Is it Assault Rifles and Mental Illness – or a Simple Retaliation Issue?


I know – the last thing we need is one more Sunday morning blogger claiming to have the answer for why the US has recently had more mass killings than any country in the developed world.

But there’s one more thing the US does better than everyone else – it’s something that isn’t getting much air time as we scratch our heads and try to figure out WTF’s happening.  While I don’t think the argument I’ll be dumping in your lap this morning is a slam dunk solution to our problem, it at least deserves a seat at the table.

According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, the numbers of children dying from abuse/maltreatment have been steadily increasing in the US.  According to UNICEF, we’re second only to Mexico in the number of children who die each year as a direct result of maltreatment at the hands of a parent of guardian.

In a nutshell, we’re really good at child abuse.

And there’s no shortage of research linking child abuse to all manner of mental/social disorders, especially the ones that put a person at risk for buying an assault rifle and doing something bad with it.

I don’t think the problem is with our kids, I think it’s with us.  Why are we so regularly beating, sexually assaulting, neglecting, and screaming at our kids?

“The challenge of ending child abuse is the challenge of breaking the link between adults’ problems and children’s pain.”

from UNICEF’s Global Child Maltreatment Report 2003

Read more

What a Conversation With an Angry TrumpFan Facebook Friend Taught Me About Politics in America, and Myself

A Facebook friend recently posted this on her timeline:

Why did African American Dems refuse to stand when our President announced the lowest unemployment rate for AAmericans in history?

I said, “Ask them.”

One of her friends asked, “What are they saying?”

I mentioned the ever present wage gap, the ever present unemployment disparity between blacks and whites, and a few other staples of the racial inequity conversation.

My friend asked “Cite your sources please.”

So I shared a link from my blog that lists all the disparity with references.

My friend said, “this has nothing to do with what we’re talking about.”

I repeated my “ask them” statement, a little more snarkily. My friend responded with something akin to “I already know the answer.”

Boom – you couldn’t articulate American politics more clearly.

The conversation devolved into this:

Mark Landry You’re like a spoiled child who can’t get his way and has to be sent to his room because he won’t listen to reason.”

Read more

Dear My Kids: I Don’t Care if Your Room is Clean, but I do Care About Your Strength of Character. So Shut up and Clean Your Room

getting kids to clean their room

char·ac·ter  /kerəktər/  n. 1. The ability to do the right thing when everything inside you, down to the bowels of your soul, wants to do the wrong thing. 2. Pretty much everything sucks if you don’t have it.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to tackle our kids’ messy rooms.  It’s taken this long to make any headway.  But now, when we tell them to clean their rooms, they do it – really well.  They even keep their rooms cleaner on a day-to-day basis than they used to.

We started with “just put everything somewhere,” which meant transferring all the crap on their floor into a box, or under the bed.  We operated that way for awhile, mainly because of the screaming and crying that it caused, then ratcheted things up a bit when we changed the definition of “clean your room” to include cleaning under their beds.

After awhile we added “keep your storage bins clean,” and recently tacked on the “keep your shelves organized” amendment.  We still have a little work to do but I’m confident that, by the end of 2018, all rooms, with the exception of my closet and the garage, will be kept as they should.

Our kids fold their clothes and clean their rooms on Fridays.  They have multiple chores that must be executed on a day to day basis.  We have a family business meeting on Saturdays.  We still get some fussing, but we don’t get the meltdowns from long ago.

This process has been a lot more difficult for me than my wife – I’m the artsy, sensitive, empathetic one.  I hate doing things that cause people pain. Read more

I’m Not Out of Control, I Just Have Delayed Gratification Issues.  

I went “stay at home dad” a few years ago, and unwittingly entered into the world of too much food, too much coffee, too much booze, and too much TV.

If you’re considering the world of at-home parenting, hide the chips man, it’s super hard.

Toughest thing for me is the lack of “wins.”  I used to run my own business.  I could regularly measure my successes.  At the end of most weeks, I could sit back and say, “well done.”

This?  I’m just happy that I’m not incarcerated at the end of the day.  

I constantly break up fights, repeat myself over and over again, get critiqued daily for my poor choice of menu options, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.  There are few wins here, so when I get some down time I want to escape, fast.  

Enter food, coffee, booze, TV, and a whole new level of angry-chubby.

I’ve always been delayed gratification (DG) challenged, but it’s off the hook in this, the darkest hour of my life.  The idea that I need to feel some discomfort now, so that I can feel good later, doesn’t make as much sense as feeling good now…

…which leads to more discomfort later, which leads to another big boy pour – wash, rinse, repeat. Read more

What My Mid-Life Crisis is Teaching Me About Everyone Else’s Mid Life Crisis: An Open Letter From a 51 Year Old Depressed Fat Guy

Turns out it’s not a crisis, sort of.

For a lot of us guys, this phenomenon is part of a timeline that goes something like this:

  • Go to college, party, chase girls, feel like a man, talk about all the money we’ll make when we graduate and get a real job
  • Get a real job, usually sitting behind a desk, making more money than we had in college, comparing  our salary/material gains to everyone else’s
  • Get married, have kids
  • Struggle with drinking, porn, infidelity, etc., and/or
  • get a Harley, fast car, take up a new and somewhat dangerous sport, etc.

By the time the affair/Harley comes out, we’ve gained a ton of weight, we’re battling depression, and we don’t look nearly as man-like as we used to.  But, like grandma’s pool-chalk eye shadow, it’s not how you look, it’s how you think you look. I always thought the old, fat guy in the Camaro looked kind of stupid, and desperate.

Now I understand.

MLC’s don’t happen because of our age, and they don’t appear out of thin air.  The desires/passions/whatever have always been there – maybe since day 1.  We just stuffed ’em for awhile – usually out of some cultural expectation to become a quieter, more predictable, docile version of ourselves.  But the older and more confident we become, the less sense it makes to keep repressing what’s inside.

Who knows where this desire came from.  It might be cultural, or maybe it comes from ages of building log cabins, fending off the bad guys, tilling the fields, and generally being needed/relied upon for our strength.  Might be both.  Maybe, in time, as men continue to evolve into God-knows-what, it’ll all wear off.

But for now, rest assured ladies, it’s real. Read more

Before You Judge Others, You First Have to Lie to Yourself

 

 

I like to judge people.

It gives me a momentary “rush,” makes me feel good about myself, because, if nothing else, at least I’m better than the person I’m judging.

I’m not sure how I got here.  Most of my thoughts about myself aren’t good ones.  I don’t feel like a good parent, a good spouse, a good blogger, a good Christian, etc.  One of the only times I do feel good about myself is when I see someone do something stupid and think “hey, at least I’m not as bad as that guy.”

But that’s crap – I do stupid things all the time.  I could provide a very long, very entertaining list of stupid things I’ve done recently but I’m too embarrassed, too worried that you’ll judge me and stop reading my blog.  For now, I’ll leave you with the illusion that I’m not a complete dumbass.

Turns out that you can’t judge others and not do the same to yourself.  Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said “If you judge others, you’ll be judged.”  It’s so true.  The harsh judgments I pass on others come right back around, almost immediately, like an old, scraggly dog you just can’t get rid of.

Two Lies, Actually

To judge others, I have to firmly believe in two things that aren’t true.

Lie #1 – I’m better than everyone else

I regularly pass judgment on people who are overweight, which is interesting because I’ve spent the majority of my adult life wrapped in 40 extra pounds.  Read more

This Ex-Cocaine User’s Opinion: Marijuana’s Only a Gateway Drug When It’s Illegal

I grew up in the Dallas area in the early 80’s.  For my friends and I, scoring a dime-bag was fairly easy.  Most of us knew a dealer, some of us were dealers. We all smoked on the weekends, never got caught, and eventually transitioned into cocaine, meth, acid, etc.

But we didn’t transition because marijuana was a gateway drug. We transitioned because of the excellent marketing skills of our dealers, who made a killing promoting their clientele to the harder stuff.

Profit was goal number one for these folk, who were none too shy about risking drug-related felonies.  Penalties for selling beyond-weed products weren’t much worse for trafficking marijuana, and hard drugs yielded more cash. Cocaine, Heroin, Meth, etc., are far more addictive, guaranteeing return clients, more than willing to trade all they have for one last hit.

Our dealers were hard-pressed to fast-track us beyond beginner drugs.

But you have to experience things like cocaine before you’ll take the risk and spend the money.  So the dealers would say things like, “You’ve been a great customer, and you’re cool, so here’s a little bonus sample. Let’s do a line together. Here’s a little for your friends – no charge.”   Read more

How We Used Hard Cash and Disney World to Help our Kids Feel a Little Less Hatred Towards Each Other

When my wife said, “I think we should take the kids to Disney,” I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to go. The flight alone would be thousands of dollars, and we didn’t have enough to stay at a Disney resort – we wouldn’t be able to come home in the afternoon to rest.

This meant 8+ hours a day, no breaks, five days straight, at one of the most crowded places on the planet, with our three children.  We did it. And in the middle of it all something happened that none of us expected.

We told the kids they could have ten dollars a day for spending money, which would roll over to the next day if they didn’t spend it, or they could blow it all in one place if they wanted. This of course meant that my wife and I were constantly harassed by our kids, “Can we stop here and go shopping?” “Can we buy a treat?”

“It’s our money.” Read more

The Empire’s New Clothes: How Racial Prejudice Has Evolved in the US.

We’ve healed so much from our dark history.

We ended slavery, shut down Jim Crow with the Civil Rights Act, made national heroes of Dr. Martin Luther King and other people of color. We passed laws to fight preferential hiring.  We twice elected a black president.

Many believe that if a black person can’t get ahead in this country, it’s their fault.

However, for the past 10 years or so, scholars, researchers, lawyers, and social activists have provided evidence for a different story – claiming that the preferential treatment of whites over other people of color is alive and well in our county.

It’s likely however that you haven’t heard this side of the story.  This information doesn’t tend to make the 6:00 news and certainly hasn’t seen much Sunday morning pulpit time.

Below is a quick “dummy” version – a primer if you will – of facts and figures that are critical to our understanding.  Consider the following in contrast to what many would say are common “white, evangelical” perspectives on current racial issues.

“We’ve Done Everything We Can”

Nobody would argue that blacks in particular are more educated, empowered, motivated, qualified – overall more “free” to pursue their dreams than ever before.   Yet black unemployment is currently twice that of whites.

It’s been that way for 60 years.

Regardless of the barriers that have been removed, the “leaps and bounds” we’ve made in education, hiring, etc., this statistic has held fast since we started measuring employment rates.

There’s more.

In 2004 researchers Marian Betrand and Sendhill Mullainathan sent fake resumes to 1300 employers in Chicago and Boston, targeting sales, administrative support, and customer service/clerical positions.  Half of the “applicants” had white sounding names (e.g. “Emily” or “Greg”), the other half had black sounding names (e.g. “Lakisha” or “Jamal”).  Resumes with “white” names received 50% more callbacks.

Devah Pager, Associate Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, is well known for her research in this area.  She and a colleague sent black and white, equally qualified, “tester” applicants for live interviews in the low wage labor markets of Chicago and New York City.  In two different studies her white applicants were 2x more likely to get a second interview than blacks.

In her concluding remarks, Pager makes note of the difficulties with our current antidiscrimination laws:

“In order for these protections to be invoked, however, potential plaintiffs must be aware of and able to document discriminatory treatment. Given the subtlety of contemporary forms of discrimination, it is often difficult to identify discrimination when it has taken place.”

The problem isn’t limited to the hiring process.  For example, studies show that blacks are the first to be fired when the economy weakens, and the “wage gap” between blacks and whites is larger than it’s been in 40 years.

“Blacks Commit More Crime”

For years we’ve imprisoned more blacks than any country in the world.  The numbers seem to speak for themselves, and fuel the perception that blacks are more likely to commit crime than any other race in the US.

While the prison numbers might support this, many crime statistics don’t.

Drugs

In 2010 Michelle Alexander published “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” introducing the disparities between black and white incarceration rates, and the stories behind them.  In 2016, Netflix aired director Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” highlighting many of Alexander’s concerns.

Nobody should talk about racial prejudice in the United States without a basic grasp of these two accounts.  Both offer, among other things, strong evidence that whites and blacks use illegal drugs at the same rates, but blacks are somehow incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites.

Alexander and DuVernay claim that these consistent, way-out-of-balance statistics are driven primarily by the same spirit that fueled slavery in the US.

Violence

“New Jim Crow” isn’t without its critics.  Yale Law School’s James Forman Jr. wrote:

“While rates of drug offenses are roughly the same throughout the population, blacks are overrepresented among the population for violent offenses.  For example, the African American arrest rate for murder is seven to eight times higher than the white arrest rate; the black arrest rate for robbery is ten times higher than the white arrest rates.”

The phrase “arrest rate” can be misleading for those of us not well versed in statistical analysis.  It’s much simpler to look at raw numbers.  How many people are committing these crimes, what color are they, and how many from each group are we keeping behind bars?

For example, in 2011, BJS reported 42,768 black arrests for robbery vs. 38,599 white arrests.  To confirm Forman’s point above – a higher percentage of blacks were arrested.  However, in the same year 8,936 whites were incarcerated vs. almost 23,447 blacks in our state and federal prisons.

If roughly the same number of blacks were arrested for robbery, how is it that almost 3 times the number of blacks were incarcerated?

Following are yearly statistics on violent crime in general – note the disparity between arrest and incarceration numbers.

While the Bureau of Justice Statistics doesn’t publicly report Federal Prisoner race/offense statistics as consistently as they do for state prisons, their detailed 2015 and 2014 reports reveal that twice the number of blacks occupy Federal Prisons for violent crime than whites.

Again, why?

One of the most prevalent narratives about blacks in the US is that they are on some sort of crime spree – they just can’t seem to reign in their impulse to break the law.  But the incarceration numbers – statistics most of us have never seen –  tell an entirely different story.

Legalized Discrimination

According to Alexander, DuVernay, and others, incarceration is only half the problem.

“Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination – employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal.  As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow.  We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” “New Jim Crow” pp. 2-3

This formerly incarcerated cross-section of our population is more likely to be poor, without hope, controlled, depressed, angry, and much more likely to commit repeat offenses than someone with a less “murky” future.

“All Lives Matter”

Many blacks have rallied around the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” citing the above issues (and more), crying injustice, and (still) calling for some semblance of equity.  Many Evangelicals have responded with “All Lives Matter.”

Evangelical Pollster organization, Barna Group, recently published their findings of a 2015/2016 survey of Americans regarding racism.  Among the participants, white Evangelicals and/or political conservatives were most likely to believe that

  • Racism is a problem of the past
  • People of color face no social disadvantages because of their race
  • Reverse discrimination is a greater threat to whites
  • Christian churches are currently playing an important role in racial reconciliation
  • “All Lives Matter” is an appropriate response to the black community’s cries for justice

We’ve come to believe that the problems mentioned above lie squarely in the hands of the black community to solve.  Having clothed ourselves with the illusion of equity on every front, we’ve become convinced that blacks have nothing to complain about.

That’s why we get so upset when some of them take extreme measures.

Brooke Hempell, Vice President of Research at Barna Group, summarized their findings with the following:

By failing to recognize the disadvantages that people of color face—and the inherent privileges that come from growing up in a ‘majority culture’—we perpetuate the racial divisions, inequalities and injustices that prevent African American communities from thriving…

There are now a growing number of white evangelical leaders, pastors, sociologists, and researchers claiming that racism is huge problem among evangelicals.  I know, we’re all tired of hearing about it, but that doesn’t make it false.  I’m currently working on a post here and hope to publish it soon.

And while I’m personally proud of the people who showed up en masse to protest the alt-right and white supremacy, I agree with the many voices who feel like the current racially prejudicial systems are far more dangerous – not just because they affect so many lives, but because they’re rarely-to-never protested.

“Look How Far We’ve Come”

I recently sat in a meeting where a white community leader offered a personal apologetic on how far we’ve come in our journey towards equity. “I just see all the progress we’ve made and I just want to celebrate it.”

But it’s difficult to talk about progress when we’re also talking about injustice.  To illustrate, consider the following parable:

Say you and I had an arrangement where I physically assaulted you once a day.  You had no say in the matter, it was something you had to endure.  It ruined you, weakened your sense of dignity, stole hope, etc.  One day, I announce that I’ll only be attacking you 3 times a week.

Technically that’s progress, but not the kind any victim would want to celebrate.  Even if the beatings were to stop altogether, there would still a glaring issue.

One of the dominant conversations when Civil Rights legislation was first being considered centered around the idea of justice.  Even if we could get to the point of perfect equity, who should pay for these centuries of abuse?

Any victim is right to expect that 1) the abuse will end and 2) justice will be served.  We’ve offered the black community neither.

Change

Racial prejudice in the US hasn’t gone away, it’s simply changed its clothes.  Gone are the white hoods and black iron bracelets.  Now we have laws – really impressive legislation that’s sometimes effective, but complicated enough to allow our contemporary expression of racial prejudice the space it needs to keep our ancestors’ foot-to-throat status quo well intact.

That’s why so many blacks aren’t celebrating.  They’re angry, tired, hopeless.  Some get desperate and riot, to which we respond, “See?  Nothing but a bunch of criminals.”

The facts and figures cited here only scratch the surface, but are enough to kick-start a new narrative –  one that acknowledges that blacks in the US have been set up for failure.  Some succeed, and are frequently used as evidence that there’s nothing to riot about.  But the many who do fail are used as further evidence for the centuries-old narrative that there’s “just something wrong with black people.”

These stories need to change.  Our understanding of the black community and of white privilege needs to change.  And the first step might be easier than you think.

We need to talk about this – in our small groups, from the pulpit, among friends.  These truths can be spread just as easily as the falsehoods that are currently in residence.

Equity will require much more than awareness.  Injustice only answers to personal/corporate sacrifice.  But for now, since this current “style” of racial prejudice depends so heavily on ignorance, misinformation, false narratives, and naked, knee-jerk emotion, awareness would be a big first step toward something that our country has never known.

The Bible, Immigration, Refugees, Closed Doors, and God

chained_door_by_kinyin

Like most conservative Evangelicals, I’ve spent a ton of time reading/studying the Bible, and a few years in grad school learning the ancient “Biblical” languages, methods for interpreting ancient Semitic/early Christian manuscripts, etc.

My understanding of the Bible, and my understanding of the way God wants me to live, has a direct bearing on whether or not I agree with the recent developments in the US surrounding immigration, refugees, walls, border closings, etc.

God’s Immigration Policy

We should always have immigration laws, but not when they’re so extreme that they amount to closed doors, or when our borders are closed outright.

Scripture paints the picture of an “open door” God.  His world (often referred to as His “Kingdom”) has no barriers or qualifications.  The only people that aren’t allowed in are the people who don’t want to come in.

I’ve heard from many that you have to first “repent,” i.e., have the right attitude about what’s right and wrong, before God will deem you worthy.  I haven’t yet met anyone who’s been able to do that.  We’re all screwing up in big ways that we’re not aware of.

“Repent” in both the ancient Greek and Hebrew contexts most often means “turn around and go the other direction,” not “be aware of every single place you’re screwing up and feel bad about it.”

The “Prodigal Son” narrative in the New Testament is a parable that lays out in perfect detail who can come in, who can’t, and what God requires for entry.  Here’s a brief recap:

The prodigal does an unthinkable act towards his family and community, then leaves home to live a life something akin to a hip hop video (stole that from this sermon).  After he blows all his $$, he realizes that he’ll starve to death and decides to go home, not because he’s sorry for what he’s done, but because he doesn’t want to die.

He then crafts a very manipulative speech that he plans to recite to his father in hopes that he’ll be allowed back into the family “kingdom.”

His dad, so overcome with joy at the return of his son, loses his mind in a culturally embarrassing public display of affection as the hopeless sinner attempts to recite his speech.  Dad cuts it short, restores the son to his former position, and throws an enormous party that the other son doesn’t want to attend – he’s understandably pissed that his loser brother, who still hasn’t “repented,” has been welcomed home with such pomp and circumstance.

The father goes out to the mad son to try to talk him into joining the party, which is where the story ends.

Self righteous people hate parties.

God’s “Kingdom” is a come-as-you-are proposition.  The doors are open, but the entryway will always be lined with morally OCD people who don’t want to attend since the guest list is so open, so “dirty.”

I entered God’s “Kingdom” many moons ago, and soon learned, despite how hard I might try to act otherwise, that I’m much more a terrorist than a saint.  I judge people, talk about them behind their back, spread anger and bitterness, lose it with my kids, my wife.  I do just as much violence to God’s world as I do good.  I want to bring healing and peace, but so many times I do the opposite, regardless of how much I might “repent.”

I’m “in,” but that’s because of Him, not me.

How screwed up I am!  Who will save me from this body that just can’t get it’s crap together? ~ Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians

Why doesn’t God kick me out?  Why does He keep admitting so many like me?  I have no right or business being part of His world – and His doors stay open.  Always.  Without condition or qualification.

Come to me, everyone who’s tired, everyone who’s overwhelmed, and I will give you rest.  ~ Jesus

The Gospel of Personal Safety

I understand why Christian folk want to build walls and close doors.  Immigration not only threatens our safety but our economy, culture, etc.  Shouldn’t we protect our God-given home?  Don’t we have a right to be as safe as possible?

According to The National Safety Council, The National Center for Health Statistics, the Cato Institute, Tulane University, and others, we Americans are

  • 6 times more likely to die from a shark attack (one of the rarest forms of death on Earth)
  • 29 times more likely to die from an asteroid strike
  • 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning
  • 4,700 times more likely to die in an airplane or spaceship accident
  • 129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault
  • 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle incident
  • 6.9 million times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease

… than we are to die from a terrorist attack on US soil.

I’m not trying to downplay what terrorists have perpetrated.  I watched the towers fall, I see cultural expressions of Islam, the way we talk about them, the way we portray them, and can’t help but feel a tinge of fear. But the facts are plain; refugees/immigrants/etc. don’t pose nearly the risk advertised.

And they need a home!

And we have plenty of room!!

Doesn’t matter.  Fear has been leveraged to win an election, and has done its own violence to this home we’re trying so hard to protect.

I understand why we’re tempted to interpret the Bible as a Gospel of personal safety.  God has granted us all the freedom to think and act as we see fit.  I respect opposing views here, but given my interpretation of the scriptures, I can’t agree that the “travel ban,” extreme vetting of refugees, or a president who’s in favor of things like a Muslim database are good, especially in a country so full of Bible folk.

Doing the Shit that God Does

The Bible doesn’t talk much about personal safety.  Instead it speaks time and time again about laying our lives down for the sake of others.  Before the founder of our religion went willingly into slaughter, he commanded His disciples to a life that, for so many of them, ended the same way.  Biblical Christianity is a religion that has risk at its core.  That doesn’t mean we go looking for danger, it does however mean that we don’t turn people away because there’s a very small chance that some might be dangerous.

What God has done for us, we should do for others.

We’re supposed to act like God.  It’s only through acting like Him that we become like Him.  In becoming like Him we change the world – which, by definition, will never be a “safe” activity.

Let’s not make America “Great,” or “First,” or “Safe.”  Let’s make it God’s.  Open the doors.  And while we’re at it let’s celebrate.  Let’s throw the yugest, hip hoppiest, borderline-saturnaliastic hootenanny for these people who so many times have been through utter hell.  Let’s dance with their children, embrace their culture, drink Stranahan’s together (or maybe even Whistle Pig if we really want to be Christ-like) – give them jobs, fall in love.

While there are sure to be a few terrorists among them, you can rest assured that God will be in their midst as well.

And God replied, “Whatsoever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” ~ Matthew’s Gospel