Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
2010, Penguin Books
Kindle / Paperback
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.
“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.
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.
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.
The soul-terror comes when he realizes that it is all a lie.
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,
Lord, hear our prayer.
(And sticker solidarity with my Hispanic brothers and sisters . You’ve had a rough election.)
O Lord our truest Ruler and King, many words have been said these past months leading to this election day. Far too many of these words have been hurtful, fearful, divisive, angry, and anxious. Being able to see our nation’s policies so tangibly, it is far too easy to equate this nation with your Kingdom, and so act as if this election were of supreme eternal importance.
Lord, forgive us, we pray.
Bless the leaders of our land–those currently in office and those elected today–that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Let this be the conviction of every leader as they model for us, however imperfectly, political relations amongst both their fellow countrymen and citizens of the world. Continue reading
Regardless of one’s personal political beliefs, it’s hard to deny that this particular election season is one of the most brutal in decades. On both sides of the aisle, a harsher edge has accompanied our political discourse. This has been exacerbated by people retreating further and further to the safety of their own “sides” in these uncertain times, leading to pockets of like-minded people who rarely interact with those with whom they disagree.
And yet, the good news is that there is still one institution in society whose very nature draws people together from a diversity of views, classes, opinions, and income brackets: the Christian Church. Christians do this imperfectly, for sure, and many of our churches are marked by sharp divisions and high uniformity on issues secondary to the essentials of our faith; yet the Christian Church, throughout history, has been able to contain within itself a huge diversity of views, opinions, cultures, and societal structures, all while maintaining its essential integrity.
This puts Christians in a bind, though, when studying Scripture in a diverse community and in a tense political time. As Christians, we want the Bible to inform our political beliefs, but we also want to be in unity with other believers around us. As the Bible shapes us and we come to our own beliefs on political issues, how do we do so in a way that leads to charity and a deeper knowledge of God through the Scriptures?
I think we can chart a way forward by looking at the diversity of ways the Scriptures interact with the politics of God’s people, the politics at the time the Bible was actually written, and by focusing on the central point of Christian teaching: Jesus. Continue reading
Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport
by Richard Mouw
For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’ve been spending the Fall exploring some of the distinctive beliefs of Reformed Theology.
Well, if there’s any set of ideas Reformed Theology is most known for (and controversially so), it is surely that cluster of doctrines known collectively as “Calvinism”. That’s what we’re exploring this month through Richard Mouw’s amazing book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport.
To be clear, “Reformed Theology” is a lot bigger than Calvinism. You can agree with Calvinistic thought and not be Reformed, and you can have a huge range of opinions on Calvinist doctrines while still being Reformed. And yet, it is so connected to the thought of my church’s tradition that it deserves a deep dive.
This is a beautiful piece by a friend of mine, Aisha Monique, from my previous church. She is a wonderful spoken word artist who wrote and performed this a couple of months ago as a way of prophetically processing the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, and hwo they fit into the broader narrative of the Black experience in America. I recently found myself watching it again, and I thought I would share.
Like the biblical book of Lamentations, this is a raw cry from the heart wrapped within the rhythm and boundedness of poetry. So grab some coffee and a quiet place and watch this. Let it sink in and sit with it. And most importantly, especially if you are part of the majority culture, just listen.
(just pick 1)
Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims by Daniel Hyde
Reformed Theology by R. Michael Allen
One thing I appreciate about my church is that we don’t wear our labels on our sleeve. That does mean, however, that a lot of people can go to our church for quite a while and not know that there is a very real theological ethos woven into everything we do.
We belong to the oldest American denomination–the Reformed Church in America–which ascribes to a theological tradition called “Reformed Theology”. And because many, many people in our church likely have little idea of what that especially means within the broader Christian family, we’ll be spending this Fall exploring these ideas in our monthly Theology Book Club.
So how are we going to do this? Well, I really struggled with this one, because though Reformed Theology has some general contours, there really is quite a bit of diversity and flexibility within that definition of being “Reformed”. In looking for a good book, the problem I kept finding was that most books on this topic tend to define Reformed Theology very narrowly and very dogmatically. I don’t think this is helpful.