Thinking Out Loud

August 17, 2017

Skye Jethani on News Media; Then, and Later, and Now

Skye Jethani ran this as a series of 20 Twitter posts on Thursday morning. I thought he’d post it to his blog, but in the absence of that wanted to make sure more people got to see it.

by Skye Jethani

Here’s what’s on my mind: Cultural division, the media, and the Civil War. Does 19th century media explain what’s happening today?

Newspapers before and during the Civil War were hopelessly biased in both the North and South. Many twisted facts into “fake news.”  There’s no doubt a steady diet of biased news fueled the divide between North and South and contributed to the profits of a media industry fueled by the new technology of the telegraph allowing for much faster reporting then ever before. Part of the problem was that neither side engaged reporting from the other. Media was highly regional with the opposing point of view rarely presented fairly. It was a fragmented and siloed media landscape that made generative dialogue difficult if not impossible.

The media landscape changed dramatically in the 20th century again due to tech. Radio and then TV created for the first time a national media that could speak to the whole country instantly. It was also an age of external threats where the country rallied together to fight WWI and WWII. The focus on external enemies continued with the Cold War. For much of 20th century regional media differences were overshadowed by a united national media. A handful of outlets spoke to all of us. Remember when Cronkite was the most trusted man in America?

A new wave of tech, this time digital, has erased the unifying media landscape of the 20th century and my childhood. Instead, we’re returning to the pre-Civil War fragmentation where we only hear the voices that agree with us, and where opposition voices are silenced or mis-characterized. The divide is not geographic this time but socio-graphic as social media curates our ‘friends’ and ‘networks’ into like-minded bundled for marketing purposes.

Many look at what’s happening today and the divisions splintering the country as an abnormal, new development. I worry the relative media unity of the 20th century may have been the abnormality, and America is simply returning to the fractured existence that has plagued us since 1776. Without a serious external threat (King George III, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, USSR), and without a common national and trusted media, we may be returning to the unsustainable conditions of the 19th century that ultimately led to civil war.

When we’ve faced such existential threats in the past it was the virtue of great leaders that has kept us united. Washington galvanized thirteen colonies into a single nation. Lincoln preserved the Union with deft leadership and uncommon wisdom. We need that kind of executive vision, virtue, and resolve no less in these times. God help us, we have none.

God help us.

Skye Jethani is an author, speaker, consultant and ordained pastor. He also serves as the co-host of the popular Phil Vischer Podcast and writes the With God daily devotional, emailed to subscribers worldwide. Skye is a former editor for Christianity Today and Leadership Journal magazines.  @SkyeJethani

January 21, 2017

When the Cause is Worth Jail Time


There were 18 people arrested this week protesting the death penalty on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was Christian author and social activist Shane Claiborne who got my attention. Maybe it’s because I’ve read his books or that we met once briefly. Coincidentally, I was combing through old blog posts here looking for something else, and I stumbled across something we ran by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — who is also a friend to Shane — explaining to his kids why he was in jail after a different but equally important event. I thought I would re-run that here today, but then I found something Shane posted upon his release, so today you get both.

First, Shane’s video: (Posted January 19, 2017.)

Second, the piece from Jonathan:  (This appear on his blog on June 5, 2013; it was a different issue, but action borne from equally strong convictions.)

A Letter to My Kids: Why I Got Arrested

Dear JaiMichael and Nora,

Since we went to Moral Monday together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve wanted to sit down and write to both of you to tell you why I got arrested—why I wasn’t home that evening to read you your stories and say prayers with you. I’ve rarely felt happier than I did that evening when the bus pulled out to take us to jail. I looked up and saw the two of you standing with mom, waving good-bye even though you couldn’t see me through the wire mesh of the bus window. Thank you for being there for me.

As you both know, we live in a hospitality house and share our life with other people because God has given us this way of life as a gift. It’s not always easy to greet every knock at the door, eager to see Jesus in the stranger. But that’s what we try to do because this is where Jesus promised to meet us. Indeed, the two of you are teaching me much about how to do this as you grow up at Rutba House.

One of the things we know about God’s family is that we don’t all look the same. Even though you are brother and sister, your skin is not the same color. Uncle Matt and Uncle Vern are not the same color. This is how it is in God’s family.

You also know the story of how Grandma Ann, when she was working to integrate the schools here in Durham, became friends with a white man who had led the Ku Klux Klan. Some people say strong black women and white men in the KKK shouldn’t become friends. But Grandma Ann and Mr. Ellis realized that when poor black people are pitted against poor white people, all children suffer. They became friends because they learned a better way.

Some people say that parents should work as hard as they can to give their kids all the opportunities that are available in our society—that this is what it means to be a good parent. I know you’ve been disappointed at times when you didn’t get to have a video game or wear the coolest new clothes. But your mom and I believe that the best life for you (and for us) is a life in the beloved community that Grandma Ann and others worked for—the life that God wants to give us in relationship with others who are not like us.

The men who run our Legislature in Raleigh right now are people who love their kids like I love you. They are afraid because they believe that the inheritance they have to pass on to their children is the wealth that they’ve been able to accumulate. They do not want to see that inheritance squandered by others whom they think undeserving. They are determined to defend their way of life at any cost.

But we believe they are wrong because we know a better way of life. We have asked them to consider the pain they are causing others by pursuing their own interests. They have refused to listen. Because they have power right now, they don’t have to listen to what we say. They can have us arrested and taken away.

But what they are doing cannot last forever because it is not true. God will stop them; we don’t have to. But I chose to get arrested because I don’t want those men to miss out on God’s great party. I want them to know that there is a better way—that they do not have to listen to our worst fears and re-play the worst chapters of our past.

I want them to know that God has invited them to be part of the beloved community too.

Thank you both for being there in Raleigh with the thousands of others who want a better future for our state. And thanks for helping mom get everything done at home while I was gone. I know it is not always easy to invite everyone in—even the legislators who do not want to listen. But, like I said, I’m grateful to both of you for showing me how to extend the invitation with enthusiasm.

I love you both,


Two other arrest perspectives appeared on Jonathan’s blog around the same time; from a Political Science professor, and a School Board member

Third, back to the present, here’s the perspective of another one of the 18 people arrested which describes in detail the ordeal the protesters went through following their arrest. (There are other articles at the same website, (Excerpt below.)


Would you be willing to do this for something you believe in? 

Read more: Additional pictures and video of Sojourners’ Lisa Sharon Harper arrested at the protest.

December 23, 2011

Get Your Picture Taken Next to Jesus

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:29 am

I found this today at the devotional blog Daily Encouragement and am fairly confident that, since it’s rather short, authors Stephen and Brooksyne Weber wouldn’t object to me including it in its entirety. They titled it True Worshipers.

“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him'” (Matthew 2:7,8). “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23).

Here in America we are already in the midst of the next presidential race although the election is still over 10 months away!  Among the hot topics is the pursuit of religious or value voters and regardless of the politician’s political ideology attempts are made by many to use the name of Jesus to gain voters (when the group of potential voters serves their own political interest.)

When catering to a specific voting constituency political candidates jostle to use Jesus, a sort of “getting my picture taken beside Him” approach attempting to convey that “I too worship Him.”  Although only God knows their real heart and motive, many of them hardly pass the “you shall know them by their fruit” test!

Herod was the first to have a political interest in worshipping Jesus.  He feigned interest as he sought the advice of the Magi to find out where Jesus was.   His insincere explanation for needing their advice was so that “I too may go and worship Him.”  However the text goes on to reveal that Herod’s motive was jealousy and the real intent of his search was to find Jesus and kill Him.  He certainly had no plan to worship the newborn King.

The Magi (wise men) however appeared to have the purest of motives in their quest.  They had responded to the star seen from the east (some authorities feel as far away as present Iran) and began a long, arduous journey to seek out the Child.  When they had worshipped Him and gave of their gifts they were instructed in a dream to take another way back, rather than reporting to Herod.

They, along with the shepherds, Anna, and Simeon are the very first true worshipers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Later, during His ministry, Jesus spoke of “true worshipers” as those who worship God in “spirit and in truth” and taught his hearers, “for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”  What about you and me today?  Are we true worshipers, the kind of worshiper the Father seeks?  That’s my heart’s desire today, and I trust that it is yours as well!

~Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

December 15, 2009

Christmas Story Used to Sell Government Program

A push to spread the gospel about the 2010 Census this Christmas is stoking controversy with a campaign that links the government count to events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

The National Association of Latino Elected Officials is leading the distribution to churches and clergy of thousands of posters that depict the arrival of Joseph and a pregnant Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. As chronicled in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph returned to be counted in a Roman census, but he and Mary found no room at an inn, and Jesus was born in a manger.

“This is how Jesus was born,” the poster states. “Joseph and Mary participated in the Census.”   […continue reading the whole story at USAToday…]

It’s certainly not separation of church and state.   But it’s certainly not blasphemy, either, as some have suggested.   If anything, it ought to be flattering to Christians that the journey Joseph and Mary took to Bethlehem — Caesar’s census and head tax combo — is being used to promote the U.S. 2010 census.   Things could be worse.

It acknowledges a certain amount of respect for the historical accuracy of the Biblical narrative.   The idea is, if Joseph and Mary were willing to participate in the census, so should you.

The ‘you’ in this case, is Hispanic Americans.   And not everyone of Latin descent gets this message in their mailbox, either.   It’s just being distributed through Hispanic Evangelical churches.

The comments at USAToday’s religion page — currently closing in on 1,000 in only 24 hours — have been extensive.   Much of the objection has been from people outside the fold.   Anything to pick a fight, one suspects.   The ACLU is yet to weigh in.   They’d be hard-pressed to know where to begin on this one, since it’s inevitable that two people named Mary and Joseph were among the thousands who returned to their birthplaces for a census that other historians affirm.  (Though Mary was about to become a much more common name.)

This story has everything you need to extract comments from the widest number of people, since it touches on religious and Christian themes, but is also concerned with the census itself and the need for minority groups to get their people participating in order to secure funding for federal programs.

As the President of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, Dr. Juan Andrade, Jr. recognizes the many challenges that the Latino community faces.

Out of the three major demographic groups in the United States, Whites, Blacks, and Latinos, Latinos are the least educated, least likely to own their own homes, have the lowest annual income, and have less access to healthcare, Andrade’s told the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s Latino Endowment Fund last week.

All of these factors make Latinos less likely to vote or register to vote, Andrade said.

Also, among these problems, says Andrade, is the fact that Latinos represent 15 percent of the population of the United States but only one percent of elected officials. As the president of an organization that trains present and future leaders, as well as registers new voters, this is a very troubling statistic for him to hear…

…An accurate census, he says, will enable the Latino community to redefine the political landscape into one that will better represent their community and promote their needs.

“The census is the sole basis for the allocation of political power in this country and if we blow the census we blow the power. There is no need to have another discussion about the power of civic engagement if we blow the census” Andrade said.   […continue reading this story at CT News Junkie…]

So what do you think?   Is the government “using” the Biblical narrative here?  (One comment reads: “…but don’t use our Jesus for your benefit…”) As a Christian does this make you feel “used?”   Or like me, are you okay with this?

December 2, 2008

Does Anyone Else Have a Government that Needs Breaking Up?

Filed under: Canada — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:07 pm

We Canadians are really great at shooting ourselves in the federal foot.  This is the only country where under a “oops, we never noticed that loophole*” flawed system, you can lose an election; lose badly; go into hiding for two days afterward; and suddenly emerge six weeks later as the next Prime Minister.

This is all Canadians are talking about.   If you missed my original post, check it out and the link to the main story.  Here’s my wife’s comment to yesterday’s post:

“So our next Prime Minister is likely going to be a man who not only lost, but went down to the worst trouncing the Party has had in decades, prompting him to go into hiding for several days while he duct taped together enough back bone to eventually announce his resignation as party leader. Which still stands, by the way.

Yeah, that’s got to be good.

Gotta hope there’s a puppet master, ’cause the front man’s not inspiring any confidence.”

+ + + + + + + + +

(*Well we noticed the loophole about eighty years ago, but that wasn’t just weeks after an election.  It certainly was never made for situations like this; just like many Americans say that “separation of church and state” was intended to keep government out of religion, not keep religious principles out of government; and “the right to bear arms” was really the right to “take up” arms in defense, not a situation where every high school student can legally buy a hunting rifle at Wal-Mart, saw off the barrel, and then rob the local convenience store.)

November 10, 2008

Hope In Troubled Times

Environment, wealth-distribution, security, consumerism, global concerns….

In the newsletter which preceded this blog, I wrote a sort of mini-review of a book co-authored by a guy who lives in our local area, Mark Vander Veenen.   Hope in Troubled Times other co-authors are Bob Goudzwaard and David Van Heemst.   This  is not light reading; rather, it’s more reminiscent of my university texts.   I am still picking it up from time to time and pressing on into new sections of it.

hope-in-troubled-timesThe book deals with both the mechanics and underlying philosophy of confronting social, economic and political change.   Reading it in smaller increments, as I am, certainly provokes thought on a number of issues including: national identity, personal security, prosperity and consumerism, resource and wealth distribution, increasing terrorism, modernization, global economies, environmental concerns, etc.

This volume’s beginning can be traced back to Bob Goudzwaard’s book Idols of our Time which Mark translated from Dutch to English where it became a text for many years in political science courses taught by David Van Heemst.    What wonderful company:  the other two authors hold doctoral degrees and the book’s foreword is by Desmond Tutu, no less!

This is a book written by Christians, released in 2007 through a Christian publisher, Baker Books, but don’t expect to find scripture on every page, or any page for that matter.   But you can’t miss the hope for redeeming the world, even in our time.   A great gift for the academic or serious reader concerned about the ‘macro’ issues of our world.

November 6, 2008

Critically Engaging John Piper’s Theology — errr, make that Politics

Filed under: Christianity, issues, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:37 pm

So which issue trumps the other:  A president elect who supports abortion, or a woman as vice-president elect?

First, Michael Spencer at InternetMonk sets up a teaser for the main article:

“…While N.T. Wright’s theology has been examined from all sides almost as a test of reformed loyalty, Piper, arguably the most influential conservative/reformed evangelical pastor-theologian of the last decade, has seen almost no scrutiny of his theology and its application. Despite the fact that Piper is a major innovator in theological vocabulary, almost no one in good standing within the reformed camp has disagreed with Piper in print…”   [Continue reading here…]

Then he links to Justin Taylor’s Between Two World’s Blog:

[Piper] “. . . a person with my view may very well vote for a woman to be President if the man running against her holds views and espouses policies that may, as far as we can see, do more harm to more people than we think would be done by electing a woman President and thus exalting a flawed pattern of womanhood. In my view, defending abortion is far worse sin for a man than serving as Vice President is for a woman.”    [re-start Justin Taylor here…]

Sigh!  Michael Spencer had me thinking for a minute that the earth might move here.   Piper is huge.  On the internet at least.   Not so much in our bookstore.   In past posts, I’ve noted that this particular blog never references him, because there’s so much coverage on so many other blog channels. I thought something more newsworthy was afoot here.   But alas, by the time I got to Justin Taylor’s blog, this was more about politics than theology.  Or was Michael Spencer simply seizing the moment to hint at something else that’s on his mind.

So, back to our first paragraph question?   Which issue would trump the other in YOUR personal theological view?

October 29, 2008

The Sarah Palin Internet Hook

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 pm

Christianity Today‘s editorial on evangelicalism that uses Sarah Palin as a hook generated quite a reaction on the main site.

Anything on Sarah Palin seems to guarantee strong reactions. See The Boston Globe‘s Michael Paulson post on comments.

“In my own brief blogging career, Sarah Palin has been the gift that keeps on giving — she has generated an astonishing number of comments, from both ends of the political, and theological, spectrum, many of them saturated with incredible hostility directed by the non-religious at the religious and vice versa.”

This entire article originally posted October 29, at the Christianity Today politics blog; written by Sarah Pulliam and posted here just to see how OUR blog traffic goes up after running it!!!

Photo insert:  This book from TYNDALE, a Christian publishing house, was one of the first out of the starting gate.

October 21, 2008

Michael Moore — Comedian, Artist or Prophet?

Filed under: books, election, Humor, issues, politics — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 pm

So what’s a Canadian doing spending $13.95 to read Michael Moore’s take on the U.S. election?   A few times, I wasn’t sure.   Basically a pocket book without any picture plates, and with a larger print that I could read without my glasses, I thought about it a few times before taking the plunge.   Having finished this morning, here’s a few quick observations.

First of all, the minute someone posts a comment on this, I am going to be in way over my head because I don’t understand all the nuances of what’s going on south of the 49th Parallel.    So trust me, I’m not taking sides.  I know Moore is very biased.   I’m not trying to wade in on the vote itself.  We had our election here last Tuesday, I voted, and that’s about all I can say.

Secondly, while I may or may not agree with the man’s politics, I really like his style.   Or lack of style.   The book is written with a sharp wit.   Or by a half wit.   Hey, I’m just trying to preemptively anticipate what some of y’all are thinking; which is what Moore himself does in an appendix where he takes chunks of his own book out of context to save his critics time misquoting him.

Thirdly, this guy is a producer of several investigative and documentary films.   He sees the upcoming through the lens; the eyes of a filmmaker.  He’s a journalist.   He’s an artist.    He’s two Mikes in one.  The filmmaker in him starts with a wide shot and then slowly zooms in on particular features.   The journalist does the necessary research and is prepared to back up his criticisms with hard data on how life plays out in places outside the U.S.A.   (And lets be honest here, for some of his readers, it will come as a major surprise that there are places outside the U.S.A.)

Fourthly, more importantly, and truer to the reason why I bought the book; Moore is a visionary.   He clearly sees the world differently, yes.  But mostly, he sees another set of possibilities.   An entirely different world that might have been, or could yet be.   Or at least an entirely different United States of America.   He marches to the beat of his own drummer.   He makes no bones about the fact that for him, the issue is not whether or not he loves his country per se, but whether he loves its people.   Which he does.

Finally, and most importantly, I bought a copy because Moore makes Canada look very, very good.   And also, France; which I have to admit came as a bit of a surprise.  But I only spent a week there.  On a high school trip.   So for me, this was a feel good read.   The last 25% of the book was lost on me, since it concerned itself with individual state races for congress.

And while I hate to rub it in, I want to remind you all that up here, from the time the election was proclaimed, to the time we finished counting the last ballot was all of 36 days.   We just got the whole thing over with very quickly.   As Moore points out, with a vast land mass, spread out over six time zones, and voting using only #2 pencils, we had final results within a few hours of the polls closing.  And now we’ve moved on.

(Did you like the use of “y’all” in the 3rd paragraph?   Just trying to fit in.)

Graph, not entirely related to this post,  from

October 7, 2008

Sarah Palin Comparisons to Admiral James Bond Stockdale

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:07 am

Many critics felt Palin floundered during the Vice Presidential debate comparing her performance to that of VP candidate Admiral James Stockdale, who was Ross Perot’s running mate during the 1992 election, going against George Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton. (Yes, Bond is his middle name.)

In a Wikipedia article about Stockdale, he gets support the following year (’93) from — of all people — comedian Dennis Miller:

Now I know [Stockdale’s name has] become a buzzword in this culture for doddering old man, but let’s look at the record, folks. The guy was the first guy in and the last guy out of Vietnam, a war that many Americans, including our present President, did not want to dirty their hands with. The reason he had to turn his hearing aid on at that debate is because those [expletive] animals knocked his eardrums out when he wouldn’t spill his guts. He teaches philosophy at Stanford University, he’s a brilliant, sensitive, courageous man. And yet he committed the one unpardonable sin in our culture: he was bad on television.

Stockdale was an example of what happens when a great person is tapped to do a job that requires a political person.  The unpardonable sin:  being bad on television.

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