The past few weeks have seen an uproar of argument and discussion about the recent deployment of federal troops to Portland in light of ongoing protests there since the murder of George Floyd in May. The social media feeds of both “sides” in this have been inundated with either selective footage of “violent” protesters or selective footage of “police brutality.”
And of course, the debate has become over-simplified and reductive, as all national debates are. The Right keeps saying, “so you think it’s okay to burn down a federal courthouse”? And Trump keeps tweeting “LAW & ORDER!” The Left are talking about Fascism and Secret Police.
Since the Hamilton movie came out, it inspired me to restart my goal of reading through biographies on all the Presidents. Several weeks ago, I re-read Chernow’s Washington biography and am now reading two John Adams biographies side-by-side (David McCullough’s and John Ferling’s) and have come across some fascinating parallels to our current situation. Nearly all of the following footnotes and quotes come from Ferling’s book.
Lessons from the Revolution
The Revolution did not start as an intellectual or political movement, but as as a popular grassroots movement, led by young radicals like Samuel Adams. Many of the Founders, including Adams, Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, weren’t bothered by much of what Britain did until much later in the process.
California has experienced a huge surge of COVID-19 cases in the past month or so. In response they have placed further restrictions on gatherings and businesses, including restricting churches with capacity limits and no singing.
On Friday, California pastor John MacArthur, with his elders, posted this piece saying they “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”
First, I want to commend MacArthur and his team. Not enough churches engage in civil disobedience against the government, oftentimes letting political interests tempt churches into compromising their core values and commitments.
It was refreshing to see a large, conservative church say once again that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and to reclaim the sense that the Church is fundamentally opposed to the ways that government and politicians do things, especially when they will obviously receive the scorn of a watching world and local government for the sake of their convictions. However…
Good Faith, Bad Faith, Insecure Faith
I really want to avoid whataboutism throughout this piece; yet, one cannot look at MacArthur’s letter without some confusion. This is a church and denomination that has given themselves so totally to one party in our political system, they have little integrity in saying they are now following Christ, not Caesar.
I proudly voted for you in your first two terms to the Senate. I know you have a justified and well-earned reputation for being fair-minded and keeping the interests of the country first, even above the interests of your party.
I am concerned, however, that your silence about the impeachment proceedings these past few weeks may indicate that you will simply vote along the party line on votes that would do incredible damage to the structural and institutional integrity of our Constitutional process of holding the Executive accountable for its actions. Continue reading →
The book goes through a series of principles on which the American mythos has been built and offers vivid anecdotes, data, history, and musings as to how the American government has not only fallen short of these ideals, but has codified and structuralized the outright denial of those ideals.
There’s a little something for every political stripe here. For example, the opening chapter, “All Men are Created Equal”, spends most of its time sounding like a Black Lives Matter treatise, recounting the views of slavery by the founding fathers, disillusioning the Lincoln-as-great moral-Liberator myth (arguing that Lincoln freed slaves more out of political calculus than genuine moral courage), and the systemic injustice of Jim Crow. In this, he talks like an activist trying to show how America has never been on the side of black humans. And yet, he ends the chapter by waxing away about how affirmative action is just one more version of “government sanctioned racism”.
Tonight, my church is holding a timely lecture on “The Gospel, Race, and Wealth Inequality” at our Center City Philadelphia Campus (17th and Sansom St). The talk will be given by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Social Work Dr. Amy Castro-Baker.
The event was planned months ago, but one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more appropriate week in which to explore this topic. With the events in Charlottesville this weekend, and the President’s response(s), it’s important to talk about not just the moral and spiritual roots of such division and racism, but to explore its structural rootedness in the very way we structure society and economies.
I don’t know the specific of the talk, or its general direction, but I know Dr. Castro Baker enough to trust her and to know this evening will be challenging, hard, but beneficial to us all. Join us if you can. Here’s the event description: Continue reading →
Along with so many of you, I have spent the past year-and-a-half poring over the stories of our Founding Fathers in response to the musical Hamilton. I admit it: I know every song, every lyric, and I’ve been fascinated by the subtle nuances and references to historical details behind the lyrics. Complicating matters, I was steeped in these Wikipedia pages and (the amazingly comprehensive) Genius lyrics annotations all while there was a heated Presidential campaign going on.
All these factors came together to give me a new life-goal: to read a major biography on every President of the United States. And so I picked up my copy of Ron Chernow’s fantastic book Washington: A Life (for Hamilton fans, you may recognize Chernow as the author of the book on which the musical is based).
Appropriately, I finished the book this past Monday, President’s Day (previously celebrated as Washington’s Birthday). It’s the longest book I’ve ever read (weighing in at 905 small print pages), but easily one of the most enjoyable. Continue reading →
Democrats should hold confirmation hearings and approve President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, in a respectful, timely way. In other words, they ought to act in the way Republicans should have acted with President Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland. How Liberals and Progressives respond to this nomination will show whether their ongoing protests and anger are truly principled or are just aimless expressions of emotion.
Most every action Trump has taken since becoming President has been abnormal, irresponsible, immoral, incompetent, or counter-productive. He is, in my opinion entirely unfit for the office of President, and has not the moral, intellectual, nor executive substance that this office requires. Yet I am in the electoral minority. Donald J. Trump is the President now, and even if he does not treat the Presidency with the respect and dignity it deserves, the rest of us should.
All of the Opinion pieces I’ve seen so far that have argued for Democratic obstruction of the Gorsuch nomination, do so on two primary grounds: the Republican travesty of blocking Obama’s pick for the past year, and the Conservatism of Gorsuch. Both of these reasons come up short. Continue reading →
“It has occasionally occurred to me when in [Washington’s] company, that if a stranger to his person were present, they would never have known from anything said by the president that he was conscious of having distinguished himself in the eyes of the world.”
—Bishop William White on Washington’s refusal to boast
Though the Constitution said nothing about an inaugural address, Washington, in an innovative spirit, contemplated such a speech as early as January 1789 and asked a “gentleman under his roof ”—David Humphreys—to draft one. Washington had always been economical with words, but the collaboration with Humphreys produced a wordy document, seventy- three pages long, which survives only in tantalizing snippets.
In this curious speech, Washington spent a ridiculous amount of time defending his decision to become president, as if he stood accused of some heinous crime. He denied that he had accepted the presidency to enrich himself, even though nobody had accused him of greed: “In the first place, if I have formerly served the community without a wish for pecuniary compensation, it can hardly be suspected that I am at present influenced by avaricious schemes.” Addressing a topical concern, he disavowed any desire to found a dynasty, pleading his childless state. Continue reading →
I’m currently reading Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington, and it is astonishingly good (I believe the proper word is “magisterial”). In the book, I’m currently in the late 80s (the 1780s, that is), in the odd period after the War, but before he was drafted into Presidential politics. He’s having old friends visit him at Mount Vernon while he’s doing renovations after its long wartime neglect.
One of those friends was Washington’s first real biographer, David Humphreys–an aide of Washington’s during the War. He liked Humphreys so much that after the British defeat at Yorktown, Washington had him take the British flags from the fort and deliver them in person to Congress as the sign of victory.
For my birthday this year, I’ve been trying to raise money through Charity: Water to give clean water access to those in developing countries. At the time of this writing, we’ve raised nearly 60% of my total goal! That’s crazy to me.
I recently wrote about uniquely Christian reasons to care about this issue, but today, i want to make one last appeal and explain why everyone, regardless of personal belief system ought to care about the lack of clean water globally.
I admit: “Social Justice-y” issues are in style. As globalization and social media collide, our global neighbors are feeling ever and ever closer, and our awareness to global issues is rising. Everyone’s got their own specific concern. What’s yours? Women’s rights? Children’s rights? Animal rights? Education? Poverty? Global Health? The Environment? Global conflict and wars? As Charity: Water points out, this clean water access issue is a primary factor in all of the above areas.
1 in 10 humans on earth don’t have clean drinking water. Unclean and unsafe water is the primary cause of 80% of all disease and it kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.90% of all of these deaths happen to children.
Many global wars, including the humanitarian disaster in Syria (and also Darfur), can find their root in water access. Notice I didn’t say that the conflicts only bring about lack of clean water (though they do)–the poor water access is part of the cause of these conflicts in the first place.
Further, the hours spent finding, carrying, and distributing water–and not going to school or working–are so numerous that it is a major source of poverty in the world. It severely limits women’s rights, political integrity, and social upbuilding due to the constant time and attention devoted to water rather than other socio-cultural needs. Indeed, there are even more implications for this most basic of issues. Clean water touches everything.
Tomorrow is my 31st birthday, and instead of any gifts or Facebook Wall well-wishes, I’m asking people to give $31 on my campaign page at Charity: Water to give access to clean water to those in developing country.
But it is also Advent and Christmas season, giving an even deeper and fuller reason to give, especially if you would call yourself a Christian.
Yes, as Christians we ought to care about the pain and suffering of the world no matter what chapter and verse we can cite on a particular issue. But water, however, is uniquely theological and full of meaning.
A Theology of Water & Advent
Water is an essential and mystical part of the Christian story and message, giving us unique motivations and resources for addressing the issue of clean water. The Israel story begins with God creating the world out of the murky depths. The Israelite people are set free from bondage to a prince of death and find their redemption by passing through a Red Sea, which would have held certain death and return to bondage; they enter the Promised Land in a similar fashion. God promises to sprinkle clean his people with the waters of redemption. It is by more than one water well that Patriarchs find their wives and Christ finds a woman in need of redemption. It is in the world to come that the Tree of Life is seen once more, and a River of Life flows from its roots offering life and salvation to all who drink.
This is a guest post from a friend of mine, Paul Warner. In political issues and especially economics, he is one of my most well-researched, reasonable, and articulate friends. The day after the election, he posted this on Facebook, and I wanted to share this with everyone here. It casts a vision of what’s happened, and how we might move forward. It’s a fairly hot take, and much has been written elsewhere since then. Yet, I think it’s still a refreshing and candid look at the immediate aftermath of this strange campaign season.
Well, I am incredibly disappointed with the election results. But I will accept them because I still believe in democracy and I still have hope for our country.
I do have a few initial comments, though, as I am trying to think through this as objectively as I can because I have to try to process this.
1. If you are a Trump supporter, please muster some sympathy for a lot of people who woke up very scared after the election.
People with terrible medical conditions who only have health insurance because Obamacare eliminated the pre-existing condition restrictions
Muslims who have experienced an increase in harassment and abuse
Women who have sexually abusive husbands or bosses
Blacks who watched the KKK walk across a bridge in NC last week in full celebration
Young adults born in Mexico but brought to the US by parents at a young age who consider themselves Americans but now fear deportation
Much of Europe that is scared the US may abandon NATO
There are a lot of very scared people. Please respect that. Additionally, please refrain from the “do not despair” rhetoric. It’s not helpful – it seems insensitive right now, regardless of your intent. Continue reading →
For several years now, I’ve had this recurring dream in which I’m trying to come up with the scariest story possible. The dream itself isn’t scary, mind you. It’s more about me intellectually trying to think of and experience what would terrify me most.
As I’ve played this out in my dreams over and over, certain contours have emerged as to what would truly scare me and evoke terror the most. It is not necessarily death, harm, nor paranormal antagonism. For me, it is more existential. It is soul-deep.
I still can’t nail down the precise plot to this horror movie in my mind, but it involves a man who has an entire set of worldviews, beliefs, opinions, and actions that are entirely consistent with the data he has available to him. He feels he has a reasonably clear picture of reality–or at least as clear as can be expected–and has a coherent life built on top of that picture of reality.
Ruler and King of all, our nation is now entering into such a delicate time. Many emotions are being felt very deeply after this election. It was a hard-fought fight that many had much invested in. Would you be with us as the immediate emotional aftermath of the election occurs?
Lord, hear our prayer.
O God of peace, you do not desire that we would be filled with anxiety, fear, or gloating, as if our greatest joy or pain would be the result of this one election. You have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, into your presence, where we may be still and know that you are the God who is the sustaining Presence in all nations,