Sunday, August 20, 2023

Casino Saga

The battle for gaming in Rockingham County yields some interesting insights.

Our county leaders are interested in economic growth for our county. Apparently we are one of the poorest counties in the state. Something needs to help us address our poverty.

The Rockingham County commissioners listen to important voices. I spent significant time on the phone recently with a commissioner who graciously returned my call. He listened to what I had to say, but seemed unpersuaded by my points. It seems that our commissioners at least listen to their constituents.

The commissioners also listen to the voices of businesses. The gaming industry promises only rainbows and high paying jobs. They promise ancillary businesses providing food, shopping, and entertainment. There's no corruption or vice to see here. All the money flooding in from the region will only do good things.

Hundreds of No Casino signs litter the highways and neighborhoods of Western Rockingham. I have not seen one sign supporting the casino. (Unless you count the few anti-casino signs painted up with graffiti.) The pro-casino lobby actually doesn't need any signs. They have the ears of the people in power. Nothing gets attention like dollar signs.

Our leaders may not benefit personally from the gaming industry. But the windfall of tax revenue will give our leaders much more money to control. With the control of money comes greater power. There may be a few politicians who don't want more power, but only a few.

Our commissioners hear thousands of voices against gaming and a few, well placed, voices promising revenue. Money talks.

We can rest assured that our commissioners are only doing what is best for us. We may think that the gaming industry brings trouble, but we will have to trust their wisdom. They know what we need more than we do. 

And if they are wrong? If gaming brings a blight of noise, pollution, sketchy business, and corruption, fueled by greed and selfishness that forever remakes the entire culture of our community--then what? That could not possibly happen, right?

Our leaders also realize that we must act now. We cannot wait to rezone. The urgency demands fast, decisive action, so that we don't miss this opportunity. There's no time to get more public input. There's no time to study the long-term effects of casinos. There's no time to consider the harm that gaming might do to the poor. Those studies have already been done (apparently) and there is actually no harm whatsoever to anyone. There is only good to come from gaming.

In fact, we can soon teach our children that risking money at long odds is a great way to be entertained, and possibly become rich. What better values can we instill in our kids?

Gaming is so innocuous that our State Legislature is willing to make it legal. But only in three or four counties. This shows that gaming is not good for some counties, but absolutely essential for the poor ones. Has anyone wondered why they are not considering legalization of gaming for the entire state? 

Furthermore, why has gaming been illegal for centuries in NC? Were our forbears too prudish? Were they blind to the benign nature of gaming? What could they have been thinking? Now our enlightened leaders have seen the light. They are leading us into the Promised Land of opportunity, blessing, and prosperity. And in a matter of months, we can undo the foolish, prudish, unenlightened tradition of NC. We get to vote--well, not us but our representatives--on what is good. With a simple vote we can make gambling good. None of the supposed ills associated with games of chance will come our way, because we--or our representatives--now know that gaming is good.

Our community's rural culture and way of life is at stake. Our leaders seem willing to wager that gaming will change everything for the better. Do you see the chips they are shoving into the jackpot? They are betting with our lives. They are risking it all because they are so wise. 

May God have mercy on us. It doesn't look like our leaders will.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Freedom Fortnight

America was founded on the belief that humans were made to be free. Our country has a checkered history of living into that belief. All my life I have celebrated July 4 as Independence Day, commemorating the ratification of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

But not all Americans celebrate that date for freedom. The country being formed in 1776 did not provide for freedom for everyone within its borders. The U.S. Constitution became the law of the land in 1787, but allowed for slave ownership. 

A generation later, the American Civil War ended legal slavery, and paved the way for true freedom for all Americans. But the end of the war did not bring freedom to all who were enslaved. On June 19, 1865, months after the war ended, Major General Gordon Granger and his troops marched into Galveston, Texas to enforce the emancipation proclaimed by President Lincoln in January 1863. This deliverance is celebrated today as Juneteenth.  

I have recently learned that, according to some, white Americans celebrate freedom on July 4 while Black Americans celebrate freedom on June 19. Wouldn't it be great if all Americans could come together to celebrate freedom, as imperfect as our country may be?

A group in Eden, NC is seeking to bring the celebration of freedom together across racial lines with a "Freedom Fortnight Festivity." On June 24 at Leaksville United Methodist Church they plan a huge party featuring classic July 4 dishes and classic Juneteenth foods. You can find out more about the event here

I did a little research on Freedom Fortnight and found nothing about it on the internet, except the event mentioned above. I thought maybe this kind of celebration had taken root across the country. I guess not.

So maybe we can find common ground on freedom, whether we celebrate 1776 or 1865. We can come together and acknowledge that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." 

If we can celebrate freedom together, across racial lines, we can learn to love our neighbors. We are way overdue.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Guns in America

Mass shootings have become commonplace today. We feel tapped out of horror and sympathy. Some simply accept this crimewave as the new normal. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to keep and bear arms. But an armed population must be a responsible population.

Twice this week homeowners have shot innocent people who mistakenly came to their homes. What has happened to our society? It only takes a few criminals with guns to make us question the wisdom of an armed populace. 

If citizen gun ownership becomes illegal, then government will tend more rapidly toward tyranny. Oppression could be right around the corner. 

We have a uniquely American dilemma. Guns were used in the founding of our nation. And guns have been almost romanticized in our history. But now guns, or some with guns, are eroding our general sense of safety. Schools, businesses, even our homes may feel like potential crime scenes.

How can we make peace with guns?

Friday, March 31, 2023

A Life-changing Trip with Jesus

There's a famous story in Mark 6 about Jesus and his disciples. After they fed the 5000, Jesus sent his disciples away in the boat, while Jesus went up the mountain to pray. As the disciples fought to row against the wind, Jesus caught up with them, walking on the water. Of course they were scared, freaked out. He tried to calm their fears, then climbed in the boat and the wind immediately calmed. When they arrived at the shore, another crowd was there, waiting for Jesus.

I try to imagine what the disciples were experiencing. When they began their boat excursion, they had just witnessed a miracle of multiplication. Five loaves and two fish became 12 basketfuls of leftovers, after more than 5000 people ate their fill. Then they are fighting, straining, to row into the wind, when Jesus casually strolls alongside the boat. When he gets in the boat, the straining is over, and they smoothly sail to the shore. 

The disciples who began that voyage were different men when they came ashore. While meditating on the meaning of the feeding miracle, they observed this man defying the laws of nature. Jesus was no ordinary man. No wonder the crowds wanted to see him.

When these tired disciples rowed onto shore, and when the crowds surrounded them, they had new energy to serve the crowd and love them. The disciples had witnessed the glory of Jesus, and this made all the difference. 

When I experience the glory of Jesus, he helps me meet life with energy and joy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Altared State of Mind

Lent feels different to me this year. Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. Some years I do some sort of fast, some years I don't. And fasting can be very helpful for spiritual growth and awareness. You can fast from food on certain days, or certain types of food for all 46 days of Lent. Or you can fast from screens, or shopping, or social media, or breaking the speed limit.

The purpose of fasting is to enter into an altered state of consciousness. It's a way of getting on God's wavelength, of seeing things from his point of view. It's a way of seeing yourself more deeply and seeing the world more compassionately. Through self-denial, you can put yourself on the altar, and see things through the loving, sacrificial heart of God.

This year during Lent I plan to use the Examen Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola every day. It's simple way of reflecting on life and relationships. I want to enter more deeply into that altered state of mind and offer myself as a living sacrifice.

As Lent begins, I also marvel at the work of God now at Asbury University. A revival has broken out there. It began as a student confessed his sins to his peers in a small group. Somehow the Holy Spirit led other students to seek the face of God in worship and praise. A profound sense of the Presence of God permeates the campus. People describe it as an overwhelming sense of peace.

More than ever we need Christian believers to surrender humbly to the Lord. It's not them who need to change. I need to change. I need to see how God wants to bring me along. He needs to show me how destructively I miss the mark, in my attitudes, my habits, my assumptions, my actions.

It takes time for God to get through to me. He's been working on me for over 60 years, and I feel like I've been such a hard head. I want to offer the Lord an "altared" state of mind, so that maybe he can help me walk with Jesus and become more like Jesus. He identified with me when he died on the cross. I want to identify with him as we approach Easter.

I want to reflect on the Lord, his love for me, his sacrifice for me. He needs to change me. I have to listen to him and be with him. When Christians receive and respond to the soul-shaking love of Jesus, his kingdom comes. May his will be done.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Cardiac Arrest on the Field

I was casually half-watching Monday Night Football last night when there was an injury timeout. Nothing unusual about that. After the commercial break, the player was still on the field. Another commercial break. This turned out to be an extraordinary event. In a very short time, no one cared about the game. All that mattered was the life and health of Damar Hamlin.

This might be the day that changed football. 

For a few years, I've had this growing discomfort with football. I've always enjoyed the sport. I don't think I missed one game while I was in college. I had fantasy football teams for a few years (but I was not really good at it).

The sport has become more violent because athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster. They train, work out, and eat solely for the sake of football. Even the improved helmets and stricter enforcement of penalties--like roughing the passer--cannot stop serious injuries. Seems like there is a flag on every other play. Concussion protocols help prevent reinjuries, but players still get hammered.

But when you take a step back and really look at this sport, it can seem really strange. Here are grown men, using brute strength and careful strategy to push around other grown men. Rules govern the pushing and tackling, but it is inherently a violent sport. Coaches work to fire up their teams and get adrenalin pumping. Anger can be a powerful motivator. 

These men willingly do this, and the professionals are paid handsomely for their trouble. But they put themselves in harm's way for our entertainment. We cheer on the hits. We marvel at the athleticism. A few years ago a friend told me that she would not watch the NFL anymore. Although she loved the sport, she felt like the players were gladiators and she could no longer be a party to the spectacle. 

Neurologists tell us that the human mind does not develop a full understanding of risk until age 25. (It's no wonder that Olympic gymnasts are all younger than that.) Hamlin is 24. He, according to neurological science, does not yet have the capacity to evaluate the level of physical threat to his body.

But we cheer on these young men, because it's fun to watch.

Andrew Luck shocked the world of sports when he retired from the NFL before turning 30. Luke Kuechly did the same thing. 

As Bengals and Bills stood in tearful, prayerful silence last night, surely they were thinking, "That could have been me." Maybe they saw for a moment how little football matters. In terms of world history, even the most monumental sports feats will be mere footnotes. In 100 years no one will care. But maybe they will care if Damar Hamlin survives.

It will be interesting to see if attitudes toward this sport change, among athletes or fans. 

Last night's game will not soon be forgotten. But I expect we will still watch the Super Bowl.