Archive for October, 2016

Teaching the Children Well

October 23rd, 2016 No comments


This morning I was reflecting on the election and I considered how grateful I am as a history professor to be able to teach young people, freshmen and sophomores, about our history. As a baby boomer I note with disappointment how many in my generation dismiss the young people of today as disconnected and uncaring. But the vast opportunities available to us as young people have fizzled, and we leave our own children and grandchildren with brokenness and conflict at every turn. Some of the youth may be cynical but we have left them every reason to be so. We are fading away, and if the state of the world we have created is illustrated in the current election, history would not be unfair to look back on our generation and say good riddance.

But the one bright spot of this election season has been how Bernie Sanders was able to awaken in young people the sense of idealism and vision that created America. As a Christian minister I hear many of my colleagues bemoaning that the young are rejecting the church. But the contemporary church, like contemporary secular life, offers little for them to believe in. False narratives and broken promises. When they are offered something authentic, we find that they hunger for it.

George Orwell wrote in his dystopian novel 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” The novel is fiction but the import is not. The first lesson I teach my students is that they have been misinformed (or, in many cases, lied to) about history. Americans in general do not value history as significant in national life, yet we have long recognized that relating certain stories as truth can create a desired perception of who we are. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin raised to the level of gods. Whitewashing or ignoring the tragic consequences of  seminal events in the creation of the United States we live in. When students learn the realities of our national story it can be disheartening. But to ignore them allows those with interest to color the past as they would like it, with the intent to create a present that serves their interest. There is no better example of this in contemporary America than the so-called Tea Party Movement, hearkening to a mythical age of heroism by recasting the perpetrators of a terrorist act as patriots. It is true that there is no single correct interpretation of history. Our own perception will be influenced by our own experience and background. But there are facts and there are lies. And for most of us, our understanding of history, that creates our understanding of who we are as a people, is inaccurate.

Teaching history can be a real burden. It often feels like having to affirm there is no Santa Claus. But I notice that students are by and large grateful to know it. Most of them don’t know at first but come to sense that being able to determine what is likely true and not is essential to their understanding of who we are. It is essential to overcoming the tangled mess we are leaving them. My goal in teaching history is to give these young people tools and understanding they can use to create a better future for themselves and for their children.

There is an English proverb that says old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill every time. The cynicism and corruption of the Clintons and Trumps have given these newly awakened democrats (small d) a lesson in the viciousness of real world politics. But they are nevertheless awakening. The future is theirs, and I hope they grasp it as enthusiastically as they did Bernie’s message. If we baby boomers can finally teach our children well, perhaps we can create a redeeming legacy.


If this man is a Christian, how can I be a Christian?

October 10th, 2016 No comments

It’s people like this who give Christianity a bad name.

“A politician can go around saying he stands for God, when what he really stands for is racism, and so racism becomes equated with Christianity. This is idolatry, it is turning things inside out. And it is the same with nationalism – people say we will equate our national outlook with Christianity, and suddenly all these things which have nothing at all to do with Christianity become identified with Christianity. This is a serious problem because it is a great scandal to people who have trouble with faith today. They say, ‘If this man is really a Christian, how can I be a Christian?'” – Thomas Merton


Pat Robertson: What Donald Trump said in lewd video was ‘macho’

Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson said on his show that Donald Trump’s talk of sexual assault in a lewd video released on Friday was “macho” talk. On his “700 Club” show on Monday, he said the pundits are writing Trump off, but Robertson declared the Republican presidential nominee the winner of Sunday night’s debate.

Train Wreck

October 10th, 2016 No comments
“May God help … our distracted country. I trust that good will come out of even this sad calamity.” Col. Elijah Hunt Rhodes, upon learning of the death of Lincoln, 1865
Before the 2016 presidential campaign started I was deeply cynical about American politics. My take on politics after a lifetime of following it was whoever lies in the most convincing fashion wins. There is no honor and little desire to advance the public good.
Then Bernie threw his hat in the ring. He was immediately dismissed by the establishment. Why? Because he is an honest politician who has always spoken up for the little guy. Because he is an honorable man who has the best interests of the nation at heart. You can say what you want about his policy proposals, which, in my view, are no more radical the FDR’s New Deal, but he is consistent and forthcoming and demonstrates a sincere desire to make America really great. The day Bernie announced I donated $10. I have never donated to a politician before, but I became an avid supporter. As his train embarked on an unpredictable wild run that scared the hell out of the establishment on both sides of the aisle, I was once again excited to be able to participate in politics. There was a possibility of real change for the better.
Bernie fought against unassailable forces. He went up against the entire political establishment, the press, the state party machines, all stacking the deck, sometimes illegally, against him. In the end, he couldn’t pull it off. And we were stuck with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Now I feel like a deer in the headlights. American politics has sunk to depths that are cringeworthy even for American politics. Our discourse has degenerated to talking about genitals, and defending confessed sexual assault. I have spoken to foreigners who are watching this election with horror. Believe it or not, even those countries that are critical of us still look to the US for leadership. And there is little to encourage them now.
And yet I can’t look away. It’s like watching a train wreck. Only the train that is being wrecked is American democracy.
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