In today’s culture it is rare to live our lives in a community where our great grand-parents on both sides lived, served and loved. A recent visit to our roots in Paris, Texas challenged me to consider what we’re missing…and what we’ve gained.
When my Mom’s cousin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia in January, Mom intended to go visit her. But Sarah died in July, before Mom, at 84, could arrange the trip. Last week, when I took her to visit her cousin’s grave, they told us that 500 people had showed up for the visitation for Sarah, a 5th grade teacher and tour guide. It had stretched out the door and around the block of the Victorian funeral home in Paris, Texas.
Not many of us live our lives like Sarah, dying in the community where we’ve loved and served and our family goes back for generations. Instead of deep roots and strong branches, our families are more like dandelions–spreading seeds across a windblown landscape. My Dad’s family is from Quebec and up-state New York. I was born in Houston, Texas. Moved to Austin to attend college, then to Dallas to begin my teaching career.
In this season of political hype and spin we hear accusations flying: “That is a lie.” ‘”That’s a — that’s — go to the — please, fact checkers, get to work.” Truth is taking a beating. And fact checkers are called on to establish the truth at a time when voters have less and less confidence that truth even exists.
What does it mean to claim to have the truth and how can we know if we have it? Can we trust the fact-checkers to hold the candidates to the truth?
If there is one thing we learned from the first presidential debate of 2012, it was that, in these postmodern times, even the “smartest guys in the room” agonize over how much to focus their message on empathy or reasoning. Likeability or a robust contention for facts and evidence. Should they approach their audience more as thinkers or feelers?
In his first debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama opted to forego answering Gov. Romney’s questions about his record. Postmodern conventional wisdom tells us that if we want to win today’s audience to our point of view we do it with empathy and likeability more than evidence and facts. If you argue the facts, if you forcefully appeal to reason, you can seem angry and unlikable. So appeal to emotions more than reason.
Just be nice.
The New York Times reported that in mock debates in 2012 with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, “Mr. Kerry drew Mr. Obama into a series of intense exchanges, and Mr. Axelrod (his chief campaign strategist) determined that they were damaging to the president.” Obama pulled his punches and didn’t get into an exchange over the defense of his record.
So much for conventional wisdom. The disappointment and frustration of his supporters resounded from the debate hall to the Twitterverse. Reading the early reviews on his iPad on his way back to his hotel, Obama called Axelrod, “I guess the consensus is that we didn’t have a very good night.” “That is the consensus,” Axelrod replied.
To me, one of the signs of a two-thumbs-up movie is when I find myself thinking about a movie for days afterwards. Florence Foster Jenkins is that kind of movie. Yes, it’s hilarious, but it also challenges us to consider – how do we move forward if we have far more passion than gifting? Is life all about following our bliss?
Many of us have the friend or family member with a passion for something – painting, singing, home decorating, for which they really have no talent. Do we humor them with insincere praise? Do we protect them from honest critics and real-life consequences? At what point do we help them with a reality check? Or do we play along forever?
At what point should truth trump loyalty?
As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’ve not been a big fan of Donald Trump. So I guess I don’t officially qualify for his “basket of deplorables.” Then why did I feel personally scorned by Hillary’s remark at an LBGT fundraiser last Friday?
To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.
Because, as a conservative Christian with a high view of God’s Word, I have seen all of those labels but one (racist) aimed at people who believe exactly as I do.
No woman I know wants to look unattractive. As the seasons change we’re in the stores looking for styles and colors that make us feel good. For many of us that means finding clothes that are new and trendy. (Fall pastels!) Or comfortable. (yoga pants for millions who never yoga) Or even beautiful, although beautiful is more elusive.
Of all the places we might expect to find beauty, we’ve come to expect less and less of it at fashion shows. Or the pages of fashion mags. Watch the shows online or pick up a copy of Vogue magazine and I have rarely seen pictures of so many women who look like they absolutely do not feel good.
They look bored. Depressed. Starving. Androgynous. They look like Dr. House has diagnosed them, all of them, with the extremely rare condition of anhedonia– the inability to experience pleasure.
Of course, if I was wearing what they had to wear, I would probably feel, or not feel, the same way. What is going on?
It’s the story new research is pointing to, but that Science won’t admit. We all have this self inside our heads. We see images, remember memories, hear music and an inner voice. We speak in an inner voice. We silently pray. We perceive things and feel an emotional response long before we can put it into thoughts or words.
Is all of this merely the result of neurons firing and chemicals washing? Or is it the universally shared experience of being a living soul?
Our schools and culture are saturated with the message that, “The scientific and philosophical consensus is that there is no nonphysical soul or ego, or at least no evidence for that.”
The brain is a computer. We may sense a self — a “ghost inside the machine.” But, according to Big Science, it’s all just data processing.
The New York Times reports, “’The machine mistakenly thinks it has magic inside it,’ says Dr. Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton. And it calls the magic consciousness. It’s not the existence of this inner voice he finds mysterious. ‘The phenomenon to explain,’ he said, ‘is why the brain, as a machine, insists it has this property that is nonphysical.’”
This idea that we are an organic machine has huge implications for our daily lives. Must we live as neurotransmitters, simply responding to the programming of our genes or perceptions or emotions? What is the real story Science is telling about its search for consciousness—the magic in the machine?
Last week I posted about Charlotte, NC teachers being encouraged to use the Gender Unicorn to explain to students how the sex you are “assigned at birth” may be different from your gender. And how every night, as we watched the Olympic Games, we all experienced a reality check: the obvious biological differences between male and female athletes.
This week a new scientific study, “Sex and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological and Social Sciences,” published in The New Atlantis journal, offers findings that challenge LBGTQ orthodoxy:
You are not born gay. Nor is your sexual orientation unchangeable over a lifetime.
Most young people (70-80%) who have feelings and sensibilities that do not align with their biological sex will eventually grow out of them.
LGBTs have a higher risk of poor physical and mental health than heterosexuals, including:
Non-heterosexuals are at double the risk of depression.
Trans people are ten times more likely to commit suicide.
Stigma and prejudice do not completely account for these differences.
These conclusions, published two weeks ago by two well-credentialed Johns Hopkins scientists, are not receiving nearly the attention of the mainstream media that they deserve. Meanwhile, the Gender Unicorn, produced by LBGTQ student activists, is gaining credibility in our schools.
Why does this study matter so much for all of us?
If you’ve been watching the Olympics these past weeks you’ve seen many male and female bodies beautifully sculpted by years and years spent practicing their sport. From swimming to high jump to kayaking, we see male and female bodies shaped in similar ways by training, but the women are shorter and less buff than their male counterparts. The men simply swim faster, jump higher and paddle more powerfully than the women.
For teachers in the Charlotte, NC school district, it must have been something of a reality check. They spent part of their in-service training last week being instructed by resources from transgender activists.
By day they were told that sex is “assigned” at birth. As if sex is something that a delivery nurse arbitrarily or accidentally determines.
By night they watched highlights of every male sprinter lining up in the blocks with larger shoulders and thicker wrists than their more graceful female counterparts.
I envy my friends for whom the coming November vote is simple:
Hillary will do more harm than Trump. Therefore vote for Trump.
They don’t understand all the agonizing and hand wringing.
I can’t seem to break through the tension.
Last week a very respected and brilliant evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, wrote an article in Townhall, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.”
I could feel hope rising as I read it.
Donald Trump lives by the advice he dispensed in his best-selling business book The Art of the Deal: “Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.” It’s looking bad.
A gold-star Muslim father, Khizr Kahn, whose son was killed in Iraq, challenged Mr. Trump from the podium of the Democratic Convention. “Have you even read the Constitution?…You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
True to his own advice, Trump hit back and keeps hitting back. He even attacked Kahn’s wife. (No surprise to Heidi Cruz.)
The Star Trek movie Into Darkness ends with a moving eulogy from a young Captain Kirk, “There will always be those who mean to do us harm…Our first instinct is to seek revenge…. But that’s not who we are.” Who would have thought that a Star Trek movie would express a nobility that seems beyond the reach of Election 2016?
While many were cheering and excited as the Republican convention drew to a close, my heart was heavy. An election is a real-time window on our values in today’s culture.
The communal psalms of lament “express deep sorrow for the travails of a nation.” So, like the psalmist, I open my heart to God and others in response to our pageant of values in play–both what I see being lost and what I see coming.
Summer gives us an opportunity to slow down. “The livin’ is easy; fish are jumpin,’” and all that. Without so many activities on the calendar we have more time to take trips, watch TV or kick back with friends or a good book. We all need seasons of restoration, but the cultural pull towards having fun and lazing around can make room for boredom and distraction to settle in like a fog.
Who doesn’t love the cows that advertise the food service franchise built on Christian principles of “hard work and creativity”? So to honor them once each summer (this year it was July 12th) Chick-Fil-A invites customers to experience the power of generosity and creativity to change your day.
We stumbled into Cow Appreciation Day four years ago. Walked in looking for one of their new desserts and cracked up at all the “cow-like” people—some in T-shirts colored with black spots, others fully decked out in cow ears to hooves–all rewarded with free food.
Some floppy cow ears dangled earrings. One guy, a youth pastor (somehow not surprising) spouted udders on his lower abdomen. “You can pull down templates off the web,” two cow-Moms and 4 cow-kids told me. And evidently they had spent some time printing and tracing, coloring, cutting and pasting. One boy had combined a Luke Skywalker outfit with the cow motif. Wish I’d gotten a picture of his Star Wars helmet with a cow nose pasted on it, winning a meal and a new dessert.
Ah what creativity (and free food) does for the energy level. Customers who didn’t know each other were laughing and talking. Comparing costume stories. We, who had unwittingly dropped by for a new brownie sundae, laughed and visited and snapped pictures.
Creativity generates life and laughter. It reminds me of what one of our contributors to Faith and Culture said at an International Arts Movement conference about giving art as a gift. Christian artist Mako Fujimura inspired his audience:
I’ve watched the acrimony and violence of this past week with a heavy heart. The Director of the FBI is by most accounts a man of “north star” integrity. Yet when he condemned Hillary Clinton as “extremely careless” in handling classified information without recommending a criminal indictment, he was harshly attacked. Two days later white police shot and killed blacks who seemed suspect. A black shooter in Dallas vented his rage by shooting as many white police officers as he could.
We tend to think that we can rip and tear at the fabric of America, but that our laws and institutions are indestructible. They can take whatever assault we deliver. But nations as well as families rest ultimately on a foundation of trust. A trust based on respect for the dignity of each individual as well as respect for the laws and institutions that protect us.
We look back over this week and wonder if that trust is fraying into an irreparable breach. And we wonder, what responsibility do we bear for being ministers of reconciliation who take seriously the call to care for our culture?
1. It’s the perfect way to sober up after heaping plates of smoked bacon-wrapped chicken and ribs, corn on the cob, baked beans, deviled eggs, caramel swirl brownies with ice cream and home-made strawberry lemonade.
2. Before there was ever a Declaration of Independence, there was a day of prayer and fasting to bring the divided founders together:
Maybe you’ve seen the movie 13 Hours. Highly recommended. If so, you’ve no doubt marveled at the ability of a handful of heroic American operatives to stave off wave after wave of attack from upwards of 50 Al Queda affiliates. FOR 13 HOURS. No doubt you’ve echoed the men in the film…Where is the rescue by American troops? Where are the F-15’s screaming overhead to put the fear of America into the terrorists?
After today’s long awaited Benghazi report, now we know: Some of them were changing uniforms. Four times. The politics and optics were so important that the deployment never came. Today’s report reminds us how outrageous it was that Americans died with not one wheel rolling to their rescue.
Imagine for a moment…you’ve received word that your son/husband/friend was killed on September 11th while defending American personnel in Benghazi. You quickly pack, get on a plane and make the long, sad journey to Andrews Air Force Base to receive his body.
All the while your mind reels with questions…How did this happen? Why was my loved one in harm’s way not rescued by US Troops?
Contentment and I have a troubled history. Many reasons: physical limitations, a vivid imagination, a propensity to live in the future… In addition, our culture of More and Better torches our desires with the gasoline of glossy mags, dark theaters, Facebook vacation pictures, clothes we’ll never need for a life we’ll never live…
Election year aggravates our struggles. Each side is spending billions to cast their vision of the better life we’ll live once they are elected. Between now and November we will be subjected to an endless parade of speeches, promises, ads, polls and robocalls designed to inflate our expectations so we will vote for change. It’s all even more frustrating if we are disappointed with the options for change.
The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing abundance and need” (Eph 4:11-12). I used to read those verses and think, “Good for you, Paul. I wish.” I still think that sometimes. But I am further into contentment recovery. Maybe I’ve even learned a little of the secret of contentment.
I know my Dad loved me and always wanted the best for me. He never, ever abused me. But as I grew older, when it came to nurturing a heart to heart relationship, he just wasn’t that into me.
When I was still small enough to sit in his lap he would read to me. And he would swing me in a big swing he made for me. For a season he made up wonderful bedtime stories about Broussard the Dragon who, when Dad lost interest, died tragically in a cave in. When I was older he would play the chess-like board game Camelot with me. (And usually slaughter me.)
But pretty much every night after dinner my petroleum engineer dad preferred to spend his time tinkering in his electronics shop. I could go out and talk to him in the garage, and he would explain to me how his gadgets worked, but he was not inclined to sacrifice his favorite pastime to spend all that much time with me.
In his defense, my dad came from a family of thinkers, not feelers. He lost his dad when he was 13. So he didn’t seem to know how to find his way into my world. I had to find my way into his.
Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal”
As soon as reports surfaced about Sunday’s massacre in a gay nightclub, suspicious fingers began pointing to Christian haters. Even after it was reported that the shooter had dedicated his kill to the Islamic State. What grieved me even more was talking to Christians who condemned the killings, but acknowledged they didn’t feel a great sense of compassion on the gay victims because, after all, look what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Thankfully, Chick-fil-A in Orlando rolled up its sleeves, fired up its grills and showed our terribly divided culture how to follow Jesus in such a tragedy. On a day when they normally close their doors and give their employees time off to go to church, they were serving their great food to first responders and blood donors lined up to honor the victims.
Here are 6 reasons why Chick-fil-A got it right and how many Muslims and Christians can do better: