What’s the big deal with the new Tennessee logo?

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This week, news broke that the State of Tennessee commissioned design firm GS&F to create a new logo for the state. Coming in at a price tag of $46,000, the project was said to be an effort to consolidate the state’s various programs and organizations into one consistent brand.

Unfortunately for Governor Bill Haslam, the state’s new logo was not well-received at all. Echoing the sentiments of watchdog.org‘s Chris Butler, the headline in the Chattanooga Times Free Press called the logo something “a fifth-grader could make.” Butler also issued a challenge on Twitter to make these thoughts a reality:

Just for fun, today I decided to race the clock and see how long it would take me to recreate the logo. I was able to get close in about two minutes.

(Sorry the video is vertical. Hopefully Periscope will allow horizontal videos soon!)

It’s important to note that any discontent at the logo shouldn’t be aimed at GS&F. With any creative product, the agency may give its opinion on what is best, but the decision ultimately is made by the client. The client – in this case the state of Tennessee – made the final decision and approval on the new logo.

While I haven’t worked for the state before, my wife has worked in higher education since 2006, mostly at state-funded schools. As a minister, I haven’t had my salary paid by taxpayers before, but it has been paid by the generosity of other people. In this way, there’s a lot of similarity between ministry and government employment, as both have their salaries paid by others.

With this being the case, here are three things I’ve learned from having others pay my salary and fund my budget:

  1. Expect accountability for your spending. As a minister, it is completely reasonable for church members to keep tabs on my spending. Budgets are publicly published, and from time to time, people have asked me questions about where the money goes. Obviously this can get out of hand and people can sometimes have unreasonable expectations, but it is completely reasonable for people to keep an eye on how I spend money.
  2. Steward money wisely. As a minister, I’ve had numerous big ideas of how I could improve things at a church. When leading a worship ministry, it would have been nice to spend thousands of dollars to retune the auditorium and make it sound exactly perfect or purchase the best speakers money can buy. As a student pastor it’s been tempting to go all out on big events and spend a lot of money in doing so. Each time, however, I always have taken special thought to the importance of being wise with money. This doesn’t mean I always take the cheapest option, but I ensure the money I spend is being done so wisely. Every dollar spent should have a clear purpose.
  3. Be willing to be wrong. Yes, anyone hired to a job is expected to be an expert in that particular area. As a minister, I’m expected to know how to manage that area of ministry competently. However, that doesn’t mean I’m the only one who knows anything. When others question my decisions, I don’t always give in to their requests or demands, but I do listen. I’ve changed my mind many times because of the wisdom and insight I’ve received from others, and these decisions have often enabled me to be much more effective.
  4. Be completely transparent in all financial matters. Whenever I have a budget to manage, I’m not only open to answering questions about where money is going but I’m also proactive in making sure information is readily available.

With a potentially ugly situation on their hands, Tennessee’s executive branch has an opportunity to make matters worse or put the state’s taxpayers at ease. I do believe Governor Haslam is generally a wise person. Hopefully his response to this situation reflects this wisdom and he handles it well.

How do you think Governor Haslam should handle this situation? What would you do if you were in his shoes?

The truth behind “The Dress”

"The Dress"

 You’ve likely heard about It by now. In fact, you’re probably even sick of hearing about it. It’s a dress that has suddenly become so popular, it’s the dress. Or more precisely, #TheDress.

Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past couple of days, “The Dress” broke the Internet on Thursday night. Is it black and blue, washed out from overexposure? Is it white and gold with a blue tint due to bad lighting?

A digital war ensued. Polls were cast. Science was consulted. “Team white and gold” seemed to be winning in the court of popular opinion but “experts” were trending toward blue and black. Ellen summed up the situation best:

It seemed the world was locked in a digital stalemate.

But then something happened. After several hours of #TeamWhiteAndGold and #TeamBlueAndBlack digitally duking it out on social media, a “friend of the dress” came forward with additional information. The debate was settled.

The debate over “the dress” revealed a prevailing problem with our culture. The story went viral because it meshes so well with how we like to do things. For a time, there was no right answer. Everyone gets an opinion, and everyone’s opinion was valid. Is it really black and blue? Is it really white and gold? Who knows. It might look blue and black to some, and it might look white and gold to others. No one is right, and no one is wrong. It’s our relativistic culture summed up in a bad-quality photo.

The problem is that it never ends that way. We all like to have an opinion. We all like to never be wrong. It’s great for the ego. “That may not work for me, but it can work for you” is the ethos of the 21st century. But the problem is that’s not how life really works. The dress couldn’t be both white and blue at the same time, even if – like me – you saw it both ways at different times.

Bottom line: there’s a real dress, and it’s blue and black. Sorry, “team white and gold,” but you were wrong. (If it makes you feel any better, I thought it was white and gold at first too.)

And that’s the problem with relativism. “There is no absolute truth” is a lie, and it’s an oxymoron on top of that. Some things are always right and some things are always wrong. As much as we like to make everything into an issue, not every issue has two legitimate sides.

That’s not a popular view because it’s bad for the ego. Nobody likes to be wrong, and that’s why we’ve created this artificial “everyone’s right” worldview. But it doesn’t work.

The craziest part of the dress debate to me is that people still argued their case after the debate was settled. A full day later, I saw quite a few social media posts arguing that the dress was white and gold. Even though the actual dress was discovered for sale and better pictures of it being worn had been revealed, the debate raged on. The ego is a funny thing.

Sometimes we have to step back and realize that we’ve been wrong, not just about the color of a dress but about more important things as well. At some point in life, all of us have hurt someone. All of us have done something wrong. When that happens, our reaction reveals our character.

Some will stubbornly sink their feet into the sand. Unwilling to admit a mistake, they will unwaveringly continue on, likely causing further damage in the process. But there’s a better way. We must pursue righteousness instead of saving face. We must choose to do right rather than be right.

They will know us by our…

It’s been an eventful week here in Nashville. Many have been in a state of panic this week because of an onslaught of ice (mixed with a slight bit of snow) that I’ve dubbed the #mixedprecipocalypse. If I had a dollar for every post on my social media feeds asking about road conditions, I could build a mansion and retire.

Kristen Bell, Oprah Winfrey, and Rob Bell. (Harpo Studios/Christian Post)

Recently, I’ve noticed a few other topics dominating social media as well. From the release of the “50 Shades of Grey” movie to Rob Bell’s statements about gay marriage in the church, Christians have been in a bit of an uproar recently. And the way they’re handling these things has gotten downright ugly. (You might recall that this isn’t the first time this has happened.)

I normally stray from the comments section of articles like the one featuring Bell, but take a look at a few of the “Most Agreed” ones:

Christian Post comment 1

Christian Post comment 2

Christian Post comment 3

Christian Post comment 4

These are direct screen shots taken from the Christian Post. And they’re not just random comments that had a common theme, they’re the “Most Agreed” – or at least they were at the time I accessed the article. Judging by the “Agrees,” these comments represent the majority of those who read the article.

Do you notice what they all have in common?

“Puppet of Satan,” “#heresy,” “nonsense,” “vile and degenerate,” “prophet for Satan,” “religious loon.” These comments all appear to come from other Christians, given their content. Regardless of whether you agree with Bell or not, these comments are insulting, destructive, and hateful. Notice that one commenter who dared to disagree was down-voted significantly.

This isn’t to say I agree with everything Bell says. I’ve shared my thoughts on homosexuality here before, but it’s really beside the point. There’s a bigger issue going on here.

I’ve seen similar sentiments to these comments expressed among my friends on social media. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone else, but there’s a huge problem with expressing disagreement in this manner.

When we look at the teachings Jesus gave us in the New Testament, one statement stands out. It’s found in John 13:35. I like the way it’s phrased in the New Living Translation: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Jesus instructed his followers several times to love each other, but there’s something special to me about the statement made here. Not only are we to love each other, but love is what shows the world that we’re Christians. That’s why Jesus described loving God as the “first and greatest commandment” in Matthew 22 and declared loving each other to be second. Everything else, Jesus said, hinges on these two things. Not hatred, not trolling, not bashing, not arguing. Love.

In today’s world, however, Christians seem to operate on a different set of standards. Today, it seems, if you disagree with someone, you have license to criticize that person in any way possible. Bad theology is akin to a “get out of jail free card” for loving that person. The anonymity of the Internet only multiplies this phenomenon.

But that’s not what Jesus said. The Bible doesn’t have an asterisk in those places or a footnote explaining the exemptions. Loving God and loving others are the two greatest commandments, even higher on the totem pole than good theology.

I don’t intend on seeing “50 Shades of Grey” any time soon – if anything, there’s a positive unintended result to the movie: Christians, feminists, and BDSM proponents all agree on something! – but I won’t be bashing it on social media either. And regardless of my thoughts on Rob Bell’s latest controversial statements, it’s certainly not the place to bash someone, especially a fellow follower of Jesus.

Christians won’t come to an agreement on 50 Shades and they won’t agree on Rob Bell’s comments either. Bbut remember as you choose your side of the fence that the person on the other side is not an enemy but a friend and a brother.

Keys to success in the new year

It’s that time of year again. If the media portrays November and December as season of retail, January is the season of introspection. Or Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers, Nicorette, and gym memberships.

Today is a particularly important day, as for many it marks the end of the holidays and a return to work or school. Back to the grind, but with all of the resolutions of the new year in tow. It’s the day that a lot of new year’s resolutions get put to the test, as normal meets new.

With that in mind, after seeing lots of social media posts on the new year, here are a few thoughts about how to make your “new you” stick.

1. Only try to control what you can.

Lots of people are participating in a new fad known as a “One Word.” In case you’re not familiar with the concept, people choose one word that they declare as their tone and focus of the upcoming year. The hashtags #OneWord365 and #OneWord2015 serve as catalogs for the posts, and the website OneWord365.com coordinates the efforts and provides inspiration.

There’s nothing wrong with this concept, but I’ve noticed a major problem with the words some are choosing to use. For someone who has a short temper, perhaps choosing the word “patience” is a good idea. For someone who has been burned by indecision, “Plan” could help. Or for someone who has come to the realization that much of 2014 was squandered to distraction, “focus” is a good choice.

However, many of the words I’ve seen take a different tone. “Victory,” “overcome,” “health,” “conquer,” “thrive,” “wellness,” and many others have a common flaw: they attempt to control what they cannot. A year earmarked for “victory” could end up as one in which you lost your job because of an inept boss, or a year of “wellness” could be one in which you catch the flu even though you got the flu shot.

New year’s resolutions can have the same problem. “I will get my dream job this year!” is impossible to fulfill on one’s own volition. While it’s possible to apply for your dream job or brush up your résumé to appear better suited for it, there’s nothing you can do to guarantee getting a certain job. It relies on many outside factors. Similarly, one can go on a diet or work out more in an effort to be healthy, but some aspects of health are uncontrollable.

When setting goals for the new year, be sure they’re goals that you have the power to achieve.

2. Start small.

It’s the time of year when many people set goals. Perhaps seeing your Facebook news feed filled with big dreams inspires you to go big as well. Unfortunately, though, most new year’s resolutions don’t last past mid-January.

Oftentimes, the excitement of the new year leads people to dream big, but setting overly lofty goals can lead to frustration when things are harder than possible. If you tend to chow down on fast food every day, don’t set a goal of losing 50 pounds right off the bat. If you lose your temper easily, don’t resolve to never do it again. You’ll get frustrated when you fail, and it will be easy to give up.

As a personal example, 2014 was a bad year for me relating to blogging. I was incredibly busy at times and had a lot of transition last year. As a result, I only blogged once. I will do better this year, but it wouldn’t be best for me to decide to write twice a week. It’s too drastic of a change.

Instead, start small. If you want to lose weight, set a goal to lose a pound a week this month. If you want to exercise more, resolve to do so 2-3 times a week. If you need to get out of debt, don’t choose to eat only Ramen noodles for all of 2015 to pay down your bills; make a payment for 10% or your next check when it comes in. These might sound like insignificant goals, but they’re not; they’re achievable goals. Then, when you succeed, you can use the momentum you’ve gained from your success to forge ahead with more difficult challenges.

3. Get help.

This year, I was a part of a community of several thousand people known as the Dreamers and Builders. The group, founded by author Jon Acuff, serves as a community for people who support each other in pursuit of their dreams. It’s an amazing place to find encouragement and advice, seek help and support with frustrations along the way, and celebrate victories.

Isolation breeds fear and community breeds courage. If you seek to accomplish something on your own, you’re more likely to fail than if you have others supporting you along the way.

 

The new year is a great time to try something new or get a fresh start. Happy new year and best of luck in your new pursuits!

Life lessons from “Flappy Bird”

I’m not usually one to get hooked on the latest phone game crazes. I never even played Candy Crush, Minecraft, or Plants vs. Zombies. But if I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that I’m somewhat addicted to the latest big game, Flappy Bird.

Setting aside the irony that the #1 game in the iOS App Store looks like it could have just as easily been released for Nintendo in the mid-’80s, Flappy Bird is addictive because it’s so simple. A game lasts only a matter of seconds, and it only requires one action – tapping. No complicated swipes or tilts – it’s just all about timing. If you’re one of the 20 million or so people who have tried it, you know what I’m talking about.

At first, I was absolutely terrible at the game. I could hardly get the bird to go between the first two pipes. My scores oscillated between 0 and 1, with an occasional 2 (which normally left me feeling very accomplished).

A couple of days later, however, I started to get the hang of it. I got 5 .Then 7. And before I knew it, I was rewarded with a bronze medal for scoring double digits.

My scores continued to ascend. 15. 17. 20. Silver medal! 25. 31. Gold!

I began to wonder what could possibly happen next. If 10 got bronze, 20 silver, and 30 gold, there was no room left for improvement. I was already on top of the world. The game should be playing the national anthem.

The next day, my score jumped to 45. I couldn’t believe it. I got what I can only assume is a platinum medal, although it looks white in its 8-bit glory. It was my crowning achievement. Surely I had conquered the game in hero-like fashion. After all, I had done so well they had to invent a new medal better than gold!

What once seemed impossible was now very routine. Earlier today when taking a break from work, I scored over 40 twice. I had become a master of Flappy Bird.

So I thought, anyway. Then I discovered the button that would change anything. With a simple tap, my perception of dominance would instantly be changed.

On the game’s main menu, two buttons adorn the bottom of the screen: “start” and “score.” I pressed the “score” button and discovered instant disappointment.

This button displays the Flappy Bird leaderboard. Somehow, 45 isn’t the top score on Flappy Bird. It’s not even close. In fact, my score ranks as #1,489,335. I’m not even in the top million. As it turns out, I’m far from the only person who has received a platinum/white/whatever color medal. My superhuman score is in fact quite ordinary. It’s only a fraction of the top score, as the leaderboard is clogged with those who have scored exactly 9,999.

Silly as it might sound at first, my Flappy Bird experience is a lot like many of our life experiences. We overcome great obstacles, we excel to the point where impossible becomes ordinary, and then we discover our biggest achievements are considered rubbish to the outside world. Losing 5 pounds seems like nothing when Jared Fogle lost almost 100 eating sub sandwiches. Buying a new-to-you used car isn’t very exciting when a Facebook friend just brought home a brand new ride with shiny rims. Whatever it is you’ve worked hard to accomplish, someone else will almost instantly one-up you.

But just like Flappy Bird, there’s a major flaw in this logic. As I said earlier, somehow the entire leaderboard is filled with the score 9,999, which just so happens to be the largest four-digit number. I have a feeling this is the maximum score the game allows. You can also be sure that these scores are fake.

Flappy Bird allows you to earn points at a rate of about one per second. With this in mind, it would take almost three hours of perfectly-timed tapping to break the five-digit score mark. Is it theoretically possible? Absolutely. Did someone actually do it? I can almost guarantee it never happened. More than likely, the top scores on the leaderboard (and probably many others that aren’t shown) were all not the work of meticulous tapping but of hackers. Does this mean that 45 really is the best score in the universe? Probably not. But it’s definitely much better than it looks.

Life is that way too. The media is filled with Photoshopped models, auto-tuned musicians, and steroid-pumped athletes. The reality is that even celebrities don’t measure up when they compare their real selves to their own computer-generated public personas.

Even regular people always put their best foot forward. They only showcase their finest moments on social media. Many don’t even share their less-than-perfect moments with others off the grid. Comparing yourself with others is rarely a healthy endeavor, but online comparisons are sure to make you feel about three feet tall.

So instead of beating yourself up because your real life doesn’t stack up against fake competition, celebrate all victories, no matter how small. Understand that you don’t have to be the best to be great. And wear that platinum-whitish colored metal with pride.

The truth about “tolerance”

Phil Robertson

I believe “tolerance” is one of the least understood words in the English language.

Dictionary.com defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc. differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.”

If you rely on the media for a definition, however, things would be quite different.

You’ve probably heard the recent news about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson. A&E, the network that airs the show, has suspended him indefinitely for voicing his controversial opinion on homosexuality. Why would they do such a thing? Well, if you ask A&E, he was being intolerant.

At first glance, it’s easy to see how such a conclusion could be drawn. He doesn’t agree with homosexuality, a practice different from his own, to use wording from the definition above. He said he “would never treat anyone with disrespect” for their differences, but because he disagrees with homosexuality, he has been removed from his show.

Which, if you think about it, is a very intolerant thing for A&E to do.

If A&E were truly tolerant, they would have a “permissive attitude” toward Phil’s beliefs. If they were equally intolerant, they would have simply released a statement that they disagree with his beliefs, and that would have been it.

Ironically, A&E is more intolerant than Phil, because they actually acted on their narrow-minded beliefs and removed him from the show. At least Phil said he would treat homosexuals with respect. A&E couldn’t even do that – they saw fit to remove him for a simple expression of a belief.

You see, the problem here isn’t that someone stated their beliefs. The problem isn’t even that someone was censored for doing so. The real problem lies in the fact that even the dictionary definition of “tolerance” is flawed, but this flawed definition has so penetrated society that it has severely hampered our ability to agree to disagree.

In common usage, “tolerance” simply means to “put up with” something. A truly tolerant person treats those who believe differently with respect. And that’s it. You can disagree with someone and still be a tolerant person. You just can’t treat them badly for having a different opinion.

And by that definition, Phil Robertson did nothing wrong. Sure, his views are a little more extreme than even the average Christian. It’s understandable why someone could be offended by his beliefs. But if we’re honest, few TV shows out there are free from anything that would offend anyone. Lots of shows even feature homosexual characters. That could easily offend someone who doesn’t agree with homosexuality. By definition, those shows should be considered intolerant as well. But I don’t see networks shutting those shows down.

The media has successfully constructed a one-sided view of tolerance. You can’t have any quibbles about what someone believes – unless they don’t believe that you can’t have any quibbles about what someone believes. In that case, fire away. It doesn’t make any sense, but somehow this flawed definition has come to be widely accepted.

So what needs to happen? The whole “intolerance” conversation needs to go away. After all, it’s based on circular logic anyway. As soon as someone says “Hey, you’re being intolerant!” and indicates that they have a problem with it, that person is being equally intolerant.

I don’t agree with everything Phil Robertson said, but I do believe he has the right to voice his opinion, no matter if it is sensible, senseless, agreeable, disagreeable, normal, or extreme. Christians are being portrayed in the media as “intolerant” by people who are equally intolerant – of Christians. It’s insanely stupid, and it needs to stop.

Update: the full text of the article is available here (warning: the author uses obscene language). Also, the Governor of Louisiana has shared comments on the matter that are well worth reading.

Who owns your work?

Today, Jon Acuff – one of my favorite bloggers and authors – suddenly resigned from him position with Dave Ramsey. As of the time of this writing, his blog, filled with thousands of posts (many of them written before he started with Ramsey), forwards to a page on the Ramsey website informing would-be readers of his resignation.

Setting aside my shock in learning from this decision, an important question comes to mind. As a creative myself and friends with many others, it’s important to establish the owner of any creative works you may produce.

Jon Acuff has been blogging for several years, and it appears that his entire site became property of the Lampo Group (Ramsey’s company) upon his employment there. Hopefully this is incorrect and his site will again return to life, but even if that happens, the point remains. Because Jon (possibly) let his employer take ownership of his work, it is (possibly) no longer his. Years of hard labor are, for the time being at least, gone.

If you are a musician, do you know who owns your songs? Many labels or publishing companies seek to gain ownership of intellectual property rights of artists they sign. You may have to give up copyrights to get the deal you’ve always wanted, but you at least need to know what’s going on. Sometimes, even an act’s name becomes property of a label. Don’t believe me? That’s why Prince changed his name to a symbol and Snoop Dogg now goes by Snoop Lion. These artists circumvented the ownership problem with a name change, but it would be dreadful for a lesser-known act to lose all name recognition.

If you are a pastor, do you own your sermons or does the church? Oftentimes ownership is implied as belonging to the speaker, but a church could easily claim that such works are commissioned (as a part of a pastor’s salary) and therefore owned by the church. In most cases this won’t matter, but technically a pastor could lose the right to freely distribute his or her own sermons after leaving a church where they were delivered. It’s important to get an agreement in writing.

The same goes for photographers, motivational speakers, and other creatives. If you produce a work, you need to know if it’s yours or if it belongs to the entity for which you created it. It’s a difficult discussion to have, but unless you want to potentially end up with a vanished website or a work you created that you can no longer share, it’s a discussion worth having.

Update: Jon posted an update to his Facebook page which, among other things, indicated that his “Stuff Christians Like” blog will return. While I’m certainly glad to hear that, it doesn’t reduce the importance of the issue, knowing what was hypothetical for Jon could be reality for others.

When winning is everything

Today is an exciting day for me. As a huge football fan, I’ve been waiting for this day for months: the first Saturday of college football is here!

While today is the first game for my favorite team, the season actually started on Thursday. I had some obligations on Thursday night, but managed to watch part of a couple of games. Mississippi vs. Vanderbilt was especially exciting, as the Rebels won on a late go-ahead touchdown.

Jordan Matthews

Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews (Photo Credit: Deadspin)


One thing about the game in particular caught my attention. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt’s star player, took a gruesome hit late in the fourth quarter. His head slammed into the turf as he was brought to the ground. After the play, he signaled to the coach that he needed to leave the game, but seemed to be too disoriented to get off the field in time. After the following play, he collapsed on the field and… well let’s just say he lost his lunch. It was an awful sight.

Trainers came to his aid and the game was stopped for several minutes. Matt Millen, one of ESPN’s commentators and a former NFL head coach, pointed out that vomiting after taking a big hit is a “telltale sign of a concussion.” He eventually made his way off the field, but surprisingly returned to the game only a few moments later. While tweets commending his courage subsequently propelled his name to a Twitter trending topic, I couldn’t help but cringe. “There’s no way they had time to run baseline tests for a concussion,” Millen remarked.

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi famously remarked, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit.” Unfortunately, sometimes doing things “right” and winning are mutually exclusive. Later in the Vanderbilt game, Jordan Matthews made a great catch that helped Vanderbilt take the lead late in the game. Had it not been for a huge play for Mississippi afterward, leaving Matthews in the game would have been a winning decision. But it’s hard to say it was doing the “right” thing. Research and testing has shown that a repeated blow to the head following a concussion escalates the long-term damage significantly. Coach James Franklin’s decision to leave his star player in the game almost won the game for his team, but could have easily had long-term consequences for Matthews.

Sadly, the competition involved in sports has led to dire consequences on multiple occasions. Ironically, the same day as the Matthews injury, the NFL agreed to an almost $800 million dollar settlement with former players due to injuries sustained for concussions. The “man up and get out there” attitude dominated football for far too long. And it’s not just coaches who take things too far; fans have been known to do the same thing. Fights frequently break out between opposing fans, even leading to severe injury in some cases.

So as the football season returns, I hope all you football fans out the enjoy the competition. Wear your favorite team’s colors today (I’m sporting my orange and white – Go Vols!). Have a cookout with your friends. Cheer loud and be excited.

But also remember that winning isn’t everything. Treat others with respect, no matter which team they root for. When your favorite player is taken out of the game after an injury, applaud the coach for taking care of him rather than questioning his logic. Football is a wonderful game, but it’s just a game.

An apology

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman


It’s well after midnight on a Saturday night. I’m lying in bed. I should be sleeping. But I can’t. Instead, my thoughts are keeping me awake.

You don’t have to be a die-hard news junkie to have heard of the story currently sweeping the headlines (apologies to Tim Lincecum). The verdict has arrived in the Trayvon Martin case, and as expected, public opinion is harshly divided.

I wasn’t in the courtroom, and I haven’t heard every word that was uttered there. From what I’ve gathered through the news, the prosecution had a less than stellar case with an inconsistent key witness. Perhaps justice was served today in the strictest legal sense; I’m honestly not sure. But I believe, especially in the eyes of the public, there’s much more to the case than whether or not George Zimmerman had a legal right to pull the trigger.

I have many friends who can relate to the verdict much more closely than I ever can. I’ve read your Facebook posts and tweets. I’ve heard your cries. Tonight the black community is in anguish, and for that I am truly sorry.

I’m sorry that I am part of the demographic perceived as the problem. I’m sorry for the racist remarks others have made during and after the trial. I’m sorry for the robust celebrations people have publicly posted, only adding salt to wounds. I’m sorry that this decision leads many to believe that racism is alive and well, that people of color inherently invoke fear. I’m sorry for the fear this brings to others, fear that they could have been Trayvon or fear that they could be in the future.

I understand that I am but one person and that these words may go largely unrecognized, but I’d like to offer a few challenges to those who have happened to lay eyes on my thoughts.

First, if you agree with the decision, please do not brag or gloat about it on social media. Understand that what might seem innocuous to you could deeply injure another. This is a very delicate situation that can inflict deep wounds and should be treated thusly. The verdict has inadvertently produced a fear of being killed because of race alone, and as a white male I can’t relate to this horrible condition. Be careful not add to it with an unwise tweet or status update.

Second, pray for the Martin family. Verdict aside, the grieving process truly begins for them now. They have lost their son, and whether he deserved to die or not, no parent should ever have to bury a child. I cannot imagine the pain that they feel.

Third, let’s be part of the solution. Whether the jury was right or wrong, whether Zimmerman’s actions were justified or not, a young person whose life had yet to be fully lived is dead. Regardless of your political leanings, race, or views on gun control and the “stand your ground” law, this is a tragedy. So let’s all do our part to fight prejudice, violence, and injustice. Music, television, and movies demeaning women and promoting violence must not be tolerated, and might I add that rappers using the “N word” and “making it rain” promote the very cause they mourn tonight. If we believe all people are equal, let’s promote a culture that reflects that.

I hope that one day racism and violence will only be present in our history books, but unfortunately that day is still far away. In the mean time, I sympathize with those who are hurting and long for the day that their cries will no longer be in vain. Until then, I can only pledge to never be a part of the problem, and I urge you, the reader, to do the same.

Living wage: Legislating against greed

Living wage: It’s quite the loaded term, implying several things at once. According to its supporters, many companies (especially large retail corporations) pay employees less than they need to buy basic necessities – food, rent payment, etc. The solution, according to proponents of the idea, is to raise the minimum wage to an acceptable level (about 50% higher than the current rate).

It’s an idea that has caught on, especially among younger Americans more likely to be living at the poverty line. I’m all about taking care of people, but I’m also thoroughly convinced that the idea won’t work. Presently, Washington D.C. is considering the idea, leaving concerns that many businesses will leave the area.

When one small area adopts the plan, businesses may close down or avoid building there. When adopted on a national scale, here’s what happens when the minimum wage is raised:

  • Companies’ expenses rise due to higher wages.
  • Companies raise prices to compensate for the extra expense.
  • Higher expenses drive up inflation, devaluing the dollar.
  • Workers making minimum wage effectively make the same amount of money as before (income compared to expenses), and everyone else ends up making less money (as their wages remain the same but expenses rise.

What living wage supporters fail to recognize is that the root problem isn’t the structure of American laws but greed. Greed is the ugly side of capitalism. A controlled market (socialism) will ultimately fail or at best leave most people in poverty, as currently seen in Cuba and previously demonstrated in the Soviet Union. Capitalism solves this problem as it rewards those who work hard, but it also opens itself up to greed. CEOs and others at the top of the corporate food chain make six or seven figures while low-level employees scrape by.

Just over a century ago, Walter Rauschenbusch and others began a push to change the shift Christianity’s emphasis on individual sin to “social sins.” His was a push against social corruption, institutionalized evil, mob actions, and so forth. He saw the problem of evil as one not rooted in individual hearts but in “suprapersonal entities” – namely socio-economic and political entities. Specifically, he named four “major loci” of evil: militarism, individualism, capitalism and nationalism. Finding capitalism to be inherently evil and pushing for socialism as an alternative, he found the working conditions Americans faced to be deplorable and unacceptable. To better understand the time period about which he was writing, consider that Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906; Rauschenbusch released Christianity and the Social Crisis in 1907. Rauschenbusch fought for changes to working conditions, including a fair minimum wage.

It’s honestly not fair to compare the conditions of 100 years ago with those of today, but it’s fair to assume Rauschenbusch would likely be pleased with progress that has been made but still dissatisfied with the “social evil” that still exists today.

I’m convinced that the push for a “living wage,” if successful, will end up creating more problems than it solves; raising minimum wage has a proven recent track record of ineffectiveness (although I’d be the first to agree that it was necessary during Rauschenbusch’s time). I’m also convinced that corporate greed is at an all-time high and something must be done. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I’d be curious to hear your answers in the comments below.

What should be done to help those with low-income jobs? What is the Christian response to corporate greed? I’m excited to hear your answers.