“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
In the last week there has been a lot said about choosing who to believe regarding the Senate hearings and the accusations made by Dr. Ford against Brett Kavanaugh. On social media there has been a myriad of memes requesting to be shared identifying who you believe as if your proclamation of which "side" you are on will make any real difference in the end. Of course the implication is that one of them is lying. Likewise, the words "victim" and "credible" are being maligned.
One side is quick to point out that only about 8% of accusations are false and that the victim should be given the benefit of the doubt. The other side is quick to point out the inconsistencies of a 36 year old memory and the lack of collaboration by witnesses. Choosing who you believe isn't really about your evaluation of the truth, but a political identification. Maybe that isn't what you intend, but that is how it is understood whether that is your intent or not. This word "belief" is being strewn about as if it is some kind of subjective label that is really void of any kind of serious consideration. This word deserves more attention than it is being given and should be attached to something other than a person or political ideology. Belief is an epistemic term and should be evaluated from that perspective.
Many people are arriving at their beliefs based on a variety of issues that may not be the best way to approach this issue. Those who have experienced some kind of sexual assault seem very quick to believe Dr. Ford. This is understandable as her story connects with their own story. They will quickly say that her story seems "credible." After hearing at least some of her story live I found myself thinking that her story sounded sincere and on a surface level (that is to say without further evaluation) very believable. Likewise, when I heard Kavanaugh's defense I was surprised by how sincere and believable he came across. I will admit from the start that I identified with his story on a deeper level, in part, because I am a pastor and I have been told and believe that my ministry and my livelihood is one false accusation away from being over. I know others who have had false accusations made against them and though they have been restored to ministry after they were cleared of the charges, those accusations were harmful to them, their families, and their careers in ways that are hard to comprehend. However, my identification with Kavanaugh's defense is not enough to arrive at the belief that he is telling the truth and Dr. Ford is not telling the truth. So, how should one arrive at belief regarding this and other issues?
First, let's be honest about the level of certainty that is possible regarding a 36 year old accusation. The reality is that we will likely never know with a 100% certainty (I am not talking about psychological certainty but logical certainty) what happened. What are good reasons to arrive at some kind of belief? Should we simply believe something because it is on the internet? Of course not, this is more than that isn't it? Should we believe something simply because someone said it in a believable manner? Not in the house I grew up in, we made a game out of getting our siblings, friends, and others to believe lies...we called it joking around. That is obviously not what is happening here, but lying isn't a new phenomena, not to mention the possibility of false memories or the synthesizing of several memories to form one memory that may or may not be accurate. While I am not a memory expert, I have done a enough reading in recent days to learn that memories are malleable and unreliable even when they involve traumatic events and especially when they are 36 years old. Of course this means that both Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford could be misremembering something that happened 36 years ago, especially considering that alcohol was involved (according to Dr. Ford).
What should count as evidence that leads to a belief? It isn't evidence that I tend to connect or identify with Kavanaugh's story or that you might connect or identify with Dr. Ford's story. While this may influence our belief, emotional connection isn't sufficient for coming to a conclusion about who to believe. Assuming that the best that can be done in this case is corroborating testimony it would certainly be possible to come to the conclusion that this event likely happened as Dr. Ford described it (assign whatever percentage of certainty you would like to the word "likely" as long as it is over 50%). Even then, what percentage of certainty is enough to end a person's career? I'll let you arrive at your own conclusion, but for me it would have to be fairly high.
Another word that is being thrown around without much thought is the word "victim." The person who is a victim is the one who has had a wrong done against them. In this case, Dr. Ford is the victim...right? The answer is, maybe. Unless the wrong being done is a false accusation based on faulty memories or outright lying. Then Judge Kavanaugh is the victim. So when people say we should believe the victim, that begs for the question, who is the victim? It is possible that they are both victims. It is possible that she experienced sexual assault and that Kavanaugh wasn't the perpetrator (I find this to be a reasonable possibility given how memories work, especially old ones). Determining who the victim is and what they are a victim of is precisely what this is all about. It should be mentioned that statistically false claims of sexual assault are only about 8% of all claims; but, then again, that is almost 1 out of every 10. That is enough to make a false claim a very reasonable possibility. I also wonder if more scrutiny regarding that statistic would reveal that it is more prevalent than that, but that is conjecture on my part. Of course it is also true that people routinely lie about how much alcohol they consume, just another part of the equation in evaluating Dr. Ford's testimony of having 1 beer.
Last, people keep talking about "credible" statements made by Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh as if "credibility" is some kind of evidential standard. I have been using the word believable in this post because I think it more closely reflects what people really mean. Both people appear to be sincere and both have provided at least some level of detail although those details have been largely unverifiable. So, what appears initially as "credible" becomes less so if the details provided cannot be verified. Credibility is more than an initial reaction based on how connected one might feel to the story being told. It also involves whether a narrative is being expressed in a way that allows for verification and subsequently whether it is actually verified. Therein lies the problem with both stories. Kavanaugh can provide a calendar and say the event never happened, but just because something isn't on a calendar doesn't mean it didn't happen. Unfortunately Dr. Ford didn't provide a time, day, or location which makes it almost impossible to verify and almost impossible for Judge Kavanaugh to supply a alibi and does call into question the credibility of the story.
So where does this leave us? You can come to your own conclusion, but I hope you will go beyond emotional connection to one story or the other before you do come to that conclusion. Language has been and will continue to be abused for the sake of political expediency, but we can make that manipulation less effective if we can evaluate the rhetoric properly. We ought to believe what is true, not simply what we want to be true or what we emotionally connect with. Unfortunately, there is no action going forward that will not have significant implications for Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Someone is going to be harmed in some way as this unfolds. As a Christian, I am praying that the right decision will be made by the senate and that the truth will be made known. But, I'm not confident that we will ever know with certainty.
I couldn't listen to the entire day of the senate judiciary committee hearings yesterday, but I heard some portions. Here is my quick response:
Ford seemed to be sincere. In fact, after hearing part of her opening I thought Kavanaugh was finished. She didn't seem to be lying or attempting a great deception. Some use the word credible, but I don't think that means what people think it means. She had some details, but was missing a lot of others. I believe she experienced some kind of sexual assault that has traumatized her. I certainly didn't think was some kind of political operative after her testimony. Again, this is gut reaction, I don't have proof.
Kavanaugh was, in my mind, more convincing. He was angry, and he should have been. If he was dispassionate I would probably be less likely to believe him. I thought he was equally sincere in his denial. He also provided many character witnesses. Again that doesn't prove anything, but it certainly provides a voice. I especially loved his testimony regarding his daughter praying for "the lady (Ford)." This tells you something about him as a parent.
In the end there are three things that should be considered. First, which story has more Corroborating support? Seeing as Ford's friend who was supposedly at the party where all this happened has no memory of it and Kavanaugh's childhood friend also denies the events took place and the numerous other character witnesses from all time periods of Kavanaugh's life this supports Kavanaugh's story. Second, considering Feinstien not only had the report, but was recommending lawyers for Ford very early on but didn't release any information until the 11th hour, this smells of political chicanery. Further, Feinstien admitted she didn't know if it was true. Her own confidence in this report was shaky. Third, there is not only a presumption of innocence in the constitution, there ought to be a presumption of innocence. I realize this isn't a criminal preceding, but a couple of timely accusations ought not be enough to ruin a person's life and take away their career. Make no mistake, that is what is happening.
The subsequent accusations have fallen apart quickly, so far the only one that appears possible is Ford's.
Kavanaugh should be moved forward as the nominee and confirmed barring any further evidence.
Call me anything you want, but this is a tradition that should not go away. To be clear, no one has asked for my daughters hand in marriage as I sit and write this. That said, she has a serious boyfriend and that has caused me to think about this issue a little more. What will I tell my son when he comes to me and says, "Dad, this is the one, how should I approach her dad?"
While there may be exceptions, it is imperative for a man to talk to the father of his girlfriend and seek his blessing before getting engaged. This shows respect to the man who will become the father-in-law and likely still has a huge influence on the wife to be. If harmony and peace with the in-laws is something you desire, talk to the father-in-law to be. Here is my advice:
Enjoy these moments with all the anticipation and stress that comes with it. Don't be freaked out. The dad might say some hard things and he may not respond appropriately to some things. If that happens extend grace to him, you are asking to take the second most important woman in his life and marry her.
Food is a necessary thing; eat or die, the choice is yours. Literally, we must eat in order to stay alive, but that doesn't mean we should eat whatever we want or however much we want. I had some misconceptions about dieting. When I went on my strict diet at 204 lbs I thought I was going to be consistently hungry, I was wrong. Often, it's not how much you eat, but what you eat! In fact, I am in the maintenance stage of my diet which simply means I can add a few things back into my diet, but I don't get to add cotton candy or Mountain Dew. I do get to add some healthy things that have some of the healthier fats back in and I may need to add more food, but still healthy food.
Sin works a lot like a healthy diet. It isn't the desire for food, sex, comfort, or information about others that is wrong, it is the kind of food, sex, comfort, or information and the manner in which those things are acquired that is wrong. Finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle or from a pill bottle is sin. Sex is good and created good by God, but satisfying ones sexual desires with acts of rape or outside the context of marriage is sin. Acquiring information by means of gossip and spreading it when inappropriate is sin. When it comes to food, a diet is all about getting rid of the wrongs kinds of food and the wrong amounts so that your body has the fuel it needs to perform.
I am sitting at 172 lbs right now and I am trying to stabilize my weight so that I can maintain it. I am actually concerned about how much food I am going to have to eat to maintain my weight, but that doesn't mean I can go back to Mountain Dew and Cotton Candy! I have to eat more of the right kind of foods to provide the right kind and the right amount of fuel for my body. This is why I'm not a fan of cheat days where you can eat whatever you want for a day and go back to your diet. Too often this leads to bing eating junk food.
I know this seems radical, but I had to get radical. Mountain Dew ruled my food world. I would even say it was the sin of gluttony for me. Proverbs 23:19-21 says, "Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags." Mountain Dew wasn't the only food, there were other culprits, but MD was the worst one. Can I drink soda or Mountain Dew? Nope! Can you? Maybe, but it will take over my life if I drink it. If it won't take over yours fine, but it did mine. What about you? What takes over your life and causes you to do wrong things? Get rid of those things. Followers of Jesus are to walk by the spirit and often that means saying no to the flesh. If food controls your life, go on a diet for the rest of your life. I can have pizza once and a while without sinning or ruining my diet, but I can't have Mountain Dew.
Dieting is about slaying the things that cause you problems and finding the right things to put in your body to live a healthy life. Some things are wrong for everyone, others are a matter if conscience and not being ruled by the flesh (Gal. 5). I've had a lot of people comment about my weight loss, everybody can see that, But I have had to make radical changes to deal with other things in my life that aren't so obvious. Living healthy isn't about moderately eating bad things or moderately participating in sinful behavior, it is about getting rid of it. On both accounts, where I have experienced victory, I am better for it. I'm not missing anything.
In the picture on the right I probably weigh about 240 lbs I got up to 250 lbs at one point. On the left I weigh about 175 lbs. As of this moment I am 173 lbs. I have learned a lot in going from 250 lbs to 173 lbs. One blog post won't cover it all, but here are a few of the important things.
First, for me working out wasn't enough. I have worked out and even done a lot of cardio supplemented by a little weight lifting in the past. I gained muscle working out that way, but I also maintained or even gained weight. Perhaps when a person is younger (depending on their metabolism) they might be able to just add some cardio and be good. For me, as I got older my metabolism didn't cooperate and it didn't work. My body reacted to lifting by adding muscle pretty fast but I also added a lot of weight that wasn't muscle.
Second, I had to be passionate about my workouts. For me that meant MMA. I love doing Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai and I have become an instructor, as well as a student. Both offer a great work out along with challenging the mind by learning a variety of techniques that take a lot of work to master.
Third, the closer I got to my goal weight the more diet mattered. The first 50 lbs came off with a lot of working out and small diet changes. The last 27 lbs have required a more significant change in diet. I met with a nutritionist to help me figure mine out. Furthermore, when I say diet, I don't mean a short term diet, I mean a change in lifestyle when it comes to the food I eat. I eat a lot of food, but it is combined with significant workouts.
Fourth, it took me 2 1/2 years to lose all the weight with a variety of plateaus and a lot of learning along the way. I'm still learning and my diet will change a little bit in the near future to reflect a maintenance diet, but it will remain a very clean diet for the rest of my life. Losing weight is not a short term project if you want to keep it off, it is a lifetime commitment.
Fifth, I experienced physical injuries, soreness, and a lot of days where I didn't want to do the work, but did anyway. I had time off because of injuries and I will probably have some more of that in the future, but I will stay the course.
Last, it was all worth it. I am healthier, I have endurance, I mentally healthier, my stress level is more manageable, I am experiencing less pain in my joints, I am doing 14ers again without knee pain, I am running 2-3 miles a few times a week. Today I ran two miles went to a kickboxing class with my daughter, and then did an hour and 45 minutes of competition team. I was tired, but I was able to manage it and still feel good. I look better and feel better. If you have been struggling with weight, do what is necessary to deal with it. We ought not worship our physical body, but it taking care of it holds value; our spiritual life is of more value (1 Tim. 4:8).
People, all people, no matter their ethnicity, country of origin, current location, or anything else are created in the image of God. How can they possibly be illegal? It's true, people aren't illegal. In fact, I have tried to find someone making the argument that people are illegal are illegal and I have failed to find such an argument made by anyone. Now, the internet is filled with all kinds of crazies and I would imagine that if I looked hard enough I might be able to find some crazy making such an argument. It seems fair to say that no person in their right mind having given this any kind of significant thought is making this argument. Perhaps some conservative has fallen for the bait (the bait being the statement"people are not illegal!") and attempted to respond with some kind of statement.
Where did this statement come from? This statement came from the same place "marriage equality," "pro-choice," "gun control," and a whole host of other such statements came from. It comes from people who have a brilliant approach to rhetoric and a lot of what the apostle Paul calls "πιθανολογία" which means "persuasive speech." Someone or some group of people somewhere came up with this statement "people are not illegal" and for the uninitiated it sounds as if there is some large group of people or some powerful people suggesting that people are illegal. Of course this surrounds the issue of immigration.
Does the statement "People are not illegal" make a valid point?
This statement assumes an argument that is not being made, but more than that, people are not illegal for being people, but they can become "illegal" in the sense that they have taken some kind of illegal action. For instance, I am not illegal for being me, but if I enter my neighbors locked home by breaking the window and climbing in I have now done something illegal. That is to say, I have committed a crime. When someone uses the term "illegal immigrant" they are not accusing the immigrant of being illegal for being a person, or even for being an immigrant. They are saying that the manner in which they became an immigrant was illegal. Of course there are legal ways of becoming and immigrant and there are illegal ways like overstaying a visa or crossing the border in an illegal fashion. The same thing has been done with the LGBTQ+ community. Any criticism or critique is painted as an attack on personhood.
Saying we have an illegal immigration problem and that people are coming into our country illegally should not be controversial, but some sophists have done a good job of using language to make it seem like conservatives are "racist" or accusing people of being illegal simply because they are people. All of it is an informal logical fallacy called "red herring." It simply means it is a form of misdirection. It might be worth noting that if people are illegal, then so are the people who are presumable accusing others of being illegal, but no such accusation is being made.
As the apostle Paul suggests in Colosians, we should not be convinced of things by "fine sounding" arguments. Instead we should recognize the truth of Proverbs 10:19 "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise."
As I sit here at Masterpiece Bakery writing this blog post and reflecting on the decision by SCOTUS in favor of Jack Phillips I can't help rejoice in what God has done for Jack, but be a little concerned that SCOTUS didn't go far enough. Undoubtedly, this is not the last we have heard about cases similar to the Masterpiece case.
The good, Jack has been vindicated regarding the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's treatment of Jack's case in particular. Jack, Debbie, and Lisa are thrilled and excited about this ruling. I am rejoicing with them and so are the steady stream of people coming in bringing flowers, balloons, and so on (Romans 12:15).
The unclear, it is not yet known whether this means that Jack can begin making wedding cakes. It seems likely that he will be able to, however, SCOTUS' ruling was sufficiently vague enough to leave this in question. Further, it is likely that if he does, someone will undoubtedly test this issue again. Although the ruling was 7-2, it was also a very narrow ruling.
What the ruling did say is that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was "hostile" in its treatment toward Masterpiece and the free exercise of religious freedom, especially considering other cases that were brought before the commission where the customers went into a Bakery requesting cakes that displayed messages against homosexuality and the Commission ruled in favor of those bakers to refuse to make those cakes. Here is what the ruling stated: "The government, consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices." While this is all good, it doesn't settle the matter for other similar cases.
What the ruling did not say is that businesses are allowed to make the same kind of distinctions that Jack made and refuse to provide particular products or services according to their convictions. It seems likely that this issue will be before SCOTUS again at some point in the future. It should also be noted that the opinion made reference to the timeline of the case. Jack made the decision he made before SCOTUS had ruled on Obergefell and made the recognition of same sex marriage the law of the land. In other words, they did not say that a business was free to do what Jack did in the current legal climate, but that Jack was within reason given the legal climate at that time.
While this is a good ruling, it doesn't really come close to settling the issue.
It's true, Jesus taught his followers how to have a happy life. Perhaps one of the most notable places where Jesus did this is in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The famous passage is often referred to as "The Beatitudes." The question is, at least in part, what kind of happiness does Jesus want for you and how do you get it?
Let me get through a little nitty gritty and then I'll get to the good stuff (actually the nitty gritty is what makes it good). The Greek word (μακάριος) translated "blessed" in the beatitudes (you can read the beatitudes in Mt. 5:1-12) has a meaning that is much closer to the word "happiness" or even "flourishing." In other words, Jesus is not pronouncing some kind of divine blessing in this text. The beatitudes are more like proverbial sayings that are talking about general truths or realities. As you read the beatitudes you will also see that they have a eschatological focus. In other words, there is a way of being that leads to happiness and a flourishing life both in the here and now as well as in the life to come. We ought to ask, at least for a moment, how we should understand happiness or flourishing.
I train mixed martial arts (this is why). I frequently show up to my office limping and I almost always have bruises somewhere on my body. At the age of 44 you would think I would be over doing this kind of thing...well, I'm not. The truth is in several ways it feeds me and teaches me lessons that are important for life, leadership, and more. Over the last few weeks I have been helping some of my Muay Thai friends get ready for a promotion test that is often referred to as 60-40. In short it means doing 60 kicks and 40 knees in 3 minutes. Doesn't sound bad and if that is all there was to it, it wouldn't be. Just the other day we were doing around 120 or 130 kicks and 80 or 90 knees in 3 minutes. From a strictly cardio perspective 60-40 would be pretty easy. The test is hard because the holder is also the punisher. In other words this is done in a ring with a holder who is also kicking and punching you. You cannot retaliate with punches and sweeps. Furthermore, some forms of defense are frowned upon and should you use one of those, you will pay the price. Trust me, the test is grueling and painful. The past few weeks I have been helping some of my friends prepare for this test (I have done one and won't have another one for a while). I have been relearning a lesson as I have helped in this process
One of the things Muah Thai fighter does, perhaps more than most other sports, is body hardening. A lot of attention is given to hardening shins. Videos of Muay Thai practitioners kicking trees, concrete posts, and rolling their shins are real. Literally what happens is micro fractures are created and the leg heals stronger and more sturdy than before. It's a lot like getting calluses on your finger from playing guitar or calluses from working in construction, just on a larger and often more painful scale. It's not only the shins though, it is the legs overall, the abs, and even the ribs. My friends and I have been doing some leg conditioning where we basically kick each other in the legs, stomach, and ribs repeatedly. We did it in Muay Thai class last night. I'm walking a little awkward today. So, what's the lesson for life from something some might consider to be a brutal practice?
The lesson is both a cultural critique and an encouragement for parents and culture in general. Body hardening equips the body and the mind to be able to absorb much harder blows in an actual fight. The 60-40 simulates an actual fight; blows must be absorbed and dealt out. Without working on hardening the body, the ability to take the punishment necessary would more often then not result in failure on the part of the fighter. Life is often like a fight. We must be able to absorb blows and failure throughout life if we are also to experience success and victory. Too often we spend so much time protecting our kids that they are not prepared when they are required to absorb the blows life brings us. No amount of effort will result in absolute protection of our children. This is not to say we intentionally harm them in any way, but it is reasonable to put them in situations that have a certain amount of risk involved and it is smart to help them develop mental, spiritual, and physical toughness by pushing them to "play hurt".
If you talk to fighters you will find out quickly that they more often then not go into a fight less than 100% percent physically. They are fighting in spite of injury and pain. It's just part of the game. Likewise, in the world of leadership and life in general, we often have to "play hurt." The question is whether or not enough "body conditioning" has taken place to prepare us to do so. The apostle Paul uses this same metaphor in his letter to Corinth, "Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Cor. 9:26-27). Obviously Paul isn't talking about his own fight career, but about his spiritual life. The principle holds true across all aspects of life. Toughness and grit have become undervalued in our society. We should do our part to reverse the trend.
"Safety First," I've heard that phrase a million times, but usually not in my house. My kids have both said it to me, but not more than a couple of times. Undoubtedly they heard it in school or perhaps someone on TV said it. Safety is, generally speaking, good, but it is not first or second or third. I'm not the only one who thinks this, I'm not some nutcase on the fringe of society saying dumb and stupid things, at least not in this case.
The New York Times recently reported that in Britain some are beginning to put objects in playgrounds that might be considered by some to be dangerous. In these playgrounds you might find a variety of tools like saws and knives. Now certainly these things aren't used without supervision by adults, but they are available nonetheless. You might also find mud, bricks, 2x4s, and other such things. The reasoning is simple, kids have been protected so much that they don't understand risk. Maturity in decision making requires a risk benefit analysis, but how can you make those kinds of analysis without some kind of experience.
The reality is that kids might get hurt once and a while, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned from failures and the consequences of those failures. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises are a good and necessary part of childhood. To deprive children of those things is to deprive them of toughness, resilience, and common sense. I am thankful for my daughters experience of falling of a horse and fracturing five ribs and a bone in her back. She learned what it was to get hurt, what it was to live through it, and what it was to get back on the horse again (literally). Cuts, bruises, scrapes and even broken bones all cary with them important lessons.
It's not just Britain that is making these observations, watch this video from PragerU
It is not true that safety leads to happiness. Quite often the opposite is true. Learning how to accept appropriate risk for the sake of the right kind of benefit leads not only to common sense, wisdom, and discernment, it often leads to happiness.
No parent is perfect and upon reflection there are probably many things I would do a little different. While I haven't necessarily been over protective, I would probably find ways to expose my kids to more appropriate risk if I had to do it all over again. Perhaps we, as a society, can begin to allow a little more risk for our kids.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.