All Things Together for Good

All Things Together for Good

I awoke this morning before I wanted to, and I felt compelled to share a personal thought with you.

I have a lot going on in my life right now, most of it good or very good, some of it not so good. As I lay in bed fighting the aching in my right hip -- more on that in a moment -- and resisting the slow but sure reawakening of my mind to the point where I couldn't go back to sleep, I was overcome by an assurance that, regardless of what is happening to me or around me, God knows exactly what He's doing. I actually had a sense that everything, the good and the not so good, was falling into place in a structured and deliberate fashion.

I can't tell you with any degree of precision what the plan is, but I know there is one and it's a good one because it's being orchestrated by a good God.

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Peace on Earth

When the first of November rolls around each year, my spirits begin to rise in anticipation of the holiday season to come. The period that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with Epiphany – Three Kings Day for some - on January 6th is my favorite time of the year. I’ve been pushing the envelope in my household for years on when I start to play Christmas music – regrettably, there is not a lot of Thanksgiving music out there! – and while I usually wait until Thanksgiving Day, this year I started a little bit early to try and usher in the season as soon as I could.

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Bearing One Another's Burdens

I’m sitting here staring at a blank piece of paper, my mind filled with thoughts and my heart troubled. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to make sense of the racial tension that has our nation in its grip, and I’ve been dismayed by the tone and tenor of the conversation on social media, even among my friends and acquaintances. Calls for understanding are being met with resistance, requests for prayer are being ridiculed as inaction, and some are even predicting God’s coming judgment on one race over another.

Those of us who strive to follow the whole counsel of God are left to wonder if we are alone in trying to honor our common heritage as image-bearers of God, all of whom are worthy, yet all of whom have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. All I know with absolute certainty is that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, and I want to think, feel and act as He does, as much as I am able.

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It is for freedom

It is for freedom

As we commemorate the 240th anniversary of America’s independence from Great Britain, I’m sure an analysis of search engine traffic would reveal that words like “freedom” and “liberty” are trending heavily. In fact, it probably doesn’t take a patriotic holiday to generate discussion and debate among Americans about freedom. Just our social media feeds alone tell us that we converse and curse about our freedom almost daily. We are a nation that places a premium on freedom.

So why is it that we are so dissatisfied with the state of our freedom today?

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The Price of Removing Restraint

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. ~ Benjamin Franklin

As I was contemplating the implications of a weekend of horror in the city of Orlando, Florida, the home of the Magic Kingdom and the hub of a region of Florida we called home for a total of 10 years, my oldest daughter sent me a text message, which read as follows:

I think this shooting is gonna be a turning point but I don't have a feeling it's gonna be for the better. Like something we won't be able to return from. It's just like I felt something go snap in the universe, like there's a disturbance in the force.

Even before the cold-blooded murder of singer and former contestant on "The Voice" Christina Grimme on Friday and the mass murder this morning at the Pulse nightclub, my observations of the nation and the world around me have led me to the conclusion that society has broken free of its restraints, and we are driven by our passions to bring harm to one another without reason or mercy.

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The Dilemma of "Trumpsplaining"

Unlike many political observers, I have spent the bulk of this campaign season focused not on Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican Party nomination for president, but on the people who are supporting him, seeking to understand what is motivating them to essentially turn the political establishment, especially the Republican Party, on its head.

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Of Poverty, Privilege and Politics

An exchange in yesterday's Democratic Party presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan is generating a lot of social media buzz, if not attention from the mainstream press. In response to a question from one of the moderators about what "racial blind spots" the candidates might possess, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), stated:

When you are white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor, you don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you are walking down a street or dragged out of a car...We must be firm in making it clear that we will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system.
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The Reckoning

As I write this, the Republican primary in my home state of Virginia is in the books, and Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul who has flipped the political establishment on its head with his improbable run for the presidency, has won. His performance on "Super Tuesday" was not as dominating as perhaps Mr. Trump and his supporters had hoped, but it did make the path to the nomination much more difficult for his opponents. It seems that now would be a good time to consider the long-term implications of this current political season, at least from my limited vantage point. Donald Trump's ascension marks the end, in my opinion, of several coalitions which have held sway over American politics and culture for decades.

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Revisiting the Dream

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." ~ The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

This is perhaps the most quoted phrase from Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and it is embraced by persons across the various barriers of identity we tend to erect around us. The fact those barriers still exist, however, should be an indication of how much more work needs to be done to achieve "The Dream", and given the fundamental goodness of the vision as articulated by Dr. King, it is sobering to realize how dramatic the differences are in how blacks and whites interpret its meaning.

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Politics Can’t Bridge the Racial Divide

I have watched the news with dismay as racial discord has torn a major American university asunder, and the events at the University of Missouri have far reaching implications for race, college athletics, higher education, and even the First Amendment. I’m taking things in and not rushing to conclusions just yet, because there are people I trust who say there is legitimacy to the issues being raised in Columbia, whether or not one agrees with the response. In the midst of this turmoil, however, another story dropped which caused a minor ripple in comparison, and that observation proves, at least to me, something I’ve believed for a long time. In my humble opinion, it is impossible for politics or policy to resolve the racial divide in America because they don’t offer a large enough canopy under which everyone can come together and heal.

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Symbols and Puny Gods

About a month ago, I was struck by an article about changes Facebook was making to its "glyph kit", a collection of symbols designed to convey words or meanings, much like ancient hieroglyphics, thus the abbreviated term "glyph". Apparently, one of their designers, a woman, was examining the images in the glyph kit and came upon a disturbing discovery:

Much to my dismay, not long into my tenure as a Facebook designer I found something in the company glyph kit worth getting upset about. There in the middle of the photoshop file were two vectors that represented people. The iconic man was symmetrical except for his spiked hairdo but the lady had a chip in her shoulder. After a little sleuthing I determined that the chip was positioned exactly where the man icon would be placed in front of her, as in the 'friends' icon, above. I assumed no ill intentions, just a lack of consideration but as a lady with two robust shoulders, the chip offended me.
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What Has to Break Before We’ll Talk?

I recently read and shared an article by contributor and conservative blogger and activist John Hawkins, who was disturbed by the nation's inability to talk about race in a respectful way:

It's very difficult to discuss racial issues in America because every conversation tends to devolve down into some hostile version of, "That's racist" vs. "No, it's not" -- and nothing ever gets accomplished. In an attempt to try something a little different, I reached out to some friends…They all posted messages on their Facebook pages requesting questions and I'm going to be honestly answering some of them in a respectful manner.

The article, "7 Questions You've Always Wanted To Ask A White Conservative", was an attempt to open a channel to better communications between black and white Americans, and while I appreciated Mr. Hawkins' candor and what I perceive as an authentic desire for a gracious and respectful exchange of opinions, all the article seems to have done is bring out the usual tribal defenses or denunciations.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Reconciliation

I wrote recently about how the Lord has been taking me through a season of change using a variety of events, both personal and external, to point me toward the conclusion that, while I thought I was placing Him first in my life, I was wrong and still had a distance to go. I shared how truly putting him first meant letting go of some idols to which I subconsciously still cleaved, and that doing so had liberated me to receive who I am in Christ and what He would have me do with the rest of my life. It's an exciting moment when you arrive at "the place God calls you to", to quote theologian Frederick Buechner, "the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." A friend at church who had read my book approached me unexpectedly a few months ago, excited to share with me a vision he had of me having an impact on the culture regarding the topic of race relations. He led me to the realization that my temperament, my spiritual gifts, my skills and abilities, my life experiences, and even the public platform I've built so meticulously over nearly a decade, ostensibly for political reasons, could be used as a bridge to bring blacks and whites in my home country together, beginning with the church, where He commands us to be one in Him, and radiating from there out into American society as a whole.

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How’s that Conversation Working Out for You?

Back in 2009, newly installed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder created a stir, one of many to come, with his first speech after assuming the office, a commemoration of Black History Month. His provocative declaration sparked a lot of debate and discussion, and it was the eventual jumping off point for my book, a memoir and collection of personal thoughts on black/white race relations in America:

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation's history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.
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Stoner Nation

A while back, I wrote an article about how we were rapidly turning into the society portrayed in the science fiction classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, where sex is casual, uncommitted, and strictly for pleasure, where marriage, parenthood and family are such outdated concepts they're considered obscene, where conspicuous consumption is encouraged, where entertainment overloads our cognition and overstimulates our senses and, if all else fails to amuse, where you can dull your mind to the world around you with widely available and easily accessible narcotics. Like the "bread and circuses" of Roman times, we will be lulled into indifference by our appetites, and conquered without a shot being fired. I was thinking about this again as I read more news articles about states looking to legalize marijuana, a policy initiative that seems to have taken on a greater priority than I think it deserves in these troubled times. I know it's a cause célèbre for libertarians and liberals/progressives, and I certainly agree that marijuana should be legal for verifiable medical uses, but as I survey the landscape, it just seems to me that we've got more pressing problems than making it legal to toke for recreational purposes. Of course, I speak as someone who has no interest whatsoever in getting high or drunk. I see no value or fun in intoxication, and even if I imbibed in order to escape my problems, they are guaranteed to still be there when I return from my self-imposed vacation from reality.

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The Time That's Left

What will you do with the time that's leftWill you live it all with no regret? Will they say that you loved till your final breath? What will you do with the time that's left?

~ Mark Schultz, “The Time That is Left” (From Stories & Songs, ©2003 written by Mark Schultz and James Isaac Elliott)

One of the more awe-inspiring things about being a human being, for me at least, is that we have the agency to adapt and change continuously as we go through life. Our potential for growth and maturity is limitless, and how much we change, and how long we allow ourselves to be humble and open to change, is entirely within our control. When people speak to the journey in life being more vital than the destination, they are referring to a process of continuous learning and improvement that shapes us as we go about our days, allowing new information and experiences to influence us, and they never presume they’ve reached a final destination until they’ve drawn their last breath. When we stop learning, we’ve stopped living.

The recent fate of two friends in my age group brought this thought into sharp focus for me.

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The Battle of Selma, 2015

The 50th anniversary commemoration of the march on Selma, a watershed moment in the civil rights movement, has come and gone and, in my opinion, left debris in its wake like a summer thunderstorm. It's clearer to me now than ever before that American society is not equipped for the task of racial reconciliation, and that it's going to take the unified, Christ-committed church to lead us there. There were some positive signs. Two Republican members of Congress, Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, were co-sponsors of the 50th anniversary commemoration under the auspices of the Faith and Politics Institute, which has hosted the commemorative march in Selma since 1998. They aggressively recruited their Republican colleagues to participate in the event, and a record number of them showed up. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were also there, reflecting what has been a conciliatory and charitable post-presidency for our 43rd president.

But then the storm started.

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What’s Your Worldview? – A Book Review

Do you know why you believe what you believe? It sounds like an odd question on the surface, but it actually goes to the heart of a book by Dr. James N. Anderson, What's Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life's Big Questions. Anderson, a theology and philosophy professor and ordained minister, has created an unusual and engaging way for his readers to determine how they view the world, and you don't even have to read the whole book to figure it out.

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Will God be Watching the Super Bowl?

The Super Bowl, arguably the biggest sports spectacle on the planet, will be played on Sunday, and the football game will actually be a relief from the two weeks of buildup that preceded it. While folks have been talking incessantly about "Deflategate" and what Bill Belichick and Tom Brady knew and when they knew it, whether or not Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch will speak to the media, or whatever loquacious Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has to say, my attention has been focused on another game-related topic, and it involves God. Yes, God.

Let me set the stage for those of you who haven't been watching.

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Immigration and the End of Trust

[In government] the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other--that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. ~ James Madison, The Federalist, No. 51, February 6, 1788.

President Obama is expected today to announce an executive order with dramatic implications for up to five million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. He is taking this step, by many accounts, against the will of the American people as expressed in public opinion polls and through the results of the most recent election, which placed control of the U.S. Congress firmly in the hands of the Republican Party, where the debate over immigration policy is still unsettled.

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