Saving America's Story

Republicans seem to have no cohesive narrative and this seems obvious. Democrats are losing their cohesive narrative and again, this is almost a no-brainer. To anyone who is watching the news or paying attention to the rhetoric floating over the internet and across television screens, it’s rather difficult to understand what narrative thread will actually unify our country. Let me suggest that it’s because the new narrative thread isn’t one of unity, but one of division.

We must pause, though, prior to jumping into the 21st century to consider the unifying narratives that have characterized our country and in fact, these narratives have come to form the core values of the United States. We pause to review the overarching stories, not for nostalgia’s sake, but because in a real sense, we’re in danger of losing them.

Confessions of a Worldwide Spiritual Mutt

Recently, someone asked me to outline my faith journey. In a sense, I am grateful for the question because usually it’s asked in a static manner such as ‘when did you ask Jesus in your heart?’ to which I don’t honestly remember (which disappoints those anticipating a time and date).  The idea of an outline, though, smacks of highlights and turning points and those are things I do actually remember. Yet, as I reflected on my own outline, I kind of smiled at how this was also going to be a bit difficult for some to swallow. But, I took a deep breath anyway and said something akin to the following:

Growing up outside the church, I was sort of turned on to the sacred elements prior to knowing what they meant. I loved reading the Bible, but I also devoured Greek mythology, poetry, and all kinds of stories with a point.

Forget Oprah: Some of my Favorite Things

When Oprah Winfrey was doing her talk show, she became famous for giving scores of things away. She gave away cars, trips, trinkets, and even counseling sessions with Dr. Phil. On several shows, she highlighted her favorite things and they were all something material, something that could be given away. 

Since this is a blog about ideas and how we express ideas, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things this week in no particular order. Some of them will be quotes, some references or allusions to idea-makers, but all of them will hopefully entertain, enlighten, and even brighten your day. Of course, these are my favorite things, not necessarily yours, nonetheless, welcome to a little bit of my world.

1—"In the end, coming to faith remains for all a sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that had long been ringing, of taking a place at a table that had long been vacant." Malcolm Muggeridge wrote the previous sentence and let me recommend his work. In many respects, the way he has articulated his faith journey, which took him around the world, is still something I return to often. He is imminently quotable and I just finished his autobiographical works entitled Chronicles of Wasted Time, which made me lose track of time, which is the sign of good writing.

2John Lynch on Grace—I am not sure anyone articulates the message of grace better and I believe if we understood, grasped, and experienced more of the truth of this brief message, we’d all change. This idea understood and expressed effectively will change us all. 

See the brief video here:

3The Influence of Francis Schaeffer  Did Francis Schaeffer get everything absolutely right? No. He’s human and he’d be the first to admit it. But, for me, his example and his legacy has been remarkably impactful. Perhaps, this is just one of the better anecdotes: A Life of Humility - Blog by Randy Alcorn. If you’re convinced after that anecdote to read more check out True Spirituality and/or No Little People (they are not the most famous of Schaeffer’s works, but again, these are my favorites).

4‘Oh my Heart,’ by REM—My favorite band just released their best work since Automatic for the People. I have the CD virtually memorized by now and this song captures my own memory of being in  New Orleans after Katrina, my love of music, and the ache in my own heart for people I want to see more than I get to. This video comes with a bonus intro from Michael Stipe about what happens when art suddenly clicks. See it here:

 

5Christopher Nolan films  I am a Batman fan and have been all my life. When I was very young (less than 7 years young), I went to an auto show with my uncle and sat in the Batmobile and I was hooked; so when Christopher Nolan took over the helm, it was manna from heaven (Tim Burton was great, but Joel Schumacher’s version(s) made me cringe and get angry). In addition to the Batman films, though, Nolan has also done Memento, Insomnia, and Inception. Dark Knight Rises is currently filming, they added Anne Hathaway (strike up some heavenly choir) and others to the mix. Anyone want to have a Nolan film festival? I am willing to host if you bring the snacks and drinks?

So, we’ll see how this goes. Again, these are some, not all, of my favorite things. Feel free to check them out.

-bo 

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Ideas and Elections

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”

The preceding sentence was said by the late President John F. Kennedy and in many respects it’s the theme of this blog. My desire is to explore the power of ideas as well as the expression of those ideas. Why? Well, because I believe I am a work in progress (and maybe I am not alone) and that I live in a world that is trying to make progress. Undergirding all of this progressive optimism are ideas.

Many Christians call the systematic formulation of these ideas a ‘worldview’ and that’s not a bad phrase. But, some ideas, if we’re honest, aren’t always that clear in our head and so it’s difficult to organize them neatly and label them effectively.

Some Thoughts on Taste

Chicago pizza, where you truly have the option of either an uncut sausage patty or more commonly seen, sausage pieces, covering your pie, is something I can eat most days of the week. I have fond memories of sitting in Uno’s downtown or at Gino’s East a couple streets over or at Giordano’s. In our world of health conscious, obesity fighting, fitness crazed professionals, why then do I like it?

The answer is simple: it tastes really good.  Think then how incredibly powerful our sense of taste is and how incredibly influential our appetites are. If you’ve traveled at all, you’ve tasted different things and some agreed with you, while others did not. Mind you, taste is something very important to us and I dare say, it feeds our subconscious (pun intended) in ways we haven’t thought.

Fighting Indifference, pt. 2

“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.”
                                      --Aristotle

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”
                                          --Plato

Below is my effort at recording the world through a couple poems. Whether Aristotle or Plato would find them acceptable is for another day.


From my Hotel Room in Greenwich Village

Fighting Indifference, pt. 1


“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them,”

George Bernard Shaw


 

 

The gunman stood at the window looking out over the crowded streets below. Bobby paused from typing and surveyed the situation. Could he make a break for the door? What happens if he refuses to type? Maybe, he would simply charge and tackle the man, sending him crashing through the window to the street below. Something akin to an action hero would certainly do the trick. Then again, there was that gun. Knives are considered rather personal, guns seems so cold and impersonal. A sniper can shoot a complete stranger from a great distance and still remain seated at that great distance. Stabbings, though, happen at close range amongst people who can know each other. Guns seem to prevent struggles. In that case, so do bombs, missiles, torpedoes, and nuclear weapons. When a rather large bomb is dropped, there is nothing really personal about it; it simply means that people will die. We have simply become too efficient at hurting each other.

“You want out of here, don’t you?” said the gunman.
 
“Yes, sir, I do.”
 
Neither man moved and to Bobby’s surprise, the gunman never even looked over at him.

A Small Town Perspective on City Growth

May 2007 article from the Economist still seems like one of the better surveys of urban growth that I have read.
 
With that said, let me give a bit of a personal perspective and see if this resonates with anyone. Until I was 17 years old, I lived in a town of less than 5000 people in Northern Illinois. No one asked what school I went to, there was only one option. The only major fast food chain was Hardee's and Main Street was truly the main street. Over the years, I have seen the exodus of people my age and younger leave to head to Chicago, the nearest big city or to the four cornes of the earth. Why? First, two major factories shut down. The General Electric and Ethan Allen factories, which used to employ about a third of the town, each closed.
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Do you have Cultural Intelligence?

Let me play my cards up front with you, there are a host of 'intelligence' quotients today. I have read books in the past year that deal with our relational intelligence, our right brain, left brain, and our central intelligence (agency that is), but I do believe that one of the more pressing concerns in our globalizing world is whether or not we are culturally intelligent. For some people, being culturally intelligent will be based more on information than experience. Others of you will have traveled widely and therefore, you will have your own perspective. All of us need to understand that neither our culture nor our view of culture is necessarily at the center of anything (other than our own minds).
 
Author and Scholar David Livermore introduces his book on the subject in this short clip.
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Show and Tell

I miss this part of school. What is the adult version of show and tell? At this point, I have no idea, but the word 'and' seems important to me. Since this is a blog and since the internet is loaded with people sounding off, we currently have no shortage of 'tell'. 

In fact, that's part of my concern. I have read in recent weeks some articles and blogs from Christians about Christians and the tone is, well, unloving at best, hateful at worst. For many readers, this will be nothing new, but the language tells me something about the 'show' part. The other day, my daughter caught me singing one of my new favorite songs and burst out laughing. 

"Daddy what are you doing?"

"Singing this cool song," I replied. 

And then, the fun part came that was a bit unexpected. My daughter wanted to join in and learn the song. So, my little fantasy rock and roll stint turned into an impromptu show and tell. We danced around the room belting out the chorus (I only taught her the chorus as it was easier than the entire song) and something interesting happened. I actually learned more of the song by trying to teach her the song. Now, this isn't a new idea or brain surgery and some would remind me of how elementary such an idea is (to which I say, duh, my daughter's in elementary school), but the thought remains the same for anyone claiming to be a Christian in an interconnected and globalizing world. It is often only when you try to teach another person that you find out what you truly understand or truly know.

In some small way, maybe that's one of the great benefits of the information age; we now know, in part, that we don't know much. But, as we process life together, as we attempt to teach new ideas, we'll be the better for it. A life changing moment for me in my own Christian walk came in the early 90's when I was teaching in China, the summer before my senior year in college. A devout Buddhist student sat down with me one afternoon and asked me to explain the Christian faith. I told him I would do so on one condition: he would explain the Buddhist faith to me. So, for several hours we talked about Jesus, Buddha, and life. We walked in and out of Buddhist temples nearby and looked at Bible passages together. In short, we played 'show and tell' and I remember that day very well. Let this simply be an encouragement to return to something many schools have dropped and many schools of thought are missing: let's show AND tell.

By the way, in case you'd like to join in on the little exercise with my daughter, here's the music video to the song we sang. Be sure to twirl around when you sing 'that planet earth moves slowly'.... we even found that twirling around in slow motion with our arms stretched out worked really well....

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About
As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.


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