Why I Refuse to Punch a Nazi

I hate politics. Ok, actually that’s not true. I really just don’t like talking about politics, but if I’m going to do it anywhere, it might as well be here, where the mask comes off. Over the past year or two I’ve immersed myself in a lot more politics than the previous 20 years of my life combined, and I’ve learned how to more clearly define my thoughts on the government and the role it should have in individuals’ lives. I’ve also shaken myself free of a lot of misconceptions and bad ideas that I thought were good. I’ve come to understand that with America being the culturally diverse nation that it is, there is a need for a separation between my personal morals and beliefs and what the law of the land should be. If I had to boil down all of the learning I’ve gotten in my head this past year in the realm of politics, it would be this:

Just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it should be illegal.

If you’ve read my other posts or just know me as a person, you know that I’m a pretty conservative Christian, so that statement may lead you to believe that I’ve converted to liberalism, but you’d be wrong. In fact, despite the fact that “the Christian Right” is a major voting block, Liberals throw around morality arguments just as often as their Republican counterparts, just from a different point of view. I still lean slightly to the right, but for the most part I’ve become a Libertarian, which is basically – in my view – summed up socially by “live and let live,” and economically by “the free market will sort it out.” I believe in a minimalistic government that only intervenes when absolutely necessary, allowing it’s current duties to be carried out by private business wherever possible, and moving whatever power the government has left into the state and local levels where it can. It really shouldn’t have much social control at all. In a nation that is becoming increasingly team-oriented (or even “tribal,” as some have called it), I think the only real solution is to put responsibility back on the individual instead of dictating their responsibilities according to race, gender, socio-economic status, or any other grouping we decide to single out with regulations and subsidies. Whether it’s leftists calling people who want to take a closer look at immigration reform xenophobes or righties calling people who are worried about mental health snowflakes, grouping has become an epidemic that only serves to divide our country along deeper and deeper lines, making it harder as time goes on to fix the issues in front of us and to see each other as fellow human beings.

But what does this have to do with punching Nazis? That is, after all, what this article is all about according to the headline. The truth is, it has everything to do with it. The fact of the matter is that despite the radically different and, in my opinion, disgusting views that these white supremacists have, they have the right to express them, and any physical violence enacted upon them to stop the verbal expression of their ideas is a violation of their rights. The only exception to that is if they make a specific threat. Hate speech is not a crime, but pointing out a specific person and saying, “I’m going to kill you,” is. At this point, the reason for why that person wants to murder doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s racially motivated or financially motivated or if its an act of revenge for a real or perceived wrong. Hate is not a crime, and it shouldn’t be, but threats are.

Before you jump down my throat for being a sympathizer, keep in mind what I said earlier: “just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it should be illegal.” I believe that hate is something we should fight against, but using the law as a gun to shoot down ideas we don’t like sets a dangerous precedent. Sure, we may be using it against neo-Nazis today, but what comes next? With a largely Republican government at the moment, it’s not entirely implausible that they would deem certain socialist factions as communist sympathizers and use their newfound power to silence them as well. Honestly, I think socialism is one of the worst economic frameworks you could ever work under, but I don’t want those voices advocating it to be silenced by the government. When you silence an entire group based on their ideas alone, you’ve tied the noose around democracy. And that logic works just as much for white supremacists as it does for socialists, as much as we may not like it.

So, hate speech is not a crime. It’s terrible, it brings out the worst in some people, and ultimately makes this planet a worse place to live in, but the alternative is the destruction of free speech – and ultimately, freedom – as we know it. But we can still punch Nazis, right? I mean, if anyone deserves to be punched, it’s definitely them, isn’t it? Well, to go back to my previous example, if the white supremacists can be punched, why not the socialists? They want to steal from the producers in society and give it to the consumers, ultimately leading to our self-destruction as fewer and fewer people see the point in even contributing to the economy. That’s not an America I want to live in, so I should be allowed to go punch Bernie Sanders, right? No, that’s stupid. First of all, I’d get arrested for assault and maybe even for infringing on his First Amendment rights if he were speaking at the time. Then, Bernie would just be able to play the victim and gain more support for his cause because of it. And that’s exactly what happens every time someone punches a Nazi. The person who did it gets arrested, maybe getting a few pats on the back from like-minded people, but ultimately furthering the cause of what he’s fighting against.

I whole-heartedly believe that racism is completely idiotic and irrational, and I would never defend the ideas that people like this spout off. But I live in America, which, in case you’ve forgotten, is the land of the free, and I will defend that freedom with every breath I have, even for those who I’d rather never hear from again.

 

Obviously, this is going to be a bit of a touchy subject, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, because, like I said, I believe in free speech and the exchange of ideas. So let’s talk. Do you believe you should be allowed to punch Nazis? Do you think the government should be allowed to ban their gatherings? Am I totally missing some major point that makes all of this make sense? Let me know what you think.

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Winter Jam

I went to Winter Jam for the first time this past Friday, and I have to say, it was quite the experience. For those of you who don’t know, Winter Jam is a nationwide Christian concert series that happens every year. At each location, ten major Christian artists take the stage throughout the night as well as a couple of speakers. When all is said and done, the event lasts between 5 and 6 hours (or at least ours did), and so it’s well worth the $10 entrance fee even if you don’t like all of the bands that are playing. Anyways, the reason I’m writing about this isn’t to be an ad for Winter Jam (although you should totally go if you get the chance), but because before the concert got underway, there was a time for youth pastors and leaders to go to a separate room for…well, something. It was kind of ambiguous when it was announced, but I figured it was worth a look, so I made my way to the designated room. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to actually be given some encouragement and advice from a handful of the headliners from the concert. As cool as the concert itself was, it’s hard to top being 30 feet away from some of Christianity’s biggest current names in a room of about 150 people and have them encouraging you on the path you’re on. They left me  with a few interesting thoughts, so that’s what I want to discuss in today’s post.

The first one to come out and speak was Mike Donehey, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North. When I first started listening to Christian music around 8th or 9th grade, these guys were one of my favorites. I don’t think I’d call them my favorite band of all time, but they’re the only ones from that I listened to back then that I still consistently listen to today, and they’ve always been in my top 10. So basically, I’ve got a ton of respect for these guys. Their newest album is titled “Followers,” and Mike pretty much used that as his mini-message to us. The whole idea behind the album is that even though we’re leaders, our highest calling is to follow. We can’t get so caught up in leading that we forget that the true leader is Christ. It’s so easy to fall into pride when you’re in charge of something, especially if it’s something that’s working. But when you keep in mind that your youth are only following you as you follow Christ, you’ll not only avoid sin, but you’ll become a much more effective leader.

The next to speak was Sadie Robertson. To be honest, I don’t really follow her at all and I’ve never really been into Duck Dynasty, but she spoke well here, so that was cool. As a younger person (she’s currently 19), she obviously spoke more from a youth’s perspective than a pastor’s or leader’s, but it was just as important. She spoke about the importance of youth group being like a second family. Many youth today don’t get a lot of support at home, and even the ones that do are always looking for more. Sadie talked about how when Duck Dynasty first started getting really popular, she was worried about what the spotlight would do to her friendships and relationships, but her youth pastor made sure to let her know that no matter where this journey would take her, she would always have a home and a family there. Obviously, not everybody gets a positive spotlight thrust upon them, but even if it’s negative things that are coming to light, the same principle applies. Regardless of their situations, these kids are all still human, and more than that, they’re all still kids. They need reassurances even more than us adults do, so make sure to give it to them, whether you’re a parent or a leader or just a church-goer with any amount of influence (which is all of you).

The last two kind of went together. First, David Crowder came out, but before too long he brought Louie Giglio up with him. David shared a story of how if it wasn’t for Louie, none of us would probably have ever heard of him. David had been the worship leader at his church and had written a few of his own songs, but he never dreamed that they would ever be heard outside of his own church. Then, one day Louie Giglio heard some of his music and suggested that he go to a recording studio and try to get his music out there. David protested, saying there was no way that he and his band could afford to go get a professional recording done, so Louie offered to pay for it. And the rest is history. David’s main point from his story was that just because you have a gift that you’re using in your church doesn’t mean that it’s meant only for your church. God isn’t bound by the four walls of your church, and neither are the gifts that he’s given you. We talk so much about not putting God in a box, but then we put ourselves in one.

Louie Giglio’s message kind of piggy-backed off of David’s. He started off by talking about how Tychicus was one of Paul’s friends who kept him company while he was in jail. He actually ended up being the one to take Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, which we now know as the book of Ephesians in the Bible. Louie focused in on the fact that even though Tychicus knew that his mission was important, he had no idea that this little letter he carried in his bag would have an impact on the entire world for thousands of years to come. So he asked us: “What’s in your bag?” What do you have that you know could have an impact, but could also do something way beyond what you would ever expect? It could be a personal gift or talent, a student that you’re raising up, an event that you’re taking part in, or any number of other things. You never know what impact you’re going to have, so always work as if working for God Himself, because honestly, you are.

The Start of Something

In case you didn’t already know, I’m interning at my church right now, preparing to be a youth pastor. So I get the opportunity to do a lot of cool things with our youth group, sometimes even coming up with those ideas myself. So, I came up with an idea: a Bible study. Sure, it may not sound that exciting, but it’ll be my first time leading the youth in anything other than the occasional sermon. And I’m really excited about this one because it isn’t just any Bible study, it’s the 90 Day Bible Study. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, that name probably sounds familiar. I participated in this same study last year while I was at Missio Dei, and it was one of the hardest and one of the most satisfying things I did in my whole two years there. The name pretty much says it all: you take 90 days and read the Bible from cover to cover. I don’t know how that sounds to you, but it takes a solid 45 minutes of reading every single day (longer if you have distractions), so it gets pretty intense.

I’m not sure what to expect this time through, but I know it’s going to be good. And I’m going to try to post a little more often on here with some thoughts that I have, and maybe some of the ones my students have too. I’m not going to promise any sort of regular schedule while I’m doing this, but posts should be coming more often than they normally do for these next few months.

Pushing Through

I’m trying really hard to actually write a post on here every week, but this is only the third week of that and I’m already hitting an impasse. I started writing a post earlier in the week, but I just couldn’t find the words to finish it. And you know what? Sometimes, that’s just how life is. You’ve got all of these ideas about how you want things to be, and they even seem like realistically attainable things to go after…but they never fall into place.

This basically describes me. I have all of these ideas on what my life should look like, whether it’s about my fitness or my creativity or heck, even my sleep patterns! So I come up with a plan of action to tackle the issue, and then I’ll commit to it. Or at least I try to. My plans normally aren’t total failures, I just lack the resolve to see them through to the end. I could go through my old notebooks and my files on my computer and find you at least five or six novels that I’ve started, but never finished. A couple of them never made it past the outline phase, but for most of them I even wrote a few chapters and started getting into the story, but I lost my motivation.

Maybe you’ve faced something similar. I don’t know what your aspirations are, but I know you have them. Everybody has dreams, but most of us just let them stay dreams instead of actually trying to make them a reality. Sure, we make a token effort, but we never really go after it. We’re afraid to chase after our dreams because we’re either afraid that it won’t live up to our expectations or that we aren’t good enough to make it happen, so why even bother? But that’s just fear talking, it isn’t truth. Are you capable of making your dreams come true? I don’t know, and neither do you. You can’t know until you try. And not just try, but give it your all. We are capable of so much more than we think we are, but we continue to limit ourselves because we’re afraid of failure. But failing at something isn’t the end of the world. In fact, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes more often than not.

So what are your dreams? Where do you see yourself down the road? For me, I want to be a youth pastor and an author. I’m already moving forward on the path to become a youth pastor, and I should be credentialed within the next few months. But writing? Like I said before, I’ve started so many different projects, but I’ve never made it very far with any of them. I actually am working on one right now, and I’m hopeful for it. I’m doing something a little different, trying to transform a short story that I wrote a few years ago into a full length interactive fiction piece. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I’m going to keep trying.

If you know what your dream is, great! Pursue it, don’t let anything stand in your way. I mean, be smart about it, don’t kill yourself trying to make it happen, but also understand that you will definitely need to sacrifice things you’re used to doing in order to chase something new. If you don’t know what your dream is, don’t freak out. There’s nothing wrong with being content where you’re at.

Two last little things, and then I’ll be done: one, talk to people about it. Whatever your dream is, tell people about it. Speaking it out loud will make it more realistic to you than any amount of hours spent fantasizing about it. And two, don’t let fear make your decisions for you. You won’t ever accomplish anything significant in life without taking a few risks along the way. As a Christian, you’ve got the God of the universe backing you up, so there’s literally nothing that you can’t handle. God created you with the desires you have, so don’t just write them off as hopeless. Never give up.

An Introverts Survival Guide to Worship Time

For those of you who don’t know, I work at an Assemblies of God church, which is a Pentecostal denomination. If you know nothing about Pentecostals, here’s the basics: we believe that the gifts of the Spirit (the ones given to the disciples on the day of – wait for it – Pentecost) are still active in the modern-day church. That’s the one thing that unifies all Pentecostals, but every church is different. I’ve been to churches that go off the deep end into “charismania,” but I’ve also been to quite a few that you wouldn’t even know were Pentecostal if you went to a regular Sunday morning service. 

I’ve been part of a few different denominations in my 23 years here on earth, and although there is variety among Pentecostals, they are generally a bit more, well, extraverted compared to others, especially when it comes to worship. What I mean by this is simply that in many Pentecostal churches, there are more expressions of worship: there’s more hand-raising, clapping, dancing, occasional flag-waving, stuff like that. So if you want to fit in, you do those things. But if you know me at all, you know that I’m not normally an outwardly expressive guy, so to do those things would make me really uncomfortable under most circumstances, and maybe you feel the same way. 

And you know what? It’s ok to not worship exactly like everyone else. God isn’t worried about who’s singing the best or who’s clapping the loudest or who can dance more elegantly or who’s raising their hands the highest. In fact, if you’re worried about those things, then you’re making your “worship” more about you than about God. Give God your best, but don’t worry about how your best measures up to the best of anyone else. 

In Mark 12, we see Jesus waiting and watching where temple offerings were given. Many rich people walked by and put in large sums of money, but then a widow came up and placed two copper coins into the offering. At this, Jesus spoke to His disciples, informing them that, despite appearances, this widow offered more than anyone else because she gave all she had. And I would argue that this principle holds true for any form of worship, not just monetary giving. Whether you’re just not a very extraverted person or you’re just having an off day, don’t feel like you *need* to engage in specific behaviors during worship, just give what you can authentically give. 

However, I’m not saying that just because you don’t feel comfortable raising your hands during worship that you have a free pass to participate to a lesser degree. There is definitely something serious and intimate about becoming physically involved with worship, so if you’re feeling it, don’t let your insecurities stop you from doing something that will enable you to experience God’s presence in a way that you’re not used to. And even if you don’t do it, that’s not an excuse to not push yourself to be actively engaged in worship. 

I guess that’s what I’m really trying to get at here. Engagement. It doesn’t matter how you appear during worship, but it matters how much you engage with God during it. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you engage better with God by jumping and shouting, do it (but please, don’t intentionally cause disruptions, that’s just annoying to everybody); if you engage with God better by quiet reflection on the words you’re singing, do it! But don’t think that just because somebody engages differently than you automatically means they’re being unauthentic, and whatever form your worship takes, that doesn’t guarantee authenticity either. You need to actively pursue God no matter what way you worship. 

So the next time you enter a time of worship, whether that’s later tonight, Wednesday, next Sunday, or any other time, let go of your worry about how other people will perceive you and just be present with the God of the universe. 

The Power of Offense

It seems like everyone is offended these days. It seems that you can’t hold an opinion on almost any topic without offending someone. And that’s utterly ridiculous. When did we become so fragile? When did we become so incapable of hearing an alternate viewpoint? When did we, as a culture, decide that it was more important that we appease our own emotions than that we tell the truth?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the result of them frightens me. Our culture is being strangled in the name of “tolerance.” Many – not all, but many – of the left have tried to transform the meaning of this word. It’s intended to mean the acceptance of the existence of ideas that are contrary to your own, but now it’s being used as a way of saying “we accept those who you don’t accept, but we don’t accept you,” which is not the same thing. They’ve made an instrument of peace into a weapon. And please understand me here, I’m not trying to put down liberals. That would be the height of hypocrisy after just talking about what tolerance is supposed to be. There are people out there of all political beliefs that believe in true tolerance. People who don’t hate you just for looking at the world differently. Sometimes they’re hard to find, but they’re out there, I promise.

Unfortunately, those people don’t seem to be the norm. Instead, we see what appears to be a large (or at least decently-sized) portion of the population that refuses to even pretend to listen to an alternative point of view. And this happens on both sides of the aisle (the only point favoring the right is that they don’t shout “Tolerance!” as their battle cry, so they at least avoid that hypocrisy). Instead of having a healthy discourse between alternative viewpoints, anything contrary to what we believe gets shut out. We’re practically begging for groupthink to become the dominant form of communication here in America. And if that idea doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

We need the voice of dissent. Part of what makes America so great is that we’re made up of so many different parts. Our unity only lasts so long as the one who thinks differently is allowed to speak. As bad as things seem now, if the power of offense is allowed to fester and grow, the United States is going to continue to polarize. We’re going to see an escalation in violence between ideological groups. And I’m not talking about extremists here. We’re going to see friends and family turn against each other over the smallest of things, because we’re idolizing our views, allowing them to become more important than the people we’re fighting for.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for the rights of those who can’t stand up for themselves. On the contrary, I think more people should! But we can’t allow our passion for the causes we take up to cause us to forget that those we argue with are people too. They have their reasons for believing as they do, most likely having to do with experiences they’ve had or the testimonies of people close to them, just like how you came to your beliefs. So to spout wide generalizations or rude names at people simply because of a conviction they have is absolute folly. Not only is it most likely not true of the person – no matter how despicable their views seem to you – but by behaving in a hostile manner, you’ve effectively cut off any chance of actual communication with this person, giving you no chance to let them change their minds on their position.

If all you want out of your arguments is to make some noise and give yourself a pat on the back for putting someone in their place, then go ahead, keep being offended. But if you want to change people, if you want to see the world become a little bit brighter, it needs to start with you. Even when other people are trying to start arguments with you, when they’re intentionally pushing your buttons, take it as a challenge to keep a cool head and respond with wisdom, not anger. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Allowing offense to control your words will only bring you to your own ruin.

The peaceful road is a hard one to walk. It requires humbling yourself, allowing others to attack without striking back. Forgiveness without seeking retribution. Turning the other cheek when all you want to do is leave that one snide comment to “destroy” their argument. It isn’t easy, but it becomes easier with each person we convince to join us. So join me, and let’s become better people together.

A Bit of Rambling

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on here. There have been plenty of posts I’ve wanted to write, but none have them have managed to get finished. Even the one that you’re reading right now has been around in my head for weeks now. I hope to get to my almost-finished ones at some point too, but for now I can only write what’s on my mind, so let’s jump right in.

I got fired twenty four days ago.

This is the first I’ve posted about it anywhere publicly, so unless you heard it from me personally, that’s probably a bit of a shock for you. Let me tell you, it was for me too. I’d held that job for over four years. There were reasons why I got fired. Not necessarily reasons that I agree should’ve ended in termination, but there were reasons. I want to say that I was devestated. I want to say that it shook my world. That it caused some sort of dread or pessimism to overtake me. These all feel like things that I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say them and remain truthful like I promised I always would be here. I did shed a few tears. It was a bittersweet day. Bitter because I already missed those crazy kids I was looking after and the coworkers who were like another family to me. But sweet because I was finally free of all the stress that came with that job.

I knew I had been stressed out (cue obligatory Twenty One Pilots reference). I absolutely loved my kids, but elementary schoolers were defintely not my forté. For my first three years at the daycare, I’d always played the role of the assistant, helping out the lead teacher. And I was good at that. I liked working in tandem with another teacher. The only issue was that, since I technically wasn’t leading the class, I often got pulled to other rooms. So I desperately started hoping and praying for my own room to have. And I got my wish. As this past summer was coming to an end, I was offered a position as the sole before- and after-school 2nd grade teacher. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was ready to take on a room by myself, but I’ve never been very good at saying “no,” plus it was so close to what I’d been looking for, so I agreed to it. I’m not going to say that was a terrible decision to make, but it definitely came with higher costs than I anticipated. 

From the first day, it was a tough job. Throughout my time at the daycare, I’d spent time with kids everywhere from two year olds to kids just about to go to middle school, but most of my time was with the fourth and fifth graders. Transistioning from that to only being with second graders was an adjustment that I knew in my head would be rough, but for months I couldn’t alter my expectations of them to where they actually were developmentally. It caused a lot of stress between me and my kids, and I know it’s one of my biggest failings from my entire tenure there.

Eventually, though, things started to smooth out. There were still a few flare-ups, and I’d never say that I handled every situation perfectly, but I was learning how to deal with their different, not-quite-as-mature-as-I-wanted-them-to-be personalities, and they were learning how to deal with my normally-but-not-always patient nature. There was still a fair amount of disrespect in the air though, aimed both at me and fellow students, so I tried to emphasize kindness – even when the other person didn’t deserve it. It was a hard sell, and only a  couple of them really seemed to get it. Not that they were perfect at it, but you could tell they were trying, and that was enough. I finally felt like I was starting to get through to my kids about things that were important for them to understand before they really started exploring this world that they’re inheriting, and then I was out the door without a chance to say goodbye.

I’m really just rambling now, but I guess what I really want to get across to you, my friend, is that despite everything, I’m not moping. I’m not discouraged about my lot in life. I could very easily turn this into a time of “woe is me” and just play the victim. But I won’t. Because I’m not a victim. In fact, I’m very lucky to be in the position I am. I’m still living at home, so I’ve been able to save up enough money that this past month without work hasn’t completely drained my resources. I’ve still been able to give money to my church every week (although that’s the subject for another post). I was able to buy plane tickets to visit my mom for her birthday in a couple of weeks. I’ve been sleeping better than I have in months. I’m actually writing again (just in case you hadn’t noticed). I’ve read eleven books already since I got fired. I’ve even got a couple of potential jobs lined up to hold me over until I finish the credentialling process so that I can become a youth pastor. Life may not be perfect, but it is pretty decent.

All is not lost. There’s a lot of good going on in the world. Don’t focus so much on what’s going wrong that you miss out on it.