Why Did the Monk Unfriend the Deacon?

A number of years ago, I received a very unexpected friend request on Facebook. It was from someone I’ll call Stephen Nash, OFM. The name is made up, but the OFM is legit. Puzzled, I looked into Stephen and discovered that this acronym stands for “Order of Friars Minor.” Stephen, it seemed, was a Franciscan–specifically a Capuchin–monk. Let’s be clear: that’s Capuchin monk rather than monkey.

Not this!

Discovering the Monk

Having no reason not to accept the request, I clicked the appropriate button, wondering all along why this guy would be reaching out to me. I had every intention of asking him, but I never got around to it. Then, a couple of weeks later, seeing the name again, I thought, “There was that guy named ‘Stephen Nash’ in high school.” That’s when it hit me. Stephen had been the most religiously inclined person in our small class. He moved from evangelical circles to the Anglican communion at some point. As memory serves, I saw him a few years out of high school and he had crossed the Tiber to become a Catholic priest.

Honestly, Stephen and I weren’t best buds in high school, although we talked a fair bit. Thirty-plus years later, we had even less in common, but I always enjoyed seeing his posts. He thought about things in ways I never would.

The Monk Disappears

Facebook has a weird way about whose things it shows you. At times, I feel as if their algorithms are designed to annoy users, but surely that isn’t correct. You might have 500 friends and see posts from only 25 or 30 of them regularly. So when somebody disappears from the feed, you don’t necessarily notice it immediately.

Yesterday, after writing about how it is important for Christians of different opinions and backgrounds to carefully think about each other’s words, I thought about Stephen. I hadn’t seen one of his posts for a very long time–perhaps a year or more.

I searched for him in my friends. He’s still on Facebook, but he’s not among that rarefied group. I know I didn’t remove him from my list. Presumably he removed me from his.

The Deacon Questions His Self-Worth

What did I do to run afoul of Stephen’s sense of Facebook propriety? You don’t have to look very hard at his current postings to see that he is not a supporter of our current president. He posts a lot of editorial cartoons and comments upon them as if they were somehow fact rather than opinion. That’s fine, although I try not to do that sort of thing. I’m probably more apt to question my conservative friends when they say something not well thought out.

Having said that, I will confess that I tip my conservative tendencies sometimes. I’ll question the apparent self-contradictions of those on the social and political left, including my own children at times. I try to do that in a kind manner, but I’m sure that sometimes my snarky attitudes come through.

Did I somehow offend Stephen? Did I say something that led him to consider me persona non grata? Was it my excessive celebrating when the Royals won the World Series. I’ll probably never know.

The Deacon Opines

In the end, this whole episode just makes me sad. Yeah, I’ll miss the thinking that Stephen caused me to do, but I know that this sort of siloing–is that a word?–is going on all around the country. People on the left are cutting themselves off from people on the right. People on the right are cutting themselves off from people on the left. People in the middle increasingly find themselves forced to choose teams. And God forbid that we are confronted with some sort of reasoned opinion that causes genuine reflection.

Take good care of your like-minded friends, but take just as good of care with those who make you uncomfortable from time to time. And if I made Stephen too uncomfortable, I wish he’d have spoken to me about it.

Why I Won’t Confess Guilt for Oscar and Valeria

Who is my neighbor? Does it include a man from El Salvador and his preschool daughter who tragically drown trying to enter the United States? In the mind of one of my former students–and in my own mind–it absolutely does. But when I read what she posted on Facebook, I got the sense that she might have taken that neighbor thing to an unsustainable level.

Pastors: If your church is not entering into a time of confession on Sunday for the death of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, you are not the Church.

Confess, change and “love your neighbor by preventing their death just like you daily work to prevent your own.” — Jesus


“You are not the church”–that’s a pretty strong statement, and I have to wonder how this particular event rises to become a litmus test for the legitimacy of a local body as a manifestation of the body of Christ.

R.S. encourages us to “confess.” What exactly are we confessing? When we talk about who constitutes our neighbor, the mind immediately goes to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Certainly that Samaritan man, seeing the beaten, robbed, and left-for-dead fellow by the side of the Jehrico road, acted properly, but do we suppose that he entered into ” a time of confession” over whatever social breakdown led to this act of lawlessness?

No decent person would want Ramírez and his daughter to be lying there lifeless in the water, but are we really all complicit in whatever “sin” R.S. imagines led to these deaths? Must we really confess or risk being “not the Church”?

If, failing to enter into that season of confession, we risk losing our churchly credentials, then what other things must we confess in any given week? Must we confess every act of lawlessness, regardless of whether that law is held to be just or unjust?

Must we confess

Travel back in time to 1859. Were there genuine churches who did not jump on the abolition train? I believe so and would even argue that some genuine churches, churches that had the right to call themselves the Church, embraced states rights and secession. Political and social forces then, and today, prove difficult to extricate from a Spirit-led embrace of the gospel.

That’s what happens, I believe, when conservatives look at father and daughter, face down in the water, and callously insist that they should have never left home, or when liberals see in this pair an indictment of American nationalism and, probably, the evils of Donald Trump.

I have to argue that we do not disqualify ourselves as the Church if we ignore any one of these or a thousand others. On the other hand, R.S. will disqualify herself as a shepherd to her flock if, moved by this event, she does not share her feelings with the congregation.

In the end, the Church needs to take seriously the call to love our neighbors. We need to talk with those with whom we disagree as to what that means. We need to listen to, respect, and consider those other opinions. We need to genuinely open ourselves to the urgings of the Spirit to change our hearts and minds.

Then, I would suggest, can we claim to call ourselves the Church.

Maybe This Shouldn’t Have Survived, Netflix

As an occasional binge-watcher of various shows, I enjoyed the first season of Designated Survivor from its ABC days. The second season certainly declined in quality, but kept me watching. Then ABC killed the show and Netflix picked it up.

Netflix didn’t ruin Longmire when they did the same thing. If anything, the final seasons of that show were better than the A&E seasons. But these days, the streaming juggernaut has determined to make everything as coarse and as politically skewed as possible. Let me give a few examples.

Let’s start with some of the easy pickings. In Season 3, it feels as if DS had a quota of f-bombs to drop. At least twice in the first five episodes, characters have actually commented on their foul language: “Can I talk like that in the White House?” My reply is, “Yes, you can, but you can’t do it in my living room.”

Then there’s the sex. Did we really need the somewhat graphic and decidedly casual gay sex scene between a social-media aide and a Secret Service agent? And what ever happened to Dante’s boyfriend from earlier? I’ve resigned myself to the idea that every show needs a gay character if the executive producers want to be invited to all the right parties, but this scene was excessive and pointless. It was as pointless as the scene with Kiefer on the toilet. I know everybody poops, but I don’t want to watch. We also were treated to the campaign manager Lorraine Zimmer (Julie White) dismissing a bare-butted male prostitute. Did this advance the plot or significantly develop her character? Not hardly.

All of this is enough for me to stop watching, but I did get far enough along to recognize that the politics is just what we’ve come to expect from Netflix’s offerings. There are some nice jabs taken at the press, but that’s about the only redeeming thing. Instead, we’re treated to a series–at least one per episode–of standard 2019 SJW fare. We’ve got your transgender story line to go with immigration, American hypocrisy, racism, sexism, and much, much more.

The producers love to insert brief videos that we’re told were shot unscripted from real people. I don’t doubt that they were, but the shots are obviously cherry-picked, not just for quality but for content. If these videos and the attitudes of Designated Survivor were to be believed, then everybody in America is a libertarian eagerly waiting for the government to fix all the same things. (And yes, I’m aware that my last sentence, just like much of the worldview of DS doesn’t exactly make sense.)

I’ve watched The West Wing twice through. While Aaron Sorkin and I do not share much in the way of political outlook, I respected the nuance and complexity of that show. Yes, it had its bias, but everyone and everything has a bias. At least The West Wing represented the complexity of human interactions and didn’t portray every conservative as a knuckle-dragger.

The closest thing that Designated Survivor gets to nuance is when President Kirkman has a hissy fit about “child marriage” in Saudi Arabia only to discover that many American states allow marriage below the magical age of 18. This plot line–and really, it’s generous to call this a plot line rather than an excuse for polemics–allows for a Saudi diplomat to walk into the Oval Office and lecture the president on all manner of ways that the United States is not measuring up. Frankly, this entire sequence is the strongest argument for why Tom Kirkman really is unfitted for high office.

I would like to believe that the average American is smart enough to see when they’re being manipulated. However, we might be mistaken, if the writers of the show are indicative. In one episode, teacher strikes spread ominously across the land as educators demand “a living wage.” The solution is so simple that we wonder how nobody thought of it before.

President Kirkman gets a bunch of rich foundations to pony up $3 billion, leaving the strikes ended and the stars aligned. Did nobody in the writer’s room do the math? Take that $3 billion and divide it among the nation’s 3.8 million teachers and you can give them a life-changing $833 this year (and nothing next year), leaving no money for the class supplies also demanded. If these supposedly educated writers think that striking teachers can be bought off for a one-time $833 or if American teachers are really that short-sighted, then I worry about the future.

Those Lousy, Greedy CEO Types, Part II

It’s time for me to talk about my boss again.

The president of my college, Johnson County Community College, earns just more than .1 MRE, a monetary measurement I explained yesterday in part one of this post. If you’re not clued in on how all the cool people are talking, then that’s $325,000. Without oversharing, I will state that this is considerably more than they pay me.

But the question really is not whether Dr. Sopcich should earn more than me. I think it’s pretty reasonable that the person at the top of the org chart has the biggest paycheck. The question is whether he earns too much or too little. If I were to argue that this guy, or my direct supervisor or anyone else, makes too much or too little, then it would seem reasonable that I should be able to come up with the Goldilocks number–the one that’s “just right” for this job.

So how much should the president of the largest community college in Kansas earn? How much should someone be given to keep the place solvent and growing and relevant? How much should he receive for putting up with students and taxpayers and trustees and faculty and a host of other sometimes overlapping constituencies? Can you put a number on it?

If you can’t set a number, then how can you say that $325,000 is the wrong number? If you don’t know how the directors at Disney decided that $65.7 million (2.19 MREs) was the right compensation for Robert Iger, if you haven’t a clue how much profit Disney made last year, if you haven’t pored over the latest annual report, then I think you’re forming an opinion based much more on feeling.

Yesterday, I suggested that I would remedy the non-Tune-My-Heart-ish nature of this discussion, so I had better get after it. You see, I don’t really care very much how athletes and singers and actors and CEOs are paid. I do care about the attitudes that people have toward God.

Just like people claim that Mike Trout or Robert Iger are grossly overpaid despite those who opine having very little knowledge to back that up, people like to make judgments about God. You know the type.

  • If God is real, why would He allow so much evil in the world.
  • God must really disapprove of (insert name of country or region) because of the (insert recent disaster).
  • God will have a few choice words for Robert Iger for taking that ridiculous salary!

That’s the sort of self-satisfied conclusion-forming that Job’s friends brought to the table. God’s response is priceless:

Who is this who obscures my counsel
with ignorant words?
Get ready to answer me like a man;
when I question you, you will inform me.
Where were you when I established the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.–Job 38:2-4

Where were you when God established the earth? Do you really have enough knowledge to draw any meaningful conclusion, to reach anything like certainty? If you can’t even tell me how much a Kansas community-college president should earn, how can you pretend to know what the God who created the universe should do?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

Those Lousy, Greedy CEO Types!

This morning I read a piece from the Wall Street Journal comparing the pay of CEOs with various athlete-actor-musician celebrities.Basically, the article, in the form of an infographic, suggested that the top people in each category make a ton of money and that the non-CEOs tend to make more. It prominently displays Howard Stern at $90 million a year with Robert Iger, CEO of Disney at $65.7 million. That’s a lot of money, any way you slice it.

Actually, I have a thought on describing large sums of money. We should say that Stern makes 3 MREs per year, while Iger is just north of 2 MREs a year. An MRE, of course, is not a military field ration but a Mueller Report Expense. The Robert Mueller special counsel investigation reportedly cost American taxpayers $30 million. That’s roughly a dime for every one of us.

Howard Stern’s 3 MRE contract represents 30 cents for every American. Put that way, 3 MREs (or $90 million) doesn’t seem like quite as much.

Do these people get paid too much? To answer that, we need to consider what they add to their companies and to the economy as a whole. If Mike Trout weren’t making $35.5 million or more than an MRE, he’d not only not be drawing people to sit in the seats at Angels Stadium and not helping to sell Angels gear as he clubs home runs for the local team, he’d be helping some other team to win. Is he worth almost 1.2 MREs? That’s a question for Angels’ General Manager Brad Ausmus, who earns considerably less than an MRE each year.

I’m thinking about this question today because of the staggering number of people who hold determined positions on the pay of CEOs, athletes, actors, and so forth. Maybe you’re such a person, the sort of person who has determined opinions on these things but can’t understand that a reduced tax refund doesn’t necessarily indicate higher taxes. Here’s an apparently good but in the end irrelevant such person.


And then there are people who will defend one group of high earners at the expense of the others.

So if you have strong opinions on these matters, then let me ask you a few questions:

  1. How much should the best left-handed starting pitcher in baseball earn?
  2. How much is enough for somebody who presence on a movie poster draws in a considerably larger crowd?
  3. How much is enough for someone who can keep a Walmart moving in the direction of Amazon rather than in the direction of Sears?

These people might be overpaid, but can you prove that they are and quantify by how much? If  not, then perhaps you’re not ready to share such strong opinions.

If this entry doesn’t seem very Tune-My-Heart-ish, that’s by design. Wait until what I have tomorrow.

The End of Gungor

They’re gone. Gungor walks (and plays) the earth no more, and I had no idea. I didn’t even get to send flowers to the funeral.

Last night, my son informed me that one of his musical heroes, Michael Gungor (with wife Lisa), had elected to put an end to their musical project of the last several years, the cleverly named Gungor.

A couple of years ago, in 2017, Michael caused a fair stir by referring to the idea of the blood of Christ being necessary to effect atonement as “horrific.” Precisely, he tweeted this:

I simply think blood sacrifice is a very limited and less than timely metaphor for what the cross can mean in our culture.

My initial thought is that Twitter is a really poor place to lay out anything as complex and transcendent as theology, but Michael went through a series of tweets that made his non-evangelical theology pretty clear if not nuanced. The comment brought about–imagine this–a host of impassioned responses. The artist himself complained “White dudes keep retweeting this with snarky comments.” This led him to attempt to clarify:

To see it as literal and out of context- that God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It’s horrific.

According to my son, the band just couldn’t go on with all the controversy. Perhaps. Perhaps they weren’t getting some of the bookings or ticket sales in the wake of the kerfuffle. Perhaps we should take Michael Gungor at his word on the change:

Gungor feels to us like it’s done what it needed to do. Said what it needed to say.  And now it’s time for something new.

In that same blog post, Michael admits that things have changed.

For the last 4 albums, we’ve sometimes left many of our fans confused or frustrated— “What are they singing about now?” “Do they even believe in Jesus anymore?”…etc But we’ve always tried to stay true to what’s happening in our hearts at the time of recording a record.

Perhaps tellingly, he never answers that or other “belief” questions that he says were posed to him. Perhaps he noticed that nearly all the most-streamed songs on his Spotify page come from those earlier recordings when people did know what they were singing about. From what I can gather, it sounds as if his beliefs have drifted in the direction of what Serene Jones shared in that pre-Easter interview.

Back in 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson left his pastorate at Boston’s Second Church, at least partially because he could not in good faith serve communion that symbolized something in which he no longer believed. While I disagree profoundly with Emerson, I admire his integrity. If Michael Gungor is making a similar move, as I suspect, then I admire his integrity as well. He has every right to believe, to write about, and to sing about anything he likes. He’s an imaginative and talented musician, and a person with a good heart.

When it comes to the blood of Jesus, however, I just have to say that he’s wrong.

Fair winds and following seas, Gungor.

Mr. Ratburn Explains It All

“It’s the end of the world as we know it!” Yes, PBS decided to go full SJW and portray a same-sex marriage on Arthur. I wasn’t aware that there was a character named Mr. Ratburn, but I’m really disturbed that he came out as gay after twenty-plus years and that PBS decided to portray that to the impressionable kids of America.

Or maybe I’m just rolling my eyes and saying, “Ah! It’s the obligatory homosexual character.” Every show pretty much has to have one these days. Relevance to the plot is completely optional. In response to the “coming out,” I actually saw one tweet that complained that Marvel hadn’t done this yet, suggesting that the failure to action indicated that the comic titan doesn’t care about LGBTQ+ lives. Really, how many more people have to die before Marvel will act?!

Although I’m not thrilled with the choices at PBS, what else is new? Knuckle-dragging social conservatives like me should know the world in which we live. And if we think that Mr. Ratburn’s trip down the aisle is going to cause the fall of Western civilization, then we don’t know the much stronger indoctrination that is flowing through our schools.

But here’s where I will complain. Those who applaud the Arthur decision, perhaps heralding it as bold and courageous, probably argue that young people–straight and otherwise–need to see good role models–straight and otherwise–in their media diet. It’s like an African-American kid who never sees African-Americans as teachers or doctors or whatever. I understand that logic.

If that logic is sound, however, I have to wonder if it isn’t similarly vital that we portray Christians in a positive light. Shouldn’t kids–believing and otherwise–be exposed to good Christian role models in movies and TV and the like? Is there an openly Christian character on Arthur? There is a Jewish girl, Francine Frensky, but where should the impressionable young Christian kids go to find a role model?

Honestly, how many Christian characters have come out on mainstream TV or movies? When people are portrayed as Christian, they are typically shown as bigots and haters. At best, they come off as hypocrites and fools. It’s the modern-day version of all those stereotype characters we wouldn’t tolerate today. Seriously, how many such characters can you name? Since many hundreds of characters are portrayed in various productions and since a significant percentage of people identify as Christian, must we assume that Hollywood is just keeping those characters closeted?

Today, a young person is watching television. Between shows, this child wonders, “What’s wrong with me? Am I maybe Christian?” Doesn’t that child deserve to see positive portrayals just as much as the ones who might benefit from Mr. Ratburn?

Surely they do deserve that. Unless, of course, the message is that there’s something shameful and wrong with being a believer.  But that couldn’t be, could it?

Nazis in Canada

Flag burning in Canada? In a small town in Saskatchewan, Caleb Pelletier recently had enough of his neighbor’s Nazi flag, so he tore it down and burned it. The neighbor, being an equal-opportunity fool, also flew a Confederate flag, which apparently didn’t incur enough of Pelletier’s wrath to receive the same treatment.

Given that Canadians suffered nearly 100,000 casualties, including 42,000 deaths in World War II, one can imagine that the wounds might be raw when seeing that flag. But Pelletier’s reaction leaves me asking a question. What level of offense do we require before we have the right to tear something off our neighbor’s house and burn it?

The Confederate flag–which is a bizarre thing to have flying in Canada to my mind–apparently did not rise to that threshold, but perhaps someone else might have felt more strongly about it.

And what precisely factors into this offense? Was Pelletier driven by the local angle, knowing that Canadians died trying to defeat the forces who flew that flag? Was he motivated by the broader humanity of it, knowing that the Nazis led to the deaths of perhaps 10 million people total?

Would he have been justified in ripping down an old-school Soviet flag? A People’s Republic of China flag? What about a Japanese or Italian flag? How high does someone’s outrage need to bubble before boiling over into action?

I live just a few miles east of the Missouri-Kansas border, where a real-live shooting war was underway nearly a decade before the official beginning of the Civil War. Can I justify being triggered by my neighbor’s Kansas state flag because many Missourians in my area were deprived of their Civil rights under Order Number 11? Or might someone near my place of employment (in Kansas) look at my license plate and rip it from my car because of Quantrill’s murderous raid on Lawrence, Kansas? Of course that’s silly, right? The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, but then World War II ended more than 75 years ago. How long do we get to hold onto our grievances?

Back in Canada, the mental midget who flew Nazi and Confederate flags over his house might reasonably argue, “What harm does a flag do?” And it really doesn’t do any harm, does it? Shouldn’t we be able to see offensive things without attacking them? And if not, then we’re back to deciding how big the offense needs to be.

This is a tough matter to solve. I want to respect the rights of someone I disagree with but I want to live in a non-hostile community. What’s a thoughtful person to do? I find my guidance from Paul:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.–Romans 12:17-18

While I hold some unpopular opinions and am offended by other unpopular opinions, I don’t think I’m justified in inflicting my ideas onto others. It’s like this blog. If my words offend you, then you can turn from them.

Facebook for a Brave New Century

Five billion Facebook users will be dead by 2100? Is that really a headline worth noting? There are, at present, about 7.5 billion people in the world. With 81 years to the end of the century, it’s a good bet that the majority of those 7.5 billion will be dead. Since Facebook users are supposed to be 13 to sign up, that means that someone now on the service who survives to 2100 will have to be at least 94.

Of course, Facebook’s market penetration is pretty impressive with roughly one-third of the earth’s inhabitants in the user pot. If we just assume that 95% of these 2.38 billion Facebookers will die in the next 81 years, then we get 2.26 billion dead Facebook accounts. With lots of people signing up every day, some of whom will probably die over the next eight decades, it’s not that surprising that the intrepid researchers at Oxford University, came up with this figure.

I don’t blame social scientists for doing this sort of calculating, but I do think it is rather silly for media outlets to treat it as if it were news. And they did on CNBC, Digital Trends, CNET, and many others, although many of them obsessed about the “dead outnumbering the living” aspect.

It’s not news for a lot of reasons.

  • First, it is made to seem like a unique piece of information. But there will be even more deceased (one-time) users of cell phones in 2100. There will, by necessity, be more deceased Internet users. In the U.S., there will be hundreds of millions of dead WalMart shoppers. And there will almost certainly be more dead than active print newspapers. (Okay, that was a cheap shot.)
  • Second, projections are foolish. The best forecasts are the ones made after the fact. To assume that mortality rates will hold about steady might be correct. To assume that population growth can be predicted is probably less certain. To believe that Facebook will be adding (and watching the mortality of) users in 2050 or 2075 like they are in 2019 is just absurd. If you doubt that, run some “predictions” based on 1950 numbers of shoppers at Sears by 2020.
  • Third, the current 2.38 billion Facebook accounts is a little suspect. Of the 7.5 billion earthlings, about 1.3 billion live in China and are out of bounds for Facebook. That leaves 6.2 billion available. When roughly 23% of the world’s population is under 13, the potential users fall to about 4.6 billion. Therefore, Facebook already has over half of available people signed up? I’m thinking there are some phony accounts or a few million.
  • Fourth, the suggestion that Facebook will have more dead than live users by 2100 is a little ridiculous. People who post on Grandma’s account just after her death notwithstanding, there are no dead Facebook users. By the way, there are far more dead inhabitants of cemeteries than live ones.

Facebook is not an afterlife. Honestly, social media is not all that fulfilling of a hear-and-now life, but that’s a topic for another day.

And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment—so also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. –Hebrews 9:27-28

By the way, current projections of Tunemyheart activity suggest that I will have posted 30,870 additional entries by December 31, 2100. Hold me to that!