I remember when my mom and dad celebrated their 25th anniversary. Man it was a big party, so big that I had to wear a suit. Ugh! I did not like wearing suits then and do not love wearing suits now, but I wore my bad 80’s suit to honor my mom and dad on their big day. Hundreds of people came by to congratulate them, eat cake, and present a kind of “this is your life” presentation of their married lives. It was fun – except for the suit.
When I celebrated my parents silver anniversary I never imagined I would ever get married let alone celebrate my own 25th anniversary. But you know what? I did get married to the most amazing woman, and yesterday Aleta and I celebrated 25 years of life together! It really is true that time flies when you’re having fun. We have shared laughter, tears, brokeness, silliness, stupidity, praying on our knees, fear, forgiveness and a lot of love. The word “shared” is the significant word. There is something incredibly powerful about sharing life with someone who knows the good, the bad, and the ugly about you and still wants to love you at the very same time they can’t believe you know the good, the bad, and the ugly about them and still deeply love them.
Last night Aleta and I kicked back at Tremonti in Santa Cruz. I didn’t have to wear a suit to my Silver Anniversary because – duh – that would be weird in Santa Cruz, and because that’s just not our jam! We didn’t want a giant party because it felt like too much work. Instead we slipped away together, and just marveled at the goodness of God in our lives. That ring in the picture I’v posted has “831 Aleta” engraved on the inside. 831 is our code for 8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning = Love. It’s been a great ride Aleta, let’s see what our God will continue to do in us and through in the next 25 years!
I’m proud of myself. Just look at the picture of how thick this book is! I’m proud of myself because after a year of slogging, I finally finished Ron Chernow’s New York Times bestseller 730 page biography on Alexander Hamilton. This is the book which inspired the Broadway hit Hamilton. I enjoy reading historical biographies because I learn so much about leadership and human nature. As the philosopher George Santayana once observed, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” History teaches me the things to avoid and the pitfalls of arrogance, but it also teaches me to relax as I look at current events. Chernow writes a livid account of the first 30 years of American history. It’s an account that is filled with political enemies, libel and slander of political rivals, free speech intermingled with media outlets (newspapers) set up with the express purpose of only spewing out one political viewpoint, and the defense of political honor through dueling where people actually died. If you remember your history, you remember that a duel of political honor between Hamilton and Aaron Burr is the very thing that ended Hamilton’s own life. It’s crazy! But as I read the account of our history I was encouraged to see that our republic survived the very things we’re all concerned about in our own time. Yes, it is right to pray that we can navigate our way through the current divided climate and do our part in working to achieve “a more perfect union.” At the same time it’s good to remember that this republic survived even greater polarities of political opinion than exist today. This republic has survived media outlets that were birthed with every intent to not to tell the actual news, but to spew out only their own worldviews while demonizing all other views (fake news before our current conversation about “fake news”). Reading the history of Hamilton I was reminded again of something Solomon wrote in the bible; “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. Ecclesiastes 1:8-9
Sorry. I know it’s Valentines day, and it’s also happens to be Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. But I’m not going to write anything about any of those things today. I want to process some more of my thinking that began on my Monday post A Culture That Can’t Listen to an Opposing View. Our American public square is quickly devolving into a space where people increasingly not only will not even listen to ideas that may be different from the ones they’ve already adopted, but they also increasingly lack the capacity to winsomely persuade others about the nobility and quality of their most treasured ideas. The more our public square devolves into this condition the more people and groups will rely on power to get their job done – as in using various forms of force to assure that their idea will prevail.
It really does not have to be this way. Tim Muehlhoff, Richard Langer, and Quentin J. Schultze, in their book “Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World” share this great insight from very recent European history. They observe the life and writings of Czech dissident Václav Havel who later became president of the Czech Republic.
He lived in extremely volatile and dangerous political times. He was arrested and imprisoned by the communist regime in Czechoslovakia during the years before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989. He faced some equally difficult experiences when he served as the first president of Czechoslovakia in the post-communist era. These were hard times by any measure, yet it is refreshing to hear Havel talk about politics. He was firmly committed to honesty, civility, and morality as central concerns of politics, even though many thought this hopelessly naive. He mentions a particular opponent for whom “the idea that the world might actually be changed by . . . the power of a truthful word, the strength of a free spirit, conscience, and responsibility—with no guns, no lust for power, no political wheeling and dealing—was quite beyond the horizon of his understanding.” As Havel puts it, “There is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility, and tolerance, and that is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerantly.” These values were so clearly manifest in the revolution of 1989 that we now refer it as the Velvet Revolution.
This is the kind of perspective and spirit we all need, but most of all we who follow Jesus absolutely must seek to live, and listen, and persuade in the manner described by Havel.
Last night Aleta and I enjoyed a great dinner with our two sons. Aleta, shared with our boys that she’d been reading this book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. The book observes that today’s teens aren’t comfortable even hearing arguments they don’t agree with. In other words, they not only want to be physically safe, they also want to be emotionally safe – as in so “safe” that they don’t even have to hear ideas or arguments they don’t happen to hold. So Aleta asked our sons, “Is that what you actually see on your high school campus?” Both of them said, “Oh yeah! Most people don’t even want to hear another point of view and when they do, they are quick to label the other persons viewpoint as ‘hateful,’ ‘ignorant,’ or whatever.” Very interesting. So where is America headed when our kids can’t even listen to an opposing point of view, and in their pursuit of being emotionally “safe” they hive themselves off into ghettos of sameness where everyone they know thinks, dresses, votes and looks the same? How ironic that a country with a 1st Amendment that provides for free speech, we’ve created a generation that can’t handle even listening to opposing ideas where they can unearth and/or affirm the most winsome idea.
So I took a look at Aleta’s book, and stumbled I on this little section she’d underlined. See what you think:
A recurring theme in many campus incidents is the appeal to a higher authority to fix the situation rather than students’ doing something about it themselves. That was the case at Yale [referencing a certain event that took place on that campus], where the students were offended by the very idea that they work out the issues for themselves. The question is: Why are such issues now considered the purview of the administration instead of the students? The obvious answer is iGen’ers’ long childhood: they want college administrators to be like their parents, seen by children as all powerful. But there may be other cultural shifts at work as well. In their article “Microaggressions and Changing Moral Cultures,” the sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning argued that the United States has shifted from a culture of honor, in which people respond to a perceived slight themselves, to a culture of victimization, in which people avoid direct confrontation and instead appeal to third parties and/or public shaming to address conflict.
I confess that I’ve become a fan of professor, cancer patient, and author Kate Bowler who wrote a new book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. A week ago I put up a blog post containing some of her thoughts in a TIME magazine interview, and today I want to put up some more of her material from her article in Christianity today. Kate does a fantastic job describing the shock of a cancer diagnosis and then the grieving process of facing a totally redefined life, along with wrestling over your faith, as everything goes off the rails. What is beautiful and comforting is her observation, not only from her own experience, but the experience of so many of her readers, that in the midst of the pain was this overwhelming feeling of love from God. It’s something Augustine once described as “the sweetness,” and something Kate describes as this experience so overwhelming she kept saying to herself, “I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go back.” Out of this experience she concludes her article with this rich insight that is worth reading whether we’re healthy or sick.
What would it mean for Christians to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, “You are limitless”? Everything is not possible. The mighty kingdom of God is not yet here. What if rich did not have to mean wealthy, and whole did not have to mean healed? What if being people of “the gospel” meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.
Just like the 114 million other people worldwide, I watched the Super Bowl yesterday. Just like 114 million people I ate way too much very unhealthy food as the good-guy Philadelphia Eagles defeated the bad-guy New England Patriots. As the game began we put out the spread of chips, salsa, guacamole, and drinks but by the end of the first quarter it was time to bring out the hot foods. Out from the oven came the brie bites, and without even thinking I popped one straight into my mouth. Suddenly everything inside of my mouth began to scald with molten hot cheese. Hilarious! I just couldn’t escape the burn. This morning as I write this blog post, the roof of my mouth is a shredded mess, and while I have mixed feeling about making coffee for myself this morning, I’m laughing at the fact that I – the spectator – ended up with a Super Bowl injury.
Let me tell you something though, I’d rather get my injuries being in the arena than watching as a spectator. As tennis star Billie Jean King once famously observed, “Pressure is a privilege.” We live in a culture where more of us spectate than participate, and I was just thinking this morning as I confronted my wounded mouth, that I would rather rack up my injuries participating. I’ve quoted him before in this space, but the words of President Teddy Roosevelt bear repeating, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I’ve been reading through an interesting set of books. During my personal time of reading the bible, I’ve been reading Paul the Apostle’s “prison letters” Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. These were letters that Paul wrote while he was under chained guard, and house arrest in the city of Rome while he awaited an opportunity to appeal his legal case to Caesar. Prison letters have a long running tendency of becoming great works that have great impact in history. Sometimes these prison letters have sparked great evil, as in the case of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, while many other prison letters have sparked revolutionary changes in society as in the case of Martin Luther King’s Jr.s Letter from Birmingham Jail, John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress, and Nelson Mandela’s Conversations with Myself. What is stunning to me about Paul’s letters from prison is his level of joy and contentment that just bleeds through the pages of his writings. He’s stuck but he’s filled with joy. He’s chained 24 hours a day but he has a clear sense of vision and purpose. He has his freedom largely taken away from him but he’s content.
In Philippians 4: 11-13 he writes, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
When you’re a good consumer like me, you get pretty good at discontentment. You constantly live with this squeezing feeling that someone, somewhere is getting more and better at much lower cost than you are getting of whatever it is you’d like to get more of for your enjoyment. I want to learn the rhythms of contentment from Jesus, so that whatever my circumstances – whether I have more or less, I have pain or a party, I can be content in what God is doing in and through the actual life that I’m living. I want to be the kind of person who can double down on the life I have right now