On Wednesday evenings around the country, many churches hold mid-week services or children’s programs, or bible studies. Sometimes, all three. A few weeks ago, a pastor was leading one of those Bible studies when a visitor came into the church and sat in on the group. He was welcomed to join in. He requested to sit next to the pastor, and so he did.

An hour passed by with readings from the Bible and discussion, perhaps about what the text meant, perhaps about how to apply it personally. Even, perhaps, asking for the visitor’s thoughts, though I would imagine that the group, not wishing to create an awkward situation, probably didn’t push him to participate in an unfamiliar setting, content to let him listen in, and yet willing to let him speak should he want to.

I don’t know what was discussed, or what the passage was that was the topic of the evening, but the visitor later said that the people were very nice to him. So nice, he said, that he almost … almost … didn’t do what he had come there to do. But in the end, he did, and when he was done, the pastor and 8 others had been shot dead.

Dylann Roof had come there to start a race war; to start an uprising that would supposedly boil over into a full-blown conflict.

At this point, we can only guess what he imagined the sequence of events would be leading to that war. Certainly he had seen the news reports about riots in the streets in other cities when a white man killed a black man, so it’s conceivable that he thought his actions would create the same situation, only more violent, because unlike many of those other instances, these would be killings that were obviously pre-mediated, with no other explanation than hatred. He wouldn’t have any self-defense case. He wouldn’t be a cop who may, or may not, have thought his life was in danger. No, nothing would be murky about this. This would be a clear cut case of racially-motivated murder, possibly causing an even more violent reaction than those previously.

But all his plans were taken apart piece by piece, because of who he targeted. He targeted those who believed that you should love your enemies, and pray for those that hurt you. He targeted those who believe that the merciful are blessed. He targeted those who are told to forgive as freely as they themselves have been forgiven.

He targeted a Christian Bible study. And while he was committing those acts of hatred, of malice, of evil, he had no idea that he was also opening up the floodgates of the love that those he killed professed. Those that survived, and hundreds of others in Charleston, though undeniably hurting, expressed that love to him. A reporter covering the crowd that stood outside the arraignment had a difficult time keeping his composure in the face of such love.

Inside the proceedings, instead of acrimony and hatred, surviving family members expressed the forgiveness that the evil had certainly not expected.

I would like to note that the faith community in other cities with unrest – Baltimore, Cleveland, and others – did take a stand and tried to calm and heal the tensions in their area, sometimes meeting with gangs to come to a truce, sometimes with special services for those in need because of the riots. But because there were riots, they got the headlines, and the tweets, and the Facebook posts. But in Charleston, riots didn’t happen, so they didn’t mask what good things were happening.

So now it can be seen, and it is surprising, amazing and, dare I say, perplexing many who see the love of God in action. It’s been there, perhaps in the background, not grabbing the front page, but it’s been there nonetheless.

There are those that believe that God, or even just religion, isn’t necessary to express this kind of love. We can, so the idea goes, work this up within ourselves without any help, because the capacity is clearly there in people. I would say that, yes, the capacity is there, because we are made in the image of God, and since God is love, we too have that ability. But while we, within ourselves, might be able to approximate the appearance of such a love, it is but a dirty reflection of what is truly possible. If, instead, we let, not our love, but God’s love shine through us, that’s when you’ll see what it really looks like, and it will be surprising, amazing, and perplexing.

Some will ask, “Where was God? Why wasn’t He protecting His church?” That question has been asked many times, in many situations, throughout history. Perhaps one of the earliest examples of an answer to this comes from a man who was sold into slavery by his brothers. Through a series of events, over the course of years, he became second in command of the biggest economic power of his time. And in that position, was able to return good for evil, and save his family from a major catastrophe. You may recognize the Biblical story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. Or you may recognize the musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. Either way, when his brothers felt extremely uncomfortable in the presence of the one they hurt, Joseph forgives them, telling them that, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done…” We don’t always get to see the big picture – we may not live to see the big picture – but for those who trust Him, God uses the evil to work out the good. Dylann Roof intended to start a race war. He failed because God’s people let Him shine through them.

If you’re wondering how such forgiveness and love can really happen, I have a suggestion. Somewhere near you, very likely, is a church. Now, you don’t have to jump in completely to their Sunday service. You might just want to test the waters. Try getting your feet wet at, perhaps, a Wednesday night Bible study. One of those almost stopped a gunman filled with hate. Imagine what it could do for you.

    Jenner’s Gender; Genetics and Psychology

    The Bruce Jenner that I grew up knowing about, who was the Olympian’s Olympian back in the day, has transitioned, he says, into a woman, and wishes to be called Caitlyn. Where to begin?

    Well let’s begin enumerating what I don’t know about this. I don’t know at all what he’s going through, and I don’t want to pretend that I do. I acknowledge that my comments in this episode will come from a position of ignorance on that point.

    I also don’t know for sure, speaking as a Christian, whether or not what he’s done is a sin. I suppose that there could be something that could be found that could be said to speak to this situation, but frankly I don’t think that determination is very helpful at this point in time. It will be something that should be considered (because of all questions this bring up, that is the eternal one), but for now I have no plans to address that here.

    In fact, I don’t plan on addressing Bruce Jenner at all in this episode, other than to say that God loves you, and for whatever it’s worth, I love you and respect you, too. What I want to tackle in this episode is society’s reaction to transgenderism in general, using Jenner’s example as a launching point.

    Let me define a term first. The term is “body dysmorphia”. Wikipedia calls it, “a disorder that involves belief that one’s own appearance is unusually defective and is worthy of being hidden or fixed.” The Medical Dictionary calls it, “a mental disorder characterized by a perceived defect in one’s physical appearance or in a part of the body.” The typical examples of this are “anorexia”, where people (usually, but not exclusively, women) believe their body is too big, and “muscle dysmorphia”, sometimes referred to as “bigarexia”, where people (typically men) believe that their body is not big and muscular enough. Those are the typical examples, but the definitions point to a more general disorder where your body is not what you think it ought to be.

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      If You Knew Then What You Know Now…

      A number of Republican candidates for President are being asked a question that I’d like to pose to you. This is a hypothetical that is really trying to “Monday morning quarterback” decisions from the past, but let’s try this exercise.

      If you knew then what you know now, would you have invaded? Now remember, at the time, the country was run by an iron fist, a guy who was killing his own people, partly because they were of the wrong religion, but partly just to keep himself in power. He had also already shown a propensity for invading and occupying his neighbors, so this wasn’t some tin pot despot talking big but not actually doing anything.

      But it’s not just what was known before the war; would you have gone in if you knew what would happen after the war? What if you knew that, when the war was over, something even worse would rear it’s heard? And that this group would also butcher people under its control. It would have an expansionist agenda, trying to grab as much vital territory from other countries as it could.

      It’s not really fair to judge decisions of the past based on information from the present, but the media seem to enjoy posing this question to the Republicans, as though a particular answer from them, with knowledge from the present, would show that their decisions from the past were “ill-informed”. The answer to the question is of little use, but they demand an answer to it, so I’m posing it to you as well. What do you think? Should we have invaded … Germany? Read the rest of this entry

        How One-Party Rule Has Affected Cities

        A few thoughts on this particular subject.

        Chicago, Illinois; the safest city in the US because of its strict gun control laws. Heh, no, not really. It’s got some of the highest gun crime in the country in spite of, or perhaps because of, it’s strict gun control laws. Gun control is one of those things that liberals insist works in spite of the reality to the contrary.

        Here’s another: in spite of Chicago being a liberal paradise – not having a single Republican governor for over 80 years since 1931 – somehow the city’s economy is crumbling. It’s Democrats who keep insisting that they, and not Republicans, know how to bring the poor out of their situation, and believe that if we only spend enough money on a problem, it’ll get solved by government. And yet Moody’s Investor Service, which rates, among other things, the municipal bonds of cities, has downgraded Chicago’s credit rating to junk level. It also said that the city’s future outlook is negative, which I guess means that someday the credit rating could drop to “extra junk”, “junkier”, or maybe “double secret junk”.

        I’ve mentioned Detroit, Michigan in the past. They’ve had Democratic mayors since 1962; about 30 years less than Chicago, but still over half a century. And yet the economy and infrastructure have seen better days. The city of Baltimore, Maryland was in the headlines for riots over the death of a black youth in police custody, and the state of its economy came to the fore during that; an economy where poverty was still rampant. And its mayors? Only 1 Republican since 1947.

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          What’s Your Opinion of Opinion Polling?

          The science of polling the general public has had its good and bad times, and it appears it’s going through one of those rough patches at the moment. A friend of mine refers to polls as “cricket races”; basically a snapshot of where things are in a particular race, that has as much bearing on our lives as a race amongst crickets. If it’s a slow news day, release the results from a poll, and call it news.

          Some might put the word “science” in the phrase “science of polling” in scare quotes, not convinced that it’s much of a science at all. I do have some respect for those whose lives are in various statistical occupations. It seems like a black art, but, for example, one pharmaceutical client I worked for years ago had a Quality Assurance group that tested the products coming into the warehouse before they could be shipped out, and they explained quite a bit to me.  I couldn’t relate what they said now – I really can’t remember it all – but basically, given a good random sample, they could give you a good reading on whether or not the batch that just came in was good enough to ship out. Yeah, the only way to be totally sure was to test it all, but to get close enough to 100% sure without going overboard, there was a lot of science backing up their procedures.

          Sampling people, on the other hand, is nowhere near as straightforward as sampling pharmaceuticals. People can say one thing, and yet do another. Which apparently happened in a big way over in the UK recently, when the conservative Tories trounced the liberal Labor Party in national elections, gaining their first outright majority since 1992. This even though Nate Silver, the US polling expert, had a look at all the UK polls and proclaimed that a Tory win of a majority of seats in Parliament was “vanishingly small when the polls closed – around 1 in 500.”

          So much for that prediction. But the predictive value of polls is lessened when the pollsters themselves hide some of their results. It happened in the UK, and it happens quite a bit, apparently. No pollster wants to publish results that wind up being way out of line with those from other polls. No one wants to be the outlier, but that’s what happened in the UK. A last-minute poll by one group got the percentages virtually dead on to what the voting results were, but they didn’t publish it, “chickening out”, as the group’s CEO explained. It’s a herd mentality that we see in news coverage as well.

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            Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

            The state of Indiana has come under fire for passing their version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA, as it’s called, was passed in response to court cases that eroded First Amendment protections of the exercise of religion. Religious freedom used to be judged on a case-by-case basis, considering whether each law had specific exemptions for religious groups. Charles Schumer, Democratic Senator from New York, introduced a bill in 1993 to set a standard on how religious freedom cases should be considered; using the same standard that another First Amendment protection – freedom of speech – was adjudicated. I’ll get to the details of that standard in a moment. The bill passed the US Senate 97-3, and by acclamation in the House. Bill Clinton signed it on November 16, 1993. Today, that same action at the state level is being called “bigoted” by Democrats.

            States have been doing this ever since a Supreme Court decision said that the federal RFRA didn’t apply to the states. Most of the states that have one use language identical to the one Clinton signed. But while religious freedom used to be supported by Democrats, the rise of a particular protected class (and reliable Democratic voting bloc) changed all that; homosexuals. Once again, as we have seen so many times, politics trumps everything else for the Left, even, apparently, the Bill of Rights.

            The fear being stoked is that this will allow Christian businesses to turn away gays just for being gay. Here are a couple of articles that are lists of frequently asked questions about the Indiana RFRA, and they explain, no, that sort of discrimination is not protected. If a Christian denies service to someone simply because they are gay, on the grounds that it’s a sin according to Christian doctrine, you would have a tough time proving those religious grounds in court. According to Christianity, we are all sinners. None of us are perfect. So that business owner would have to deny service to everyone, including him- or herself.

            Participation, one way or another, in a same-sex marriage ceremony has been the typical cause of contention. And all of the examples that I’ve seen that have been taken to court are regarding business owners that would bake cakes, take pictures, or arrange flowers for a gay customer for any purpose other than a same-sex wedding ceremony. This is most definitely not discrimination against gays because they’re gay. It is, however, a religious objection to a ceremony that the business owner does not wish to participate in.

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              It’s milestone time! Episode 100 of the Consider This Podcast has been released; conservative commentary in 10 minutes or less. (OK, but since this is a special occasion, that time limit has gone out the window.)

              Well, I made it all the way to episode 100! If you’ve been listening, thanks so much. If you haven’t, might as well start now.

              I start out the show with greetings and feedback from listeners. Yes, there are people out there actually listening to this, and I appreciate it very much.

              Then we take a trip back to Camelot, as Mark Twain’s character did in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. In that book, there is a short chapter about … economics. No, really. And it’s trying to teach a lesson that, over a hundred years later, we’re still having to relearn.

              Let me know your thoughts on these or other subjects. Click on the link for the show notes and ways to send your feedback, including calling 267-CALL-CT-0 (267-225-5280) or emailing considerthis@ctpodcasting.com. Subscribe to the podcast in iTunesStitcherBlubrry, or Player.fm.

                Q&A on Today’s Supreme Court Case on ObamaCare

                (Yes, it’s been a while since I blogged here. I’ve been busy with my podcast “Consider This”. However, I just had to come out of blogging semi-retirement to comment on this.)

                Being argued today at the high court is King v Burwell, a lawsuit against ObamaCare (also known in some circles as the Affordable Care Act). This is a set of questions and answers that I imagine many people have about this.

                Q: What is this case all about?

                A: The crux of the issue is a 4-word phrase inside the massive law; “established by the States”. The subsidies supplied by the IRS, according to the text of the law, were to only go to those who applied for insurance via exchanges “established by the States”. If they used the federal exchange (HealthCare.gov), that is not “established by the States” so the subsidies wouldn’t apply.

                That’s according to the plain language of the law, and according to Jonathan Gruber, a major influence in the creation of the law.

                What happened was that the IRS gave out subsidies to those without state exchanges anyway. The lawsuit is saying that the government broke the law in doing so.

                Q: What case is the government making?

                A: That the rest of the law, taken as a whole, makes it clear that withholding subsidies from those who didn’t get their insurance via exchanges “established by the States” was not the intent.

                Q: Does it actually say in the law somewhere, specifically, that those people should get subsidies?

                A: Not that I’ve read. In fact, those articles I’ve seen that have written in defense of the subsidies (like this article by Robert Schlesinger in USA Today) don’t cite any other text that would buttress that opinion. Rather, they argue about the results if the subsidies were overturned.

                To me, that sounds like they’re arguing that a law should say what the implementers want it to say, regardless of what the law itself says. That’s a precedent I don’t think we want to create. For example, if a Republican President vetoes legislation, and a Democratic Congress overrides that veto, is the President free to implement the provisions of the law he or she likes and ignore others? I’d say No, and I think those arguing for the ObamaCare interpretation would agree with me if the parties today were reversed.

                The IRS did issue a ruling saying that they would, in fact, give subsidies to those in states without exchanges, but as far as I’m aware, the IRS is not part of the legislative branch.

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                  Widespread Adult Stem Cells

                  Adult stem cells may be more plentiful than we thought.

                  With the plethora of research and published studies on stem cells over the last decade, many would say that the definition of stem cells is well established and commonly agreed upon. However, a new review article appearing in the July 2014 issue of The FASEB Journal , suggests that scientists have only scratched the surface of understanding the nature, physiology and location of these cells. Specifically, the report suggests that embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells may not be the only source from which all three germ layers in the human body (nerves, liver or heart and blood vessels) can develop. The review article suggests that adult pluripotent stem cells are located throughout the body and are able to become every tissue, provided these cells receive the right instructions.

                  No need for the ethical minefield that are embryonic stem cells.

                    What Works and What Doesn’t: Health Care

                    (This is part of the script for the latest episode of my podcast, "Consider This!". You can listen to it on the website, or subscribe to it in iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Blubrry, Player.fm, or the podcast app of your choice.)

                    Liberal columnist Ezra Klein, writing in the Washington Post, June of 2009:

                    If you ordered America’s different health systems worst-functioning to best, it would look like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration.

                    Yeah, he really said that, and it was obviously untrue back then. But that didn’t stop his love of socialized medicine. Here he is again in 2011:

                    The thing about the Veteran’s Administration’s health-care system? It’s socialized. Not single payer. Not heavily centralized. Socialized. As in, it employs the doctors and nurses. Owns the hospitals. And though I think there’s some good reason to believe its spending growth is somewhat understated — it benefits heavily from medical trainees, for instance — accounting for that difference still means a remarkable recent performance.

                    He also called the VA system, “the program is one of the most remarkable success stories in American public policy.” Of course now everyone’s saying that the system has been awful for decades, so you can’t blame Obama for it. While that’s certainly true, you can blame liberal pundits who have been trying to suggest for years that the performance of the VA means that ObamaCare ought to work. It seems like they’ll say anything to get their policies enacted. Never mind reality.

                    And they’re making the same claim as a certain presidential candidate did 6 years or so ago. So in a sense, you can blame the President for foisting on us a system based on one that was, and is, a money pit and an abject failure, and which is utterly dishonest about those failures. They can, or should, be able to see what works and what doesn’t, but I guess Obama is going with the idea that this time, it’s gonna’ work.

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