**

**I actually said this at a party once. You wouldn’t believe the looks I got from everyone in the room. I could’ve knocked over the punch bowl and called the hors d’oeuvres canned dog food and nobody would’ve blinked. But to suggest that The Intimidator was somehow not a legitimate athlete? Sacrilege.

The room stops. Conversation slams to a halt. If there’s a record playing somewhere, there is the requisite scratch as the music suddenly dies (and you suddenly try and figure out either when you were transported back in time or why you agreed to attend a hipster party). All eyes turn to the offending party and a growing cloud of judgment fills the room. Pressure mounts. Unspoken expectations are communicated quite clearly through the glowering eyes and forward leaning bodies.

Recant, they say. Repent, they say.

And if the person is normal – that is, if they’re not an attention-seeker – they will do exactly that. They will recant. In fact, they will stumble over themselves to retract their statement from the collective consciousness and restore their name to good standing.

Once they have made public their contrition for even having those type of thoughts, much less verbalizing them, we will allow the party to continue on. Only now we have a new game to play: keeping the offender in check. We offer subtle barbs about the faux pas, in the form of sly jokes; we keep a watchful eye in their direction; we immediately recap and diagnose the situation in our private conversations. Some take the direct approach: cold shoulders, direct rebukes, or even a challenge to “take things outside” (to be honest, that may just be a Southern thing; I doubt it though). Regardless, the offender is now officially under the collective gaze of the rest of the people at the party, and they keep themselves (and their comments) on a short leash, lest they fall victim again to the public ire.

But in a bathroom stall? There’s no boundary. There’s no filter. There’s no societal pressure to keep the crazy from coming out to play. There’s nothing but you, your pen (or pocketknife, or marker, or pencil) and the couple square inches of real estate before you.

Let the freak flag fly full staff, baby.

And my goodness, there are some scary things floating around in our collective noggins.

Jesus said that what comes out of a person’s mouth (or pen) flows from what’s in their heart. It’s an indicator of the things they really believe about life. We may cover our inner freaks with a nice outward appearance, but that doesn’t mean the inner ugliness isn’t there; it only means it’s masked. The only way to get our insides to match our outsides is to have our insides changed by something greater than us.

It’s called the Gospel.

What we scrawl on a wall is often what’s etched in our hearts, and for many of us, we’re in desperate need of a fresh start. Unlike a bathroom stall, we can’t be reset with a mere coat of paint; cosmetic remedies do us no good. Instead, we need the old stuff removed and entirely new stuff put in. Or, as the Bible said, to be made new creations. And to help make sure our new creation doesn’t get graffitied up again, we’re given a Helper to keep watch over our hearts; we’re given God’s Spirit to keep us from being re-defiled.

It’s not always pretty. But it works. We are ever becoming more like Jesus.

Taking Exception

This morning, in between fetching my kids glasses of milk and trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment for Ella, I took a few minutes to read an interesting email exchange between the writers Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons. The exchange was part of an article for the website Grantland, and it was ostensibly about how the world has changed with the advent of non-stop, always available media.

But as any good discussion does (whether spoken or in print) this one turned towards other matters, and Gladwell – in a tangential paragraph – related a story from his own personal experience: that once, while waiting in an airport security line, he watched a professional football player get escorted to the front of the queue for an expedited clearance. And Gladwell points out that the crowd – full of “teachers, salesmen, nurses, working moms, and hack writers” – instead of getting irate at the special treatment for the player, collectively said, “Cool. There’s [Player X].”

The author’s grand point: “Standing in line in airports and other everyday rituals of modern life are the kinds of things that civilize us: As annoying as they are, they remind us that we are all equal and they teach us patience, and they grant us a kind of ultimately useful anonymity. [Player X] and celebrities of his ilk never have the privilege of those moments.”

By now you’ve most likely stopped reading, but given the week I’ve been having, this small anecdote fascinated me because it made me realize that the only thing that makes people exceptional is the fact that we make exceptions for them.

And everyone, whether they’ll be honest about it or not, wants to be exceptional.

I know I do. Whether it’s regarding my writing, or my daughter’s health, or my finances, or some other non-important exception that only becomes important when it would benefit me in some way, I want to be exceptional. Because exceptional is just that – allowed to bend the rules that normally apply. Granted special privileges. Bestowed with particular honor for some mutually accepted and appreciated reason.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to get escorted to the front of the line, eat in the finest restaurants, have their personality flaws overlooked and their gifts embraced by the general populace? Who doesn’t want to be able to flaunt the rules or completely circumvent them, all while being adored by people to whom the rules apply?

Nobody, that’s who. Which is why our culture has created entire niches for people to develop skills that allow them to become exceptional. Football players. Baseball players. Basketball players. Musicians. Actors. Writers. Politicians. CEOs. People who are famous for being famous. Reality TV. Blogs. Podcasts.

In fact, if you look at popular culture today, it’s become a race to see who can become exceptional; and the irony is, there’s nothing exceptional about them at all, other than the fact that the collective public is willing to cede them that status.

Sure, there are only a handful of men who can say they are professional athletes. But that doesn’t mean they are the only ones possessed of that type of athletic giftedness – it only means they were the ones who possessed that gift and good fortune. Becoming exceptional, as much as we may argue otherwise, is as much about luck and timing than it is about skill or personal drive. If it were purely about ability, then we would be overrun with exceptional people because there are scads of folks who excel at football or baseball or singing or dancing or acting who just never catch a break that propels them to better circumstances.

Or, as someone once said to me, “There’s a lot of wasted talent in prison.”

Why am I bringing this up? Because for me, this week has been frustrating because of its ordinary-ness. My daughter’s been sick, which has meant time spent within the bowels of our health care system, and if you’ve ever had to deal with that then you know why being exceptional – having access to instant care, the best doctors, the most cutting edge treatment, all without having to worry about the cost – is desirable. If I could choose just one area to be granted exceptional status – the ability to cut to the front and get special treatment – it would be the health care field.

And I say that fully aware that there are cases far worse than my own.

Everyone wants to be exceptional, but only few get there, and they get there on the arms of our approval. But what if we quit granting exceptional status to football stars and actors and other folks, and started granting it to a different classs of people.

Like wounded veterans. Or the chronically ill. Or students in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Sure, we occasionally make exceptions for folks like that, but nowhere near as frequently and certainly with far less fuss. We elevate people who don’t necessarily need it and miss out on the ones that do because we are inured to suffering. We’re conditioned to it. It’s our daily life, and there’s nothing exceptional about our daily life. It’s common.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we were to choose, we could flip the script and make the ordinary, extraordinary; we could make the plain, exceptional, and in doing so we would all get our chance to shine. We could learn to celebrate life and it’s imperfections, instead of holding up a standard of perfection that so few can possibly hope to attain and torturing ourselves for our inability to meet it. We could, as an ancient piece of wisdom goes, “Think of others as better than ourselves.”

To do so would be exceptional.