state of the government ’18

For the last several years, the Intramuralist has published our annual “State of the Government” analysis in conjunction with the President’s annual State of the Union Address. While the themes remain the same, this is a tougher blog to write this year, aware of the seemingly increasing challenge to specifically discuss the government’s role respectfully.

It’s been a tough year.  It’s been a tough several years. Some believe respect is no longer necessary. Sometimes that even, unfortunately, includes the current president. We then each take turns being disrespectful in response.

And so with my heartfelt desire is to communicate respectfully, regardless of topic, I acknowledge that I can’t control anyone’s Twitter feed. I can’t stop the flurry of social media memes that mock another whole party or people group. I can only encourage each of us individually to be aware of how we contribute to the division. This is about no one else, friends. This is us.

In recent years, we’ve opined here that the state of our government is “too partisan, too influenced by money, too big, too financially imbalanced, and too far removed from the Constitution.” My limited perspective also senses that the respect level has deteriorated so far — fueled by partisans on both sides of the equation — that we can no longer see the actual state of our government.

Partisans on both sides consistently blame someone else. We then blame someone else… if only they would _______.. The focus is typically on “they.”

I get it. It’s easier. We are far more comfortable pointing the finger elsewhere and demanding someone else change their thinking or behavior than examining our own negative contribution. We are far more willing to point the finger at someone else’s errors in thinking than to examine what aspects we are currently unable to see due to our bents, bias, emotion, and experience. We are far more wanting to point the finger at someone else’s…

Blindspots. Unwillingness to listen.
And their lack of loving all people well.

We fail to look at our own…

Unwillingness to listen.
And our lack of loving all people well.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… if we’re only loving and respecting the person who thinks like we do, then we are only loving and respecting some people well.

When we fail to love and respect all people — regardless of whether we are a public citizen or elected official — we are fueling the division.

I once shared my earnest, impractical desire to wave some sort of unifying magic wand that could somehow end this growing, disturbing digression; that would no doubt be easiest. But perhaps the best place to start is not with any magic nor fictional tool that relies on something other than me.

The best place to start is with self — putting away our pointing fingers and looking instead internally…

How have I fueled the division?

Tough question. Tougher answer… albeit necessary.


the testimony of rachael denhollander

Last week’s victim impact statements in one of the nation’s most prolific sexual assault cases prompted a wide range of emotion in many… grief, shock, sorrow, horror, anger, etc. To see a seemingly intelligent adult take advantage of so many children for so many years with so many people simply looking the other way or even telling the teens to be quiet, seems nothing short of unfathomable.

Rachael Denhollander was the first survivor to file a police report against Larry Nassar, the now convicted, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor. Denhollander was the last to testify. Note this poignant portion of her words…

“… I want you to understand why I made this choice, knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here, and with very little hope of ever succeeding. I did it because it was right. No matter the cost. It was right.

And the farthest I can run from what you have become is to daily choose what is right, instead of what I want.

You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires. A man defined by his daily choices over and over again to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others. And the opposite of what you have done is for me to choose to love sacrificially. No matter what it costs me.

In our early hearings you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness, and so it is on that basis that I appeal to you:

If you have read the Bible you carry, you know that the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that He gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit.

By His grace I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness, but Larry if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance. Which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of it’s utter depravity and horror, without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen in this courtroom today.

The Bible you carry says it is better for a millstone to be thrown around your neck, and you thrown into a lake, then for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds. The Bible you speak of carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and his eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing.

And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet, because it extends grace, and hope, and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so that you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well.

Throughout this process I have clung to a quote by CS Lewis where he says, ‘My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of unjust and just? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?’

Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was, and I know it was evil, and wicked, because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means, I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation and I can call it evil because I know what goodness is.

And this is why I pity you, because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good. When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love.

Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world, that could have, and should have brought you joy and fulfillment. And I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child. Real genuine love for you and it did not satisfy.

I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love, and safety, and tenderness, and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joy’s and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious and that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing and I pity you for it.”

Too often, it seems, when we wrestle with evil on this planet, we omit God from the equation. We attempt to have all sorts of conversations without acknowledging God’s presence and character. And yet, it is the comparison of acts to God’s unprecedented, holy character that shed light on exactly what evil is; it is the comparison of the crooked line to the straight.

What does that straight line include? … grace, forgiveness, sacrificial love… as Rachael Denhollander so beautifully, poignantly stated… a testimony for us all.


the devastating impact of sexual assault

“At 15, I believed that the adults at MSU surrounding Larry would do the right thing if they were aware of what Larry was doing. And I was terribly wrong. And discovering that not only could I not trust my abuser, but I could not trust the people surrounding him, has been devastating,” said gymnast Rachael Denhollander.

In September of 2016, public allegations were first reported against Dr. Larry Nassar, then the sports-medicine doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. Since that September, over 140 women have come forth with reports of abuse — women that include athletes such as Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Denhollander.

Allow that number to sit for a moment… over 140 women. Most were between 13 and 20 years old. Multiple girls were under the age of 13; one said she was six. They were children.

One more number is arguably unfathomable; the first reports of abuse surfaced over 23 years ago. The victims — now “survivors” (as eloquently said by former Olympians Jamie Dantzscher and Raisman) — were asked to keep quiet… by other adult men and women.

With Nassar finally on trial — and struck by the sobering extent of this atrocity — I reached out to a few highly-respected and well-educated friends… friends for whom gymnastics was, well, “my sport”… “my first love,” said one…

… My emotions are a mixture of sadness, anger, and relief. I cannot say I’m happy… gymnastics was a huge part of my life… working through the pain… the discipline… I got to fly through the air and land on my feet! … those years gave me my best, longest friends… but the sport now has a black mark… those people ignored it…

He’s a predator…

He is still blaming the victims. Does he know he did wrong?

After agreeing to plead guilty to ten counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Nassar wrote a letter to the judge two months before his sentencing. In his six-page assertion, Nassar shared he was unsure if he was mentally able to handle facing comments from those he abused; he also accused the judge of of grandstanding and conducting a “media circus” during the hearing that started a week ago Tuesday. He said, too, “I’ve tried to avoid a trial to save the stress to this community, my family, the victims, yet look what it is happening. It is wrong.” [Insert far more than a “yikes” here.]

Yesterday Michigan judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison. Said Aquilina, first referencing his letter: “This letter tells me you have not yet owned what you did. You still think somehow you are right, you’re a doctor, that you’re entitled so you don’t have to listen.”

And more…

“… 40 years, just so you know and you can count it off your calendar, is 480 months. The tail end — because I need to send a message to the parole board in the event somehow God is gracious and I know he is — and you survive the 60 years in federal court first and then you start on my 40 years. You’ve gone off the page here as to what I’m doing. My page only goes to 100 years. Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2100 months. I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

While my trusted friends don’t believe any is beyond redemption — and granted, some situations are far harder than others — neither places human judgment over the miraculous works of the God of the universe; this situation is grievous…

This just breaks my heart.

Too many knew. Too many looked the other way… they covered up.

He used a situation in which girls trust the people in the room. He could not be trusted… but they didn’t know… they were children.

I pray this sentencing leaves a loud message to any other predator out there; your time is up… the consequences are huge.

Do I feel criminal justice was served? Yes. Full justice? Not sure. I try to leave that in God’s hands. He is wiser than I.

I pray the voice given to these young women, as well, as the sentencing… may they learn to trust again… may this be the beginning of healing… may they fly through the air again one day, knowing they will land on their feet.

May the flying and healing begin…


intent, mercy & meat sticks

For years my parents have offered me excellent advice. As my mother has long quoted…

First, in the notoriously obvious:

“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

Second, in those parental, covert operations:

“Eat your meat sticks; they are so good for you!”

(Note: unbeknownst to this then semi-picky, pre-adolescent eater, “meat sticks” were nothing short of the surreptitious code word for a dreaded serving of liver.)

No doubt the quote I’ve wrestled with most in recent weeks, as we watch a world that too often justifies finding fault in the differences in another — whether it’s shouting at the refs at a divisional NFL playoff game or at the party loyalists as they argue who’s most responsible for a government shutdown (even though many made opposite arguments only five years ago) — is one that centers around the act of mercy. We aren’t very good at generously offering mercy.

Mercy seems a bit of a foreign concept. There’s a compassion aspect — and a forgiveness aspect. Mercy is that unprecedented, contagious compassion or forgiveness shown to another — or to self — when criticism and judgment are so much easier to offer. Fault does exist; but mercy is given in place of finding fault.

My sense is, however, we are selective in our offering of mercy.

For example, we forgive far faster if the erroneous flag thrown on the field benefits our team… and we have great compassion for the cringe-worthy hypocrisy when ideologically aligned with a political party.

We are inconsistent.

So back to my mother’s wisdom…

“We judge other people by their behavior; we judge ourselves by our intentions.”

In other words, we judge others — or those we have a predisposition to find fault in — by what they actually do.

We judge ourselves — or those with whom we align somehow — by what we intend.

We juxtapose our intent with another’s behavior; we don’t judge intent vs. intent nor behavior vs. behavior.

I struggle with that.


Because one of my desires in loving all others well is being consistent and generous in both giving and receiving mercy. I want to take advantage of the promise that God’s mercies are new every morning; think how freeing and fulfilling that would be if we lived that way daily? … if each morning we awoke with that sense of freedom not to be perfect knowing compassion and forgiveness are available each and every day?

I wish, too, no less, to be generous in giving mercy away… on the field, in relationship, on the political or any-for-that-matter spectrum.

“But they don’t deserve it!” is the familiar refrain.

Exactly. None of us do.

“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”

“Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Being merciful means offering compassion and forgiveness in place of criticism and judgment… even when we can’t see it… even when it’s undeserving.

That’s the point.


this is not a drill

Last Saturday, as perhaps many have now heard, the following message went out to everyone in the state of Hawaii:

“Emergency Alert


An unknown false alarm — accidentally sent after an employee “pushed the wrong button” during a routine drill run after a shift change, according to Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency — sent Hawaiians went “from paradise to panic,” said CNN.

“You’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, are we going to die?’”

Testimonies and tales from those involved are shocking and scary, even though within somewhere between 15-30 minutes, contradicting communication was mass delivered identifying the alert as an error. There was a surplus of huddles and tears and perceived last phone calls and texts, as any of us would imagine.

There were many so-called “goodbyes.”

The PGA was actually hosting an event in Honolulu at the time. Said golfer Charles Howell III,”All the alarms went off at the same time. It got everyone’s attention. I didn’t know what to do. We all stared at each other. It kind of shows you the world we live in now. Your whole life can change in a second.”

First, before I suggest anything else, let us thank the good Lord that the alarm was false. He is good indeed.

But second, it makes me wonder.

What would get our attention?

What would we choose to do if we knew our time was limited?

 What would we do if we knew our whole life was about to change in a second?

Would we keep on doing what we’re doing now?

Would we rant?

Would we rave?

Would we treat others better?

Would we reconcile?

Would we forgive?

Young NBA star, Karl-Anthony Towns, who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, said it well:

“Words cannot describe the relief my family and I feel that the alarm in Hawaii was false. My girlfriend was born and raised in Hawaii and with most of her family there, the panic was real. We should thank God for every day no matter the struggles and tell our family we love them.”

We should thank God for every day…

No matter the struggles…

And tell our family we love them.

Maybe we should start before we believe the end is imminent.


Photo by Patryk Grądys on Unsplash

fighting words

“Dem’s fighting words!”

… said everywhere from Bug Bunny to the New York Times’ crossword puzzle. Note the following iconic exchange between Bugs and Yosemite Sam:

Yosemite Sam: “Now, you dog-blasted, ornery, no-account, long-eared varmint!”

Bugs: “Hey, just a minute, you! Dem’s fightin’ woids!”

Yosemite Sam: “Yeah, dem’s fightin’ words!”

Bugs: “I dash ya to step across dis line.”
[traces line along edge of diving board] 

Yosemite Sam: “I’m a-stepping.”
[Sam steps across line and falls off board; rises up] 

Yosemite Sam: “I hate you.”
[falls back down] 

Witness the clear progression from fighting words to hate. One person offers an emotionally -charged insult. The next labels the insult as “fighting words.” There are then back-and-forth threats, having justified the fight. And all of a sudden persons who have more in common than they wish to realize, declare their hatred for one another.

Dare I humbly suggest, the fighting quickly runs out of control.

The current cultural fighting seems to be out of control in areas where previously there was none.

Note even the NBA game Monday night between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. The game featured the return of longtime Clippers’ star, Chris Paul, yet this time, he was an identified member of the opposition.

It was a game — a competition, if you will. Only one team could win. Things got heated. All sorts of emotions were flying. Insults accompanied the emotion.

As ESPN reported, “The final minutes of the game were filled with technical fouls, ejections, swearing, bumping — and that was just the beginning.”

After the game was over, four Rockets’ players — including former Clipper, Paul — took a back hallway that Paul knew connected with the visiting locker room with that of the home team. In an incident investigated for multiple days by league officials, the Clippers were then stunned when these professionals burst into their locker room. They were stunned, too, that the men had “come calling for them.”

Said more by the entertainment sports network, “For a few fleeting moments, several Clippers dared the Rockets to come farther into the room, sources said. Security and team officials soon converged on the Rockets, pushing them out the door and back toward the visiting locker room.”

Hence, “On a night that the Clippers organization played a video montage to honor Paul’s six seasons here, the fractured relationships that led to his departure in June percolated in the raucous fallout of the night.”

And thus, with all the emotions resulting from two teams with similar goals in perceived competition with one another, someone, somewhere concluded, “Dem’s fighting words!”

Once we conclude that the other has utilized “fighting words,” we are lured into justifying hatred. Once we justify hatred, we fail to see the more we have in common with another…

… regardless of the court.


vivian, michelet, immigration & more…

One of the challenges in today’s seemingly react-first culture is that we sometimes find ourselves reacting to a symptom instead of wrestling with the root. We deal with related branches of an issue, as opposed to dealing with the issue at its core.

Such seemed true again last week in regard to Pres. Trump’s disputed crass comments in regard to the countries of origin of American immigrants. While his reported words created an understandable stir, the reality is that we need to find a way to deal with the deeper issues embedded inside immigration. Those issues are part of why the immigration issue has been so challenging for administrations and legislators of both parties to fix for years.

Note that in what has been none other than a sweet blessing to me, I have long had many Haitian friends. In fact, working alongside so many as my professional career began was incredibly insightful and growth-producing. I felt God gently but firmly stretching me, learning to deeply love those seemingly different than me. I learned more about what we had in common than what we did not.

Haiti is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people with some amazing stories… without a doubt, Vivian, Michelet, Lamar, etc… They shaped and sharpened me in so many ways. Their compassion… their so obvious humility and grace… they spurred me on in my early professional years. I thank God that my relationship with them impacted far more than my profession.

I heard, too, their stories of hardness, the hard life many chose to leave. Now almost eight years exactly after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, I will never forget my friends’ poignant testimonies in regard to their struggles of everyday life… to make a living, to feed their family, to have a healthy child or a safe home. They came here to build a future. And as a wise man said in response last week, “Yes, life is hard. Though the President put it in a crass way, we can pause to ensure we haven’t become numb to suffering of our brothers and sisters.”

Let us never become numb… to any.

The existent poverty and lack of development in Haiti is accompanied by a complex history — one on which even with my friends’ insight, I have a limited perspective. Unfortunately, however, I know that much of the country’s history has been marked by corruption. That was evident in my friends’ sadness, as Haiti is has been known as one of the significantly more corrupt countries in the world.

So as I look at those who are still struggling, my question as one who loves Jesus back and thus looks to love all people well: what’s the best way to love all people well in the immigration debate?

Not being numb… but not forgetting the concerns both at home and afar…

How do we best love all people well?

Said Kent Annan, a senior fellow at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, “Our framework for immigration starts and ends with love. In between, there are hard policy questions to debate honestly and rigorously. Yes, it’s wise to consider security issues. And yes, our resources to help can be limited. In some cases, the best way to help refugees is to support them closer to their homes.”

We must be honest about constraints but motivated in our choice by love for our neighbor.”

We have to find a way to do this well, friends.

Let’s wrestle with all the angles, complex as they may be.

Let’s be honest about all the angles — and stop politicizing them, possibly in lieu of future voters.

And in the meantime, let’s stop pointing fingers at one another.

Let’s stop seeing any other as idiotic or unenlightened or something worse than we. And mostly, let’s stop fooling ourselves by thinking we are loving all people well when any of our time is spent casting stones at someone here.

Vivian, Michelet, and Lamar taught me many things. Most of all, they helped teach me how to love other people well.


a masterpiece

Last week was hard.
Talking about it is harder.

The President reportedly used a very insensitive, disrespectful phrase. While we don’t know all the specifics, I don’t appreciate nor condone the harsh language reported. And while different people seem to have different impressions of the word — especially over the past 25 years — I don’t find Pres. Trump’s reported expression “presidential.”

My desire is for all people to be respected…

Whether from Haiti, El Salvador….
Black or white…
Regardless of any difference or demographic…

I repeat: my desire is for all people to be respected.

The challenge is that many of us justify disrespecting someone.

Allow me to rephrase: many of us justify thinking lesser of someone due to difference. demographic, or disagreement.

The temptation to think lesser of another makes sense… it’s easier to conclude there’s something wrong with another or that we never really knew them than it is to be silent and still long enough, investing the time and doing the work necessary to truly understand the difference in another — to understand why another feels/lives/believes/behaves the way they do. It’s far easier to cast judgment, even when unknowingly done.

I can be just as guilty.

What helps me most is recognizing where we come from.

I think of who and how we were created. I have no doubt the great big God of the universe created you and me.

Not only did he create the people from Haiti and El Salvador. He created the black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc., too. That truth extends far beyond all the angles of any immigration debate.

When I humbly stand back and look at each person as one created by God, it changes how I see them. I figure he knows a little bit more than me.

I see others with purpose.
Of value.
And of equal worth as me.

Regardless of difference.

I am no better nor worse.
They are no better nor worse.

Hence, there is zero justification for looking down upon another — all differences included.

To see others clearly — and thus to not fall prey to thinking less of any other — it begins by first recognizing God’s creative hand. While we don’t always get it and sometimes seem to totally omit him from the entire equation, the reality is with God having crafted and created the entire universe, he must be bigger and wiser and more creative than any of us will ever be. He is the artist. We are thus — each — his masterpiece.

A masterpiece is revered, unique, and always recognized as beautiful.

What would it change if we saw all others that way, too?

(Note: I said “all”… regardless of difference, demographic, or disagreement…)


what are you known for?

I threw a statement out here last week that I still can’t seem to shake. It’s something “wrestle-worthy,” as I like to say…

Are we known more for what we are for?


For what we are against?

I think that question is vital…

… vital for our relationships…
… vital for how we are perceived…
… vital for our sphere of influence…
… and vital for the peace in our very own hearts.

For example…

Are you known more for your advocacy?
… or for your opposition?

Are you known more for the teams you root for?
… or for teams you always hope will lose?

Are you known more for your acts of charity?
… or for your thinking that another does not deserve what they already have?

Are you known more for your thankfulness for what you have?
… or for your complaints about what you do not?

Are you known more for the faith you represent?
… or for the faith practices you outspokenly hate?

Are you known more for the cause of which you’re passionate?
… or for the initiative you desire to derail?

Are you known more for your friends on Facebook?
… or for those you’ve intentionally decided to “unfriend”?

Are you known more the people you love?
… or for the people you can’t stand?

Are you known more for your words of affirmation and encouragement?
… or for your sometimes vulgar rants of putting another in their place?

Are you known more for how you service others?
… or for how others inconvenience you?

I humbly ask…

What are you known for?

And where does what you are known for need to change?


religious veracity

Sometimes, it seems, we are quick to criticize what we don’t know — or rather, we judge behavior in which our perspective is limited. It’s as if we feel our limited perspective is enough to cast firm and stern judgment.

Note Sunday night at the Golden Globe awards. When talented actress Elizabeth Moss accepted her award for “Best Actress in a Drama TV Series,” she utilized her allotted time by honoring “all of the women” who were “brave enough to speak out against intolerance and injustice and to fight for equality and freedom in this world.”

Almost immediately (because the secular American public has for some reason concluded that this is an acceptable way to respond), Moss was harshly hammered on social media for her perceived hypocrisy. She was criticized because the 35 year old is a practicing Scientologist, and many believe that Scientology is an unjust, abusive, especially-oppressive-of-women ideology.

But it’s easy to jump on a bandwagon — via both criticism and praise. I would simply ask this: do we know what Scientology actually is? Besides visions of Tom Cruise jumping on couches in our heads, what do Scientologists believe? What’s at the core of their thinking?

Public promotions and statements from the organization provide nice-sounding offerings such as “the way to happiness,” “increasing spiritual awareness,” and making “life-enhancing improvements.” Let us also acknowledge the root of the religion, as it is not quite as publicized.

Scientology was created by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950’s. While first publishing what he identified as a “science,” Hubbard later invoked a more religious approach, claiming to have uncovered the deep secrets of the spirit and mind. He professed to have been enlightened, and he also avowed that he had acquired knowledge that no other person has ever possessed, calling himself a “celestial mediator.”

Be aware that prior to establishing the religion, Hubbard was a career science fiction writer. Hence, among his teachings, armed with his fantasy and fictional vernacular, “Incident II” is included in the origin of Scientology.

“Incident II” is a far more ambiguous description of the actual teaching…

In knowledge gleaned only by him, Hubbard asserted that 75 million years ago, Xenu, the dictator of the “Galatic Confederacy,” brought billions of his people to “Teegeeack.” “Teegeeack” is what we now call Earth.

According to Hubbard, Xenu brought these billions in a DC-8-like spacecraft. He then stacked the people around volcanoes, and killed them all with hydrogen bombs. The immortal spirits of these aliens adhere to humans, causing spiritual harm.

This teaching is at the core of Scientology.

It’s important to look at the core teachings of any religion when attempting to discern what is good and right and true; they cannot all be good and right and true.

Who is the key religious leader?
What is the faith based upon?
How did it begin?

And key for me — especially when considering the veracity of Scientology, for example — is the onset of this religion unexplainably miraculous?

Or was it made up by man?

In order to verify any religion as good and right and true, we need to investigate the origin of a faith as opposed to simply observing the followers of a faith. Followers can be imperfect.

It’s important to comprehend the core of the thinking.