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 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 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

Finished reading: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Found this on the library shelf and was a challenging read to start the year. Is Kendi making an effort to be super-even-handed? Nope. But he has enough facts on his side to make a compelling account. From the first white settlers colonizing through the beginning of the 21st century, he highlights the terrifying history of racism in the USA. It can feel like a stretch at times – King Kong subliminally picturing white’s fear of blacks? sure, but the Rocky movies continuing to do so with the white hero taking on black opponents? Maybe from a certain point of view.

Some progressive reading isn’t gonna hurt me, I guess. (I just borrowed Zinn’s History from the library the other day.)

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Books I Read in 2016

Another year, another book list. I think this year I can at least say that the unread book pile gathering dust by my bed is a little smaller than it has been in previous year.

My reading list for 2016 is on Goodreads. To summarize my year in reading:

  • I read 76 books in total. (This is the most for any year since I started logging in 2007.)
  • 40 were non-fiction – primarily biography, history, and theology
  • 36 were fiction – pretty heavily sci-fi and fantasy this year.

My favorite non-fiction:

My favorite fiction:

  • The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. I found this on a pre-teen recommended reading list and read it along with my oldest daughter. We enjoyed it so much we decided to make it a read-aloud book for the whole family. Crivens!
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Lots of people have written better about this than I can. A beautiful story, beautifully told.
  • Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Berry has a unique voice and his stories of Port William, Kentucky, are treasures.
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. Imagine, if you will, that slavery was still legal in the US South, and that Underground Railroad-type activities were still happening. Interested in what happens next? Go get this book.

I don’t know if I’ll get to 76 books again this year – I know I already have a few really thick ones on the to-read list that might slow me down – but as always it’s fun to read, fun to review at end-of-year, and fun to have books to recommend and give to others.

Talking Complementarianism and Egalitarianism with Brent Thomas

Brent Thomas is kicking the dust off his blog in the hopes of fostering some charitable discussions on contentious topics. He starts out with a doozy: complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.

Let’s start with “complimentarianism” and “egalitarianism”. For those not familiar with these terms, they have to do with the idea of gender roles, particularly in ministry (at least that’s what we’ll focus on for the sake of this conversation though the issue certainly applies to marriage and gender-relations as a whole so feel free to take the conversation there if you’d like). Most Christians would argue that men and women are created equal, that’s not the issue here. Instead, the question becomes gender role, particularly within a ministry context.

Complementarians argue that, because of unique gender roles found in Scripture, women are prohibited from leadership roles within the local church such as “elder” or “pastor” while Egalitarians argue that not only do no such Scriptural barriers exist, women are just as called and qualified to serve in such roles.

He admits this is a simplification of the issue, but then kicks off the discussion with a series of questions that I’ll give my answers to here. If you’re interested in the discussion, I’d encourage you to answer them yourself either on your own web space or in Brent’s comments. The following questions are his, the answers mine.

Do you view this as an issue of “orthodoxy”? In other words, if someone holds a different position than you on gender-roles, do you believe them to still be a Christian?

I do not believe this is an issue of orthodoxy.

If you do not view this as an issue of orthodoxy, how important is this issue to you? Where would you rank it on a scale of theological/cultural importance (top, bottom, middle, etc.)?

I’d rate it as a matter of middling importance to me. It’s not significant enough to, by itself, drive a change in the church that I attend. I don’t have a big enough progressive soapbox to rate it as too highly culturally important. I lean that way sometimes, but I don’t have a soapbox – just a few soap flakes or something.

Do you hold to either position? Why? What Scriptures or outside books/authors helped you arrive at your position? How do you succinctly explain your position to others, especially those who might disagree? What pushed you in one direction or the other?

I personally hold rather gently to the egalitarian position. (I am a member of a church that is firmly complementarian.) I grew up being taught a complementarian position and held to it up until the past 7 – 8 years. I recall reviewing Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet (in which he advocates for the egalitarian position) shortly before it was released and blogging my disagreement with Dr. McKnight’s conclusions. He then chided me in the comments for not answering the actual questions he was asking. In retrospect, he had a point.

I’ve considered the Scriptures, read plenty of the online debate on the topic, and have been significantly influenced by female friends who serve in leadership positions at their egalitarian churches. My thoughts have undoubtedly also been influenced, though in ways I can’t as easily put my finger on, by having three daughters of my own.

The other experience that sticks out to me was taking communion last year at an egalitarian church where the elements were served by a husband-and-wife couple. I’m not sure whether serving the Lord’s Supper is gender-restricted in typical complementarian churches. (The elements are served by the elders in my current church, but not sure if that’s doctrine or just tradition.) But having the elements served and words spoken by both the man and woman serving was a very powerful experience.

Why do you believe that this issue seems to cause such division? Why has it been so controversial to so many? How can people on all sides of this issue come together without sacrificing their own convictions? Or can they?

I think this issue causes division because it gets easily lumped in together with other gender-related issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The hermeneutics that are typically used to support the egalitarian position – specifically, that Paul’s teaching was for a specific situation and time and not necessarily applicable for all Christians at all times – are similar to those used to support acceptance of homosexuality within the church. Thus the slippery-slope argument kicks in pretty quick.

I believe people can come together on this issue if they are willing to view it as a secondary matter. Clearly the stretching is mostly done by the complementarians, though I really appreciate Richard Beck’s testimony of being an egalitarian in a complementarian church and gracefully maintaining that he will not serve in any role that a women would not also be allowed to serve in. That could be as easy as joining together with other churches from time to time and being respectful when they have women serving in leadership, or finding ways to have women serve and teach in more visible ways.

Thanks, Brent, for inviting the discussion. I look forward to reading others’ opinions as well.