Friday, November 03, 2017

Why Is Our Nation So Divided Today?

I have a theory about why our nation feels so divided today.  I've been pondering this because it feels as if we are as polarized as I have ever seen in my half century of adulthood.

Here's my theory and a thought about how to make it different.


We ARE polarized

It is no news that we are polarized.  Americans voted last fall for two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in our history.  The candidates and the worldviews they represented could hardly have been more different, and the national popular vote was nearly equally divided.

Families and friends continue to deal with tensions stirred up during the political campaigns, election, inauguration, and first year of a new presidency.  Some relationships ended because of it.  Others remain on life support.

There is always a tension between conservative and liberal political views.  The wise are able to maintain relationships with people with different views.  But many of us surround ourselves with those of like opinions and hold at arms length those with conflicting views.

Social media exacerbate the polarization

Pew Research reported that in 2016 approximately 70% of Americans were FaceBooking, and the majority of Americans now report social media are how they get their news.   Therefore, this information channel and its quality and content of it have a great impact on how we view the world.

But the content is not the same for everyone!  FaceBook automatically creates a kind of echo chamber for each of us.  Every time we "like" a post or visit a sponsor page we are telling FaceBook what we prefer.  And FaceBook knows that we will spend more time if we like what we read.  If I am a liberal, FaceBook will dutifully provide more posts, ads, and other material that fit that perspective on the world.  If I am a conservative, the same happens with conservative material.  My "feed" will be largely comprised of stories and shares from friends and advertisers who agree with me.

This means that on any major issue, FaceBook is constantly juggling our individual feeds to provide the best mix of what we seem to want to see......which has the salutary (for FaceBook) effect of creating more revenue.

I'm not mad at FaceBook.  It's just a company doing what companies do: making money.  They aren't trying to create problems over in Menlo Park, but they are.

Mainstream news media provide misleading information


Neither am I mad at the news media.  They are also just doing what companies do.  They aren't trying to make problems either (well, some like Russia Today, are) in newsrooms all over the world, but they are.  Here's how: crisis, conflict and blood provide the most eyeballs and therefore the best revenue.  "If it bleeds it leads" is still the rule of thumb in newsrooms.

Where there is a march or a civil disturbance, for example, the coverage centers on the tiny minority burning flags, breaking windows, fighting, or generally rioting.  The coverage of the main march where people put feet to their strongly held beliefs is limited.  No arson, no blood: no coverage.

To me, this means that the news media have an inherent context bias.  At worst, the political and cultural biases of individual reporters, producers and owners provide us with a skewed view of what is really happening world.  Some deliberately disinform.


The trust of Americans in the mainstream media touched a new low in 2016, Gallup reports.  Only 1 in 3 Americans reported "a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media."

Foreign actors are stirring up dissension 


We thought the Russian government was trying to influence the election.  Recent reports suggests they WERE trying to do just that, but that was and is only one of their intentions.  They want to create tears in the fabric of the institutions and culture that sustains our republic.  They want to inflame racial tensions, sow distrust of leaders and create chaos.

We have mislaid our ability to honor one another

The final part of my theory is that we as a people have mislaid our ability to honor one another.  Instead of listening to one another with respect, we sharpen our knives.  Honestly stated opinions are often met with unkind words and even ad hominum attacks.  I know that there have always been those who attack others with words, but somehow it seems to have been less common in times past.  We were once a more civil society.  Today, with the shield of Internet anonymity, unkindness or even viciousness is common.

Towards a solution

I believe the answer to these problems is simple: a return to honor.  But simple is often not easy.

Honor is multifaceted, of course, but if we could find our way back to civil discourse, if we could treat others as we would like to be treated, if we could.....well.....love,  much could be changed for the good.

Finally: America has weathered worse (think Civil War era) and today there is more that unites us than divides.  I have every expectation that we shall pass through these dark days into a greater society that gives hope.

So....there's my theory and ideas towards a solution.  I would really like to hear your thoughts on how we can move towards a society that goes forward together, regardless of our differing political and cultural opinions.   Please leave comments below.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Martin Luther's Spark and an Explosion that Changed the World

October 31st is the day that we remember as the beginning of the Reformation — the day 500 years ago that the corruptions of the Church of that day began to be exposed for all to see. 


Lucas Cranach's painting of Martin Luther
Traditionally, October 31 was the day that Martin Luther “nailed his 95 theses to the door” of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany

It was the beginning of a powerful change that restored to Christendom Jesus’ message of faith as the pathway to God, rather than the stony and impossibly uncertain path of works. (Romans 1:17

Eric Metaxes puts it this way, “the reason the story of Luther is unlike any other, is that he felt that after tremendous and agonized searching he finally—by God’s grace—had found that thing for which every human since Eden had pined. He had found the hermeneutical lever with which the whole world could be raised to the height of heaven. This had been the principal problem of all humanity—how to bridge the infinite abyss between imperfect mankind and a perfect God, between earth and heaven, between death and life.” (Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World

The reformation was many things, not just a few changes in how we are the Church. Metaxes again: “the quintessentially modern idea of the individual—and of one’s personal responsibility before one’s self and God rather than before any institution, whether church or state—was as unthinkable before Luther as is color in a world of black and white; and the similarly modern idea of “the people,” along with the democratic impulse that proceeds from it, was created—or at least given a voice—by Luther too. And the more recent ideas of pluralism, religious liberty, and self-government all entered history through the door that Luther opened to the future in which we now live.” 

It is safe to say that the reformation made possible the democracies of the West, with their vast advances in civilization. Freedom of religion, and even the freedom from religion, that we experience in the West today springs from the changes sparked in those momentous days half a millennium ago. 

And it’s not over. The recent explosion of the Gospel across the earth, the rising again of apostles, miracles and prophecy, and a great growth in love in the Church are a few of the signs of world-changing seasonal shifts happening in our day. 

The best is yet to come!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Only Love Will Drive Out Hate

Ulysses S. Grant -- Civil War General and U.S. President
In these days of intensifying tribalism in America, it's helpful to look back to earlier hard times in our nation.   I was struck today by something moving in the recollections of President Ulysses S. Grant as he wrote of his experience as a Civil War general, the general who, along with Abraham Lincoln, saved the Union.

Grant was traveling on horseback in late June, 1862, on his way to Memphis.   Except for various outposts, this was Confederate territory, only lightly held by Union troops.

Watch what happens when men of honor meet; men who hold quite different perspectives (emphasis added):

I halted at La Grange. General Hurlbut was in command there at the time and had his headquarters tents pitched on the lawn of a very commodious country house. The proprietor was at home and, learning of my arrival, he invited General Hurlbut and me to dine with him. 

I accepted the invitation and spent a very pleasant afternoon with my host, who was a thorough Southern gentleman fully convinced of the justice of secession

After dinner, seated in the capacious porch, he entertained me with a recital of the services he was rendering the cause. He was too old to be in the ranks himself--he must have been quite seventy then--but his means enabled him to be useful in other ways. 

In ordinary times the homestead where he was now living produced the bread and meat to supply the slaves on his main plantation, in the low-lands of Mississippi. Now he raised food and forage on both places, and thought he would have that year a surplus sufficient to feed three hundred families of poor men who had gone into the war and left their families dependent upon the "patriotism" of those better off. 

The crops around me looked fine, and I had at the moment an idea that about the time they were ready to be gathered the "Yankee" troops would be in the neighborhood and harvest them for the benefit of those engaged in the suppression of the rebellion instead of its support. 

I felt, however, the greatest respect for the candor of my host and for his zeal in a cause he thoroughly believed in, though our views were as wide apart as it is possible to conceive.

Grant could have had the gentlemen imprisoned.  Instead, they listened to one another with honor, and, no doubt, took their leave with courteous words.

Today, it feels as if we a nation degenerating into rival tribes based on perceived identities.  One pictures tribesmen with shields and spears shouting and brandishing their weapons in defiance at one another, each tribe nursing grievances toward the other.

Martin Luther King wrote this: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

If Dr King is right, and I believe he is, then it also seems right that "We will never with hate drive out the hate of those who hate from the left or from the right.  Only love will drive out hate."


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

U.S. President Saves Children in First Day in Office

I want to say at the outset of this post that I do not judge women who have had abortions. There is only love in my heart and and hope for blessing for any woman who has been down that road. It is abortion organizations, and the idea of abortion for any and every reason that I find contemptible.

That said, on his first full day in office, President Trump by executive order has saved the lives of many children around the world by re-instating the "Mexico City Policy". These sons and daughters of other lands would have been killed by abortionists using American foreign aid funds......which come from your tax dollars and mine.

In 44 years (January 22, 1973), abortion organizations have killed 60 million American children. If that wasn't evil enough, we exported abortion abroad through foreign aid.

According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, "the Mexico City Policy requires foreign non-governmental organizations to not provide or promote abortion services if they receive funds from the U.S. government. Specifically, the funds would come from the United States Agency for International Development, and abortion cannot be presented as a “method of family planning.” Promoting abortion services includes work such as counseling for women that includes language on abortions."

Taxpayer dollars cannot be used to kill our own nation's children.  For us to pay for or promote abortion in other countries with taxpayer dollars is flagrant hypocrisy at best.

Thank you, Mr. President. Well done.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sex Slavery Flowers in Our Toxic Hyper-Sexual Culture

Recently, several hundred in our city attended a hard-hitting session on combatting sex trafficking.  We learned that dozens of girls have been trafficked from our community alone in recent years, and sex slavery is on the rise in America and around the world.  No family is safe from the impacts of trafficking.

After watching the short film Chosen, Benjamin Nolot, founder of the non-profit foundation Exodus Cry, spoke to the group.  Exodus Cry produced the sex trafficking documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. (See below)

This image of "GIRLS" deeply troubles me because it
demeans my daughters, my sisters and my granddaughters.
It makes them "meat". How many of the girls in the establishment
that this points toward are sex slaves? I am asking
myself.....why are we allowing these signs on public streets???
Nolot said demand for illicit sex is rising because of our hyper-sexual culture and its impacts on young men who have learned about sex from entertainment.  The same hyper-sexual culture can lead vulnerable young women to believe that their sexuality is the basis for their worth.

Pimps enslave girls and young women by preying on their vulnerabilities.  They may shower them with affection, expensive gifts, and meals to gain their trust.  Once they have sex, the girls are captured.  Using promises of big money and threats of removal of affection, threats of violence against family members, or threats agains the girls themselves, they remove them from their family and social connections and move them into larger towns.  There the girls are sold repeatedly for sex.

Sex slavery pays.  Pimps can make more than $300,000 from a single girl, a Los Angeles study found.  Making trafficking too risky to operate is one way of fighting back, Nolot says.  Our county now has two staff in the District Attorney’s office assigned full time to sex slavery cases.  The D.A.’s office reported life sentences have recently been handed down for sex trafficking convictions.

Education is another way of pushing back.  Teaching girls in age-appropriate ways to detect lies in the culture and in entertainment is a first levels protection.  Later we can teach them to detect the moves of pimps is important.

Dealing with the demand side is something we must manage as a wider society, he believes.  If we abandon our young men's masculine education to the culture we are abandoning them to the pornographic culture…..and the pornographic culture feeds the social cancer of sex slavery.  Pornography contributes to sex trafficking and the ruin of lives of young women.   And.....prostitution is NOT a "victimless crime". 

We must begin to see prostitutes as victims — no woman on the planet ever really wanted to be a sex slave.  As long as we believe somehow in our hearts that prostitutes have thoughtfully chosen this lifestyle or that they are part of some lower class of humanity, they will continue to be bought and sold.

No one is safe from sex trafficking, Nolot said. Our daughters and the daughters of our families and friends are not safe as long as there is a demand for illicit sex and unscrupulous individuals are willing to prey on them for profit.  Slavers prey on girls from good homes, not-so-good homes, rich homes, and poor homes.  No one is immune.

We need a paradigm shift.  Now more than ever our culture is increasingly toxic in the area of sexuality.  Tens of thousands of young girls are enslaved because of our failure to confront these evils in our culture. 

You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know. ― William Wilberforce

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Civil War General's Powerful Words to His Wife

Men, this is for us.  Ladies, you are welcome to read on if you like, but I have an an inspiration and an observation for my brothers.

I'm reading American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White Jr.  In it I am finding some powerful insights into the life of this giant of America's past.

As Grant continued to win victory after victory in the Civil War, his fame began to spread.  Not only did his troops admire him, he was widely admired among civilians in the North.  After pivotal victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, he was promoted to Lieutenant General, the second American to have held the highest (at that time) rank in the military.  The first was George Washington.

Julia Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant
Grant's affection for his wife Julia was deep and life-long, and fame took its toll on them both.  White paints one vignette of this:

"While in St. Louis {after Grant's promotion to Lt. General}, Julia, self-conscious now that her husband had become so famous, decided she needed to do something about her appearance. Long concerned by her strabismus, often referred to as cross-eyed, she would not face the camera when someone wanted to take her photograph. 

She turned to Dr. Charles A. Pope, dean of the St. Louis Medical College. Pope told her it was too late to perform an operation on her eyes. Devastated, she confessed to her husband her intention and disappointment. 

Ulysses, startled, replied, “What in the world put such a thought in your head, Julia?” 

“Why, you are getting to be such a great man and I am such a plain little wife. I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain.” 

Ulysses drew her to him and said, “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them.""

Brothers, whether we are married or single, there are important women in our lives: wives, daughters, sisters, girl friends, and others.  If our relationships with them are good, our words have great impact.  Grant's words telegraphed that he really, really saw her.....that his gaze reached into her soul, and that he saw the real beauty in her, not just surface beauty.  We can do that, too.

Grant's simple words to his beloved must have been powerfully important to her self image in those days.....days that were to become much more public for a country girl from the American mid-West.

We can do the same for the women that are around us.  We can focus on the gold that is within and when opportunities arise for honest praise, we can tell them about the gold we see.  It's easy to see imperfections and shortcomings.  Anyone can do that.  It is the work of the Kingdom, however, to see gold in others, and to help them see it in themselves.

Not only did Grant do this for his bride, but he did it even for his subordinates.  Most of his men loved and admired Grant, both because he was ending the war with superior skill, and because he treated them with respect and honor.  He even treated vanquished foes with honor.  This tells me that if the commander of all the armies of the Union can treat others with respect and honor, it's something that we can do as well.......first in our relationships with our families, and then with others around us.

Finally.....just an observation: we 21st century Americans are inundated with information about the personalities around us, more so than ever before.  It is a blessing and a problem.  It is a blessing to have access to so much information.  It's also a problem because men and women of earlier generations have much to say if we will only listen.....and sometimes it's hard to hear them with all the insistent voices of today.

With the telegraph, Civil War era Americans had better and more timely information than generations before.  Even then, however, literate Americans had a broad knowledge of the words  of the earlier giants of America and Europe, and even of Classical antiquity.  I wonder if these 19th century Americans were better educated than we.

As I have focused my attention on this Grant biography, I am reminded again of the richness of America's past and the giants that walked our land yesterday....giants whose words I want to hear to help me understand today and plan for tomorrow.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

On The Christian Duty to Honor the Emperors of Today

President Barack Obama
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor President Obama and President-elect Trump.

I exchanged the names of our current and incoming presidents for "emperor" to fit our day, but other than that, these words are scripture (1 Peter 2:17 NIV).

I stand convicted on this. I have too often missed the mark. I'm particularly struck by the last part: "Honor the emperor"......because I have not always honored our "emperor", Mr. Obama.

As Peter was writing this from Rome around 65 A.D. the current emperor would have been Nero, the mad tyrant who tortured Christians, and according to Church tradition, finally crucified the apostle. Clearly, Peter was not saying honor the emperor because he deserved it.

So.....with that in mind, what right do I or any of us have to dishonor President Obama or President-Elect Trump with our words or deeds?

That being so, the question for us is this: how do we Jesus followers honorably disagree with the policies and deeds of the "emperor" of our day, or express concerns about fitness for office, while still obeying the command of scripture?

Peter's apostolic colleague, Paul, also had something to say about this matter: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."  (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Prayer and intercession for those who lead in our communities, states and national government goes hand in hand with honoring these men and women.

We are clearly in a different situation than the first century Church.  For just one thing, in our system of government, we select the leaders of our land. Expressing our opinions is important.

Nevertheless, I believe the apostle Peter's words apply just as much in these days as they did for those who lived in his day. It seems to me that the issue is a matter of honoring the emperor in our hearts… when we do this our words will reflect that heart posture.

I have deep disagreements with much of Mr Obama's policies and deeds, and I have deeply questioned his fitness for office.  While I have great hope for Mr. Trump, at this point his policies, deeds and fitness can only be guessed at.  I do have great concerns about what I have read about his fitness for office and his past deeds.  Questioning and outright disagreeing with both of these men is my right as an American, and indeed, as a human.

Where I…..and any of us who are Christians go off the rails is when we attack the person, rather than his deeds, his policies, or his preparation for office.

We also go off the rails when we gossip. In the context of FaceBook and other social media, gossip also includes sharing information from others that we have not verified as truthful.  The amount of untruthful or questionable information being gossiped on FaceBook today is staggering.

I'm still unpacking the import of Peter's words as it relates to us today. I would be quite interested to hear what you think.

A Civil War General's Words Still Inspire Still Today

I'm currently reading American Ulysses by Ronald C. White,  a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant, the American Civil War general who more than any other made Union victory possible.  There are all kinds of fascinating insights into the life of this extraordinary American here; but I'll mention just three.

Grant captured Confederate forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.  This was an important victory for the Union both strategically and politically.  Two of the forts' commanders fled leaving CSA General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Grant's former West Point classmate, in command.

Buckner asked for terms of surrender, expecting a negotiation.  Grant, woken from a sound sleep by an aide bringing Buckner's surrender note, replied with a note of his own:  "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works {fortifications}."

Grant's words were telegraphed across country and widely reprinted.  They resonated strongly in Civil War era America, and still inspire today.  They earned him the nickname, "Unconditional Surrender Grant", a play on his name and initials.

In accepting Buckner's surrender, "as Grant smoked a cigar, they talked about the size of the opposing armies. Buckner expressed surprise at the small size of Grant’s force, the Confederates having believed the number to be fifty thousand. “If I had been in command,” he said, aggravated that Grant had been able to attack the fort with so few men, “you would not have reached the fort so easily.” “If you had {been in command instead of the other generals},” Grant said  smiling, “I would have waited for reinforcements."

As he did with Buckner, Grant consistently honored his opponents in gray.  Here's another example, when Grant was asked about the victory ceremony in which the confederates would stack their rifles and the commander's sword surrendered:

"The surrender is now a fact; we have the fort, the men, the guns. Why should we go through vain forms, and mortify and injure the spirit of brave men, who, after all are our own countrymen and brothers."

Honoring our opponents in business, politics and debate, is a good lesson for us all, perhaps summed up in the words of a more recent fighter, Col. Tim Collinsif you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ordinary Miracles and the Ineffable Goodness of God

Sometimes it's easy to forget that the trees rising from the dirt are  miracles…that rain wetting the dry ground is a mystery…that man and beast moving across the earth are complicated beyond complete understanding. That the stars that swing across the night sky are impossibly far; impressively large, incredibly diverse. That even our familiar moon is held together and in place by the miracle of order. 

We go about our lives engrossed in triumph and tragedy, in bursts of activity and times of rest. In the routine of life, it's easy to miss that we are surrounded by mystery and majesty, order and chaos. 

Life on earth is comprised of individual elements and molecules that are organized by the miracle of life into living beings smaller than a gnat to as huge as whales.  From single celled creatures to those that are able to leave the planet, we the living are fantastically diverse, and miraculous.

From what comes the miraculous spark of life?  Even if the universe and all within it and all life originated in single event, a "Big Bang"…..how came the "trigger" to be fueled and what was the "fuel" for that bang?  

And what is the universe?  Is it without border?  And if it is, how far from the center of it is matter distributed?  Are there endless, mind-numbing distances occupied by nothing…no light, no matter, no anything?  And if there is, what is the purpose of that infinite nothing?  

I have pondered these things for six decades.  

Today, I have an awareness that God made all and is in all, and that He saw that it was good. 
I revel in His good presence in every leaf, every animal, in every drop of rain, in the air I breathe. 

As a child I knew of God. As an adult I know God. 
As a dark-haired youth I demanded answers to "how" and "why". 
As a silver-haired man, I am content that He Is, and that He is love.....and ineffably good. 
And that He will whisper the "what".

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Dreams For America Are Not On Hillary Clinton's Path

I am going to mark my election ballot for Donald Trump.

I am going to do so in the belief that my dreams for my country, and for my family will be best realized on another path than that Hillary Clinton treads.  My vote will likely not decide the issue in a state that leans heavily towards her, but I will vote against her anyway.  Only one other candidate can possibly defeat her.

The future of our republic will in no small measure be decided by those the next president appoints to the Supreme Court.  A Clinton presidency will most likely appoint justices who believe the Constitution to be a “living document”, which seems to me to be a euphemism for “it can be interpreted to fit the needs of the current political climate.”  A Trump presidency will most likely appoint justices who respect the intents of the framers of the constitution and who believe that the constitution is a living document in that it can be changed by the amendment process.

Abraham Lincoln wrote of “a government of the people, by the people, for the people”.  Those words resonate in American dreams with the crystal clarity of a bugle call's pure note.  Yet today, it feels to me as if we are sleep walking toward “a people of the government, by the government, for the government.”  Certainly, no candidate perfectly embodies either one of these polar opposites.  But it feels to me as if Hillary Clinton is more about her and her government, and the people who can serve her and it.  That is not in my dreams for my country and my children.

I am not happy to vote for Donald Trump.  He has many failings.   But Hillary Clinton also has many failings.  Actually, I am unmoved by arguments that one has fewer failings or more.  It is for my dreams that I vote.

I considered voting for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.  California will likely vote heavily for Democratic party candidates as it has done consistently in recent decades….so my vote for Trump would probably not decide the issue, I reasoned.  I thought I wanted to be able to say that I didn’t vote for either.  But I finally realized that even if there is only a slight chance of defeating Hillary Clinton with my vote, I must appear on the electoral battlefield nonetheless.

People I love are staking out other positions.  While I might disagree, I still respect hearts that honestly seek the best for our country. Our different political views do not hinder my love.  I hope as this election passes into memory, we can rally in unity around the shared ideals of America and remember to earnestly pray “....for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Recently I emerged from the miasma of political chatter to remember again that the plans of God are not hindered by the election of a given president.  Solomon wrote, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”  Even in the midst of the Babylonian captivity, God moved the heart of a pagan king to send Nehemiah to Jerusalem where he rebuilt the city and began the restoration of the nation of Israel.

This says to me that by short path or long, the purposes of God will prevail.  I will not fear the result of this election, because God is good.  He is for us and not against us.

That is the foundation on which all my dreams rest.