Category Archives: Morality

What would Jesus do?

This is an open letter to self-proclaimed Christian men who think oral contraceptives are somehow immoral.


Imagine you have a medical condition that causes you to bleed heavily while experiencing a physical sensation similar to being kicked in the lower abdomen five or six times a day, for two or three consecutive days (or more), with these flare-ups occurring every two to four weeks, depending on the severity of your condition.

Accompanying this sensation may be nausea, gastrointestinal distress, migraine headaches, depression and some degree of anemia.

In between these flare-ups, your condition causes pain in one testicle, lasting for several days and ranging in severity and character from a dull, annoying ache to a stabbing pain that takes your breath away.

That’s half of the bad news.

The good news: A drug exists that will alleviate your symptoms almost immediately and eliminate them entirely within a few months, with minimal side effects that generally dissipate within a few weeks of beginning treatment.

The other half of the bad news: Despite its therapeutic value, your employer believes this drug is immoral, so the company health insurance doesn’t cover it. If you can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket, you’ll just have to suffer. Sucks to be you.

Sound reasonable? Is it fair for your boss to use his personal beliefs as an excuse to block your access to medicine you need in order to live without frequent bouts of excruciating pain?

If your answer is “no,” then you need to stop supporting policies that seek to restrict women’s access to oral contraceptives.

Yes, some of the women taking the Pill are doing so to prevent pregnancy. But the majority (58 percent) take it at least partly for medical reasons, many of which are very, very similar to the scenario I outlined above — and 14 percent (including yours truly) take it solely for medical reasons.

Substitute the word “ovary” for “testicle” in that hypothetical situation above, and you have the biblical woman with the issue of blood.

When that woman reached out for help, Christ healed her.

Today, when she reaches out for help, the so-called “Christian” response is something like, “Suck it up, Princess; we’re not paying for your slut pills.”

If that’s your response, you probably need to spend some time studying the difference between Christians and Pharisees, because you’ve clearly mislabeled yourself.


Lessons in empathy

I have two assignments for you tonight:

1. Take an hour or so out of your weekend to watch this video. You may think you know all you need to know about race relations, but unless you’ve seen this video … you don’t. This is well worth the time you’ll invest in it.

2. Read this entry on my friend Sara’s blog. Her young son was diagnosed with autism a while back. This is the clearest explanation I’ve ever heard for what it’s like to live with this disorder.


Folk Thursday: The flowers


I’m not in the habit of turning Folk Thursday into a crusade, but after reading a few articles about neonicotinoids and their suspected role in Colony Collapse Disorder, I’m making an exception.

Please take a few moments to explore the links above, then sign this online petition asking the federal government to follow the wise example set by Germany and France in banning these neurotoxins. There are plenty of ways to protect crops from agricultural pests without murdering millions of innocent bees in the process.

If you live outside the United States — or if you just want to take another step to make the world safer for honeybees — you can help by buying organic products instead of conventionally farmed products whenever possible.

I thank you. More importantly, those cute, fuzzy, hard-working little girls in my backyard thank you.


The Dark Knight: It’s about Principle

NOTE: I considered posting a much more detailed analysis of the metaphysical lessons I found in The Dark Knight, but I wasn’t sure how to do it without building in a lot of spoilers. If anybody wants to discuss specific scenes, let’s do that in the comments section.

Critics and moviegoers have been raving for weeks about the brilliance of Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight — and rightly so. Ledger’s Joker is wonderfully creepy, swapping his predecessors’ Technicolor campiness for the unnerving darkness of a ruthless insanity motivated by nothing more nor less than evil for evil’s sake.

Although this Joker appears to be out for cash at the beginning of the film (the first time we see him, he is orchestrating a bank heist, and he later tells a roomful of crime bosses: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free”), it quickly becomes apparent that money holds no fascination for him, and he seems to exist for the sole purpose of enticing people to compromise their principles.

As Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Alfred, explains: “Some men can’t be bought, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

What audiences will (or should) find most unsettling about The Joker is his disturbingly familiar mode of operation.

The Dark Knight shows no good guys — only guys, some of whom behave better than others — and it is in this atmosphere of relativity that The Joker is able to operate. Throughout the film, we see people tolerate and even embrace error in one form or another — greed, fear, anger, grief, apathy — and throughout the film, The Joker uses these lapses as a basis from which to manipulate his victims, leading them further away from Principle and turning them into agents of violence and destruction.

Whether they intended to or not, the filmmakers have created a powerful illustration of what Mary Baker Eddy refers to in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as “animal magnetism” — the sometimes hypnotic effect of error as it seduces human thought away from God, divine Principle.

Life, health, and happiness are based on a fixed Principle, Mrs. Eddy explains, and as long as man adheres to that Principle, he can’t be deprived of goodness. While another may attempt to harm us, those attempts can’t reach us unless we allow ourselves to waver from Principle, giving error room to do its dirty work in our thought. Once we veer from Principle, however, we open ourselves up to aggressive mental suggestions, leaving our thought vulnerable to the whims of error.

This point is driven home particularly well in a scene from The Dark Knight in which The Joker observes: “Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow, like, a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics.”

In other words, society has moved the goalposts: “Thou shalt not kill” has become “Thou shalt not kill unless,” leaving people with nowhere to stand as they try to defend themselves against The Joker’s suggestions.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I know I have — I’ll allow someone to talk me into abandoning Principle ever so briefly, for what seems to be a very good reason, and before I know it, I’m inundated with requests to bend the rules for others. It can be pretty hard to put the genie back into the bottle when The Joker is in your face, demanding consistency.

Outrageous costumes and over-the-top special effects notwithstanding, I think The Dark Knight offers up a strikingly accurate depiction of what error is and what it does, serving as a cautionary tale to all of us who might be tempted to allow fear, greed, or self-will to guide our actions instead of waiting on Principle to open the right path and provide us safe passage out of whatever material circumstances seem to loom before us.


History lesson

I don’t normally discuss politics on my blog, but an acquaintance has picked up an unfortunate habit of copying me in on his mass distribution list for snotty diatribes denigrating Mexican immigrants, and his most recent offering touched on one of my pet peeves.

Without getting into a long, complicated, and potentially divisive discussion about immigration laws, I want to point out a historical fact that seems to escape most of the anti-immigration crowd:

English is not this country’s native language.

Nothing irritates me any faster than to hear somebody start beating the “welcome to America — now speak English” drum.

English is no more native to this country than Spanish — and both languages found their way to North America through European immigrants who certainly didn’t have green cards.

Anybody who’s worried about immigrants from some other country coming in and mucking up the status quo would do well to remember that if such a thing happened, it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can explain to me why it was OK for Europeans to come in with guns and smallpox and take over an entire continent, brutalizing its inhabitants, stealing their land, and forcing them to speak a language that was not their own, but it’s not OK for Mexican immigrants to come to the United States with empty hands and ask for nothing more than a job — and perhaps a little patience with the fact that they are speaking a language that was imposed on their country by one group of European settlers, while we are speaking a language that was imposed on our country by a different group of European settlers.

Unless you are a full-blooded American Indian, at least some of your ancestors were immigrants who did NOT speak the native language when they came to this country. 

Welcome to America. Now speak Cherokee.


Justice and affection

Anybody who hasn’t been under a rock for the past couple of days is undoubtedly familiar with the story about the North Carolina attorney general dropping all the charges against the three Duke lacrosse team members who were falsely accused of raping and beating an exotic dancer who was hired to perform at a team party.

This case holds some valuable lessons, both for those involved and for those watching it unfold in the news.

Richard Bach once said something that kind of sums up the first lesson:

Live never to be ashamed if anything you say or do is published around the world, even if what is said is not true.

In other words, live your life in such a way that a lie can’t stick to you. A lie with a hollow center is a fragile thing, easily crushed. But one of error’s favorite tricks is to construct a lie around a single grain of truth, much as an oyster creates a pearl, because the presence of a small amount of truth lends credibility to a lie and cloaks the whole mess in ambiguity, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

In the case of the Duke lacrosse players, it appears that the district attorney heard “stripper,” “party,” and “underage drinking” and conjured up images of a malevolent Animal House.

I’m not judging these young men, and I’m not for one instant suggesting that they deserved what happened to them. They didn’t. But I think it’s safe to assume that had their social lives involved cappuccino and poetry slams instead of booze and strippers, they wouldn’t have had to deal with any of this nonsense.

Their experience should serve as a warning to the rest of us: The best protection against false accusations is to conduct ourselves in a manner that leaves absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind about what kind of people we are. If we’re known for being decent, honorable, classy, and tasteful, it will be virtually impossible for anyone to pin outrageous lies on us.

The second lesson from all this is harder to grasp. It has to do with the delicate but extremely important balance between justice and affection.

We’re not talking about huggy, cuddly, emotional affection. We’re talking about separating a person’s actions from her real identity as a child of God and making sure our own decisions are motivated by a genuine desire to be just — that is, fair — rather than allowing emotion to drive our actions. (This type of affection is synonymous with terms like “compassion” and “mercy.”)

The North Carolina attorney general demonstrated the union of justice and affection when he declined to file criminal charges against the woman who falsely accused the Duke students. Recent reports suggest that neither her mental health nor her grasp on reality is very solid, and it appears that her accusations were a symptom of mental illness rather than a malicious attempt to ruin these men’s lives. The AG recognized that illness is probably best handled with treatment, not punishment, and he had compassion for this woman and her apparent problems.

Will the men hurt by her false claims be as quick to forgive and let her doctors deal with her? I don’t know. I’ve been in the position of having to decide how to respond to someone who lied about me and stabbed me in the back, and my heart goes out to these guys as they grapple with the question of whether to sue this woman for her lies.

Regardless of what they decide to do next, I hope that they will let Principle — Love — guide their decisions. When we listen patiently and follow our highest sense of right, we get better results than when we allow emotion to cloud our judgment. The prosecutor in the case is learning that the hard way. Hopefully the men hurt by his mistake will learn from it as they begin to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives.

In the meantime, I remain deeply grateful that the innocent parties were exonerated.


Feeding the multitudes

Today, in communities across the United States, we took time to remember and honor the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Anyone who hasn’t been under a rock for the past 50 years is familiar with King’s leadership in the civil rights movement that brought about desegregation and made racial equality a matter of public policy.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King said:

… [W]e refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Intolerance in all forms — be it on the basis of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, weight, height, appearance, or perceived ability or intelligence — comes from an ignorant belief that God’s ability or willingness to provide for all his children is somehow limited.

Fear of insufficiency leads humans to make foolish mistakes and commit egregious acts of intolerance, hatred and even violence against one another. We operate under the mistaken belief that there is not enough to go around.

Not enough of what? Food? Water? Fortune? Fame? Success? Happiness? Love? All of the above?

More than 43 years after Dr. King gave his famous speech in Washington, D.C., Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota — the first Muslim elected to Congress — invoked the idea of sufficiency in a written response to critics who questioned his decision to place his hand on a Koran rather than a Bible in a private swearing-in ceremony.

In his essay, which can be read in its entirety here, Ellison invokes the story of the loaves and fishes as he cautions us against using faith as an excuse for intolerance, exclusion, and the “stinginess of spirit” that come from a selfish, material view of the world:

In America today, we are encouraged to believe in the myth of scarcity — that there just isn’t enough — of anything. But in the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus, who the Muslims call Isa, found himself preaching to 5000 (not including the women by the way) at dinner time, and there didn’t appear to be enough food. The disciples said that there were only five barley loaves and two fish. We just have to send them away hungry. We simply don’t have enough. But Jesus took the loaves and the fish and started sharing food. There was enough for everyone. There was more than enough. What was perceived as scarcity was illusory as long as there was sharing, and not hoarding.

The idea here is not that there is a boundless supply of everything. Such an idea leads to waste and dispensability of everything. But the idea is that there is enough.

If scarcity is a myth, then poverty is not necessary. America need not have 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. It is a choice. Hunger is a choice. Exclusion of the stranger, the immigrant, or the darker other is a choice. … We can choose generosity.

Ellison’s point is well-taken. When we share, we cannot lack. We only get into trouble when we hoard the resources with which we have been entrusted.

More than 100 years ago, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, another deep spiritual thinker, Mary Baker Eddy, put it like this:

Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us.

Mrs. Eddy also wrote:

Let us reassure ourselves with the law of Love. God never punishes man for doing right, for honest labor, or for deeds of kindness, though they expose him to fatigue, cold, heat, contagion.

In other words: You can’t lose by giving, and you can’t be hurt by helping. If we give of ourselves, we are blessed. We can’t help it — it is, as Mrs. Eddy puts it, “the law of Love.”

I can’t begin to recall all the opportunities I’ve had to prove this for myself in the past couple of years. I have never found myself lacking what I needed to accomplish a good work. More than once, I’ve faced situations in which money, time, energy, or all of the above seemed to be in short supply, yet I’ve never run out. Every time I’ve taken a step motivated by love, I’ve been supported, and my needs have been met.

All we have to do is reach out in love, without regard to race, creed, color, or any of the dozen other hangups that try to dissuade us from loving our neighbor, and we find that loaves and fishes are as plentiful here and now as they were on that long-ago evening in the desert. When we allow fear and intolerance to hamper our work, we miss out on the opportunity to live the kind of life in which a “miracle” is just another day at the office.

Go seize the opportunity to make some sparks in the dark.


Laying aside every weight

Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

— Heb. 12:1

I had every intention of running in the inaugural Route 66 Marathon this year, but for a variety of reasons, I was not able to make time in my schedule to train properly. I’ve run before on very little training, but I just haven’t been able to get into the right frame of mind this season … and as every marathoner knows, distance running is about the mind, not the body.

I personally believe that everything is about the mind, not the body (that’s pretty much the upshot of my faith as a Christian Scientist), but running makes that fact particularly clear.

I was having a hard time deciding what to do. I don’t believe in limitations, but at the same time, there’s a big difference between overcoming limitation and hurling yourself off a building. Increasingly, a marathon attempt this fall was feeling more and more like the latter.

I thought it over and prayed it over and waited for my answer.

It came this week, when my friend Lynda e-mailed me the other day to say that she had just completed a nine-mile training run. She wanted to know whether I thought she had enough training under her belt to finish a half-marathon in a couple of weeks. I assured her that she could certainly do it, and I told her I was thinking about scrapping the full marathon in favor of the half; if I did, I would certainly be happy to run with her to help keep her spirits up when she got out into uncharted waters.

A few hours later, I got an e-mail from another friend, who told me that Dan, a real sweetheart of a guy who ran with the Fleet Feet crew a couple of times last fall, is planning to run the Mother Road 100, a 100-mile ultramarathon down Route 66 commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Mother Road, and he needs pacers to run with him for an hour or two and keep his spirits up as he gets into the later miles.

My coach would have kittens if I told him I planned to do the Tulsa Run (a 15K) in the morning, run four to eight miles in the evening, and then attempt a marathon a week later. It’s just not considered wise to do so much in such a short frame of time, especially when you haven’t been running well all season.

But I got to thinking.

I thought about Dan. I thought about Lynda. I thought about why I run. I thought about why I wanted to run this particular race. And I realized something important:

When I run, my goal is to express good spiritual qualities, such as grace, strength, joy, and power. Hobbling across a finish line in tears or quitting in the middle won’t express any of that.

Up to this point, I’d thought that giving up and settling for a half-marathon instead of finishing a full wouldn’t express any of that, either … but I was mistaken.

This really is about my quality of thought. I know that if I really wanted to, I could complete all 26.2 miles through sheer stubbornness. After all, my pedigree includes Scottish, Irish, and German bloodlines … which makes me the human equivalent of a pit bull-rat terrier-English bulldog mix. Being hard-headed is my birthright.

But I already know how to be stubborn and willful. As a matter of fact, I have spent the past year or so trying to unlearn those traits.

Every marathon teaches a lesson, and this time around, I am supposed to be learning humility and selflessness. If I cast off pride and self-will and choose instead to let go of my own foolish goal, humble myself, and drop down from the full marathon to the half, I can help two dear people (both of whom have been very kind to me in the past) achieve their goals in the process.

And in doing that, I will have expressed grace, strength, joy, and power — which is why I run in the first place.

I don’t know what the next two weeks hold, but I know I am making the right decision, and there’s a blessing for me somewhere between here and the finish line. Probably lots of them.


A few weeks ago, I posted about a situation I was wrestling with in which I caught an individual plagiarizing some of my work.

It took three weeks, two e-mails, and a phone call, but I finally got hold of him this evening.

I kind of expected him to plead innocent, which he did, but then I figured when confronted with the indisputable facts, he would own up to his mistake and perhaps make some sort of lame excuse, like “I didn’t know it was copyrighted,” or “I must have gotten some of my notes mixed up in the final draft.”

Instead, he pulled a passive-aggressive routine that involved lying repeatedly and then playing stupid when I called bull on his prevarications.

I’ve never worked so hard to hold my tongue in my life, but by the grace of God, I managed to get through the entire conversation without dropping any f-bombs or making reference to any compost ingredients.

I kept my tone sweet as a Mason jar full of Mississippi iced tea, but I’m running out of options. If he’d just own up to his mistake, apologize for it, and say, “What do you think I should do to make it right?” I could offer him a way out that wouldn’t cost him anything or cause any hassles for either of us.

Instead, he insists on lying to me every chance he gets.

The thing is, I’m not mad at the guy. I feel sorry for him. I had sense enough to publish my book in very, very small lots so I wouldn’t lose my butt on it if it didn’t sell. He made the mistake of going through a publishing house and buying a whole bunch of books that are doomed to collect dust in his garage for all eternity, so he’s out a big chunk of money. If he’s smart, he’ll put the leftover copies in the basement during the next good rain, unplug the sump pump, and let his homeowner’s policy reimburse him for his printing costs.

But I can’t just let him off the hook. He did something dishonest, and he’s got to own up to it before I can offer him a way out.

I feel like the priest in The Exorcist, trying to coax that nasty-looking, trash-talking, pea-soup-spewing demon out of that innocent little girl. If the damned thing would just give up and come out of there, it would save us all a lot of drama. But instead, it seems to be so firmly entrenched that I’m afraid the process of prying it out is going to be the stuff horror movies are made of.


Royale with cheese

“But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.”
— Samuel L. Jackson
, Pulp Fiction

Man, I hate it when somebody else’s mistake creates a situation that tests my morals.

Without going into too much detail, I recently discovered that someone had plagiarized heavily from something I wrote several years ago.

A year ago, I would have eaten the culprit for breakfast. But — to borrow another line from Pulp Fiction — he “happened to pull this s*** while I’m in a transitional period,” so I can’t really bare my fangs here. I have to try to see past this guy’s actions to the real man — the honest, innocent child of God — underneath, and I have to find a way to address this erroneous behavior without tearing the man himself to shreds.

Between my dad and my practitioner (who both give awesome advice), I’ve come up with what I think is a reasonable solution. But it’s messier and more time-consuming than I really want to deal with, and it requires me to treat this guy with something like “tough love,” as the expression goes, which isn’t nearly as quick and easy as either mauling him to death or letting him off the hook entirely.

I hate it when people do things to provoke me — things so offensive and immoral that I physically recoil against them — and then I’m the one who has to grab a machete and go whacking through a whole jungle of anger and outrage and confusion just to find that high road I’m supposed to be taking. It’s not fair. I shouldn’t have to deal with somebody else’s problem.

But I guess those problems wouldn’t come into my sphere of influence if I couldn’t handle them and didn’t have anything to learn from them. I don’t turn away hungry cats that show up on my doorstep, even if they duck away or hiss when I approach. So I guess I can’t really turn away people who are starving for higher thought, either, can I?