We live in a time in America when everything is politicized. Everything is viewed through an us vs. them lens of political partisanship. And it is tragic and toxic. Why is it such a politically partisan thing to state that one is "pro life," for example? Step back from the years of abortion debates along partisan lines and ask yourself that question. You'd think that people from all political parties, all backgrounds and walks of life could unite around the conviction that all human lives, from embryos to the elderly, are imbued with a God-given dignity that must be protected. You'd think we could unite around protecting precious lives against abortion, torture, sexual violence, war crimes, police brutality, gun violence and the like. All because we believe in the sanctity of life. But alas.
I woke up on the first day of 2017 in Rome, the "Eternal City," feeling the weight of a world where even the most enduring things are laughably far from "eternal." I was in Rome on a trip with Kira and six young adults from our church. It was a trip we designed around early church history. For six days we led our group to the many sacred Christian sites of Rome: the prison where Peter and Paul were held captive; the churches where Peter and Paul are buried; the early Christian catacombs; the Vatican; churches from the 4th century; churches on top of older churches on top pagan temples.
This week Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted a photo of an ad that compared the “Syrian Refugee Problem” to a bowl of Skittles. The ad suggested that we can best understand the worst humanitarian crisis of our time by thinking about refugees not as embodied, suffering people but as poisonous rainbow-colored candy that could kill us. Let’s set aside for a minute the politics of this and the admitted complexity of immigration and national security.
A pernicious bill (SB 1146) now moving through the California legislature would force Christian colleges and universities into submission when it comes to their beliefs and policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. What Sacramento says is true about SOGI is now what every knowledge institution in California must acknowledge in practice (if not in belief) to be true. So much for valuing diversity.
I think it’s time America gets serious about moving beyond a rigid two party system. If the 2016 election has confirmed anything, it is that the recent incompetence and unpopularity of the two existing parties is reaching a crisis point. The crazy fringes are now taking over the mainstream parties, and so it’s time we start thinking of third parties not as extremist dreams but as realistic options for the sane, moderate and balanced Americans who are being left behind.
Like everyone else, I’ve been trying to make sense of the rise of Donald Trump as a likely Republican nominee for U.S. president. How could this happen? What kind of America looks at a man as “openly debased and debauched” as Trump and sees a man they would like to have in the most powerful office in the world? I think it has something to do with the Oscars and O.J. Simpson.
The only real way to make sense of 2016 America, in particular the unfolding presidential election, is to see it in the way Donald Trump does: as a game. Donald Trump’s stump speeches mostly consist of talking about winning, calling others losers, and insisting that he will help America win again. This involves beating China, Japan and Mexico (and everyone else) at trade, as he said in his New Hampshire victory speech. It also involves building a wall along the Mexican border and forbidding the entry of Muslims, presumably to keep foreigners from undermining America’s winning.
Every group, every movement, every family, every coalition or club or team of any kind requires some level of agreement/consensus in order to be meaningfully distinct in identity and remotely efficacious in purpose. And every one of these groups knows how elusive but essential consensus can be. But consensus seems to be more elusive than ever, at every stratum of society.
In the midst of the often abstract debates and discourse surrounding refugees, we can lose sight of the real lives involved and also despair about what can be done to help. It's important that we keep ourselves informed about what is actually going on, and it's important that we support and celebrate the good, compassionate, humane work being done to ease the suffering.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee. I’ve never had to flee my homeland out of fear for my life because bombs or beheadings were a very real threat. I’ve never had to resettle in a foreign land and struggle to assimilate to an alien or hostile culture. I also don’t know what it’s like to lose a loved one to an act of terrorism, blown up in a plane or riddled with bullets in a concert venue.
I'm troubled by the value we place on quickness in our culture. The rush to "join the conversation" doesn't necessarily help the conversation. Frequently it hurts it. Sometimes our quickness perpetuates the spread of misinformation. When the urge is to comment first, research later, the conversation becomes scattershot and unreliable.
As a Christian a few years older than Tebow (and, full disclosure: a Broncos fan) I see in this guy an enviable model of what it means to be a Christian in the public square. Tebow didn't seek to become the flashpoint of discussions of faith in public life, but he has. Tebow has gotten more secular people talking about faith than most pastors ever do. And he's doing it not from a Pat Robertson-esque bully pulpit but from a vocation he's been called to, is good at, and publicly gives God glory for.
What exactly is the purpose of Occupy Wall Street? Apart from a vague sense of it being the liberal counterpart to the Tea Party, and a coalition of unionists, anti-capitalists and mad-as-hell twentysomethings angry about the rising cost of Netflix and Facebook's infuriating shape-shifting, it's sort of unclear.
It may be too soon for a "legacy" commentary on Steve Jobs. But part of Job's legacy is that he helped popularize the "having a mobile device that can do everything, from anywhere at anytime" quickness of contemporary communication. His devices helped facilitate the cultural shift toward on-the-go, real-time media consumption. Because of him (and others), we can now hear about news, process it with others and, yes, even write a blog post about it as quickly as we want to. That I'm writing this on my Apple MacBook Pro is not meta irony as much as it is an unavoidable reminder of this man's prodigious legacy and his brand's revolutionary reach. How many of you who are reading this now on an Apple product?
At breakfast in the cafeteria at Wheaton College on that Tuesday morning, someone I knew—I don’t even remember who—mentioned something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. In my mind I envisioned a tiny Cessna accidentally clipping the building. Didn’t think much of it. If this had happened in later years my phone would have been buzzing with texts and tweets telling me of the event’s magnitude. But this was 2001.
I was recently quite disturbed by this story of a couple in Toronto who have refused to divulge the gender of their recently born child, who they named Storm (how perfectly gender ambiguous!). Though Storm does indeed have a gender, Storm's parents—Kathy Witterick and David Stocker—aren't telling anyone, not even family and close friends, what it is.
If the abiding truth of reality is that everyone in the world (including me) is exactly as they ought to be—every last broken, frail, misguided, treacherous one of us—then the world is a far darker place, and virtuous existence a far more futile endeavor, than any of us previously imagined.
But almost everything in our digitized, cut-and-paste world these days has a tenuous relationship to reality. Perhaps that’s why these dubiously “true” films are nevertheless enjoyed and embraced, particularly by younger audiences. The idea of black and white, “true or untrue” doesn’t make much sense to a generation who has grown up with a steady stream of mediated half-truths, advertising, made-for-TV reflections on the news, The Real World, etc. It goes without saying that something can be enjoyable, moving, resonant, but completely fabricated. Even if it touts itself, with a wink, as “real."
But auto-tune is just one of many digital enhancement tools in the air-brush arsenal of the Photoshop world. The irony of auto-tune's disposition as the joke of Y2K remix culture is that it's really no worse than any of the other digital tools we have at our disposal to, for example, take clips from TV and turn them into re-edited assemblages ripe for viral video glory.