Friday, December 25, 2015

On Miracles

A couple of years ago I was chatting with a friend who dismissed the bible as a "set of fairy tales". While some might take this as antagonistic, it's actually a pretty reasonable response when presented with with a book of outlandish or impossible-sounding stories.

Particularly the story we're celebrating today about a virgin giving birth to a child

In fact, as an engineer one of my biggest difficulties with Christianity is the idea that the natural order of the world could be disrupted. That the rules of the universe could be broken. I spend months processing this concept, thinking "I can work with the idea of God - the universe exists, so it's at least reasonable that something created it. But the virgin birth of Jesus? There's gotta be a better explanation. Something that fits within the framework of rules that I understand the universe to follow...".

Surprisingly, my breakthrough in understanding also grew out of being an engineer. I realized that if I imagined God as a computer programmer running a simulation called "The Universe", miracles didn't sound so outlandish.

Why does this change things? Programmers have a tool called a "Debugger" which lets them arbitrarily pause or modify a program while it's running. The program has no idea it's being modified. Even the most absurd miracles like the sun pausing in the sky (as famously questioned by Inherit the Wind) seem possible.

<GDB - God's Debugger>
# universe.start()
# sleep(3.5 billion years)
# break
# earth.rotation.pause()
# sleep (1 day)
# continue

This visualization allowed me to consciously separate the question of could this happen? from did this happen?. This separation in turn allows me to take a concise stance on many of the big ticket questions Christians often face:

I believe God created the universe with a set of consistent rules. I believe that God can alter the universe in a manner which is entirely unknowable to anything within the universe.


On questions of the nature of the world I defer to scientific reasoning, holding in reserve the notion that God could have modified the state of the universe in any way at any time. 

Examples of the application of this stance:

Evolution: Based on the world I see around me, evolution makes a lot of sense. Most scientists who study biology agree. God might have created humans exactly as we are now, but we have no way to know whether that happened. It's not a big deal - either God created the universe with a set of rules that brought us about, or God created the universe, paused it, and injected humanity directly. The world looks the same to us either way. 

Noah's Ark: I would not be surprised if this story (along with many others in Genesis) is effectively a fairy tale, passed down between generations as a means of describing God's character. It certainly reads like a fairy tale, so I'm content to say maybe it happened, maybe it didn't. I don't know, and I likely can't know.

So, why believe any of what's in The Bible?

The answer to this question hinges on the notion of a Living God. That is, understanding God to be an active, engaging presence in the world today. I have had a variety of experiences which left me with the feeling that God was actively engaged with me. These experiences largely center around communities and beliefs of the Christian church, which use The Bible as its principal guidebook. 

I italicized feeling because I acknowledge that this could all just be a feeling. I don't know. However, trusting and pursuing that feeling has yielded love, community, and insight which together reinforce and reaffirm my decision to continue to pursue God.

My wife and son will probably wake up soon, so I'll end with this:

Merry day-that-we-celebrate-God-pausing-the-universe-and-impregnating-Mary-with-a-baby!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christianity isn't about 'Being Saved'

A few months ago I was talking with a friend who had been raised as a Christian, but decided not to remain so. We first chatted about the reasoning behind this decision (I'll address that discussion in future posts), but what struck me most was what my friend said at the end of the conversation:

I appreciate your offer Tyler because I know how sincerely you would like to think of me as "saved". 

This blindsided me.

I'd totally forgotten that Christianity often gets presented in the context of "being saved" or "not being saved". This sort of language bugs me to no end. I grit my teeth when I see pamphlets like:

This is an absurd way to try to bring people into the Church. It's a fear-based approach that preys on people's insecurities. It has a tendency to treat faith as a binary function - you're either 'saved' or 'not saved'.  Greg Boyd equates this thinking to a marriage, asking (paraphrased): is the objective of marriage simply to be married?

Christianity is a set of beliefs and behaviors built around a relationship with God. Being 'saved' is a effectively a result of this relationship, in the same way that my continued marriage to my wife is a consequence of the time and effort she and I put into our relationship.

For years evangelicals have put too much emphasis on "praying the prayer" to become saved. This is like encouraging a man and woman to get married, but only focusing on saying the vows, ignoring the time required to get to know each other beforehand and the life of devotion afterward.

Christianity is not about being saved. Christianity is about pursuing a relationship with God. 

If you find yourself talking about faith with me, know that I'm not on a mission to 'save' you.  I'm trying to learn about you and share why I think Christianity is an idea worth considering.

Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Defense Of Metal

As a Christian, parent, and fan of heavy metal, death metal, metal core, and similar subgenres, I feel like I should take some time to explain its nuances and explain my rationale for listening to (some of) it.

There are lots of sub-genres to metal music. Instead of attempting to explain them all, I'll present the process I use when categorizing metal:

To the untrained ear, it's easy to lump everything on the right side of this chart into one big, ugly, satan worshiping mess.  For those who enjoy metal, it's equally easy to get sucked in to how awesome a band sounds and forget to think about the message they're presenting.

For quite a few years, my favorite band was "Lamb of God".  This name is not a positive reference to Jesus. Their sound is phenomenal, but ultimately I had to take their albums (and those of a few other bands) off of my shelf. Since then, I've decided to maintain a focus on the question

Does this band or its music present an ideology which explicitly runs counter to my faith and worldview?

I imagine myself having a conversation with God. He asks

Why do you spend so much time listening to __________?

For a lot of secular music, I'd feel comfortable with my answers:

I like the high energy of their percussion
I think Norse mythology is really interesting

But for music which explicitly advocates an anti-Christian view, I feel like I'm insulting God by listening to it, which pushed it across the line.

I know I'd be insulted if my son listened to music about how awful I was.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


If force sensitivity is a dominant hereditary trait, strongly advantageous, widely spread between species, and very old, why are there so few Jedi?

We know it's hereditary because Anakin fathered Luke and Leia, both force sensitive. Leia and Han then had three kids, all force sensitive. Clearly it's a dominant trait, since both Anakin and Leia had non-force sensitive partners, and all of their children are force sensitive.

Episodes I, II, and III made it clear that force sensitivity is not exclusive to humans - there are quite a few non-human species which are force aware.

While we can't state definitively when force sensitivity first occurred, it has definitely been around for thousands of years.

When I first saw Episode I, I dismissed the concept of Midichlorians as nonsense. However, the more I think about it, the better it seems to fit Star Wars canon. As a symbiotic micro organism, midichlorians could easily be passed from parent to child. Similarly, they could easily exist amongst multiple species1.

This explains how multiple species share a similar, seemingly hereditary trait, but still doesn't explain why there are so few force sensitive individuals.

The midichlorian count referenced in Episode I is on a per-cell basis. This implies that midichlorians can replicate (either as part of cellular reproduction or separately).

If they're able to replicate freely, and provide significant advantages to those with high midichlorian counts, there must be some reason that high midichlorian counts are uncommon.

Force sensitivity doesn't seem to have a negative effect on reproductive capability (Luke and Leia both have children). It also doesn't seem to have any adverse effect on health or lifespan (the opposite, actually).

Wookiepedia states that midichlorians are sentient beings. Based on the evidence, I'm forced to go one step further:

Midichlorians are sentient beings engaged in communal, intergalactic communication and cooperation, intentionally governing and limiting their concentration in certain individuals. 

I can only guess as to what their objectives might be, but it's reasonable to assume that in addition to facilitating communication between force aware individuals through The Force, midichlorians themselves are also communicating through The Force.

1. Wookiepedia claims that they're isomorphic, implying that different species gained midichlorians through convergent evolution. This seems reasonable, but doesn't necessarily mean that the transmission of midichlorians is strictly governed by a genetic mechanism. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Visit to the Black Lives Matter Protest in North Minneapolis

After work today I stopped by the 4th Police Precinct.

Plymouth avenue was open to traffic and the scene was pretty relaxed. If I hadn't known better, I might have assumed this was a block party or fundraiser.

Perhaps 30 people milled about, talking, eating, and keeping warm. I wasn't sure what to expect as I approached, knowing that if I was in their shoes I'd be justifiably suspicious of a white guy walking up, dressed for office work and sporting a big camera.

A smile from a woman sitting by a fire reassured me that I was welcome, and I relaxed. For a while I stood on a corner, watching people walk by. Some just passed through, others were welcomed and joined those chatting and drinking coffee.

After a while I approached a friendly looking man sporting safety goggles.

His name was Trey. He said he'd been there for a week, and that the goggles were for smoke from the fires (in retrospect, this might have been a joke, since tear gas was probably a much more significant concern). 

Then a woman approached, asking if I knew what was going on. She'd just gotten off work, and was curious if there were any plans for the evening. 

I explained that I knew about a community gathering planned at a church later in the evening, but didn't know much else. 

She introduced herself as Ebony. When I asked if I could take her picture, she paused. She asked if I was a reporter, and explained that she was frustrated with the coverage they'd received from the Star Tribune. I assured her that I was just a curious blogger. 

She said was this was her third time at the precinct since the protests began. She was proud of the community response, and explained that she was glad her kids could see the peaceful reaction. 

As if to punctuate her point, a school bus drove by, packed with kids who cheered when they saw the protesters. 

She said some people didn't want white folks included in the protest, but that she wanted all of the help she could get. She said her kids were surprised at how many nationalities were present at the last big gathering.

As we spoke, I watched people talk together. Someone in a tent was handing out soup. A man walked around with a bucket full of hand warmers. He offered me one, but I declined. I had to head home, and wouldn't be around long enough to need it. 

Every few minutes, a car would drive by, its honking horn answered by cheers from the protesters.

Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith

Friday, November 13, 2015

A response to Kare 11's Team Ortho investigation

Kare 11 recently published an investigation into Team Ortho, the organization which puts on a variety of themed running events across the mid-west. Here's my response:

Kare 11 unfairly exaggerates claims made against the organization A detailed look at their financial documents showed many of their expenses to be reasonable and in line with my expectations as a runner.

Kare 11's big claim is that 1.5% of Team Ortho's gross revenue goes to charity. This sounds shocking, but fails to account for the major differences between Team Ortho and donation-oriented charities. The key term here is "Gross Revenue". Team Ortho takes in a lot of money, but it also puts on huge events.

Kare 11 doesn't cite any information regarding how much of their revenue goes to paying to run the organization, or to pay for the race itself. For example The financial documents cited by Kare 11 show that about 20% of their revenue goes to salaries (the docs report John Larson as having an $88,000 salary), and the bulk of the remainder goes to other expenses.

Kare 11 doesn't dig into them, but the cited documents provide a detailed list of where Team Ortho's money did go (page 10). Frankly, I'm not really surprised or angry. It takes a lot of work and money to put on a huge race.

If you're really concerned about charity spending, check out the list of top salaries at charities. Most of them are larger than the entire Team Ortho payroll.

Finally, Kare 11 cites a former employee's complaints about a corporate trip to China. While this admittedly does seem like a poor decision, very little context is given. Why were the orders late? Who had to go?

If it really was a scheme to get a free trip to China, that's one thing. But if I was a manager and I had to send employees on a long flight around the world because I screwed up an order, I'd probably consider letting them have a couple of fun days while they were there.

Finally - the dig about Larson's license plates is totally off topic. It's unrelated to the topic at hand and feels like a low blow meant to undermine Larson.

Don't forget to check out my book: The Siege of Abigail Beson! Available now on AmazonAmazon Kindle, and createspace!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reflections on Anxiety

Earlier this year, my friend Andrew Thomas killed himself.

It's taken me quite a while to process this. Andrew always spent a lot of time processing things, so I think he'd understand.

Andrew and I hadn't been in frequent contact for a few years, but we were still on good terms. I don't know what led to his suicide, but it made me realize it was important for me to be more open about my own struggles with mental illness.

I take Sertraline (Generic Zoloft) daily for anxiety. 

It's important for me to state this up front because taking medication for mental illness has a frustrating stigma. For years I felt like taking medication for anxiety would be an admission of weakness. I felt like seeing a "professional" would make me one of those people who need "help".

I spent over ten years of my life struggling with anxiety without even knowing what I was facing.

My anxiety didn't often come in the form of the "attacks" that some people experience. It wasn't an elevated heart rate and difficulty breathing.

It was weeks, months, and years of nagging questions. Like a dog nipping at my heels, anxiety meant questions that wouldn't leave me alone. I couldn't focus. I felt like something was wrong, and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it. I'd fixate on a question, letting it eat at me relentlessly.

Here are some of the questions that have nagged me:

  • Is it OK that I heard about sex from a friend/tv show? (~5 years old)
  • What happens if I'm not explicitly forgiven for everything I do wrong? (~8 years old)
  • Am I gay? (~14 years old)
  • Am I dating the right person? (~17 years old)
  • Am I a Christian? (~24 years old)

These anxieties followed a consistent pattern:

I'd have a good week, able to focus on my friends and my work. Then I'd find a question creeping up again. Unable to let it go, I'd fixate on the question, and descend to a low point. I'd stay at that low point until something helped being me up - a good experience, a fun adventure, or a useful introspective realization.

At 24 years old, I decided to give medication a try. It had a pretty noticeably effect:

I didn't make the anxiety go away. It didn't answer my questions. It pulled me back from the peaks of anxiety. It smoothed the mountains into hills.

Anxiety's still a struggle for me, but asking for help goes a long way to making it manageable. 

Marrying a social worker is a good strategy too :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

When to admit defeat

In the realm of engineering it is frequently wise to admit defeat.

As I've become more mature as an engineer, I've learned that there are a few signals I need to regard which tell me it's time to give up. They are:

  1. I'm not feeling patient. If I find myself moving forward with a design with little or no critical thought, I'm at serious risk of making a mistake and wasting time. 
  2. I've been trying the same approach for too long. I learned this lesson in a graphics course in college. I worked on a project for days and days, hacking at the same chunk of code. Ultimately, I didn't get it working correctly until I threw the code away and started from scratch. Starting from scratch let me use what I'd learned while working on my original solution without being burdened by it. 
  3. I can't remember why I'm trying something.  Last week I was trying to fix a bug in a project's build configuration. Toward the end of the week I found myself changing settings, running tests, then forgetting why I changed a setting in the first place.  This was a clear signal that I needed to stop, step back, and make sure I really understood the problem before proceeding. 
I can't remember any engineering problem I've faced where I found the solution by pushing through fatigue. The solutions always come when I realize it's time to step back, check my understanding of the problem, then proceed patiently. 

How to get people to think that you like them

This is a seven minute talk I gave at a barcamp about 18 months ago.

I picked the wording of this title carefully. It doesn’t matter whether you actually like these people. Some people you genuinely like might not know that you like them, and most of the time it’s better if people you don’t like think that you do.

I’m going to tell you five rules for making people think that you like them. This wasn’t an exhaustively researched study, these are just the things that work for me.

  1. Use people’s names. Every. single. day.
  2. When you’re listening, show that you’re listening.
  3. Ask for help
  4. Doubt your assumptions
  5. Don’t email angry

Starting from the top. Use people’s names. It will take some extra effort to learn names, but it definitely pays off. People love to hear their own name. It makes them feel unique and valued. In “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Dale Carnagie claims that a person’s own name is their favorite word in the world.

I had a boss who’d never say “hi Tyler” when we passed each other in the hall. Apparently he thought I was a great employee, but I was never convinced he genuinely liked me. Why? He never acknowledged me as an individual. Use people’s names.

Now let’s talk about listening. Listening is a whole body activity. Most of us are facing computers most of the day.  When talking to someone, turn away from the computer toward them. Use your whole body to show that you’re listening. Don’t just turn your head, turn your shoulders and arms. This demonstrates that your full attention is on them and that in turn makes them feel like you value them.

On to number three: ask for help. This one is a bit counter-intuitive. People, in general, like helping you. For example, a couple of weeks ago Ray sent me a message asking me to talk at this barcamp. I immediately thought to myself: Hey, Ray thinks I’m a smart guy and a good speaker. I didn’t think “ugh, I’ve been inconvenienced”. I thought: I feel valued.

There’s another cool part of this approach. It’s called cognitive dissonance. I may or may not like Ray, but here I am, presenting like he asked me to. Now, I’m going to tell myself: Tyler, you’re not a stupid person. You aren’t dumb enough to go talk in front of a bunch of people for someone you don’t like. You must like Ray. Yes. You must.

Let’s review what we’ve covered so far:  Use people’s names. Listen with your whole body. Ask for help. Two two go!

This next one’s tougher to pull off. Doubt your assumptions about people. Engineers tend to be judgmental people. I’m willing to bet everyone in this room could rattle off a couple names of people they think are morons. Who do you work with that you think is a moron? <pause> The way you think of them will affect how you act around them, and will (despite your best attempts) show through in your interactions with them.

The people may be bad at their jobs, or they may not. But, every now and then ask yourself: What if they missed the deadline because their spouse is sick? What if they need help but aren’t sure how to ask for it? What if they’re not actually morons?

Here’s the last one, it’s pretty simple: If you’re frustrated, don’t email about it. Nobody has ever been convinced that they were wrong by an angry email. If you have an issue with someone, call them. Walk to their office. Write a letter and throw it away. Anything but email. If you are angry, do not email.

There you go. Use people’s names. Listen with your body. Ask for help. Doubt your assumptions. Don’t email angry.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

If I wasn’t already a Christian, what would convince me to give it a try?

Recently I’ve been thinking about this question:

If I wasn’t already a Christian, what would convince me to give it a try?

Many people and churches take the easy route: Fear.

“What will happen to you when you die?”
“Do you want to go to heaven or hell?”

This is a terrible strategy. The bible rarely mentions hell. Jesus constantly talks about ‘His Father’s kingdom’ but never resorts to threats of damnation. This approach exploits the fears and anxieties we all have about death and morality and is unlikely to win over critical thinkers.

If we leave out the "fear of hell" angle, there’s a rational, objective approach: 

We exist. The universe appears to have a discrete ‘beginning’ (the big bang). It is plausible that there is some extra-observable entity which brought about our existence. 

That’s nice, but taken alone this only gets me as far as a loose, flying-spaghetti-monster level agnosticism. There might be a God. Where is God now? I have no idea. Why can’t we objectively demonstrate that God exists? I don’t know.

Instead, the best reason to consider Christian faith is its central message:

We're all broken and we're all loved.

It's important to state this a couple of ways:

Those people you don't really like - They're broken. They're loved.

The man asking for change on the street - He's broken. He's loved.

The celebrity it's easy to make fun of - She's broken. She's loved.

You're broken. You've loved.

This message provides groundwork for interpersonal empathy in a unique way. You cannot become 'better' than anyone else. Nothing you do can make you "successful".  No amount of hard work can make you "good enough". You'll never do enough, and that's OK; stop trying.

Think about the goals you have in life. I imagine talking to a six year old:

I want to publish a paper in a major academic journal.


So I can get name recognition in my field.


So I can feel proud of myself.


So I can be happy.

Try this exercise with a few different goals. Where do you end up? Mine frequently end up at "I want to accomplish XYZ because I want to be happy".

This thinking puts me in a cycle of work --> reward --> work --> reward. I find brief moments of satisfaction, then I dive into the next task.

This cycle works fine until something breaks.

Sooner or later I fall short at work. I have an argument with my wife. A friend dies young. My pursuit of happiness ends in a feeling of brokenness. From this broken place I have two options. I can work, strain, and search search until I find something else to bring back happiness, or I can break the cycle:

I am broken. I am loved. 

The compelling message of Christianity is that everybody is intrinsically valuable. This mean I can love myself even when I fail. It also means I can love others when they fail. It doesn't mean I will always be happy. It doesn't mean I don't need to work hard. It just means that I can stop striving to be enough.

I can't objectively demonstrate the validity of the story of Jesus, but I can argue that Christianity provides the best basis for a moral framework through which to view myself and interact with the world. I can't prove that experiences I believe to be spiritually driven were the effect of supernatural intervention, but I can show the positive changes which have come about in my life as a result of my faith.

There's far more to faith than what I've written here, but this is why I think it's worth giving it a try.

Thoughts on the Supreme Court Gay Marriage Ruling

There aren't many issues I'll get up on a soap box for, but here are my two cents on the past week of supreme court rulings:
The United States is not a Christian nation.
The laws and structure of the United States will never perfectly embody God's kingdom. It attempts to accommodate the failings we all share. Capitalism strives to shape our innate greed into a reasonably functional economy. Free speech attempts to wrangle our capacity for saying really stupid things. Freedom of religion acknowledges that we all think we're right about the issues we care about. Our legal system attempts to do damage control for the most visible or impactful sinners.
Here's the problem: The United States governs from the top down. The federal government is a huge top-down structure, from federal, to state, to county, to city, to distinct, we're governed from the top down.
When Jesus arrived, everyone expected him to be a top-down leader. They expected him to conquer the Romans and establish a worldwide top-down Christian nation.
He didn't do that.
He could have, but he didn't.
He started at the absolute bottom: cleaning the feet of prostitutes and eating with the rejects of Jewish society. This wasn't a grass roots movement that ended with him leading a revolution. He started at the bottom and he ended there, dying as a criminal.
The United States is an awesome place. It has done an incredible job of building a top-down system to handle the sins we all share. Jesus didn't call his followers to take control of governments to enforce Christian doctrine by decree. He calls us to love everyone around us unconditionally, to sacrifice ourselves for those around us.
I don't know whether gay marriage is right or wrong.
The bible is a huge, beautiful, and complex document. I do what I can to interpret it and apply it to my life. I believe in a living God and I do my best to communicate with Him as I walk through life. I have a tough enough time making judgements in my own life and I'm thankful that I don't have to make judgements on others'.
The role of the United States isn't to enforce Christianity by decree. Nor is its role to enforce Judaism by decree. Or Islam. Or Atheism.
The role of the United States is to do its best to accommodate three hundred million people who all think they know what's right.
The role of Christians is to build God's kingdom from the bottom up. God's kingdom isn't built up or torn down by supreme court rulings. It's built up by people working from the bottom up. It's not torn down.
For these reasons, my political opinions are necessarily separated from my opinions on issues of faith. My stance on political issues is driven by the question: will this further the United States' top-down goal of accommodating everyone? My stance on personal issues facing me hinges on asking: will this further God's plan for me to build His kingdom from the bottom up?
Understanding the supreme court's ruling on gay marriage to fall into the political category, I believe it furthers the United States' top-down goal of accommodating everyone and therefore support it.

Thoughts on Ideas

Let's talk about ideas.
It's nearly impossible to win an argument. Think about the last political argument you saw take place between sparring Facebook commenters. Were any positions changed? Was any progress made? If you're experience is anything like mine, the answer is no.
We're all emotionally invested in our ideas. When I'm discussing my position on an issue, it's more than just a position. It's my position. It's a little bit of me.
It's hard to distance yourself from your ideas, to step back and observe them objectively. It takes time and care to separate your beliefs from your identity.
When you're trying to "win" an argument, you're trying to reach across the table and rip apart the ideas and identity of your opponent.
This will not work.
When you try to force someone to dismantle their identity, they inevitably do the opposite, pulling their ideas and identity together even tighter than before.
Instead of trying to tear apart your adversary, simply plant the seed of your idea in their mind. Trust that in their own time they will slowly and gently separate their ideas from their identity and consider yours instead.
They key is that you present your ideas in a manner that allows them to take root. Don't throw them around tied to harsh words or accusations. Don't pollute them with arrogance. Don't use a firehose when a sprinkle will suffice.
It will probably take years for your idea to take hold, and that's OK. It may take generations, and that's OK too.

Thoughts on the Black Lives Matter Movement

This post is a bit harsh, but bear with me.
Imagine you're watching the news and you see a report that a mosquito was killed today. Would you care? What is the report said a mouse was killed today? What about a kitten? What about the baby boy?
If you are anything like me, your emotional reaction increased dramatically as the subject got closer and closer to human. By default I empathize more with things that are similar to me. I started with an extreme example, but this applies to different types of people too. I feel it in my stomach when an American soldier is killed in Iraq, but hardly notice when I hear about a mosque being bombed.
An American soldier is much more like me. We speak the same language, look the same, and share the same cultural customs. It's *easy* for me to relate to people like me, and I naturally feel a stronger emotional reaction when someone like me is hurt.
When I hear about a poor black man killed by police, my default emotional reaction as an affluent white man is muted compared to what it would be if an affluent white man was killed.
This is not a good thing. It's a horrible thing. This is a facet of my fallen, sinful human nature. I find Matthew 5:43-47 particularly relevant:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
To rephrase slightly:
43 You have heard it said "Love your neighbor and ignore strangers." 44 But I tell you, love those you don't understand and pray for those who don't look like you. 45 God loves everybody equally. 46 If you love those who are just like you, what reward will you get? Even the Nazis did that. 47 And if you greet only people from the same socioeconomic background, what are you doing more than others? Even ISIS does that.
Jesus' point was that we need to put *effort* into loving people that are not like us. This doesn't happen easily. It takes work. It takes a conscious effort to mentally put yourself into the shoes of someone totally different from you. When you do this, you start to empathize with them. When you empathize with them, their pain starts to matter to you. You start to feel it in your gut.
This is why the slogan "Black Lives Matter" is important to me. I needed to be told, need to be told, and will need to be told, to care about those who are not like me. To care about the black men and women whose backgrounds are wildly different from mine. To force myself to put myself in their shoes so that when I hear about black men dying, I feel it like a punch to my stomach.
Is this limited to black lives? Of course not. White lives matter, asian lives matter, hispanic lives matter. The point of "Black Lives Matter" is to acknowledge that the backgrounds and stories of black people in America have been marginalized and trivialized to the point that much of the country has little or no empathy for them.
Jesus didn't tone down his rhetoric to a safe statement like "love everybody" or "all lives matter". He knew his audience, and he spoke directly to them. He pointed out the people who were absolutely different from them, and said "Love them. They matter."