Top 5 of 2017

It was just under a year ago when I asked myself whether I was a writer or not. The only clear way to answer this was, “Do you write?” The answer to that point was a qualified, “yes.” I write for my job, I write as a part of life, I write little disjointed bits in my journal. But a friend challenged me to start writing about the things I was interested in; to insist on making space for this type of writing.

As it turned out, something was gnawing on me. It was the way people were talking about violence. So I brushed up this site a bit, sat down, and wrote a piece on violence (its below). It helped me crystalize my thoughts, and people seemed helped by it. (The initial publication on social media was an accident, but, after that, I thought, Why not?)

A little thought by Flannery O’Connor has served as a motto for me in this,

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

So it is that I’ve written now for an entire year: over 60 posts gaining nearly 3000 views. I’ve had times when it has come easily, and times when it’s come with difficulty. I’m happy with some pieces, less so with others. Some seemed to hit an unexpected nerve with readers, other unexpectedly didn’t. Either way, I’ve found myself very grateful to those who have read and affirmed the value of my writing!

Where will this take me? I’m not certain. But I do think I can answer the question, “Am I a writer?” in the affirmative. I do, after all, write!

I wanted to end this year by sharing excerpts of my 5 most read pieces from 2017. You can click on their headings to read the entire essay.

Enjoy! And thanks for reading! Continue reading “Top 5 of 2017”

For Your Consideration (06/28/17)


Mark Twain once referred to the game of golf as, “A good walk, spoiled.”

I tend to agree. I suspect the enduring resonance of the quote demonstrates it to be a commonly held sentiment.

In truth, I’ve had a similar sentiment toward Malcolm Gladwell material—an under-gratifying expenditure of time. You know Malcom Gladwell! He wrote David and Goliath and The Tipping Point. His main schtick revolves around a certain manufactured eureka. (He’s been accused of being reductionistic. Oftentimes he strikes me as a bit pedantic.)

Still, I’m coming around. (Not to golf, but to Malcom Gladwell.) I’m coming to appreciate his doggedly egalitarian bias, and his willingness to question societal and institutional status quo. (There is no agreement on the plural for that latin phrase, I’ve found.)

Gladwell has just begun season 2 of his podcast Revisionist History, which I’ve come to enjoy. Episode 1 probes the the absurdity of golf, specifically private golf courses in Los Angeles and the unconscionable subsidies they enjoy from a city devoid of adequate public parks.

He does a good job of this.

You should listen if for no other reason than to be exposed to The Ship of Theseus (or Theseus’ Paradox), and the comparison of mereological vs spatiotemporal theories on identity. Think, “Why does the Hudson River remain the Hudson River even though it is constantly composed of different water particles?” How might this same paradox be applied to rich white men?


Many were distraught this week after a jury acquitted Minneapolis-area police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of motorist Philando Castile. I was also distraught.

Days later the dash-cam video was released. It is hard to watch. It is also hard to fathom how this was found to be anything but a criminal use of deadly force.

David French of The National Review penned a strong piece on the unwritten law equating fear with innocence in most police-involved shootings.

It’s imperative that juries understand that not all fear is reasonable, and some officers simply and wrongly panic…

When I saw that palpable panic, I immediately knew why he was acquitted. The unwritten law trumped the statutes on the books. The unwritten law is simple: When an officer is afraid, he’s permitted to shoot. Juries tend to believe that proof of fear equals proof of innocence.

He goes on to give other examples of this unwritten code, but asserts that juries must learn to differentiate between reasonable fear and reckless panic.

Absent corruption, incompetence, or malice, most officers are going to make reasonable choices in high-stress situations.

Some, however, will fail, and it’s imperative that juries understand that not all fear is reasonable, and some officers simply (and wrongly) panic. Perhaps some have unreasonable fear because of racial stereotypes. Perhaps some have unreasonable fears for other reasons. Perhaps some have a brutal habit of escalating force too quickly. But every officer must uphold the rule of reason, a rule that compels a degree of courage, a measure of discipline, and a tolerance for risk that is inherent in the job that they’ve chosen.

The vast majority of officers are up to that challenge. A few are not. They must be held accountable. Justice demands no less.

I would encourage you to read this, and to refine your own views on what must be expected of our police in order for them to not operate de facto above the law. Our nation is to be a place of law and justice. Police cannot operate outside of this, nor can our criminal justice system fail to offer meaningful accountability in those cases when they themselves violently violate those laws they are hired to uphold.

Once you finish that.


American University (DC) history professor and author Ibram X. Kendi wrote an OpEd for New York Times on how our police-involved shootings (and the narratives we employ to explain them) expose whether we will hold a truthful or mythical opinion of our country; and that such race-based instances of violence always have.

He writes:

Black people were violent, not the slaveholder, not the lyncher, not the cop. Many Americans are still echoing that argument today.

This blaming of the black victim stands in the way of change that might prevent more victims of violent policing in the future. Could it be that some Americans would rather black people die than their perceptions of America?

It was probably the best piece I read on the Yanez verdict, and its aftermath.

I do not dislike America. But the widespread refusal to truthfully appraise our country is actually at odds with what we claim America to be; the myth is standing in the way of bringing to reality forward toward its aspirations! But, in the meantime, the human and social to toll is grievous to say the least.

The deeper answer is that black death matters. It matters to the life of America, by which I mean the blood flow of ideas that give life to Americans’ perceptions of their nation.

In these high-profile cases, it is not just police officers who are on trial. America is on trial. Either these deaths are justified, and therefore America is just, or these deaths are unjustified, and America is unjust.

I can relate to this felt need to see America as somehow better than it is. I want us to be the good guys! But I can also readily admit that this is too simplistic of a version. I must love truth more than untruth, even if that means loving something ugly over something fake-but-pretty. As a Christian, I actually think this is a key tenant of our profession of faith.


On a much (much!) lighter note, my wife and I found ourselves smiling and nodding as we read Emma Rathbone‘s meandering anecdotal article for The New Yorker.

Each vignette is led with the phrase, “Before the internet…”

You’d be in some kind of arts center, wearing roomy overalls, looking at a tray of precious gems, and you’d say, “That’s cat’s-eye,” and your friend would say, “Nope. That’s opal.” And you’d say, “That’s definitely cat’s-eye.” And there would be no way to look it up, no way to prove who was right, except if someone had a little booklet. “Anyone got a little booklet?” you’d ask, looking around. “Is there a booklet on this shit?”

Then you’d walk outside and squint at the sky, just you in your body, not tethered to any network, adrift by yourself in a world of strangers in the sunlight.

Kinda true, right? Remember?

Before the Internet, you could laze around on a park bench in Chicago reading some Dean Koontz, and that would be a legit thing to do and no one would ever know you had done it unless you told them.

Go read it. C’mon. It’s short. Probably should have been longer. But it’s short and sweet and on the internet, so.

Speaking of the internet.


I like these little info vids from Vox. After you watch this, I’d be curious if any of you would diagnose me with ADHD? If so, should I keep treating it with coffee or pills or nothing at all? I’m open to suggestions!

For Your Consideration (06/14/17)


The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is finishing up their annual convention in Phoenix, and things are not going as planned. This convention is like most gatherings: a time of teaching, workshops and relationship-building. But it is also an opportunity to vote on resolutions.

One such resolution was proposed by Dwight McKissic, the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist in Arlington, TX. It called for a vote for resolution that the SBC condemn alt-right ideology and white supremacy outright (read it here). The convention declined to consider it.

Once this became know, it led to no small uproar. Relevant Magazine quickly ran a helpful piece on the controversy. And Emma Green promptly tackled it well for The Atlantic. She quotes McKissic:

I certainly understand that hurt and anger, because to most people, this would be a no-brainer. Several of the resolutions they endorsed yesterday were just carte blanche things Southern Baptists believe. And so, it becomes a mystery how you can so easily affirm standard beliefs about other things, but we get to white supremacy … and all of a sudden, we’ve got a problem here.

The convention hastily re-gathered once the crisis was apparent, and voted a re-worded resolution out of committee for consideration by the general assembly. But it isn’t easy to get the toothpaste back in the tube.

Not many know that the SCB was originally formed during the lead up to the American Civil War, and that a hallmark of their founding ideas was a biblical defense of the institution of slavery. In 1860, Baptist minister Thornton Stringfellow wrote:

Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command. … Under the gospel, [slavery] has brought within the range of gospel influence, millions of Ham’s descendant’s among ourselves, who but for this institution, would have sunk down to eternal ruin.

Only a few weeks ago, SBC’s Southwestern Seminary embroiled itself in a racially-charged fiasco by tweeting a picture of a group of seminary professors dressed as gang-bangers.

Jemar Tisby gave a well-stated response to this incident in the Washington Post. He helps outline what makes an image like this offensive, and he quotes SWBTS president Paige Patterson’s apology statement:

As all members of the preaching faculty have acknowledged, this was a mistake, and one for which we deeply apologize. Sometimes, Anglo Americans do not recognize the degree that racism has crept into our lives…

Southwestern cannot make a moment of bad judgment disappear. But we can and will redouble our efforts to put an end to any form of racism on this campus and to return to a focus that is our priority—namely, getting the Gospel to every man and woman on the earth.

It is laudable that Patterson quickly responded to this issue. And it does constitute a regrettable area of ongoing blindness. But Tisby actually identifies a blindness in the apology itself,

His apology sounds biblical; For Christians, evangelism is certainly a critical priority. But he treats racism like a distraction from sharing the Gospel. When will white evangelicals realize, addressing racism is inherently a Gospel issue?

I’m finishing up my series on racism this Friday, but, suffice it to say, this issue is demanding attention in our society and in our institutions. The church, above all, ought to have an inherent basis for eradicating racism (as Tisby said), but the insidiousness of this issue obviously demonstrates that its forms can be quite elusive.


Chicago finds itself in the news a lot. It is a placeholder for inner-city ills like violence, drugs and neighborhood decay.

Al Jazera‘s AJPlus media arm produced a 5 part series delving into the roots of many of these issues, and I applaud them for it!

(So humble and mutually credit sharing!)

If you want to have a more sophisticated understanding of the state of Chicago, and of other urban centers, this is a great place to start.

The final 4 videos simply would not embed correctly (only critique!), so here is the link to the rest!


Speaking of 5-part series, my wife and I just finished watching the spellbinding ESPN documentary OJ: Make in AmericaYou may remember that this series took home the Academy Award for best documentary?

We both agreed that director Ezra Edelman does amazing and thorough work telling this winding, sorrowful and surreal tale. We both agreed that it gave a revealing backdrop to racial tensions in America. We also agreed that it could be argued that OJ’s debacle and trial and their aftermath seem to have ushered in our modern American media landscape. (I.e., it could have been titled “OJ: Making America”.) You’ll remember Robert Kardashian was one of his lawyers?

It is an eerie, eye-opening and worthwhile watch. You can do so here.


My mouth hung open the whole time I watched this!

For Your Consideration (06/07/17)



There have been some impressive athletic feats accomplished lately. Kenyan Runner Eliud Kipchoge came  25 seconds away from breaking the 2 hour marathon during an orchestrated attempt in Monza, Italy in May. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook actually averaged a triple-double (as well as led the league in scoring) this season.

But, with a bit less fanfare, rock climber Alex Honnold free-solo-climbed the Freerider route of Yosemite’s El Capitan. El Capitan (or El Cap) is what the climbing community has dubbed the sheer 3,000 foot face of the famed Half Dome rock in Yosemite National Park (pictured above).

Solo free climbing means doing it alone and without any ropes or protective gear (pro). Just climbing shoes and chalk.

His friend Tommy Caldwell wrote a piece for Outside Magazine and commented:

Free soloing El Cap has been the most anticipated climbing feat of our generation, but only because of Alex…

Today, knowing that it has been done, I think that is a fair assessment of the significance. It’s a generation-defining climb.

In terms of mental mastery, I am convinced that it is one of the pinnacle sporting moments of all time.

That would be akin to climbing up a natural rock face two times at tall as the Sears Tower knowing that one slip would mean plummeting to your death. He did it in just under 4 hours, which is stunningly unbelievable both because of how short and how long the time period is!

Caldwell continues:

He’s climbed the Freerider at least a dozen times and practiced the most difficult sections to the point where he likely would have been able to do them blindfolded. But free soloing is a feat less physical than mental. Beyond the obvious factors of vertigo inducing exposure and unexpected obstacles (think breaking rock and birds flying out of cracks), hard granite climbing requires such precision that one must be completely lucid.


In terms of mental mastery, I am convinced that it is one of the pinnacle sporting moments of all time.

I have no point except to admit my own amazement at what Honnold accomplished.


Virginia Postrel wrote an OpEd for Bloomberg about the importance of the narratives our nation adopts.

She keys off of the tragic stabbing that took place on the Portland MAX light rail system, where three men sought to intervene in a situation where two female passengers were being threatened and verbally accosted. Two of these men were fatally stabbed by the deranged white-supremacist. One was critically injured. It is natural to focus on the vile actions of this violent perpetrator, but there is another story to tell.

She quotes columnist Michael Tanner:

America is about a Republican, a Democrat, and an autistic poet putting their lives on the line to protect young women from a different faith and culture simply because it is the right thing to do.

Postrel observes,

Cultures are held together by stories. We define who we are — as individuals, families, organizations, and nations — by the stories we tell about ourselves. These stories express hopes, fears, and values. They create coherence out of complexity by emphasizing some things and ignoring others. Their moral worth lies not in their absolute truth or falsehood — all narratives simplify reality — but in the aspirations they express and the cultural character they shape.

Evil forces are always stirring in our world. There are times when they surface from the dark deep in obvious and tragic ways. But, tucked in around these eras and their events, there are also always the most stunning human exemplars. These deserve attention and imitation.

I would recommend reading her short piece. It resonated with me.


 wrote a column for the New York Times addressing how inequality is one the major agents dividing our nation. I really agree. How to address it is far from simple, but consider this excerpt:

The data on inequality is, of course, staggering. The top 1 percent in America owns more than the bottom 90 percent. The annual Wall Street bonus pool alone is more than the annual year-round earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour…

How a nation with such inequality can practically function, let alone not be sucked under by growing mass discontent is hard to conceive. It was this discontent, of course, which became the fulcrum for the 2016 general election. But it is clear that neither party has much to offer in addressing this.

Kristof quotes UNC psychologist and author Keith Payne on the destabilizing effects of inequality,

Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another. It generates stress and makes us all less healthy and less happy.

I’m not a naive utopian socialist, nor am I blind to the economic dynamism of free-market capitalism. Scottish economic patriarch Adam Smith put is best:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

The flip side of this is that self-interest must be constantly placed in check. The levels of inequality in our own society verge on exploitation, and the recent histories of Enron, Bernie Madoff and those complicit in the sub-prime mortgage crisis (among many others) show that unchecked greed results in an enormity of human suffering and hardship.

Kristof is always a good, humanitarian voice. I just hope our nation can understand the urgency of this, and not keep falling prey to fear-based populist rhetoric. We do need a reboot, but we need the right kinds.


This article in the Guardian by   contains some of the most helpful material I’ve read on racism and its structures.

She speaks from the standpoint of a British ethnic minority, and her experience and viewpoint mirror that of many American minorities.

Several years ago Eddo-Lodge wrote a blog post titles “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”, which went viral. This article is her follow up.

She writes:

Structural racism is dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people with the same biases joining together to make up one organisation, and acting accordingly. Structural racism is an impenetrably white workplace culture set by those people, where anyone who falls outside the culture must conform or face failure.

She continues,

This is what structural racism looks like. It is not just about personal prejudice, but the collective effects of bias. It is the kind of racism that has the power to drastically affect people’s life chances.

She concludes,

Structural racism is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity. I think that we, as a nation, placate ourselves with the concept of meritocracy, and by insisting that we just don’t see race. This makes us feel progressive. But to claim not to see race is to demand compulsory assimilation. Colour-blindness does not accept the existence of structural racism or a history of white racial dominance. Indulging the myth that we are all equal denies the economic, political and social legacy of a British society that has historically been organised by race.

For a more developed picture, you really need to read the whole piece. There is an option to either listen to the article or read it, and I would recommend doing so.  It might be helpful to to simply read through this thinking, “How would I do if I lived in a society where my way of doing things was abnormal and where my color of skin became a subtle (or not so subtle) vetting criteria for my own enfranchisement?” How would you handle that?


Drawing heavily on a new book by Fordham University criminal justice expert John Pfaff, German Lopez critiques the common view that the drug war is the cause of racially discriminant mass incarceration.

It’s not drug offenses that are driving mass incarceration, but violent ones. It’s not the federal government that’s behind mass incarceration, but a whole host of prison systems down to the local and state level. It’s not solely police and lawmakers leading to more incarceration and lengthy prison sentences, but prosecutors who are by and large out of the political spotlight.

Lopez (really Pfaff) brings some needed data to this important discussion, and also broadens the scope of what’s behind the mass incarceration epidemic (Michelle Alexander notes, “Although the United States makes up only 5% of the world’s population, it now accounts for one-quarter of the world’s prisoners”)

Based entirely on the article, I think Pfaff often misses the forest for the trees; failing to understand the interconnectedness of the criminal justice machinery and failing to connect meaningful dots. That is to say, I don’t fully agree with the thesis.

But grappling with the causes and realities behind this sad American phenomenon is an important task. As was mentioned in this week’s Economist, prisons “make bad people worse” (I don’t love that language).

Nelson Mandela famously said,

No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.

Mass incarceration and our criminal “justice” system do not bespeak a healthy nation. This article does thoughtfully suggest how we might start backing our way out. It’s an informative read.



For Your Consideration (05/31/17)

Confederate Statue Removal


Brave, articulate and timely political rhetoric is so rare these days; rhetoric that makes a case. This is why I, and many others, took note of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s compelling, concise and self-effacing explanation for the removal of Confederate Monuments.

His decision to enforce the overwhelming sentiment for removal resulted in death threats and protests. So the speech wasn’t his only act of bravery.

He actually debunked the notion that we’re somehow ignoring our nation’s history through the removal of such monuments fairly deftly.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth…

The fact that these monuments were little more than propaganda, makes the removal of them that much more obvious.

I would encourage you to watch the 19 minute speech below. Also, there was a write up in Esquire on the speech, which included its transcript.

A highlight for me was Landrieu’s own admission of previous obliviousness, and the formative conversation he had with jazz musician (and New Orleans native son) Wynton Marsalis:

As clear as it is for me today … for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought.

So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race. I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes.

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

We all know the answer to these very simple questions.

I do hope we can all take our own journey on race.



Two weeks before the horrific stabbings of three men on the Portland MAX light-rail system who’d sought to de-escalate a man verbally berating two teenage women, Teen Vogue featured an article questioning why we focus so much attention on addressing the radicalizing influences on Muslims, while refusing to do so in the case white supremacist ideologies.

Do I read Teen Vogue? No. Is this a better question than most news sources give column-width to? Probably.

Since 9/11, American citizens are 7 times more likely to be killed by a right-wing extremist than a Muslim attacker. Yet, when we speak about the two in comparison, even elected officials refuse to relay that reality to the public.

The article is a bit of a social-media catchall—it is Teen Vogue, after all—but don’t we recognize some undead ideologies venturing out from the shadows lately. Isn’t radicalization radicalization; terrorism terrorism?

Considering the astronomically low probabilities of being killed by a terrorist (foreign-born or domestic), these real and present danger component is ostensibly lacking.

The perpetrator of the stabbings in Portland is clearly deranged; and yet his derangement is far from unmoored from conflagrating ideology. Just as ISIS preys upon the vulnerability of their own targets, so the messaging of white-supremacy is predatory.

Ideas and ideologies can gestate real tragedy. How to address this is complicated. But why the reluctance to name the evil of their roots?

Still, I also can’t help but be deeply moved by these 3 men who put themselves in harm’s way to intervene.


Speaking of intervention, many saw the viral video of a Walmart customer berating a fellow customer at a store near Walmart’s Bentonville, AR headquarters.

Walmart has indicated that this woman is no longer permitted in their stores, which is a strong, important signal.

But, I was also impressed by the customer and employee who calmly intervened; and absorbed the woman’s bigoted ire themselves. At one point the woman filming (who had the audacity to try to reach for medicine near the other woman’s cart) becomes distraught.

The woman tells her, “This is not your country.”

She replies, “This is my country!”

“We don’t want you here,” the woman snarls.

The store manager intervenes, “That’s not true. You are wanted here!”

He then insists that the abusive customer leave. The camera pans over the employee, a slightly gawky, unassuming white man, and the black customer who had also come to her aid. And I’m thinking, “Now that’s an unlikely tag-team.”

I think the awareness on the part of this Walmart employee to not only handle the situation, but to offer the affirming counter-narrative to this hectored latina shopper was something worth noting. I’m thinking he may not be in his dream job, but, guess what, he stepped up in the moment of truth.

I also appreciated this young black woman’s  bravery. She knew what she was seeing, no doubt. Not on her watch. She also simple came to shop, but ended up doing battle; even taking some shrapnel.

Those two are also America at its finest.


Hasan Minhaj is a first-generation Muslim American from Davis, CA. He’s a correspondent for The Daily Show on Comedy Central. (He gave this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.)

He did a comedy special for Netflix called Homecoming King (is was filmed live in Davis, CA and also because it features a homecoming-related thread).

Props for the recommendation go to:

It can skew pretty blue, but it also turns out to be a pretty category-defying mix of comedy and American immigration memoir. It is funny, smart, warm and well-produced. Worth a watch.


For Your Consideration (05/24/17)


William Zinnser wrote a book I’ve never read called On Writing WellHe died 2 years ago, and a few people I consider to be good writers and good readers took up the occasion to remember him.

Blogger and pastor Tim Challies evidently had combed through the volume shortly after his death and extracted a few of the key thoughts. His piece reads like a Cliffs Note, and made me genuinely interested to grab my own copy of the book.

You should take a few minutes to peruse it, especially if you want to improve as a writer. Challies includes a few gems such as,

A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard


Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.

and I especially liked this one

Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with “but.” If that’s what you learned, unlearn it—there’s no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is thereby primed for the change.

Challies categorizes this as “5 Big Tips” and it’s a quick, rewarding read.


The USC Annenberg School of Journalism‘s site has an interesting section called Religion Dispatches—a section devoted to writing and reporting on religious issues.

Last month Deborah Jian Lee profiled the rift developing between white and non-white evangelicals in the current political climate. Having seen this first-hand for several years now, I was curious.

She writes of the “divestment” of non-white evangelicals from the broader evangelical church. Regarding the recent presidential election,

So while white evangelicals captured the election, they may have lost their fellow believers, the very people who could keep their churches, denominations and institutions from the attrition that has many Christian institutions and leaders genuinely worried for the future.

While the piece is mostly anecdotal and lacks a strong statistical case (e.g. “Jan is one of many evangelicals of color choosing to depart from white evangelical spaces.”), still I consider it a very valid observation that jives with my own last few  years of experience. It is probably sloppy to lump “white evangelicals” together actually, but there seem to be (to use Mike Frost’s term) a bifurcation happening in evangelicalism; a needless and unfortunate one.

I actually wouldn’t recommend the article itself. It’s a bit aimless and lacks a needed nuanced treatment of issues plaguing evangelicalism; caveat emptor.


Messiah College Theology professor Drew GI Hart wrote a piece in The Christian Century that mirrors some of my own recent writing. He addresses the question of “How Old is Racism.”?

It is a helpful, brief read. He elucidates the Enlightenment contribution to racism,

Western Europe gained confidence in their own ability to be objective interpreters and catalogers of the world around them. And so they classified everything, from plants to humans, based on their own supposedly objective perspective. It seemed common sense to them that biologically there were different kinds of humans. Through a pseudo-science, that has now been repudiated, they ranked humanity into a racial hierarchy. And to no one’s surprise, they classified white Europeans as the pinnacle of humanity at the top of the hierarchy. White people are superior and supreme. They are the standard for what is right. Likewise, for most people, the Black African, was in their estimation the opposite of whiteness and western civilization. They normally fell at the bottom of the racialized hierarchy.

There are hints of racial constructs throughout antiquity (Hart quotes Plato on the topic), and this needs to be acknowledged. However, Hart does return our attention to the “unique and distinct” aspect of Western racism, especially in it’s global and historical scope.

I intend to suggest that the kind of racism that developed, and how it has so deeply shaped our mindsets and human interactions not only in the United States but all around the world is unique and distinct. It is not a repeat of what has gone before. However, in some sense, there is a proto-racial imagination that goes back to ancient thought.


A dude trying to pull off a sick grind attracts a cheering section of black women in purple shirts. Things start looking up.

For Your Consideration (05/17/17)



Xenophobic attitudes are becoming increasingly commonplace. They are at odds with so many things most of us would claim to value: patriotism, human dignity, unbiasedness, to name a few. It’s an unfortunate way to look out on the world.

But there’s more. Burlington, VT based freelance author Adam Bluestein wrote this well-reasoned piece for Inc. magazine back in 2015. He make a strong case for increasing portals for immigration (e.g. increasing the H-1B visa caps).

He shares some helpful examples of how immigrants have become the engine for business creation in our nation. And he also peppers in some helpful stats:

 From 1996 to 2011, the business startup rate of immigrants increased by more than 50 percent, while the native-born startup rate declined by 10 percent, to a 30-year low. Immigrants today are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born citizens.

Despite accounting for only about 13 percent of the population, immigrants now start more than a quarter of new businesses in this country.

Xenophobia is bad for our national economic well-being.

I’m not always certain why such attitudes retain their power. They have haunted us throughout our nation’s history. “Remember when people thought the _______ were gonna ruin our way of life?” We think this so odd, and yet it cannot seem to be shaken.

I work extensively with first and second generation Americans on the college campus; the sheer tenacity it takes to uproot and rebuild one’s life in a foreign land guided only by the abstraction of “opportunity” couldn’t be a more American ideal. I find their stories endlessly fascinating, inspiring and hope-inducing.

Immigration laws and regulations are understandable and needed. But would that they weren’t laced through with such self-inflicting fear-based impulses.

Carbonite CEO Mohamad Ali wrote an OpEd for this week’s Harvard Business Review in this same vein. He shares the story of how his family arrived in the US after fleeing from Guyana in 1981 (which was when he first witnessed an escalator).

He notes:

Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. Intel founder Andy Grove was a refugee from communist Hungary. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs is the son of Abdulfattah Jandali, an immigrant from Syria. Today, the trend continues. A recent study of billion-dollar startups found more than half were founded by immigrants. Our next generation of great companies, too, will depend on immigrants — as will the American economy as a whole.

He concludes:

In recent months, I’ve thought back many times to my own path to U.S. citizenship. Three decades after I looked up from the bottom of that escalator, I am contributing to the economy and creating jobs in a meaningful way. The American Dream is still alive, and it is core to innovation and competitiveness. But we must protect it.

Both articles are worth a read. The first is long. The second is short. For some clarity on the H-IB visa, here’s this.

So if xenophobia chafes against our purported values, and also our national interests (that is to say it is unpatriotic), what lies beneath such attitudes and behaviors?


After the latest general election, it became widely accepted that economic anxieties were what explained Trump’s appeal among the white working class (the sub-segment which most decisively accounted for his victory).

And yet, as the ever perceptive Emma Green wrote in last week’s Atlantic, new evidence is showing that these voters’ anxieties were actually more culturally animated.

She sites the following,

Controlling for other demographic variables, three factors stood out as strong independent predictors of how white working-class people would vote. The first was anxiety about cultural change. Sixty-eight percent of white working-class voters said the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. And nearly half agreed with the statement, “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

And I think this is largely right (at least among this subset of voters, and also others). It is a jarring thing to feel like a stranger in one’s native land; so much so, that one can scarcely help one’s self from opposing those forces that are bringing this sensation about.

But, as with all fears, the real discord lurks beneath, and demands to be confronted. White America is reluctantly coming to terms with the deterioration of their American normativeness. It is unsettling, because the cultural habitat has always been of our own unknowing construction.

As with all fears, they tend to be fairly irrational. Oftentimes, we fear those things which stand to enhance us. Discomfort might be a sort of crucible.

Read Green’s short article. Or just watch this little summary video. Either way, let’s not let the fearful waters of the world around us fill our vessels to sinking. However that water got in there, it’s time to start bailing it out.


I hate to admit that I’ve never read the entirety of Emma Lazarus‘ poem “The New Colossus” (you know the one, it’s lines appear on the plaque welcoming visitors to The Statue of Liberty).

But I’ll leave it for you here to read and enjoy!

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


A guy draws a cartoon of himself, and invites the internet to be his bud. The rest?

For Your Consideration (05/10/17)


Kawandeep Virdee contributed a very short piece for this week’s Atlantic suggesting that stories play an ever needed role in our democracy.

It wasn’t actually a wonderful piece. (It was a bit aimless.) But… buuut… I did agree with his overall premise. Stories humanize, whereas most political mediums for engagement polarize by reducing groups to faceless, wrong masses.

He writes of the latest general election:

The walls between points of view thickened. There now seem to be multiple realities, each with media outlets to support them with fragments of a story instead of the full picture. Because of this divisiveness, people cannot understand each other, and even choose to ignore each other.

I think this is true. And I enjoy voices who realize that the question needs to shift from “Who’s right?” to “Where did the conversation break down?”

He goes on:

Stories can be personal, and convey vulnerability. They can also cultivate empathy to thin the wall between dissonant points of view. While most of the stories may not resonate across different opposing views, even just a few can start building bridges of understanding.

I’m all for thinning walls between dissonant points of view. Our nation could stand to learn some lessons from cheap hotels, eh?

Stories are indeed powerful forces for empathy and understanding.


In light of the power of story, I’m really proud of my local NPR station (that’d be WBEZ Chicago) for this bold and timely initiative. It is a year-long effort exploring the question of “Who picks up a gun, and why?”

They explain:

For more than a year now, there’s been a person shot about every other hour. That relentless violence has ended hundreds of lives and damaged thousands more. It’s changing the life of the city.

Chicago has woven in and out of the news cycle as a placeholder for urban violence. Most references are downright lazy or uncharitable. But it is indeed a complex and dire issue in our city. If we can’t begin to grapple with the human realities at play, we’re only working with broad abstractions.

To better understand who picks up a gun and why, WBEZ will offer stories and conversations designed to break through entrenched assumptions and shape the conversation around gun violence in Chicago.

What’s cool is that they have provided audio for each piece. Listen while you travel!

I just get a warm feeling inside me when I think of this great station taking up this project, and I plan to keep checking back in. Maybe we should give to support this station? Where do you go to do this?


Sydney, AU based missiologist, professor and author Mike Frost offers a reflection on the reception of two Christian figures (“A Tale of Two Christianities on Its Knees“).

Why does our nation throng to Tebow and root him on, while abandoning Kaeperkick, en masse? Frost simply anguishes over the needless dividedness this reveals in American Christianity. Division between two sides who need one another a great deal:

You can see where this is going. The bifurcation of contemporary Christianity into two distinct branches is leaving the church all the poorer, with each side needing to be enriched by the biblical vision of the other.

Biblical Christianity should be, as Walter Brueggemann expresses it, “awed to heaven, rooted in earth.” We should, as he says, be able to both “join the angels in praise, and keep our feet in time and place.”

Sadly, with the suspicion and animosity shown toward each side of the divide by the other I can’t see a coming together any time soon.

I’m with you, Mike.

I think everyone should read this, if for no other reason than to hear an achingly sympathetic account of Colin Kaepernick. He deserves more of this.


There needs to be a term to describe the art represented by those exploring digital mediums of creative-interface. There are a bunch out there. I’m always tickled by Rich McCor (@paperboyo) and his paper cut-out overlays from around the world.

Evidently there’s a documentary piece being made about him. (Watch the video below, where you hear some thoughts on art and medium.)

I would recommend a scroll through his Instagram, and, obviously, giving him a follow.

For Your Consideration (05/03/17)



This playful piece from Inc. argues that the key to making yourself irrobotically replaceable (that’s a thing!) is by striving to be more human!

Author Tim Leberecht asserts,

If you’re not worried about AI and the future of your job, then you’re not human. So stop right there: Being more human is exactly what will save us from the robots.

He gives a few specific thoughts (ending by lauding the liberal arts, s/o).

Here’s a gem, though:

…soft skills are the hard skills of the future. Feeling is the new thinking. With everything that can be done efficiently soon delegated to machines, only what is inherently human will help you retain your competitive advantage in the job market.

While artificial intelligence can replace any skill that’s routine or extremely complex, AI can’t replace social skills such as persuasion, empathy, character, or teaching.

True, or no, I love this sentiment: soft is the new hard and feeling is the new thinking! (I actually know it’s true!)

Speaking of being more human…


I spend hours each week in my work championing the notion that all humans are made for meaningful work. Those who do not have it within reach experience its phantom lacking. Those who do, often feel a cognitive dissonance of guilt toward their privileged state.

For my part, I consider the meaningfulness of our work as part privilege part social remedy and thus of sacred importance.

To quote Frederick Buechner:

Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.

For this reason, I was drawn to this article at Harvard Business Review by Richard Straub and Julia Kirby arguing that “Meaningful Work Should Not Be a Privilege of the Elite.”

They give consideration to several measures of societal prosperity, one of which posits, “Prosperity in a society is the accumulation of solutions to human problems.”

They take it a democratizing step further, and I resonate with their insight:

 If we’re thinking about prosperity in broad terms, then we should also recognize it isn’t just the solutions themselves that improve quality of life – it’s also engagement in the act of solving. Participating in the satisfying work of innovating enriches lives by endowing them with purpose, dignity, and the sheer joy of making progress in challenging endeavors. Imaginative problem-solving is part of human nature. Participating in it is essential to the good life – and no elite minority should have a monopoly on that.

The whole article is a worthwhile read, if for no other reason than to give consideration to how societal prosperity and meaningful work can be defined. It also can be a prompt to consider whether (or how) your life might be “engaged in the satisfying work of solving our societies problem.”

It’s an idea that cuts two humanizing ways: aspire to your highest meaning by helping others in your society to do the same.


Of course this topic flubbed its way clumsily into the national conversation this week. (Cue the sad fiddle music!) But last week’s Economist tells the story of a “cyclorama” (a 360º enclosed panorama), which was initially created to celebrate the Union victory in the Battle of Atlanta. (You’ll recall Gone With the Wind? It even features Rhett Butler.)

After being moved to be displayed in the south, the soldiers uniform colors were altered to recast the piece as a memorial to the Confederate cause!

In line with the region’s mythology, which even today can make it seem that the South won every battle but lost on a technicality, advertisements declared it the “Only Confederate Victory ever Painted.”

It eventually fell into disrepair and was confined to storage. It is now being re-restored, but elicits the question of what angle it will present.

The exhibition will present it not as a shrine but as a palimpsest, as full of meaning as it is of bloodshed, with explanations not only of the battle but of the painting’s own past—including the long stretch in which white and black viewing hours were segregated.

Our nation’s history is complicated to put it lightly, thus we must find imaginative and truthful ways of remembering it! For this reason, I appreciated this case study.

Also, palimpsest? What a great word! Cyclorama? Impresario? If the Economist only provided bylines, I would tweet the author to compliment his or her vocabulary—but, alas!


An airline pilot named Sales Wick shot this spellbinding time-lapse of the Milky Way from the cockpit during a flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo. This was featured on Gizmodo’s Sploid site.

Not much more to say. How else might you spend the next 3 minutes?



I may try to add a curated tweet each week.

Here’s one:

For Your Consideration (04/26/17)



I would recommend David Brooks’  column in this week’s the New York Times lauding social work pioneer Jane Addams and holding her up as a paragon for our modern world.

Jane Addams was a forerunner of social work and social welfare. In response to the abject plight of immigrants in the near north neighborhoods of Chicago, she began what would become an extensive, city-wide network of centers. But it began with a work based out of her own home, which came to be known as The Hull-House.

Brooks describes a trip to Europe that inspired her vision:

In London, she visited a place called Toynbee Hall, a settlement house where rich university men organized social gatherings with the poor in the same way they would organize them with one another. Addams returned to Chicago and set up Hull House, an American version of the settlement idea.

I walk past the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at Halsted and Polk on the UIC campus many times each week, and was piqued to see Brook’s feature of Addams’ work there.

Her ability to constantly merge philosophy with action, and vice versa, was one of her defining qualities. Her aspiration was to kindle the dignity of those with whom she worked.

There were classes in acting, weaving, carpentry, but especially in art history, philosophy, and music. Addams was convinced that everyone longs for beauty and knowledge. Everyone longs to serve some high ideal. She believed in character before intellect, that spiritual support is as important as material support. And yet “the soul of man in the commercial and industrial struggle is under siege.”

I love the notion of fighting against the siege on the souls of men, and appreciate her human dignity-lifting ideals.

Her work would become a global model for how to work among the poor and disenfranchised, and I agree with Brooks that hers remains an important model for our world.


The Tribeca Film Festival released a short film called “See Yourself in Others”. They involved people from many walks of life, and sent them onto the streets of New York with a five-sided mirror helmet (one which allowed passers-by to see their own reflections atop the body of the wearer, but also allowed the wearer to observe their responses).

It is meant as a provocative celebration of empathy. Curbed NY ran a feature on the piece, which was created in conjunction with DDB New York:

In a statement, Icaro Doria, the chief creative officer of DDB New York (which conceptualized the film along with Tribeca), said that “Stories put us in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations and force us to confront other points of view.… More than ever, we need these stories and we need this empathy. Because we need each other.”

Initiatives like this only accomplish so much, but any effort to inject empathy into our nation’s bloodstream is welcome.

This resembles the message of my values post:

Currency exchange is probably a fitting allegory we might adopt. The shapes, sizes and hues of values all have their basis and environ of worth. Values are foreign currencies, but currency nonetheless. Would we learn their purchase by going abroad from our insular worlds in whatever ways we might?


I intend to follow up my recent post on racism and race with 2-3 more, but, in the meantime, I wanted to recommend a few resources that might help expand on my thinking for those of you who are interested.

On Friday, I offered the following:

We need to be having an important national conversation about race, but the incongruence of our vocabularies render this virtually impossible.

As with all conversations, meaning is irreducibly critical. When meaning is not mutually shared or at least understood, dialogue will always degenerate.

Whites and non-whites mean different things by the word racism, and until this gets more broadly sorted out communication on the topic is fraught with discord.

  • THE LITURGIST PODCAST (BLACK & WHITE: RACISM IN AMERICA) – Hosts Michael Gungor and Science Mike welcome rapper and Propaganda and musician William Matthews on their show to have a fairly elucidating conversation about race and racism in America and in the American church. Pretty pointed.
  • WASHINGTON POST (1992) – As I began my initial search for resources on this topic, I was amazed at how few media outlets were addressing the obvious semantic incongruence between whites and blacks regarding the meaning of the word “racism”. The only article I found that was addressing it head on came from a post-Rodney King verdict article in the Washington Post—in 1992! Isn’t that insane! Here it is.
  • RACE: THE POWER OF AN ILLUSION (PBS) – Back in 2003 (14 years ago), PBS release a 3 part series on race and racism called “Race: the Power of an Illusion”. It feels dated, but it is one of the better options out there for understanding the topic of race. I can’t find episodes 2 and 3, but here’s the first installment. It’s about 1 hour long.
  • VOX (THE MYTH OF RACE DEBUNKED) – If you don’t have an hour, here is a brief video released by the site VOX on the topic. It’s 3 minutes, so pardon the overweening promise. Also, pardon the pretty weak narration. It isn’t always a good idea to have the author do the reading (IMO).  It is a good primer, though. Here’s the video: