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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Honoring MLK Is Really Honoring the Gospel

In Church, Holidays, Politics, Thought on January 20, 2014 at 7:00 am

MLK

A few weeks ago, a dad asked me if there were plans to celebrate Black History Month in February at The Academy. This African American father shared with me his heart for his heritage and was curious where our curriculum might focus on his people’s culture and contributions, as well as the racial tensions and civil rights struggles that (unfortunately) still exist today.

I was glad for the question. I love when parents (especially dads) engage in matters as this father did – with full disclosure of motive in asking and with genuine interest in honest dialogue. Our discussion blessed and reminded me of the importance and need for diverse unity in our school and within the Body of Christ.

In answer to his question, I told him our curriculum is not aligned by particular demographics (Black History in February, Women’s History in March, Hispanic Heritage in September, American Indian History in November, etc.), as breaking up our study in this way can work against our emphasis on overall narrative so crucial to students learning about our past. This is as much a pedagogical decision as anything; students learn the ebb and flow of history more effectively when it is contextualized chronologically rather than “packaged” in the more modern made-for-TV monthly “histories”  (particularly if these histories don’t line up with the narrative our students are studying).

In terms of school-wide celebrations and observations, because we are a Christian school, we align ourselves with the Protestant Church calendar (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost). This doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy seasons to celebrate or holidays to observe, but we have to make decisions by some criteria and have chosen the Church calendar to guide us in doing so.

That said, we do not have school today in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy as a Christian pastor and non-violent leader of the civil rights movement. This is the first year our school has observed the holiday, and we hope all Academy parents will participate with their children in discussing Dr. King and how God used this particular man at a particular time to bring about needed change in our country. (One thing I try to do with my kids each year is watch and discuss MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech together, but there are several other events in our OKC community honoring his life for those in search of a more physical activity.)

One of my favorite emphases to teach in our eighth grade New Testament class is the Christian foundation for racial reconciliation as lived out by the early Church in the book of Acts. One cannot read about the cross-cultural linguistic understanding given by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 or the Apostles ensuring the care of both the Hellenist and Hebrew widows in Acts 6 or Peter and John witnessing the coming of the Spirit to the Gentiles in Samaria in Acts 8 or Peter’s vision and interaction with Cornelius and the Caesarian Gentiles in Acts 10 (to name just a few) without recognizing God’s heart for unity among his people. Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28-29 sum up how we in the Church are to view one another:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

As an heir according to promise, Dr. King knew and built upon this Christian foundation of reconciliation; without it, he would have had no message (listen to the biblical dependence of King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and imagine it without its biblical references). Thus, when we honor Dr. King on Monday, we really honor the Gospel – the foundation of any freedom, equality, and unity we have. May this same Gospel be the one that redeems and restores the racial relationships in our country, our churches, our schools, our hearts, and especially the hearts of our children.

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Losing the Fight Over Love

In Calling, Church, Health, Humanity, Marriage, Politics, Science, Theologians, Thought on March 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

My heart is heavy with all that is taking place right now concerning the debate over gay marriage. Apart from the issue itself, I lament the hostile rhetoric of it all and the way sides are being taken with so little nuance (see Facebook's pink equal signs and their "Christian" cross variations), not so much for a position but against someone else taking the opposite one.

With this in mind, I appreciate N.T. Wright's perspective on framing the discussion and would encourage you to give thought to it in terms of how Christians should engage:

As to the issue itself, I wrote about it here on the blog five years ago and you're welcome to agree or disagree. For a more recent treatise that I think worthy of your time, Voddie Baucham's article, "Gay Is Not the New Black," is an important piece that does a good job addressing the issues at hand in the context of the current rhetoric.

All that said, pray for our country, that regardless of whatever differences people have, we can show love to one another in our discussions of them.

On Teaching Atrocities (My Advice to a New History Teacher)

In Calling, Education, Humanity, Pedagogy, Poetry, Politics, The Academy, Young Ones on March 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm

“In both 7th grade and 12th grade, we are about to talk about World War II. With that, comes discussing atrocities such as the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking. However, I am unsure how to appropriately teach the specifics. They were very important events that need to be understood, but I also know I need to be aware of the level of the students that I teach. As much more experienced teachers than I, I was hoping that you could give me advice on how to talk about these subjects with the students.”

The biggest thing to think through is your own personal preparation; that is, understand that the kids will take their cue from how you present and process with them, so if they see you being ONLY objective, then anything truly awful will seem shocking because we as humans shouldn’t be unemotional when it comes to these things. In other words, students need to see you deal emotionally with the grief and not just the facts of these atrocities.

That said, you have to really check your own heart in presenting some of this. It’s easy to throw something gratuitous out there either via image or story in order to get a reaction and reassure yourself that the students are listening, but we as teachers have to resist that temptation. The kids need to know what happened, and they also need to know how we feel about what happened. Definitely hold off on an overuse of graphic images at the 7th grade level, as well as be careful even at 12th grade – it’s just too easy to go for the easy gut reaction and miss the nuance and respect that these events require.

For 7th grade, students read “The Hiding Place,” so they get a pretty good feel for at least one expression of the Holocaust. In general, for that grade, keep it fairly objective and general. While they need to know these things have happened, the number of dead, the sort of categories of offenses (using Jews for scientific experiments, etc.) are more appropriate, probably, than the specific instances, descriptions, etc. It is a good opportunity to talk about human depravity and the nature of evil AND that the greater majority of Germans (for example) didn’t actually participate, but nor did they act against. It’s useful to discuss, in general, that the feeling of “I would never. . .” is exactly what often allows evil to take place.

For 12th grade, there is more of an opportunity to talk more directly about the experiences and the factual accounts. Here’s where images would perhaps be more appropriate. There are also lots of good connections with our Comparative Religions class, and again with the nature of evil and the fallen nature of humanity. Since it’s American History, focus on American perceptions (or misperceptions) and the same sort of willful ignorance as other nations. Perhaps connections with how Americans view events today and how we expect our country/government to act, intervene, etc. Or, in other words, what makes the Holocaust so special given the number of atrocities and scale in the 20th century?

Finally, be very careful what the kids see/hear you laugh about; humor is a natural protection mechanism we use when dealing with atrocities like these, but it can come off very crass. There needs to be a sacred approach, not just a funny self-protective one, to dealing with these matters of life and (unfortunately) death.

On Teachers, Students, and Social Media

In Education, Internet, Politics, Technology, Thought on August 3, 2011 at 10:27 pm

1984

In yet another example of ridiculous government over-reach, the governor of my previous state of Missouri signed into law a bill banning public school students and teachers from communicating and being "friends" on Facebook. Here are some article excerpts:

"'Teachers cannot establish, maintain or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian or legal guardian,' the law states. Teachers also cannot have a non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. The law is not limited to Facebook and applies to any social networking site. Although Facebook fan pages will still be allowed, direct communicaton between teachers and students on the site will be banned."

And:

"Although some critics have said the concept sounds positive on the surface, they worry it may imply that teachers may not be trusted on the site without legal intervention. Others worry that restricting sites such as Facebook could hinder the educational process in the future."

And:

"In 2010, Lee County school district in Florida advised teachers not to friend students on social networking sites, claiming that teacher-student communication through this medium is 'inappropriate.' This was the first school district in the state of Florida, possibly even the country, to issue teacher-protocol guidelines for social media."

I have a hard time believing this last paragraph. 2010? Seriously? In 2008, my administration at Westminster Christian Academy, knowing that I used social media and was "friends" with several of my high school students, asked me to draft a document that later was adopted as part of the school's social media policy. Here's what I submitted:

  • Never initiate the friend, wall-to-wall, inbox, birthday, or other functions; always be a responder to students, but even then, refrain from excess posting on their pages.
  • Unless you have a pre-determined set of relationship criteria (i.e. males only, females only, etc.), do not discriminate among friend requests; accept all or accept none.
  • Always maintain a degree of formality despite the informal medium; keep titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss) and try to relate with as similar a classroom tone as possible.
  • Realize that conversations you may have in other networks may be privy to those in your network unless you set up different access levels. Use discretion, as you are exposing students to your college/post-college discussions and topics, which may or may not be helpful to your students.
  • Use good punctuation and grammar whenever possible; avoid slang and model excellence as an educator in your communication.
  • Do not post pictures of yourself that are questionable, sensual, or ridiculous; if other friends include you in such pictures on their profiles, ask to remove them or untag yourself from them.
  • Do not delete inbox or wall-to-wall conversations; always keep a record.

These guidelines were helpful as I related to students online. Some teachers were more reticent than I was to be online "friends" with their students; others not so much. The school did not take a hard and fast stance on the issue; the point was that all of us were encouraged to think about what we were doing and to use common sense concerning our online interactions with students.

The problem, of course, is that common sense is not so common, and the American response to the ills of the few has increasingly become a legislative knee-jerk against the good of the many. Maybe I've just been fortunate enough to know and work with too many caring, dedicated teachers, but I don't know anyone (public or private school) who has abused or been accused of misusing Facebook with his or her students. (Actually, I've read a whole lot more in the past six months about congressmen sexting pictures of themselves to interns. Where's the "no social media" law against them?)

I'm sad for my public school teacher friends in Missouri who just lost a way to be an invested, influential voice among the milieu of madness that is a teenager's online world. And, I'm a little nervous where this kind of thing might go for my private school teacher friends, as some fearful parents, school boards, or administrations may over-react with their own knee-jerk policies in the wake of the new law.

Just today I got a Facebook message from one of my first students (now a college sophomore at Ball State University in Indiana) with whom I've been "friends" since his freshman year of high school. In reading his words, walking through high school with Daniel – even from a distance via Facebook as I was only his teacher for one year – obviously meant something to him.

I'm just glad I moved to Oklahoma so he could tell me.

On Death and Justice

In Church, Politics on May 2, 2011 at 9:23 am

Firemen

My friend and colleague, Rev. Luke Davis, sent this out to all our WCA staff this morning. It's very much along the lines of my own heart and worth a read for its clarity of thought.

Today, I am certain that many of our students (and we ourselves) will be reacting to the reported death of Osama Bin Laden. I am not one to make sweeping gestures and proclamations on geopolitical news (blame that on my Gospel-first, politically independent status), but I do feel compelled to make a pastoral request regarding this historic moment.

1. Justice has been done. True, it may not feel like complete justice (that’s in God’s hands), but there is no doubt there is a spirit that we’ve cut off a major head of the Hydra. A mastermind of Islamic terror has fallen. While it would have been nice to see OBL regenerated and washed by the blood of Christ, it is also a great reminder that there are consequences for evil actions. Justice wins.

2. Remind our students to continue praying for our military. This fight is not over. There is a good chance this could release cells of terror that have waited for a moment of more independent spirit. One of the hallmarks of a terror network is the potential to bring someone even worse and more evil to a position of leadership once one chief has been snuffed out (To wit, read George Jonas’ Vengeance, the book that inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, Munich).

3. We all need to be reminded that this is not a time for us as a community to engage in conspiracy theories, “Is-he-really-dead?” questions, or battle over giving the credit to President Bush who set the fight against terror in motion or President Obama who has overseen this mission to this point.

Numbers 4 and 5 are somewhat hard things to say, but I need to say them:

4. One side of me recognizes that Osama Bin Laden has done an incredible amount of evil, and we remember with sober recall the events of 9/11, the bombing of the USS Cole, etc. However, I am somewhat surprised by the venom directed at Bin Laden in comparison to individuals like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, and the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The consistent destruction and erosion of the hope, freedom, and dignity of humanity in general and Christians in particular (plus the Jewish targets of Hitler’s “Final Solution”) get MUCH MORE BIBLICAL PRESS than what Bin Laden has coordinated. I’m not saying we should ignore this moment. I’m saying I’d hope we keep some perspective on what Scripture truly prizes in an impreccatory fashion. I doubt many of our celebrations over the last twelve hours have kept this in mind.

5. Finally, if we are truly followers of Christ, we should be marked by grace first and foremost. I’m not talking about speaking graciously here (though that can be part of it). I mean this: If we honestly thought about our sin, maybe we’d be more gratefully sober. Perhaps we need to have the solemn recognition and humility that, if God truly held even a whisker of a fraction of our sins against us, we would justly deserve much worse than what OBL got.

The good news is that justice will win because justice is ultimately from Yahweh. And it is also good news that Yahweh does not visit his righteous wrath on his children clothed in the blood of his Son, who endured worse than any terrorist strike.

Shalom, Luke

Review: Atlas Shrugged (Part 1)

In Books, Movies, Politics on April 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Atlas-Shrugged-Movie-Poster_e
Over the past several months, I've been working my way through Ayn Rand's seminal novel, Atlas Shrugged. While I'm usually a quick reader, Rand's 54-year-old, 1,088-page epic about the clash between laissez-faire capitalism and unbridled socialism has taken more time than usual to read, but not because it's poorly written; I'm a coach and it's baseball season (and books don't read themselves).

Fortunately, I'd read enough to cover the newly-released Atlas Shrugged (Part 1) movie, made for $10 million and filmed in 26 days. Megan and I saw it Sunday night and, though I confess I was skeptical as to how it would play for reasons of limited budget and potentially bad acting, my fears were relieved. This independently-produced film featured some capable actors (I liked both Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden), a good musical score (Elia Cmiral), and CGI that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it'd be. In case you haven't seen it yet, here's a trailer to give you an idea of what I mean:

In a word, the film is plenty watchable as a movie, but the real reason to see it is for the storyline of the book. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas wrote a succinct summary at TownHall.com, noting its timeliness for our present-day economic situation:

"Atlas Shrugged is a novel, but its plot is anything but fiction. In it, successful businesswoman, Dagny Taggart, the head of one of the largest railroad companies in America, struggles to keep her company alive in challenging economic times. Searching for innovative ways to stay afloat, she teams with steel magnate Hank Rearden, the developer of an innovative metal alloy, thought to be the strongest metal in the world. Success seems assured. Then the federal government steps in. The government proclaims the Taggart-Rearden partnership 'unfair' to other steel producers and passes a law regulating how many businesses an individual can own. The law is euphemistically titled the 'Equalization of Opportunity' bill."

Thomas goes on to explain the significance of the book 54 years since its publication:

"Atlas Shrugged is about those who would penalize individual achievement and subsidize 'the collective.' It is the embodiment of Karl Marx's philosophy, 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.' To put it another way, the collective believes that if you earn $2 dollars and I make $1 dollar, you owe me 50 cents to make things 'fair.' This is redistributionist or, to paraphrase the president (Obama), 'spreading the wealth around.'"

Not one to swoon (over anything), Thomas encourages folks to go see the movie. More liberal thinker Michael Shermer, writing at The Huffington Post, also liked the film, noting that "the choice to set the film in 2016 instead of the 1950s allowed the writers to tie in current events related to the recession and bailouts — with truck transportation and the airlines financially restricted because of excessive fuel prices and America returning to railroads as the bloodline of commerce." For the uninitiated, he also explains Rand's overarching philosophy of objectivism and her ultimate hero, John Galt:

"Who is John Galt? He is the film's principle avatar for Ayn Rand, without her all-too-human flaws. Who is Ayn Rand? She is the mind behind the philosophy of Objectivism, which she once summarized while standing on one foot:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self-interest
4. Politics: Capitalism

In Objectivism, (1) reality exists independent of human thought, (2) reason is the only viable method for understanding it, (3) people should seek personal happiness and exist for their own sake and no one should sacrifice himself for or be sacrificed by others, and (4) laissez-faire capitalism is the best political-economic system to enable the first three conditions to flourish. This combination, said Rand, allows people to "deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit."

To American ears, this sounds positively patriotic…until one looks past Objectivism's ideals into its realities. In a recent Facebook exchange, Ryan Dykhouse, a former student of mine and now a junior political science major at Olivet Nazarene University, voiced his perspective on Rand's philosophy this way:

"Ayn Rand believed that charity was immoral, that individuals are solely themselves responsible for all circumstances, and utterly promoted the prominence of the elite. Reason, the rational individual, has been utterly debunked. All individuals are products of the relationships they have with others. If you ignore the communal nature of humanity, you ignore the function of morality. The overbearing individualism of Ayn Rand's objectivism destroys the communal nature of humanity, and therefore humanity itself. Jesus promoted community and the giving of oneself to others, not the self-promoted greed of John Galt and the elitist heroes of Ayn Rand. Even within conservatism, believing that the individual is the sum of all things is dangerous…at least I believe so."

As I told Ryan, I don't disagree. I'm not an objectivist, nor someone who believes that the individual is the sum of all things. I do, however, appreciate Rand's spot-on commentary on what happens when government over-reaches in the name of the state. In light of recent history of "too big to fail" initiatives, this aspect of her writing (and of the film) is uncanny and scarily prophetic. Ed Morrisey, writing at Hot Air, gets at the timing of everything below:

"It occurred to me last night that this film wouldn’t have resonated nearly as well three years ago, or ten years ago, or perhaps not any time in the 54 years since Rand published the novel. The sense of crisis in the movie would have seemed too far from the experience of most Americans; likewise, the sense of aggressive, populist redistributionism would have looked hyperbolic and contrived. If this isn’t the perfect moment for this film, then it’s as close as I’d like to see it in my lifetime."

Unfortunately, Christianity gets pulled both ways by well-intentioned Christians who believe that either unrestrained capitalism or compulsory socialism is the economy of the Kingdom; neither is correct. John Wesley's view of a healthy capitalism was to "make as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can" – all three had to be in play for capitalism to be biblical. And an understanding of Acts 2 does not read as New Testament Marxist theory when one understands that Communism saying, "What's yours is mine," is very different from Christianity saying, "What's mine is yours."

The extremes of pure capitalism or pure socialism are both evil, and there's plenty of evidence in the world to support this claim. Whichever extreme of the economic spectrum one may favor, Atlas Shrugged – in book or movie form – should serve as a nuanced critique of both rather than a simplistic rationale for either.

Good movie. Recommended.

A Pre-Election Thought

In Calling, Education, Politics, Thought, Westminster, Young Ones on October 31, 2010 at 5:10 pm

IMG_0007

A fellow colleague sent the following email to our faculty last week:

"I heard this story on NPR this evening regarding skills the next generation needs in an increasingly competitive job market. Such skills include: 'Analytic and quantitative skills; social awareness (social IQ as I call it); creative problem-solving; the ability to be adaptable; language skills, foreign languages; and then of course, communications skills.'"

I wrote back:

"Whew. Looks I’m off the hook. No one’s calling for ethics (obviously)."

Folks, regardless of your preferred political party, say a prayer when you vote on Tuesday that, in the midst of all the politics and power grabs this fall, God would mercifully cause our elected leaders to grow and follow a conscience informed by a biblical ethic. I can't think of a more needed skill for Congressional-types and kids alike.

Lawn Mower Civics

In Family, Holidays, Humanity, Places, Places & Spaces, Politics on May 31, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Mowing the yard is one of my favorite ways to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. I suppose caring for the tiny piece of land I own is my noble attempt at recognizing the American traditions of honoring soldiers’ sacrifices and observing summer’s arrival.

Perhaps like many, I don’t always think about the freedoms we Americans enjoy, which is why Memorial Day (and what we do on Memorial Day) is important. As we’ve done in the past, we went to Jefferson Barracks today (here are some pics):

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Mowing on Saturday and attending the Memorial Day service today got me thinking about ability – specifically, all I am able to do in the U.S. because I happen to live legally within her borders and laws. Here are just a few abilities I have as a U.S. citizen not necessarily guaranteed elsewhere in the world:

I’m able to have four children (all girls). In China, I could only have one child (and the government would want that one to be a boy, so any girls might get aborted).

I’m able to keep a blog or a write a new book without having to submit either to a censor for approval. In North Korea, neither is really an option (Internet and independent ideas don’t jive too well with totalitarian government regimes).

I’m able to freely live and believe according to the Christian Scriptures. While ours is not (nor ever has been) a “Christian” nation, I rejoice at being able to live freely as a Christian within our nation (try testing day-to-day religious diversity in, oh, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia and see where and what that gets you).

Now, lest you think this is just a nice patriotic post on freedom (I’ve tried those a few times before – 1, 2, 3, 4 – but they never seem to end up too warm and fuzzy), let me talk honestly about some personal inabilities that I wrestle with in our fair democracy (for those of you with USA bumper stickers and T-shirts, you might want to stop reading now):

I’m unable to trust elected political leaders. It doesn’t matter the level – national, state, local – nor the branch – executive, legislative, judicial – nor the political affiliation – Democrat, Republican, or Independent – politicians do not have the luxury of asking for my trust and assuming they have it. I am sick of the lack of integrity, of the abuse of power, of the CYA spin, and of the arrogance to think I do not understand enough to know what’s really going on. As far as I’m concerned, politicians can save the rhetoric for their consciences (if they still have any left); their words no longer affect me.

I’m unable to trust government workers. Call it guilt by association, but I’m tired of hearing about those who work for a government agency who seem all too content to siphon off their part of my taxes with little to no thought as to for whom they’re really working (example). I’m not saying there isn’t a place for public service (and I’m not saying every government worker is like this), but there is a philosophical difference between earning a living and spending an apportionment, and most long-term government leaders and workers don’t understand it.

I’m unable to trust the media as a true Fourth Estate. It’s not as if I did before, but the more I read or watch supposed “trusted” news sources, the more the agendas (liberal, conservative, etc.) spill over. One can blame the Internet, I suppose, for severely crippling the budgets of most newspapers and magazines, but someone needs to explain to our media outlets that their job is not to sell stories but to tell them. I’m done with opinion columnists masquerading as reporters (are you listening, Newsweek?) and find myself incredibly skeptical of the phrase “Here’s what’s making news” when it should really be “Here’s what WE’RE making news.”

I’m unable to trust the American Dream. This has never been much of a motivator nor temptation for me, but if it were, it’s become even less so in recent recession years. While cries of socialism/communism have found their way into the public conversation of late, pure laissez-faire capitalism is not the answer either. If the past ten years have taught us anything, I would hope it would be that life and meaning are bigger than an economic system, regardless of which system it is.

Jane Jacobs, in her 2005 book, Dark Age Ahead, argued that “we’re stumbling into the same cultural decline that befell the Roman Empire.” One of her overarching premises was that mass amnesia – not only forgetting something but forgetting that you have forgotten it – is the main cause of a Dark Age. “When the abyss of lost memory by a people becomes too deep and too old,” she wrote, “attempts to plumb it are futile.”

Jacobs went on to identify five pillars of society we need and have come to depend on:

  • community and family
  • higher education
  • the effective practice of science and science-based technology
  • taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
  • accountability by the learned professions

She concluded that we in America “are dangerously close to the brink of lost memory and cultural uselessness” concerning these. I concur: We are suffering from mass amnesia these days about most things having to do with taxes, governmental powers, and accountability in the economic, scientific, technological, and (sadly) even religious sectors of our society. We have forgotten that we have forgotten. Memorial Day calls us to remember; interestingly, Deuteronomy does, too (fourteen times, as a matter of fact).

We in America are and always have been a country of ability, but are there others who sense a growing tide of inability washing away the sands of strength from our U.S. shores (at least the ones not covered in oil – thank you, BP)? Care to add to either list (ability or inability), or offer something you think we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten? I’d welcome your thoughts.

Until then, I may go mow some more…

Live-Blogging POTUS State of the Union Address

In Politics on January 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Megan, the half-pints, and I are watching President Obama and thought we'd live-blog as he goes. We're independent political hacks at best, so take it all with a grain of salt.

8:05Seal-presidential-color
"Madame Speaker, the President of the United States of America."

8:13
First blame of former administration: "One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe
recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a
government deeply in debt."

8:17
"In this new decade, it's time the American people get a
government that matches their decency." Haven't we (unfortunately) got
that already?

8:21
To Republicans: "I thought I'd get some applause on that one (tax cuts)." This statement seems out of place for a State of
the Union address. Is this just a show?

8:24
Jobs replaces health care as lead issue.

8:26
Three phone calls in the last five minutes. Are we the only ones watching the speech?

8:30
TV signal lost due to passing train here in the 'hood. Hang with us (now you know why we only watch 24 and Lost on DVD).

8:34
Innovation and energy now taking the stage. Everyone's for
"safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country," but nobody wants
them in their backyards.

8:36
Why does the multiple use of the word "comprehensive" scare me?

8:40
Government – Democrat or Republican – is so lost on the topic
of education. You can't build values into a society without teaching
virtues.

8:42
Our 11-year-old: "Is he saying you don't have to pay for college?" Hmmm.

8:43
Now to health insurance reform (not health care anymore). Why the stand-up routine?

8:47
The problem is not that the government is walking away from
the people on health care; it's that the people are walking away (or
wanting to) from the government on health care. Can't believe the
President is still pushing the exact same health care plan nobody wants.

8:50
Second blame of former administration before justifying own enormous increase of deficit.

8:51
Another train. Sigh.

8:56
"We have a deficit of trust of Washington…and we have to
address it on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue." True on both accounts.

9:00
Like the calling out of political partisanship.

9:03
Security is the topic; Janet Napolitano is the enforcer. Personally, I wouldn't mess with her.

9:06
Attention, terrorists: We're leaving Iraq in August. Why broadcast for all the world to hear?

9:08
Invoking Kennedy and Reagan on topic of nuclear weapons. Works for me.

9:10
Sounds like we're doing everything for everyone in the world. Noble, but realistic?

9:13
Total non-response from all military generals during applause of gays in the military.

9:15
Institutions of America include "our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government," but not the Church. No surprise.

9:20
"Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America." Always wonder what God thinks of that benediction, regardless of who gives it.

Putting the Mental in Fundamentalist

In Calling, Church, Education, Internet, Politics, Thought, Westminster on September 5, 2009 at 9:01 am

Schoolbadge1

The hubbub caused by President Obama's planned "Welcome Back" speech to school children on Tuesday is interesting to say the least. For those of you just tuning in to the debate, here's a helpful summary of arguments from all sides concerning the public school arena – not much I could or would add to any of that. However, as I haven't read much from a Christian private school perspective, let me get the conversation started.

On Friday, Westminster received several phone call from parents asking if the school was going to participate in watching the President's speech. The official WCA position for this and other such live presentations is that they are not to take the place of our own academic presentations – those prepared lessons that fit within the planned curriculum for the courses we teach; thus, as guided by our scope and sequence, there is no official planned showing of the President's live presentation in WCA classrooms on Tuesday.

Maybe because we've already had three weeks of school and the idea of a "Welcome Back" speech seems past the expiraton date, I didn't think too much about the email. While I always want to consider whether something like this applies to what we're talking about in Ethics, in light of the fact that my students are gearing up for their first major test next week (and Tuesday finishes up our discussion for that), I figured I'd watch the speech on YouTube and, if anything seemed to apply, bring it in to class afterward.

This idea might get complicated, however, as apparently we had parents (not a lot, but a vocal few) express that if WCA showed the speech, they would keep their kids home from school.

Seriously?

When I got home later in the day, I asked Megan what she had been reading in the blogosphere about President Obama's planned speech, and she told me there were several "sick out" campaigns being organized for Tuesday, mostly by parents whose kids were in public school (though homeschoolers seemed all too eager to jump on the bandwagon as well). When I told her about the phone calls at Westminster, her response was the same as mine.

Seriously?

Am I missing something here? If it's not in the home (and why a homeschooling family would not use this as an opportunity for discussion I have no idea – we are), I would think parents would at least want their kids engaging live presentations like President Obama's in a Christian school, where I as a teacher am going to ask questions like "What can we affirm?" (importance of education, faithful study, etc.) or "What needs to be challenged?" (ideas different from Scriptural truth, etc.). It shouldn't matter who the speaker is – these are the conversations I would think a parent would be PRAYING to take place. Why keep your kids home from them? This logic does not compute; after all, why are they/we here?

At some point, Christians have got to stop putting the mental in fundamentalist and start interacting with the world. Teaching our kids to stick their heads in the sand and ignore anyone they may not totally agree with is, in a word, unChristian. Folks, we can't counter the culture unless we encounter the culture, so let's take off the blinders, read through Acts 17 again, and be some salt and light around here for crying out loud.

Thoughts?

My Little Protesters

In Education, Family, Places & Spaces, Politics on February 27, 2009 at 5:59 pm

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I sent Megan and the girls to do my protesting dirty work at the St. Louis Tea Party today (I came up with the slogans). They had a good (cold) time, even getting interviewed by various media as to why they were there (though few have really reported anything – sad).

Here are a few sites where the ladies have turned up:

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Megan got quoted in the paper (and gets the last word)
  • WORLD Online - Megan's post, "Partying Like It's 1773," is up
  • The Dana Show – Click "Homeschool mama! Best craft EVER."
  • St. Louis Tea Party – here's a pool of pics from the day (the ladies are included)
  • Doctor Bulldog & Ronin – a bit of a scary site, but you can see Megan in a crowd shot, as well as a shot of our youngest pouring tea into the Mississippi

At best, the girls were part of something that might help make a point further down the road; at the least, they made the most of a good local opportunity to experience our freedom to assemble.

Tea Party Coming to St. Louis This Friday

In Politics on February 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm

I’m seriously thinking about making my way down to the Arch on Friday to be part of the St. Louis Tea Party to protest the recently-passed stimulus package. Like most folks who pay their mortgages, I have to work on Friday, but I’m wondering if I can swing the lunch hour to join other common sense Midwesterners in protest.
Anybody interested?

Audit Congress

In Politics on February 17, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Here's a link to a petition website to encourage the immediate and annual tax audit of our government leaders. I would have signed it a thousand times if they had let me.

Please, Call Me Comrade

In Politics on January 30, 2009 at 9:04 am

Yes, change has come to Washington…a chunk of change, that is. In case anyone thinks the $820 billion stimulus package is a good idea, please consider these figures from The American Spectator:

  • Only ten percent of the "stimulus" is to be spent on 2009.
  • Close to half goes to entities that sponsor or employ or both members of the Service Employees International Union, federal, state, and municipal employee unions, or other Democrat-controlled unions.
  • For the amount spent we could have given every unemployed person in the United States roughly $75,000.
  • We could give every person who had lost a job and is now passing through long-term unemployment of six months or longer roughly $300,000.

In sum:

"This has been a punch in the solar plexus to the kind of responsible, far-seeing, mature government processes that are needed to protect America. This is more than the pork barrel. This is a coup for the constituencies of the party in power and against the idea of a responsible government itself. A bleak day."

I'm no listener nor fan of Rush Limbaugh, but I do like his bipartisan test idea, as printed Thursday in the Wall Street Journal:

"Fifty-three percent of American voters voted for Barack Obama; 46% voted for John McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Give that 1% to President Obama. Let's say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion — $486 billion — will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% — $414 billion — will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.

Then we compare. We see which stimulus actually works. This is bipartisanship! It would satisfy the American people's wishes, as polls currently note; and it would also serve as a measurable test as to which approach best stimulates job growth."

Again, the problem is not Obama (remember, I like the guy); it's his ideology/idolatry of government-as-God that is. As David Brooks noted today in the New York Times:

"A stimulus package was always going to be controversial, because economists differ widely about whether or how a stimulus can work. But this bill also permanently alters the role of the federal government, thus guaranteeing a polarizing brawl at the very start of the Obama presidency."

I hate to say "I told you so" (well, not really) but I did. Welcome to the U.S.S.A.

Inauguration Pros and Cons

In Politics on January 18, 2009 at 8:22 pm
A few thoughts from the peanut gallery:
  • The peaceful inauguration of an American President is an inspiring thing; the spectacle of it, unfortunately, caricatures itself. 
  • Obama is trying way too hard to seem Abraham Lincoln-like; that said, better Abraham Lincoln than Jimmy Carter.
  • 42,500 security agents working the event seems overkill; one successful assassin, however, is one too many.
  • Racially speaking, swearing in Obama the day after MLK day is not irony; one could think of it as poetry.
  • The song "At Last" for the First Couple's dance is a great choice; Beyonce singing it, not so much.
  • Now is a good time to buy a new American flag; flying the Stars and Stripes becomes cool again on Tuesday.
  • As a result of all the hype and expectation, we've made Obama so important that he can't fail; brace yourself, America – it's going to hurt the first time he does.
Let's do this.

Obamiconned

In Politics, Pop Culture on January 15, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Changeless 

With the inauguration just a few days away, I thought I'd try to get in the spirit of all things Presidential. The picture is courtesy of Paste Magazine's Obamiconme; the slogan is all Megan's (I think she meant it as a compliment, but I've been wrong before).

Wendell Berry for Secretary of Agriculture

In Humanity, Politics on January 6, 2009 at 11:17 pm

I don't know if anyone caught it in the midst of all the tomfoolery going on across our political system of late, but Wendell Berry penned an Op-Ed piece in Sunday's New York Times that's more worthy of reading than what Barack Obama thinks about our economy or what Roland Burris thinks about himself.

Along with a guy named Wes Jackson (plant geneticist and president of The Land Institute in Salina, KS), Berry (former professor at the University of Kentucky, farmer, and writer in Port Royal, KY), attempts to draw attention away from the headlines of the day to some realities that have been in place at least as far as the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s: that is, the loss of land at the hands of man. They write:

"Soil that is used and abused…is as nonrenewable as (and far more valuable than) oil. Unlike oil, it has no technological substitute — and no powerful friends in the halls of government."

My father owns and farms 600 acres of land and was Illinois' Soil and Water Conservation Farmer of the Year in 1995. Dad has often said a similar thing for as long as I can remember; his version, however, cuts to the chase with regard to God's green earth:

"They're not making any more of it."

Indeed, "they're" not, nor does it seem "they" have considered what will happen if/when we run out of good soil. According to Jackson and Berry, history gives us a clue:

"Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice."

So who's to blame? Is it city folk who have no clue from where or how food shows up on their grocery store shelves? Perhaps, but it's unfair to lay all the blame on those who live in urban areas, especially when a majority of them don't know what they don't know about agriculture as a result of the urban migration of multiple generations during the past 60 years. Granted, I might recommend a field trip to a local family farm, but that suggestion becomes problematic in that there are so few family farms around to visit anymore.

Unfortunately, either out of financial desperation or personal preference, rural folk have bought into globalization's philosophy that bigger is better by consolidating small family farms into giant corporate ones, exploding the scale of agribusiness and exploiting land and livestock to do it; they've chanted industrialization's mantra that faster is cheaper, developing technology and pushing practices that almost seem to farm for them rather than require one to actually be a farmer.

So what? Aren't we growing food in a petri dish already? Perhaps, but who owns the petri dishes (and who gets to decide what grows in them – and how)? Say Jackson and Berry:

"Industrial agricultural…by substituting technological 'solutions' for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods. Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities."

We're in the middle (though some would say we haven't hit bottom yet) of a financial recession and crisis here in America, and indeed, the negative effects of incredibly unethical business practices continue to ripple out and affect millions on a daily basis. But it's one thing to be stuck in a stagnant economy with food on the shelves; it would be quite another to be in the same (or even a better) situation without something to eat.

"For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we will have food. That is a mistake. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billons of dollars to the agribusiness corporations."

I'm not one to advocate throwing money at problems, and the past few months have been incredibly difficult to stomach with everyone and their dog asking for a handout. But if our government continues doling out dinero and spending money like we've got it, then I'd encourage us to heed what Jackson and Berry call for, namely "a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities." If nothing else, taking a longer-term approach on this issue at least seems biblical (numerically speaking, that is).

Until then, be sure to save those newspapers and magazines full of financial and constitutional crises, and hold on to those expired grocery coupons and circulars. The way things are going, we may need to eat them later.

Chicago Politics

In Politics on December 12, 2008 at 2:00 am

Pot, meet Kettle. Let's talk about your blackness.

1-800-OPINION

In Politics on November 22, 2008 at 12:07 pm

With the recent slate of Presidential-elect appointees, it appears we’re in for the Clinton Administration III for at least the next four years. I guess “Change” actually translates to “Rewind” in Obama-speak.

Just to keep things balanced, here’s a note to Republicans: Sarah Palin is not your girl to rebuild the GOP. I know she’s much more attractive and photogenic, but would someone please take another look at Ron Paul?

Democrats or Republicans, give me a call (1-800-OPINION) if I can help. Just remember, you get what you pay for, which in terms of taxes, is more than I can say.

The People Have Spoken

In Politics on November 5, 2008 at 8:43 am

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Apart from the mainstream media practically falling over themselves in giddy delight to declare victory for Barack Obama, I enjoyed watching the returns last night. Thankfully, Obama was gracious in victory, John McCain was classy in defeat, and the sight of American flags (as opposed to partisan placards) in Chicago was a nice reminder that we’re all in this together, at least democratically speaking.

In an effort to make the night as educational as possible for our girls, Megan printed out electoral maps of the country and I helped the ladies color them in red or blue. As we had dragged them to the polls twice yesterday, they were pretty into what was going on (even our five-year-old). I’m glad this election will be the first one they really remember as it’s so historic (my first was Reagan/Carter in 1980, though I vaguely remember my parents taking me to see Gerald Ford on a campaign stop in Pittsfield, IL, in 1976).

Come January, Barack Obama will be my President. The people have certainly spoken, Obama won big, and even though I didn’t vote for him, I was moved by his acceptance speech and the historical significance of the moment. Sure, I still have questions (here are seven big ones), but I can see positives, too (these would be a few). Regardless, my role as a Christian does not change, which keep things fairly simple and sane.