Dear Debate Partners:
Here’s my opening disclaimer: This is not a musing about gun control. The most recent tragic carnage in Parkland, Florida, has occasioned my musing. Believe me, I have my opinions about firearms, and I’m pretty sure most of you would not find my policy proposals satisfactory. I’m also sure some of you would respond quickly and aggressively to my ideas. That’s what has me musing—how is it that people of similar experience, education and good will can be so diametrically and aggressively poised against each other?
I have a few theories about our disagreeable nature; hopefully, these are far less contentious than my bone-headed attitudes about the Second Amendment. My goal here is to lower the temperature of civil discourse, to provide some accounting for our incapacity to find compromise for the sake of a common good, or, at minimum, to create a case for constructive engagement.
I’m also not interested in suggesting civility is some treasured skill once commonly held in a pre-internet past; human history is littered with evidence of our inability to listen to one another. I would suggest it is in our nature to argue. When God asked Adam and Eve if they had eaten of the fruit, they both immediately changed the subject and blamed someone or something else.
What confuses me about most arguments over several policy issues is how aggressively we can battle over things that we most likely will never have to endure. I believe the further we are from a direct experience of a matter, the less it directly affects our lives, the easier it is for our attitudes and beliefs to become unyieldingly entrenched. Consider with whom you are most likely to start an argument. People who have little interaction with the impoverished and are the least likely to find themselves in poverty seem to have the most aggressive attitudes regarding the causes and character of the poor. Individuals living in homogeneous neighborhoods are pretty opinionated about diversity, and I hear the most confident theories about childrearing from the childless.
I am reminded of my mother, who told me a few months back they had a special program at her assisted living facility given by a nice young social worker. Her topic was “growing old gracefully.” She said the residents found her insights extremely entertaining.
My observation has been that I can most aggressively defend positions and attitudes that I am least likely to test. We tend to make up our minds about things that we will never have to mind, and there we find our temptation.
Avoiding that temptation is why I find myself spending less and less time talking about heaven or hell because it turns out my opinion will have little impact on what is objectively true. The likelihood of eternal damnation does not magically increase simply because I believe that should be your eventual destiny.
The stuff I have experienced is significantly more ambiguous than the things I haven’t. It’s much easier for me to articulate a coherent policy on social media security than it is for me to figure out what group should use the Fellowship Hall when we’ve accidentally double-booked. My problems are complicated; global issues are easy.
Working hard to avoid pointless fights, I remain,
Dear Nattering Nabobs and other News Neighbors:
The other day I saw a meme using a photograph of Walter Cronkite. The text pined the days when anchormen read the news and the nation tuned in and trusted. The comments that followed implied a moral decline among those overseeing broadcast journalism; we were just better people when there were only four networks (I include PBS’ MacNeil/Lehrer news report even though it was a latecomer in 1975). But the death of trustworthy reporting comes with a history.
Ethel “Betty” Bettin Bruechart was an amazing woman, at one point serving as senior editor for The King’s Business, the nation’s largest Christian magazine. She was also the executive administrative assistant for Dr. Lewis Talbot, president of Biola University and founder of Talbot School of Theology in Los Angeles, California.
Born in 1903, Aunt Betty’s talent as a speaker, writer and editor was eclipsed by the powerful men in her life. Her diary is filled with the names of her colleagues, a who’s who of mid-twentieth century American Fundamentalist evangelism. She had corrected the grammar and punctuation of the likes of T.C. Horton, Lyman Stewart, Donald Barnhouse, R.A. Torrey and Charles Fuller, names not recognizable today, but in the evangelism circles before Billy Graham they were household words. Honored
At stake is the nature and power of office. Does the holder of official authority have, by that authority, the right to undermine the very institutional structures and traditions perceived to uphold the power granted to the individual by their office? Additionally, is it possible to maintain respect for the office without a corresponding respect for the individual who has taken the position through means consistent with pre-defined mechanisms and procedures? At what point does an attempt to rein in the behavior and abuse of power require restricting the holder of office in ways detrimental to accepted, even canonical structures? And at what point do the attitudes and decisions of the official become so contrarian and unpalatable that it becomes reasonable to ignore, even subvert, the official’s authority?
In 1712, Anglo-Irish Jonathan Swift, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, published an open letter to government official Robert Harley begging him to establish a panel of experts who, with the force of law, could protect the English language from the deteriorating influence of barbaric misuse (or shoulde that be mifuse?).
Swift’s major complaint was the drift of the past tense, abbreviating the language in ways he felt rewarded laziness. Verbs like kiss-ed and pass-ed (dash added to provide emphasis on the second syllable) were drifting so that uneducated pronunciations like “kissed” and “past” were becoming commonplace and destroying the richness of refinement. It’s difficult to argue with such a learn-ed scholar and satirist as Swift, or is that learned?
Dear Social Construction Workers:
The research of two scholars converged in my head this past week and now occupies much of my musing. The first is religious sociologist Azim Shariff, whose studies posit that religion evolved as human social groups became too large for relational scrutiny. The second is historian Jeffrey Mullins, who studies the scientific method used by revivalists in 19th century America, in particular the tent revivals of Charles Finney.
Shariff proposes that religion significantly evolved about 12,000 years ago when human groups, once tribes no larger than 50 people, became villages and cities where individuals could no longer directly observe the honesty, compassion or trustworthiness of their fellow citizens. People needed a way to identify commonly held values and virtues, and mutual dedication to a judging deity created a shortcut to discerning those who could be trusted.
Yesterday was Labor Day. I’m sorry for those who had outdoor plans; today we’re back to work, and the weather is great.
For those of you a little rusty on your labor history, the history of Labor Day has dark roots in a Chicago police shooting just as controversial as any modern story.
The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions unanimously voted to support an eight-hour work day to be implemented no later than May 1, 1886. The cry, “eight-hour day with no change in pay!” was chanted by nearly a half-million workers nationally who went out on general strike on that day, 40,000 of them in Chicago, the center of the movement.
Today Dani and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary, which takes my mind musing back to that very humid day, August 20, 2011.
We had decided to have a small backyard wedding at Dani’s house. A few years before, we had hosted Ashley and Frank’s wedding reception (the same Ashley and Frank who will celebrate their daughter Ariella’s baptism at FPCLG on September 2). They married at my church in Peotone, and we came back to the house for a wonderful evening of dancing, food and champagne. Our friend, chef Mario Palaggi,
The slow cascade of revelations regarding Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek Church and Association, fits an all too familiar pattern: rumor and accusation, denial, demonstration of support and counter-accusation, erosion of support, damning accusation, confession and resignations. These may be the seven stages of lost reputation usually associated with star-personality leaders whose empire rests on the integrity of their reputation. Building a church with over 20,000 attendees and an international association that includes over 11,000 congregations, Hybels created a vast network dedicated to
Last week I received an announcement of my 40th high school reunion. These notices from people who are significantly older than my memory’s picture create equally distorted memories of my actual high school experience. While music took a majority of my time—I arranged my schedule so that my senior year consisted of three AP classes and seven music courses, my memory space is more occupied by interscholastic forensic speaking tournaments.
Four hundred years before the birth of Christ, Siddhartha Gautama, a prince from Nepal, lived in a palace built by his father and designed to keep him from encountering mortality and suffering. At the age of 29 he snuck out of the palace to see his kingdom. On his ride he encountered an elderly man and a corpse. His chariot driver explained how all people grow old and eventually die.
If all has gone well, you’re now in Colorado Springs starting your first day of real work with Next Step Ministries, and while you’re likely busy trying to figure out where you’ll fit in or why everybody else seems to know what they’re doing, I thought I would write you a letter. I realize the last thing you need is a mission trip missive from your pastor, but I’ve got to write something for the Monday e-mail blast, so I figured the rest of the congregation could read my letter to you. This way I avoid having to write two letters; sometimes you can leverage laziness to your advantage.
Over the decades, many individuals have guided my ministry—mentoring pastors, professors, thoughtful laypersons and fellow staff; but among those who have had the most significant impact on my ministry, few are as dear to me as Walter
When children, or adults, line up, follow instructions, focus on the same task and sit quietly on command, there’s very little a leader needs to do. If conformity becomes the highest priority, those unwilling or unable to participate in a task are seen as problems, enemies of uniformity. A mental circle is drawn around those who equally meet expectations; they’re the good kids. Those outside of that circle quickly discern themselves to be somehow defective. The defective either work to hide their differences (why are you crying?) or double-down on individuality (stop dancing during Bible story!).
I grew up thinking the third commandment was about forbidden vocabulary words. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (King James Version, Exodus 20.7 & Deuteronomy 5.11). The pivot of interpretation was the meaning of ‘taking’ something ‘in vain.’ It was conveyed to me as carelessness in speech, allowing one’s rage or decorum to become unhinged, resulting in the impulsive use of God’s name or its variants.
I had gone to the store with my father. I was about six. My brothers stayed home playing basketball. The concrete in front of my parents’ two-car garage was level and nearly large enough to play a half-court. They had chalked out the key, lane and free-throw line; this was before the days of the three-point shot.
I kept the article because of this quote by Dr. Olson:
“There is a trend toward what I call ‘generic Christianity’ that is very feeling-centered and pragmatic and somewhat anti-intellectual. As denominational particularities are ignored or hidden, what’s often left is a ‘lowest common denominator’ spirituality that is often little more than ‘worship’ and ‘discipleship’ devoid of cognitive content. The result is often folk religion rather than historic, classic, biblical Christianity.”
The thought caught my eye because it dovetailed with so many conversations I’ve had with individuals regarding their faith. They define themselves as spiritual without being religious.
Yesterday, Memorial Day, I spent my time expressing my patriotic duty by working on the house. The fascia board on the garage had rotted to where attempting to paint it again seemed pointless. So off I went to Menards for two 12’ pine 1 x 6's. It took a few hours, but now it looks great. I was relieved to find a still usable can of exterior trim paint in the garage, so I had the unusual experience of completing a project with only one trip to the hardware store. That was disappointing.
Rakesh Sarin is UCLA’s Anderson Paine Chair in Management and has created some controversy by claiming that happiness can be described mathematically.
The simple equation: Happiness = Reality – Expectations.
(Part of me delights in the new discipline of behavioral economics, championed by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. My delight arises from an argument I used to have with my high school and undergraduate friend, Charlie Fishkin. He was an economics major, and I was in sociology. He used to claim econ’s superiority to soc because of its reliance on mathematical modeling, thus making it more scientific. I would argue back with an equation of my own:
Over the years, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has sent resolutions to individual Sessions for their consideration. In the late 1980’s the U.S. covertly funded Contras in Nicaragua. (This was when most of us first learned Oliver North’s name.) Overthrowing the left-wing government of Daniel Ortega, the U.S. supported the election of Violeta Chamorro, who immediately began to undo the land re-distribution undertaken by Ortega, but Chamorro’s party, the UNO, was accused of using torture in their round-up of Contra forces.
I grew up in a house of paperboys. My two older brothers and I all had routes, although because they were 8 and 10 years older than I, we didn’t carry at the same time. Thanks to their stellar reputations as carriers, paperboy manager Roy Carlson permitted me to start a route at the age of 11, a full six months ahead of my 12th birthday, the published minimum age required to deliver the Omaha World-Herald.