On Baptism: Part 2

There are few things in life I love more than the cool, refreshing feel of jumping into a pool on a hot summer day.

You need at least two things for a pool – a hole or a structure big enough to hold a lot of water; and the water itself. The hole in the ground for a pool can be created in ways limited only by our imagination. The water itself isn’t created. We either find a way to put the water that’s already there in the hole or we have no way to feel the refreshing sensation of jumping in.

Standing at the edge of a water filled pool isn’t enough to get that refreshing feeling either. We won’t feel refreshed just by staring at the water or jumping up and down at the edge. To feel refreshed, the necessary and sufficient thing to do is get in.

We use water in baptism because baptism is a little bit like jumping into a pool on a hot summer day. Water is like the grace of God. Grace washes us clean and refreshes us no matter what we’re going through. But you can’t create grace just like you can’t create water – grace is already there waiting for us. And you won’t feel refreshed by standing at the edge and staring at the water – God invites us to jump right in and feel grace washing over us. Baptism is the way we’re invited to jump into the water of grace.

So every time you jump in the water and splash in the pool, remember that God’s grace is all around you too and God wants us to feel refreshed and clean and loved every time we remember the water of baptism.

On Baptism

In United Methodist theology, we view life and faith primarily through the lens of the grace of God. God’s grace goes before us and is at work in our lives long before we even realize God is present and long before we’ve done anything to seek it out. Baptism is a celebration of the work of God’s grace in our lives and throughout God’s creation. Therefore, we believe:

  1. Baptism is more an act of God’s grace than it is an act of human decision. Someone, whether the person to be baptized or a parent/sponsor, does make a choice to celebrate the grace of God, but what matters the most is that God offers love and grace before we ever do anything to deserve it. Infant baptism is an especially clear reminder that no one knows or does enough to deserve the grace offered in baptism – God’s grace is at work even now.
  2. Baptism is more a celebration of the body of Christ than any individual person. While only one person at a time is baptized into the body, we are all reminded that the grace of God makes us one body through the sacrament of baptism. Every time anyone is welcomed into the family of God, we are all invited to experience the grace of God anew.

Rape Culture: Why I won’t be watching football tonight

I’m not writing this post as some kind of crusade to raise awareness. I don’t expect anyone to agree with my reservations and I don’t blame anyone who does not find themselves where I now do. I just know that I will be asked at some point how I could go from borderline obsessed with Aggie football for over 30 years (of mostly painful results) to completely disinterested at just the moment when the program might well be poised to break through. This is my attempt to share why.

I vividly remember the events surrounding Jameis Winston’s sexual assault investigation unfolding in real time. Nearly a year after sexual assault allegations were made, no real investigation had even begun and the incompetence (or complicity) of the Tallahassee police department was evident to anyone looking on from the outside. A state investigation was attempted but obviously doomed from the start, having only begun long after physical evidence could be found and well after stories could be straightened out. Of rapes reported to police, only about 1 in 6 lead to an arrest; only about 1 in 30 cases are referred to prosecutors. Not surprisingly, a mishandled case examined a year too late was found to lack the proof needed to move forward. Equally unsurprising is the fact that Winston will now serve a second suspension stemming from allegations of sexual assault, allegations which Winston’s former coach Jimbo Fisher called the “bad mistakes” of a “tremendous young man.”

Questioned at the time about the Tallahassee allegations, Fisher did what so many in power have done before – he deflected blame onto anyone other than the accused (at one point blaming FSU’s bad press on ESPN’s monetary commitment to the SEC) and he hid behind the inability of the police to come to any sort of definitive conclusion about what really happened (going so far as to claim “There is not a victim because there was no crime.”). Time and again Fisher went over the top to build up the character of his star player (at the 2014 media days claiming “Jameis is a tremendous human being. He is a great people person. There is no ill will or malice in his body. There’s really not.”). At his most critical, Fisher blamed youth – “Jameis is a young man who’s made some mistakes, just like any other kid at that age is going to make them.”   The dismissive and careless conflation of youthful indiscretion with sexual assault by a head coach does immense damage to current and future victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Boys will be boys means girls will be raped.

The culture that treats violent assault on par with youthful indiscretion is the same culture that makes it possible to think that raping an unconscious woman is not worthy of derailing a promising young man’s life. It is the same culture that fails to believe women and assumes that silent victims are more palatable than famous rapists. On December 4th, 2017, Jimbo Fisher was named as the Texas A&M football head coach. Since the hire I haven’t been able to stomach the idea of supporting or even paying attention to football. Fisher’s endless deflections and defense of Winston is the epitome of rape culture.

Rape and violence are not only the product of discrete actions committed by evil people. Rape culture enables and perpetuates the cycles of violence that lead victims to believe what happened is their fault and guarantees that few survivors will come forward with accusations against anyone, much less famous and powerful men. Nearly 15% of women and 2% of men will be raped (defined as forced vaginal, oral, or anal sex) in their lifetime. Only 6 of every 1000 rapists will be incarcerated. Broadening out to any form of sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, or noncontact unwanted sexual experience, the number of victims increases to 43% of women and 23% of men.

Participation in rape culture does not require overt or criminal acts. Participation requires only the deflection of blame from the accused to the accuser or to any other conceivable person or system that might have contributed to the act in question. Participation only requires that we disregard the voices and pain of powerless survivors so as not to risk the promising future of young men. False accusations occur, but are almost always perpetrated by a particular kind of accuser and for a specific set of reasons. None of those factors were relevant in this case.

The recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Bill Hybels, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, as well as plenty of others ought to at least help us come to grips with the fact that a lack of public knowledge isn’t the same as a lack of unconscionable or even criminal activity. I have complete trust that Fisher did not participate in any criminal or even overt acts to cover up the alleged crimes of his star player. And I’m certainly not suggesting that courts reverse their stance of innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But I am suggesting that a different standard of proof and a different set of expectations is required of the most public and powerful men in society if we are ever going to get to the point at which victim’s voices are heard as anything more than a hindrance to the trajectory of promising young men.

The culture that enables abusive behavior causes at least as much harm as any discrete act. The standard to which we hold the most well known and well paid leaders of young men will do more to either combat or solidify rape culture than the facts of any particular case. That the Aggie football coach is responsible for the perpetuation and embodiment of that culture leaves me unable to take any semblance of joy in the team I have grown up loving.

I find in myself an insidious tension that makes rape culture so difficult to overcome. I know that avoiding football will do nothing to change the culture and that it will only lead to awkward moments with friends and family when the subject of football arises. Short of a similar repentance to that of Mike Riley, I don’t really know what it would take for me to find joy in Aggie football again. I just know that my disdain for men who perpetuate rape culture runs much deeper at the moment than my love for football. A&M plays Clemson later today, one of two regular season games against a national championship frontrunner. Any other year, I’d know every conceivable detail about the matchup and have the naive hope of a die hard fan that we might actually pull off the upset. This year, I simply don’t care.

Emotion is the raw material of what we are capable of thinking. No matter how grand a thought we have of a castle, what we are capable of building will differ drastically if the raw materials are sand, wood, or stone. Denying the feelings that underlie our thoughts does no more good than living in a castle made of sand.

Income vs Outcome Tax

Why do we tax personal incomes rather than simply business outcomes (labor and profit)? The most intractable problems of the tax system seem tied to the choice of taxing income rather than outcome.

Those problems are:

1) Income tax means a tax is taken out of “my money” that “I deserve.”

– Whether it is fair or not to complain, human psychology necessarily places a different value on the money we consider to be our own as opposed to the money we see flowing through a business setting. Why not instead tax the impersonal business machines on the money they pay to ensure workers work, and remove any personalization of whose money is taken? If businesses want to incentivize the outcome that workers work by paying them, tax the business not the worker.

2) Income tax disproportionately affects poor and uneducated laborers.

– Those who don’t know the system well and cannot afford help are not able to take advantage of even the benefits specifically available for them. Those who must work multiple jobs to make ends meet may not have the time to maximize deductions even if they have the knowledge of deductions and skills to do the work. Why not instead tax the business itself so that businesses can hire the best minds to maximize profits and align incentives? There is no benefit to taxing those least equipped to work within the system; doing so is, in practice, a disproportionate tax on those without resources simply because they lack resources.

3) Individual lives are too chaotic and inconsistent to be affected consistently by any tax plan. Business systems are dispassionate and far more stable institutions capable of being guided by directed by policy direction.

– Individuals quickly have to make cost benefit decisions based on rapidly changing factors and without ever knowing when a life changing accident or job change might occur. There is no effective way through tax policy to shape personal decision making regarding the value of the next dollar earned. Business systems don’t make value judgments and necessarily tend toward profit production in a capitalist society. Businesses are capable of long term forecasting and factoring in the multiple competing outcomes of various decisions and at the same time are almost always immune from a single event or decision resulting in an insurmountable obstacle to doing business. If the government desires any role in shaping acceptable long term forms of business, it would be far more effective to incentive businesses through taxes and deductions than to think that there could be any consistent outcome from taxes and deductions applied to individuals. Put differently, the government does little to shape societal outcomes through structuring personal income taxes and deductions, but could be a great deal more effective by applying such a system with regard to business systems.

#peoplearethepoint

To say the New Testament matters and the Old does not is about like saying that your parents matter but your grandparents don’t. It is entirely nonsensical to make that claim. Not only would your parents, and thereby you, not exist without your grandparents, but so much of why your parents are the way they are comes from their parents. That is usually true in a variety of ways even if those parents weren’t around.

We are who we are made to be long before we have any influence or response to the stories that write us. Only then do we get to accept or reject various parts of those stories and begin writing our own. In the same way, the New Testament is what it is precisely because it is born out of the Old Testament story and only then begins to push that story in a new direction.