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Category: Culture

Seriously, what is going on with this presidential election, and what do we do now?

hillary_clinton_vs-_donald_trump_-_caricaturesIn the last few days – amid yet another outbreak of scandalous news items and a second debate involving the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates – traditional and social media continue to warn us that if the “wrong” candidate wins, the sky will fall, children will starve, and the Yellowstone caldera will erupt.

Then there are thoughtful commentaries by Christian writers and leaders, trying to present biblical reasons why Christians should vote one way or the other. Theologian Mirasolv Volf says the policies of Hillary Clinton best represent Christian values; theologian Wayne argues that Trump is the better choice.

Christian progressives wag their fingers at Christian conservatives for being single-issue voters, without admitting that they themselves often are too. And don’t get me started on the old argument that “if you don’t vote, then X will win and the sky will fall, children will starve, and the Yellowstone caldera will erupt.” read more

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Will we ever find utopia in a broken world?

IMG_1201I just returned from a week in Helena, Montana.

It was utopic: silent mornings, sitting alone on a wide deck overlooking Hauser Lake; loud middays, talking and laughing with family under the big Montana sky; and brilliant evenings, watching the horizon erupt in a blaze of colors as the sun dropped below the western mountains.

The scenery was fresh and spacious. The air was tranquil and clean. And most important, I was out of the city.

The whole time I was there, I fought back dread of the day when I would have to return to the city where I live – Portland, Oregon.

But  before that day came, something worse happened. Shortly after the Fourth of July, the country exploded with violence, protests, and domestic terrorism. Two videos went viral, showing police officers shooting African-American men in St. Paul and Baton Rouge; then five officers were gunned down in Dallas. The nation cracked in two, and the schism spread wide. I knew—absolutely knew—the next several days would be filled with raging debates and groundless conclusions made from hundreds or thousands of miles away, based on a few seconds of unclear video. read more

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The virtue of saying nothing

ap_shooting_dc_160612_4x3_992-900x675It’s been quite an emotional week. If it weren’t so sad and tragic, it would have been absolutely bizarre. When news broke of the massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. America followed its new pattern: one millisecond of shock and horror, then an avalanche of finger-pointing and political posturing.

Before the blood was even dry, we jumped to exploit raw emotions, jockeying for any political advantage we could get. We blamed immigration, guns, conservatives, progressives, Christians, Muslims, homophobia, prayer, God’s wrath, and my favorite, the lack of safe spaces for the shooter to question his sexuality. We managed to blame everyone and everything but the guy who shot up the place. read more

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Reclaiming my identity in Christ, not politics

Especially during election season, politics make me crazy – and Facebook is the first place I show it.

Usually, it begins with news of some political action or position I find untenable. I sink into a funk and share witty quips to expose it – but too often I take personal aim at its supporters, devolving into biting sarcasm. Since my ultimate goal is to be loving, not biting, I’m constantly asking God to save me from myself (and constantly thanking him for the “delete” function).

One recent funk started on a Tuesday, the day of the Oregon primary election. All morning I tried to ignore my ballot on the corner of my desk, debating whether it was worth the effort to turn it in. I have never been so unexcited about voting in my life. read more

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The outsiders: Faith and exile in America

5130991619_5f2a3bd38d_zLately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live as an outsider, marginalized by society.

Being an outsider is the focus of a chapter I am currently working on for my next book: when I am not researching, I am writing and reflecting on the topic.

I have always struggled with a feeling of “outsiderness,” but the feeling has been getting stronger recently. I really don’t “belong” anywhere. Academically, I wear the scarlet letter of a failed PhD. Philosophically, I am a small-town Montana boy whose beliefs and values go against those of my city (Portland, Oregon). Temperamentally, I am an introvert in a society which prizes extraversion. And politically, I find the most popular candidates for president to be either childish and vulgar, or lacking in credibility, or both. So even in my own country’s political process, with “outsider” candidates capturing huge numbers of votes, I feel like an even bigger outsider than they are because I don’t understand what their supporters see in them. I don’t get it; I just don’t fit in. I keep thinking, Why am I so out of step with everyone else? What am I missing? read more

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“Hosanna!”: The presidential election, terrorism, and the state of the world

Last Saturday in Arizona, protesters tried to silence a presidential candidate while supporters retaliated with fisticuffs.

Hours later, on Palm Sunday, Christians commemorated Jesus’s kingly entrance into Jerusalem.

The next day, in Brussels, terrorist attacks killed over 30 people and injured at least 200 more.

This year has been that kind of surreal.

The elections, the unrest, the terror—all of this craziness makes me feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and afraid.

I can’t quite describe my feelings, but they include anger, horror, frustration, numbness, bewilderment and more, depending on what’s in the news each day.

I am distressed and heartbroken over the terrorism, crying out to God for the victims. But I can’t stop it. So I focus on something closer to home: election year, and how our next president might respond to terrorism and all of the other problems facing us, both here and abroad. read more

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Why I am already giving up on 2016

20130704-defeat-chess1When things are beyond our control, we tend to “give up” in one of two ways. The first way, which does little good, is to appear to give up by saying, “I’m done” – and throwing up our hands in disgust. The second way, which I recommend, is to truly give up.

Let me explain.

In 2015, I tried the first way.

I immersed myself in the news, trying to get my mind around the emerging crises of city riots, global terrorism, leadership vacuums, and the uneasy feeling that we may be headed toward another world war.

I couldn’t discuss these issues on social media, because the response there is always character assassination from angry people with pat answers which they (wrongly) believe will solve everything. So I internalized my concerns and frustrations. But that choice led to worry and despair. Many nights I couldn’t sleep because my mind raced with headlines, talking heads, and complete nonsense I had heard during the day. read more

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The gift of “angry eyes” on Halloween

I love fall, and that includes the guilty pleasure of Halloween.

When I was a kid, Halloween was a great community event. I have fond memories of trick-or-treating on crisp, windy nights in a town where every home was filled with light and candy, ready to greet small visitors whose costumes were mostly covered by winter coats to block the Montana chill. The coats weren’t in character, but then again, neither were shivering zombies.

So, a few years ago, I decided to get in the spirit: I turned our house into a “monster house,” with two angry eyes to watch over the neighborhood at night.

Our house has two upstairs dormer windows, so I illuminate each one with an orange outline, a red iris, and a scowling purple eyebrow. This year I also outlined the garage door below them in a clumsy attempt to make a mouth. Then I replaced our two white porch lights with red ones, right about where the dimples should be. (Do monsters have dimples?) The resulting monster face is crude and unrefined, but I enjoy it and so do the trick-or-treaters. read more

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The New American Pharisee

When we think of a modern-day Pharisee, most of us immediately think of a stereotypical “us vs. them, holier-than-thou” legalist, pointing a judgmental finger at others and trying to force his or her narrow religious views on all of society. But lately I see a new kind of Pharisees emerging within the body of Christ, and though their fingers point back at that stereotype, they are every bit as judgmental.

Recently I saw a disturbing Facebook exchange about the scandal involving AshleyMadison.com (tagline: “Life is short. Have an affair”). Sadly, the breach of this hookup website for married people exposed many subscribers who were Christians—even well-known pastors and other spiritual leaders. read more

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Five reasons I hate debate on social media

Recently, I broke my cardinal rule to avoid joining political debates, especially in social media. Just before heading out to see a movie with a friend—like a real, actual human in the flesh—I went online and checked my Twitter account.

And there it was: A provocative political comment at the top of my feed, beckoning me to respond. Such comments are my kryptonite, my greatest danger. They often come across as punchy and irrefutable to those who agree, but shallow and half-baked to those who don’t – and they tempt me to respond with some quick, off-the-cuff remark which I immediately regret. So I am constantly on the alert to ignore them. But this comment was especially hard to ignore; it was one of those that seemed ripe for a ready-made zinger. read more

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