Dehumanizing

I’ve noticed of late how easy it becomes to dehumanize people. A couple of things got me thinking about this. First of all, I have been talking to my wife, Rochelle, about theology, professors and the culture of critique that is inherent in the academy and the church; how most professors and preachers I know can deconstruct anything and tell you the missteps any other theologian or practitioner have made in their thinking. Second, I recently posted a comment on a friend’s blog about what I believe is the harsh, cruel and dehumanizing treatment of contestants on the audition episodes of American Idol.

It all reminds me of an episode of The West Wing, when Toby is speaking to President Bartlett about the difficulties the president had as a child with his father. As Toby attacks Bartlett’s dad, the president responds, “Can we talk about my father with a little respect? He was my father, not some Dicken’s character.”

What he was saying is that when people aren’t in the room, when we don’t have to deal with them face-to-face we turn them into something other than human. For the aforementioned professors, as well as armchair theologians and intellectual elites, a person becomes what they write or say – or what the reader interprets they wrote or said. I can hear the discussion now, “Have you read so-in-so? He totally misses this,” or “Such-in-such has no idea about ______.” People somehow cease being humans with families and hopes and dreams, with a bright future and terrible foibles, and simple become an object for others to judge, criticize, or toss aside.

Take those American Idol kids. They stand in line for days, and sing for any number of talent scouts before moving along. Most are sent home! Only the best and the worst are allowed to enter the inner sanctum for Randy, Paula and Simon and the TV cameras. They’ve been passed up the line, their delusions of talent only spurned on be the actions of others. Why? So they can get into the room with the judges to be belittled and ridiculed. Can you imagine the sheer heartbreak, after believing you can sing and having producers of American Idol pass you up the line, only to be called “horrible, awful” or “the worst singer ever?”

A community of people can only come to the point of performing this cruelty on one another when we get to the point that people are no longer people; when they become objects! They have been dehumanized! No longer that creation that Psalm 8 proclaims is “crowned with glory.”

I wonder what might happen if the next time I was setting my jaw to deride someone if I thought about their family, their fears, their hurts, their hopes and their dreams. What would happen if, regardless of what their gifts are and are not, I saw them as fearfully and wonderfully made?

I think in that moment, they would become more human to me and I would become a little more human too.

Change and the Golf Room

Today is my friend, Melanie’s birthday. I kind of feel sorry for her. She was scheduled to participate in our church’s Women’s Bible Study and then have lunch with my wife and another woman they both respect a great deal. Alas, it was for naught, because icy streets in and around Houston have kept nearly everyone at home. I know from experience that spending your birthday alone — and in her case, chasing after a 4 year-old and toddler to boot — is no fun!

Yesterday she was recounting to me the surprise gathering that was thrown in her honor of her 30th birthday a few years ago. During the group’s time together, some of the “older” women shared “what the wish they knew at 30.” Melanie’s mom said to her “Don’t be afraid of change.” That’s good advice, I think.

I am frequently vocally advocating some kind of change, yet sometimes I find myself as resistant to changes as anyone could be. Today is one of those days.

My wife and I are expecting our second daughter in three weeks. I’m excited, yet hesitant. This afternoon my wife began clearing out the guest room — or as we call it, the “golf room.” As well as housing guest, this room housed my golf clubs, golf magazines, and my other golf related items. My friend, Kraig, and I painted the room a nice pale green and hung golf related pictures on the wall soon after we moved into our home. But my golf game took a back seat to parenthood after our first daughter was born three years ago. In fact I have only played three rounds of golf in over three years. As someone has said, “No scratch golfer has ever been Father of the Year.” Cleaning out “the golf room,” in some ways, signals the end of an era, a change. There was a time in my life when I went to the driving range a couple of times a week and played a round of golf on my day off. Now those days are filled with coloring, playing at the park, riding the carousel at the mall, and a host of other Daddy-Daughter related events.

And you know what, the change has been good! I adore watching my daughter grow up and see in her eyes the childlike faith that believes Daddy can do anything and knows that — as she frequently says — “God is taking care of us.” And I love seeing my wife’s belly growing larger and larger as our new baby get ready to, as Malia says, “come out.”

So this weekend, my golf stuff will move from “never-used” status to “storage” status. But soon that room will house something far more beautiful, glorious, and powerful.

And the upside is this, when the moment comes that I’ll have the time and money to play golf again, by the time my two girls are able to join me as I walk the links, it’ll be time for a new set of golf clubs. It’s a no lose situation!

Possibility Thinkers

The people that inspire me most are “possibility thinkers.” These folks truly look at what is not and create. To me, Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple, Inc. has always been one of those people. 30 years ago venture capitalists asked him, “Why would anyone need a home computer?” Few of us can live without one now.

He is a possibility thinker. He is the speaker of one of my favorite quotes. In an attempt to bring on Pepsi Executive John Sculley in the early 80′s, Jobs famously said, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world.” For a time, that quote was written in my office as a way to remind me that my business is supposed to be world-changing.

I think the church needs a healthy does of possibility thinkers. Anyone can tell you why something won’t work. It takes special people to dream big dreams and pursue meaningful ideas. Jobs deeply believes that what he does is the most important and meaningful thing he could be doing. And for that reason, he is not a great salesman, but a true believer. And it works! Jobs, and the culture he helped shape at Apple, is always chasing the thing that no one has thought of yet. Or a way to make the existing thing the best it can be.

He realizes that to change the world we need large, expansive and compelling ideas. That’s what people respond to. For that reason, there is now a sign in my office that simple reads, “What if…”

Words are Powerful

Well, it’s done.

Today Barack Obama announced that he is forming an “exploratory committee” for a presidential run. Now, I know almost nothing about Barack — and this is not a political blog — but I do know that as we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday and with Obama’s announcement today, that the spoken word is powerful. Hardly anyone outside of Illinois knows much about Obama, which is what makes him a attractive candidate to so many, but what we do know is that his speech stole the show at the last Democratic National Convention. People have always responded to uplifting, powerful words spoken with grace and dignity. Barack is now running for president based largely on the delivery of one speech. That’s not to suggest he is not qualified, but rather a reminder to those of us who speak for a living, that worlds can and do change when the right words are used at the right time and used in the right way.

As one theologian has said, “Words create worlds.”

A good word, spoken with passion, life and hope can change the world.

Just think, when God created the world, He did so with words.The gospel of John captures this beautifully, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Or as Genesis puts it, “…then God said…”

Let us all choose our words carefully! And speak them with grace!

Scrubs Teds Band — Great Music. Great Fun.

As a life long member of churches of Christ, I grew up with a cappella music. It has always been a part of my life. At the same time, I also love the NBC Comedy Scrubs, particularly “Ted’s Band” or “The Blanks” as they’re known in the real world.

The creator of Scrubs loves The Blanks, though many folks don’t understand why anyone would be interested in music without instruments. The Blanks are an actually group — and existed before Scrubs began. At one point they were known as “The Worthless Peons.”

Anyway, I’m glad that my appreciation of a cappella music and Scrubs frequently comes together when Ted’s Band is on the show. Check out their website at www.theblankswebsite.com