Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Life is a big PRAC

When I was on active duty in the US Marine Corps, both in boot camp and afterward we underwent continual training.  With training came tests, to ensure that we actually learned what we were supposed to know.  While some exams were completed with pencil and paper, some of the most important were what they called PRACS, or practical exams.

Most PRACS were for essential, life and death topics, such as donning and clearing a gas mask within a set time, or clearing a jammed round from a rifle.

This Sunday, as I sat in church listening to the speakers, I realized that life is one big PRAC, from end to end.

Every day we are tested to see if we will demonstrate the correct answers to life's most challenging exam questions.  Questions like, "how will I treat some one else when I am having a bad day?", and "will I use my material goods in a way that simply serves myself, or that accomplishes some greater good?"

In the Bible, the prophet Joshua challenges the Israelites, and by extension anyone who claims to serve the God of Abraham, to let their daily choices demonstrate who they really serve.  "...choose you this day whom ye will serve. ... But as for me and my house, we will serve The Lord." (Joshua 24:25).

While we can apply this perspective of looking at life as an extended PRAC to almost any topic, these days it seems one of the exam questions that lots of folks are failing is, "how will I treat people who have an opinion that is at odds with mine?"  This question is especially relevant as political campaigns pick up momentum and candidates espouse their positions in the media on various issues.  And, of course their adherents and opponents, post those views along with their own comments on FaceBook, Twitter and other social media.

Unfortunately, many of those responses that disagree will be laced with profanity, vulgarity, and personal attacks (ad hominem is the latin term for personally insulting verbal attacks).  That kind of approach begs the question, "how does that response align with what you say you believe about the teachings of the God of Abraham, as explained by his prophets and the Christ?" 

I suggest that anytime we resort to profanity and personal insults (or even violence) while disagreeing with someone, we are failing this PRAC.  This is true whether the dialog is online, or face to face.

Some would have us remain silent rather than voicing an opinion that is at odds with theirs.  Many of those same people who decry that we "should shut the f*** up" are the same people who demand that we be tolerant of their views and respectful of their opinions and persons.  Although this sort of double standard (aka hypocrisy) is despicable, and, as all double standards, deserves to be disregarded, still, we who claim to be worshippers of God cannot allow ourselves that full indulgence.

While we can utterly disregard the demand for our silence, be it made with vulgarity and personal insults or not, we must ensure our responses and statements are made in a manner consistent with our beliefs about the worth of each of God's children and our commitment to serve God.

We must not lose our temper.  We must not resort to vulgarity or profanity.  And, regardless of how utterly devoid of intellectual content or sincerity another's argument may appear to us we owe it to ourselves and to our God to respond calmly and speak to the facts, rather than getting caught up in the emotion of the argument and getting swept away into waters where we no longer represent the best in us.

In this blog, as in all my blogs, I welcome differing opinions.

I look at a different opinion as a learning opportunity.  Sometimes I come to see things from a different view and I modify my opinion because of new and compelling facts that had previously escaped me.  Other times, I learn how old arguments are being reframed to appear new, without actually adding any substantive weight to the primary point.

Regardless, I always require, both of myself and others, that disagreements be conducted in a manner that is not disagreeable.  Because, right or wrong, incivility decreases the level of our civilization, regardless of the original issue.

If you doubt this, consider the inanity of a crowd of people who are protesting war to engage in mob violence, as happened many times during the Vietnam War era.  Or, more recently, consider the protests in Ferguson Missouri, where the marchers were calling attention to what they believed to be unlawful behavior by the police toward a member of the community, trampling on his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And then those protesters engaged in a campaign of unlawfully destroying and looting businesses and trampling on the rights of those business owners to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The unlawful, uncivil actions of the mob destroyed any credibility they had that they might actually be pursuing justice and respect for human rights.

Note: At the risk of offending some readers, I want to make clear that as far as Michael Brown is concerned, regardless of what kind of person he was or was not in the years and months leading up to his deadly confrontation with the Police, his actions that day were those of a criminal who displayed a reckless disregard for the rights of others, and for his own safety.  The moment he chose to engage in a fight with a cop, he put himself on the wrong side of the rule of law, and he is responsible for his own death.

My point in all of this is simply this.  For anyone who accepts the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and even for those who don't, each day is a practical exam where we have to demonstrate by our words, deeds, and even by our thoughts whether or not we have learned how to apply those teachings in our lives.

And, the day will come for each of us, and for all of us, when we will stand before The Great Teacher.  At that time, we will review all our exam results and He will determine, along with us, whether or not our test results demonstrate sufficient mastery to justify him making us master over many things, or taking away the things he has already given us - just as was foreshadowed when Jesus taught the parable of the talents.

When that day comes, I believe that race-baiters, racists and hate-mongers of all stripes will find that they have flunked the PRAC.