Bullet points for a Wednesday afternoon

  • I’m glad I signed up for the 0530 kickboxing class, but it’d really help if I’d go to bed earlier at night. Short sleep + workouts = ouch.
  • Also = zzzzzz. The folks at the coffee stand know my order (large Americano) now and have it going when I walk up.
  • Not so great: realizing 45 minutes in that what you thought was a one-hour Webex meeting is actually a two-hour Webex meeting.
  • Better: having said two-hour Webex meeting only take an hour.
  • My diet that’s supposed to be accompanying my kickboxing class isn’t helped when my wife buys two-pound cinnamon rolls from the local bakery.
  • I’ve been busy enough lately that I started drafting this on Tuesday morning and just finally published it on Wednesday afternoon.
  • On balance, I’m not really complaining about the cinnamon roll.

Finished Reading: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear

The buzz on this one had been going around Twitter for a while, so I was glad to pick up a copy and read. Michael Wear is a young guy who, not even out of college, worked as the White House lead for evangelical outreach during President Obama’s first term. Reclaiming Hope is part memoir of those years and partly Wear’s suggestions for how to repair political engagement with religion.

On the whole, I think Wear did a good job of identifying points where both the right and left failed in opportunities to find common ground that could’ve made legitimate progress on issues important to religious conservatives. However, I think his admiration for President Obama causes him to pull his punches in the second half of the book.

In the first half of the book, Wear reveals himself as something of an Obama fan boy as he details all of the President’s speeches that reveal the depth to his personal faith. (I’m not disputing these – I have great admiration for Obama’s faith – but the tone is pretty fawning.) When Wear starts assigning blame in the second half of the book, though, the blame is never to Obama directly, but always to the “administration” or the “White House”.

Overall, it’s a good little memoir, and Wear has some good thoughts to share about how we might find progress forward on issues significant to people of faith.

Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America

Finished reading: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

History, it is often said, is written by the winners. Zinn, though, undertakes to tell a history of America from the perspective of the losers, the poor, the oppressed. Think the arrival of the explorers from the perspective of the Native Americans. The colonial and early US history from the perspective of the slaves. The early 1900s from the perspective of poor workers banding together into labor unions.

Zinn is not trying to be even-handed here, but this volume would serve as an excellent companion to any more traditional history of the United States. It also serves as a good reminder that while things may seem bleak in our current political era, they have been much worse, and our country has withstood far more.

A People’s History of the United States

Where you get your news matters

As I sit and write today we are in day two of Donald Trump’s presidency. Across the United States and around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are marching in protest of Trump’s disregard for women and minorities. It’s likely that the number of attendees at the marches in Washington, DC, will far outnumber the crowds at Trump’s inauguration yesterday.

I’ve seen a broad number of first-hand reports from those marches all morning via Twitter. What astonished me, though, was seeing the broad difference in coverage between various online news sources. Here’s what I found. I screen captured these websites around 11:30 AM central time.

ABC News

ABC’s top story is the march, with a photo. It’s followed by headlines about President Trump’s visit to the National Cathedral, a tornado in Missisippi, and an avalanche in Italy. A fair spread of news for the first screen.

BBC News

Again the lead is the marches, with special note taken that there are protests around the world, not just in DC. They quickly link to analysis pieces. “Why are the women marching?” “Trump’s angry call to arms.” And who can resist the delicious headline “Democrats flail in abyss”?

NPR News

NPR leads with the themes of President Trump’s inaugural message: “American carnage” and “America First”. Second comes the marches.

CNN

CNN is all about the marches on the first screen, including live video coverage and individual stories apparently profiling marchers. Just below the digital fold is a section titled “The Start of the Trump Era”.

Fox News

Then there’s Fox News. Screen one: Trump signs an executive order to try to gut the Affordable Care Act. Trump’s “new vision” for America. I was curious, so I kept scrolling.

Screen two: Obama’s flight to a vacation diverted due to bad weather. Full text of Trump’s inauguration speech. Other news sites deem Trump’s speech offensive. Trump has to part with “beloved cellphone”. Trump attends prayer service. “Three Things Every Christian Owes Donald Trump”. (Well, OK, then.)

Let’s keep going.

Screen three: “Food Network Star implies Trump plagiarized Inauguration Cake”. (Take a look at the side-by-side pictures. Totally plagiarized. But I digress.) And there it is! Finally! One line! “Hundreds of thousands of women march on Washington”. No photo. But a big photo of tornado damage in Mississippi and one of a bust of Winston Churchill that Trump has returned to the Oval Office.

Now friends, the disparity in coverage is, I hope, so obvious that I don’t even really need to point it out. What this highlights, though is that how and where we get our news matters.

Every reporter and news organization has some sort of bias. We will never find a source that is completely neutral. There have been Washington marches in the past (e.g. the Right-to-Life march every year) that CNN will ignore and Fox News will headline.

What we can learn to do, though, is to read widely and to become aware of those biases. If your only source for news is Fox, I beg you, watch some CNN as well. Or read the New York Times. If your only source is MSNBC or NPR, read some Fox for balance.

Facts are facts, but perspectives are tricky things. For us to navigate the upcoming years as people of good will we must work diligently to learn the facts, and to recognize perspective and bias in ourselves and those around us.

Finished reading: Introduction to the Old Testament by J. Alberto Soggin

John Halton’s review set me on this one, and I had much the same response to it that he did. Soggin’s work looks at the Old Testament from a historical perspective and dives heavily into textual criticism.

It is eye-opening for this conservative evangelical to see how far the academically-accepted historical background of the OT differs from the one we are taught by our church leaders, but rather than causing me to look askance at the OT now, it causes me to appreciate more how God has brought together these texts in a way that is meaningful for us as believers today. (It also cements in my mind that defining “infallibility” for the Scriptures is an impossible task, and that “inspired” or “God-breathed” makes much more sense.)

Glad I read this one… and ready for something a little less academic now as a palate cleanser.

Introduction to the Old Testament

The most moving video I’ve seen in quite a while…

President Obama awards VP Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his 40 years of public service. Biden has no idea the award is coming. Agree with their politics or not, these are respectable men who have each served their country well.

The friendship and love they have for each other is remarkable and touching. It’s hard not to contrast Biden’s evident humility with the arrogant bluster we so often hear from the next resident of the White House.

Finished reading: How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin

Read this one on a business trip this week. Having nothing to do with actual nautical survival skills, this book is Martin’s personal confessional and memoir of the breakup of his marriage and leaving the pastorate at his church.

Martin is a very talented writer, and while some of the initial Scripture applications are a stretch (Paul, after his shipwreck, told the people to eat, therefore, when our lives are in metaphorical shipwrecks, we should be sure we eat via participation in the Eucharist), the book shines in the latter chapters when he focuses in on grace in a way that will sound familiar to readers of Robert F. Capon.

There’s a part of me that’s skeptical of the value of an author writing this instructionally when he was clearly still in the midst of learning the lessons he’s communicating, but it was still an encouraging read. My prayer for Jonathan is that he continues to heal and grow in grace in the days to come.

How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is on the Way and Love Is Already Here

Thanks, Obama.

A little more than 8 years ago I did something I’d never done before, and voted for a Democrat for president. For a born-and-raised Republican, this was a big step. But there was something about this man that was special. He talked in an inspiring way about hope that we hadn’t heard from politicians in quite a while. And there was something special about electing America’s first black president.

I remember sitting at home watching President-Elect Obama give an acceptance speech before a massive crowd at Grant Park in Chicago. It seemed like a turning point of sorts, a reason to be hopeful about our political situation.

Now by any measure there are gripes each of us would have with the policies and decisions President Obama has made over the past 8 years. Politics is the art of the compromise. If everyone comes away from the table feeling like they got some of, but not all of, what they wanted, the process probably worked. Now, depending on your political convictions, you may have agreed with most of what he did, or only a little of what he did, but such is the nature of politics.

Tonight President Obama, a week before leaving office, again gave a Chicago speech, but this time a farewell speech. And what a speech it was.

President Obama called us as Americans to pursue the higher, nobler, goals of sacrifice for, and service to others. And he spoke clearly about our need to see the world from the perspective of our neighbors. Forgive a long quoted section, but it’s so good:

But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.

We have to pay attention and listen.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.

So regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.

And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.

And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Look, politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other.

And we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible. And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on pre-school for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations?

How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, it’s selective sorting of the facts. It’s self-defeating because, as my mom used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

That’s good stuff right there. As my friend Keith said:

President Obama has also traversed eight years of service as a dedicated and loving father and husband. His words at the end of the speech tonight were enough to have any father in tears:

Michelle…

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson of the South Side…
… for the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for. And you made it your own with grace and with grit and with style, and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.

You have made me proud, and you have made the country proud.

Malia and Sasha…
… under the strangest of circumstances you have become two amazing young women. You are smart and you are beautiful. But more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion.

And you wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.

The “Thanks, Obama” meme has been around for almost the entire duration of Obama’s presidency. Originally used to sarcastically “thank” the president for anything deemed to be his fault, it quickly grew to blame him for things he had no hand in. In the past couple of years I’ve seen folks of a more liberal stripe using it more ironically, which seems like it’s come full circle in a way.

But tonight I’d like to say it quite genuinely. Thanks, Obama. Thanks, Mr. President. Our country is better off because of your service, and we are all better for your example of service and faithfulness.

Finished reading: Broken Trust by W.E.B. Griffin

I got sucked into Griffin’s Badge of Honor series years ago. This is book #13, and the hero is still only 27 years old, and opens the story still suffering from the wound he suffered in book #12. Hey, if Griffin is still making money cranking these out at age 87, good for him. But let’s not pretend they’re any more substantive entertainment than your average 1.5-star franchise action movie. Meh.

Broken Trust