Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Good New Days

Periodically, I get an email that is making the circuit, reminiscing in a “Pleasantville” sort of way about halcyon days gone by, when movies cost a nickel and nobody had to worry about locking their doors, when the harshest word on television was “Gee whiz” and nobody had ever heard of AIDS. Merle Haggard would be proud.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the language and the subject matter on television are dangerous. We eat too much fast food. The internet brings much bad with its good. Our political debate, with its talk show extremism and unwillingness to accept the truth when it is placed in front of our eyes on certified public documents, is depressing. Casual public immorality, STDs, the pandemic of divorce, and the level of disrespect for what I would call basic values are distressing.

Still, I think the status quo has a lot going for it. I am excited to be raising teenagers in this era. The opportunities that abound dwarf what was available for me, much less for my grandparents. Health is much better, wealth is significantly greater, and educational horizons are exponentially beyond what the “Leave It to Beaver” generation could have reasonably anticipated.

To reduce this thought to a microcosm, consider how I spent my day today so far. Let me catalog for you – not in a Twitter “here is what I am having for breakfast” kind of way – how I have spent the three and a half hours I have been awake. I am struck by how I routinely conduct my life today in ways that would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago, much less in the 1950s.

I was awakened by an alarm on a clock with a digital readout. I did not have to wind the clock. I was able to press a “snooze” button which automatically programmed the alarm to reset and sound again nine minutes later.

I did not have to worry about having enough hot water for my shower.

I pressed a button so that my garage door would open and pressed another button so my car would start, without my having to turn the ignition with a key. On the way to the airport, I listened to ESPN radio, where I heard discussion about a basketball game. I did not have to wait for details about the game, because I had been able to watch it live, in high-definition color, last night. Instead, I heard analysts from five or six different locations offer opinions and anecdotes about the teams.

If snooze buttons and national sports radio do not sound vital, keep reading.

I interrupted listening to the radio broadcast to make a couple of phone calls while I was driving. I did not have to take my hands off the steering wheel to do this, however, because I could simply push one button and then speak to the microphone invisibly planted somewhere in my car. The calls went through flawlessly. One of the calls was to the airline, where a disembodied voice told me to which terminal I needed to drive to catch my flight.

When I arrived at the airport, so that I will remember where I parked my car, I pulled a portable telephone out and used it to take a picture (!) of the sign indicating the section of the parking lot where I was. I did not have a ticket for the airplane, but that was OK. I walked up to a small machine and typed in a number. Shortly, the machine gave me a piece of paper that allowed me to move through security and later board the plane. The security process involved my sending my bags through one machine and walking through another. Nobody touched me, and I was through the entire process – which included a longer line today than usual – in about ten minutes.

While waiting to board my plane, I read, on a small device I keep attached to my belt, about twenty communications – we used to call them “letters” when they arrived on paper – sent to me by friends and work colleagues this morning. I was able to answer them and send my responses within minutes of when they had been sent to me; in one case, a colleague and I exchange seven letters in the space of about twenty minutes. On the same device, I checked into what is called a “social network” site long enough to catch up on the goings on of about seventy-five of my friends in about nine states.

Still using the same device, I read an editorial from the Los Angeles Times and two articles written by recognized scholars, one in Dallas and one in Louisville.

When the time came, I boarded the plane, showing the airline employee the piece of paper I had gotten out of the little machine when I arrived at the airport. (That is the only piece of paper I have touched for the whole morning other than a napkin.) Now I sit in my seat, typing this essay on a portable machine with capabilities that would have required a large room to hold fifteen years ago.

I was not "dehumanized" by this technology; I was simply helped out. I still read books, talk to people face to face, walk around in the sunshine, smell flowers, and pat the heads of puppies.

Yes, there is much about today that is not as good as “it used to be.” But there is also much today that makes life so much better. That is worth acknowledging.

OK, now I am going to shut down this computer and turn on my portable DVD player, which is plugged into a small outlet in my airline seat. I will listen through noise-canceling earphones.

And I will watch an episode or two of “Magnum PI,” a show from back in the good old days.

Monday, May 16, 2011

News for Readers of Blogarithmic Expressions

I am pleased and excited to announce the publication of my new book, In the Court of the Master: An Ordinary Man's Walk with an Extraordinary God . For those of you who regularly read this blog, the style and subjects of my book will be familiar. I have chosen my practice of law as a motif on which to build a discussion of some of the questions that face both us Christians who wonder about facets of our faith and non-Christians who are curious what this whole "church" thing is all about.

Here is the blurb my publisher wrote: "In the Court of the Master: An Ordinary Man's Walk with an Extraordinary God is an examination and exaltation of the Christian life from the perspective of a practicing attorney. Taking images and language fresh from the courtroom, Robbins provides a unique perspective on living with Christ. The author is not only familiar with legal terminology and understanding, he also possess a thorough knowledge of Christian hymnody and contemporary culture. In the Court of the Master will provide the reader with a better understanding of what it means to live before the only Judge who truly matters."

I hope you will be interested in reading the book. The easiest way to get it is to go to my new website, www.LynRobbins.com, and click on the "Order Lyn's book" tab. You can also order it through Amazon.com. I don't know yet what stores (if any) will stock it on shelves. There will be a Kindle and a Nook version at some point - they may be ready now, I am just not sure. My hope is that the book will be interesting to you and will be something that you can share with others who may be asking some of these same questions. I also hope that it will open some doors for me to speak to churches and groups and congregations, so if you know of any...

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this note of shameless advertisement. If you have questions, you can email me at Lyn@LynRobbins.com.

Mixed Emotions, Two Weeks Later

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog here that has gotten more reaction than almost anything else I have written. The reaction has not come from only one side.

Some of my friends have shaken their heads and wondered where my sudden "liberal angst" was coming from. Why would I worry about patriotic Americans celebrating military victory?

Some of my other friends have wondered why I hesitated at all in the blog. How could I possibly understand anyone celebrating the death of any human being under any circumstances?

It tempts me to take the earlier blog down, but that would be the chicken way out. I wrote that in the heat of the moment. So I think it is fair for me to come back now and ask if my reactions are different.

Well, we know more facts now. It looks as if, in fact, there was no wife-as-a-shield, and it looks as if there was not the "firefight" that was initially reported.

On the other hand, I am becoming more and more convinced that the vast majority of those celebrating were reflecting on a military victory in a way much like many celebrations of our past, from Bull Run to VE Day.

So here is my take now. I have no problem with the military action. I have no problem with those who celebrate our military victory.

Where I think my reaction was justified was with those who have - or appear to have - blood lust for an individual. The word I used in my original blog was "giddy" - some of those whose celebration approached "Ding Dong! The witch is dead!" appeared to me to be bloodthirsty. The celebrations of some seemed to me to be bloodthirsty, kind of like some fans of football or Nascar or hockey who seem to be there just to see the bloodshed or the fight.

I know that was not most of you. I know that exultation in this great turn in the War on Terror is not an unChristian act.

All I meant to do was express a view that I felt - and that I still feel - that perhaps the worst part of war is this emotion that is brought out in some of us to revel in the blood sport. As I said in the original email, that should give us pause.

That is my only point, but I still believe it. Once we have paused and evaluated why we feel the way we do, we can move on. But we ought at least to think about it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Cost of Doing the Right Thing

Interesting story on the cover of today's USA Today. It seems that churches who want to practice forgiveness are running into resistence from their attorneys and insurance companies.

This caught my attention. I am, among other things, my church's attorney. I am called upon to give advice about things like liability for the church. When asked, I advise the church on what actions might expose the church to liability.

That is a legal opinion. When I advise a business, I expect the business leaders to take my legal advice and apply business judgment to it in order to decide what to do. It is not different for the church. I give a legal opinion and expect the church to apply the church's collective judgment in deciding what to do.

The story in the paper is about a church who had a staff member who sexually abused some girls in the church. The church is apologizing and publicly accepting some of the blame. The church's insurers are apparently apoplectic. The article quotes a number of people about the "widespread issue" of churches taking actions in violation of the wishes of their attorneys and insurers.

I say good for them. Of course actions of a church are often going to be costly. Nobody ever said anything different. The insurers and the attorneys are right to say that taking responsibility and offering an apology is bad from a liability standpoint.

So what? Since when is doing the right thing governed by the cost?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mixed Emotions

Osama bin Laden was a very, very bad man. He was responsible for more evil than virtually anybody else we have seen in decades. Certainly he was in the same league with Milosovic and Pol Pot in character if not in sheer numbers. He had blood on his hands.

Still, it is hard for me to be totally joyful about a sniper's bullet to the brain killing a human being.

I understand just war. I understand self-defense and defense-of-nation and defense of all that is good. The man had to be eliminated from the world stage, and it needed to have been done years ago.

Still, I was much happier with the capture and trial of Saddam Hussein. There is just something about that intentional sniper's bullet to the brain.

As the news comes in, it is becoming clear that capture was an option given to bin Laden, who instead chose to grab a weapon and apparently use one of his wives as a shield.

My politics tell me this was a great thing. My national pride tells me this was a great thing. My cold examination of the world stage now vs. eighteen hours ago tells me this was a great thing.

What I am finding interesting is the spectrum of reactions within the Christian world. On one hand are many of my friends who join in the national celebration. I have read the words of those who have confidently pronounced last night's killing to have been God's judgment. On the other hand, I read the words of a young friend - a college student at the top of her inquisitive game - as she asks if God can ever be pleased by a murder. I resonate with the words of Father James Martin, who says, in the midst of his joy that bin Laden has left the world, "[a]s a Christian, though, I can never rejoice at the death of a human being, no matter how monstrous he was." For many, intentional and directed killing of an individual is more than a little troublesome.

I tossed and turned last night. Not so much at the act of killing bin Laden, for I know that war has its own rules, and when we find a cruel and evil person of this magnitude - who has lived to destroy... who revels in beheadings... who is trying to shoot back - we have little alternative. War is not murder, no matter how well-meaning my young university friend and her honest questioning may be.

No, I did not lose sleep over the demise of bin Laden. I tossed and turned at the reactions of so many who were celebrating. Reading the Facebook posts of Christian friends who were positively giddy at the thought of the death of another human being is a sobering experience.

I am not saying that they were wrong. I am not suggesting that they are bad Christians. I am simply trying to process the thought of such exuberance over any human being's taking a bullet to the brain.

I know the reactions this blog will draw from many. Please understand that I understand the necessity of eliminating this kind of enemy. If it could not have been done the same way we got Saddam, then so be it. War is hell. And this war is different from any we have fought before; instead of a nation-state enemy whose corporate defeat can be easily celebrated in an impersonal way, we now fight a collection of individuals. We choose to treat them not as criminals with basic rights to be observed but instead as military targets. I don't know another way to protect ourselves. This war becomes Hell-plus. If you comment on this page and say that ridding the world of Osama bin Laden was worth any moral price, I am unlikely to disagree.

That is not my point. My point is only that such revelry in the death of another person - another creation, no matter how flawed and how guilty, of the Father - ought to give us pause.